General offroading, 4×4 and Albania

Since I entered Albania the real offroading and 4×4 started, it’s really crazy, and I’m having so much fun.

When I started writing this post it got longer and longer and so I split it up into this general description and the vivid and emotional description of one particular route that I did yesterday and that really pushed me to my (momentary) limits.

In my mind ‘offroading’ is everything starting from gravel and 4×4 is tricky and more complicated stuff where you really have to think about how you approach obstacles. Apart from that there are rock climbing and a whole lot of other things you can do with offroad cars but I don’t cover these because it’s not what I’m going for.

When you want to do some offroading in Germany, you have to go to an offroad park which are private areas you can access after you paid some entrance fee. These areas are prepared and somewhat like a build up playground. Apart from that there are very, very few real offroad opportunities. At least that’s what I know. Maybe some people know some special places.

My offroad experiences before starting my journey to Mongolia and beyond have been two days in German offroad parks and driving several times the more offroady roads in the S├╝dheide. In Italy the offroading started a little bit. In Slovenia it got more and after that pretty intense in Croatia and Montenegro. Now in Albania I did several days of what I would consider real offroading and 4×4. I’ve learned a whole lot! But this description is still very subjective and if you would ask some locals, maybe say would just say: ‘no problemo’.

In Albania you basically just have to look at a map, find a village which seems to be remote and just take the road that leads to this village. So you are not really offroading because you are taking the normal roads but for me it’s offroading and depending where you go it’s real 4×4 stuff, too. Because I did not know what it will be like I bought a collection of offroad routes from Pistenkuh. These are really cool and if you read their route description you get a clue what each route maybe like. But: the routes are changing drastically over time and of course it all depends on the weather as well. Because I ordered the collection while traveling, I got not the printed descriptions but the gpx data and a list showing the difficulty level etc. of the routes. Tino, the guy I meet in Croatia and did some offroading in Albania with, had the printed book and it was really nice.

I’ll try to describe what the roads in Albania are like. In my offroad navigation app there are basically the following 7 different types off roads and tracks that from my point of view are somewhat considerable to go by car. From my experiences in Albania and considering the size and capabilities of Rosinante that I’m willing to use these road types look like this:
1) Autobahn: nearly all the time: very fast, very good condition, all asphalt
2) Fast roads: most of the time: fast and good conditions, all asphalt apart from smaller sections with light gravel and only a few smaller bumps
3) Normal roads: very often, but it can really vary: good conditions, asphalt and light gravel, frequent but mostly small bumps
4) Small roads: you never know: good to whatever conditions, asphalt, light gravel, big gravel, stones, bumps, steps, mud, blocked roads you have to clear, missing parts of the road, small river crossings, good and not so good bridges everything is possible and maybe you can’t take these roads with a car bigger than an small camper van unless you really want to beat it up. The locals are driving these with old Mercedes limousines, small to medium sized transporters and (depending on the width of the road) with lorries. I’m thinking that most of the Germans would consider if they would take these roads when they are in not so good conditions. So with these the fun starts regarding offroading.
5) Smaller roads (the apps has two different styles for them, but for me they are the same): the same as small roads but the probability of things getting more heavy and crazy is really high. I’m thinking that most of the German people I know would not want to take these with their cars. Even the locals seem not drive on all of these without 4×4. I would say here starts the 4×4.
6) Tracks: In Albania I would not do these ones with Rosinante. I would they these are Once I tried to take one of these for a morning run by foot and it got really hard until the track just ended up in nothing but a bare 35%+ degree hillside. In Germany this kind was the only change to get some really mild offroading.
7) Paths: In Albania I would not do these ones.

In addition to the general road conditions, behind every corner there could be small and big animals, a whole herd, people, broken cars etc. an every of these roads. What is more as more remote you get, the road types tend to get tougher. A type 5 in a city is completely different than in the mountains.

Stopping and turning back is one of the most important abilities I learned so far, I think. I really, really recommend getting used to this. And apart from the frustration that might occur it can get tricky to do so depending on the size of your car.

Right now in winter snow and ice is a big issue and at heights above 900m they can quickly stop your trip. At least Rosinante and I could often not pass them with activated low gear 4×4, rear locker, AT wheels with medium air pressure and snow chains on the rear. If the your route goes on the sunny side of a mountain, sometimes you can get up to 1300m though. I would say that I’m now pretty familiar with when to use which of Rosinantes offroad and 4×4 features.

So in Albania I marked the routes from Pistenkuh that are under 1000m or only a short part above in my offroad navigation app, take a faster road to the start of a tour and and than I just go for it. By the way: having much fuel, water, supplies etc. is a good idea from my point of view. I think it’s really a good thing. Especially now in winter. Some routes are leading to pretty remote areas and you never know what happens there. For example your car could get so stucked that you can’t get it out, your car could break down completely, you break your foot and all sorts of things. And I’m not considering myself as a person taking no risks.

After I passing the highest point of an route or turning around, I’m looking for a place to stay before it gets dark. In Albania most of these places are so cool. It’s fantastic and real overlanding, I think.

The day before yesterday I went to the crazy offroad event hosted by Schatzi Racing Albania. This event and the conversations I had made my think: ok, what they are doing is really, really crazy. It’s real 4×4 offroading, shredding through everything, beating up cars, trying everything and sometimes risking to total their cars. And some of their cars are only made and customized for this purpose. I enjoyed watching this spectacle and making new friends etc. but it’s not what I want to do and should do with Rosinante. I’m considering Rosinante as an though and reliable overlanding vehicle/ spaceship for long range and time travels that get’s me to remote places. So I won’t risk everything or just go by force and I think that’s the right way to handle Rosinantes weight and size.

In the next post I will vividly and emotional describe the offroading that brought me to my limits.

And I just wanted to say, that I don’t mean to critic or blame the Albanian country, the roads, people or anything else. Sometimes I’m thinking how weird it is to drive these roads that are necessary for the people living at them just for fun and adventure and I’m giving my best to not worsen their conditions.

An abandoned camp site at Lake Orchid

From Albania I made a short trip to North Macedonia and Lake Orchid. In this area there were none of the small mountain roads I use mainly in Albania to go offroading and to find cool spots to stay for a night or two. On the way I took around the lake, all official camp sites were closed because of the winter off season.

But then in the dead end of a small road directly at Lake Orchid, I found this abandoned camp site. It is really crazy because everything is still there. The reception building, the rest rooms, the small bungalows, wrecked caravans etc.

I had a lot of fun just going around and exploring this special place. By the way the lake and my spot were really cool, too. Rosinante parked right on the former volleyball field at the beach. After a morning run I tried to take a swim, but the water was cold like crazy.

At the evening three very friendly police officers knocked at my door, checked my id and we had a short but nice conversation about the Rosinante and the region around Lake Orchid and they had no problem with me staying on the volleyball field.