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.
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 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..