Bob sat us all down and laid out about half-a-dozen brochures on the table.
“I will decide where we go but I want your input.” Bob stated with his usual warm grin flying wide below his trademark mustache.
The six of us began perusing the literature. We were beckoned to cycle through the Loire Valley of France, trek the wilderness of Iceland, river cruise through southern France, tour the mountain villages of Burma/Myanmar, or bike the Dalmatian Coast of Croatia.
Bob started explaining our options. In true Petran form, Bob planned to celebrate retirement by taking his family on vacation. This time I will be along for the ride.
As Bob, Ruth, Russell, Christina, Amanda, and I sat around the table on the eve of Thanksgiving, 2013, it was evident that Bob had thought long about this moment and had researched his presentation thoroughly. After about two minutes it was painfully obvious that his choice had already been made. As Bob continued his presentation, I whispered to Amanda:
“We're going to Croatia.”
I opened the door to our top floor apartment overlooking the harbor of the ancient walled city of Trogir. I wheeled our suitcases out of the apartment. I could hear footsteps rumbling toward me from the four flights below. They sounded fast and deliberate as the echo bounced off the tiled walls of the stairwell.
“Are you Leighton?” An enthusiastic voice blurted out as we met each other on the landing.
I was unable to answer immediately. I needed a moment to assess the ball of energy smiling at me in the doorway.
“Yes, and this is Amanda.”
Just then the adjacent door opened, Russell, my brother-in-law, mimicked my look of excitement and surprise as Marko looked to him, turned back to me, tilted to Amanda, and stated with nearly unbelievable ardor:
“Alright! Young people on my tour!”
He reached out for a highfiveshake, something he does often, introduced himself as our guide for the next seven days, grabbed our huge bags, one in each hand, and ran down the stairs.
This was going to be fun.
Within a few hours, an intimate group of curious, slightly concerned, and very excited tourists were sitting on the upper deck of the Jadrolinja (Yadrolinya) ferry destined for the Island of Brač (Brach) about ten miles off the coast of mainland Croatia in the Adriatic Sea.
Our tour would be led by Marko, possibly the most enthusiastic man in all of Croatia, and Vanja (Vanya), who's enthusiasm was high, if not slightly more subtle than Marko's. Both were young, both were fun, and both, despite their eight years working for Vermont Bicycle Tours (VBT), were very happy to be there.
By the afternoon we were fine-tuning the seats, pedals, handlebars, and mirrors on our Fuji road bikes in the parking lot of our hotel in the sleepy town of Postira. In Brač the roads are smooth, the scenery, bucolic, and the mountains steep.
The next morning seventeen Americans, aged 29-67, took to those mountains on our new aluminum steeds. We rode 33 of some of the most difficult miles I have ever logged on a bicycle. I expected hills, but I didn't expect them to be the focal point of this tour. Game on!
We cycled about 140 miles over five days on Brač and its neighboring island Hvar. Sometimes we took a van to the top and glided down incredible two lane coastal highways. Other times we tranquilly followed the winding coast line, stopping frequently for a refreshing dip in the cool clear sea. Most of the time, it seemed, we rode up incredible mountains, only to be rapidly whisked back down to the coastline by way of some thoroughly fast and fun switchbacks. Cycling was the focal point of our days. We rode as individuals, as a family, and as a large group of happy Americans.
Each morning began with an 8:30 briefing of the day's rides and options. Our detailed route instructions rested in a waterproof sleeve on our handlebars like, ensuring that we knew to take a sharp right at the yellow house at 34.6 km to begin a steep descent, or to not miss the beautiful swimming spot at 48.1 km on our left.
The van supported us the whole way. Some chose to jump inside for the steep sections. Others chose to ride the entire time. It didn't matter how you travelled, the journey was incredible. Our meals were never dull, the conversation never lulled, and our guides' energy never faltered.
Amanda wowed everyone with her 6-month pregnant self. Bob inspired with his dedication to make it up every hill. Ruth surprised herself with her ability to tackle some truly difficult mountain climbs. We were in bed most nights by 10 PM and ready to ride the next morning.
It was a wonderful way to vacation in the magical Dalmatian Coast of Croatia. Thanks for the memories Bob and Ruth, and thanks for the ride.