Croatia would be another milestone for us on our epic ride, we had detoured across two countries to get here after all. For those of you that do not know, this is where we were married in 2011 on the Croatian island of Hvar and we were back to revisit for the first time. I'll admit that we were a little foolish to think we were done with crawling up hills, there were in fact a few more peaks to get over during the morning, but high on adrenaline we raced over them and soon laid our eyes on the gorgeous Adriatic sea.
We were so happy to have Rohan riding with us, not only had he played a huge part in the preparations for this trip and continued to support us in every possible way throughout but he has helped myself and Holly out immeasurably over previous years and it felt as though we were finally able to give him something back in our own way. After a quick rundown of events and banter, the three of us blasted downhill into Split.
The Old Town of Split
As we plugged away at the final few kilometres ascent to Vidova Gora, the falling sun had us on a time challenge, there is no way we could miss the opportunity to watch the sunset from such a spectacular location. Being the athletic machine that he is, David reached the top well ahead of Rohan and I, ran back down the hill and then sprinted alongside us whooping with encouragement and offering a cheating shove here and there, trying to get us to get a move on so that we would all catch this awesome view. As we reached the summit, there ahead of us, laid out like a 3D map below, we could see end to end of the island we had ultimately been waiting for.. glorious Hvar!
It had got a little chilly at the top of the mountain and for the last few hours we had been hankering for hot food and a celebratory beer, to our delight, there was a perfect mountain top bar and restaurant. As soon as we arrived, we propped the bikes on the small fence posts around the outside terrace and returned a smile and hello to a girl collecting glasses from outside. On asking what we would like to drink, we said we would just be five minutes as we wanted to grab a photo before the sun went down; "Sure, no problem" the girl replied. The three of us left our bikes and ran off to take a photo. Five minutes later, full of beans and looking forward to a group toast, we were just steps from the door when the girl looked at me and pushed it shut without a word! As the three of us stood dumbstruck on the terrace, wondering if she would re-open, the outside lights went out and we were left in near darkness with the open fire roaring away inside! Aside from being disappointed, we were utterly baffled by the poor display of hospitality, it was coming to the end of the season, so maybe they were tired of tourists, but the sign did say they were open!
Anyway, we wouldn't let that ruin the fun, David had already sussed out a winning wild camp a little way past the bar and next to the ruins of an old chapel. The wind had really picked up now, though we managed to tuck ourselves between the trees for some protection and then dug into our 'bottom of the bag' reserves where we pulled out a tin of beans and a bag of crisps, prefect! During our 'a la carte' dinner, we heard a car pull up back at the car park and a few minutes later the lights, including terrace lights, all came back on at the bar. To be fair, the beans hadn't really cut the mustard, so we thought we would take our chances and try again. Awesome, we could hear some music playing and the door was wide open, they must have just popped out to get something and re-opened. Once again, I stroll straight up to the door, go to step inside and the girl throws me an angry stare. To the right, a guy in his boxer shorts is laying out on a mattress and the roaring fire continues to burn romantically inside. We are not having much luck!
Royce called to find out where we had got to, he had picked up a friend of his who had also flown in and they were keen to come and find us. I am not quite sure what the word is, but lets say 'not subtle and very forward' and you kind of have Royce. Over the phone we pass on the directions to our very well hidden camp and say explicitly to be as quiet as possible on the walk down, so as not to disturb our couple or give away our sneaky camp. Soon, Royce and Sonal arrive and Royce proceeds to tell us that the 'girl up the road' is not very happy. They had managed to drive around the back of the restaurant and when he spotted the girl, proceeded to ask her if she knew where the 'campers' were!!! Seriously, we had committed all the sins of discreet camping in one night!
From the top there was an epic downhill, fully asphalt, all the way down to the town of Bol where we would be catching our onward ferry. However, we had spotted on our map an old monastery which we had heard was spectacularly situated in the belly of a gorge and looking out to sea. We hooked off the main road and began descending down a loose gravel track which appeared would still wrap back around towards Bol, but would miss us the opportunity to breeze down the smooth asphalt road, we opted for the cultural route instead and continued down towards the monastery. Because of the monastery's precarious location, there were walking tracks only to reach the site. We stowed our bikes behind some bushes, took our valuables, chucked our walking shoes on and began trekking down through the gorge. Around 40 minutes down a rocky path later, we arrive at the foot of the monastery, closed on Monday's! There was absolutely nothing to see! It's always a good idea to mix up the exercise on a bike tour this long, so on the positive, the walk had been great to stretch the legs. Just as well, because when we took a closer look at the map and asked another couple, the horrendous gravel track that we had been sliding down to get to our current position, apparently dissipated just a little further down the road and would not have continued to Bol as we had hoped. "You are kidding?!" that means we need to haul ourselves and bikes all the way back to the very top and rejoin the main road, not impresses!
Still looking for something a little more adventurous, we spotted a marked road showing some very tight zig-zagging on the map, it had to be steep! We met two other mountain bikers from Austria heading down this way and screamed off down the race track together. Rohan and David had disappeared around a tight bend and as I came haring down the road, I could se David jumping up and down waving his arms ahead of me. I thought he was cheering me on to go faster! "Slow down, slow down" he exclaimed. Around the corner the road suddenly turned to gravel and there was a fatal drop off on the turn. By the sounds of it, David had smoke coming off his disc brakes when he had taken the corner!
The next few km's were awesome but tough going and slightly nerve racking, the mountain bikers of course were away! Eventually we spotted Zlatni Rat beach and we knew we were soon approaching Bol. Unbelievably, it had taken us all day to get back down the mountain and we needed to hurry to catch the 16.00 ferry to Hvar. As soon as we arrived in the harbour, I rushed over to purchase our tickets. It's a huge ferry, i'm talking as big as the car ferries, out of season too and they refused to except our bikes. We were told that the only way to Hvar, aside from hiring a pricey private driver, would be to head back to Supetar, return to Spit and then take the ferry from there to Hvar! Back tracking is so not our style, we had already had to do that once today, so we worked our way around the dock trying to find out who had a private boat that would be willing to taxi us and our cargo across the channel. There were a few takers but asking an astronomical and quite frankly, aggravating price. Eventually, we got a bite, we haggled with the lad and settled for a still extortionate figure and got ourselves a ride across to Hvar.