Sunday, December 20, 2015

The crash and the Flat and the 4000m Elevation Day

Well, I’m back in Germany and proud to report to you that there was only one crash and one flat and they both happened at the same time. Picture this: A curvy road alongside a canyon is in construction and a piece of mountain is in the way. So what do they do? They blow a hole directly through it. (Also known as a tunnel.) They don’t get far enough to think about the fact that mountains aren’t transparent and that that means they’re dark inside… but to be fair, most are short enough to make your way through without lights. Flash forward however many years to when there’s a lone Canadian girl riding along this beautiful landscape…

I’m happily cruising along, repeatedly being distracted by the turquoise water that is the pot of gold at the centre of the majestic meeting of two mountains – the Piva Canyon. I come up to yet another tunnel and am suddenly enveloped into pitch blackness. I can see the other side in the distance though, so I continue on with just a slight higher level of caution, pointing in the general direction of the light. That doesn’t last long though, and soon I hit gravel and then am skidding along the edge before I’m lying in the dirt, listening to the sound of my tire deflating. On the wrong side of the road. I lie there for what feels like 10 minutes, repeating the same two explicit words, as everything else seems to have escaped my vocabulary. And then I fumble around to find my headlamp which triggers words like “You’re extremely stupid,” to come back to memory. I unclip and untangle myself from my bike and bags and then shakily find my way out of the tunnel. I set up my workshop on the side of the road and start patching up the tube. There’s an alarming amount of car horns echoing down the canyon, bouncing off the rocky walls. I’ve located the hole (finally), when a parade of cars drives by, honking and waving. The plates are Bosnian, so I’m not surprised by their friendliness, yet still feel like a mini celebrity… and then the newly wed couple zooms by in their BMW decorated in ribbons. Once I’ve got everything back in working order, I notice the stinging sensation on my foot. I stick a tissue in between my slightly bleeding ankle and my now ripped smartwools, and I’m set to continue!
A few kilometers later a rusted bent metal sign to “Zabljac” points directly into the mountainside. I stop to look at my map, feeling apprehensive about the darkness of this tunnel that didn’t seem to have an end. Sure enough, this was my turn. I put the map away and then pull it out again, wondering if there’s any way I can avoid this. As it turns out, the tunnel isn’t all that long and leads to a series of very steep switchbacks.

That’s the beginning of the non-stop climb. Except, thinking back now, it couldn’t have been non-stop because unfortunately, the top wasn’t at 4000m. Logic and stuff I guess. I had been riding for a good 5 hours when I got to a more forgiving section in the heart of the Durmitor National Park, that also had some breathtaking views. There’s an unfortunate lack of photos though, as I was too worried about making it to Zabljak before dark…
I’m starting to bonk and pull out the only food I had – a bag of granola. I look around and check my map trying to guess how much farther I had to go, in both the horizontal and vertical direction. A sign behind me points in various directions. Zabljac is on the bottom and the distance is 35km. In the direction I came from. I take a moment to break down. Then I decide to trust the map and continue on, climbing two more set of switchbacks until I reach a promising mountain-pass-like sign. It’s quite chilly up here!
I watch the sunset as I suit up for the ride down. Glooooriouuus!
I arrive in Zabljak in the dark and go directly to the grocery store, struggling not to buy everything in sight. Then I check my email and learn the hostel I wanted to stay at is closed for the season. I take the closest hotel in sight and have a glorious hot shower and pass out in a queen size bed. Life’s good.

The lesson: Bikemap.com doesn’t lie and 4000m is too much for one day on a bag of granola.