After waking up early at 4am, I flew to Dubrovnik and hastily unpacked my bike. Everything had survived the plane journey however when rebuilding the bike I managed to snap an old, worn stem bolt meaning my steering was now at the mercy of one over-loaded bolt. Hopefully that'd be okay.
I set off optimistically though, still in good spirits. I began spinning down the road care free, picked up some water and tried to remember to stay on the right side of the road. The sun was shining and the sky cloudless.
Moments later a coach steamed past me, literally inches from my shoulder, then another and another. I guess it's to be expected on the main road from the airport to one of Croatia's biggest tourist honey pots. It didn't make for pleasant (or safe) riding.
After a short 20km or so I was worn out, most likely dehydrated by the 35 degree heat and aeroplane air conditioning. But I was in high spirits as I saw the sign for Dubrovnik. Upon entering the city walls I preceded to carry my fully loaded bike down some 300 or so steps, that's a long way with a heavy bike and completely impractical cycling shoes. As I wandered the back streets of Dubrovnik it was then I had the first pang of homesickness. Whenever I've travelled places similar to this before I've always had Alex by my side. To be doing it alone felt empty and hollow in many respects.
Sharing a perspective through social media (or indeed a blog post) is one thing; but sharing a memory with another person in real life gives the pair of you an unbreakable bond, a shared experience which can never be rewritten or truly forgotten. I find that bond, with whomever it may be incredibly fulfilling, I didn't have that in Dubrovnik.
Regardless I wasn't all that impressed with Dubrovnik. It was full of tourists gift shops and homogenous American style restaurants. The place seemed to lack soul. But its architecture was incredible beautiful, no doubt the reason so many tourist attractions inhabited it.
I left after only a short while in Dubrovnik, glad to escape the crowds. The road to leave began with yet another hill. My legs groaned in pain and I was only a sixth of the way in.
I spent the next few hours battling the hills and headwinds in the baking sun stopping only for food and water. But being a Sunday in continental Europe meant open shops were few and far between. All I could find all day were some sweets, some cheese and a pack of Jaffa cakes.
As the day progressed the tough going and intense desire for familiarity continued to eat away at me. I was praying for the next hill to end and for a long downhill to follow it. That never happened. It was hard going into the headwind the entire way.
I passed through the Bosnian border at my lowest point of the day. I was mentally and physically broken, overwhelmed by the sheer distance from home. I might have cried if my body had any water to pass, I was far too dehydrated for tears.
Eventually after a ridiculously long climb I checked me route and still had 30km to go. Until a spotted a shortcut, a small road only 11km in length. It was a risk taking it since half the small roads in Croatia were gravel, or not even roads. Luckily this one didn't, and the headwind disappeared. The entire 11km was downhill as well. It was just the morale boost I needed when combined with a nice beach bar topping up my water for free. I was chased by two stray dogs though - that certainly lifted my adrenaline levels - I'm not sure how things would've turned out had I not been heading downhill!
I punctured 5 minutes from the campsite. I didn't care, I just rode on the rim until I got there and fixed it later. The stretch of beach was full of locals' caravans and tents so I pitched mine up as quietly and inconspicuously as possible.
I grabbed a shower from the open beach shower which piped up the river water. It smelt a bit odd but to get all the salt off me was amazing. I was too tired to care about being naked in front of an entire campsite. After that I headed to bed to eat a couple of remaining Jaffa cakes and watch the sun set. It was a beautiful end to a miserable day.
I felt prepared for this trip. I knew exactly what equipment to take, where and how to camp etc. But the biggest challenged I found myself facing was the one I hadn't even considered and that was being away from home and completely alone. In the regular and constant distractions of modern life I hadn't even considered what the absence of these distractions would feel like. I didn't like it.