Touring replaced my addiciton to racing when I retired; I got to do the miles and, more importantly, see things around me without them whizzing by in a flash of a moment. Here I have logged various tours in various different ways. They are not in any kind of order so scroll down before commiting to reading the first one; maybe there's something else that is more appealing! My ultimate aim of doing this is to inform and inspire others to get out and ride.
I hope that you enjoy reading them and please feel free to mail any queries.
Croatia, Montenegro, Bosnia, Slovenia, Italy.
Solo camping tour beginning in Croatia and ending in Croatia.
I have been back from this for over 3 weeks now and the memories are still vivid. It was such a milestone tour for me for so many reasons; it was my longest solo tour to date, I had never done a camping tour alone before and I had never wild camped. All of these things were so exciting and new to me. Even with so many other tours under the belt, this one promised to be a massive learning experience. That said, I am utterly convinced that however many tours you do, you never stop learning from them.
I flew to Dubrovnik and headed south into Montenegro. I didn't even touch Dubrovnik; I am not one for crowds and cities. I kept inland until cross the border and riding to Kotor. I took a ferry boat across the bay to avoid the busy coastal road, it was a good choice as it was unbelievably quiet on the southern edge. I'm not averse to a decent walk and certainly got this in Kotor, exploring the ruins and enjoying the views down to the old town was a super way to spend an afternoon. Leaving Kotor, there is a stunning climb with 25 numbered hairpins, I recommend it; it's a very gradual climb with no seriously steep parts and the views are to die for. I encountered my first comrades on the rod up this climb- two dutch cyclists who were heading for Albania. The former Yugoslavia is a popular choice for tourers it seems. I was to discover exactly why over the coming 3 weeks.
My route through Montenegro took in Niksic, Zabljak (home of the Black Lake), Durmitor National Park and Pluzine. I avoided main roads as much as possible, but even when I was forced to use them they were quiet. The road from Pluzine to the border was particularly memorable for the blue watered barrage it followed. Durmitor was a hotbed for walkers, I stopped and chatted to several, one of whom was kind enough to take a photo me! At the top of the pass I chatted to a german tourer who recommended National Park Una in Bosnia, and the 'Mountains of Austria'. Neither of these were on my 'likely' route. I began to consider scrapping any form of a plan!
I crossed the border into Bosnia through the haze that was smoke escaping from the border control's hut; smoking is the norm out there, everyone does it, everywhere (fag smoke was the reason I didn't see the second half of the England-Croatia match; my eyes were glazed over with the smoke). I carried on North to Foca. before turning back on myself to ride through Sutjeska National Park, a very quiet but beautiful haven.
The hospitality of the Bosnians bowled me over. It's a cycle tourers dream there too- 8 euros for a great little room with a host who was so helpful, cue discovering the bosnian equivilent of a flippin' decent kebab house. It was at said food outlet that I learned how to accept 'a drink compliments of the owner, and the customer over there, and the one over there, and the one....' The overwhelming sense was that the bosnians wanted tourists there, even more so wanted them to understand how hospitible and beautiful their country was. Fuel to ditch a plan if there ver was one!
Despite following what were marked on my map as 'main roads', I had very little traffic to contend with while making my way to Blagaj via Gacko. It was mile after mile of hay fields and arable land. The campsite at Blagaj was fantastic; it was what swung it for me- I would re-route my tour back into Bosnia a little further north; how could I ignore a fellow tourers advice who'd come from that place? The owners at the campsite in Blagaj were like a family of friends and I was to discover that very few campites offer that level of hospitality, indeed I only found it twice more on the tour and one of these as back in bosnia. I left Bosnia after takigng in the Dervish House in Blagaj, the Bridge at a Mostar and several war memorial graveyards. The later provoked a whole range of emotions while touring, so much history to understand.
My next destination was Brac, the only island on the Dalmation coast I'd planned to visit. I spent two nights on the island. The first was in a campsite on the southern side, the second was my first ever wild camp, on the north. This was the evening of the Football World Cup Final, what an afternoon/evening. Fireworks, sirens, discos, partying. The croatians were simply happy to be in the final, losing was immaterial. I met Rory here via Warm Showers who was full of great advice. Warm Showers is such a great community for meeting fellow tourers, sharing stories and experiences. Rory encouraged me to wildcamp and for that I am eternally grateful, it changed cycle touring for me hugely. The spot to which he directed me was out of this world and allowed me to take an early mornng swim; swimming in open water ranks with cycling on open roads in my book and I am like a pig in s**t when I get to do it!
I took a ferry back onto the mainland, coming into Split. Navigating inland got me to Sibenik. I stayed on the southern edge of Krka National Park and explored this by boat- a great way to escape the throngs of tourists buzzing around the lakes. The main waterfall here is stunning. Taking the boat meant I could get right up to it, which is otherwise impossible. I left Krka in a northeasterly direction, via Khin, and back into Bosnia. The crowds in Skradin stressed me a little as I road through; I don't tour to see crowds! Little did I know that Plitvica would see me strangled by tourists.
A long day of riding allowed me to reach a small town called Kulen Verkauf, it sits on the River Una. I rolled into a the first campsite that I came across, it turned out to be the smallest and quietest! I was made to feel so welcome and the following 48 hours make my list of 'Tour Highlights'. Freshly caught trout grilled on the stove was enjoyed in the company of two swiss guys and a dutch family. Before I knew it, I was commited to a days rafting on the Una with a 6m vertical drop to boot. I have no photos here but for me the memories are strong. The lads caught lot of great images with their Go Pro and they are worth checking out on instagram- expeditionblueheart. They include great shots of Štrbački Buk, a 25m Waterfall (the rafting guys jumped down this!). I was sad to leave this campsite and the people I'd met behind, but I felt refreshed having had a full day off the bike and a change of activity!
I headed back into Croatia via Bihac and stopped off for a hike round the upper lakes of Plitvica National Park. I had mixed feelings about this place; it was a feast for the eyes but was absolutely saturated with tourists, many of whom were really quite ignorant. Since I'd gone in on an afternoon admission ticket, and opted to walked the longer loop to the upper lakes, I did manage to escape many of the throngs. The route away from the park was undoubtedly the busiest road I experienced in the whole tour. I sensed it was mainly locals getting irate with tourists, there was a lot of reckless overtaking and speeding. I ended up far enough away from the unpleasant crowds in a town called Slunj- home to the old mills of Rastoke- worth a visit if you are that way! Another Warmshowers host had brought me here and I'm glad it did, Rastoke was beautiful.
Greece, Albania, Macedonia.
Loop beginning and ending in Thessanloniki.
First few days uploaded- more to come....