Another missive from our buddy Joe, adventure cyclist/philosophy professor, this time from Croatia. Beautiful images. Good words. All his. All adventure. Read on.No place is a unity, not if you’re open and look to learn something even from small things. In riding in Croatia, then, we didn’t find it to be one place. But the diversity was macroscopic, ranging over the thick parts of culture and movement and affect. In a single day we might pack up our gear from a woodland camp, take lunch dockside in the swirl of festive Europeans on holiday, clinking white wine glasses and bobbing yachts as backdrop. We might then climb on rutted tracks between centuries old stone goat fences up through half abandoned villages—cherry and apricot trees twisting in brightness—to pedal with our hearts in our throats through uncleared landmine acres, then sit at mountain camp with grinning Croatians sharing their stew and bread and stories. The next day we’d drop down off the ridge again.
Our hours were that kind of glorious haphazard fabric, unexpected warp and weft. The only constant was Homer’s wild northern sea, the Adriatic, always in sight or at least its suggestion.
Another evening after a restaurant dinner, the owner talks about her family’s olives, how when growing up in the era of Yugoslavia she used to drink olive oil as part of becoming strong for gymnastics. She doesn’t say so, but her voice suggests that it’s also a metaphor. With the sun a few fingers over the horizon, we pedal to a late ferry to Krk. When we reach the island, it’s plenty dark so our headlamps go on and we ride onto a dirt track, looking for a camp spot. The riding is rugged, dry. Demanding though buoyant. Water will be hard to find for these coming weeks. We’ve learned to spot the wells, low stone chimney looking blocks with an iron lid. Looking down at our reflections, the rain water is placid in the catch, three meters down. We lower an improvised pail, a cut in half soda bottle with a long length of wire. Jack carries the wire coiled on his saddle bag, I carry the bottle strapped on my front roll.
Later we feel the accumulation of ascent, scaling passes into a cracked plateau with the white gravel track disappearing before us deep into Velebit National Park. There’s a feeling of remoteness that we didn’t expect: from towns and people, of course, but also from the recent history of this region, as if the crags are trying to be a sanctuary from memory. For the first time on the trip we’ve had to put on our jackets against chill and a greying sky.
In total we ride a mix of demanding mountain bike track, dirt roads, asphalt that remains new in the way that only sunny warm climes can allow. We sweat and bend our shoulders against the sky, exalt in long descents and sometimes push our wheels up through thorny brush to emerge into expanse. We visit a Croatia that’s wilderness, that’s jumping accelerating commerce, that’s nearly silent alleys. We stop at the Nikola Tesla museum to have our arm hairs stand straight up near the big coil. We ride around holes in the tarmac where we can’t tell if they are from heavy truck tread or from shell fire twenty-five years ago.
Croatia unfolds to us and our days there are far too few.
Joe Cruz is a professor of philosophy, an expedition cyclist, and an ambassador for Seven Cycles. Find more of his words and images at joecruz.wordpress.com and on Instagram @joecruzpedaling.