Friday, October 30, 2015

Shoulder season

The days are growing longer in Norway, and the first frost has come (and gone). We’re on our way into winter, although we’re not quite there yet, and we’re squeezing in a last few adventures before snow and ice cover the landscape. 

The weekend after our Adriatic Adventure, Audun and I headed to Norefjell with our mountain bikes to enjoy what promised to be a spectacular day.

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Mountains upon mountains on the way up Norefjell

The fatigue from our week-long ride was still stuck somewhere, deep in my legs. It was a rough day for my legs to be riding, but a beautiful day for views!

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Looking back down the (highway of a) trail at Norefjell

It was officially fall vacation week, for people who follow the schedule of schools. As a consequence the mountain was crawling with people, especially as we approached our turning point at Høgevarde hut. Surprisingly, most people were pretty nice about us passing them, saying hi and asking questions. There is a history of conflict between hikers and mountain bikers, especially in the Oslo area, so this was a welcome change. Maybe we’re finding a way to share the trails? All it takes is for hikers and cyclists to respect each other!

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Descending at Norefjell

On the way down the mountain, there was one woman who started shouting at me about ‘trails being for walking’, although these trails are on public land and legally open to anyone using non-motorized transport. Oh well, you’ll never have everyone on your side.

The next weekend we headed to Skeikampen, another mountainous region not far outside of Oslo. This time, ‘we’ were a larger group, gathered to celebrate Audun’s impending and Alf Petter’s recently passed 30th birthdays. In a dramatic start to the weekend, the what-should-have-been-3-hour drive to Skeikampen became six when Alf Petter and Synne’s car broke down, and much effort was required to find a rental car that had space for several bikes.

It was foggy on Saturday and we could glimpse snow on the upper part of the mountain, but our jovial group of 9 riders set out with enthusiasm nonetheless.

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Synne and Sara pedalling up the road

After a section of rolling dirt roads, we entered the trails to find them slippery, snowy and difficult. Somehow we made it up to the high point of Kristavarden, which provided some limited views in the fog.


A group photo in the snow

Then we got to head downhill, which turned out to be more fun than I expected in those conditions. I only wiped out once, but the snow made the landing soft, and I landed in the perfect place to snaps photos of the guys coming behind me:

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Alf Petter with Chris in the background

As we descended, the snow started to thin out and the trails grew muddier but at least slightly more predictable because obstacles weren’t hidden under snow.

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Synne in the last of the snowy terrain

 Once you got used to the feeling of sliding around in the mud, the riding was pretty fun!

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Audun enjoying the trail below snow line, with Prestkampen peak in the background.

We got back to the hut, covered from head to toe in mud and happy with our outing.

The next day I squeezed in a 25 K run on the trails around Skeikampen. I tagged the peaks of Skeikampen itself, Prestkampen, and ran the whole long ridge than makes up Bånsæterkampen. Most of the snow from the day before had melted. It was spectacular but slow going with lots of vertical. I should go to the mountains to run more often!

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The view of Bånsæterkampen from Prestkampen.

Since Hytteplanmila two weeks ago, I’ve been taking a break from running. It’s been a long season - I started training for Skogsmaraton in early February - and I definitely feel a lack of motivation, especially with no races to ‘scare me’ into training. Hopefully a couple weeks off will reenergize my legs and, more importantly, my mind. We’re getting into the time of year where I have to run by headlamp, which although it can be nice, definitely requires more motivation just to get out the door.

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Fall leaves on my last ‘run’, where I ended up turning after 2K due to a lack of motivation.

Today I’m headed for Morocco for our annual fall mountain biking trip, where we escape the dark Norwegian fall by heading south. Stay tuned for the trip report!

- The Wild Bazilchuk

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Hytteplanmila 2015

My first 10K race was Sentrumsløpet in 2014, which happened right in the middle of my peak Ultrabirken training. I signed up, pretty spontaneously, two days beforehand, just to see what I could do. I had fun, ran a huge negative split and finished in 47:21, convince I could do better. With that thought in mind, I signed up for Hytteplanmila, purportedly ‘Norway’s fastest 10K’, nearly 6 months ago. It’s also one of Norway’s most competitive 10Ks. I also signed up my mom, who has been making huge strides in the training the last couple years, so she would have something fun to train for. Dad also eventually signed up, as did Audun; this was going to be a family event!

I had this idea that I would put in six weeks of quality training for the 10K to round off my running ‘season’ (not that I’ve raced that much!), but I had a bad cold for the first week, still getting rid of the cough from the cold for the second, and then we went to Croatia and put in 600 kilometers for cycling. So yeah, not the optimal training cycle! I had a few good interval and track sessions though. Reassuringly enough, my last track workout the Wednesday before the race was great; I did 5x1000 meter progression intervals and texted Audun after the workout: “45 minutes. I think I can do it.” 


Last track session before Hytteplanmila at Øya in Trondheim in gorgeous fall weather. Photo by Dad.

It felt cocky to be trying for a PR of over 2 minutes, and as race day drew closer I grew more nervous. I feel that my nerves before a race are like stage fright; they prepare me for being ready in the moment and I usually perform better if I’m nervous first. Mom, Dad and I all arrived in Oslo by night train from Trondheim the morning of the race, and we stopped by my apartment to cook a good breakfast of pre-race pancakes with apples and almonds. These high-protein pancakes were the perfect thing, as I was too nervous to eat much lunch before the race and they stuck with me well.

Following a 45-minute drive to the race location, we picked up our bibs and commenced to mill around with the 1900 or so other people who were running. Audun and I put in at 25 minute warm-up with some strides, scouting the last part of the race course. The last 300 meters of the course were a brutal uphill in an otherwise fairly flat course. “This is going to hurt!” Audun remarked, and I could only agree.


Waiting for the race to start. Photo by Dad.

Everyone started at the same time, but we were supposed to line up with the appropriate pace group to smooth things out. So Audun went forward to find the sub-40 minute group; I lined up with the sub-45 minute pacer, and Mom went back to the 60 minute pacer. Dad had unfortunately injured his calve a couple days before and was acting as the official photographer. 

Standing alone in a sea of people before the start, I mulled over my race strategy: stick with the 45-minute pacer, and see if I could pull away from him in the last couple of kilometers for a sub 45 minute finish. But I would also watch my heart rate and keep it at a reasonable level. The magic number is 189: pass that and I am certain to crash and burn in anything but a sprint.

Bang! The start gun went off and the movement of the front runners soon propagated back into the pack. We were walking, then jogging, then running. I had no choice about my pace; I was surrounded by people and we were moving as a single mass inexorably forward. A man ahead of me was sporting compression tights, a water bottle fanny pack and had a banana in each hand. Really? Do you need all that for 10K? I thought.

The first kilometer was flat and then downhill, and we were moving fast. The sounds of hundreds of running shoes slapping on the pavement heavy breathing filled the crisp fall air. I didn’t dare look at my watch at first, not wanting to remove my eyes from the pacer for fear of him disappearing the crowds. When we passed the first kilometer sign I sneak a glance: 4:05. I nearly gasped; I was hoping to average 4:30 /km pace; this was practically suicidal! Well, this section had been mostly downhill.

Kilometer 1: 4:05


The 45 minute pacer, who ran way under 45 minutes! I’m somewhere in the group behind him. Photo by Hilde Oline Selte for Hytteplanmila.

The pacer slowed down, but just barely, at the bottom of the hill. Suddenly I saw everyone ahead of me running around something. As I jogged by I saw that a runner had collapsed and a group was performing CPR. I was horror-struck. What had happened to him? Was he going to die? How could we all just keep running like this? But there was nothing to do, apart from make space as the ambulances rushed in.

Kilometer 2: 4:17

The road started to climb, gradually for someone who is used to running in the mountains and forest, but steep enough to slow me down at this hard effort. I struggled to keep up with my pacer, but even before I glanced at my watch and saw that my heart rate was 190, I knew it was useless. I had to run my own race. I let him pull ahead and found a comfortable rhythm up the hill.

Kilometer 3: 4:34

The road rolled along for the next kilometer, and the pacer only had a 50 meter gap on me. Although I was focused on keeping my tempo up, I couldn’t help but remark at what a beautiful fall day it was. The fog of the morning had burned off the a perfect, if slightly chilly, sunny day.

Kilometer 4: 4:31

The course started a descent towards a larger road, and I could see hundreds of runners stretched out ahead of me in the distance. OK, use the downhill, I told myself. Let your legs roll, and you’ll catch the pacer. As I tried to cruise down the hill, I developed a severe cramp in my abdomen. It kind of felt like my stomach muscles were trying to detach from the rest of my body, and it was so painful I actually teared up. Oh my god my race is over! I thought frantically, before trying to correct the negative thinking. You can still fix this. Breath in. Breath out. Don’t stop running.

It was flat and easy terrain now, and I wanted to speed up and catch my pacer, but I could barely keep myself from not walking. I passed the 5K sign in just under 22 minutes, and realized that the pacer wasn’t going to be running 45 minutes; no, he would be running much faster. I abandoned my race plan and decided to run completely at my own pace.

Kilometer 5: 4:21

I slowed down slightly and tried to breath, hoping the cramp would pass. Slowly but surely it eased up and I sped up a little, praying it wouldn’t come back. The lyrics of several songs drifted distended through my mind… Young the Giant’s ‘My body’ suddenly came on full blast. “My body tells me no, but I won’t stop… cause I want more!"

Kilometer 6: 4:21

As we turned off the main road, the course headed slightly uphill again. The carnage of the first 5K were starting to show; some people were starting to walk, and one guy was doubled over like he was about to vomit. A 10K is a hard distance, but I hoped that by keeping my heart rate under the magic threshold I wouldn’t blow up. 

Kilometer 7: 4:32

This was starting to hurt, when would we reach the top of this infernal hill? I thought about slowing down; I could almost certainly PR if I let up just a little? NO! the Competitive Instinct that lives in my head shouted, you have to run this as hard are you can. Come on, it’s only going to hurt for another 15 minutes. The sun was in my eyes now and I regretted not wearing sunglasses. I saw that the course would duck into the shade soon and used that as motivated to keep running hard. 


Almost over! Photo by Dad.

Kilometer 8: 4:35

Don’t stop now don’t stop now. If you pass the 9K sign in less than 40 minutes you only have to run the last K in 5 minutes! That’s easy, right?

Kilometer 9: 4:27

I had reached the final kilometer, and picked up the pace another notch. I dodged past a couple of women and grimly noted that I was moving up a couple places in the rankings, not that that really mattered. As I passed the 800-meter to the finish sign, I tried to my encourage myself, thinking, that’s only 2 laps around the track! Bad strategy - that sounded terrible. So I just stopped thinking altogether and started running.

Suddenly I was rounding the final corner and heading up the dreaded hill to the finish. It was easier than I feared, at first. Then I saw Audun, sweaty and wearing his finishers metal, and decided that it was time to start sprinting. The hill went from ‘not bad’ to ‘please don’t let me collapse this close to the finish line’ pretty quickly. A photographer from the race organization caught the moment pretty well:


Pain embodied in my face. Photo by Hilde Oline Selte for Hytteplanmila.

I crossed the finish line, swaying and dizzy. I later learned that although finished 107 of 635 women, I ran the 53rd fastest time up that final hill.

Kilometer 10: 4:24

Final time: 44:20

I had broken 45 minutes, and set a PR by 3 minutes! I feel this is both a product of training and also experience in the 10K distance. I started harder at this race than Sentrumsløpet last year. Who knows how fast I can go with a little more training and experience?


Three happy finishers with MEDALS! Photo by Dad.

Mom finished in a solid 59:26 for her first race in over a decade, and Audun (being the animal that he is) ran 40:02. I like the 10K distance, and I think I’ll be running some more in the future. I also bought myself a PR present: my first pair of ‘fast’ running shoes, Mizuno Hitogamis. Excited to see how these work out for me next season!

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- The Wild Bazilchuk

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Adriatic adventure days 7&8: Serenissima

This is a story with several parts. If you haven’t already, check out Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4 and Part 5

The final leg of our bike ride to Venice started, ironically, on a train. Wanting to have at least part of the day to sightsee in Venice, we opted to bypass most of the remaining kilometers and start riding from San Dona di Piave, about 40 km outside of Venice.

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My navigation setup, heading to Venice

The last couple days had contained numerous climbs, but the road out to Jesolo and along the peninsula towards Venice was completely flat. It was so comfortable to be able to cruise along, nearly without pedalling, at 25 km/h. As was the case for most of the trip, we were travelling along the water. This water had a murkier sheen that the Adriatic coat, and the color sometimes seemed to meld with the cloudy sky. This was an area that was clearly touched by the passage of humans; the coastline was a cement wall and there were many boats in the water. 

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Incredible colors along the Jesolo lagune.

After a couple casual hours of riding we reached the end of the road, with only water between us and Venice. It would be a suitable end to our journey, I thought, to enter Venice by boat, triumphant with our bicycles. I headed over to the ticket both and asked for tickets for two people and two bikes. “No bikes,” the Italian woman at the ticket booth informed me, “You have to leave them here.” 

Leave them here? But we had to get to the airport tomorrow! How could we have travelled all this way on our bikes and not be allowed to take them with us? If I had done a little more research before travelling to Venice, I would have realized that bikes are completely forbidden in the city. This is for good reasons; the streets are small and winding and there are numerous staircases.

It took a few minutes of questioning before the woman stopped repeating “No bikes!” and conceded that we could in fact take a ferry, with our bikes, to an area called Tronchetto. From there we might be able to find somewhere to leave our bikes and then walk into the city center.

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If you must wait for a ferry, cross your fingers there’s a panificio (bakery) you can stuff your face at in the mean time.

Thus began a two hour journey of getting ourselves and our bikes the last few kilometers from Punta Sabbioni to Venice. We refined our plan even more, realizing that since most of our luggage was camping gear would could just leave it with the bikes. And that’s how we took travelling light to new heights and repacked so that we would both enter Venice with no more than our 10-liter cycling packs.

The bright side of our long ferry journey all the way around Venice to get to Venice was that we got to go around Venice in a boat, giving us nice views of the city.

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On the car ferry, with the Venice skyline in the background.

Finally at Trochetto, we located a parking garage where people from the mainland leave their cars before entering Venice. A familiar scene was replayed; I approached the ticket booth for parking and asked if we could leave our bikes somewhere in the parking garage. “No bikes,” the man in the ticket booth exclaimed, as though we were retarded. “You have car?” We shook our heads. “Then I can’t help you.” We withdrew to regroup, but I was beyond rethinking. How could everyone in Venice be so horrible to cyclists? Had no one else ever arrived here by biked? Audun tried to reason with me, saying that we could find somewhere outside to lock our bikes and then take a water taxi with our luggage, but I felt the reasoning pass straight over my head and tears well up in my eyes.

I was a snivelling wreck in an Italian parkering garage. But the crying helped more than any of our words had, and all of a sudden the man in from the ticket booth was ushering us to a back room where we could leave our bikes. I almost started laughing at the ridiculousness of the situation; ask a simple question and all you get is no, but start crying and they listen?

Soon we were waltzing down the streets of ancient Venice, free of baggage and bikes. I was hungry and started to look for somewhere to eat. Every snack bar seemed to display the menu in at least 4 different languages and give off a distinct vibe of tourism. I wanted something authentic, and Italian, and I didn’t even know what that would be.

That is, until we passed a tiny shop crammed with people, filled with the noise of Italians having a rowdy discussion with each other. Curious, I peaked in and watched as people procured sandwiches and tiny glasses of wine while speaking animatedly with three chefs, who were somehow able to gesticulate as they talked at the same time as they made sandwiches. 

“I think we should stand in line here,” I announced to Audun, and he tended to agree. This shop seemed like The Real Italian Experience.

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The Magic Venetian Sandwich Shop

After spending about 20 minutes being cut in line by Italians who were far less timid than us, we too had procured the magic sandwiches that everyone else was eating. They were great, and I finally felt like we had done something right that day.

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Magic sandwiches

After consuming our delicious sandwiches, we wandered towards the heart of the city and our AirBnB. Navigating in Venice is difficult at best; most of the streets are very narrow, they all twist and turn, and a fair number of them suddenly dead end at a canal.

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Audun in a typical Venetian alley

There were undeniably lots of tourists, especially on the larger streets and near attractions like the Ponte di Rialto. In these areas the cloying scene of masses of people armed with selfie sticks and DSLRs obliged me to put my camera away and simple watch. Although I like to take pictures, my motivation is to tell my unique story, and I find it frustrating when I encounter swaths of people all taking pictures of the same thing.

Amid the hubbub of tourism, the air of secrecy, power and decaying beauty were omnipresent in the streets of Venice. Sometimes we would round a turn and end up in a quiet alley which gave the convincing impression that we were alone, all alone in this labyrinth of a city.

After checking into our gorgeous AirBnB, we headed to the very center of tourism in Venice, namely the Piazzo di San Marco. It was every bit as crowded as I expected, but still impressively majestic.

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The crowds at Piazzo di San Marco

We only had time for one museum, and settled on the Doge’s Palace, which was once the very heart of political power in the Venetian Republic. It was impressive just how much money was put into making powerful places look fancy back then. Countless detailed paintings cover the walls and ceilings and I lost track of how many things were gilded and made out of expensive marble. There are also dungeons, although they aren’t very impressively displayed.

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The view from the Bridge of Sighs, on the way to the dungeon in the Doge’s Palace.

The next morning we got up early for a run. Morning runs are my favorite way to experience big cities; there’s just something about the quiet lull of the morning and the empty streets. Venice did not disappoint. 

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Just a casual morning run on the streets of Venice.

I even got to take advantage of all the empty space on the Piazzo di San Marco:

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After a yummy breakfast, we headed out to walk back through the city to get our bikes. They were still in the parking garage where we had left them; success! We were hoping to take the bus to the airport, both because we didn’t want to ride the highway to get there and also so we wouldn’t have to fly all sweaty.

When we showed up at the airport bus ticket office, the ticket vendor gave us the at this point predictable "NO BIKES!". So we had to ride to the airport after all.

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On the bridge out of Venice

But really, I wouldn’t have had it any other way.

- The Wild Bazilchuk

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Adriatic adventure day 6: One day, three countries

This is a story with several parts. If you haven’t already, check out Part 1Part 2Part 3 and Part 4

It rained all night in Vrsar and when we woke up the tent was covered in thick clay mud. All of our possessions including our bikes had been stored under in the tent garage, so they faired pretty well. The tent was a lost cause; we shook it off as best we could and packed the sticky mass of fabric into its stuff sack, choosing to ignore it until it could be cleaned properly.

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Muddy tent you say?

Clambering back on my bike and heading out of the campground, I felt like the rusty tin man. The first 50-odd kilometers followed the coast of Istria towards Slovenia, and I found them very touristy. Take these statues in front of the restaurant ‘Lord of the Grills’:

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Lord of the grills. Possibly the tackiest decor I’ve ever seen.

We were on a busy road with cars zooming by, so we couldn’t really chat either. All of this put me in a rather black mood, and for the first time in the trip I put on a podcast (with only one earphone in of course) to entertain myself.

But the views gradually opened up again, and I put away my earphones and started to enjoy the ride.

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Sea and sky meld along Istria

We pedalled into our last city in Croatia, Buje, which housed not one, but two square towers. There we stopped for a lunch of more Nutella, cheese, sausage and the rest of our bread, which is what fuelled most of the trip. The cheese and sausage in Croatia were quite good.

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Entering Buje

Next was the Slovenian border crossing. This border defines the edge of Schengen, the passport-free zone within Europe. To enter Schengen in airports, you get your passport checked pretty thoroughly. I thought, with the refugee crisis going on not far from here, the border was bound to be a nightmare. Although there was a line, we basically just waved our passports at the guy and rolled through. He didn't even really look at them! 

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Welcome to Slovenia!

Although our original plan had called for a longer foray into Slovenia, we had been set back a whole day by the delayed ferries and would thus have to ride the shortest possible path to Italy. Bypassing the main highway, however, lead to a slightly more circuitous route. And by circuitous, I mean instead of following the nice valley, we got to climb 400 meters up to the hilltops, again. Post-depression of the morning I was digging the climbs though. The road had nearly no cars, and the switchbacks up through the forest reminded me of the road biking I used to do in France.

Plus, on the tops of the hills were more charming villages with - you guessed it - square towers.

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A tiny town in the hill country of Slovenia

A brake-screeching descent from the hilltops brought us back to the main road and reality. Now we would have to navigate through the crowded streets of Koper, and try to find a valid alternative to the enormous highway into Italy. As we stopped along a road in the outskirts of Koper to look at Google Maps, I noticed an official-looking sign. There was a stick drawing of a bicycle and an arrow, under which it said ‘Trieste’. Trieste, of course, was exactly the Italian city we were trying to get to.

 Audun and I looked at each other and were immediately in agreement to throw navigation to the wind and try this bike path.

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The magical bike path to Trieste

And like the proverbial yellow brick road in the Wizard of Oz, the bike path did bring us to Trieste. Magically, it wound through calm farmland and forest, bypassing both the city and the highway. It was almost too good to be true, and before we knew it we were on the Italian border, which was even more of a joke than the Slovenian border.

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The Slovenian-Italian border, with absolutely no one watching.

After entering Italy, we spent a stressful hour pedalling through the outskirts of Trieste until we finally got to the city center and our accommodations for the night. My GPS told me we had racked up another 100 km day, and my legs confirmed that it had been another hard one.

That didn’t stop us from getting out to sightsee, though. Trieste was a great city to walk around in, with lots of cool buildings and statues ranging from all imaginable time periods from ancient Roman to modern.

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On a majestic flight of stairs built directly above a car tunnel in Trieste. Going for the ‘honey-I-shrunk-my-boyfriend’ selfie.

And of course, now that we were in Italy, we could enjoy Italian food. We managed to pick a quiet trattoria and had one of the best meals of the trip. 

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The waterfront the center of Trieste. Audun made friends with a statue.

Tomorrow? To Venice.

- The Wild Bazilchuk

Friday, October 9, 2015

Adriatic adventure day 5: TT across Cres

This is a story with several parts. If you haven’t already, check out Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3

The sun rose dusky pink on a baby blue sea while we munched on our morning Nutella, cheese and brown bread. Even though we had a ferry to catch (the last of the trip), we enjoyed a meditative breakfast. I was tired of basing my every move off the next scheduled ferry time.

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Early breakfast at the campsite

We had to check the ferry times as we checked out of the campground, though. The next ferry was at 9 o’clock, and they only ran every hour and a half. It was 7:15, and the distance between us and the ferry was nominally 22 km. I say nominally because the distances noted on our big planning map had typically turned to be slightly longer in the real world. Twenty-two kilometers in an hour and forty-five minutes may seem trivial to most road bikers (in fact, I can here them scoffing as I write this). But I vaguely recalled perusing our German friend’s topo map the day before and seeing some kind of hill. With heavily loaded bikes and an unknown amount of vertical between us and the ferry, we definitely didn’t have time to dilly-dally.

So I pedalled out to the campsite with my mind united in a single purpose: I would give everything I had to try and make that ferry. I would time trial this thing. As our path joined the main road, I spotted at sign: Porozina, 26 km. So my map distance was 4 kilometers off. Great. Maybe not a big deal for a car, but those extra four kilometers might be the difference between making and missing the ferry.

The road started to climb, and it didn’t stop. The grade was bearable, and I found that perfect point where my muscles were working hard, but not so hard that the lactic acid built up intolerably. I was going at a pace I could hold for an hour or two, but definitely not all day. 

The clouds darkened to steely grey as we climbed, and I felt a twinge of nervousness. What if there was thunder and lightning? What if the ferry wasn’t even running? Despite the stress of trying to catch the ferry and the impending bad weather, I found myself thoroughly enjoying the climb. The road wound up steep, vegetated slopes dropping down to the ocean, now hundreds of meters below. I was strongly reminded of Skull Island from King Kong. Maybe there would be a giant gorilla at the top of the climb?

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Dramatic light headed uphill on Cres. This is the best I could do shooting one-handed on a bicycle while pedalling up an 8% grade!

There was no gorilla, but climb topped out after numerous false summits. We had climbed from sea level to 500 meters, and our average pace was well below what it needed to be to catch the ferry. Luckily for us, ferries generally stop at sea level. There would be a fast downhill, somewhere along the road.

But first the road crested across the top of the island for a ways. Such was the urgency with which I rode that I didn’t stop to take a picture of the enormous bird of prey hanging in the air less than 100 meters above our heads. I had the sudden, swooping feeling that often overtakes me in the mountains, where I realize that this is a special time in a special place, and I have it all to myself.  I later learned that the island of Cres is famous for its griffon vultures - and I honestly think that’s what we saw. 

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A view from the top.

Passing under the vulture seemed to be the turning point, and soon the road transitioned to a swooping downhill. The road was slightly wet, and I feathered my brakes cautiously on the way down. Even with cautious riding, we made up all the lost time climbing and rolled into the ferry port a full 15 minutes before departure, elated with our own performance. It began to rain just as we borded the ferry, and rained for the duration of the short crossing before letting up. 

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More dramatic light, looking back at Cres after from the ferry port on the mainland.

Now on the mainland, we aimed to spend the rest of the day pedalling across the Istria peninsula. I had imagined it would be easy after the strenuous riding of the morning, but the road through Istria started with another monster climb, this one graded at up to 15%. With the heavy load on my bike and my heavy gears, 15% grade translates to standing up and mashing the pedals while I almost hear the rush of lactic acid into my thighs. I somehow made it up several of these without walking, which I consider a triumph.

Then there was a leisurely downhill before we started to climb again, this time through the Region of Towered Towns (as I’ve decided to call it). This climb had a more pleasant grade, around 5% most of the time, but lasted forever. And around every corner of the road was a cutesy, Medival-looking city with almost identical towers. We almost stopped to check out Pican, but were deterred by the steep uphill to get there.


The city of Pican with its tower.

I had my heart set on a leisurely lunch break in Pazin, but climbing was heartbreaking slow. Pizza, repeated to myself, Pizza. Pizza. And before I knew it, we were zooming through the charming streets of old Pazin, finding a pizza shop, and ordering two enormous pizzas and soda.

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I was tired as we left Pazin, my stomach full and legs leaden. I hoped there wouldn’t be more climbing - we had already done over 1500 vertical meters for the day in just over 60 kilometers. We were planning to do about 40 more, out a town on the coast called Vrsar.

This is typically the moment in the blog post where I go ‘FAT CHANCE!’ and it turns out there was another 1000 vertical meters of climbing. But the road gods were smiling on us that day, and the remaining 40-odd kilometers were almost all flat or slightly downhill. We rolled to out to the coast in under 2 hours and were settled into another enormous campground filled with German tourists in campers before we knew it.

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Setting up the Palace of Spaciousness and Luxury in Vrsar

I was tired, and happy that we were able to stop early in the afternoon after such a hard effort. I insisted upon sitting in the tent and finishing my book, The Martian, before we went out to eat. As we strolled into town to get dinner, the skies opened and it proceeded to pour rain for the rest of the evening. I had hoped we would have time to explore Vrsar, but the rain was so hard we could barely see the streets as we crossed them, so we went straight back to the campsite after another seafood dinner. As I listened to the pitter-patter on our tent fly, all I could think was, at least I’m not out riding in it. 

This would be our last night in Croatia - tomorrow, to Italy!

- The Wild Bazilchuk

Friday, October 2, 2015

Adriatic adventure, days 3 & 4: A ferry tale

If you haven’t already, read parts one and two of this trip report!

The wind blew all night, sometimes practically flattening the walls of our tent. I woke up with a jolt many times to the sound of the tent poles straining against the wind, afraid that this time, the wind would actually break the tent. But the Palace of Spaciousness and Luxury survived the tent; wind test approved! 

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Nutelle: breakfast of champions in the tent

Today we had an alarm set, because we were touring cyclists on a mission. The mission was Take All the Ferries. After having crossed the Bridge of Windy Doom yesterday, we were now on an island, and short of turning around and going backwards, a ferry would be the way to get off. Furthermore, we had planned a complex route of island hopping for the rest of the day, involving 4 ferries in total. I have illustrated the route with a little help from Google: 

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Dotted lines are riding, wholes lines are ferries.

The longest ferry, from Lopar on Rab to Krk, only ran four times a day, and the last passage would leave us cycling in the dark, so we were in a hurry to catch an earlier ferry. By 7:15 my bike looked like this:

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Sylvia, all hoboed up. 

And I looked like this:

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Ready to go!

We were ready to hit the road. As I started to pedal, I was filled with sudden euphoria. To be here, at this moment, and to be pedalling, moving forward! The road winded through tall grass and overlooked barren hillsides. For some reason, a number of low stone walls had been built in some of this hillsides, neatly partitioning the landscape.

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Tall grass on a beautiful morning.

After passing through the village of Pag, the road started to climb steeply. From what I could divine from the 1:500 000 driving map we were mostly navigating off of, we were crossing over to other side of the island. I hoped all this climbing wouldn’t cost us too much time - we had a ferry to catch, and missing it would have consequences for the rest of the day! We had given ourselves plenty of time though.

I like climbing. I like the steady work of moving uphill, and I like the view that comes with it. This one didn’t disappoint, and there was more sparkling blue seas and rocky hills. Cresting over the top and zooming down the other side opened up a whole new view and I realized how much closer I felt to the view on a bike rather than a car. Like I were moving into it unshielded rather than protected by my metal box.

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The road above Pag was practically dug into the hillside.

The road dropped us into another big climb, crossing the island yet again, and I got a flat tire. We quickly fixed it before grinding our way slowly upward. This section was proving harder than we thought! Descending from the second big climb lead us past a cheese factory (apparently that’s a big business on Pag!) and onto an open plane. The wind picked up, although it was less gusty than the previous day. I mashed the pedals, zooming across the plane at 30 km/h.

We turned away from the larger town of Novalja, heading instead for the unpronounceable ferry port of Zigljen. “You’re going so fast!” remarked Audun, “We have plenty of time though, you know that?” 

Looking at yet another rolling set of hills ahead of us, I wasn’t so sure we had plenty of time. As we approached the first hill on this stretch, a car pulled over and rolled down the window. “There’s no ferry!” they exclaimed, “too much wind!” Audun and I looked at each other, and I felt my heart sink through my stomach. No ferry? How could it be? We needed to take that ferry! 

“How long will the ferry not be running for?” I asked. They just shrugged and said they had wanted to tell us because we were on bikes and the next section was… wavy gestures were made with the hands.

After a short conference Audun and I decided to continue to the ferry port. Probably there would be someone there who could tell us how long the ferry was cancelled for. Backtracking all the way around to the mainland would be around 100 km, and although that would only take an hour in a car, it would take us all day and then some. The wind was supposed to die down during the course of the day, and surely there would be a café or something where we could sit and wait for the ferries to start running again.

Fat chance.

For the next 45 minutes, we battled brutalizing winds that seem to grow stronger with each successive hilltop. These were headwinds, the kind of wind that literally stopped me in my tracks. Many cars were driving down the road towards us, and several pulled over to give the same message: No ferry. Too much wind. No one could tell us when, if at all, the ferries would start running again.

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These lands had clearly felt wind before. 

I was so demoralized I stopped in the road and starting sobbing. Stupid, stupid wind! I hated it! But I had decided to get to the ferry port, and get there I would - or bust. The landscape grew more and more barren as we drew closer to the ferry port, and to me it seemed hostile, wind-blasted and foreign.

There was a line of ferries at the ferry port, and absolutely no infrastructure other than a closed ticket both and ice cream stand. There was no one in the ticket both, no information apart from a small sign that said ‘No ferry.’ Well duh.

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Audun at the desrted ferry port in Zigljen. Note the white caps in the background.

We ate second breakfast cowering behind the ticket booth to get some shelter from the blasting wind. Screw this, I thought. I wasn’t going to sit at this god forsaken place with no information about when the ferries would start running. And I wasn’t going to ride an 100 km detour either. I was going back to the town of Novalja, and I was going to eat a lot, read my book and thoroughly enjoy myself.

So that is how we ended up taking half a rest day at swanky campground filled with Germans in Novalja. Oddly enough, the winds were only strong on the ferry port, Eastern facing side of the island. At the campground, life was much more tranquil. 

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My pizza. My precious. ALL FOR ME!

We ate enormous pizzas and drank radler in the middle day. Then we fully enjoyed the private campground beach for the rest of the day, and I read most of ‘The Martian’ by Andy Weir.

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Lying on the beach. Yep, that’s the only time that is going to happen this decade!

The next morning we were up early (again) to try to catch a series of ferries (again). The wind had died down completely though, and the barren landscape we cycled across to the ferry port seemed more charmingly rugged than hostile. The ferry was running!

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A ferry! And calm seas!

We then covered 20 rolling kms on the mainland to the next ferry port at Stinica, passing beneath Paklenica national park. There were almost no cars, and the views up to the mountains and down to the sea were beautiful.

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Audun in the foothills of Paklenica national park

The ferry from Stinica took us off the mainland again and onto the island of Rab. On the way into Rab city (all the islands had a town with the same name as them, which is slightly confusing!) to pick up refreshments, we met a talkative young German who was out bike touring on his own. He was riding a bike big, slow tires and seemed to be happy to find someone to chat with.

In Rab, we enjoyed an early, dockside lunch. We had plenty of time before the next, longest ferry ride. I decided to get french fries, and received a container of fries that had been salted so much they were absolutely unpalatable, making me gag. The man who made them had barely understood enough English to take my order though, so I didn’t feel like wasting time trying to compalin. I just threw them out and we left. This was very disappointing, and I haven’t craved french fries since I tasted the ones in Rab.

We still had an hour to kill before the ferry left from Lopar on Rab. Luckily there was a stretch of beautiful coastline to sit and enjoy while we waited.

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Nice Croation coastline and clear waters

My biggest regret of the trip is not taking a swim at Lopar. At the time I thought it was too much of a hassle to dig up my swimsuit, get changed, and then carry around the wet clothes, but just look at that water!

It was over an hour’s ferry ride to our next stop in Krk. The young German found us again and we chatted with him for most of the way. He was a medicine student, and headed in roughly the same direction as us. From Krk, though, we would take slightly different routes. I never got his name, but snapped a picture of him before we disembarked the ferry.

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Our German friend. I wonder how his trip worked out?

We wouldn’t ride at all on Krk; we just had to wait for the next ferry to the island of Cres. For some reason, the ferries didn’t correspond at all, so we were stuck waiting for nearly an hour and a half. Although the coastline was less charming in Krk, there was a small café where they served enormous pieces of cake:

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By the time we stepped off our fourth and final ferry for the day, I was raring to go, feeling jittery from all the coffee, cake and waiting. After all, we had spent more time waiting for and taking ferries that day than actually cycling! The last 12 km into the town of Cres provided some good climbs that wore off any jitteriness in my legs. 

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14% is pretty painfully steep actually.

On the way up, we started discussing something the German had said. He had a better map than us, one with actually topography. Examining it, I had pointed out the symbol for the campground in Cres where we were hoping to spend the night.

“That’s the symbol for a nudist campground!” he exclaimed. What would we do if the only campground in Cres was nudist? Would they force us to go naked? Would we be allowed to stay there? 

“They must put on clothes in the evening,” reasoned Audun. “I can walk around naked for an hour till the sun goes down, if need be.” I wasn’t so sure I could.

Luckily this turned out to be a non-issue. While the campground had a nudist area, most of it was fully clothed. We set up our tent and enjoyed a meal in Cres. We were exactly where we had planned to be 24 hours ago, one day behind schedule. Could we make it up? Would we make it to Venice by Friday?

- The Wild Bazilchuk