DAY SIX CONTINUED:
So, as I'm trying to break a bead of the tire I hear this great sound approaching me: a diesel engine. It'a a van... I stop the guy and ask him about tire repair shops and whether he could help me. Conversation goes something like this:
-"Where is nearest tire repair shop?"
-"In Pljevlja city" (On my route, some 30 km away.)
-"Can you help me to take the tire off?"
-"Nothing I can do about that. Where are you going?"
-"Pljevlja and then to Serbia"
-"The van is empty, I can take you to the nearest tarmac. I'm going to Bjelo Polje (80 km away in somewhat opposite direction), I know a guy who owns a tire repair shop and he could help you."
Two nanoseconds of thinking later:
-"Off course I'm going to Bjelo Polje, I was just joking when I said that I wanted to go to Pljevlja."
Next obstacle was getting the bike into the van. He doesn't have any ramp or board and the bike is to heavy for two of us. Not a problem: Side road where I stopped is cut into the slope. You can already guess: "ramp was exactly same height as van's cargo space. It was just a matter of backing the van to the ramp and rolling the bike in, easy three minutes.
By this time I have a huge smile on my face. Problem is solved now, I just have to enjoy this short break from riding. Only "negative" thing is that I'll have to drop one off-road section which would take me to some caves. "Sacrifice" I really don't mind making at this point
We managed to tie the bike using some ropes and my luggage straps and that was it. Less than one hour after tire got punctured I was on my way to tire repair shop. Funny thing is that this road is almost never being used. This guy passed there only once before, and that was twenty years ago... How much more luck could I have??? Not much, probably.
It was pleasant and relaxing hour and half drive toward Bjelo Polje town. We got to the tire repair shop and unloaded the bike. I asked the van driver how much do I owe him for the ride.
-"Nothing... I'm just glad that I could help you..."
He wouldn't accept any money, no matter how much I insisted. I'm speechless...
At tire repair shop I had to wait for my turn. During that time owner's mother came to me, offering me food and drinks.
-"I know how it feels to be stranded on the road..."
I'm total stranger to them and yet they just want to help. I'm speechless again.
Once the guy started working on my tire he came out of the shop with confused look on his face.
-"There is nothing in the tire. I can't find what caused the puncture"
Well, of course he couldn't find it, I pulled that son of a $#@% out :)
By the time he finished with repair other customers started gathering around me. Everyone wanted to talk, offering help or what ever.
I was bracing my self when it was time to pay for service. But, as I should know by that time, there was no reason to worry. Total cost for taking the tire off, patching it and putting it back on the rim was three Euros... Fuck... I pay more just for tire swap back home... Owner insisted that I should stop there for a coffee any time I pass by.
Speechless again. It's that simple kindness from total strangers, something that's difficult to experience in big cities... It just felt so humbling.
No photos from the van ride or any of the participants in this action :) This is tire repair shop.
It was late afternoon by the time I got moving again. Short ride toward border and without much waiting I'm in Serbia. Next off-road section starts just few kilometers from the border. I'm going to Ticje Polje
, ethno village. Since it is sort of a tourist destination I was expecting decent road. One look at the bridge, at the very beginning of this road made it clear that my logic might be bad :)
First part of the road is steep with loose rocks and switchbacks. It's 6 PM now, there is less than two hours of daylight. I don't know how long will it take me to reach tarmac on the other side. Common sense said that I should skip all this and just take normal, paved road all the way. Screw common sense, I'm in adventure mode now
What could possibly go wrong anyway...
Off course, by this time I'm not enjoying the ride. After that first difficult climb road gets better. It goes trough pine forest and across some meadows.
Once again it's time to push stress levels of the charts:
Rutted uphill dirt road, I'm riding on right side. There are some branches at head height, I tuck my head down behind windshield, slow down and start to loose balance. Bike is tilted beyond the point where I can hold it, especially on slippery terrain. You can guess the result
Wheel are facing slightly uphill, I'm tired and bike is loaded. Few attempts to pick the bike up yield nothing. Just as I was starting to get really pissed this lady comes over to me:
-"Why didn't you use this normal road?" Pointing on normal, parallel road...
-"Didn't see it" :)
First thing she does when she finally got close to me was to clean dust from my back
-"Oh, you got so dirty... Are you hurt, can you pick the bike by yourself?"
Yes, no and no
So we manage to pick the bike up, it's so much easier with another set of hands (lady is probably 60 years old...). Left foot rest is slightly bent, annoying but nothing serious. Time to move on.
After that road becomes normal again. I pass trough one or two very scenic villages before arriving to Ticje Polje.
I was really looking forward to seeing this place. From photos I saw while preparing the route it looked amazing. I was hoping that there will be enough time for longer visit, to take some nice pictures. It was sunset at this point, perfect time for photography. Common sense said that I should call it a day and spend the night here. Stubborn part of my personality said that "giving up" is not an option. Tomorrow is supposed to be a really long day, it wouldn't help if I add even more kilometers.
I asked locals for directions, and this time I listened very closely.
-"Follow this road, when you get to the pass go left. Road after that is in really bad condition but you should have no problems with bike. Don't go right at the pass, that road would take you to village named XYZ..."
So, I'm riding toward the pass. Once again road is rutted. For some reason, or no reason at all, I decided to slow down and pick my line. Once again I loose my balance, there is nowhere to put my foot down because I'm right above a rut.
Look at those glorious golden sun rays :)
I get up, look around and see this old shepherd. This time I don't even try to pick the bike up by myself. Damage to the bike this time: broken clutch lever and slightly bent centerstand, from turning the bike on the ground. Clutch lever broke at almost perfect spot, now I have just enough room for two fingers :)
It is worth mentioning that those two people who helped me to pick the bike up are only two people I have seen on that section (outside of the villages, of course). Obviously I have great talent for choosing the right place to fall down
I was so lucky on this day that it's still hard to believe it was all truth...
Anyway, I was to pissed off to take any pictures after that. It was late, sun went below horizon, and I had unknown distance to cover...
Road toward the pass is extremely scenic. It goes around the hill on exposed southern slope. Colors are just amazing. In any other circumstances this would be very close to the perfect ride. Now it looked more like a nightmare :) There was indeed intersection on the pass. Both GPS and instructions from the locals told that I should go left so left it was. What a surprise: road is so deteriorated with deep rut all over the place. And it is steep. It is very obvious that its not being used for quite some time. "But locals told me it will take me where I want to go..." I manage to descent that first steep section, only one thing on my mind.
-"Man, I'm sooooo glad that I'm going in this direction and not uphill"
After that steep section road becomes better. Now it's regular gravel, overgrown with grass (imagine "handlebar height" tall). After kilometer or so it became clear why this road looks abandoned. There is stream bed above the road, there is stream bed going away from the road. And, to top it all, there is a stream bed right across the road. Maybe two meters deep and wide, full of football (soccer) size rocks. It looks like there is a path across and road on the other side appears to be in better shape. For few short seconds I was actually thinking about trying to cross it, with a bike. Common sense finally kicks in with full force:
-"You're an idiot if you try to cross. You might as well burn the bike with remaining petrol once it gets stuck at the bottom. Just turn around and go back to the village, it's to late to fool around..."
Once I got home and after reviewing GPS data it became clear just how close to normal roads i was. Less than 200 m away was another crossroad which would take me back to civilization.
There are no pictures of this section. You have track log at the end of this post so feel free to find out how it looks for yourself
So I listened, it's back to the village. There was only one thing in the way. Remember that last, steep and rutted hill? Well, now it was time to climb it. Somewhere close to the top I loose my concentration and end up in a rut. Bike is stranded, pegs are jammed at both sides of the rut and rear wheel is off the ground. Few minutes of cursing and shouting later I somehow manage to pull it out. Now the right foot rest is slightly bent. At this point I don't care, I just want to call it a day.
Once at the pass it was time to kick common sense to the balls. I'm stubborn and don't like giving up. Going back to that village would feel like failure to me. So, instead of turning right toward the village I turned left. That road is hardly visible on GE so I assumed it goes nowhere...
-"I'll just go for few kilometers, the road will surely be bad and then it would be ok to turn back"
Sun was gone by now and it was getting dark but the road just kept going on. Soon after I came across another shepherd (by this time it was completely natural to come across people where ever and when ever I need them), he confirmed that this road goes trough and that it would take me to my original destination:
-"Just go straight, with that bike you could be in Sjenica
in less than twenty minutes. Road keeps getting better from here and soon you'll be on tarmac."
Those words were like music to my ears. Better road, tarmac... Less than two minutes after that encounter I came across fork in the road. Fu#%^@ing "just go straight" directions!!! I decide to follow road which appeared to be in better condition. Soon after I see this old Lada Niva parked in forest. Man, was I glad to see it or what! After the road crested the hill I saw most beautiful sight ever: wide twisty road down below...
It was such a relief to be back on tarmac... And, just like that last shepherd said, in less than 20 minutes I was back in civilization. It was time to buy some food for dinner and breakfast and move on to the campsite.
To make things interesting last 2-3 kilometers to campsite are on dirt roads. GPS is useless as I didn't put that last bit of tracklog. There are no signs either. It was time for more luck: At every intersection I came across people, either walking or driving cars. Like somebody placed them there, just to give me directions. Luck was definitely on my side that day. I don't know what I have done to deserve it but I'm not complaining
Once again, very moment I got off the bike any sign of nervousness was gone, replaced by total euphoria and smile that goes around whole head. This was proper campsite and there were few people around. Guy who runs it is sort of famous in local 4x4 circles and there was another family, also involved in 4x4 off road scene. It was fun night around campfire, swapping stories helped by a beer or two.
What a day. It lasted for eternity and, looking back, I loved every single second of it