Cycling Brač Island
I spent Oct. 20-Nov. 21, 2018 cycle touring unsupported from Milan, Italy to Split, Croatia this post recounts part of that journey.
Brač Island lies off the coast of Split, Croatia. Craig’s first international family vacation was to a resort in Bol on the southern coast of the island. This was back when Croatia was still part of Yugoslavia. War was on the horizon and inflation was rampant. Craig’s father John, would give him Dinara at the beginning of the day and with the instructions to spend it all since it wouldn’t be worth near as much tomorrow. Craig recalls heaping bowls of every flavor of ice cream and snorkeling in the Adriatic for hours on end.
Some people catch the travel bug young. Some never catch it at all. Craig credits his parents John and Denise and their trip to Yugoslavia for instilling in him a drive to travel. He was a year into his 18 month trip through southeast Asia when I met him coming through Laos. We both thrive on adventure. There is a ferry service back and forth to the island from Split multiple times per day. We figured we’d check it out so Craig could see how much had changed in 30 years.
Spoiler alert: not much had.
When we got off the ferry we started the climb out of the port at Sutivan. There are wonderfully marked mountain and road bike trails throughout the islands and we opted to head west toward Sutivan, a coastal town with an awesome seaside bike path.
We came upon an abandoned hotel, certainly not as opulent as the one on Krk Island, but still worth exploring. We stashed our bikes under a cement cantilevered balcony and wandered around what used to be the restaurant, spa and hotel suites. We even found a school and walked up a questionably sturdy spiral staircase to the upper level. The walls were covered in the graffiti of an artist who has not yet mastered his craft and most of the copper pipes and wiring had been pulled out of the walls.
We continued on, since we had left our bags on the mainland at the campsite we were staying at, the riding was light and easier. Then we realized we had to turn south and hike up a steep grade on loose gravel Even without the weight we had to get off and push the bikes a quarter mile. At the top we were greeted by a family who were building a water storage tank underground for their olive orchard. They said they had been keeping an eye on us from the bottom of the hill and that the road evened out up ahead. They spoke excellent English and one couple even lived in Miami and were visiting family in Croatia.
We stopped for lunch in a scrap yard overlooking the sea. We elected a bashed up car with a good view and ate meat and cheese on bread and some fruit while sitting in the front seats. I had seen a yoga retreat on Google maps and while no one had responded when I emailed to enquire, I thought we should check it out anyway. It was a beautiful piece of property with a geodesic dome, composting toilets, a few out buildings, an outdoor kitchen and a very friendly caretaker. The owner of Gea Viva, which is just outside the town of Milna, is German and she was at home when we visited. The Croatian caretaker was incredibly hospitable and introduced us to the dog, cat, kitten and donkey on the property. There is a healing circle surrounded by carved pillars, gardens and space for tents.
We continued our off road adventure on dirt and the ever present rocks that make up the Croatian landscape. Over the centuries, farmers have dug out the rocks to plant their crops and graze their animals. Drystacked walls line the hillside and mountains of smaller rocks are piled around. No mortar is used in their construction and some of the walls have been standing since the 4th C. BC. We also rode past dry stacked stone houses called kazun, with intricately balanced conical roofs.
I’m not much of a mountain biker, but Craig always waited for me at the bottom of big, rocky decent to cheer me on. Sometimes we had to open and shut gates designed to keep livestock in. On several occasions we saw out of place bathtubs in the fields and wondered how the heck they got there.
We made it to the top of the island just as the sun was beginning to set. We made it back to paved road, passed a rock quarry, and got to enjoy the fruits of all our uphill labor. We coasted back into Supetar after the longest, most beautiful decent through the hills with the red sun reflecting off the waves.
“It was just as beautiful the second time around. That decent was unreal. And we deserved it. [We] worked hard to get there in many ways,” said Craig.
Freezing in our shorts after the sunset, we drank a beer in a small caffe bar by the dock waiting for the ferry back to Split. It had been a great final day on the bikes. I broke 1,000 km for the trip and Craig got to relive part of his childhood.