The cobblestone corner and corner sign characteristic of the
north side of Vrsic
this is the third of over 30 corners on the way to the top.
This day was one of the BIG days of this tour. Much of my routing is designed around big days, e.g. I want to ride that so I route to get there. Todays ride, Vrsic pass in the Triglav National Park, was my main routing point in Slovenia. Vrsic isn't that big a climb, only 800 meters, but it does that 800 meters in less than10 km of actual climbing. The sign where the climb starts (and the sign where the descent starts down the other side) says 14 %, 9 km. Now 800/9000 is only about 9%, which the true, average grade. The 14 % grade is just the steepest of the many different grades on the way up. However, when you are climbing it on a loaded bike, it is a hard climb with some of the 14% slopes near the top where your legs are really tired. 800 meters in about 6 miles requires very low gearing and means that your body will be operating outside its efficient range. I was riding at 3 to 4 mph most of the way. It is hard to ride a loaded bike much slower than 3 mph.
Starting out does not mean starting up
There are several km of flat riding before
the actual climb begins
It was relatively cool with a rain forest feel near the bottom
But hotter when the trees thin out.
There are still some trees at the pass, but no shade on the road
There are several climatic zones on the way up, starting with forest and ending with alpine meadows near the top. Since I was putting out a lot of heat and the climate was relatively humid, all of my clothing was saturated with sweat long before I got to the top. Getting to the top pushed me near my limits. I had to stop several times in the last few km, and I actually walked my bike up one, very steep, 100 foot section. My last stop was about 1 km from the top.
Looking back from my last stop before the top
After struggling to get through that last 100 m of vertical, I took a rest and cool down break before heading down the other side. I wrung a good bit of water out of my shirt, let it dry for a while, then put on my wind vest and a dry pair of gloves before heading down. The south side is just as steep and seems to have just about as many switch backs as the north side. Fortunately it doesn't have cobblestone corners. It was a real work out for my brakes even without having to slow more for rough, low traction, corners.
The river valley at the bottom of the pass
I'm still in that valley as I create this page
There was some repair going on part way down the north side that delayed me a bit and then there was the tour bus that I caught up with. On the way up, I was passed by two huge tour buses. Those buses can just barely get around the switchback corners. The first one passed me were I had stopped in a corner with my bike on the edge of the road. He wasn't sure he could make it through the corner with my bike there. He had about half a foot to spare. I got off the road when the second bus came up behind me. The third bus, the one I caught up with on the way down, stopped for each corner. I was able to slip past as the driver set up for a corner, but there was no way a car could pass the bus in either direction. That means that all traffic coming up must wait at the bottom for the bus to pass. All traffic coming down , just has to stay behind the bus. Well, all four wheeled traffic. There were a lot of motorcycles and a few bicycles on the road today.
I was the only bicycle I saw climbing the north side. I did see a few bicycles descending, but they had obviously not ridden up. I saw one bicyclist ascending the steep part of the climb from the south. He was grinding along with a grimace on his face. I think he needed lower gearing! I did see a number of recreational riders in the river valley where the climbing wasn't so steep.
Bicyclist in the rock shelter that covers part of the road
After I got down to the valley proper, I had a fairly strong headwind, that just about cancelled out the gentle slope of the road. My legs protested a lot when I had to climb even small hills, and riding was OK, but not especially enjoyable. I think I was suffering from scenery overload as well. There is just so much beauty in these mountains, that I really can't begin to take it all in. I did, deservedly, get beeped at by a car for riding in the middle of the road while staring up at the mountains.
Looking down on the river and the valley
The mountains on the east of the valley are in Triglav. The mountains on the west form the border with Italy. Both are thousands of feet above the valley. It made me think of riding next to the Black Mountains in North Carolina, only the mountains were on both sides. Spectacular, and on such a large scale that it is very hard to photograph. These mountains simply cover almost all of the sky when you look up to either side!
I stopped in Bovec, which is nestled against a wall of mountains, for lunch. I ate at a fancy hotel and I took a long time to give my legs a chance to recover. I ate a lot of meat since that seemed to be what my body wanted. It worked; riding was better and my legs felt almost normal for the next few hours.
After Triglav ends, the mountain become simply big hills
Routing in a river valley is easy - you only have up or down the valley to choose from. At Kobaird, another valley comes in from the west and I found my self heading west - good compass! - instead of south. I took a break and checked my mapping software. Since I didn't want to go to Italy yet, I found my way back to the road down the river. It is only half a dozen miles to Italy from Kobaird, and it narrows to only a couple of miles as you go down the river. Of course, except at Kobaird, those miles involve climbing over a big hill. Still, the villages feel more Italian here.
I stopped for the evening - it was only 5 PM, and I had ridden less than 100 km, but I was tired - at Tolmin. Tolmin, like Kobaird and Bovec, has lots of folks involved with recreation on the river. Kayaking and rafting are very popular. So are parasails, judging from the number I saw above the hill on the way down. Looking at the map after I got here, I realized that the first parasails I saw were probably over Italy!
I stopped at the hotel on the right hand side of the main square, got a relatively expensive room - their last room - cleaned up and went next door to the tourist information center. They have free, high quality, internet access that I used to check my mail and upload my last two ride reports. I also had a good visit with the fellow who was running the place. I learned a lot about this area as well as some new things about Slovenia. He also helped me with my spelling of Slovenian place names. I have a hard enough time with English spelling! Tolmin, like Kobaird, fells like a good tourist place. Bled, yesterday, felt way too touristy, sort of like Bar Harbor, Maine. Tolmin and Kobaird feel like fun places which are not over run by tourists.