Return to Labin - Balkan Dreams - CycleBlaze

September 21, 2020

Return to Labin

We’ve been carrying along a bit of unnecessary risk for the last few days.  We used up our last spare tube when Rachael flattened on the way to Buzet, and haven’t bothered patching one of the flattened ones yet.  With the weather as fair as it has been, we figured we could always just patch it on the road if we flatten again.

With rains looking imminent though, it’s obviously time to break out the patch kit.  Better to take the time here in the comfort of our apartment than out on the road somewhere on a soggy patch of grass, while it’s maybe raining or worse and my traveling companion is vocalizing her thoughts on why I’m such a terrible procrastinator.

So, let’s get to work.  I pump up the injured tube, and am pleased to quickly find the puncture and to see that it looks easily  repairable.  I mark the spot and open the patch kit.  

Huh!  There’s no sandpaper in the kit for some reason, so I can’t rough up the surface to insure a good seal.  Now what?  Rachael has the bright idea to use the fingernail file on our nail clippers, which does work a bit.  Not the best, but hopefully good enough.

I open the tube of glue.  I squeeze.  Nothing - it’s bone dry.  We need a new patch kit.  I thought we had brought two, but I can’t find the other one.  Maybe it’s with the panniers we left back in Labin, or maybe it was left behind in our suitcases, or maybe it was packed in my dreams.  In any case, we have a problem.  If we flatten somewhere before getting a replacement, we’re stuck.

We take this bad news with us to mull over at dinner, and then back at the room I start researching for where we might find a repair kit.  There are no bike stores anywhere along the way, but there’s a sporting goods store in Labin that conceivably might stock bike equipment.  Also there are a few gas stations we might get lucky at, and there are several possibilities in Zminj, a larger town that shows a household goods store, a hardware store, and even possibly a bicycle rental outlet.  

It’s off our planned route, but Zminj is only 12 miles away.  It looks prudent to reroute ourselves in that direction and improve our odds of not getting caught short.

Leaving Buje, hoping our luck holds out.
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The riding around Buje is quite beautiful, as expected.  We biked through this area two years ago, and I remember these roads as some of our favorite riding in Croatia.  In fact, we even rode to Zminj itself then, on a day ride from Motovun.  We’re approaching from a different direction this time, but this one is great too: flattish, green, quiet, stone walls, squash drying in the fields.

I’d enjoy it all even more if I’m not so worried the whole way about whether either one of us will flatten.  I mentally count down the remaining distance with each tenth of a mile, and then doubling it.  If we flatten here, it’s still an 18 mile round trip for the other to bike to Zminj and back again.  Now only 12.  Now, with Zminj only three miles away, we could just walk in together.

On the way to Zminj we’re passed by a faster cyclist. Too late, it occurs to us that we might have asked if he had a patch kit on him.
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Stony country here. I love old dry-stone structures like these. With variations, you find them scattered about all across the Mediterranean basin. In Provence they’re called bories.
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Here’s another, with a quite elegant design.
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Nearing Zminj we passed this interesting site, named on the map as Majka Božja od Svetomora (which translates as Mother of God of the world). There is no information on site, but one reference said that parts of the church probably date back to the 12th century.
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The church roof is held up by fine statues of uncertain origin, which some think may date back to the Roman times.
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Majka Božja od Svetomora
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We make it to Zminj.  We stop in at the household goods store, which as you’d expect is just filled with pots, pans and the like.  The proprietor doesn’t speak English, but I show her my punctured tube, pantomime, and she takes me outside to point at a shop directly across the street.  I enter a promising little shop that looks like a miniature Ace Hardware - one of those places that has everything you can imagine if you just know where to look.  This woman at the counter speaks no English either, but on seeing my tube turns around, reaches up to a shelf, and asks it this will do: 

Yes, this will do very nicely.
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With the tension gone, the rest of the ride is much more enjoyable.  We make a fast loop through Zminj just because it seems like I should take a photo of something here to commemorate our good fortune, and then bike off.  We don’t bother patching the tube now, since after all the sun is shining.  If we flatten, we can do it on the road.

The Church of Saint Michael, Zminj.
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A facade detail, the Church of Saint Michael.
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Leaving Zminj, we soon come to a minor road that radiates off from our mapped route but generally looks to be going our way.  It’s paved, looks enticing, and we take a chance on it.  It’s brilliant.  For the next 9 miles we hardly see a car as we bike through a strange, depopulated park-like karstic terrain dimpled with odd depressions that look like sinkholes.   At its end we merge back into our planned route and stop for lunch in the small town of Barban, spreading out on an old stone bench.

Fantastic riding, between Zminj and Barban.
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An impressive stallion, he charged from one end of his small pasture to the other, and then turned around and charged back the other way. Just getting his morning workout apparently.
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The ideal. As long as we’re staying dry, it’s nice to start getting some variety in our skies after all of the unending blue.
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Sheep scene, and a fairly noisy one.
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Looking across the Raša valley at Labin, our end point for the day.
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In Barban, our picnic stop for the day.
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In Barban.
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Leaving Barban by the most direct route we’re only about five miles from Labin, and it’s flat all the way.  Since we forgot our wings today though we’re stuck with the road, which is twice as far and takes us through another of those deep gashes we’ve been talking about.  For the next three miles we plummet nearly to sea level down to the Raša River on an exhilarating descent featuring one of the tightest hairpins I can recall.  Then, a few flat miles along the river brings us to a matching slope climbing out the other side, continuing the climb all the way to the door of our hotel.

Dropping to the Raša River.
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On the way down, I stop for a look down to the valley floor.
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Accurately labeled, I’d say.
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Looks peaceful enough. What a great descent!
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It’s all in the timing though. You do have to pay attention.
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Still descending. A thrilling three miles. Don’t miss the day’s video!
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Video sound track: the Gypsy, by The Urban Knights

The Raša River. Only 23 kilometers long, it’s still described as one of Istria’s major rivers, with an important role in the region’s history.
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So, we’re back.  At the dinner hour we descend to the restaurant at our hotel and dine on the deck, enjoying the view and wondering if we’ll be lucky with the weather tomorrow.  Thunderstorms and are predicted, so we mentally plan for the worst.  I probably should repair that tube tonight, but I don’t.

We’re looking northeast here, in the direction we’ll be cycling tomorrow. What will tomorrow bring, we wonder?
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The top of the chimney of the Plomin power plant, the tallest structure in Istria. It’s that tall to get the plume above the ridge bordering the narrow Plomin valley.
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Jen GrumbyKind of menacing.
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1 month ago
Scott AndersonTo Jen GrumbyYou’re right! The aliens have landed.
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1 month ago
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Ride stats today: 33 miles, 2,100’; for the tour: 1,172 miles, 52,100’

Today's ride: 36 miles (58 km)
Total: 1,176 miles (1,893 km)

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