Friday, September 10, 2010

Dinaric Alps of Croatia and Krka National Park

A wind farm in eastern Croatia.

Most of the rivers in the eastern mountains of Croatia had vegetation growing out of the water.

The day after visiting the lakes, I was still cold and wet. I figured the best way to warm up would be by biking. Luckily, I had a 12k hill to start the day. Unbelievably, that did not warm me up though, no matter how fast I pedaled. It was not until the sun came out and hit the valley that I finally warmed up. Ugh.

This not great picture is of a typical road stop: inn, garage, and pig roasting pit.

A church in Udbina, Croatia.

This morning was tough. It looked like it might get nice out, but I was not sure. The weather report was for more rain. If it was going to be nice, I would have loved to take another walk along the lakes. In the end, I let the fact that I am now behind schedule (because of my visit home) dictate my decision. The sun came out and it was gorgeous. It was a hard reminder that I don't get to travel at a leisurely pace anymore. Most of my enjoyment comes from just riding my bike and from taking photos, but the experiences with locals or just having flexibility in your schedule can often lead to the best memories. I could keep extending my trip, but I also know I want to get home sooner than later. Now, is not the time to keep going. I have been moving since September 2009 and would like to be in one place for a bit.

The dead zone in the eastern Croatian mountains.

As I left the homes with private rooms behind, I entered a dead zone that lasted for hours. There was nothing. No homes. No restaurants. No gas stations. Nothing. The mountains of Croatia are not nearly as populated as the coast, but I could not believe how much nothing there was. I felt like I was near that sign in Death Valley that says no services next 75 miles or something like that.

An abandoned building.

When I finally found positive signs of civilization again, I also found negative signs. Destroyed houses. House walls with bullet homes. Signs indicating no trespassing due to land mines. While the military vehicles from my last post seem like so many US war museums, the face is the Croatian War of Independence was just fought from 1991 to 1995. At times, it seemed like over half of the houses were abandoned. I know a lot of people died, but I believe most of the abandoned houses are simply damaged or belong to Serbs who fled the area. Almost everyone you see in Croatia has experienced, first hand, war. I cannot imagine having that experience. Going to war is hard enough, but being a civilian as it goes on around you has to be . . . I can't even come up with a word for it.

A house damaged (by the war?).

My resting spot for the night was Knin, the base for the Serb fight against Croatia. It has mostly been rebuilt and was pretty lively for a smaller town, but there were still some remnants behind. I had planned to bike farther, but was feeling a little tired. I found a cheap hotel, checked in, ate an entire pizza, was still hungry, and passed out.

Knin, Croatia.

Sunset from my hotel in Knin, Croatia.

My next day of riding started out quiet enough. I road through more dry mountain landscapes until I finally turned towards the coast. I was passing by another national park, Krka, so I decided to stop in. It was another cascading lake area filled with fish and turquoise water so I almost skipped it, but I figured they made it a national park for a reason. My legs were also happy to get a break. I was dogging it. These lakes were more forested and smaller, but the waterfalls had more volume. They are definitely worth a look, but if you only have time for one, head to Plitvice.

A waterfall at Krka National Park.

Another set of falls where you can swim at Krka National Park.

One of the rivers feeding the lakes at Krka National Park.

The view as you descend down to the lakes at Krka National Park.

After leaving the national park, I got to have my big adventure for the day. I only had 10k to get to the famed Dalmatian coast that everyone raves about. I don't think I have ever heard someone mention the mountains. Anyway, as I pedaled towards Sibenik, a sign pointing the way was colored blue. Blue means cars only and is usually for autobahns. I was supposed to be crossing it, not going on it. As it turns out, the road went through a tunnel which was only for cars. Just before the tunnel, there was a sign for two towns, one to the left and one to the right. I chose the one to the left because it was closer and was just hoping it would take me over the mountain, passed the windmill farm, and back down to the main road. After half a kilometer, the road turned to loose gravel and rocks. It was hard climbing, but doable. One car came down while I was climbing up. When a second car came down, enough doubt had crept in that I waved them down to ask them where the road went. As it turns out, the gravel road did rejoin the main road and I only had 2km to the top. However, the way down was a lot steeper and had worse gravel. After a great chat with the German couple driving the car, they offered me a ride. They had been on the road to check out the wind farm and wanted to get over to the coast too. I was hesitant because I wanted to earn it, but the idea of biking on even worse gravel and risking a flat convinced me to jump in and join them. On the way, we found some raspberry bushes, yum!

Sibenik was a bust. I skipped town as soon as they let me out. I thought there were two roads to Trogir, one shorter, but I wasn't sure which. I was about to go into a gas station to ask, when I saw an off-duty taxi driver. No one knows an area better than an experienced taxi driver. He told me one road was hillier, but 14km shorter. Sign me up for shorter.

The shortest producing grape vines I have ever seen.

On the shorter root, they have built walls for miles. I assume the walls are just the farmers removing rocks from their fields. However, this isn't just one or two walls. These are three feet high and break the fields up into different sized sections. Some were 10m x 10m, others 20m x 30m. There didn't seem to be too much rhyme or reason beyond getting the rocks out of the way so they could grow their figs, grapes, olives, tomatoes, and tons of other stuff I could not identify. It made for a fascinating late afternoon ride.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Entering Croatia and Plitvicka Lakes National Park

A neat house on a river in Slovenia.

My last day of riding in Slovenia was not as excited as I had hoped. On the way, I was supposed to be going through some of their great wilderness, but it did not seem that different. Maybe I needed to camp and be lazy about hiding my food from the bears. The area did reinforce two predominant themes from Slovenia though, the place has trees, lots of them. It is 80% forested. Also, they love german shepherds. I saw more of them than any other dog. It was ridiculous. Other than that, the ride went fairly quickly and before I knew it, I was approaching the border.

Welcome to Croatia!

When I got near the border to Croatia, I started to get excited. It was going to be my first non-EU border crossing. Land border crossings gone challenging are some of the most common stories brought back from travelers. One guy I met had spent a night in jail because his passport stamps confused the guards. I scooted into line behind the cars, waited my turn, and then pulled out my blue US passport. As soon as the guard saw that, he did not touch it or even have me open it to show my picture. He grunted and waved a little. I thought I might need to go somewhere else to fill out a visa form. I gave him a confused look and he gave me angry look and waved me on again, but this time making it clear I was clear to enter Croatia. No stamp needed. Apparently, no ID check needed either. I did not realize that a US passport meant VIP access. I happily continued on my way, but was worried if another country would expect to see a stamp when I tried to leave.

A museum to be of military hardware from their most recent war.

It seems a little weird to have destroyed houses besides the museum.

After a couple hours riding, it was getting dark. For the first time, I tried sleeping out instead of setting up my tent. I was tired and it would save time. It was a great idea. I woke up after a single sleep cycle and started to get ready because it was getting light out. I figured I was just up a little before sunrise, like always. Bzzzz, it was the middle of the night and the full moon was rising. I did not get good sleep. I also think that might have reset my circadian rhythm because it was the first of many bad nights of sleep.

Morning pig roast.

The next day, it was time to explore Croatia. The first thing that I needed was a proper map. The first hotel would show me one, but would not let me take it since I did not stay there. The second hotel in Karlovac went over the top and found three different ones to give me coverage of over half the country. The first hotel did introduce me to something that is apparently a Croatian standard, they roast a pig in view of the road in the morning to bring in customers.

Rakovica, Croatia

Rakovica, Croatia reminds me of the river going through Camden, ME.

I don't remember too much from the rest of the trip. I had a great spinach mushroom pancake. I was excited because I was covering more ground that I thought I would. I was amazed at how empty the mountains of Croatia seemed. Cars were honking their horns for the first time. I was not a fan. However, I think I've decided that they were actually trying to cheer me on. There were absolutely no other bikers on the road. However, that might have had to do with the rain.

A waterfall at Plitvice lakes.

The big waterfall at Plitvice Lakes.

As I approached Plitvice Lakes National Park, the number of rooms in private houses skyrocketed. There were barely any hotels and I'm not surprised. They probably can't compete with the number of private rooms. Seriously, there were hundreds. With so many places to stop, a huge hill, cooling weather, and more rain, I was tempted to pull in for the night. However, I resolved to push on so that I could at least wake up at the park and visit right away in the morning. When I got there and asked about the weather, I was told it would be the same. Figuring I had a schedule to keep, I decided to go see the lakes in the rain instead of hoping for better weather the next day.

One of the cascading lakes at Plitvice.

The lakes are amazing. Even in the rain, they had a great turquoise color. The tour through the park has four different versions. Some require a boat across one of the lakes. The longest two have you walking all the way back to the sixteenth lake and then taking a shuttle back. That was super nice to be lazy. Unfortunately, by the time I was wrapping up, it was getting dark. The rain was coming down harder. The closest guest house cost way too much so I decided to just tough it out and camp. I pulled off the road into the first clearing I saw. It turned out to be the national park where you are not allowed to camp, but I just banked on them not checking because I was cold and needed to get warm quickly. Not a great night's sleep, but oh well.

A kid checks out the fish in the clear water at Plitvice Lakes.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Ljubljana, Slovenia

One of the four guardians on Dragon Bridge.

Ljubljana is the capital of Slovenia. It was supposedly founded by Jason, the Greek mythological hero, and his Argonauts, after they stole the Golden Fleece from King Aeetes. I think they also killed a dragon in the area and now the city claims the dragon as their mascot. That seems a little backwards. Who knows. They are still looking for evidence to back this up so maybe they will know one day.

Plecnik Colonnade and the backside of the Vodnikov Trg Central Market.

Ljubljana was where I spent my last day in Europe before going home to the USA for a week. Going home was a good thing. 1,129km in 12 days without a rest day was too much. My calves were hurting. They felt like they wanted to explode even on the downhill and flat 58km day to the capital of Slovenia. Unfortunately, my first day in Ljubljana was kind of a bust, but it wasn't because I was hurting though I am sure that didn't help. I rolled into my hostel checked in and asked about my camera. It wasn't there and I wasn't very happy about it. It set the tone for a bad day and took up a lot of time trying to make it get there. It didn't. Blah, blah, blah, I recanted that drama in another post.

One of many busts that lined a single street in Ljubljana.

Ljubljana is a good city to take a time out in. It is small. It has cafe culture out the wazoo. It has lazy rivers to stroll along. Just don't try to bike along them. They have a castle that everyone talks dominating Ljubljana and I guess it does from a sky view, but you just can't see it from most parts of the city. I was in the city a full day before I saw it. Usually, there is a building in the way on the narrow streets. Sometimes, you can see a corner of it, but never a dominating view. I might have just been in the wrong part of the city though.

Ljubljana castle wall, courtyard, and the city below.

Ljubljana's guardian, the dragon, on a step up to the tower.

My hostel might have been the most interesting part of my first visit. It is in the Metelkova area which was an army base, then became a hippie colony, then squatters took over. It seems to live by different rules that the rest of the city based on how it looks and certainly how it sounds late into the night. My specific building was a jail and they have had designers come in and create a single cell so every room looks different. Lots of fun to see, but a little overpriced for what they offer for my tastes. Their staff was hit and miss. Their pay to use internet was terrible. You got a login, but the logout never worked so if you did not use it one sitting, you were out of luck.

The Metelkova area

A new version of David in the Metelkova area

Those crazy kids in the Metelkova area

My favorite sculpture in the Metelkova area

What else . . . . I got my best massage yet in Europe. I wish I had an excuse to go back after I flew back in from the states, but I couldn't justify it. I had a great falafel while listening to good 'ol American Blues about 12 hours before I went home. Through the power of friends (and facebook), I was able to find someone to babysit my bike in Ljubljana so that I could fly home for my dad's memorial and a friend's wedding without worrying about it sitting in a hostel where they won't take responsibility for it. I cannot say my thanks enough to Carolina and her husband who took a huge stress off of me while I went home.

St. Peter's bridge.

A bridge decorated for the 2010 ICF Kayak and Canoe Slalom World Championships.

When I got back from my one week in the states, I had hoped to catch the overnight train to Split. However, I got my bike too late and it did not appear you could take bikes on the train. Based on my Krakow disaster, I just decided to bike the next big leg of my trip. It also gave me another day to check out Ljubljana.

A family street fair in one of the communities just beyond the city center.

Selling wares along the river.

It was still a small wonderful city, but I was able to enjoy it this time. I sat down at those cafes. I visited the castle. I caught a bunch of live street music. I think my favorite had to be the mariachi band. I don't associate Mexican music with Slovenia, but hey, why not. In all fairness, the second time I heard them they were doing less mariachi and more big brass and both were fantastic. I heard one band I am going to guess was doing local music and another was doing big band era swing on the river. Hmm, hmm, good.

Philharmonic Hall with live music outside.

Presernov Trg and the Triple Bridge

Unfortunately, the morning I was leaving, all of this goodness was washed down the drain in a fit of nausea. As most of you know, I am not a killer. I don't eat meat. I will try to shoo a bug out of the tent instead of squashing it, though sandflies, mosquitos, and any ticks on Sabah and I are not usually afforded that hospitality. What did I kill you ask? I killed a bird. I was trying to bike down the river one last time and was going super slow because of the huge amount of pedestrian traffic. I had already dodged a couple birds but this was one decided to land under my tire. I had no chance to react. I heard the sickening crunch of its light brittle bones. I looked back and it was not moving. Wow, I suck at life. I know it wasn't my fault, but I do have that control issue thing which tries to make me believe I could have avoided it. Yeah for guilt. An Italian rider I met suggested it was a birdie suicide. Anyway, that is what I would call an inauspicious restart to my trip. Luckily, I have not had a truck make my bones make that sickening crunch.

More decorations for the Kayak and Canoe Slalom Championships.

Ljubljanica River.

Monday, September 06, 2010

My Gear

This post wasn't the most fun, but is probably one of the most useful. It made me look at ALL the crap I have. Also, it is just a list. The grammar and formatting are off because I am lazy. Details. The list is complete though. I basically travel with 6 parts: tent, sleeping bag, bike, left pannier, right pannier, and backpack. I realize some of my shorthand might not make sense. Just ask and I will explain.

My bike, a Surly Long Haul Trucker.

Bike computer
3 water bottles
Back rack
Bungee cord
Under seat pouch with spare tube, patch kit, tire levers, and air nozzle converter

Tent: REI Half Dome 2. This is a 2 person tent. Way bigger than what I need. I was being cheap and didn't want to buy a new one because I wont use a one man in the states because I always take Sabah with me.

Sleeping Bag: Mountain Hardware, 3 season mummy bag, 10F or -10F. I can't remember. I thought this bag would be overkill. I meant to buy a smaller one, but ran out of time. However, those temps are survival temps, not comfort temps. My bag has been needed to keep me comfortable a couple nights, others it was just too hot. It doubles as a sleeping pad because I do not carry one. Unfortunately, this bag was just stolen. I will be replacing it.

Left pannier contents.

Left Pannier:
Ziplock bag with 5 mini zip ties and 9 regular zip ties.
Extra computer magnet - this went home.
Extra bungee cord - I had 2, one went home.
Extra u-bolt lock key
U bolt
Quickdry camp towel, 18' by 12'
Extra cable for rear derailer
Electrolyte disolvable tablets, 2 tubes, was gatorade, will be salt pills
1 box oregon chai, was 3
1 bag oregon chai
Altoids, won't be replaced
2 spare tubes
Patch kit
Extra master chain link
Bike rear light
Front fork spacer for packing, went home
Mini air pump, accepts co2
Pant leg wrapper, went home
Chain oil
White container with 4 chai, 3 gels, and a tea
Short sleeve underarmour, went home
Sleep losenges, won't replace
Tourist receipt
Blue plastic, endurox recovery drink
Foot print for rei half dome, 5 stakes
29 tea bags
Jetboil, with fold up plastic spork
Book, Walden Two by BF skinner, replaced by Are You Somebody?
40 crossword puzzles, was a hundred
Pannier shoulder strap
2 socks: soccer and patagonia lightweight, both went home.
Blue bandana
Toilet paper in ziploc
LED light
Sabah's camp light to guide me home
Medical tape
2 extra ziplocs
1 ft cord
4 foot string for tying up food
2 fire starters
Stormproof matches
2 qtips, new skin, large bandaid, small bandaid,
Hand sanitizer
8 needles with thread
Steripen to make sure water is drinkable
Bag with playing cards, 1 oatmeal, three handwarmers, went home
Book, The Longest Climb
Waterproof bag
20 servings protein in plastic cylinder, won't replace
Added salt pills and more Endurox after these photos were taken when I went to USA

Backpack contents and gear I wear.

Backpack and my gear while riding
Painter's hat for a sun hat when foot touring, wish I had my old Indiana Jones hat.
Wire bikelock for quick locking and tire locking.
Ziploc with passport and wallet.
Spiral notebook and pen
Maps of the day
Single page of crossword puzzles
Biking gloves
Book I am currently reading, Eat, Pray, love (replaced by a book about Lance Armstrong's 2005 Tour de France win(
Camera cord
Cellphone, no international service, mostly a clock
External hard drive, should be a solid state, just broke, now dead weight
SLR camera, got this back, still not working right, never get a Canon camera fixed in Hungary
Video camera
Mini microfiber towel to clear camera lenses
Ziploc with visa applications, photocopy of passport
U-bolt lock key
Leatherman pocket knife with pliers
Spork, taken home because plastic one is holding up
Waterproof bag for camera, etc when raining
Advil, maybe 10 tablets
Past country coin bag
Innova Mile High Ultimate disc
Food - 2 pieces of bread, cucumber, nuts, bagel bites, 2 snack bars, dried fruit, 2 gel shots
Wrist sweat band
Cooling bandana that has gel stuff to hold absorb more water or sweat
GPS Spot tracker that emails people where I am at the press of a button
Slider shorts instead of a shammy. Never wanted to spend on it and you get used to it.
Riding shorts
Yellow t-shirt
Green Keens

Right pannier contents

Right Pannier:
Second pair of slider shorts
Bathing suit
Cleat bag - taking home.
Rain jacket - already needed this a lot
Scrubs bottoms to sleep in.
4 breakfast bars
T-shirt to keep clean and wear in towns.
Zip off pants to keep clean and wear in towns.
Q-tips, will use up the last few and will not replace
Dental floss
Earplugs, essential for hostels and crowded campsites
Nail clipper
Conditioner, brought almost empty to finish it off
Second aloe, will use up and will not replace
Sabah's dog dish, being sent home
Second sun tan lotion, expensive here and having a second encourages me to use it up
Burt Bees moisturizer, will use up and will not replace
Ear wax remover for when I go diving in Red Sea
Light weight fleece that has been used more times than expected
Long sleeve capilene for riding or around town
Lonely Planet middle east book
Lonely Planet Med. europe book
3 Bikeline trail guides, will be sent home
Bike computer instructions, will be sent home
Ramen pack
Razor and extra blade in ziploc
Pannier strap
Wedding invitation, going home
Spare notebook, going home
NZ fake tattoo
Photocopy of passport
USA money
Extra credit cards
Kazoo from worlds
2 battery chargers for two cameras
1 phone charger
Spare battery for camera
Cpare memory card for camera
Camera cord for camera
Canon camera strap, sent home
3 co2 catridges to inflate tires quickly, used one of these
3 sweat bands from worlds, sent home
Extra bungee cord
toothbrush and holder
Prescription bottle full of advil
Bodyglide, same as vaseline, brought almost empty to finish it off
Tape, sending home
Safety pins, sending home
Hair ties, sending home
Icy hot

I carried this set of gear through 2570 km/1596 miles over 34 days (27 riding and 7 resting). That distance is just over half the USA. Imagine driving from New York City to the eastern Colorado border on I-80 and I-76.