Sunday, 20 July 2014

Drifting south with the sun - bicycle hobo

I woke yesterday at 03:30, had a big breakfast, packed some supplies into the panniers and set off from home at 04:55 heading south. I chose that direction to benefit from a north-easterly tailwind. The route would be a mixture of tarmac and off-road, the intention to stay close to the Warsaw-Radom railway line. Sunrise was at 04:39, so it was already broad daylight as I set off for Piaseczno along ul. Puławska. Below: outside the house, ready to go. A gorgeous morning, the air full of the scent of a summer dawn, which evaporates quickly as the sun rises.

Within less than two hours I'd passed Piaseczno and Czachówek, so far almost all of the journey along asphalt. Below: the Radomiak semi-fast train to Warsaw, approaches Czachówek. Above it, an Airbus A320 turns in for its final approach to Okęcie airport.

At Sułkowice, the next station south of Czachówek, I popped by for a baguette to go with my excellent selection of smoked meats, and a newspaper. The small village shop was crowded though it was not yet seven am. Lots of building workers in overalls; in the car park were several pickup trucks with crew cabs. On the platform of Sułkowice station there were about 15 people waiting for the train to Warsaw. Things looked busy - there was still evidence of old rural Poland - under an apple tree across the road from the shop, Pan Heniek, Pan Ziutek and a friend who looked decidedly worse for wear were enjoying a round of early-morning refreshments and commenting on local events using a loud stream of expletives. Other than this trio of lay-abouts, everyone else at Sułkowice looked purposeful and getting down to business.

South of Sułkowice, I cross the DK50, Warsaw's de facto southern bypass, and once clear of the noise of the trucks heading east-west, I find a field in which I can have a second breakfast (ham baguette, plums, dark chocolate, lots of water). I'm surrounded by apple orchards and I watch two hares gamboling about on a neighbouring field.

On, on past Chynów. Time to go off-road. I'm zig-zagging - taking a path, crossing the railway track, straying too far from it, turning back towards it, crossing it, etc. I bypass Krężeł, Janów and Michałczew. Every now and then, the track is nicely asphalted, with a sign acknowledging EU funds and the province of Mazowsze as having contributed to the road's improvement. After a few hundred metres, however, the asphalt runs out; a road-sign warns that all good things must come to an end. Beyond the asphalt lie dirt 'roads' of varying quality; some stretches are fine on a mountain bike with fat tyres and deep tread, but other stretches yield up to soft sand - the cyclist's worst nightmare. The bike slows to a halt. You put your foot down; it sinks into the sand up the ankle. You dismount, and push the bike laden with panniers as you would over a dry, sandy beach. At walking pace, the insects, which do not bother you at 15km h, become an annoyance. I must have walked a good few kilometres in total between the more solid stretches.

Below: one of the better stretches of dirt-track. The sand has been compacted down by cars. In the distance comes a car, trailing a cloud of fine dust behind it. But the scenery and weather compensates for the sand. I am reminded of my early childhood 'memory' of how I expected the countryside to be, living among the sprawling brick suburbia stretching out westward for miles from London.

Beyond Gośniewice, I turn onto the main road for Warka, still quite quiet at this time on a Saturday morning. I make up the pace, and soon I'm passing through the town, by now quite busy. I turn onto the bridge crossing the Pilica river (below). There's a separate footpath for pedestrians and cyclists, so I can stop to take a photo. Click to enlarge - on the right-hand side of the horizon you can see one of the arches of the railway bridge crossing the Pilica. The morning remains gorgeous.

South of Warka runs the road to Kozienice. It's narrow, heavily trafficked. I feel vulnerable as a cyclist; many drivers going way too fast. I continue along the main road to Grabów nad Pilicą, then turn right towards the railway again, mercifully few cars now pass me. By now, I'm reaching the end of my fourth hour of riding, so time for more ham baguette, water and chocolate.

Left: an idyllic spot for a break. Only one komar (midge/gnat) to bother me otherwise all is good. Time to discuss the pros and cons of using a smartphone on a journey. I'm getting increasingly aware that it's a good idea to be carrying on you as little as possible. Rather than a rucksack - panniers. In here go tools, spare tyre tube, waterproofs, food, water, sun-cream, kitchen paper - everything. Not wishing to carry a half-kilo camera around my neck, I settle for my Samsung Galaxy S3 instead. It has a built-in 8 megapixel camera (my old Nikon D40 has 6 megapixels). However, it's difficult to see the screen when composing in strong sunlight. The bridge photo was taken by guesswork - I couldn't see anything on the screen with the sun directly behind me. But as you can see, the photos taken are entirely acceptable.

The other big problem with the smartphone is battery life. Fully charged at 5am, there was less than 12% charge left at midday. Because mobile telephony coverage is patchy out here in southern Mazowsze, the phone is using power to hunt for signals. Taking photos (I took over 30) also drains power, as does using the Google map facility (extremely useful when there's a mobile signal). Plus, I'm using Strava to record my ride - a very informative app, though not as user-friendly as it could be.

I reach Dobieszyn just before noon, having cycled 83.9km in seven hours, including two rests of around half an hour each. At half past twelve, a Warsaw-bound train takes me back to Jeziorki.

The line back to Warsaw is single-track most of the way up to Warka, doubling at stations. Looking at the map tracing my journey on Strava, I count that I've crossed this line (by bridge or level crossing) no fewer than 15 times.

The journey home costs me 11zł 57 gr. The ticket, bought at a splendid new ticket machine, informs me that the direct rail route is 56km. That's £2.20 for a 34-mile journey. By comparison, the cheapest ticket for a single ticket from Ealing Broadway to Tilehurst, a distance of 33 miles, will cost you £15.40. That's exactly seven times more expensive. Yet average salaries in Poland are only three times lower than in the UK. So are British trains more than twice as good?

The journey from suburban Ealing to Tilehurst, beyond Reading, takes 56 minutes, with the train stopping at 13 intermediary stations along the way. The journey from suburban Jeziorki to Dobieszyn, takes 1hr 17 mins, with the train stopping at 14 intermediary stations. Not bad, considering the appalling condition of the track infrastructure on the Warsaw to Radom line.

This time two years ago:
Royal Parks in the rain

This time three years ago:
Storm clouds over Warsaw, Dolinka under water

This time two years ago:
Round-up of pics from Dobra

This time three years ago:
Conservatism - UK or Polish style?

This time four years ago:
Wheat and development

This time five years ago:
A previous visit to London


mat said...

Nice ride! I had similar plans for the Saturday (to head south on a bike), but ended with doing some home improvement. I guess it was too hot and too sunny for me to ride the bike.
As for draining the smartphone battery - I've recently bought 18650 power bank - it allows you to plug the USB cable and charge the phone from this power bank. The one I have uses 3 18650 batteries (you can get them new, or you can try to dismantle old laptop battery, each 'cell' is actually an 18650 battery - usually the ones from the old laptop will still be better than the new Chinese knock-off batteries), but there are many different types to choose.
Another thing (I think I'm becoming "Wujek Dobra Rada" here) - if you want to go for a bit longer ride on a bike you cannot attach panniers to, don't want to go with rucksack, but still want to carry some amount of stuff with you - I recommend using a large saddlebag - I got mine here: and I'm very happy with it.

Michael Dembinski said...

@ mat -

Many thanks for the suggestions. The powerbank is a very useful idea, not only for bike rides, as the Samsung's battery is rubbish. Saddlebag - I evidently need a bigger one!