Travelogue August 31st: We are sitting in an apartment with our friends, Susan and James, in Split, Croatia. The air conditioner is turned on high and none of us care to move (except maybe for a trip to the kitchen). Our legs are exhausted. We are sleep deprived. And, after a week on a boat with a bunch of friendly Germans who knew how to party (and still cycle the mountains the next day), we are basking in stillness and silence.
We are in recovery mode from our crazy, wonderful, VERY HARD bike trip around the Dalmatian Islands in Croatia last week.
We set out from Trogir on August 23rd, on a wooden boat that was, dare I say, feeling its age. Each day our little boat docked at a different island and we set out on our bikes to climb the steep, towering peaks of mountain that begin almost immediately out of each port of call. I do not jest: a 10k climb at a 10% grade with no warm up for the legs was not unusual. But, the reward was more than fair: Stunning views of the deep blue Adriatic and the string of dots — neighboring islands — that served as bread crumbs on the sea for our little boat to follow each day. The captain (a crusty old sailor who always, always, wore a nautical striped shirt and put out a mean plate of grilled fish at lunch) usually let us out on one side of the island and picked us up on the opposite side. So after a fast, soaring descent from the top of the peaks to our waiting boat in the port below, it was back on board for a light lunch, followed by a swim in a beautiful, quiet cove en route to the next bread crumb.
Before I go too much further in describing this magical trip, I should take a moment to stress an important point: This was not a luxury cruise. We slept on bunks in tiny, closet-like enclosures with no ventilation — until it got too hot, whereupon ugly fights broke out over the chairs on the top deck. After cycling each day, we washed our clothes out and hung them on lines around the boat (we must have looked like the sea version of The Clampets). We got caught in a vicious thunderstorm at the top of the mountain one day and with no sag wagon support, the only option was to ride through the jagged lightning strikes. I got bit by a poisonous spider and my face swelled up like a balloon (no sick bay on board, obviously)….
It was all so very, very worth it. Like our cycling trip to Sicily a few years ago, our trip through the Dalmatian Islands goes down in the record books as one of my all-time favorites.
Each island was a step back in time. Even with the growth of tourism in Croatia, most islands still have very small populations and many offer only a handful of accommodation options. The sea is still clean and clear and unspoilt — and the most amazing shade of blue. Food is simple, but always fresh, since there really isn’t any other option. In short, unlike some of the more popular — and very crowded — tourist destinations on the mainland, a trip around the islands provides a glimpse of the magic that put Croatia on the map for tourism in the first place.
I truly couldn’t pick a favorite day or favorite island. I loved Hvar and Korcula (who doesn’t) but I also loved quiet little Sipan, with its abandoned summer palaces, dilapidated churches, and wild lavender. I loved Ston with its 7 kilometer “European wall of China”, but I also loved Orac, even with the vicious little thunderstorm it served up just at the moment my legs were screaming “I cannot pedal any further” (clearly not an option). And I loved getting to know our bike guides, Dario and “Crash”, who listened to us whine, nodded politely and then gently pushed us off the boat and onto the bike each day (“Ok, now we drive the bike up the mountain…let’s go”).
Most of all, I loved being in the saddle with my pal Susan again (watching her do amazing yoga on the top deck of the boat was pretty cool too). We’ve had some grand adventures together — including Ironman — but pedaling up those towering peaks past the wild lavender with my friend, listening to the quiet (and to our heavy breathing), thinking about the dip to come in the crisp sea….it doesn’t get much better than that. One night at a bar on Sipan, we shared a margarita with two English ladies in their 70’s. Now widows, Pam and June told us all about their 50 year friendship and the many places they had traveled together. I hope that I’m still island hopping (and cycling) with Super Susan in 20 years.
Bottom line: If you love cycling, kick-ass mountains, ancient history, and the sea, book now for next year. These trips apparently fill up fast. [Side note: I’ll post a travel guide soon with some options for tours, including a self-guided option.]
On to Dubrovnik…
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