I thought nothing when Dave suggested that we pedal but a few kilometers in 100-degree heat one afternoon to free camp in Lem Fjord.
I took no notice when Dave pushed to visit a particular Croatian city. Our friend had recommended Rovinj, it was on the water, and Dave was the route planner. I cycled where he directed.
I didn’t push back when Dave suggested we book an air-conditioned AirBnB in Rovinj in exchange for the sticky, humid sleeping quarters of our tent.
It didn’t occur odd to me that Dave wanted to explore Rovinj by night and have a few drinks upon arrival into the bustling coastal town.
I did find it a bit strange when Dave snatched the computer away from me and told me not to look at his private messages, when, upon opening the laptop, his email appeared on the screen, showing an unopened message from a friend.
I just thought he was being weird, which is kinda normal.
I suspected nothing when a passerby ran into me just outside of our apartment and apologized in English. The streets were crowded with tourists and people often don’t pay attention where they walk. In the brief moment I glanced at her, she reminded me of a friend from home.
I stared blankly at the woman when she told me that she was Chelsea, from Oregon.
We stared awkwardly at one another before the realization hit.
Oh! Chelsea, from Oregon! I looked up to see her husband, Dakota, standing beside their touring bikes. Still in shock, a big round of hugs ensued and thus kicked off our 19-day cycling adventure together.
After deciding to cycle tour in Europe on whim, Chelsea and Dakota intended to meet up with Dave and me at some point along our journey. However, as their adventure began in London, where they successfully staged yet another surprise at a friend’s wedding, we quickly increased the distance between ourselves. Dave and I had to take a train from Prague, Czech to Linz, Austria in order to escape the Schengen Zone 90-day visa requirement, and by the time we arrived in Piran, Slovenia, Chelsea and Dakota were about to leave France.
A joint tour seemed impossible. An expensive 20-hour multi-stop train ride with bicycles just didn’t fit in the cards. We were all disappointed, and accepted that we wouldn’t be cycling together on this particular journey.
I eventually learned, however, that after a two-hour Skype call with Chelsea and Dakota, they decided to take on the mission of finding us in Croatia, and worked in cahoots with Dave to surprise me in Rovinj.
After three months of the Dave and Jen show, familiar faces from home were a welcome sight. Dave had someone with whom to pitch his fart jokes and I could talk to Chelsea about the sticky shit in my hair thanks to the hard water.
We tackled hills together, jointly combated a stomach bug that overtook my gut for a few days, and consumed enough gelato that would put Willie Weir to shame.
We guzzled Istrian Soup with our AirBnB host in Rovinj, and discussed life under former Yugoslavia while drinking house made wine with a family in the Istrian countryside. We commiserated over the narrow lanes and lack of courtesy for cyclists as we hugged the Croatian coastline and celebrated the return of the chocolate covered rice cake from Spar in Slovenia.
With a four-month US bike tour under their belt in 2014, Chelsea and Dakota bestowed their cycle touring wisdom upon us: We learned that drafting helps the day fly by, cut up peaches make the most delicious snack on a hot day, and one should never be without a jar of ajvar.
Further, and perhaps most impactful, Chelsea and Dakota showed us that following a vegan diet on the road is simple.
The veteran vegans educated us how to find incredible gelato and exemplified the simplicity of ordering pizza without cheese. We made treks to vegan buffets in Ljubljana, Slovenia and searched in vain for the organic food stores. I learned of informative vegan podcasts (like this one and this one) to devour while navigating the quiet roads and how to boldly declare my veganity at restaurants.
Spending nearly every waking minute together with friends for 19 days required me to display my vulnerabilities and improve upon my personal development. With a partner, it’s easy to slip into poor habits like complaining, crankiness, or arguing. With friends around to witness these uncouth behaviors, I either learned to suppress them or was forced to accept them.
Chelsea and Dakota encountered my morning hangriness (note: always keeps blueberries in the fridge) and after watching Dakota devour everything in sight, I admitted to my scarcity issue with food. I live in constant fear that all my favorite foods will be eaten by someone else and I’ll never have access to them ever again. (Dakota, save me some damn watermelon!) So I practiced sharing my precious items like chia seeds and nutritional yeast. I gave in to my stubbornness of doing everything myself and asked for help up hills so steep I had to walk sideways to avoid straining my Achilles tendon.
After extending our joint cycle tour several days longer than anticipated, we parted ways under a series of disappointing events. Though we had booked a two-bedroom apartment with a kitchen, we spent our final evening together crammed in a tiny one-room cottage high in the hills of Slovenia, far, far away from any sort of civilization or alternative lodging. The cots upon which Dave and I slept were less comfortable than a cross-continental flight, in a seat that refuses to recline while the child behind you kicks incessantly and his baby sister screams throughout the 8-hour flight.
With little sleep and creaky bones, we departed in the early morning light towards the Slovenia/Croatia border. Upon arrival, we were told by the Slovenian border guards who were too nice to hate, that we had to backtrack 15km to the international crossing. Our U.S. passports were no good at this local border.
This meant parting ways sooner than planned, as our paths required different border crossings. Our 40km day together was quickly slashed to 10km, as Dave and I headed back to Croatia and Chelsea and Dakota pedaled towards Hungary. We pulled over at a school and gave final hugs and took one last group photo. Our friends waved, watching as we cycled away and back on our own journey.