Arc'teryx Presents: Balkan Express

Arc'teryx Presents: Balkan Express

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No matter how much you plan ahead, in the end everything is last minute before a trip. For a moment I thought that we will leave in two days and nothing has been packed yet. I have two pairs of underwear. Long ones? No. One long one? Two normal, one long one. I am Max.

And I am Jochen. We have been through a lot together in the last few years. Our next journey starts here. There are mountains near us that we don't even know yet.

Welcome to Greece. You can see Thessaloniki in the background. We rode for an hour now and are already stuck. We will cycle home across the Balkans from here. On the way we cross the wildest mountain ranges of Europe and try to ski as much as possible. We are excited to get to know new mountains, new people, new countries.

You go up the Olymp? It`s looking good! Thanks a lot! That´s good. Our first goal here is Mount Olympus, the highest mountain in Greece and better known as the mountain of the gods. It´s very hard, it´s very dangerous, it´s very beautiful, but I like all of this together. The Olympus gives you energy. It snows almost down to the sea and all the locals are talking about the snow in the mountains.

This year we have much more snow. Honestly I imagined Greece to be quite different. Sunnier. Snow on the road means we're about to hit the powder. We were not sure if the winter room is open at all. The windows are open.

It´s freezing cold. In Greece everything was more or less still predictable. But now we are heading towards North Macedonia, Albania and Kosovo. We don't really know what to expect in terms of the weather, the mountains and the exertion for our bodies. It feels as if things are just getting started now.

First time we ride in the right direction. Now we are heading from Greece to North Macedonia. A lot of fresh snow? Yeah. To much snow!

30 km left to North Macedonia and I think it's already five o'clock in the evening. and quite unpleasant here. Hopefully they will let us cross the border. Where are you going? Bitola. Bitola? With the bicycle? You going to ski, huh? Where? Over Bitola. Going to the peak of the mountain? Yeah.

Very good for skiing. At some point I almost gave up. Especially when your bike rack broke. Yes I lost a screw on my bike rack so my backpack almost hung in the bicycle chain. For sure top two of the worst cycling days ever.

First impression at the border: The officers gave us tips for freeriding in the ski area. This is green soup carott, pumpkin, That´s what we have in the garden. I am Pece, ex-professional football player in the former Jugoslavia After that I spent few years in Denmark to play football. But I desided to come back to start this kind of rural tourism. Four or five times per week we are up in the mountains to ski.

So every day wake up and motivate yourself. Wake up and motivate come up. The biggest fighting is yourself. They start to smile because smiling doesn’t cost money.

Have a nice day! You too. We are in North Macedonia right now. In the Baba mountains. This places looks like Canada.

At the top is a small lift. We will meet Jonche, a local mountain guide. All my life is connected with the mountain. First, I grew up here. My father was also a mountaineer.

He was the first macedonian who climbed Mount Everest. We spent a lot of time here as kids. Especially here in the ski center, skiing.

I can say, also in the working days a lot of people come here to ski. It’s a tradition. This year we have a good season for skitouring and freeriding. The Baba Mountain range is at the border to Greece and North Macedonia. The highest peak is Pelister. Baba Mountain in Macedonian means: Grandma.

My father brought the first skitouring skis to Bitola in 1979 when they have been to Chamonix to climb Mont Blanc. We are thinking about using this road. Do you know that? Is it possible right now? No! Not at all? No it´s one meter of snow. That is Korab. This is only usable in summer and there is a border.

It´s for people who work with cattles and sheeps or cows. Transporting and everything. Illegal stuff also. Weapons... So we need to go around? Yeah. We continue further to Albania to make it to lake Ohrid.

We have taken a massive wrong turn. Ohrid? Yes, we want to go there. Bitola. Ohrid. This road doesn’t work.

There is still 100km to go and we rode only 30km so far. The ninth day in a row without a restday. Typical. What's new for me is my full-time job. I'm no longer as flexible in terms of time. I don't know what's coming up in the next few years.

Maybe this is my last big trip as a professional athlete? I will definitely enjoy what is coming. Sure! We have already noticed how much rubbish is lying around here everywhere. And if you look closer it´s garbage everywhere. The next cities are far away. How does it even get here? It felt quite familiar until here but Albania is different. If the weather plays along, we will climb Mount Korab, which is the highest peak in Albania.

Mount Korab. You don´t have people there. We will go up this mountain road, towards Mount Korab. Three more hours to go for us and we are cycling into the wilderness. A little bit scary because in the last village some locals told us: Three or four days ago we have seen wolves here. You really have to watch out.

One the bike everything can happen! While you're going up, you just focus on the light cone in front of you. By now we are six hours on the bike even though it is below zero degrees again. We are in a mountain village. From here we planned to go to the highest mountain of Albania and Macedonia.

The Korab. It´s so cold out there. It´s too windy for skiing. I think we should continue.

We have just looked at some route options and we have so many options. It feels quite bitter to leave those beautiful mountains behind, but this kind of weather is no option. We are just realising that we haven't come that far yet. On the way home there are still so many mountains that we don't even know where we want to go. How did you sleep? So so.

We are on our way to the Valbona valley where we want to make a plan for the next days. Because... Finally.

Comes.. Hi! Sorry! No Worries! Good morning! The last few days we were completely without a plan. But it´s snowing so hard down here already, we can't just skip Kosovo. We should go to the Sharr Mountains! We ended up on the highway in bad weather and hope that the border police don't throw a spanner in the works. This was the iron border. It was easier to go from here to Washington then to go to Albania which is like 17 kilometers.

We are in Kosovo! Would you like a coffee? We need to go up to the mountains. Which mountains? Prevalle. Strong legs. Mashallah Mashallah Your dialect is not good for me Mine is better? Yes. Original.

We are living here, but 90 percent don’t know what we have in the mountains How big they are, how spacy they are. This one is 2200 meters. It´s nice for ski touring. In the 80’s I started with alpine skiing.

Learning the first steps. In 2000, after the Kosovo war some internationals came and started to do skitouring. But it was a problem of equipment in the beginning.

Prevalle will be untouched powder It´s propably still snowing up there. Especially in skitouring I mean the guys I meet, the mountaineers it is completely out of the politics in the sports. Difficult to say maybe the fresh air in the mountains is reacting on our brains a little bit? Between mountaineers I never saw the problem Nobody is asking from where you are coming So thats the reason I am saying: Mountain is changing the people. Sharr Mountains.

I mean, I feel it every where I go. I always say it is my biggest love. This is the peak I mentioned. I think this is the best for skiing. Uta's goal is to do all 14 8000m peaks. She is an important mountaineer from Kosovo.

Right now I have three weeks before I go on my expedition in the Himalayas. I am doing the 14 eightthousands My next peak is Makalu For me the idea was to climb the Himalayas, but also help my country to be known from people and climbers. Kosovo is a small country.

In the beginning it was really difficult to change the mentality and to have more people on my side. This new generation, with me and there are also few other girls. We kind of changed the idea for mountaineering here. I did a cycling trip myself. And I really thought I know so much about my country. But when I was completely alone only with my bike I thought: Wow. I know nothing.

We actually can not believe this insane scenery here. I think we have to get over this pass and then into the Valbona valley. We are now in the Valbona valley in Albania. It is really beautiful. People are saying: You are crazy.

You move from Germany to Albania to the Valbona Valley in the middle of nowhere. 12 years ago we were on vacation here. Nothing was there back then.

No streets. No water. We asked around to buy land and then built this hotel. I don’t want to leave anymore. I think I can see the mountains of Bosnia over there. Is this the ocean? It looks a little bit like back home.

The only difference is: No people. Saying goodbye to Valbona is not made easy like this. We need to hurry. The next part of our route leads through a valley without roads. We need to take a ferry. And that leaves at 6:00am tomorrow.

Did I stress you out again this morning? Hm? I stressed you. Yes for days you are afraid to What? For days you are afraid to miss the ferry. Our next goal is different.

We go to Montenegro to meet an artist. He created an artwork for our journey. And will put parts of it onto our bikes tomorrow. It´s getting warmer. Summer is here. We go to Montenegro and finally the sun is out. Greece to Germany.

Hello Srdja, here is Max. I think it’s the first time I do something like this. I am Srdja Dragovic and I am graphic designer and illustrator from Montenegro. For you the challenge is the essence of your journey.

Skiing and Biking Biking and Skiing Exchanging between those. For me it is a different project because it is not like regular illustration. In the end, we came up with colours that would reflect the Balkan landscape in a way. The attitude of people towards bicycles and this kind of transportation needs to change.

People here like cars a lot. Developement of cycling infrastructure is not only painting the paths. The culture needs to change, because there is really a good potential.

Not only in Podgorica, but all over Montenegro. I whisper, because I am worried we´re going to be busted. We entered Bosnia and Herzegovina in the dark We don´t know how people react and if it´s ok what we are doing here. Breakfast? They only have meat, I choose the beer.

Mostar. No idea where we could ski here. Bosnia Herzegovina. The mountains are even wilder here.

We are completely alone here. That is the bridge in Mostar. I paint a picture a day and send it to my son. I am just thinking about the moment of being home again.

With the family. With the kids. With such young kids so much happens in such a long period of time. Today is day 20. Only one rest day so far. We are on course. Oh crazy. This looks like home. Let´s check the conditions.

A bit icy. Max, I like that we just stepped out of the restaurant and sleep in the brightest place in the town center. We are on the road for three weeks now.

We are searching for snow in Croatia. Our goal is skiing with ocean view. We roll and roll. Over 100km every day. I am a bit worried about our next ski days.

We did not see snow for a long time. Can you send some snow? No lunch, no dinner. This is the hardest day for me so far.

Because we don´t know what to do. We hoped for snow and couldn´t find some. We realize that we are on tour for a long time.

We never did proper rest days. How do you travel? Do you have a car? No, we go by bike. By bike? No way. Our plan was to find some snow with view to the ocean. I come from there. There is one point that is amazing.

You can see all the islands. huuungry Only the highest and lowest gear works. Nothing in between. Try to shift on the other side.

Nothing happens! I tried to disconnect it. f*ck. I said, I think it works like this. But then I said... I don´t know how it works.

In the end I don´t care who is right. But I was sure that... I don´t know why you asked me.

Oh man, it´s difficult I keep asking myself why you can´t be open enough to accept my point of view. And return to the initial problem. And solve it, because that´s what I asked for. I tried, but I did not get it.

We are both narrow minded know-it-alls. Four weeks in a row. Actually never had a break. This takes the air out of us. But for now we are in a beautiful valley in Slovenia.

We have never been skiing here. Soca river is really famous around the world because it´s such a nice color. It´s very clean. No people and just pure nature.

I was born here and I want to live here, because it´s something about this place. Yeah maybe this wildness. It is what it is. It´s a pity. In Greece we had five times as much snow as here. And 1000m lower.

Surprisingly tired This might be our last time skiing. More stones than snow in the couloir. But good action, I love it! We always had a common thread, to cycle back home from Greece.

But it was never clear that we would really make it. We were quite proud of the first daily 100km, but now that´s daily business. It´s not too hard right? But when do we hit the 200km? With all the load on the bikes. What about the last day? We should go all out from Obertauern. Why not? I would dig it. All out one last time! Fixed the shifter until lunchtime, and rode the two highest passes after that.

Speed record of the trip: 93 km/h. 40kg of gear are pushing quite a bit. This is something I did not miss along the balkan mountains. Everything is bright, might be the last days of the ski season over here. Alarm 5:30am. Let´s go. This is our longest stage with 210 km.

Somehow I am looking forward to my daily routine at home a bit. I know it sounds stuffy. We have collected so many impressions on this trip.

One moment that I´ll never forget is that crazy market. My wildest moment was your meat breakfast. The last border crossing. I think we crossed 14 borders in total.

The Balkans always seemed far away for me. Now it doesn´t feel far away at all. Totally in "cycling reach".

2023-02-23 14:05

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