Our expedoliday is at an end. After a last night sleep in some bushes by Dubrovnick airport, our bikes have been wrapped in cling film and loaded (we hope) on the plane.
5 counties in 4 weeks and more adventures than we can shake a stick at.
It’s been a fascinating journey through diverse landscapes and cultures. From the rugged beauty of the Italian Dolomites, to the idyllic coastline of the Croatian Islands and atmospheric medieval towns then the dramatic heights of the mountains rising straight up out of the sea in Montenego and finally, a sobering roll through the old and new Bosnia & Hercegovina.
We opted for the road less travelled where possible, landing us in some trouble at the Bosnian border where we were told we must ride back over a 1100m pass 40km away to enter by the international border crossing ("this crossing is on small road for local people, you understand?"- while cracking open walnuts with the butt of his pistol. We charmed them though. Ended up drunk on walnuts with passports stamped 2 hours later.)
There were times we found ourselves up to our unwashed armpits in thorn bushes trying to find off road alternatives to the busy Croatian coast road. We’ll always remember the times we were rewarded with sweet singletrack and beautiful wild camping spots off some big hills in Montenegro.
We’ll also remember with retrospective fondness the type 2 fun of the 120km time trial to catch a ferry in rain so torrential it turned the road into a river and lightning lit up the black sky.
Our days fell into a steady rhythm. Wake at 6am. Tea and oats for breakfast. Riding by 7.30am with the warmth of the sun gently increasing until it forced us to stop for coffee and a swim. Another few miles before lunch (and a swim). Then the majority of distance covered in the afternoon and sometimes early evening unless the ice cream took an especially long time to eat. As dusk fell we would scope out a spot to camp. Among some olive groves, in a cove by the rocky coast or, during a spectacular storm in the Dolomites, in an abandoned house on a high alpine pass.
The people of former Yugoslavia were animated whenever we mentioned we were from Scotland. Waiters, border guards, shop keepers, wrinkly couples on nudist beaches all held there heads and moaned "ah, referendum, aaaggh". We joined in. United in the understanding that a countries independent status is something felt keenly regardless of culture.
We travelled light and moved lightly through the wild spaces we found. There was such freedom in having very little stuff and only essential food. Choice is a stressful thing.
I wish I could hold onto the feeling of that last tea bag as a sacred thing but I know when I’m back home and have them in abundance I’ll make and drink tea without a second thought.
I want to remember the contrast between the bullet holes and land mines and the velvety sea and beach side bars but the emotional impact of these things are only fully tangible when you are standing there under the hot sun with the smell of sage and the sound of crickets.
So I’d better just dream up the next adventure. 24 Hour World Marathon Championships anyone?
Moving out of the Croatian Islands and into Montenego, the weather continues to challenge us but we are having a ball. We reached Dubrovnik yesterday and are dial in past the airport with 2 fingers up to play in the mountains for a few days.
Back on 27th. If we find a way to pack our bikes suitably for the plans that is
We have made it to Cres and the rain has stopped. We had better watch out this expedition doesn’t turn into a holiday.
3 days ago we smashed out a 60km time trial in the driving rain then relented and paid for a hotel room in Gorizia. Having done that we thought we might as well go to a wine bar too. Everything in moderation.
At noon the next day having washed and dried every stitch of clothing including our shoes in a laundrette we rolled out of town heading for Slovenia. Dropping forever down to Trieste and the coast, the roads getting busier and busier we paused in the city’s dramatic main square that looks directly onto the sea and had our last Italian ice cream of the trip.
Then began the search for the start of the old Paranzana railway that would take us blissfully off road all the way to the Croatian coast. This frustrating search went on for some time and we eventually gave up and stayed in a casino style campsite on the Slovian side of Trieste.
We did find the Paranzana the following morning but only after stumbling upon a local festival in Isola where we were forced to stop and drink coffee and listen to some traditional accordion music.
We headed south east on the Paranzana then, with a last minute communication from some friends from the Croatian Adrenalina Mountain Bike Team (www.adrenalina.hr), swung off halfway to the coast to join them inland. Mario popped out of the bushes somewhere near Paizan and we were escorted in style by 7 of the team back to the farm / hotel they were staying at. So lovely to see these guys again. Earlier this year they put on the best couple of races I entered in preparation for the Games – the Kamenjak Trails – a Cat 2 XCO on the Saturday followed by the most beautiful marathon the following day on the Premantura peninsula. Dave Henderson and I ended up there for 2 weeks in total back in April!
We passed the most entertaining evening of the trip so far as their guests at Golororicki Dol where all food and wine is grown and made on site. I learned more Croatian terms for wine making than I know English ones. Then promptly forgot them again. All I remembered in the morning was the word "bobica" which I have been using relentlessly ever since despite the context of the exchange.
In the morning we continued our mission to the sea this time making straight for the east cost of Istria and the ferry where we would begin phase 2 of our trip wiggling our way south through the Croatian Islands.
And here we are. Less wiggling and more swimming actually. It’s hot so we are slacking off and enjoying the sunshine. Back in it tomorrow. Promise
After a week of climbing up cols and linking up singletrack descents in the Dolomites, yesterday it was time to trundle downhill towards the coast and away from the evening thunderstrorms. Bikepacking in the mountains had proved more fun and exciting than we had hoped. It was possible to ride almost exclusively off road between mountain refuges and, although many of the descents were guess work, most of the time we got lucky (though some of the time we did not!).
We spent a couple of nights in Cortina so we could ditch the bikes and scamper up into Via Ferrara territory then spend the afternoon trying on expensive Italian cashmere we had no intention of buying. Cortina is a beautiful town with a low lying 70’s throwback (when it hosted the Winter Olympics) and is nestled amongst evergreen forest that then give way to sheer vertical peak. I have already made plans to return.
We climbed out of Cortina and headed east to Sapadda with a watchful eye on the ever building clouds. We found a great spot high on a hill by a river but in some trees and set up camp before the heavens opened.
The following day after coffee in a Refugio we rolled downhill all day and out of the high peaks once and for all.
Our next mission is Gorizia where Ernest Hemingway’s Farewell to Arms is based. We are on our way there now but have stopped briefly to spend a soggy night in an odd half built building near Gemoa. Glamorous.
I know the last you heard we were off bike packing round the Dolomites then it all went quiet. Sorry about that but we’ve been a bit busy dodging storms and testing our Alpkit on technical singletrack. Priorities.
We are on day 5 of our 25 day trip round the Adriatic Sea (plus or minus a few spectacular detours into some big hills) and we find ourselves in Cortina. We rode from Venice under threatening skies into the hills intent on wild camping come what may. What may came on the 3rd night and sent us into a Refugio after a days climbing up through steeping valleys from the town of Belluno in the pissing rain.
The next day the sun came out and we pushed up to join the infamous Sellaronda route where the UCI MTB Marathon was held last year.
We traversed high alpine passes and descended some techy singletrack with our fully Alpkit laden Cannondale Leftys. I couldn’t believe how well balanced the bike felt with full camping equipment and food on board and neither could the squadrons of weekend warriors we passed riding full suss’ers and wearing full face helmets (funny).
We dropped into Arabba and climbed another 2000m col to camp on some ants (not funny). Then more of the fabulous same, pausing to dry out kit, all the way to Cortina in a thunderstorm (kind of funny, particularly the pedal dance we both to keep warm on the 15km descent).
And here we are. Only one crash, one wrecked fleece (don’t get your clothing caught in your wheel at high speed kids) and a few squashed male egos at getting pumped on the bike park into Arraba by a couple of chicks on fully laden hardtails! Ho hum
With the Commonwealth Games still whirring in my mind I find the strategy of keeping moving offers the most relief. This is why we found ourselves late last night chopping the handles off our toothbrushes and tin mugs and packing our bikes. Today we fly (with new streamlined mugs and toothbrushes) to Venice where we will begin our bike tour round the Adriatic Sea.
Ferga and I will ride north into the Dolomites and use the alpine hut system to ride east to Slovenia before dropping back down to the sea and picking our way through the islands off the coast of Croatia. We hope to ride through Montenegro and Albania before backtracking a bit to catch a flight home from Dubrovnik at the end of the month.
This change of pace and scene will do me good. I’m looking forward to climbing some hills with my head up instead of looking at my heart rate and power outputs on my Garmin. I lost my Garmin in the athletes village in fact. Just as well as I might have been tempted to take the junior hacksaw to that last night as well.
We’ll keep you posted x