“It’s about 70km to Mali Losinj from here;” says Dubravka, sipping on a coffee “my friend says it should be about 2 or 3 hours to get there.” The friend she was referring to was previously mentioned man who looked like he had rocket legs and would have no problem powering up the ‘not so bad hill’ out of the town on an empty road bike. Andy informed me that by looking at the map, it looked to him more likely that we would make it in about 5 or 6, considering the fact he was carrying around 40kg and I was, well, carrying a lot less! I was impressed with this realistic estimation from him. Clearly he was willing to go along at my pace and not Bootneck speed. In order to make the 4:30pm ferry to Zadar, as well as having an opportunity to enjoy the views, we decided to get up at the crack of dawn, with the plan to be rolling out of the campsite as soon as we had paid at the reception at 7am.
Unfortunately things did not go quite to plan; the bikes took ages to load with our panniers (we couldn’t do this the night before as us and the bikes were at the top of a steep set of steps in the campsite), the reception was heaving and Andy was stuck in a massive queue for almost half an hour, he forgot to pick up pastries from the campsite bakery for breakfast so I got off to go to the one in town and was stuck in another half hour queue. We had been up so long we had to eat and I used the time to bungee rope the loaf of bread for lunch onto the back of my bike. We were laden, it was roasting and it was now 9am.
Eventually we set off in a bid to find the route to the main road that would take us south. This turned into a labyrinthine mission of hills and picking our way through a maze of small roads. Finally we joined the main road; a lot busier than I had anticipated!
It was a slog, a serious slog. ‘Not so bad hill’??!! It seemed never ending, I was ridiculously hot and extremely out of breath. Having never cycled with panniers on my bike before, I was really struggling with the weight and the lack of balance I now had on the bike. I seemed to be spending all of my energy righting my bike so that I didn’t veer into the passing traffic. After what seemed like an eternity I had to pull over for a drink part way up the 7km climb. I was feeling sick, as if an unsettled stomach wasn’t bad enough, and was gasping for water. I crossed the road for some shade…how was I going to do this? My quads were throbbing and I just couldn’t get over the heat.
We plodded on. At times I have to admit I was pretty proud of myself getting up this hill without having to push…but then I saw the steepest section of the climb coming up. I know it was totally in the mind but I couldn’t bear any more…I had to get off and walk the last part of the hill (massive underestimation of how hard pushing a bike up a hill is with a duff shoulder and panniers; most definitely not the easier option!). Andy was already looking a little irate and we were only about an hour in.
Passing over the hill we continued for a while until I had to stop for a bit. It had only been around 7.5km (all uphill I admit) but I was a mess. I was overheating and had to lie down on the roll mat on the gravel in a hide of trees by the road; anything to get some shade. I react badly to the sun, something I had warned Andy about but I think he had underestimated how much it would affect me. Still able to pee (I had used my zip bum opener thing on my bib shorts about 3 times already since stopping) I was clearly not dehydrated, but it felt like I was suffering a bit of sun/heat stroke. I was teary for no reason and tension between us was starting to build. It was clear that there was no way we were going to make the ferry today with this slow progress and I was aware of how disappointed Andy was. This was going to be hard…really hard. I was a mental mess; I was physically fine…I just needed some shade and knew deep down inside that most of the sickness etc I was feeling was down to my nerves. Words of wisdom, straight from the commando training centre, were not helping!
After a while we set back off, deciding that we would stop at Vrana for lunch and some shade from the midday heat. It was now 11:30am. Off we went…more bloody hills! It turned out to be just one, thankfully, and then all downhill! I would say bliss, but going downhill on bikes laden with weight is not quite the exhilarating experience it usually is and I was gripping onto the breaks pretty tight. Nonetheless, we covered 8km in just over 20 minutes. We contemplated going on, but the fear of upcoming hills were looming, as well as another wee.
The town of Vrana consists of a church, a graveyard and a bin. It now consists of a church, a graveyard, a bin, the last of my toilet roll and a human cow pat hidden in the surrounding undergrowth! I was weak but some lunch helped to perk me up. A quick bite of some bread and what resembled cat food in a tin, followed by a short lie down in the shade and we were off again; safe in the knowledge that Beluj was only a few kilometres down the road. I still had to stop regularly for water and I still had to push my bike up parts of some of the hills in what was now blistering heat, but we eventually made it. Apart from Andy getting a ‘pig on the spit’ shot, I was determined that I was able to push on without stopping. Orso wasn’t far (maybe a further 11kms) and I was desperate to get there.
The next part of the journey wasn’t so bad, although the heat was unbearable, but it was still 3pm by the time we reached the entrance to the campsite in Orso. I knew Andy wanted to push on but I made the call to stop here. Luckily we did as Orso is an amazing little place.
We pitched our tent up by the turquoise water, deciding we needed a 5/6am start the next day to avoid the heat. Shattered, I skulled a beer and decided there was no way we were cooking tonight. Instead we went for a walk in the village, which was truly stunning. We had the most incredible meal that night of grilled squid and scampi Buzzouro, washed down with 3 half litre jugs of local white wine. What a stunner of a place and what a fantastic night. It was as though the day’s torment was all worth it for this moment; white washed stone buildings adorned with beautiful flowers, the scents of lavender and rosemary tickling my nose with the breeze and culinary wonders. High on life, well possibly on wine and fig grappa shots, we walked home for an early night. The alarm was set for 5:30am ready to begin the next day’s adventures!