Across Continents

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Drumska Lepohca – Road Beauty

There it was on the menu – Drumska Lepohca – helpfully translated as ’Road Beauty’. One could only imagine what it might be. I’d skip. I’d seen the roads. Plumped instead for the stuffed Serbian hamburger. Delicious, especially after such a challenging day.

I’d checked the map the previous evening and was sure Apatin to the town of Backa Palanka was about eighty kilometres. However, it soon became apparent from the signs en route it was closer to a hundred and fifty kilometres – about one hundred miles. A few small villages, the odd small shop, but otherwise absolutely nothing. The cycle track had stretches of heavy, greasy mud, a struggle to get traction. The incessant rain didn’t help. Sometimes it seemed to ease for a while, or I just didn’t notice it so much. Hard to tell.

The terrain – marshland or flat, open and exposed fields – didn’t lend itself to wild camping save in dire emergency. Besides, with the Danube forming the border with Croatia, and a noticeable police presence, pitching the tent didn’t seem wise. In the afternoon I’d briefly diverted a few hundred metres off the route to the ferry crossing to the Croatian town of Vukovar, looking for shelter to get out of the rain of just a moment. Found a spot, a small wooden building with an overhanging roof. And if I’d gone around to the front, I’d have realised it was a Police post. They were terribly nice about it – permitted me to remain whilst it was raining. I thanked them. Not that I had any intention of moving.

A few hours of daylight left and about sixty kilometres remaining. I ploughed on. Muddy tracks were replaced by empty, straight roads across flat, open fields. Bleak. Just the potholes to break up the monotony. As the light began to fade I came across a bus shelter besides some ramshackle agricultural buildings. A brief stop. I was being watched. A security guard stood in the doorway of his small hut across the road. After a short while he beckoned me over. Ushering me inside, he offered me a seat by the roaring woodstove. I reciprocated with some chocolate, but he preferred one of his cigarettes. We sat for a while, watching Trevor Eve in a subtitled episode of ’Waking the Dead’ on an old black and white TV. Much preferred him as Eddie Shoestring.

The guard tapped his watch. He knew I was heading for Backa Palanka and would need to press on. I nodded, thanked him for his hospitality, and headed off once more into the driving rain. It was soon dark, some twenty or so kilometres remaining. Busy roads now. Ride too close in and a risk of being dismounted by the potholes, too far out and there’s the traffic to contend with. My lights keep me visible, but don’t help with working out where the road goes. I rely on night vision, regularly disrupted by oncoming traffic. Glad it’s finally stopped raining.

Then the outskirts of Backa Palanka. Finally. I head for the centre, the familiar search for accommodation. I’m in luck. A sign for ’Rooms’. A small hotel with somewhere discrete for the bike. Reasonably priced meals in the restaurant. Hot food and a hot shower. Another warm welcome.

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