For the final time on this trip it was time to put my climbing legs to work as I cycled into the heart of the Julian Alps, and up the amazingly beautiful Soca valley and over Vrsic Pass. Where I had slept the night before was in a mountain hut at the head of the valley which contained Lake Bohinj.
Breakfast that morning was taken on the steps of the hut I was effectively at a dead end, as there was no way I could continue over the mountains with a bike, my only choice was to backtrack 15km down the valley to the town of Bohinjska Bistrica.
Once there I had two options to either climb nearly 1000m over a pass or to take a train through a tunnel under the mountain.
Once I had packed I set off and rolled back through the forest to Lake Bohinj belowWhen I had arrived at the lake 2 days before the sky was grey and threatening rain. With the sun out and blue peaking through the early morning sky it looked like a completely different place. Even the fish were ‘sun bathing’ At the far end of the lake the waters of the River Sava Bohinjka start their near 1000km journey towards the Danube as it flows its way through 3 capital cities – Ljubljana in Slovenia, Zagreb in Croatia and Belgrade in Serbia.
Thankfully, I only had to follow it for 10km back down the valley To my right I could see the mountain range that I would need to climb over to get out of this valley and into the Soca River valley, which I would then follow to Italy. On the way to Italy I would need to not only climb this pass, but also cross Slovenia’s highest navigable road pass – the 1600m climb over Vrsic Pass.
At least today’s 900m or so of climbing would stand me in good stead for the Vrsic Pass in a couple of days time.
Once I reached the town of Bohinjska Bistrica I stopped to get a picnic lunchIt was then decision time – save my legs for Vrsic Pass and take the train under the mountain or to cycle over it. As I had nothing to prove to anybody I decided that the easiest option would be to take the train !!!
I cycled to the train station and waited for 30 minutes for the next train to arrive – only kidding. Of course I cycled the hill.The climb out of the valley took me a couple of hours, and at first I had a good view back down the valleyBut after that I was in a forest and all I could see were treesIt was time to stick the bike in the granny gear and climb.My only respite was when I reached the town of Zgornja Sorica where the road flattened out for a kilometer or so before I was climbing againAs long as I know the rough distance that I need to climb, in this case 14km, I find that I can ‘mentally’ switch off and it doesn’t really matter how steep the slope is.Once I reached the top of the pass I had my first view back down the valley since leaving Bohinjska Bistrica over 2 hours beforeThe top of the pass was marked with a sign which I presume was the border between one area and anotherIt was then time to descend, but as there was a café at the top I stopped for a coffee
At well over 1000m this mountain would be snow covered in winter and the café doubled as a ski lift stationAfter enjoying a coffee and my picnic lunch it was time to descend and the view on this side of the mountain was far better
The descent also had one of the craziest bits of curves that I had seen on this tripOnce I was through the forest area I descended down into a beautiful plateau
Before I hit the steepest section of the ride down – a section of switchbacks where I descended rapidly
I think that my front tyre may have overheated in the constant corners that I took at a crazy speed as I flew down the mountain as in one of the corners my innertube went bangWhen I took the tube out it wasn’t a puncture – the join where the valve was had blown.
I can’t remember ever changing the front innertube, so if it was the one that I had set off with nearly a year before it had done well to last this long.
Once back on the bike I continued my descent and I was now following the River Baca down the valley
Just past the village of Podbrdo the railway exited it’s tunnel and so now squeezed into a very narrow space at the bottom of the valley was the river, the railway, and the road.This didn’t leave much ‘flat’ space for me to pitch a tent and so when I passed a sign for a campsite it solved all my problems As the campsite was on the side of the valley it looked like somebody had taken a digger to it in order to flatten it out Still, I had enough space to pitch my tentAs the campsite wasn’t really set up for large campervans then the only people there that night were two motorbikers, a young couple with a car and tent, and a crazy German couple who were cycling around Slovenia with their baby.
There was a café/bar on site, and so that night I spent a great couple of hours swapping cycling stories, and obviously enjoying a couple of beers, with Katharina and hubby (the crazy German couple who were cycling around Slovenia with their beautiful 8 month old daughter Louisa)
How do you cycle around with a baby I hear you ask? Alas, I never got a picture of the set up for the bike. But, towed behind one of the bikes is a ‘baby’ trailer and they generally cycle when Louisa is asleep. This means that they can cycle for a couple of hours and then when she wakes they stop for a few hours before her next feed and sleep.
They said that they can cover about 40km per day which is a brilliant way to spend your holiday.
In the field behind my tent there were 4 Donkey’sAnd before leaving on this trip they would have done my head in. Not sure whether it was the couple of beers or the effort of climbing nearly 1000m the day before but I never heard them at all before I woke up around 9am.
Once awake, jesus they were loud. I say they, but I think it was just one of them that had issues. Not sure what set him off but once he started he could hee haw for a good five minutes. They were so cute though.
The other amazing thing about staying somewhere with a café ( I honestly think that the café/bar came first and they then thought what can we do with the land) is that you can get a fresh coffee in the morning
I could have easily stayed for another night at the campsite but my time was running out and I needed to get on the bike.
After saying goodbye it was time to finish the ride down the valley
Once I reached the village of Postaja my descent was over, and I joined the ‘famous’ Soca River valley. Here the railway crossed the valley on top of a stunning viaductFrom this point, I would follow the Soca River up the valley to where I would summit the Vsric Pass.
As I set off uphill the reason that the Soca River is also known as the emerald river soon became clearNow, is that not an amazing colour for a river.
The Vsric pass at the end of this beautiful river was going to be the final pass that I would summit on my year ride, and so I was not in any rush – I was going to savour every last pedal revolution of the climb !!!
As I was in no rush, I planned to take a couple of days to cycle my way over the top – one day to ride to the foot of the pass, and the second day to summit it.
As I set off up the valley, and wasn’t in a rush, there was only one thing to do – have a coffee and buy a picnicAlthough there was a perfect road up the valley I preferred to get away from the traffic and stick to the banks of the river. ONce again there were a veritable feast of terrains – part cycle route, part gravel and parts just mud
My immediate destination was Tolmin Gorge which was about 10km up the valley.
The weather forecast for this part of the Julian Alps was for thunderstorms, and as I reached the town of Tolmin I could see a storm approaching and, as it got closer, I could hear the sound of electricity ‘crackling’ overhead.
As I crossed the bridge into the town there was a huge ‘crack’ of thunder and a lightening strike somewhere very close by !!!
That was it – time to get off the bike and head for safety. Luckily, there was a café about 100m away, and it seemed that I wasn’t the only cyclist seeking shelter.Outside the heavens opened as the storm blew throughThe chairs and umbrellas on the patio of the café went flying, and the staff had to run down the road after them.
Within 30 minutes the storm had passed, the sky was blue and the sun was shining.
After finishing my pint I had a couple of jobs to do at the petrol station opposite the cafe before cycling off in search of the gorge
It was now time to climb up to the gorge which was at the head of a side valley to the Soca River.Before starting the climb to the gorge I stopped on the outskirts of Tolmin for a picnic lunchThe view back to Tolmin was beautifulAfter enjoying a great lunch it was time to finish my ride to visit the gorge
Once I reached the gorge area it was time to leave the bike and hike down through the forest to the river below.
The colour of this river was stunning
There was a path next to the river where I could hike up into the gorgeIn the narrowest sections of the gorge tunnels had been built through the rock
The tunnels led me into the very heart of the gorge where a hot thermal vent erupted into the river which gave this section of the gorge a very foggy and slightly unworldly feel
After hiking through the gorge it was time for a steep climb back up through the forest to the topOnce I reached the road at the top the view back down was spectacularHere there was a small metal bridge across the road and the car crossing it in the photo below will give you a better idea of the scale and height of the gorgeAs the car crossed the whole bridge bounced. A pretty unnerving experience and as you can see, it was a long drop to the river below.
It was then time to walk back down the road to where I had left my bike.
Here is a 6 minute video of my trip to Tolmin gorge:
A great side trip for the afternoon, and as it was now getting late I needed to find somewhere to camp for the night so cycled back to the main Soca valley to find a place next to the river
The only problem was that next to the river was very rocky and I couldn’t find anywhere suitable to camp.
The other problem was that as it was now summer there were either crops growing or cows grazingon the flat land around the river.
I decided to abandon camping next to the river, and instead filled up my water bladder and cycled up into the forest area that ran parallel to the river but higher up the slope.Another great night’s sleep away from the hustle and bustle of ‘civilistation’.
The next day it was time to continue my ride up the Soca Valley, and my ‘adventure’ for the day was going to be a side trip to Boka Waterfall which with a drop of around 140m is Slovenia’s highest.
From where I camped I would not reach the waterfall for a couple of hours and I had the small matter of a climb over a saddle to get my legs warmed up.
The climb was not too bad and was never very steep but the gradient was constant for around 10kmUp in the distance I could for the first time see the huge scale of the Julian Alps and appreciate the climb to come
Worryingly, my bike had developed a squeak and when cycling on a bike it is never easy to work out where the noise is coming from. It was time for a process of elimination.
It started with removing the luggage to make sure this wasn’t the source of the squeak, and so from the front I removed my panniers and handlebar bag. When I cycled the squeak was still there – it wasn’t my luggage.
The noise was either from the crank or the forks and as the noise didn’t happen when I was free-wheeling downhill then it looked like the noise was coming from the crank.
However, if I pressed on the handlebars while free-wheeling the squeak returned. Plus, when cycling uphill there was no squeak if I took my hands completely off the handlebars.
Now, this process may seem simple but in reality it took me about an hour of cycling to rule everything out and deduce that the issue was with the forks/handlebar.
I decided that at the next town that I passed I would have to sort it as it was starting to do my head in.
After finishing the climb over the saddle it was time to descend to the town of Bovec
The town was another picture perfect place in Slovenia
After a quick coffee it was time to strip the bike Once I had removed the handlebars and front forks the source of the squeak was pretty clear – my bearings were dry as a bone. Luckily, I carry with me a tube of grease and so after taking everything apart and greasing all of the parts I rebuilt the bike.
It was time to see if the last hour had paid off and when I got back on the bike the squeak was gone. Alleluia – I could now climb in peace without thinking that the bike was about to break.
Once I left Bovec for the first time that day I was cycling next to the Soca River and it look sublime
All the way through Slovenia people had told me that I had to cycle up the Soca Valley and I could now see why people had urged me to cycle here.
The colour of the water was surreal and you really do need to see it for yourselves as my pictures do not do it justice.
It was now time for my side trip for the day – Boka Waterfall.
To get to the base of the waterfall I had to hike in through a forest, so I left the bike next to the road and went for a walkAfter a couple of kilometres I reached the base of Slovenia’s highest waterfal,l and it was indeed tallThe water comes straight out of the mountain in a karst spring before dropping over the ledge.
After hiking back to my bike I was now at the very foot of Vrsic Pass.I had planned on completing the climb that day but finding and fixing the ‘squeak’ had put me behind schedule. I decided that instead I would camp for the night in the bottom of the valley near Bovec and complete the climb the following day.
As I wasn’t in a rush now I stopped for a pint while I sat and looked on the mountains in awe.It was such a good view that I had another pint.
When I left I continued up the valley next to the river until I found a bridge across it
Once I crossed I soon found somewhere on the riverbank to set up my tent for the night
Not a bad spot and that night I fell asleep to the beautiful sound of the water flowing past.
The next morning the view out of my tent was beautiful
After my normal breakfast of porridge and coffee there was only one thing to do – go for a swim – not sure what I was expecting but the water was bloody freezing !!!
Regardless though, it was an amazing place to wake up and the mountains looked magnificent.
Once I had packed up camp it was time to cycle back to bridge and cross onto the main roadI still had about 10km before I hit the main climb of the pass and as I wound my way up the valley the river got even more beautiful
There were no car bridges to the other side of the river, but there were lots of swing walking bridges which span the channel so that people can get to their houses.
Once I reached the village of Pri Cerkvi I could clearly see the pass that I would need to climb over
It was time to put the legs to work and I was soon looking down on Pri Cerkvi
It turned out to be a bit of a false start as no sooner had I got into the groove of climbing for the next couple of hours then I was once again descending back to the river.
I had now finally reached the climb proper, from here there would be no more descending
The ‘white’ ridgeline in the distance was my target and for the next 2 hours I would grind my way up.The sign above to my dismay was very accurate – a constant climb of 10-14% for 9km to the top of the pass.
The majority of the climb was on switchbacks and to give you an idea of just how many there were here is a screenshot of part of the climbIf I wasn’t sure of just how far up the climb I was on each switchback there was a number. I think that the first one was 52, i.e. there were 52 switchbacks on the pass, but it took me a few turns to twig what the numbers were so I can’t be sure.
If you ever cycle over this pass the numbered corners will certainly test whether you are glass half full or half empty kind of person!!!
Now, there are a fair few more bends than the ‘52’ hairpins, and at times I did wonder why some bends were included when seemingly ‘tighter’ corners were not.
In the end, I concluded that there had to be a 180 degree sustained change in direction for the hairpin to be included. (tight ‘S’ bends were not included) Still, wondering kept my mind occupied for a while as I climbed higher.
The great thing about this climb were the sublime views over the Julian Alps
After a couple of hours of climbing I eventually reached the top of the climb and it was a great feeling to have conquered Vrsic Pass.
Even better, there was a hut at the top which sold beer.
Here is a short video that I filmed on my way up and over Vrsic Pass.
It was now time for the descent and for the next hour or so I never once touched the pedals.
Once I reached the town of Kranjska Gora at the bottom of the pass seeing the view back up the valley was a beautiful sight
There was only one way to celebrate – with a kebab
As it was getting late once I had eaten I cycled back out to the forest to find somewhere to sleep
My time in Slovenia and cycling through the fantastic Julian Alps was now done. The town of Kranjska Gora was 6km from the border with Italy and in the morning it would be zbogom to Slovenia and Ciao to Italy.
I now only had 7 days left on the bike before I had to finish my year on the bike. I had planned on cycling to Venice through the Dolomite Mountains but as I had spent so long in beautiful Slovenia (one of my favourite countries on this trip) then teh Dolomites would have to wait.
When I crossed the border the following morning I would be heading directly to Venice for a few days at the beach on the Adriatic coast before island hopping my way around Venice lagoon.