12-31-2013, 06:55 PM
Joined: Jul 2008
Location: Cambridge, MA
Happy New Year Inmates!
Here is some light reading for you to recover from last night's debauchery.
Getting off the ferry was quick and customs and immigration was a breeze. I think I was the first one through. After getting some Albanian Lek from an ATM in a shopping center in Durrės I headed toward Krujė castle. By the way, the Lek is supposedly named after Alexander the Great, which is shortened to Leka in Albanian. How can you shorten "The Great"? Does it mean the "little Great"?
On the way I noticed a lot of places with hand painted "Lavazh" signs. Turns out they are car washes, and there is one every few hundred meters.
In the town of Krujė a bus managed to wedge itself into a very tight turn. It was quite a spectacle. Instead of giving the poor fella some room to maneuver, all the other vehicles just crammed him even further. This didn't look like it would resolve itself any time soon. It was pretty hot as well. So, I just said to myself "screw the castle" and headed out of town again. By all accounts I have heard I didn't miss much. Apparently, the castle has been "restored" to a Disneyesque appearance and is a prime tourist trap.
I looked at my map and noticed a twisty mountain road that promised a nice little detour on the way to Lake Shkodra. The road was labeled SH36 and turned into SH37 and later into SH6. SH means State Highway, right?
Well, I very quickly learned that these road designations don't mean a thing in Albania. The road did exist though, which isn't always the case. The first bit of dirt road had a bit of construction going on and maybe it will be sealed at some point in the future.
The road ahead
Some sections looked like natural rocks had been piled up to make a sort of durable surface.
It ain't the Yellow Brick Road, but it is a very good section of SH36
At some point I couldn't go on. There was a long, wide and deep trench crossing the dirt road. I think they were trying to install a water pipe. No problem. They filled in a section they had just dug out, just for me. Big smiles all around. Really nice fellas!
They are making a path just for me
The dirt road ends at some sort of mining facility. It's tared from there on, but some section are really chewed up, due to the mining trucks. There was almost no traffic and the few mining trucks are very easy to overtake. They are so overloaded that they can only move at a snail's pace.
Take a left to Germany?
It was a nice ride back to the main road through some nice valleys with lush, green mountains either side and rivers and reservoirs down below.
Bridge over the Shkopeti, near Ulėz on SH6
Reservoir in the valley
I made it to Lake Shkodra just in time for sunset.
Lake Shkodra sunset
I decided to do the loop to Theth, leaving most of my stuff at the campground. The approach from the south is still 2/3 dirt and I started from that direction. After crossing the bridge near Mes
Ottoman era bridge in Mes, on the way to Theth
I was on a brand new asphalt road
Brand new road
which thankfully didn't last too long. Soon enough I was up in the mountains on a great dirt road.
Someone tried to conquer this road on a Loncin bike. Bad idea
Do not attempt this track on a Loncin bike
The bridge has seen better days
Shortly after this bridge came a really rocky section. Basically handball sized rocks, which can be a bit of a mission on a bike. There was also an election coming up and there were a number of election rally vehicles stuck in that section with not enough room to pass by. So, I just let them do their thing and waited in the shade under a tree. I have some video of how they got a van unstuck. Not enough bandwidth to upload it from here though.
I did make it to Theth with enough daylight left that I could return to the campground on the Northern leg.
Abandoned house in Theth
There was still snow on the approach to the pass
The snow itself wasn't much of a problem. The melt water runoff created a pretty slippery surface but it was usually easy enough to find a dryish patch to go through. Some of the cars were sliding wildly all over the place and started sliding toward the drop off. The camber was going that direction. So, I passed them at the very first opportunity.
I got some gas at the first sizable settlement on the main road. The old chap manning the pump looked like he had never left his home town. Well, he started chatting to me in perfect English. Turns out he had lived in Detroit for most of his life and he figured there are better opportunities in his old homeland now. Hm, food for thought.
Another great sunset at lake Shkodra
I had a fantastic day doing this loop. I should have stayed in Theth for the night though. I think that would have been fun. There is a bit of a gold rush going on at the moment. The expectation is that they will seal the Northern road all the way to to Theth and there seems to be a lot of cowboy construction going on at Theth. Everyone wants to be ready for all the tourists. I think the southern approach will stay unsealed and adventures can be had there in the future. This road is also very popular with mountain bikers.
The bike handled really well and for me this loop was a great confidence builder. No chance of getting to cocky though. Whenever you feel like you are doing something especially tough and cool some local will be coming from the other direction in his trusty, rusty Mercedes van; cigarette in one hand, cell phone in the other and make it look like nothing, at which point your balls shrink back to their rightful size