The Last Push

Trip Start Oct 26, 2006
Trip End Aug 2007

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Flag of France  ,
Wednesday, August 22, 2007

10 countries, 9 languages we knew little of, 72 days of riding, 5300 kilometers of riding, 61240 meters of climbing, 4 ferries, 3 trains, 3 buses, 1 ride in a bread truck, 59 days in a tent, 0C to 40C temperatures, 2 replaced chains, 1 broken spoke, 1 roll of duct tape and we arrived back in Les Terrasses really eager to put on a pair of jeans and a cotton shirt.
The last push on our tour took us from Alan and Eva's farm in Hungary, briefly through Croatia, across Slovenia, through the Italian Dolomites, through the Italian Alps, then back into the southern French Alps finishing back to where we spent the winter.
Hungary and Croatia
We spent 3 days of riding mostly along the Drava river, through wine country and corn fields to get to Slovenia.  As we traveled west toward Slovenia we noticed the houses get nicer, the tractors get bigger and shinier, the roads get blacker and smoother, the cars nicer, the hills get larger, and the surroundings greener and lusher.  The first two nights of being back on the road we spent doing our first bit of "rogue" camping.  The first in a Hungarian park on the Drava river a stones throw from Croatia.  The second was at a rock quarry near Croatia's largest reservoir.  The third night was in a cozy Croatian pension after a day of riding in the rain.
We loved Slovenia.  We spent about of week of riding from the rolling farmlands in the southeast portion of the country to the Slovenian Alps located in the northwest portion of the country.  It reminded us a lot like France except a little slower and less developed.  Our time in Slovenia was all good but the highlights were definitely the night we stayed camping outside a bed and breakfast located at the end of a mountain valley and our time around the national park.
It is funny how more often than not our more memorable stays have been the ones where we had no plan where we were going to sleep.  At the end our second day in Slovenia we rolled into the town of Vransko eagerly looking for that triangle that signifies a campground.  We got to the end of the town when I had given up, but Holly noticed a small sign signifying camping up the valley.  At the end of the road we came across this nice little bed and breakfast right next to a trout pond.  There were no tents or campers around so we wondered if we had found the right place.  When we asked about camping and he saw we were on bicycles he was eager to set us up.  He took us over to a grass area situated between the trout pond and mountain stream.  After a night at a noisy full campground this was perfect.  We celebrated our fortune with a nice cold beer on their deck.  Halfway through our beer the owner treated us to some of his homemade liquor.  We had already bought groceries for dinner but decided it would be nice to eat here.  When asked what was on the menu the answer was trout.  That is it.  It sounded good to us.  We didn't actually see the owner take the net and pull the trout out of the pond, but lets not ruin a good story, for it was certainly fresh and the best trout we have ever had.  After a peaceful night's sleep we awoke to the owner bringing us two piping hot cups of coffee.  The owner's story is a great one.  He and his wife had worked in Germany for their careers before they decided to buy this old mill and turn it into a bed and breakfast.  He was obviously a skilled craftsman, for the work he did on the place was amazing.  They were two wonderful people.
Our friend Craig has a buddy who is Slovenian.  He suggested a loop in the northwest corner of the country that went in and out of Triglavski National Park.  Our last three days in the country were spent riding and camping along a portion of the loop.  Being their only national park they obviously put a lot of pride and money into it.  The first portion of the route was from Kransjska Gora over Vrsic pass to Bovec.  It is a beautiful scenic road which cuts directly through the park.  Bovec it turns out is somewhat of a kayaking Mecca.  The campground we stayed at had to be 90% kayakers which made for a great atmosphere.  We took a rest day to watch some kayaking, wait out a rain storm, and rest the legs before we entered the Dolomites.
When I asked Danielle and Enrico if they had any suggestions for our route through Italy, Danielle didn't just respond with a couple sights to see.  He emailed back a full itinerary complete with maps and towns to pass through.  How great is that?  His route took us from the Passo di Predil which separates Slovenia from Italy, through the heart of the Dolomites to Brescia, then from Torino through the Italian Alps into France.  It is no wonder we saw so many cyclists on this last push.  We traveled along through many of the great roads famed by the Giro d'Italia.  It was great!  Although I think I did hear Holly cursing Danielle's name on the way up some of the "passos".
Over the course of our journey it is our opinion that Italy has the best food in the world.  It is such a pleasure to walk through an Italian supermarket and see all the great simple foods there are to offer.  Cooking up a pasta meal or visiting one of many pizzerias was always something we really looked forward to at the end of the day.  The readily available quality foods will be missed.
During our time in Italy we began to see the finish line and start to miss home.  One of the comments that was made was that it was ironic to see all these cyclists riding through the Alps on vacations they might have been waiting a year for, while we were riding through the alps looking forward to work.  It is time to go home.
We crossed into France at the Colle di Agnello located at 2748 meters.  It was the highest point of our bicycle trip.  We spent that night camping by the village of Chateau Queyras.  It was our plan pedal back to La Grave the next day.  However we woke up to it snowing at the col we needed to get up and over so we spent a restless day in the tent instead waiting to cover the last 80 kilometers to get home.  We woke up the following day to frigid but blue skies and made it over the Col d'Izoard and Col du Lautaret before the clouds came in again.  On the way up to Les Terrasses we popped the bottle of champagne.  We made it back!
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