Plan Z

July 16, 2013

Distance: 22.3 miles              Climbing: Not sure

We had talked to another cycle tourists that had loved the coast to Rijeka, so we were looking forward to the ride. Large trucks were banned on that stretch of highway and the cars were only coming in waves with the arrival of the ferry. The highway followed the coast and was up high enough that we had fabulous views.

Not bad

Not bad

As we got closer to the first town, the traffic picked up slightly and we descended down to sea level. Suddenly we were in resort land. There were swimsuit clad tourists everywhere. The beach looked inviting, but too overcrowded for us. We continued on towards Rijeka. This same scene occurred over and over again. Quiet, scenic road until we reached a beach town, then overcrowded and unpleasant. Finally, the traffic was constant with no shoulder, no sidewalk and tourists everywhere trying to find the beach.

As usual, when faced with large volumes of traffic, our fun level plummeted. We hit rock bottom as we can into town. I almost got hit by the same car twice. People were not paying attention and being especially aggressive towards us. We tried riding on the sidewalks when they were available, but people used them to park their cars, blocking the way completely. We were totally over this crappy cycling and no longer wanted to be in Croatia or anywhere near it. We headed to the train station.

It was time for a change of scenery. We thought that by going straight to Munich, we would be able to restart and be able to continue at our leisurely pace to meet my family in France in August. Chandler was able to get us tickets for us and the bikes all the way to Munich. We would have to change trains in Slovenia at midnight, but we were not too concerned.

Our train was scheduled to leave in the evening, so we had several hours to kill. We found a McDonald’s with free wifi and spend some time eating french fries and updating the blog. We cycled around town for a bit, enjoying the sights. We also found a place with very delicious and affordable pizza for dinner.

Leaning tower

Leaning tower

Pizza

Pizza

After dinner, we headed back to the train station to wait for our ride. When the train arrived, we put our bikes and panniers in the bike car and found a compartment for ourselves. The train was practically empty, so we had the place to ourselves and could stretch out and relax. We spent our time reading and napping.

Bike car on train

Bike car on train

Comfy train

Comfy train

In Slovenia, we had no problems getting the bikes and panniers off the train and finding the next platform. We had a short wait before the next train arrived. That was when the drama started. The conductor told us the bikes were not allowed on the train, as there was no bike car. Ok, but we had already paid quite a bit of money for our tickets, SO… we were getting on that train with our bicycles. Eventually, they let us on with our bikes jammed in the corner, blocking the bathroom. The train had been overbooked so there were a bunch of young British backpackers standing and laying in the aisle and everyone was angry with us because one of the bathrooms was blocked by our bikes.

Luckily, we had been assigned seats and were ready to sleep. Unfortunately, they were middle seats without the lovely headrests of our last train, so sleeping was interrupted and uncomfortable. In Austria, the train stopped to add more cars and we were woken up by a new conductor yelling at Chandler. Literally, yelling at the top of his voice. He could be heard from one end of the car to the other end. The bikes were not allowed on the train, even though the train was already moving and a bike car had been added. Chandler didn’t say a word and patiently waited until the man had finished his tirade before asking what he proposed should be done. Eventually, it was decided the bikes would be moved into the bike car and we needed to pay a few Euros. The situation was completely ridiculous, but Chandler moved the bikes 3 cars down on the moving train and then tried to get some sleep before reaching Munich.

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Over it

July 15, 2013

Distance: 47.7 miles                Climbing: 4563.6 ft

First thing in the morning we went over our potential plans and Chandler said one option was that we could just go home. I understood how he felt, but neither of us really wanted to go home, we were just not having a great time dealing with traffic and being in the middle of a very popular vacation spot. We talked things over and felt that the best thing to do was to get off the island and then make a plan. So, we headed off for the town of Cres to find a boat.

The riding started out poorly and further confirmed our dislike of the island. The road ran through the middle of the island, so there was no beautiful view to admire while dealing with the awful traffic. Things got much worse right before town. We were funneled completely onto the road by concrete barricades running along the sides of the road. We had to hope traffic behind us was paying attention because there was not enough room for two cars to pass with us in the road and we had no exit from the road if we heard someone barreling down behind us. I wish we had taken a picture of what we dubbed “the chute of death”, but we just tried to get through it as fast as possible. Right at the end, a concrete truck blasted past Chandler and the turbulence knocked the right side of his handlebars into the barriers which steered him more into the barrier where I found him leaning and swearing profusely. We decided it was the most dangerous section of road we had cycled on thus far.

Things improved once the concrete barriers disappeared. We descended into town and the traffic lighten up. Once in town, we immediately got something to make us feel better: ice cream. We also learned that we would not be able to take a ferry from Cres. All the ferries were of the catamaran variety and bikes are not allowed. Discouraged and facing a big hill, we set off again for there end of the island.

Maybe it will storm

Maybe it will storm

Back on the bikes, something changed and we began to enjoy ourselves, for the first time of the day. The traffic only came in waves, which we figured was timed with the arrivals of the ferry we were headed towards. We had some awesome views of the ocean and interesting rock formations. The highlight though was crossing the 45° parallel!

The scenery improves

The scenery improves

The rock is melting

The rock is melting

45° parallel

45° parallel

Chandler proves it on the GPS!

Chandler proves it on the GPS!

When we finally got to the ferry we were especially pleased to pass all the drivers who had blasted past us. We recognized a few tourists who had honked at us to get out of the way in their rush to catch the ferry (that ran every half hour anyway) and relished their sour faces. Boy, what a great attitude to have while on vacation! Bikes and motorcycles have first priority, see yah!

Drink a for the road? Soda or beer?

Drink a for the road? Soda or beer?

The ferry ride lasted about 30 minutes and then we were deposited on the main land. We had a steep hill to battle and then it was time to find water and a place to sleep. We stopped at a rooms for rent sign, but found out it costs 40€ and had to pass, but the lady kindly filled up a water bottle for us.

A very steep hill

A very steep hill

Still a little desperate for water, we kept going. Not five minutes later, we came to a town with a grocery store still open. Chandler went inside to get us some food and I went to a nearby bar to get our water bottles filled for free.

Now we were ready to camp. Again, we found a perfect spot not five minutes later. We had to push our bikes through some trees to reach a secluded little meadow, but it was peaceful and quiet.

Tomorrow we’d ride along the coast towards Rijeka, and depending on how things looked, swing north towards Slovenia. Ultimately, island hopping in Croatia on a bike sounds a lot better than in was, at least for us. Granted we were here at the worst possible time, near peak tourist season, but the roads are not really built for stress-free cycling, truck drivers seem to hate cyclists, ferry options are limited for those with bikes, camping prices ranged from expensive to ludicrous, and honestly the section we rode through had some highlights, but there were long sections of very boring riding.

On the island

July 14, 2013

Distance: Not Sure miles                  Climbing: 1069.6 ft

The alarm went off bright and early at 6am. We wanted to give ourselves plenty of time to get breakfast and find the ferry terminal. Luckily, everything went really well. There was an open bakery just down the street from the campground with cheese pies. We had time to stop at an open grocery store and pick up a few snacks for the ferry also.

Finding the ferry turned out to be just as easy. We pulled in and were allowed on early to get the bikes situated. Things could not have gone better. We even managed to find a table next to a power source so we could charge up our pile of dead rechargeable AA batteries.

The ferry ride lasted six hours. During that time we drank coffee, ate snacks, read, played cards, wrote a few blog posts and I watched a movie. It was relaxing and productive.

Island view

Island view

We got off the ferry in Mali Losinj and it was hot! We found the Lidl and stocked up on groceries. There wasn’t much going on and there wasn’t any traffic so things started out well.

We were pretty tired even though we hadn’t cycled much, so we headed to the closest campground. It turned out to be some sort of deluxe resort campground. With a straight face they said the price was 35€ a night and we could have the pleasure of setting up our tent on rocks behind the maintenance shed. We decided it would be better to go elsewhere.

After a few miles past the campground it was clear that the island was not what we expected. For some reason, we envisioned quiet and relaxing. Instead, we encountered expensive and lots of traffic. We weren’t really inspired by our surroundings and not having the best time. We stopped at a number of locations to check out possible campsites, and there were a few places that would have worked, but none great. There were huge spiders everywhere and drinking water nowhere.

Extra scary

Extra scary

Eventually, we made it to another campground and found it to be quite reasonably priced and not looking much different than the last one. We also managed to find a spot that wasn’t crowded. Apparently, nobody wants to sleep next to the church and graveyard.

Lovely church

Lovely church

Spooky graveyard

Spooky graveyard

We spent the remainder of the evening working on our new travel plan and updating the blog.

Change of plans

July 13, 2013

Distance: 32.7 miles                    Climbing: 1853.7 ft

Our plan for the day was very simple. Publish a few blog posts and drink some espressos at the campground café then ride to a campground on the island Pag. We were able to accomplish our first goal with no problems, however the second part of the plan got screwed up. Big time.

We followed a quiet road along the ocean, passing a number of inviting swimming locations, before joining the main highway.

Once the shoulder ran out, things took a turn for the worst. We were out with the traffic that didn’t seem to be paying attention to us. There were lots of tourists driving cars pulling campers who didn’t seem to realize how wide their loads were and came dangerously close time after time, which caused us to periodically ride in the ditch. After less than a mile of this we realized we needed another plan.

Not loving it

Not loving it

At a roadside convenience store, we stopped for a cold drink, an ice cream and to discuss our options. Chandler pulled out of big paper map of Croatia and we realized we were going to be on the same highway the whole way to Pag and down it’s entire length to reach our destination. That was not going to be any fun, so our plans for today and the next couple days quickly got tossed.

The closest major city was Zadar, where we could potentially take a ferry to one of the islands. The other option was to go back into the mountains. The beach was calling to us, so we chose Zadar and island hopping.

We jumped back on the bikes and pedaled as quickly as we could to reach the secondary road that would lead us to the city. Zadar wasn’t too far, so we had a nice mellow ride. After the highway, the road we were on seemed like a dream and we were enjoying ourselves again.

Figs

Figs

Giant donkey thing

Giant donkey thing

Bronze bells

Bronze bells

Once in Zadar, we looked for a café or bar or anywhere that might have internet, so we could look up the ferry schedule. Instead, we found the kiosk to buy ferry tickets. That was lucky. So, Chandler went inside to figure were we could go and when while I guarded the bicycles.

It took a little while, but we finally found a ferry that would take us and the bikes the next day to Mali Losinj. This is an island pretty far north, but the ferry system in Croatia is pretty anti-cycling- bikes are officially not allowed on the catamaran ferries which seemed like the most popular way to get around the island. We heard that if you ask the captain nicely sometimes they will let you on, but it seemed like a big hassle to have to cross our fingers every time we tried to get on a ferry.

Chandler found us a campground right in town which at 23 euro plus 7 euro for internet (which we declined) seemed expensive, but there were enough trees for us to put up our hammocks. We went to bed early because we would have to wake up at 6am make it to the ferry terminal on the south side of the city on time. Luckily for us, there was a large group of German teenagers, drinking and yelling in the campground until 1am.

P1030191

Our vision of having a relaxing time riding along islands in coastal Croatia had been turned upside down. We hoped that Mali Losinj would be more laid back and less heavily trafficked.

Onto Novigrad

July 12, 2013

Miles: 31.7 miles               Climbing: 2050.5 ft

With our tent slightly wet, we took the morning slowly to let it dry out a little before hitting the road. We were still on the dirt road, but it was hard packed and quiet. We love roads that are just bad enough that cars want to avoid them, so we can ride side by side and chat and just let down our guard a little bit.

Quiet dirt road

Quiet dirt road

We were heading to the ocean and a town called Novigrad. I’m sure there was a more direct route, but as usual, we took the quieter roads. We got into a nice rhythm, rode quickly and hard the entire day. Normally, we stop to take lots of photos and breaks, but we both just wanted to get there.

A fun plant to step on

A fun plant to step on

Right before town, we started talking about finding a grocery store when a number of farm stands appeared on the side of the road. We stocked up on fresh veggies and some homemade red wine in another recycled plastic bottle. Now we could go to town and spend the rest of the night relaxing.

We took a turn off the main highway onto another smaller road that went downhill and closer to the ocean. Rounding a corner, we were surprised to see a quaint little seaside village with the ruins of a castle above it.

Novigrad

Novigrad

The campground was at the end of town and we headed in that direction. The campground turned out to be really nice with a beach and free internet. We actually got to listen to a Red Sox game on the computer and Skype with family while relaxing in the tent!

Enjoying some baseball

Enjoying some baseball

After a quick swim in the ocean and a cold shower, Chandler rode to town and picked up a pizza for dinner. The homemade wine went to our heads pretty quickly and we ended up in bed by 9pm.

Riders on the storm

July 10 – 11, 2013

Distance: 27.3 miles   Climbing: 1407.5 ft

With such a lovely campsite and enough food to last us the day, we decided to stick around. We started out the morning with an extremely chilly dip in the river to wash up, breakfast and some laundry. With no electricity to power the laptop, we relaxed and read. A little after lunch, a large storm came down and raged around us for a few hours.

We took our time getting ready to leave camp the next day. We had a number of things that needed to dry before being packed away. We were happy to see that the dirt road did not turn into mud and we were able to ride along quickly. We were surprised to find a beautiful waterfall when we finally reached pavement again.

Waterfall

Waterfall

When we rolled into town, Chandler had the wonderful idea of getting some coffee and a big pizza for lunch. After not spending any money the day before, we could afford to splurge a little.

Pizza

Pizza

Not my idea of a good meal

Our company during lunch

Not two minutes after leaving the restaurant it began to rain. First, just a little sprinkle, nothing that needed a raincoat. Soon, it really began to rain and we stopped to don protection. At the top of the hill leading us out of town, the lightening began. The storm moved really quickly and caught us off guard. The first lightening strike was a few miles away and within a few moments, the storm was directly overhead. No pause between lightening strike and thunder boom. That was when we both got scared.

Chandler spotted a covered bus spot and we figured it would be better to wait out the storm than to be in the center. We pulled out the playing cards and played two rounds of gin rummy before the rain was coming in sideways and soaking us. At the same point, the lightening was striking all around us. There was a high-tension powerline a few hundred feet away which seemed like the most likely thing to get hit, so we felt a sliver of safety. Almost right away a huge bolt hit a power line tower about 500 feet from us and the large ceramic insulator exploded in a blinding flash of light. This is when we took a closer look at our “shelter” which was constructed with a metal frame paneled with plate-glass… maybe not such a great spot, but we had no other option but to ride in the downpour. So we waited it out nervously.

Dealing the cards

Dealing the cards

Eventually the lightening moved a little further away and the rain let up. We seized the chance to escape and continue along our way. We could still see the storm in the distance and realized that the road was heading in the direction of the storm that just passed us and another wave was approaching from behind us. Sooner or later, we would collide again. Luckily, when the rain and lightening started up again, we found a more solid roof to put over our head.

Trying to avoid the storm

Trying to avoid the storm

We pulled our bikes and ourselves into a tiny little chapel. It was made of stone, so felt more secure than our glass and metal bus stop. When we began discussing options for possible sleeping arrangements, the storm made a turn and the rain let up. That was a good things too, there wasn’t enough room for us to lay down with the bikes inside.

Our protection from the storm

Harbor in the storm: a self portrait

Back on the road again, we opted to take another Chandler shortcut “adventure route” to avoid the main highway. The traffic wasn’t bad on the highway, but with so much water spraying everywhere, we were worried drivers wouldn’t see us. The shortcut turned out to be a hard packed dirt road with lovely views of the valley below.

Worth the shortcut

Worth the shortcut

We were still being followed by rain clouds, but only getting a light drizzle. After passing through what we thought was an abandoned town, but with a thriving restaurant , we decided it was time to find a place to sleep. Miles away from a town with a hotel, camping was our only option. With the constant worry of landmines weighing on our mind, we looked for a pasture that animals had clearly grazed in. We preferred to sleep in poo than be blown up.

Chandler and the cellphone repeater

Chandler and the cellphone repeater, campsite option #1 rejected

Looks like a good place to camp

Looks like a good place to camp

Right outside of town, I notice the perfect place. A pasture surrounded by trees. This would give us protection from the rain and lightening and hide us from any people passing by. We managed to find an area without animal poo or plants with sharp thorns. Right as we began to set up the tent, it began to rain. We quickly finished the job and covered anything that couldn’t get wet and decided to have bread and cheese for dinner in the tent.

Highway to Hell

July 9, 2013

Distance: 34.8 miles  Climbing: 2447.5 ft

We were happy to wake up and see that the river was back to its normal, ankle deep level. It took a few trips back and forth to get everything across and we had numb feet by the end. The morning riding was uneventful, until we approached a large lake we needed to go around.

Lavendar

Lavender

There was a highway we could have taken to the west, but there were lots of large trucks driving like crazy so we followed some new looking bicycle route signs which indicated we should make a turn to the east and go around the back of the lake. The riding was great and quiet for a while. Then we got to some abandoned looking buildings and a fork in the road with a gravel road leading one way and a decent paved road leading the other. We chose the paved road which led into a village that looked abandoned with buildings missing walls and collapsed roofs.

Local art

Local art

Bombed rooftop

Bombed rooftop

In the middle of the ghost town, we saw a person, which was startling, making repairs to a brick wall. As we continued, it became more obvious that we were in a bombed out town that was slowly coming back to life. Eventually, we reached a dead end and a little boy came out of a house. He explained that we had come to the end of town and that the dirt road was actually the correct way go north. So, we turned around.

The dirt road started out by going around a beautiful blue lake with some cows grazing around the perimeter before going up hill. At that point, dirt turned to loose gravel pushed into windrows by automobiles so our wheels no longer got traction easily and we had to push a lot. The sun was blazing and there was absolutely no shade to the road, but there were plenty of trees in the field near us. It would not have been a problem to duck into the field and get out of the sun, except we saw signs indicating that there were landmines around. We passed a concrete bunker and we realized we were probably right in the middle of a heavily fortified part of the front line of the war. We were too scared to move off the road at all, so I ended up peeing in the middle of the road to be safe. We had 7.5 more kilometers of gravel road and landmines. We were so tired and fed up with the situation, that when we finally saw pavement and Chandler got stung by a bee, I was not surprised by the hail of curse words coming out of his mouth.

It started out nice

It started out nice

Beware of mines

Beware of mines

The road goes on forever

The road goes on forever

Back on smooth road, our moods turned around. The next few miles were over flat terrain and we were able to move quickly while feeling that we were recovering a bit. Soon our tranquil, empty road became busier and we were excited to reach the upcoming town for a little ice cream snack.

Lovely church

Lovely church

The road ended up dumping us on the highway at the far edge of town in the middle of a big hill and we didn’t have the energy to go a few miles out of our way just for an ice cream break. Instead, we started to climb and were immediately on a crowded road with lots of big trucks again, our nemeses. Beyond frustrated, we began fighting, which meant it was time for a snack.

Back on the road, we opted to take another dirt road. We were a little hesitant after our last excursion into the post-war zone road from hell, but were happy to see on the map that it was all downhill and there was no loose gravel, at least at the top of the hill… The road ended up taking us along a river with beautiful scenery including a few abandoned stone mills which sometimes sat right in the middle of the river. Nobody was around, so it was the perfect spot to start looking for a camping spot. Chandler spotted one pretty quickly just off the road down a super steep embankment.

Old mill

Old mill

It was right next to the river, but with enough trees along the road to hide us from any potential traffic. We hauled the bikes off the road and set up the tent. We considered jumping in the creek for some refreshment, but the water was ice cold and we turned around shin-deep. We had a nice time relaxing after a tough ride, glad to have found such a spectacular spot to spend the night.