We had an interesting breakfast at our hotel in Andrijevica …my scrambled eggs ended up as an empty omelet…. where our new friend and owner of the hotel, Slobor, gave us his personal service and oversaw his staff to ensure our every need was met….he really treated us like Royalty. He even came to see us off as we loaded up the bike and set off for the border with Albania. Even with his limited English and our non existent language skills we formed a great bond.
We headed South East to Gusinje, where we got a little bit confused as the GPS was not picking up the roads correctly and we took a wrong turn….but instructions from a helpful local (again with no language skills but lots of pointing to place names on Vince’s map) we were soon on our way. The Border Police from Montengero were charming and even offered to take our photo at the border with our bike, and one even posed with me as well. The Albanian Border Police were less social, but we had our stamps in our passports and our green card returned without too much delay. Less than a Km from the checkpoint the bitumen disappeared into gravel! We had been told roads in Albania were not that great….luckily this only lasted a few hundred metres and we breathed a sigh of relief….they were just tricking us! Little did we know what was to come!
Back on the bitumen we quickly reached the junction to Vermosh and the scenic road to Shkoder (our interim destination). We took the turning for Shkoder and quickly found ourselves on an unsealed, rocky forest track carved in the side of a mountain and leading to the village of Lepushe. It was a bit hair raising for me on the back of the bike, which just ate up the road much to Vince’s delight. We stopped in Lepushe for a cool drink and I went to the toilet ….only to discover it was quite interesting……it’s really not my day today!
Back on the bike we continued down the rocky road, where it quickly deteriorated into the road from HELL!……. Vince was excellent in his efforts to negotiate the steep inclines and descents with our sure footed precision machine, through what can only be described as mountain rock track (the photos make it look much tamer that it was!)….with large and small boulders as well as areas of almost tiny ballbearings!!!! Well, all Adventure Riders will tell you it’s not a matter of IF but at matter of WHEN……the ANIMAL went down with us on board – first time ever! Luckily neither of us was hurt as we were travelling very slowly, and she sustained no damage either. I managed to slide out from under her (my legs well protected by the crash bars and panniers) and then Vince could get off. I was wondering how we were going to get this heavily laden bike up again when suddenly from around the corner sprung, Marchin (sic), a highly energetic Polish rider who was around the corner and heard us go down. Between he and Vince the ANIMAL was soon upright and ready for action! With limited English we established that Marchin was also headed for Shkoder and was experiencing the same shock over the condition of the “scenic road” indicated on our maps….so we agreed to ride together and help each other out. I chose to lighten the load a bit and walk through the ballbearing section (truth be told I was shaken up from the fall and needed some time out to keep my shit together and not burst into tears).
Back on the bike we continued until we reached an area where there had been attempts at roadwork, and it went up a steep gradient with soft soil. Vince’s footing slipped in the soft soil and the ANIMAL went down a second time, but again neither was hurt. Vince then decided to walk the heavily laden ANIMAL up…..it took the three of us to get her up to the top through the soft dirt, rocks and rubble….(my biceps from pulling her from the front are killing me today 24.6.15)…. But we got her up! Vince thought it funny to keep telling me this will be what it will be like in the Himalayas in India……..and it took me all my time to keep it together…..this is the scariest day I have ever had on the bike …..I just wanted out of there…..I even double checked I had the emergency number for global rescue in case we needed evacuation….that’s how dangerous I considered it and how scared I felt ….. but I knew it was impossible to turn back we had to press on …so I just had to put on my big girl Bridget Jones Knickers and get on with it! “Drink a glass of harden up Princess and get over it!” Of course for Vince it was a day in the park…..he was as cool as a cucumber…..although he did admit afterwards that his heart was at his mouth at times. He told me afterwards he was proud of me, I did great and I appeared very calm……but I can assure you that was only on the surface!!!! Vince was very pleased with how the ANIMAL performed, especially 2up and fully loaded. He said she did better than he could have done on his DR650.
We got held up at further roadworks where we had to wait for a truck and two catepillar drillers/loaders to move off the single lane track for us to pass. Marchin, always the gentleman, gave me a LION bar….it was delicious. We continued on our way and Vince had to backtrack at one point to check on our new companion who had disappeared behind us, but he was just making a necessary pit stop! We finally reached some bitumen, after 30km of rocky crap taking close to 3 hours…..we bade farewell to our new friend and he gave me a kiss on my hand goodbye. We have affectionately nicknamed him “Tigger”….as he was so animated and energetic….at one point as he remounted his VStrom 650 …..by literally jumping onto it! He was a great help to us…..the Universe sends you what you need when you need it ….and we needed him today! Top Bloke!
Vince and I stopped at the top of the mountain pass to look back on the sealed section of road…..I could have kissed it! We headed South towards Shkoder, dodging all of the oncoming cars and buses driving on our side of the road as they manically overtake each other with no room…..often we found ourselves three abreast on what should be a dual carriageway…..we are learning fast…..the rule is the bigger you are the more road you get!!!!! Totally crazy drivers here……my stress level was through the roof…..Vince commented on how calm I was……I said “It’s not calm….it’s gone beyond terror and I’m now entering a catatonic state!!!! (LOL).
We were shocked at the number and frequency of petrol stations, car wreckers and Car LAVAZH (wash) throughout this part of Albania……it’s all about the car…..agriculture sits side by side with progress as you have to watch out for cows, goats and sheep…..as well as crazy traffic! We found a hotel and restaurant (as part of one of the petrol stations) and decided to call it quits for the day…..we got to stay for 20 – 27 Euro (2800 Lek)….Albania is very cheap! It was basic, but clean and we were both exhausted! I did notice that all of the staff and patrons at the hotel and attached cafe/restaurant were young men – I haven’t seen a lady in public in Albania as yet.
Vince’s Notes: the GS really impressed me today. I’m not a particularly good off-road rider and today I was I punching well above my weight, but the GS is so manageable and tractable it forgave most of my mistakes and just powered through the conditions. The one slip we had was at low speed – probably just walking pace, and on a steep descent with loose rocks I locked up the rear wheel as its suspension unloaded coming up and over a large rock and it then tried to overtake the front wheel, spinning us into the ground. The bike laid itself nicely down on the ground. It would be fair to say that the riding conditions today were the toughest I’ve ever encountered, yet even two-up and fully loaded (so approx 500kg in total) the bike handled like a surgeon’s scalpel. At times I was telling myself that Bully and Howard could ride a GS in these conditions and so the bike could handle it and therefore it was all up to me to ride it correctly. Karen was fantastic as my pillion – she was amazing on the back, cool as a cucumber as we slithered and skated down the rocky tracks. And I have to say – I’m such a fan of the Continental TKC80’s – they really paid off today. When the going gets tough I like to know that I’ve got the best tyres fitted for the conditions – just one less thing to worry about 🙂 Not so happy with my GoPro though – I had it switched on but it didn’t record anything – subsequent testing has suggested a glitch to do with the combined video+photo setting as its locking up occasionally when saving a still image. Further investigation is required I think.