Rakija, high heels and SKA music – SSEC 2016 Kobarid

Behind the curtain politics and under the table agreements, providing they are fully exposed and valid got one advantage over UNKNOWN. You are served full meal with napkin and  waiter’s bow. You now what you are paying for…

That was the case with quite misleading and leaving rather anti-climactic after taste in your mouth finale of SSEC 2014 in Castlewellan, in Northern Ireland. 2015 for Sicilly, 2016 for Slovenia. Easy-peasy…

2 years fast-forward and trembling with excitement and expectation I was loading all my stuff into Strudel to deliver myself to the starting point of the most anticipated roadtrip of 2016.

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3 vans, under blue-and-black GT Riders flag (Godiva Trailriders) started 1100 miles Balkan Peregrination in fair, Wednesday evening. First, short and almost local stage seen us heading towards Harwitch to board ferry to Holland. But that was only prelude to day and a half traverse of the whole continent 🙂

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This year SSEC got special, personal vibe to me.. First, I slightly jumped at front of the band making some undisclosed suggestions that Poland MIGHT be interested in 2017 event organization. Few harsh soldier-like words from Bearded Troll Yarr, few reality checks and I found out that this beautiful plan is much too ambitious. Yet… xD Secondly finally there was real opportunity for some of my countrymen to have some firsthand SSEC experienced, not only my occasional, in-comprehensive raving and drooling.

Merry Bus powered by the most screwed-up play-list in this part of Europe, that consist of Prog-Rock, Hip-Hop, Brit-Pop, Metal, Nu-Metal and Folk, carried us to Munich where we expected to stay for night and meet with 4th GT van. Quick detour through Belgium and stocking enough of „heavy-fuel”to drink to death half of Slovenian population was a must. 3 vans, tha’s a pack, 4 vans that’s… convoy 🙂

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Weather was suspiciously similar to memorable shit-fest from 2013 Catalonia trip. Wet, windy and only marginally warmer. Joys of one before last weekend of May :-/

Leaving Bavaria we started gaining some altitude to prep ourselves to Alps crossing. Weather was still testing our patience, but at least landscapes started to look more promising. With a sting of mild panic I realized that in my infinitive wisdom I haven’t took ANY wet weather gear with me. Things started to be tad more dramatic, when we read FB reports from early arrives about torrential downpours. Bollock… Paddle or canoe anyone?

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Luckily soon we found out that God is cyclist like us 🙂 Almost immediately, after leaving long, murky tunnel on the Austrian side  of the mountains we saw sun piercing boldly through thinning clouds. That turned to be even better through our brief crossing of Italy and ended up full-on summer blast during spectacular climb and descent over 50 switchbacks near Ruska Kapelica. Traditional, Slavic hospitality was perfectly matched 😀

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Small sidetrack. I guess you know this feeling, whilst browsing through some fabulous, HDR-oozing pictures or salivating over hi-def tourist folder? Your eyes are boiling, heart rate pushing new limits… And then you are arriving to the dream destination. Everything is just about fine but at the back of your throat some sort of disappointment lurks… There is even special quasi-scientific description for this issue in a Catalog of First World Major Problems. It is called Paris Syndrome ( Paris Syndrome ). Luckily in Slovenia reality check proved to be at 120% of expected state of the fact. Epic landscapes were grabbing your balls and squeezing so hard that even the most skeptical grumbler was sighing in awe.

Pumped-up like teen-boys before first naked date we finally reached Kobarid. First hugs, welcomes and smiles to long-time-no-see and not so-long-time-no-see friends.

Stricken with mild confusion at last we are making our way to Tourist Information in the center point of the town to register and pick goodie bags.

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Unfortunately, due to late-ish arrival we missed beer and cheese tour of Kobarid’s I World War museum. Also we are probably last bunch of riders that registered in Tourist Information, that shuts down shortly after us. Picking up some nav intel we make our way to Camp Rut, to pitch tents and meet some more single speeders.

Cam’s location in the shadow of majestic mountains leaves us dropping our jaws to the floor and, what might sound ridiculous, drooling even more.

„Piss-poor place…” – everybody are concluding with bright eyes and gaping gobs.

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Organizers, led by Urszula and Danijel duo, won’t let us to slack or catch a breath. Shortly first official ride is announced. Nothing too serious, just a wee pootle to the river and back to give us first taste of what awaits us on Saturday. Weather was a real challenge to the Orgs, and they worked very hard to keep race course in usable condition.

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Introduced to local mud, rocks and trails we make our way back to Camp Rut.

There awaits me nice surprise. Bearded Troll Yarr and his lovely Missus already checked in. Whole greeting procedure with hugs, kisses, smiles and all that malarkey was employed again. Soon after Koval arrives from Trieste and after sorting myself out I’m ready to feed. My test buds are treated with some sort of organoleptic orgasm by Slovenian cuisine. Fell in love with deep-fried cheese 😀

When all participants got sufficiently filled bellies, Organizers proclaim first round of competition between 2017 SSEC hopefuls. Quickly, with very well known two-fingered gesture I’m silencing group of overly-enthusiastic Yam-Yams chanting „Poland, Poland!!!”. With brief possibility of Israel also taking part in competition finally only Germany and Scotland remains on the „battle field”. Quick consultation and despite some historical issues our small band decide to cheer Germans. Distance and accessibility of  our western neighbors can lead to much better turnout from over the Odra river. Too preoccupied with conversations, comments and general dicking-around we completely miss idea and reason behind first clash. Only thing that we are interested in, is that Germans are now on the lead with one, fat point. Happy days 🙂

Additionally we are finding out that there is one more representative of Poland in Kobarid. Iza together with her hubby Krystian (if I remember correctly…) came all way to Slovenia from Gubin. Feeling a bit worn out after 6 hours drive and initial ride I’m passing quite tempting option of night-ride in favor of more talks and socializing. Luckily my head-lamp survived continental hike OK and was aiding one of the Orgs to lead small group of night-mares-and-stallions around dark trails. Sensibly we retreated to our tents around 2am, however not everybody presented same reasonable approach. Some human remains crawled back to their sleeping bags well after 4 in the morning. Tremendous concerto for 3 puking-throats and 8 snoring-snouts, around 6am added nicely to overall experience :p

Saturday morning greeted us with fantastic weather, horse-kick strong coffee and light breakfast. Last hour before official Championship opening I spent frantically trying to squeeze myself into my fancy dress. Slightly late finally all suited and booted made my way to  Kobarid, for Grand Depart. From the very first pedal stroke I assured myself that my selection of leg wear was daft-stupid. After-all over-knee, 6 inch FMBs are prime riding gear, aren’t they? It is nice from time to time confirm own, initial assessment of the situation xD

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Main square of Kobarid, for about half an hour was staging mass of weird, kinky and funny characters. Dance, laughter and bucket-loads of pictures calmly observed by bronze „saint” from his stone pedestal. „World is going to the dogs…” – that were probably his thoughts 😀 „Sodom and Gomorrah…”

Interesting, psychological notion. Many male participants decide to wear female outfits. Signum temporis? Ultimate victory of gender indoctrination? Decline of morals? Or maybe just tongue-in-the-cheek… Make your own judgement.

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After official warm-up everybody returned to camp, where traditional „Hide my Bike” game commenced.

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As well as even more traditional running start. Due to my very special boots I gracefully declined running :p

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Every single step made me think more and more highly about Women of the whole World. After-all it is not so untypical for them to sport even higher heels for the whole day with graceful smile. Personally, after half an hour in my shoes I was feeling like guest of honor on the medieval party, were main attraction was special try-out of Spanish Boots.

I managed unthinkable. I finished one lap of Champs course without braking leg or bike. Fast boys (and girls) in the same time pushed 3.

Course offered fantastic mixture of forest single tracks, rocky gardens, field tracks, gravel roads, steep ups and involving downhills.

Massive respect for Organizers for keeping all track fully ride-able, especially after Thursday downpours.

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Another big high-five for all marshaling and cheering volunteers, that were actually local people from 1 village we passed during the race.

Afternoon, after course was closed, relentless Gang of Orgs, without slowing down hailed beginning of traditional bike throwing competition as well as second round of 2017 organizing challenge.

It is enough to say that quite a few throwers failed miserably due to the fact that whole contest took place in grassy mini-football pitch, that completely voided well established techniques. At the end of the day thanks to luck and a bit of ingenuity furthest attempt was performed by well known scallywag and swindler Charlie the Bikemonger xD

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I the same time on the course of dual-bike-beer-slalom Scotland managed to score contact point.

Biggest excitement built up when faith of Championship Title in men and women category has been fought in truly, single-speedy fashion.

Dual-slalom with beer-speed-drinking proved to be real game changer. In girls tough competition Noah from Belgium presented finest cycling chops and good drinking performance. Men’s category was dominated by New Zelander Angus, whose iron calves and magic-like ability to „disappear” pints instantly set him in the helm of the race and finally on the highest step of the podium.

Next feeding introduced us to even wider world of incredible, Slovenian cooking. Both flesh-devourers and grass-eater were content.

For the evening Orgs scheduled final round of 2017 Champs contest as well as plethora of, sometimes bizarre and grotesque, prizes topped up with live band performance.

Main event winners were blinged in truly Moto GP or Formula One fashion including beer crates podium and champagne spraying around the crowd.

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In truly Slavic fashion, all girls, gals and women were recognized and awarded with small gifts. Also these that „scored” little mishaps during the race (one broken saddle, wrecked wheel, particularly impressive crash) get prized.

Along traditional awards there was special one for tough cookies that managed all way to Kobarid on their own bike, completely unaided, in serious bikepacking fashion. Also on the lighter side the idiot sporting The Highest Heels of the Whole Event was prized for laugh-worthy value. I’m wondering who was this silly sod xD ?

At the end loads of swag and freebies were tossed into more and more cheery and merry audience.

Ultimate round of 2017 organizing contest proved to be so difficult, that only craftiness and ingenuity of Scots allowed them to crack ride on the bike with reversed steering.

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In the flash of idea Scottish rider performed full ride by holding stanchions of the front forks instead of problematic handlebars. That attempt wasn’t counted as full point, but as Germans failed miserably to even move bike in a straight line competition’s win, by Jury Indication, was handed to Kilted Brigade. Tough… At least 2017 road trip would be much shorter for me…

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Evening’s Finale served us extraordinary performance of Super Action Heroes band. SKA is definitely not my cup of tea, but proficiency of the band and lead vocal and guitarist charisma made me jump up and down with rest of enthusiastic crowd. Repetitive stage dives and permanent grinder at front of the stage was the best confirmation of band’s quality. Pure riot 😀

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Last Super-Special prize, in shape of 9, 15kg pasta sacks, went into last year SSEC organizers, Sicilians. Not really sure if that was sort of tongue-in-the-cheek recognition or dig. The idea behind that was to fuel Sunday afternoon Pasta Party, but Sicilians decided to hide their prize and leave without making use of that.

There is also one, final fact worthy mentioning. Danijel, Urszula and CO decided to make official bid for SSWC 2018 organization, for Ljubljana. Fingers and toes crossed!!! If they can manage to secure it, it would be event to remember for years 🙂

Rest of the evening we managed spending over endless talks, drinking and eating. In this place I need to say about true evening’s Mega-Star. Big foot in appearance, young Lemmy Killminster by the voice and classical accordion by instrument. Fueled by constant flow of spritz he entertained all around with his quite apt interpretation of hard rock and metal tunes. Interestingly I didn’t managed to snap any picture of him…

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Again, quite sensibly we decided to go to bed about 2 or 3 at night.

Sunday morning greeted us with clear-blue sky, more diesel-engine strong coffee and relaxed anticipation of day without any specified plans and goals. General idea of multiple, sometimes spontaneous rides was very appealing to most of remaining participants.

Main, guided ride seen group of hangovered riders heading towards river, for mid-day dip, followed by zip line river crossing (Zipline Google) and climb into picturesque and iconinc Saint Anton church overlooking Kobarid from above.

There was also less formal but as I found out to my misery much more ambitious ride to Italy, to taste real Italian Gelato or pizza. 60km stint in the bloody mountains topping up one of the tallest peaks around, 1641m high Matajur. Very quickly I realized that joining Champ’s group, with Angus at the helm, was big mistake for such a unfit, middle-aged man like me. 3/4 up the first, killing uphill I decided to quit the group. 5 km of 14% climb drained all my power reserves… Iron-calved (Koval included) rode away from me in an instant. Sitting at the side of the road and catching breath decided to continue on riding but in my own, slower pace.

Next thing that happened must be classed as black magic or divine intervention. Picture timings from the top of Matajur couldn’t be tampered. There was less than 20 minutes difference between Fast Boys and me. Interestingly, I meet one of slightly less adventurous guys sitting at the bottom of final push before summit, waiting for the rest of the group. We even spoke briefly, but probably because of exhaustion and maybe feeling height-dizziness I haven’t even acknowledged the fact that I caught with them and carried on riding on my own.

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Unfortunately my nav skills proved to be not enough for Slovenian Mountains and insteda of San Pietro Al Natisone I eneded up in small village on the opposite site of the ridge. Only bonus of that navigation error was the fact that I returned to Camp Rut almost 2 hours before original group. Addio Gelato… Next time.

Campsite seems quite serene and calm under the shadow of majestic mountains. Sicilians disappeared together with their pasta supply. Dutch retro-grouches in their Cucumber-Like retro VW bus packed their old bikes and directed themselves towards Arnhem, with it’s fabulous MTB Museum. Shy and slightly confused Tasmanian packed his Surly into bike box prepping himself to the trip to Russia. Stuffed fox apparently bored with neighborhood „decided” to join Kilted Brigade in their trip back to The Highlands. Bikepackers tightened their straps and bags to hit the road. Godiva’s even shelter get packed, bikes were stuffed into vans  to minimize morning mess before departure.

In expectation of long-tough day of driving we decided to go to sleep even earlier. Unfortunately all the excitement prevent us from having proper rest and we keep on catching for hours and hours…

Next day with perspective of 1100 miles return trip seen plenty of farewells, promises of quick and not-that-quick re-visits topped up with ideas for new places and events.

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Time to sum up SSEC 2016 in Kobarid from the logistic point of view. In my humble opinion that was the most perfectly organized single speed bike event I ever attended. Orgs covered all bases without lacking relaxed and single speedesque approach to everything and everybody. The food was great and aplenty, with only Sunday evening actually pushing participants to provide for themselves. You odd to be last and very hardy grumbler to feel bored or un-entertained. Danijel and CO made sure that everybody was wearing massive smile on sun stroked face. Was there anything they could do better?  If you would be extremely picky you can admit that 2017 competition lacked a bit of om-pf and looked pretty last minute organized in comparison to the rest of the event. Minor flaw aside, bar is now risen very, very high, so quite tough task for Scots to crack

For the books I need to add that return lag lead us through Austria, Italian Dolomites…

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… and France with night in Strasbourg, where Pav and me managed to get lost on Tuesday morning snooping around for most appropriate breakfast. luckily we only lost about 20 minutes against original departure time..

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Gentlemen do not talk monies, but some basic costing might be useful for interested.

Event itself was EUR125. But without t-shirt and mug you would be EUR45 better off. Ferry and channel crossing costed GBP42 and GBP25 respectively. Hotels in Munich and Strasbourg 52 quid all together. Fuel and van valeting seen us surprisingly low GBP75. If you are not taking into consideration food, drinks and luxuries total cost of the trip ended up at pretty reasonable GBP220. For the week of holiday that’s quite good me think…

Final thought? Have some unfinished business in Slovenia, so fingers massively crossed for 2018 SSWC in Ljubljana. Also shame that again in UK, but 2017 in Scotland might be very good excuse to finally visit Highlands. Looking forward and already have itchy feet xD

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PS.

Last MI5 not-so-secret report seen The Fox departing MTB Museum in Arnhem and starting Tour of The Highlands xD

PPS.

Massive thanks for Den to be supper reliable driver, Pav, Minty and Simo for company, Martin for organizing whole GT Trip, Monika, Iza, Koval and Yarr for being there with me.

SSEC official website, SSEC 2016 Kobarid: SSEC 2016 Kobarid

Shit-book profile: SSEC 2016 Kobarid FB

Single Speed Slovenia: Single Speed Slovenia FB

My pictures: Ivan SSEC 2016 Kobarid alboom

GT Rider’s, Martin „Simo” Simm’s pictures: Simo SSEC 2016 Kobarid alboom

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