The difference with a bicycle to a kickbike is that I can make more kilometers and can reach further out and therefor see ‘far-flung’ beauty in Croatia. That’s where I am heading.
9 days cycling: 470 km, 52 km on average a day. 2 days/nights without rain nor hail.
A journey is often remembered by its highlights, the discomfort burned up by the goodness afterwards. Unless the journey was a long stretch of discomfort, like endless rainfall. Goodness can also come forth by the prospect of a warm place to stay, a hot shower and food prepared for you. Many of my stretches, like in Iran, were uncomfortable but the expectation of a roof over my head, hearty meals and cheap accommodation made the wet cold starting at my tingling fingertips always remembered as glorious. The stunning views over the endlessness of Iranian countryside was an absolute hit.
This sort of beautiful landscapes I am after in Croatia. I think I can find them there, not too far from where we live. There is a crest of mountains not too high and I am sure I can pass them. I am longing to see rocks, bare mountain faces consisting of white stone and hills flowing over into another. It need not be more than 1000 meter in altitude but it need to be solitary. Naked nature.
Also, I am aware, feelings derived from being months on end touring can not be compacted to a few days. The fact that I like camping more than cycling and the pamper-alike padding as underwear was always a source of irritation, as was cycling in a loop. Being on main roads had been a big sore to the soul too. In the grand scale of things, these I’d naturally forgotten.
Sealed with a kiss I leave the harvest behind. Very tired of farming I need a holiday and though it does occur to me that cycling to a castle in the Croatian hills is not a very restful thing to do, the craving for a change is big. September is a wonderful month to enjoy the outdoors, colors are bursting, daytime is warm where a fire will wrap me in comfort on crisp evenings, deer are at their end of their noisy copulating and mosquitoes gone.
Still enchanted by the variety of an own vegetable garden, I am often as excited as with what I ate in India (not the Mr. Singh chicken corner but ashrams with very creative international cooks). The oncoming 9 days it’ll be pasta or rice in a similar manner.
The comfort zone is a great place to spend and familiarity does not automatically breed content. A young kitten at our side, born from a stray cat that I lured in with food, is a heavenly experience. But so is the deer with towering antlers just a few hundred meters away from me. I sit in a hunters cabin without my prescription glasses and the camera left behind in the tent. I also skipped filling up on water and ended up the first 60 kilometer in a camp spot without being able to rest. I did not count on frost either but a hail shower could have been a pointer.
My first cycling day was not especially a good one. The following day will be a good day. What does that mean: a good day? Sunshine, no rain, a desire to cycle further, a drive that automatically wants you to move, though in my case it usually is because I want to get out of where I am or I want to enjoy where I am. Sailing on the main road might not be the best option, seeing farmer machines pooping hay bales does make me happy. My first interactions at the pharmacy (to get zinc cream against saddle issues) and the bakery (to get inferior baked goods compared to almost anywhere else in the world) fully in Hungarian make me glutinous happy. A good day because the hormones that like to perform theatrical performances when you are around 50 are aligned a bit better. The feeling of being one part of a magnetic bar never fully touch the opposite part of the magnetic bar is useless in terms of happiness feelings, or excitement, as if the awareness is just a bland fact, not a feeling that is felt with the brain in connection with the heart. Foggy. Less alive.
It is a good day because I take the uphills as they come. Gallantly slow and paced without a trace of not willing to.
With the bicycle a feeling of normal is returned. Normal to other people eyes and to me too. On a kickbike I feel like a circus act (though I do not care about what others think), on a bicycle I am able to share the road, to make distance and to get somewhere.
Yippee! I am going to the mountains. ‘You will see me whizzing down that hill, straight from Zagreb,’ I am boasting to Geo and his friends while smeared in tomato sap, splattered with tomato seeds, asking myself whether own canned tomato paste is really a necessity?
Yellow cherry tomato paste. Incredible much work, incredible tasty too.
Though my initial positive thoughts about my cycle short which seems not to bother me and the trucks that pass me safely will soon become a hurdle, like it was always when cycling. I will before long discover that trucks push me off the road and shave closely passing me. Some car drivers simply do not see me and overtake at high speed a truck with me at the other end coming toward a speeding monster. The cycle short is a thing that I would like to burn on a heap together with car tires.
Yet let’s focus on the good. When I enjoy the indescribably joys of a camp fire, though the discomforts are easier to describe: smoke darting into my eyes, a constant fueling of branches so I can’t quite get anywhere further with my embroidery project, pots filled with water are tumbling over when unstable balanced, I notice it does come unexpected natural and normal to me, to be in the forest again. If not for my characteristic of shooting into an energy fit at 10.00 AM, I could stay longer.
How is it to cycle the world, you might ask? As easy as going to a neighboring country, I’d say.
Hungary reaches a moderate peak in beauty when I am near the Slovenian border. All covered in forest, the road is enchanting, the clouds are pretty and the autumn colors rallying. When the rain isn’t rain but big round clusters of frozen water falling down on me, I indeed pity myself for not having gone touring earlier in the season. Days of rain as a forecast make me long to be home as such days I can be so much more productive, creative and comfortable.
When I see a cat I long to ours. When I see a man sawing, cutting or chopping I long to mine. When I buy carrots, I trow them out!
Real rest, warmth and a good spot I have in my atelier. A true quiet place is home. Rain, the uninvited guest is the trouble, and the curse of one’s character (I need change and I need to see another scene). But in action can be found restfulness as well, as long as one does it with contentment and in an embraced way, even the uninvited.
I suspect I carry too much, either that or my physical fitness is not what it once was as a 15% alteration only goes very well on the downhill (not that I was ever able to tackle such gradient in the other direction).
To get to Ptuj I need to confront a maze of built up villages strung together as one massive showcase of development. As soon as I entered Slovenia via Dobrovnik it became increasingly uninteresting, in contrary with the much higher quality in food supplies and variety (a very welcome change). Once I pass Boreci, a bit after the river Mura, it gets idyllic but the maze continues, now a labyrinth of only a few main roads with many little side tracks usually ending in a dead end. It is where I wanted to be: hills like dots on a polka scarf. But I am actually not so into climbing without ever reaching a sufficient altitude where I have marvelous views far below me.
Reaching the top of a hill, a serious work out for me, I’d like to camp but I lack sufficient water so I have to make do with a spot further down the hill. It is a patch of uncut trees in the middle of fields and a long string of villages with the main road cupping me.
The sound of an airplane in a clear sky early morning and of a nearby train crisping through the dawn into my ear, these are the sounds that encapsulate me as being a part where India is too. I could easily stay, with a surplus of 8 liters water yet the notion that I am temporarily and with only one more rain free day in Slovenia makes me move on. In fact, there is very little rest for me, as I tend the fire, embroider, knit, write, prepare chai and enjoy while searching for sugar. While thinking whether to leave or to stay it is on my right side of me that India beckons, the fields and their serenity, the strong straight line of shadow, the sounds of traffic that overlap each other, doused by distance.
I’m actually doing nothing, no reading, no knitting, no embroidering, only cooking. The comfort of a home shines brightly through. But the mind, it needs diversity. Different places. Other locations. Assorted pictures. The mind needs sharpness and it seems mine is fed by the unknown, the unseen. And off I am.
Impressed by the views I push happily on to Ptuj. The view of the hills in front of me is where I wanted to go and when I cross the river the wind seems to prevent me from enjoying. Together with the eternal string of built up villages, none of them praising charm and all lacking in authenticity, I check the map and decide to make a sharp left turn. Home is where I am going. I dread the prediction of 10 days rain, a headwind and winding through hills, up down up down up down, climbs and camping in wetness. With turning left I still have plenty to go.
With following the wind direction in my favor and the arrow on the compass but not checking the GPS on the phone I dart in exactly the direction I did not want to go to. Having enjoyed the somewhat scenic route home bound and the current of air that was given a sound by wind-pointers I’d never seen before, I again change direction. I’m rather close to the castle I intended to go to.
To pass through a country on an overland trip is something else than making a random loop.
Smell of soup find its way into my nostrils, the view of women in aprons and their much smaller patches of vegetable garden make me realize they know better what they’re doing. Every one seems to be their own little farmer in Slovenia with their own long, narrow patches of produce. I notice that cycling home, towards what I see and have myself, is making me cycle with more gusto, filled with gladness and forwardness I continue.
Very little that caught my eye in a surprising way, not so this cluster of homes and barns.
Through hilly surroundings covered in trees I reach Croatia. I never reach higher than 500 meters, I guess, though it feels I do.
While making this photo the new Schwalbe tires and my new shoes get smeared in dog shit. Annoyed with the stench I treasure (and miss our stray) cats so much more.
As the Hungarian border official will say later on: ‘There’s nothing to see here, only past Zagreb it becomes beautiful.’ All I am after is blankness, to be overwhelmed, stillness. Quietness of the mind, that is where I am after. It is hard to find in these regions, I am passing through one village after another. Accompanied by rain so the mind is often fighting it, rather want be in a warm place with furry cats and a decent kitchen. I am not impressed. Except with myself, that I freely choose to cycle now and here. I am amazed that I do this for a change of scene. For some variety. The not expected. The non-automatism. Though there is plenty of automatism involved now: cycling in the rain in a drab scenery.
Basically in someone’s backyard though totally out of view from the many woodcutters, who’d said this off road track is not a good place for camping.
The downhill out of the entanglement of narrow roads in between the hills I so desperately wanted to be in feels marvelous long, in fact a bit wild, with having two different sort of brakes, none of them working, it is a bit risky.
The low crest seems easy and promising; it always is in my head. But what is lacking are the stunning views like in Argentina. The Altiplano, I guess, is not getting closer to me even if I mentally believe in it…
Croatia comes with one of my favorites, borek, the sort of food that truly makes my (rainy) day. That is not too difficult in the wet, gloomy outskirts of Varaždin and it neither is a difficult task of borek to start the day happily in a rainy camp spot.
When I reach the Drava up close I arrive at a fantastic spot right in time to enjoy a pleasant evening camping on its bank. The river flows fast and is truly inspiring, it reminds me of the Amazon river and in excitement I check out the feeling of this camp spot. Besides a heap of trash from fishermen that is left behind, not a Jacuzzi, fridge or lawn mower as I’d seen earlier, now its an old BMW that is stranded. The feeling that flows through me is one of seediness. Condom wrappings and tissue papers once fluttering are now wet patches. I am not sure whether to expect a pervert falling out of the BMW or mere fishermen showing up at the many spots easily reachable by car. I decide not to camp scenically at the beautiful Drava but just hide as usual.
It feels remarkable to come home, in Hungary. I like the style of villages, though not the dark clouds predicting either getting soaked or erecting the tent in little marbles of hail. The lack of sprawling towns is what I love and the endless spots to camp is making a quick run into them when the first thunder made itself heard, easy.
Loving to see the sun, not necessarily listening to the chainsaw nearby cutting wood, I race the last 50 kilometer back home. I listen to music and I feel that old cycling feeling again, slightly invincible, boosted with strength and a sliver of arrogance: I reached where I wanted to go to. In addition, with about a 100 itchy mosquito bites I am reminded for 2 weeks to come that Hungarian forests have more potential than others.
And that feeling of fogginess in the head, caused by a lack of estrogen, was lifted in a nanosecond, for a minute or so. A week afterwards, a kilometer from our home on a balmy soft sunshiny day. An incredible high moment of nothingness, lifted to pure quiet joy when a group of young deer crossed the tracks two meter from me. The deer jumped with high and very eloquent movements, one after the other, silently and so naturally, it made me realize: I should camp much more often nearby, surrounded by these marvelous creatures.