I left Zagreb on Monday afternoon after finding a mechanic to convert my gears to a super low speed for hill climbing. Darco had suggested this would be a good idea after repeatedly warning me of the steep mountain roads I had to climb. "They are really high" he kept on saying, looking back at the state of my bike and the copious amounts of luggage I was carrying. The look on his face suggested he wasn't convinced I would make it.
The first 2 days were actually quite pleasant. The hills were not to big, and I had found a path that wound around the first of the big peaks and took me through the valleys into the heart of the mountains. There were plenty of good spots for camping too. The first night I camped beside a large river, and spent the evening in the company of a mother and son from a nearby village, "this is our drugs and alcohol" the son said (who was actually in his 50s) pointing the the river, the moon and stars. I had offered him some whiskey which he refused saying he'd been sober for 10 years. I admired him for that, but enjoyed the moon and stars with flask in hand. His mother made a catch and smiled as they handed me a catfish saying "breakfast."
I was probably more effort than it was worth, washing, gutting and cooking the fish on a stick. But something about it was very satisfying and probably nourished my soul more than my body. I thought of Jesus and his friends sharing fish for breakfast sat by the lake. After all all the horrors of Good Friday, they recognised their friend after he repeated his trick with the fish in the nets. I can't imagine how they must have felt. But I pictured the scene as I toasted my catfish over the fire, and whispered a simple prayer. Maybe it seems like your far away and I don't seem to hear your whispers anymore... but wow.
I camped by a lake the next night with slightly less enjoyable company, a couple of guys had found the spot too, and seemed unaware, or unconcerned of me sleeping as they blared music from the car stereo and shouting, and smashing bottles on the ground well past midnight. I woke that morning a little tired, but a quick dive in the lake soon freshened me up. This is it. I thought to myself. No more winding through valleys anymore, I have to go up. I felt very small in comparison to the great peaks that surrounded me... it seemed, in every direction.
As I started to climb I quickly became very glad of my new gears, and steadily made my way up the mountain. I had found a road that was mostly shaded by trees but still my body was dripping with sweat. The highest pass I would have to make was just over 900 meters but it wasn't simply a case of up and over, the road went up and down again and again. Normally I enjoy down hill, but after you have laboured over a 100 meter incline, to find yourself dropping back to where you started in a matter of minuets is quite disheartening. After many hours and buckets of sweat I finally made it to the top and to the lake I had spotted as a good camping site. I was almost delirious with exhaustion, by body so tired I felt as though I was floating. The views had been incredible though, I made myself stop often just to soak it in. Wow. Was all I could think, that and, your mad. Many of the locals seemed to agree laughing and honking there horns as I rode passed.
I reached the lake just as night was falling and after reading a sign saying no camping or fires. I decided to hide myself a little way into the wood so not the be seen... That was a mistake.
It was 4 in the morning when I woke to the sound of loud grunting and the heavy thud of of paws. By the sound of it, it could only have been 30 meters form my camp. I could hear my heart pumping through my chest, and I lay there completely still. I had been told this was the best thing to do, if ever was to encounter bears. But i think if I had been told it was best to run I couldn't have, I was frozen with fear. As quietly as i could i pulled my sleeping bag over my head hoping to hide my scent. For 10 minuets the creature trumped and grunted around the camp. For a moment I though I heard it coming closer, and fear gripped me. I had just been reading one ofmy favourite psalms earlier that day, my focus before had been on the words "I look to the mountains, but where does my strength come from", but now I was very much focused on the bit about "the moon not harming you by night" it wasn't the moon that bothered me right now but I don't think that's write the writer meant either. I said the words over in my head, hoping they were true. In the back of my mind I thought about friends and family I had lost to tragic accidents and thought, people still die though. The sounds came closer, maybe 10-20 meters away, i didn't care to look, my body was so tense you could had snapped me in two. Finally the creature went past and I finally allowed myself to breath as I heard the noises go off into the distance. I lay there quite and still for some time after that. My mind was a rush of relief and terror. Wow, I thought to myself. I almost laughed, I almost cried. After I was sure the sounds had gone I fumbled my way out of my hammock and still trembling I crept my way down to the road. I waited out the rest of the night lying on the floor with nothing but my sleeping bag praying for dawn to come...
When dawn finally broke it was as if I had awoken from some crazy dream. I hesitantly made my way back into the wood to collect the things I had abandoned in my haste. A cup of tea did well to calm my nerves and the beating of my heart eventually returned its usual tempo.
It was overcast and cool as I made my way over the last of the mountain passes. I was still giddy with adrenalin and my legs like jelly. But i continued on, picturing the sea and a cold beer. They had been magnificent, beautiful, terrifying, and very big I agreed with Darco. But I had made it! I passed the last ridge and the roads went down...
When I saw the sea I was nearly overcome. There was something very final about the vast blue expanse in front of me. The last time I had seen the ocean was as I took the ferry from Dover to Calais. I thought back through all the different counties, thousands of kilometres, people, experiences, mountains... All I could do was whisper a simple Thankyou. This is mad. This is incredible.
I woke up this morning to the sound of the sea lapping against the shore. I had slept under the stars on a quiet beach on the island of Krk on the Adriatic Sea after making some shows in the main town that evening. When my eyes opened to see the sun rising above the water, Wow and Thankyou uttered from my lips once more.