Wednesday, December 23, 2009

An Ignominious End to the Blitz

Tripoli, Libya, December 23

Please forgive the long gap between posts, but a lot has happened since I last wrote from Mostar, and I haven't had much Internet access to update my trip. Not that there is much to update, as you will see!

I rolled out of Mostar on December 2nd, headed back to the Croatian coast along a rather busy direct road, not nearly as pleasant as my meandering route in across the Republika Srspska. It was grey and cold but not actually raining, and as the day wore on the sun came out. I finally popped back out to the coast and rode along the Adriatic until it got dark and I took refuge in a small hotel beside the road, in a little tourist town below a beautiful old monastery perched high on the limestone mountain slopes above.

I slept well that night and was off fairly early the next day. The weather was sunny and I rolled along steadily all day, along a pleasant, if not spectacular, coastline. I enjoyed the small bays that lined the road, although they were not as breathtaking as what I had seen a few days earlier in Montenegro. My destination for the day was the city of Split, the major city of southern Croatia, and I rolled into town around three o'clock, through extensive suburbs. I found my way to the heart of the old town, the remarkable Palace of Diocletian. In the third century AD, the Roman Empire was falling apart, and was only saved from total collapse by a series of remarkable emperors who came from what are now Croatia and Serbia. One of the most important was the emperor Diocletian (284-305) who radically reformed the structure of the empire, splitting it into eastern and western halves. He eventually retired from the position of emperor and settled outside his old hometown of Salona, in a huge, fortified seaside palace, from where he kept a close eye on how his successors ran the empire. The palace, or at least its massive outer walls, still stand today; in the seventh century, the inhabitants of Salona abandoned their city in the face of barbarian attacks and took shelter within the walls of the palace, where they founded the new city of Split. To this day, the old town of Split huddles inside the palace walls, using and re-using Roman structures as modern churches, houses and shops. It is a strangely intoxicating place to wander, far more chaotically laid out than Dubrovnik, and with a wonderful energy to it. I walked around for several hours, even venturing into the spooky underground rooms that lay under the palace itself; an art exhibition was going on there, and the huge, dark rooms made a perfect setting for art installations. I thought that Dubrovnik was a fabulous city, but somehow old Split managed to capture my heart even more.

I set off the next morning, via the old Roman ruins of Salona, which were huge but strangely lacking in life. I usually adore ruins, and these had a lot to offer, but they failed to kindle any spark of the ancient life in me; maybe they suffered from the comparison with Split. I made another detour into another old Dalmatian town a couple of hours later, stopping in at Trogir. Its old town had a wonderful cathedral square at its heart, but the cathedral itself, a UNESCO-listed monument, was out of bounds that day, taken over by a rather obnoxious BBC camera crew who were busy filming an episode of Dr. Who. I found my visit to the cathedral sacrificed on the altar of television and left town in a grumpy mood, not helped by the spitting rain and cold wind. The rest of the day's ride was uneventful, but the sky darkened and began to threaten some serious precipitation and I stopped just outside Sibenik, where I stayed in perhaps the finest commercial accommodations since I started biking in July. I followed the signs for "Sobe-Zimmer-Rooms" and ended up in a spotless, luxuriously fitted apartment with a full kitchen. I cooked up a huge meal, let the last of my wet luggage dry (from the downpour three days before), played some guitar and slept the sleep of the dead for 10 hours after watching the soccer World Cup draw on TV.

The next day, December 5th, was, unknown to me at the time, going to be the last day of cycling for the year. I rode fairly hard all day, along a gentle, quiet coastline, full of bays and inlets in which sailboats bobbed at winter anchorage. I loved the scent of pine forests that filled my nose all day, and with the low-lying offshore islands and the much lower coastal hills, I could almost have been riding along Lake Superior's northern shore. I passed through some pretty little towns, but with time running short and some distance to make that day, I decided not to make the long detour into the old city of Zadar. I bypassed the town and rode a further twenty kilometres until darkness forced me to camp in a roadside field. It was actually a pleasant place to spend the night, although a bit chilly at night.

I awoke to frost the next morning and snow on the distant mountain tops. I also awoke to a flat rear tire, and after fixing it, I was puzzled about a strange rubbing noise I heard coming from the wheel. I fiddled with the brakes, but the noise persisted. Only when I went to the other side of the bike did I see that the problem was a bit more serious than I had at first thought. The rim of my rear wheel had cracked nearly a quarter of the way around the perimeter of the wheel; it must have happened near the end of the previous day, since the wheel was close to collapsing under me, and I was lucky that I didn't have a nasty crash. I had heard of this happening to other cyclists, but it had never happened to me before. Once this happens, the only solution is to rebuild the wheel, a job for a professional bike mechanic. I knew that it would take several days, and that it would not be possible for me to make it to my rendezvous in Trieste on time if I waited for the repairs to be done, so with a heavy heart I packed up my gear, walked out to the road and spent three hours waiting for a Rijeka-bound bus to appear. I loaded the bike and gear into the bus, paid an extortionate amount of extra fare for the mountain of luggage, and rode to Rijeka.

The next day I caught another bus to Trieste (paying an even more ludicrous amount for the luggage) and rendezvoused with Joanne, who drove me and the bike to San Vito, where her aunt lives. We dropped off the wheel at a bike shop, spent a day looking around Friuli, and then drove into Venice to spend four glorious days staying at the vacant apartment of a friend's cousin. It was a wonderful way to unwind after five months in the saddle, but it was hardly the way I had hoped to end the bike trip. Once the bike is fixed, I feel I should at least ride from San Vito to Venice to bring closure to the bike trip!

I hope that you have enjoyed following my month's cycling adventures and misadventures! I hope that the holiday season finds you all enjoying life to the fullest.



Riding Day No.



From Start of Trip



Final Elevation









Daily Destination


12/21774.989.1285245:0817.442.8Podaca, Croatia




12/41964.792.35c. 10005:2616.852.3Sibenik


12/52064.199.4529986:1915.639.420 km past Zadar

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