Total distance: 170 km. Average speed: 10 km per hour (fully loaded). Days: 6.
My patience paid off: the weather forecast showed more than 7 sunny symbols in a row. It is the second half of February and the temperatures at night still drop below zero. But it ought to be dry, so fires will warm me (and stretching too).
I have new Schwalbe tires, new Schwalbe inner tubes and attached two more bottle holders on the front fork. I cut a ground sheet from tarp bought in the builders market and replaced the elastic cords in the Hilleberg tent poles. I made pouches for the back rack, for the front fork and one to attach to the frame. Geo reinforced the back rack. I have plenty of repair patches and repair glue, and not least, I found a route.
My aim is to kick to the river Drava without leaving the forest. The Drava separates Hungary with Croatia and is only 70 kilometer away, as the crow flies.
I dragged myself through that misty cold dark hole which some call cozy winter months, remembering at once why I was not in Europe in winter time for the last 7 years. Winter, in the end a hole where I saw sun symbols in the weather forecast but in actuality where none. Weather wise it is not much better than the Netherlands and sometimes, in utter surprise, it dawned on me that we really did live in Spain.
After too many months, though still a single digit counted on one hand, in a house void of sounds I was in the forest again. With only a tent sheet between the outside, the reality, and me. Again, I found out that the morning light is announced by the bold cello-alike sound of the woodpecker. My head might still be covered by the darkness of my sleeping bag, they tap away their beaks as if playing morning concertos. Some forest sounds appeared new to me and I wondered what that hovering, almost unheard, low sound could be? It had me think of a vacuum cleaner operating at great depths under water. Until it noticed the tent and ran off. Two deer galloped past, in a hurry, their hoofs tapping the leaf covered, but otherwise almost naked oak forest. As if a set of paws runs over a tight drum.
It is wondrous how the active alertness does not fall asleep after months of being used to sleep between walls. And I need time to get used to sleeping in a mummy position on a narrow mattress in a tent again.
When I cross a young mother in a village I notice she has a slight frightened look in her eyes. Her young tattooed husband trotting behind her, his wife holding their baby, he looks suspicious too. I feel odd, not to say ridiculous. An almost 50 year old woman on a kick-scooter laden with an arrangement of multi colored bags and straps. I only see children on this sort of vehicle. Children look at me in surprise and curiosity. Actually, everyone does. And except for a group of Roma held up by an official, no one laughs at me openly.
I was offered a cigarette by an older man. A typical example of Hungarian village life, he rode his single speed bicycle in a fastness he almost fell sideways. A cigarette dangling from the corner of his mouth, his gaze aimed 30 centimeter from where he is, he pushes slowly onward and I pass him, in comparison, with a lightening speed. When we meet at the local ABC mini market he is impressed, because I have no pedals, yet how do I move? With the tiny knowledge of the language I now possess, I practice my language skills, although it consists mostly of hand signs. ‘Do you want some water?’, I offer him. The man makes clear, with a laugh, that he uses water only for washing his face.
A bit further down the road I am hugged by an older, cheerful factory worker after he explained, unasked for, which route I need to keep to. Where the forest holds plenty of deer, the villages do so in authenticity. I enjoy seeing Roma faces, unlike their ancestors, they do not laugh nor stare openly at me. They smile and always reply my ‘Jó napot’, and I enjoy the quick flashback to India.
At very regular intervals I was transported back to cool hazy mornings like those in India, where all is still quiet. The way light spreads out and perhaps smoke from the cold earth evaporates by the first sun light, that sort of atmosphere reminds me very much of Pakistan country side too. Other times I would be flung back to the Chaco roads in Paraguay, impassable or broad and light in color.
At times I am truly captivated, sucked in to the experience of now, seized by the new shapes taken place in front of my eyes. I am just in the country side of Hungary, nothing spectacular but it seems to me that previous experiences from far abroad mingle in my brain with what it sees at this very moment. And to realize how very novel this is compared to the Netherlands makes me smile, happy and feeling alive.
For the first time since long I have experienced to live through a winter in one place and its not tantalizing. It is a place very different than the constancy of travel, which changes, uh… constantly. Moving perpetually hides the possible boredom, the solution of that ‘what now?’ moment. It can start to become patching up, overlapping. Moving from A to B with nothing really in between became an escape, but even birds have a grounded reason to fly from A to B. Nomadic tribes with a herd move for a reason, and nomadic tribes without… drift into a get away without an anchor.
‘It’s not easy,’ the man said about the route ahead of me. Soil cakes between the tire and mudguard and makes one unmovable mass. Hungarians in villages lead a different lifestyle than an average German or Dutch. Fashion is different (less pricey) and functionality wins, or lost desire to maintain one’s appearance can not go by unseen to my eyes. It seems to me that a few village people have not much to live for other than life itself (but… isn’t that the essence?). And sometimes that brings forth neglect and carelessness, especially when the spouse has passed away or was never there. Sometimes it brings forth enjoying the simplicity of the moment, basking in the sun, removing weed, hoeing the vegetable garden. Nothing has to be achieved, except acceptance. Such a couple, I have asked water from, lives at the edge of an abandoned factory village.
The abandoned village came as a surprise to me. Having erupted from an endless engagement with mud and pools of rain water, large open pastures and not a sound to be heard, except perhaps that one moped passing through the forest, I stumble upon dilapidated buildings. An eerie and unpredictable feel passes through the streets. Someone lives in one of the ramshackle buildings, no doubt a Roma, and two guys on motorbikes disappear in a further off broken-down house. I do not want to erect my camp nearby and pass through.
I find a great spot. Among boars, but well, one can not have it all.
A large group of swines wades through a close knit vegetation, opposite of where I camp. I hear their grunts and their irritation at each other. I hear their many legs splashing through the mud and brook. They seem always in a hurry. They scare me. I am so worried they will attack me, and leave me behind in a bloody mess. What then? Because they do have big fangs.
Then in the morning I notice traces of mulled-over earth and leafs (and I still in one piece) and my worry gets instantly better, lesser, lower. Though mornings always helps to boost my confidence. Though dreams are different: a big boar, like one I saw that day, walked over the tent, because I was standing in his pathway. The tent sagged in and the big round boar was right on top of me. I was terrified and tried to scream. I tried mightily, as loud as I possibly could: ‘GEO! GEEEEOOOOO!’ but the more I tried, I realized that fear had muted my voice.
Luxury is a fire that starts almost by itself in the morning after, the embers still glowing. Luxury is also the realization that I haven’t been disturbed by boars. Or the homemade sourdough I brought with me. Or, not the least, my husband at a distance.
The antidote of luxury might as well the white fluffy bread from the local COOP mini market.
After 4 days I stand at the river Drava, moving very neatly, not too fast and far from slow (just like me). Its water clear and the sound soothing and it is beautiful. I seek for a flat spot along the sloping banks and find one right in view of all who pass by along the cycling path. Twice I spread the groundsheet but keep having doubts and when I answer my own question, the reply is: ‘I see very little of the river when I sleep’, and move on to the forest. I prefer a neat surface without first clearing the lot with a knife or spade, and I need to be able to make a fire. A fire is the best part of the day. I kick more or less to have this fire, the simplicity with this sort of lifestyle is only to be had in this way of transport. So, the camp at Drava with its soothing river sound and no doubt absence of boars is swapped for another planted patch of trees. Yet the fire is, of course, essential.
At a closer look, most of the forest I am in is planted and patches are relatively small squares with a maze of tracks surrounding them. Unwanted trees are marked by spray paint to be chopped. Fences, to keep deer out, has to be checked as deer and boars thrust through. Timber has to be cut for the sake of business. I come upon dumping spots for intestines and for natural fertilizer. I hear hunters and see a participant near my camp spot. I see traces of blood and little bloody pieces of deer. Sometimes bigger parts and clean skulls.
Deer are so abundant and they can move in large groups, even so, one can’t hear them. The very soft thumping sounds coming from the earth, like a faint drum, are herds of deer tapping on the soil’s floor, with their uncountable number of delicate hoofs. Because they run on their designated paths, the leaves are gone and you hardly hear them. Its quite mysterious to see a large herd running but not to hear them. I do learn a good deal about hunting and deer.
People in the villages often just sit outside, enjoying the sun. I wish I could do that. I do take enough time off and often only start at 11 AM. The mornings are dedicated to embroidery and keeping a fire going and evenings to reading and keeping a fire going (Touching the void).
Moving on tarmac goes twice as fast as tracks but still half the progress of cycling. Kickbiking is more strenuous, it takes more bodily effort but less so than walking. Although walking one can do for very long, carrying the load is easier with a kickbike. After a certain time my legs start to feel filled with lead and I start to feel my toes, calves and a slight tingle in the ankles. Its more a feeling of knowing that you have these parts on your body and in the morning all is smooth again.
The forest seems dead. Planted by man. Eerie and unrealistic. But it isn’t.
I kick back in 2 day parts and the last camp spot gives me a private sonata. I am astonished by it. I think many things over these days about deer but I finish my conclusion for now by thinking to know that deer are disturbed when I am laying in my tent. Deer make sounds like a bark as a warning or as a surprise reaction. They produce downright a terrible annoying sound when they are mating, or rutting, and it is best not to camp in this season. But now, when a large group of deer finds out that their lounge area is taken, they seem to call out to one another for an intruder and they do so in very high pitched voices. (Do deer have a voice?) They communicate in an array of short barks having a tendency towards monkey sounds. This short but violently serious, pleasant-to-the-ear screams are truly wonderful and I am in awe that I can enjoy these outside sounds and knowing I am safe (realizing hunters do not agree with me).
Talking about acceptance while enjoying a short escape as a nomadic kindred without a herd…
Note: thank you for the donation J. from Germany. I bought the Keith titanium double walled cup with lid.