MONTENEGRO – ALABANIA – MACEDONIA
Ride Stats: 198.3 miles – 14:29 Moving Time 5:50 stopped 11,500ft Elevation 13.7 mph avg
5am start, Instant petrol station fix, lets rock. It was always in my plan to clear Albania in one day and it had worked out well to achieve that . A nice rolling start and Albania comes smoothly with nice lake views. A convenient service station style café is perfectly located, and you probably can guess now who was seated outside with coffees; and they take Euros only 1 a shot!
The boys have an inland route through the mountains planned, I’d looked and dismissed that option which looked beautifull and a way to avoid the feared Tirana. 8000 metres of climbing, Everest in a day…really, not at this stage. Maps were purchased and options explored as once again I left them.
Super wide open roads, flat smooth with a good shoulder, for the first time I really believed I could make Istanbul by Friday night. Miles were coming easy, the body felt good, but more importantly despite roughly 4 hrs a night sleep for 10 days I had never once yet felt sleepy on the bike.
The first town Shkodra is an eye-opener, a real traffic free for all, its chaos but seems to work. Total concentration and following locals helps to thread through safely. I wonder how the boys will cope flying on maps…..just as they turn out of a side street ahead of me Ha! Once again they are out of sight so quickly.
Later two families on mopeds dragging trailers come past at about 30mph, just too fast to get a draft, there must be 12 people on them. Much waving from the kids, then they start to slow, I pull up behind them. The front bike has just blown it’s rear tyre, the rider is trying to keep going at 20mph and it’s all over the place, big smile moment as I pass to the cheer of the kids.
11am again a shout comes out from the roadside and I join the 190 boys. Tons of drinks and sign language brings us a wonderfull plate of chips with a salad laced with fresh melon. I buy the guys dinner (Euros again) to thank them for the company and top up on ice cold water from the fridge (was this a fatal error) You guessed it I wave goodbye and get moving, the last time I will see them! (you owe me a beer boys 🙂
The road widens out approaching Tirana as if on motorway, I’m a bit concerned of the legality but crack on. It’s getting stupid hot again and its into a mini market which luckily again takes Euros to buy water. My new trick is to buy 1.5 litres of water and stuff it up my jersey to cool the body core temperature down. I usually love the heat but without a cooling breeze this was tough.
Tirana, what’s the fuss, I breezed through there, good route and keep aware no problem at all. I was enjoying Albania and even the legendary driving where they overtake and head straight for you is manageable as long as you look out for it and stay in the gutter.
To the south of Tirana there is no option but to climb over a lovely peaceful mountain, all other traffic takes the valley AutoRoute to Elbassan and you could count the vehicles seen for 2 hr hill ride on 1 hand. Great views and a lovely descent, but you had to keep an eye out for fresh mud slides across the roads in places.
Stopping at a store for the nights food stock
I needed some Albanian Lek. The bakery
next door offered change as long as I bought
some simple cakes.
Suddenly with an excess of currency I bought
as much as I could carry and eat now.
I spent a while sitting outside with the two
young lads from both shops chatting while
cooling in a cold water soaked shirt
They were both very interested in other countries and the trip. The warning not to sleep wild was interesting to hear from the youngsters, I had no intention.
Apart from a few dog chases I had no bad impressions of Albania so far.
That shirt in the picture was soaked under a tap, 15 minutes later it is already drying from the top down, boy it’s hot.
Into the night my lack of checking the profile caught me out. The climb to the border just seemed to go on for ever. A welcome cooling in temperature but overall a killer climb of 40 miles from Elbasan to border at over 1000 metres again. Very bizarre, quite the darkest area I have ever cycled in, very remote and no signs of life. At times you were sure you were alone, then someone would just appear out of the dark. Stopping roadside twice, both times I was joined by someone, where did they come from, creepy. A real feeling of loneliness after not seeing another rider since mid day.
About the only built up area was Perrenjas as a small flat high altitude plain opened up, here water was pouring down the streets and spraying up into the air. Later on up the climb was the reason, cold mountain streams were pouring out of the hill sides. A stall used this as a natural fridge cooling fruit and drinks. stopping here I exchanged the last of my Lek with a bit of haggling. The young lad spoke great English and he took me inside to watch the European football, his dad ran the stall but he had dreams that football was his way out of Albania. Despite the altitude and it being 11pm It was still t-shirt warm.
The rest of the climb was a real grind with the few struggling trucks, the border seemed to take for ever but it offered a glimpse of salvation, the lights of the lake resorts of Macedonia. Over the border the first thing I did was text my Rumanian boss at work. he knew the area and I told him that Albania would be done in a day. He believes me now 😉
Macedonia; bad roads, immediate senses overload, this place was buzzing. Mileage target met, I needed a hotel. Once again riding around looking lost paid dividends, “Sleepings!” A Taxi driver took me to another simple apartment 20€ and provided 300 Dinar of change, at least this one had a shower head. 1am and food over the road came to 100 dinar for a feast so once again cheap as chips. 3 days to go and 600 miles to arrive Friday, a small lie in had been earned, if only to see this crazy place in daylight.
Lessons learned: Keep small euro coins for use in non euro countries, they are more likely to take them when no change is required.
The Party Line (187/day for Fri finish): 198.3 today was hard earned but keeps the line at bay with a 188.6 daily average.
TCR Continued Day 12