Mud road

From Nis, we toured north fairly easily. The road was more or less flat with a low hill now and then. The weather was unstable. To our left, we could see it pouring rain in the hills. At some point, we too got some drops. Just as we stopped to put on our raicoats, the weather subsided only to continue a little later. Jantje cries Jantje laughs (Dutch saying): a few km further the whole thing repeated itself twice more. Around lunchtime, we looked for a restaurant to warm up. Soup with Srpska salad (our new favourite) and some bread.

a Srpska salad: tomato, cucumber and a generous layer of cheese

Despite all the dressing up and down, we had still covered 40km. By now we had left the eurovelo route for a d-tour that was expected to be prettier. After 10km we had to turn left to cross a railway line. Here work was being performed on the railroad crossing. With help of some sign language and after waiting for the carrier train to pass, four railway workers lifted our packed snail over the exposed rails. On the other side, the road soon turned out to be unpaved. But never mind gravel road is still a road. Since we had decided to make significantly shorter days this week, we stopped at the first house to ask for water, hoping to find a nice camping spot soon after. A man our age turned out to speak excellent English and took Oscar to the spring in the garden. He apologised that it would not taste ‘city-like’. So was it drinkable or not? Oscar had to taste it: typical water from a private spring – an earthy smell/taste – “but we really wouldn’t get sick of it.”

With an extra 6 kilos on the back, we continued our route, which became less and less paved… Tractors had drawn deep furrows in the soft wet ground. We swayed and skidded until suddenly the belt between stoker and driver was off its sprocket!

How did that happen?

A little further on, we saw a patch of grass where we turned the snail upside down and reassembled the belt (was pretty hard, so still no explanation as to how it got off).

Consultation: ” should we go back? And ask those guys to help us again?” According to the map, it’s a through road. So we got back to it again. Several skids and a real fall further, there was so much mud on the tyres and in slashbacks (is that the right word?) that the wheels couldn’t turn….. we pride with a screwdriver but it didn’t help for more than a few metres. What now?

To the right of the road on a hill stood a little chapel. Would there be water there? It looked like a nice patch of grass. Tessel went to investigate, while Oscar continued to work the screwdriver. Tessel found a stream. Maybe we could rinse the bike there, because if the mud hardened, we would be really screwed. At the chapel, the grass appeared well-groomed and recently mowed. Hardly a flat spot, but Oscar had already walked up. So: “This is where we will spend the night.” Bags off the bike and back down the hill. There along the stream stood a tiny house that also looked like a little chapel. Jugs and buckets hung from the branches of surrounding trees.

Oscar immediately understood that this could not be a coincidence and felt at the door. A well! One of the buckets had a hook on the handle and with it we could fetch water from the well. A few buckets later, we decided to take off the slashbacks. These turned out to be completely filled up. After more than an hour, the bike looked almost normal again.

the bare snail

Back to the top. It is five o’clock. Quickly under the shower bag. Tessel sets up the tent while Oscar starts cooking under a shelter. There is little wind. Actually, we are in a fantastic spot! So quiet; you only hear the birds.

After dinner, it cools down quickly and we get into our sleeping bags. We notice that when it gets really dark, the birds also go silent. So then it’s really quiet!

The next day we continue on the road with the slashbacks strapped to the back. We are a bit higher up the hill and the road is quite manageable most of the time, but sometimes the mud sticks firmly to the tyres and the rim around the brakes and the lock fill up again so we have to stop to remove the mud with the screwdriver…. Until we see asphalt in the distance! With our last effort, we push the bike there… The snail (and our luggage) looks at least as grubby as yesterday afternoon.

There is a house; an elderly man in the yard. Using sign language, we ask if he has a garden hose and if we can use it to clean the bike. The man speaks only Serbian and talks to us incessantly. At random, we reply with “da” or “ne” or that we are from the Netherlands and were already in Albania and Macedonia and are now continuing to Belgrade. He is sympathetic. We are allowed into the yard and spot a hose. Oscar is ready to pick it up, but that’s a bit too enthusiastic! The man comes running up with a huge half-metre-long rusted water pump pliers and if we go after him we can help him remove the outdoor tap from the pipe. On the end, we push the hose: we can spray! The man gestures at our feet and arrives with a pair of boots. We turn it down; our socks are wet anyway. When we’re done, though, they’re much wetter….. we thank the man and he launches into a whole story in which we detect the word “kafé”. We accept the offer and follow him into the house (shoes and rain trousers off). Inside, we meet his wife: short, fat, hefty black moustache, bandaged feet and puffers on the sofa. The husband fetches wood for the cooker. We then sit with him at the dining table while she makes the coffee in the kitchen. Again, Serbian stories follow. We pick out the words best we can. We tell about our trip, that we are married and have 2 grown-up sons. No grandchildren, no. They do: 3 portraits of girls behind him above the sofa on the wall. At our departure we thank these livesafers with the medallion of St Naum from northern Macedonia.

Less than 100 metres further, the asphalt stops again…. when we reach the top (yes, it was quite a hill), bike and bags are once again completely covered…. Enjoying the views and landscape, we carefully roll downhill. Once down, we decide not to follow the route up the next hill, but turn right, out of the valley and towards the route we turned off the day before because it followed the motorway up to Belgrade. A few kilometres down this route, we spot a car wash. A high-pressure spray can do a lot of harm to a bike (oil from bearings etc), but we decide to go there anyway. There, we also see an ordinary garden hose. For the 3rd time in a short time, we spray the bike clean 😁. This time we also gave our shoes and rain suits a good rince (was very necessary!). Now our socks were even wetter!

When we were satisfied with the result of this last water ballet, it was 12 o’clock and our stomachs rumbled. At an abandoned petrol station, we found shelter. Tessel made lunch with a cup of hot soup while Oscar assembled the slashbacks. We put on dry socks; no use in wet shoes. After lunch, it was dry again. We decided to try to avoid that route along the motorway after all, with the promise that if the road would become unpaved, to turn back…

All’s well that ends well: after a few kilometres, we find a nice spot by the river.

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