Bugger. I didn’t wake up healthy. I pull on every piece of clothing I’m carrying and skulk down to breakfast, coughing and spluttering as I go. The room is thick with cigarette smoke – another reminder that I’ve left Western Europe behind. My deep, gravelly cough and the noisy hacking of mucus probably convinces other guests that I’m also a heavy smoker. Joints complain melodramatically at the simple act of walking to the counter. My mouth is so shredded and my throat so swollen that I’m not sure if I can manage anything solid. Orange juice, some yoghurts, jams and Nutella. I over-chew some soft bread until it’s puréed mush and then take several exaggerated attempts to swallow it, as if I’m trying to swallow a golf ball.
The pity party is in full swing. This is bullshit. Just as I was recovering from the achilles problems I pick up some kind of infection or fever. Of course, with hindsight it’s clear that it’s my own doing. We make our own luck out on the road and the reality was that I’d not looked after myself well enough. I shouldn’t have bivvied out in the storm in Croatia and I should’ve been more aware of the climate yesterday, bearing in mind my weakened state. In all fairness I’d been on borrowed time and was lucky to still be riding at all. Check out here isn’t until 2pm so I go back to bed, hoping in vain for a miraculous recovery.
“I’m bored of being ill in a hotel. Going to try being ill on the road. At least I’ll be making progress.”
I’d slept for 13 hours and was now simply lying in bed, sulking. Eventually I grew bored of being ill in a hotel and decided to try being ill on the road. At least I’d be making progress and I may be able to outrun the storms that are forecast up ahead. As I coughed up more mucus I saw a flash of red in the basin but shrugged it off. It must’ve been something from breakfast, I figured, somehow naive to the fact that I ate only brown things this morning.
Shortly after 14:00 I’m finally on the move. 30 minutes down the road I found a pharmacy. When I climbed the Furka with James we chatted about the chest infection that floored him for 24 hours and the meds he was prescribed to make such a rapid recovery. The pharmacist was very proud of his English skills but less than forthcoming with the good stuff. All I got was a pack of throat pastilles and instructions to avoid anything sugary for 48 hours. Balls. I did at least get some more Diclofenac for the achilles.
“Out of options, I started swallowing Haribo whole, like giant pills.”
I tried several of the cafes and bars in the next few towns, looking for some real food I could eat, but none of the kitchens were open. They were strictly for drinking and smoking only. There were mini markets everywhere but all you could buy was sodas, booze and dry biscuits. Out of options, I started swallowing Haribo cola bottles whole, like pills. With my swollen throat that was a struggle. Large quantities of Haribo isn’t great on the digestive system when they’re chewed, let alone whole, but I desperately needed calories to tide me over until I could reach Sarajevo and resupply with something more suitable.
Despite my state I was quite excited to roll towards Sarajevo. I’d grown up watching the Bosnian War and the siege of Sarajevo on the news and there was a chilling fascination in seeing the evidence of war. I’m aware how fortunate I am to have been spared any direct experience of armed conflict and so war has never felt truly real. There’s a disconnect when you watch something on the news but now I’m imagining the terror of being in these buildings as the bullets and shells pound into them, knowing you are surrounded on all sides.
It’s hard to tell whether the buildings on the outskirts of the town are derelict or not. More than once I found myself peering into the war torn structures, thinking they might make a bivvy spot for somebody, when a resident would emerge. Riding through central Sarajevo you had to look much harder to find the scars of war. 20 years on and much of the town has been rebuilt. While you can still see pockmarks in some buildings you may miss them if you weren’t looking. At a quick glance it looks like any other European town.
At last I find a small bakery that’s open. I’ve passed no ATMs and all I’m carrying of the Bosnian currency is 2.5 marks. I have no idea what its value is. I pitifully nudge it across the counter and gesture to ask if it’s enough for one of the iced buns. The elderly lady smiles warmly and gives me all five of them, along with some change. As I sit on the verge and work at trying to eat them, I reflect on my situation. I am a broken and fragile man, scruffy and sick, finding salvation in Sarajevo, of all places. How little separates us all; just the good fortune of being born in England.
Sarajevo has moved on and so must I. There are storm clouds brewing, daylight is fading and the next 35km climbs over a high mountain pass towards the Montenegro border. As I climb I’m egged on by dark clouds encroaching around me and I chase the narrowing corridor of clear skies to the summit, stopping only to study one of the many war memorials.
The last town before the border is Brod Na Drini and I want to stock up on supplies while I know I can. There are no shops open this late but I backtrack to a service station that has a busy restaurant attached. Over a pizza I share a conversation with a young German couple who are cycle-touring the country. I can’t remember the topics, just how nice it was to have a comfortable conversation in English after several days of sign language. Up ahead the route follows the Drina River, which is a popular spot for holidaymakers and means there are plenty of camp sites around. I book myself a shack for pennies, close to the border.
Ahead of me other racers have had various adventures trying to cross into Montenegro. Some have chosen the ‘quick’ route using a crossing at the end of a long gravel track, but listed as ‘for locals only’. Some got lucky but others were turned back and had to retrace their steps over the trail to find another border crossing. When I planned my route I figured that’s a headache I didn’t need and I chose to play it safe with a major crossing which I could be sure would be open.
The road gradually deteriorates as it becomes twistier, eventually crumbling into complete disrepair. In the darkness I was wide-eyed trying to dodge the worst of the potholes while carrying speed on the gradual descent. Shortly before midnight I arrive at the campsite, just 3km from the border. The host leads me to a small outdoor lounge area where half a dozen travellers are sat around a fire, enjoying beers. They’re keen to chat and I would love to have spent some time there but I needed to rest. Reports were that the mandatory parcours over the mountainous Durmitor National Park to CP4 in Zabljak was seriously challenging. With the checkpoint closing at 17:00 tomorrow I wasn’t sure if missing it would threaten my chances of an ‘official finisher’ status. It wasn’t a deadline to miss but I also had to balance the need to recover. It was tight but I’d take 8 hours sleep here and hope for an improvement in my condition in the morning.
Time: 6h 5m
Read Day 12: You beautiful lumpy bastard. That’s the name of the post rather than a comment on your appearance.