Climax

Day 383, Ljubljana, 26.445 km

Leaving Zadar, I know that I have only two days left to spend in Croatia before reaching Slovenia and Ljubljana. I decide to treat myself a nice climax and I concoct an appetizing program:  a crossing of the Dinaric Alps (the mountain range that borders the Adriatic coast and at the sight of which I was ecstatic during whole hours), then a small passage by Bosnia, a detour through the Plitvice Lakes National Park (a series of sixteen lakes that cascade into each other) before heading back to Slovenia through the Zumberak-Saborsko Gorje Park (where I imagine myself following the gorges of some turquoise stream), passing the Sveta Gera pass and finally reaching Ljubljana. Beautiful landscapes and nice roads ahead!

The departure from Zadar keeps all its promises: I am quickly out of the city, with the mountains rising again in front of me, with the sea at their feet and a radiant sun to crown it all. I am moreover on small roads which avoid the majority of the flow of the tourists, the day starts well!

Again and again the Dinarides
Crossing towards the continent on Maslenicki Most

Once the sea arm crossed at the level of Maslenica, I begin to climb the Dinarides: the road rises slowly on the sides of the mountain chain, almost straight, deviating slightly to go around rocky peaks which dominate the valley. The temperature rises too, my water reserves are quickly gone and the sight of the Krupa river below only accentuates my thirst. Especially since fountains are rare on this part of the road… Cars and motorcycles have multiplied in the meantime, and even if the occasional shout or sign of encouragement cheers me up, it has trouble compensating close overtaking or the pungent smell of exhaust fumes…

On to the Alps
The Krupa Valley

Once over the pass, a superb descent (I will never get tired of it either) and I leave the main road to take the direction of Bosnia. I find myself in an almost deserted valley, with a village of half a dozen houses in its center and apart from that fields, trees, a few cows and beautiful views on the green of the surrounding mountains. I even stop to listen to the silence, which for the first time in what seems to me to be an eternity, is only disturbed by the rustling of leaves in the wind or the buzzing of the occasional fly… A good idea to have headed for Bosnia!

I continue on the small road, pass the village of Donji Lapac and start a new ascent which should lead me to the border. Everything goes as planned, I even find a cemetery to fill my water bottles, and I present myself confidently at the customs. A quick look at my ID card and a nod, I’m through. Too easy these borders, I take a small picture in the first descent and start to admire the Bosnian landscape which offers itself to me. What I forgot is that a border is composed of two customs posts: one for the exit of a country, and one for the entry of the next one. So I find myself in front of three Bosnian customs officers. « Passport please, and Corona test ». The good old COVID test. I tell my story, try to negotiate: « Only transit, Croatia tonight ». It doesn’t seem to convince. I try the little joke: « And if it’s asked nicely? With a smile?” My interlocutor ticks, says something that makes his colleague laugh, gets closer to me, asks me how much my bike costs. I’m not a big fan of the direction the conversation seems to be headed. Does « nicely » have a financial component in Bosnia? He asks me if I have my passport on me, in addition to my ID card. Caught in a fit of paranoia, I imagine that he wants to take it from me, never give it back to me, lock me up in a jail and leave me there to rot until the French ambassador in Sarajevo comes to plead my case… So no, I don’t have my passport on me, and if I can’t get through, tell me I’m leaving. The customs officer looks sorry :  » I am sorry Lounette, but you will have to go back « . Okay, it’s fine with me if you give me my ID card back. Thank you. I turn back a little sheepishly, Bosnia will be for another time…

I thought I was already in Bosnia…

While going back down to Donji Lapac, I find out about the result of my failure against the Bosnians: 80 additional kilometers and a 1.200 meters pass to climb (instead of a small, 800 meters one if I had passed…). I tell myself that I should have insisted, cried, rolled on the ground, threatened them with a hunger strike, in short, I should have been much more convincing. Or maybe I should have done a test. But it would have been much too easy… And as the night starts to fall, I quickly give up the idea to reach the top of the pass before it gets dark and pitch my tent in the first field a little bit away from the houses that I find…

The next day starts with the ascent of the pass That-I-can’t-name. In the forest, a bit cool and without too much traffic, it’s quite pleasant. A little bit after the summit, a sign seems to indicate something on the right side of the road. I guess it must be a viewpoint or something like that, which I decide to go and see so that this climb doesn’t remain anonymous forever. After two kilometers in the forest, I come across a wooden frame. Superb! For the unforgettable view we’ll pass… But well, I still have waterfalls and gorges on the program, it will come!

I go back down in the valley and head towards the park of Plitvice. And I discover the joys of the D1 road on the first Saturday of August: two uninterrupted lines of cars and trucks, all of them having better things to do than worrying about a little bike on the side of the road. I stop for a while to eat a little bit and I discuss with a Croatian couple who goes down to the sea, advises me to find another road to avoid the traffic and even offers me some tomatoes and a bell pepper from their garden to pimp my lunch. Nice!

I eventually reach a small path that should lead me to the park. There is a sign “Forbidden road” but I tell myself again that this is only for cars. I go for a little ride in the forest, excellent contrast with the rush of the D1. At the south entrance of the park, a new sign « Forbidden road », with this time a sign for bikes too. What do I do? Go back to the D1 or continue illegally? My Bosnian failure still remains fresh in my memory, I try to pass anyway… 500 meters further, a barrier. Too bad, I continue. The road is almost new, almost empty too, I do not really understand the prohibition for bikes. I arrive at a kind of cafeteria, make some photos, and realize that the road which I am on is used only by buses… Strange. I continue anyway, distinguish from time to time the reflection of the water between the leaves, note that most of the people I see are on foot… Interesting. Arrived at the main entrance, I decide to find out the secret of the park and after a quick search on the internet, everything becomes clear: cycling is « strictly forbidden » in the whole park, which is mainly to be visited on foot and by bus… I don’t dare to leave my bike and go for a little hike, a new failed act, I hope that the gorges will be up to the task… I discreetly slip away towards the exit, sheepishly again. A small point of view from the roadside, that’s all I could see of the park…

Trees and lakes
It will be worth to come back…

O joy, I find the D1 that I have to follow until Karlovac. 75 kilometers in the traffic. Great. I grit my teeth, put my head in the handlebars and move on. Nothing exciting to add, I pass Karlovac and join the Kupa river, which will lead me to the entrance of the park. New disappointment, the river is not an azure torrent which tumultuously descends from steep gorges but a peaceful river which crosses fields, forests and small villages… Great… For the gorges, I’ll have to go and see elsewhere…

I cross the river one last time and I start the ascent of the last pass of Croatia, the ascent to Sveta Gera. The slopes are severe, and I quickly decide to stop for the night and to do most of the climb the next day. Even after a good night’s sleep and a huge breakfast, the slopes are still severe. And on top of that, about 8 kilometers from the top, the asphalt turns to gravel. I hope it won’t last. I quickly tell myself that hope is beautiful. Then that hope is life. Then that all that’s left in the end is hope. Then I stop hoping and I try to pedal. Sometimes I push, often I struggle, but I move forward and end up at the top. New disappointment, I can only see fir trees, and a storm is rumbling. At least I pass the border without being asked for a test…

All that effort for that…

Once in Slovenia, it’s the deluge. With the gusts of wind, I have difficulty to ride in a straight line, the wet road reminds me of bad memories, and the cars that overtake me at full speed create waves that a surfer would not deny. As if I wasn’t soaked enough… It calms down a bit, I follow the Krka river a little, cross the pretty town of Zuzemberk and its castle which dominates the river, then I find myself again under a beautiful rain shower. But I laugh about it, I will be in Ljubljana tonight, in a bed, dry. Let it rain! Nothing to add about the end of the stage, I find without difficulty the house where my companions Louis and Rémy will come to meet me for a small week of intellectual exchanges… An hermetic border, an anti-cyclist park, non-gorges and a pass without any view, what a climax!!

The castle of Zuzemberk
Ljubljana

I’m almost finished with Southern Europe, from next week I’ll go to Austria, Czech Republic and Germany.

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