Day 51 Saturday July 21 1984
Icici, near Rejika, Yugoslavia.
94km. Total 3017km. Ucka Pass. Terrain mountainous.
A short ride along the coast to Novigrad for breakfast, which is eaten on the harbour wall whilst watching yachts, crumbs in the water, coffees at white tables, wet paving below. I watch a family – a boy who patiently sits while adults read and drink. Two girls who play with candy floss sticks. A red squirrel runs up a tree. The coast looks lovely in the early light. We turn inland and straight away there are no more cars. Instead there are fields of hay stacked in small pyramid stooks, trees, olives, undulations, people working, churches and graveyards perched or set firm, with deep cypress shadow around them, small towns. The road climbs to a plateau and then stays with this for many miles, rolling up and down, but not seriously.
People shout happily from out of lorries, or from tractors. At Pazin, we stop to buy lunch. I go to the shop and buy the last of the bread and pastries, which we take to eat beside a green river. There is a tunnel on our way towards Rijeka, up a high steep climb, we stop at a bar for water, a man says it is very steep – It is and we pull over to let a slow lorry pass, glad of the rest. A minor pass called Africa or something similar. This is the third Africa related pass we have been over, the third country to have one. There are new views of small hay farms and beehive stooks with a pole at the centre. Two cars have collided on a hairpin and there is glass on the road and bent wings.
Cycles are not allowed in the tunnel as it is six kilometres long. The alternative road goes right over the top and there is no choice except to use it. For about six kilometres up to the village of Ucka it is an 18% gradient.
We walk, passing wild strawberries and blue bell type flowers, a spotted butterfly, a fat green cricket, a scorpion, and the view unravelling down below. I walk past them all. After a couple of rests, there is a stone portico with pools at different levels, and a stone head pouring forth cold clean spring water, with a stone bench and table.
Stopping to wash and drink we eat biscuits, sitting at the stone, the benches cool to our saddle sore bottoms. The water is very cold, tasting of nothing at all. We keep walking up the steep gradient, thinking of Peter Matthiessen’s Sherpas in humid heat, with great loads supported by tump lines round the forehead. Workmen shout out to us, one tells us in German we’ve only got ten minutes until the village at the pass. He asks if we are Polish, and when he discovers we are English, he repeats the message in English.
The road levels out and we are able to cycle to the top. There follows a descent straight to sea level, from 3,000feet. Views of Rijeka, (white tower blocks, white sprawl, first sight of Yugoslavian islands) bends, hairpins, sometimes steeply pitched so that even with brakes pumping and then clamped on you go over the white centre line. Luckily no cars were coming the other way.
The day’s destination is a large autocamper as they are called. We know what to expect so we are prepared for the Germans, caravans, great tents and barbecues, fat legs and stomachs. There are Germans and Dutch and a few Scandinavians everywhere. It is very rare to see a British car here.