I arrived in Baja close to collapse and had to have a bit of lie-down as soon as I have checked into the hotel. Eventually I tottered out for dinner at a Hungarian/Mexican restaurant which was not bad. In the morning I could barely move and tried some 'better late than never' stretching exercises which hurt and didn't help. Breakfast was dull and when it came to settle up there was no one in the hotel to pay. Once that was sorted out I cycled round the town which is quite elegant with a Hapsburg style square open at one end to views of the Danube in the valley below. All in all the absolute antithesis of Dunaujvaros the night before. Perhaps World War Two missed Baja and blew away Dunaujvaros. The weather is ideal for cycling, chilly starts then the sun breaks through but it never gets too hot. The leaves are on the turn and in every village old people, only old people, are busy sweeping them up so that their lawns and verges are clear for the next day's leaf fall.
A large chunk of the morning was spent on a dike path with a good surface but with monotonous scenery. It backed onto the gardens of the villages that I passed and everyone keeps geese and goats. A deer galloped across the path just in front of me but mostly monotony.
Then through a gap in the trees appears the ferry to Mohacs. I arrive just as it is landing folks from the other side and I can ride straight on. We chug across the Danube in glorious sunshine. I love these Danube ferries, it's as simple as that.
Mohacs is famous for the battle that was fought there in 1526 when 25,000 Hungarians under the command of their king, Louis II, decided to take on 100,000 Ottomans led by Suleiman the Magnificent. This was a very poor life choice and they were duly massacred. There is an ugly monument to this defeat in Mohacs, but then Eastern Europe is dotted with ugly memorials to military catastrophe. I stop for beer at a cafe in the leafy central square. My wife complains that I never send her photos of me so I ask the waitress to take one of me there sitting outside the cafe. She recoils as if I'd requested something much more intimate and blankly refuses. I don't think that there was any room for misinterpretation so I am a bit depressed by this.
I move on and cycle to Udvar, the Croatian border, where joy of joys, there is a customs post. A pretty blonde Hungarian lady wants to look at my passport and so does a Croatian border guard a hundred metres further on. While I applaud this observation of traditional border crossing niceties it's hard to come up with a reason why they bothered to do this. There was no computer link in either of their roadside shacks so there was no way that they could check if I was a well known Ukrainian gun runner making a desperate bicycle dash to hole up in a Belgrade bordello until the heat was off. They both checked that I looked like the photo in my passport that was all. I suppose I might be trying to cycle across Europe using Shirley Bassey's passport for a bet but that seems unlikely. Anyway on into Croatia which appears to be deserted. It was a Sunday but in the first half hour the only humans I saw were two little girls taking a dog for a walk, otherwise spooky silence.
Now it's time to talk about the last twenty kilometres of the day, every day really. In the morning I am all revved up. I shake off the aches and pains that have developed overnight, jump on Cynthia and knock out two and a half hours of top rank cycling. Then it's a break for coffee and a bun, another couple of hours then a beer. At this point there shouldn't be too far to go but, no matter how far, the last twenty kilometres will be a killer. Mostly I have been confronted with twenty kilometres of flat road running past unendingly dull flat farmland. In the distance I can just make out the church tower of the next village and just possibly the church tower in the village after that and there's nothing to do but cycle it. This is the moment to concentrate, are my feet perfectly positioned on the pedals? Are my legs pumping up and down vertically? Have I got rhythm? Rhythm is everything in cycling. I say to myself Abebe Bikila - Abebe Bikila - Abebe Bikila. Why Abebe Bikila? He was an Ethiopian soldier who won the Olympic Marathon in Rome 1960 and in Tokyo 1964. Kon Ichikawa made a remarkable documentary film Tokyo Olympiad (find it if you can) and the climax was a stunning sequence showing Bikila running, the film cuts away to other scenes, other events, but always cuts back to Bikila and the film is cut to the rhythm of his running. The commentary is oddly dead-pan but poetic/heroic. It's very moving and has stuck with me ever since. So with every breath I say Abebe Bikila and it works, I go faster. Who says sport doesn't have the power to inspire us. When I flag there is always a quote from The Wild Bunch. William Holden to Ernest Borgnine who has just fallen off his horse due to mixture of exhaustion and senility "C'mon you lazy bastard". That works too. Finally Abebe Bikila - Abebe Bikila - Abebe Bikila. I am there. At the hotel. I stumble in barely able to carry my bags. Will they have a defibrillator handy? Will there be beer. Yes there will.