This was, once again, supposed to be a mellow day, Just 85 km, and only one notable climb, near the end of the day. 250m max elevation. Easy, right? (more foreshadowing…)
After having some great pastries and coffee in Posedarje, I headed out around the bay and to the south through the inland valley. The terrain was very much different than high mountains and foothills I had been riding through until now, but I was still mostly separated from the coast.
Climbing a hill outside of town, there was a side road up to an overlook, and of course, you have to go to the overlook. At the top I found a lookout and a makeshift foxhole, almost certainly constructed by the Croatian defense forces. The Battle of Zadar was fought in this region, and I believe this hill was on the front line of the area controlled by Croatia. As I headed south I would enter territory which had been occupied by the Serbian army. On this hilltop, and at many points along my ride today, I saw memorials to those killed in the war.
The riding was quite nice, rolling hills through farmland and small villages. For the first time on my trip, I ran into a group of bike tourists on the road. They were from Australia, doing a van-supported tour.
I was heading into a pretty stiff headwind, and every down on the road had an up, so my pace was much slower than expected. A silly redirection from RideWithGPS took me off of the reasonably pleasant paved road to an almost unrideable farm path where I had to do a bunch of pushing. Strangely, when I got off of the path I emerged into a traffic jam, which turned out to be connected to the local flea market in Benkovačko Selo. This was definitely not a tourist market; people were walking down the road with housewares, stools, and food. Getting back on the road, the traffic was noticeably heavier, I think from people driving home from the market.
I had been followed by a thunderhead most of the morning, and I was trying to outpace the storm. I got a temporary boost when the headwind turned into a tailwind, but unfortunately that change occurred because I was at the storm front. Just a couple minutes later it began to rain, and just a few moments after that it began to rain hard. I was able to dodge down a driveway and take shelter on the porch of a semi-abandoned farmhouse to watch the impressive lightning and hail storm.
After the rain slacked off I saddled up and started out, only to have the heavy rain return just as I got on the road. I retreated to the farm house and waited out the squall. Eventually another break in the storm let me get away and head south towards Krka National Park.
Before the storm I had seen a strange cloud to the south, and as I drew closer it became clear that it was a smoke cloud. I stopped at a caffe-bar in Vacani, and the fire was dropping ashes in village. At the caffe, I had an energetic conversation with an old Croatian guy named Mark (“…like Knopfler!”, he told me) who spoke little English but was very interested in chatting, and bought me an espresso.
I was heading towards Skradin, the town nearest Krka National Park, the first really touristy place I’d been since Plitvice. I got off to walk the bike through the old town, and happened to be passing by a gelato shop at the very moment the next rain squall came through. Never one to waste an opportunity, I went in for a cone, and wound up in a good conversation with the owner (who grew up in the area) about how Croatia has changed over time. We sat on the sidewalk as the storm came and went and his son opened and closed the shop awning.
The major feature of Krka is the waterfalls, and seeing them requires a hike. I got down to the river with the storm still brewing, and the one significant climb of the day ahead of me. I was hoping I could get over ridge before next storm, so I passed on trying to hike into Krka.
As I started the climb up from the river, I rode into the forest fire. It had been mostly extinguished by the storm, but there were smoking hot spots and occasional flames on both sides of the road.
It started to rain again near the top; I kept pushing on, knowing that the one thing I didn’t want was to be on the exposed ridge during a lightning storm. But when I got to the upper plateau, I could see a massive storm cloud coming, the largest I’d seen yet. There was not much shelter up top, but I was able to duck into a makeshift bus shelter with a tin roof and sides. The storm broke, with impressive rain and wind, and lightning flashes and ground strikes, mostly on the next ridge over. I did my Boy Scout thing of timing the difference between lightning and thunder, which got as low as about 6 seconds.
Daylight was failing, and it seemed clear that the storm wouldn’t totally go away before nightfall. But the time between flash and bang was slowly rising, and eventually when it got to 14 Missisippis, I headed off into somewhat lighter rain. There was still 16km to go, mostly downhill, and I blasted it in light rain and sprinkles. The storm never got close, but lightning was striking all around, so the descent into town had an impressive light show.
When I arrived at my hostel I met a couple from Spain (Bilbao) who could not get the host’s phone number to work. (One thing I noticed: My Spanish is definitely better than my Croatian or German.) I was able to get through to the guy, who came in about 10 minutes to let us all in. The room was small but totally fine, and had working wifi!
I walked out into the town, which looked pretty cool, had a great pizza and beer, and headed off to bed.
Daily Musing: Old Croatian guys in cafes
Every town in Croatia has a cafe, usually more than one. These places are the center of social life for mostly older, mostly male Croatians like Mark, who sit out drinking and smoking for long periods of time. An 80-year-old Croat must have lived through the fascist regime and partisan revolt of WWII, the years of suppression under Tito, the collapse of the Yugoslavian economy, and the horror and crimes of the Croatian War of Independence (as the Croatians term it).
What might these guys be thinking, sitting out on the plaza with their rakia? How do they feel about parts of the country being overrun by tourists looking for Game of Thrones locations, and other parts being depressed and full of abandoned, decaying buildings? What can you say to them as an American whose only personal experience of conflict is getting cut off in the bike lane by a BMW?
At the very least, we must respect them.