Getting out of large cities can sometimes be a pain. Thankfully, that was not the case today. After a quick, easy exit from Belgrade, we were back on the road once more. It felt so good to leave, extricating ourselves from the blocky concrete buildings and streets clogged with noisy traffic.
A heaviness in our moods was noticeably lifted as we made our way out of civilization. Stern stares from city folk were swiftly replaced with the Serbian smiles and waves we've come to know and love. As we sped past shepherds and their sheep, village women tending their gardens, and elderly gentlemen on their bicycles we decided for the umpteenth time, being outside in the country is just better.
Not far into our ride, I spotted a tell-tale blue sign in the distance marking a little used country coad. Could it be a bike path!? Tyler leaned his bike against the guardrail, hopped to the other side, and went to investigate. He returned shortly after with a huge smile and the news that it was, indeed.
Following the route would require heaving our 140 pound bicycles over the guardrail, but we decided it would be worth it. Bike paths have gone the way of campsites—a dying breed relegated to fond, distant memories; this was the first we'd seen since the Po river valley in Italy! Determined, we worked as a team, lifting our beasts one by one over the rail.
As we hopped on our bicycles again, we let out a quick cheer and pedaled away. This particular bike path wound around a quaint little village, but sadly, after a few hundred meters it dumped us unceremoniously back onto a car-filled road. Oh well. After passing through several villages, I called us to a halt to take photos of this cool church.
While Tyler held my bike, he was befriended by a cycling couple heading into Belgrade to go to the cinema. He took advantage of the chance meeting to ask about the elusive Danube bike path we'd heard we could follow all the way to Romania. If there was such a thing, we didn't want to miss it!
George and his wife (whose name we've forgotten), tried to explain the bicycle routes, but thought it best if we had a map. So, they put a little detour in their plans and led us to the town's central tourist office in search of one.
Unfortunately the office was out of bike maps. George and his wife explained the route as best they could using a small brochure of the area instead. Thanks guys! We bid one another farewell and just a few kilometers down the road, we saw a blue sign for the Danube cyclepath. Perfect! Before joining it, we stopped to snap a photo of this awesome guy on his tractor.
As we prepared to set out, a big friendly bear of a man on a bicycle stopped to say hello. Unfortunately our English, French, and Spanish were no match for his Serbian, Hungarian, and fluent German. Nevertheless, his kind nature transcended language barriers. He wished us well as he turned onto the path ahead of us.
Fairly instantly we realized that the "bicycle path" was nothing than a high berm following the river, alternating between grass, and rutted dirt track. We were both so glad to be out of the city, though, that it didn't bother us a bit. We enjoyed the quiet of the car-free and almost people-free ride, until a crash of thunder echoed through the menacing clouds overhead.
As the sky turned dark, and rain began to fall in earnest, we saw our friendly cyclist stopped on the path ahead, waving for us to follow him. His house was just a few hundred meters away in the field to our left. We wheeled our bikes down the steep berm, over a cute little bridge, and towards his humble riverside abode. Calling us "kinder" ("children" in German?) he smiled and ushered us to leave our bikes outside under the shelter of a small, covered patio.
Once inside, he lit a fire in his wood-stove to keep warm, pulled up a chair, and poured us a few shots of home-distilled vodka made from apples and apricots. Over much talking, miming, and laughing, we learned that our kind host's name was Gaspar, and that he was once a cycle tourist himself. While looking at photo albums of his tour of Germany, the rain plummeted down in sheets outside. We were glad to be spending the onslaught safely indoors.
Though Gaspar kindly offered the floor for us to sleep on should the foul weather continue, the front passed, the rain stopped, and so we kept moving in the direction of Kovin, a town thirty kilometers away. Thank you so much, Gaspar!
Rounding the bend from Gaspar's home, we realized we were in for a lot more than we had bargained for. The post-rain landscape was beautiful, but if the rutted dirt track had made for slow cycling prior to the storm, it now made for near impossible cycling. There were some water-filled potholes full of gravel and many patches of soggy grass, but mostly there was mud. Lots and lots and lots of mud.
Our wheels were so caked with the sticky substance that we could scarcely push them, much less ride them. The rims were covered in mud too, making braking out of the question. It didn't matter much though; we would grind to a halt instantly when we stopped pedaling.
The difficulty didn't dampen our spirits much because there was plenty wildlife to keep us entertained:
A total of ten very time-consuming, energy-sapping kilometers later, we called it quits and decided to set up camp in the field right off the bike path. We hadn't seen trees or any sort of cover for quite awhile, so we made our home in plain sight. There was no one around to see or care and we both reveled in our remoteness as we worked together to get the tent assembled before the next batch of dark clouds would roll in, unleashing their contents upon us.
There is a distinct freeing feeling about being miles away from civilization and I can't quite describe it. I think we're going to really enjoy getting further and further off the beaten path over the next few months.
As I hurriedly filled the tent with our belongings, Tyler was determined to make a fire to heat our chilly, wet bones. Earlier in the day we'd overfilled our stove's fuel bottle, so he cheated by pouring the excess gasoline on the kindling. He was able to light a fire easily, bringing soul and cheer to our dreary, damp free-camp.
We sat by the fire making dinner and talking as several fronts of rain came and went. The blaze kept us warm and dry, and when the last of Tyler's gathered wood was spent, we sat staring at the embers for a little while before retiring to our tent for the night, not another soul in sight.