I am a bit of a stubborn optimist, which leads me to believe in my ability to persevere even when the odds are against me. Because of this fateful personality trait, I considered this cycling trip to Croatia to be just another challenge. I haven’t ridden a bike for more than 15 miles in the last…three years? Not to mention, I knew/know little to nothing about bike touring. I went into this the quest to cycle to the coast of Croatia grossly under trained + somewhat under-prepared.
That said, many people were quick to offer up advice about what sort of misery to expect. They told horror stories of leg muscles that hurt so much sleeping is nearly impossible. The internet warned me I would be eating food like there was no tomorrow. I was mentally prepared for pain + hunger + exhaustion + misery.
I was not prepared to get knocked on my ass due to dehydration.
Hello There, Struggle Bus!
A stupid mistake, I know! It turns out when I’m super focused on not tipping over + not getting lost I completely forget to drink…or eat. This had my head pounding after a rather uneventful 20km ride on day one. I arrived at camp happy, only to have my world come crashing down around me in the next few hours. My head throbbed with every movement, my bones ached down to the marrow + my brain couldn’t form complete thoughts without incredible effort. Essentially, I was crazy dehydrated + my electrolytes were jacked.
…even a meal of just extra salty fries deserves a round of dessert, right?!
Enter liters of water, cups of slushies + extra salt on a meal of fries. I did what I could to nurse my stupid self back to health. I wasn’t completely out of my wheelhouse with this sort of misery…ultra + trail running has taught me a thing or two. That said, I was not prepared for how quickly my body gave up on me.
Later that night I headed into town to meet Sophie at the bus station. While I waited for her to arrive my world fell apart. Tears rolled down my already salty cheeks as I sat on the floor of a busy bus station near the outlet that was charging my phone. I wasn’t giving up, I just needed to melt down…momentarily. Eventually, Sophie arrived + I pulled myself back together, mostly.
The next day we lounged around on the beach, napping in the shade for hours. I chugged bottles of water like we were going into a drought + even indulged in some “cappy pulpy” peach juice on multiple occasions. This was not how I expected my cycling trip to begin. I was smarter than this, damn it!
on our test trek around the peninsula near camp…we found a ruined fortress, a nudist beach + a water slide!
With time, I recovered, for the most part. The agony left my brain + returned to my throat…where it had lodged itself the day before Robb arrived in Switzerland the week prior. apparently even my body gives up on life after three months of traveling! Silly immune system!
We forged onward…onward + upward. Upward, upward, upward. Guess what?! Croatia has hills! I knew this going in — if we did the full coast line we’d gain roughly 30,000 feet over the course of 500km. To me, that seems manageable. I have grown to love the “put your head down + push on” mentality of climbing. Sophie, on the other hand, is not a fan of hills. She cycles on the regular, but it’s around the UK…a very flat portion of the UK. Oh + the UK isn’t known for days upon days of relentless sunshine either!
A few days after my brush with “death would be easier” suffering Sophie had her chance to experience all of the terrible. We were averaging roughly 40-50km per day with 500m [1600ft] of climbing…but that wasn’t enough. Considering we’d started the trek nearly a week late [thanks to a fruitless wait on a bike part stuck in Swiss customs!] we were running out of time. If we continued onward we needed to add at least 20km per day…which came with an increase in uphill climbing.
the night we decided to hire a car…I was overly worked up about it, I know. sorry Sophalina!
This meant we would spend the next 10 days getting up earlier, riding longer + crashing harder. Honestly, this is what I came to Croatia expecting, but I didn’t come alone. As we talked it over the idea of renting a car become more + more appealing. It was a bigger expense…but we would get to see more + do more. Rather than chase kilometers down the coast on a bike, a car would allow us to head inland to chase waterfalls around the national parks.
Okay, Fine…Hi, Compromise!
A week into our cycling trip we caved + hired a car. As I ran to the rental car pick up in the Rijeka airport I was a ball of uncertainty + disappointment. This is not what I wanted! I wanted to be stronger than this + try harder than this + suffer more than this. I wasn’t prepared to give up. The anxiety was crushing as I handed over my passport, driver’s license + credit card at the rental desk. I felt like I was giving up on myself.
I drove the car back to the campground to pick up the bagged bikes + Sophie, frustrated + unhappy. Sure, the AC felt great…but I was supposed to be out on the road struggling! I’m not sure who I have to thank for this jacked view on life, but thanks? I think?
me + Sophie, after hopping into the pool below the waterfalls to cool down…because it was that hot at 10am!
Had I been on this trip solo, I’d like to think I would have persevered + cycled on. That said…I do NOT regret getting the car + I’m really glad Sophie came along for the ride. For all of the angst the car gave me, it also meant we saw a lot more of Croatia + it meant I had someone to chat with, whine with + share pasta with along the way. This would have been a completely different trip had I been on my own, but after we got off the struggle bus + began to accept what life [+ Mother Nature] was throwing at us we started to have fun again.
Because we threw money at a rental car we were able to roam below the waterfalls of Plitvice Lakes National Park + jump in the lakes at Krka National Park. The cold rush of AC slapping us in the face as we sped along the highways. We spent our extra time roaming random towns, climbing to the top of mountains + lounging on beaches just a bit longer. We even purchased real shampoo…since we no longer had to worry about its weight on the bikes!
**disclaimer: This post was written about 10 days *after* the agony of our first week of cycling…so my emotions have settled down a bit + I’m far less worked up about the details. At the time, those little details about giving up felt very earth shattering + compromise was physically agonizing…but at the end of the day it was worth it, I pinky swear. I promise you those tears in the bus station felt completely necessary in the moment! I’m also rather proud of the fact I was able to re-adjust my mindset enough to [eventually] embrace the car + all of its air conditioned glory…thank you Chloe the Clio!**