"We decided to chance it: how bad could a gravel road be?"
by Justin de Benedictis-Kessner, Pactimo Brand Ambassador
Improvements on all fronts today with health: my fever is completely gone, and my stomach issues have mainly resolved themselves. It's amazing what a couple of days of extra sleep and some handy medications can do (thanks, all three MD's I'm biking with!). Don is much improved from his sickness as well, and back to his normal of charging up hills and looking back at the top wondering where everyone else is.
This morning's riding was beautiful. We took off from Zadar around 7 and made our way out of town heading north. We passed through a mostly agricultural landscape until we reached the eastern coast of the peninsula we were on around the town of Ražanac, where the landscape became much more arid: the hills around us were dry and looked almost like the deserts of Israel to me (though they were next to a body of water, so not quite like Israel).
We followed the coastline of this peninsula north along smooth pavement (route 106) with few cars but numerous other bicyclists - a surprise for us after seeing only a rare pair once a day on average. The rolling landscape and tailwinds made for fast time and so we barely noticed as the miles ticked by.
Around mile 18 we stopped for a quick break at a roadside shack that overlooked the cliffs along the coast. Little did we know it would be no ordinary soda shack, but a cafe with an espresso machine! We enjoyed some morning protein bars that we'd picked up the night before along with our cappuccinos while taking in the view of the mountains and the Paški Most (Pag Bridge) next to our fortuitous coffee shop.
From there, we continued north along the coast, heading for our (morning) destination of the ferry dock in Žigljen, where we would leave the Pag peninsula/island to return to the mainland of Croatia. Along the way, we passed through a number of small villages. Those towns on the beach had people out and sunbathing, even at 9 am! It was fun to ride by them just starting their day on a vacation (as far as it looked) while we continued our less-relaxing vacation biking.
After a while, we turned off the main road to follow a less-traveled road that would avoid climbing over a ridge to our west. We passed through a lush nature preserve and all commented on the amazing quality of the road and how great it was to have so little car traffic with us. No sooner than the words had escaped our mouths, the road took a turn for the worse. Around a corner, we were confronted with a loose gravel road that stretched ahead for an indeterminate distance. Going back would mean repeating a number of miles, along with a climb over the ridge that we had not planned on. We decided to chance it: how bad could a gravel road be?
Not great. It was slow going for a while, and Don even fell once, scraping his leg a bit in the process (don't worry folks, he's ok!), but we managed to keep trudging through the gravel and dirt. Dave dropped his Garmin computer which I grabbed when I saw it in the gravel, and some of us had to dismount for especially difficult portions. Hopefully, our bikes will forgive us for this damage.
When the road returned to pavement we were all gleeful and sped through more cleanly paved and low-traffic miles.
We were determined to make the ferry Prizna on the mainland without waiting too long, so we pushed the pace through the last couple miles (and more rolling hills) and were rewarded with a nice descent into the ferry terminal. We quickly purchased tickets, grabbed a couple of drinks from the stand next to the ticket booth, stowed our bikes on the ferry, and headed to the air-conditioned inside of the ferry for the short ride across the channel. Everyone else seemed to want to be out on the ferry deck to enjoy the sunshine - or to avoid our sweaty scent, who knows - but we welcomed the cold.
Even with the cold beverages purchased at the ticket booth and on the ferry, we were fairly thirsty when we reached the Prizna ferry terminal on the other side of the channel. Our plan was to get lunch in the town of Prizna before ascending the 950 - ft climb that we knew was coming fairly immediately. As we quickly noticed, however, the town of Prizna was not much of a town. It was pretty much only the ferry dock. And the climb didn't just soon after the ferry; it started immediately after leaving the ferry's gangplank, in a lane snaking past a long like of cars stopped and waiting to get onto the ferry once we had all disembarked.
We were stumped: should we keep going in hope of a town soon along the way where we could stop, or try and compile a lunch out of the snack foods at the drink stand next to the ferry dock? After consultation with some of the waiting parked drivers and plenty of staring at google maps satellite view on Don's phone, we opted to try the latter.
This was a mistake. We bought hot dogs, which were about 75% bun and 20% hot dog, with some mayo and ketchup thrown in there to round it out. We struggled to down them, knowing that we needed the calories.
To complete our healthy meal, we ate some chips and more cold sodas, after which we figured we were as prepared for our climbing as we could be. We set off up the hill, with Patrick in the lead.
Even with several stops along the way to the top, we made great time. The road (E65) continued to be beautiful: a slight uphill grade that was tough work but manageable, with sweeping views of the peninsula and islands just off the coast.
We reached the top and enjoyed a breather where we snapped a group pictures before deciding we all needed more food than our unsatisfying hot dogs. We committed to stopping at the next place that looked like it might serve anything even remotely palatable.
We quickly found such a place which fulfilled our need for both hydration and calories. We enjoyed some food, spent some time off our feet and out of the sun, and soaked in more views of the coastline from a higher vantage point.
A quick descent back down to sea level followed, along with a grocery store stop for water in Senj.
Feeling rehydrated, we hopped back on our bikes for what we knew would be a relatively relaxed last 15 miles into our accommodations in the town of Novi Vinodolski. We entered the town along a beautiful tree-lined street and climbed up the streets terraced above the waterfront to find our apartment rental.
As soon as Don texted the owners to say we were outside, they stuck their heads out of the upstairs windows and yelled down to us. We quickly were brought up into a spacious apartment that appeared well-preserved from circa 1970.
As we started unloading gear from our bikes, the owner (Tatiana) and two of her sons hung around, talking to us in English (her sons) and excellent German (Tatiana, to Don). A few minutes later, the sons disappeared for a moment and quickly returned with four cold beers for us. We could not thank them enough for anticipating our desires so perfectly.
After some quick showers we headed down to the waterfront to enjoy our last night on the Adriatic at a restaurant our apartment hosts recommended.
A fantastic feast and a heavy walk home up the hill, and we are all now quite ready for sleep. A new country and plenty of climbing await us tomorrow.
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ABOUT JUSTIN DE BENEDICTIS-KESSNER
Justin is a professor at Boston University and has lived in Boston for the last 8 years. He met the others when he was a PhD student at MIT. He was introduced to recreational bicycling at a young age by his father in Berkely, CA, where he grew up. In high school, he started rowing, which he continued as an athlete at the College of William & Mary in Virginia, and then as a coach for the men's lightweight rowing at MIT while in grad school. Justin completed his first century ride on his bike in 2012 and rode across the U.S. in 2014 from Seattle to Boston with Don and Dave. Justin is also a Pactimo Brand Ambassador Alumni.