I have recently returned from our family summer holiday in Croatia where I was reunited with my long-suffering bike. It has not been a great summer of cycling for me mostly due to not finding the time to get out and also due to the weather. I am very much a fair-weather cyclist these days. With all of that I was looking forward to testing my legs in the sweltering heat of Croatia but first I had to liberate my bike from the wood shed it had been gathering dust in for a year on the farm.
Cleaned, oiled and ready to explore. This bike brings nothing but joy even when the gears have their own personality.
It looked so sad; the once brilliant white bar tape was now a pale shade of brown and I think there was a wasp nest in the handlebars. Thankfully it was mostly cosmetic and a quick clean revealed an actual bike. The brakes still worked. The gears also sort of worked and the wheels were still straight and true. The only thing stopping me from getting out on the bike was my well-founded fear of being mauled by a rabid dog; something that felt dangerously close to happening on my adventures last year.
To get around this I decided to stick to more major roads rather than the farm roads. Yes I would have to put up with more traffic but I considered this an acceptable risk. As an added precaution I decided to steal some dog treats from the kitchen and stick them in my jersey pocket within easy reach. I even practiced drawing them quickly in case I had run out of all other options.
On my first cycle I set out from the farm and headed towards the climb to Petrova Gora to really test my legs. I may still only weigh 64kg but I had no real climbing in my legs.
Cycling. In good weather! So this is why the pro's live in Monaco. It has nothing to do with tax reasons obviously.
I was feeling pretty good on the first part of the climb to Muljava, lulled into a false sense of security by the more gentle gradients but as soon as the proper climb started my legs were questioning my sanity. In my mind the climb was maybe a five minute effort but the mind plays tricks. As it happens, my time was 18 minutes and 35 seconds and I felt every single one of those minutes. My only excuse is that we don’t have climbs of any real length in Scotland. It is like expecting Celtic to compete with Europe’s best when they have to play in the Scottish league week in and week out.
I wanted to get some good pictures from the monument but there was a van parked outside it and I am pretty sure they were looting it for materials. Not wanting to disturb them I turned the bike around and headed back down the hill.
At the top and trying not to disturb the looters. This monument never fails to impress.
I stopped at Muljava for a quick coffee, the bike and the lycra prompting some strange looks from the locals.
Cycling and coffee...heaven.
Back at the farm, I reflected on my ride by the pool and with a beer. I was in the top 20 on that climb and not one single dog chased me. I would say that was a pretty good day but I was determined to crack the top ten on that climb and resolved to make a big effort the next day.
I took it easy to the bottom of the climb the next day, partly because I was trying to conserve some energy and partly because I got stung by something (I assume wasp) on the side of the face as I cycled. I steadied myself and settled in for 17 or so minutes of pain. Inevitably I set out at far too high a pace and was paying for my effort on the middle part of the climb where the gradients began to really bite. I pushed through and regained some composure on the short downhill before the final push to the line. I gave it everything and would have to wait until uploading the result to see if it was good enough. It certainly felt faster than yesterday. Once again there were looters at the monument and the wasps seemed to be attacking me from all angles so there was no time to take in the eerie atmosphere of this neglected place.
After that effort a beer was in order. Might wait a while at this particular bar though. Only looters and wasps for company today.
Eleventh! Eight tiny seconds short of the top ten! Even though I had taken 26 seconds off my previous time it didn’t feel good enough. I could blame my condition but it was probably the extra weight of all those dog treats in my back pocket. I was actually pretty gutted and took it as yet another, increasingly frequent, sign that my body was getting older.
Dare I tackle again the next day? Well I tried but I knew as soon as I turned the pedals that I would not even attempt the climb. My legs were heavy and I was rolling all over the bike. A few kilometers into the ride and I was ready to turn back but I had to take any and every opportunity to get some time on the bike.
I did a couple of efforts and then decided to head into the dense woods to try and find the remains of the partisan hospital. With no real information to go on except a very crudely drawn map I headed off road on slick 25mm tires.
This bike can handle anything!
During World War Two the hospital in the woods treated over 5000 soldiers and civilians loyal to the partisans and fighting the Ustaše. Apparently the Axis forces never found the complex and so I was not really expecting to have much luck on my road bike and cleats.
I continued along a sort of road until I could physically cycle no further. I came across a house that I can only assume was simply an abandoned house and not actually part of the hospital complex.
Partisan hospital or simply an abandoned house?
Next year I plan to cycle to the path and then hike the rest of the way to find the actual hospital complex and the graves of the fallen resistance fighters. This country never fails to fascinate, even in the relative backwaters of Vojnic.
It was actually quite a nice cycle in the woods; my concern shifted from average speeds to simply staying upright. Whisper it but it may even have inspired a purchase of a gravel specific bike.
On my ride back to the farm I had my first and only encounter with a dog. It chased me from a house and came at speed from the side. I instinctively reached for the dog treats in my jersey pocket but one glance and I knew that this rat-dog had absolutely no chance of catching me. I gave the dog a little hope by slowing down and then applied some power to ease away. Nice try but there is still power in the legs somewhere.
The best way to finish a bike ride.