Mike Simpson

Alone but not Lonely (Slovenia Chapter One)

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 My simple procedure for finding routes and mountains to climb is to look on social media to see the latest cool climb that everyone is flocking to......then go somewhere else. I like to ride on empty roads, not with the masses. Don't get me wrong I enjoy riding with others, I've been lucky enough to find some great friends to ride with but big groups or crowded roads are not my thing.

You can be lonely in a crowded room but alone on a mountain you feel full of life with natures playground for company. The time spent with your own thoughts with such amazing views resets and revitalises the soul.

While in Austria I planned a day's riding in nearby Slovenia. I'd pinpointed the Triglavski National Park as a venue and 'borrowed' a route I'd seen on Strava that included two big climbs. A spanner was thrown into my meticulous plan when it transpired that the car we'd hired was not insured for Slovenia. As it is a spanking new XC90 I couldn't risk losing it so I hastily modified the route so I could start and park the car on the Austrian side of the border. I arrived early ready to start and set off, only to immediately descend a super steep descent. A nice easy start but I realised that the additional portion added to the route would be a tough end to the ride later in the day.

The first of the two climbs was the Vrsic Pass (1611m), just past the Austria/Slovenia border. Rain was forecast this week but luckily today it stayed not just dry but super hot. It is a lovely winding route up the pass but the pitches constantly varied in gradient so it was hard to judge your effort. What makes the Vrsic unique was the that all of the hairpins (about 30) on the northern side are cobbled. Initially this was fun but the novelty soon wore off after a dozen or so. They looked great but became painful and very disruptive to riding an even pace by the end, but why should riding uphill be easy.

The descent and ride through the valley is equally beautiful, still little traffic bar a few motorbikes and camper vans. The road follows the river, which is clear and coloured a glorious blue. I stop to refill my bottles with ice cold mountain water but pass by a restaurant and opt to skip an early lunch (within an hour I would regret that decision).

The route had two major climbs but again I neglect to check the profile between the climbs and it turns out it includes a couple of nasty gradients I wasn't expecting as I geared myself up for the second climb. By the time I got to it's start I was in all sorts of trouble; hot, hungry and in need of a nap! I spend half an hour sitting by the side of the road, eating all I had left on me, with a sign displaying the max gradient on the road ahead in full view.... 22%! I was not sure I could muster the power required. It was an out and back climb, so I was tempted to skip it. However that's not my style, I'd rather suffer like a dog than finish the day with regret. So I crack on up, but it's slow.

The road is actually closed which means I am totally alone on this one. (I've jumped many a barrier to sample a climb in solitude). May is a great time of year to ride on these roads, just clear of snow but before it is home for too many cyclists. This mountain road is 12km long and includes 5 tunnels. The tunnels are cold and dark and act as an excellent recovery zone from the baking heat of the midday sun. My decision to ride solo on this deserted mountain has it's pitfalls and as I start to ride past the snow walls I get a shock. A large portion of the a snow wall collapses just as I ride past. Not enough to have buried me had I'd been a few seconds slower but enough to have knocked me off. I am suddenly questioning how sensible it is for me to be up here alone. Anyhow it soon becomes academic as around the next corner the road is blocked by snow. 8kms is as far as I will get up this one today. It's been a fantastic road and has another 4km to the top that will have to wait. I start to descend and I'm already planning a return to finish the climb off another time.

I pass another border, this time into Italy, for the fastest section of the day. Cycling is different to a lot of other sports, you use a different set of muscles and a different mind set on the flat. No matter how shattered you were just minutes ago on a climb, when you think you are about to pop, once over the top you can always go full gas again after the descent.

This has been my first long day in the mountains this year and although now feeling great powering along, I still have that final climb to conquer. That extra enforced climb back to the car. It's 18% for a few of kms and I need my dinner. Luckily though I'm back to being full of beans and I cruise up it, but not before noticing another pretty road that leads to what looks like an awesome climb with lots of switchbacks. Yep I will modify this route for next time, I'd leave nothing out, just add another climb, there is more to explore and of course finish off that blocked one. I think the view at the top would be worth another visit to Slovenia, so I will return soon.

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