1282 km so far.
Some days you just don’t know what is going to happen, and sometimes those turn out to be the best days. Despite a difficult start, today was one of those.
We were expecting a nice lazy ride along the Kolpa river valley. The Kolpa river is 113 km long and forms part of the southern border between Slovenia and Croatia. There are a few manned border crossings along the river, and today we rode by a few unmanned ones. These consisted of pre-independence bridges with simple barriers across them that said something along the lines of “Please do not walk across to Croatia, even though it is only 30 meters away.” Not a huge deterrent.
We didn’t have a firm plan for the day, besides following the road along the river and see how far we get. Our campsite last night had terrible WiFi, so we hadn’t been able to map the topography of our route or research any place to stay as we normally do.
As it happens, the first 20 km was some of the most difficult we have encountered. Two very steep, very unexpected hills saw us climb 1000 m right after breakfast. The second climb, steeper than the first, was on an unpaved, under construction section of road that consisted of not-very-compressed rubble. We walked the bikes up much of this, with the sun beating down on us.
No Market Today, Maybe Tomorrow
By the time we finally got to go downhill and back to the river’s edge we were ready for lunch. But, the towns along the river are very small farm towns, and not a single cafe or market was anywhere to be found.
We decided we had enough with us to make do, and found a beautifully laid-out picnic table awaiting us on the river banks. It must belong to a local farmer, but for lunch today it was ours.
The ride after lunch was much better. We found a cafe a few kilometres past our lunch spot and stopped for an ice cream and Coke (Jane) and beer (me). To my surprise, they had a Pale Ale called Mirko on tap. I have not seen Pale Ale since leaving Los Angeles. Every server is skeptical when I order a dark beer, and today was no exception. “Dark,” she warned me. “Yes please,” I assured her. It was delicious.
When we got back on our bike it truly appeared the most difficult part of our ride was over. We were now riding up and down rolling hills that followed the river, all the while Croatia was just across the water.
Stopping For A(nother) Drink
As we rode into the small town of Slavski Laz, there was a mountain spring with a wooden funnel-like device attached to it to make a fresh water fountain. With a good chance we would be free-camping tonight we decided to stop and fill our water bladder.
As we were packing it onto my bike, a man appeared and asked, “Are you thirsty? Come with me.”
Who can say no to that? Gregor took us to a nearby house, which used to be his grandfather’s wood shop and home. It’s now used by Gregor and his parents as a weekend and summer home.
Gregor and his father brought us beer (for me) and beer with lemonade (for Jane), and we spent a great hour talking about Slovenia, their lives, and what the village was like in days gone by. It was a terrific diversion from biking and we thoroughly enjoyed meeting them.
Before sending us on our way to their friend Simoni’s hotel (with a note in Slovenian for us to give to Simoni) 25 km away, they brought out a bottle of home made lemon schnapps (for Jane) and home made pear and apple schnapps (for the three men). So incredibly delicious, it went down very smoothly, and got us ready for the final push towards dinner and rest.
They warned us about a very steep hill we would encounter, but then laughed it off, saying they were just joking. They weren’t. We actually had to push our bikes up part of the hill it was so steep. On a different day, when we hadn’t already climbed 1400 m and biked 65 km, it most likely would have been much easier. Today was not that day.
At the top of the hill, we were greeted by a statue of Peter Klepec, a figure of Slovenian folklore, who is famous for being very large. Legend has it he ripped trees out of the ground which he used to keep away the marauding Turks who were continually trying to invade the Kotel valley. He succeeded. The Turks never took Slovenia.
We arrived at the Hotel Kovac and presented Simoni with our note. However, this being a long weekend, which started on Wednesday, the hotel was full. Simoni assured us he could put us in another building, and took us across the street to a house he also rents, which had one room available. As it was really our only choice, we took it!
A fantastic dinner of local asparagus soup, home made gnocchi with mushrooms, and red wine was the perfect meal to end a long day.
We have now mapped the route we did, and over 72 km we climbed 1830 m. No wonder we are exhausted. It makes tomorrow, however, at 69 km and 1550 m to climb, seem absolutely doable. ♥