A noise from a steps of a man walking on a crushed stone road woke up me and my friend that morning, as I rushed out of a tent, still half asleep, to check if everything is ok with our two wheel rides, an old man was speaking to me “go back, go back to sleep”, but it was too late now. After a night spent almost literally on a roof of gas station it was time to go. As we packed we were enjoying our final view on beautiful city of Foca, grateful for its hospitality and tasty plentiful dinner to keep us fueled for the road ahead.
And what awaited us was Sutjeska National Park, the oldest and I dare to say most beautiful national park of Bosnia and Herzegovina, an unknown and therefore in a way scary challenge to us. Just in case we bought some cookies at gas station, checked everything, got on our bikes and started pedaling. It was middle of July but Drina River didn’t care much about that, at near 7 AM, it was spreading fog throughout its valley, covering surroundings like a blanket. As asphalt started to move under our wheels my enthusiasm immediately got me spinning faster but my friend who was, let’s say, the voice of common sense on this trip said to me to take it easy a little…
It was silent all around, and thick forest made road look narrower than it is, but for us, that morning, following it was all we are supposed to do. Mountain made us going slower, but in return as it was slowly waking up, with sunshine rays starting to poor in it was more and more beautiful, and air filled with all scents of forests and fields made us wonder if we were breathing it or tasting it. After almost twenty kilometers and maybe two or three hours later we reached first high point of Sutjeska National Park, as we looked at all other mountain tops it felt like they were greeting us for making it, and rewarding us with unbelievable magnificent view.
First part of climbing was over, it was downhill from there, we dressed our jackets and moved on, satisfy but still not relaxed, because another part of climbing was yet to come. While going downhill we noticed a car parked on the side of the road, with its hood lifted up, as I was thinking that it got overheated I heard my friend asking a man standing next to the car about our second climb, Cemerno, he replied with one sentence, “You are doomed on Cemerno!”. I instantly said to my friend “Oh come on, don’t listen to him!” but he was also instantly talking more sense into me, probably a little scared that we don’t mess it up.
Valley of Heroes ( Dolina Heroja )
If you are a passionate cyclist then you surely know that the best part of going uphill is that at one moment you will blaze downhill, so we did, not wasting any time we rushed into the very heart of the Sutjeska National Park, without a slightest idea that its most amazing and gorgeous sight is in front of us. And just like it happens in movies, when suddenly, behind some rock or curve, unexpectedly land of beauty shows up, Sutjeska National Park did it to us. As we were arriving into the “Valley of the Heroes” (“Dolina Heroja”) we were left speechless. When you enter “Valley of the Heroes” Sutjeska River is first thing you will see crossing over the bridge, and it is not too much to say that Sutjeska is the blood line of the National Park, since it goes from one to another border of the park. Following the river after two kilometers a spacious plateau will unveil itself, along with Battle of Sutjeska monument, standing on higher ground, spreading its wings like an eagle protecting this place of untouched nature, tucked in between mountains.
Ridding and looking around we saw a small store, sun was already high up and we decided to take a break, while refreshing we gazed as much as we could, absorbing every detail of astonishing scenery of Sutjeska. Fields of grass were followed by trees and then going up only bare rock mountains touched the sky. It was as if whole greenery slided down a little bit from the walls of the mountains to enjoy thriving and luscious life in the valley of Sutjeska. Also, we found out from the local people, that beside the monument there is also a memorial home dedicated to Battle of Sutjeska, “Mladost” hotel, youth camp “Tjentiste” with sports courts and an artificial lake.
However, our plan required us to move on, inspired by its beauty we were eager to find out what else is there hidden in Sutjeska National Park. Following Sutjeska River upstream we left the plateau behind us. Our second climb started. But now it felt easier than in the morning, set just next to the river the road was now in the background of our attention, and noise of a river flow mixed with chirping and singing of the birds along with flora of the park totally consumed us, there wasn’t a lot of traffic and this live gallery of nature’s art permeated all our senses with its images and sounds. On some places road was curved into the rock, making us feel like we were on verge of a cliff but on the other side Sutjeska was sparkling, rayed with sunshine, and large white rocks and stones bathing in the river resembled to a pearl necklace, anyone who sees it will without a doubt say that it certainly is the most beautiful adornment of Sutjeska National Park.
After a while we parted with the river, and nearing the end of national park it seemed like the nature also retreated, and that we were left alone to deal with the mountain. The noon has passed, sun was at its peak, so was the temperature, and it took its toll on everything around, including us. Bare mountain tops mercilessly scorched, grass and trees lost its bright green color, fighting for every drop of water they can get out of desertlike ground. And so were we fighting against the climb, slowly pedaling over the Cemerno bridge, rising high above the ground on concrete pillars, but at that time with no water flowing under, it seemed like some mind game that mountain was playing with us.
And now, at this moment, the “take it easy” from early morning took its meaning, with only front wheel in our sight we continued to conquer the mountain meter by meter, we knew it wouldn’t let us without a fight, but also that we are close to the tunnel, and after a few long curves that squeezed out of us all drops of sweat there it was, our last obstacle before the descent, the Cemerno tunnel. As we approached workers who were painting horizontal road marks looked at us strangely, we asked them for some water and they told us we can get it on the other side of the tunnel from their fellow worker who is waiting there. At elevation of 1200m with a length of 2.1 kilometers this amazing structure trembled from cars, trucks, their tires and engines, with a noise that was giving us chills.
Carefully, feeling a cold air draft over our bodies all throughout the tunnel we reached the other end, now pleased to be on the sun again, regardless the hot day. A worker was just right outside of the tunnel, standing near the truck, he gave us water and we even refilled our supplies. Looking at the tunnel, finally relaxed, it was pleasure, joy, happiness and satisfaction that instantly fulfilled us, and right there, in a blink of an eye, our scary challenge became one of the most wonderful memories of our lives. Moving away from the tunnel we were headed toward Adriatic Sea, with only one thought on our mind. It was more than worth it!