‘Oh, So It’s Like The Odyssey’… Or Not!
When I told the other staff at TDA about the bikepacking trip I had planned for this summer, they said “Oh, so it’s like The Odyssey”. They made this assumption since, like that tour, my route would also pass through the Balkan countries of Bosnia & Herzegovina, Montenegro, and in my case, also Croatia. The two routes do in fact overlap, if only for just a few kilometres in the north of Montenegro.
But the route I had mapped out with my friend Alen, who is from Sarajevo, was really not similar at all to that of the TDA tour through the same region. Beginning from Sarajevo, we created an 1,100 km circle first heading south to the coast, briefly through Croatia, and then back north through Montenegro and back to Sarajevo. We spent a great deal of time piecing together two weeks of what we hoped would be a great combination of off-road riding. Since we are both mountain bikers, our preference is for narrow trails, and riding in the woods and mountains. And so while this region doesn’t have much singletrack to offer, we searched out the roughest and least used dirt trails, roads, and paths that we could find. And where we couldn’t find anything, we would reluctantly need to ride some paved roads as well.
Some of these we found by cutting out bits of other bikepacking routes that we found online, and others from heatmap logs of any one riding in the area, and in a few cases even just squinting really hard at satellite maps and hoping that a faint shadow was hiding some kind of passable route behind it. Some of this research led us to beautiful bits of doubletrack winding up and over mountains, but a couple of times we ended up on trails that were barely rideable, especially with bikes loaded down bags.
The riding, even on the nicest trails, was hard. Our average day was something like 60km with 2,000m of climbing. It also didn’t help that we began our trip just as a heat wave set in, with several days getting close to 40 degrees. Even with three litres of water capacity on each of our bikes, we still would need to find water refills once or twice every day.
From the very first day, our ride became a game of trying to find the most scenic places to stop to make coffee, or have a beer or a meal. Our decision to bring folding chairs, and a coffee making setup consisting of pour over filters, a folding kettle, and a manual coffee grinder, really paid off.
A bikepacking trip involves so many decisions – not just the route, but also what to bring: what bike, what kind of bags, which tent, how much food, etc. After many hours spent discussing these choices, and a few last minute additions and subtractions, I have to say it all worked out very well. Our bikes – both Kona Units – were perfect. The comfortable position and wide 2.6″ tires had us frequently laughing out loud at how they took some of the hardest roads I’ve ever seen, and made them not only rideable, but fun. We were similarly pleased with the Tarptent Moment tents that we used. They aren’t the best in wind or rain, but in good weather, they set up with only one pole and two pegs in under five minutes. When you are setting up and taking down your tent every day, especially after twelve or more hours in the saddle, every bit helps.
Almost from the very first day of our ride, Alen and I remarked on how this part of the world is so well suited to bikepacking. While the paved roads are often narrow, and the traffic not especially welcoming to cyclists, there are smaller dirt roads and tracks all over the place. While these are often very rough and incredibly steep, if you are up for the challenge, there is some fantastic riding to be found here. And the many peaks of the Dinaric Alps are just small enough that it is feasible to ride up and over a different mountain every day or two. With careful planning, it is even possible to ride much of the area without needing to camp, as there are small hotels and other accommodations available in many places.
So was this ride ‘like the Odyssey’? I don’t think so. But maybe this can serve as some inspiration to the riders of the next Odyssey in 2026 – if you find yourself riding up and maybe cursing one of the many steep climbs of that tour, just imagine that you could be on a trail twice as steep on gravel made of rocks the size of your fists!
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