I spent the bulk of the morning giving our bikes a rare and thorough cleaning. The muddy excuse for a bicycle path we'd pushed and ridden along yesterday had left them several pounds heavier, comprehensively caked with gloopy dirt which had dried on like cement while we slept.
When I was through with the bikes, Tara captured this photo of me snipping off a flap of dead skin around a small gash in my hand (acquired while gathering firewood last night). I injure my hands so frequently making fires that Tara insists I promise to wear gloves while doing so in the future. Frankly, I think it is a brilliant plan and I'm more than happy to oblige. Ow.
We hit the trail late in the day on sparkling clean bikes. Our panniers? Those are beyond saving for now. The muddy Danube "bike path" had dried considerably overnight, making the ride much easier than yesterday's slow struggle. Not more than five minutes from camp, we spotted several jumping frogs and stopped to take photos. It is a wonder we ever get anywhere!
Here is Tara checking to make sure he isn't a prince:
Nope, just a froggie. Cute though!
A little further on, we came across this aging, blue Renault. Seeing it sitting in the middle of nowhere elicited all sorts of fantasies in me about driving a car across Siberia, something we hope to do in just a couple of months. We still have no idea how we're going to purchase a car in Moscow (or how we'll get across Siberia in time to cycle Southeast Asia for fall/winter if we can't), but that is an adventure for another day.
Passing the car, we went bumping along our ramshackle path, reminiscing about Habib, the scooter we bought and rode in Tunisia, when I heard a very familiar grunting noise. As the dejavu I was experiencing started kicking into overdrive, my suspicions were confirmed.
The contented racket emanating from the riverbed down the embankment to our right was indeed a few piggies. All of them were busily rutting away in the mud. When I was growing up, we had two miniature Vietnamese pot bellied pigs named Sassy and Lina who spent a lot of time doing this very thing in the woods behind our house.
They were far too involved to be bothered by me as I snuck up to take a few photos. I hope you like these Mom, I was thinking of you as I took them!
While I was taking pictures, a dog and his shepherd appeared back up on the trail. They both watched intently, as interested me as I was in the pigs. I didn't think it would be polite to snap a photo of the shepherd without asking, but here is his regal companion:
It wasn't until I started to leave that the pigs took notice of me, and even then, it was brief. This guy glanced up, in mid-chew for just a moment as if to say, "What, haven't you ever seen a pig before?!" and then promptly returned to his business.
Back on the move once more, the bike path was hard work and slow going. Though we held out continuous hope that we would find pavement "just ahead", it never really came.
In spite of our less-than-ideal terrain, I was quietly in awe of the good fortune in my life as we rode. Happily bouncing off-road down a trail, surrounded by wilderness with Tara by my side, I felt complete.
Several hours and a measly twenty kilometers later, we reached what appeared to be the end of the trail. There was sweet, sweet pavement curling away to our left; a bonifide road! Just as we were about to turn off, the dirt beneath our wheels turned into concrete! Exchanging high-fives we decided to stick to the trail, giddy with excitement about enjoying the scenery with a hard surface to pedal on. Less than one hundred meters later, we came to this:
Why we didn't turn around and get back on the road is anyone's guess. We just groaned, shook our heads, and continued along what honestly amounts to nothing more than a very well signed rut along the banks of the Danube.
With no end in sight, we wistfully longed to be on the paved road running parallel to our path just a few hundred meters away. Across impassable farmland to our left, behind a guardrail not more than a few stone throws away, was effortless riding. It was mildly infuriating to say the least. The flower was off the the off-road-rose and we were ready to be done. I think it was around this time that Tara remarked derisively, "I feel like I am in a tumble dryer!"
We didn't have much time to be frustrated because two kilometers later the path ended with an impressively clean and official looking bike route sign. It pointed down the embankment over a lengthy patch of mud with a small mountain of garbage on either side, ending in a road. Success! Sort of.
We breathed a sigh of relief and began to push our bikes to the road. During which time we were forced through inches of thick, sloppy, sticky mud once more, and our bikes which had managed to stay relatively clean throughout this whole ride were now muckier than ever before.
I can now pinpoint three times on this trip where nature has gotten the better of me, rendering me temporarily insane. Once to rain, once to wind and today, to earth. I now feel mentally invulnerable to rain and wind. I think it is safe to say the same is now true of being muddy. Hopefully we never have to face a similar trial by fire!
Having cleaned the bikes thoroughly for two hours this morning, I mourned the loss of time, loathing my own inefficiency and foolishness at spending so much time on such a futile task. Looking hopelessly at our mud coated tires, rims, and chains, I yelled pointlessly as I tried to clean the mammoth mess with a water bottle. When that didn't work, I threw it into a nearby ditch in a fit of frustration. Very helpful, Tyler.
Tara watched in awe as I cursed the skies like a crazy person. It was not one of my proudest moments, but she loved me through it anyway, shocking me out of my stupor by yelling over my yells to shut up and get over it, then by putting me in a straight jacket with a vice-grip of a hug. I calmed down.
We eventually faced the inevitable and cleaned the bikes enough to make them ridable (with the help of a serendipitously close water spigot). A note to anyone reading this who is building their own bike: don't mount your fenders close your wheels because you think it looks good. Looks are pointless and you'll regret it eventually.
When we were through, we rode to the nearest shop to pick up a couple beers, then set off out of town to find a free-camp. Having gotten nowhere, we decided to scratch the day and start again fresh tomorrow.
Once we found a nice spot to spend the night, the sun came out just before it set, and we were able to relax and appreciate the beauty around us. Hopefully tomorrow will be less frustrating and a little more productive!
Here is Tara poking me with her pokey stick: