From noisy traffic-laden highways to silky smooth coastal routes; from flooded swamp-like ‘roads’ and downpours to rolling green hills bathed in warm sunlight – cycling through Poland has been a real experience. Never quite able to relax but never on the verge of panic, we have been constantly in a state of alert readiness; appreciating the beauty of countryside and savouring brief moments of tranquility while simultaneously bracing ourselves for the inevitable hours of struggle and challenge. One minute, the sky is blue, the cycling is smooth and off-road and all is calm and relaxed, the next, rainclouds loom on the horizon, the smooth ribbon of perfection will dive underground, out of sight, dumping you onto a ‘red road’; the Darwinian realm where the larger vehicle is king. Just as you are about to slip into despair a gleaming, shimmering lake will fade into view on the horizon. Your campsite has arrived. Another day in Poland has passed.
We sit here in the town of Suwalki, a mere stones throw from the Poland-Lithuania border. (Alright, you’d need one hell of a throw to launch a stone 25km but in terms of a border-to-border traverse, such a distance feels tanglible, like we could just float a paper aeroplane into the Baltics). When we entered Poland two weeks ago we were greeted by a whirlwind of energy as we literally saw our comfort zone slipping beneath our wheels. Since that day we have learnt to deal with the challenges of the traffic, ever-changing weather and navigation through some less-than-ideal terrain. We have also been treated to some fantastic campsites, swam in refreshingly-cold lakes, boosted our morale with soft ice cream on hot sunny days and continued to make memories as we cross one of the largest countries in Europe by our own steam.
While many of my smiles have not been returned and we have certainly noticed that people have been more guarded here than in other countries, I have certainly felt the warmth and good wishes of the Polish people and had the pleasure of many friendly and memorable encounters. Language barriers are not barriers to kindness.
So, we press on now, towards Kaunas and north into Latvia. Our journey is nearing its end but we are certainly not ready to rush to Tallinn just yet. Many more experiences, chance encounters and unexpected discoveries lay ahead as we enter the final stages of our cycle to Estonia.