Try, try, try, harder!
No mountain is too high, not
For cyclist legs! Ha!
Okay, so my haiku are wearing thin. Plz ignore.
We woke up an hour later than we intended, still crammed onto the futon in our new friends' house. Daylight was poking through the sides of the shades, doing its best to warm the room. We stretched, and one of the guys came through with a strange tool which he explained away with "olive oil making." We started after him as though to watch, but he said we should just sit there and wait.
We soon found ourselves restless, and we went to collect our clothes from the shack where they'd hung overnight. Despite the constant raining outside, we were pleased to note that they were completely dry and mostly free of the dank smell that had clung to them yesterday. Mostly. We still packed them into separate garbage bags for storing in our panniers.
We unset the tent that we hadn't slept in, drying the component parts in the strong morning sun. Everything was packed and ready by around 09:30, when we bid goodbye to our hosts and set out. They had been curious yesterday about our route, heading as we were towards Sarandë, and we were shortly to find out why.
Not far from where they lived, we passed through Vlorë and another small town where Evan happily high-fived a line of schoolchildren. We picked up supplies (water, mainly) at the grocery store and headed towards some rather imposing-looking mountains. For about half an hour we remarked on the apparently incredible ability of the Albanian road-planners to build roads through valleys, but as soon as we hit a road with a 30 degree slope, we were less-than-convinced by said abilities.
We'd seen this on the map; the highway appeared to follow a river through a valley for some time, then it seemed to jump across a mountain range and follow along through some valleys near the coast. Not so. The road twisted up and down along mountainsides, the river far below, and we cursed the duplication of effort as we climbed a hundred metres, only to return to our previous elevation around the next corner. There wasn't much habitation around there, but at least the road was new. Evidence of the old road, which appeared to be even twistier than this one, showed in the form of fragmented pavement cast about next to precipices. Sheep and goats grazed along steep slopes.
We passed through exactly one thing that could be called a town on our way up, and we were for the first time attacked by dogs. In our experience, dogs are not great friends of cyclists, but these two took it to the extreme. They raced out of their yards barking, and although I frightened them from my bike with a yell, they took to chewing Evan's tyre as we crawled uphill. He verily boomed, "YOU FOOLS" (which seemed to me a strange thing to pop to mind), and they dashed away. Fortunately, there was no damage to either of us or our bicycles.
Up and up and up... the hardest climb we've had, we think. We actually had to get off the bikes and walk them multiple times, and about halfway up we paused for a short nap, owing in part to the fact that we still haven't caught up on all our sleep lost during that night in the abandoned hotel with the mosquitoes. We reached a cruel sign which indicated a 10% downgrade, which we rejoiced to be the top, but we were sorely disappointed to realise that it was just another hiccup in the upslope of the road.
Finally, we did make it. The rain, which had been absent most of the day, picked up again, and we felt chill wind brush along our skin from the other side of the range. Up so high (around 1000m, we estimate), it's cold anyway, and this wind wasn't helping...
But we were elated to see the sea. It had been obscured by mountains and trees for a goodly amount of time, and the coast down to it looked trivial. The roads were slick with rain, so we held our brakes tight to our wheels for the duration of the descent, but it was hard not to enjoy the scenery. We revelled in it, and in our ability to do such a climb; surely such a thing would not have been possible for us 5 short months ago.
Finally arriving on reasonable roads, we perceived a town down by the coast. The road we were on was situated a good 400m above sea level, but we had agreed that it was time to stop and that we should find a restaurant soon so that we could set our tent while there was still light in the sky. Our plan was to treat ourselves to a feast: tomorrow is to be our last day in Albania, and we have a lot of Lek to burn through.
Sadly, only one restaurant in the town, which is evidently a summer town, was open. We seated ourselves inside to warm up from the rain, and we were again saddened upon being told that this restaurant only offered a third of its menu in the off-season. We ordered hot tea to warm up, and we were quietly enraged that it seemed to be Lipton canned iced tea heated up. Too much sugar, not enough hot.
We begrudgingly ate our meals, which were overpriced and consisted of virtually every palatable thing served in the off-season, which is to say a pair of Greek salads and some chewy calamari. We were hungry still, but with a storm again rolling in over the sea we needed to find a place to put our tent.
A little way down the road, we found an abandoned building (this one genuinely abandoned; it was covered in graffiti and falling apart at its seams) with a bit of waterfront. Part of the beach was stone, part sand, and part covered by ancient turrets probably leftover from wars with Greece. Nevermind. We had no wish to drag our bikes through the sand (that's never worked out for us), so we are now in our tent on the gravel. It should have better drainage, anyway, in case the storm is serious. Now for some Wolf3D in the rain!