I can’t vouch for Sarah – but I was hungover as shit.
As the 7 am alarm rang sharply from the tent’s side pocket a dull headache, slight confusion and blurred vision nursed me back into the land of the living. The second litre of wine didn’t look so appealing this morning. My joints ached from drunken swimming and a night spent rolling between piled up blankets and the cold, rough ground. Suffice to say it was a slow start.
After dawdling between colourful hangover urinations and aimlessly palming kit into the panniers 7:45 happened somewhat predictably. The tent was still up, panniers were on the ground, we hadn’t prepared any food for today (we needed to go shopping) and we had to be at the other side of the lake, checking in at 8am. Untraceable abandonment issues mean I hate keeping people waiting for anything, so my stress face and stress voice came out in reckless abandon. Through some miracle we’d made it out of the camp site (with the added hassle of paying as we left) at 8am. How late we were depended entirely on how long it took me to contour around the lake. I put the hammer down.
The roads were damp in morning mists and the lake seemed distractingly beautiful, I was a bit sad I had to pin my eyes on the vanishing points down the road rather than enjoy the ride. We pulled up outside 3Glav’s little wooden hut at 8:06. Sarah struggled to get off the bike over the panniers and I nearly dropped the bike flat on its side. We both wrestled it back up as the guides walked over to greet us. Smooth as ever. Another fifteen minutes pass as I ride the bike and kit down a side road and into a garage where I could leave it for the day. The stress subsides as we hurdle into a minibus and set off to another hotel in Bled to pick up other guests. On the way Sarah realises she’d left her purse in my tank bag, on the bike, in the garage. As I’ve been riding Sarah’s financing for the last two weeks I was unreasonably disappointed with her and sat back to revel in more stress. While picking up the other guys I took the three or so Euros we had collectively into a shop to buy something substantial – we were both already hungry. I returned after a stressful amount of time in a queue with crisps and oat biscuits, jumped straight into the van and sat back as we hauled it back to the garage to pick up Sarah’s purse.
Fortunately for me, my accumulation of stress beans melted away pretty quickly once the tour had begun a-proper. Our guide Jaka recalled the traditions for climbing Triglav, the highest peak and namesake mountain of this national park, mentioning those who’ve ascended previously are duly responsibly for spank those who haven’t with knots tied into climbing cord. It sounded like one of those stories my dad used to tell – like that hot orange juice into the spine was the lethal injection they executed criminals in America with. I even announced that knowledge at school, in Biology to my chagrin. I got laughed at, so if I ever make it up Triglav twice I’ll be patient with my rope spankings. We took the motorway past the industrial hub of Jesenice and onto smaller roads west, before turning south at Kranjska Gora and making our first stop on the shores of Lake Jasna for tall tales of a magical goat who defended the national park in years gone by. Fittingly, for such a noble guardian, we all sat on his back for a picture while waiting for a second minibus to arrive. Respect, Slovenia style.
Our enlarged party set off southbound in convoy. The comfortable, lazy introductions had already leaked the fact I’m a biker – now Jaka assured me I’d like the next part, the Vršič Pass, a lot. I admit it was a bit mind bending, nearly one hundred tight hairpins serpentine up and down through the Julian Alps. But for me the riding would have been a little tight. I’d touched on serpentines earlier in my trip in Greece, Spain and Italy and found them a little less exhilarating that the wide runs, constant braking cutting away your top speed. Without panniers and with knee sliders it could have been a different story. But here would have been exhilarating…the corners, rising steeply as they pinned in back on themselves, were cobbled. No one I know could resist the temptation of a knee down on cobbles.
We stopped mid way to get out and admire the high pass road and the scenic views it unlocks. The road was originally built as a supply route for frontier fighting in WWI, with a high human cost in slave labour. The idea of fighting a war in these mountains is a bit mental. Needs must I guess.
The way back down featured all the remaining hairpins, each one numbered so you can guess how much longer you’re going to have to hold in your breakfast, or in mine and Sarahs’ case crisps and oat biscuits. As soon as the road action levelled out we were parked up again. We were hiking to the source of the river Soča. After a hungry march up through some pine woodlands the path became rocky then a scramble. A steel wire was bolted into the wall to our right to use as a hand rail for the path which lunged straight into the back of the gushing gorge ahead.
Getting hungry fast and only able to move slow we hopped out of the van in a small town that seemed to specialise in outdoor pursuits and began prowling for nutrients. Ten feet away from the car park we fell into the warm embrace (aroma) of slowly spinning donner meat and devoured it with crazy eyes as we sat ignoring our coffee. Sarah and I were both lagging from this morning/last night. I had a nap across the two chairs on my side of the table. But if anything was enough to rouse a human being from exhausted reverie it was the promise of splashing helplessly around in bone chilling water for an hour. Five minutes down the road our kit, briefing and ultimately our invigoration lay in wait in the form of two big yellow rafts and a grown up river Soča. Lez-avit.
Halfway through our run the guides pulled the rafts into the eddy behind a giant boulder. We climbed out and hauled the raft up onto the rock with us, wondering what was going on. Our guide flipped the raft upside down, exposing the black underbelly and rested it back down. Everyone cottoned on at the same time – this dude was making a slide! Face-plant to eye-peeling face landing combos. Slipped backflip attempts, to neck crushers, to upside down drowning. Our group had it all. With the water being so cold and there only being a limited amount of time you can face plant from 5 metres high we only lasted about half an hour, but that was enough – we set out on the rapids once more.
A respectable time later and we were in another car park downriver, not entirely drying ourselves out at the promise of more ice cold swimming to come shortly. Our minibus misted up with all the damp, warm torsos on the quick drive to Slap Koziak (slap translating as waterfall – gotta love onomatopoeia). We got out to cross a wide cable foot bridge and carried on along a series of small constructions designed to keep your feet dry as you head up-river towards the waterfall. Following a metal hand rail I climbed up a few meters of slippery rough cut stone steps to a wooden balcony overlooking the pool. The place was pretty fucking atmospheric. Avoiding shards of rusty metal and WWI barbed wire Sarah and I blazed the trail into the 5 degree water where we frolicked and shivered in equal measure. I wasted a good five minutes trying to swim directly at the waterfall, but even with my powerful buns I couldn’t get close. We got out not long after going in, skin licked red by the sharp cold.
Back in the van (and finally out of my masculine bathing trunks) we tore our way to the car-train station, for fear we’d miss the only departure and have to take the mountain roads back to Bled. That’s right. Car train. A train for cars. The van thundered onto the wooden slats of the open carriage and we sat waiting while the smokey train manoeuvred into place at the head of the carriages. Calmed by the slow pace of proceedings, the recovering body temperature and a cool beer just cracked open I sat back in my front seat and relaxed. Sarah had the same idea. We let the car train carry us serenely, albeit a bit rattly, through the countryside. The train stopped once before barging into a pitch black tunnel. In every way apart from the ghosts it felt like a ghost train. You know…. like a train. Jaka’s phone (the jukebox) was contested over until the minibus resonated with agreement. Metallica – Fade to Black blaring through the speakers as we laughed and drank our beer in utter darkness.
The final leg of our journey took us past Lake Bohinj, where Sarah and I had visited the day before in torrential rain. We enjoyed a short backstory from Jaka, but knackered from the day and all laked-out no one in our group was keen to stop and take pictures. After saying goodbye to the likely lads Jaka took us back to the 3Glav garage. It was half 8 in the evening.
Normally, getting back from a tour at half 8 wouldn’t be a bad thing. You’d probably have a bimble around, some good food and drink till you fell asleep. Sounds nice right? But not us. Sarah and I are hardcore and we had to get to Venice. Sarah’s flight from Treviso was early tomorrow morning so there wasn’t time to mess around. We buckled into what looked like a long night ahead and rode off into the purple sky. And the Italian Alps.
Darkness fell in the same hammer blow as exhaustion and by the time we crossed the border into Italy, retracing this mornings steps through Jesenice, we had both in surplus. We headed straight for the motorway, knowing that we wouldn’t need a vignette and had all the spare Euros for tolls in the tank bag. But we had to get to Tarvisio first, requiring a certain ducking and weaving through dark country roads, black pine trees etched hard against the faintest moonlight cast across the sky. I got the impression this road would be especially enjoyable for biking if rode in daylight, a feeling that extended past our coffee break in Tarvisio and onto the motorway cutting its way southwards towards Udine. You could feel the mountains around you – a certain pressure in the air or the way the wind moved. Occasionally a dark purple smear would appear high against the black sky. I didn’t have the evidence to call it between snow fields or tired eyes, so I focused back down the motorway as we pitched down tunnel after lit tunnel, the gradient steepening more and more down hill. Outside of the tunnels, despite no visibility, the lack of land either side of the motorway added to the airiness. We were cascading down the mountainside on elevated bridges with nothing but the sky around us and a few lorries for company. I let the speed creep up, the wind was carrying away the engine noise anyway.
At a number of careful coffee and petrol stops Sarah took it upon herself to keep me fuelled. I was lagging, all enthusiasm long gone. We went inside and she plied me with a burger and crisps, espresso to wash it all down with. She admitted she wasn’t really enjoying the stint. I couldn’t blame her – and seeing me like this, hollow, couldn’t have inspired much confidence. But we pootled on, at 130 kilometers per hour.
Somehow, some-way, signs for Venice had appeared overhead. We were on the A4 and closing in quickly. Roadworks and toll booths held us back, but before long we were outside Venice and following signs north to Venice Airport (Treviso). I’ll admit I hadn’t researched this part at all – so I was shocked at the distance we were driving away from Venice itself. Treviso was miles away. That wasn’t the only shocking thing. As a prelude I’ll say I understand what prostitutes are, I’ve played Grand theft auto. But Italy, what?! The one road, Venice to Treviso was hooker heaven. There must have been close to a billion girls of the night prowling along the side walks in not very many clothes. Sarah noticed them too, I think we started counting them, just for our own enjoyment. Revving past kerb crawlers we made it to a main loop road in Treviso, just shy of 1am, 14th June. Like many times before we indulged in a cat and mouse game of finding a hostel or hotel, catching a scent then being thrown unassumingly onto another one way road in the wrong direction. Eventually we found a place. Sarah knocked the doors down to get attention then we were booked in and given a key. It wasn’t nice, or particularly clean for the money but it would do. In two lethargic marches we’d moved the panniers and bags inside. We were very tired, but we’d arrived. We hadn’t the energy to pack for Sarah’s flight now, so after a few odd jobs we lay down and passed out.
It was hard to comprehend that this morning we’d woken up hungover, in a tent, in Slovenia.