Balkan Stage 24 Vlorë to Ksamil, Albania

Oct 2, 2022

Stage 24 of 36, day 28 of 43: 125.1 km, 2650m climb, 6:43 Moving, 7:29 Total,  80.5 kph max

Bosnia & Herzegovina211.01444

Stage 24, maybe on paper the hardest of the tour, is finished. That means we’ve hit the two thirds mark of the tour. I was not really looking forward to a day with so much climbing, and the rain showers during the night didn’t help. It looked promising in the morning though, and I left my tent out until the last minute but it was still wet when I packed it.

7am view from camp – weather is looking good!
The snack table is very popular today

We all took off at 8am, heading along the coast, then inland up a valley that slowly got steeper.

A few easy kilometers along the coast to start us off
Starting up the valley

Soon we were climbing for real, long sections of 10+%. This first climb was 1000m in 16 km – a mental game. I took it easy, didn’t push too hard, stopped a few times and as I got close to the top, was in thick fog. It was chilly but we were working really hard. My Garmin registered 17% a couple of times, and lots of time over 13%. Wet from sweat and fog drips, I got to the top to find a stunning view down the other side to the sea. The fog was lifting and settling so the view kept changing.

Gorgeous view
Ready to descend

Soon I put on a jacket and headed down. I stopped pretty soon because I saw a bunker right next to the road and was dying to actually go inside one and check it out. It was smaller than I expected, kind of lame really. I still can’t believe they built over 170,000 of these in 8 years in the 70s. But the modern paint jobs are good.

A very small but smiley bunker, with Bob J jetting by
Inside the bunker is room for two very small people but it doesn’t inspire safe feelings in me

I continued down – the descent was fast, mostly straight sections with just a few hairpins you had to brake for. There were a couple of long into the wind switchbacks where I could only go 40 and two with the wind where I cruised at over 70 and hit 80.5 once. Bob J is a super rider and caught up to me on this section – he’s seriously fast. But it didn’t fully deliver. Before we got anywhere near sea level, it was back to 10% climbs, now in the hot sun.

Going up again, to a village over a cliff
Goats in the road. The goatherder called out “Hello my friend” as I passed

The rest of the day kind of went that way. Lots of long climbs interspersed with short but fast descents. But the scenery! Maybe it’s partly because of the weather: the first time in a week or more that rain wasn’t imminent and forecast to dump. The world just plain looks better when the weather is great. Several times, when descending at high speed, I would be torn from just wanting to stare at the gorgeous sea and islands and shoreline with the super-azure water to having to watch the road. I also liked saying hi to people. One guy called out from his house, “Where are you from?”. I answered, “USA”. “Oh very good!” was the response. This was a big improvement from two days ago when a guy leaned out of a car window and said, “I will kill you” to Bob M.

We rode by a castle, had lunch about halfway, it went on and on, and finally the 9th and final climb that my Garmin identified was done. From there it was downhill or level with a nice tail wind, except the last 5 km which had a bonus climb not seen by the Garmin. Harry and I whooshed into town and there was Henk, waving us into the hotel parking lot.

Some parts of the Albanian Riviera look pretty legit
The big fogbank on the 1000m mountain is what we climbed first thing in the morning

There were maybe 10 people there already. We had a huge variety of snacks prepared by Diana and Caroline. Simply awesome. I immediately bought us beers from the hotel and everyone ate and talked about the amazing day. We agreed it was the most scenic and one of the most fun ever. Of course if it had been raining or the wind had been reversed it would’ve been a different story.

After shower and laundry, I lay down for a minute but soon it was time for dinner. Google showed a large number of good looking restaurants within walking distance. But Sigi and Anita had already checked and almost all were closed. The season really does end September 30 I guess. Five of us went out to the Island Restaurant which was known to be open, and of course found the staff and many riders there. We had a great dinner, huge, inexpensive and tasty. Best pizza on the whole trip so far, made by what looked like a 16 year old boy in a very professional looking full size pizza oven. Liz had a grilled fish, both Bobs and Carien all liked their food and beer.

Dining room with a view
This was great!

When we got back to the hotel we had to climb and descend the two flights of stairs a couple of times, locking up bikes and getting water. So we were laughing about who was failing the stairs test – taking the elevator due to sore legs from riding. Now it’s time for another massive sleep. Good night.

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