Ride Dairy: BJ McIntosh – into Albania
The adventure continues and in our fourth instalment of BJ McIntosh’s ride diary he bids farewell to Greece and arrives in Albania – not your typical cycling destination but, evidently, one worth exploring. He explains…
Wow. Just wow!
Today would have been one of the hardest and most rewarding days I’ve ever spent on my bike.
It all started off as usual: breakfast plus as many double espressos as it takes to get moving again. Then back to my room to pack my panniers and strap them to my bike. This is the longest part of the process as if you have too much weight out back you get trailer swing, but if you jam it all in too tight it hits your legs every pedal stroke.
I wasn’t going to get caught out again on the frozen water side of things so I bought three bottles the night before and gave them to the hotel kitchen staff to put in the freezer overnight and I would collect them in the morning.
When I went to check out the following day the same lady who was working the day before was at the front desk; while I was paying for my room she babbled something to one of the girls who soon returned with five 500ml frozen bottles of water!
Again the generosity of the culture here amazes me!
I couldn’t knock her generous offer back but I was thinking: ‘Where am I going to put all of these bottles of water?’
I left with full pockets of frozen water, plus five x 500ml frozen bottles down the back of my jersey. I looked like I’d just gone back to the team car in the Tour de France and had drinks for everyone…
Amazingly though the water in the three one litre bottles melted very quickly and I had finished all three in the first 30km. That’s how hot and dry and hot it is in Greece.
I was completely empty by the border crossing from Greece into Albania…
Now this is where today became interesting.
* * * * *
I stopped at the bar at the border and was asking for frozen water, the lady didn’t speak English but there was a policeman who did and he explained to her what I was asking for. Straight away she came out with five frozen bottles of water.
I thanked the policeman and politely asked If we could have a photo together for my memories. He, very politely, said he couldn’t have any photos while in uniform. I actually think he like every other policeman in Greece: he can’t have photos drinking frappe at the cafe while they are on duty!
* * * * *
Back riding, it was super hot and very windy, I was almost drinking a 750ml bottle of water every 15 minutes just to stop my mouth from drying out.
I quickly fell in love with Albania. I’m not going to lie: it’s a third-world country, but it has so much character and history.
If you were in real estate and were to post an ad for Albania the first line would be: “renovator’s delight”. Still, it is absolutely beautiful… in its own way.
I would love to stay and explore more, but I must push on.
* * * * *
BJ began writing this diary for his Facebook friends but he has agreed to share his adventures with readers of RIDE Media. We’ll continue to follow his progress and, if you’ve got any questions, don’t hesitate to send them in and we can pass them along…
The respect cyclists receive on the roads is exactly the same as in Greece, even to the point one car passed me on a climb and put a bottle of water out of the window. Such a nice gesture, but I had nowhere left to put it so I thanked them and they carried on.
There are a lot of Dutch, Belgian and German number plates passing me it their Range Rovers and brand new Mercedes Benz cars. I think this is one of the world’s best kept secrets.
The last climb was brutal, climbing out of the valley over the mountain range and descending back down to the sea.
There was a few sad sights: in the last 30km you could see where there was a few refugee camps set up on any vacant land. I think they have made it this far and decided to sit tight for a while. What is was truly amazing are the children: they were kicking around a soccer ball that looked like it didn’t have too many kicks left in it and, when I rode past, they ran to the road and were yelling and waving and smiling. I could not even imagine what they have been through and I saw the conditions they were living in – and they were still just kids having fun playing!
Then the complete contrast: three kilometres from the city there were still cows and goats walking all over the road and the living conditions were about as bad as you could get.
I descended into the town and I could have been in any tourist city in the south of France: mega yachts parked just off shore, five-star hotels, beautiful restaurants and by the night the city was alive and pumping! Music was being played every where, market stalls were being setting up and there were crowds of tourists! All the restaurants were full and the city lights were just stunning.
* * * * *
Stay tuned for more. BJ’s ride is expected to last around a month and there’s quite an itinerary ahead of him yet.
I’ll pause the travelogue for now and take a moment to thank the people who have made this adventure possible: firstly my employer Chris Burns and KeyInvest Lending Services, and Mel and Meaghen who are taking care of my work duties while I am away. There’s also Peter from International Cycles who prepared my bike to be bullet-proof through these harshest of conditions.
And I also want to say a big hello to all of the children from Tenison Woods College in Mount Gambier in Ms Boksem’s grade three class who are tracking my ride on their big map and are learning about each country as I pass through.
This takes me back to RIDE Media’s series: ‘Why ride?’
Learning to ride a bike is your first license of freedom to explore, whether it’s your street, neighbourhood, state, country or the world. And there is no better way to explore than on your bike.
If I can say anything to Ms Boksem’s class it is this: get on your bike and ride it as much as you can! Do it safely, always wear your helmet, and be careful on the road.
I’m looking forward to hearing about what they have learnt from my experience and kids I’m also learning new things every day.
Today I’m aiming for Vlore, but I’ve been told it’s a hard slog, so we will see if I can get there before dark.
Why do you ride? To discover yourself… and new places.