A couple of British riders we met heading south confirmed it.
'You’ve got the big Llogara Pass coming up. The road winds up the mountain, and though the signs say 10% gradient, we don’t think they have any other signs. The road is like this,' they indicated an almost vertical ascent with their arm.
Between the coastal Albanian cities of Vlore and Himare is the famous Llogara Pass, a winding alpine road, rising to 1,027m and overlooking the Albanian riviera. It is the highest point of the spectaculair coastal road between Vlora and Saranda.
It is an impressive site – the mountain starts at sea level and you can see the road winding its way up – until you lose it in the clouds.
This is the site that greeted us as we came around the bend of a smaller mountain. We’d already climbed to 385m and thought we were nearly halfway there, until we started going down again. By the time we found the real pass we were almost back at sea level I hoped we would stop at a hotel in the town at the bottom and gather our strength for the next day, but Sam had other plans.
We were going up.
So, late in the afternoon we started cycling up the climb.
For the most part, the gradient, given my exhaustion, was just rideable, I got in my lowest gear and kept grinding away. But often there was no barrier to protect us from dropping hundreds of metres. This was made worse given the terrible head and side winds screaming down the mountain, threatening to throw us from the face of the road. It’s bad enough riding up a mountain without the wind trying to push you back down, or over the edge.
Just hours before riding up the mountain Sam informed me that Albania has the most road deaths in Europe, and we tried to control our imaginations when we rode past all the memorials placed on the sides of the road, where people had smashed through whatever small barrier had been there and careered down to their deaths below. I was fairly certain I was going to become part of the statistic.
We’d already ridden up numerous smaller, steeper mountains during the day and our legs were tired before we started this one. But we kept going. Sam had to call on all his persuasive powers to reassure me at times, and stop to feed me chocolate he’d bought at the bottom. But the views each time we stopped were spectacular.
As we neared the top the wind got worse, the temperature dropped dramatically and the gradients became steeper. But we knew we were close. We could see the road flatten out above us and some buildings. We were in the clouds now – thick fog was all around us – and our body temperatures were plummeting.
When we made it to the top there was little time for celebration, a storm was approaching, blackening the horizon, and quickly we could see almost nothing.
I was getting a bit hysterical by this point. It was cold and I hated the steep, winding downhill. I was more worried than ever about going over the edge and just wanted a hotel and a hot shower.
We decided to eat at a restaurant (although it might be generous to call it that). Sam set up the tent across the road while I negotiated with a 10 year old boy for our meal. This kid was well trained and kept trying to add extra items to our order. He also kept trying to up the price. But eventually I had ordered a salad, bread, chips and fried eggs for 550 lek (about AU$5.50).
I went to check on Sam – the eyelet on our Black Diamond Bibler Ahwahnee $1300 tent, which has been giving us constant trouble, was broken again and he was trying to fix it, but it was so cold he was struggling to get his hands to work well enough to repair it... I just wanted to crawl into a sleeping bag.
It had been a tough day, and we desperately wanted and needed sleep. But, as so often is the case, the barking dogs had other ideas.
Continue the story about the the descent of the mountain!
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