We awoke at the crack of dawn. It still took a while longer than hoped to get our admin sorted out but we were thankfully on our way and pedalling down the road by the back of 6. We decided we would speed up the getting going process by holding coffee off until we stopped somewhere for a break. The only thing was, I’d totally forgotten to think about breakfast…most unlike me! We had some bread and meat with us but setting off an empty stomach probably wasn’t the best of ideas. Looking at the map and reading the Lonely Planet, it looked like Nerezine was going to be a good place to stop and have a look about. It started off as a beautiful ride; some undulations with a lovely sea breeze, but the road soon thinned out and a damaged right hard shoulder meant that we had to pretty much keep to the middle of the road. The weather was more bearable than yesterday, but it was already packing some heat, despite how early in the day it was. Nerezine came and went. My stomach was beginning to grumble, but I was keen to cover as much ground as I could while I still felt strong enough.
After another 30 minutes or so I shouted over my shoulder to Andy to let him know that after bagging the upcoming hill, I would have to stop for some food. My mind was focused on getting over this and I was not going to push the bike this time! The second this thought lodged itself in my mind I heard Andrew’s chain clunk: “My chain has come off!” he shouted at me. Damn…I would never get started on that hill again. With nowhere to lean the bike while he fixed the chain, other than against me and my bike, a rather stressful few minutes were spent carrying out a not particularly difficult task made hard by the panniers and the weight of the bikes. A small road veered off to the right and it seemed like an appropriate place to stop for a bite. We stuffed down a few pieces of bread and meat. I felt sick again. Andy seemed in a bad mood. He said I was. We probably both were! He just seemed to be getting very agitated by small things, which I found rather unsettling. Anyway after ten minutes we set off again, me declaring that I would have to push the bike up the rest of the hill now as I wouldn’t be able to get it started on the hill. Andy told me it would be much easier for me to just try and ride it. Stubbornly I disagreed…and then got on my bike and managed to ride on up the hill.
I was doing pretty well for the next few kilometres of undulating road and was enjoying looking at the beautiful coastal views to the left of us. Andy rode behind me so that I could set the pace and, being the stronger rider by a million miles, he was better able to let oncoming vehicles know that we were there. I was still a little wobbly and passing trucks didn’t really help with this! Up ahead I could see a long ascent with an extremely steep section. I plodded on giving it all I could. “Yes!” I thought to myself, “I can do this!” but it got steeper and steeper and after about ten minutes my confidence faded.
“I’m going to have to get off and push in a bit!” I shouted back at Andy
“No. You can do it, just keep going!” He encouraged, but my legs were jelly and I couldn’t lower the gear any further.
“I can’t!” I screamed back and jumped off my bike, startled by the screeching of breaks and shouts of abuse from behind me in a foreign language! A couple cycled on past. Andy had nearly gone into the back of me and I had caused them to almost crash into him. I didn’t even know they were there. He was not pleased. Frustration was oozing out of his lycra. I knew I was disappointing him; I was disappointing myself, but I just couldn’t seem to get up those hills with the weight and in the heat. I just wasn’t fit enough for all this.
Andy told me he’d see me at the top; that was over a kilometre away of steep hillside. Trucks and cars were flying by and I couldn’t safely get on my bike without wobbling out of control and into the path of an oncoming vehicle. I sound like I am making a lot of excuses and perhaps I am, but I was really a bit of a wreck on these busy roads. Being a pedestrian walking around these blind bends was bad enough, but doing it with a bike was a scary process. I walked on…the heat increasing every step. The early morning breeze had subsided and yet again the sun was becoming almost unbearable; there seemed no shade along these exposed main roads. All of a sudden a huge lorry flew past me. As it went past Andy some idiot from behind tried to overtake it on a blind section of the hill (now I know why I was better peddling from up the front). All I could hear were beeps and horns and Andy was nowhere to be seen. I was filled with dread, but a few seconds later he emerged into view seemingly unscathed.
Eventually I reached the top to find him off of his bike on a bend. It looked like something was wrong.
“I’m making coffee!” He announced, rather grumpily.
I looked around me at the lack of any shade or flat ground on which to execute such business:
“Oh. Is this the right place to stop?” I asked, meaning is this a sensible choice of place. I soon wished I hadn’t said anything as a spiel about his experience in such things came hurtling out and how I could even think he hadn’t thought about it. He was clearly annoyed with me. Apparently my mood all day had been draining him and he proceeded to explain what he felt I should do to help me get over the problems I was facing. Unfortunately I am not a Royal Marine, and such hard truths were not helping at this point, although I am not saying they were unfounded. I just sat and cried. My pathetic-ness mixed with his lack of empathy were not making for a good combination. I refused the coffee (aware of the fact that a toilet stop was looming…again!) and we set off downhill.
There were a few cyclists on the road that day and it is customary to acknowledge one another with some kind of grunt when you pass, normally going too fast to squeeze a hello in. As I looked at the lycra clad sporty folks it dawned on me that to them I looked like a cyclist too. When did I become one of these lycra loving bike enthusiasts?! All the gear and no idea was more like it.
Not long around the bend more up-hill sections of the journey came into view. A young girl of about 15 passed by on a bike alongside her dad. There was no way I was letting myself walk up this one if she could cycle it! Needless to say, I managed to get up the rest of the hills without much pushing. We were making speedy progress and it was looking like we would enjoy a full day in Mali Losinj before boarding the ferry that afternoon. Another hill lay in front and I warned Andy I would need a stop soon for water, but I was quite pleased with myself that I pushed on and went for the next uphill. Not long after we reached the exit for the town called Cunski (aptly named as it was perched right on top of a hill…a hill that for no apparent reason, it took all of my energy to get up). Perhaps it was the little food I had eaten, perhaps it was down to the tension building between us or perhaps it was purely down to my weakness of character…but I hit the wall. Now when I say the wall, I don’t mean that bit where you are training and you want to give in but you pull it out of the bag for the last mile (I have been there and done that and had already done that on this day), I know that feeling and admire people that push through it. What I am referring to is perhaps best described as a hole…a big black hole with no bottom. I just seemed to fall right into it. I think I had been tinkering on the edge for a while, maybe weeks, possibly months. All I know is I hadn’t been there for a few years and then all of a sudden here I was. I got off my bike, sat in the shade and basically turned into a nutcase. In actual fact I was having a severe panic attack, but I think this is what Andy thought was happening to me.
I haven’t had a panic attack in years but at the top of that hill, out of nowhere…I fell apart at the seams. It is a strange thing to explain, because I had no control over myself, I suppose I cannot really say what I was like…I am merely going on what Andy described and small things I can remember. Basically I was a warbling wreck; like a 5 year old crying uncontrollably. I couldn’t be calmed down, my heart was racing, I could hardly breathe, I was shaking and it felt like I was having some kind of breakdown. I had no rational thought processes whatsoever. Andy has never seen me like this and boy did he not know how to react.
From previous experience (not that this is a regular occurrence), at such moments I just need calming down and told that everything is alright. I’m not sure if it is his Marine training or just his personality, but this strategy is clearly not part of Andy’s ethos. I am not putting him down here, but I will say he has a severe lack of understanding of any type of emotional weakness. He tried his best to get me to ‘man up’ and get back on my bike, but yet again the advice came out wrong and, whilst I knew everything he was saying was true…there was nothing I could do about it. I just needed to calm down. Apparently Mali Losinj was only 5 kilometres of downhill riding ahead of us, but I had given up. I decided I was going to hitch a lift (laughable now) and stuck my thumb out in a futile bid to save myself having to ever get on my bike again! No one stopped, nor were they ever going to. Although Andy had threatened to ride on and meet me in town, when I looked up after a moment to myself, I saw that he was still there. After I explained (or possibly yelled at him) that I just needed him to shut up so I could calm down before I got back on the bike, otherwise I was going to warble into some passing truck; he did just that. Finally, after some deep breathing and a good hard talk to myself I got back on the bike. To be honest I was pretty numb at this point. I was so gutted with myself that I had fallen into this place, over something that I knew was not out of my reach.
As Andy said, 5kms of downhill came and it really was a beautiful stretch of road. I managed to build up a bit of confidence on the bike and sped along, taking it all in but I am not going to say it was enjoyable as quite frankly I was not in the kind of frame of mind to enjoy much. I just was not myself.
A small bridge links the town to the last part of the island but at 9am it is closed while it is lifted to make way for passing boats. We arrived at 9am just in time to watch some beautiful yachts dawdle past and then to hit the traffic entering the bridge. I decided to opt for the pavement and clumsily couldn’t get my bike going, fell in a ditch, whacked myself in the leg with the peddle and fell back in the ditch again! After all of the treacherous road I had cycled so far, it was the bloody pavement that seemed to be causing the most grief. Sticking to the road Andy got in the way of a passing moped as he got going on the hill. The driver, who was veering all over the road, beeped at him and I was quite thankful that Andy just rode on by. I think he had enough stress for one day, and decided that getting involved in some road rage with an old man could be saved for another occasion.
We went straight to the ferry office and purchased the ticket to Zagreb, leaving us hours to sit in a café and contemplate what was going on with me and how we could resolve this. Quite honestly I never wanted to see ‘Olivia’ ever again, let alone jump back on her! It was clear that I was not going to be able to cover the ground we had planned in the short time we had. I asked the lady at the ferry office about routes, thinking that at worse we could always get the ferry direct from Split to Dubrovnik rather than getting off in Korcula, or at worst get the ferry direct from Zadar to Split and then on from there by ferry, speeding us up. It turned out that there are no ferries from Zadar going south, another few days in the saddle it would have to be then, but not only that…there were no ferries from Split going to Dubrovnik! I have fond memories of that boat, but now it seems that from Split to the islands it’s mainly the catamarans that service the route, which would be impossible with bikes! Damn! Our plan was falling to pieces stitch by stitch. We were going to need to come up with a brand new one. Change number…I have lost count!