Evening Sun Caresses Balkan Peaks

Late Spring in Slovenia above the town of ______

The Northern regions of the former Yugoslavia, now called Slovenia, border Austria and are separated from that nation by passes such as the Lobl and the . All of these passes feature insane roadway grades often exceeding 15% and peaking, for prolonged stretches of hundreds of meters, at grades in the twenties! Thus entering this region from the towns of Klagenfurt, Graz, or Villach is challenging and memorable work. The long climbs in Austria's Hohe Tauern do little to preapre you, as they are not very steep. The sharper grades in the Gurktaler alps--if you can keep your senses after drinking the Feuerlikor, whose proof reaches staggering proportions-- are better practice, but even the notorius Khatschach pales by comparison.

I learned all of this the hard way, by experience. I had heard of the nasty climbs in this region but was sure they were overrated. I have run into such grades before but they were always only short sprints or several switchbacks among many others, far milder. That was not the case here..in fact the steep parts were not switchbacks at all, but often straight up. They really did a job on your mind, and of course on your legs. I was a chagrined rider when I arrived at the border post, where I exchanged some dollars for Tolars and prepared, since I speak no Slovene, to be very confused about prices. In fact I was not confused at all, and the people, who were marvelously cheerful and friendly, peppered me with questions about my final destination. China seemd as far away to me as it did to them!

I fared better when I stuck to my traditional academic discipline of Geology, for I knew that an arm of the eastern Alps groped around the northern Adriatic, with the Dolomites bending ever southward until they became lost in the hilly regions of the peninsula. Yet I was still struck by the rugged beauty of this region. Beneath the rocky peaks were hills covered with dense forests and, as is clear from this postcard, fertile and settled valleys. Many lakes and rivers are jewels in the crown of this region; the more beautiful ones have become part of national parks.

The northern part of the Balkans shares an alpine climate with cool, rainy weather well into late Spring. Further south the winds are kinder and drier, and you often find yourself climbing across dry, rock strewn hills that look down upon the ocean waters of the Dalmatian coast below. The coast road can be heavily trafficked, especially near the urban cluster of ..... But the riding was pleasant nonetheless. Most of the roads are in good condition and enjoyable riding. Cyclists going east/west can expect very rolling terrain, as the topography runs in a southeast orientation. The coast road is more even but there are many places when you get high enough above a bay or shore to see the remarkable blue waters, fringed with yellow green in the shallower regions. Folks always told me this was due to its high salt content. Camping sites, large and small, are scattered thru this region, many with beaches. 1