Day 1: “You are in Croatia!” (Zagreb to Karlovac)

The first day of the tour was expected to be mellow, only around 70km, with a high point of 220m. But, information about bike routes in Croatia is fairly spotty. Neither Google nor RideWithGPS have reliable data, and there appears to be little in the way of local cycling maps. There is a list of national cycling routes available from OpenStreetMaps (which integrates with RWGPS) but they’re not comprehensive, and, as I found out later, are of widely varying quality.

So, while I expected to have to do some creative way-finding, I didn’t anticipate quite how creative it would have to be.

It didn’t help that it was raining all morning on Day 1. Because the mileage was short, I decided to try to wait out the weather, spending time prepping the bike and visiting the Museum of Illusions (Rating: pretty fun).

Museum of Illusions

But as 14:00 rolled around it was still raining, and mindful of daylight, I decided to get on the road.

Zagreb to Karlovac

Often the hardest part of bike touring is getting in and out of the central city. Navigating Zagreb’s busy streets and streetcar tracks in the rain was difficult and scary. Trying to get out of the left traffic lane and across the streetcar tracks, my rear wheel skidded on the tracks, and I dumped the bike into the grass on the roadside. I was OK, but the rear derailleur hanger got bent in the crash. So, 20 minutes into my bike tour I had already broken my bike.

Pulling it to the sidewalk, a shopkeeper asked me (in Croatian) if I spoke Croatian (Hvartski). When I said “no, English,” he helpfully told me, “You are in Croatia! It is not an English country!”

I got the derailleur straight enough to ride via application of brute force, but that wasn’t the last adventure in Zagreb. On a road along the river with relatively low traffic, a woman pulled out of a driveway directly into my lane. Fortunately “HEY!” is pronounced the same way in Hvartski and I was able to avoid getting run down.

Once I got over the river I tried to find my way to my planned route. I had located a road parallel to the A1 motorway, hoping that it would be a quiet alternate route through the countryside, but it turned out to be quite busy with high-speed car and truck traffic, I think because the A1 is a toll road. There were a few places I could get off the main road, but a lot of the riding was pretty scary. After I passed a small town named Jastrebarsko the rain stopped, and the road mellowed out a bit. Soon after that I located my first signed bike route, National route RB-02, which took me slightly out of the way but through lovely, quiet rural roads. Definitely the highlight of the day.

Zagreb to Karlovac

I was staying in an AirBnb in a brutalist apartment complex. My building and apartment had been cleaned up and modernized, but many of the other apartment blocks still displayed damage and bullet holes from the war.

Zagreb to Karlovac

My host Anna was very friendly but spoke no English (her son puts the apartment on AirBnb). We made arrangements for keys, I grabbed a shower, and then headed off to Karlovac’s old town. It has some charm but there are a bunch of modern buildings mixed in with the old (possibly because of war damage), and some busy roads through town, which limited the appeal a bit.

Zagreb to Karlovac

I had a great doner kebab down by the river (Note: all food is great on a bike tour), got back to the apartment and crawled into bed.

Daily musing: Assumption of safety

I came to Croatia after studying in Berlin, where war-damaged facades are common. Part of the challenge of this European trip for me is grappling uneasily with the comfort I enjoy as an American.

The video below shows jets bombing Karlovac during the war; I’m pretty sure the apartment complex I stayed in is there in the foreground. It reminds me that, despite pretty much everyone in the U.S. being unhappy about the government pretty much all of the time, we’re a long way away from having to hide in our apartments as fighter planes bomb our cities. That’s part of why 9/11 was so traumatic for Americans; we have not had the experience of war on our homeland.

Ride data: 75km, 543m climbing

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