Six months ago, my friend Mandy and I had decided on a trip to Slovenia. We imagined walking up snowy mountains, chasing eachother through forests, climbing trees and playing in the leaves. She contacted a host through Couchsurfing, and we made plans. A day before leaving though, things changed and we never made it to Slovenia.
Half a year later, now in summer, I was finally going to get to this little European country. Having decided that a hop across from Rijeka to Trieste was just too little of Slovenia (20kms) for either of us, we set our sights towards Ljubljana. First, I learnt how to spell it. We had been staying with an amazing host, Grga, in the north of Croatia, who with the help of google earth, convinced us a mountain pass through the Alps was where we should be heading. I figured the best way to cure my hilly phobia, was to tackle the highest stuff around – so I agreed, a worried smile across my face.
We mounted our bikes for one final farewell to the Croatian Coast. Crossing the border into Slovenia, everything changed. Suddenly, I realised we had left the Balkans. Little perfect houses popped up, with little perfect flowers on their little perfect window sills. Lawns were well manicured, roads pothole free and even lots of little perfect bike lanes! It was quite a marked change from this years travels. On either side of us rolled green hills, neh, mountains, and we could see the Alps nearing in the distance.
15kms outside of the the capital, we met another cyclist. A young Irish guy, Cillian, who had biked all the way from home. Charlie began recounting his debarkle (a broken foot and 3 months of recovery) only to be cut short by Cillian, who had seen the story in the newspaper and recognised Charlie as his bicycle inspiration. Moments later, we were discussing how to survive on few funds, and hence, dumpster diving. I dug out a copy of my dvd, and was about to hand it to him, when he says:
“Oh hangon, you’re on couch surfing right?? Didnt you make a documentary about dumpster diving? Yeah yeah, I’ve already seen it.”
It really is a small world sometimes. Comforting to know that our little community spreads so far and wide.
We spent a few days in and around Slovenia’s capital with great hosts and good adventures. Live music on a mountain top, a squat in an old Bike Factory, a silly drunken night that ended in bathtubs… it was a lot of fun! Finally though, the time came to head out. We peddled a couple of days, through some beautiful lakes and up into the foot of the Alps. I lost my wallet and had to hitchhike back for it (to no avail). We met two french cyclists who inspired us to get to Lyon, and a touring family with the youngest age 5, carrying his sleeping bag on the back of his little bicycle! Beautiful!
Then the climb. Vrsic Mountain Pass is the highest in Slovenia, and had been well threatened to us by locals. By now it was the only way through though, so of course we set to tackle it. Up early in the morning to avoid midday sun, a quick snack and off we went.
It was steep. I knew it would be long (a few hours climbing) but didnt imagine an incline so great. Although in my lowest gear, I wasnt able to just keep pushing – several breaks were taken along the way. Even some of the cars meandering past didnt sound like they would make it up. Together we trugged along though, and I truly enjoyed the challenge. It was definitely tough, the toughest climb yet, but every minute was relished. It was really fun. Like some great impossible feat (in my mind it had doubled in height), accomplishing it would be bitter sweet.
200 metres from the top, I caught up with Charlie and we peddled over the pass. On top at last. Motorists clapped, other cyclists (none fully loaded!) smiled and cheered. And the view – the view was spectacular. Looking out over Slovenia, Austria, and even Italy, my bike and I were pretty proud to have done what their President has said – “Every Slovenian should do at least once”.