Albania Mania

Life out here can be simplified to biking up a mountain in order to bike down a mountain. Everything has to be earned and everything has to be experienced. That expirience includes the hard climb up while you sweat and your legs burn for sometimes an hour at a 10% grade as well as the effortless ride down the other side with the wind blowing through your hair and cooling your soaking wet shirt from the sweat. The same thing goes for the extreme wind in your face, the lack of good hot home cooked meals, or the constant buzzing of traffic to the point where you’re going crazy. I don’t think i would enjoy this trip as much without the constant reminder that it’s hard. Without those negative parts, like the bugs that seem to purposly dive bomb my face while I ride or the cars buzzing just a little too close for comfort with no regard for this humans life, the good of this trip wouldn’t be as fullfilling. There’s always the good that balances with the bad. The ying and the yang. The angel and the devil. I make it a point everyday to know that it’s important to earn everything out here and not just be handed 100% great moments all the time because I don’t want to become spoiled. If you work hard both mentally and physically good things come out of it. If you keep churning that cream it eventually becomes butter. Butter is great.
…so is cream.
(Sorry, I’m hungry)

I woke up in a field of 4 foot tall grass that I had matted down with my feet in order to make a place for my tent. It wasn’t a flat spot by any means. The ground was lumpy and if my tent wasn’t staked to the ground, a good rain might have been the lubrication needed to slide down this gradual slope. Nonetheless i had slept through the night without any major issues making it a success. As I packed my things back into their daytime homes in my panniers, I said to josh who was doing the same thing,
“New country today”
We had been going through a lot of new countries in little time across Europe but today we’d cross into Albania, making it our 9th country. The road to the border was great. It was small, had lots of traffic that would have to wait for on coming cars, but had a real rural West Virginia feel. The kids covered in dust on the side of the road would see our blonde hair and sunburned faces and would yell “ha-low!” as they gave us a smile and the peace sign.
As we pulled up to the line of cars waiting to enter, a blue van with an arm out the window was holding two red bulls for us. The man in the van had just denied the little girl begging for change but gave us a much appreciated ice cold can of red bull. A stamp on the passport and a look of what I think was “are you sure?” from the semi attractive female border patrol officer and we were in Albania. A large welcoming party of ragged looking beggars and homeless were lining the streets welcoming  us to their country including one bearded man with more fingers than teeth. He sat in his wheel chair, arms spread expressing in desperation, “pleeeeeease…money…please!”
I remembered the enormous driving machines on the side of the road in France that would move down the shoulder with a 10 ft rotating blade cutting any overhanging branch or limb off the path of the road for clear driving. Accompanying this machine were 6 or 7 employees weedwacking and picking up any loose debris in the road. In albania I saw a guy hacking with a knife tied to a stick.
The traffic through albania was chaotic to say the least. No one cared for anything but their cars it seemed, frustrating us because we were being buzzed by everyone. Not only were these cars driving too fast and too close to us but they insisted on honking every time they passed. This wasnt the typical “hey good job! Keep up the good work” honk. It was to tell us they were coming at 75mph and weren’t planning on moving off their straight line even if it meant endangering our lives. As if we had no idea that this car was coming without the annoying honk even though there wasn’t 2 seconds to spare between cars.
Now throw in a head wind.
Rain.
Nowhere, NOWHERE to camp.
As we breathed car fumes for the last time we thought, “were never going to find a place to camp”. We eyeballed one of the many hotel/gas station/café/trash dumps on the road and decided for 20 euro we could afford to stay in a room. After being denied the chance to keep our bikes with us in the room at the first hotel we moved to the next one down the road. We refuse to lockup our bikes in the garage of this rundown hotel on the highway from intercity hell just because the creepy hotel manager said everything will be fine. Our second option, without speaking english, let us carry our semitruck bikes up the stairs to our dark tiny hotel room where the lights didnt work and the toilet didnt flush. So there we layed like Bert and Ernie in our own single beds staring at the 9″ tv screen on the wall drinking beer from the lobby.
The next day was ground hogs day.
More rain.
More headwind.
More asshole drivers.
More weird people that don’t say a word but slowly walk up to you and stare.
As I was biking a man out of no where under a bridge popped up holding a dead rabbit in his left hand as if to say “yo, you want this rabbit?” No I don’t want your rabbit! I want out! I had had enough of this country and was losing it.
The shitty road.
The consistent honking.
Breathing car fumes.
Another dirty hotel room for 20 euro.
“We wake up early as fuck tomorrow and do our biggest day to get the hell out of this country.” I said before going to bed.

The next morning we were sluggish. Tired and not prepared to face the road of tears that we had come to hate the past couple days. After watching the end of a kung fu movie in Japanese with Albanian subtitles on tv we dragged ourselves out of the room and onto our bikes following directions to a “new road” that would take us 150 km to the border.
The road was perfect. The wind changed direction and was pushing into our backs. The traffic slowed and people were even giving us space. The honks were there but followed with a thumbs up. There was a “shoulder” for slow scooters, horses and bicycles. The road was new so there weren’t potholes or cracks. The air smelled like Autumn and the views of the gigantic mountains were endless. The clouds even joined in the game as they gave us cool shade from the hot sun as they slipped around the mountains next to us. People were friendly as one guy gave me a handful of weed (which I put in an empty cigarette pack and purposly left in the bathroom before the border crossing.) I was feeling good about albania for once as I effortlessly biked over 80 miles to the border. I waved to shepards hearding sheep, kids selling seeds on the side of the road and the dozen or so people burning corn on a grill for sale. We had a send off of, yet again, more homeless beggers at the border before getting our passport stamped and into Greece.
Without the horrible couple of days in Albania, the one good one wouldn’t have felt so good.

It was like biting into an orange without peeling it, bitter and horrible at first but because we kept going it got better. You can’t bike down a mountain without biking up it first..

The Croatian Coast

“When was the last time you smoked weed?”

I thought this was a strange question coming from the 20-something border patrol officer with a gun on his belt as we were crossing into Croatia from Slovenia. He had seen our american passports and wheelbarrows of bicycles with all our things on it as if it were some mechanical drug mule trying to sell a few kilos in his country.

“Do you have anything to declare? Weapons, knives, guns, drugs?”

I have a bottle of multi vitamins, I said.

“What’s in the black bag up front?”

Phone for music, sidewalk chalk for notes, and a multi-tool to fix bike problems, I replied.

Seeing that we weren’t going to have the giant stash of drugs he was looking for and that our bags were just filled with camping equipment, bike parts and cheap food he lost interest.

“Okay bye.”

Wait, so were good? We can go?

“Yea. Okay bye.”

A fist bump from Josh and continuing the superstitious tradition of following behind him across the border, we rolled our bikes into Croatia.

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I eat when I’m hungry. I drink water when I’m thirsty. I sleep when I’m tired. Fortunatly I am able to listen to my favorite music as I ride my bike over some of the most beautiful roads one can imagine. The coast of Croatia is undeniably one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen. The heat of the midday sun, at almost 95 degrees, melts the giant mountains of rocky grey into the cool clear blue water of the Adriatic sea below. The road in which we peddle our bikes slices along the sides of cliffs like a hot black knife. Cliffs that drop off 100 feet below to a beach covered in smooth grey stones that have been weathered over endless time. Occasionally that steaming hot black road has seemingly melted through the rocks and stone on which it was laid forming 30 ft canyons 3 ft from the road on either side. Those canyons giving just the right amount of shade to cool my sweaty over worked body before opening up to a vast seascape of incredible beauty. In the distance are floating brown mountains. I liked to imagine that no man has ever been there and no man ever would. The sights reminded me of the final scene from the goonies paired with neverland. We would sleep unseen and unheard on the sides of these cliffs under olive trees next to grape vines sipping wine from the bottle and watching the deep orange sun burn through the now misty blue mountainous hills on the islands to the west. Occasionally woken by the ringing bell around the sheeps neck as the weathered shepard holding his staff walks his sheep to graze. This country smells like the pig being smoked on a wood fire spit next to the road. It’s carcass spinning and sweating as the scent brings your head towards the air conditioned restaurant where the waitresses are required to have a perfect ass. Like the pig my skin is slowly cooked from the hot sun above, but as I sweat and burn the cool salty breeze from the crystal clear blue water cools my skin. I am an animal who’s only job is to ride a bike and be free. I am occasionally rewarded with a place such as the Croatian coastline where everyday seemed to give way to the next, becoming better and better.

As we crossed the border out of Croatia and into Montenegro, our border patrol officer handed us back our passports.

“You two are American and biking around the world? Respect!”

Thank you.

“No. Seriously, respect.”

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Croatian radio station review

Croatia has me taking my pants off. Since we entered this heat I have been biking in just my bike tights. I’ve always made fun of people who wore these things, but damn is it liberating and I feel I’ve earned it. A certain confidence has set in now that we have surpassed 4000km. I am much more comfortable prancing into a market in my tights and smelling like feet and saying to the lady behind the deli counter, “Hello, yes, one chicken please.”

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Recently I was run off the road by a car, I hit a rock and the jolt sent my phone out my front bag in what seemed like slow motion and under the tires of a semi truck. As I tried to get out into the road to retrieve it another car ran it over, all I could do was laugh in my defeat. I really do not need a phone for this trip, the gps was quite helpful when stuck in these labrythns they call european cities but what I miss most about that lovely piece of hardware was the music I had on it. A soundtrack to go along with a long coastal downhill beats any drug I can think of. After a few days of separation anxiety from my tunes I decided to break out the old school clip on dial radio. Here I have decided to review the Croatian radio stations I’ve recieved in the north. I cannot cite the specific frequencies (because of the dial) but it seems there are five stations that come in for me.

Top of the dial:

Pop radio-Not much more pleasant than the sound of being passed by a pack of Ducatis.

Two clicks down:

Mexican restaurant station-Its in spanish, its wonderful and has few commecials. Comes in well when passing around the corner of a cape and seems to make a great soundtrack for the thought of being run off the side of a cliff by a semi and into the crystal clear rocky water.

Halfway down the dial:

Experimental organ music station-For the past few days this channel has been nothing but abrasive organ music with people talking over it. Sometimes someone is talking in Italian and a man is translating over the italian in croatian. Great for climbing a mountain in the sun.

3/4 down the dial:

Nice mix- I heard Tom Waits earlier on this followed immediately by “I’m coming out so you better get this party started”. Best in the mornings and evenings, midday is just dead air.

Just before the bottom:

Gogol Bordelo station– All sorts of cool gypsy style punk in the mornings. Later on is Croatian rap and the occasional reggaeton track. Sometimes this station plays what sounds like russian choir music, its a station that for some reason makes me miss my comrades back in Florida.

Bottom:

Another crap pop music channel which comes in better than all the other stations combined.

Music is important out here, especially when you spend five to seven hours in the saddle doing the same stupid motion with your legs. It gets you up the mountains, through this crazy heat and gives you the confidence to leave the brakes alone while cruising down a steep road.

ps. Leave any music suggestions in the comments please. (I’m picking up a new phone in Athens)

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FAQ: An interview with Jason

The following is a transcript of an interview I had with Jason after dinner somewhere in the woods.

Here he answers a few of the questions we often hear.

How long will this take you?

“We plan on taking about a year and a half to two years to do this.”

Where do you sleep?

“We sleep in the woods on the side of road hidden in the trees, hopefully not get caught.”

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What do you eat?

“I eat food, what do you eat? But lately I eat cold ravioli, bread, meat, cheese and the occasional bottle of wine.”

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How far do you go in a day?

“We usually do 60 miles or around 100 km. It depends on the terrain or if we run into cool people who want to hang out. Do you have a hot tub at your house?”

Are you independently wealthy?

“Yeah, I’m loaded…I worked my ass off for the past year or so to do this, so just enough money to fuel my body and afford a bottle of wine or beer every once in a while.”

What about the oceans?

“Honestly, just fill up the tires with some extra air, get a running start and skip across the water.”

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Do you have a blog?

“Yes, absolutely. Let me get you a sticker, its called Rollingtheearth.com”

Would you like me to buy you a beer?

“Yep”

Where are you from?

“Uh, it all depends on who’s asking, but originially Cleveland, Ohio. Go Cavs.

Do you get any flats?

“Would you believe it if I told you I haven’t had one. I was expecting to at this point but I haven’t. Thats one thing I would have liked to have been able to say with a serious face on my cross America trip.”

Are you guys brothers?

“Nah, we’re cousins.

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Is it hard?

“Compared to… yeah it’shard, but compared to the “real” world it is easy. Going uphill all day is difficult but its worth it when you get up there and have views of oceans, cliffs or forests, its worth it. But you have to earn everything, in order to get to the downhill and feel like you are on a motorcycle you have to suffer, in order for that Coke to taste so good you have to chug hot water up that hill. But its easy in the sense that I am happy all the time. You simplify your life to a couple bags on the back of your bike and then ride it all day you start to appreciate small things you might otherwise take for granted. My only job is to ride a bicycle all day.”

Do you share a tent?

“Only when I’m really lonely. No, but I have a two MAN tent just in case.”

You smoke!?

“Yep, but I quit all the time right before I go to bed.”

Are you worried about Donald Trump?

“Nah, I love him. But if he does become president I’m Canadian, look, check out this little pin I have on my frontbag.”

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The Italian Mafia

“Where did you start?”

A voice came from the right as Josh and i were drinking our beer. Marcos, a friendly faced man in a fedora sat down next to us with his 18 month old son Matteo. He must have seen our bikes parked out front of the pizza place at which we had found ourselves. (By pizza I don’t mean pizza hut, im talking real authentic fresh italian pizza) We had come to know this place by accident after passing through the town of Ravenna. There was a beach near by and a decent amount of cover from the thick trees across the street that we could potentially camp in. Considering our arrival to this strip of bars and resteraunt along the beach we decided it was a bit premature to set up camp across the street in the thin slice of woods in hopes of not getting caught. As we rode, scanning for the perfect place to waste a few hours before the sun went down we saw the sign. WiFi free zone.

“I bought you a beer”

Josh said as I arrived back to our table to a giant 1 liter bottle of beer. Shortly after, Marcos and his “mini-me” Matteo sat down to ask us about our trip. He invited us to enjoy a cookout with him and some friends. We were introduced to some of the most amazing people I’ve met on this trip including, but not limited to, Marcos’s wife who was Spanish, living in Italy, and had a northern english accent. She had spent some time living there and thus adopted the accent. We met the three brothers, all who were around 50 and very into surfing and kite boarding. One of the brothers was the twin of Antonio Banderes if he were 7ft tall with bushy hair. Some of the most beautiful Italian women including my favorite, the one in the yellow shirt. Before we ate Marcos brought us to the beach for what he called “romantic time.” As he pointed in the direction of the water he talked about the tanker ships and natural gas rigs out in the water. This place was once rich in natural gas to the point that fires would start on land from gas spewing from the earth. This, among other things would usually be blamed on witchcraft. He pointed to the two wind turbines in the distance along the shore and went on about the importance of renewable resources and the ridiculous argument against them, that they are an eye sore. At this point it was time to eat and we made our way to the family style table where everyone sat facing eachother on wooden benches as pitchers of beer and bread were passed around. As all 15 or so of us were sitting around the table the feeling of warmth and family continued grow like the candles on the table or the red sun setting behind us. So much food was then brought out including piles of different kind of meat and sausage, grilled peppers and tomatoes. “Here I can’t eat all this” Antonio Banderes said as he handed me a peice of grilled melted cheese wrapped in some kind of thinly sliced meat from fucking heaven.

More beer.

“Speech! We want you to speech!”

Josh, feeling motivated instantly got up on the wooden bench and mentioned what we both were feeling at that moment. In his speech standing tall on his chair looking down on the table of half empty beer glasses, rib bones and food scraps he told the honest truth that this was the best hospitality we had received this entire trip and were incredibly greatful to have met such amazing people.

One of the brothers whipped out a knife..

..and cut up a giant watermelon which he put on plates and individually handed out to everyone.

More melon .

More beer.

More conversation. Never feeling out of touch because everyone did their best too speak english. Always smiling, my heart felt warm.

Marcos brought out a drink for Josh and i which was made from the skin of grapes used to make wine, fermented in wooden barrels. It tasted like whiskey.

Little tiny cups of espresso.

Coffee ice cream which was more cream than ice and the greatest topper to an amazing meal spent with our new family. Marcos looked at me as i was in a moment of bliss and said, “you know Jason, this is the Italian mafia”

The night as then finished off with a 2 mile walk down the starry beach with our new friends to three different bars all with different styles of live music from the italian jam band playing songs in Italian which apparently were dirty with titles such as ‘anal history’ and 3 or 4 kids walking around like zombies as if to say “I’m tired, put me to bed.” The second bar had a band that resembelled the strokes with ‘the cure’ style singing in English and finally a giant dance party with a dj and 100’s of beautiful people dancing on the beach. “Who cares, I’ll never see any of these people again” Josh said as he swung his arms and jumped around thru the crowd of younger attractive italians dancing to the loud music. In the distance we saw fireworks, once again welcoming us to our home for the night. As we walked passed a paticularly fishy smell of the ocean, one of the brothers mentioned, “smells like sex.”

Our Italian expirience has been great. Everyday has been beautiful and above all this time with our new friends, our new family, I have never felt so welcomed and appreciated.

The next day, as I sat with Marcos at a small table over looking the Adriatic sea with a cool breeze coming off the ocean he reiterated a point which sticks with me everywhere. Positive outlook attracts positive situations. When youre an open door its easier for good people and situations to walk into your life. As we sipped the glass of wine and sprite he had brought out we talked about the importance of actually experiencing life and not just bragging about which hotel you stayed in. Don’t get dumbed down by the everyday speeding train of life. Put down your phones, read a book, and travel.

From the mouth of Marcos himself, “Make sure when you get back to the states that you tell everyone how terrible it is here and how Italians are all assholes.”