Last time I interviewed Steven for our “thumpista” article, he interjected into the conversation that he was giving us six months notice to take two months off from thump to tour Eastern Europe on his bike. “Just a heads up!” I filed that information away and pondered this ambitious goal. Lo and behold, he and his friend Brett traveled for nine weeks and almost 2,000 miles, while we held a job for his return.
Their route took them through Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Serbia, Bosnia, Croatia, Slovenia, Austria, the Czech Republic and back to Poland. Part of Steven’s motivation was to visit the extended Chaprnka family. (Visit Steven’s blog about the trip here.) About every 4-5 years there’s an exchange of family members either coming to the States for a visit, or going to Europe. While traveling, Steven met up with his grandfather’s cousin’s family (3 generations of children and some sharing his last name) in Tolpocany, Slovakia. He described this time as, “Amazing! Everyone treated us like family, and fed us on the hour!” Before departing, his Slovakian family gave him two bottles of homemade brandy, which, at Christmas he took back to his family in Michigan to toast those who had taken such good care of him.
From our conversation, it appears that time visiting Steven’s family was the easy part of the trip. Overall, the nine weeks of cycling were more challenging and physically taxing than he ever could have imagined. From finding food, to deciphering different languages, to traveling through mountainous terrain in 100+ degree temperatures, to overcoming horrendous road conditions and speeding semi-truck trailers trying to run them off the road, it never got easy.
Where to take shelter at night was also an ongoing issue. They used the www.couchsurfing.org community to line up households to stay with, but this required projecting a week in advance where they were going to end up. When they did arrive at their destination, after biking anywhere from 4–13 hours, they had no way of contacting their host families. So, they approached complete strangers and asked to use their cell phones, to be regularly turned down. They also stayed in hostels, hid in the woods, camped in an orchard, a church yard, farm fields and a bus shelter. All, remarkably, without incident.
When asked what he would have done differently, he said, “I would have brought much less, because you can always find it.” He also encouraged future travelers “to take huge chances, except don’t sleep in land mine fields!”
Steven would have liked to have spent more time everywhere they went, but he says “being on bikes made us so exposed, it let us experience everything in a much more accelerated way.” Despite the fact that this trip was “not a vacation!” he explains that he returned with the invigorated desire to continue traveling, and to always open his house to international travelers and treat them like family, knowing the difficulties they face.
Here’s to Steven, fulfilling a dream, challenges and all!