The next day the weather is glorious as the route takes you out of the grand forests and into the typical karstic terrain of the region. Dry limestone rocks push up through the countryside as I battle steep climbs. So far the route had been, dare I say it, easy. Lulling everyone into a false sense of security. Even convincing those on gravel bikes that they may have made the right choice of bike. Then the route fights back with a punch to the stomach and a body slam to the floor. A steep boulder garden descent dropping in a straight line down the mountain side, front and rear suspension working overtime to contain the rocks, marks the start of the fun and games. Then after another long climb into the sun filled sky it just gets better. I reach the top alongside Femke and Jonno on hard tails and Tony on a gravel bike. The descent that follows is 45 minutes of the most exhilarating, fast, loose, rocky fun. The double track made single by the encroaching trees, hairpin bends where the tyres struggle for grip. Whooping and hollering I fly down the mountain. So much fun. Further interesting corkscrewing single track takes us towards Knin and the first big refuel option of the day. A quick check of the tracker reveals that the three of us on mountain bikes have put 90 minutes into the gravel bikes in the last 3 hours. The course had well and truly bared its teeth!
In Bosnia I found what I was looking for on this race. Tough, uncompromising riding in a sparsely populated landscape with resupply options few and far between. Yet just enough major towns and cities to mean it never felt too far to go before finding a nice bed and good pizza. Crossing the border with Croatia late on the 3rd day I found Bea and Luca taking photos. I could not contain my delight at the fun I was having so far. A welcome relief of a road climb leads to the border itself then a winding ribbon of new tarmac shooting you from one corner to the other as I descended towards Livno, head down, arms on aero bars, tapping out a fast rhythm to beat the impending thunderstorms.
Climbing out of Livno the terrain is straight forward but hard. A rough old road through the mountains with deep cobbles gives way to a high mountain plateau, rain clouds all around threatening your progress. The rain holds off until the descent into Suica where it becomes torrential. A check of the tracker shows a cafe with 4 dots in it. That would be a good place to hide from the rain. And it is, a great breakfast washed down with endless coffee. I find these moments to be such an important part of the race experience. With the rain hammering down outside I gave myself permission to hit the pause button for 45 minutes and to just enjoy it. I could almost be on holiday. Onwards to Mostar, the terrain is high and remote. The challenge of an off-road ultra where progress can be slow, the 70km taking what seems like an eternity. But there is always the amazing scenery to distract you. You become aware of the changing landscape being the marker of distance passing. The high plateau with it's long rolling ascent giving way to a forest before finally more alpine terrain where civilisation makes an appearance again with hotels and other signs of tourism. Soon I enter the bustling chaos of Mostar and the best pizza of the race.
Montenegro is the highlight of the race, but also the hardest part. I wasn't alone in thinking that once Durmitor was out of the way it was easy rolling all the way to the finish line. Durmitor is as epic as I remember from last year on TCRno7. As the route is on road or easy tarmac I have plenty of time to take in the splendour of the peaks as I just about avoid another rainstorm before resupply in Zabljak. Then the next 70km becomes an epic struggle against the trail. Easy double track climbs lead to an amazing series of tracks through the high mountains, but the sun setting coincides with the trail deteriorating into a slippy mud fest, my lights trying to pick out the dry lines to avoid a fall. Finally through the darkness the lights of Kolašin below mean it's not far to the hotel. My tired legs and mind wouldn't settle for a wild camp tonight.