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Towards Vienna
March 1995 turned out to be a groundbreaking month for me and I believe that it determined my future. I know it sounds like a cliché, but it is true. At that time, something just broke inside me and spurred me to action. It is no secret that I was inspired by Piotr Kondrat and his cycling expedition to Sicily. My head was whirling with visions and day-dreams about adventures. And so I decided to set off for a cycling expedition. At first, I did not know where to go. However, I wanted this to be a challenging task. Finally, my plan became clear: to cycle around the Alps, climbing the highest passes. It was not easy to bring my family round to this idea, let alone sponsors. Facing fierce resistance, had to I put a lot of effort into fundraising and assembling necessary equipment. I could not find a front Low Rider rack anywhere. In the end, a day before departure, I had it welded by a locksmith who put together some steel bars according to my blueprint (as it turned out later, it was not the best blueprint ever made).

To prepare myself well for such a demanding expedition, I started training regularly a month before departure. In addition to cycling, I tried to do a lot of jogging. That is how I shed 2.5 kg, which was quite a loss considering my already lean physique. My family would only give me pitying looks, and my mother was afraid that I would return from the Alps completely emaciated. Getting ahead of my story, I will just say that I gained 3 kg during this trip.

One of the greatest adventures of my life began on 2 June 1995. When I finished packing up, it turned out that my luggage weighed 35 kg! Cycling in the Alps with such a load would be crazy. However, because of a tight budget, I had to take a decent food supply (pasta, rice, some tinned food, 2 kg of "Promultin 25" protein supplement). I also packed almost 1 kg of isotonic drink powder and a two-person tent, weighing 2.7 kg. It offered enough room for me, all the luggage and the bike with the front wheel removed. Maps and guidebooks also weighed quite a bit.

On the first day I reached Wrocław (having covered a distance of 167km). My physical condition was put to the test as I had a crisis outside Rawicz. I spent some time lying on the grass, ate (or rather drank) some protein supplement and the crisis was over.

The beginning of the trip was tough. I felt lonely, and the heavy luggage and uphill climbs on my route were killing me. I was wondering what was going to happen in the Alps if the beginnings were so difficult. I also could not get used to my new clipless pedals.

I headed for Brno, obviously trying to choose the shortest route. At some point, already in the Czech Republic, I got lost. I was cycling along some forest tracks which had not seen asphalt in years. I tried to find some landmarks on the map but to no avail – there was supposed to be a crossroads, but it did not exist. And that was a map from the Euro-Atlas series, published by RV Verlag. Although the map scale was not the best one (1:300,000), it should have been adequate for such a trip. Miraculously, I met a group of Czechs who showed me the way and as a result, I had to push a 50-kg bike uphill for three kilometres. The surface of that pretty steep road was covered with stone chipping. When I reached an asphalt road, I was rewarded with a nice downhill run.

I spent the first night in the Czech Republic under canvas in the woods. I asked for accommodation at a few places, but no one wanted to put me up. For the following two days it was bucketing down, so I just stayed in the tent. I did not know what to do with all the spare time. I was fed up with lying on a hard foam mattress. I read all the guidebooks and got more than enough sleep. I also had some time for meditation and listening to nature sounds. Meal preparation was a good time killer, but I was running out of water. I went to nearby buildings to replenish my water supply and left all the possessions in the woods. When it finally cleared up a bit, I heated some water and washed myself using a mess tin. I was more than happy to do it since I had not taken a bath for 3 days and already started to smell funny.

In the morning the sky cleared up, so I raced off to Brno. On the way, I visited Macocha Gorge, but unlike Demanovska Cave of Liberty or Domica Cave, it did not impress me. The only interesting part was a boat ride on the underground river.

At a camping site near Brno, in Bobrava, I met Sergey - an Ukrainian cycle tourist who came there from Kiev (780 km in 7 days). But what a bicycle he had! A racing bike which was probably my age, along with a vintage tent (with a plastic fly sheet patched with sticky tape). I took pity on him and gave him some of my food, as his diet consisted mainly of water. He came to Brno for the European Women Basketball Championship.

Next day I headed for Vienna. On the main road from Brno to the border bikes were disallowed, so I took back roads. At the border, an Austrian customs officer asked me to show how much money I had for the expedition. Although he assessed the amount of USD 1100 as adequate, I got a bit annoyed. From there, I took a main road to Vienna. The shoulder was very narrow and the traffic was enormous. Trucks, buses and thousands of cars moving at a breakneck speed were really noisy. I could cycle on a parallel dirt road, but its surface was bumpy and impassable in some places due to flooding. That day the sun was scorching. I applied sunscreen with UVA/UVB protection a few times, but nevertheless my skin became red in the evening. The sun protection factor must have been too low. Fortunately, I had an after-sun cream with Panthenol.

In Vienna, I felt lost and overwhelmed by the heavy traffic. I did not have the most detailed map of Vienna and I was supposed to spend the night at my friends' place, in the city centre. But how was I supposed to get there? Finally, after two hours of wandering around, I reached the spot.