Friday, April 29, 2011

a few essentials

Here are some pictures we wanted to get up before too much time elapses...

Us with the legendary Bostjan (middle right) and his friend Marco, two great guys

Another great guy, the infamous Drazen. Unfortunately, I can't spell his name quite right on this computer (the Z is supposed to have a little caron over it).

Of much less importance than the people we meet, but also pretty cool, this is one of those very old books we saw in Verona

Approaching the Land of the Eagle

Yes, friends, the time is near. We will soon breach the frontier of the fabled Shqipërisë, better known in the Western world as Albania, the Land of the Eagle. An exciting time, indeed.
For now, we're kicking it bigtime in Budva, Montenegro, the Land of Black Mountains. A huge black storm is thundering around in the mountains above the town, but we're down by the beach, untouched by the fury of this meteorological outburst.
We left Mostar in good spirits, powered by the miraculolus energetic properties of burek, a stuffed pie usually filled with meat or cheese that has the strength to rise 10,000 Lazari from their graves. I ate three of them yesterday. We cruised thorugh a few valleys until dusk began to fall, then asked a farmer if we could camp in his wild thyme-filled fields. He said "Da," and we gave him huge daps. The next day set off on what was supposed to be our first Century, where we ride over 100 miles, but alas, it ended in (relative) failure, if you can call riding 90 miles through scenic valleys and over epic mountains a failure.
First, we crossed into Republika Srbska, a semi-autonomous region of the bizarrely arranged political entity called the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina. You could tell you had crossed the border by the big Serbian flag and Cyrillic signage. The landscape changed a bit too, with sharp, pyramidal peaks replacing the more rounded mountains of Bosnia-Herzegovina proper.

Nate slogging through Srbska

Demographic boundaries are marked fairly clearly here, often by flags and national colors (i.e. a bar we saw in Stolac, a town in Republika Srbska, was pretty clearly owned by a Croatian, as it was covered in Croatian flags and pictures of Ante Gotovina, a former general who was recently sentenced for war crimes committed during the Balkan wars in the early 90's). Tombstones are another way to tell. Muslims have stone turbans or crescents adorning their graves, Croatians a cross and Roman script, Serbians a cross and Cyrillic.
There's also trash all over the place, in all parts of the country. Strange that people would fight so fiercely and so brutally for their land, and then throw garbage all over it.
As we rode through a wide valley between two sets of sharp peaks towards Trebinje, black mountains became visible in the distance, shrouded in fog. It rained for a little while. We passed a fourth-century monastery. In Trebinje, we ate stuffed cevapi and sausages, potatoes, and two loaves of bread. Stupidly, we didn't eat any burek. Heading out of town, we followed a river upstream, up an extremely beautiful valley, lush with greenery on both sides, ever-higher mountains surrounding us, the river rolling smooth and blue below the nearly empty road... We took a small road to a border crossing we had been told was open. It would have been great if that was true, because it would have saved us about 2000 feet of elevation gain, and cut through another fatty boombatty mountain valley, but for some reason that we never really understood due to our undeveloped Slavic language abilities, we weren't allowed to pass. I think it may have been open onto to Bosnian and Montenegran nationals. In any case, up we went, up a huge climb through fucking epic mountains. I hung out at a flower-studded alpine meadow for a while, listening to goats, crickets, birds and a dog making their respective noises, watching clouds envelop mountaintops then reveal them again as the wind pushed them along. There were probably eagles nearby, but I didn't see any. By the time we go to the top of the pass, the fog had really come in, and we could hardly see down the sheer mountainside into the valley below.

Welcome to Montenegro


Montenegro is really spectacular, there's hardly any flat ground that we've seen, just mountains rising out of every acre of land. Occasionally we would pass through a small valley ringed by peaks, but that was about it. We camped in one of those, as you will see if the pictures I'm trying to upload right now actually work. It's going very slowly.

Our campsite in Dragalj

The Monetnegran night crept up on us while we were still 10 miles short of our Century, and we were forced to camp. It was a wise decision, because the next day we smashed down some huge descents, back to the sea, to the fjord of Kotor, and it would have been quite stupid to do this at night. I mean, we would have missed out on all these fat views.

Fjordian waters

You can see one of our roads snaking down the mountain

Churches on island in the fjord

We stopped in Kotor for long enough to eat three bureks, drink several beers and some coffee, and marvel at the ridiculously epic fortress they have there, then went a whopping 30 kilometers to Budva. Budva's not a bad place. There's a carnival starting today. Double dang. I might have to go buy some Jelen.


Okay, this is actually France

The last bit of France

Now we're in Italy
Our pirate camp site
Feasting in the foothills of the Alps
We took a detour through Hell

Nate surveying the Underworld

There are a lot more pictures, but man, this is taking forever

Monday, April 25, 2011

Space on a Bicycle, Another Frontier

'When you meet the stranger, invite him into your house, and give to him food, and drink'.

Words spoken from the head of the Easter Sunday table by Tony, quoted from the Bible, translated by his son Dražen, who sat at the other head of the table. Dražen and one of his customers had seen Jaco ride by and as they ran out of Hemingway's Café in disbelief and confusion at the sight of a lunatic on a bicycle, they turned their heads to see me. I stopped. Dražen asked me in English where we were from, and I explained that we were riding our bicycles to China. I asked him where an ATM was so that we could withdraw some Konvertible Marks and spend them on grilled meat or burek. A few minutes later, we were in his cafe having espresso and multivitamin fruit juice. We quickly understood that on Easter, in Hercegovina, you can't get grilled meat. That was okay, we had somewhat prepared for that, and we had enough extra food to get us to our destination, Mostar. Dražen though asked us if we were hungry, we admitted that we were, but this wasn't hard to guess because we had been talking mostly about where to get food. He made a phone call, then came back to us and asked if we would like to go to his parents' house, outside Posušle for the Easter meal. This was a very difficult offer to refuse, and we were soon shaking hands with Tony and sitting down at the table. From there it was a mish mosh of German, Croatian, Italian, and English as we feasted on stuffed cabbage, rakija, bread, wine, ham baked under a loaf of bread, roasted lamb and potatoes, and soup with dumplings. This was all homemade, we ate it, and it was good. Communication wasn't at all difficult though, because Dražen spoke perfect English, which he had learned from watching TV and listening to the radio, and was happy to translate. When we were done we got up and left, as Dražen had to get back to open up his Hemingway's Café for the afternoon. Hemingway's is the finest cafe in all of Posušle, a mostly Croatian town in Bosnia just past the border with Croatia. If you go there now you can see a genuine 4 time Worlds Series champion and former Oakland Athletic (he was traded in 1988 for Bob Welch, to the 1988 Dodgers) Alfredo Griffin baseball card.

We came into Posušle tired and without any money, and we left with full bellies, and though there may or may not have been a tailwind heading into Mostar, we rode quickly, on eagles' wings.

Now we are in Mostar. Tomorrow we leave, and head back over the mountains to Kotor, in Montenegro, which is an old Venetian outpost at the head of the largest fjord in the Mediterranean. A fjord is a bay created by a glacier, as it slides down the mountain into the sea.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

In Slovenian, Orel means Eagle


They say the Dalmatian coast was long ago a haven for pirates, and mountebanks. Its coves and inlets made it easy for these sneakies of the sea to hide themselves behind islands, then strike like coiled snakes at ships sailing to and from Venice.

Indeed. We have sailed these seas ourselves, and luckily, made safe passage. Maybe we saw a dolphin? We are in Croatia, on the island of Krk (there is a town called Vrh on Krk), in the town of Baška. There are cliffs on both sides of the valley, and great rocky islands everywhere in the bay. Buildings are plopped down in a strip by the sea, with a long promenade protecting the town from the harsh realities of coastal living. Like pirates.

We are injury free!

We tore like oiled lightning through the Alps and across the plain of Lombardy. We visited a microbrewery in Piedmont called le Baladin, and it was good. We took a rest day in Verona, home of Romeo, home of Juliette, home of some of the first printed books in the world, which we stumbled on upon first arriving, in a library kept by Capitelli monks. There were manuscripts and sheet music that were printed by the first printing presses that arrived in Rome, and Venice. All this because the person outside whom we asked if there was an internet cafe somewhere happened to be the library's director.

We crossed into Slovenia at the edge of the plain, and were invited into the home of Bostjan Vodopivec and his family, after asking him if it was okay if we camped on his land. We were treated to delicious homemade strawberry wine, and two great salames that seem to be cut from ancient mammoths. They are fantastic, some of it sits in my belly now as I write.

I can't figure out how to upload photos onto this computer, so those will have to wait. As will we for our ferry, which leaves at 5pm.

Until then, we are in Baška and the sun is shining and it is Spring.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Jake's Big Adventure continued

Oh boy, what a week it has been.  Like an eagle in search of prey, I have been cruising alone for the last week, leaving Nate to fend for himself against Achilles' terrible rage.  Meanwhile, I have had the less enviable fate of riding along a flat,paved road next to the picturesque Canal du Midi, watching flamingos balance one-leggedly in coastal marshes, and camping like a bandito on the lam.  I took off out of Toulouse for an easy afternoon ride, and camped just outsied of Castelnaudry, where they have a bridge dedicated to Thomas Jefferson. Just before Carcassone, I ran into another bike tourer named Ann Wilson, who complained about the path on the Canal, which had deteriorated quite a bit in the last 20 km, and was now rocky and rooty and generally pretty slow going and monotonous.  "By Jove, she's right!" I said to myself, and soon left the canal in search of smoother asphalt and exhaust.  Ah, and what a feeling, soaring down the tarmac at three times the rate of that blasted canal!  I trod on to Beziers, to meet my father's old friend Pierre Bayou, who graciously let me stay with him and plied me with a huge piece of meat to build enormous muscles. "Sugar and fat make energy!" he cried, "But to build muscle, you need protein!" He was absolutely right, and with my meat-enhanced leg power, I set off the next day for more adventures.
     It sounded like a great idea: ride out across a little spit of land that cut between the sea and a big marsh area, save myself some 20 km and get a great view.  In practice, it was fairly grueling.  I started out at the end of the spit on a nice road that eventually became unpaved and a bit sandy.  Then the road got rough, but at that pointi was already a good ways out on the spit and was extremely reluctant to turn around.  Besides, i could see that the road was fine after 40 feet or so, so I picked up my loaded bicycle and carried it over the sand, set it down and rode some more.  I passed some more sandy sections, some bulldozers and very confused workers, until I reached a point where there was no road at all, just huge piles of sand. Fuck.  Left with the choice of backtracking, then riding the long all the way around, or pressing on in the hopes that the road picked up again, I chose the latter, and dragged my bike along an empty Mediterranean beach, right next to the water, for probably about 2 miles, cursing like a sailor the whole way.  But I made it, ate some bread and cheese and drank some wine and felt like a new man, new in the sense that I was much more exhausted than I had been an hour before.
    The next days were less exciting, though no less enjoyable.  Lots of tiny little country roads, coastal marshes, and seaside towns that look like they have hordes of tourists in the summer and not much else.  One was bizarre, with futuristic looking buildings made of white concrete and not a soul around. La Grande Motte. Hit the first climbs in several days getting into Marseille, white stone peaks jutting out from shrub and pine-covered mountainsides. A huge fog bank engulfed me and the mountains as I screamed down to the sea.

Jake's Big Adventure

Very pretty, but alas, the wrong path

Ideal riding on the Canal du Midi

A hungry, hungry Jaco


The world-famous Pierre Bayou


get that fuckin camera out of my face, fool

unidentifiable industry

This is where the road got rough

because of these assholes!
so i had to carry/drag my bike down here for 2 miles

that's not a good place for a bike
at the end of my day at the beach

La Grand Motte.  City of the future in 1972

I ate lunch here

view from campsite near Fos s/Mer

epicness near Marseille

beards and ramparts

San Sebastian

This is for Artoor.  A Basque flag flapping in the wind

French coast

Leona and Marc, two very fine French farmers

Fine French folk and prize-winning donkeys

This is the life
Bandido campsite

Filling up at the wine station

French stereotype that has become reality

"the most discrete French countryside"