Tirana- Ohrid- Pogradec

Last-minute booking and little research/planning (not much capacity left in the logistical balance of daily life and the trip itself). Anticipated logistical challenges surrounding flying with a bicycle this time included: fabrication of bicycle box wheels (ingredients: plywood, caster wheels, and straps) and acquisition of a bicycle box on the Albanian side (not many new bicycles sold anywhere in Tirana; no Decathlon stores, etc.).

30 minutes into cycling, after I dismissed the thought of putting on waterproofs (heavy, almost biblical rainfall, 7°C, night), I found myself lying in the middle of a busy road from the airport to the Tirana hostel. After successfully standing up and realizing that my thumb wasn’t broken, I continued cycling for 30 minutes before I could stop to assess the damage. I was glad to arrive at the hostel.

Instead of leaving the next day, I thought I needed a day to recover. It did me good: I smoked 5 dirt-cheap Marlboros (after almost a year of smoking only a single cigarette) and finally decided on the plan after consulting the newly discovered Bikemap. I did some research and cycled around 10 miles to the north bus terminal. I then realized that to take a bus going west, I would need to get to another terminal south of the city. The next day I did just that.

After waiting for an hour and negotiating whether my bicycle would fit in the minibus, I was told the bus was full. So, I thought I could travel to Pogradec and do this myself, so I hopped on and pedaled.

Very quickly, it became apparent that I was cycling on the motorway: at least there was a lay-by lane, I thought… Halfway between Tirana and Elbasan, I came to a tunnel and stopped. A roadside phone rang, and I answered: “You can’t go there. Wait, and we will come.” A van arrived, and 2 men offered to load my bike in the back with the traffic cones and drive me through the mile-long tunnel. Apparently, I was the second cyclist today.

In Elbasan, I looked for the entrance to the abandoned metal factory but couldn’t find it. I cycled to the heart of the city near the castle on Bulevardi Qemal Stafa and decided to stop. It was the spring celebrations today! Nice to sit amongst locals on the street: it was busy.

The next stop and unplanned camp was near Kamara’s Bridge. After now pushing uphill, I suddenly realized I should stop and try to camp. I saw the sign for “an ancient bridge” and decided to turn. I pitched a tent just before it got dark. Enough wood to make a fire and to put the newly bought gas burner and gas canister together to prepare dinner (bought at Spar after a hunt to buy: 1000 + 300 Lek). Village dogs barked; I thought they might come (but didn’t), and the gas leaked, forcing me to work a little harder to make food on the fire. A few snaps of the stars and a comfortable sleep.

Up, up, more bunkers and springs.

From then on, the road going up was increasingly steeper, leading through many curves and turns and points of interest. Among the most notable was this railway line: abandoned and not working, complete with tunnels and viaducts.

I climbed to the top of the hill, from where I could see the other side: the mighty Lake Ohrid and snow-capped hills of the National Park “Galičica.”

A decision suddenly had to be made: cycle around the lake clockwise or counterclockwise. Since I lost a day cycling through to Elbasan on the motorway, I thought it might be safer to cycle north, doing it clockwise: from Albania to North Macedonia before returning to Pogradec in Albania. The rationalization being that perhaps I could try and catch a bus from Pogradec back to Tirana.

Story to be continued…