Life behind bars, a solo cyclist wanders, but not searching for himself . Not some deeper meaning to life itself, rather it’s to experience the world and all that it has to offer for those willing to get out and look. A life experience, with its warts and all, as seen from the seat of a bicycle at 10 miles an hour. A God experience, I admit the world is too large for me to explain in any other way. Read more
GEAR REVIEW FOR AROUND THE WORLD CYCLING
Jeremiah Watt, an RTW adventure cyclist, says like almost everyone who tackles a long and epic adventure such as around the world by bicycle, will end with an opinion on gear and the needs for a cyclist as he travels. I am then no different than many who have come before me, except that my opinion on gear and camp life nessessities may differ. So, lets get started as Jeremiah lays out his thoughts, the pros and cons of gear, planning, blogging etc.
Informative blogs, as travellers I think its imperative that we read and follow as many as possible. They educate, inform and prepare a would be traveller as too what we may have for expectations with regard to such things as food, money/currency questions, routes, accessories. As far as Jeremiah is concerned, and his opinion, read as many as you can find, that deal with the adventure and route you intend to take.
Smart phones, I dont care who makes them, or what version that you may have……they just ain’t that smart when you are stuck in the middle of Mongolia and no signal……or even no GOOGLE mapping feature. I love mine, and dont want to be without it, but dont place your life in an online mapping service, have some basic paper road maps with you. And do not depend on the translation apps for anything other than single word translations. You could find that trying to translate an entire sentence may have you accidentaly placed in front of a fireing squad LOL. I carried a Samsung S4 phone.
Tablet or small laptop. I chose a 10″ Samsung Galaxy2 tablet and found it perfectly capable for my needs and my many images. Besides all that, I could charge my tablet thru my Shimano front dyno-hub. I found this to be particularily useful.
Cameras, my son carried two Go-pro units and we really liked the video and image quality that we got from the units. These items also returned home with my son when he flew back from Bucharest. Jeremiah, carried his Samsung S4 phone for panoramas, which is does beautiful with. And for digital cameras, he carried a Canon SX50 HS camera. I really like this type camera, its easy to use, plenty of range on the lense, and does not kill batteries quickly. All plusses when traveling. I had downloaded 2 different apps for handling the editing of images as I traveled. Jeremiah uses Pixlr Express for the bulk of the editing, really like this app. I also have Photoshop Touch on my tablet, this is a powerful app, make no mistake, but it is just so much slower than the Pixlr software. All totalled, I filled 3 of the class 10 x 64gig cards, and 2 class 10 cards of 32 gig capacity. Thats alot of images folks, and almost no video was shot on these cards. For storage, we added an external micro SD card of 128gig capacity.
Bike, that Jeremiah rode was a Surly Long Haul Trucker. This has proven to be a bullet-proof all steel frame with nary a failure nor weakness. I love, love, love this bike says Jeremiah.
Racks, I know that the cycling world loves Tubus brand racks and most likely for good reason. With that said, on our 2 bikes, we ran Surly Brand expedition racks both front and back. Put all bolts in with a drop of blue Loc-Tite. Never lost nor broke a bolt, no failures what-so-ever. One thing I really liked about the Surly racks was the racks had a good top base to support added bags and crap that we cyslists tend to carry, Tubus racks to not have this luxury.
Stove, my choice of stove was loved and hated. All due to fuel issues. I had an Esbit brand alchohol fuel stove, from Ukraine and on west it was not much problem finding fuel. It cleaned up well, cooked just fine, was light and efficient for us as we travelled. Once we arrived in USA, it was a piece of cake to travel and use this little stove. The real problem lay within Russia, Mongolia and China…..you will pull your hair out finding fuel in any of these countries and find yourself wishing for a different stove, as we did. Have to be honest here, that had we been using canister fuels, in some pllaces that also would have been a problem. We carried a multi-fuel stove for a while, but got tired of its leaks and everything smelling like fuel in short order along with the ports being plugged up and constant cleaning..maybe, there is no perfect stove?
Seats, at home I ride a Fizik seat and really like it. But on all day tours, I ride a Brooks-B17. This seat is not only comfortable but looks like a million dollars after its broke in. I think it takes close to 1000 miles to actually have the seat breakin and conform JMO.
Wheels/Rims, Jeremiah chose 26″ wheels after much discussion and advice on blogs. But in retrospect I would say that the 27″ are by far more available in those places such as morthern China, Mongolia and eastern Russia. There were actually several places where we could not find any 26″ wheels, but had choices of several 27″ wheels and tires. My rims, front and backwere Ryno-Lite double walled, with a 40 spoke count, 4 cross pattern x 12ga. spokes front. On the rear wheel I used the same rim brand, but 48 spoke count x 4 cross pattern. Back hub was a Phil Wood hub, fantastic hub. Front hub is a Shimano Dyno hub and it worked flawlessly the whole trip. ( NOTE, my son rode with me on the same bike setup, same wheels and same rims for 4 months. We set his bike up with a Son28 hub, and where always dissappointed. Very miserable wiring connections at the hub itself, always broke loose from brush and or vibration. I have too say, that we sent them 2 emails regarding problems we had been having with this hub, and never heard a word back from them) Would never place this hub ahead of my Shimano dyno hub.
Tyres/Tires, depending on where you grow up and how it is spelled. Make no mistake about it, if you choose anything other than a Schwalbe brand tire, you are asking for more trouble while touring. Schwalbe brand tires, in my case Marathon Plus version x 1.75 width they proved to be invincible. We met several other long distance tourers and most ran the same tire as what we placed on our bikes. For our choice in tubes, we just ran condoms with a valve stem. The lightest tubes around. We added tire liners inside the Schwalbe tires.
Patch kits, this may sound rather harsh, but you cant take chances on being in the middle of no-where and need a patch kit. So, chose Rema Tip-Top Touring patch kits. You can be assured that the glue is fresh, and patches stick. I equipped my sons bike with Patch kits from Parks Brothers and NONE of the glue was useable PERIOD, bought at 2 different stores and several months apart.
Frame pump, floor pump????. Jeremiah admits that he must be the only idiot who cannot depend on blowing up a tire to full pressure, or without wrecking the valve stem during the process when using the ultra-lite frame style pumps. With that confession made, Jeremiah has never been left sitting on the side of the road cussing at the broken stem on his last danged inner tube iether…..because I always carry a full floor pump. Yes, they are heavier and bulky for sure. When I left, I had a Lenzyne Traveller floor pump……a gorgeous unit and not at all heavy, a perfect full sized travel floor pump. But the constant bump and jar of Chinese and Mongolian roads completely messed the pump up, beyond use. To Lenzyne’s credit, I sent them an email telling them of the state of the pump and they replaced it with a very apologetic letter. The only problem was that the replacement was sent to my home in california, a matter that I dont hold against them, I like the fact they stood behind the product. We replaced this pump with a $1.29 cent floor pump at the black market in Bayan Olgii, Mongolia……it worked flawlessly and was super light. Had this pump till it was taken away from me in Portugal at the Airport when flying home.
Solar charging system. As stated, we had Dyno hubs on both bikes to charge such things as our phones and tablet as we rode. In addition to this charging method, we had a Goal Zero Sherpa battery pack unit along with the Goal Zero 20 panel array. However, this proved to be lacking for rugged use, no matter how we tried to take the harshness and rigors of travel out of the equation. By mid way thru Mongolia, both the panel and the battery units failed completely and were sent home. To the Company’s credit, they fully replaced both units and were very apologetic about it all, but again, the replacements were sent to my house in California.
Tents. For my expedition I chose the REI Quarter Dome tent, which is an ample 2 man tent with a gear shed on both sides, allowing 2 loaded tourers to keep everything out of the rain except for the bikes themselves. My son and I done this on several occassions in blowing sand as well as heavy rain. I really like this tent says Jeremiah, it has a larger floor plan than most 2 man tents, good sized gear sheds leave room for gear or cooking under during pouring rain. The tent proved to be strong and durable for my use. In my opinion, the only fault found with this tent, is its poor wind resistance ability during wind events, in this scenario, it is very poor, and the camper MUST find refuge for the tent or suffer the consequences. Even a little wind will flatten this tent.
Convertors, whether E-Werks brand which is fully adjustable to any/everybattery……or a very simple Sinewave version for half the price or less. We had both and tested both. I will take the consistant simplicity of the Sinewave version hands down says Jeremiah. The other version, while technically a more intuitive and thought out convertor, it proved over and over again to be farless able to place as much charge in any battery as did my Sinewave convertor. Besides that, the user has do pull batteries, do some calculations, turn three times to the left followed by one turn to the right while at the same time sticking his tongue out and you come up with an Amp and Joule setting, of which you need to make both settings correctly……..yes, correct, it comes with 3 feet of chord on it for good reason, that way you can throw it further out into the ditch and never feel like you should go looking for it. Stick with the Sinewave unit and wear a smile.
Sleeping mats, Jeremiah uses a 30″width Luxury Traveller by Thermo-rest and loved it. Not a single issue except that they begin to stink after a while on a long journey. So, I began a habit of giving it a serious scrubbing every couple months, and this helped alot. No holes, no patches, no leaky valves haunted me as I travelled.
Panniers, it goes without saying that the top of the line bags/panniers are those made by Ortlieb. They are not cheap, because they are well made and function everyday in the harshest conditions, dont try to scrimp and save on bags. Just call Wayne at the Tour Store an online provider of Orlieb brand product and you will be set for years.
Sleeping bags, now I had a Moutain Hardware bag, a mummy style, zipper sided and rated to minus 15. The bag proved capable in the temps that I camped in during this trip, and so for that I am happy. BUT, the bag design has one serious flaw that will cause a Pastor to cuss, and a sailor to blush when he hears it. The problem, is the stinkin zipper flap which stops wind blowing thru the zipper when zipped up. The fabric tape used is too short in length for one thing, and also way to flimsy. So as a result, the damn zipper is ALWAYS STUCK. Middle of the night, pitch black, this will really test your patience. By Romania, some 4 months into the trip, Jeremiah had had enough of this hassle. I took out my tiny scizzors, and just hacked the damned little protective flaps off of both sides of the zipper. While not a complete cure, it did help in the bags performance for the rest of the trip.
RTW advice, dont over plan the trip. By doing so, it leaves no room for God to work and reveal himself. Dont over pack clothes, keep it very basic with layers, you can always buy an extra piece of warmer clothing as you go. I for instance rode in 1 pair of Pearl Izumi bib shorts for the entire trip, I think the Pearl brand is the most rugged brand of cycling clothing on the market today. I also think its designed to fit Americans, we tend to be a little larger and carry more wieght than most Europeans or asians for instance.
Jeremiah Watt, and his very dependable (RTW) round the world steed, Shirly Surly which is a rim brake, 26″wheeled Long Haul Trucker steel framed bicycle, have officially concluded thier adventure. The cycle tour came to its final conclusion on Wednesday the 25th of March….just 3 days after Jeremiahs 59th birthday. Just want to say a very large thankyou to many family and friends who have Prayed for me, thanks. Several Pastor friends, my hometown pastor, Mike Markley from here in Coalinga, who has lead the saints on several pray for the “spandex cowboy” sessions. And to my adopted Pastor from the Holland, he has been praying for blessings on both Pine and I since we met him and his wife at Voronetz in Romania, thankyou. And to my preaching cowboy Pastor Ted and Linda Wiese for thier constant prayers.To several business associates from here in USA, China and Taiwan, Canada and Russia. To all of them I say thankyou for your patience and tolerance with my being out of the office so much…..like danged near a year…..thanks.
Most especially, I want to acknowledge my wife and my thanks to her for all she puts up with from me. Thankyou Colleen, I love you and cherish your council and your unending affection. Deserved or not, you never hold back and give me 100%. If ever I fall short on strength or conviction on my biblical walk, you are right there, like guideposts on my roadway. I have 2 beautiful children because of her genetics…..apparently none of mine show up…..mystery.
Jeremiahs last blog post had him taking a deserved day off and sitting in a motel room in Barstow. With the blog entry and images finished up, Jeremiah walked next door and had americanized Chinese food. Hit the sack pretty early and got up about 5.15am. He and Shirley were rolling in the pre-dawn hours of what would be breezy day all the way west towards Tehachapi. Not much can be said about the stretch between Barstow and Mojave, except maybe YUP, done that piece before. Had a meal in Mojave and took sort of a backroad out of this wind farm encroached town, a road that winds its way up over the mountains then drops into the valley that holds Tehachapi. The wind was howling and finding a spot to set up my wind challenged tent was very problematic. Done my best, but by 4 am, I knew that I had a problem and it needed to be dealt with. So I crawled out of the abode, and grasping the crossing of poles at the top of the tent, I reached down with my freehand and dislodged the closest corner guy-rope…..at some 90 miles an hour the tent kited out to the ropes end, burning my hand upon its exit…..hit the end of its tether and flipped totally inside out bending poles and spraying tent stakes like a lawn sprinkler. Cowboys……gotta love thier mentality…..its instant blood boil….followed by a “comeer you SOB….an I’ll show you”. I hauled the tent back by the one tiny chord that I stiil held fast……total darkness and groping for orientation…….got a fabric corner and pulled it to my face to figure things out……oooops, there goes the danged ballcap Jim-Bob, cock your head a little and turn just slightly said my mental elevation control panel……and I listened and executed to near perfection. A snapping sound, followed by that crisp noise a sail makes when it engulfs a full load of aire……followed by now complete blindness as the tent sprang from its final tent peg mooring and reversed its current fold to capture me entirely as it changed its course in the prevailing wind.
Rip stop nylon, coated zippers, seamed tent peg pockets and fly screen were stuck to my legs and face as if by glue….no part could be lifted away without some other piece of fabric filling the void……Jeremiah is running short of breath, and visual acuity is now zero as the flapping fabric envelopes my head. My mental emergency responce unit came into play and issued a dire oxygen awarness warning and a dissorientation buzzer sounded which ley me know my internal gyroscope was now malfunctioning due to a lack of oxygen and a blotted out horizon line…….TURN IMMEDIATLY TO THE RIGHT JEREMIAH was the advice…..which I did like an automaton, and the tent sprang from my body like a leopard from a tree branch. A sharp jerk at arms length, and a burning palm was my gift for allowing the tent to once again flip inside out and capture a full sail of wind. The mental preservation unit once again kicked in with advice which is totally computer driven…….bout as usefull as advice about work from a teenager or almost anything from Al Gore for that matter. Shutup I said, what do you know about camping anyways I heard my reply, as it tried in vain to warn me……..I stomped my left foot down in the middle of the billowing tent and grasped a corner and whatever bent poles I could find. Wrapped any loosed fabric left over, around my arm and proceeded to stuff it into an empty pannier. Not really caring, nor looking for that matter, just getting it contained and constrained was my goal. The sun had not even begun it’s match over the eastern horizon, camp was packed, the bike was ready to roll. Nothing to do know but get started.
About 8 miles separated me from Tehachapi, which meant that the previous day I had logged some 83 or so miles into a stiff head wind…not bad for an old fart. Rolled of the top of the ridge and down into Tehachapi, stood for a moment wondering what to do next. I was supposed too call my friend Matt Sheridan, and my intention was to do just that if it had been a normal day……but here I am at 5.45……..and I would be waiting till when……? Done what every cyclist with a yearning to get home would do, I rolled right out to the 4 lane known as 58, and sailed downhill into Bakersfield. Rode on thru most of town then stopped for a cup of coffee and breakfast. made a left hand turn onto 7th Standard road and was now headed for the west side of the San Joaquin valley. By about 3.30pm, I was on the west side but totally unsure of my tent situation and was pondering what to do…….a truck rolled up and offered me a lift. Gladly I said, and caught a ride almost 40 miles north to Hwy41 junction and the closest motel to where I was. Inside the room, I figured out the state of my tent and hit the hay. About 77 miles covered that day while on the bike.
The following day, I would ride from Hwy 41 on up to Jayne Ave which is abot 12 miles from Coalinga. Sitting at a Shell Station, I called my wife and got the bad news……….I was not allowed to come home till the following morning after 10am. For about 4 hours I read Tom Clancy’s novel, Executive Actions while sitting out front of the store. Sometime along about 5pm, my Pastor and my other good friend Larkin snuck up on me as I sat reading and surprised the heck out of me as I sat. They had a plan of taking me out to supper, which sure sounded nice, but, I declined since I had made plans to cook my last meal in my tent. It made me feel bad, sorry guys, but I was defermined to close this expecition out like an adventure expedition.
My morning began at 7 and I pedaled into Coalinga to have coffee. Called the wife and let her know that I was coming home….ready or not so too speak. Headed up the canyon and stopped to visit with nieghbours as I rode. First I met the ranch owner where I live, Ted Denhartog. From tnere I went to pray with my Pastor and Miss Mary at the church before I headed up the canyon. About that sametime, our friend “Uncle Leonard” came along to say hello and wish me well. Next up was my mailman and a friend, Daniel. Rode on aways to Alcalde Ranches and visited with Natasha and Chance, checked out her greyhounds and the new barn they have been putting up since I left. Just a ways further up I got to say hello to the Warthan Canyon beeman, Don. Within maybe 3 miles of home, I met Sharon, my former secretary and her husband Norv, along with our now retired phone man Jim, and his copilot Mr. Ramsey. It was a magnificent morning up Warythan Canyon, as cattle of all colors dotted the sides of those sunwashed hills. Granite spires and wildflowers thrown in as if by a painters hand, adding interest and color. It was aneasy ride, drawn as if by a string or maybe magnetic power towards first my mailbox then just a mile and a half further my house. The road from the mailbox to the house had been painted with thenames of all the countries that Pine and I had ridden thru on this odyssey. At the gate, I was met by 2 of Teds( ranch owner ) grand-daughters and they on bicycles, escorting me into the last 150 yard stretch too the house, the shop, my yard, waiting friends and employees, Colleen, Pine and the dogs and cats that make our home, our home. So thankfull to all of you and especially to my Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ for guiding and ushering me thru on this journey one road and one hill after another.
Special thanks to;
Colleen Watt my wife, what can I say but that she is truly the glue that binds my home and business together.
Pine Watt for sharing the first 4 months of the journey thru the hardest section, and for keeping me going. Its you that made it happen.
Nevada Watt, my daughter for her constant support and encouragement.
Ted & Tracy Denhartog, the owners of the ranch where we get to live, its paradise, thanks
Hyun Ku Kim, of China for his support and friendship, his fantastic sendoff party, many thanks.
Jack Ann of South Korea, for his constant prayers while we were traveling and for praying over us when sending us off.
Sunny Yan, of China for his support and prayers as we traveled
Vladimir, Gaia and Roman Kolchetkov of Russia for thier welcome into thier home and fine meals and encouragement.
Yves, Miriam and Erin Lesire of France for welco ing me into thier home and thier warm hospitality.
Georges and Natalie Braile also of France, thier constant friendship and continued support, thanks.
Pierre Duinat my Basque friend, a warm home and many meals.
Orzuri Urrutia, a great gal from the Basque region, who allowed me the use of her mailbox at desparate times.
Ryan, Tracy and Chloe, who welcomed a biker back to America, fed him and allowed him to play with Chloe’s toys.
Niel Watt, my brother, who took a chance on riding with me in Europe as well as New Mexico, many thanks.
Lee, Kendra, Rayce and Kollins Griggs, who provided a welcome home to me during a stormy section thru New Mexico
Darby & Dalette Adams, for thier friendship over many years and consistant support and encouragement.
Niel and Debra Overton for thier long lasting friendship and support.
Deahl Rooks for his many years of friendship and consistant encouragement.
Pastor Mike Markley and wife Jeana for constant prayers and the rousing of the faithful saints to do the same, thanks.
Pastor Hindrik van Diijken of Holland, for continued prayers and encouragement to prevail in the name of Christ that he may be glorified.
Valentin Daniel Olariu, for his friendship and gift of Portugese wine to enjoy over Christmas Holidays
Weaver Leather, to the entire staff for allowing me to be missing from action for almost a full year, many thanks
We are adventuring south, and battling the backroads of the Balkans, where bumps are plentiful and wifi is almost nonexistant. Have we been having fun, without any doubt. Am I a happy man to be able to share some time with my wife, Colleen…..indeed Iam. I would prefer to have my entire family along, and maybe the good company of say Darren to round out the conversations and help fill the car properly. But, such is not the case this time around.
Where have we been you ask, well, ae traveled the coast of Croatia south as far as Split. From there we turned inland so that we could take in Krka’s Natkonal Park. We then headed still further south, all by the smallest most obscure backroads of the type that you would cycle on. These are time consuming roads to drive, average daily is maybe 40km per hour. We entered into Montenegro so we could aim our ashphalt missle at Mostar and take in the famous bridge. What you say, a famous bridge. Why yes, built in 1475 for Suliman the Magnificent. From there we headed east to Blagaj, where we took in a Dervish House which is a Muslim Holy Prayer house. The dervish house sits right beside a 1000 foot rock cliff, actually built partially into the limestone rock face. At the base there is a gaping black hole, maybe 50 feet diameter out from which spills the coldest, clearest water that you can imagine. Millions of gallons a day spue forth, to turn further east, and join yet another river.
From Mostar we head up, which is officially a direction over in this region and it is used very frequently. I mentioned that Croatia should be marketing ROCKS, and I think that Herzghovina spent alot of money before the war investing in the CROATIAN ROCK market, they have alot. Our road took us up, very long grades where you wind your way around for mile upon mile of sparcely vegetated terrain and there are limestone rocks out the “wazoo”. For those who hail from the east coast or “fouren”shores, a wazoo is a tiny orifice that god gave cowboys but nobody else…..so, if ya dont wear a hat, dont even botber lookin to see if you have one. The side of the mountain range that faces the adriatic coast is dryer than a pop-corn fart. Very little but sparce grass and short brush grow here. Once you pass over the crest or divide, then you hit a rainfall rich piece of country where trees (that they log) are abundant. Along with better grass and more livestock.
Within only a short distance you pass out of Herzeghovina and back into Bosnia, which wraps around the latter as if hugging it. As does Croatia to the greater Bosnia. Croatia wraps almost 3/4 the way around Bosnia. So, after the war, these are just the hugginest countries you have ever seen. And after another short drive and some very steep grades full of switchbacks, we find ourselves entering Montenegro. Montenegro is for sure on my bucket list to see again, and a little more in depth. It is stunningly beautiful, rich in remote natural landscapes. I have told both my kids to throw out the old worn out honeymoon favorites like Hawaii or Carlin Nevada. Instead be bold, and take in Croatia and Montenegro. We really wanted to get into Albania this trip as I have been told several times it is very beautiful. Sadly, they turned us back at the border. They told us our rental car is to ugly to steal,……aparantly car theft is the number one GDP product. Following that are prostitution and drugs, they do make some honey, olives and push-brooms.
Montenegro, we drove plenty. All on the most obscure back roads we could find. WOW, WOW, WOW, we done the Komarnice canyon as well as the Tara river gorge, and the National Park. This is a phenominal piece of Gods awesome hand at work. This is not the result of some accidental collision of gas balls 400 years ago. Pretty sure the Angels were standing akimbo, sort of half teasing God (you know how youngsters can be), asking him if he has ever made a gorge or a mountain, while another asked about making blue water rather than muddy brown water. Finally God grew tired of the Angels good natured ribbing and stuck his hand into the creation quagmire, that mirey primordial ooze, stirred it violently lifting his hand out forming both peaks and valleys, blew his soft breath over it bringing forth clear cold blue water, winked once at the nearest angel standing in disbelief as they watched trees and grass carpet his creation. It has remained that way up until the time of man’s enlightenment and Charles Darwin…….and so shall it remain till the end. Darwin is but a blip on Gods radar screen, an anomoly of no significance over the long haul. If by chance you are a hiker, mountain biker, kayaker or just plain fresh air breathing nature lover, the Montenegro would be your spot.
Over the mountain ridges we roll, where rocky gorges line our path, the stirrings and ruminations of an approaching fall have begun to make themselves visible. With golds and crimsons, along with purples and the rust brown ferns adding color to the seasons palette. Rocky white cliffs once besieged by the verdant green of summer grass and leaves, not are mantled in those colors that bedeck all falls in alpine regions of the world. Summer meadows stand golden with the last of the grass waving at the passing season, leaves of festive coloration now blow and gather in collective wreaths at tree lines and ditches. The men with scythes have been busy from valley fold on up to very near the mountains peak, as loose hay is staked high and plentiful in the tradtional beehive forms. Sheep dot the golden landscape, thier white wool Is thickening for yet another winter which will follow on the heels of a beautiful autumn. The quaintest little red roofed houses, repleat with tiny chicken coops and sheep folds, barns that lay under the house which house the cows and pigs, lay anchored to the rocky soil by faith and hardwork knowing they will see another winters gale pass, and another season of promising blossoms……just as has happened in this rugged country for several hundred years.
As we top a ridge, trees are thick and plentiful, the mountain sides so steep that each man brings along a small piece of flat ground just to relax and stand on. So steep are the sides that as you pass thru this country it seems even the trees lean back away from the edge as if they too sense the steepness of the grade that they find anchorage on. Mom and I are blazing along at nearly 20km an hour. Hey look at that……..7 guys sit under trees………….and 4 yoked pair of oxen stand idly by, while everyone takes a break. This is one of my bucket list items, to see men work oxen and do the heavy work that they had been known for. We stop and visit, take a few pictures and have simple conversation for awhile. Then work has to get started once again……so, we ask if we can join them and watch. To thier great amazement and considerable laughter, they agree and away we go some half mile deep into the bush (growing up in Canada it was always called the “bush”, and never forest, that was a term used by city kids) the slopes are steep, the ground is festooned with moss covered limestone rocks, ferns grow in tiny private forests where ever sunshine pentrates the tree canopy and warms the ground. Men talk and bellow to thier horned charges. Chain links clink out that logging song melody to the swing and sway of the heavy yoke bar that captures each steers neck. A small hand whip is whirled around the animals heads to encourage, to show direction changes and otherwise annoy flys. The talk seems loud, as steers must be inherently hard of hearing, except for the black Angus I think. Have you ever noticed how they always show up first to the supper table!. A heavy hammer adorns each yoke, and with it the handler then drives a pinch link into the bottom or first hooked log. The handler can sidepass his steers, he can back them, not real great on the piaffes but basically put his steers anywhere he wants so that all logs can be hooked up. Each pair of “OXEN” are capable of pulling 3 or 4, full length hardwood logs at one time. The forest floor looks like nobody had even been there after they are done, no tire tracks, no ruts, it was really pretty amazing too watch. We are blessed everyday in so many ways, and for me this little piece of time travel was indeed special. We hope your day was the same or better. Good night and may God Bless.
The Dalmatian coast is often referred to as the “romance coast”. Due in part to the quiet tranquil waters of the Adriatic, an equal measure of modest sincere surroundings, nothing pretentious or gawdy arrainged here to overwhelm the senses. Just the pure majesty of His heavenly handi-work, fringed by a crystalline blue sea. That is the Dalmation coast.
Dalmatae: a tribe or people group associated with sheep raising culture, the origins for the final name given this eastern coast of the Adriatic Sea. Once a much larger body of land than what it comprises today, reaching further south than present day Albania, and on important region to Roman history. Milini, a tiny village located in todays southern end of Croatia, the birthplace of Constantin, the man credited with bringing Christianity to Rome and for Canonnizing the Holy Scriptures. Gently rolling and thouroughly rock strewn hills are carpeted in schlerophylis shrubs and plants. Few trees exceed 20 feet in hieght, and most are closer to 10 feet. It seems that every plant is designed to rent the flesh of passersby, by the thorny maw that festoons each limb. One brief walk into untamed while wearing cycle shorts will quickly hail a retreat…….only to get back to the roadside and then notice the “warning minefield” sign just 50 yards yonder.
Attributting to the color and clarity of the eastern shores of the Adriatic are reasons several fold. For one, these shores lie very much protected from the ravenous actions of its Atlantic ocean mother-in-law. The softened and mellowed mediterranean climes produce less storm action than in other areas around the globe. The Adriatic’s far lying geographical position within the Mediteranean, ensures that it has a lower salt content, this fact combined with huge inflows of fresh water that have been percolated and purified thru limestone on its journey towards its final destination ensures its chrystaline clarity and rich blue coloration. Like no body of water I have ever witnessed before.
The predominance of Croation soil is poor and mostly untillable, by some accounts as much as 70 percent falls into this catagory. What can be grown on this poorest of land seems to be olives and certain wine grape varietals. Though not in huge numbers, these crops are seen with regularity to be sure. Where rock strewn ground gives way to areable land, then all form of row crop and fruit tree are seen. The hardscrabble land, clotted with limestone rock, which forces grasses to grow in clumps as and where it can find room to take root. The grass is rich, and produces richer flavor yet in the dairy product produced from its yield. One such product known world wide and much sought after, is “Pag Cheese or Paski Sir locally”, considered by many to be the supreme sheeps milk cheese in the world. Thats alot of territory to take in with one block of cheese……further proof that somhewhere along the line Croates are somehow related to Texans. Another of infamy would be “Prsut or sun cured hams and backstraps”, this rich flavor-filled regional delicacy is a part of every celebration in Croatia. Traditionally made in the fall of the year when dry cool coastal temperatures allow slow curing which draws out the flavors and richness.
Currently, I sit in Zadar. A city located north within the Ilurian region of Croatia. Life within Zadar can be traced back to the stone ages by way of tools, bones, fossils remains, and some recently found concho die plates made from old washers. Gosh, and we thought we invented that stuff. Very few spurs worn here in Croatia thru days of old when horses in war ruled……no model T car axles to make spurs out’a. So, they rode into battle bare heeled, natural. The adriatic, the romance coast. Of that we shall soon findout, as my darling bride arrives tomorrow to join me for 8 days of travel and liesure, not even a fleeting thought about my trusty bike as I have found it safe harbor for it’s moorings while we take in Croatia, Montenegro, Albania and portions of Bosnia. So now you know why the wide smile, the light heartedness, the almost giddy demenour that have overtaken my rain soaked soul, the women I love and married thirty some years ago will join me on the Romance Coast.
PS- a little heads up for those traveling abroad in Europe and close proximities. On most occasions when I need a room I simply search out a motel/hotel. In Belgrade I mentioned I found a cheap but very nice apartment right in the heart of old town and was really impressed with it. So, while in Zadar, I tried my luck again, and have to say, that for less than half the price you get a very nice homey feeling and equipped apartment. The apartment that I am in now as I sit and write this taradiddle, lays but 100 meters from the Zadar harbor foot bridge, the red tiled rooves of medievil buildings and Cathedral domes decorate the view of the sky from out my living room window. Hard to beat at $41.00 per night. So, keep that inmind should you ever be traveling over this way in the future. Good night and God Bless.
Many people had told Pine and myself, that Bosnia of all places, was a land of diverse natural beauty. While it is a very challenging ride for me with many stiff climbs, a traveler is rewarded with seemingly endless beauty at every bend in the road. From high mountain peaks enveloped in cloud and fog, steep valleys, tree lined slopes, terraced orchards, swift running rivers and streams and exposed rock on the mountain sides for added interest. Bosnia, you are indeed a natural beauty.
Some of the most amazing and scenic panoramas begin as you drop off the steep mountain slopes, switchback after switchback, a constant downward decent into the long narrow valley that bosoms the city of Jajce ( pronounced ;yayyeetsee ). The city, once a fortified city, and now a Unesco site. Jajce, sits at the rocky confluence of two major rivers. They meet at the foot of a ragged and time torn limestone mountain spire. The Pliva river runs thru limestone country, so it brings with it that gorgeous clear aquamarine blue color. The Pliva, meets and folds quite unwillingly into the Grannice river, which is the faster and murkier river, together they swirl and eddie under the rock face of the mountain spire to become one fast moving waterway coursing towards the ocean much further south. Confidently perched at cliffs edge, high above the torrid waters that swirl at its feet, sits the huge rock walled edifice that was first Jajce. Started by the Romans in approximately 1275, it has been in usurpers hands as often or more than it has been within Bosnian hands. The modern day city of Jajce, lay spread like a floral apron around the steep hillsides and rocky outcroppings that makeup this scenic region. Houses cling too stone hillsides like barnacles to a boat. Streets meander like worm trails up the mountainsides at pitches that would make most of us tremble. Locals pass over these roads on scooters, bikes, horse and wagon, not to mention roto-tillers. Passing each other on single lane roads with but inches to spare and hundreds of feet to fall, all with a smile and a non-chalant wave.
Leaving Jajce, by way of a tiny backroad with good surface, we make our way towards Sipovo. We are traversing the valley floor and following the Pliva River, so the ride is a perfect basket, bottle of wine and your favorite sweetie with you type ride. The road seldom climbs, it undulates as if alive under your bike tires. Twists and turns that keep you awake are punctuated with brilliant blue water splashing over a rock strewn waterfall. The next bend in the river reveals a vibrant green hillside being reflected in a tranquil blue surface, no rush, no harried pace here for the moment. Justrelaxandtakein the beautythat only a “CREATOR” could have imagined as a place for us to enjoy and see his.great works firsthand. Wild flowers enjoy thier day in the sun, along side thier more pampered urbane brothers. Whitish limestone spires and crags festoon the steep mountain sides, when the sun shines, adding a dazzle of light to the uppermost peaks. This is the Pliva expierience, and worth any bucket list inclusion.
Tiny back roads escort me both up and away from the tranquil and serene ride I have had for last day or so. Its time to cross the Cerenmica mountain range, so strap your climbing shoes on, cast off all extra wieght unrequired (like sin, we dont need to bring anything extra on an already difficult passage). We settle into a rocking swaying type motion, each leg, each muscle in its turn adding power to the stroke and transmitted thru that tiny metallic chain…..and up up we go. No dizzying hieghts, not leg breaking pitches. Just steady climbing, breathing measured as if by metronome……….these are the disciplined and autonomous responces of a well trained athl………what the heck, where did he come from!!!! Huge, whitish, fur covered….and more teeth than six citizens from Arkansas…….the road is looping back to my left, the cars are few, the dog likes human flesh……Hannibal Lecter without a collar. My feet are both atop my cross bar, Iam squirting water from my water bottle at him (secretly wishing it was gas and I had a match…..I will pray about those thoughts later, right now I am looking for a match). I barely have enough speed to stay upright and moving forward……its uphill. Feet are down and grab another few strokes as he rounds my bike to the other side. Dang he is big…….oh crap ( confession, I actually said worse), here comes his compatriate. The second dog, much older, but no wiser. Fortunatley for me, was to deaf and crippled to place much effort in his territorial defense……he laid down on the road and barked. It strikes me that the younger far more aggressive dog took notice realizing that I was niether tasty nor a mortal enemy and his own effort may well have been a little over the top……..decided to stop the chase and just bark and growl at me. Which is fine as I was busy praying…… first Mike……with just a few curse words slipping out incase they may be the only words he understood. Just around the next bend, which now places me directly above those dogs……I started throwing rocks down at them……lol, na, just kidding. What I found was thier summer job, about 6 sheep and 2 simmental looking milk cows.
The Cerenmica’s, once topped, wander and meander for quite a few miles. Up here, bare rock escarpments give little ground to plants desiring to grow. Its a hard fought battle for what ground will sustain life is decidely occupied by tree or scrub brush, what grass does grow is in hummock form, and tall as if struggling to find room to do so. This peaceful meander comes to an abrubt end, as you near tbewesgern edge of therange, and here God has decided tojust throw you off theedge in near roller coaster fashion, pell mell we go with shirt tails flapping in the breeze as wecorkscrew our waydown into a surprise. Somewhat of a geographical annomoly in this Bosnia that I have come to know……..a huge valley vista waits me at the bottom. This is a valley of some actual size, very Montanaish in scope and perspective. Mostly farming, but in a very small scale fashion. No big tractors,nor combines rolling. Rather for the most part it is very small hands on, labour intensive farming. But its good to see non-the-less that Bosnia has valleys of this size and type. Sheep dot the lanscape, like puffy clouds that fell from a sky scene at a highschool play. Cattle, mostly a crossbreed milking variety, while not as abundant they are scattered across the rolling valley floor.
A military base sits right in the center of the valley floor, right along side thestraitestflattest widest piece of paved road I have seen in Bosnia to date……looks alot like a runway to me folks…….just sayin is all. I pass fenced in dense stands of thick pine trees, cement poles, razor wire……these as are unruly trees I can tell. There are about 3 of theses huge fenced tree compounds, stillnot sure of thier purpose. Downthevalley I go, nice and flat, bike is wbizzing along and its late afternoon, about time I buy some grub for the evening. A con ersation enzues as I exit the little grocer, just a curious passerby asking or gesturing questions mydirection. I tell him my direction, show him my paper map……..he smiles and makes the sign of a bomb going off. Whiskeytangofoxtrot I thought. Down the road I go, and stop in the next small village to talk to some folks digging the potatoes that will sustain them thru the co ing winter. In not so many words, these folks, 3 of them. Tell me much thesame thing…….be ware of bombs. On we go, its getting late afternoon already. Rode the next 10miles looking strait up……I ain’t the village idiot……I know which direction bombs come from. We are climbing, a little stiffer climb this time around, and as these Bosinian mountain roads are inclined to do, we are meanandering all over and still climbing……..dang mother nature calls and as only God can do it…..all Igotta do is take a leak. TMI here- there I stand with my water spigot out and staring strait ahead………and it dawns on me all at once…….I am staring right at a red sign tnat says DANGER MINE FIELD and a skull and cross bones acompanies the warning. Duh,now I get it!
What I find myself in the middle of, is the largest active field left in Bosnia. Not the only one, as I will find out as well. Roughly 40 miles long and 20 miles wide. It takes up quite a swath of ground, which is now rendered useless for anything. And, that is also why I have been seeing so many abandoned houses and farmesteads. It all makes sense now why the folks in the last few villages were concerned for me…….they were worried that I would dig up thier potatoes early by stepping on a mine. The meandering mountaintop road finally draws to its conclusion, we put closed behind us the largest mine field, we begin our descent in earnest. Its late enough to be well into dusk, I am dogged it has been a long day. Spotting a tiny side road the meanders off behind a hand stacked rock wall, I take refuge in amongst some struggling fruit trees to settle in for the night. I cook with one tent flap open as the rain arrived almost the same time that I did.
What happens over the next 3 days convincesmethere isa hell, and if we are pahing attention, we get to catch glimpses of it here on earth as a warning. This is nought for the faint of heart or weak kneed. So, if you fall into one of those 6 cattlegories then you should head for the kitchen and make quiche or something. Just warning you, have tissue at hand if you stay with me on this…….I went thru plenty of it.
I awoke to brilliant light piercing my tent, the sound of birds thrilled to have clear skies thru which to fly, the noise of sheep eating, a dog walking thru tall grass, and a shepard lighting a cigarette. This was one of the brightest sunny mornings I had seen in quite sometime. Ate my breakfast, packed my camp and was early to the blacktop. Sunshine, its makes somany things look so very different from cloud covered skies. What a treat to see the vibrant colors, unmasked, unchecked. Stopped in Livno, just todouble checkNd buy. Few supplies I was very low on. Doulble checked on borders, and where to cross. All good. Arrive zt base of the Graninca climb about 11am. Long, steady, switchback infested climb of about 7 miles at posted 8 percent. When you top the climb you pass thru Bosnian customes…..he passes me thru after looking at my passport. We wind around for. Few miles then plunge off the Croatian side for almost 10 miles at 9 percent. What a glorious ride down, cant quite see the Adriatic from here. The Croatian fellow checks my passport, tnen says no…..you cannot cross here……this is for Bosnian and or Croates only. YOU HAD BETTER BE JOKING. No, no joke. You must go back up you cannot stay here. I am ticked…..I would have fought the ear biting boxer I was so mad. Back up I go, thinking the worst possible things a grown man can think. This side is a longbrute of a climb on a loaded tourer. I was dangerously low on water…..like about 4 sips was it. As I pass the Bosnian border shack, he simply smiles and waves……..oh, dont you know how many ways I wanted to torture his cat……..as I rode by smiling……..thanking Jesus for a civil tongue and humility at this moment. Down we go, 56.7 miles per hour……I totally thru caution to the wind.
Somewhere along in here, I am stopped trying to figure out how to take a picture of myself planking on a tank……when a truck with Mason driving, pulls over. Observant you are thinking, that I spotted that tattoo of the eye inside a triangle/pyramid on his left shoulder…….but not the case. I. knew by instinct and training that he was a Mason, because the back of his truck was full of bricks. He offered to take the pictures for me. Then a conversation began about my direction of travel, very dangerous, and he made that internationally recognized sign language symbol for BOMB. You know, make the noise, throw both hands high over your head…..that symbol. Yes,another mine field lay in my path. He was so concerened for me that he called his daughter of about 15, so she could explain to me what lay ahead. Small new gravel road, do not step off the road it is not safe. Maybe 15 miles and you will be thru the mine field. By the ten mile mark, I was done and camped in a tiny hay field that had been freshly raked. Slept like a baby.
Got up the next day to verydense fog, unbelievable. I stuck my left hand out and it was immediatly gone…..I feared forever. I sat and thought awhile about what I should do next. Throwing caution, and my right hand to the winds of chance, I sent the right in search of the left. For but a moment I thought I may have acted a little to quickly. Finally they met up, you should have seen that left hand. Talk about happy to be found, he couldn’t stop wringing the right out of pure gratitude. From that point on, we done everything in teams and pairs. Both hands, both arms, then both legs etc…..the last outwas my butt, he usually works alone. Down the road we go, fog lifts slowly like a bad act in Vegas, taking to long to let us see whzt is taking place. Mountain tops poke thier heads out thru cloud and fog for but brief moments. Trees whiz past, actually I whiz past trees, and they attempt to show thier true colors. POOF, like thatand I am flat.the sidewall ripped right out on my beautiful Schwalbe rear tire. Bad news gets real bad, the mistakes of confidence can be fatal. There was nomorespare hanging on my back rack, gone home with Pine. My spare tub, went the same place. Foolish as it sounds, I made those choices myself.
Two options lay infront of me. I could head back to Livno and look for tire and tube. Having already been thru the place I didn’t like that too much. Or, I could start walking and hitch a ride to the next town Grihovo some 15 miles ahead. Started walking, pushing the bike, big rolling country not too bad really. No one would stop. Made it to Grihovo and asked around about a back tire and tube, even offered twice to buy a well used one…..no go. Had a coffee, asked who was headed to Strmice…….no one. Would anyone like to hire out and drive me to the top……no one. Ta heck with it, I will just start walking, and its up,up, up we go. Its marked at 9 percent, and rolls on for about 11 miles to the crest. It was indeed a majestic piece of mountain range with an awesome view, but my knees and hips wefe on fire……..still no one offered a ride, not one. The rain began just after the crest and stayed with me till well after bedtime. Its almost 12 miles down off the Adriatic side, and steeper than the initial side. Hsnds were more tired than the legs, from squeezing the brakes on the way down. Crossed the CroatianBorder, rain dripping off every place on my body. Begzn mywalk down into the valley below. Carried on, walking alo gside a clear blue stream…..and boy howdy did I stink. So, I stripped off right there and bailed into that stream. Colder than blazes, buck naked with nobody around to witness it. I didnt want a bath as bad as I wanted to be picked up for indescent exposure……and a free ride to Knin. It was not to be, God was at work on me. We walked about 10miles and had to call it quits. Too pooped, too wet, too frustrated…..and not yet thankful enough…..I realize now.
Bad meal of what little I had…..after all, I was easily going to be in Croatia by now, at least in my mind. Got a pot of river watdr boiled for tea, made some coucous with lemon and raisins and called it quits for tne day. Up early the next day, packed in more heavy pouring rain. Everything I own is totally soaked now and we only have 10-12 miles toget to Knin Croatia. Walked every step of it, no one would stop no matter what I did. Stopped infront of a local vulcanizer, he sent his son downthe street for a new tire and tube for me. I, in the meantime went nextdoor in a cafe and exchanged what money I had from Bosnia, then came back out to find he had both tire and tube………and the price matched exactley that which I had just exchanged. He literraly handed me the tire and tube, loaded his son and a freind in an old car, after locking all his doors…..he turns to me and says “the rest is yours, fix it yourself”. And so I did. While sitting there wondering what it was that I should learn from all this…….for me, I realize its humility. I could probably use that lesson doubled. Knin, we had spit roasted pig, and a motel room where we began drying things out again. It has raied hard most of the time I have been here.
I was warned, my cycling friend from Belgrade warned me, that crossing Bosnia by “velocipede” is not for the faint of heart. And from what I witnessed all day today and most of yesterday, he is certainly correct in his assesment. “Oh, brutal Bosnia, lay thy hills flat and valleys wide for but a weaker soul may pass you by!”, from a poem by Sadar Vericioni. And the way my hips and knees feel, I am all in on the laying low the hills.
In most parts of the world, mountains seem to have a direction or rythm that makes geological sense. This feels like God accidentally dropped a handful of those “proverbial mountain seeds”. The mountain ranges here, run in every direction you can imagine. No matter which way you head there is a climb facing you, heck, I think even the water runs uphill!! Funny , as I sit here in my tent, in what feels like the middle of “NOWHERE”, I can here the call to prayer at a Mosque somewhere not far away, the loudspeaker sounds as if its right beside me. Bosnia it divided up into many regions, non of which make any sense to me, but they divide Muslim and Orthodox Christian as well as Bosnian Serbs, Bosnian Croates and I guess plain old vanilla wrapper Bosnians. So go figger cause I sure can’t.
Bosnia, as a piece of country goes, lands in what I would call the rugged column. Much more so than Mongolia which I would place in the vast column but not rugged. Something that I am becoming aware of when riding these back roads is that there is most often nothing to be bought in the whole place. So, I now carry not only water but also a full days food……dang it, now my bike is heavier again. I am currently SW of Tuzla on small roads, rode for 3 hours up hill the whole time and felt like I was back in Rauraului all over. The whole country has been having flooding and mudslides, of which I have seen and felt much of it. The back roads are severely washed out, rutted, and many places there huge sections of road missing……oh, and did I forget to mention bridges are gone as well. They sure are.
Oh brutal Bosnia, lets pray you are not my undoing. JW, IS OFFICIALLY SICK AND TIRED OF THE DANGED RAIN. Folks, it has rained hard everynight since I left Belgrade, and I am sick of it. If I wanted to grow gills and moss on my person then become a coffee snob…….I would have moved to Seattle. Sometime during the day, I have to pull things out of the panniers, hang gear along a fence and dry it. If I don’t, we will have to deal with smells and mold again. Generally, I just pick some random spot along the side of the road which has a fence or guardrail that I can borrow as a makeshift clothesline. Hang my gear and sit back letting Mr.Sunshine does his part. On this day I strung my gear out on a bridge railing, and right beside the road was a small store. It took about 3 minutes for a crowd to gather. Anthony, sort of the most curious and spokesman for the growing crowd, suggested he buy me a beer. Of course I declined the beer and took a juice instead, which the gathered men thought was quite funny. Questions were asked, and as best I could I answered. It wasn’t until the teenagers began to show up, that the event got lively. Most of the kids in school take iether English or German as a second language. They were able to ask and then interpret the reply back to the men who were sitting having a beer or six. I finally dug my tablet out to help explain what it is that I do for work. It has been so long, heck, even I found it interesting to see what I do. It was a great hour respite, drying gear. But it was also the 3rd rain stop of the day. Twice I holed up to avoid a deluge of rain that managed to cross paths with my own chosen route.
I have learned a new trick with my cell phone, showed to me by my Serbian cycling friend, Nenad. And it involves taking panorama images on the cell phone. Now that i know how to do it, youguys will most likely get sick of pan shots as a result. So, I will post a few, then we will see how they display on computers and the blog and pass judgement after that to see if we should post more or not. But, if thats to work then I will need enough of you to give feedback to make it worthwhile so that decisions can be made.
omg, its 7.30pm and I am stark raving mad and lonesome and even bored. Its pouring rain so I cant even sit outside and swat bugs. If I work on the tablet getting pictures edited to size etc, it eats the battery very quickly. I most often leave photo work to those times that I have a hotel. I no longer have my solar panel unit and it wouldn’t do much good here with so little sunshine anyways. Today, I pulled into 3 little roadside cafes in order to use WIFI, I keep getting the notice that due to poor signal I should try again. Yet when i search for the Cafe’s router it shows usually 4-5 arcs/bars of signal strength……QUESTION FOR SOME TECH-TYPE, is this because of a setting issue on my Samsung Galaxy 2 , 10.2 size tablet, or is there another way around the constant WIFI issues I am having. Second question, and it also feminds me to openly apologise to the WORDPRESS folks. I had been blaming them for some photo issues I am having, but, I have come to find out it is a tablet issue. Somehow internally, the tablet strips the usual photo-orientation information away when you try to send or share an image…….hence, everything gets displayed as horizontal….no matter what. To my young friend Steven Butler……yes you Steven, these questions are for a guy like you if you can help. Send a note to email@example.com……it would be appreciated much.
Pretty sure this is day 12 of rain, it is pouring rain right now and I am camped in a cemetary tonight………I hate chosing campsites late and without my glasses on. Dang near fell in an open hole, ya think God is trying to tell me something? Even though I got a good start this am, I did not burn up the back roads. Too many climbs, the ol knees, hips ade really sore tonight. But I was also taken aback by how sore the leg muscles were, I had no horsepower today, I felt like a pooped scooter all day. Apart from the road being a little tricky with the silt and mud that have washed across it, I pulled over to attempt uploading to the blog as well as found shelter from 4 very heavy downpours…….all great, but got nailed by the fifth. To say we are good and wet is an understatement. As I lay here in my drenched tent, rain got me during setup before I got the fly thrown over, I am all tucked in and have already eaten poorly yet again. Got a seriuos rash going on under my chin and just above my belly button…….I think its from the edges of my life jacket, but I will keep an eye on it.
Good night and may God bless you all, as he has myself. Thanyou to Ted and Tracy, withojt you this would never have happened. Thanks Mom, for doing all that you do, Thanks big Rob, for having me reading thru James……now, what comes next. Pastor Mike, thanks for having the Saints praying for me continually. Thanks Auntie Fawn and Pete, I know your palms are worn thin worrying and praying. And to the many of you who follow along silently, we are thankful to have you along for the journey……..and lastly, I want to thank the Coalinga Curling Club for thier support……sorry I mixsed that labor day weekend outdoor Bonspiel.
At this moment, I am basking in sunshine. I have very smelly clothes hanging on a close by fence to air out. Heck, I even took a full on 1.5 litre shower this day to celebrate. My tent is dry, my bag of sleep is getting close to dry, my bike reads 87 degrees at 5.25pm. My camp, is high on a ridge over Palanka, Serbia. My son convinced me to take in Belgrade while I was here, since JW was going to skip it. I told him it was nothing but bullet holes and landmines in an area of constant historical conflict. And his reply, was, thats exactly why you need to take it in Dad. So by tomorrow evening I should be in Belgrade for supper, I’am praying about entering big cities without Pine.
The last blog page had us further south in Sajecar, and I left there on a very tiny back road in pouring rain. The road was a very difficult one for me as the surface was full of cracks and gaps, so that forward speed was very slow. I have no idea how difficult it would have been for a regular mortal, scares me to think. Old roads get very steep grades and this one had plenty of 15 plus grades on it. Big, rolling hill country with narrow verdant valleys snaking thier way between hills and ridges. The villages were few and far between. Not one village had sort of product for sale, so no supplies gathered on this first leg. Supper that night was spartan and simple. 1 cup of very sweet tea, and several cookies along with a handfull of raisins. Please be sure to download this days recipe at the end of the post.
It’s about 2pm, and I am climbing het another hillon my way, I feel like I am threading a needle so too speak as I make my way one tiny backroad after another. There is a bar slash cafe type store and out front it has a cooler full of ice teas. Being that the bike is reading about 90, I think a tea would be pretty good right now…….HELLO…….and I turn to see a fellow all clad in pure racing attire for a cyclist. Hello, I said back and the conversation thus began. He, being Nenad, a Serbian businessman who speaks very good english. We visit for half an hour and I begin to excuse myself so I can get into Belgrade before dark. Well, that will not take long if you allow me to lead you he suggests. And so the journey begins, he on his sub 12 pound total carbon fiber racing frame. And I, on what he affectionaly called a tractor, even suggested I paint it green and put a John Deere label on the head tube. There are a lot of hills and grades on the way and he would have to wait at the top of almost all of them for me, but wait he did. Right into the city we went, me following him, as he scurried between cars and rode out into intersections at red lights…… things I would never do, but I had to keep up. By 4pm, I was in front of the huge apartment that I had rented rather than get a hotel room which was more than double the price. $34.00 us dollars a night, it was great and very clean right on the primary oldtown street. Can’t get better than that.
Go, have a shower because you need one, said my guide. How about 8pm, I will come back and pick you up for supper, he asks. Fine with me, but only if you PAY…….oops, sorry, only if you allow me to buy. Sorry he says, but in Serbia, when you are a guest, we treat you to the very best of everything and thats the only way it can be. So, I asked him if he preffered to dine alone or with company……..too which he emphatically stated be would prefer to dine with company. Good I said, that is my preferance as well. So, if you want to dine with me……I BUY……. and you get to pick the restaurant. Which will it be, with me, or by yourself? Okay, fine, we will do it as you wish. But tomorrow you have too allow me to give you a cycling tour of Belgrade.
We dined at a very small Serbian restaurant, known for its excellent Serbian pasta dishes. We had a huge salad, fresh made bread cooked in a stone oven on ashes……wow, I am bread lover and this was good. The main course was lamb and proscuitto baked with home made pasta bows and a heavy mushroom sauce, then topped with something called kymika (think a sharpish cheese ). I love Serbia, great people,beautiful scenery, interesting city and culture……but what I love the most……these folks are carvivores. By golly, when they serve you meat, they serve you meat, no messing around. Didn’t have to hunt around for the meat in this great meal. The next day, we took off on the bikes and began a 30 mile trip seeing the sights of Belgrade. Yes, to answer that lingering question that maybe all of us from the west have……there are still bullet holes, and torn apart buildings from both rocket and mortar fire. For the most part, these fragments of war evidence have been left as a reminder to all, that this is not what they want to return too. I found the city, Belgrade to be vibrant and intersting, even more so than Bucharest for instance. Would I come back to Belgrade and greater Serbia, in a heartbeat and bring my sweetie with me without any worry or concern. And not to beat the drum too loud, but the country of Serbia has a very interesting and enticing business inducements in place that should make any Corporation give them a seriuos second look. That afternoon was spent dining on the best lamb I have ever had, and yes, even you Pine would have enjoyed this lamb. Its cooked whole on a spit, slow cooked and basted for 8 hours. At this restaurant you buy it by half kilo per person or more……none of this 6oz servings of red meat crap. Here if you can’t eat 1/2 kilo, then go put your man pants on and come back. We had a full kilo order and non left over. All good things do come to an end, and my host had to leave. We said our goodbyes and went our own ways. But, I know we will talk and see each other again somewhere, sometime.
Up the next morning and headed out of Belgrade. Not one problem getting out with the gps folks. I took the smallest back roads that I could find. Put in an admirable day for an old fart. About 115 miles at 85 degrees, pretty nice riding weather. Mostly flat or gentle rolling coutryside. I was wanting to gain some distance and time, because everyone warns me that I will be punished when I get to Bosnia. Bosnia is surely living up to that expectation in spades.
Crossed the border into Bosnia, and interestingly, you cant get gps service here if you are from USA. So, I spent about 3 hours hunting for a road map,,,,,hard to do if you dont speak the language. Back a few months, we met a great couple from Amsterdam ( we met in Bayan Olgii at the Blue Wolf yurts, and you guys drove the white Land Rover ) who really swore by “open street maps”, they felt it was the best thing going. I on the other hand have a tough time with it…….so my Amsterdam friends if you read this……… contact me by email firstname.lastname@example.org and maybe you can aid me in better understanding and using the program. Now I am navigating thru Bosnia by paper map and cyrillic……pray for me as I will be lucky to make it out the other side. I am cycling thru, over and around all that God created during that amazing first week of life on this earth. And in case you are wondering, NO, he didn’t put an outpost on Mars just incase this one didn’t work out, contrary to what the whiz kids on Discovery channel have come up with as an excuse for life here. As gorgeous as the mountains, roads, lakes, rivers and streams have been, they pale in comparison to that which was made good in God’s eyes on the 6th day of creation, thanks big Rob for making me aware of that very important fact. I may have been a “pantheist” forever had you not pointed that out. Its up to you to reread the creation story if you want to know what he made the 6th day. Hey, uncle Bill, start with looking in the first book, Genesis.
At this moment, Iam probably the most dejected and forlorn fellow in all Bucharest. It was so long Pine on Friday morning 6am, he flew out for USA via Warsaw,Chicago and Los Angeles. Pine, was my best friend,my best advisor, my business sounding board, my executive director, my language app, my IT go to guy, and my son, all wrapped into one fuzz topped 6 foot 1 package. Pine, I cant say it loud enough, thankyou so much for riding with me, you made the miserable sections fun, and the fun sections evenmore so -THANKS SO MUCH!. More than that I got to see Pine the man come out, as a father we always see our sons as kids still. But a trip like this allows all aspects of a persons character to be revealed, your a great kid and I love you for all you provided on this journey. We knew this day was coming, and I dont think it caught anyone off guard and yet it wasnt a welcomed day iether. With Pine on the plane I set off to run some errands before I said adios Bucharest. All by myself, headed south by south west…….at least I think thats the direction I want to go……darn this phone, maybe I didn’t shake it enough. I should tell you that we enjoyed the city, went down to the Old Quarters and really enjoyed the narrow cobbled streets. Had one of the best dinners we have had so far at a Romanian Restaurant we found…….right next to Gelato shop…….ain’t that just convienient.
My Pastor and friend, Mike, will be dissappointed in me as I was not able to make my Christian Outreach episode come to life while in Bucharest. Since I felt that Christ had spared my life just a week or so ago, I felt this was a sign of what Christ was wanting me to do since that is what I had been Praying about. But, my other Pastor friend whom we met out in front of Voronets, had been sent an email telling him we were on the nunt for an Christian outreach ministtry…..but he was kayaking in Sweden so no answer there. And we have a lady friend in Bucharest who runs an NGO Christian Ministry and both of her numbers resulted in no answers. So, I take away this, that God did not want me in Bucharest he wants me someplace else. Maybe thats over in Serbia, Croatia or Bosnia as they come next. I am willing to accept names and contacts in these countries if anyone knows people involved in this sort of Christian mission field.
I did not roll away from the hotel Ibis till noon. Not because I got up so late. Rather it was my waiting on a no show UPS package (NO Christmas cookies for my UPS man Tim back in USA, since these UPS guys are Ll union and attached at the hip I think the pain should be spread universally. When one falls short they all should feel the pain) i was waiting on a new unit from Goal Zero. A nomad 50 battery pack and the larger panels so that I could have tablet power. Now we have to stop at bars and plug in foran hour or more thru the day to power back up. I have measured carefully and it takes 17.75 bottles of beer to pass one Romanian Hour. I think there are far fewer bottles of beer per hour in USA because you have to get up to pee six times in an hour. Put in 85kilometers today and are out in Alexadria region of southern Romania. Gently rolling farm ground. Nothing special but nothing terrible iether. Just watch the traffic and pedal. For supper tonight I had sausages and a new concoction……hot mustard and blue berry jam. Strait out of Cow Camp Cooking, page 98. It follows right on behind the recipe for rubbing par boiled potatoes on a salt lick to add that OutBackesque flavor. That page is one of my familys favorites.
What tomorrow brings I do not know. But after it happens I will surely tell you if it was any fun at all. Tomorrow has arrived and I am sitting in a pine forest in Bulgaria about 39 miles over the river from Romania. I crossed the mighty Danube river on a ferry, along with 2 other cyclists. Thay are both Doctors of Enderology (thing bung holes and such ). Nice folks doing 2 weeks along the Danube. As I sit here typing and swatting mozzies, its 8.30pm, and 9 huge Klass combines just rolled past in a convoy, surprised to see that sort of equipment here. Had a great supper, finally got the nerve to fry a pork chop, turned out just fine, followed by a cup of Earl Grey and we are done.
I have managed to stay on roads mar,ed in white, which are little wee rascals. This is wo derful for traffic concerns, but leaves much to be desired when it comes to dogs, got chased 3 times by dogs that meant business. No bites, just frayed nerves. The country here is big rolling ridges, reminds me of parts of Moldova in some ways, except these climbs are just longer with a few more curves to make it all more interesting. The villages that one passes thru are not as well off income wise as most of Romania, its pretty evident looking at houses and vehichles. One odd thing I noticed, in Romania I hardly recall seeing a Russian make vehichle such as Kamaz or Lada. But here in Bulgaria, oh my, but they come out of the wood work from cars to tractors, everything.
So far, I have been up a little earlier than when P&I were together, so my pedaling day has about 1 more hour in it. With that extra time, I have covered a few more miles and taken a few more photos. I try to stop every 2 hours, get off and walk around…..good advice from my buddy Vladimir. At noon, I try to sit and eat at some local joint and have a conversation if at all possible. Last night, sometimearound midnight, a clap of thunder and a bolt of lightning woke me strait up in my bag of sleep. Within about 15 minutes therain was pelting the tent like it wanted to shred the outer layer on me. I had it all staked out at the corners, and guy ropes in place……so, nothing to do but lay down and go back to sleep. Got up about 6.45 and the rain was falling steady and hard. Everything was in pretty good shape really, it all got alot wetter as I tore camp down. Went as fast as I could,but just not fast enough. Skipped breakfast and hit the road. About 9am I passed thru a village and spotted a place to have coffee. Sat down to drink my coffee, 6 other folks all ready sitting around outside on bottle boxes etc…..so I just joined them. Great big fella sitting across from me says “WHERE”, so I take it he is asking where am I from…..I proceed to tell him America. He opens his arms like giving a hug………and says “I LOFF OBAMA”. Well crap, my day was done. I got up, shook the political dust off my sa dals and moved on right then…….leftmy coffee sitting. had my rain suit on,and was as wet inside as outside,and finally the chill of riding down a big hill, and then pedaling up and getting hot all over again got to me. About 200 yards off tomy right at the top of thenexthill, was anaba doned Soviet type farm building. It was in bad shape,with trees and shrubs growing on the roof. I rode around to the backside to see if I could find a dry spot and fire up my stove to make my own darned coffee. Sure enough, there were just a few feet of floor space that was dry,enough for me……and not enough for O’Blamer.
Spent maybe an hour getting a couple cups of tea down, and got warmed up. The rain never let up,must kept pounding the ground. 14 hours of it, and at one point my bike showed 48 degrees. Cold enough, I could not get my phone to respond to my touch…….same thing happens to my wife once in a while? Backto the phone,o ce I got myhands dry and warm everything phone wise worked just great. I made it to MONTANA, Bulgaria byabout 3.45pm so decided I would get a room and dry things out as well as charge things back up. My new Canon SX50 camera uses the battery alot quicker than my old camera and it needs a wall outlet to power it. My tablet was also dead from writing and reading at night. Pine, I repacked my bike and like it much better. Front panniers have all clothing and electronics in them. Back panniers now have tools, tent and bag of sleep in them. Which leaves me with the rackbag justfor the stove and all food. I went out on a limb, bought 4 jars (plastic jars) of peanut butter when I found it. I emptied 3 out, washed them good, and replaced contents with jam, coffee etc…….threw way everything glass…….not sure why it took so long to figger that out, and the rack bag is much lighter. Still miss you though,andhope Inever get over it. SO THAT YOU THE READER ANDFOLLLWER OF THIS BLOG UNDERSTAND, I have cussed the WordPress app to no end, becauze it is buggy inzide of a mobile Android platform……enuff to cause severe alchoholism…..promise ya! Today, we will beginmaking changes. My son Pine, has voluntered to take over posting the blogs from home on his laptop. I will send him the text and images via Evernote, and he will postit as he gets the time. The postings could be sporatic and out of sequence…….as I think there may be a women involved…….just sayin.
Are we well fed, yes. Are we worried about having enough water to make it thru the day. No, not really we are beyond that part of the journey inwhich those dangers lie. Like much of eastern USA, when horse drawn vehichles ruled the day, you end up with towns or villages that as close together as you could travel by horse in one day. Such is the case here where we are in central Romania. We are on a Castle, Cathedral and Cabbage Roll tour. Our biggest concerns these days is not that of water or shelter, but rather how steep will the hills be, and how busy will the roads be.
When we were up north, within the Carpathian mountain range the churches are almost all Orthodox Christian churches. We toured many of them, and I even stood in for most of a service in one of them. There different because the Priest sings the incantation, a choir then responds, and it is all quite beautiful. There are no Pews, you can stand, or take a kneeling mat. You place yourself randomely, if you need spiritual attention, then put youself close to the Priest. We are now in Evangelical Christiandom, we have left Orthodox Monestaries behind, and we now see Cathedrals. The first thing of note, is the cross style on top of the Church, and seats inside. The evangelical churches will all have a standard crucifix, while the Orthodox will always have the cross of Lorraine, which has 2 cross bars with the lowest bar both shorter and slanted.
This is the fortified Church region of Romania. So while touring you see what looks like a fortress on a hill top, and sometimes indeed it is just that, a fortress. More often though, you will find a Church at its center. This is the tri-cornered Saxon region. The Saxons lasted till McDonalds put in there first franchise, then they to finally fell. The Tuetons came thru, wiped out many when they came, built castles both large and small. And we have seen them all I think. Pretty sure I have an ash tray from everyone…..and I dont even smoke. We rode thru Rupea, a huge fortification on a very steep sided hill top. Pine and I, both found this place to be of amazing interest, but for different reasons than you may be thinking. Rupea, is the most westerly edge of the invasion by Mighty Ghengis Khan of Mongolia ( consider thatfora moment, he wouldbe approx 6000 miles from home at this point ) He conquered the fortification, history has it, that his army hspent the winter and moved on. So, what the heck is so amazing bout that JW. Just stop and think about that whole scenario for a minute. The only evidence we have is that old word of mouth history, and thats not to say that I dispute the claim. Its just that the Mongols may well be the only invading force that never left behind so much as a foot print. Every other empire that invades, leaves behind genetic traces within the indigenece populace. Religious traces, architechtural influence, even changes to local food or dietary traditions. Not the Mongols, at least from what I have seen.
Sarmale, served with sour cream and usually polenta and sour kraut. My dear Mom always insisted that cabbage rolls were called “Hollopchi’s”….you all probably realize the same thing as I do now. Moms infinite wisdom was robbed from her by Google. Here in Romania, Sarmale or cabbage rolls as they are known locally, are really good and really common. If I had gripe about Hungary, they could sure stand to heat the food up. It comes to the table about as warm as a bleacher seat. You may have guessed, that we have been on a bit of a cabbage roll kick.
We took in Castle Peles, which highly recommend should any of you be over this way. For me it equals the Palace of Versaille for oppulence, but certainly not for size. The castles is decorated in a thematic regimen, with rooms echoing great cultures and artistic influences from around the globe. The central reception hall is just stunning, with a stained glass cieling hanging some 65 feet above the viewer, and the entire ceiling is mounted on tracks allowing it to be rolled open for sunshine and air movement. Never mind wowing your guests. The central room has some of the most beautifull wood work I have seen within castle construction. And the details go right down to the most minut, mundane items within the room. Thats not to say that this is the only fantastic room, because certainly its not. The rest of the rooms are quite exquisite to be sure. The whole castle is worth a visit, and the drive up is beautiful for sure. From thier we climbed over Receda pass and down into Rasnov. This was a bit of a let down to me, there is a fantastic image of the castle that comes up on Google images……it is stunning……..it may well be the only good view of the castle. Its mostly in ruins today, with just the outer walls standing. And by the way,it is on top of a steep hill. We took our look around, loaded up the bikes and rolled out for Bran Castle to end the day.
Time for alternative history. Bran Castle, famous for being the castle of Dracula in Irish born writer Bram Stokers novel of the same title. The charcter Dracula was fabricated over or off of the real life person known as Vlad Dracul……or as I knew him thru school history…….Vlad the Impaler. Its this last title that I want to dispute or offer an alternative history on. The story I was told, is that he was so ruthless a tyrant, that he just loved to create agony and aguish within his people. They will respect me out of fear sort of theory, was what I was taught. Here in Romania, he is considered to be one of the good guys, a true warrior, a defender of the people if you will. He was a tactical genius, fearless in battle…….and yes, ruthless in victory. They have a saying here, that every inch of Romania is fertilized with Turkish blood…..thanks to Vlad Dracul. He kept the invading horde from the south at bay. Those captured in battle where impaled alive on wooden stakes to make a point to the enemy……..that Romania is a nation covered in wooden stakes. No, sorry, that was my thinking. The point being, dont mess with Romania. The Bran Castle was Vlad,s residence for about 3 days according to history. Most of his time was spent within the walls of yet another castle that lays much further south and west of Bran…….but then again, why ruin a good story with fact.
This will be the 3rd night that we got very soaked with rain showers along the mountain edge where we are currently riding. Several weeks ago, I took an afternoon and washed my tent well,soaked it in salt&lemon concoction to kill the mildew and that odor. It did stop that bout. But it has been wet and rolled up and getting pretty ripe all over again. We do our best to stop when we have bright sunshine during the day, we lay out our gear to dry and air out.we traveled some very pretty backroads avter leaving Bran, and made our way over to Sibiu which willbe ourmost westerly destination while in Romania.
We have cycled thru yet another piece of what God has created, mountains with snow capped peaks, valleys lush and green. And people, who have been given the ability to love thier brother as tnemselves and to do good unto others. Some days we witnessed it, and at other points during this ride…..we longed for it. Each day we Pray for safe roads, the strength to make the trip, a chance to mention our saviour Christ in conversation, we would ask that you do the same.