A tale of two [unpronounceable] cities

We collectively decided to have a crazy day of cycling. We had taken a few days off in Ljubljana, the capitol of Slovenia, and were headed for Rijeka, a relatively large coastal city in the north of Croatia. As we intended to spend another couple of days in Rijeka visiting some old friends of mine from a previous hitchhiking trip, the number of rest days in the week was beginning to overwhelm the number of cycling days. For this reason we could justify having a crazy, full-intensity day of cycling 140 km across the mountainous mountains connecting Ljubljana and Rijeka.

We mentally prepared ourselves for a few days, and when the time came to cycle from Ljubljana to Rijeka in one day we had just about reached our limits of physical and psychological preparedness. The rain started about five minutes before we finished loading our bikes, and it continued to fall steadily for the rest of the day. As we had to arrive before 9pm, we had to average around 15 km/hr for the entire day, including breaks, so we made sure we had packed lots of snacks and we spent the entire morning on our bikes, stopping only to stretch our legs and mark our territory.

By eleven in the morning we were very wet, and so cold that we were losing feeling in our extremities (fingers, bums, ear lobes, etc.) However, we were making reasonably good time and were more or less on track to make it to Rijeka on time. To economize on precious minutes, we stopped at a Slovenian bakery for lunch and tried three kinds of burek: classic (ground beef), cheese, and “pizza”. We also had some really bad baklava and maybe even a blue Fanta before getting back on our bikes.

As we left Predjama, we were slightly warmer, less hungry, and in generally good spirits. We were especially motivated by what appeared to be a strong tail wind (a wind traveling in the same direction as us, pushing us along). However, as soon as we left town the wind became so strong that it pushed us off the road. We cycled on for a short while to see if it would subside, but it only appeared to be getting worse. While we couldn’t know it at the time, the wind was gusting at over 100 km/hr. There was an unspoken consensus: we needed to get off the road as soon as possible.

It took some time to walk our bikes to a roadside restaurant a short ways down the highway. Fortunately, the place we chose to stop, much like the rest of Slovenia, had friendly service, free wireless internet, hot soup, and affordable warm beverages with alcohol (tea with rum, to be precise). Having stopped, it quickly became clear that we were not going to make it, as we were running out of time and the weather was not about to change.

Fortunately, there was a train. Unfortunately, we had to get to the train station. Fortunately, Alex found a shortcut on Google maps. Unfortunately, that shortcut was a tractor trail leading into a farmer’s field that quickly deteriorated into a muddy, windy, puddle-filled mess. All in all, the shortcut was hilarious, albeit slightly disconcerting as we were unsure whether it would bring us to where we needed to be.

The train brought us all the way to Rijeka without any serious hiccups. However, the marriage of touring bikes and trains in Europe is generally a stressful union. Most trains will “accept” bikes, but exactly what this means is generally a mystery. This mystery inevitably leads to a surprise outcome with a variable degree of associated inconvenience. In this circumstance, the train had two sections for bikes, each with a metal bike rack elevated about a foot off the ground that covered the entire surface of the floor. Cyclists were meant to place both the front and back wheels into these “bike racks”, where I can only assume the intention was for them to balance on their own in perfect utopian stability. Of course, not only did our bike wheels not even fit in the very specifically shaped racks, but even if they had our bags would have made our bikes too heavy to stand up on their own. Instead, we spread our bikes horizontally, diagonally, upside down, and fit them together in every on conceivable angle in order to simultaneously keep them secure and appease the train conductor ticket man.

We arrived in Rijeka, cycled to my friends’ house from sea level to 120 m (basically the highest point in Rijeka), ate moussaka, and had a great first night relaxing in Croatia. We would end up staying in Croatia far longer than expected.


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