I don’t remember much about the morning before my first day of bike touring. It was a Friday. I remember paying for two tickets on a train(for myself and my bike) from Budapest to a Esztergom, a city about 45k north. I didn’t want to spend time biking from the capital, which really scared me.
The train, at first, was just myself and an older women; who also had a bike. Hers was old, bare dutch style while mine was covered with stickers, carrying four panniers and a large handlebar bag and they were all packed to bursting. I took my seat beside my bike while the older woman sat across from me and she spoke on her phone. I looked outside and watched the city of Budapest pass and the large hills and fields come into view. This was the first landscape I saw of Europe.
This was the first day I wasn’t sure where I would be sleeping or where I would be eating. I wasn’t exactly sure where to go and I still hadn’t mastered the beast of a bicycle. It all was on my mind and I was scared.
The old woman came to where I am sitting and points outside, only smiling and saying, “roman ruins”. I turn around and see the foundations of a building nestled beside a small river.I did not known if people would be friendly or if they even spoke my language so I assumed they all did not wish to even speak to me. The interaction between us really warmed my spirits.
I didn’t want the train ride to end. I love riding in trains and watching the landscapes change and transforms with the hills and valleys but after an hour or so, the train pulled into the station at Esztergom and I was on my way.
I escaped for the train station, which was under construction, and began to push my huge, heavy bike toward the street. I did not know which way to go or where exactly I was heading except I knew I had to eventually get to Bratislava. Knowing only this I headed to the Slovakia side on the Danube and left Esztergom and Hungary.
The riding was easy enough with some short hills and light traffic. I was following offline maps of the Eurovelo cycle routes I had and I was going to follow them exactly, why should they fault me? I didn’t know that the Eurovelo route would take me on a gravel path for a few kilometers.
It started easy enough with the street going from a highway to a cement walking path maintained but gradually being covered with weeds and the cement breaking in parts. Then it took a hard right following the curves of the Danube and the cement turned into loose gravel. It was a farm path meant for tractors and other farm equipment. Not bikes
The path beat me time until I had nothing left to push. My tires were not wide enough to fully get traction and they kept slipping over the loose terrain. This kept on and on while I tried to get some sort of footing but nothing worked. Eventually two other male bike tourists came along from where I was heading and I asked them how much longer this kept.
“10 kilometers” one said in his deep Eastern European accent.
“You have got to be fucking kidding me” was the only response I could bring up.
I was still unable to see where the path would end as it carried itselfs past corners and beyond trees. The same routine followed; trying to ride it until I lost my footing and had to stop, resting, and then pushing further. On and on again for what felt like forever. I thought of going back to the main road and taking it from there but it would’ve take long to get back and I didn’t know how much farther I had to push.
After more pushing and trying to ride, I finally arrived to a split in the road where I stood and two other cyclists were repairing a flat tire. The sun was hot and this was not a very fun place to be with a flat so I offered my help which they smiled and declined.
Finally being able to get off the gravel and onto a main road was uplifting. I laughed off the discomfort of the path and was able to relax while I pedaled away on the flat asphalt.
The luck of warm weather and flat roads quickly turned. As I emerged from a forest and across a large field, I saw the dark clouds swirling and spewing across the sky. The optimistic part of my brain said that it would be heading in the other direction but they came closer and closer and the winds grew stronger and it got colder. I pedaled quicker trying to find somewhere I could take shelter as the clouds quickly turned black and rumbled.
I saw signs for a small town and thought that this could be my only chance to be able and escape the approaching storm as it started to drizzle. The town was Kravany nad Dunajom on the Slovakian side Danube river and I biked from the highway and to closer to the Danube. An large old man was riding a old rusty bicycle on the same road so I followed him until we hit a pedestrian path that had blockades large enough for only a single bike to go through. I thought he saw me trying to go through and he probably thought I saw him. As I tried to move out of the way so I didn’t hit him, the front tire of my bike hit the blockade hard and he passed through the barrier. He looked back at me and yelled something that I didn’t understand. I checked my tire to make sure it wasn’t going to go flat and I took refuge underneath a large tree.
All of my emotions broke down here. I was cold, wet, lonely, tired, cut, and worst of all entirely alone. I did not have any method to talk to my family or friends so instead I sat on the wet mud next to my bike and let all of the emotions overwhelm me. It was miserable and in that moment I just wanted someone to share with. The most hellish of times can be laughed at with someone and practically any moment can change when there is company but alone there is nothing. Humans don’t want to be alone.
I looked onto my phone trying to type but the water was hindering the touchscreen. I eventually was able to look at the map of the town and saw there was some sort of restaurant or bar just a street over from me. The tree I was under was offering no protection from the rain so I pulled myself back onto my soaking bike and trudged through the rain trying to head to the bar.
Arriving there was just myself and two middle aged men dressed in work clothes both eating soft serve ice cream in a cone. They stared at me not saying a word as I leaned my bike against a table and I walked into the bar. A very attractive Slovakian girl, probably a few years older than me, was behind a bar with just a couple of beer taps and I ordered a large glass costing only a single euro. Alone and wet with no one to talk to, a beer can quickly become the best friend anyone can have. I drank the beer slowly and felt comforted finally in the strange building surrounded by strangers.
I wasn’t at the bar long and I didn’t do anything besides drink my beer and eat a couple of oreos. The storm raged for a few minutes longer until it passed and the warm sun came out again. Explosive storms like that which come and go in a period of thirty minutes are the biggest middle finger to everyone. Being stuck in the middle of one can get you soaked but once it's over the warm sun comes out just as it was prior to the storm. The storm was pointless. It comes and goes as if God’s way to test you but then he says “oh, sorry about that. Now I’ll make it warm again”. The only thing you can do is push through and get over it; like with most of life.
The rest of the day was not nearly as exciting. I rode the highway for another 20-30 kilometers or so; too be honest I don’t know how far. I stopped at the city of Komárno where I knew there would be a campgrounds. I struggled with the man behind the bar at the campground, picked my spot to pitch my tent, and relaxed after my first day of riding. The campground had wifi.