I guess I should stop right here and tell a little bit about the area under consideration. Beskidy is the name for a few ranges of low - elevation mountains (or one can say - hills), generally covered by woods, located in southern Poland next to much better known Tatras and the borders with Czech and Slovakian Republics. The ranges of my interest i.e. Western Beskidy have some small cities (or bigger villages) being the centers of tourism in the area, namely Szczyrk, Wisla, Ustron and few smaller ones. I have decided to establish my base in the first of them simply because I knew some places there where I could have reserved the room for the time of my stay (BTW, you can knock to almost every door in the city and ask for a room, since most of the locals have at least one spare chamber for tourist rental). The basic disadvantage of the region has a lot to do with, being very polite, inadequate consideration given to environmental issues by the former strategists of Polish economy. How could these bright minds decide about locating so many heavy industry facilities in the heart of mountain region is a big mystery to me. Unfortunately, the results of such policy are still easy to spot and I am afraid a long time will have to pass before they may be forgotten.
I believe this should be enough for general introduction, if anyone wanted some more info, please e-mail me (firstname.lastname@example.org). So, we are starting with
These stops were actaually a nice occasion to look down the valley onto the city becoming more and more distant and, from this perspective, looking much more pleasant. What I did not expect was a thick layer of snow covering my path from a place which I estimated to be about three kilometers before the end of stage one - the Skrzyczne summit (1257 m).
Well - I said to myself - the plan is sacred, you 've got to go further, riding or not. So I partly pushed, partly carried my trusty Giant through the open part of the mountain, then the pine woods, to finally reach the intersection with the other path, after which the last section of snowless track led me to the summit with characteristic TV transmission tower. After consuming a tea at the nice hut on the top of this mountain I followed my route towards Male Skrzyczne along almost flat ridge connecting these two summits. At this section I have met the first pack of tourists this day. The reason for their strange looks became obvious with the start of the next section winding through the woods covered with even deeper snow than the one before. I cannot say a lot about the climbing structure of this part, I was amused enough by my slalom efforts aimed at avoiding leg-deep holes in the snow.
After about half an hour I saw a biker coming from the opposite direction, whose face was expressing the same question - how far is it till the end of this white substance's kingdom. Both of us had to be satisfied with the realization that we were about half way to the luck of riding again, so we waved to each other and continued our crusade. Mine led to the Malinowska Skala - a prominent rock laying in the middle of the road, from which one has fine views of surrounding hills and valleys. I was informed by a young couple having their picnic under this hanging rock, that troubles were not yet over for me - I had to push the bike down along a narrow path with a new snow related feature - that time when one of my feet pierced through the snow, the next substance it touched was the stream of ice cold water flowing underneath.
With the next couple of kilometers I was able to find a path going paralelly to the snow-doomed one and finally reached a place in the woods filled with dead trees - obvious victims of acid rains.
That was also the border of King Snow's Dominion, the warm air hit me with a sudden impact as I started going down the track covered with autumn leaves. Jezus Maria, as we say in Polish, that was a piece of fast descent! The track turned into a gravel and then asphalt way ultimately forking to some sort of main road, which led me to a justified suspicion that somehow I missed my next checkpoint which should have been Salmopol Pass. I have asked a man standing nearby for the direction and it occured that I am standing at the foot of the climb to Salmopol from Wisla (i.e.opposite) side. So the next five kilometers was a classic mountain road climb. Although not very steep by Alpine standards, it still makes one sweat. At the top of the pass there is a delightful genuine mountain hut, now used as a bar with a fireplace inside, inviting the guests with following verse (for Polish readers only - sorry, I do not dare translating):
Czys ty chlopie oszalalRecommended there are: zurek (traditional Polish soup) and sausages, which one can grill on the fireplace.
abo ni mosz rozumu
Zajazd stoi kolo drogi
a ty idziesz do domu
After filling myself with the first of those specialities I felt refreshed enough to continue the trip, now leading along the ample ridges onto few hilltops. Part of this road was twisty, with loose-rock ascents which I was able to conquer pretty easily. It is usual that the nice sections are not the best ones to talk or write about - you just ride them not noticing a lot of what's around...
And so it was until I reached Karkoszczonka Pass. That was a place where the guidebook route was turning towards Klimczok Hill. However, forewarned that the most of the ascent would follow "push the bike" scenario I chose an alternative descent leading directly back to Szczyrk. For statistics: 42 kms distance, 4 hours effective ride, 7 hours total time, 1510 m elevation gain.
I have to confess that the main reason for this day's trip was of purely economic nature. As a man of financial proffession I could not resist visiting our brothers Czechs, having heard that the prices of cycling gear there are much lower than in Poland. Therefore I jumped onto my road bike that morning and rushed towards a border city of Cesky Tesin. Rushed may be a wrong word, as the first obstacle on my way there was again Salmopol Pass, certainly able to slow me down. A little bit on climbing profile of this ascent - starting from Szczyrk it is just an ample uphill for some 3-4 kilometers until the right turn with a bridge. Not very far from there you find the first demanding stretch, about two kilometers long, lasting until 180 degrees turn onto the other side of the valley bringing relief and the view of ski jump facilities above your head - that is the goal. Further climb is easier, perhaps save for one short section close to the top. When you see the mentioned ski jumping construction on the right you can start a sprint to the summit (in total it is some 10 kilometers from the center of Szczyrk with only 415 meters of elevation gain - I have reached it in 40 minutes). What followed was a delightful descent towards Wisla - the same section I had to do the day before in opposite direction. It finished with a right turn and a bus stop on the left side. Then I continued along the Wisla river (the city name originates from the queen of Polish rivers starting her flow in the surrounding hills) towards the center.
A note here - the roads in the whole area present the state of disaster, reaching its heights in Wisla and Szczyrk. If you are not using a mountain bike and do not want to spend a fortune on new rims, the choices are simple - slalom or "I'd be better off taking a bus". Obviously I chose the first scenario watching carefully the cars which have the tendency to attack cyclists from the back. And so I survived until Ustron where I had a chance to try a shortcut saving me from the hell of main road leading to the border. I turned left at the center and for about two kilometers enjoyed a very silent rural road with no cars. Then it became "normal" again and unfortunately continued in this manner all the way to Cieszyn. Short explanation - Cieszyn is a city divided between two countries - with most of historical part being Polish and Czech part called Cesky Tesin.
I stopped at the Old City market for a while looking at the nice architecture surrounding this place and descended along cobbled pedestrian street to the border crossing. Right after the checkpoint at the main street I saw the first bike shop. Got in and saw the variety of cycling equipment not available anywhere in Poland (I would be obliged if somebody proves I am wrong). In general I would say that our southern neighbours have much more in a way of cycling tradition what can be seen through some sort of balance between different types of cycling and related gear (versus mtb - only filled shops with almost no spares in most of Polish cities). And also my information on prices was at least partly correct - I would say in average 20% lower than in Poland. I wasn't buying anything, though, as shopping was planned for the next day with other friends of mine - by car.
I will not be boring fellow bikers with further description of market differences - after two hours I turned back, crossed the border again, passed by the line of cars stopped by a funeral procession and got outside the city limits. There was practically no choice of the return route - unless I was willing to die choked in the fumes of the National Route No. 1, I had to go back the same way I had come with in the morning. Therefore it is difficult to find something interesting enough about this section to draw reader's attention. Maybe except the fierce attack assaulted by a deranged truck which fortunately missed the target by few centimeters. I stopped a little before the start of the climb to Salmopol at the small store to drink something. A shopkeeper informed me that in few days the Course de la Paix would be passing along this route and pointed towards a pack of workers performing pave repair. He still had a lot of doubt if peloton would be able to croos the city without serios damages. I will not be boring fellow bikers with further description of market differences - after two hours I turned back, crossed the border again, passed by the line of cars stopped by a funeral procession and got outside the city limits.
The rest of this trip was rather uneventful - pretty tired I climbed the Salmopol again, stopped just for a moment at the top and rushed downwards to finally enjoy great dinner at our favourite "Bianka" restaurant. Statistics: 110 kms with 1500 m of elavation gain
After the market - related adventures of the day before I came back to the exploration of MTB routes. This one required earlier drive by car to the starting point - Kubalonka Pass, located few kilometers east of Wisla. Somewhere in this arera is the actual source of the Wisla river. First part of the route runs through the nice woods, and I could rather sense than see that I was riding along a ridge. Suddenly the woods opened a view to a meadow with a delightful wooden church partly obscuring the panorama of the valley. There was also a bar on right - hand side, not very useful due to seasonal closure. My book was ordering to go towards a hut run by student's association. At first I lost the route at the intersection of few gravel paths, but shortly found the right one and sprinted to the hut chased by a pack of local dogs looking desperate to bite my rear tyre. The hut occured to be a very nice place, one of those "basic accomodation" style, packed with a group of high-school students on the long-weekend excursion. They were waiting for better weather, hanging out on a narrow terrace with sad looks directed into pouring rain. I have asked for a cup of tea, got one for free and having no weather hopes as my fellow students did I came back on the track.
The rain and dirt created a deadly combination along the next section. Even the usual procedure to push the bike uphill became difficult when the mud completely covered the tyres. A wooden cross at the top of the hill announced the start of the next part - very pleasant, modestly steep ride through the woods, then alongside the meadow, finishing with a short steep section of gravel. It stopped raining at that moment, the sun came out and I had a chance to admire the beautiful mist rising over the ground an disappearing between the pines.
At last I have reached the top of the next hill - with great vistas opening into the valleys. The descent to one of them was leading through a saddle called Koniakowska Pass. I chose not to descend yet, but rode along the pass and climbed to its other side marked with a group of stones called Koczy Zamek - it used to be a castle.
From there I had a long descent along the paved road, bringing me closer and closer to the Czech border. At some point, following the guide's directions, I turned right onto a gravel path climbing very easily for about three kilometers to the pasture with a house where the descent began. It was rather fast and twisty for the first kilometer or so, and I was happy to see the next meadow with about ten cut trees laying side by side. I had an idyllic rest there, stretched on the trees, with face directed to the sun and no sound of human presence whatsoever. I enjoyed this state of oblivion for half an hour and continued the descent along the stream, waters of which finally reach the Black Sea !
Suddenly the woods ended and my gravel track gave way to the asphalt road winding up the grassy slope among farmers' houses. I was now in Jaworzynka, supposed to go down another gravel path and reach the pave again close to Istebna from where the road climbs to Kubalonka Pass - my starting point that day.
But, it was not as easy as the book described - after three attempts of entering various routes, all ending up with no further path, I gave up and followed the paved road from Jaworzynka to Istebna. The last kilometer was a merciless climb at very steep grade, so at the top I rewarded myself with a chocolate bar before the last ascent of the day - Kubalonka from the West. It started very nicely - actually descending - with beautiful woooden chapel on the right side. Then there were few kilometers of rather easy climb on horrifying pave. Just before the pass there was another very old wooden church - although slightly hidden in the woods, definietely worth visiting. And then, simultaneously with the clouds opening their tubs I reached the parking, put the bike on the rack and headed back home. Statistics: Distance - 51 kms in 3.5 hours with elevation gain of 1200 m
Then, instead of descending straight down into the valley, which seemed to be the most logical choice, I decided to obey my master - guide and followed right, then forced quickly to abandon pedalling mode pushed the bike to the first houses of Zawoja village. This place occured to be a very vast maze filled with small and vicious dogs. Facing this threat I adopted the only reasonable principle - don't panic and rode slowly surrounded by the barking brigade.
Supposed to leave the village and descend through the woods to the main road, I missed the decisive turn and found myself on a very nice gravel path climbing in zigzags in the direction I thought was right for my further route. I've been passing plots of woods, farmers taking advantage of the first Spring sun, traditional wooden houses - shortly speaking, although not originally envisioned the choice of the route was excellent. I realized where I was when I came to the top of the saddle between two hills. I made a shortcut to the point between the pass I was supposed to reach following the main road and the next hill. Now I was somewhere in between and pretty happy because of that. My next orientation point was Jalowiec - the hill with a very nice panorama dominated by the highest of Beskid mountains - Babia Gora. I reached the top of Jalowiec after some climbing, not really difficult, enjoyed a short meal at this excellent location and started my way back. I knew right after few minutes I was going along the wrong way by seeing excellent, leaves - filled path in the places where I should have met "very steep, loose rock descent". But I couldn't be bothered with that, just followed the direction I thought would bring me to my destination - and I found it much earlier than I could have expected - I was back at the top of Przyslop Pass !
I felt the time was too early to finish the trip and I tackled the next climb to the hill visible onthe right hand side. After half an hour I was sitting satisfied at the top thinking "now I can go back". Easy to say, even easy to do (downhill all the time) provided you don't loose your way... I felt my ride back was taking too long and I asked a boy met at the food store about direction. He explained that I went too far west and was now heading to Makow instead of Sucha Beskidzka. Between them two there is about eight kilometers distance of asphalt road. No problem, I was still in a good shape but I have noticed strange clicking coming from the rear wheel. I turned back to see that the whole rim is bouncing. I must have hit a big rock during the last descent - damage was rather strong, but I was able to continue the ride to Sucha Beskidzka (luckily no climbing on this section). And that would be end of this ride, except I have listened to the guide again and went to the train station's bar where an "excellent zurek" was supposed to be found. I have told the waitress that "they write about your bar in the book" and after explaining to the stunned girl the reason for that I was served a huge portion of very good soup indeed!
After coming back home I saw that my friends had not come back yet and felt good enough to change the bike to the road machine and tackle the Salmopol hoping to meet them on my way. But I managed to reach the top, come back, take the shower and have two beers at the local bar before they finally arrived.
Statistics: 74 kms distance, 4 hours 20 minutes effective ride, 1600 m elevation gain.
Descent to Istebna was uneventful - just enjoying the wind blowing in the face, and after passing the center of the village I had my revenge on the sheer climb mentioned in Day 3 - going down this time.
The next section, rather unexpectedly, was a tiring series of climbs with short resting intervals ending with the summit of Koczy Zamek. Coming down from there I could enjoy at least two things: speed and excellent views of the valleys on the left side. I just had to beware some Paris - Roubaix zones and shortly reached the intersection with the main road leading to Zywiec. Now I had the tail wind helping me to pass this rather crowded section. At one moment I saw a small bridge some fifty meters from the road and decided to have a short rest there. When I was trying to open the saddlebag, the click - lock broke and part of the bag contents landed in the stream. Words I have used then would certainly qualify for a "parental advisory" sticker. I had to do a diving excercise first to retrieve lost items, then fixed the saddlebag using a lock cable.
I came back on the road to discover that the next section is closed for the traffic - but not for cyclists. And so I had about five kilometers of the road just for myself. When I joined the traffic again, it was not so far from Zywiec - capital of Polish beermakers. The brewery itself can not be missed when one enters the city - it's on both sides of the road. I rushed through the town, defending just one attack from atherosclerosis affected driver and entered the road which was supposed to lead to Kocierz Pass. Luckily, I have joined an elder cyclist keeping very strong pace and together we followed along the lake to the dam. There I asked my companion if the route we were following was the right one for me, and obviously the answer was negative. I should have turned onto another road about five kilometers earlier. Well, what could I say - thanks to my collegaue and I turned back to find my route. It wasn't difficult and when I entered the section leading to the pass I felt it was the time for something to eat. Kocierz - the last village before the pass had a restaurant filled with a good number of characters consuming vast amounts of beer. I waited in a cue noticing all the guys were ordering just beer - no surprise, as when it came to my turn and I asked for something warm to eat the answer given was - we have none... so much for restaurants in this area. I bought the last pack of chocolate covered raisins, convinced myself it was enough for a lunch and jumped on the bike.
Not very far from there the road split - with right hand fork leading to another village, and left one being my climb. It wasn't particularly sheer, although kilometers ridden so far have made their mark in my legs. The ascent ended with a sign directing to a hotel complex which seemed to offer rather sophisticated conditions for this region - credit cards, ladies in furs etc. I had a cup of tea and descended to Andrychow - a city which marked a beginning of the next section - unfortunately leading along the main road. But with favourable winds it passed rather quickly and after forty minutes or so I was riding a minor road leading back to Zywiec - this time along different lake. Minor road - sounds good, but the amount of traffic there was just enormous and killed the impressions which otherwise would be fine, with the lake accompanying on the left hand side and grassy hills on the right.
I was happy to leave Zywiec and shortly afterwards - the main road connecting it to Bielsko Biala - and head towards Szczyrk. It was final 10 kilometers which became a bit hard due to headwind and the rain which just started to pour. But I was very satisfied to reach home after 160 kilometers of the ride with 2300 m of elevation gain - all in seven hours.
And that was the end of my rides in this area, which I left with mixed feelings - being satisfied and contented, but at the same time realizing how much more pleasant this experience could have been if the region would be treated differently by the people. I hope someday such doubts will become obsolete, and the more of us will visit Beskidy for the purpose similar to mine, the better is the chance for my wish to come true.