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  • Writer's pictureLauren O'Bryan

The Mountains Loom in Southern Poland

Updated: Apr 21, 2023

I arrived in Wroclaw to the very warm welcome of warmshowers hosts Greg and Jadzia. I promptly learnt that I cannot pronounce either Wroclaw or Greg’s actual name, but I had a ball and enjoyed their company for 2 nights. I did way too much walking and sightseeing and left Wroclaw already tired.

Greg and Jadzia packed me off with some leftovers to munch on the way and a hand drawn postcard of Wroclaw (Greg is an architect and draws really well), it was so sweet. Greg also recommended that while in Poland I should try to find a schronisko, a type of ‘student hostel’ that are quite cheap. I covered a tiring 100km or so to Opole and after much confusion eventually found a schronisko in google maps. I wasn’t sure it was even open and found a very unenthusiastic young man sitting behind the reception desk. I asked if I could have a bed for the night, he looked at me and then tapped away at the computer and after some time said ‘sorry, but we’re full’. The place was dead, this was a complete load of bullshit, he just didn’t want to do any work.

Stupidly I asked if he knew of a cheap hostel in town, and he directed me to an area near the railway. In hindsight I’m not sure why I felt the need to ask him for advice. It was back across town but I decided to check it out. By this point I realise that I’d either not followed his directions accurately or he was most definitely f%&king with me, there was nothing that resembled accommodation in that area. I was now in a suitably foul mood, I jumped on and found the cheapest hostel in town. Which was irritatingly just around the corner from the first schronisko I’d just come from.

I always like to ask if there is somewhere suitable for my bike before I pay for a bed but this hostel was operated remotely, I had to book online and wait for a door code to get in. There was nowhere else in town and I was tired and hungry, so I booked. I jammed my bike in the only corner available hoping no one would complain, locked it, and lugged everything else up several flights of stairs to my room. Opole wasn’t so bad in the end.

Onwards to Krakow and I encountered the first of the rain that would continue to plague me for the duration of my cycling in Poland. I also had my first fall (of many) from the bike one afternoon, tired cycling through deep sand, the front wheel kind of sank and almost in slow motion I came off. No harm done and most importantly, no one around to see.

I had planned to stay with a friend in Krakow. I’d met Lukas a couple of years earlier when he was hitchiking around the Balkans. I got in touch early on in the trip and he said I was welcome to stay with him and his girlfriend while in Krakow. I knew he was a keen cyclist, but I hadn’t realised just how keen. As it turns out, he cycled professionally for Poland so I felt like a slight fraud. He offered to cycle into Krakow with me and met me along the road in the hills somewhere west of Krakow.

I had been successfully dodging the rain all day and finally the heavens opened. It was miserably cold, but knowing there was a hot shower at the end of the day pushed us to keep going through the rain. I had a moment of stupidity and was trying to open my handlebar bag whilst cycling around a corner in the wet and – BAM, the bike slipped out on the wet road tumbling all my valuables out into the rain. Not ideal, I quickly scrambled to get everything out of the wet, pick my bike up, and get out of the middle of the road before a car came. I was slightly mortified by my stupidity, but otherwise uninjured. Lukas helped me collect everything, said nothing and we carried on.

I really loved Krakow, it’s somewhere I had really wanted to visit so I ended up staying about 5 days. This was a great break but the slightly extended break also made getting back to cycling tougher on the legs.

Those colours but.

I had finally hit the mountainous areas and despite thinking that several months of cycling flat country would build up my fitness, nothing prepares you for cycling mountains like cycling mountains. My first 2 days heading south of Krakow towards Slovakia were like a slap in the face.

It was hard, and most afternoons and a big dump of rain would leave me saturated (I had a raincoat but due to the summer heat I usually wouldn’t wear it). One day I literally dodged lightning all day. I could see the dark clouds and flashes of lightning bolts over distant mountains, growing ever closer. It’s particularly unnerving when riding a steel bicycle, but nevertheless, I kept trucking on.

Eventually, I knew I’d been caught, the wind picked up and I knew the storm was going to be a doozy and I’d need to find shelter. Like a stroke of luck, I found a railway station and quickly dashed under the roof of the railway platform as the rain pelted down.

Unfortunately, the platform had no wind protection, just a high roof so the wind just whipped the rain horizontal and got me regardless. I’m positive If I’d left the platform cover to run to a more better-protected part of the station I would have gotten just as wet, so I decided just to hunker down in my raincoat with my back to the wind and wait for it to pass.

I was soaked to the bone, sometimes you’ve just got to call it quits. At one point I considered asking the railway station manager if I could camp next to the station, but I didn’t know how busy the station got, so instead I found a cheap hotel nearby and made my way down there. The lady at the hotel seemed most unimpressed when I arrived and proceeded to drip a muddy puddle in her reception, but she gladly took my money. Hilariously I received a text message alert to seek cover from a dangerous storm an hour after the storm had smashed me.

I’ve come to realise that many bad moods are resolved with a hot shower, a full belly and a good night’s sleep. My clothes didn’t dry overnight but that didn’t bother me, I was rested and content once again. I was as ready as I was ever going to be to tackle the first proper mountains, and would be crossing into Slovakia via the High Tatras. I’d chosen what seemed like the easiest route, but I was still pretty nervous. Could my legs actually manage?

Spectacular old churches.

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