A border seems just a virtual line between countries but crossing it can have strange effects. Just the idea to cycle into another country makes everything seem different. This was especially true for the contrast between Albania and Macedonia. Nature, infrastructure and the richness of the country were incomparable. It is February which means still winter. Until now we didn’t really had much cold or bad weather, for which we were of course glad. Entering Macedonia via the mountain border pass at 1900m altitude was a reminder of what we could still expect this time of the year. Snow started to appear on the side of the road and the wind chill went down to freezing point. The descent from the pass was one of the coldest we had ever had, though it did not bother us much as we were looking forward to spending our next rest day in Ohrid.

Continuing on to Bitola and Prilep the two days after staying in Ohrid, the weather worsened to an ambient temperature close to freezing and a steady icy rain. Our winter gear kept us dry and warm enough, though our bikes were struggling with the wet and muddy road. Ice had gathered on our derailleurs and a few kilometres before Prilep they got blocked completely, forcing us to continue on single speed only. By the time we finally arrived at our accommodation in Prilep, the sun was gone and the icy rain had turned into mist and snow. This proved to be too much for our bikes, the v-brakes were by now also fully covered in ice and together with ice on the rims the entire wheel refused to spin as everything just got frozen solid. Luckily we were able to put them inside to let them defrost and gave them a decent cleaning/oiling hoping not to have the same problem again.

The weather forecast showed heavy snowfall for the next day with temperatures dropping to -5, so with a little hesitation we decided to stay an extra night in Prilep and wait out the worst. The hostess where we stayed told us that the mountain pass ahead on our route was already closed as a precaution so we were really stuck in every way. After the extra rest day the weather cleared up and we continued our way. A positive thing about the snow were the stunning views and everything looked just that little bit more beautiful.

28th of February, the day Maarten turned 40! We started in Kavaderci after spending the night in a dodgy apartment. (I wanted to give him a nice fancy spa hotel, but no luck with that). This day he could choose whichever road we would take. Of course he wanted some off road and found a shortcut between two main roads. A combination of mud and snow was ahead of us, however after only a few meters it was becoming mission impossible. Stubbornly Maarten decided we had to push through (it’s only 500m before the next asphalt!) But we didn’t even get a 100m further. Mud got stuck everywhere and again our wheels refused to go any further so we could only turn back with wheels blocked and frozen mud clinging everywhere.

Dragging and pushing through the mud on the way back we were suddenly accompanied by a friendly dog and he stayed with us as if wanting to give comfort, by now we were quite frustrated that we got ourselves in an even worse mess than two days before. We learned our lesson in the hard way, stay on asphalt roads in this kind of weather. Luckily, once back on the main road, some friendly locals helped us out, we got some tea to warm up again and got some buckets of water to clean the mud of the bikes. Having lost three hours and feeling tired Maarten decided to call a taxi to take us over the mountain pass to Strumica so we could celebrate his birthday there. The taxi driver dropped us off at a car wash where we thoroughly cleaned the bikes before cycling into the city centre. There we found a fancy hotel for a reasonable price and suitable for Maarten to end his birthday with some extra comfort. The hotel restaurant had amazing food and the staff gladly presented a delicious birthday carrot cake. It’s a day we will never forget.

From Strumica it was only 29 km more to reach the border with Bulgaria! Ready for country number 4!