I knew two things about Albania before crossing the border. The first being it was Albania who dropped the first cobalt bomb in Nevil Schute’s nuclear apocalyptic masterpiece “On The Beach” and the second from a touring cyclist’s blog that there were packs of bloodthirsty dogs roaming the Albanian countryside. The one thing I have been dwelling on since leaving Italy is the threat of dogs. It seems every time I hear a sheep’s bell or gaze up a long dirt driveway I am filled with terror. I was chased by three packs of dogs in Albania, the last of which chased us both all the way to the foot of the guard station on the Greek border.
“It must be something about those yellow panniers”, said Jason.
I considered that as I told him about earlier in the day when a pack of sheepdogs abandoned their flock to come snack on this tasty American. Their collaboration was brilliant. Clearly, the strongest was out in front but I thought for sure he could not make it up the hill leading to the steel highway guard rail. I even slowed down in this confidence. It seems Albanian sheep dogs are not an animal to doubt. This muscular and white boy flesh starved beast raced his way up the hill and began running alongside the guard rail at 30 plus km an hour. The adrenaline allowed me to pump those pedals harder than I thought possible and then even harder with every glance towards my right. In maybe 200 meters I could see the guard rail tapering off and there was a gap in the road where I was certain these dogs would eat me and from the look of the pack leader, possibly the steel frame of my bike as well. I approached the gap and possibly said a quick prayer to something or maybe just cursed loudly. I heard a loud smack and looked over at this poor bored vicious dog 3 feet in the air and doing a sort of corkscrew front flip into the ditch maybe 20 feet below the road. It seems his face caught a piece of steel sticking out of the rail and now his legs were stiff in the air and blood was shooting from between its eyes while it spun the first revolution. I pedaled harder in my victory. It felt like a Bond car chase and I wish so badly I had something witty to tell you I yelled back towards that damn dog, but I kept moving as the rest of the pack was still on its way and there was no telling what they would do to me when they saw what became of their fallen comrade. I rode on feeling quite bad for the little fucker, he may well have killed himself in that chase. For the rest of the afternoon I considered my dog strategy. Perhaps a combination of a big stick, an air horn and a can of pepper spray will be much better than trying to outrun these animals.
“Don’t give them what they want.” I tell myself a few hours later as I’m running for the Greek border guards 100 yards ahead with four Albanian strays barking and nipping at my yellow panniers.
There’s a bit of unrest going on in my stomach, it could be from the gas station hose water or the mystery one euro kebab we found on the side of the highway. Anyway, Greece is treating us well and I will tell you what I tell every resident of every country I visit, a thumbs up and a smile paired with “(insert country) is the best!”
Today Jason was taming a street kitten with bits of granola and old bananas at a graffitied country bus stop and I fell asleep. I had a dream we were a few miles up the road in Turkey during the coup detat. We were crossing the bridge into Istanbul and a soldier stopped us and said, “hey look, Josh look!” I woke up from the spider infested bus bench and here was Jason holding this tiny cat in one of his hands and laughing.
“I trained this cat while you were asleep”.
It was amazing, this brave little Greek cat, no longer afraid of us just because of some old bananas. Jason toyed with the idea of bringing the cat around the world and went as far as to run bungee cords through a cardboard box and ride circles around the highway with the cat and a soaked bandana packed inside the box. It seemed the poor thing would die from the heat in that box so he decided to leave it and we moved along down and further into Greece.