The day dawned bright and clear, though the headwinds from yesterday were still blowing fiercely. In spite of the extra work we knew they'd bring, we were in good spirits. With a spring and summer full of adventure laid out before us, we've been feeling invulnerable!
I spent a good portion of the morning cleaning our bicycles while Tara broke camp. Our chains, braking surfaces, and pretty much everything else were generously decorated with dried mud from a field we had pushed through yesterday. While I was busy, Tara laid our things out, letting the sun bake away the last vestiges of dampness from last night's rain.
Normally, we try to keep our free-camps contained and unobtrusive. This morning, it looked as though a bomb had gone off around our bicycles! We had gear everywhere. Nobody was around to mind.
Once our bikes were in order, I performed my morning routine of email checking to confirm no work emergencies had cropped while we slept. As per usual, everything was ship-shape. Better yet, we were pleased to find a message from Dejan, a Warm Showers host in Stip (pronounced SCHTIPP). We contacted him a few days earlier asking about a place to stay. Today, he graciously accepted our request, saying we were welcome for a night or two even though he'd just returned from a 50 day tour spanning a third of South America!
With our destination confirmed and everything ready to go, we set out late in the morning under beautiful skies.
We rode along a river for awhile, received honks and waves from many cars, and met a friendly donkey before we began heading into the mountains.
My maps for Macedonia are terrible. I was expecting a very short 20-30 kilometer ride, naught but a quick jaunt to Dejan's home leaving us plenty of time to chat and enjoy the day. As it turned out, we had 65km to cover, with a mountain pass right in the middle! Oh well.
At the base of our climb, we passed an abandoned-looking military base with this creepy sign:
A little further on, we stopped for a snack break by the side of the road. While we were resting, a really nice shepherd came over to say hello. He ran up to us from some distance, loping across the field in his galoshes with a huge smile on his face. Even though he looked to be at least 70, he wasn't out of breath when he arrived!
We couldn't understand a thing he said, but he was very nice. We shared some of the chocolate we were eating and then, as quickly as he'd arrived, he ran back to his sheep! Back on the road, we stopped to say hello again when we were passing by. This time Tara was able to hold a quasi-conversation with him involving lots of miming. We still don't know what he was saying, but he was really friendly!
The vistas here are just stunning. We really had no idea Macedonia would be so beautiful!
We also had no idea we weren't going to encounter any water sources during our ride, so the majority of our climb was spent rationing the last of our stores. This was especially worrisome for Tara, who usually drinks at least twice as much as I do.
To ease her concerns, I collected water from several discarded water-bottles strewn about the side of the road (only the really clean ones!). Once I'd collected two bottles full, she tested them tentatively. They were perfectly fine. Disaster averted!
At long last, we made it to the top of the 750 meter pass, and were relieved to go zipping back down the other side. Tara came to a screeching halt mid-coast to capture this tree:
Arriving on the outskirts of Stip, encountering a smattering of hills, I could tell Tara was running out of steam. Unexpected climbing, headwinds, and a lack of water are a tough combination. When I asked if she wanted to take a break and she said, "No, I just want to get there and be done with this!", I knew it was time for a late lunch. I forced us to a halt and she collapsed by the road as I prepared some much needed sandwiches for both of us.
Feeling nourished enough to continue, we headed into Stip. After several more hills and various rounds of inaccurate directions, we finally managed to find Dejan's place.
He welcomed us warmly, and we settled into the spare bedroom for two nights. Thanks Dejan!
Note: Dejan is a special case when it comes to cycle touring. In the tiny country of Macedonia, cycle touring is not very well known. In fact, he may be the only tourer around! He is also unique in that he has a prosthetic leg.
Unlike us, he likes to go long distances, traveling upwards of 150 kilometers every day. Often in 12+ hour stretches! When we asked him why he goes so fast and so long, he said that because of his leg he is forced to go very slowly every day. A bicycle gives him the freedom to move quickly! He's a really neat guy, check out his website: http://dejanzafirov.com.s18653.gridserver.com/.