• Jakub Stepaniuk

Cycling adventures in the era of Covid-19

Last week one of the most fascinating journeys in my life came to a close. After twenty days of sitting on my bicycle saddle I finally reached the Czech-Polish border to encounter the same people with whom I had started the trip in Warsaw. But coming back to Poland with two and a half thousands of kilometres in my legs which smoothly pedalled through the territories of seven other countries was not the definite aim I strived for. I actually did not outline any particular route I would follow, any defined points on the map that I felt “obliged” to reach.

I do not want to sound too “postmodern” and say that my trip lacked any tangible structure. I attempted to follow a general destination but I did not have any particular plan of how I would get there. “Tour de Belgrade” as I called it, suggested cycling between the two cities of particular significance for me: Warsaw where I spent my best school years and Belgrade where I recently worked and studied. I wanted to discover the space between these symbolic geographical dots in which I always feel the impression of “being at home”.

I had already flown from one to the other, rode a car or a bus, but I never travelled such a distance solely using the force of my legs. It might sound like a trifle but a swift relocation deprives the traveller of noticing the gradual change of space, a phenomenon of particular importance in Central and Eastern Europe where borders were notoriously challenged and reinterpreted. “Feeling” the change of cultural landscape makes one much more aware of the fact that the picture of contemporary Europe sketched by homogenous nation state boundaries is highly oversimplified and overgeneralised. Europe is a mosaic of fluid influences, interdependencies and frictions made up from local stories, heroes, and dialects, but discovering and understanding it takes time. It is more than obvious that a flight denies the space underneath completely, but what can we get from driving through the uniformly asphalted Europe of dull motorway inns and repetitive traffic signs?

In November last year, I rode a bike from Belgrade to Osijek and back in three days, the longest cycling trip I had ever took in my life. I thought that if these three days of continuous cycling were doable then twenty should not turn out as something impassable. The experience of the Osijek trip, especially the randomness of unexpected events that turned out to be unforgettable adventures, prompted me to set off for a longer journey.

Belgrade was here for motivational purposes only. The thought of the taste of Balkan cuisine and of my friends I wished to visit was to support myself in times of physical exhaustion, frustrating winds, and battered