After an amazing sleep I woke up refreshed hoping Sasho would be feel better. We packed the bags, set the bikes up for going, put our cycling clothes on and went to have the breakfast included in our booking.
It wasn’t an “all you can eat” type of thing (which is what a cyclist would want), but it was plenty. Unfortunately, it was becoming clear that Sasho was not out of the woods yet with the stomach issues.
This time we focused on leaving the city a bit more efficiently compared to the day before. Soon we were on the main road out of the city when Sasho stopped and started looking for his passport. Luckily, I had picked it up together with mine and the booking receipts and it was in my frame bag. That would have been a demoralising detour back.
The views were beautiful and it was in the 23-25C degrees range, but the climbing was relentless. We knew we had a lot to go that day in terms of elevation and potentially even distance (for our standards) depending on how we felt.
After a few hours and just before the steepest section we stopped to re-charge with some deliciously home-made yogurt (on the right below) and pancakes (left). The guy selling them in the small hut (pictured above) had done a degree in sports and nutrition and simply did not let us buy croissants (7 days) and pre-processed bars. “No, no, this is not good, you need clean food, try these pancakes and the yogurt!” and so we did. No regrets!
We pushed on and kept on climbing, but Sasho’s stomach was not giving him a rest. He was feeling weak and without energy. But so far everything else was aligning to make our journey easier. The weather was perfect, not too warm or cold. The views were incredible and the road even if a bit steep, was rewarding us with little traffic.
Finally, we entered the Mavrovo national park and stopped to get some water from a fountain and to rest. Last push to the top now. From there Komoot was promising us 40kms of downhill and easy rolling almost to Debar. Worst comes to worst, we would stay there for the night.
We reached the top, dressed up for the downhill and rolled on. And behold, a magnificent view opened up to the left with lake Mavrovo and the mountains in the distance. Our host from Skopje was right!
We enjoyed the view for a bit (each in their own ways) and continued down to the town of Mavrovi Anovi. The beautiful view, the sun and the lack of energy called us to a stop and some more biurek with local yogurt and coke.
There was no time to waste as we had a long way to go. We rolled down the hills and soon the sun was out of sight as the steep gorges on either side were creating a tunnel around. But who cares, we were rolling down with 60km/h+ and life was good!
After a while Sasho (who didn’t have the stomach for the food earlier) suddenly felt like having a bite on the bike.
Moreover, it was becoming darker on the horizon and the roads were wet and full of puddles. This was both dangerous as one couldn’t diagnose the depth of each, but also I wondered if we were heading straight into the rain or if it was going away from us.
After about an hour we still hadn’t caught a single drop from the sky, God was merciful! However, the darker skies gave an opportunity for much more dramatic light to draw its best.
And then the climb before Debar began. It was fairly steep but thankfully not as much the previous ones and rather short in comparison. The views made it easier to pass quickly too.
We arrived in Debar and it was now around 2-3pm. We were tired and needed both a break and some nourishment. Sasho’s local-tavern-detector spotted a small restaurant-ishly looking place on the side of the main junction and we headed that way. The owner greeted us with a massive smile and invited us in. We told him that we were hungry and wanted a good meal, his reply? “Don’t worry, we have everything!”, “Great, can we have a menu please?” – “No, no menu. I will make you something, don’t worry, sit down.”. And this is what came back:
It was the perfect meal! A delicious chicken soup, freshly made and pan fried mince kebabs (protein), freshly cooked rice, fries and a lot of salad. He also brought us toasted bread with butter and salt!
Again, no time to waste, we down the food as enjoyably as we could and had to move on. Sasho said he felt alright enough to do the next 50km to Struga and we had to go! We paid and with lots of smiles and greetings left, rushing down the hill.
The road turned West around the water of Black Drin lake. The sun was now setting and we were up for some night riding. As soon as we went down we realised that the road had just been soaked with a massive shower. On our left (East) we saw the dark cloud and the rain curtain passing over the lake and going straight for Debar. We had literally ridden around the rain and missed it for a few mins in Debar. What luck!
We rode and as the sun set behind the horizon we entered another deep gorge. The road was low, way under the tops of the mountains on each side, turning with the river in the valley. It was cold and extremely humid. We couldn’t stop for the cold, but we still had to because of Sasho’s troublesome stomach.
There is a peculiar feeling when riding in the dark, you lose complete sense of distance and time passed. Luckily we were together and that made things easier, but still… we couldn’t wait to get out of the gorge and into the open plains.
Finally, after two hours or so we were out of the mountains and stopped at a gas station for some water and the loo.
There were only 10kms left to Struga, 10km which should be about half an hour, but we were tired. We rode on, pushing hard and trying to get there as soon as we could, but I could feel Sasho’s energy is draining with every pedal stroke. He really needed a rest day.
Entering Struga we stopped and another little cafe to ask locals about the campsite Sasho had seen on the maps, but they told us it was closed as the season had finished. For me, the vibe of the place and the people was different from the one in the other places we had stopped previously. Struga was a bigger and more touristic town. People were used to random foreigners and were a bit less friendly, more focused on their own conversations.
Booking.com saved us again and we found a “villa” online that we booked, called the guy and confirmed that it was OK to go with the bikes. When I spoke to the man on the other side of the phone my impression was that he was a bit confused when I started speaking to him directly in Bulgarian and him both understanding me and also realising it’s not Macedonian.
Checked in, got the bikes up and voilà we were in a huge, warm and cozy flat. What a day! I was very happy with our progress, the climbs we did and the distance covered, but Sasho was not getting any better. I went to find some more pills and on returning we discussed that the following day would be a good one to have some rest and let his body recover from all the dehydration, effort and exhaustion. We were now at the edge of lake Ohrid, and that was something worth seeing.