Day 13: Konin to Łowicz

  • Distance: 137km 🙂
  • Average Speed: 19.9km/h ☹️ A completely flat stage but with sand and mechanical issues.
  • Legs: 😐 This is about as good as they’re going to get after nearly two weeks on the bike
  • Undercarriage: 🙂 It appears that full numbness has set in.
  • Bike: 😢😢😢
In every film — maybe every story ever — there’s a moment which is known as “the long dark night of the soul” where the hero struggles to see a path to redemption and how to complete of his or her task.  Today was that day.

The day started at one in the morning when some of the students who were staying in the Dom Studenta #1 came home after partying.  Where they were actually partying in Konin is a mystery since the kebab shop had closed at 9pm.  Then another group came back at 3pm and banged about the corridors shouting and having a great time.  Neither the walls nor the door were well insulated for sound in Dom Studenta #1.  Finally, at 4:30am whoever was in the room next to me had “got lucky” and had returned to their room with a “friend” whom they spent an hour enthusiastically and noisily expressing the…err…physical manifestation of their luuuuurve.  It was a dispiriting night.

I dragged myself out of bed at 7am and found out that breakfast wasn’t served until 9am (or maybe not at all on a Sunday) so started to pack up and get ready for the road only to realised that the kidney-bean-of-doom had saved one last kick in the nuts for me.
You bastard…

The stitching on the critical strap which holds the bean under the saddle had come away and it looked like I was completely screwed.  It’s 7am on a Sunday morning in the most religious country in Europe, there’s an Aldi and a kebab shop and neither of them are going to either be open or sell bike-packing gear.  Thank you bean, thank you Topeak for constructing this piece of garbage, thank you lockdown for making me think of this stupid trip.

I was pretty close to trying to find a railway station and getting on a train to Warsaw.  There was no way I could carry the bean under my arm and  I couldn’t buy a replacement.  What about a rucksack I thought and then remembered that there were no shops in Konin and, even if they were, it was Sunday morning.

After 12 days away, one’s reserves are pretty low for things like hills, bad roads, hotels without towel rails, no breakfast and major equipment failures.  However, undaunted — well, a little daunted — I worked out that if I used the other set of straps and some string I found (read stole) in a store cupboard, I could get the bean on the bike without it fouling the back wheel.  This jury-rigged monstrosity also required using my back light to support it.

 
Not going to register with the thundering lorry behind.

No coffee, no food and bean perilously attached the the bike, I thought that was the worst the day could throw at me.  I set off and immediately stopped again.  There was a terrible grinding noise coming from the bike.  Maybe gears, maybe bottom bracket, who knows but it sounded really bad. I am a big adherent to  the Velominati Rule #65 and noisy bikes make me feel an almost physical pain.  There was nothing I could do beyond squirting more chainlube on the bike and eventually sticking in my headphones and drowning out the noise with music.

It’s a golden rule of bike maintenance that if something is making a noise, something is going wrong.  In a WhatsApp, my friend JJ identified the cause:  sand.  There was sand in the gears — see previous blogs about sand — which was making the noise.  Eventually, after 20km of riding, all the little sand grains got worn down and stopped making a noise.  Grinding down sand grains in precision machinery is not considered standard-operating-procedure but it did stop the grinding coming up through my legs and causing me to shudder.

Until this.
WTAF?

And then this:
You have to be kidding me.

Here’s a video of just how terribly terribly terrible this 15km section was.
On sand the bike squirms horribly

At 10km per hour, I picked my way through the sandy tracks.  The concentration required to stay on the bike on sand is immense and after about an hour, my concentration slipped and, struggling to control the bike, my jury-rigged bean mounting system broke and I was pitched over into the sand.  Worse than that, the bike was pitched into the sand — derailleur, chain and gear side down.

This blog is intended to be a generally light-hearted take on a long, pointless cycle trip however, I’m afraid sitting there in the sand I had a moment of real despair.  I was literally 10km from the nearest proper road and 25km from the nearest railway station.  The bean was fucked, the bike was fucked and I hadn’t had anything to eat or drink all morning.  I turned the bike upside down (breaking Velominati Rule #49), cleaned the sand out of the gears using maize leaves — top cycling tip — and invoked Velominati Rule #5.


I got the bean reattached by tying together the ends of the two remaining straps, I got some more sand out of the gears and got back on the bike.  The bike, me and the exceptionally precarious bean squirmed along to the sound of sand grinding down my cassette and derailleur.  At one point I was riding alongside a railway track and considered throwing my bike onto it so a train would stop and I could get on.  As I said, it was a morning of deep despair.

Sweaty stressed and hungry, I reached a road and first port of call was a petrol station.  Why a petrol station?  Well, they’ve become my standard port of call in a crisis in Poland.  The peri-urban geography is easy to understand and it’s easy to guess where a petrol station might be.  The attached shops are almost completely standardised: yhey all have air conditioning, coffee machines, Twixes and peach flavoured iced tea.  They also have hot dogs which, to be honest, aren’t great but they are some sort of food when you’re hungry and depressed.
I was hungry ok?

I cheered up a bit when I saw my first sign to Warsaw
The end is in sight…sort of.

I got the headphones on and started pedalling a bit harder.   I have found podcasts quite good to listen to because you rack up (say) four episodes and you know that when they’re done you’ll be two hours further down the road.  I thoroughly recommend the Londongrad podcast.  It’s an eye opener.

Lunch was at 85k and was, as usual at a petrol station.
A bike and a bean in their natural natural habitat.

Gradually, the day got better.  I got off the busy 92 road onto reasonably well-maintained farm roads and whizzed through countless little villages with no more than five to ten houses.  All the houses were new and neat with well tended gardens and all very cute.  Clearly the farming in that region is profitable…enough.

It’s difficult to overstate how huge and agricultural this part of Poland has been.  The fields of maize, sunflowers a and cabbage stretch forever.
As far as the eye can see

The villages were pretty and, every now and then, the telegraph poles are made especially pretty by having stork nests on them — I assume this is a stork, I know nothing about birds.
A stork.  Or maybe not.

In one village, I had my first dog attack of the trip.  Two dogs came racing out of a gate at high speed and started properly snarling and snapping at my calves.  All the biking books say that you should calmly spray the dogs with water from your bidons.  This is stupid advice because as soon as you see the dogs snarling at your calves, you get such a shot of adrenaline that you can’t remember about the water trick:  you just get out of the saddle and cycle as fast as you can.  Ethereal Sean Kelly was mumbling “Oi didn’t think he’d go for that intermediate sprint there Carlton but it’s going to do his standing in the green jersey competition a power of good” “Yes Sean, look at the power numbers Kirk was putting out there for 30 seconds.  Quite extraordinary”.

50km to go became 40km to go and then it all seemed possible because 40km is the normal sort of training ride I would do.  I can do 40km in my sleep…at least that’s what I tell myself every day when it gets to 40km to go.

I stopped to take a picture of a sunflower just so I could add some more maths to this blog.
Look kids:  mathematics in action.

The seeds are arranged in a Fibonacci sequence and the fundamental reason is that the Golden Ratio
1.618033988749

is the most irrational of irrational numbers.  Yeah, nobody cares but I think it’s fabulous that something as esoteric as ordering numbers by how irrational they are — a strange concept in itself — eventually ends up causing a plant to grow seeds in a particular pattern.

Here’s a picture of a 3m high doll made out of hay bales to help you get over the maths.

40km became 20km and then 5km and I was in Łowicz searching for the Hotel Polonia.  I just wish that medium-sized Polish towns who want to remain quaint and traditional could get rid of the cobbles.  
Oh great, another bollock-busting 2km until the hotel.

The Hotel Polonia in Łowicz is a very traditional hotel and is actually charming.  The rooms are dated and there’s no lift — a joy when you’re on the 3rd floor and have to carry the bike up with you — but the staff were absolutely lovely and we got by linguistically with a combination of a few words of English, a couple of homages to Marcel Marceau and a lot of smiles and giggles.  There was a big party going on inside the hotel where people were getting absolutely slaughtered on vodka celebrating a christening (I think) but the courtyard restaurant aws sweet and quiet.  The menu is exceptionally traditional so it was Polish sour soup with bacon, potatoes and egg to start and a somewhat confusing chicken dish with potatoes.
There’s an egg in there too.
Napoleon’s favourite dish I have been told.  No wonder he didn’t get to Moscow.  Too full.

I sat in the cute outdoor garden restaurant amid happy couples and families eating my traditional Polish food and drinking a bottle of wine.  The despair of the morning seemed a long, long time ago and somehow not as bad as it really had been.  Such is the way of these things I guess.  Stuck in the middle of a forest 3 hours walk with a bike and a bean under my arm to the nearest place that had food, water and maybe transport was…very difficult.

One more day to Warsaw.  The route finding on Garmin hasn’t been 100% — see for example the 15k on sand when I’d explicitly asked for road cycling — but it looks like 90k and then I’ll be rolling up to the Hotel Bristol and I’ll be done — modulo the bean behaving itself and my gears not getting ground down to uselessness by the sand.

I’ll leave my impressions of the whole trip until I’ve actually done it, but there’s definitely a feeling of wistfulness that tonight is the last night I’ll wash my shorts in a basin, try to work out a route for the following day, put everything in the right place so I don’t forget it in the morning etc etc.  It’s going to be hard to change the routine when I’m done.

Comments

  1. I’m as impressed by your metabolism as your commitment! Turning such food events (many of the non-ordered variety) into energy is heroic. All the best for the final, slop-fuelled, surge. Px

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