Lakes, Sweat & Rain
The ride north was as warm and pleasant as anything we’d come to expect from Slovenia. We stopped for petrol and retreated into the shade cast by the buildings north wall to drink pop and chew penny bubblegum while the day was warming up. The rush of air while on the bike did wonders with cooling, but in our black motorcycling gear it soon became oppressive when we stopped. We lingered just long enough to drain the red and yellow dregs from our juice bottles before setting out again through stretched plains used mostly for farmland. Rolling through a particularly flat meadow the shimmering ghosts of mountains eked through streams of power lines in the horizon. Late snow hugged the mountains on our right, at the fringe of the Karavank range.
Signs for Bled started to appear not long after. We were shadowing the motorway once again, following the aesthetic line through woods and sweeping hills. Now and then we’d emerge from our tranquil wonderland onto a slip road roundabout for the motorway and glance down at the wide, busy, hot-looking concrete before delving back into the woods. Climbing up out of a final valley more buildings clustered the side of the road. Petrol stations, guiding companies, residential buildings and hotels. We poked our heads into a tourist agency to ask about camp sites so we could de-clutter and get changed before exploring Bled. There was only one, at the far side of the lake. At least that’d make navigating easy.
Rejoining the main road we climbed shallowly to an apex before carving leftwards and down the main street in Bled. The second we rolled over the bulge and began our descent we saw what everyone was talking about. Through a window between grey tarmac and green tree canopy a powerful Azure glittered back at us, the incredible waters of Lake Bled. We followed a curve left through more shops and upmarket looking hotels, through a cavernous tunnel carved from rocky outcrop and along the lake shore – getting brief glimpses of the island chapel crowded by tall trees.
As we thought the camp site was pretty easy to find, the road went pretty much straight through it. We booked in and had our choice of pitch, navigating carefully away from the sensory overloading of a billion German and Austrian caravanners to a quiet looking pitch with some trees for shade. We’d become pretty A* at quick pitching, which left us with the whole afternoon to doss about the Lake on rented push bikes.
Having found some new sunglasses for Sarah in Bled, we carried on cycling around the lake until we found a good spot for some sweet backflips/running jumps(?) and a wee spot of snorkelling, if you don’t mind me. Despite its colour the water’s pretty dense and it’s sort of like trying to see anything in soapy bath water. Eszept for tantalizing glimpses of whatever the fuck the 3ft behemoth lurking around the pier was. I told Sarah, she didn’t want to look underwater any more. Ignorance is bliss.
We carried on careering through beautiful Slovenian woods till we hit the camp site again for some food and another swim to burn out the rest of the days heat. We’d spotted our next objective for the bikes – and it wouldn’t be made any nicer by exhausting afternoon heat.
After Sarah joined me in Bled Castle car park and we’d locked our bikes to a lamp post we went investigating. After all the sweat used in climbing here our hearts sank at the 9 euro price tag (each) put up on the notice board. We’d beaten the clock to get here before closing, but loathed handing over that sort of cash for a walk around an old building. Sarah and I walked as far as we could up the stony staircase before closing in on an attended pay gate. Reluctantly we backed away and made the most of the car park.
As we were unlocking the bikes I noticed a little trail leading out of sight around the base of the castle. We figured as we’d come this far we might as well scope the joint out. Through low scrub we tramped, rising steadily over a mixture of rocks, dry clay/mud and tree roots until we levelled out onto a saddle between a rocky outcrop and the prow the castle had been built upon. I cajoled Sarah into joining me atop a craggy section next to the ramparts, guiding each foot and hand placement and taking a boat load of protesting. We were level with the visitors, mostly Asian, taking photo’s from a balcony within the paid entry compound.
You know when people say it’s not the destination, it’s the journey? That might be horse shit. That mega bike hike wouldn’t have been anywhere near as worth it if we hadn’t made it to that view point. It was rad up there.
Gratified, we unlocked our bikes and HOONED it down the road that had nearly defeated us both. I put myself in the head space where I appreciated earlier, when Sarah had forced me to take a helmet from the rental company. Sarah might have used a little more braking than I had, but still respectably windswept and interesting as she joined me at the flat plains and we continued our way back. Emboldened by my previous speed streak I gunned it even faster down the steep climb above the camp site, with my carving overtake of a little mint green car having reckless written all over it. Tyres burning I screamed down the final corner and between bunches of children, other cyclists and old people milling around outside the campsite restaurant before pulling some air off one of the micro speed bumps and nearly stacking it upon re-entry. Coming to terms that two broken arms would probably end my trip pretty quickly, I slowed and turned back to look for Sarah, who was gracefully rolling into the bike compound.
When we were in town earlier we’d booked on the ‘Emerald River Adventure’ with 3Glav travel company. We’d tried to get the 12th June – tomorrow – but they only had spaces available on the 13th. With that arranged we had one more day than anticipated to chill out in Bled. The bar got hit by our newly developed appetite for Radler as we sat out long into the night playing cards and chatting shit as usual.
We woke to another glorious morning, a few misty clouds tempered the morning sun and made it real comfortable. Doughnuts and milkshakes for breakfast we took a morning swim to focus our ambitions. I’d overheard a travel guide recommending a nearby waterfall to a slow Chinese lady in front of me in the queue, so picked up a map and marked on the location. Now, with a day to kill, we’d make the 30km ride out west, into the mountains near Ukanc for Savica waterfall. The rain had been spotting on the way and the air was damp and fresh as we hit dense woodland. Sarah and I had both opted for shorts so we dropped the speed down to avoid grazing off knees.
Descending back down the 100 wooden and earth steps to the entrance booth the rain had begin to make everything feel a bit ethereal. The mist clung to rocks in the river as it gushed past us and down another fairy glen. It picked up a little, forcing us to shelter under a restaurant awning before seizing a lull to start heading back – a lull that lasted all of about a minute. Halfway through the woodland the rain fell harder, then harder still. Thick drops that felt like giant bugs on my knees. I dropped another 5mph as the back wheel started getting restless in standing water. By the time we reached Lake Bohinj, skirted Ukanc and reached a coffee shop the far shore we were already unequivocally moist. But it wasn’t unpleasant. More like that sort of monsoon rain you get after a long dry spell, the most warm and comfortable rain you could ever have. A cappuccino later and it hadn’t relented. We sat watching a group of bikers pass in the torrent, practically crawling, and after a few quick snaps of the moody lake followed after them.
We had enough time to visit the grocery shop in Lake Bled before heading back to the camp site. What we didn’t have time for (or more appropriately, success with) was finding a knife to chop up the vegetables we’d bought for tonight’s stew. We must have rode twice around the whole town – no knives. Disheartened, but already thinking through different peeling methods, Sarah, the stew pack and I headed back to base to see what we’re made of. Turns out all you ever need for a hearty stew is dedication, a pair of scissors, a plastic membership card and some more dedication. That said, we lucked out in our choice of lamb kofta kebabs- chopping up a chunk of stewing beef would have been tricky, at least with the plastic card.
With some of the wine going into the stew and the rest down our thirsty cake holes we were gratifyingly fed and watered. Somewhere the idea materialized to return to the site bar and keep the wine train trucking. In hindsight the second litre of wine might have been a bad idea, what with the need to get up at half seven to strike camp and get to the 3Glav office by 8am. We hadn’t packed, or come remotely close – but here I was smashed off my face on wine being encouraged to go skinny dipping in the lake. I bimbled along next to Sarah in the dark, threw my clothes off on the bank and waded into the water. Sarah felt the most liberated in a long time. I felt the most cold. As she carried on swanning around I pulled myself pathetically to shore and crouched, shivering until she helped me into my clothes again. Breaking the wine glass we escorted each other (i.e. I was carried) back to the tent to be consumed by whirling darkness.
Tomorrows 7 am start was looking unlikely.