Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Adriatic adventure, day 2: To Pag!

Read part 1 of this trip report here.

Strava data (a map) for the section described below can be found here.

The party next to the campground in Murter continued all night, blasting thudding techno music through the thin walls of our tent. Luckily it started to rain. By ‘luckily’, I mean that it rained so hard that the rhythmic pounding of the rain against the tent fly drowned out the noise of the party. Flashes of lightening occasionally light up the tent like someone flicking a light switch.

Suffice to say we did not sleep very well.

We awoke blearily at 8, and it took us two hours to shake off the long night, compress all of our belongings into panniers, and hit the road. I remember the stretch of road between Murter and Biograd that morning as less spectacular than what we had ridden the day before, but in hindsight I realize that lack of sleep and the greyness of the day may be playing tricks on my memories.

I was still hungry after our rushed breakfast of leftover bread and cheese from the day before, as well as desperate for caffeine. I quickly located a tiny market in the first town we rolled into, and timidly entered the market, passing two elderly Croatian gentlemen drinking beer and shouting at each other from plastic yard chairs on either side of the entrance. I exited the store presently clutching a large baguette, apples and yogurt - but no coffee.


Baguette transport for the classy.

Despite the total lack of caffeine, second breakfast woke up my system and the day seemed to be looking up as we pedalled towards Biograd. One doesn’t need sleep to bike tour! Most of bike touring is an exercise in combatting boredom, or allowing hours to pass while floating (relatively) slowly through the landscape. A little tiredness just let my mind drift more easily.

I looked at the map in the waterproof case on my handlebar bag. We would be coming up to a big city, Zadar, later in the day. I could just imagine spend an hour trying to get through another maze of one-way streets and highway entrances like Sibenik. Slowly, I began to trace an alternate route on the backroads around Zadar. If there just was a larger store in Biograd, so we could be sure to get enough food to last through the next morning, we could skip Zadar.

There was, in fact, a shopping mall in the outskirts of Biograd, and we were not only able get a ton of food but also scored half-finger cycling gloves at a sports store. Being from Norway, and doing mainly mountain biking, full-finger gloves are much more useful than half-finger gloves most of the time. But for cycle touring in Croatia, full-finger gloves turned out not to be the right choice. 

From Biograd, we left the main coast road and headed out into the countryside. Finally, the roads were quiet enough for us to ride side by side and chat! The roads cut through vineyards and other farmland, with the occasional tiny village thrown in. Now far out of sight of the coast, the villages lacked businesses peddling to tourists and felt more authentic.


A turtle rescue was performed on the road. The turtle did not appear grateful.

Gradually, the flat road through dusty farmland turned towards the east and pointed us towards the inland mountains of Paklenica national park. The 1600-meter peaks were crowned in a swath of fluffy clouds and towered above the plane we were crossing. They imposed the horizon as far as the eye could see, a barrier to the rest of Eastern Europe.

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The Misty Mountains?

The road did several big rollers, with me huffing and puffing up the climbs. I had recently swapped the triple crank that came on my Trek Lexa for a compact crank. For all you non-bike nerds out there, that means that my easiest gear had just gotten significantly harder. Adding 15 kgs of touring equipment to the back of the bike didn’t exactly remediate the situation. 

The last roller brought us into a sharp northward turn, and we descended onto the peninsula that would run into the island of Pag. It was breathtaking. The blue sea was sparkling, surface buffeted by a light wind. A dramatic coastline extended ahead of us, and the barrier of mountains still loomed to our right.

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To Pag! Yet another case of ‘the picture can’t possibly capture the depth of landscape as we experienced it.’ But beautiful nonetheless.

As we pedalled along the once-distant coastline, the wind started to pick up. It didn’t just get stronger, it started to blow gusts of cross wind. In the cross wind, our panniers acted like sails, threatening to push us over with every gust. I quickly learned the trick of leaning in the wind, anticipating a gust at any moment, and pedalling forward as hard as I could when the gusts came. Physics, I reasoned, was on my side. The more forward momentum I could create, the more momentum the wind would have to create to tip me over.

Then came The Bridge.

The bridge between the mainland and Pag is an arching engineering wonder stretched between two barren sea cliffs. On the Pag side of the bridge is a ruined fortress, gazing up at the curved steel of the bridge. How long did the fortress stand for? How long will the bridge stand for? Who knows.

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A ruined fortress and a bridge, staring at each other.

As we approached the bridge, the wind went from ‘strong gusts of cross wind’ to ‘gusts of cross wind that actually threatened to blow me over’. If I got blown over, I realized, I would fall directly into the road, in front of any passing cars. The apex of the wind seemed to be around the bridge itself, where the landscape acted as funnel.

“This wind is really strong!” I whined to Audun, “I’m scared!"

“It’ll be alright”, he reassured me, “Just ride carefully!” I proceeded to categorically refuse to cross the bridge while riding my bike. So we squeezed up onto the tiny pedestrian walkway and pushed our bikes across. Audun admitted soon after crossing that this, in fact, had been a good choice. The wind was strong enough to actually stop us in our tracks as we walked.

Soon after the bridge, higher terrain around us provided enough of a shield from the unrelenting wind for us to ride. We quickly pedalled the last few kilometers to the town of Dinjiska, our final destination for the evening.

As we looked for a campsite, an elderly Croatian woman beckoned to her driveway, and I saw a small sign for ‘Autocamp’. The woman apparently only spoke German (in addition to Croatian I presume), and assuming we looked German enough, start to explain the campsite procedure in German. I stood there, smiling like an idiot. Thankfully Audun speaks enough German to be able to ask all the right questions, and soon our Palace of Luxury and Spaciousness was set up in the lady’s back yard. 

Then we went to swim in the ocean, and there were swans there. Swans! Enormous, white birds with loooong elegant necks. Actually, they were kind of scary; they wouldn’t move when I walked out into the water and I was kind of afraid they would attack me. Which just goes to show: don’t feed the wildlife, tourists!

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Swimming (err, shying away from!) with the swams on Pag!

We ate an enormous dinner at a tiny restaurant where we were the only customers. A news station was blaring in Croatian on the TV, reporting about Syrian refugees trying to cross into Europe, which, come to think of it, was happening not to far from here. The familiar images of swaths of people all trying to force themselves onto an already overflowing train flashed across the screen. Would we be affected by the refugee crisis? How would our border crossing into Slovenia be?

Those questions would be answered in due time. We tumbled back to our tent, where the wind fly was flapping ferociously in the still strong wind. Sigh. And I had been hoping to get a good night’s sleep...

- The Wild Bazilchuk

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Adriatic adventure, day 1: Beat the heat

How are adventures born?

“We should take a week of vacation in September. We should ride our bikes. Let’s go somewhere warm, not cold, rainy Norway.” And that was how Audun and I ended up being spewed out of a plane with hundreds of Norwegian tourists seeking the sun in Split, Croatia. Our return tickets were from Venice, Italy, and we had 7 days to get there, hopefully mostly propelled by the power of our own pedalling.

The adriatic sea0

Start: Split. Finish: Venice. Route: TBD

As tourists continued to crowd the tiny baggage pick-up terminal at the Split airport, Audun and I set about repacking our things and changing into bike clothes. Being the only people with bikes and  luggage exploded all over the terminal, we got a lot of strange looks. After all, who in there right mind would travel to a beach paradise like the Adriatic coast and ride their bikes, instead of relaxing like a sane person?


Just casually repacking in the baggage terminal

Us, apparently. It was absolutely sweltering as we wheeled our fully ladened bikes into the main terminal. We didn’t have any water, and were looking around for somewhere to get some when a security guard told us off for loitering with our bikes. So we entered the merciless Croatian sun with no water, and started to pedal, hoping we would find some soon.

The area around the airport was dusty and decrepit, strewn with litter ignored by the cars zooming by. After a couple kilometers, we located a large supermarket, and purchased water, ice cream, bread, sausage, cheese, chips and drive map of Croatia and the surrounding countries. Now feeling more prepared, we headed up the coast. The villages grew more charming as we rode further away from the airport, but the temperature kept rising, to an unpleasant 37 C.


Cruisin' through Marina

We were both drinking water like crazy, and had to stop several times for more refreshments, consuming a total of 9 liters (!) of water total, plus Cokes and ice creams.

The charming villages near the coast were well-maintained, but as the road veered away from the coast the houses told a different story. There were many half-finished or abandoned houses with empty windows staring out at the dusty landscape populated by scrub brush and rocks. What was their story? What would possess someone to build half of a house, and then just stop?


Beware of wild boar.

The most beautiful view of the day was coming into Primosten, a town built on a tiny island off the mainland. We met some German tourists (meeting German tourists would become a theme of the trip; apparently Croatia is where they all go), and got a rare shot of the two of us, sweaty and on the verge of overheating above Primosten.


Well, at least it’s not raining!

After some difficult navigating through the city of Sibenik, we decided it was time to make a plan for where to camp for the night. The road map had campgrounds marked on it, and we decided to shoot for Murter, an island connected to the mainland by a bridge. I was feeling sluggish and hot as we left Sibenik but perked up as the temperatures starting dropping. We stopped at the first campground on Murter, to minimize the amount of backtracking out to the main road the next day.

The tent we had on this trip is a recent purchase, and I don’t consider it a tent so much as a Palace of Spaciousness and Luxury. Backstory: when Audun and I started dating, we each had our own tiny, two person tents. The kind of tent that two people can fit into, but only one person can actually move around comfortably at a time. So much research was done before the purchase of our first joint tent, and we settled on the Nemi Losi 3, with the Garage add-on. Compared to our old tents, this 3-person tent feels so big I’m actually kind of embarrassed when I set it up.

The crazy thing is that the Nemi Losi is almost as light as our old tents. This trip would be its first real test round, and we had brought the Garage as well. The Garage is an enormous vestibule that almost doubles the size of the tent, and allowed us to store our bikes ‘inside’. Yes, our tent literally has a bike garage.

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The Nemo Losi with Bike Garage.

After setting up the Palace of Spaciousness and Luxury, we walked into the village of Tisno for a dinner. The food was so cheap - I don’t think you could make the same food at home for that price in Norway! - and we had a large platter of grilled meat while talking to an opinionated Austrian guy at the table next to us. Everything was wrong! No one cared about the planet! Global warming was hoax to make money! He was very talkative, and had travelled a lot around Croatia (“The weather is always bad north of Zadar!” he proclaimed), so we got a couple of good tips.


Cool wall art on the bathrooms at the campsite.

Back at the campsite, the neighbouring jet-ski rental place had decided to have a loud party. Sigh. Hopefully it wouldn’t go too late. Despite the loud music, we both fell asleep, feeling the effect of an early morning to catch the plane and a long, hot day riding.

Stats: 92.4 km ridden, 806 vertical meters, moving time 4:46

- The Wild Bazilchuk

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

My great wall

It took six weeks of slow rebuilding before my right foot finally felt completely better after I injured it during my mountain escapade. Six weeks of slowly gaining momentum.  with my foot on my mind with every step I took, gingerly gauging. Will it start hurting again now? What about now? I was indescribably grateful for every kilometer. My functional range slowly expanded and I was able to soak in the views in the high places in the forest in Bymarka and enjoy those late summer mornings.

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Lianvatnet one early morning

Then came the time to pack up all of our things and move from Trondheim back to Norway’s capital, Oslo. I complained a lot about the move, but the fact is I have moved a least once a year since 2009. Hopefully this time it will stick - for all intents and purposes I should be based in Oslo at least the next two years.

The weekend after moving to Oslo, I finally decided that it was time for a Long Run. It was with some irony I realized that my first long run after my injury would be on the same day as the Ultravasan 90K, which I had decided not to start.

I designed a point-to-point run which involved taking the train along the border of Oslo’s public forest for about 15 minutes to get to the start point. I love using public transport like this, to allow me to see areas that I wouldn’t see just running from my house. I started early, and although it was a beautiful Saturday, the forest was mine, only mine, for most of the run.


My route had me running over the picturesque spine of Barlindåsen before dropping into a labyrinth of steeply undulating technical trails. I was glad when the trails finally spit me out on a dirt road and I could let my legs run on there own, without all the concentration technical trails require. I looked at my watch and realized I could have been nearly 4 hours into Ultravasen 90K, had I chosen to start. I was running 21 kilometers today; could I have done 90? I wondered what I would have been thinking about. I wondered if I would have been eating enough. Probably not, I never seem to be able to eat enough while running. Was I a coward for not going to Sweden and at least trying? Or was I smart for not risking many months of injury?

In the end, I had been more afraid of not being mentally prepared to run 90K than physically. I couldn’t start the race doubting myself; there would have been no way I would have finished! You have to start with the conviction that you are able and ready. And after finishing my long run, I was glad I didn’t have 70 more kilometer to go. Maybe I had lost some endurance in my down weeks.

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Free range, organic blueberries are the ultimate running snack. They are probably a superfood or something.

So what’s next? I’ve been casually training for a 10K in October; by casually I mean I started running intervals and stuff, and then immediately got a nasty cold. I’m still battling some remnants of coughing and congestion, and am currently unable to run hard without my throat closing up. Fun times!

I read somewhere that one should consider ones training like the Great Wall of China. The Great Wall is enormous and consists of some ungodly number of bricks. Every time I go for a run I imagine I'm placing another brick on my Great Wall. So bad days aren’t so important; if you skip a run that’s just one tiny brick. It’s the sum of all the runs, the consistency, that will build the Wall.

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Spiders have been hard at work during the night. From an early morning on Fuglmyra.

But 10K is hardly a Great Wall, and I’m all about big, hairy goals - that’s why I wanted to run Ultravasan 90K in the first place! So I’ll just put it out there. I want to able to run Ultra-Trail du Mont Blanc. Yes, the 166 km ultra race with 10K meters of climbING, and yes, I am insane. No, not next year, and maybe not even the year after that. This is definitely a long term project.

I first encounter the trail that runs around Mont Blanc through France, Italy and Switzerland in 2006. We hiked the trail over the course of 12 days, as a family.


On the UTMB in 2006. Those views! Photo by Richard Strimbeck

I then returned in 2012 and mountain biked the trail in 4 days. Now I have the crazy idea to go back and do it in one day (or, umm, probably more like 30-40 hours, as anyone who is not Kilian Jornet is likely to take!). I long to be one of those superhumans who just keeps going through darkness and pain, and is rewarded with epic sunrises on the Swiss-Italian border and sweeping views of sprawling Alpen glaciers.

There are a laundry list of challenges to completing the UTMB. First of all, you have to get qualifying points by running other crazy races (Ultravasan would have given me 2 points). Then, even with the qualifying points, you have to make it through the lottery; you have to be lucky.

Next are the challenges of actually running UTMB. I was able wrap my head around 90K, but I still wasn’t able to go through with it. However does one prepare mentally for 166 km? This is a distance that, on Norwegian roads, would take at least 3 hours to drive. And 10K vertical meters is also mind-boggling. Climbing up and down that much will shred legs that aren’t strong enough, that haven’t prepared well enough. The greatest challenge for me, I think, is that UTMB starts in the evening. So the race has you running into the night from the very beginning. I am (very very much) a morning person, and thus I will be tired and sleepy just starting the race. How do I keep myself from quitting, and keep eating, through those long, dark hours?

I won’t surmount all of these challenges this week. All I can do is go out for another run, put another brick on the Wall, and hope that my mortaring skills are up to UTMB.

- The Wild Bazilchuk