Day 12 – Everyone should visit Montenegro – Bjelasnica, BOS – Shkoder, ALB

PRELUDE- It still hurts but I won’t mention it, I’ve bored myself with it.

I wake up early and I’m itching to get going but stick to my original plan of eating breakfast in the hotel. It’s relatively remote from the start today, so missing out on a big fed early doors would be dumb. There are plenty of riders at breakfast and Lee (#229), Danny (#9) and Stu (#194) are all positive and encourage me in the nicest way not to be a pussy.

Lee (#229) passes me early, he’s a goat. The mountains in Bosnia are more than doable and I make it to the Montenegro border, which is a shitty wooden bridge with space for one car at  time. Chaos and I’m glad I’m on the bike. I bump into Tom (#135) and Danny (#9) at the border and we proceed to ride through the stunning Piva Canyon. This was undoubtedly the highlight of the ride, and Monenegro was pretty much unanimously chosen as the best country with the people L spoke to at the finish. The snaking road, the dark tunnels cut into the mountains, the vibrant blue water, it was all stunning. If I could only go back to one place we road through, it’d be Montenegro, no question.

After the thrill of the valley it back to business, and two tough draggy climbs in the heat. I find it really tough going but I push through, aware that it gets flatter later in the day. I stop in Niksic for ANOTHER pizza, which gives me the fuel to crack on.

There’s a small climb and long descent out of Niksic which is great fun. It avoids a banned road, and it’s really quiet and feels like a step back in time. The descent reminds me of the narrow switchback roads in Crete where my dad lives, and it’s these quiet rural roads I enjoy most. In the race these sort of roads are often neglected for faster more direct routes so its nice to be forced onto them without losing anything to your competitors.

Once on the flat the sun’s setting and I pass big statues of workers in rural fields that in a purely aesthetic way brought to mind two of my favourite women, Ayn Rand and Tamara Lempicka (I appreciate the irony of this socialist style reminding me of either of these women), and I thoroughly romanticise the whole place. I love Montenegro.

This monument was striking in the evening sun. bit of research has taught me the following; this is where 50 citizens were shot in July 1944. A huge statue of a desperate woman in socialist-realistic style stands in a park that is surrounded by an iron fence, made of old rifles. The inscription reads: ‘There is no victory without victims, there is no freedom without blood’

I arrive into the capital Podgorica well after sunset. I want to book a hotel somewhere further down the road but have no mobile data. I stop in a bakery and ask to use their wi-fi but they don’t have any. I turn to leave but the girl stops me, turns on her mobile hotspot and gives me the password. So kind! I buy some pastries and sit down to book a room. I opt for Shkoder which is about another 40 miles down the road and over the border into Albania. In the cool of the night and on the flat I’m happy this is do-able.

The next 40 miles are tiring in the darkness, and I’m ready for my bed when I finally arrive in Shkoder. I’m greeted by two big burly Albanians, who have to phone someone to translate. After much confusion I have my room, but that doesn’t mean bed time. One of the men pulls out two bottles of home brew from under the counter, one red one clear and proceeds to pour shots. Jesus. I drink the rocket fuel with him, and have to forcefully decline as he begins pouring me more. In my current state I’d be shitfaced in a flash. I stumble to my room chuckling, they looked like a pair of proper hard men (think the Albanian Mitchells) but were lovely blokes. Much like most of the people I encounter in this part of the world.

Today was a vast improvement over the last few days. With the back of my throat still burning from the meths I slip into contented sleep, confident that I’ll make Greece yet.

Day 12 – 184.5 miles. 8,005 feet. 14.7 mph average speed.

127 bpm average HR   5758 calories

Total time: 14:50:49

Active Time: 12:33:13

“Cafe” Time: 2:17:36

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