DAY 22 / TURNING NORTH
10.8.2015 / Urakë, Albania – Kolesjan, Albania / 213 km, 5167 km total
It became evident that Albania was pure adventure riding terrain. Just endless dirt tracks twisting through the mountains. It was amazing how different all the countries in the Balkans were, despite the fact that they were spread out on such a small area. In Albania the riding was considerably easier than in Macedonia and there was a lot less tarmac. I did end up in a bit of a situation while tackling a steep climb on a “shortcut” to the mountains. The bike ended up on its side with the tyres facing uphill as usual. Luckily it was lying on a crest, so I managed to turn it around without too much effort, and drop down into the valley to find another route.
I continued NE on a small road in the mountains, following the Black Drin River. The riding was absolutely spectacular, but it was getting late and the sun was setting. I didn’t want to ride in darkness, due to missing the view, but potential campsites were scarce in the mountains. So I pushed on as darkness fell, crossing the river, and climbing high up into the mountains on the eastern face of the Slavic Gorge. I was feeling a little disappointed about missing the view, but I quickly forgot about that, when I noticed that there was just a dark emptiness on the side of the narrow dirt road. There were no barricades, just a 300 m drop into the river. The darkness made the route feel even more serious, as I could only catch glimpses of the river looking back at me far below, from the bottom of the gorge. There was zero chance of camping as the rock face above was partially overhanging, as the road had just been cut into the mountainside. Absolutely stunning riding!
The route eventually spat me out on a tarmac road and I next reached the village of Kolesjan. There was a small cafe just below the village and they let me park my bike in their barn and sleep in the attic of the cafe. It ended up being a fun night, as the young caretaker had all his friends keeping him company and we chatted into the night.
DAY 23 / ALBANIAN EXPRESS
11.8.2015 / Kolesjan, Albania – Kolasin, Montenegro / 308 km, 5475 km total
Waking up bright and early, I didn’t waste time packing up and heading out after a cup of coffee. The following section was tarmac, and progress was good, save a quick breakfast break in the outskirts of Kukes. The tarmac road snaked through the mountains and my mind started to drift. The views were good, but I found it hard to concentrate as tarmac just wasn’t my thing. The northern side of the valley was nice and cool but it soon became uncomfortably hot as I crossed over to the southern face.
About two kilometres in, I felt the front getting soft and pulled over to find yet another flat tyre. It was the fourth one on the ride, and I was less than pleased. I changed the tube into the patched up unused one I had. As I was putting it in, I had a bad feeling about it and pumped air in to check. I’m glad I did as I found yet another hole in it, and patched it up before getting everything buttoned up.
As I continued on the road, I realised that my confidence in the tubes and worn front tyre was completely gone. I needed to find new ones somewhere, or patching them up would be a recurring event during the next days. So I rode into Shkoder but had no luck there. It was an incredibly hot day and I was exhausted from working in the heat, and decided to stop for lunch. The cafe had wifi, so I had a look at scoring some tyres and tubes somewhere. The closest bike shops were on the Montenegrin side, in Podgorica. They would be closing in an hour and a half, so I wolfed my lunch and hoped for an easy border crossing to Montenegro.
It was a bit of a hassle at first but everything worked out fine in the end, as the friendly staff of Magnus Moto knew a local tyre dealer, and called them to make sure they had the tubes. I then received instructions on where to find them, and a stern advice of being quick on my way getting there as they’d close shop soon. I made it five minutes before closing time, and managed to get two 21” front tubes and an 18” rear tube. My front tyre was pretty worn and I considered making a run for Sarajevo, but I was feeling a little bummed about missing the last section of Albania. So instead I made a route on the fly and headed NE, into the mountains again.
The scenery was epic, but the road was all tarmac. Still, and I do not say this lightly, it was the best tarmac road I had ever ridden. A narrow black snake slithering up the mountain side, only to descend and ascend again. I stopped for a couple of photos and noticed dark swollen clouds gathering in the east. They were headed my way. I had heard that Montenegro saw a lot of rain, and it was certainly true this time. The water came suddenly and in buckets. It would have been useless to stop and put on rain gear, as I would have been completely drenched before I had gotten my rain gear on. Retrospectively it would have been smart to react to the glooming dark clouds earlier, but I’m not smart. I’m an optimist.
The rain was lukewarm, and having the water fill up my boots felt heavenly. After consecutive days of riding in the stifling heat, I felt my core temperature slowly return to normal. Unfortunately it didn’t stop there and I started getting a little chilly eventually. I knew that the mountain town of Kolasin was not far and there were several lodging options available, so I pushed on.
It turned out that Kolasin was an outdoor capital of sorts in the area and I ended up setting camp in Hotel Lipka, a very upscale establishment. I was prepared for a steep price tag, but instead only forked out 50€, including dinner, breakfast and a safe garage parking for the bike. It was incredibly good value, but I did receive some raised eyebrows in a pair of dirty shorts and a Pantera T-shirt.
DAY 24 / ZENITH
12.8.2015 / Kolasin, Montenegro – Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina / 293 km, 5768 km total
After breakfast, I immediately pushed into the mountains outside Kolasin. Tarmac ended as the trail climbed steeply up the southern face. The riding was a little tricky, as my worn tyres weren’t finding purchase on the loose gravel over hard dirt. The hairpins were gruelling to ride, but I got up in one piece. Once on the col, the trail snaked through a high grassy plateau between rocky walls. I was there all by myself and didn’t see another vehicle for most of the day. I took my time with the trail, enjoying every second of it.
As I dipped down onto the mountainside on the other side of high the plateau, I noticed familiar dark clouds gathering in the east and headed my way. The trail was very rocky and grassy so it would have been pretty gnarly to ride in the wet with my worn tyres. So I decided to make a run for it and change into rain gear later, if the rain caught up with me. The riding was superb, but very energy consuming as I was pushing hard to get ahead. Powering up and down rock gardens and enjoying some short airtime from the occasional grassy crest. I felt exhaustion creeping in and my right arm starting to ache. Still, I pushed on and only stopped when the rain was upon me. As expected it came in buckets, and the trail became extremely slippery. Luckily I got through it without incident, riding at a leisurely pace. I was pretty tired anyway, so there was no point in trying to ride fast and risk a costly mistake.
As I reached the village of Njegovuda, I realised that dirt on The Crimson Trail had come to an end. My front tyre was finished, and I had decided to head to Sarajevo in hope of finding fresh rubber. Also, both my time and my body were as spent as the tires, so continuing on dirt was not an option. The Crimson Trail ended there, for the time being. I would be going home.
I parked by the road and leaned against the bike, to soak in the last glimpses of the magnificent scenery. I had been very lucky, as the last sixty kilometres dirt trail had been one of the best sections on The Crimson Trail. It was a good finish to the almost 6000 km adventurous part of the ride. The rest of the ride would be on tarmac, but it wasn’t over yet. I still had almost 2000 km and five borders to cross before getting home in Berlin.
The border crossing to Bosnia went smoothly, but it soon began to rain again. The wet tarmac was horribly slippery for my worn MX tyres, and touching the rear brake immediately locked the wheel. It was nerve-racking and very slow riding. Luckily the weather improved a little later just after dusk. Roads became dry and as I didn’t have to worry about the tyres any more, I opened up and gunned it to Sarajevo.
DAY 25 / RUBBER
13.8.2015 / Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina – Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina / 7 km, 5775 km total
With the help of the hotel staff, I managed to find a tyre shop. I had hoped for a set of dual sport tyres for the long stretch of tarmac which was ahead of me, but it didn’t work out. Instead I had to make do with a Mitas C-17 front, which I do like on dirt. Anyhow, the tyre shop was a really great place with a highly experienced staff.
DAY 26 / THE FINAL INSULT
14.8.2015 / Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina – Villach, Austria / 664 km, 6439 km total
Armed with a fresh front tyre, I left Sarajevo bright and early. I had seen nothing of the city, literally staying in the hotel for the whole time, except for the quick visit to the tyre shop. I was on a mission to get to Villach as fast as possible, as I had friends waiting there, and I was looking forward to seeing a familiar face for a change.
It was a boring ride on big multilane roads, only interrupted with yet another flat tyre. This time it was an absolutely horrible experience, not only to have a flat at 130 km/h, but I had no cover from the scorching sun. It was the back tyre which was flat, which always took more time than the front. I quickly ran out of water, and once everything was sorted, I was dehydrated, not sweating and pretty close to overheating. I only rode about 400 m and stopped in the shade of a bridge to cool off a little. Once I felt better, the journey continued and I pulled over to the first petrol station. Once again eyebrows were raised as I filled my riding boots with ice cold Evian and drank two bottles of it.
Other than the fifth flat tyre on the Crimson Trail, the ride was uneventful, and I made to Villach in time for a bit of a party with friends.
DAY 27 / CHAINED
15.8.2015 / Villach, Austria – Berlin, Germany / 928 km, 7367 km total
I wasn’t in a hurry to leave as it was over 900 km to Berlin, and I was unsure whether I would make it in one go or not. The rear tyre on the bike was pretty spent so I popped into Motec Villach Leber for a Heidenau K60, which would be perfect for the way home. I left in the afternoon after spending the rest of day with friends, doing a little sightseeing around the beautiful Austrian Corinthia.
The ride to Berlin was uneventful, except for quite a bit of rain, but fortunately no more flats. Arriving in Berlin and home was a bit of an anticlimax, as the apartment was empty and my wife would be back from her travels later. People were staggering back from the clubs, as I unpacked my bike, and secured it to a light post with a chain lock. I felt pretty guilty about leaving the bike right there on the street, after everything we had been through in the last three years, and especially the last four weeks. As I hobbled to our apartment, hauling everything that had been on the 690, I wondered whether the it would still be there in the morning.