To the unsuspecting eye it was just a box in the corner of a spare room but it was much more than that. Within the box was my old commuting bike that had spent ten days getting from the very north of Scotland to the rural farmlands of Croatia. It had been at the mercy of bumpy roads, turbulence and baggage handlers not famous for their deft touch.
My first impressions were good; the box looked in good condition so I was confident that I would have something inside that could be ridden. Like a kid at Christmas I tore into the box and ripped off all the protective packaging. Within ten minutes I had a fully assembled bike that was ready to explore new routes around the farm in Vojnic.
I was all dressed for the ball but the weather had closed in with thunder and lightning peppering the horizon. It was not a time to go out and explore unknown roads on a bike that may or may not fall apart underneath me. It was a time instead to drink some beer and contemplate cycling the next day.
I had planned a route prior to coming to Croatia that looked epic and most importantly, kept me away from any major roads clogged as they are at this time of year with tourists and lorries. And locals competing to get past any traffic that dares to stick to the speed limit.
With my route on the Garmin, I set out from the farm with no idea of what the next few hours might bring. Gravel and dogs. That is what they would bring.
The surface was barely suitable for a full suspension mountain bike never a road bike with skinny 25mm tyres. The whole time I was on this gravel road I was channeling my inner Peter Sagan. Such roads would not worry him.
Eventually the gravel gave way to a proper road and I could start to get back to my normal cycling speed. Safe on normal roads I found myself at the top of climb overlooking the dense forests of the area. There was even one of many shrines at the top to the Virgin Mary, clearly something of a hero around these parts. I said a prayer to get me home safely and I took off down the other side which was a thrillingly technical descent (žalčeva kosa).
I finally made it back to the farm and could reflect on the ride. Certainly it was not one of my favourites; the gravel and the constant fear of being attacked by dogs sapped much of the enjoyment. The weather was threatening the whole time with impossibly heavy skies and the fear of being struck by lightning was very real. I would have taken that over being attacked by dogs any day of the week though.
But I had cycled in Croatia and I had seen more of the area around the farm than ever before. I would learn from my mistakes and plan better routes.