12.30 p.m. Cycling the M6 between Trebinje and Ljubinje.
Road sign on my left across the road – Ravno
Stark black print stamped on dazzling white metal plate.
I must decide fast –
Should I stop my journey now? After having cycled only forty-five kilometres? Give up the M6 to Ljubinje and try my luck with the gravel trail leading on to Ravno? Call off my attempt to cycle the entire distance to Medjugorje all in one day? Hang fire for the night at this tiny village less than five kilometres away?
I sure did want to stop –
Flustered and panicked about the soaring UV index level and the forty centigrade heat plus the interminable asphalt road – blindingly radiant and wilting hot in the glaring August sun.
But I just couldn’t bring myself to do so – why?
Something inside of me wanted real hard to keep on moving forward, forcing me to stay on the road and not break up my journey so early in the day.
Yes, but why?
Part of it must have been my disgust at the thought that I could no longer cycle all day in any weather without even a second’s thought or misgiving as had been my practice in those years before melanoma struck.
Halt my progress at such an early stage of my 140 kilometre trek to Medjugorje and I’d feel outdone, defeated, old, a failure.
But perhaps the more significant reason for not quitting the road right there and then was my niggling fear about whether I’d find anything at all in Ravno –
No fine detail of the place springing up on my smartphone map, not even when zoomed in at maximum magnification.
A remote one street settlement – what hope of finding a grocery store, a bar or any other type of shop for that matter?
Yet still I knew that I’d be risking too much pressing on in this kind of heat.
Somehow I had to convince myself that I could go on no further and stop for the day –
Get out of the saddle.
Lay down the forty kilograms of bike plus chock-a-block rear panniers flat on the ground.
Cross the road in one fretted rush and check out if I could spot Ravno right from where I stood.
Squint hard into the distance and try my utmost to detect any sign of village bustle.
But I could see none.
Not even a dust cloud whipped up by a solitary vehicle’s tires grinding down the puny gravel path – merest ribbon of rough track slicing across a vast and barren wasteland of parched soil bleached and drained of all colour by the blazing noon light.
A wild, arid plateau of dessicated, crumbling earth and razor shards of rock backed by a serpentine chain of staccato mountain peaks shooting straight up from a sheer palisade of treacherously steep foot hills encircling the area where I should have spotted my village.
No intervening trees to shelter under.
No shade at all from the scorching sun.
Only scraggy, squat bushes thinly petered out here and there for as far as I could see.
Shooting for Ravno couldn’t be the correct option.
What point was there in exposing myself to more of the sun – pushing and forcing the bike forward for several kilometres over a rutted dirt track only to risk finding nothing at all in the end?
No food store.
No street food stalls.
Nobody around to help or even remotely understand in the first place what this very foreign and weird looking guy – face smeared thick with sunblock and wearing far too many clothes for the weather – was up to out here on his own.
Should I turn tail? Cycle back the way I came to the roadside vinarija/cafe/grille ten kilometres down the road? Wait out the worst of the sun over there till at least 4 p.m. before moving on?
How I hated even thinking about that!
Ever since I started out with my long haul, all summer solo bicycle tours across Eastern Europe, ten years down the line, I have always loathed turning back.
Better to push on for a further twenty kilometres however hard the going rather than stall the pace and retreat for a single kilometre.
This philosophy though brutal and spartan had served me well in the past and I had successfully trekked mammoth distances in ridiculously short spans of time – across Macedonia from the Bulgarian border to Pogradec, Albania in just three days; 900 kilometres across Croatia from Batina (right across the Danube after cycling into the country from Serbia) and all the way west then south to Dubrovnik in only ten days; 700 kilometres along the Ionian coast from Bari to Reggio and Catania in one week…
All of that was gone now – my years of thunder when I’d cycle all day in any sun and heat wearing only a short sleeved polyester t-shirt and lycra shorts and caring naught for the extreme UV radiation levels I regularly exposed myself to on a routine basis.
But you don’t play around that way any longer after melanoma surgery.
Not if you want to survive this crippling disease.
11.10 a.m. on the M6
The vinarija owner’s warning sounded ominous indeed.
He spoke no English but his excited chatter and scribbled pencil sketch on a scrap of paper and his arm stuck out straight at the elbow, high above his head (looking very much like a Nazi salute!) left no doubt in my mind about the stiff climb ahead –
A ten percent gradient for two kilometres, easing up a bit after the initial steepest section of road but continuing to rise up into the mountains for many more kilometres after that!
My only way through to Ljubinje would be up that road and over an eight or nine hundred metre high mountain pass.
Attempt the crazy ride up the slope or cycle back to Trebinje whilst there was still light enough to do so – at least if I chose to turn back the road was flat and I could cycle the entire distance to the first class Hotel In in under four hours without risking wrecking myself completely in the process.
12.30 p.m. on the M6.
But no, I musn’t turn back to the vinarija, less so to Trebinje.
Nor would I attempt splitting up my journey if ever that was possible by side stepping to Ravno for the night.
Willy-nilly I had to try cycling on to Ljubinje even though I hadn’t the slightest clue of how I’d ever manage climbing up that looming mountain pass ahead.
All Text and Photographs Copyright(c) David Bugeja 2016 All rights reserved
To be continued in the next page titled Cycling to Medugorje after Melanoma – Up the Slope to Ljubinje