We move easily from Slovenia to Croatia, as if the border is little more than a nod toward history. We try to keep in our sight that there is a story here of humanity and politics and deep culture. The terrain and joy of pedaling pushes against us, for weeks our track will thread dazzling diverse terrain: tree cover on Istria, cracked white rock on the islands, dry mountain windskimmed ridges.
We’ve been navigating using Komoot, a sophisticated adventure planning program with a very tidy web interface and the nicest smartphone app in the genre. While planning this trip, I first just clicked on Illirska Bistrica and Split and indicated that we would be on mountain bikes. That yielded a route that I would eventually tinker with a great deal, but it was remarkable from the start that Komoot chose small roads and tracks just as I would have wanted it to. I’ve tested the site closer to home where I know the roads well and can confirm that, if you do nothing and leave the route creation to Komoot’s route engine, you will yield a very nice ride.
The app is intuitive and beautiful. During navigation, it will record the usual trip statistics and will project your position on the downloaded background map in a way that is easy to work with. Once the tour is finished, photos can be uploaded and linked to specific locations on the route. In another nice feature, you can mark highlights on a route which will then be used to help create future routes in the area. The more users indicate highlights, the better the Komoot route engine will be.
Those next days headed toward Sjeverni National Park, startlingly dry, a concrete impacted heat, leaves us heaving into noons. Well above the sea and the E65, we don’t see anyone for twenty hours. As if we’re pedaling against a static painting, pebbly grit, haze chalk green.
Pinball bounding bouncing rock to rock and from the edge of your vision you can see see where the stone fences have collapsed to haphazard return to the track. Snapping twigs and leaf shush, our arms raked by thorns. Heat concentrated into a clearing, dive past the perimeter again.
Leaves and moss and sucking bogs and wind, the grey that cracks to sunshine and then the mosquitoes that figure 8 curve back and again on me, the tannic rivers and the suggestion if not reality of cold, ambient glow at 3am
I can’t hear what my companions are saying unless they’re up close. The hiss and knock of the drops on the gore tex whirlpool sucks all of our shouts down, and then the cold slows the light itself.
Edgeless days, us and the sky forward. Tonight we’ll belt mouthfuls of Jameson from a .5l plastic bladder that I refill at the wine monopoly government liquor stores in the bigger towns a week apart, but not if we’ve rolled through late. And the talk wanders, floats on thermals from our camaraderie.
The settling serenity is that it’s lost the instant after it comes. What’s left is analog, elemental substance: brown bog grasses, hillocks, snowpatches, refracting droplets, stone.
Lost in a watercolor smear between hilltops and sky until every shard was just a tighter spiral of repetition to a grey singularity. Windblow enough to not be able to hear what’s said, but the cadence and tonal shape is enough, the absence of reference points and yet we’re still here.
This southern central part of the country isn’t mountainous, but the hills come bright cymbal crashes to our tired legs again and again.
Today a second in Italy’s yellow argent temps, tracks through apricots or peaches, morning roadies “ciao!”, seems at every town we stop to fill up at the spigot or fountain.