Saturday, August 31, 2013

Day 20 - Krk Island to Markovec (105km)

Heading north toward Slovenia, we knew that we would be climbing today...but, we had no idea what we were in store for. Almost immediately from the coast, the road wound up and up and up. Every time we thought we had climbed as far as the land would take us, we would turn the corner and find more. And it was hot.

The first hill of the day was unimaginably long, but we stuck to our guns and decided to keep working toward our target - to cross the Croatia/Slovenia border before dinner. The good news was that the highway was ours.

Eventually, the road went down. And fast. On the one hand, we were happy to make it back into double digit velocity as we would need to pick up the pace if we were going to make it to the border before dark. On the other hand, as we descended, we could see the next range of mountains that we would inevitably need to climb before the border. The speed wasn't going to last for long.

And in fact, the second range killed us. Even as we were descending (which normally makes me feel as though I can go forever), we realised that we were too slow and too tired to make our target and that we would need to stop before the border. We inched along, motivated primarily by food and, potentially, the prospect of a shower. It was prime camping territory and bush camp would have sufficed, but we needed a meal.

And so we kept going. And going. Chasing daylight. Until we reached the border.

The border guy told us that there was a town just about 10km away that had a restaurant and a guest house (Border police at small stations like this are soooo different than the ones at the airport). By now, Pierre was smashed and 10km could be an eternity. We asked the border guard how the road ahead would be, as is that might somehow make it easier. The border guy said that it was easy - mostly downhill.

Yeah, right. I've heard that before. Never trust a driver!

But, in fact, it was mostly downhill. And it was fast and scenic and the weather was perfect and there were no cars anywhere. And it was like, somehow, entering Slovenia, we had entered a cycling oasis. Why noone has told me about the magnificence of this place before now.

We ate dinner in the back yard of a magnificent guesthouse just outside of Markovec. In the background, there are heron calling. That sounds really exotic and a little bit romantic, but it actually sounds like an unhappy cat with a frog stuck in its throat.

But, really, nothing can get us down tonight. It was a big day, finished by a great 10km of real "mostly downhill" and a fantastic meal. I'm very happy to be out of Croatia. I have a great feeling about Slovenia.

Day 19 - Pag Island Camp to Krk Island (90km)

The club music, which carried on for hours into the early morning, was followed by brief silence, and then the sound of clubbers returning to the community in which we were trying to sleep. Some were celebrating and singing and laughing as they walked home. Others were not. One couple seemed to be having a really, really, really bad night (which made for a really, really, really amusing night for me as I listened to the moronic logic of two completely wasted brits as they attempted to convince each other why the other was the bigger asshole). I finally fell asleep sometime shortly before sunrise.


We continued island hopping today, though our little adventure was almost brought to an abrupt end as we unexpectedly found ourselves stranded and out of money, with no ATM in sight. I guess that nobody plans to find themselves in this situation, but the combination of expensive ferries, overpriced food, and limited banking access had left us stranded and hungry in a rather inconvenient spot; a ferry terminal 50km from anywhere of significance.

A sympathetic ferry toll cashier took pity on us, accepting a few coins and some pocket lint in lieu of the proper fare, enabling us to cross to Krk island, where we found some nice side roads for cycling and some great seafood for refueling.


The farther north that we move, the more common it is to see tourists with wallets overflowing with euros; and large bills, too! I have to wonder what do these people do for a living. Euros aren't even the national currency here.

Day 18 - Novigrad to Pag Island Camp (85km)

When people talk about Croatia, they talk about the islands and the coastline. I'd had my fill of (traffic laden, suicidal) mainland coastline between Dubrovnik and Trogir. With this in mind, we decided to hit the islands to discover what all of the fuss was about.

Pag island survives purely on tourism. Well, tourism...and cheese. To be honest, there is nothing particularly special about Pag island cheese...except, perhaps, that it sweats a lot (though that's probably due to the fact that it is too hot here to be eating cheese).

On the tourism side, Pag seems to be the destination for wealthy Croatians, Russians, Eastern Europeans and Italians. This means fast cars (though the traffic is MUCH lighter and less threatening than on the mainland) and horrible fashion (coming from a girl who has worn spandex every day for the last 3 weeks).

I imagine that Pag was a nice refuge a few decades ago, but tourism has left its mark. One such mark is outrageously priced campgrounds. The campground in the town in which we'd hoped to finish today was 40 euros. 40 euros for a spot in the grass! And there were people paying much more than this for "premium" locations. It wasn't even a nice location or town.

We continued on to find bush camp somewhere. The rocky geography, abundance of sheep, and diminishing daylight made this a rather difficult mission. Ultimately, we asked a lady if we could pitch out tent in her yard (grassy parking lot) and she obliged.

As we go to sleep under the stars, we can we can hear some clubs pumping music across the bay. Sound carries well here. Thankfully, we are tired.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Day 17 - Trogir to Novigrad (125km)

Not many people can pick up a bike out of the blue, throw some gear on it, ride 125km over rolling terrain, and finish with a smile on their face (and enthusiasm to ride again tomorrow!). But, that's what Pierre just did.

Sure, I know a few people who could start this bike trip from a standing start - but they are all serial cyclists. Pierre has ridden four days in the last 12 months. FOUR. And this was the 3rd longest ride he's ever done. EVER. It's like it never occurs to him that he is doing is something that most people consider hard or something that would be necessary to train for.

Basically, he doesn't know the word "can't". This is the perfect attitude for adventure and achievement (and trouble...but sometimes that is fun, too).

We stopped for the day in a really, really cool little hamlet with a beachside campsite and a couple of pretty restaurants along the water. Oooh, and it looks like there is a live band about to play outside, just down the street. There is some sort of old fortress on the hill just beside the shore front; something that it looks to be accessible by climbing a bunch of stairs. I think that I will leave that to be enjoyed by people who did not spend the whole day pedaling a bike...and go check out the band.

Day 16 - Tucepi to Trogir (90km)

I woke up early and began riding before the sun rose. I was motivated to take advantage of my new liberty, to escape the heat, and to beat the onslaught of cars that I knew would inevitably flood the road. I was also motivated by some exciting news. Having recently accepted a job offer, Pierre decided, on very short notice, to jump on a plane and meet me in Split.

His flight was scheduled to land at 9am, 90km from where I slept last night. The sun rose just before 5am. I took that as a challenge to make it to the airport in time for Pierre's arrival. I suffered three flats during the first 20km, but that didn't hold me back; I arrived by the time that Pierre had his bicycle together.

We rode into a little town called Trogir together, found a quiet place to stay and were pleased to discover that there was a unesco site just a short walk away.

I don't know how long Pierre can (or will want to) stay; I realize from my ride with Carrie that even two people who care for each other and are motivated to ride together can struggle. Whatever the case, I will enjoy it for as long as it lasts. It's really cool to see him!

Monday, August 26, 2013

Day 15 - Dubrovnik to Tucepi (150km)

We invited Axel over for brunch. Despite the fact that I find his "anti-capitalist" sentiments and willingness to eat food from a dumpster rather unpalatable, I was somewhat curious to observe the guy. Plus, Carrie was quite fond of him, so I took the opportunity as one of those experiences that come along with riding with Carrie.

Axel entertained us with stories of "white monkey" jobs that he had taken while he was in China. This included playing the "fake keyboard" (the keyboard equivalent of lip syncing) in a variety show.


Today was meant to be a rest day, but I decided to continue riding on my own after we finished brunch. Although Carrie and I have gotten along remarkably well, considering that we have spending 24 hours a day together for more than two weeks now, there has been an unspoken realization that we are both looking for something different for the journey.

At the start of this journey, it was unthinkable to me that Carrie and I wouldn't make it to Paris together. I still have a hard time believing that we won't. But it is fairly clear to me that we stand a good chance of damaging our relationship if we continue together without some sort of break.

I rode for 7.5 hours into a headwind, trying to make some sense of things and stopping only for coke and chocolate milk. Sorting through a strange combination of relief and guilt, doubt and confidence about my decision to separate, I started to understand what happened.

Though the actual 'plan' came together rather haphazardly, this trip has really been two years in the making. When we last rode together in South Africa, it was clear that we would ride together again, somewhere. It is something which we both looked forward to and which we jumped on as soon as the opportunity to do so became apparent.

When we rode in Africa, our highest priorities were crystal clear (ex. EFI) and we even made a point to discuss them as we made our way down the continent. That was not the case this time. This time, we presumed that the others company was all that we needed.

It wasn't.

We could each see that the other was not totally satisfied and we started making decisions based on what we thought that the other wanted (without necessarily knowing what that was). Of course, this was a vicious (albeit well intended) circle that led to increasing dissatisfaction on both sides; borne from a love for each other and a desire to make the other happy.

Then again, maybe its just healthy for two people to take a break from time to time. I hope that's all it is and that we can meet up again down the road.


The road between Dubrovnik and Tucepi follows a magnificent coastline that is probably better enjoyed from the seat of a convertible than on a bicycle, on account of the fact that there is no shoulder and there are many very large trucks and tourist buses screaming past just inches from me. I don't know how fully loaded cycle tourists with paniers survive this road.

Day 14 Budva Camp - to Dubrovnik (90km)

After just one night in Montenegro, we are already crossing in to Croatia. This is such a different experience in space than my upbringing in Canada. How can there be so many distinct countries in such a small area?


Rolling into Dubrovnik was strange; it is, by far, the wealthiest city that we have been through on this trip. It's on an entirely different level of affluence; fancy cars everywhere - flashy houses and hotels - fancy boats. It was clear that it was not going to be cheap to stay here for the night, but we decided to anyway on account of the city's notoriety.

As we were planning our approach to find a place to sleep for the night (without blowing the budget), we met another cycle tourist; Axel from Germany. His bike was packed heavy, with only one gear and a third wheel on the back to carry extra weight. He had some strange looking plastic plumbing pipes strapped to the back (which we learned were actually a homemade Didjereedoo).

Axel is getting by using as little (of his own) money as possible, relying on proceeds from busking and donations of food and other needed items. To supplement his food supply, he's been dumpster diving and gathering plants. He argues that this is part of his effort to boycott capitalism, a claim that I find rather hard to swallow, given that he is sporting fancy earphones, an expensive looking video apparatus and an iphone. I can't help but observe that all of this fancy technology is enabling him to pursue this journey, which makes him a bit hypocritical to be anti-capitalist. But maybe he has a different definition for the term "capitalism", kind of like when America talks about "freedom".

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Day 13 - Shkoder to Budva camp (95km)

At the border between Albania and Montenegro, we met a cycle tourist from Japan; a boy name Kai who just finished university and is now travelling alone for 6 months on his own. He started his journey with just a backpack, but switched to cycling after he met some cycle tourists in Bulgaria and thought it seemed like more fun to bike than to take a bus (smart kid!). So, he bought a bike (with flat pedals) in Sofia, strapped his backpack to the rack and started pedaling west.

Somehow, awesomely, this rookie made it to Albania and was now heading north toward Montenegro. We learned that he had studied international politics at school, but his real passion was dogs. He wanted to dedicate his time to rescuing stray dogs. It was sweet to hear him talk about stray dogs - almost enough to make me like them, despite the feelings that I've developed toward them on this trip.

I hope that this trip doesn't ruin his love of dogs.


One of the differences that we noticed when we crossed into Montenegro was the sudden appearance of sidewalks. This is a bit funny because they seem to have appeared at the precise moment when the population is affluent enough to no longer depend on walking as a means of transport.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Day 12 - Tirana to Shkoder (100km)

Heading north toward the border to Montenegro, we made an effort take 'side roads' rather than the highway. As is often the case, this was not a particularly straight forward way to go. It took us through parts of the countryside that even locals probably don't ever see.

Many of the houses in the countryside were unfinished - concrete structures with supplies at the side and plants growing around the supplies. My initial assumption was that they were abandoned - but, in fact, it may just be that people construct houses differently here. Building as they are able to pay for it, rather than taking out an enormous loan as we do in North America. I rather like this idea.

One of the traditions here seems to be to hang a stuffed animal from the front of the house. It is like a modern day gargoyle, without the functional water letting properties, aesthetic appeal, or longevity of a gargoyle. It is something I'd never seen before coming here (and sort of hope to never see elsewhere - it's not the prettiest tradition).

There were also many abandoned factories that were begging for exploration - but we did not have the time (or balls) for such excursions. We pushed on to Shkoder, which will be our second and our last night in Albania. There is so much to see here, it seems a shame to leave so soon.

Day 11 - Strugga to Tirane (125km)

If a stranger offered you a plastic grocery bag filled with fried fish, would you take it?

If your answer is no, I can understand. If you answered yes, I can (to my own surprise) also understand.

It started with a little breakfast picnic on a wooden pier that stretches out onto Lake Strugga. We were enjoying the calmness of the lake before starting the day's ride, when we were 'interrupted' by a local couple who came to enjoy the same. The man was there to fish, the woman was there to sunbathe. They were very cute together.

We had a friendly exchange about our respective lives and what brought us to the lake. They were on holiday from Skopje - just for the weekend - to enjoy some of the country's best fishing. And, yesterday was a very successful day for fishing! Mostly, they had caught small fish, about 6 inches long. But that was ok, they were delicious when battered and fried.

Somehow, this culminated in the couple offering us a bag of fish, battered and fried (last night) with bones in and heads still on.

Now, if I'd grown up next to the ocean or a big lake this sort of thing might make my mouth water. But, I didn't grow up on the big water, I grew up in Calgary. And, a plastic shopping bag filled with fish (battered and fried with their heads on and bones still inside) caused a rather different reaction.

What kind of crazy person would take a bag of fish from a stranger?

Before I had a chance to decline the offer, Carrie had already accepted. This was, of course, the right thing to do; when someone offers you kindness, it is rude to refuse. Strangers have been so generous with their kindness toward us on this trip, this was hardly the moment to begin being picky. The tiny part of me that was not repulsed by the gift was pleased that Carrie had stepped in to make the right decision.

The woman handed the bag to Carrie and was beaming with pride and happiness. There was a moment of silence as she starred at us with her enormous smile. It was very clear that this was the moment at which we were expected the *try* the fish and tell her how delicious they were.

The rational part of my brain told me that this was no big deal; it was just a little fish. It was not going to kill me to eat a little fish. Probably. But, the rational part of my brain is tiny, and it was losing the battle miserably. I just wanted to turn around and ride away.

Still, as a matter of principle, I was *not* going to be defeated by a bag of dead 6 inch fish. I gathered my courage by thinking about all of the obstacles that I'd overcome. Surely I could do this.

The next step was to select my opponent. Should I try a small one? Or a big one? I imagined that the big ones would have the squishiest eyes and brains. I imagined the small ones would be nothing but bones. There was no right answer.

I dipped my hand blindly into the bag and let chance decide.

A big one!

I split the task into two bites, masticating as little as possible. Whether I could feel the texture of the eyes or any other part of the fish, I don't remember; I could think only of the moment at which it would all be over and I could ride away.

After swallowing every shred of evidence of the fish and feigning my delight at its delicious taste, I looked to the woman for confirmation that I had filled my end of the bargain. But she was still starring, still waiting, with her proud smile and curious eyes.

By now, Carrie had eaten three fish. She didn't seem phased by the situation at all. It seemed strange to be jealous of her about that, but I was. The lady

I reached into the bag and grabbed another.

And another.

At some moment, it was finally clear that it was ok to stop, ok to start our ride for the day. The salty, greasy, fishy taste lingered in my mouth, but I was pleased to leave the stranger with a smile on her face.

Carrie hung the bag of fish from her handlebars and we pedaled away. There were still at least a few dozen fish left, too many for two people to eat in one day (particularly since one of those people was me). We also knew that the mid-day heat was not going to be kind to our bag of smelly goodies. Still, we carried on as if everything were normal.


We met a couple of french bike tourists heading in the opposite direction; destination: istanbul. They'd been on the road for months...and were packed heavily with all kinds of unnecessary items (casual clothing, sleeping mats, slingshots).

I took them as hippies. Carrie took them as anarchists. Either way, we weren't interested in a long visit. As a gesture of kindness, Carrie offered them half of our bag of fried fish. They accepted without hesitation.

And we were off again, headed toward Albania.


Entering Albania was a dream, a long and very scenic descent through a sharp river valley. The roads were in great condition and with very little traffic. There was also a headwind up the valley that made rolling downhill seem like quite some work. It was the sort of conditions in which it is easy to forget to eat and drink enough. And we did.

Along a rather long, unexpectedly unpopulated and uncomfortable stretch of road, we came across a small cafe and stopped for a drink. There were 30 or 40 men hanging out at the cafe. No women. It was the sort of gender imbalance where a feeling of 'not belonging' could be easily turn in to 'not welcome', especially when men are not even remotely discrete about staring. We were too tired and thirsty to let that stop us (though Carrie did decide to put some pants on).

We finished our two cokes (each) as we pretended not to be phased by being the center of attention. And then we continued on, eventually rolling into Tirana just after sunset.


It was national election day in Albania today. There was evidence of that everywhere - flags hanging from every conceivable location, billboards, posters. We expected that there might be some stuff happening in Tirana in light of the occasion, but things seem calm. Based on the conversations that we've had with people, everyone has an opinion - and a strong one at that. Unfortunately, there seems to be little confidence in the process and a general view that it doesn't matter what they think - or what the masses think - the outcome will not change.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Day 10 - Demir Hasar to Strugga (100km)

This morning, we stopped at a roadside bench with a fountain and saw a young man who clearly a local, but who had an unusually flashy new Cannondale at his side and a warm smile...we had to say hello.

A piano teacher in Skopje, on vacation to visit his grandparents, Milan offered to ride with us to a fish farm just about 1km off the road. It seemed like a great moment for a diversion and we gladly accepted. The farm was quiet, but lively, with an elaborate system of pools for fish and a whole range of small farm animals - chickens, geese, a dog, a deer, a pig, and so on.

After chatting about Macedonia and bikes and life, Milan helped us to plan a route for the day. We planned to end in Debar, a small town just near the border with Albania. Milan told us about a convent there, where a good friend of his now lived and which offered accommodation to the public.

It was intriguing enough to tempt us (but, let's be honest, we are easily tempted).

The route included an unusual stretch that would probably take us off road and over a mountain - the legend on my shitty map gave insufficient detail to be helpful and neither Milan nor anyone at the farm had ever been down that road. But they all agreed that it would be hilly and rough. Given the uncertainty about the road ahead, we decided to keep moving to ensure that we would make it there before dark.


Some hours later, when we arrived at the turnoff for the offroad stretch to Debar, we took stock of our food and water supply. It wasn't promising. There were no places in reasonable distance to restock. Adding complication to the situation, there were some very dark clouds in the sky and it was closing in on 4:30pm.

We spoke briefly with a police officer, who advised us against taking the road - though it was not technically closed. Were I alone, I am fairly certain that I would have taken the decision to push through it - and I have a feeling that Carrie would have done the same. It was only 32kms and there was a good 4 hours of light remaining in the day, afterall (and I say this in an exaggerated way, because I know that 32km can be eternity in the rain, in the dark, on an empty stomach, in a foreign country).

But, there is some sort of strange decision chemistry that occurs when in the company of another. It's like there is a certain amount of suffering that we are willing (sometimes eager) to place upon ourselves, but which we are absolutely unprepared to place upon to another human being.

We rerouted south toward Strugga, a resort town in the Lake district of Macedonia and near the Albanian border. This sets us almost a day back (though the riding was spectacular today), which is a bit frustrating, but I think that we made a good decision.