Pedaling from the Black Forest to the Yellow Sea
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Day 22 (Croatia/Bosnia-Herzegovina): olive grove near Gradac - Mostar

today’s distance: 111km
total distance: 2134km
riding time: 7h

What a long day … it was a good start I thought until I realized that the grumbling in the distance was not from any trucks but that there was a thunderstorm rolling in. Just managed to break the tent down and head out before things came down. On the road for about 15 minutes, the road became moist and while the t-storm was only behind me at one point, it all of a sudden seemed all around me. I was heading into some dramatic scenery. The mountains were becoming higher, the grades steeper. The added effect of the weather played a part as well for sure. Soon enough I was in the middle of hard rain, having to make a considerable detour because of some road closure. 25km worth of a detour. What was supposed to be a 12km ride ended up being a bit longer with a lot more ridges to climb over. I stopped a couple of times to find some cover. The second time was close to someone’s house. The guy wouldn’t even say hello, just ignored me. Can’t say that I was particularly unfriendly or anything … even my attempt at getting some water from him failed. He clearly understood me, but just turned around. A bit frustrating. Once the rain tapered off a bit I went on to Netkovic, the border town on the Croatian side.

Road conditions were … not so good. The road was not designed to handle heavy traffic and certainly not the amount it had to handle. Starting out fine, the uphill was partially devoid of any solid surface only to become worse before it joined the main road again.

I have to get this off my chest - Croatian driving is quite possibly the most insane driving I have seen yet. Cars go at breakneck speed around corners, keep no distance whatsoever … the image that I have is that of a person on a cell phone or talking to the person next to him/her (or both), smoking a cigarette and doing a range of other things … while driving. There is also a specific order in which these things are done:

1. Talk to the person next to you or on the phone.
2. Pull out of your lane to overtake the already speeding car in front of you. Without checking at all whether there is anyone coming at you.
3. Keep doing what you were doing, smoke, talk, speak on the phone, grab a magazine, etc.
4a. If you’re seeing a car, hit the accelarator harder and pray that you will make it.
4b. If you see a biker, don’t do anything, trust he will realize that in case of a crash, he will loose and don’t mind him. 
5. If someone lets you know that you’re off your rocker, yell at him, threaten him with the family.

Truck drivers are an entirely different matter - keep on doing 1-3 and don’t worry about 4-5. You are invincible. Or maybe not.

Passing the unremarkable border with now lower windows, having to duck to see the chest of a big border guard, the driving on the other side eased right away. More distance, less speed and more regard for human beings in general seemed to be the order of the road. And just to prove the point, those cars and trucks passing more closely mostly had Croatian license plates (the underlying assumption is of course that a Croatian license plate represents a Croatian driver as well, a contestable assumption for sure and I’m also aware of the ethnic issues prevailing in this part of the world, see this picture for example).

I tried putting the distance to Mostar behind me. On the way I had seen a number of shelled houses as well as pockmarked hosues. Definitely a former war area. And if anything, Mostar goes to show this. Bombed out houses line the streets. The center is rebuilt, but very close to the tourist places, things aren’t so pretty. It will take time - the bridge that everyone gawks at was a quick project, though by no means the only way to cross the river.

Found a place after all couchsurfing options failed. The owner is a former soldier and has issues walking because he was shot in the leg by a sniper. He also has strong sentiments about politics … interesting to say the least. I will stay for one day of rest and then move on to Dubrovnik.


1 Antoinette Morgan { 04.17.08 at 1:46 pm }

Markus, Your trip so far sounds so fimiliar. Weather wise. I had similar conditions last year in Europe. The only variation I had was lots of rain and less rain. The good news is that it might clear up. The other good news is: one day you will look back and realise that even the bad times were good. Those booties: I also found out that yes they do not really work that well when it really rains. Got to Nancy soaked and ’shlosing’ around in my shoes. As the bad weather started early, hopefully by the time summer arrives really arives it will come with good weather. Till then enjoy the bi-athlon. (cycling and water pedaling)

2 Markus { 04.19.08 at 11:46 am }

Hey Antoinette, thanks for the comment … you’re right. Sounds like your trip … but as I am typing this in an internet place in Montenegro, things are looking better. I can see patches of blue sky and the sun has come out. Bad thing is that I seem to be catching a cold and a slight fever. But it will all work out I am sure. Best Markus

3 Rupert Wolfe Murray { 08.20.08 at 2:34 pm }

I have done some interesting rides in Montenegro and Albania, and am currently looking for advice on routes from Podgorica to Dubrovnik (via which bit of SE Bosnia?). Your advice on crazy drivers is the most useful thing you wrote as it is a warning to be super attentive. I use a Moulton for my touring and I am so happy with it; getting up hills is effortless and it handles superbly when overloaded.

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