Who doesn’t love busy single carriage roads? What about if the surface is shit? Or how about the drivers care not for cyclists? If this sounds like your idea of fun then I highly recommend the Shkoder-Tirane express, hell of the south.
I love a drip, and that stretch of road is a worthy subject of a moan. I stopped loads that morning on the road to Tirane. I ate loads of 7 day croissants as well. I fed some to a stray dog, and he seemed to enjoy it. I call all dogs Perro (Spanish) or Skylos (Greek) because they’re the only other words I know for dog. He didn’t seem to know either but I won’t hold it against him.
Other than the shitty road the only drama of the morning is a right turn on my route which is actually a bridge over a road so I’m forced to climb down steep gravel embankment with circa 17kg of Condor on my shoulder. The old Albanian lady coming the opposite way is unimpressed with my efforts.
I hit Tirane by midday which is good going at this stage of the expedition. This was an exceptionally hot day, and the traffic in the capital is lethal, so I opt for a sit down lunch to cool down and destress. I order a large pizza and the waiter informs me it will be too big. In return I assure him it won’t be. I am correct.
As I cycle out of town towards the climb I bump into Tom (#135) and we leave town together. We choose slightly different routes up the climb and I’m soon suffering in the heat. I buy some blueberries from a kid on the side of the road. Then I stop again for water at a garage. Slow going. Tom rolls into the same garage and we summit together. We stop at a cafe and try to explain to the lady we would like an ice cream. She nods knowingly and bustles away into the basement. Five minutes later she returns with two slabs of honey cake. We do not try and explain further and gratefully accept the cake, which turns out to be delicious. As we finish Ede (#179) and another gentleman whose name escapes me arrive at the top as well. We all say hello etc before splitting again to settle into our individual paces.
The descent towards Elbasan is really nice and probably the most pleasurable part of the day. Said pleasure is short lived as I hit the outskirts with my arse in clip and and an empty belly; the heat really taking its toll. I stop AGAIN for a weird pizza baguette which is delish and fuels me for a good while.
What follows is essentially 40 miles of uphill, steepening gradually. It’s fucking miserable. The views are pretty good though and I plod on upwards. For the entirety of this road there is a 2 inch wide by two inch deep channel on the side of the road, with next to zero shoulder, so the the whole climb is a battle to remain in the small space between the errant truckers and the pesky channel. I see Ede occasionally on the climb, memorable to me as she was eating yogurt’s whose integrity I was highly dubious of considering the heat of the day. Unlike me she is not disgruntled by the ever present gradient and has an attitude I should perhaps employ at some point.
During the climb it buckets down and I take the opportunity to book a hotel prior to the Greek border which gives me a reasonable target to aim for. I then stop for a hot dog in a very weird town called Perrenias. There’s some sort of festival on because the streets are chokker with people, but I get a lot of stares and there’s a strange vibe which is a little disquieting. However, I buy some delicious sweet balls from a lady with a cart and fears of an Albanian Wicker Man situation are soon dismissed with the ensuing sugar rush.
The final part of the climb to Lake Ohrid is busy with HGVS, but the sun’s going down so its cooler and not a terrible way to enter the night. I stop at a pretty cool shop on the road which has a natural spring and crisp icy water. I use it as an opportunity to get rid of my remaining Albanian currency.
I reach my hotel in the dark and finally locate the manager. He informs me he’s double booked my room (standard), but I can camp in the room behind the bar for free if I like. Would have been tempting if they weren’t having a right knees up in the bard which showed no signs of petering out. I consult booking.com and find another hostel down the road in Pogradec.
I arrive on the street and see no hostel, just dark houses, frigs sake. I roll down slowly peering at the numbers when two men in the darkness shout out to me. Hmmmmmm. I wheel towards them and ask where the hostel is. I’s here they implore pointing at their house. Well that’s definitely just your house fella, but sure enough that’s exactly what he’s advertised as a hostel. I don’t care. I’m knackered and I’ve got a cold bottle of beer in my pocket I’d just purchased which I’ve zero fucking intention of drinking warm. He shows me his spare room, we briefly discuss my bike which as usual I firmly ensure stays in bed with me. We chat, turns out despite the initial misgivings he’s a lovely bloke and I climb into bed 95% certain I won’t be murdered this evening.
Day 13 – 152.6 miles. 6,919 feet. 13.3 mph average speed.
121 bpm average HR 3747 calories
Total time: 15:05:33
Active Time: 11:29:04
“Cafe” Time: 3:36:29