Bosnia: Night Rider

Riding at night has helped avoid heat and traffic over the past few days. It also creates an interesting effect where drivers don’t quite know what I am (no one in Croatia/Bosnia is expecting a road bike, let alone a road bike at 1am with lights as bright as car headlights) so they give me far more room when passing than they would during the day. The main downside is the packs of stray dogs wandering the streets like bored teenagers (or velociraptors…) which I’ve had to sprint away from on a few occasions as they come flying out of the darkness, snarling and barking as they give chase. When you’ve been cycling for hours in silent darkness and you’re suddenly in the crosshairs of some mangey predator of the night, it definitely gets the adrenaline pumping. None have caught me so far…

In other news, a bat flew through my frame and hit me in the leg last night and shortly after I had a nice talk with a gas station attendant who had studied abroad at the University of Illinois Urbana Champaign but was having difficulty putting his econ degree to use in Bosnia. I continue to meet interesting people in surprising places.

While I’ve pulled a number of near-all-nighters on this trip, the ride entering Bosnia was the first time I actually pedaled past sunrise. My motive was getting past a particularly sketchy stretch of road near the border where I’ve heard truck traffic can be dangerous. Even if I’d wanted to sleep, concerns over being discovered by a pack of dogs kept me spinning, but by 9am I was completely exhausted from biking over a century from Vukovar to Kladanj. I pulled my bike a few feet into a forest, falling asleep until the sun rose high enough to begin roasting me in my bivy. After another massive hill climb I found a restaurant on a large covered outdoor deck, where my waiter made no attempt to mask his utter astonishment that I didn’t know what cevapi (grilled lamb sausage) was. Apparently this is the Bosnian equivalent of asking what a hamburger is. Fortunately, this became a trans-cultural bonding moment, and the waiter happily agreed to allow me to sleep for a few hours in a gazebo in the back of the restaurant. When I awoke mid-afternoon, there were about three times the number of restaurant patrons as when I fell asleep, and I did my best to deflate my sleeping pad and re-pack my bike without interfering with their meals. I don’t believe I succeeded, but my antics seemed to entertain Bosnian families more than anything else.

Several miles down the road it occurred to me that I still needed more calories and pulled into a second restaurant where I came across the first two fellow riders I’d seen since the first days of the race – Eric Verl and Henning Bock. We broke bread over espressos and exchanged tales of adventure before parting ways, heading off on our own separate routes toward checkpoint 4 above the Bay of Kotor. Getting the chance to bounce stories off these guys was completely reinvigorating and gave me the energy I needed to cover some more ground despite growing fatigue.

Continuing to head south toward Montenegro…

Bosnia: grandeur amidst garbage

The natural beauty of southern Bosnia is hard to beat. Unfortunately, even the most remote areas are covered beneath a layer of trash – a sobering reminder of the poverty that grips the country. The smell of incinerated garbage, a distinctive odor of burning rubber mixed with burnt toast, offends the lungs as much as the nose. Fortunately, conditions continue to improve as I’ve moved towards Montenegro and stunning canyons in the southeast have offered a reminder of the ones that led me into the Alps in France.

Spinning past a lake late last night, my final day in Bosnia, I flew past a neon-lit outdoor bar blasting electronic music by the waterfront. After making a u-turn, I approached the bar in search of some water. Delighted to see a strange foreign cyclist arrive at such an hour, a Serbian guy immediately ordered me two bottles of water and a beer. We exchanged lively conversation for the next several minutes, despite knowing no words in the others’ language, took a photo, and parted ways. It turned out another patron knew the owner of the only hostel in the area and could lead me there in her car if I could bike fast enough. I took her up on the challenge and was rewarded with a long night of good rest in Gacko’s only accommodation.

Continuing on into Montenegro…