From the gothic glitz of Romania we slid quietly into the tranquil countryside of Serbia. The angry work gods had been in contact and were insisting on a multi-day travel hiatus. So we drifted into the second-largest city in the country, Novi Sad, and stopped.
With all the usual amenities on our apartment doorstep, Novi Sad proved to be a perfect size. We could walk to most places we chose and the roads were busy without being overloaded. Whilst Nickiy knuckled down to digital creations, I searched for a new motorbike battery. Apart from having worn out the 5 year-old battery, for once I didn’t have a long list of maintenance issues to fix. So we had a thing called, leisure time! We even went to the cinema.
After Nickiy had put her work away, we slipped further westward into the EU again. Croatia welcomed us with yet another currency that seemed to go even less distance. Once we made it to their aqua-tinged and stunningly beautiful coastline, we set up camp and plunged in to the Adriatic. This was our first swim since the Black Sea. The water was 20/20; clear, warm, turquoise. We even bought some goggles to celebrate.
Immediately after leaving Novi Sad the bike had begun to play up. This was typical chronology. It wouldn’t idle but otherwise seemed to run ok. I dismantled carbs and checked valves. I checked the sparks, swapped things back and forth. Sometimes better, mostly not. It was frustrating and eventually I sneakily just upped the idle speed. Now it pops and smells rich at idle, but it’ll have to stay like that until the UK.
Then, as feared, the weather changed to autumn. The wind picked up and lashed in from the beach. We had to put huge rocks around the tent. Then came the horizontal rain. This was ok on the parked bike and the tent. But we had to spend our days somewhere. The camp kitchen was open-sided. Litres of tea were drunk to keep us warm. Then during the night the tent skin drummed on our heads, keeping us awake.
We were grateful when the sea calmed and we could swim again. But someone had taken away the hot water and replaced it with a Norwegian fjord. On our final night, the gale returned.
The omens were not good in the morning. Our German sea-kayaking neighbours were sitting shell-shocked in their car. Their tent had collapsed in the high winds overnight. Our camper van neighbours from Hanover said “Not nice weather for riding a motorcycle.” We had been suitably foreshadowed.
We set off from our campsite near Zadar and began our coastal tracking to the northwest. We would be across the channel from our onshore-wind blasted tent spot, so we expected to be tucked nicely in the lee of the cliff. Whilst the wind was clearly better than at our origin, it was still truly impossible riding conditions. Firstly, the wind was strong enough to knock the bike a couple of metres off-track instantaneously. Secondly, the wind direction and strength were entirely unpredictable. I would come around a curve expecting the open space on my right to funnel wind into me. I would get ready to lean to counteract it and the opposite would happen. We’d get sucked to the right instead. I tried to relax and let the bike deal with it. But I couldn’t make it better. Instead the bike would swerve all over the road. Given the sheer drop to the frothing Adriatic to the left and the jagged cliff wall to my right, this was not pleasant. It was also a Saturday which meant the car enthusiasts were out in force. Idiot Alfa Romeo convoys would ride our tail before blasting past across solid white on blind bends. It was madness, for all involved.
We had booked accommodation so our only choice was to press on. Then the inevitable happened. I pulled in a little to make someone overtake when I chose, rather than have them endanger our lives. Instead I endangered our own lives and timed it perfectly with a gust towards the kerb. Over we went, kerb grinding the engine before gravel-grinding my face. Once again we sprung up, bracing ourselves into the wind and righted Stein. Then we checked my face to find a couple of new holes. My new safety glasses (thank you Toronto Project Office) prevented the rocks from removing my eyeball. Our stuff was everywhere. The mirror was smashed. I couldn’t move my thumb. The wind picked up the helmets and tried to blow them over the cliff. We never saw our oil bottle again. It was a fucking nightmare.
We weren’t even half way to our destination. The person I had pulled in for didn’t even stop when we fell. I thought “great, we’re back in fucking Europe.” We stopped for lunch still full of adrenaline then battled on to our little hotel room. I ached in a lot of places. My cheekbone was swelling rapidly. The following day we rested and carefully eyed the weather, lest the storm performed an encore. Then, finally safe away from the coast, we slipped across another border. People tried hard not to stare, but that’s the advantage of looking like you’ve been in a fight, people give you a wide berth just in case punching is your other hobby!