Monthly Archives: September 2012

The Julian Alps

There are not many places that I’ve visited in the world that even come close to being as beautiful as my home, Alaska. The Julian Alps in Slovenia, where I have spent the last week hiking and cycling have, however, blown me away. The geology is intense – towering limestone walls, jagged peaks, beautiful and diverse rock formations, huge boulders, rocky “moonscapes,” high alpine meadows and lakes, and the Slovene mountain culture only adds to it (until I hit the super populated trails and I miss my turn because I’m speed hiking to pass the multiple groups of amblers in front of me). These iPhone pictures do no justice for this region, but I have to share at least a glimpse of this heavenly realm.

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My second day hiking out of Bohinj and the first day of my 4 day hut to hut trip. Approaching Rodica, my first peak. The day before, after getting a late start, hiking up and down 1000 meters, racing sunset, reinjuring my bad knee while running downhill (which is how I injured it in the first place almost exactly 10 years ago while running down from Half Dome in Yosemite) and not having hiked for months, I was soooo sore this day. More so than at any point on my entire tour thus far.

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Rodica summit

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My first hut. Mid-moutain on Vogel Ski Resort. I was the only person staying there and Renata and Andrea who run the place were so fun and amazing. We drank Radlers (orange Fanta and beer – so good. Way better than any Brass Monkey!), talked about life and men and I slept in the very comfy, pine wood-paneled pull-down stairs attic! I was sad to leave my new friends in the morning, but my legs, even more sore after hiking 9 hours the day before (I got a little lost), were ready to get moving!

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Dinner prepared by Andrea. Zganci (traditional mountain food – buckwheat mash – kind of like dry and lumpy – in a positive way – cream of wheat perhaps?) and wild boar goulash. And a Radler.

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Goooood morning! I’ll be hiking to those distant hills after this delish latte!

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A day later… I met a great Austrilian couple, Gemma and Ryan, who have hiked nearly all of The Alps, starting in France. They took this pic. We had a long, leisurely lunch at this crystal clear alpine lake. A fun, easy and gorgeous day of hiking. Almost no downhills – a welcome break for my knee!

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One angle of 360 degrees of amazingness from the third
mountain hut I stayed in, perched on the edge of a hanging valley. Whew!

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That’s the outhouse. Really!!???

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I took a little evening stroll to a grassy perch, stretched, ate some GORP, took a nap. On my way back I took this, looking up at the hut from the trail approaching from Trenta, the next valley over from Bohinj.

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Another rustic, traditional Slovenian mountain meal: cabbage soup, homemade bread and beer.

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The goofball Aussies – Gemma and Ryan. Second peak bagged! On top of Kanjovec. I was planning to climb Triglav (in the background), Slovenia’s highest peak, but, being a sunny Saturday in September, everyone in Slovenia was thinking the same thing. I opted for the quieter option. Of course when we got to the summit there was a group of about 15 teenagers up there too! Oh well! They left and we lingered for a while before heading down the opposite side of the mountain from which we came up. The trail system is incredible here. Many peaks can be summitted and descended from multiple angles on established routes!

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Sebastijan, my totally awesome host in Bohinj. We went out to a leisurely Sunday lunch. House red wine and Coke! Yes that’s right. You mix them, and it’s delicious. I had a big salad as I hadn’t eaten fresh greens for days and strukjle – a sweet, or in this case, savory rolled pastry that’s boiled instead of baked. Slovenian food may not be much to look at, but it is really good. Hearty and simple.

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Kremšnita and a latte. The super beautiful and now ruined by tourism lake town of Bled is famous for this dessert. I had to try it. Normally anything creamy and/or cakey is an absolute no for me, but this was really, really good. Light and not too sweet.

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I took an unanticipated detour up the Vrata valley on my way to Kranjska Gora. Sebastijan had mentioned it was beautiful and the idea of accessing the mountains that I’d seen in the distance from my previous days’ hikes sounded great. Looking at the map, there were a couple steep sections riding up to the hut where I stayed at the end of the valley. According to the key this means more than a 10% grade and hairpin turns. No bigs! When I saw a sign warning of a 25% grade up ahead I cracked up laughing. I had just eaten a big lunch and that extra piece of bread with Zaska was threatening to come up if I pushed it. I walked my bike part of the way, which I loathe to do. This is looking northwest from the top of Bovški Gamsovec Peak.

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Yesterday the weather report was calling for thunder and lightening storms in the afternoon. I bagged any idea of hiking and woke up early to ride up the 24 hairpin turns from Kranjska Gora to Vršič Pass. I nearly froze riding back down and spent the rest of the day hunkered down in my small, private room in my super cheap hostel. A relaxing day and a welcome break. Vacay from a vacay!

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I cooked dinner on the balcony at the end of the hall of the old mountain hut turned hostel. I’m sure they wouldn’t mind, right?

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I woke up this morning to pouring rain, snow in the hills, and a wicked sore left hip that has been giving me trouble for a few days but seems to be worse today. After hours of debating on staying here yet another night or headimg over the border into Austria as planned, I thought, what would mom and dad say? Duh – they’d say take it easy and don’t push it! So here I am, still in Slovenia, and it’s still cold and rainy outside. I went to the pharmacy, bought some topical muscle relaxer, Slovenian ibuprofen, and went grocery shopping. This is my food – and wine – for the next day and a half.  The loaf of bread was day old 50% off so I splurged and got cambozola which I haven’t had since leaving AK.  Lunch time!

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Istria to Trieste to Bohinj!

Last week my old buddy Owen came to visit! We spent five days relaxing on the Istrian coast, people watching along the narrow stone streets, enjoying the local beer, wine and brandy, and exploring the nearby hillside towns. We then headed up to Trieste, Italy for a day where we parted ways. I for the Julian Alps in Slovenia, and Owen for Mallorca, Spain.

I am now in the super charming mountain village of Bohinj Bistrica, enjoying a cup of coffee and waiting for the fog to lift before heading out for a 3 – 4 day hut to hut trip in the surrounding mountains, including a hike up Mt. Triglov, Slovenia’s highest peak.

My bike ride from Trieste to here was one of the most incredible of this trip.

Trieste is a grand and bustling Italian city. It has a hip vibe, lots of young people, diversity, incredible architecture and culture and has a very real feel. For a seaside town, it is surprisingly not heavily oriented towards tourists – so refreshing after a month on the coast of Croatia. The historical center is on the sea, and the city sprawls up the hillsides. Riding into Trieste and trying to navigate my way to the central piazza where Owen and I had arranged to meet was a challenge. At one point i even ended up on a freeway overpass! I got a great tour of the city, finally made it and treated myself to one of the best ice creams I have ever had.

Owen and I enjoyed the cafes, meandered through the streets and debated staying another day, but the next day I was pedaling north towards the hills.

Expecting steep switchbacks for the entire 150km to Bohinj, I was pleasantly surprised to enjoy one of the flattest days I had since riding in Austria! While I was indeed gaining altitude, the grades were so mellow i hardly noticed it. I rode around the contour of the coast and departing for the mountains I followed the Soca river valley into Slovenia. Watching the mountains slowly envelop me was awe inspiring. I must have looked like an idiot riding with a big mouth open smiling “wow” face as the scenery became more and more impressive. Cows grazing along the steep mountain slopes wearing giant cowbells (and goats wearing goat bells!), old women out for an evening stroll in their flower print dresses, rolled down nylons and cardigans, picture perfect old farm houses with geraniums cascading out of the windows, gnarled apple trees heavy with bright red apples and birds flitting from one tree to the next high above the valley floor simultaneously graced all of my senses.

Up and up I pedaled and 120km from Trieste, at 6:30pm, it got steep. I arrived after a serious 5km climb at a mountain hut (dom or koča in Slovene. Dom also means home) in Petrovo Brdo. Mountain doms have beds and serve food and drink, so all you need to bring is a sleeping bag and basic items when hiking in the mountains here – incredible! I was enthusiastically greeted by the smiling, handle bar moustached proprietor, Rudy, offered a congratulatory shot of plum brandy and showed my simple shared room with seven beds that I had all to myself for only 7€ a night. I changed into non-sweaty clothes, got settled, ordered a beer and Rudy brought me freshly popped popcorn. A drunk geezer who appeared to be missing most of his teeth rolled in jangling his car keys, ordered a beer and when told of my trip he crossed himself, laughed and laughed, called my crazy and bought me a beer. Rudy called up his friend from down the street who had just returned from a two week holiday in Alaska, he drove up the hill and we chatted about Alaska in broken English and he treated me to another beer. His son in law came over too. We hung out over yet another beer, shared stories and munched on popcorn before I retired to bed. What a welcome to The Alps!!!

The next morning started off with a 12km climb and then a long descent into Bohinj Bistrica. I arrived around 12:30 and had all day to explore as my CouchSurfing host wouldn’t be home from his job in Ljubljana until after 6:00. I rode my bike around the small town and into the next village, Brod, where I had my picnic lunch under a tree by a stream with mountains and apple trees to my left and quaint old homes to my right. I then powered up yet another steep hill into the upper valley where the bicycle mechanic lives (time for some routine maintenance and to fix my recurring slightly loose headset). He wasn’t home, so I pedaled onto Bohinj Lake about 10 more km down the road where I relaxed and enjoyed the blissful scenery before riding further along the lake and eventually turning around to come meet Sebastijan, my amazing host!

He lives on his family’s land in a beautifully remodeled flat that used to be part of the family run hotel. He grows fresh veggies and has plum and apple trees in his yard. I was treated to a welcome shot of plum brandy, fed his mother’s DELICIOUS pumpkin soup drizzled with pumpkin seed oil, accompanied by locally made sausage, Bohinkska Zaseka – smoked pork fat spread which is one of the more decadent and perfect things I have ever put on bread in my life, tomatoes from the garden, freshly baked bread and wonderful company. Ahhhhhhhhhh…

Yesterday I got a late start, did laundry in a washing machine (yes!!!!), drank coffee, enjoyed the view from Sebastijan’s balcony, and eventually made it out on a steep and dizzying hike up to Crno Jezero (Black Lake). Wow.

Today I’ll leave my bike behind and will explore the mountains on foot. Finally, this backpack that I have been lugging around on the back of my bike for three and a half months is getting put to use!

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Cool shutters. Poreč, Croatia

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Drinking coffee in Motovun

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Basketball hoop. Bale, Croatia

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Trieste central piazza

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Drinking a beer in our hotel room

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Trieste

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Bohinj Lake

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View from Sebastijan’s balcony

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On the way down from my hike yesterday

And the fog has lifted!!! Off I go!

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