Riding on the Fumes of Willpower

April 20 – Tusilovic to Ogulin

“I don’t think I’m going to make it,” puffed Steve as we made it to the top of yet another hill. It was a tough, hard day today, one the hardest we’ve ever had. There was nothing left in the tank by the end, no fuel, nothing to go on but fumes, the fumes of willpower alone.

If yesterday gently eased us in with beautiful flat roads for most of the day, then today was yesterday’s evil twin because it gave us a hill right at the start and then didn’t let up all day. It really was brutal. The day was spectacular though, perfect weather of sunshine and no wind and we rode through quiet country lanes looking out over farmland or riding through forests of trees.There was no traffic most of the day and not a sound to be heard but the birds in the trees. Just magic. 




But…the hills. They didn’t stop and the downhills were short, with the long climbs seemingly endless, with gradients hitting 14% and long. At one point we’d climbed more really steep roads and I looked across at a huge tree covered hill towering over the valley and thought, ‘at least we don’t have to go up that.’ Wrong! That’s exactly what we went up, just to add to the pain. At one stage we were passed by a bloke on a Harley and he gave us a toot and a thumbs up and it was welcome encouragement that put a brief smile on our dial to replace the grimace of concentration and hurt that had been there. 



We rode through small villages and were chased by a few dogs. It wasn’t just us though. A bakery van passed us a few times on a hill and he was obviously doing home deliveries. He drove to a house, beeped his horn and someone would walk down to the road and get their bread from the van. At one house, a little terrier ran out barking and as the van was still moving, it started biting the tyres and the front bumper. The driver just kept on going and the little dog managed to chew on the front of the van and keep from getting squashed in a way that it had clearly mastered over time. It was as if it was the ritual and the driver new exactly what was going on. At least the little fella wasn’t chewing our wheels. We soon found a nice bench overlooking the countryside for a stop for elevenses.



Then we had more climbing and this time on a gravel road. It’s hard enough on regular roads but slipping in gravel and getting the slow wobbles in gravel is even harder and those sharp stones are just a puncture waiting to happen. Thankfully that didn’t befall us today. As we rode through the villages I waved to everyone I saw and gave a “Dobar dan” greeting and got waves and smiles back. Very special. 



A roadside well



The GPS was telling us there was a ferry crossing ahead and we rode down a really steep road to the river, thinking there would be a small ferry with someone in charge to take us across. There was no one, just a very old, open ferry, which looked more like a small barge, with a crank and chain to send it across. It seemed this one was do-it-yourself. We unloaded the panniers and put everything and the bikes into the ferry and then I cranked the handle and sent Steve across to the other side. He unloaded, then I cranked the handle again to bring the ferry back to me, then in I hopped and Steve cranked the handle on his side and pulled me across. It was brilliant! Something completely new that I’d never done before. Then we loaded up the bikes again and what did we have before us, straight away? Another dastardly hill.

Load up the ferry
Crank the handle to send Steve across
Now my turn
Crank the handle
And over I go

The day continued up and up and up. The scenery was beautiful and the day glorious. The temperature hit 31C. We would slog up the hills, I would stop part way up and wait for Steve. “My legs have had it,” he said towards the end, “totally.” I could understand that. It was really hard and you could have flipped a pancake on my quads they were burning so bad. At one stage it felt like my legs just weren’t going to turn anymore, it was just a matter of the mind trying to win out over the body because the body had had enough and the mind just had to keep pushing on when everything was hurting. We eventually made it to the top of the final hill and had a 3km run into the town of Ogulin.

“Let’s get a victory selfie,” said Steve, “we made it.”

We’re staying here tonight and no places to pitch a tent so we’ve had to stay at a hotel. The lady at reception was lovely and found a good spot for the bikes inside in part of the restaurant. So here we are, absolutely and totally knackered, scuppered, kaput and conked. 

It really was a spectacular ride though, beautiful weather, gorgeous scenery and even with the really, really hard climbs, I wouldn’t have missed that ferry for anything. Steve did a stellar job of navigation and we went the right way and didn’t get lost, which would have added to the tough day had he not kept us on course for the entire ride. We’re still deciding what to do next. There is a two day holiday here now for Easter and everything shuts, which makes it a bit difficult with finding food and we’ve found accommodation a bit tricky too. We may end up leapfrogging ahead and sitting out the holiday somewhere. Not sure yet. 

So…lessons learned today:

  1. There’s always something new to find and see and do and sometimes that involves cranking someone across a river on a little metal barge.
  2. Dogs really really don’t like bikes. Even when you’ve met them and they’ve wagged their tails and been friendly, as soon as you put foot to pedal they become angry, snarling bundles of terror. 
  3. People on motorbikes here are very kind and encouraging to cyclists. Two days in a row we’ve been tooted and thumbs up. 
  4. There’s always going to be hills and you can’t go under them, you can’t go around them, you just have to find a way to get over them. A metaphor for life.
  5. Just when you think you have nothing left, you can always find a little extra in the tank if you just keep at it and refuse to give up.

Another magic day for the book of memories. A hard one, a very hard one, but we did it. Eyes front, looking forward to the next adventure. Power to the pedal!


Distance ridden: 50.3 km

Time in the saddle: 4 hours 19 minutes

Grumpy dogs: 4

River skippers: 2

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