The Best Laid Plans of Rats and Men: How I Have No Idea What I’m Doing!
It would be fair to say, that two weeks ago, when I decided to go on a slightly mad triathlon through the Balkans into Italy and then Switzerland, it was a knee jerk reaction to being restrained. Having just found out that a family illness would stop me going to Chile, where I’d been itching to go, and daydreaming and bragging about for 6 months, it’s instinctive of me to do the most hair-brained and exciting thing within my new, more narrower horizons in order to reimburse myself. And however wonderful those plans were/are, it was highly optimistic that they would come to fruition.
I have this deal with myself, a rule, whereby if I buy a map for an adventure, I will go there. That’s why shelving my guidebooks on Chile, my maps of Patagonia, and the Lake District, the Atacama and my volcanic ski plans wasn’t the blow I thought it would be. I know one day I’ll put them back down on the same shelf, severely earmarked, with South American rain, and mud and food staining their pages. It will be done. So the next thing I did was buy all the maps I’d need for this ramshackle route. Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia and Slovenia, Italy and Switzerland, as well as a Cicerone guide book for the tour of the Matterhorn. That’s why when a week later, having to re-shelve the Switzerland map and the guidebook was frustrating to say the least. My friend Joe, who I am planning on doing the hike with, is having a rather major shoulder operation in June and needs 6 weeks to recover, so there goes that plan. Hopefully we should revisit it in August. I want to do the trek with people and it destroys my chances of getting hiking gear out to me cheaply. I may cycle to Switzerland but the continent is my oyster and I may see where it takes me over the two weeks I’ve given myself to cycle.
Which brings me to my next problem, I’ve not done a long distance bike ride before. Like never cycled more than 20km in a day. I hear the soft pieces of skin in between my legs have a bit of toughening up to do, and rapidly. I’m two weeks away from leaving and I haven’t hopped on a training bike yet. There’s only one excuse for this; I’ve been too busy learning to stand up paddle board and recovering from my first time stand up paddle boarding
“Blind optimism will keep me on the board and above water.”
I bought my board from Two Bare Feet, a nicely priced and British grassroots boarding company (so nicely priced that I tried to get a discount from them and they didn’t bother to acknowledge it! They’re pretty much half the price of competitors). She’s a 12 foot 6 inch inflatable piece of beautiful called Azra. Bosnian for virgin-bear with me because it will be my first paddle board trip, my first adventure on water even, and with my plans for the Danube next year, it will hopefully be the first of many. Also the Neretva river is one of the cleanest in the world, so virgin waters. I also thought maybe some comic relief to any locals I pass would be a good thing…right?
Well I took Azra out on the Glasgow canal. This is the metaphorical equivalent of taking a small innocent puppy to a sex dungeon. We wobbled between shopping trolleys, clusters of floating bottles, even sunken cars and notably, a few rats, dead, on their backs, swollen from I suppose gas build up, and being feasted on. There were a couple of these. More than once I was forced to my knees for fear of falling in. See, watery sex dungeon. The other thing I discovered, other than the diverse nature scene in the Glasgow canal, is that stand up paddle boarding definitely isn’t easy. Moreover, paddle boarding is quite difficult to go anywhere fast on flat water, against wind. Because you’re on water there’s very little friction to stop the wind pushing you backwards, so unless you paddle, back you go. I did a very slow 4km and then called it a day, seeing as it had taken me most of the day to actually get to the canal. Luckily the Neretva is downstream, and even has rapids which will be really fast… Blind optimism will keep me on the board and above water.
The first paddle took its toll. I lost my virginity to the canal, which like most de-flowerings, didn’t go as expected. In particular, I contracted an infection. For a few days my body began to ache, and then three days after my foray into that canal, up came my food, followed by any other forms of liquid my liver and stomach could produce. For 12 hours I couldn’t keep down food or water, until I went to hospital. For days since, until writing this in fact, I haven’t been able to eat a proper meal. I’ve lost 3 kilos and a fair bit of strength. It would be fair to say that this is a set back. Three days of cycling training (I’m going to wait until my prep days next to the Neretva to get on Azra again, she needs to recuperate), and eating. I’m now two weeks away from leaving and I’ve got a 5 day overground trip through Europe before I get to the Neretva. I’m also hopping up and down between home (Sussex) and Glasgow like a overly boring rugby match. So my chances to cycle are dwindling.
From this it probably looks like I don’t have a plan right? Well right, kind of. All I know is that I’ll be in Konjic, near where I start the paddle on the 7th of June, and I plan to start paddling on the 10th of June. The paddle itself should take 10 days and I’m going to spend a few days at the lovely new Balkanarama hostel in Mostar, exploring. When I get to the the sea at Polce I’m sending Azra home and picking up a bike to cycle all the way through Croatia. From there, I don’t know. I may carry on through Italy and down to Florence, or up as originally planned. I may discover Slovenia or Hungary. We’ll have to wait and see. All I can say is that adaptability is key in this, serious adaptability. And a strong stomach… and a few prayers.