Day 13 – fighting my way out of Albania, into Macedonia Start 06:30am End 07:30pm– 13hrs ridte time including breaks 220k ridden 3000m climbing
I escaped Albania, bit it took some effort
12 hrs riding, for 220k, but with over 3000m climbing. A constant easterly head wind all day just sapped all effort till about 3 in the afternoon
Central Tirana was lovely and quiet - its just the roads in/out that are manic. Then I reach the Elbassan expressway (a dual carriagway) - with a pair of 5k tunnels that go downhill under a mountain. each direction has 2 lanes, but traffic can use only one, with the other reserved for emergency vehicles, and apparently bikes can use this. I see a policeman waving at me, and I roll over to him to confirm all is ok. he says no. I insist that bikes can use the emergency lane he says no
I turn around and spend the next 90 minutes climbing up and over the 20k route. Its actually lovely, and I see 4 cars the whole way
Albania was not so bad today. The obsessive Balkan love of car washing notches up a gear, with the final town (just before the final climb) taking the biscuit. Every 50 yards, another hand car wash, with a hose pipe spaying water advertising their services. 30 car washes up the street - madness
I used what currency I could buying fruit, softdrinks, then a chicken dinner just before the border.
Over the border and into Macedonia, (a suburb of Greece). It feels a lot different After a bit more climbing, up a couple of 500m climbs and super fast descents over some rubbish roads, I rolled into Bitola. I found wifi and a hotel in Most importantly on the way, I bumped into the tcr legend that is Christopher Bennett. https://triduffer.wordpress.com/ He had already cycled fromistanbul to flanders, and was now doing the event going back the other way I hit a hotel, he was riding through the night - Legend
I found this day tough. Climbing out of Albania, into a head wind sucked the life out of me. I could / should have ridden on, but Chris mentioned there was nothing for 50/60k after the border. I needed a rest so it was a good decision to stop
Day 12 – Mount lovcen - tirana, in Albania Start 06:30am End 07:30– 18hrs ridte time including breaks 210k ridden 1250m climbing –
At 5, the other guys wake and start leaving. I lie there for an hour, then do the same
My cheese and ham rolls I lovingly made last night are horrible so I chuck them. Instead I eat a banana and a Mars bar and then start and climb the rest of the mountain (500m or so, so 1500m from sea level all in). I then descend and find a bakery, (more cheese filo pastries) then a town with a garage at the exit... It's got a pair of Italian riders in it (the space blanket owners) and a Dutch guy I talked to in vukovar (#162 rudy rollenberg)... He was also bivvying last night so I guess he was the snorer
We drank coffee and coke, they were heading via Bulgaria so I trucked off up the road.
I got passed by a couple of guys I originally met before the start. I've seen them repeatedly since in France and rode with them a bit on the start of the Strada del Assietta. – Simon Romaine #33 and #91 Jon Kelley. They too were heading for Greece via Albania.. We rode together for a bit, found a hotel for coffee (plus wifi), looked at distances and chose Elbassan as a destination, 270k for the day, about 200k to go. We continue on, swapping the lead. Over the border into Albania and some great descending down to the plain Fuck it's hot.. 40 degrees. Lots of water, ice cream stops etc. Nice tail wind so the ks drop... I ride with the guys a bit, then we split, reform etc. Lunchtime at Shkoder. My God, the first Albanian city I experience. I ride straight through the middle. Albanians love their stolen cars and drive them like idiots, worse than Bosnia or montenegro. the locals on bikes love riding the wrong way up the roads, but then so do the cars I find a cashpoint, attached to a hotel, and play cashpoint roulette. 1 chicken dinner later, I am back on my way
The closer to Tirana I get, the worse the road gets. The hard shoulder vanishes, and it's back like riding in Bosnia. Keep to the white line. 6 inches right, and it's a gravel trap. Cars are shifting it past 4 ft to the left. There is no dominating the lane here.. They will just push past, so it's ride positively but in a defensive way.
On I go, 90, 60, 40 k to go. Rain in the distance, but not much on me.
The road become a motor way - scary, but it's so much safer. I have a whole full size hard shoulder to myself, and the idiots no longer overtaking each other constantly. Not sure I should be there, but after 10k, it ends but the road surface takes a turn for the worse
The nice garages are a distant memory
I pull of off for 10 mins to chill, eat a big of crisps, and pluck up the courage to continue...
It's fine. My hands are killing me, my arse is in taters, but I make good time
It's just starting to get to dusk. I hit Tirana, 10k to the centre, 48k out to Elbassan via a tunnel or hill climb. Shit. 10PM before I get there. My brain is not in a good place.
I give up chasing my hotel booking
I check into the 2nd hotel I find for 30 euros, with aircon. I am 3k short of the city center but safe and sound, and I have Internet.
I eat a lovely chicken dinner at a cafe up the road, and plan how I get out of Albania alive
Day 11 – climbing in Bosnia, onto CP4 - MountLovcen Start 05:30am End 01:00am – 18hrs ride time including breaks 300k ridden 4000m climbing
My alarm goes off at 5. I want to be gone before the builders arrive. I am feeling a bit crusty after my emergency bivvy, I pack quickly and get going. I find a garage 5k down the road. 2 coffees, some tuc biscuits (paprika.. It's the balkans you know), a carton of juice... I start to feel human again. I use the loo, brush my teeth, buy some more tissues for bear duties. Simple things but I feel a lot better. I have another coffee
Ok – I ride through Sarajevo easily, find a hotel on the way out of the city for more coffee, I am too early for a supermarket but I do find a bakers. Lovely cheese filo pastry thing and 2 chocolate croissants go in a bag on my back.... For later.
I head south out of Sarajevo and up I go straight into a national park. 3500m climbing, 200k. Up and down it goes, small villages for food. I eat a mystery chicken meal for lunch then on I go. Some 4k of 7% and into a 4k long tunnel, and thats the peak done. I just go at what ever speed my legs can manage up the hills. 4 o clock hits.. I start thinking of bivvi options. Then I see the first competitors for a couple of days.. They are pushing for CP4 at Mount Lovcen above the bay of Kotor – These includes a pair of ladies, (the last in the race). After last night I really want to be off the road early. However, they plant the idea….. The next 130k sounds tough but it includes 30k of decent, and 30k round the bay... Easy. The climbing starts immediately Eventually I find the border out of Bosnia, and into Macedonia
Then the first proper dog attack so far I am going 50 kph down hill. One dog in the middle of the road.? I avoid him. But his mate sees me coming, starts running at an angle... Holy shit. I get past him, back off, but he's still there at max effort. A few more stamps on the peddles and away I go. Easy The down hill appears, 70kph + and 30 minutes later and I am on the bay. It's 30 degrees plus – sweltering after the cool of the mountains. Its one of the most stunning bays I have seen - limestone cliffs surrounding the inlets - stunning
Still no data service on my phone, so no hotel booking. It's all apartments anyway, I try a couple and no luck 90 mins later I am at the bottom of mount lovcen. I find a supermarket, buy lots of crap including plastic spoons and a small container of icecream. I buy rolls, mayo, salami and cheese and make food for later. Opposite is a grill, so I grab a grilled chicken sandwich 1 coffee later, I am good to go, and start climbing the hill at 11 with a plan of bivvying (again) once I am above people / dogs I bump onto a russian guy who live 3 miles away from me at home - I first met him in France, eating a meal at Embrun, We climb the hill at a steady pace together. I am going at a steady pace, he is stronger but needs to keep talking to me to stay awake. The road flattens and we roll fast into CP4 at a restaurant. It's 1am, and its been closed a long time, but we get our brevet cards stamped by the volunteers staying there overnight,
Then its another bivvy amongst the tables under the outdoor roof at the back of the reataurant....
I am very crusty
3 hrs sleep tops - 3 other guys already there rustle their space blankets, snore etc, then get up at 5. *sigh*
Hindsight is a wonderful thing. I should have got off the road and found some where to eat.. – how about the pension I found? Let the traffic die down a little then pushed into Sarejevo. 5k further on and the road was way better. I bottled it, but hey, I was out of my comfort zone
Day 10 - Into Bosnia, and my brain starts to fall apart Start 07:00am End 10:00pm – 13hrs ride time including breaks 310k ridden 1900m climbing –
Up at 6:30, breakfast at 7 in the morning and off I went heading south to Bosnia 90% of riders headed straight south, straight into the mountains, bypassing Sarajevo to the east, then more mountains to kotor. 2 full days, 3000m + climbing both days
I decided to be clever and found a western route into Sarajevo, longer (by 100k) but just 500m of climbing all at 1% - ie up the river valley. what could possibly go wrong? Fast, flat and I’ll be fresh by then end. So over the border into Bosnia, and all was good. The major roads that I did the route planning on turned out to be single lane roads…. After a couple of hours, I got to the main E73/M14 heading for Sarajevo. It was busy but ok. Stay on the white line and there was plenty of room for the trucks /trucks with trailers to pass. It helped to stop pedaling as they came past, so they could pass faster and swing in sooner. It got more interesting when a lorry was coming the other way at the same ... Hmm. Sometimes the road was ground / the top scrapped off – so bad to ride on. No idea why they do that
Morning passes, pizza for lunch and on I go into the afternoon. Eventually I jump onto a minor road. Yay, I could then ride out of the gutter, and all was good. Then the road gets smaller... And turned into gravel. ffs. 5k of gravel really pisses me off. No problem though, my ride notes say there is a town ahead, with a hotel or four as time is moving on.
I hit the town. It's like something out of mad max...industrial, flames belching out of chimneys, get me out of here (I am being a bit fussy)
80k to Sarajevo, 4 hrs, I'll be there by 9. Game on.
The minor road leaves town, and another 10k of gravel ensues... Time evaporates It starts raining. I find loose dogs for the first time... and I learn to sprint in a hurry as I survive my first dog chase
I almost come down crossing a set of railway lines at a 30 degree angle to the road. Scared the crap out of me I go through an industrial wasteland, (coal mines, limestone mine??, cement works etc) then I hit a town. Its manic, and I start to lose it. I start eyeing up some bus shelters I do the first sensible thing for a while and buy some food from a bakers, pizza and 2 chocolate pastry things I see a hotel on the corner... It's very neon blue, and full of people enjoying themselves. None of them are cyclists. I stupidly move on... It's not far to Sarajevo after all Still raining 30 k to go...its now 10:30 at night The road surface is crap, the puddles cover the pot holes, its busy on the roads and I cant see alot due to the rain. I Still need to find an open hotel when I get there... For some reason mobile data does.not work on my phone... I see a pension serving food. Do you have any rooms?..No... I move on.
I pass a pack of wild dogs around the (crappy) end of the last suburb. Bins = wild dogs... I am really freaking out now and start looking for bus shelters as I have to get off the road. This is really hard and I am struggling mentally I pass a house being built.. Hmm Then a shed being built – 40 m from the adjacent property, Next to the main road / and with a motorway next door
In I go. No roof, but it's stopped raining and the planking inside is pretty dry. Out comes the bivvi bag and sleeping bag. I get 4 hrs sleep max, but I feel safe. The streetlamp overhead and motorway next door dont help with sleep quality. Tomorrow is another day
Hindsight is a wonderful thing. I should have got off