If the first day is an image of how my whole tour would be like, then I probably should expect some near death of exhaustion, unless I’m happily saved from an apocalypse.
The day started as a bicycle tour should always start: deprived of sleep and some alcohol in my blood from the night before. It might have not been a party, but it was a farewell drink. Starting with a clear head and full rest seems dangerous, since a clear mind might make me turn back in the first few kilometres. So, the faster I got on the road, the better. And, I would get on time where I was headed.
My intention was to try out what would be the most appropriate alternative route for this section of the EuroVelo route number 11. This route has not been marked or anything in this parts of the World. In fact even if someone placed some kind of signs, they would not have lasted more than a week, since most of them would be used for some kind of local house repairs. The issue was that I would not like to take the official regional road 101 going from Skopje (Скопје) to Kumanovo (Куманово), but I preferred to take some more local road, a dirt road even to get to Kumanovo.
Some years ago I did something similar. I went with a friend from Skopje to Kumanovo over some fields. But I know that we made some wrong turns then, which I hoped I would not repeat now. So I headed out towards the village of Miladinovci (Миладиновци). It was from there on that I would need t discover the best road option, for which I would depend heavily on the local people to tell me.
Getting to Miladinovci was a discovery of its own. The road to the village is nowhere marked, however I had a good look at the map and remembered the order of the villages I need to follow to get to Miladinovci. Besides, I had a GPS device to help me navigate in the fairly empty streets in the morning. I decided to take a less frequent road going through the settlement Lisiche (Лисиче), village Dolno Lisiche (Долно Лисиче), Idrizovo (Идризово), village Kadino (Кадино), and finally to get to Miladinovci. To get there, I improvised a lot. At times I passed narrow roads that went between houses or I would ask a local if I can make some shortcut because the main road seemed to make too much of a circle. Eventually I did get there.
The asphalt road went on for another two villages: Tekija (Текија) and Deljadrovci (Дељадровци). The road passed the oil refinery Okta, a massive facility that stretched out on the left for a large part of the road. From the village of Deljadrovski I had to turn to a dirt road following the railroad. This was a bit tricky, since if I would continue along the main road I would get to the highway. So after filling up my water bottles on the village fountain, I went back to search the turn to the dirt road.
It was a nice road actually. Pretty firm and the holes were not that bad since they were gradual. Along the road there were some wheat fields, some harvested and others not. The road went along the main highway going to Kumanovo, so in a sense it was the shortest and most flat option to get to Kumanovo.
This road got me to another village – Agino Selo (Агино Село). As I recall correctly, this was the mistake we made some years ago, we did not go into the village, but continued along the railroad, which eventually got us to a dead end. In Agino Selo I saw two options. One to go on the other side of the highway and opt for some other dirt road, or try to find a more direct road. Crossing the highway sounded too much of the track so I looked for water and for a local person. A shepherd appeared. I knew I would need to get first to the village of Romanovce (Романовце) prior getting to Kumanovo, so I asked the shepherd for a path to Romanovce. I deliberately did not ask for a road or as a mater a fact I did not ask for a road to Kumanovo, because from previous experience I knew that they would then direct me to the highway. And the highway was not my intention to go to. I got some directions from the locals and I was told that there is a spot with a lot of water on the road, which I would have problems to cross. True, the spot was right in the beginning. Luckily I saw a walking path that went around so I pushed my bicycle on to the next dry part of the road. From there on the road was basically an intuition. In the first part it was very clear which is the main road, but as I got further away from Agino Selo the road seemed to get less clear and with more intersections going to one or another field. So I picked one of those roads, looking that it heads towards the houses in the distance that looked to be the village Romanovce. This, though not clear path, turned out to be a very nice section. The road went between sunflower fields, and in the distance there were more fields and hills that gave me a nice impression of the countryside of Macedonia.
As I guessed, the dirt road got me to an asphalt road in the village Romanovce. Passing the village I got to my first uphill for the day. It was at the end of the village, though there was no clear border where the village stops. The hill then turned into a very long downhill heading straight to the Kumanovo. I did have to watch out for the tractors and harvesters that were going to the fields and farms, but it turned just right, I did not hit any of them. I made a short pause on the downhill at a gas station. There was a very nice view on Kumanovo that I wanted to capture.
The continuing road lead me straight to the marketplace in Kumanovo. Turning right there and heading for the exit towards Mlado Nagoricane (Младо Нагоричане). This was the road that was supposed to take me to the border crossing with Serbia near the Monastery St. Prohor Pčinjski (Св Прохор Пчињски). Though in the past I would take the crossing at Tabanovce/Preševo, this crossing was on a highway, so I decided to respect traffic regulations and take the border crossing at Pelince/St. Prohor Pčinjski on a regional road.
In Kumanovo I made a break at the centre. A water fountain was nearby and that made it a perfect stop.
I felt I should have a better brake, one that would involve a breakfast. So I went on along the road towards Mlado Nagorichane to find a pastry shop. I saw some very fast, but none of them had a place to sit down. It was about 10am and the sun was getting stronger, so I wanted to sit, and to be in a shade. After some more, I found what I was looking for. It was a bit outside Kumanovo, in the settlement titled as Karposh. It was a bakery just on the right of the road in a house. The name of the bakery was “M and M”. I was served by a nice lady, who shortly after offered me a tea and a conversation. She told me some nice hints about the road I was taking. That there are some nice places along the river Pčinja where I can have even a swim or just to rest. But she told me also that the border crossing I was taking involved some serious uphill. This was something I knew, but I was not just certain of how serious it will be.
I ate and head on to my destination. I took the old road going to Mlado Nagorichane, avoiding the main road and the traffic that goes with it. It was a nice road with nice scenery of the countryside. But it also involved much more uphill and downhill than the main road.
After about an hour I got to Mlado Nagorichane. Right after the hill there was a water fountain and a church next to it. Mlado Nagorichane seemed pretty deserted, so I continued my way for Staro Nagoričane (Старо Нагоричане), making a left turn. This was an area I have never been to before. But it was not any different scenery from the one prior. Partly fields, partly deserted lands and some houses here and there.
Right about when I got to Staro Nagoričane I felt the consequences of not having a good night’s sleep. I needed some sleep. I looked around the village and decided to part in the yard of the old church that was there. It was the only nice grass around with a shade, and even the church keeper invited me to take a rest there.
I might have spent a whole hour, or even more, sleeping, when visitors came and woke me up. I learned that close by, there was a hermitage place in a cave. In fact, it was just few meters net to the church.
Since I was awake, I decided to make a break and eat something. I took some fruits and ate them at the village’s water fountain, just next to the church. There were several huge mulberry trees that made a nice shade, so I liked that. There I could observe the village. It seemed that many people passed in cars going somewhere. Even the whole village was not a small one. There were quite a number of houses, but they just as might heave been deserted. Or at least they were in a bad shape. My next stop would be somewhere along the river Pchinja. I wanted to have a swim. So I went on.
The road passed a sign saying that that is the way to Kokino – a very old sky observatory made into stone. I thought it could be a nice detour since I’ve never been there, but then again, it may take me too much time off, and I still had plenty to go.
As I came close to the river, I saw many roads going down to it. But I could not point to any that would lead me to a nice spot. This was the moment when I needed a help from a local to tell me this kind of things. But there was no one outside, and it was not a very populated area. So I picked one road going to the river. It first passed some corn field and got to the river. But I was not very happy. The river there was too shallow for a swim, and there was not a very big shade. Never the less, I took off my shoes and had a walk in the river.
I did not stay long there. I went on with my journey. And to my pleasant surprise, I discovered where have been all those people going to. It was a memorial place called Pelince (Пелинце), built to commemorate the Anti-fascist Assembly for the People's Liberation of Macedonia. It was nicely placed next to the river, with big spacey lawns and a restaurant. It was a nice place to stop and have a rest. The only thing that made me wonder was the monument it self. It was a big mosaic with images from the Macedonian history. Though I recognized many bits of the mosaic, in whole, it looked like a Martian painting. I was not sure whether to be happy about the ingenuity of the whole monument or to be laughing to the look of it. I decided that it is a nice thing.
Soon after I came to the border crossing. It was very relaxed. There were only a few vehicles. The whole procedure went very nicely. What was astonishing about the border crossing was the fact that it was located in the canyon of the river Pchinja. The whole road around the border crossing looked wonderful. Steep cliffs going up and all covered in forests. A very enjoying ride it was.
At the exit of the canyon I saw a small picnic area just next to the river, where some people had raised tents. It looked nice, and I thought it could be used some next time. But something else also came to my mind – I passed the border and the monastery was almost there, but I had not climbed anything steep. It was all so gradual that I did not even notice it. I started wondering what people were saying about this border crossing.
Right after that picnic area the Monastery of St. Prohor Pchinski appeared. A huge structure of several buildings and centrally placed a church. I have never seen so big monastery in my life. It was nice to have a look at. But I did not go in, the man at the door said that I’m improperly dressed in my bicycle shorts. Well in any case I could continue faster and reach my destination as soon as possible. I had my water refilled at the fountain and headed on.
I did not make even 100 meters when the hill hit me. It was not just a hill, it was more like a mountain. And it was so steep that I could not ride the bicycle with the ~30 kg of stuff on my rack. So I decided to push until the very steep part is gone. I thought that with such a steep uphill, the hill will be gone in seconds. However it was not. It was one very long, steep, and long uphill. The road just made serpentines and climbed the hill. I pushed and then ride the bicycle, and again I pushed, and I made brakes, but the hill was always there. There was one nice thing in that – it was the view. It was so nice, I was not sure if I should just stop and look or continue up. The sun was getting lower and getting that golden shine, throwing it in the valley, and in the bottom of it, it was the monastery, white as snow. A magnificent view.
I think it took forever to climb the hill. But eventually it was over. I reached the top with a view on the setting sun and the valley bellow. It was just downhill now, all the way to Vranje (Врање), at least that is what I thought. But it was downhill in the beginning, for sure. I got to the first village, Sveta Petka (Света Петка). I saw a water fountain made into a Christian like monument with a cross. But there was no water. Strange, I thought, and continued downhill. In the next village – Klinovac (Клиновац), the water fountain was also made like that, and again there was no water. A child run to me and said that he would fill my water bottle. How nice of him I thought. He took the water bottle and went to his house. I thanked him and I went on my way. However it still felt strange that the village water fountains were dead.
I had some more road to cover in order to get to my destination for the day. There were some road construction works under way, so the main road was merged with the old road and I found my self in a traffic jam. It may not have been pleasant, but it was not a problem, since I was used to it. I was getting closer to Vranje, but I had no idea where the camp was. I found it on the internet the day before, but had only written down the address. So I started asking people. It seemed not to be a famous place. Until I run into a cyclists, Nebojsha, a gym teacher from Vranje, that showed me the way on his bicycle. He took me through many villages, going round and round, assuring me that that was the shortcut. We passed even an accumulation lake that as he said it was too dirty to swim into, and eventually he got me to the only camp around.
The camp site – Enigma, was actually a swimming pool with a parking lot and some grass land. Nice I thought. I could use the pool. I had my tent set up, took a shower and asked for a cup of tea. The owners of the camp were there and offered me a herbal tea picked from mount Rtanj (Ртањ). A mountain that was very popular the year before, in 2012, when many people awaiting the apocalypse went there to save them selves. In a sense I had a apocalypse saver tea.
I was tiered, and soon after I went to bed. This was my first day, and some more to go before I could reach Belgrade as my first place where I would stop for a few days.
Date: 14 July 2013
Difficulty (1-5): 4 – there is a mountain crossing that is extremely steep and very long.
Time spent riding: 9:14
Average speed: 12 km/h
Length: 111 km
Minimum elevation: 243 m.a.s.l.
Maximum elevation: 738 m.a.s.l.
Total ascent: 1209 m
Landscape impression: The landscape changes from fairly open hilly landscapes via river canyon, then passing mountains and ending in a fairly big plane. In each moment there are magnificent views of fields, hillsides but the best views are while crossing the mountain.
Water availability: There were a number of public water fountains along the Macedonian part of the road however in the Serbian part of the road none of the public water fountains was working. In case of need, any person would gladly fill up the water bottle in their house.
Security issues: At some sections the path goes on fairly frequent roads that require extra caution from the normal (read reckless) local drivers.
Contact with locals: Locals seem not really eager to start a conversation, but once you start they tend to open up.
Accommodation: A descent camp site near Vranje, with a pool and with thick grass. High humidity over the night though, so some serious drying of the tent may be needed.
Food availability: Summer is the season when all kinds of plums ripen and are very often found along the road. Otherwise there are plenty of shops in each settlement that the road passes and quite some restaurants along.