I am staying at an apartment in Ičići steps away from the beautiful Lungomare which has the massive Mount Učka (pronounced Ooch-ka, differing from rhyming with Yucca that I was using to butcher the language) towering over it straight up from the sea at approximately 4,500 feet. After a few days of doing seaside activities and always having Učka look down at me from almost every vantage point I decided I would try to bicycle to one of the towns on the mountain to get a larger perspective of the Adriatic from some elevation. My goal town was Veprinac, and had plotted a course down using a different road to get some more sightseeing in of the area. I picked up my bike literally on the beach along the Lungomare (remember, that would be seal level), and off I went.
After riding all of thirty seconds on the main road that parallels the beach I make a right turn and I am immediately going up. This is at a fairly good incline for someone who rides about once every week or so and is certainly not the lycra short and Tour de France sponsor shirt wearing type. I could likely put one of these riders in my pocket; you get the idea. Just trying to level set here as some visitors may want a physical challenge when they are in the Ičići/Opatija area, so Caveat Emptor! After a few moments I am already sweating heavily. The tanning lotion I had previously applied is now running into my eyes causing them to sting. I reach down to take my first sip of water, Uh Oh, no water bottle – expletive! I continue on, breathing heavy and after maybe twenty minutes see a small store and go in and buy water. I realize after a sip or two it’s lemon-flavored water. I think, don’t those folks trying to diet add lemon to water – message received! The hill continues, and continues and continues. I eventually reach the town of Veprinac and take a breather. It’s a delightful little town on the hillside overlooking the Adriatic. For those that are reasonably bicycle fit this will be a good workout, and a great vacation activity especially in the less crowded and somewhat cooler offseason. For those that are not, I’d suggest looking for a tamer route, but this is where the story gets interesting for me… or silly.
As my heartbeat returns to normal Mount Učka is staring down at me. Something inside of me tells me to continue upward. Wait, what? This is not a sports psychology blog, so won’t go into what makes us do these sort of “crazy” physical challenges, but for this story let’s just say I get back on the bike and head up, up, and away. The sweat and heart pounding immediately begins. I look at my speedometer and it says 7 mph – that is pathetic in the bicycle world, but then realize it’s in kilometers!!! This is how slow I’m going due to the incline. I think, “Boy, when I write about this I have to be sure to say this is not for the recreational rider.” “BUT I AM A RECREATIONAL RIDER,” I scream to myself. The Little Engine That Could mantra starts in my head, “I think I can, I know I can.” I’m desperate for some inspiration. I start singing Miley Cyrus’ hit, “The Climb,” – “Ain’t about how fast I get there, Ain’t about what’s waiting on the other side, It’s The Climb! Many of my fellow super bikers who I “let” pass me, sort of look at me half in disbelief and half pity. I see a sign coming up which shows a fourteen percent grade – YIKES! I am so over my head, but I keep going. I finally see a sign for the Nature Park and sigh with relief. Oh, the story doesn’t end there.
I turn into the area where most folks who are hiking park their cars and hike the rest of the way up. There is a small park road to the top for bikers and cars, so I start and around the first corner see a sign for 7km. That’s over four more miles. The incline is also extremely steep. At this point my legs are quivering and I’m shot. At some point I start walking the bike, then get back on the bike, then start walking again. Miley is now SCREAMING at me – The Climb!!! I somehow make it to the clearing above the tree line – that’s enough, I have nothing left. The view is spectacular though. The Adriatic spreading out for as far as the eye can see. I would never normally have pushed it nearly this hard because when riding you always have to consider the ride back, but I knew I literally would basically be only braking on the ride down so needed leg power. The ride down was indeed an absolute thrill. I had never previously in any bike ride I’ve taken been able to coast for that long, what a feeling of freeness and childhood-like joy. In retrospect though, this ride was much more than seeking out a beautiful vista or screaming down an endless hill.
This excursion may sound like agony for many, but for those heavy-duty biking travelers who are looking for an amazing climb this will surely fit the bill. For those biking travelers who want a reasonable challenge, head to Veprinac and perhaps return via Kastav. For those non-biking travelers try to take a car atop Mount Učka on a clear day, it’s totally worth it and bring a picnic. For me, it strangely could be one of the highlights of my time here. There have been so many sights and experiences I’ve loved from all over Istria, but this crazy day has reminded me of the strength I have not only on a bike, but in life.
Written by guest blogger Bob Ackley