Let me start this post with a small caveat: Eger is in Northern Hungary but most of this ride took place in the Northern Great Plains so I have located it there for this reason. Now … on with my story.
I have decided to crack on today and cross the Northern Great Plains of Hungary to the hills of Eger. I have at least 160km (100 miles) of riding ahead of me so am on the road by 6am. It’s just going to be me and my shadow all day long as I ride through some of Hungary’s more isolated regions. Sure, it’s not isolated by Australian standards where distances between towns can extend into the tens or hundreds of kilometers but 15-20km between tiny towns is isolated by Hungarian standards.
The Great Plains are exactly that … great big long plains where the sky is as prominent as the landscape. I read somewhere on another cycle tourist’s blog that “Hungary is so flat is can be faxed” and this is certainly true of the plains. Hay, wheat and sun flowers dominate everything. There are trees dotting the horizon and roadside most of the day but they are definitely the receding remains of forests that are almost all gone. Mind you, the same happens in rural Australia where the challenge to balance farming and environmental needs is also a big issue.
After about 50km I have the option of either crossing the Tisza River on a punt and taking quieter roads north or following a main road. I opt for the punt. This turns out to be a fantastic decision. Unlike the Danube, the Tisza is a relatively calm and tranquil river. The murky waters flow relatively gently and the sound of birds chirping is more common than that of cruise boats motoring. The punt costs 500HUF ($2) to cross by bicycle and 1500HUF ($6) for a car so it is relatively expensive for the service it provides. But, at the same time, the twenty minute (yes, that’s how long this punt takes) journey is blissfully quiet. The men operating the punt don’t use the motor. They crank the winch on the cable to get some momentum and then slowly drift across the river. There is no sound other than the birds and the occasional social conversation taking place between the men and locals who turn up on the banks. The men are weathered and worn. The older is probably only in his fifties but looks seventy with missing teeth, shaggy white hair and a face like tanned leather. The younger is shirtless and sunburned. His face says that he is my age but he looks twenty years older. They are cheerful in that gruff and harsh Eastern European way (for this part of Hungary can certainly not be called Central Europe) going about their daily toil.
I crank on ever northwards counting down each 10km as 1/16th of my ride and 16km as 1/10th of my ride. The maths keeps my mind occupied on the forward momentum that I am making, rather than on the long day ahead of me. Mind you, at least I am traveling more quickly than this horse and cart was.
I come into a small town and a convoy of huge tractors drives past heading in the opposite direction. The size of these is huge and I am dwarfed by comparison. There must be money somewhere around here.
Plains are both good and bad. They are good because they are flat. They are bad because the headwind can be strong. They are good because you can see the next village from a long way off, keeping you motivated to pedal onward. They are bad because you can see the mountains in the distance and keep thinking you are closer than you are. I took the photo above 80km before I reached the mountains. Yet you can already see their blue silhouettes sitting between the yellow wheat and the grey-blue sky.
I pass the 7,000km mark for the cycling portion of my Looking for 42 journey. It’s a small milestone but a milestone all the same. I figure I might as well take that photo that all the other cycle tourists seem to take. Perhaps I am no longer a beginner at this cycle touring caper. Maybe I can now see myself as a fully fledged member of the touring community. Meh … I don’t know about that. I just keep spinning my knees and rolling my tyres across the landscape.
The mountains draw closer.
And then, almost suddenly, I am across the Northern Great Plain and up in the hills. It’s actually a rude shock to go from cruising along on the flat to climbing Hungarian hills with their long slow and steady ascents. I keep thinking I am near the top and then notice that the climb just continues. At 165km into my ride I bonk. At least it’s a pretty place to bonk (the photo above). Fortunately, I have a stick of salami and some crackers. I scoff them without even tasting because I am so desperate for fuel. It does the trick and I arrive at camp an hour later having ridden 175km. I feel tired but invigorated. After a shower I even find the energy to cycle 2.5km return to the local supermarket for some groceries. But I do fall asleep easily in my bivy at night.