Thursday 31 May. Day 13.
Elbasan to Bitola 108 miles.
Each morning I dream of a Big breakfast, thats one thing I will look forward to when I get home - a Good Fry-up !
But for this morning its Bread and cheese, also a black coffee, I clear the plate and try to get the ladies attention who is serving breakfast, btw there is only me in the room of the hotel. She comes over and I try to ask for milk - for my coffee ! I get my phone out and managed to get a translated note on screen for some milk please with me coffee thank you! Well, I think she got it as she walked over towards the door of the kitchen, I could see her talking to another lady, the other lady come through the door and left the room, probably going to the reception area. Some time had passed and they other lady cam back through and headed towards the kitchen door, after this the waitress appeared and headed over towards me with a Big glass of milk - she passed to be saying Ok? smiled and went back toward th kitchen.. not exactly what I meant but was very kind of them to take time to go out probably to a local shop just for my milk :-)
I was fed - well a little anyway but I feel good and think I will top up on food if I pass a local shop.. I make my way up to my room to collect the panniers and head back down to reception to check out. The guy who booked me in is not around this morning but a lady I try to communicate about getting my bike ? I had no idea where the guy took it to last night, she nods and leaves the hotel main door and walks down the road somewhere ! she's gone for ages and my thoughts were... Have they lost the bike ? Where will get one now if they have ? she returns with nothing !! I say bike ? She said yes Ok.. I'm confused she goes back away from hotel Strange this one making me think they have lost it :(
Five minutes later she has my bike PHEW!! Its here thank god for that... I get on and cycle off away from the hotel waving as I go at the ladies standing at the hotel doorway. I honestly did think my bike had vanished then.
So I'm heading out of Elbasan, en route to Macedonia hopefully today - another country down and one closer to Istanbul. I get some miles out of town and stop at a local store, I head on in to get supplies, the usual water, crisps, chocolate, and I really fancied a yoghurt, so I bought 2 tubs. I payed at the till checked the till reading for how much smiled and paid, the guy and his young son who's shop it was, looked like they were the only two in there... I left and got to my bike, filled the water bottles up and usual organizing myself, I took the top off the yoghurt , folded it over and used it as a spoon to eat the yoghurt. As I was doing this the young boy came outside and gave me a proper spoon ! How kind was that :-) I was really touched at that so after I had eaten it I placed a translate on phone in Albanian worded "Just wanted to thank you for bringing me a spoon out so I could eat my yoghurt properly Thank you very much Very kind" I showed the shop owner my phone screen when translated - he was over the moon with that message. Little things make a Big difference.
I waved them both goodbye, and set off again along the road toward the Macedonian border. After about 10 minutes I caught up with another cyclist, not like me, but was a local boy, his bike was making a right racket he wasn't moving very quickly and he didn't have any shoes on neither but he was plodding on towards where ever he was going to with some parcel on the back of the old bike - My thought as I passed him was you don't realize how lucky you are where we come from, and when times get hard I will now just think of what people go through everyday in poorer countries.
Around mid morning its getting hot again, it has to be 30 degrees each day now with plenty of sunshine each day too, and the hills are here again, and I mean big ones too.. I thought I had done the big climbs over the Alps but no, this country was giving me something to work at too. I'm on a road that just snakes up and up, I stop off a a little roadside cafe where they had a spring or several taps more like, where passing people and cars could stop and fill their water bottles, its not long after my water stop until I reach the top and the view is breathtaking. I'm now looking down towards Macedonia in the distance but more stunning is the lake that comes into view Lake Orchrid. I take a few photos before I start the long descent southward down and along the edge of the lake -what a view and what a cycle down well worth the strain/sweating of getting up.
After I reach the southern part of the lake I head eastwards and pass over from Albania into Macedonia, I get my passport stamped, and the guy in the toll booth asks where I am going to - I reply Istanbul - he says good luck and bye ! :-) I'm off again, it feels different again now in another country somehow! Can't explain what it is but it seemed safer. The roads are off again, and I'm climbing up again higher and higher, until after an hour it flattens off and starts to descend, I whizz past a right turning in the road, its only mountain roads not really wide and pick up speed as I descend WoW!! Faster and faster brilliant :-)) I eventually cycle into a small village where there is a billboard with local map, I stop get off bike and have a look.... Shit !! that right turning I passed before I descended was the turning I needed to take to get over these big mountains..
Well I was not impressed, as I started to slowly cycle and mostly push the bike back up to my turning, as I was pushing the bike up a guy on a bike was coming down the road on a touring bike (just like me really) he stopped and we chatted about where we were both going. He was touring the country and he was headed for Orchrid that evening, I told him I was going up and over the mountain, he asked if I wanted to join him in Ochrid town as it is very nice place, I thanked him for the offer but I was behind schedule and did not really have the time to go sightseeing, so we went off in opposite directions.
Eventually I reached my turning however this time it was on my left. I take the road and its off up again and again the roads are snaking in all directions - this is some altitude... I'm climbing here as I keep taking photos of the lake below as it gets smaller and smaller with the more height I'm gaining. Its that high I pass snow/ice at the roadside and its nearly June !! Eventually I'm at the top and I'm looking forward to the big descent :-) but on the way down the road is in a terrible condition with holes etc so i have to dodge these poor patches, another problem when I do get some speed up, its getting chilly so I stop to put on my windproof outer, thats better and I'm back off again cautiously, on the way down this side I see another lake to the right of me its Lake Prespa, another stunning view, so again take some photos on way down.
I'm now at the bottom of the mountain roads and on a level road heading towards Bitola. Its starting the become darker a little now but I press on, it stays flat for quite a while, then the roads start to go up.. not as much up as before, more of a gradual climb and this is on a dual carriage way now, but the sun has now set and the light is fading, and I'm still ascending steadily, Mrs F calls me, so I take the call.. Have you booked in anywhere yet? no. not yet, but I'm only about 5 miles from Bitola (I was not 5, I was 15!) she asked is it dark, I said no, its still light and the sun is still up (I wasn't it had set about 15 mins ago) I said I will call you back when I'm booked in somewhere, she said Ok..
After some miles cycling in the pitch black with no road lighting, on poor condition roads, and to add to that in front of me was Big fork lightning lighting the sky, complete with thunder !! Well,.. I though shit, whens the rain coming ? It looked as if it was a storm coming towards me.. so I had to make a decision - do I carry on or do I just throw the bike and myself over into a field and just call it a day.
Yep. I stopped and in the pitch black, lifted my bike down a little ravine, back up and headed behind some trees at the side of the road, the field was very overgrown and I had to stomp and walk around in circles to flatten it ready for my tent (the tent I have only put up once before and guess what It was in the dark too) haha.
After fumbling and tripping over a few times I eventually get it set up, get my bags off the bike with valuables and get inside the tent - very cosy Not! (no mat remember, and the grounds damp again and it will get a lot damper when that rain starts soon..) I give Mrs F a call to let her know I have checked in, she is relieved that I have booked in, until I say Im in my tent again but its nice here I have a safe spot. I tell her the option had and she agreed I probably did the right thing, so we say night and end the call.
Stopping in the tent means that its no Great meals and No Wine!! Damn.. my only food tonight was two chocolate biscuits and half a bottle of water. That'll do after 100+ miles of cycling over mountains. So its night night from me then..