Escaping Burnout on a 10-Day Bike Tour in the Julian Alps
19 film photos show two close friends trading city life for mountain huts, muddy trails, and gravel roads in the farthest reaches of Slovenia
Beth Hodge, Adeline O'Moreau
Beth Hodge, Adeline O'Moreau
Konica C35, Ricoh GR
Bag, check. Bike, check. Map, check. (Slight lie on the last one, just made up the route as we went.) We were in Slovenia, each armed with a Mercredi steel frame bike (both lovingly made by Adeline, one fresh off winning best dirty drop bar bicycle at UK handmade bicycle show Bespoked) that would carry us and our luggage up into the mountains along the border of Italy.
We were there not for content, nor for creating the epic or mastering the unachievable—we were there because we were totally burned out. Only five months into the year and we felt like we’ve each already had three birthdays in half that time. Not so good for the aging process that.
"The plan? Ride some bikes off-road and don’t fall off, stay in some huts, drink many beers, and don’t lose the passports."
Looking for a bit of a reset after some challenging months, the suggestion of staying in mountain huts in Slovenia took about half an hour to agree on. The plan? Good question. Ride some bikes off-road, reach some heights, stay in some huts—the type only accessible by foot or two wheels—and drink many beers. Don’t fall off and don’t lose the passports. Pretty much it.
This was going to be Adeline’s first hut trip and I was desperate for her to fall in love with them as I have done before.
What is it about staying in this mountain huts that makes me so giddy? Maybe it’s the altitude (apparently that’s a thing, altitude emotion), or the many fond memories of having a shit night’s sleep stuffed in a room of 20 people. Maybe it’s the simplicity of wearing the same outfit for each night, with ruddy cheeks from too-hot dining rooms with endless red wine, sat in a down jacket and a warm hat with a pair of leggings.
Maybe it’s the standing outside in the dark with a glass of local herbal liquor under the stars as the lights inside the hut glow like your belly does in a new relationship. Waking up at dawn before the sun breaks over that mountain ridge freezing your arse off just to see the daybreak from your lofty position. There’s something in it somewhere. Just can’t quite put my finger on it.
One second you’re speaking about poetry, the next you’re digging kilos of mud out of your bicycle with your bare hands. After the first relaxing few days, we both believed we had cracked the relaxing-time-off-with-bicycle formula. Maybe the universe had to balance the six four-leaf clovers we’d found so far?
The third night’s stop was reached somewhat soggy. Still in the borderlands of Italy and Slovenia, a strange place to be. No shops, no one in the street. The silence only broken by the church clock and a yapping dog.
The only place to eat in the village opened up for us by the cousin of the man who took our booking for the fairly spooky 30-bed church hostel that we had for ourselves. We sat across from one another, one of us on a hard-wooden bench and the other on a rickety chair, both with the same thousand-yard stare set in the middle of our slightly disheveled appearance.
The toil of suffering a stomach virus and a day pushing bikes up muddy, slippy unrideable tracks in the pissing down rain had taken its toll. The one choice on the menu—fresh ravioli with a glass of red wine and a chaser of coke—sat in front of us. Within an hour, having hardly said a word to one another, we were in bed. Rock and roll.
The booming voice of the round-bellied haggard-faced guardian of the Pelizzo Hut indicated that we were in for a good stay. Beers? Absolutely, two please, large.
Propping up the wooden bar whilst still in bibs and sporting the traditional hut footwear of a cheap rubber primary colored croc, we drank up quickly and licked the salt off the inside of an empty crisp packet. It’d been a long, beautiful, struggle of a day climbing up from the valley floor that funnels the emerald waters of the Soca river and we are beside ourselves with excitement to be still for a moment.
Can you feel with someone the way you feel in the mountains? Everything takes work, but you are at peace. Nothing matters, when you’re just a single small dot in a giant landscape. All the knots untie, the fog lifts on all our mundane living and only the really important things remain.
But you should pick the ones you become a dot with carefully. Because if you’re lucky enough, in that dot something will be moved that you will never want to put back in place. In my life, there are a handful of people I would become a dot with every day, if I could. And, evidently, this butty is one of them. When can we pack our frame bags again?