Know When To Say When

By Stephen Ewashkiw | June 22, 2014

15,210 km so far.

Last night we made a decision. Despite Jane not feeling her best, we would add almost 20 km to our route today. Rather than riding along the highway the whole day, we wanted to take small roads through the countryside.

This made our goal for the day 114 km, to take us from Ngawi to Jombang. That we would choose to extend 98 km to 114 km shows we’ve been at this for quite some time. I can remember back to the start of our trip when I was worried about 50 km days.

Not As Planned

The first small road we planned to take turned out to be constructed of softball-sized rocks loosely scattered over a dirt path. There was no way we were going to even attempt this, so only 6 km into the day we already had to adjust our route.

kids at school java indonesia

A gang of kids at their village school, Java.

Checking the map we saw another road about 5 km away, so we headed to it. This road was paved, had a fair amount of traffic, and large holes filled with coarse gravel every 20 metres or so. Not ideal, but the idea of heading back to where we’d begun and starting again didn’t appeal to us. We stuck it out, and after a few kilometres the road smoothed out.

Beautiful empty roads cannot last on Java.

Beautiful empty roads cannot last on Java.

It was inevitable that we would spend some of the day on the highway, and before long we were there, along with all the trucks, busses, scooters, and cars. After lunch we took our next detour from the freeway. A brand new paved road, with no other traffic, unfurled itself ahead of us. The “no other traffic” should have been a sign.

After lulling us into a state of complacency, this beautifully smooth road turned sour.

It looks lovely, right? Let that be a warning.

It looks lovely, right? Let that be a warning.

The smooth pavement petered out and the remains of an old road suddenly appeared. All that was left were the cobbles that once formed the bed for long since washed away asphalt. A couple of farmers rode up on scooters, and asked us where we were going, sure we were lost. When we told them “Nganjuk,” they assured us we were on the right track, and that the road would smooth out soon.

A Good Plan Is A Flexible Plan

All the while, Jane’s stomach was really causing her pain. We had decided we would get to Nganjuk, 40 km shy of Jombang, and see how she was feeling. We knew there would be a train station, or hotels, if we needed to stop riding when we got there.

The road did smooth out for a bit, but just as I was starting to think maybe the road would be good for the rest of the ride, it turned to crap again.

Fields of gold on Java.

Fields of gold on Java.

Sweating up and down rocky hills on a loaded touring bike is not all that fun. Our only saving grace was that the rocks were, for the most part, well embedded in the earth. Had they all been loose we surely would have broken something vital, either on our bikes or our bodies.

Along our rough road we passed through a couple of tiny towns where people were very surprised to see us. I can’t imagine any other cycle tourists have found themselves on this path. We must have been quite a sight.

Where Everything Is Narrow

As we rode out the other side of one of these towns, Ngadipiro, the road became a dirt path through rice fields. There was some sort of street party on in town, and everyone who watched us ride out must have thought we were crazy, since they knew what we were about the find out.

Our dirt part quickly narrowed to a single track, filled with female farm workers carrying huge bags of freshly harvested rice. The incredibly narrow track led up a hill and into a forest.

This far off the beaten track, the world is beautiful.

This far off the beaten track, the world is beautiful.

This was when we turned around. We had seen a paved road a short distance back, and assumed it would head to the highway. After spending two hours to cover 20 km it was nice to be back on a proper road, but as soon as we got to the highway, I almost wished I was back on the bumpy, rocky road. The traffic is so packed in on this road that more often than not, the two tiny lanes have become three as someone tries to overtake a slow moving truck.

Since the destination is rarely our goal, the best decision was to call it a day when we arrived in Nganjuk. We went to the train station to see if we could hop on a train the rest of the distance, but they wouldn’t allow our bikes on the train. A local offered to take us in his van, but wouldn’t meet us halfway on the price, so we rode to the Nirwana Hotel, and checked in for the night.

We’ll see how Jane is feeling tomorrow, before we decide what the day holds for us.  

Want to see the route map? View it on Ride With GPS.


  1. Comment by Kimberly

    Kimberly June 27, 2014 at 6:07 am

    Hope she feels better and that tomorrow’s road is smooth, flat, and shaded!

    • Comment by Stephen

      Stephen June 27, 2014 at 9:43 pm

      Thanks Kimberly!

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