I left Mostar late, a combination of a late hostel breakfast, leaving a fun hostel, and getting back on the bike again after the crash, injury, and repair.
I’ve spent the last couple of days obsessing over the Ćiro. It’s not indicated in OSMAnd+, Google Maps, nor at the starting point in Mostar. I spent several hours correlating data points to be sure I could follow it.
All of those concerns were for naught; only a few hundred meters from the starting point I passed the first sign. The signs blaze the Ćiro as well as any other path I’ve cycled. The first 20 km flashed by. While the trail initially follows the main highway out of town, it quickly reroutes onto smaller roads, and I found myself in my favorite of places – between a rail line and a river on small low-traffic roads. When the trail forked with an alternate path for road bikes, I stayed the course. The alternate path followed the same highway I’ve followed for the past few days. Rural tracks don’t faze me. The pavement turned to dirt and solitude. Pools of butterflies would explode from the road ahead, surrounding me in a flurry of orange and black.
I stopped in Čapljina for lunch shortly thereafter. It was in Čapljina that I first lost the Ćiro, but found it again after some casting back and forth. Near Dračevo I was again offered the choice of road or gravel, and again took the gravel path. While the Ćiro is a converted rail line, some sections are still in use, so it’s not until Dračevo that the Ćiro begins in earnest.
Within the first kilometer the trail became unnavigable, with loose gravel the size of tennis balls. Every so often the trail would improve, and tempt me forward. I walked much of the next 7 km. Once you commit to that section, you’ve committed to forward or back, as the trail is hundreds of meters above the surrounding terrain, a single-lane with nothing stopping a sudden plunge. However, the trail is also blissfully level.
I passed through many tunnels, hand-carved through the mountains. Many are long enough to require lights, and those are populated by bats and guano.
The first opportunity to leave the trail was a dirt track descending to the valley below near Dubravica, but I stayed the course. The trail (barely) improved, and I could occasionally cycle, although still usually less than 100 meters. Progress was slow, the trail in many places dropping off on both sides, but the vista are correspondingly spectacular.
By the time I was above Kozarice, I was tempted again to descend. Looking at the map, descending would drop me right onto the most twisting of sections of highways, and traffic could be difficult, so I pressed on. However, when I finally neared the highway, I abandoned the Ćiro’s gravel for pavement.
That worked out great. Having maintained my elevation all day, I rapidly dropped into Hutovo on the highway with little traffic. From there I was again presented with two options, but remained on the low-traffic highway, which (I think) became the original rail line. On R-426 I raced towards Ravno. With only one short steep ascent, the day remained primarily level. I decided to spend the night at the hotel in Ravno.
While walking on the trail, I was frustrated. In the end it worked out great. I had a LOT of time to enjoy the views. Although I walked, pushing a bicycle on a level trail is far easier than climbing through mountain roads in traffic. In hindsight I think I’d pick the road, but only by a narrow margin. Note that although I ride a road bike, I can generally handle rough trails, but that section of the Ćiro surpassed my willingness to beat the daylights out of the bicycle.
I arrive in Dubrovnik tomorrow. I’m approaching the end of week 3, which is the time to turn around. From Dubrovnic I’ll likely cycle through Montenegro before taking a ferry from Bap back to Italy. I haven’t yet decided whether to pass through Rome, or to cycle up the coast, and whether I’ll need a train to close the gap to make my flight. Plenty of time to worry about that later.