A few years back I signed up for my first (and so far only) bicycle trip: A bike tour in Croatia along the Dalmatian Coast. The brochure said the tour was “moderate” in difficulty, so I chose that trip because I had never been to Croatia, the area looked really pretty, I thought I was in reasonable shape, and there were only 6 actual days of biking involved. That seemed definitely a doable length of biking, plus the brochure showed pictures of breathtaking scenery and people smiling and laughing from their bikes. Definitely doable; I like pretty scenery and I like to laugh. So I signed up. The original tour I had signed up for had to be postponed for nine months because I was in a car crash in Scotland which resulted in four broken ribs and a broken pelvis, and riding a bike was pretty much out of the question at that time. However, after several months of healing, physical therapy, and some rest in Spain, my Dalmatian Coast bike trip was upon me.
The Truths: Croatia is a beautiful country: Gorgeous and breathtaking. The pizza is 100% better than anything found in Rome and the beer is super cold and refreshing. Since that is pretty much all I ate and drank while there I can attest to this statement. The people are friendly, polite, and seem to generally like Americans. The islands around the country are incredibly beautiful and worthy of many future return trips back.
The Other Truths: That country is nothing but hills…hills? More like small mountains! We would take a ferry boat from island to island each day for our bike excursions and immediately upon disembarking the ferry those damn hills started. Every morning during breakfast our bike route was discussed and then each of us of got a piece of paper with a hand drawn map to post on our bike handlebar area to follow. Waiting at the map’s end was dinner and our inn for the night. The next day we would get up, have breakfast, get another crap map, take another ferry, and start all over again with those damn monstrous hills.
Now, I can read a map; I love maps! I think I could’ve been a cartographer and worked for Rand McNally in another life! But I have absolutely no sense of direction. I can get turned around in a straight hallway. These daily route maps drafted each day by our guides were equivalent to a child’s drawing! They may have been composed in crayon for God’s sake. Of course the daily maps were not to scale, there were depictions on the map I had never seen before on any maps I’ve studied; and the key navigational points on the map weren’t very easy to find; thus it was extremely easy to lose your way when trying to get from Point A to Point B.
Because I found it very hard to find my way from Point A to Point B, I subsequently made many Croatian friends along each day’s journey. I made friends with old ladies waiting at bus stops, construction workers, and retired men drinking coffee at outside café tables, just to name a few. I think I am engaged to be married to at least one of those construction workers, several of the old men in the coffee clutch, and now have a little Godchild somewhere in the village of Scrip.
None of the people I met during my daily journeys could speak any English and I certainly do not speak Croatian, but I’m quite certain every one of my newfound friends (& fiancés) all agreed I was hopelessly lost and that my hand drawn maps were crap. Most days I just biked around until the trip van found me and set me back on the right path; I mean it was just an island; at some point I was bound to hit water again. Some days when I was really lost I broke down and resorted to using the emergency phone number to phone a friend for help.
The days I used the phone a friend option were the days I was impossibly lost, out of snacks, and worried about making it back to the inn for the night before it got dark (I hate the dark).
Although I did practice riding my bike back home prior to the trip, I used bike trails with only a 3% incline. I did go to spin classes as well, but somehow those activities did not prepare me for the grueling hours it would take me to get to the summit of each island each day. Plus, the Croatian mountainous roads sometimes had guard rails, most times not, which meant there was nothing but a few weeds and Croatian ditch flowers between the road and the long plummet off the mountain. Also, since being in the recent car crash I was not prepared for my newly discovered fear of road vehicles such as cars, busses and really big trucks, being in such close proximity to me and my bike on these narrow, winding roads. There are no stupid inattentive texting drivers or colossal dump trucks with dodgy wheels barreling by your bike in the spin classes or on the serene forest bike paths!
As mentioned, those preparation spin classes and bike route trips on the 3% incline did little to prepare me for 4-6 hours of biking at inclines WAY greater than 3%! But of course there was van support built into the trip; meaning if you really couldn’t finish the day, you could call for the van to pick you up and take you and your bike to the journey’s end. Do you think I was going to rely on that damn van support? Hell No. This was a bike trip; not a van trip!
However, by the fourth day I no longer liked my bike. I despised my bike. I hated it. On the fourth day as I slowly made my way to the summit I occupied my time and my mind with of all sorts of ways I could use the van support and still save face: I could throw my bike off the mountain and then dirty myself up and say there was a crash and my bike just flew off the mountain (poof!)…that might work until some do-gooder-bike-savior goes down to where my bike is to bring it back up and give it to me so I can finish out the day….no….maybe not that option. I could throw my bike under the dodgy wheels of an oncoming colossal dump truck as it barreled past me at a high rate of speed; that’s a bike killer for sure; no chance of a saving that bike. But then I might injure that dump truck driver and cause more damage to the situation, so that option is off the table. Maybe I could just lay in a ditch with my bike positioned strategically on top of me and wait for the van to eventually come find me, this way my bike isn’t really wrecked and all I have to do is grunt, groan, and limp around a bit…. but I wasn’t sure I could keep up the gimp act for another two days. So in the end to keep my bike and stubborn pride intact I just cursed my wretched bike and continued my painfully slow journey to the summit.
When finally making it to the summit each day, if you were lucky, you had a little time to remove your bike shoes, attend to your ass blisters, have a small lunch, and rest before embarking on the downhill journey back to the coast.
Now, one would think the downhill journey would be the easy part. It is not. Because the downhill back to the shore is all downhill along narrow winding roads, it is essential to keep control of your bicycle. An out of control bike means a careen off the side of the mountain without even the cushion of weeds or Croatian ditch flowers to slow the descent; not a good end to all the struggling it took to get to that damn summit. So on the two hour down hill segment of the day’s journey in order to stay in control of my bicycle, I needed to brake most of the time. Because sudden braking could lead to a careen off the side of the mountain after flipping over your handlebars, constant, controlled braking is essential. As a result of griping my hand brakes for over two hours I was left with basically claws for hands by the time I got to the shore. My hands were left in a sort of frozen grip mode like rigor mortis had set in on that downward journey back. By about the 4th night I could no longer grasp my eating utensils to properly eat. I looked like some missing link Neanderthal trying to use a special tool to eat my food (grunt-grunt; “Me Like Food”). Seriously. Thank GOD pizza is a handheld food in my world. I also had some trouble holding on to my beer mug as I certainly didn’t want to let that frosty mug slide out of my petrified hands and smash on the floor. What a waste that would’ve been! Luckily I have very good survivor instincts and I was able to figure out how to eat and drink using the fossilized appendages which had developed at the end of my arms.
But no worries; it all worked out. My stiffened hands came back to life, the blisters on my butt sort of scabbed over, I made peace with my bike by day six, and I finished the bike trip without ever needing to resort to van support! As I finished writing this post can you believe I am actually contemplating doing another bike trip? Yes. I am. Will I ever learn to call it a day and move on? Nope.