Hairpin bends and helpful priests
Day 13 (18 July): Vermosh – Shkoder
Distance: 89 km
Total distance: 782 km
After a wuthering day of doing practically nothing, we were all ready to cross the mountains although we knew it wouldn’t be an easy ride. Two passes were ahead of us. The first one, 1355 m over sea level, seemed to be the the easier one because Vermosh itself lies at 1050 m. But the road then zigzags down to below 300 m just to climb back to over 700 m again, before heading downhill to the sea.
We had a quick coffee in the other bar in the village centre and reached the crossroads quickly. It was sunny but still fresh and the mountains looked gorgeous.
As we were about to turn right towards Shkoder, we met two hikers heading to Vermosh. It was two French guys and while we were discussing our plans and experiences a third Frenchman arrived by bike from Montenegro. He was going the same direction as us and was planning to stay at the same campsite.
We said goodbye and left the three talk in their own language as we knew we would meet the other cyclist on the way. We gained elevation quickly and it was not as bad as we’d expected but then heard a funny clicking sound from my pedals. At first it only occurred when I stood up and only when I pushed the pedal with my left leg so I thought it was the pedal. Later the clicking sound could be heard at every turn and by the time we reached the pass I knew there was something very wrong. Although I was nervous, we stopped several times to admire the surrounding scenery.
There was a small foodstore on the top and the shopkeeper, a young woman, kindly prepared a delicious salad from the vegetables we bought, adding some local olive oil as extra.
We had a nice lunch in the shade, drinking spring water and then I tried to fix the bike but I missed the right tools.
From the pass, we had around 20 km downhill and now the brakes were put to the test. We had to stop frequently to let the rims cool down and our hands needed a break, too.
Somewhere midway, we met two Polish couples, who were toiling their way up in the opposite direction. We didn’t envy them at all because it was much harder that way and the temperature was already well over 30 degrees.
The first sizeable village we reached was Tamarë. We bought something to eat and drink because the second and more demanding pass was still ahead of us.
Just as we started to climb the first harpin bend, I felt that the pedals were not turning smoothly and now I knew the problem was that the middle axis had got loose. I had this problem at home but then managed to tighten it. I even took the bicycle to a mechanic before we came but after three days he said he couldn’t do anything because it was an old system and then I was running out of time.
What I needed was a large çelës angles (spanner). I learnt the word from the people in the first car I stopped and I don’t think I’ll forget it soon. By that time I was just pushing the bike not to cause even more damage. Then came some German motorbikers who wouldn’t stop at all (danke schön!) but the next car did. There were two local priests in it, who spoke good English but had no tools. They said someone could surely help in the next village, 4 km up. Then they moved on but reversed back after a few metres and asked if they could take me and the bike.
I had to accept the offer. I explained Anita and Aron where they would find us, we carefully tetrissed the bicycle, the panniers and myself in the car and left.
It was sad to see the hairpin bends and the amazing views from the car; I felt cheating a bit. There was a container on the top by a bar; its owner kept all sorts of tools in it. The priests found this man and explained my situation. He found a spanner for me and we managed to tigthen the bolt more or less. He wanted to use a chisel and a hammer to finish it off but at that point I had to gesture no. I thought it would survive until Shkodër, where it should be possible to find a repair shop.
We sat down in the bar with the priests, who didn’t let me pay for their drinks. Instead, they invited me for a coffee. We talked about religion and politics. They were really well-informed about the Hungarian situation.
Anita and Aron arrived shortly. They were breathless after the long climb but proud, too. We had another drink together and then started out last long downhill ride towards the plain.
In Koplik, I changed money and we bought food (of course, you can always pay in euros but you lose that way). Then it was another 8 or so kilometres to the campsite we knew from three years ago. There we met the French cyclist and talked a bit before we took a well-deserved shower and prepared our dinner.
It was relieving to be at this professionally run, sparkling clean establishment although it was too late to swim in the lake. But we knew we’d reach the sea the next day.