At around 4.30am, my body began to attempt to shut down on me.
By now, I had been awake for 41 hours, had been 22.5 hours without food, had spent 10 hours on a bus, and walked around 50 kilometers. I had also, apart from around two and a half hours, been on my feet non-stop for since 7am the previous morning, so 20 hours in total standing up.
At first I thought it was the cold that was making me shiver. After all, I was only wearing a t-shirt and had been stood there all night. But then I realized that it was much worse than that. My back, which I have problems with at the best of times, was giving up and giving in. The shivering was not from the cold, because it was starting at the base of my spine. I was suffering from involuntary full body spasms.
Each one was worse than the one before it, and it took more effort every time to get my body back under control afterwards and not surrender completely to it. I was exhausted, needed to lie down and sleep, but was not in a position where I could do so, and my body was fighting against the commands from my brain.
I began to pace around, trying to get some semblance of control over myself. I was talking to myself, almost non-stop by now, and anybody passing would almost have certainly mistaken me for just another deranged lunatic of the kind you see walking down the high street screaming about the end of the world being nigh.
I knew that if I could get through until dawn, then I would have more chance of a lift, and my body would begin to calm down a little. There was no doubt that I was desperate to rest, but I knew that if I sat down and went to sleep now there was a chance I wouldn't wake up. I could not give in to my body, as much as I sympathized with the arguments it was presenting.
Finally, at around 7am, the sun started to rise, and I witnessed an amazing scene as I stood there. There was a strange cloud formation, and it looked as though what I was seeing was not the sky, but a red sea, with beautiful islands dotted around here and there. I have never been a fan of camera's, but I really wish I had one at that moment, as it was, without any shadow of a doubt, the most spectacular sunrise I have ever seen.
With the sunrise came new optimism, and a new hope that I would be able to get a lift sooner rather than later. However, just like the place I had been initially dropped off at the previous evening, it seemed like every single vehicle that came through was going north, when I needed to go south. By 9am, I was thinking the unthinkable, to head off and try to find the next junction along.
There were two things holding me back from doing this. One was the knowledge that I didn't actually have a clue how far I would have to walk to get to the next junction, or even if I would be able to find it. The other problem was my body. I just didn't think I would be able to manage another 25-30 kilometer walk.
In desperation, I tried a change of tack, and adjusted my new sign so that it stated that I wanted to go north. After all, if every vehicle was going north from here, maybe my best course of action would to be back track a couple of junctions, and then try to get re-started from there. In reality, the only thing I wanted in the world at that moment was to get away from that place, and I didn't really care where else I might end up.
In the next 90 minutes, just two cars passed me by, and I decided that it was time to take matters into my own hands and move on somewhere, anywhere else, and so started to make my way up the slip road that led to the toll booths.
It was soon clear to me that this was not a normal slip road, however. For a start, it went up and then started looping around, and I assumed that the big left turn would then lead to a normal road. Instead, it led, half a kilometer further on, to another big left turn. I marched along, determined to find a normal road, and having made the second turn I saw that the 'slip road', as I had presumed it to be, was actually a major road in its own right, and a sign on the other side of the road told me that the next turn off was three kilometers ahead.
I contemplated going back to where I had just come from, but decided against it. While I was there I was stagnant, going nowhere. By moving on I was at least giving myself a chance to get to where I needed to be. And then I had a brainwave.
Why didn't I just go to Zadar?
I could remember from the map I had seen before I left home that Zadar was the last major town the highway reached before Trogir. Surely I would be able to get a bus between two such major places, even on a Sunday afternoon. The only problem with this plan was that I knew from a sign post that I had just walked past that Zadar was 17 kilometers away.
Still, it had to be a better option than me wandering aimlessly around Croatia, trying to get from point A to point B, and never really getting anywhere. I was starting to feel as though I was in an episode of the Twilight Zone, maybe 'Hitch-hiking Hell' or something. I could feel things slipping away from me mentally.
Just a few hours ago I had bonded with a snail for crying out loud. If I didn't find my way to Trogir soon I could sense that I was probably going to go completely mad, and would end up wandering the wild-lands of Croatia until exhaustion finally got the better of me and I collapsed and died. Zadar and the bus station was my only real hope left of making it to Trogir in time to start work the next day, and so I resolved to put one foot in front of the other until I got there.
A short time later I was on a country road once more, but this time I had a destination in mind. I was constantly trying to flag down passing cars in the hope that maybe, just maybe, somebody would pick me up and take me to Zadar and save me having to walk all the way there.
I walked, and I walked, and by now I was hoping to see a shop appear. I was dehydrated, exhausted, and knew I didn't have much more to offer. The only thing keeping me going now was pure pig headed determination. I had no idea how much further I had to go to reach Zadar, and then I was going to have to try and find the bus station, and then hope that there was actually a bus and that it was within my budget.
It would be far easier to just give up and go home. Except, of course, for the fact that I couldn't get there either. Eventually I came to an airport, and this gave me some encouragement, as the sign I had passed all that time back had told me the airport was 15 kilometers, Zadar 17. So I was sure I was getting close. And then I was unsure again, as the next signpost I saw gave distances to five different places, none of them Zadar.
Was I still on the correct road? Had I somehow gotten myself lost and wandered off in the wrong direction?
My grip on sanity was becoming more and more tenuous by the moment, and it was all I could do not to just give up and sit at the side of the road and cry. All my years of travelling, all the hitch-hiking I have done in the past, none of it was helping me in this situation. I was truly on the verge of despair, wishing I had never even agreed to the damn job now. But all I could do was plod on, and on, and on.
The road took me around the airport, and I kept going in the by now midday heat. Had I not been so dehydrated, I would have been drenched in sweat, but there was nothing I could do to relieve my situation. I had still not passed a single shop, and every vehicle that had approached had sped up at the sight of me.
And then, salvation.
A beaten up old red pick-up truck came towards me, and more in hope than expectation I put out my thumb in the universal hitch-hiking symbol. The driver was on his mobile phone, and used his free hand to wave at me and smile. I figured he was taking the piss, and so wearily turned back around and continued on my way as he passed me. And then he stopped.
I ran up to the door and asked him if he could take me to Zadar, and he beckoned me to jump aboard. Finally, after 19 hours of being on my feet continuously, I was able to sit down for a few minutes. We drove around a corner and I saw a sign stating that Zadar was still 8 kilometers away, which made no sense. I had been walking for well over two hours, and had passed a sign stating a village I had left much earlier was 9 kilometers behind me, which felt right.
But this meant that Zadar must in fact have been around 22 kilometers from the sign I had seen earlier, not 17 as it had stated. Still, the good news for me was that I wasn't going to have to walk those last 8 kilometers at least.
The driver asked me if I wanted the airport, and I told him I wanted the bus station. About 15 minutes later he pulled up in a side street and beckoned to a nearby shack, informing me that this was, in fact, the bus station. I thanked him and wandered inside and around the building, looking for a ticket office. When I finally found one, I was informed that there was a bus to Trogir in ten minutes, and it would cost me 80 of my remaining 92 Kuna to be on board said bus.
I paid up and went and found the bus, my intention being to put my bag on board, and hopefully try to get a drink or something before it left. If I could find something that only cost 12 Kuna that was. And then the bus driver charged me an extra 7 Kuna for my luggage, so I gave up on refreshments for the time being.
The good news was that I was able to get a seat to myself on the bus, and so settled down for a nice, comfortable ride the rest of the way to Trogir. The bad news was that the bus seemed to want to take some magical mystery tour on the way, and so what should have been a one hour journey or thereabouts was actually three hours.
Having finally arrived in Trogir, I had a quick walk around the bus station, looking for my friend Andy who I had come down here to work with for a few weeks, and who had promised to give me my first weeks wages once I arrived so that I would have some cash to play with. I couldn't find him, and so I sat down on a bench and got my book out to await his arrival.
A few minutes later he sent me a message to tell me to let him know when I arrived because he was near the bus station, and I replied that I was already there. I put my book in my bag and walked towards the road to wait for him, and then I received another message. I went to get my phone out of my pocket, and it wasn't there.
I went back to the bench I had been sat on a few seconds earlier. Not there either. I checked my pockets again, and my bag, just in case I had put my phone in there with my book, but it was no use. My phone was gone, and there was nobody around. After everything I had gone through in the last few days, and just when I was ready to relax, Croatia had found one last way to fuck with me.
A couple of minutes later Andy came to find me, and I explained why I hadn't replied to his last message. We went across the road to a restaurant where his girlfriend was waiting, and I ordered a beer. I figured I had earned the damn thing, and then we went to the apartments where we were staying, and I went inside for the longest shower I have ever had.
The nightmare journey was finally over.