Immediately after crossing the border from Croatia into Bosnia, we noticed a marked difference in the attitudes of the drivers. They slowed and drafted behind us while we navigated down hairpin turns, patiently awaiting a safe place to pass. When overtaking, they offered plenty of room, allowing us to feel calm on the roads once again. With fewer than 10 kilometers of four-lane highway roads in the entire country, Bosnia was a cyclists’ paradise.
Verdant, untouched mountains dominated the horizon, the morning clouds draping across like a ribbon. Fearless kittens creeped toward us while we ate lunch and a kind woman invited us onto her porch for coffee and candy. A sweet family, who spoke limited English, invited us to sleep in their cottage for the night and offered us tea and beer as we exchanged stories through charades and broken language skills.
The incessant inclines offered little rest for our aching muscles. We spent three hours one morning zigging and zagging over some 30 switchbacks, but we didn’t mind. Bosnia was that beautiful and friendly people forced us to rest by interrogating us about our expedition.
After one particularly steep ascent that would lead us toward the town of Travnik, we found ourselves within the nightmare of our cyclists’ paradise. Our quiet idyllic roads and courteous drivers mutated into a narrow, unmaintained highway filled with maniacal beasts roaring past at breakneck speeds. There was no sharing the road in this town. Our job was to dodge out of their way. Dive or be smushed.
Navigating the final 10 kilometers to our hotel took over an hour, as we awaited a gap in the endless lines of traffic. Once we spotted an opening, we’d pedal like mad until the next line approached. Backroads provided a long detour, as we traversed through sludgy mud and over homemade bridges. With dusk approaching, we finally arrived to our accommodation, thankful to be alive.
Dreading our ride into Sarajevo the following morning, we departed early to beat the traffic, despite learning time and again, that Balkan folk also prefer driving in the early morning hours.
Over our first 15 or so kilometers, we followed hilly back roads, blanketed with fields of raspberries I could not eat (no one would sell them to me) and slopes aplenty that forced us to push our way up and over. Upon reuniting with the main highway, we took advantage of a manure-hauling, diesel-spewing, slow-moving, space-occupying tractor and followed behind for a few kilometers, bathing in the black spew from its tailpipe in exchange for immunity from the parade of cars whizzing past.
Once our tractor friend turned left, leaving to our own defences against the harrowing path, the roads and drivers only seemed to worsen. I found myself panicking every time I heard the hum of a motor in my left ear, increasingly petrified that my own reaction to the noise would ultimately send me towards my death.
The drivers offered little passing space, they passed oncoming cars while we occupied the lane, oh, and there was that omnipresent fear of a land mine just hanging out on the side of the road that prevented us from bailing in an emergency.
We pulled into a gas station and tried to calm our nerves with a cup of coffee. It didn’t work. After inquiring about our journey, our dining companions confirmed what we already knew: cycling this road was crazy.
Terrified to depart the safe gas station, Dave suggested we pedal about 800 meters to the next gas station. If we make it there, then we’ll pick another destination the same distance away and continually assess our anxiety level.
I felt no less distressed when we reached the second gas station and nearly in tears, I told Dave I couldn’t cycle along this road any longer. With no alternative routes in sight and 20 kilometers left to our Warm Showers host in Sarajevo, our only option was to hitch a ride.
Dave disappeared inside while I piled on my rain gear. It wasn’t raining, but the air was cold and my swishy rain gear was the most easily accessible warm clothing. I sat motionless on the curb, head in my hand, while I held on listlessly to Sora’s leash.
I felt scared and unsafe riding my bike. That’s a pretty rough combination for a cycle tourist.
Dave emerged from the gas station store and blurted that he asked the guy about a ride, the man said he had a friend with a van who could fit our two bikes, trailer, 12 panniers, plus us and Sora. He’d be there in 10 minutes.
On the dot, 10 minutes later, a green Volkswagen Kombi pulled into the gas station. The driver spoke no English, but understood our needs and loaded our gear. The ride would cost €30.
As our driver guided us up and over windy hills along precarious lanes, honking and smirking at policemen as we cruised by, I studied the absurd roads we had originally set out to travel. I felt deep gratitude for this fellow who delivered us safely to Sarajevo. It was the best €30 we have ever spent.