Gaelle Bojko’s Carpathian Traverse (video)
Gaëlle Bojko finished her 25,000 kilometer bicycle journey with a traverse of the Carpathian Mountains, home to rough dirt roads and hungry brown bears. Watch the film Gaëlle made along the way and find a photo gallery, Q and A, and full gear list from the trip…
Photographed, filmed, and produced by Gaëlle Bojko (@biketotheblocks)
We first heard about Gaëlle Bojko in September, 2019 as she was pedaling through Europe at the age of 22. She’s since completed that trip, finishing a 25,000 kilometer loop while taking in 27 countries and crossing challenging terrain such as the Second City Divide, the frozen coast of Scandinavia, and a traverse of the Carpathian Mountains. The Carpathians were the final stretch of this big journey and hold a little insight into Gaëlle’s personally. Not only is her grandfather originally from this region, these mountains are home to rugged dirt roads, steep climbs, unpredictable weather, and pugnacious brown bears and wolves. After her last film from Great Britain, and her incredible story from Lake Baikal, we’re excited to see another episode from this trip. Watch the full film below, then scroll down to find a Q and A with Gaëlle, a photo gallery from the Carpathians, and her full gear list from this trip.
Tell us a little bit about your trip through Europe.
I left my home in the northwest of France, near le Mans, in September 2018 for a year around the continent. I set off with the idea of experiencing different cycling infrastructure around Europe during the journey as part of my studies in architecture.
The route took me through 27 countries and was 25,000 kilometres long. I first headed east through Spain, Italy, the Balkan countries, and Turkey, then headed toward home, pedalling across the Carpathian Mountains, the Baltic countries, Scandinavia, and the UK. Europe is an extremely interesting place to explore: it’s very diverse and rich, but also easily accessible for a European person: I didn’t need a single visa to travel during that whole year. It was eye-opening, and a bit revolting, to realise how lucky I am to have a French passport.I can enter Turkey without a visa, but a Turkish person needs one to go to France.
What were your favorite places to ride along the way?
Every country has its own specificities, and I enjoyed the vast majority of them. Turkey might be the country that struck me most because of the landscapes, the people, and the riding, even though I had a few problems there as a solo woman. I’d happily return to all of the countries I had the chance to cycle in, as there is so much more to learn about them.
Scotland and the north of England probably had the best riding of the whole trip, as I mostly followed prepared routes that had been scouted numerous times. That said, there are lots of opportunities for excellent off-road adventures in the Balkans, Turkey, and the Carpathian Mountains, as some areas are pretty remote and wild.
Between this trip and the Second City Divide, you’ve traveled a lot on rough dirt roads. Any idea what the ratio of paved roads to dirt/gravel was on this trip?
I didn’t expect to be riding on such rough roads when I set off, and I found myself in some tricky situations with my skinny tyred bike a few times. There were areas where I was mostly riding on paved roads because of the weather, the topography, or just to enjoy some smooth tarmac, and others where the conditions allowed me to ride dirt roads while still making some progress.
Leaving for a whole year (or more) gives you more freedom and adaptability, and I enjoyed being able to choose what kind of road I wanted to spend my day on. I don’t have any precise stats, but it must have been 35% off road and the rest on unpredictable tarmac.
Have you considered any changes to your bike or gear to adapt to this style of riding?
I really enjoyed riding the Bombtrack Arise Tour, and I’m still amazed that only one spoke broke while I was away! However, I’ll soon get a pair of 650B wheels for it so I can have slightly wider tyres that’ll be comfortable for easy off-road touring.
I’ve been riding a Bombtrack Audax AL since I finished the journey, which is great on gravel or slightly bumpy roads, and which is much lighter than the Arise Tour. I equipped it with a set of lighter bikepacking bags to be able to ride more dirt roads without the constant, annoying rattling of panniers.
This was all beautifully filmed. What type of camera and video equipment do you carry?
I used a Panasonic Lumix GX80, which proved to be almost indestructible, with mostly a 25mm f/1.7 lens, and a tiny, cheap tripod that I strapped on trees or balanced on rocks. I can be pretty rough with my gear, but these two items are still going strong, even though the camera fell in a river in Scotland.
Gaelle’s Full Gear List
Bombtrack Arise Tour 2019
Helmut Equipement panniers, saddle bag and handlebar bag
10L dry bag
Tubus Log Evo rear rack and Surly Front rack
Thick down jacket
Patagonia Nano puff hoodie
Gore-tex rain jacket
¼ zip fleece
2 x merino T Shirts
Thick long sleeve merino base layer and long johns
Merino underwear and socks
Neoprene gloves + liners
Ferrino Nemesi 2 tent
Down sleeping bag, comfort temperature -8°C
Thermarest NeoAir XTherm mat
Thin long sleeve merino base layer and long johns, warm socks
Primus Omnifuel stove + 0.6 L fuel bottle
0.6L pot and mug
Opinel knife and spork
Panasonic Lumix GX80 camera + 3 batteries + SD cards
25mm f/1.7 and 12-32 f/3.5-5.6 lenses
Old Microsoft tablet + keyboard
2×1 TB hard drives
20 000 mAh battery
3×650 mL water bottles
750mL insulated bottle
Sawyer water filter
Chain tool + quick links + bit of chain
A set of allen keys + small multitool
Tyre levers + patch kit
Chain lube + cloth
Spare screws, bolts, cables, derailleur hanger, brake pads
Primus stove maintenance kit
Air mat puncture repair
Tent kit repair
Passport + wallet
Small notepad + pens
Small watercolour set
Harmonica (never used)
Needles and thread
At the end of the film, you appear to be both relieved and confused about the trip being over. Tell us a little about your feelings at that moment.
That leg of the journey wasn’t the easiest, mostly because of the weather, but also because of the hungry bears, getting sick, and barely being able to talk with people. It took me a bit more than a month to ride from Brasov to Krakow, which was 2,500 kilometres, and it was by far the most demanding month of the whole journey.
From the very beginning to the last few kilometres, it was exhausting. In addition to that, I had arrived in Krakow on a bank holiday without having booked anything and struggled to find a place to rest for a few days. No trip goes as planned and we learn from the problems we have to face, but that requires a lot of energy and determination. Finally sitting on a bed was a relief, but being in that empty room, alone, without anyone to share the happiness of the achievement brought down my spirits a little.
Do you have any trips that you are planning and dreaming about once the COVID-19 pandemic is over?
I had the chance to go riding in Russia in February, just before the pandemic became serious in Europe. I really enjoy cycling in the snow and the cold, and since I got back I’ve been dreaming of exploring more of southern Siberia, or even Mongolia, during winter. Until then, there’s plenty to discover nearby. This might be a great opportunity to change our perspective on our local environment.
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