Punctures are like Buses

3rd AUGUST 2018

My plans for a Rest Day in Sandomierz have been thwarted, so I decide I’m only going to ride 20km to Tarnobrzeg and will have a ‘short day’ instead. I leave town by crossing the Vistula River once again and on the bridge I turn round to see the spires and turrets of Sandomierz Old Town high on a hill behind me. I then spend most of my short trip on uneven pavements and crumbling cycle paths until I reach the unremarkable town of Tarnobrzeg around mid-day. I check in to a Pension where I’m given an odd-smelling basement room and proceed to catch up on my Rest Day activities of chatting on skype, writing the blog and shopping to satisfy my still ravenous craving for chilled food.

The next morning I vacate my basement cave and follow the contours of a huge lake to get out of town. I’ve been cycling for nearly an hour when I have a strange, uneasy feeling that I may have left my tyre pump back at the accommodation – I’d taken it from one of the panniers with the intention of pumping up my tyres before I left. I just don’t remember putting it back. I actually think to myself how awful it would be to get a puncture on the one day that I don’t have a pump. Half an hour later, and with a certain inevitability, my back tyre goes flat. It’s almost like I’ve wished this upon myself by thinking about it.

I pull over into a rest area at the roadside and begin the process of getting all my gear off the bike. I find all the tools I’ll need to remove the tyre from the wheel rim, but I’m now looking for my pump with a feeling of increasing dread. It’s not in the first pannier, so it has to be in the second one, right ? I open the remaining pannier and take out the two bags of clothing that should be covering my pump. I delve my hand in slowly and am more than a little relieved to feel the pump nestling at the bottom. Thank Goodness for that ! I upend the bike, get the tyre off and replace the damaged inner tube. I notice a few tiny bits of twigs and stones have found their way onto the inside of the tyre rim as it’s a dusty, gravelly rest area. I try my best to remove every last foreign object because any sharp remnants could quickly puncture the new inner tube.

I carry on through the busy town of Mielec and then over the main motorway that runs between Krakow and Rzeszow, where a queue of cars have stopped on the bridge. They are all gawping at a fire in a motorway services building that has already sent clouds of black smoke billowing upwards into the blue sky. I stop to watch the drama, which takes a comedic turn when two speeding fire engines take the wrong motorway exit to access the fire. A good five minutes is wasted as they have to turn round and cross our bridge to approach the fire from the correct junction.

Once the fire is under control everyone loses interest and carries on with their journeys, myself included. I have a nice long downhill through late afternoon countryside and get to within 5km of my accommodation when my back tyre deflates once again. You have got to be kidding me ! I haven’t had a single puncture in 3,000km and then I get two on the same day. I go through the whole rigmarole of changing the inner tube again and get to my accommodation using my one remaining healthy specimen.

In the evening I repair both punctured tubes using glue and patches. The first one had a small hole right beside the valve, which was probably a result of bumpy Polish country roads and also having to continually jump on and off pavements. The second had a hole right in the middle of the tube’s outer, where it was in contact with the inside of the tyre. There were also signs of scraping before the tube eventually punctured, which means the culprit was probably a small stone that got trapped between the tyre and tube. Annoyingly, that one was my fault for not being thorough enough in removing all the tiny debris from the tyre when I changed the first puncture. With my inner tubes successfully repaired, I fall asleep to sounds of singing from a Polish wedding reception downstairs.

The following morning’s breakfast buffet is as tasty as it is enormous. I stuff myself with eggs, sausage, pasta, cereal, bread, yoghurt and even miniature cakes. I then struggle back up two flights of stairs with all the grace of an obese turkey to fetch my gear for today’s cycle, which should hopefully be my last full day in Poland. Miraculously, I’ve even managed to find a couchsurfer in Nowy Sacz – my first since Norway – so I’ll hopefully get to see the town through the eyes of a local. I use the word ‘miraculously’ as Couchsurfing has been next to useless on this trip compared to the cycle-friendly Warm Showers hosting site.

I’m still a little worried about puncturing today and for the first few kilometres I ride along tentatively, half expecting my back tyre to deflate again. As the day progresses though, I start to think less about my tyre and more about the monstrous, towering thunderclouds that are building up ahead of me. These sort of clouds tend to form during the afternoon and usually try to coincide their downpour with my arrival in a town. Today proves no exception. I’m about 10km from Nowy Sacz and climbing the steepest hill I’ve seen since Norway, when great flashing forks of lightning start to illuminate the sky ahead. When I reach the summit it feels like the cloudbase is so low that I could almost reach up and touch it. There’s a steep downhill on the other side, so I start to descend quickly while it remains dry because it would be bloody treacherous in the midst of a thunderstorm. I get to within 5km before it rains, but I’m so close that I just put on a kagoule and continue.

I go to meet my couchsurfer, Monika, who invites me in and we put my bike in her basement storage space. Every flat here has a lockable store room underneath the building. She’s just finished work and is in no mood for cooking, so asks if I want to try some traditional Polish food. This sounds like splendid fare to me so we walk to town and into a restaurant that is one flight of stairs below street level. There’s no way I would have stumbled upon this place by chance, which is why I’m so grateful for some local knowledge.

I let her order for me with the only caveat being that I will eat whatever’s on my plate as long as it’s a traditional Polish dish. For starters we have zurek soup, which is slightly sour and contains cream, portions of sausage and halves of hard boiled egg. This is accompanied by a weird, fermented bread drink that smells alcoholic (but isn’t) and tastes like ginger beer. For the main we share a plate of pierogi, which are a sort of ravioli / dumpling hybrid containing different fillings like cheese, minced meat or mushroom. I’m certainly no food critic, but I can say that the soup was delicious and creamy, the bread drink was strangely OK and unfortunately the pierogi were just a little bit bland.

We go for coffee at her mates coffee shop where she casually drops the topic of de-structured water into the conversation. I’m told that people in Siberia were found to be fairly healthy despite having a poor diet, which is apparently a result of drinking water that has been frozen and therefore has a different molecular structure to normal, everyday water. So now all the water she drinks comes through a tap filter first, is then boiled and finally twice frozen to change its molecular structure. I’ve no idea if this actually works, but of course she says she feels much healthier than before due to drinking de-structured water. Oddly, after all that health-obsessed talk we go for a beer.

It turns out that we are quite different people, but I suppose one of the beauties  of hosting websites is that they bring people together who wouldn’t normally meet. I really appreciate being hosted by her, but I think she’s mildly disappointed that I don’t want every single conversation to be deep-thinking and meaningful. Sometimes I’m up for that, but today is my birthday and I just want some good food, a beer and someone to chat shit to. However, on the bright side, at least I know I won’t be facing a two day hangover like on my last birthday. And that’s just as well because tomorrow I’ll be cycling in thirty-two degree heat and climbing into the hills of Slovakia.



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