One runner told me this is the race he never misses. He attended the first race organised in 2011, and since then he has been coming every year. Then another runner told me a similar story. What else could I do but come and see for myself what it’s all about. Last year I came for the 1st time and competed in the Challenger category. It was a blast, a beautiful track with diverse terrain and landscapes, interesting control points, good orienteering. This year, I decided I had to see more, so my choice was Ultra.
The Ultra category comprised 42 km and an altitude of 900m, in ideal conditions, as we will see shortly. It had 1 refreshment point at 32 km and included a mini urban orienteering in Buje, Istrian town known as the “sentinel of Istria” as it is perched on a hilltop located 10 km inland from the Adriatic Sea.
Coming with four of my trekking buddies, we decided to make it a one-day adventure. We started from Zagreb at 4am and before 7am we were registered for the race and set for a coffee in charming Brtonigla.
Mysteriously, it was announced that the Ultra and Challenger categories will start in a small Istrian village near the Slovenian border. Three days before the race, we found out that the village is called Kučibreg (in Italian: Cucibreg), which, on a nice day, offers a splendid vista from the Gulf of Trieste all the way to the Alps. We were transferred to the village and started on chronometer, each trekker every 15 seconds.
After my starting number came Jeka’s, so the game started pretty intensely for me trying to catch up with her, as she is one of the fastest trekkers in Croatia. After a very short time and a lot of lost breath, I decided to slow down, look again at the map and follow my path.
I followed the chosen path to CP1 but went south, more to the south than village Butari, which should have been my stopping point for going east to find the CP1 which was the tree near the hunting platform. There I met my friends with whom I came; Marijo, Tajana and Zvonči (with the exception of Shpiro, who was already way ahead of us). We diverged shortly afterwards due to different paths chosen. I chose the further way which I thought would keep me on the safe side and after 7,37 km from the start, I found the CP1. OK, this one’s off the table, ‘only’ 17 CPs to go. 🙂 It was funny ‘cos I like to play with numbers and of course I multiplied 7,37 by 18 CPs and got more than 130 km (this is based on the assumption that the distance from each CP is the same, which is not the case). Ooh la la, this is going to be a very interesting day. 🙂
As I twisted my ankle on the 4th kilometre of the race, I decided to play it safe and pick the road for a while in order to calm it a bit. Therefore, from CP3 to CP4 I went along the road (even though I otherwise avoid it). My ankle felt better and I felt more secure stepping on that leg. Getting closer to CP4, I turned again to the unmarked track and twisted the same ankle again. This time it hurt much more. I started walking slowly but it didn’t look good and I was thinking what to do with the rest of the race. Again, I ran into my friends Tajči, Zvonči and Marijo with Vođa and Renata, and Zvonči gave me a bandage for my ankle and a painkiller. I decided to slowly go further and see how it goes. I had to promise them I’d call them if I wasn’t feeling OK, and finally they took off. This is my old injury and I knew what to expect. The bandage helped a lot and I continued.
Now, it was time for a special treat: CP5. I flirted with Her, a lot. I came close to Her from one side, then another, then another, we played like this for a long, long time. One would expect that I would’ve learned to choose safer paths by now, but some mistakes in life I just like to repeat. 🙂 So, I have chosen not to approach it directly from the south where there was a track that led directly to CP, but I rather turned earlier to southeast following different tracks which led me to some others, and in a blink of an eye, tracks just kept popping up from everywhere.
While getting to know the surroundings of CP5, I ran into Irena, Sanda and Vlatko, and we continued the race together. We walked a bit, ran a bit, sang a bit, discussed the route, scattered in different directions, many times unsuccessfully tried to cross the streams keeping our feet dry, we ate, we breathed in the silence; in a word, we totally enjoyed this journey.
At times I had a feeling like being in a Snow White fairy-tale, where trees seemed to be alive and trying to grab me with their thorny branches.
One of the following controls was on a wooden fence inside the Momjan castle. I was wondering who would allow 50 muddy trekkers to barge into the castle, but then I saw a tower and castle ruins. A disturbing moment occurred when we realised that we were on the other hill, divided from the castle by a narrow, but deep ravine. Fortunately, there were steps and a track leading down and to the castle.
The most amazing control point was ahead of us: we had to go down a steep slope into the stream bed with the help of a cable, cross the stream below the great waterfall and climb up with the help of a cable on to the other side of the bank.
The perforator was located in the cave southwest from the crossing point at the end of the cable climbing point.
Somewhere in the middle of the competition, we realised that our race will finish on CP15 because we won’t make it within the time limit and we’ll have to be transferred by the organizer to the finish line. That is what happened afterwards, for me after 8 hours, 41.5 km and elevation of 1.150m. All in all, I realised that the Ultra category, although ultrafun, differs from the Challenger not only in terms of length, but also in the level of the necessary orienteering skills. Much to learn, you still have, Ivana.
I like to round off my visits to Istria by stopping at Agrotourism Wine Dešković; the food is good, but their malmsey and muscat are not to miss. As this was a one-day adventure, we didn’t have the time to fill up our wine stock, but we left with one more reason to come back very soon.
For the end, I have to say that I love Istrian Trekking Cup, which Brtonigla Adventure Trek is part of, for many reasons, but specially for treasuring the core values of trekking, beginning with their slogan: „Trekking, not trail. Trekking!“ to the distribution of maps just before the start, starting on chronometer and allowing only the use of good old paper map and compass. And if you want to play it, respect this sport. And if you don’t want to explore, orienteer, lose and find yourself again in the woods, Croatia offers many beautiful trail races where your path is marked and you just have to run and enjoy the freedom that nature gives you.
But if we’re trekking and you find me lost, please don’t show me our location on the GPS trying to help me find the way. 🙂 Being lost is part of the game. It’s what makes it so interesting so don’t take that away from me. Anyway, how else would you find your way, unless you lose it first? I know that I will find it, sooner or later. And so will you.