In a few hours, I’ll be hopping on a bus to Croatia. I’ll be leaving behind my life of comfort + ease in the Swiss Alps for a month of sitting in a bike saddle as I tour the coast of Croatia on a newly acquired bicycle. Everything is in order [I think] + somehow all of the details have fallen into place [hopefully]. The trip to Croatia was planned out of necessity [visa requirements + such], the idea to cycle the coast was born by insanity + the details were hammered out courtesy of many creative, enabling + determined minds.
When I started my trip to Switzerland in April the idea to travel to Croatia was a casually floating around in my “maybe I’ll do this…” mind. Upon arrival in Europe, I was reminded of my visitor visa requirements [90 days per 180 days in the Schengen region], forcing the trip to Croatia [not yet in the Schengen region] to the forefront of my agenda. Once I showed up at Chalet Martin the idea grew to casually beach bum my way around Croatia for three weeks, possibly setting up some volunteering gigs along the way.
cycling in Switzerland, where *everything* is uphill…or dangerously downhill.
Then I started doing my research [you know, once I was already in Europe with a flight scheduled back to the US] + realized that July/August was prime time for all of the Italians, Germans + Austrians to holiday in Croatia. Yay, people! Except, boo…price hikes; for everything. Many AirBnBs were doubling their prices, campgrounds required advanced bookings with extended stays + rental cars just weren’t available. A little more research told me public transportation in Croatia was nothing like the trains I’d grown used to in Switzerland [but really, duh…Swiss trains are gloriously neurotic].
Stress + mild panic ensued. Now what!?
Enter Ben + Merlin, two of Chalet Martin’s staple creators of awesome, + their next big idea…cycling the coast of Croatia.
The idea started with Ben, then Merlin got a hold of it + things got crazy. Within the week we were ripping apart a few of the bikes Merlin owned. I enlisted Sophie, a cycling smarty pants from the UK, to piece the bikes together + roll her eyes at our wild optimism. The eye rolling + worried muttering weren’t actually commissioned, but she tossed them in for free. Sophie’s a realist + the likelihood of the bike we were creating could make it along the 800km/500mi across Croatia was not very high. We all sort of knew this but her bike mechanic skills extra super, duper knew this. But we persevered.
By mid-June we had a bike with functional brakes, a pannier rack + 21 gears it could usually access with minimal cursing. I had also placed an order for random bike necessities [chamois cream, brake cables, tire levers, etc.] online + had procured other touring essentials [pannier bags, helmet, bottles, etc.] from kind-hearted souls at Chalet Martin. They either wanted to see me succeed or were excited to enable the suffering…I’m still not sure which.
To be honest, I was legitimately worried about my bike surviving the trip. There are a few perks of heading out with a well-loved bike — no one would want to steal it, it already had a scratched up personality + I was expecting to need downtime for some mechanical snafu. That said, there are some major downsides to a very used bike — nothing is quite perfect, the gears/levers don’t wiggle as well as they once did + nothing was new enough to be on the “won’t break” list. I was worried, but I was determined to go on the trip.
Now, enter NiteIze + Jack. I had a chat with NiteIze about a collaboration based around this trip. I was going to be flaunting all sorts of NiteIze gear that I loved — from lights to gear ties to bungees to…everything — so why not make this a mutually beneficial trip with a little collaboration? Lucky for me, they were on board! This lead to a discussion within Chalet Martin about how the heck I would get my hands on an affordable, yet worthy, bike for this trip. If I was committing to completing the trip + offering up product shots for NiteIze I needed a more dependable + less laughable bike.
Yup, that’s all it took to pass on the bike we’d spent days pulling together. I guess that’s a pretty obvious vote of [no] confidence in it. Sorry Merlin, but at least now you have a fully functional bike in your stash!
This is where Jack came into the picture. Well, more so than before — he’d already given me his pannier bags, which had me pondering his support vs his entertainment of the endeavor. He had arrived in Switzerland with Sophie, both atop spiffy electric bikes [with pedal assist + throttles, but they had pannier bags, so I guess it still counts as bike touring?]. Turns out he was looking to buy a new bike + my current plight was the perfect excuse for him to sell his current bike. Sans motor + battery, unfortunately.
Welcome into my life, Jackalope!
I still don’t know a lot about bike things…but I have changed/cleaned brake cables, adjusted gear cables, replaced bottom brackets, changed tires/tubes, adjusted derailleurs + added bottle cages/pannier racks to a bike. So…go me?!
As of this morning my life revolves around whatever I can fit into two relatively small pannier bags + a top pack. That’s it. Nothing more. I’ve packed a bikini, a sundress + some bike shorts. What else could a girl need pedaling her way along a 95 degree coastline?
Oh, right. A tent + sleeping bag. Probably a camp stove. Something to carry water in would be useful, too. Not to mention shoes + a helmet. Maybe basic bike tools. A rain jacket would likely come in handy. Others will probably appreciate soap + toothpaste.
It all seemed easy until I had to pack it all into those pannier bags that seemed to shrink every time I looked at them! It didn’t take me long to decide I needed exactly one t-shirt + no more than two pairs of socks for this trip. I may regret that later, but that’s why they sell souvenirs, right!? When I need another t-shirt I’ll just hit up a coastal town + start rocking some cotton that says “Croatia” or something exciting. It’s a foolproof plan, I tell ya…
I also managed to talk Sophie into buying a last minute flight down to Croatia to join me! After weeks of helping me put a bike together [we had to rebuild half of Jackalope after Jack took back the motorized bottom bracket] she finally let the wanderlust get to her. Last week she jumped on a cheap flight + will meet me in Pula, Croatia on Day 2 of the adventure.
As for our game plan…we’re starting north + cycling south. That’s about all we have finalized.
We’ll need to average about 50km a day to get across Croatia, then we’re spending a week in Montenegro before popping over to Italy. We are planning to skip over Split [a big city that is reportedly un-fun on touring bikes] in favor of island hopping. No specific plans have been made, beyond that. We’ll plan + adjust + tweak as we go…assuming we don’t melt in the heat.
I will have my phone + I *should* have cell service so I will be oversharing on Instagram, as usual. I’ll also be taking over the NiteIze Instagram feed next week to share beachy photos + talk about how it’s all panning out vs how we expected it to be [realistically assuming there will be some wild differences!].
Until then…happy travels, I have a 27-hour bus ride to survive before my cycling can even begin!