Today’s distance / 今日の走行距離: 104.42km
Average speed / 平均速度: 13.8km/h
Time on bike / 走行時間: 7h 32m
Total distance to date / 今日までの積算距離: 844.97km (plus 8400km)
Ascent / 上り: +415m
Descent / 下り: -360m
Another day, another country.
The side wind was fierce this morning. I battled it while trying not to be pushed into traffic. The non-existent paved shoulder didn’t help. The surroundings were open and bare, the road straighter than I have seen for a long time.
Albanian drivers seem to be a fairly nervous lot. They will give cyclists and motorcycles a toot before overtaking. Perhaps bad driving is expected, therefore they want to make sure the bad driver cyclist knows that they are coming.
I arrived in Shkoder, a dirty, dusty city near the border of Montenegro at noon. The roads in Shkoder are something out of a serious third world city. Litter lines the streets, buildings are in disarray. I sought asylum from the madness in Hotel American, a small Bar/Restaurant/Hotel. Inside the restaurant were two customers who spoke good English. One had lived in the US for 10 years before being kicked out after 9/11, and the other has been living in England for 10 years.
They helped me order some food. Rice, yoghurt, and a beef soup goop that was like a runny version of the filling of a good Jimmy’s Pie. The hotel owner then insisted that I take a shower at the hotel and have a rest for a few hours, at no cost to me! A big thank you to the owners of the American Hotel in Shkoder.
After a solid nap in a comfy hotel bed, I was on the road again to Montenegro. The border crossing was straight forward. The first thing I noticed once in Montenegro was the amount of trees everywhere. It was a quiet rural area, with folks just going about their business at their own pace. This was in start contrast to Albania where everything is hustle bustle. Everyone wanting to get in on the development. Montenegro takes a step back, and people seem to be content with their lot.
I do see fewer smiles here however. There seems to be a tough skin on people’s faces, and a suspicion of strangers. People will stare at me and my bike (as always), but when I wave in reply to their stares, often I will get a look of surprise, or no reaction at all.
Ulcinj is a coastal town, so I headed for the beach for a spot to sleep for the night. I found a spot in front of a beachside summer cafe, and slept soundly until 12:30am, when a security guard doing the rounds woke me up and told me to get on my way.
“No sleeping here.” he said.
Nice enough guy, and he led me to another, more dilapidated cafe, a few hundred metres away. I slept OK, apart from the sound of some form of rodent scratching at something wooden not far away…
Today’s distance / 今日の走行距離: 177.16km
Average speed / 平均速度: 19.0km/h
Time on bike / 走行時間: 9h 18m
Total distance to date / 今日までの積算距離: 740.59km (plus 8400km)
Ascent / 上り: +515m
Descent / 下り: -840m
A new distance record for me. The same strong tailwind that I have been enjoying for the past four days continued to blow hard. A generally downhill morning and flat afternoon helped also.
The internal conflict scars all too evident throughout the country. This bunker was near Elbasan.
The road from Elbasan to Durres snakes through rocky mountains. The road is smooth, and the traffic light. An absence of a shoulder makes a cyclist uneasy however, as most of the Albanian drivers seem to have only received their drivers’ license recently. Much less room is given, certainly less than in Greece.
In general, Albania is an ecological disaster zone. Truck loads of garbage is dumped into rivers, due to an apparent mindset that says that a good high water will wash it all away. The thing is that often the river is so clogged up that water flow is non-existent. The photo below shows one of the tamer situations in Durres.
The people however continued to be very friendly and generous. I was looking out for somewhere to buy bread, when I saw a bread delivery truck outside a cafe. I pulled up, and asked the driver if I could buy some bread from them. The driver got out and handed me five bread rolls, and wouldn’t take any money for them. Jolly nice chap.
Towards the end of the day, the road changed direction, so that I was now cycling against a strong side wind. The road passed through a very flat, open part of the country, with few options for sleeping spots. I asked at a hotel how much they charged for a room. 20 Euros. I was tempted, since it was still very windy. But sleeping in a hotel on your own is no fun. I carried on into the dusk.
In the end, under cover of darkness, I pushed the bike into a field, and found shelter from the wind behind some thick boysenberry bushes. I slept like a log, shattered after the long day, hoping and praying that the wind wouldn’t bring rain through the night.
What’s going on here? Another 100km plus day ends in Albania, pushed on by the wonderful gusty tailwind. I can’t comment much on Macedonia. I was only there for a day, and didn’t bother changing any money, since I had all the food I needed.
This was one of the few photos I took in the country.
The border into Albania is at altitude 1,000m. It was a stiff climb up to the border, but getting through was not an issue. As per the information I had gathered, a 10 Euro entrance tax is required, and a receipt is issued.
The descent down into Albania is impressive. Remains from conflict all too evident.
These little shelters were all over the border area, and can be seen throughout most of the country along the road.
The road descends steeply through a deep valley, flanked by massive mountains. It reminded me of Tajikistan, on a smaller scale.
I stopped in a small town near the border and had my first Albanian food. A warm fresh pastry with an onion filling. Cheap and nasty, but good enough. The locals in the cafe were a hospitable enough lot however. It was tough not to know the language, and conversation was limited.
Afterwards, I continued on down the road looking out for a spot to sleep. The pickings were thin, until I spied some scrap metal near the railway tracks, up from the road. I pushed the bike up the slope to the tracks and set up. A perfect place to spend the night, out of the still very strong wind.
I was too tired to play with the Coffee Can Stove Mark 2, so I cooked up some food with Malcolm’s MSR stove, and went to sleep, the wind lapping at the steel walls of my shelter.
The strong tailwinds and flat(ish) roads continued today, with over 120kms logged. So much for the continental winds blowing from west to east.
Apparently Greece has not caught up on the latest developments in country names and borders. Yugoslavia does not exist any more. It is now three different countries. Macedonia, Serbia, and Montenegro.
I spent a good part of the day pondering over how I could improve my Coffee Can Stove. A discarded piece of bumper grill on the side of the road gave me a brain wave. The stove now has a grill, raising the embers off the base of the stove, improving air flow.
The grill is expanded aluminium. I figured that the heat of the stove might melt the aluminium, so I picked up a convenient piece of steel mesh further along the road to put on top of the grill to provide some protection from the heat, making it a two layered grill.
The idea was that the steel mesh on its own would not be strong enough to support the wood. The expanded aluminuim would provide some support.
The grill is supported by tabs cut in near the base of the can.
The main base air intake has been made larger also, as has the exhaust hole at the top of the can.
The end result was that it burned better than the Mark 1 stove, but the steel mesh over the aluminium grill clogged up with ash too easily, choking the stove. I still managed to make pasta and a tomato sauce on it in about 1 hour, but I think that the aluminium grill on its own will work better, and may even hold up to the heat without melting.
My pot by the way is now very black. Apparently if you put detergent on the outside of the pot before you use it, the tar and soot cleans off easier.
I was sleeping in a small pine forest, so there was plenty of small dry pine cones for fuel.
It was a late start to the day, leaving Nasta’s place at around 10am. The winds however were blowing in my favour. A stiff tailwind and a light bike propelled me more than 100km, to an under construction overpass near Edessa. I continued to sense the change in the seasons, cycling past orchards in full bloom.
It was just before the under construction overpass that I had my most frightening experience with dogs. I spied what I thought was a small side road, running parallel to the main road. Being the ‘side road lover’ that I am, I headed for it via a dirt road running through an orchard.
Just as I came up to a rise in the road, a dog started barking. A second later, the barks of four other dogs. The pack came over the rise towards me, inching closer, barking threateningly. I yelled back at them, but they continued to come towards me. I was too petrified to turn the bike around and run, and soon the dogs were right at my feet.
One snapped at my leg, ripping my trousers. I stood up, dropping the bike and grabbing the neck of the dog that snapped at me. I snatched my water bottle from the bike, and was about to try squirting the dogs with water, when a farmer came running up over the rise, hearing my frantic shouts. One short snap at the dogs, and the farmer had the dogs backing away.
I stood there shaking, blabbering that I wanted to get to the road. The farmer was not impressed, and waved me to go. As I was leaving I noticed that the ‘road’ I was intent on getting to was in fact the railway. I felt like an idiot. It appears that I was on his land, so I guess I was asking for it.
Once under the overpass, I had my first opportunity to try out my Coffee Can stove. With the roads so smooth and so easy these days, I need something to think about during the day. The Coffee Can Stove was it.
The Mark 1 version went OK. I managed to cook some pasta and soup in 1 and a half hours. It needs some serious improvements in the air intake and outlet areas. The stove runs on any kind of solid fuel. If I can get the stove to work well, then I could save up to 1kg over the MSR Whisperlight liquid fuel stove I have.
The bottom photo is with me blowing into the air intake at the bottom of the stove. Expect some improvements to follow.
This time I’m serious. I am leaving Thessaloniki tomorrow. The last few days have been a time of reflecting and pondering for me, forming and scheming some schemes of what lies ahead. Not only roads, but also possibilities and potential for the remainder of my journey to England.
For the time being however, I am headed towards Slovenia tomorrow, with about 1,200km to cover. I hope to have this section done in good time to meet my fellow recumbent rider, Peter, at the beginning of April (see previous post for details).
I have also sent home some more gear – 2kg of extra insulation that I won’t miss now that I am heading into civilised climates. Once you start reading about the ultralight backpacking philosophy, things start to make you think twice about what you really need and don’t need. This makes my total luggage weight including bags plus some basic food 14kg. A far cry from the 30kg monster load that I was carrying for the last three months through winter.
So until my next post, adios.
Sorry to keep things hanging for a few days…
So in the end I didn’t end up having to sleep out on a cold, wet park bench. Once again things worked out better than I could have imagined.
Ailsa, a friend from motherland England, emailed me a while back to remind me about couchsurfing.org. This is a community website that allows people willing to have travellers stay in their houses, to meet travellers wishing to have a place to stay.
I signed up on the 27th of February (Day 219, the day when I was sheltering from the rain in Thessaloniki in an internet cafe), and managed to get a spot on a couch the very same day. My wonderful host, Nasta, replied to my email 10 minutes before I was about to leave to look for a park bench to sleep on.
It’s great how things work out.
The rest is history, and I have had a wonderful time here at Nasta and Vasilli’s place. They are both students, and are very active in the Couch Surfing scene. I didn’t realise it at first, but apparently there are over 100 Couch Surfing hosts here in Thessaloniki alone.
I have spent the last few days hardly even leaving the house, reading a great adventure novel by A. B. Guthrie, Jr. called The Big Sky (Bantam Books, 1975). A story of living wild out in the open against the elements.
However, all good things must come to an end, and I am planning to leave Thessaloniki tomorrow to head towards Macedonia and Albania. Whenever I mention to Greek people that I am planning on going to Albania, my words are met with raised eyebrows, and sometimes “Are you sure you want to do that?”
Apparently all Albanians are thieving criminals.
Looks like fun times ahead.
Speaking of fun times ahead, I have been in contact with Peter (website), a fellow recumbent rider from Slovenia who is very active in promoting recumbents in Slovenia, and we have arranged to cycle together during my time in Slovenia. He has a great route sketched out.
“This will be a trip of lakes, brooks and history and Kras – a very interesting landscape with vanishing lakes and brooks and many, many caves. A very well known red wine and dried pork meet – they have special weather conditions here that allow drying meat in the wind – only in this section of Slovenia.” – Peter, from one of his emails.
I should be in Slovenia in less than a month, so do keep tuned!