The morning started with a great breakfast at Kocani - the best of this trip. Then I exchanged some money with the man who owns the motel so that I would be able to stop along the way to get snacks. He gave me the name and phone number of his sister in Ohrid and asked that I stay with her when I get there.
The 25 km ride from Kocani to Stip was easy and fast. I was riding an expressway - which was just a nice, two lane, road with no shoulders - and the ride was flat and maybe a bit downhill. The land here is a big park - like North Park or South Park in Colorado - flat land surrounded by mountains.. As I neared Stip, the wind became strong out of the west. This was not good since my route took me due west from Stip! Near Stip I turned west an headed up hill into the headwind on a expressway - two lane with a narrow shoulder - that had too much traffic. It was unpleasant riding, especially when I was passed by big trucks and the wind blast made it hard to keep the bike between the lane and the guard rail.
I stopped at at a service station to get snacks - a large box of cookies and a 1.5 liter Pepsi Twist - and use the bathroom. The bathroom was the hole in the floor with no toilet paper kind which is common in this part of the world, but the cookies had an English descriptive name, and the Pepsi Twist was, other than the bottle size, exactly what you find in the US. Road signs are in Cyrillic and Latin letters. Except for the Slavic language and the Cyrillic lettering I could have been in western Europe.
There was an old road running parallel to the freeway, so I rode, on a short dirt path, over to it and stayed on it for several km. It was a little road, but VERY nice bicycling with no traffic and less wind than the expressway. I went back to the expressway when I no longer had to deal with climbing into the wind.
The exit for Veles
I was surprized when I came to an exit road for road to Veles - Veles 25 km. Neither of my maps show this exit, but it was clearly marked and, other than a lot of climbing on rough roads, a good way to get to Veles. That road is where this mornings climbing happened. Although the road started out flat, it started climbing after 10 km or so and pretty much kept climbing until it made a steep descent into Veles.
Veles is not on flat land, but rather, like Asheville NC where I live, at the intersection of two river valleys, one of which, the Vardar, is the main river drainage for Macedonia. Interestingly, I researched Veles on the web - it has its own web site - and had a totally wrong impression of what it looked like. It was much nicer than I expected.
I swooped - great descent - down into Veles and, after surviving some chaotic, but slow, traffic, spotted a good place to eat. It was a hole-in-the-wall place with one table outside on the busy street, three tables inside, and a take out window. I went inside and lucked out in that the one customer in the place spoke English. That made ordering a lot easier and meant I actually got what I expected.
I sat outside so I could keep an eye on my bike. Pretty soon a couple of young teenaged boys rode by on their bikes and spotted mine. They rode back and, eventually, because several of them had a little English, we were able to talk about my bike and my tour. More boys came, and one of them had very good English - he had been taking it for five years - then we did a longer question and answer session. We were joined by some adults as well and somebody - I don't if was the owner of the restaurant or one of the people I was talking to - ended up paying for my lunch.
After lunch, two of the boys and I rode out of town heading for Prilep. The boys were just going to ride 2 km with me, but a man, Ocev, from Veles joined us and he and I rode almost 20 km together. He is, like much of Macedonia's middle aged population, unemployed and, without English, unemployable, so he is learning English. We were able to talk about Macedonia and economics - his field - as we rode.
Near Vinicani, we met two of his friends heading back to Veles and he rode back to Veles with them. I asked them about the ride to Prilep, and they laughed and said there was only one hill, but it was 20 km long! Actually, I think it was more like 30 km of climbing...
It was another 70 km to Prilep from where we parted, and the first 20 km of that was flat. Then the road climbed a bit and headed for the mountains. Pretty mountains, big mountains, oh my aching legs... The real climbing didn't start for another 13 km, but then I climbed and climbed and climbed and climbed. Most of the climb was gentle, 3 or 4% grade, but there were three long (about 5 km each) sections of 7% grade. I was tricked by the second long steep section into thinking I had reached the top, but there was another 3 or 4% grade for many km followed by the last steep section to a pass that reminded me of Cottonwood Pass in Colorado.
Just before the second steep section, a fellow offered me a ride - I think that is what he was saying - and I didn't respond because I was too tired to try to communicate. At that point, I thought I only had 5 km of climbing to do. If I had realized it was more like 15 km, I might have made an effort to communicate! Of course, if we could have communicated what I would have ended up saying would have been the equivalent of my older daughters - she is in graduate school now - favorite saying when she was two years old; "Do it self!"
I did it self - thanks to some properly low gearing! -and stopped for supper at a restaurant almost at the top of the pass. It was almost 7 PM when I stopped. Supper was good - ordered in German - and that made it easier to grind up the last .5 km to the top. From the top, I could see Prlep, 10 km away, much of it on a 6% downgrade.
When I zoomed into Prilep - dodging horse drawn carts and slower bicyclist as well as faster cars and a few major potholes ;-) - I didn't see any hotels. It was near dark so I asked several people for help. On my third try I was very lucky. A bicyclist not only understood me , but led me - on a long, fast, and rather exciting ride - to a very nice Xotel.
I rolled my bike into the reception area, said Hello! and the two women at the desk said, in excellent English , How may we help you? It is nice to be able to communicate easily. My room costs 20 Euro a night with a good breakfast and they let me bring my bike to my room. I have several things I need to attend to on my bike, and I need to attempt a shirt repair - the fabric on the back of my wonderful Eco-mesh shirt seems to be disintegrating! - and my legs are VERY tired from yesterday's ride, so I think I'll take an R+R day here instead of in Ohrid.