Balkan Stage 30 Karditsa to Karpenisi, Greece

Oct 10, 2022

Stage 30 of 36, day 36 of 43: 106.1 km, 2287m climb, 5:54 Moving, 6:23 Total,  67.9 kph max

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I’m still having a great time but we continue to have new people testing positive for Covid. The first few to get it, back in Albania, over 10 days ago, have no more symptoms and are probably not even contagious any more but it seems like one more person tests positive each day. I think we’re now at 1/3 of the riders positive or recovering. So it feels like a race for me to get to the end and escape without it. I don’t know what my chances of succeeding are.

We had breakfast this morning in the ornate dining room of the Domotel Arni Historic Hotel in downtown Karditsa. We read that it’s the second oldest hotel in Greece.

The table is real marble with light shining through

The ride today was 106 km with lots of climbing. We headed out of town in a 10 person pace line, which lasted maybe 25 km until the climbing started. Then people tend to go their own pace. I rode up the first hill, 720m, then there was a short descent, then a second climb of about 600m. The trucks were set up for lunch near the top of this second climb and it was nice to take a break.

On the first climb, looking down to our road way below
I stopped for a banana/pee break here, early on the second climb
High on the second climb, looking way back to our road and many distant mountains
Lunch was just over half way, a very welcome stop
Tom says he gave this dog half his lunch and then the dog sat with me all through mine even though he didn’t get any more

Then it was back at it. Once I’ve climbed that much, I get into a groove and it seems easier. Maybe it’s also the mountain air. It feels different/better up at 1400m compared to sea level, and the trees are mountain trees and there’s a great view in every direction.

The cows own the road here
More gorgeous views, from almost 1500m

So I enjoyed it all the way. The last 20 km or so was mostly downhill, through some nice turns, but we had one rider crash – it sounds like he’ll be ok. It was a little tricky navigating through the town of Karpenisi; Graham and I ended up walking down a couple of stair cases. But we got to the hotel in the end. It has a gorgeous view of the town but is pretty isolated. Luckily the reception guy is happy to take food orders and we had dinner delivered. It feels very post-season in this large hotel which is seemingly empty except for us. But they still have a little beer left in the bar so all is not lost.

Panorama of Karpenisi from our hotel balcony
Full moon rising over Karpenisi with Jupiter looking down too

Heard today in the bar:

Rider 1 (Peter): I don't understand it. My bike performance is just not what I'd like. I've tested negative for Covid, so what is going on?
Rider 2 (Tom): Oh, did you do a test for O-L-D?
Rider 3 (Me): That won't help, we'd all test positive.

Tomorrow is another big day (130 km, over 2000m climb and 3000m descent) so it’s time to go to bed early and sleep hard. I just walked up the 5 flights of stairs (101 total) and felt good. Turns out biking makes you strong even if you have a case of O-L-D. Good night!

Balkan Stage 29 Kastraki to Karditsa, Greece

Oct 9, 2022

Stage 29 of 36, day 35 of 43: 95.04 km, 1000m climb, 4:05 Moving, 5:37 Total,  67.9 kph max

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It feels like we’re coming down to the end. We have seven more riding days total plus one rest day to look forward to. This morning, we had breakfast in camp as usual, and started out together a little before 9am. It was cool but not cold. I wore a thin second jersey and fingerless gloves. We cruised down the valley, making a large number of 90º turns. Bob, Geoff and I ended up out in front and it was super nice. Geoff was being very cool and always drafting behind as he has not had a negative Covid test yet but feels fine.

We were under strict orders not to arrive at lunch too soon: “Coffee stop is mandatory”. So we found a nice one after about 30 km and had a good long stop. The owner had lived in Germany and was all smiles, serving over 20 of us on a slow Sunday morning.

Bob shot a nice video as we rode along a beautiful road. Then a dog attacked him (he escaped ok)
Me shooting Bob shooting me

We rode along some more and came upon Sigi and Anita, stopped by a cotton field. I slowed down and asked if they were ok. No answer, I think because they were laughing too hard.

Sigi with a perfect moustache

Then, around 50 km, we came upon the group having lunch. It was nice to sit in the shade and refuel. We stayed quite a while then took off. Soon after lunch the big climb of the day started. The major part was 620m in 14 km, mostly gentle but some parts were 12-15% and it was hot in the sun.

Stopping to cool off at a nice spot

But it wasn’t too long before we made it to the top.

The view back down where we rode up
A pretty lake near the summit of our climb
A Greek Mirage F1 flying too low over us [photo may be doctored a little]

From the top we had only 23 km more, and a fair amount of it was a glorious fast descent. After a final bit of flat riding we cruised into Karditsa, which is a good-sized town. Our hotel was right in the center. Upstairs we found most of the riders already there, sucking down smoothies and eating all kinds of great snacks.

After showers and a little photo work, we headed out to where our craft beer team had found…Lagunitas IPA from California on draft, served in the authentic large mouth Lagunitas glasses. About eight of us had a fun round or two of beers there, then we moved across the street to a restaurant for dinner. We did what you can only do on a trip like this: ordered double meals each, plus more beer! I had a giant Greek salad plus a nice orzo and shrimp dish. Then, because tomorrow is a bigger day than today (2400m climb in 106 km), we went back and got ready for a massive sleep.

Amazing to find this at the Cadillac Records Bar in Karditsa
Living it up as we always do

Visiting the Meteora Monasteries

Oct 8, 2022

We had a rest day in Kastraki and I was thinking of riding up to see the famous monasteries of Meteora. The view of the rock formations dominates from our campground and you can even see a couple of the monasteries. But in the morning I just didn’t feel like riding. So I got some breakfast from a bakery in town, then took the bus which conveniently stops at the campground entrance.

It goes up through town, then stops at each of the six monasteries. Knowing they would be crowded and determined not to try and “see it all”, I picked one, the best sounding one, The Monastery of Great Meteoron. It’s the oldest (14th century) and the biggest. So I got off the bus there. The view of it and all around was just great.

View down to Kastraki from The Monastery of Great Meteoron

I looked up and saw a giant line of people slowly climbing the many stairs. It was discouraging but it turned out that a lot of them were from one giant group. I hung out a little, then went up and only waited a couple of minutes to get in.

Lots of people climbing the stairs

It’s a large, super scenic complex. I spent over an hour there exploring the museums, looking at the view and seeing every room that was open. Best was the church – a relatively small chapel, but very ornate and peaceful. I was sitting just absorbing, when a small group came in led by a guy with a big black beard who may have been a monk. He spoke with a deep resonant voice, talking about something for a long time. Then they all broke into song, very nice acoustics in the room. Many people were disregarding the “No photos, no videos” signs that were all over, but I didn’t. After that little concert, I headed out. I walked down to the next-door Monastery of Varlaam. It looked pretty cool too, but I just climbed a rock near it for a view and didn’t go in.

The Monastery of Varlaam
The Monastery of Varlaam on the left and The Monastery of Great Meteoron on the right behind

I walked back up to the bus stop a few minutes before the bus was due and ran into Marc, Harry and Kevin. They had hiked up and Marc and Harry were just starting back down the trail to town. I joined them for a nice walk, somewhat steep to start, but shaded.

Looking back up from the trail down

Before noon we were back in town. I bought lunch at the bakery and went back to my tent to change into shorts (shorts not allowed inside the monasteries). I ate at the campground bar then went back down to our campsite to relax for a while in the afternoon.

Rock climbers on one of the formations above Kastraki

I walked up to town again for dinner with several riders. We ate small and restrained dinners which was nice.

Gorgeous view walking up to dinner
Night view walking “home”

Balkan Stage 28 Metsovo to Kastraki, Greece

Oct 7, 2022

Stage 28 of 36, day 33 of 43: 68.5 km, 881m climb, 2:39 Moving, 2:49 Total,  64.9 kph max

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After a lousy night of sleep, and a somewhat small hotel breakfast, I was wondering if today’s ride would be any good. It started straight from town with a climb of over 600m in 14 km. Since there was no downhill I tried wearing just a short-sleeved jersey and it worked. I generated enough heat to stay warm almost to the top of the hill. There were some cold, strong headwinds, but it was balanced by gorgeous views with almost no traffic.

Photo stop: looking back to Metsovo from 400m up

I got to the top in an hour, ate a banana and added a long sleeved jersey. We were on top of Katara Pass at over 1700m. It’s one of the highest passes in Greece. As a bonus, we had a clear view of Mount Olympus, the highest mountain in Greece at 2917m. Everyone added clothes, remembering how cold we were on the descent yesterday. I used full-fingered gloves all day.

Top of Katara Pass
There’s Mt. Olympus on the right in back, and the road we will ride

I strategically started with Bob J, the master descender, and told him, “Go ahead you’re faster”. We started well after many people and I drafted him for 20 km, passing every single rider ahead. It was magical. His skill and experience was a dream to watch. Later, one of the riders told me watching us pass by was the most beautiful thing she saw. The first 1000m of the descent was continuous, barely dipping below 50 kph with little braking. My bike is not geared as high as his so sometimes I had to aggressively tuck right behind him to keep up. He kept pedaling on all the straights for maximum speed. I can only really pedal to 50 kph.

We had a bit of uphill after that and were joined by Bob M and Geoff and Simo. Then there was another 500m descent at warp speed, again sucking Bob J’s wheel the whole time. We kept up the pace line until arrival in Kastraki, with the famous rocks of Meteora becoming more and more visible.

Riding into Kastraki, we can see some of the famous monasteries on top of the rocks

We cruised into the campground surprising the truck crew who had just arrived themselves. We helped set up camp, unload the truck etc. Ype arrived, then Henk and there was a grand lunch with everyone happy from the amazing ride.

Tom, Per, Graham, Peter and I downed a few beers at the campground bar, then I wrote this up. Peter and I are on dinner duty tonight – I think it’s my last time. We looked at the schedule and after the rest day tomorrow, there are only two more 4-day blocks of riding, and a rest day in Olympia before we arrive at our final destination, Athens.

Starting the celebratory drinking session

We are really looking forward to exploring the monasteries tomorrow. Here’s a photo I found online.

Roussanou Monastery at sunset

Cool bonus fact: the 1981 Bond film For Your Eyes Only was filmed here.

Balkan Stage 27 Monodendri to Metsovo, Greece

Oct 6, 2022

Stage 27 of 36, day 32 of 43: 85.3 km, 1640m climb, 4:29 Moving, 5:41 Total,  59.6 kph max

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The weather has cooled off quite a bit. It got down to 3°C last night and when we started riding today, a little after 9am, it was 7°C. It didn’t feel that bad so I started with both jerseys on, not carrying anything else. By the time we were halfway down the initial 15 km descent from town, I was starting to get a little cold. At the bottom, I was frozen, especially my hands. We stopped at Noutsos Bridge, built in 1750, and spent some time checking it out, mainly to warm up!

Noutsos Bridge
Close up

Warmed up a bit, we continued and pretty soon found another of the famous bridges in the area: Zagorochoria Plakidas Bridge, built in 1814. This one has three arches. We walked down and looked under it and walked over it.

Plakidas Bridge
The newer road signs have Greek and English – very convenient!
Team Salsa visits a local tiny house someone has labelled creatively

The riding in this area was up and down, on deserted roads, and the landscape was thick beautiful forest. I never saw anything like this in the Greek Islands, that’s for sure. The spot Ype found for lunch was just awesome. He tantalized us by text first:

Sure enough, it was magical when we arrived
Detail of the water spout at our lunch spot

After lunch, Bob and I continued together, up, down and around, through some headwinds and soon came to the major climb of the day, 750m in 14 km. This one was pretty consistent, pretty, with low traffic. It did drag on and the headwinds were intermittent and strong sometimes. By the end I was feeling somewhat unpowerful.

Looking back to the nicely graded road we climbed
Looking down from the highest point on the ride at a bridge

Finally my Garmin read 0m to ascend and I cruised down a kilometer to the town of Metsovo. It’s at about 1200m elevation, with cool air and hilly narrow streets. We checked into the hotel and immediately set to work on soup and snacks.

A few of the snacks I had after riding, best was Caroline’s yummy chick pea soup

Next up was a hot shower, laundry and a nap. Then it was time for beer. The craft beer crew was already ensconced in a place downtown so I walked down and joined for a round of decent craft IPA.

We have a lot of fun on these trips…

By 7, it was dinner time so we walked a few doors down and ate. The menu had only meat dishes so Bob asked about other options. The guy said, “Vegetarian or vegan?” and we knew we were ok. I had a great salad and stuffed vegetables – delicious and filling. We had mineral water to drink and since I had just one beer at the previous place, I scored an AFD by Peter’s bike touring rules.

Cozy dinner with a roaring fire
Katie wants more food descriptions so the stuffed pepper and tomato were filled with seasoned rice with cheese and herbs. Potato for extra volume and style. My salad was “Traditional Salad”: lettuce, croutons, feta, tomatoes and some balsamic vinegar.

The owner brought us free ice creams for dessert and didn’t offer any ouzo, just excellent! We walked home, all wearing heavy jackets, wondering how cold it will be in the morning. We took a detour to the hotel lobby to stand by their roaring fire for a while before going upstairs. I will certainly sleep well tonight!

Balkan Stage 26 Përmet, Albania to Monodendri, Greece

Oct 5, 2022

Stage 26 of 36, day 31 of 43: 110.8 km, 2601m climb, 5:16 Moving, 7:43 Total,  64.4 kph max

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It seemed like a normal day but turned into one of the most amazing of the tour. Breakfast was kind of small, in a large basement dining room of the hotel in Përmet. At 8 when we started, it was 8°C, nice and cool. I started with short sleeves and right from the start it just felt great. We rode in a pace line, although there was little wind. After 10-15 km it was Bob, Sigi, Anita and I out in front. We cruised up and down, loving the views, the cool air, sunny weather, and very little traffic, in short, perfect cycling conditions.

Beautiful cruising
Nice views from the road
Sigi riding a funny bridge we found
Ok, so it’s not really rideable. If you somehow make the 5m gap, you’ll probably fall through

It wasn’t long before we came to the Albania/Greece border. It was the quietest manned border I’ve ever seen. It took about 5 minutes, then we rode 200m through noman’s land, then another 5 minutes and we headed off into Greece. No other customers except a couple of dogs laying in the road.

Riding up to exit Albania
Entering our 7th country, Greece

Right away, we started climbing again, but with no traffic, cool temperatures and fitness from a month of riding, it felt great.

We’re climbing up – looking across to another big climb

We continued on, and then our route had a side trip, a few kilometers out and back, to a great viewpoint of the famous Vikos Gorge. It’s the world’s “deepest gorge relative to its width”, and pretty impressive. We drank Vikos lemonade which granted us access to the owner’s special garden with a superb view.

With Anita, Rien and Bob
Looking across the gorge

We rode back to the main road, then had a pretty long climb up 500m or so, then a downhill/level section to the town of Monodendri. We passed our hotel with the trucks parked and bikes littered around. But we had a mission: there was another optional out and back add-on to another Vikos Gorge viewpoint, this one rumored to be even better.

So Bob and I did another 400m climb, eventually topping out around 1300m elevation, parked our bikes and walked 150m to the view point. It was absolutely amazing, the most scenic thing we’ve seen yet on the whole trip. The depth here is 1000m or more and the drop is vertical below the viewpoint. It’s hard to capture on pictures but come here and check it out.

An attempt at capturing the gorge
Sitting on the edge of the world

Finally, after we hiked back, we just had to go downhill. At this point we had climbed about 2600m/8500′ for the day, so 7-8 km of fast downhill sounded just about right.

The view from the road at 50+ kph riding down to Monodendri

We pulled up to the hotel, had massive amounts of snacks and soup, Bob replaced a tire that had a nasty looking gash in the sidewall, had showers, then it was already 6pm [Greece is in the next time zone so we lost an hour during the day] – time for dinner. Tom had not been able to stomach the climb to the viewpoint, so he took it upon himself to check out the town with an eye to our constant quest for craft beer.

The quest was finally successful!

We were excited by his report and walked over to the Hotel Arktouros thinking we’d try every one of the available craft beers, made nearby in Ioannina. We sat down, looked at the excellent dinner menu and thought we had found heaven. Three of us ordered IPA, one draft ale. The owner brought the beers but told us it was the end of the season and these were the last of the IPAs. But they came with nice snacks. We called him back for a second round and he warned us he was also out of several others. Anyway, we made do, and had a great dinner too. Bob and I shared a delicious salad of tomatoes, croutons, capers and feta, and we both had different types of ravioli, the other guys opted for pizza which they loved.

Salad and a couple of nice beers

While we were eating, Niek texted to say he had to fly back to Holland the next day and asked where we were so he could hang out for one more night. This was a shock, but his dad had recently had a stroke so he was somewhat prepared for this happening. Soon, he joined the party and we had another round with him, then all walked back together. It is a shame to be losing Niek – I met him in Quito in 2019 when we did half the Andes Trail together. We’ll probably meet again on some crazy bike trip.

Another fine aftermath

Tomorrow should be an easy day, only 1700m climbing in 85 km – what could go wrong?

Balkan Stage 25 Ksamil to Përmet, Albania

Oct 4, 2022

Stage 25 of 36, day 30 of 43: 123.5 km, 1185m climb, 5:16 Moving, 5:50 Total,  57.5 kph max

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Today started out pretty normally, although I didn’t sleep well last night. We had a big breakfast in the hotel at 7, then started riding at 8. The weather seemed perfect for riding, cool temperatures, blue skies and no threat of rain.

Getting ready to leave Hotel Mare in Ksamil

The wind was against us most of the day but it was quite light and not a problem. We headed out of town, retracing our route from two days ago for the first 15 km.

The pace line heading out of town

Then we turned away from the coast and soon, started the one big climb for the day. It wasn’t bad, climbing 450m in 10 km or so.

Watch for sheep and cement mixers on the road, also I like the shadows

The grade was inconsistent but I guess that makes for a less boring climb. It was a beautiful little road with only light traffic. I didn’t feel powerful and did not feel like climbing fast, but it was completely fine and I felt good at the top. The descent was scenic but not all that fast. It only lasted 5 km and then I was down in a long, wide valley, headed gently uphill, into a light headwind.

We’re getting close to Greece so the town signs are bilingual now

After 15 km or so, sure enough, there was lunch at the promised abandoned gas station. It was pretty early but I was just hungry enough to eat a regular lunch.

Fill ‘er up please
Filling station for cyclists

It was relaxing to sit down, but soon time to go. I wasn’t worried about the headwind or my speed so took off by myself when I was ready. I followed the big road, generally with a nice shoulder, for another 20 km or so, then turned off on a smaller road going up a large side canyon.

I liked this bridge
View up the river from the bridge
The first 1000m is done, in just over 100 km, with only 22 more to go
Nice scenery

I ran into Carien and Louis at a café past the bridge, but had just stopped and decided to keep going. Another 10 km more, I found Sigi and Anita eating nice small ripe grapes they picked on the side of the road. I joined them and ate a bunch. Then noticed we had only 17 km more to go. They switched off leading while I just cruised behind and we got to Përmet quickly.

A couple of the guys had already arrived and were sitting outside while the staff worked on hotel rooms. Soon we were sorted and elevatored our bikes to the storage area on the 4th floor. I got an amazing room, or rather suite, to share with Bob. He gets the big queen bed this time since I had one for the last two nights. We have a giant balcony shared by several rooms to dry laundry. When I came out of the shower there was good news from my latest Covid test: negative again. We did have one more positive rider this morning, I think that is five now. We are nowhere near out of the woods Covid-wise. Still only one rider is actually sick and unable to ride.

I picked out a place for dinner – it looked almost too perfect on google. Rated 4.9, 30 meters away and had a wide variety of Albanian traditional dishes at low prices. At 6, four of us checked it out and it was true. We ordered two dishes each (each turned out to be massive), with water as all four of us had trouble sleeping after so much alcohol the previous afternoon. Then Peter ordered a big Paulaner beer, justifying it, “The first beer after riding is free, so this still counts as an AFD [alcohol free day]”. We teased him about it then each followed suit. The dinner was truly great and we were able to get rid of all our Albanian leks except for about 500 ($4) which we put into an ice-cream fund. We strolled to a market and had some suspense while the cashier added each ice cream. Could we afford it? Yes, only 300, so Peter and Tom had enough for coffee in the morning. It was a great ending to a really fun day. Tomorrow, on to Greece, our final country.

The Albanian flag flying proudly in the park after dessert

Rest day in Ksamil, Albania

Oct 3, 2022

Day 29 of 43: 11.7 km, 170m climb, 0:42 Moving, 3:29 Total, 55.6 kph max

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Rest days on these tours are just so great. Especially after such a big ride – climbing over 2600m in a day takes a toll on your leg muscles. The hotel here in Ksamil puts on a great breakfast – we ate late, slow and large. At 9, Bob, Niek and I rode 5 km to the famous Butrint National Park. We ended up spending three hours wandering all over, marveling at the ancient ruins, checking out the excellent museum and loving the peaceful, shaded paths and low crowd factor. There is an Acropolis, a very well preserved Greek theater, and many other interesting buildings (ruins) from various eras. Well worth visiting if you have a day to kill here.

Ancient ruins
Sitting, wishing I had a time machine to go back and see this place vibrantly alive
View from the museum

We rode back and checked out a small island we had spied on the map. It’s only about 100m off shore and we concocted a plan to buy beer and tie it to ourselves to swim over and have a party.

There’s our island

It looked doable but in the end we just bought beer and lunch provisions and had a party on our spacious balcony instead. I posted on our tour WhatsApp group and after a couple of hours, just as Bob and I finished the last of our beers, Peter and Tom showed up with more. It was a jolly time, relaxed in the shade, trading stories.

Lunch party
The aftermath

That lasted from 2-5 then we headed out to dinner at 6. We had independently found a fantastic seafood restaurant and had a wonderful dinner there, again with a beautiful sunset view.

Prosecco and the view from dinner
Yummy salad
Stuffed grilled squid

Ice cream for dessert from the market on the way home capped off a very relaxing and fun day. Tomorrow, back to work, for our final full day in Albania.

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

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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.

Balkan Stage 23 Berat to Vlorë, Albania

Oct 1, 2022

Stage 23 of 36, day 27 of 43: 93.1 km, 553m climb, 3:36 Moving, 3:42 Total,  54.8 kph max

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The second night at the campground in Berat wasn’t as good as the first. We had rain on and off and the dogs and other animals seemed louder. But still I slept 6 hours total and started packing up at 6:30. It was raining a little at breakfast and packing wet tents is never fun. But that’s life. And we had banana pancakes. The thick black clouds were dramatic, and it rained right before we left at 8, but then stopped so I started out jacket-less.

Preparing to leave Berat
The trusty Salsa Cutthroat, all ready for another day on the road

The road out of town was smooth and maybe slightly downhill and we had a tailwind so the pack I was in cruised at 37-39. The pavement was wet and dirty so I got speckled with mud but the kilometers passed quickly.

A nice boat house
Old mosaic and new gas station

It rained a bit a couple of times but I didn’t bother stopping and changing clothes – once you’re wet you just keep going. Lunch was supposed to be just after a bridge at 60 km and the bridge came just after a long construction zone, muddy, bumpy and slow. The bridge itself was pretty crazy, broken, barely passable by motorcycles, not by cars, but fine for gravel bikes. I waited for the others when I got back to the pavement but no one came. And there was no sign of the lunch truck so I continued on.

Old mosque in Vlorë

Soon I was getting near the end, riding through the beach resort town of Vlorë. I don’t know if this is for real but we always talk about the Albanian Riviera – this is it. Simo caught me 5 km from the campground. He has Covid and it was a big effort for him to do the whole ride – tough guy. We finished together to find no one and no trucks at the campsite. I bought us drinks and we sat outside in the nice breeze watching the water, glad the riding was over. It was only 11:40am.

“The Albanian Riviera” from near camp
The real Albanian Riviera needs a little work
Time for a cool one – the power had died only recently so the beer was still cold

More riders finished and it turned out lunch was at the 80 km mark but many skipped it. Ype told me the delays of shopping and the slow roads made it impossible to get there in time. Tom, Peter and I walked down the beach (rocky but pretty other than the trash) to a restaurant Tom swore was open. But every place was closed. We did find a store that was open, but no power, just as at our campground. We bought some more drinks and snacks and ate by the water.

Eventually the trucks arrived with our baggage, the firetruck with our tents last. We had cold showers, washed clothes, set up tents and relaxed chatting for a couple of hours. These shorter days are really nice for relaxing longer after the ride is done.

Later in the afternoon the next storm coming in

After some reading, it was time for dinner, another excellent meal, giant, tasty and fun. Now time to sleep for a long time!

The most important member of the Bike Dreams staff, Caroline, our excellent cook