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  • Jamie Shannon

Heading north from Split. Croatia and onto Bosnia

With the formalities done and emails swapped between myself and Phillip, I made my way back along the highway towards Split before turning north and then west around the peninsula. The roads were treacherous with no hard shoulder whatsoever and so I had to cycle with extreme care.

Just before turning west the road split with the right side merging with the highway proper. I stood at the entrance to the slip road for the motorway thinking how I could make my way across without becoming another statistic but it was so incredibly busy, I didn’t see one break in the traffic. There was just no way to cross and even though there were small gaps between the cars, I didn’t want to risk it but there was also no other way that I could see.

I must have been stood there for at least twenty minutes before I saw a break in the traffic big enough to allow me a mad dash across the slip road. By this point I had walked a little further up for no other reason that the road wasn’t as wide there. Having positioned my self as best I could, ran across with as much speed as I could muster. I had made it!

I cycled along the coastal road for perhaps an hour, knowing that my turnoff to the mountains north lay some way ahead. The heat was approaching forty by now and for this reason I found a small bar café where I sat for an hour in order to have a breather. It was that I noticed that the next town ahead was actually a UNESCO world heritage site and thought I’ll have a look and so booked a night in a hostel for no other reason than it had a 96% rating. I paid the bill and was off down the highway and half an hour later I had arrived in Trogir.

I opted to sit outside and drink a beer. Whilst sat there however, I noticed another guy pull up outside on the small street with a bike and so went down to take a look. Turns out he was from England and had cycled through, France, Germany and Austria to get here and was on his way to India.

We went to a restaurant and although I was reluctant to spend the kind of money he wanted to, I did it anyway as it was a one off. Good old lamb chops. Very nice and washed down with some gelato to boot. Can’t be bad.

This guy was seriously kitted out with the gadgets though. He has an internal Rollhof gearing system and this alone cost around EUR 1000. He was also using a series of maps that you could download to your smartphone too. For me, this way of travelling should be a little difficult; you should get lost sometimes and even break down because, at least for me, that’s all part of the experience; picking yourself up after being knocked down and persevering. That’s all I’m saying.

The next morning, I headed a little along the coast and readied myself for the big tough climbs that were to come. Almost immediately after turning off the coastal road, I began to climb some seriously steep and almost painful switchbacks; painful that is because of the unrelenting heat. It was 40 degrees and the heat was showing no signs of abating. Climbing steep hills I can just about manage but in 40 degrees, its something else entirely. The only way to push through it I find is to stop every 30 metre's under a tree or some other shady object.

The couple of things I noticed during the following hours were that, in Croatia, as soon as you get off the coast, the country is pretty much devoid of traffic and secondly, almost all land seems to be untamed and free of interference by man. Both great news to me of course.

After an hour or so I received my usual puncture.I had been carrying around a much better tyre since Perugia and so fitted this as well as switching to a more expensive inner tube, both more suitable the kinds of loads I was carrying carrying.

With this done, I pumped up my tyre as much as I could and hoped I could find a gas station sooner or later to give it its proper pressure. I wouldn’t be finding a pump until Ljubljana and so this was the best I could manage.

The landscape was beautiful and was for the most part completely blanketed in forest. It was really quite lush. I don’t understand why people are so hypnotically drawn to the beach when all of this is here too. Then again I never can quite understand the workings of most tourists minds.

Water was a little thin on the ground. There weren’t any roadside restaurants to ask at and I couldn’t find any taps at the churches/cemeteries I passed. When I stopped for lunch, I walked over to somebody's house and knocked on the door. The lady then gave me an ice cold bottle and filled up my other two. I could not have been happier. You just can’t compare ice cold water to warm water when your thirst needs quenching.

After some much needed rest and a strong cup of coffee, I was away by seven the following day as I really wanted to at least make it to the border with Bosnia. Looking around, It really did feel like I was in the middle of nowhere. There were no houses, cars, animals or any kind of activity at all. As my mouth became drier and drier, my need for water became really apparent. I ran out the night before and this was becoming a real problem. After an hour, I was completely devoid of moisture in my mouth and was beginning to pray for a farm or at least a house. I finally came to a small village of perhaps five houses and asked a man sat outside if it was possible to fill up my bottles. Of course he said yes and I gulped down a half litre whilst thanking him at the same time, filling my shirt with saliva. I was that thirsty. His wife went in and got me another bottle.

I headed on through the villages made of simple wooded and stone houses and cycled past verdant forest but with signs on the edge proclaiming them to be filled with land mines. A little sad I thought when it was such a beautiful area.

It seemed that every village on my map consisted of but a few houses, no shops at all but just a few houses with a scattering of derelict and deserted buildings amongst them. A reminder of past times I thought. I saw these buildings all over and wondered why, if they hadn’t been rescued to live in once again, hadn't their stone been at least be recycled. It occurred to me that it was quite possible that these abandoned buildings could also be teeming with land mines too. What a pointless and cruel way to defend your territory. There can be no justification for the use of a hidden weapon, a weapon that could stay hidden for many years after hostilities. It’s just crazy. I also vowed to myself to be extra careful where I camp, particularly as I approached the border with Bosnia.

The road’s north were generally flat but as the wind was making a show, it was slow going. I was making good progress though. I don’t like to rush things but I am a bit short of time as my train from Munich was now set in stone and I would have to be there by the 25th. Even so, I still had a little time to do some exploration and so to Bosnia it was and I was thoroughly excited by this prospect. Then I really would be out of the EU.

After a slow and torturous climb, I arrived in Drnis a little later. The town, famous for ham apparently is situated in a wide valley and surrounded by impenetrable looking hills and mountains all the way around. There were wonderful views to be had just before descending and I took the opportunity to relax a while up there.

When I reached Knin, I found a small bar in which to use the internet and charge up my things. As I sat on the terrace outside, I did become a little annoyed as three kids were running around the café and terrace and every time they ran past the back of my chair, they knocked it and with that my beer would dance around, and nearly fall onto my laptop before I caught it. I’m not adverse to kids but when this happens seven times, you do become a little agitated.

I stopped off in a small shop on the way out of town. It looked unusually dark and forbidding to be a shop and the lady informed me the power to the entire city had gone out. Just when she said that though, it threw itself back on. Well I guess the wifi hadn’t been switched off at all then! I was definitely heading into a more interesting place.

As I headed down the small road, the forest began to encroach on both sides. The whole area became wetter and denser than anything I had seen before. The further on I went, the less cars and people I saw and the more the craggy mountain peaks began to close in around me as the road descended ever so slightly into a valley. It was all quite forbidding really, particularly as I now knew I was heading into a country that, not twenty years ago had been consumed by war. I was very, very intrigued to see what it was like.

I had my last dog chase a little later too. I had decided to cycle tentatively pass but that was when it jolted up right and followed me onto the road. As I cycled faster and faster downhill, I could see it gathering pace, raining down on my rear bag, baring its teeth with an almost cruel smile. Perhaps on another day, we could even become friends.

I eventually came to the end of the long straight roads through the valleys and began my steep ascent. Just as I was getting into my stride though, a strange thing happened; I came to a proper manned border post. This struck me as a real surprise as I had gotten so used to crossing over land borders with no formalities whatsoever that I just assumed this would be the case here. I knew that perhaps there would be a sign welcoming me into a new country but probably nothing more. I passed through the Croatian side where I finally received the first stamp in my passport and I was more than happy a few moments later when the guard at the Bosnian side stamped it again! Two stamps in as many minutes!

I mentioned to the lady that I hadn’t expected to see anyone here whereupon she replied that “we’re not part of EU, NATO blah blah blah, we’re not part of anything”. This struck me as a little odd but also filled with a little excitement as I was entering a new phase of my trip. Everything would begin to feel a little different now I suspected; the way people dressed, the state of the roads, buildings and houses and just the general feel of the place. I now really began to feel I was heading out of Western Europe proper.

The lady had asked me where I would be staying with which I replied with the name of the first town on my map, some 20km’s away. I was mightily glad to have remembered it.

I spent perhaps the next three hours climbing ever higher around the mountains. I was by no means as high as it had been in the Apennines but as I had been cycling since seven in the morning, my legs finally began to cry out in weariness and pain. As the road began to straighten out, I began to feel I was close to the top but with every new corner, my spirits were dashed when the road continued on. The views were simply spectacular across the surrounding valleys though, particularly with the late evening mist creeping in.

I was stopped by a German guy riding a motorbike a little later whom told me that at the top of the pass, there was a really quite beautiful area where you could camp but there were in fact sign’s everywhere warning you of unexploded mines.

I thought that was really nice of him to pull over and say so. He had said that it would be dark once I had reached the top thus I wouldn't be able to see the signs. So effectively, he gave me a heads up. I gave him a thumbs up, thanked him and headed on.

As night was beginning to close in, I began walking my bike up even though it wasn’t even steep at all. I simply could not go any further. My legs felt like jelly and I was hungry. There were no signs of places to pitch a tent and I began to think truly this was the one time I would be sleeping by the side of the road.

I was perhaps one kilometre from the top when I finally said that I cannot possibly go another step; my legs simply wouldn’t hold me anymore. I was tired with exhaustion and it really is an incredible feeling to have. When your body simply gives up.

I can’t believe I’m saying this yet again but as has happened on numerous occasions before and even though I had seen nothing even remotely close to a track or path for the last two hours, I stopped and spied a small grassy track leading down and around the cliff face to nowhere in particular. I couldn’t believe my luck and I wasted no time at all in pushing my bike down and setting my tent up. Watch those mines Jamie!

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