Woody had the bright idea of leaving Belgrade at 5:00 in the morning. No sarcasm intended. It really was one of the best moments of forethought we’ve had on the trip. Though not quite as bright as we hoped. We slept an extra half an hour after we deemed it was too dark to ride at the original departure time. We were out the door of the excellent Selection Apartments by 6:00, picked up pastries and meat rolls at a 24 hour bakery and were making use of Tom’s sweet Cyrillic reading powers to navigate our way out of the city in the dawn light.
Our exit included a narrow bridge and a major highway that at a later hour would have heavy traffic dominated by semi-trucks and busses. Luckily, there was a designated bus lane that we rode in and busses would kindly overtake us in the normal traffic lane. Everything was okey-dokey until I sped past a petrol station in the lead. A dog lying by the pumps rose its head, howled and came charging for me. ‘Rabid Dog!’ I screamed like a little girl and lifted my leg nearest the dog from the pedal to the top frame bar to avoid being bitten. Stupid! I immediately slowed down and was perfect bait for the wolf. Then, another dog, my savior, came bounding from the side and took out the first by the neck. Tom and Woody zoomed past and I was left to gain my speed again while the fat bellies of greasy station attendants jiggled with laughter.
The gas station mutt was only the first of the fiends. Three or four more came bounding from the side roads and ruined houses. They barked and snarled, speeding towards the metal roadside barrier that protected us from them. Woody and Tom made it past them and as I safely avoided the gauntlet, I turned and barked at them to give them a piece of my mind. When I turned back, I saw six more up ahead running towards us. ‘Shit, they have back-up.’
Most just barked from the barrier. Some stuck their heads through and snapped threatingly. One though, a giant German shepherd, sped faster than the tandem at top speed. I was sure it was going to bound over the guard rail, take Woody right off the back of Tarantino and sacrifice itself with its prey under the wheels of a lorry pummeling down the road at 90 klicks per hour. Fortunately, it never made that fell swoop.
We ate our rotten pastries at Pancevo (Woody and I suffered with stomach pains during the next day’s riding), a dive of a town that’s greatest site was a jig-saw painted slug-bug turned into a flower pot for red Afro-like flowers. The rest of the morning’s ride was fantastic. A strong tail-wind and well-paved roads pushed us quickly to Kovic for lunch where we chatted to an old man in German who told us he never went anywhere on foot, not even ten feet, electing bicycle instead. Then, he walked away. A rich Serb who immigrated to the States to start a bunch of Wendy’s fast-food restaurants chatted with us in the town’s one cafe.
Our best company came at lunch though. We had to wait for an hour or so at the riverside for a ferry to cross the river and continue in eastern Serbia rather than rock through Romania. There was another German duo on tandem and a pair of Spaniards also cycling to the Black Sea. Our conversation started slow and simple. Where are you from? Where are going? The usual jazz. By the other side of the river we were exchanging e-mails, singing old country-western and classic rock songs by the banks with the Spaniard guy’s guitar and speaking all three of our languages. Then, I turned to see a short old man with a long beard wearing cycling shorts and a white t-shirt with a small backpack talking to the German girl in French. He easily fit into the joyous atmosphere and told us of his journey down the Danube from Ulm in canoe. And how he lived in Peru three years. And how he hitchhiked across Canada, Russia and China 16 years ago. Oh, he was 72 years old!
We all said our bon voyages after our break and started riding further into Serbia through the most stunning countryside we’ve seen yet, but that’ll have to be told in another post.