(written by Dave)
We had more rough roads today and finally something had to give on one of our bikes. I was the lucky winner with a broken spoke on my rear wheel, the third of the trip. It is always a good idea to minimize your riding on a wheel with a broken spoke, especially when loaded. In that sense, it doesn’t get much better in terms of location as we were only 400 meters from a servo that we planned on stopping at for morning tea anyway. We had a nice shady place to tear everything apart, plus a restroom to wash up in. The broken spoke was drive side again, as the always are, meaning cluster, tire and rim tape all had to come off. But the wheel came up true pretty easy so it really only meant a half hour delay or so.
The broken spoke came at about 35k. Before this we had some spectacularly scenic riding. The road twisted and turned, climbed and descended down a valley and manmade lake. There was quite a bit of climbing as the terrain was lumpy. The road surface ranged from terrible to ok. The terrible sections were short and mostly on the uphill. And they were not nearly as bad as yesterday. When we could look up and enjoy the views we got an eyeful.
We passed a couple more touring cyclist on one of the downhills. They were going uphill and in no mood to stop. The man rolled past Nancy with barely a word. I got him to stop and figured out that he was from Russia. His English was not that good, and my Russian is zero. The woman was walking and barely looked up to notice Nancy and I. It was a steep section and I expect that they may have been enjoying the road less than us.
On a narrow part of the lake, there was a great suspension bridge leading to four houses on the far side of the lake. Not just on the lake shore, but scattered on a very steep hillside above the lake. I don’t think they had more than donkey trails from the bridge. I tried to get Nancy down for a closer look but we couldn’t find the path. The end of the canyon was very narrow, with only a small dam wedged between steep ravine walls. There was no room for a road, except in a 350 meter unlit tunnel. Given how bad and unpredictable the road surface was until this point, we were not thrilled to be in a black tunnel without being able to see the road. We made the exit, just as a truck started catching us from behind. All a bit hair raising.
And finally, one last visual from the road. There are cars here but many folks cover the inter-village distances via shuttle buses or vans. You can get on or off anywhere, you just read the end village name from the sign on the dash and signal the driver. The drivers do these roads all the time. They know the corners and where all the potholes are. This means that they can really push the speed if they choose to. Imagine yourself on a very twisty potholed mountain road, with lots of up and down, in the back row of a mini-van. If you are getting a little motion sick thinking about it, then you’re not the only one. We saw quite a few vans stopped on the roadside with the driver using a water bottle to wash the van out, while a queasy passenger either was still getting sick, or was trying to compose them self while other passengers looked on. Nancy made a special note that her sister Gretchen would have loved such a ride but then offered something about there not being enough coffee cans in Albania. I’m not sure what that was about.
Once we passed the dam and dealt with the spoke, we had a rather uneventful ride into Shkoder. We toyed with pulling the plug at 60k in Lezhe but we pushed on. It was pretty hot by then as we were down at sea level and Albania road SH1 was pretty busy. There was not much shoulder and there was a very annoying cut/patch where they had probably installed some sort of fiber optic cable right near the edge of the road. The cut lasted the entire 35k and made dodging traffic even more fun. But we made it and were glad to be off the road. This is our last day in Albania – not much of a visit, only two days. It’s a small country and we entered in the middle. It has an interesting history, with Albanian people having been around for more than 1000 years. The Albanians are famous for fighting off the Ottomans and are fiercely independent. The current country of Albania came into existence in after WWII under our old friend Enver the bunker builder. He ruled from 1950 until his death in 1985. He was pro-Soviet until 1961 when he thought that the USSR was “going soft”. He then aligned the country with China and Chairman Mao’s philosophies. He was reportedly brutal, using the alignment changes to purge and re-purge his enemies. By 1979, his official title was “Comrade – Chairman –Prime Minister –Foreign Minister – Minister of War – Commander and Chief of the People’s Army”. He must have been pretty clever to balance so many different jobs.
So tomorrow, we leave Albania and Enver behind for the coast and Montenegro. We have several campgrounds picked out and are looking forward to renewing our “tenticate” discussions. The weather is looking superb for the foreseeable future – perfect.