Balkan Stages 10-11 Pag to Zadar to Krka National Park

Sept 15-16, 2022

Stage 10 of 36, day 11 of 43: 114.2 km, 1014m climb, 5:30 Moving, 6:42 Total,  67.6 kph max

Stage 11 of 36, day 12 of 43: 93.9 km, 868m climb, 4:10 Moving, 5:30 Total, 63.8 kph max

CountryDistanceClimbing
Slovenia352.25149
Italy29.3346
Croatia637.97420
Total1019.512,915

We had a couple of days of unsettled weather with terrible forecasts. We did get slammed with rain for the first 30 km of stage 10, but stage 11 was rain free. I was on dinner duty in Zadar, and that involved shuttling food in the rain from the kitchen to a dry room we took over for dinner. I helped make the appetizers and also the dessert – I was the whipped cream man. I went to sleep around 8pm and turned out to be a brilliant stoke of luck. I woke up at 1:55am to pee and when I had just settled back into my tent, the dance party next door fired up. It was pretty loud and very repetitive. I tried and tried and could not get back to sleep. In the morning I heard comments like “even my noise cancelling headphones didn’t help”. Everyone was talking about how bad it was. It finally ended at 5:30 and I just fell asleep when someone’s 6am alarm went off.

So I got up and packed. It had rained during the night but stopped so we ate breakfast outdoors and got ready to go. We went in a big group and it was nice rolling on roads with little traffic for a long time. We stopped some time after 30 km in a little town for drinks, then continued 20 km more to lunch. Trading the lead with Niek and Bob was fun.

Pace line action

Lunch was at a scenic spot, a bit hot, but the food was as tasty as ever. I love Bike Dreams lunches. It was only 10:30 but I was already hungry.

Lunch spot
The view from lunch

After lunch we took off again, in the fast pack but after 10-15 km it suddenly got really hot and I lost all power. Geoff and I ended up panting in the shade of a tree for a while. We persevered and thanks to a long a beautiful and fast 9 km descent, we made it to Krka National Park. I thought about just riding to camp but went ahead and paid the entry fee and rode in towards the famous waterfalls. It was about 3 km of gravel, then the hikes looked over-touristed so I opted out and just had a great ice cream, then rode back.

Krka National Park

Once on the road it was a short 150m climb, a few km up the hill and I was in camp.

The view back while climbing to camp

The climb wasn’t bad but I was super hot when I arrived. I scored a great tent site, cooled off for a while, set things up, had a shower, did some laundry, ate soup, then retired to the bar with Tom, Graham and Peter. We stuck to the 1 beer followed by the same volume of mineral water, then repeat. That seemed to work well.

Living the life

Balkan Stage 10 to Zadar, Croatia

No big post today. WiFi is not working in camp and I am hammered from a hard day. I guess we should count our blessings…it was supposed to rain all day but stopped after riding a bit over 30 km. It sure started at an inconvenient time though: while I was packing my bags in my tent.

After breakfast where we had a bowl at a strategic spot to catch drips, we left at 7:45 in strong rain. Cars and trucks washed us with waves of water. We had over 110 km to go and the headwind was brutal. But perseverance pays off and by lunch at 55 km it was semi-sunny.

The second half was hard due to headwind and distance and it was hot and humid. Done now in camp feels good. I have an hour to relax until I’m on dinner duty.

Bob’s answer to “What are bread bags good for?”

Balkan Stage 9, Krk Island to Pag Island, Croatia

Sept 14, 2022

Stage 9 of 36, day 10 of 43: 58.4 km, 909m climb, 2:49 Moving, 6:09 Total, 68.6 kph max

CountryDistanceClimbing
Slovenia352.25149
Italy29.3346
Croatia429.85438
Total811.410,933

It seemed pretty simple and low-stress, starting out with 3 km downhill to a ferry, then 26 km to another ferry, then 20 km to a third ferry, then a short 11 km over a hill to camp. For some reason everyone got up at 5:30, leaving a whole hour to pack before breakfast. It’s very dark at that time. It got light, we ate, we left at 7:15 and easily made the ferry. Back in 2007 I remember riding over 10 km up and down to make a 7am ferry at this place, on unicycle. This was a lot easier.

Preparations for an early start
In the line for the ferry
Bikes in the ferry

The ride was a bit over an hour, to Rab Island. It was cloudy and a bit windy, but warm and scenic on the crossing.

Early morning crossing to Rab Island
Bob doing Joga on the ferry

We disembarked and had over an hour to make the 10:30 ferry 26 km away. Sounded easy but it turned out the wind was squarely in our faces and the hills were many and steep. We cranked it out but in the end only 8 of us made it in time – also the ferry left at 10:20 so I only just made it.

On the second ferry

This was a short crossing to mainland Croatia, 18 minutes. Just up the hill we met Ype and Henk with the lunch truck. They had driven around on yesterday’s bridge and arrived just before us. It was only about 10:30 but I was already hungry for a big lunch. Our plan was to leave at 11:15 and take an hour to crank out 20 km with a big climb to the next ferry. I left a couple minutes early and made it easily, drafting behind Niek for some of the way. The descent to the ferry was great: we could see it coming, still far enough so we knew we had it in the bag. And the curves were awesome, over 60 kph many times.

Looking down seeing our third ferry

I blasted past a million cars to the front of the line with Niek and Simo, then the ferry arrived, unloaded and we rode on. This one was only 14 minutes across to Rab Island which is very barren on this side, looks like the moon.

Climbing with some faster friends of the road

We landed and immediately started the climb to the top of the island. It was less than 200m but hot and sweaty. It didn’t take long to get to the campground which is huge. I arrived, and followed the sign to Reception but my Garmin said I still had 900m to go. I checked in and realized I was tired and really hot. Some cold orange soda and a big bowl of soup fixed that.

I set up my tent, then walked a long way to the showers which are beautiful here. I did laundry in the shower, hung it up, ate a little more, clipped my nails, wrote this up and relaxed. More people arrived having taken later boats and Geoff generously opened a large bag of cold beers he had purchased at a nearby store. Mellow afternoons like this are just so great! Later, our neighbor paid a visit, a gregarious Italian. He called me “Messner” and I was very honored.

Balkan Stage 8, Labin to Krk Island, Croatia

Sept 13, 2022

Stage 8 of 36, day 9 of 43: 137.4 km, 2147m climb, 6:02 Moving, 8:11 Total, 66.2 kph max

CountryDistanceClimbing
Slovenia352.25149
Italy29.3346
Croatia371.54529
Total753.010,024

By the numbers today was one of the hardest stages of the tour but at least there was the option to reduce it by 10 km and around 400m of climbing. Starting out, I wasn’t planning to take that option of course. We started as usual, I think the coolest morning yet, ok but barely with short sleeves. We cruised in a group about 30 km, up and down, on uncrowded roads.

Nice riding, but looking ahead to the peak in the center that we will climb

At some point though, my Garmin told me I was starting the fourth climb of the day, 19.2 km long with 1320m of climb.

That’s only a 7% average but the bottom as not steep so the real average was more. As we climbed I got hot and my legs were sore… at one point my Garmin told me it was a 16% grade which is hard. So when I hit the turn-off to the summit, I didn’t even think twice – I cruised by and down 1 km to lunch. Several of us did this but it was impressive how many people did the extra climb, or most of it.

Lunch was up around 1000m with an amazing view down to Rijeka and the rest of the day’s route – we could even just see the bridge to Krk island, far away.

After a great lunch, Rien and I headed down together. The descent was fun and pretty fast, too curvy for real high speed but fast enough to be fun, and SO much easier than climbing the other side. We caught Tim on the way down and the 3 of us then rode together most of the rest of the way.

Rijeka and our route to Krk

It was 13km of semi-urban riding to get to Rijeka, some city riding, then more km to get out of town. We climbed up a big hill and right on top was a great little café. Tim bought us an amazing amount of carbonated fizzy drinks and no surprise we finished them all. I think 750ml for me. It was sunny and warm and we were all dehydrated.

We had a beautiful 7 km descent and met Donna at the bottom, then continued. Here we were on the route I had unicycled with Beau and others back in 2007 – it felt really cool to be riding the exact same roads again. One more climb and we were at the start of the famous Krk Bridge (Krčki most). This was really nostalgic too, although it’s more built up and there was more traffic than I remembered.

2007 on one wheel
2022 on two wheels
Riding Krk Bridge

After the bridge we were on Krk Island, a place so exclusive it requires no vowels at all. We soldiered on, and on and on, and eventually got to get off the busy main road, but it was still a long way with lots of climbing to our camp. Success finally occurred and I was really glad. For me the day was the hardest yet and I was pretty used up. It was just past 4pm.

It may be a record number of beers earned – over 11!

Tim may have saved me by suggesting (strongly) that we had to have a beer before showers or anything else. Good plan.

Feeling refreshed I set up my tent, had a wonderful shower, then some soup and snacks.

Saved by Vitamin B ingestion – don’t know how I smiled for the photo

Before we knew it, it was 6pm and time for dinner. We ate long and hard, drinking Croatian Cabernet. After dessert, Wilbert gave us the briefing for a relatively complicated day tomorrow. It sounds like relatively easy riding, but it’s in four pieces separated by three ferry rides and the first one is at 7:45 so we have to start half an hour earlier than usual.

Here’s the daily route sheet in case you’re interested
We’ve never had a 2-sided sheet before, but the key information is on the back

I must say, I am REALLY looking forward to a massive sleep tonight.

Balkan Stage 7 Pula to Labin, Croatia

Sept 12, 2022

Stage 7 of 36, day 8 of 43: 70.45 km, 918m climb, 3:16 Moving, 4:17 Total, 57.7 kph max

CountryDistanceClimbing
Slovenia352.25149
Italy29.3346
Croatia234.22382
Total615.77877

I slept pretty well – others said there was some middle of the night construction but I was out. We started up as normal, although I now notice it’s darker at 6am than it was a week ago. After breakfast and loading everyone hung out until 8am then we started together. There was a fair amount of traffic going 5 km back to Pula, Monday rush hour. We headed out on less and less travelled roads, with mellow climbs, going through nice little villages and farming country.

Croatian countryside

After about 30 km of this a bunch of us pulled over in the vowel-deprived small town of Krnica for drinks and snacks. The café gave us some grapes fresh off the vine.

Yes we stop for pastries, drinks and grapes

Refreshed, we continued up and down for another 14 km to a scenic ridge where Ype had set up the lunch van in a perfect spot. It was barely after 10:30 but somehow I had no trouble eating a full lunch. Ype had nice music going and all of us were enjoying life.

Early lunch spot
You can learn all about the region from this sign

We continued, past a WWII monument, then did a big descent back to sea level.

A tiny but sad part of the WWII monument

When you go down, you generally have to go up. We started the biggest climb of the day, about 280m, with sections up to 14%. It started in yet another vowel-deprived town, “Trget”. I don’t know why they need the “e” – “Trgt” would seem to be just as good.

Looking back down to Trget

It was only a couple more km from the top to “Camping Romantik”, just short of Labin. It’s a quiet, comfortable place, with plenty of space and no one else staying. I scored a great tent spot in the shade right next to a hammock. We were welcomed to pick grapes from the vines here too.

Living the rough life again

After some grapes and drinks, I had a nice shower, washed a couple of jerseys then Wilbert’s soup was ready. We’ll see how he does as our temporary cook for almost a week – Ellen’s shoes are big to fill. But the soup was definitely yummy.

The scene at camp

Now we have the rest of the afternoon and evening to relax in preparation for a harder day tomorrow: more than double the distance and more than double the climbing of today.

Balkan Rest Day in Pula

Sep 11, 2022

Today was a super relaxing rest day in Pula, Croatia. It started with some excitement at about 5am with a thunderstorm, some wind and a fair amount of rain. When I finally got up around 6:30 the clouds had cleared and the full moon was out. I went to the ATM to get some kuna – Croatia seems to accept euro everywhere but I figured it’s nice to have some real money. Then I bought some supplies for breakfast and lunch.

I did some bike love, then laundry, then rode a couple of km into town to a larger market to buy some clothes pins. I realized while riding I didn’t really need the rest day which was great. I spent some time reading, some time coding on my nstrava app to make it work with Slovenia and Croatia locations better. After lunch I laid down in my tent for a minute and woke up an hour later, sure that it was morning and time to go riding!

In the late afternoon, several of us headed over to the bar for more rounds of IPA and some food – really fun.

View of the bar walking back to camp

Here’s to a nice sleep and a relatively easy ride tomorrow, at least on paper.

Balkan Stage 6 Umag to Pula, Croatia

Sept 10, 2022

Stage 6 of 36, day 6 of 43: 122.8 km, 1192m climb, 6:02 Moving, 7:10 Total, 54.2 kph max

CountryDistanceClimbing
Slovenia352.25149
Italy29.3346
Croatia163.81464
Total545.36959

It was nice to finally not really worry about the weather. I woke up at 6am and put on bike shorts and a short-sleeved jersey and wore that until I went for a shower at the destination campground. Breakfast was the usual plus French toast with blueberries (I think because it was driver Henk’s 60th birthday). We left just before 8am, and each rider had to decide: gravel or road. We had two tracks to pick from and the gravel one was 6-8 km longer but the promise of gravel plus less traffic sold me.

Typical scenery along the route

Conditions were great as we headed out, relatively soon splitting apart and cranking up a gravel climb. We went on and on, hundreds of individual turns, each orchestrated by our Garmins. It’s so nice to just not worry about navigation. No leader required – each rider picks his/her route and follows the turns. We rode through holiday parks with “large” tourists on ebikes, we rode through little villages, along scenic dirt trails. At one point I heard a big yell and 15 of our guys were sitting at a little seaside coffee shop. Rien and I pulled in and I had a yummy berry gelato while watching the sea.

Lots of riders opted to stop here

We continued, more of the same awesomeness, and around 57 km came across a Bike Dreams truck marking the turnoff to lunch. We had a great lunch, everyone in a good mood. When you’re working hard it’s great to eat hard too!

This lunch will power you

After lunch we started with a funny climb, 2 km long. It was littered with car side mirror parts from top to bottom. The side was steep and the cars must sometimes smash their mirrors? Weird. Soon we got to turn off on more tiny dirt roads and continued on and on and on and on. The gravel option was pretty cool in that we cruised in such obscure places. I was riding with just Rien at this point and when we hit the craziest rockiest parts it was amazing to watch him navigate the rocks at speed with 28mm tires. I was very thankful for my gravel bike, shock and 42mm tires, that’s for sure. Sorry no photos.

Riding with Rien
Scenic snack spot along the way
We have to go check out this Coliseum on the rest day

Eventually we arrived in Pula, stopped at their Coliseum for some photos, then continued the last 5 km to camp. The camp is basically a peninsula fenced off. We set up tents, ate massive amounts of soup and other foods, then I took a glorious hot shower. Then Tom, Peter and I walked over to the bar out on a little pier and had awesome IPAs in the plural while having discussions of international impact.

Nice bar right by camp
These are GREAT

We headed back around 5:30 since the other guys were on kitchen duty. It was a special day, not only Henk’s 60th birthday, but also cook Ellen’s last night with us, plus our final member, Graham, finally joined the group. A cancelled flight from Vancouver, rescheduled for a week later means he missed he first week of the tour, but boy was he welcomed strongly by the group.

The dinner was epic. The tapas appetizers came with a bottle of Prosecco for each table. Then a bottle of Chilean Merlot, plus a 1 liter bottle of Slovenian Merlot. Then a bottle of limoncello per table – you get the picture. So fun and friendly and tasty. We said good-bye to Ellen and welcomed Graham and ate like you can when you’re on a crazy tour like this.

Tapas appetizers
First course

I got ready for bed with that awesome feeling that comes on the night before a rest day. I don’t have to do ANYTHING tomorrow, and my body is starting to feel good.

Balkan Stage 5 Trieste to Umag, Croatia

Sept 9, 2022

Stage 5 of 36, day 5 of 43: 72.04 km, 552m climb, 3:23 Moving, 4:20 Total, 54.6 kph max

CountryDistanceClimbing
Slovenia352.25149
Italy29.3346
Croatia40.7272
Total422.25767

It was a miraculous day. We went to sleep the night before knowing that the weather forecast had been solid for a couple of days: hard rain during the hours we would ride. But in the morning that was hard to believe as we looked out to see almost no clouds. We had a decent hotel breakfast, cleaned bike chains, packed up and left a bit after 9am. It was warm and sunny, but there were some eerie very dark clouds out to sea as we rode south along the coast, crossing back into Slovenia after just 5 km in Italy.

Looks ok for now…

Our luck held and we had some fun gravel sections. This day had two GPX tracks, 5 and 5g where g stands for gravel. The gravel option was said to be a tiny bit shorter and would cut off some sections with bad traffic so of course I took it, along with many others.

Loving it!

After that we had a climb that included a tunnel over 500m long, and the second we were out on the other side, my phone said “Welcome to Croatia”. Also the sky got way darker.

Subterranean border crossing

It started raining at 33 km but somehow the weather gods smiled and it just stopped. A little later we rode through a very wet area but it never rained on us again. Feeling good, we hit the official Croatia border station. It was a bit of a zoo with many cars and a few others on bikes too. The Europeans just flashed their cards but the border lady was very interested in my American passport and scanned it for a long time before stamping it.

Then we were off on a Croatian gravel climb up to a beautiful viewpoint with a view of scary clouds over the sea. We stopped for snacks and photos.

Let’s go to Croatia
From a nice viewpoint

We had some more gravel sections, lots of turns and then one comically muddy section. But the sun was out and the next thing we saw was Ype’s lunch van, at a gorgeous spot on the coast.

Great spot for lunch
Let’s eat!

From lunch it was under 20 km. It really felt like a half day. We rode up and down, through a funny holiday park and eventually came to the campground and found the Bike Dreams truck. By this time I was hot, so I didn’t bother with a shower or soup, just put on my bathing suit and went in to the Adriatic Sea. It was so nice, I’d go so far as to say perfect – about 24-25C/75F, refreshing and pretty clean.

Swimming area at our campsite
Finally cooled off

After a long soak, several of us had hot outdoor showers, ate soup and then headed to the bar that had just opened. Local beers were cold and yummy – we spent a couple of nice hours there.

Pivo!

Eventually it was time to set up my tent and prepare for dinner – I was on the serving crew tonight. We had bruschetta appetizer, pasta with shrimp/mushroom sauce, salad, lots of wine and dessert. There were basil plant at each table to harvest from. Then the washing line to clean a million plates etc and we were done. What a great day!

Our awesome cook staff Diana and Ellen
Dinner is served!

Balkan Stage 4 Bovec to Trieste, Italy

Sept 8, 2022

Stage 4 of 36, day 4 of 43: 146.82km, 1682m climb, 6:44 Moving, 7:34 Total, 66.1 kph max

CountryDistanceClimbing
Slovenia326.44965
Italy23.8250

We started out the normal way, with a big Bike Dreams breakfast at 7am. Everyone was ready early since the forecast was for rain most of the day, starting soon. So we headed out before 8am and cruised along, down the valley.

Nice cruising before the rain

It was pretty, following the famous Soča River (known as the “Emerald Beauty”). It has an amazing emerald color, everywhere.

The Soča River
From the “Napoleon Bridge”

We rode in a group, on gorgeous uncrowded roads, with a funny river crossing at one point. At about 40 km, I felt first one drop, then many, then pretty quickly it was raining, hard. I added shoe covers and a rain jacket at a little bus stop, missing a massive downpour, but there were so many more that before long I was soaked. There were a bunch of one-way construction zones with traffic lights, but soon, we got to turn off on a little-used road that climbed up steeply and consistently, 9-11% mostly, 600m total.

We were still 2 km from the top when I came upon the lunch truck, setup with rain shelters. It was absolutely pouring and SO nice to get off the bike and refuel.

Wet lunch

I left in a lull and then got soaked finishing the last 2 km to the top. Then lots of rolling and down, and up again… I wasn’t very psyched. Finally I stopped around 80 km for a snack in a tiny bus stop. 6 or 7 riders came by pretty quickly and I jammed the food in my mouth and took off and caught them. We road up another 200m hill, and rested/ate/peed on top at just over 100 km.

A funny tunnel
At 123 km we got to the Italian border

After crossing into Italy, the road went up and down for a while and I was not feeling strong or motivated. But then I came to a viewpoint looking over Trieste, a city I had wanted to visit since I was a kid.

Trieste from above

The road changed to one lane, one way and it was not our way. It was full of cars, one after another coming up and no room to ride. Some crazy car driver was trying to go down it and honked madly at me when I passed him. But we both couldn’t go at all. Finally the line ended so I cranked off down the hill as fast as possible. It was super steep so the car had no chance. It went on and on, then got SUPER steep (-25%?) and turned to cobble stones. Before I realized it I was passing the other riders who were all playing it safe with their narrow tires and walking. I emerged into the city and was immediately fully awake. The traffic was insane! Busses and motorcycles and cars, all going at a snails pace and me, airing on and off sidewalks, passing on the left, having a blast. The route twisted around and came out at the water front by the government buildings. Gorgeous and such fun riding.

Waterfront
Unity of Italy Square, Piazza Unità d’Italia

I met Bob R and we rode the last part together, about 8 km, a roundabout route, up and down and around, sometimes through giant deep puddles, some bike lanes, but ending at the Hotel Sonia where Bike Dreams was all set up. It felt really good to finish this amazing stage.

We had nice hot showers then massive snacks, then made plans for going out to dinner. Niek, Bob M and I took a taxi back downtown to the Piazza Unità d’Italia which looked so amazing on the way in. We walked around for half an hour then settled in at a fancy outdoor pizzeria. We had a round of Italian IPA, pizzas, then wine – Bob and I went for Prosecco because the actual town of Prosecco is so close to us here (under 10 km). I was getting full but we are only in Italy for one night so a high-end gelato place was absolutely required. Mission accomplished.

Living like kings
They have 115 years of experience here
Piazza Unità d’Italia by night

Tomorrow we have a later start due to the hotel breakfast, 9am. That just happens to be the time that the weather forecast has scheduled 4 hours of hard rain to start. And of course we expect our ride tomorrow to take 4 hours. Today was the wettest I’ve been since 2019 in Argentina and I hope tomorrow doesn’t break that record. Good night!

Balkan Stage 3 (rest day)

Today was an optional ride – we are staying at the same campsite in Bovec for two nights. The ride was short, only 52km, but climbing to the highest point on a road in Slovenia, 2200m, a climb of 1800m or so. Both my Achilles were hurting from the previous two days so I opted for a rest day, along with many others.

Bovec is quite the scenic town

After breakfast I walked “downtown” and did a little shopping, did my laundry, read and passed the morning very nicely. By lunch time everyone was back and we enjoyed a double meal of lunch plus soup. In the afternoon, not much happened, but we did make it to the Thrsty River brewery by 4. Bob and I had planned to meet there but when I showed up with 6-7 others, he was already there with 6-7 others. So we had a grand Bike Dreams party, sitting outdoors, most people opting for 4-beer samplers. I had a great NE IPA called Mirky, a stout, a “Belgian IPA” and a “Sour IPA”. And pretzels and more beer, so fun.

Part of the group
Two crazy IPA combos, stout and a NE IPA that was very tasty
I think they have vowel-aversion in Slovenia
Good choices and good prices ($1 = 1€)

After that we walked back to camp and had a nice dinner, with lots of Slovenian Merlot. Bob had the “Marmot” and gave a great talk about the funny things that happened in the last day. Life is so good.