30th JULY 2018
Somehow I’ve got myself so far East in Poland that I’m almost in Belarus, so I really need to change direction and start moving West as well as South. This in turn gets me thinking about my original goal of wanting to cycle all the way from the Arctic to the Mediterranean. The question facing me now is which point on the Mediterranean coast should I realistically be aiming for ?
This decision is influenced by having to be back in the UK by mid September, so I do have a deadline of sorts. My original thought was that I could make it to the South coast of Turkey, but I’ve left myself a lot to do if I want to get that far. Besides, I really don’t want to be pushing myself through hilly Turkey in baking hot August temperatures just to make a deadline. The alternative, and easiest option, would be to head straight for the sea in Croatia or Slovenia, which are the closest parts of the Med to where I am currently. So, it looks like reaching Turkey will be too difficult with my timescale, whereas getting to Croatia isn’t going to be much of a challenge. In the end I settle for Sarande in Albania, which is about halfway between the two. This will still test me but hopefully won’t wreck me in the process. The clincher is that from there it’s only a short ferry ride to Corfu and direct flights back to Glasgow.
With a final destination sorted in my head I leave the strange Russian-influenced village of Dubicze Cerkiewne and move steadily South-West. For the most part I even manage to avoid the horribly busy Number 19 Road and stick to quiet, safer routes through the countryside. I’ve noticed that the road quality is improving the further I get from Eastern Poland, although now I’m having to share with dozens of tractors and combine harvesters. At one point I’m joined by an old guy on an ancient rickety bike who’s carrying two metal milk urns as he rides along. He speaks no English and I speak no Polish. I keep trying to tell him I’m from ‘Scotland’ but he keeps replying ‘Holland ?’ Eventually something clicks and he asks ‘Scots ?’ I nod and smile before he breaks into a huge grin and says ‘Whisky !’ We cycle along together for a bit, talking to each other in our own languages and not understanding a word that the other is saying. We both seem quite happy with this arrangement until eventually he stops at a farm, either to milk cows or to give the urns back.
I stop for the night at a sort of petrol station / truck stop that has rooms above for rent. Poland is so gloriously cheap that I’m now getting a single room for the same price as a camping pitch in Finland.
In the morning I do something that I’ve been meaning to do for ages – swap the tyres on my bike over. I don’t use front panniers so when I’m fully loaded all the weight I’m carrying is on the rear of the bike. As a consequence of this my back tyre has been worn down so that it’s almost smooth, while the front tyre looks like it’s barely been used. I’ve been procrastinating for days on this as it’s a faffy little job, but now hopefully swapping them will prolong the life of the sad looking rear tyre.
I cycled 100km yesterday, so today I’m glad that only half that distance will get me to the marvellously named town of Kock. I’m on the nasty Number 19 Road for most of the day, although I do spend half an hour in a bus shelter to escape a thundery downpour that splatters fat raindrops noisily onto the road. By mid afternoon as I near my destination the air around me still remains hot and humid. I turn off the Number 19 Road for the very last time and say something along the lines of ‘Good Riddance,’ knowing that I won’t have to suffer it again. Just as I utter the words an enormous, violent crack of lightning strikes a power line not 500 metres ahead of me. It’s so loud and powerful that it makes me physically jump in my seat and I can almost taste the static in my mouth afterwards. I really don’t want to get hit by lightning. Not here. I don’t want to die in a town called Kock. I have visions of my obituary reading ‘He was struck by lightning just as he was about to reach the safety of Kock.’
My accommodation tonight is in an old palatial hotel called The President. It is gleaming white inside so I feel a little out of place pushing a dirty bike into the foyer while covered in sweat and sunscreen. Adding to the glitz there’s a huge, ostentatious chandelier hanging above reception that is about the size of a car, and probably weighs much the same. The head receptionist clearly doesn’t like the look of me and I’m certain she’s about to tell me they are fully booked. However, much to her obvious dismay, I have a reservation and have already paid for my room. Despite the glamourous surroundings in reception, the rooms are fairly standard and my night costs the equivalent of £20, which is still cheaper than some Finnish campsites.
I go to a Biedronka, which is like a Polish Lidl, and stock up on food for today and tomorrow. For the last few days I’ve had a real craving for anything from the chilled cabinet – potato salads, pastas, yoghurt, refrigerated drinks and even tubs of marinated fish. I guess it’s my body telling me what it needs to replace all the salt and minerals that I sweat out during the day.
In the evening I take a walk into town to have a look around, but mostly to see if I can spot signage for some Kock businesses and therefore amuse my immature mind. I was hoping to find Kock Massage, Kock Doctor or the Kock Police, but sadly the best name I can find is Kebab Kock. However, in addition to the obvious comedy value of getting to a town called Kock, it also represents progress for me as it marks roughly the midway point of cycling through Poland. Considering all the warnings I’ve had about the roads and traffic, I’m pleased to have made it this far without major incident.