After a long bike ride today, I thought of the past bike trips. It reminded me of that summer when I finally went on a “real” two-day bikepacking trip.
There has always been a question in my mind about whether most people can go on bikepacking trips without expensive equipment, too much planning, or too much cycling experience.
Most people have the misconception around bikepacking that requires a small fortune to fully enjoy the experience. Eight years ago, my friend and I trained one week before the trip. We did not have fancy gear and bikes, and we still did what we thought was impossible.
It’s no secret that cycling is one of the main topics on this blog. I was excited to write my first cycling post about bikepacking. Rather than simply providing “How to” instructions, this post will serve as a story-based guide for those who are planning to bikepack for the very first time.
After I’ve pedaled over 50,000 km in the last 12 years, I still consider myself an amateur cyclist.
At this point, you are already wondering what is Bikepacking? For me, bikepacking is everything over a 60km multi-day or single-day long bike tour across mixed terrain or entirely off-road, while carrying only essentials. It may be anything from a 60km, overnight trip to a multi-week trip riding hundreds of kilometers. It may be convenient to plan and use both familiar and unknown trails. Or, it may require planning and logistics.
Before we dive into the bikepacking stories, a small disclaimer. As some trips occurred before I was interested in photography, not all the pictures will be included.
How it all started
From an early age, I have always been fascinated by cycling. When I was 4 years old, my father taught me how to ride a bike in our parking lot. At this point, I became passionate about cycling, which remains an important part of my life today.
I remember when I was a kid, we always played and create cycling games, such as playing street hockey, imitating motorbikes with a bottle stuck on the wheel, cops and burglars, etc.
To me, cycling was a form of freedom.
While still in high school, I would usually get money every month for public transportation that I would spend on cigarettes and coffee plus I gained a ton of weight. Yes, cigarettes!! At that time, I found a solution: if I cycle every day to school, I don’t have to take public transportation, and I could have the money that my parents were giving me for lunch and transportation.
As an adult, this solution was extremely silly, and I still do not understand why I was skipping lunch and free public transportation in order to save money for cigarettes.
In the summer of 2010 after high school, I took a seasonal job in the city of Hvar. It was here that I took the longest break from cycling. The time I worked a seasonal job changed my perspective, health, and I lost a lot of weight. When I went back to my hometown, I started cycling, running, and doing calisthenics almost every day.
I had never considered myself a sporty guy until 2011 when some people came into my life and pushed me over my limits in sports, setting a good foundation for my future which I’m thankful for even today.
My “first” bikepacking trip
Since I started cycling seriously, I have cycled almost my whole region on two wheels. I would sometimes wake up at 5 am and go riding with a friend for 3.5 hours, covering 90kms. I felt ready for bikepacking.
My best friend and I were talking one night about how it would be great to cycle from Osijek to Orahovica, which is approximately 85km one way. I have never done an overnighter before but somehow I wasn’t scared to embark on this adventure. Before that trip, we only had one week of training, if I recall correctly.
The day had arrived. It was late spring or early autumn. At the time, we had low-end bicycles. My bike was a low-end hybrid from Fuji. Don’t start me with the gear. Whatever we had, we carried with us. While my friend borrowed some clothes from an ex-cyclist, I was wearing whatever I had at home.
Despite the overcast weather and slight rain on most of our ride, I still pushed myself and cycled to my destination. We only stopped once, in Našice, to grab something from the bakery and some drinks from the nearby supermarket.
After a few hours of cycling, we finally reached our destination in Orahovica. This beautiful place is surrounded by the beautiful Papuk mountain. He arranged a sleepover with family friends and we stayed in that house for over a night. The next morning, we woke up early and returned home quicker than when we had cycled to Orahovica.
During the two-day trip, we spent only around $20 in total. Yes, that’s right, only $20 for food, drinks, and a place to stay. Don’t forget that this trip was taken in 2013 when smartphones were still not common to have and we didn’t have Google Maps at the time. This trip opened my eyes to how inexpensive it is to travel long distances by bicycle, and I wanted more overnight trips like this.
Bikepacking to Zagreb
After moving to Ireland in 2014, I was just working and working. All of my hobbies went to the side. My first job was as a chef, with long hours, rosters coming out every Sunday, so I couldn’t plan anything besides work. The second thing was getting used to the new environment, weather and culture.
Within a year of moving to Ireland, I met people who shared my interests. We would bike on weekends around Dublin or the Dublin mountains. I believe I had cycled the entire city plus the mountains in my first year.
I had a hard time adjusting to the new environment and on New Years’ Eve of 2016, I decided to plan how to move back to Croatia in the summer and do some crazy trips around Europe. After a few days, I contacted the same friend with whom I had done the bikepacking trip to Orahovica a few years ago, and we began to plan a new bikepacking trip.
Summer 2016 has arrived. I packed up all my belongings and moved back to Croatia for a few months. As soon as I landed in Budapest, I had a good feeling about what was coming. I had previous bikepacking experience, so I knew what to prepare for.
One month before the trip, we started to prepare seriously. My friend had borrowed better clothing from an ex-cyclist, which we found useful for the long bike ride. Looking back, I think it was enough time to prepare two weeks earlier.
We had a plan for training to eat, ride, and sleep like we are already doing on this trip. We would bring two water bottles, protein bars, and some extra clothing if necessary.
The day of our bikepacking trip is here. I woke up excited one hour before I was meeting my friend. The forecast said that we would travel through mostly sunny weather for the entire trip. I pre-tested my bike if everything was working and then I put my food, bottles, and backpack on my back, and I was ready to go. We did a picture at the Ante Starčević Square before the trip and we started pedaling.
Our first stop was in Đakovo a small town most known for its beautiful Cathedral and its royal breed called Lipizzaner (horse). I remember that I didn’t feel any tired and we stopped for a brief rest after 50km. Our next stop was Slavonski Brod after we enjoyed a nice rest in Đakovo.
As we had already pedaled more than 90km, we decided to take the longest break in Slavonski Brod. We parked our bikes and started walking around the city center. Near where we parked our bikes was a pub with food where we spent one more hour eating. Suddenly I noticed that the sunny forecast had changed to a stormy one.
We decided to leave in order to reach our destination without getting soaked. The route after Slavonski Brod was riding along local roads beside the main highway on the left you have Bosnian Mountain, and on the right, you have a beautiful small mountain in Slavonia. By this time, the landscape had changed and started to resemble a proper bicycle trip.
The only sound you could hear on this route was nature and some passing cars. It was the most peaceful moment of our bike ride. However, the weather forecast changed again. It started raining 30 kilometers before our first destination in Nova Gradiška.
We made it to Nova Gradiška after 148km without getting soaked, but my calf started to hurt so bad. My friend started massaging very quickly so we wouldn’t have to turn around and go home the next day. As soon as my calf felt better, we looked for the Hostel my friend had seen online before our trip.
When we arrived at the Hostel Maksimilijan, we called the owner, who arrived quickly after we called. He was amazed that we cycled from Osijek all the way down to Nova Gradiška. We were amazed by the owner’s hospitality, as he told us we would get a 50% discount on the rooms and that the room would be only available to us.
As the night came to an end, we had lunch in the owner’s restaurant and went to the supermarket to buy more protein bars for tomorrow morning.
You can find the route by clicking here.
We went to sleep in our room around midnight and at 2 am, we were woken by bachelors who were celebrating their friend getting married. I was like, I don’t need that because we were waking before 5 am to catch the sunset in Zagreb. Eventually, after 1 hour of loud noises, they stopped hammering around the hostel and knocking on every door.
As we had only a few hours of sleep the night before, I felt tired in the morning and thought I wouldn’t be able to cycle as much as yesterday. But somehow we started cycling and everything went smoothly. The first stop from Nova Gradiška was in Kutina, where we took a long break in order to rest. The terrain was similar to the route we took from Slavonski Brod, but more vehicles were starting to show up on this route.
While passing through the villages, it was clear that only the elderly remained and that all the young people had left. The scene was both beautiful and sad at once.
Getting closer to Zagreb, we stopped in a village called Prečec, which means “shortcut” in English. Oh, how we were wrong taking this “shortcut”. On Google Maps, it appeared to be a shortcut to Zagreb. However, once we took the “Prečec,” we came across abandoned fields and hunting grounds.
That trail was so hard to cycle. The sky was so clear and I believe it was over 30C. We rode this trail for over 2 hours with very little shade. I was exhausted after that ride. We joked that we might get shot by the hunter since we weren’t sure whether it was legal to cycle.
Fortunately, nothing bad happened and we soon made it to Dugo Selo. After Dugo Selo, I was dehydrated and I thought I wouldn’t be able to make it. My superhero friend motivated me and in Sesvete, he ran into the nearest bar to get icy water. That water helped me to cycle 30 more kilometers to Zagreb.
We spent the last few miles of our journey on a busy road before entering Zagreb. This was the final hurdle we had to overcome. Finally, once we entered Zagreb, we drove through its beautiful neighborhoods and called our friends and family to tell them we had made it.
We met a friend’s cousin in Ban Jelacic Square after the 300km trip and did the picture again. I felt like I was a superhero. I had no idea that I could cycle over 300km in two days. We grabbed something to eat and then went into the apartment to shower and get ready for bed.
On the next morning, I woke up, said goodbye to everyone in the apartment, and headed to the main railway station with my bike. When the train arrived, I put my bike inside, and for the next 4 hours, I was processing the entire trip.
In my mind was that the whole trip cost us $60 per person, and we were outside for 15 hours per day, getting waves from locals, and seeing some sights you wouldn’t be able to see in a car or plane. From that point on, cycling long distances, even a day trip, always makes me feel carefree.
You can find the route by clicking here.
There are a lot of people who would like to do bikepacking, but they believe it’s too expensive and complicated to figure out or to get into, while the truth is that it’s only as expensive as you decide or as complicated as your level of ability allows. If you would like to tour by bike, you can pretty much do it if you own almost any bike today since most bikes are capable of handling it.
As you can see, I traveled on a very tight budget, didn’t have any professional gear, nor did I have high-end bikes. You can simply put on a small backpack, book a hostel, fill some backpack with food, toiletries, and stuff to change, plan your route on Google maps and you will be able to do the few-day bikepacking trip. I hope my bikepacking stories inspired someone to try bike touring and I look forward to seeing you next time!
If you have any extra tips, please share them in the comments below.