"10% graded climbs turned into 14%, and our flesh pistons were taking a toll."
by Patrick Burns
So, let me start out first with the facts:
- Albanian roads and views are spectacular
- Albania has lots of big hills
- Patrick is not very good at big climbs and should train more
Now back to the beginning:
After a magical evening in Corfu, Greece, sleeping off the meat sweats from a spectacular dinner, our 4 intrepid adventures awoke early to attack the day.
Spirits were high as we basked in the glowing light of sunrise and boarded a rather phallic vessel bound for Saranda, Albania. This would be the first visit to the "land of eagles" for all of us.
We docked, passed through customs, grabbed a quick bite of spinach and cheese pastries while planning our route for the day. We were all very excited about our "short" 78-mile day until we looked more closely at the terrain. The elevation climbs seemed tough but it was early morning and somehow we gained an hour with a change in time zones so what could go wrong...
We attacked the hills, one after another after another. Some faster, some slower (I won't mention names). The views are unrivaled, and the descents reminiscent of a picturesque cycling magazine. Gone were the courteous drivers of Greece so vigilance was high.
10% graded climbs turned to 14%, and our flesh pistons were taking a toll.
We escaped to a gas station/hotel/restaurant on the steep terrain for a quick lunch and continued on our journey.
The heat of the day boiled on as sweat glistened on our skin (though in reality, we were dripping from head to tow with sweat that no poetic turn of phrase could desalinate).
What? You were expecting a really sweaty picture here, weren't you? I just liked it and had no other place to put it.
Our biggest ascent loomed ahead and apprehension was running high as we commenced our slog up massive switchbacks.
Luckily Don befriended a construction worker on the side of the road with a truck. His plan was to wait by the shade of the truck, but being midday there was none to be had. Don decided to invite himself into the vehicle form some reprieve, as Dave and I arrived, we followed suit. Sorry for the buckets of sweat on your seats, you sweet, sweet man from Berat, Albania.
Near the summit, Don and Justin waited, somewhat patiently, as Dave and I plodded through the rest of the ascent and were rewarded with more stunning vistas.
A few sodas later, we were caffeinated enough to continue the remaining climb. We crested into Llogara National Park and then sped down the very steep and much cooler backside. As the terrain flattened near the coast, we fell into our pace line with Justin leading the charge as onlookers gawked and sometimes cheered.
At last we made it to Vlorë!
After a quick shower, it was time for dinner at San Georgio's. We were about to leave when we discovered that the menu only contained seafood. Keeping in mind Justin's deadly allergy (er...dislike) to all thing aquatic, they offered an off-menu spaghetti bolognese and a veal steak. The rest of us ordered an entire sea bass and ate it ravenously as we secretly wished to be asleep, resting from this incredibly grueling day.
Time for sleep and onto the next...
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ABOUT PATRICK BURNS
Patrick is an emergency medicine physician at Stanford University. He lives in San Francisco but grew up in the Boston area, where he attended medical school at Tufts University. He has been an avid triathlete and ultra-running enthusiast for many years, and has wanted to bike across a continent since 2014 when he hosted the other three in Seattle before launching them on their ride across the U.S. from Seattle to Boston.