Thursday, June 30, 2011

Running in Croatia #4: a rocky Lun-Pag marathon

30 minutes North-East of Zadar by car, you will pass Paski Most, the only connection between the huge island of Pag to the Continent. Approaching the bridge you will already got views of the lunar terrain of the South and East parts of Gap. On the left of the road, right after getting on Pag, don’t miss the ruin called Fortica above The island is long of 57 kilometers and has 150 kilometers of bike paths advertized in touristic brochures and I was imagining that they were bording the busy road like the nice one between Kozino and Nin, but we could not see any as we drove all the way to the North point of the island, the little harbour of Lun. When we reached Novalja, 25 kilometers North of Pag, we decided to stop at one of the tourist agencies to ask about these famous bike paths and I was given the answer as a map: “Island PAG – Trekking & Mountain Biking.” If you want to run or bike on Pag, this is the map you need, with 14 circuits ranging from 1.5 to 13 miles. Of course, I was more interested in the longer ones which covered two sections of the Northern part of the island: Lun to Novalja (#14, 13 miles) and Novalja to Pag (#1, 12.5 miles).
On the map (click the above image to enlarge), the island has quite a convoluted shape with a dozen of parallel isthmuses. At the Zadar archeological museum on Sunday, we learned that the sea level was 100 meters lower during the glaciation, several million years ago. The Balkans and their more than 1,000 islands were formed when the sea filled all the valleys of this mountainous area. The highest peaks dominating the Zadar area (massif of Velebit) still culminate at 1,753m above sea level (Sveto Brdo) and 1,757m (Vaganski Vrh) in the nearby Paklenica National Park.

I took the opportunity to create and insert a map of the area to highlight where we were staying (Kozino, 3 miles North of Zadar), the small island of Vir (see my Kozino-Vir-Kozino 50K of last Saturday), and the island of Dugi Otok which we visited on Wednesday, taking the car on the ferry from Zadar to Brbinj (no, I didn't forget a vowel in that name...).
I left the family which was having lunch on the sea bank at Lun and enjoying the crystal clear water, warmer than in Zadar. On thing to mention here is that, despite being at the extremity of the island, there is always other/more islands on the horizon in this archipelago. You never reach the "end of the world" in this region and, with so many settlement options between the thousand islands, mountain summits, valleys and coves, this explains somehow why there are so many ethnicities in this area which served for centuries as a cultural buffer between Occident and Orient and finally clashing again during the recent breaking up of Yugoslavia with the 1991-1995 war from which we see so many sequels of still today.
With its sheep flocks, century old olive trees, maze of stone walls to contain the sheep, cheese and olive oil traders on the side of the road, numerous Catholic monuments and amazing views of nearby islands or mountains, the Lun-Novalja section was much more picturesque and forms 2/3 of my Picasa photo album.
The road is rolling and wasn’t too busy at the end of June (August is said to be the highest season). Between the photo stops and the burning sun (82F with dry air), I was running quite slowly and it took me 2 hours to cover the 13.1 miles from Lun to the harbor of Novalja. I stopped at a grocery store to grab an ice cream and “gobble up” a bottle of cold water.
I found the bike route corresponding to the Circuit #1 between Pag and Novalja on the right side of the road toward Gajac (pay attention, it’s close after passing the Konzum super market). There is a sign there and another one as you pass the cemetery near Gajac, and you are on your own after that but it’s pretty straightforward, just turn left to cross the main road (106) before Kolan (don’t cross this village, the bike route goes on the other side of the isthmus before).
On the other side of the isthmus, the road along the sea is called Crnika and offers great views as you can see in my photo album before crossing Bosana and finally entering the town of Pag. I found the family at the terrace of a restaurant on the harbor; my GPS was indicating 25.6 miles, not quite but close to a marathon. And one more island explored, 999 or so to go, better start swimming in addition to running...! :-)
Again, don't miss more pictures of the Pag island in my photo album.

I did a fifth run the next day but the sharp pain in my left hamstring, which first triggered during my loop at Plitvice 9 days ago, came back and made me walk the last mile of 11. Time to rest or let's say tapper as we are finishing our Croatian tour (1,400 miles including an escapade in Montenegro and Bosnia Herzegovina) and flying back to Paris this Friday. What an amazing experience to discover, as a family, this amazing cultural maze in which Croatia found a way to own most of the sea shore in the recent redistribution of the Balkans land (check on a map, it's quite fascinating). We finished our tour by Zagreb which is very different from the ambiance found along the coast, with still very old buildings, not as well renovated if even maintained, and not so nice buildings from the communist era of the seventies in particular in the South part of the capital. Everywhere, the Croats have been friendly and helpful albeit the very limited use of English, even on signs/signage, and we found them working very hard and long hours (stores opening early and closing at 9 or 10 pm for instance). A huge thank you to our friends Hervé and Sylvie who provided us with their hospitality and this opportunity to discover 3 new countries and cultures! A destination highly recommended, by car or by boat, rather than on bike (we did see a few bicyclists but did not find the roads appropriate for that). And, what ever way you chose to come and visit, my last 4 posts (Plitvice, Dubrovnik, Zadar-Vir and this one) are just an illustration that you will always find great places and occasions to lace your running shoes up!

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