– The adventures of a solo round the world cyclist –

Day 993 (Italy Day 2)

Luckily I had some breakfast supplies with me because the breakfast available at the “B&B” simply consisted of a small packet of biscuits and some packaged ‘ready-to-go’ croissants. I ate a croissant, then delved into my own stuff, making up a big bowl of muesli topped with yoghurt and banana.

The riding conditions were good. The sky was mostly clear on waking so the sun shone brightly. Being the second clear-ish day in a row, it was super cold all day and for the first time in maybe ever I was comfortable wearing a face covering (buff) all day. My toes just stayed warm, thanks to the four pairs of socks I was wearing. My fingers hurt a bit in the early morning from the cold, but warmed up just enough to stop hurting for the rest of the day, except when I took my gloves off to eat the food I carried on the bike.

Today was the first real test of Italy’s road system. I have been concerned that bicycles are not allowed on some of the main roads, but I didn’t really face any major problems today. Italy’s obvious love of signs was very confusing though. I was constantly coming across signs that I assumed were saying bicycles are not allowed, yet at the same time I kept seeing official cycle paths and the only way to get to them was to to ride on the sections of road that began with these ‘no-cycling’ signs. I grew to understand that the signs don’t necessarily mean bicycles are not allowed, they just show where bicycle paths end – every time a cycle path crossed a road there would be sign showing a bicycle in a red circle with a red strikethrough, then another sign on the other side of the road showing a bicycle with no strikethrough. With some bicycle paths crossing a lot of roads, there were an incredible number of these signs. Despite being on some busy roads without cycle paths, I’m pretty sure I stayed on ones on which bicycles are allowed. When I was on a road I was particularly worried about, I passed some policemen who watched me go past and they didn’t say anything.

Passing through one town I happened to come across a sports store and thought it would be a great chance to find some warmer gloves. As I parked my bike in front of the door, the lady inside walked up to the door and locked it, obviously not wanting me to come in. My frozen fingers and I were a bit put out.

As the end of the day approached I got increasingly anxious about what I was going to do for the night. I was also anxious about the fact that I didn’t have any milk for breakfast – mixing muesli with water is just not nice at all. I was hoping to pass a small shop that I could duck into, but all I saw all day were huge supermarket complexes. I am far more paranoid about leaving my loaded bike unattended here in Italy than in any other place I have been so far. With a working SIM card, I was able to do a little accommodation research when I stopped to eat. I marked some of the cheaper guesthouse options (cheap means 30 euro) as a backup, but decided I would try and find somewhere to camp. I also came across a medium-sized supermarket I was able to duck into and get some milk.

In search of a campsite, I pulled off the main road and entered an agricultural area dominated by vineyards. Unfortunately, the whole area was very open with no patches of trees, so I saw no opportunities to camp discreetly. I bit the bullet and approached a lady outside her house with my pre-written notes in hand. I read these to her: “Hello. My name is Mark. I have cycled to Italy from Australia. Please can I camp here?” She said no and gave a reason, which of course I couldn’t understand. My imagination suggested she was telling me that there are families around which would not be comfortable with a stranger in their midst.

By this time the sun was getting awfully close to the horizon and if I was to make my backup option I would be riding into the night. As luck would have it, I passed two old farm buildings by the road. Although there were houses within easy sight, I investigated them anyway. The door to one was unlocked. Inside was a bunch of rubbish covering the floor, plus some boxes containing a lot of old books and some very old Disney paraphernalia. Everything was water-damaged and covered in dirt, indicating that it’s all been sitting here untouched for years. I cleared some space inside as quickly as I could, then got my bike in and closed the door behind me. I got on with setting up home and cooking dinner.

I haven’t been disturbed so I think I’m all good for the night. It’s getting awfully cold though. I didn’t dare get changed out of my riding clothes for fear of my body temperature dropping too much. I know that if I get cold (especially my feet) I won’t be able to get warm again. When I took off my shoes before bed I pulled on my fifth and final thick pair of socks, as well as thermals and pants over my tights and leggings (four bottom layers), then got into my sleeping bag as quickly as I could. Even so, as I write this I feel the cold creeping into my toes. How on earth can I keep them warm? Maybe you just can’t when you spend all day outside in just a few degrees followed by a night in below freezing.

All in all I feel like today has been a success. I have made it more than 40km past the point I thought I might reach. Now it’s time to put away my diary and bury myself properly in my sleeping bag. It’s only 7pm so I have a long night ahead. I would like to read a book for a bit, but having my arms out of my sleeping bag lets too much cold air in.

Looking for a home

Accommodation Free-camp
Distance ridden today 112.41km
Average cycling speed 19kph
Total distance ridden 28,760km
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Day 992 (Slovenia Day 5 / Italy Day 1)

It feels like the countdown/challenge to get to Paris in time to fly home for my sister’s wedding has really begun – I have crossed into Italy, which will be my second last country. Having to rush through idyllic Italian villages is obviously not ideal, but I can’t exactly miss the wedding. In an attempt to stay on track I have a target number of kilometres I want to ride each day. It’s going to be tight.

The world changed several times throughout the day. As I left Ljubljana it was freezing cold and everything was white/grey. Passing through the mountains between Logatec and Ajdovscina, I entered a winter wonderland with thick, fresh snow carpeting every surface. It was so pure and fresh that the crystalline surface sparkled magically. As if nature was celebrating with me, I had just reached the top of the highest climb when the sun punched through the clouds and the sky cleared, revealing a beautiful blue backdrop behind snow covered pines. The only sound was the soft flutter of snow falling from branches. The snow began to clear as I descended the other side of the mountain until I felt like I’d been absorbed by a warm spring day. The sun was bright, the sky was clear, the ground was a lush green and birds were flitting about. It wasn’t warm by any means though, reminding me I was still riding through the middle of a European winter. Such a scene accompanied me all the way to Nova Gorica, the Slovenian border town next to Italy.

I got a bit confused entering Italy. At first I picked a minor road to cross between the countries and all was going well until I realised I’d crossed into Italy without seeing any kind of border control. I backtracked into Slovenia and rode a couple of kilometres to the main road that connects the two countries. My map indicated there was police/military control here, so I assumed this was where I should cross. But alas, again I rode straight into Italy without anyone blinking an eyelid. As I turned around with a plan to hunt down some police in the station, common sense slowly began to sink in. I realised there is no way I’d be allowed to get into Italy without passing immigration control. I finally realised that there simply isn’t any border control at all. Welcome to the EU! It’s pretty incredible thing to think that people can just come and go as they please.

I rode into Gorizia and stopped when I happened to come across a bike shop. I checked my Maps.me app to see if I could find a mobile phone shop nearby. If the map didn’t help, I figured I could enquire at the bike shop, given that my bike would easily break the ice. As I was looking at my phone, a girl exited the shop, saying thank you and goodbye as she went. It was my first chance to hear someone talk and I couldn’t help thinking it was the most beautiful language I’ve ever heard.

There was no need to enter the shop as I found a phone store a couple of kilometres away. There, I easily achieved my goal of securing an Italian SIM card. It was quite expensive, but I really want one so I can stay on top of my Warmshower accommodation requests. I asked the guy helping me out where I might find cheap accommodation and he told me about a bed and breakfast in the city. I went there and waited outside until about 4.15pm (a sign indicated that the B&B should have opened at 4pm). I was pulled from my daydreaming by a rattle of keys as an old guy opened up the door. The man was probably in his seventies yet he wore fashionable skinny jeans. Yep, I’m definitely in Italy! Ten minutes later I was hauling my things up to a cute little room. I took some time to settle in and get my SIM card operational before heading out for an evening walk and to grab some dinner. I got a couple of slices of pizza and then visited a supermarket where I bought some fresh-made lasagne and a few other supplies. Having stuffed myself full, I am now preparing for bed and turning my thoughts to tomorrow’s ride.

Winter wonderland

Accommodation $ B&B
Distance ridden today 96.53km
Average cycling speed 16kph
Total distance ridden 28,647km
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Day 991 (Slovenia Day 4)

For the first time in a while I have decided to have two days off the bike to fully recover before my big push through Italy and France. My single days off lately have failed to give my legs time to regain their full strength and they have constantly been a bit sore. While resting today did my body well, I’m not so sure about my mind. I am growing increasingly anxious about returning home and today I started feeling a little depressed. I struggled to be motivated to complete my to-do list. (The list: look for waterproof gloves, safety vest and stove fuel; complete food shopping; retrieve my tent; and prepare some Italian language basics). Perhaps it was because it was the first time in a while I have had ‘spare’ time. I knew my chores wouldn’t take very long, so I felt a bit lost about what to do with the rest of my time. Of course the simple answer is go out and explore Ljubljana, but I even didn’t feel motivated enough to do this. I guess I am generally tired of being a tourist too. I ended up messaging my parents to see if they were around for a chat. We had an hour’s talk on skype, after which I messaged with my mate Jayden for a while. These things made me realise I don’t really need to be anxious about going home, as I am going to be surrounded by some wonderful people again. All I need to do is stay true to what I want and don’t rush into things. I can take my time to settle back into life in Perth and create the life that I want, rather than throw myself at things without a specific plan or goals in mind.

I didn’t buy any gloves as I decided they were too expensive (upwards of AU$100) and the weather is going to be okay for the next week or so. I didn’t find a safety vest but was told I could probably find one at a servo (I want one for riding in Italy and France, where in some parts I think it’s compulsory). I didn’t buy any stove fuel – I found some ethanol at a pharmacy but it was super expensive. I tested my stove with the gas canister I have been carrying since Nepal – I struggled to get it working well in the Pamirs and haven’t tried it since…but I got it working fine today so I might be able to rely on this to get me through to Paris.

Out of the five people I messaged on Warmshowers, I got a negative response from one place and haven’t heard from the others. This means my plan to have places to stay as I enter Italy has not worked out. I can see that most people haven’t logged into Warmshowers for many weeks – I think this is because it’s the middle of winter and no one expects to receive bike-riding visitors at this time.

Rather than eat out, I cooked dinner at the hostel. I am fortunate to have the dorm room to myself.

So much love

Accommodation $ Backpacker Hostel
Distance ridden today 0km
Total distance ridden 28,551km
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Day 990 (Slovenia Day 3)

I stayed in my dorm room until late morning. When I ventured out it was to do some washing at a laundromat. The price of a wash at the laundromat was half that at my hostel. Unfortunately, I had to buy an expensive lemonade in order to get the right coins for the machine, plus I forgot to take my laundry powder with me, plus the promised WIFI at the laundromat wasn’t working, plus it was a long walk away…all of which meant I would probably have been better off just getting the hostel to do it for me. Fortunately there was still enough residual soap in the machine that my clothes came out smelling fresh and clean. I carried the damp clothes home and hung them around my bed before getting onto the task I was hoping to work on using WIFI at the laundromat. This was to plan my route through Italy and contact potential hosts through Warmshowers.

I planned a route through Italy and France and predicted where I hoped to stay each night. I want to have two days in Paris before I fly out to give me time to find a bike box, pack it for the flight and send some packages home by courier. Experience tells me it will take me nearly a whole day to prepare the box for the flight. This gives me 17 days to get from Ljubljana to Paris. No mean feat. I have worked out that if I push myself super hard, I might be able to make it in fifteen riding days. This leaves two days up my sleeve for rest/problem-solving. It’s going to be tight. It will feel like a miracle if I can pull it off. In the end I contacted five Warmshower hosts, hoping to find a bed for five consecutive nights. I also contacted a host further ahead in my plan who lives in a village where my great-grandfather was born. I am hoping to stay there and see if I can hunt down some family history.

Somehow the day disappeared on me – or at least it really felt like that after having a sleep in and because it’s dark by 4.30pm. I was hoping to buy some fresh food to make something for dinner, but discovered that the supermarkets are closed because it’s Sunday. I resorted to a kebab before finding a café that sells takeaway salads, which satisfied my healthy-food craving.

In familiar territory

Accommodation $ Backpacker Hostel
Distance ridden today 0km
Total distance ridden 28,551km
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Day 989 (Slovenia Day 2)

Last night, the rain continued for a couple of hours. At one point I woke up and listened to the sound of precipitation, noting that the soft pit-pattering didn’t quite sound like rain drops. I touched the fly of my tent and felt an icy resistance. For a second I thought it was indeed ice, but a fluttering and splat told me that I had disturbed something else: snow! I sat up in a hurry and had a proper look. It was snowing! The temperature had obviously dropped low enough for the rain to be replaced with snow. I also had the good news that the inside of my tent was almost completely dry. A little dampness was creeping into the towel I’d placed under my sleeping mat, and the slightest dribble of water was continuing to seep through an air vent and soak onto a shirt I’d placed there for that very purpose, but besides that I was dry. I wasn’t totally warm though. My feet failed to warm up. As the night progressed the cold slowly crept up into my lower legs. As I continued to sleep on and off, I revelled in the idea that for the first time in my life I was truly camping in wintry conditions. I have developed the desire to camp in snow to see what it’s like and to test my limits a little more, and now finally it was happening. Of course, the time came for me to wake up properly and deal with a snowy pack up.

The snow continued to fall as I prepared my things and packed up my tent. With all the upper surfaces of my bicycle coated in a thick layer of the stuff, I simply brushed it away from where I would contact it (seat, handlebars, pedals, bag hooks) and loaded it as normal. With the outside off my tent saturated, I packed it into a dry bag, which I strapped to the outside of a rear pannier. I was pleased to find the road void of snow, so I didn’t face any complications riding. Except for my brakes. After a climb to the top of the pass, I once again faced a bit of a scary time descending down the other side with poor brakes made even poorer in the icy conditions. I loved looking down and seeing my bike still coated in snow as I rode. It was a couple of hours before it all melted away. It continued to snow for about 1.5 hours into the ride and I experienced the stinging sensation of copping snowflakes directly in the eye. As I descended from the pass, the snow and mist cleared and the world once again opened up into a snowy rural landscape. I was only graced with very light showers from then, so the day proved very pleasant. With limited lunch supplies of my own, I rode until I reached Trebnje, where I stopped at a delightful little bakery where I could warm up while eating some pastry delights.

Just as the sky was beginning to darken I found myself riding into Ljubljana. I decided to ride around for a while to soak up the atmosphere before working out where I was and where I would try to find a hostel. Attracted by a few bustling streets, I found myself at the Preseren Monument. It was here that I really got a shock at how busy the city was. Groups of walking tours gathered here and there, while hordes of people walked past, many on their way to the market stalls lining the Ljubljanica River, including one selling mulled wine. I walked my bike around for a while following my heart’s whims.

Eventually, I had to find myself a home. I checked out one hostel, only to discover the dorm rooms were full. I had about ten other potential homes marked on Maps.me, but one in particular pulled me and I wasn’t sure why. As I made my way there I got a very pleasant surprise. Having forgotten where I’d stayed seven years ago, I quickly realised that the hostel I was attracted to was the same one I’d stayed in before. Obviously my subconscious memories were doing the pulling. I enjoyed the fact that I could point out a shop and think, ‘Hey, that used to be a tattoo shop where I got my second tattoo’. And when I reached the hostel I knew I could look across the river and see a conveniently placed supermarket and ATM.

Fortunately, the hostel wasn’t full. The receptionist explained to me why the city is so busy – it was a Saturday and thousands of people come in for the weekend. I was given access to a garage where I could lock up my bike and hang up my soaking tent. Soon after settling into the room I was joined by a Slovenian guy who has been working in Haiti for the last three years. As I had a shower, he disappeared to the shops and returned with some wine and chips. We shared these as we chatted (well, mostly he chatted and I listened). Eventually it became time for dinner. I wandered out and had meals at two different places before joining the hordes in wandering the busy streets.

I felt quite lonely walking through Ljubljana tonight. The streets were overflowing and the bars and cafes were packed. Couples and groups of friends were taking selfies around every corner. Music poured out of venues. The outside skating rink was full. And wandering in between it all was me on my lonesome.  As I explored, I felt like I began to realise what a true winter holiday is like – a time of festive holiday cheer that is intricately linked with cold weather. Back at home it is the beaches that would be full of people trying to escape the heat. Here, I found myself wondering if the kids around me will look back on these times one day and cherish these moments where they rugged up like the Michelin man, got treated to junk food, walked gingerly across icy paths and zoomed around the outside skating rink.

Yep

Accommodation $ Backpacker Hostel
Distance ridden today 92.81km
Average cycling speed 15.2kph
Total distance ridden 28,551km
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Day 988 (Croatia Day 2 / Slovenia Day 1)

I feel like I owe Croatia an apology. I was in the country for two riding days / one night / 29 hours. In that time, I failed to contribute to its economy by not spending a cent (because I camped and already had all the food I needed), and I left behind a number 2 in the ground. Sorry guys.

My night passed peacefully, despite the fact I decided to watch American Horror Story on my laptop. I’d copied series five from Tien while floating on the Caspian Sea. But, I had no idea what the show was about, having never seen it before. Once I cottoned on to the theme and style, I wondered for a minute whether I should watch something a little less scary, seeing as though I was camping by myself in an abandoned building on my first day in a foreign country. Then I thought it actually suited the situation perfectly. I felt safe and I kind of liked the idea of getting scared. I think it’s an awesome thing that grown adults can still get scared by irrational things. And so I watched it, and got bit scared as a result. The most annoying thing about the night was that I had to get up and go to the toilet about four times, clearly suggesting I can drink less water in the cold weather.

Again, I had a relatively smooth riding day. Soon into the day I had to stop to get rugged up against wet weather, which came in the morning rather than in the afternoon when I thought it would arrive. It showered on and off through the day. I pushed on for 40km before my first break. Another 30km took me to the border between Croatia and Slovenia. Never have I seen such a narrow no-man’s land between borders. After being processed at the Croatian booth, and assuming I had a little way to ride to get to the Slovenian processing centre (and partly distracted by some good looking border officer girls), I rode straight past another booth that was three metres from the first one. Some quick shouting brought me back. It turned out the second booth was the Slovenian processing centre.

The geography changed as soon as I entered the country. I could see snow-topped mountains and a big climb ahead. It was 1.50pm when I had finished lunch in the town of Metlika and was ready for my last leg of the day. I knew there was a hostel in the town of Novo Mesto about 30km from the border. I decided I would camp if a good opportunity presented itself between 2.30 and 3pm, but otherwise I would continue on to Novo Mesto and hope the hostel is open. As I slowly climbed I decided I would camp even if a roof didn’t present itself. At about 3.30pm I ventured down a dirt track that led to the place where I have set up my tent.

Just as I finished setting it up it started raining and it hasn’t stopped since. I cooked dinner in a vestibule. With the ground already wet, I knew that I am very much at risk of having a similar experience as the other night, with water seeping in through the bottom of the tent and making everything wet. It will be annoying if my sleeping bag gets wet, but the idea of packing up a wet tent isn’t too disturbing as I plan on staying in a hostel in Ljubljana from tomorrow, so I will have a chance to dry it out before I want to use it again. With this in mind, and with the rain not letting up, I decided that tonight will be a good test of how waterproof the ageing fly of my tent still is. I put a bag made of woven plastic (one I’ve been carrying since Turkey) between my ground sheet and my tent, right where my upper body will lie. As I cooked and ate dinner, I sat on my sleeping mat which I’d folded so I was on four layers of it. All the while I did my best not to put too much pressure on the tent floor. Some water started getting in through my air vents, so I closed them. Despite my efforts, some dampness has already seeped through the floor of the tent where I was sitting. In an attempt to keep as dry as possible, I have got out my towel and put it under my sleeping mat where my upper body will lie, trying to cover the area where my shoulders and hips will press.

Dinnertime

Accommodation Free-camp
Distance ridden today 83.20km
Average cycling speed 16.0kph
Total distance ridden 28,458km
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Day 987 (Bosnia and Hercegovina Day 8 / Croatia Day 1)

I am feeling very content right now. My stomach is full of delicious, hot food cooked on my camp stove. I am warm and dry. And I had a pleasant day on the bike. The day started with a quick check of emails and social media before I got onto packing my now-dry tent and the rest of my belongings. By the time I had finished stretching, the included breakfast had been available for ten minutes, so I headed down to the restaurant where I was fed bread, butter, jam, fried eggs and cheese. Together with two of my own bananas, I felt well fuelled for a good day on the bike. The nice lady at the motel saw me off as I pedalled across one bridge and through town to the bridge that forms the gateway between Bosnia and Hercegovina and Croatia. As I entered Croatia I was asked if I had anything to declare, to which I replied ‘no’, then I was free to go without so much as a second thought. Country number 25!

I proceeded to pass through quiet villages as I made my way north towards Glina. Thick grey clouds covering the sky slowly passed over and cruised away, leaving scattered clouds and blue skies. I could ride happily without my jacket on. Besides hellos, waves and head nods, I didn’t have any real contact with anyone all day. As 2pm rolled around, I began to keep more of an eye out for camping opportunities. I stopped to check out a couple of old buildings that I decided were unsuitable owing to their proximity to houses, the amount of rubbish (including faeces) present, and (not wanting a repeat of the other night) the rooves not being entirely intact. Eventually, I came across a suitable candidate. Despite, being on the main road and a short distance away from a house and farm buildings, I felt good about sneaking in. It looks to be an old, abandoned house. I have chosen the main room as my own. The windows are intact, as is the wooden flooring and plaster ceiling. There are even a few desks around, one of which I used as my kitchen benchtop as I prepared dinner. No one has come to investigate my presence, so there is every chance I got in without being noticed. It’s now just after 5pm and has been completely dark for the last forty-five minutes. It won’t be light again for another 14 hours.

The things you find

Accommodation Free-camp
Distance ridden today 83.15km
Average cycling speed 15.8kph
Total distance ridden 28,375km
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Day 986 (Bosnia and Hercegovina Day 7)

Much worse than the pain of frozen fingers is the pain of frozen fingers thawing out. I am disappointed in how permeable to water my ‘waterproof’ neoprene cycling gloves are. Thus, besides plastic bags, which I am prepared to try next, I still have no way of keeping my hands dry and warm when faced with incessant rain in near-freezing temperatures. I might have looked like an idiot as I paced back and forth with my face contorted in agony and making slight whimpering noises as my fingers slowly warmed up. This happened in the border town of Novi Grad after a 40km ride from my camp spot. Did I have a good night’s sleep in the ruined building I chose as my home? Yes and no. Yes – because I got enough sleep to wake up feeling refreshed and able to deal with the reason for the no. Why no? Because the building turned out to be as waterproof as my gloves. I was first alerted to the fact by dripping on my tent. As the night wore on and the rain continued I became alerted to the fact by a squelching sound beneath me. Then as the water seeped through my tent, I began to get wet. A look outside revealed that my room was flooded and my tent was in shallow pool of water. Pressure from the my body and luggage had drawn the water through the tent floor. My sleeping mat was damp, my sleeping bag (down) was wet and the bottom of my bike bags were wet.

Despite this, I managed to keep up a positive attitude and simply got on with what needed doing. I packed up and squeezed my soaking tent into plastic bags. I opted for sandals instead of shoes, with three pairs of socks under the waterproof pair. My toes just managed to keep slightly cold without going numb and hurting. Once I got moving I worked hard to distract myself from the pain in my hands by immersing my mind in daydreams. As I approached Novi Grad I came up with a plan. I would check at the border to see whether they are open 24 hours a day, then find a café with WIFI where I could look up weather patterns and accommodation options and decide what to do next.

Having confirmed that the border is always open, I had the good fortune of choosing a café that had a wood-burning fire inside. I hung my gloves and socks in front of the fire and hooked up to the free internet being offered by a café across the road. As I ate cevapi I did my research. With limited suitable accommodation options over in Croatia, I decided I’d be camping again if I rode on. I would need to find somewhere completely dry relatively early to give my stuff a chance to dry before sleeping again. With the rain continuing outside, this seemed unlikely. My other option was to sleep in Novi Grad, clean and dry all my stuff and have enough time to do a proper shop and plan my route through Croatia. I would then be able to be completely ready to camp over the next two nights and hopefully reach Ljubljana on the third day. The second option won. I checked into a local motel.

I have just spent my last 7.50k on a pasta meal, which I am eating in the motel restaurant. I will collect my tent on the way back to my room – it’s hanging to dry in the motel’s undercover carpark. Next I’ll finish satisfying my hungry stomach with some of my own food. Then I will repack my things (all strewn across my room after I emptied all my panniers so they could dry). It will then be time to either go to sleep and get another good rest, or go to bed and stay up late watching a movie.

After tending to some of these things, I have just got back to my room and switched on the TV. What should come on immediately but an Aussie police drama, the Lisa McCune water police one.

Waking up wet

Accommodation $ Motel
Distance ridden today 42.66km
Average cycling speed 16.8kph
Total distance ridden 28,292km
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Day 985 (Bosnia and Hercegovina Day 6)

Today went amazingly well. I braced myself for a difficult day and in my mind had allocated the entire day to get to Banja Luka. I woke before any sign of daylight. When it came and I peeked outside, my expectations were confirmed when I saw tree branches being thrown about wildly. Based on weather predictions, today was going to be one blustery day, with winds up to 40km/h expected. Ready for battle, I rode out into the early morning and quickly had to strip down a little. It seems I am so accustomed to the cold now that a 15 degree day is positively warm. As I left the town, I decided that Jajce is a strange little place. It wasn’t altogether welcoming and some of the crude development takes away from what could be a perfectly charming place. Granted, one night is not enough to form a solid opinion, but based on what I felt while being there…

It wasn’t long before I was moving at a fairly rapid pace away from the town. Following the flow of Vrbas River meant I generally had a very gentle downhill. The wind was ever present, but more often than not it was blowing from behind, so it didn’t prove to be a negative factor. What this meant is that I was riding in dry and warm conditions without being impeded by wind – given the weather conditions of late, this felt like absolute heaven. I continued riding all the way to Banja Luka with my only stops being photo opportunities. Thus, I rode 73km without a proper break. This distance took me to a bike shop at around 11.15am. I had first ridden to one location marked on Maps.me as a bike shop – after seeing me wander around with a confused look on my face, a friendly bystander informed me that the bike shop that used to be there has moved. He told me where the next closest one was. There, I purchased two new tubes. I now feel much better about my ability to deal with punctures.

Opposite the bike shop was a big park, so I wheeled myself over to a park bench and had lunch. I probably shouldn’t have sat where I was (under a tree) as all around me and across the whole park were broken branches that the wind had obviously brought down. There were even three completely uprooted trees lying nearby. At first I kept my helmet on for warmth, but I decided it was a good idea I kept it on in case of falling debris. As I ate my lunch, I contemplated my situation. I hadn’t expected to reach Banja Luka this early, so the opportunity to make it even further presented itself. I could either use the rest of the day for rest, or make the most of the good riding conditions and push myself as far as I can. In the end I decided to push on while the going is good. I also thought I’d likely need to camp, so I purchased some milk to go with the cereal I was already carrying. Then it back on the road.

A change in direction (now heading northwest as opposed to north) meant I suffered a little more from the wind, but it generally hit me as a direct crosswind which didn’t really slow me down too much. I rode with the comforting thought that I had everything I needed to camp whenever I got tired, wherever that might me, but all the while I considered riding all the way into Prijedor and staying in a motel. I decided that if I came across a perfect place to camp at the right time (around 3pm, which is about 1.25 hours before dark) then I would take it, but if not then I would resort to a motel. As I got closer to the town I also got closer to a black sky that promised an almighty storm. About 15km out of town the storm started spitting at me. I slowly realised it would be difficult to find a place to camp. I didn’t want to sleep in the open in a raging storm and there were very few empty buildings around, the main road being relatively well built up with lots of people around.

I had given up hope when suddenly I passed a promising option – an old building crumbling to bits about 50m off the road, surrounded by tall grass and almost blocked from view of the road by a leaf-less tree. Spindly bushes surrounded the building and the lack of tracks suggested no one accesses it. I waited on the road until no cars were nearby, then made a mad dash to get inside the building. I had to push through the branches of tree. I am pretty sure I got inside without anyone noticing. I explored the building a little. It is two storey and completely in ruin. I have set up camp in a big room that is missing its internal ceiling so the high roof is what protects me from the rain. The windows have long been gone. The ground is covered in a pleasantly soft layer of moss. It’s super creepy but I feel fine here. I set up my tent in a position that should limit any rain blowing in on it, and that hides me from the view of two houses – one on the same side of the road, and one on the other side of the road. Only the keenest eyes would be able to see in and spot me and as it was getting dark, I became even more sure that the inside of the building appears completely dark from the outside. I worked quietly as I set up home and prepared dinner.

The temperature is dropping but it is still relatively warm compared to previous days. It got completely dark by 4.30pm and now at 5.30pm I am ready to settle in for the night. My alarm is set for 5.45am (about 1.5 hours before sunrise), so I am in for a long rest. Previous experience tells me that I will have several sleeping ‘shifts’ to get through the night, interspersed with reading and general thinking time.

A moment or two to appreciate the view

Accommodation Free-camp
Distance ridden today 120.05km
Average cycling speed 20.5kph
Total distance ridden 28,249km
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Day 984 (Bosnia and Hercegovina Day 5)

It is much easier to tolerate the cold when there is snow around. I don’t know whether it is because I am so enthralled by the snow that I can forgive it for making it cold, or simply because I have something right in front of my eyes causing it to be cold i.e. there is something physical to blame rather than it being an invisible force. I slept on and off, but with more than 12 hours between bed time (about an hour after sunset) and wake time (about an hour before sunrise) it didn’t matter that I spent some of the night awake. I wasn’t alarmed by anything, though I woke to dogs pit-pattering around and wind flapping my tent fly.

Staff of the supermarket arrived just as I was emerging from my tent, having dressed and breakfasted inside it. No one (not even a policeman who did some shopping) took any notice of me as I finished packing up. The carpark was super icy so I had to walk my bike gingerly to the road to avoid slipping over. I stopped to put plastic bags on my feet to stop the light rain from wetting my shoes. Then I began climbing. I estimated (based on the location/direction of rivers on maps.me) I had 15km to climb. After a few kilometres I entered a cloud that was sitting on the pass. It was a thick cloud with a perfectly flat bottom so one second I was in a clear world and the next I had about 50m visibility. I slowly warmed up and had to remove a base layer.

I was delighted to discover the climb was half of what I expected. I put my base layer back on and covered my face with my buff, ready for the cold descent. Once again my brakes proved an issue. My Magura front brakes were absolutely useless and my rear V-brakes struggled to make the descent safe. I was wondering whether to stop and sort them out when the choice was made for me when my rear tyre blew. Luckily I was within 100m of an autoshop. I wheeled over and asked if could work under the cover of the garage. I set about adjusting my brakes and changing the tube. I put in one of my spare tubes (a used one) but it had a puncture. I tried repairing the puncture but it was so cold the glue wouldn’t hold. I put in my other spare tube, which already has about ten patches in it. I need to buy some new tubes as soon as I can find a bike shop.

From here on I enjoyed a relatively cruisy ride. It rained lightly which kept me cool as I followed the Vrbas River downstream to Jajce. I stopped off at the waterfall on the way into town, then went in search of a home. First I went to the Central Jayce Youth Hostel close to the town centre, but found it closed. At a nearby café I was informed that they run a second hotel just outside the centre and that this one was open. On my arrival, the lady running the show tried to give me a private room for 15 euros, saying that they didn’t want to heat up a dorm room for just one person. I think my look of confusion (maybe it was disgust) made them change their mind. Or maybe it was the fact that I said I would take the dorm room even if they didn’t heat it. The dorm room has only four beds so it is not very big and could be heated very easily. This made me think that perhaps they didn’t want just one person – I’m the only guest – having access to the hostel’s amenities, like the kitchen, to save themselves from cleaning. Anyway, I ended up with a nice room with attached bathroom. The whole bathroom is less than one metre wide and has shown me just how narrow I can have a bathroom in the tiny house I might one day make. It was still comfortable to use.

Fresh, I wandered into town for dinner. The town is absolutely dead. I eventually found a nice little restaurant open and had a vegetable stew, burger and 0.5L beer for 9.50k (AU$5.60). On the way home I stopped off at the Tropic Supermarket for lunch supplies.

Today I was almost knocked off my bike in a big gust of wind on my way into Jayce. I was told at the garage where I fixed my bike that tonight and tomorrow will continue to be super windy. I have planned to ride tomorrow anyway and do battle with it.

Desperate times…

Accommodation $ Hostel
Distance ridden today 88.80km
Average cycling speed 18.2kph
Total distance ridden 28,129km
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