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Back to Coastal Montenegro:  March 12- April 24, 2009  


Making Our Break

Preparing for our touring season abroad is always chaotic but the winter of '08-'09 will be remembered for also squeezing an unexpected move into the process. We found a new apartment in a single wintry afternoon cruising Vancouver's 'burbs on our bikes; we consolidated all of our belongings stashed at 2 different locations for the last 8 years in one place in (mostly) a single, though very long day; and we'll finish unpacking and settling in next winter when we return.

Saying good-bye to Mom on the way to the airport.

Activities like assembling our 2008 photo album, taking a motor cycle license endorsement class, and updating our wills slid-off the list of what was possible to do and will intensify our next winter's stay.

But not long after our friend Mulvey deposited us and our luggage at the Portland International Airport (PDX), a sweet calmness settled in after 3 months of being in high-output mode. Yes, there were the last hurdles: in the process of cancelling our original flight, Lufthansa neglected to reserve our seats and it was at check-in that Bill was putting the final Super-Glue-and-screw touches on a broken suitcase handle. But after the seat assignment crisis had passed, the bag was repaired, and we and our luggage sailed through the often difficult security checks, we automatically slipped into our overseas mode.

We headed for our favorite seating area at PDX just past security. There the high windows, an expansive view, the bright natural light, and carpet-muted sounds allowed us to make our transition to being travelers again. Last emails were keyed and sent out on the free wifi while the repaired laptop happily slurped away on the readily available power.

Then out came the picnic lunch as I sat at a table with my feet on a chair in anticipation of the next 10 hours with them uncomfortably on the fuselage floor. We enjoyed our hodge-podge of 'real food' leftovers: cooked butternut squash from the day before; the last of the kalamata olives and marinated artichoke hearts swirled for a simple salad; a few grapes; and a bit of low fat Celtic cheese and some too-healthy crackers. Hardly a marketable meal, but a fun assortment to nibble upon as we finished our correspondence.

The pleasant ambiance in the better parts of PDX takes what is often dreary airport terminal wait-time and creates a tranquil interlude as we transition from busy householders to travelers. At the gate it was the turning off of our cell phones that was the final symbolic break with the last 13 weeks as the phones wouldn't chirp from their US SIM cards for another 9 months.


Taking a stroll on Opatija's "Lungomare" ("along the sea").

Retracing Our Steps

Our intricate travel plans informed by personal experience worked perfectly as we retraced our steps from Frankfurt to Kotor, Montenegro--the reverse of the journey we'd made 3 months earlier. There would be no time budgeted for sightseeing on the way back--only a layover in Rijeka, Croatia as we waited for a bi-weekly ferry. Then we'd spend a night in Dubrovnik where our bikes were stashed but continue on by bus to Kotor without them for a little R&R. The week scheduled in inexpensive Kotor was officially time to recover from jet lag but we'd come to welcome the interval as a time to decompress from the tempo of being back home.

As when we'd made the journey north a few months earlier, we were again very lucky in not having our travel plans disrupted by the weather. The expected showers in Frankfurt stopped an hour or so before we arrived and the unusually harsh winter weather in the Venice area had improved the prior week.

Despite arriving at our B&B in the outskirts of Venice close to bedtime after more than 24 hours of travel and 2 flights, I couldn't resist the warm evening and the sound of birds and darted-out for a "Welcome Back to Europe" first walk.  A couple of days later, our 21 hour ferry ride from the northern end of Croatia to the southern tip at Dubrovnik was on almost glassy smooth water and we needed no motion sickness medication. However, the next morning after we had docked, there were white caps on the sea.

Kotor Bay from high above on our first hike.

We arrived in Kotor on a Wednesday afternoon, took our first hike into the just-out-the-door mountains on Thursday, and on Friday looked up to see snow where we'd been the day before. From the islands west of southern Italy to the lands far east of us a series of storms were dropping large amounts of snow and hitting hard with high winds. But we were off the roads and the seas and settled into Kotor for our week's stay.

We were literally on the sea coast and felt lucky to only be inconvenienced by the temperature drop and be buffeted by the winds.  We went for our hikes in the hills and walks along the sea on alternate days as planned as the weather slowly improved.


"Hi Kids"

We reluctantly left our comfortable and well-equipped Kotor tourist apartment after a week.  It was one of those few places in our traveling year where we feel so at ease, so comfortable, that it is hard to pull ourselves away. But it was time to switch out of the tranquil transition mode and to become serious about being bike tourists again.

The 2+ hour bus ride back to Dubrovnik was extended by more than a half-hour as the Croatian border police did a strip-search of the bus, apparently looking for drugs. The 4 passengers on the full-sized bus weren't pestered but the police pulled back the carpet and unscrewed the metal floor plates to inspect the cabling channels for contraband. We were invited to stay on the bus and didn't know all that went on in the under-spaces of the vehicle and in the office with the driver. An English speaking local on board said that there had been a big drug bust recently that involved swapping heroin for stolen cars in the mountain villages of Montenegro and that that event was what probably spurred this thorough search.

Back in Dubrovnik we were reunited with our safe and dry bikes after our almost 4 month absence. Bill spent the entire next day installing almost all of the bike parts he brought from the States. Along with the bulky things like new helmets and new cycling sandals, we'd been carrying new aerobars for me, cork handlebar wrap for both of us, and an assortment of brake and shifter cables. The last of the little chores would be finished in the following weeks but the big items were out of our bulging bags and installed on the bikes.

"That's it!" This sign confirmed we'd found our unlikely back road.

The flag dropped on the start of Cyclotouring Season #9 and we headed south out of Croatia back into Montenegro, retracing our steps from the end of November for the first couple of days. Our  previous season, 2008, had a brutal start on steep hills and dished out unexpectedly long days in Sicily (25,000' elevation gain in 10 riding days). My body suffered for about 2 weeks with the boot-camp-type reconditioning that couldn't be modified much once underway due to the lack of lodging.

This year's launch was the exact opposite of last year's start as familiar and frequently available lodging had us stopping after 12-20 miles the first few days. The 1000' elevation gains on Days 1 and 2 and the strong headwinds on Day 2 had us working hard enough without covering more miles. My shoulders and calves were sore from the effort and Bill's back was complaining from the unfamiliar contortions of spending a day being a bike mechanic so, though we were thrilled to be back on the bikes, we were content not to press too hard.

The very changeable weather continued on with its erratic pattern as more storms rolled through the Mediterranean. For several days we'd be teased with a few sunny hours and then be engulfed in gray skies and doused by rain. At least it wasn't cold, with the day time lows being in the high 50's. Even this mix counted as good spring riding conditions and we were off to a reassuring start.


Traveler's Fear

The Non-Specific Fears

Our travels occasionally remind me of a statement made years ago by a travel medicine physician who said that about 10% of adventure travelers will have a psychotic event while traveling. In his mind it was the loss of the perception of control that unravels people when they are in unfamiliar environments. Traveling, and even thinking about traveling, triggers fear in me from time to time but fortunately doesn't push me over that edge--perhaps discharging of the fear in these smaller packets prevents me from experiencing a bigger event.

My wobbles in self-confidence usually begin about halfway through our stay in Portland/Vancouver when I clutch at the thought of our upcoming travels. It is usually triggered by more serious packing and preparation and not by any particular concern about the future plans. It is the vagueness rather than the specificity of the future that rattles me. I suffer from a general lapse in confidence and am tempted to stay at home and lock the door. Given it is an annual and predictable event, I've learned to just let it run its course until it runs away without me.

Again early in our traveling season, I'll likely have another "Oh-my-gosh, what am I doing here?!" surge. Again, nothing too specific, only generalized fear and anxiety about launching into the unknown.

And then, a couple of times a year during the touring season I'll get distracted by my fear. Then it is usually different, then the fear is very focused as it is triggered by something very specific and near. It the first few days of our 2009 touring season I got a double whammy--2 independent factors were suddenly making me fearful at the same time.
It Started with One

The first wave of fear came when intentionally looking online for more details about the 2 dog mauling episodes in Sicily earlier in the month. From the time that we began cyclotouring in the States, deflecting dogs had been constantly on our list of things about which we wanted to be wiser.

Once overseas, we'd learned to watch what the locals preferred to wield for self-defense, usually either sticks or rocks, assuming that the local dogs will be most responsive to the familiar signal. And last year we eliminated the ambiguity around how long to tote a stash of rocks or a stick on the bikes by deciding to keep our hiking sticks handy to be swung as a weapon with a quick move of a single hand while pedaling.

But the recent fatal and near-fatal attacks in Sicily had been by a pack of 30-40 dogs. Raising our titanium walking sticks worked well to slow a single dog or a pair of dogs, but it was clear that we'd be helpless if under siege by dozens of starved dogs at a single time. Presumably our bias towards being on through roads, instead of in fields and on beaches as was the case in these attacks, would decrease our exposure. And our helmets would provide a little protection that the recent victims had lacked. But it was hard not to feel vulnerable, especially since we had toured in the very area of the attacks less than a year ago.

I found myself fretting about the terror of being mauled by a pack of dogs later in the day when taunted by several dogs working their turf. Our favorite sequence of first talking sweetly to an alert but non-confrontational dog and then escalating to our own low growling and barking to interrupt a charge if the dog becomes aggressive worked well, like it usually does. This was an unloaded day-ride and so we were without our walking sticks. After these mild confrontations, we vowed that never again would we ride abroad without our sticks--that starting the next they would be a part of our most minimalist day-rider gear--just in case.

Then Came Another Threat

It was unfortunate to have intentionally read about the dog attacks in the morning and then go out for our day ride where we felt a dual threat: one from the few challenging dogs and another from the small groups of men who also looked like they were ready for a fight.

It's quite rare for us to feel threatened by any of the thousands of people we pass by as travelers but oddly in Tivat, Montenegro we were bumping up against that "let's go the other way" feeling repeatedly. It first happened as we were cruising the middle of 3 streets that parallel Tivat's tiny marina while looking for lodging in the late afternoon. The cluster of a half dozen young men looked startled to see us on their road, startled in a way that made us feel unwelcome. After the slightest hesitation, we pressed on past them, not having any tangible reason to fear for our safety and knowing that we were in the central area of the village. As expected, there was no incident and yet we felt uneasy and bypassed that street as we continued our lodging search.

The next day on our unloaded ride in which we encountered several unfriendly dogs, we turned around at my request rather than continue the several hundred yards to the beach for a lunch stop. It appeared that there would be no other people at the bottom of this dead-end drive other than the 4 men with beers in their hands that had short-cutted down the bank before us. Again, there was no gesture directed at us that was threatening and yet we were outnumbered and their affect set-off my alarm bells like the men had the day before. Bill didn't feel any more comfortable with the situation than I did, so we left.

As we rode further on the almost deserted back road, I pondered my reactiveness to these groups of men we were encountering. The couple of men we'd seen as we approached the back road had made me feel uneasy too. Then it finally dawned on me: each of the times that I bristled at the posturing of these groups of usually 4 to 6 men, there were no women in the area. One of my background safety-assessment indicators that is always in the ready is "How many women are where I am?"  If something triggers me to question how safe I am in a given place and then I notice that there are no other women around, I know it's time for me to at least think about heading the other way.

I realized that for the first time in Montenegro, we were in an area where there seemed to be a line drawn where the women milled about and did their errands and where they didn't linger. I also realized that what was different here than elsewhere in the Mediterranean was the the men milling about seemed more threatening.

We've created a stereotype over our years of travel of the 'idle Mediterranean males', which is of the men that seemed to have crafted the fine art of doing nothing other than smoking, drinking tea or coffee, socializing, and staring for hours on end. We've learned that these are very laid-back men who have a very relaxed and non-confrontation manner. They are a part of the local scenery and the fact that there are no women around them doesn't diminish my sense of safety.

In Tivat, Montenegro, it was different. These men milling about had the contained readiness of street bullies instead of passiveness of tea shop smokers. If these guys weren't trying to pick a fight, they at least looked like they were in the habit of being ready to defend themselves in a flash.  It made me feel less-safe than I usually feel when we cruise along quiet village streets and back roads. It wasn't threatening enough for me to say to Bill that it was time to exit the area entirely but I certainly would keep watching, I would keep alert, and hope to assess whether I needed to act more decisively to my low level alarm bells or if it was time to recalibrate myself for a different culture.

Two more times we altered our course in the greater Tivat area because of the slightly bullying affect of the men. Disappointingly, one of the men I felt a need to dodge around was a police officer. We'll never know if there is something odd going on in Tivat or not. Perhaps it is an area where organized crime is an issue; perhaps the big construction projects funded by Russian investors had brought in a workforce whose posturing stands out from the locals; perhaps we just 'had a bad day.'



I'd been ruminating about our dissatisfaction with being in Montenegro as we rode the short distance between the seaside towns of Tivat and Budva. The UNESCO World Heritage Site of Kotor town and the greater Kotor Bay had been idyllic but nothing else in our limited visit of Montenegro had been pleasing.

A sober reminder of the hazards even on the back roads.

Bill had been grousing about the terrible traffic conditions; I was scrutinizing my sense of being less safe around the men on the sidewalks and back roads. The biking wasn't good, the hiking so far had been disappointing, there wasn't much in the way of museums, and the prolific littering detracted from the less-than-stunning scenery. This wasn't the glowing start to the traveling year we'd hoped for and I was rapidly losing interest in coming back to Montenegro in the fall, which had been the plan.

We'd finished the last several touring seasons in Croatia as it offered very scenic roads in the relatively warmer reaches in the autumn. The road conditions weren't great, but every day would reward us with pleasing scenery. But it was time to move beyond Croatia and we'd thought maybe Montenegro would be our new end-of-the-season home. But it wasn't shaping up as an appealing alternative. Albania was farther south and held even less promise as it is noted in the region for its terrible roads and poverty. We'd held our breathe as we navigated parts of Serbia and Bulgaria several years ago and weren't eager to return to either on bikes.

Jury-rigging 'fixes' contributed to "Balkan Fatigue".

As I projected our most likely end-of-the-season options into the future I realized that I was suffering from "Balkan Fatigue". The struggles of these disadvantaged countries always meant more struggle for us. Except for the Croatian coast, I generally felt less safe in the Balkans than in the rest of Europe. And the cycling itself was often short on idyllic moments and instead tended to be an exercise in rallying courage.  

Blocking out the distractions created by the trucks whizzing by me too closely, I scanned my crude mental map of larger Europe for an inviting alternative and Portugal popped into mind. Portugal is about the only European country other than the Scandinavian ones that we haven't visited. Portugal is pretty far south and despite being on the Atlantic, seems to fair surprisingly well when we watch the satellite images of the storms rolling across the European continent. Portugal is one of the poorer countries in the EU but its culture would likely be a pleasant break from the challenges and stresses of being in the Balkans.

Being the lead rider at the time it was easy enough to signal Bill that I wanted us to pull off the noisy road at the next wide patch of gravel and I sprung "What about Portugal?" on him. Of course, "Portugal" caught him off guard but being unsettled in Montenegro, he quickly got my drift. "For fall, you mean for the fall?" In  2 or 3 minutes I knew I had a "take" as Bill clicked into full "Map Man" mode as he began connecting the dots.

In the quiet moments between packs of passing cars over the next half hour I heard "And then we could pick-up the Picos Mountains in northern Spain that we missed last time.....Perhaps we could leave the bikes in Barcelona again when  we go home.....But what about studying Italian?" His wheels were spinning; my job was done; we'd both feel better now that we had an attractive alternative for the fall. Right now it mattered less where we actually finished the riding season than that we had a renewed sense of possibilities.       


The most authentic image we saw in Budva's old town.

Back to Montenegro

Searching for a Place to Love

We had really, really, really wanted to love Montenegro, but it wasn't happening. We longed to find our place in the sun--a place to be during the cooler, wetter months where we wouldn't be so cold and wet. A place where we could go on long rides with little traffic to pester us, someplace to be fascinated by the scenery, by the history. But Montenegro, despite the enticing ads that had run on BBC and CNN for years featuring cyclists and enticing us to "Experience Wild Beauty," kept falling short.

We were learning that coastal Montenegro was traditionally the seaside holiday playground for folks from Serbia and Kosovo, and more recently Albania, so its established tourist infrastructure targeted eastern European tastes and budgets. The "Coney Island" type of carnival beach promenade was still popular in the main beach towns and we wondered if having to ask for a second sheet at some abodes wasn't also a hold-over from their historical target market.

Montenegro was under construction everywhere we went.

Seemingly all of Montenegro was under construction as the newly independent micro-country (680,000 people) transitioned from marketing to their inland brethren to the international glitterati.

We rode miles and miles of main highway reduced to a single lane because of pipe laying. It would have been comforting to know that in the process they were also widening the 2 lane road, but that wasn't the case. Should we return when the road work was done, the truck routes still wouldn't offer us the protection of additional lanes or real shoulders.

Repeatedly we'd read about big projects under consideration or underway. Plans ranged from adding 2,500 to 25,000 beds in little areas that seemed too small or too short on "touristic quality" for such development.  It was just as hard to imagine humble Tivat, home to less than 10,000, sporting  a super marina for 650 enormous yachts. But not far down the road, slightly larger Budva spent $5 million in 2008 to host Madonna in hopes of raising its stature on the international circuit.

Whole hillsides had been stripped of trees and crisscrossed with freshly-cut roads waiting for the masses of new hotels to be built. "Rape of the land" was all we could think each time to looked up at the hillside behind Budva and other towns.  When we'd look up at the hills and down the cliffs we'd often see what looked to be reckless development underway--or piles of dumped garbage. The "Wild" wasn't looking very wild anymore and the "Beauty" didn't look like it had ever been very beautiful. 

Neither Budva's hills or beach were enchanting.

We stopped on the main coastal highway to study one in a string of identical billboards marketing apartments for sale in the yet-to-be-built 27 storey high rise that we recognized from other TV ads as being a copy of a building in Dubai. This ultra-modern tower was poised to spike-up from a rocky promontory on Budva's small coastline that currently looked like gray coral as the partially-built concrete villas were systematically covering the land. "Wildly out-of-place" was the only way we could factor "Wild Beauty" into this scenario.

And when we made a day of walking to Sveti Stefan from Budva to admire the "Gem of the Adriatic"--a charming old fishing village that occupied a tiny island--it was shut. Really shut. The much touted destination had been sold to one of the mammoth hotel complexes and the padlock had been on the town gate for the last 2 years.

Sveti Stefan was locked down & we were locked out.

Very Different From Croatia

I thought back to Croatia, Montenegro's northern coastal neighbor with whom we were quite familiar. Despite its many shortcomings, by comparison to Montenegro, Croatia had clearly gotten the tourism concept right. The guide book comment I read in 2001 had always stuck in my mind, that Croatia had always looked across the Adriatic to Italy--not to its Balkan neighbors--for its inspiration and its guests. Perhaps this is why the tourism development in Croatia looked much, much better to our eyes.

The Croatian government, like the Montenegrin one, had long sought to line its pockets by luring international tourists to its coasts. The government in Croatia built big tourist compounds of high rise hotels away from the villages. Presumably it wasn't an inspired decision to preserve the traditional villages but a lucky decision to start from scratch and build independent holiday towns.

Renegade garbage is a problem in both countries.

The result is that today Croatia still has 2 separate and distinct coastal tourist destinations: the package tourism folks have self-sufficient villages complete with disco night life, beaches, and recreational facilities and the tourists enticed by the TV ads describing Croatia as the "Mediterranean as it once was" can indeed see dozens of old port towns more gently molded by tourism.

Perhaps Montenegro had no choice but to corrupt its old towns; perhaps its 60 mile coastline just wasn't big enough retain old towns as they expanded their tourist capacity as Croatia did. But whatever the reason, Croatia still has a string of charming sea side villages in which to slip back in time, in which to lose your own sense of time.

In contrast, Kotor was the only place in Montenegro which came close to having a similarly pleasing ambiance. Interestingly, Kotor was from Roman times through to the end of WWII considered part of Dalmatia--a part of the Croatian coast. Budva's walled old town is promoted as being true to the past despite being completely rebuilt after the 1979 earthquake, but the commercial use of it tipped too far and instead it felt more like a Disneyland village or movie set.

Budva's old town wasn't very convincing.

Croatia definitely had more to work with than Montenegro. Croatia's coastline is many times longer and for the most part is much more scenic by my standards. Miles of Croatia's water's edge is of fascinating convolutions of rocky layers joining the sea. Cliffs, coves, beaches, islands, and peninsulas create long stretches of visually delightful shore line. Much of the Montenegrin coast line instead smoothly curves like a gently winding road and the trees cover the land to the sea. Unlike in Croatia, much of Montenegro's coastline looks identical mile after mile. At the southern reaches, around Ulcinj, the Montenegro's shore line did however become more enchanting.



Ulcinj is the last significant settlement on the southern Montenegrin coast and is only 10 miles from the border with Albania. Its population is more than 70% Albanian and so like in Albania, more than 70% of the people are Muslim. I'd wondered how that would feel after being in the predominately Orthodox Montenegro, if the conservativism would be oppressive. But being a beach resort, that seemed unlikely.

Ulcinj's coastline was more interesting than most in Montenegro.

But we did recoil our first minutes in Ulcinj as we had done so many times upon our entry into Montenegro's coastal towns. We'd come down out the hills from a pleasant rural road and it felt like we'd been dumped into the backside of a junk yard. The tumbled, helter-skelter look at this end of town was unsettling enough but it felt even worse when I remembered that we were now looking for lodging.

"Tractor hours" was a new one.

My fixed gaze jumped from the sorry store fronts, to the broken sidewalks, to the abandoned buildings, and then to the dust blowing in front of us. I once again wondered what we'd gotten ourselves into; I wondered how this story would have a happy ending. The sorry scene shifted to that of the bizarre when I realized that the only stretch limousine we'd seen for months was coming towards us and its license plates were from the US state of Nevada. Behind it was a normal sized black sedan which also had Nevada plates. I'd hardly digested this rare 'catch' from my habit of reading plates when we pulled over and parked. 

It was the familiar sign for a "Mega" store--a food market I knew--not the limo that brought us to a halt. It was hard to imagine that there was a viable business behind the dusty, uninviting storefront but I feared it would be the only market in town. We later learned that there were indeed other markets but this turned out to be the best stocked of the bunch. 

In addition to the welcome groceries, it was a good time for us to pause. Nothing like shifting one's focus to the dark spots on the tomatoes to interrupt the negative reaction to the town itself. Ulcinj didn't look so bad after we'd loaded provisions into our panniers.

Back on the bikes, we rode uphill into the main part of Ulcinj under the bright afternoon sun. It vaguely reminded me of one of the tacky French ski resort towns we'd rolled through in the Pyrenees last summer with its mish-mash of storefronts. This strip-city district was a little more encouraging than our first minutes in town but there was still no sign of lodging.

Fortunately Bill had a bead on a guide book recommended apartment and I suggested we park the bikes while he looked for it. The road it was likely on looked impassable because of construction and I needed a breather--I needed a little more than the time I'd had in a grocery store to fortify myself, to find a way to feel good about being where I was.

The "Mega Market" didn't look like a winner.

A couple of days later I had changed my mind; I developed a new respect for Ulcinj; I even began to like it. It was in some ways a ragged mess and yet in other ways it had retained its own dignity despite the press of tourism. At least Ulcinj had an internal consistency about it, as unfamiliar as the model was to me. Unlike Budva and other Montenegrin beach towns, it seemed to be resisting the press of high-rise apartments and hotels. The buildings in it were still low and on a human scale; there were no signs of appealing to the glitterati here.

Shops meeting the needs of the tourists and the town folks were seamlessly intermingled in Ulcinj. Timeless old men in frayed sport coats and hats sat on stools with their bucket of fish or eels for sale in front of them on the sidewalk. Next door might be a decidedly un-fashionable internet shop that was still closed for the season. Tiny, tiny store fronts for filigreed jewelry, clothing, and mobile phones peppered the main street but none of it was slick or cookie-cutter--there were no chain stores here. And the woman walking along with a large dead fowl swinging by its feet from her hand looked right at home.

What would look raunchy elsewhere looked authentic here. It was no doubt a touch of the Medina mentality from a little farther east and south that was informing the marketing. I quickly shifted from being repelled by the lack of sophistication of the scene and instead applauded the local community for keeping it their way.


Ulcinj: kind of a '50's look with satellite dishes.

Stress and Strain

Ulcinj, Montenegro will be one of those little-known places in the world that will occupy a big place in my memory for it was where I partially dislocated my left shoulder. We'd planned to layover at this beach-holiday town for 4 nights so that Bill could get caught-up on his chores. There were still bike parts to install; Montenegrin trip planning was more time consuming than expected; and then there was still the backlog of 2008 webpage files created by our computer crash. Ulcinj was warm and our apartment was inexpensive--a good place to pause and let his stress level go down.

But on Day 2 our layover took on an indefinite quality when about 6 in the evening at the end of a drizzly day I slipped on a steep downhill street. Ironically, I was on foot, not on my bike. I was on my fitness walk and I'd relished this 25+% grade for the efficient CV exercise. But on my way back to the apartment my left foot went out from under me on the very severe incline of the inside curve of the one-lane road. I'd clung to the edge because the cars were having difficulty getting traction on the wet pavement.

Where I slipped: it's steeper than it looks.

I went down backwards and uphill and hit hard on my left side with my left arm extended overhead. My open palm took some of the force, as it reminded me for days. There was no broken skin anywhere but I nearly passed out from the shoulder pain. I now clearly understood why shoulder dislocations have long been used as a torture technique.  

Oddly, moments after I hit and before I even moved "I've dislocated my shoulder" flashed through my mind. Even though I haven't thought about such matters for 10 years, apparently those details from the "Anatomy for Yoga" workshops in which the mechanics of dislocations were discussed were embedded in my tissues, as it popped out as an explanation for my pain without searching for it.

After the pain subsided enough that I could roll out of the street and eventually walk the short distance back to our apartment, Bill modified my spontaneous diagnosis by saying it was probably a partial dislocation. His diagnosis held as he read more details online and ruled out a fractured collarbone and other likely injuries. The large dark bruise that developed above the elbow joint  and the lumpy tissue under it suggested I'd also torn-up some of my biceps muscle on that side.

My partial or near dislocation--whatever it was--was memorable both for how painful it was at the time and how marked the early healing stages were. The first night I couldn't stand the pressure of pressing my earring back onto the stud. The next day that was possible, but the lateral pressure of washing my hands was barely tolerable and was challenging for a week. But about every 12 hours I'd discover some aspect of my range of motion that had improved. It was the strength, not the mobility, that would be slow to return.

The big question was how long to let it heal. We had no time schedule and we were still the only guests at the holiday lodging spot, but I'm also not a great one for staying put. On Day 4 Bill suggested that the wave of nausea I felt with the overhead shoulder rotation required when pulling my shirts on and off was likely a good measure of healing--when the movement no longer made me feel ill I'd probably be pretty well healed. That measure would be compared with the diminishing discomfort with the hand washing motion to judge my progress. Not reinjuring the shoulder would be paramount as a first dislocation can vastly increase one's risk of subsequent relocations. The top priority would be preventing re-injury in the coming weeks and months.

Daily icing was a part of the healing regime.

So, our stay a Ulcinj shifted from decreasing Bill's stress level to being a major catch-up time. Webpage Side Trip files that I'd started as far back as 2004 were pulled out, dusted off, and completed. Files I'd finished but for which Bill hadn't quite completed his portion were finished and uploaded. And then there were the couple of dozen little problems and housekeeping chores on the webpage that hadn't ever gotten resolved that were finally tended to. The bike maintenance and trip planning chores that were on his "A" list also got checked off. Ah, if only we'd been able to work on our 2008 photo album.....

After 12 days of healing and a total of 14 nights in Ulcinj, Montenegro we finally were on the road again. It was a short ride back to Bar where we'd catch a train to the interior of Montenegro. We'd tried before going inland on the roads but the traffic was wildly-unfun. If the conductor would let us on, the train would give Montenegro a second chance to thrill us with her "Wild Beauty."

"Marking Time:  Healing a Shoulder in Ulcinj, Montenegro" will be the next file out and it chronicles the changes in my injury and changes in Ulcinj during our 2 week stay should you be interested in the details.


Where We Are Now on May 23, 2009
We are on the west coast of Italy in Pisa. We've just returned from a 10 day bike-less junket to Malta with a friend from Portland.

My shoulder is still annoying, though it is currently crankier when I sleep than when I make it work during the day. If Bill weren't so capable in releasing the ongoing muscle spasms with massage (sometimes in the middle of the night) we'd likely have had to return home because of the pain the spasms cause.

The weather has turned hot, we've de-conditioned while being in Malta, and Bill can't decide on a route:  oh to have such problems..... One thing is certain though, we'll arrive in Selva d'Gardena in the Italian Dolomites on July 4th for our annual 2 week hiking event.


Our best to all of you,

Barb & Bill


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