The first day is always the hardest.
I spent the morning laying in bed and thinking that I can prolong my start. I was not feeling well either. I spent 5 days of consecutive bus traveling from one place to another to get to Ohrid (Охрид). It was an exhausting process and I was feeling it. Still, I thought that I can start in the afternoon. I also figured that it may be even better since there would be no sun, so the uphill to the Kafa San border crossing may be easier, less sweaty at least. So I did like that.
At about 4 o’clock in the afternoon I felt better and ready to start. I loaded my bicycle and by 6 o’clock I was on my way. The sun was already setting. The reflection over the Ohrid Lake made me feel nice, since I thought that I could not have picked a more suitable time to ride along the lake. The view was beautiful. All the hesitations I had back home were already starting to disappear. I was happy that I’m on the road. I felt like it was my first time on a bicycle.
Just a bit off the Town of Ohrid, I met a group of youth road cyclists from the local bicycle club Eko Drom. I’ve met them earlier, just the night before. They decided to accompany me part of the way, since they were out on their work out and were in a hurry to get back home. It was nice to have someone else along side me. After a few minutes they turned back. Either way, I was too slow for their work out. This encounter was more interesting for them than for me. They have been in the cycling club for some time, but seemed very curious and excited about a bicycle touring trip. Perhaps, they were even more excited than I was.
I continued along the Ohrid Lake. The sun was almost gone behind Jablanica Mountain. It was a calm day and the lake was placid. I kept looking in the distance towards the lake, and enjoyed it every second. The road was fairly empty, so I did not bother too much about traffic.
In the dusk I passed the Town of Struga (Струга). I had doubts whether I should make a stop there. But I figured I knew the town from before and a simple glance from the bicycle would be sufficient. It was already past 7 p.m. and I had just begun my trip for the day. As I exited Struga the road moved away from the lake and started a long gradual ascent. Halfway up it got dark. I had my dynamo hub on, but I felt I need more light to look at signs and the surrounding, so I took my headlamp. I thought that it would be also good for vehicles to spot me easier, since there were some turns.
The uphill was not hard. It was slow. I had quite a lot of equipment, perhaps 10 kg to 13 kg in the two pannier bags. It was sufficient weight to slow me down significantly. By half past 8 p.m. I was at the border. The Macedonian side was fast and even without any comment by the border officers. The Albanian side was even faster. They called me in front of the cars and stamped my passport. And just then, the electricity went down on the Albanian border crossing. It took a moment for the generators to start and for the lights to be back. However I was passed the border and already cycling into Albania by that time. I found it as an interesting indication to what I was about to experience on my trip.
A kilometre after the border crossing I decided to stop. It was dark, but from that particular place I could see the Ohrid Lake and the valley on the other side, where somewhere Librazhd was. I stood there for some moments and I enjoyed the view. I wanted to take a photo of something, so I took a photo of the passing cars.
I continued down the road. After the border crossing, the road simply goes down for a very long time. I saw a gas station with a hotel and a restaurant. I decided that I should have some snack. I got into a small shop. It was half empty and I could not find something that would suite my need for sugar and to be a local product. I wanted to try something I have not tried before. So I ended up taking a Swiss chocolate. There was no option to pay by card, so I gave the lady some Albanian Leki that I had from some trip before. Interesting, she returned me the change in Macedonian Denars.
After one chocolate I was ready to go down and get to Ebasan. The down hill after that place was very steep with curves that scared me since it was too dark for me to see where exactly the road is going. I did not know if I can go faster or if I should brake. And considering my extra weight, braking took more time and force.
Along the steep down hill I passed one Albanian village that could compete as the village with the biggest number of truck washing places. The people had drilled holes in the ground, stuck a hose and had left the water to run out constantly. The street was like a river… I was thinking about the impact of all of these water outlets had on the Ohrid Lake. If they would become a reason for depletion of the water. Because the number of drills was overwhelming I was confident that it does have an impact. However, I can not really tell to which extent.
I noticed that even though it was almost 10 p.m. there were a lot of shops that were working. I thought that it was a stupid decision to stop right after the border crossing. The shops here looked much nicer, and filled with products that most probably I have not had before.
As the village ended, so did the steep down hill asphalt road. It became a gradual descent to Elbasan. I could not see where I was going, or the scenery beyond the white line of the road. For this reason I was constantly keeping my speed at a moderate level, so I can stop easily if I needed to.
I arrived in Librazhd. As I was going down wards, I got a nice view on the night lights of Librazhd. But I did not consider stopping there. It was already late and I thought I need just a bit more to get close to Elbasan. There was a police control point at the entrance of Librazhd. I had not dealt before with Albanian police, so I did not know what to expect. But the police men seemed totally not interested in me. I just passed them. I switched off on to the road to Elbasan, and I was out of Librazhd.
The road to Elbasan was not so empty. Here and there I would pass a village or some restaurant or hotel working late into the night. It was good to see some lights along the way. However, most of the places were deserted at night. People were in their homes, or even sleeping. The only thing that was showing signs of life were the dogs. Some were locked in the yards along the road, but there were also those that were out freely. On a couple of encounters dogs started to chase me. I was not scared, as I had such encounters with dogs in the past and I never had a bad experience. The road was downhill so this made things easier, since I did not need to put too much effort to leave the dogs behind me. I just continued my way, and made sure that no dog bites my legs.
At around 11 o’clock p.m. I felt that I needed to sleep. I was very close to Elbasan, so I said I can start to find a place to spend the night. Sleeping out in the open was out of question since there were a lot of dogs wondering around. I figured that the hotels are cheap and that if I find one where truckers go, it would be a cheap deal. So I looked and there it was: Hotel Brazilia. I went inside and I was pleasantly surprised that the owner spoke English. Within minutes I had a room, my bicycle was in a safe storage place and I was getting a dinner: a steak, a salad, potatoes and a home made distilled alcohol. I ate, paid 10 Euros for the room and 10 Euros for the dinner.
For the following day I had to climb over the mountain to get to Tirana, so I rushed to get to bed and fall a sleep.
Date: 8 September 2012
Difficulty (1-5): 3. There is somewhat uphill to Kafa San, though, the downhill after Kafa San seems more dangerous.
Time spent riding: 5:22
Average speed: 15.1 km/h
Length: 81.75 km
Landscape impression: I did not see much during the night. But there are some wonderful viewpoints around the border crossing of Kafa San. From its location on 1000 m.a.s.l. I could see the Ohrid Lake from one side, and the valley of Librazhd. Also a nice opportunity for being creative for some night shoots.
Water availability: Water fountains available often along the road, though sometimes one needs to look for them by the sound. If one is willing to stop on every water fountain, carrying a water bottle is even obsolete. However, if cycling on a sunny day, water bottle would be needed.
Security issues: There is no dedicated bicycle lane and most of the time the road is too narrow and in bad condition. Drivers seem not to be very accustomed to cyclists, but are considerate and try to make space, slow down, etc.
I was cycling during the night, which was a reason for less intensive traffic. Most drivers lowered their lights upon encountering me, but they did that inappropriately – too late or would turn on the lights too early. During the night a greater concern are the loose dogs near villages and buildings. Luckily they are at locations where it is a downhill so their chase after me was too slow (note my direction if someone decides to cycle the opposite way).
Contact with locals: At night time, the contact is strictly service based. I met only the border officers and the shop attendants. I did have a pleasant start, since the cycling club Eko Drom from Ohrid met me along the way and accompanied me some part of the road.
Accommodation: Due to the overwhelming amount of dogs that I met or heard, I decided to look for a cheap motel. I figured, if there are trucks in front, it must be cheap. So I found Motel Brazilia. It was 10 Euros for the night. The owner was so nice that he allowed me to put the bike inside the hotel, in a storage room. He spoke English, which made things much more easy.
Food availability: Night ride does not give much opportunities to see any fruit trees along the road. However, along the Ohrid Lake I had the pleasure to eat some raspberries in the end of their season. Along the road was noticeable the numerous shops that were working even later in the night. I made a wrong pause in the shop right after the border crossing, since it was poorly supplied, while the shops further down the road, looked much nicer. The hotel people gave me a nice meal with home made alcohol, salad and some pork chops for 10 Euros.