2012.09.04 – Croatia to the Czech Republic

Having purchased a one-way ticket to Kenya, what to do afterward was quite open ended. Sometime during my month there it occurred to me to fly somewhere, buy a bicycle, and enjoy the rest of the summer on two wheels. Reasoning that Croatia might be a nice place to start such a journey I booked a flight, arranged to purchase a used bike from Jurica in Zagreb (whom I found on Njuskalo.hr, something akin to Craigslist), and packed my backpack for the next continent.

Riding the tram from the airport into downtown Zagreb, Croatia.

Riding the tram from the airport into downtown Zagreb, Croatia.

A quiet street-side cafe.

A quiet street-side cafe.

Home at the awesome Buzz Backpacker's Hostel.

Home at the awesome Buzz Backpacker’s Hostel.

Various sentimental objects at the Museum of Broken Relationships.

Various sentimental objects at the Museum of Broken Relationships.

Though most of the mementos to broken relationships on display at the museum were romantic in nature, a few were political or philosophical. This one and its caption was one of my favorites.

Though most of the mementos to broken relationships on display at the museum were romantic in nature, a few were political or philosophical. This one and its caption was one of my favorites.

The caption to the above artifact.

The caption to the above artifact.

Jurica and I pose with the bicycle I've just adopted. - Živio moj bicikl!

Jurica and I pose with the bicycle I’ve just adopted. – Živio moj bicikl!

The plan was going remarkably well – in less than 12 hours in Croatia I’d purchased an awesome road bike for 150 USD, outfitted it for touring, and made friends at the Moj Bicikl Bike Info Center. The center is a veritable heaven in downtown Zagreb for bicyclist of all types from commuters to racers to trans-continental tourers. It provides provides information, champions for better bike legislation both locally and with the EU, organizes events, and brings together people from all walks of life on two wheels. Based on their recommendations I decided to head to the Adriatic Sea by train so my bike trek could begin on the coast. With time to spare before the train that evening I joined in their remodeling efforts to bring new life to the building that housed the organization. This entailed some painting, but mostly coffee and great conversation.

Lunch with new friends Goran, Darinka, and Tamina of the Moj Bicikl Bike Info Center.

Lunch with new friends Goran, Darinka, and Tamina of the Moj Bicikl Bike Info Center.

The Art Pavilion facing the Zagreb train station.

The Art Pavilion facing the Zagreb train station.

Aboard the evening Zagreb to Rijeka train.

Aboard the evening Zagreb to Rijeka train.

And with electrical tape applied thus, I christen thee: Punda Milia! (Swahili for Zebra)

And with electrical tape applied thus, I christen thee: Punda Milia! (Swahili for Zebra)

After a short night at a hostel in Rijeka it was time to ride. The Croatian coast proved to be absolutely beautiful, in many ways how I’d always imagined the shores of the Mediterranean but so much cooler in real life. It took a few iterations to get all my junk strapped adequately to Punda Milia (until then, several innocent bystanders were treated to some pretty comical crash landings), but we soon found our groove and the odometer began clicking away.

The morning sun rises over the shipping port of Rijeka as I pedal south.

The morning sun rises over the shipping port of Rijeka as I pedal south.

The port of Bakar, about 10 km (6 mi) south of Rijeka.

The port of Bakar, about 10 km (6 mi) south of Rijeka.

After 45 km (28 mi) it was time for lunch in Novi Vinodolski, and then a turn inland that brought a 5 hour uphill climb that almost made me put Punda Milia back up for adoption.

After 45 km (28 mi) it was time for lunch in Novi Vinodolski, and then a turn inland that brought a 5 hour uphill climb that almost made me put Punda Milia back up for adoption.

As day’s last sliver of light turned to darkness I slowly pedaled into Ogulin, worlds away from the Adriatic Sea. This first day of 115 km (72 mi) and 1,000 m (3,300 ft) climb with temperatures in the high 30’s C (90’s F) had left me completely exhausted and more discouraged than I’d like to admit. Legs mush, knees on fire, and body beat I couldn’t help but wonder if this adventure might have been my dumbest idea yet.

A church in Ogulin town center during a short walk to stretch my legs before a ridiculously early bedtime.

A church in Ogulin town center during a short walk to stretch my legs before a ridiculously early bedtime.

The next morning I felt better (that's a lie), but Punda Milia didn't seem the slightest bit discouraged so what else could I do but ride on? Here, Mount Klek rises behind the town of Ogulin.

The next morning I felt better (that’s a lie), but Punda Milia didn’t seem the slightest bit discouraged so what else could I do but ride on? Here, Mount Klek rises behind the town of Ogulin.

Who needs GPS when the locals are willing to lead your in the right direction with the help of their tractors!?

Who needs GPS when the locals are willing to lead your in the right direction with the help of their tractors!?

Beautiful Croatian country roads and villages.

Beautiful Croatian country roads and villages.

The extreme European summer temperatures had left many crops dry and in need of burning back down to soil. One such crop burn was rolling ahead of me with the wind rapidly blowing the flame front toward the road. With cartoon-like “race the freight train” mentality (and a clear dismissal of the 10 and 18) I peddled faster to get through in time. At full throttle I entered the dense smoke, holding my breath and crossing my fingers it wasn’t far to clear air on the other side. With little visible besides my tires and the road below, I caught sight of the bushes beside my right foot torch up in flame – the fire was jumping the road at the very instant I was pedaling past. With hot feet I rocketed into clear air and with a deep breath of fresh air realized I had the biggest smile on my face since fighting fire with the BLM nearly 10 years ago. The smell, the heat, the light, the physical exertion, the adrenaline, the pulse of being alive! Five minutes later I happened to look down at the speedometer only to realize I was so high from the experience that I’d never slowed down from the sprint. One little fire and my optimism had been restored – this adventure was by no means my dumbest idea yet – on the contrary it was going to be incredible!

Out of the smoke.

Out of the smoke.

The second night on the road found me back in Zagreb, enjoying new friends from the Buzz Backpacker’s Hostel and pivo through a long, beautiful summer night. We listened to live music, wandered along cobblestone streets, and shared stories of far away places. The next morning I set out under cloudy skies, headed north toward my destination but with the route to be defined as my mood, the environment, and curiosities on the map dictated.

Waiting for the rain to stop. There's no picture, but I finished this sequence off with a nice hour long nap curled up on the ground under Punda Milia.

Waiting for the rain to stop. There’s no picture, but I finished this sequence off with a nice hour long nap curled up on the ground under Punda Milia.

Morning mist in Zabok.

Morning mist in Zabok.

Krapina, the last stop in Croatia before entering Slovenia in a few more kilometers.

Krapina, the last stop in Croatia before entering Slovenia in a few more kilometers.

First international border crossing by bicycle. Welcome to Slovenia!

First international border crossing by bicycle. Welcome to Slovenia!

The town square in Ptuj, Slovenia.

The town square in Ptuj, Slovenia.

Catching up on some writing while resting along the Drava River, Slovenia.

Catching up on some writing while resting along the Drava River, Slovenia.

A pumpkin patch near Maribor, Slovenia.

A pumpkin patch near Maribor, Slovenia.

Entering Austria after spending little more than 5 hours in Slovenia.

Entering Austria after spending little more than 5 hours in Slovenia.

Thanks Austria, for such a huge welcome!!!

Thanks Austria, for such a huge welcome!!!

The Mur River runs through Graz, Austria as it descends from the Alps.

The Mur River runs through Graz, Austria as it descends from the Alps.

Somebody get this Faun something to eat, he's starving!

Somebody get this Faun something to eat, he’s starving!

A city park in Graz.

A city park in Graz.

Tunnels under Grazer Schloßberg (Castle Mountain) dug during the war now serve as event spaces and an alternate way to reach the summit.

Tunnels under Grazer Schloßberg (Castle Mountain) dug during the war now serve as event spaces and an alternate way to reach the summit.

An elevator within the mountain now provides an easy way to the summit castle. Of course it also feels like something out of a James Bond movie.

An elevator within the mountain now provides an easy way to the summit castle. Of course it also feels like something out of a James Bond movie.

The Graz Clocktower on the summit of Grazer Schloßberg.

The Graz Clocktower on the summit of Grazer Schloßberg.

At exactly the 500 km (312 mi) mark I crossed the Mur River in picturesque Frohnleiten and began working my way into the Alps.

At exactly the 500 km (312 mi) mark I crossed the Mur River in picturesque Frohnleiten and began working my way into the Alps.

Mountains here we come!

Mountains here we come!

The ruins of Schachenstein Castle rise over a factory in Thörl.

The ruins of Schachenstein Castle rise over a factory in Thörl.

An exit sign in an abandoned factory.

An exit sign in an abandoned factory.

One of my all time favorite photos. Taken inside an abandoned factory, the light, the shadows, the texture, it speaks of mystery. A visual nod to Ken Kesey's words, "....there are doors that they're afraid to go in, and they don't want us to go in there either, because if we go in we might learn something that they don't know. And that makes us a little out of their control. "

One of my all time favorite photos. Taken inside an abandoned factory, the light, the shadows, the texture, it speaks of mystery. A visual nod to Ken Kesey’s words, “….there are doors that they’re afraid to go in, and they don’t want us to go in there either, because if we go in we might learn something that they don’t know. And that makes us a little out of their control. “

Nearing a night's rest in Aflenz Kurort and loving the scenery.

Nearing a night’s rest in Aflenz Kurort and loving the scenery.

Stopping to check out the chairlifts at the Aflenz Kurort ski area.

Stopping to check out the chairlifts at the Aflenz Kurort ski area.

This is not a bad way to end a day of bicycling through the Alps.

This is not a bad way to end a day of bicycling through the Alps.

By now roughly a week into the trip, my sense of time had all but vanished. I would wake in the mornings when my body was through sleeping and I’d feast on the delights offered by the Gasthaus kitchen. At no particular time I would load Punda Milia, cross off the preflight checklist, and begin the day’s pedaling. I’d ride through farmland and forests, along rivers and over mountain passes, under avalanche tunnels and over railroad bridges, through tiny village streets and alongside autobahns on urban bike paths. I’d stop when my stomach wished, when something caught my eye, or whenever stopping seemed like the right thing to do. I would ride in peace and quiet with nothing but the wind in my ears, and I’d ride with a soundtrack in my headphones that would reduce hours to the blink of an eye. I’d draw paper maps while staring at road signs, make arbitrary decisions based on which fork in the road felt right, and drastically alter course at the suggestion of someone who knew the area. I’d devour perogi and pizza and schnitzel like a shark, needing little excuse besides “Punda Milia’s fuel tank is running low!” I would ride late into the night when it felt good, or stop in the early afternoon if I passed a gasthaus in a town that called to me. With dinner I’d sip local beer or wine before retiring early with no obligation besides putting words down in my journal before bed, if such a thing can be called an obligation. I’d fall asleep as though I’d spent the day riding a bicycle, and the next day I would repeat. There was no pace, no urgency, no waiting or wanting. There was the beautiful present, life just was.

Morning in the Alps.

Morning in the Alps.

As would be expected in the Alps, a hellacious uphill which meant a lot of walking due to Punda Milia's lack of low gears and my lack of healthy knees. Finally I arrived at Seeberg Pass, elevation 1,254 m (4,114 ft).

As would be expected in the Alps, a hellacious uphill which meant a lot of walking due to Punda Milia’s lack of low gears and my lack of healthy knees. Finally I arrived at Seeberg Pass, elevation 1,254 m (4,114 ft).

Enjoying a good downhill run and top speed for the trip of 79 km/hr (50 mph). Gotta love a good, solid old steel frame!

Enjoying a good downhill run and top speed for the trip of 79 km/hr (50 mph). Gotta love a good, solid old steel frame!

The Prescenyklause Dam on the Salza River.

The Prescenyklause Dam on the Salza River.

I of course had to climb down into one of the sluice gates to check out the view.

I of course had to climb down into one of the sluice gates to check out the view.

This is what coasting down a perfectly paved highway in the Alps alongside a roaring river feels like!

This is what coasting down a perfectly paved highway in the Alps alongside a roaring river feels like!

Waking up to a rainy day in Altenmarkt bei Sankt Gallen. Luckily the Gasthaus owner gave me a couple shots of some Austrian moonshine to take the chill off the morning's descent.

Waking up to a rainy day in Altenmarkt bei Sankt Gallen. Luckily the Gasthaus owner gave me a couple shots of some Austrian moonshine to take the chill off the morning’s descent.

A rainy day.

A rainy day.

The first sign I saw that referenced my destination (any guesses?!)

The first sign I saw that referenced my destination (any guesses?!)

An installation at the Ars Electronica Center in Linz.

An installation at the Ars Electronica Center in Linz.

Bier with friends Cigdem, Katharina, and Angela in Linz.

Bier with friends Cigdem, Katharina, and Angela in Linz.

One of the venues for the Ars Electronica Festival.

One of the venues for the Ars Electronica Festival.

When traveling I always enjoy noticing those things that are nearly universal but have taken on the character of that region. Signs and vehicles top that list in my book, here are a few of my favorites:

A Croatian sign about fire danger.

A Croatian sign about fire danger.

A Slovenian sign about the dangers of riding a long-nosed pirate.

A Slovenian sign about the dangers of riding a long-nosed pirate.

An Austrian billboard - one of the coolest lottery advertisements I've seen.

An Austrian billboard – one of the coolest lottery advertisements I’ve seen.

Slovenian trains, way cuter than other trains of the world.

Slovenian trains, way cuter than other trains of the world.

A Unimog ready to take care of snowy Austrian roads.

A Unimog ready to take care of snowy Austrian roads.

I considered buying this Casalini Sulky SP 50 for €460 but realized Punda Milia actually had more carrying capacity and likely a higher top speed (at least as long as I'd had my coffee).

I considered buying this Casalini Sulky SP 50 for €460 but realized Punda Milia actually had more carrying capacity and likely a higher top speed (at least as long as I’d had my coffee).

On day 10 of my ride I crossed a border into a country that is by now beginning to feel a bit like home – the Czech Republic. Since my first visit here in 2005 I’ve only visited in the winter months, so experiencing it this time in the late summer was a dream come true. A few kilometers over the border I met up with the great Vltava River near where it starts as merely a trickle. For the next few days of the ride I would follow it downstream 250 km (160 mi) to my destination.

Like coming home - finally crossing into the Czech Republic.

Like coming home – finally crossing into the Czech Republic.

Rafters float along the town of Rožmberk nad Vltavou near the head of the great Vltava River.

Rafters float along the town of Rožmberk nad Vltavou near the head of the great Vltava River.

A somewhat melancholy return to Český Krumlov.

A somewhat melancholy return to Český Krumlov.

A shot from our 2011 visit to Český Krumlov.

A shot from our 2011 visit to Český Krumlov.

When Tristan woke up and realized he was in Europe he of course wanted his picture at some enchanted castle, so off we went to the Dívčí Kámen Castle.

When Tristan woke up and realized he was in Europe he of course wanted his picture at some enchanted castle, so off we went to the Dívčí Kámen Castle.

A statue in the České Budějovice town square.

A statue in the České Budějovice town square.

Studio apartment for rent with beautiful back yard.

Studio apartment for rent with beautiful back yard.

The 1,000 MW Temelín Nuclear Power Station near České Budějovice.

The 1,000 MW Temelín Nuclear Power Station near České Budějovice.

The Prunéřov Power Station, the Czech Republics largest coal-fired power station at 1,490 MW. (Photo taken during last year’s visit.)

The Prunéřov Power Station, the Czech Republics largest coal-fired power station at 1,490 MW. (Photo taken during last year’s visit.)

The Vltava River is getting wider, our destination is near!

The Vltava River is getting wider, our destination is near!

Approaching Prague on  excellent pedestrian / bicycle paths.

Approaching Prague on excellent pedestrian / bicycle paths.

Arriving in one of my favorite cities after 1092 km (683 mi) on Punda Milia. It's good to see you in the summertime Prague!

Arriving in one of my favorite cities after 1092 km (683 mi) on Punda Milia. It’s good to see you in the summertime Prague!

Time to stop pedaling for a while. (Photo taken during last year’s visit.)

Time to stop pedaling for a while. (Photo taken during last year’s visit.)

Timing for the ride had been perfect, 12 days after leaving the Adriatic Sea I arrived in Prague on the evening of September 4th in time for a champagne welcome from my dear friends Miloš, Jiřina, and their kids Martin, Magdalena, and Marketa. A delightful evening and morning of conversation ensued (as it always does with Miloš and Jiřina!) and the next day I picked my parents up at the airport to start the next chapter of this European adventure.

Miloš, Martin and Magdalena (Photo taken during last year's visit.)

Miloš, Martin and Magdalena (Photo taken during last year’s visit.)

Jiřina and Martin. (Photo taken during last year's visit.)

Jiřina and Martin. (Photo taken during last year’s visit.)

Mom, Dad and I reunited in Prague.

Mom, Dad and I reunited in Prague.

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3 Responses to 2012.09.04 – Croatia to the Czech Republic

  1. Victor Low says:

    What a trip. Seems like your knees have survived the climb!

  2. Ted Andresen & Chris Cargo says:

    Rya What a great adventure. I am so glad your father called and remined me of the link. Just superior!

  3. Dave says:

    I have to say, Ryan- you have a special knack for taking perfectly good-looking two-wheeled transportation and turning it into something nobody would want to steal. I commend you, old friend. I’m glad you refrained from taking this one apart prior to your trip!

    Great stuff, man. I’m a very special shade of green with envy. Wish I had been there! Let me know when you graduate to needing a support van for this sort of thing. I’ll drive and arrange the meals!

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