Regular rage had begun to mist my thoughts throughout our rides. I expected to feel frustrated and annoyed at times, but nothing like this. My head was filled with questions about our trip together. It became clear that this was a journey I would continue alone.
Departing in the sunshine that morning, I cycled into the unknown. Where would I go? Where would I sleep? Would I be ok? I was stressed, but I was free in my thoughts. My mind became clearer and every decision I made for myself was sweet. There was small pleasure in stopping to take a photo, or to catch my breath. I took gravel roads and dusty tracks into the Italian wilderness. Surrounded by nothing but shrubland and mountains towering in the distance, I felt very small.
I went slowly, often stopping to push my bike over tricky parts. At one point, removing my shoes and socks to heave my bike through a stream. The cool water was refreshing in the afternoon heat. I soon found a place suitable to pitch my tent. I sat for two hours, watching for people and danger, before I set up for the night. I was truly alone. It was the onset of darkness that made my stomach tremble.
Back home, I don’t like spiders. As a child, I avoided the dark. Yet there in the Italian wilderness, I resigned myself to my surroundings. When you can only rely on yourself to remove a spider from your tent, it becomes second nature. I began to do things instinctively, without questioning fear.
My mind refused to accept the reality of where I was the next morning. I robotically packed my panniers and set off without thinking. The shock of suddenly being so alone had affected me. Nothing can be beautiful when your thoughts are dark. The mountains and the river were lost on me. I ate bread and butter sandwiches sat at a bus stop, and wished I was home. Slugging up hills swinging side to side on my bike, my motivation was slipping away fast. I was exhausted and had run out of water. After a persistent chain of taps deemed ‘not suitable for drinking water’, I stopped, considering giving up. As I wiped a tear from my cheek, I saw it – a tap shaped as a birds head that spouted joyous drinking water. Without knowing, I had stopped at a sport playing field.
My mood automatically switched. I crossed the Slovenian border with vigor, happy that I had two litres of water loaded onto my bike. The rain didn’t bother me as I followed a road that carved through green mountains, running parallel to the mystical Soca river. My legs pedalled at speed and before I knew it, I reached Tolmin, a small town nestled inbetween the mountains. Darja, my host and soon to become Slovenian Mum, welcomed me openly. Even without me mentioning my exhaustion, she insisted I stay two nights. During my entire stay, she instinctively knew what I needed and gave me the energy to continue my trip. The final evening, we ate pizzas and drank Slovenian beer by the turquoise waters of the lake. A wonderful end to our time together.
I attacked the gruelling climbs the following day with positivity. The winding switchbacks were relentless and the sun was strong. I pushed my bike for the final kilometer to the top. Suddenly, the road opened onto a hilltop with panoramic views of snow-capped mountain peaks and layers upon layers of moody hills. My laugh of amazement was carried away by the wind.
I had to climb further up gravel tracks through the forest to reach my host. I soon realised I was getting deeper and deeper into thick woodland and further away from roads. I was lost. I passed a farm house with an old lady crouched in her garden, tending to her vegetables, a headscarf tied under her chin. With a mixture of gestures and google, I managed to explain where I needed to go. She drew directions in the gravel with her finger, which I followed to find my home for the night.
The next morning, I sped carefully down the hill, chased by a deer darting through the forest, and catching glimpses of the mountains through the trees. On the way to Ljubljana, I was invited to lunch by Matej at his restaurant tucked behind a school. Whilst studying my phone trying to figure out how to get there, I was approached by a boy. “Are you Amy?”, he said. He was the son of another family who had offered to host me. He led me to the restaurant where I enjoyed coffee and a hotdog. The unvierse really looked after me that day.