I wake up feeling happy and Easter-y with the Cat Steven's tune "Morning Has Broken" playing on repeat in my head. Birds are chirping, frogs continue their belchy song from last night, and the sun shines warmly through our tent. Tyler is still asleep, a warm floppy Gumby wrapped around my body.
I roll over while remaining in Tyler's comforting embrace, take my notebook out of the handlebar bag, and begin doodling and writing down ideas about what I want to do with my life and how I want our future house to look and all the yummy things I will cook in its kitchen. A wonderful start to the day.
Tyler wakes up and fires up the satellite internet. It is the weekend, so there is no pressing work, just a few fun emails and comments that make our morning.
We start packing up camp. Tyler removes the rainfly from the tent, and I realize that one of the tent stakes, the one holding in place the vestibule of our rainfly, is gone. I know I staked it down last night, which means that it HAS to be hiding in the grass somewhere. Of course when I set up camp, we lose some vital piece of gear.
We are already down to the bare minimum of stakes—over the last year we've managed to lose one and break another, so it's pretty imperative we have it. I grab the rainfly, throw it back on to determine where exactly the stake should be, then take to the muddy ground, hell bent on finding the freaking piece of metal.
My hands are covered in mud, dirt is shoved up my fingernails, and I am furiously ripping out clumps of grass and hacking away at their roots with a piece of littered ceramic brick. Squatting over my crater, feeling irrationally determined, I feel like Gollum would if he were to lose his precious ring in vat of mud. I search everywhere but the stake is nowhere to be found.
I am overreacting. Tyler consoles me by telling me that we don't need it, it is just a piece of metal, and that we can create a substitute out of practically anything. Which is true, but "we also shouldn't just lose our stuff without a fight to find it!" I think aloud.
Finally, I give up and dribble a little water on my hands, trying in vain to clean them.
Tyler pokes around with his bowie knife for five seconds and pulls a stake out of the muddy depths.
I have no idea what happened to this hour.
Our belongings are still everywhere.
I pack the food panniers and as I'm shoving the flint and lint bag back into the back pocket of the snack pannier (that's where it lives) I catch my finger on something and slice a large paper-cut into my cuticle and up my finger about half a centimeter. I have a flap in my finger and I can see blood begin to rise to the surface and pool. Ouch. I suck off the blood, then bite the skin flap off so it won't catch and tear further.
Finally everything is packed up, and we heave our bikes up the steep hill onto the dirt road. I push and I push and nothing happens. I push some more and still I cannot budge my bike. Tyler wheels back, grabs my front rack, and together we get my bike on the road.
I am tired already.
Then we wheel around the bend of the dirt road, until we come to the lumpy grassy field, which we push over until we come to the part of a metal fence that someone has cut and bent down. My pedal gets caught on the metal fence as I wheel over it. Breathe in. Breathe out. Bend down, rotate pedal. Continue pushing.
Up another steep embankment and we are on pavement. Blessed, flat pavement. We look at the time and balk at our slowness. We are hot and sticky already and the afternoon sun is beating down on our backs. It is definitely a sunscreen day. We remove the dreaded substance from the toiletries pannier and slather on what feels like Elmer's Glue. You could attatch construction paper and glitter to our bodies at this point and they would stick!
Now time for a quick bathroom break and we're ready to go. I decide to give my Whiz Away a shot after a very long hiatus, so I remove the little purple rubber funnel from the handlebar bag, put it in place, and start to pee. I feel a very uncomfortable warm trickle make its way down my leg and I realize I am wetting my pants. F-this.
But whatever… these pants haven't been washed in like two weeks anyway so a little pee is not going to make much of a difference.
Dammit, ONE DAY after staying in a nice place, my fingernails are caked in mud, my finger is mangled, I peed my pants, and I am covered in Elmer's glue.
It is officially the afternoon. We're ready to roll! OH YEAH!
Once we're on the road, things are much, much better and I lose the attitude and the title "grumpster". It feels wonderful to ride my bike. The wind hits my face and cools it, we have an entire lane to ourselves so we can ride side-by-side. Life is good again.
We churn out a quick 30 kilometers and stop for a snack eating the last of our meager food supplies. We're in "tiny shop land" again, so it's a process figuring out what to buy and where and how.
After we eat, we spend an hour with our faces in the grass, facinated by the vast amount of lifeforms present on a square foot of land. Tyler continues his search for cool bugs, and I get out nailclippers from the toiletries bag in an attempt to get some of the mud out of my nails.
We hit the road again and ride into Niš, pronounced "Neesh."
The plan is to go see the Skull Tower, a small chapel filled with the heads of Slavs who were slaughtered by the Turks in the 19th century. Sheesh. When we arrive, we find that the site is closed, along with pretty much everything else. I wait by the bikes while Tyler goes off to pee and take some photos. This is what he found:
An old Serbian medical station, full of locked medical vehicles, sealed with string and wax seals. Cool!
…and a sad Serbian doggie who seemed close to death. Tyler stayed with him awhile but there was nothing he could do. Poor guy.
When Tyler returns, we take to the road once more, this time in search of food, of which we now have none. We stock up a few basics at the only place open on Easter, and are once again floored by Serbian hospitality. One of the men hanging out drinking in front of the store (with easy access to the beer fridge), buys us two cold bottles of water! How kind!
A little further down the road we find the only roadside restaurant that is open and order delicious meat sandwiches called plescavita. You pick what type of meat you want and a lady throws it on the grill to heat up. You then get to choose from various toppings like shredded carrots and cabbage, chili sauce, flavored sour cream spreads, hot pickled peppers, etc.. It is all very tasty and the two massive sandwiches come in around 300 dinar total, or about 3 euros.
On our way out of town we stop to admire city views and meet a nice man commuting by bike. We have trouble understanding each other, but his gestures are very exaggerated as if he's a mime.
Further out of town, we see signs for Concentration Camp: Niš. Tyler can't get those words out of his head, and sings a jingle on repeat that sounds like an advertisement for a new, swanky hotel. Obviously, it is nothing of the sort. We would like to explore the place, but it is closed, so we ride on. [Tyler feels uncomfortable about my posting this to the world, since obviously concentration camps are nothing to take lightly but I tell him to deal with it.]
The rest of our day's ride is spent on the very quiet interstate headed towards Belgrade. When it is time to be done for the day, we find a way off the road by pushing our through a small hole in the fence that follows the highway, wheeling them down a VERY steep concrete slope, and through some underbrush. This leads us to a small B-road following a river, which is ripe with free-camping opportunities.
Within about thirty seconds of looking, Tyler finds a great place to camp. We wheel over a litter-strewn field and make our way home for the night.
**Note on Female Urinary Devices
Though I prefer to squat and have had bad luck with both this and this, even after much practice, I know women who swear by theirs. Sarah loved her Whiz Freedom, and Friedel did a test on three different devices.