The war is the history, the Zam crew of Richard Gaspi Gasperotti visited countries of former Yugoslavia and Albania to find both true friends and great riders.
The, zam means journey in the Mongolian language. It‘s also a name of the unique mountain biking project that has been founded seven years ago. The, zam is a story depicting a journey of Richard ‚Gaspi‘ Gasperotti (41), the European mountain biking legend and four times Red Bull Rampage participant. The goal of the project is to travel to the countries where mountain biking is just in its beginnings, with the intention to introduce the emerging communities to the rest of the world. This time, we decided to travel through the four beautiful countries of Balkan with the intention to meet as many local riders as possible.
The basic rule of Zam project is, there are no rules. Not even a week before departure we had contacted the bike club Suharekë, Kosovo, and the guys told us they’re waiting for us with the bikes ready. Kosovo is a young country stumbling in its first childish steps focusing on a desire to be recognised by others. Everything is very cheap and the people are more than friendly. For both major ethnics, Serbs and Kosovo Albanians, the history is a topic to be explained uneven as both sides consider the disputed territory belonging to them. “We’re Kosovo Albanians, we speak Albanian, which is quite different to Serbian, and most of us are Muslims,” declared one of the riders. Belief in Allah doesn’t matter if it comes to beer, however, all the guys turned out to be just moderate drinkers. Good English is common as the guys want to learn as much as possible about foreign countries, where – with the Kosovo passport – it’s not easy to enter. The bikers introduced themselves as Arnold, Ideal, Arianit or Shkodran. In two days they presented most of their trails to us. In the green vegetation of Sharr Mountain, we had a great time together, following with a proper dinner including pljeskavica, grilled dish of spiced meat patty mixture of pork, beef and lamb served with raw onions. The other morning we set off and headed to Albania.
From Suharekë to Albania we took a brand new Albania-Kosovo Highway. Dubbed the “patriotic highway”, the project links Albanians in Kosovo and Albania, helping to boost cultural and economic ties. Albania has made a leap many other could only dream of. The progress made in recent years is outstanding, represented by modern highways, spectacular constructions and magnificent architecture. Even here, a group of four travellers got a great meal for a total price of 10 euros including drinks. Unfortunately, the weather forecast for the mountainous villages of Theth and Valbonna was horrible, and so we had to reschedule our trip and change the direction for the capital city of Tirana. With the help of Facebook, we got in touch with the local rider Andi Qyqja who met us in front of the university. For a big part of the year, Andi works in Italy as a bike guide, however, he loves Albania the most. After a wonderful afternoon spent filming and riding on the trails of the Lalmi hill, we returned to the downtown and visited the “Albania Off-Road Cycling” bike shop. Owner of the shop Endritt Lala would arrange bike trips or service maintenance for anyone interested. You can reach him on the website www.aorc.al.
Montenegro is a fascinating country with a charming coast that is regrettably far less visited by tourist than the resorts in Croatia or Slovenia. Our next destination was Boka Kotorska – a winding bay that once accommodated an Austrian-Hungarian war fleet. Overlooking the deep blue bay from the surrounding mountains, you’d naturally recollect the landscapes of the Norwegian fjords. From this point Gaspi took a beautiful narrow hiking path, descending back to the sea level. You can find the beginning of the trail close to the Jadran restaurant, dwelling at 950 m, by the road leading from Kotor to the ancient town of Cetinje. The trail running through the pine woods is very rocky and sometimes uneven so you really should watch out to avoid the risk of a crash. After a rocky ride down the hiking trail with 70 switchbacks, we entered the ancient city of Kotor, the most appealing place to spend a late afternoon visiting orthodox churches, wandering through the narrow streets and drinking local beer. In the night, we moved to Zabljak resort situated in the middle of Durmitor national park. Finally, we had an opportunity to ride in the big mountains, with the peaks still covered with snow. The park resembles Canadian backcountry and so we could recommend this area for all lovers of the real wilderness.
Bosnia and Herzegovina
Crossing border to Bosnia from the South was quite terrifying as the signs warned us about the dangerous mine still scattered in the area surrounding the road. Our mood leapt higher after passing some of plenty wild water resorts providing canoeists and rafters with the equipment making them possible to float over the Drina river. Our final destination was Sarajevo, the magic city with a sad history connected to the siege of the 90s. Luckily, the grief and sorrow have gone, and we spent a great time enjoying its hospitality. Although we weren’t first bikers with the idea to ride down the Sarajevo Olympic Bobsleigh and Luge Track, we didn’t want to miss the opportunity. The track is situated on Trebević mountain overlooking the City of Sarajevo, built for the 1984 Winter Olympics. During the Sarajevo Siege from 1992 till 1996, the bobsled and luge track were used by the Bosnian Serbs as a base for artillery but today it is walking museum which has been covered by graffiti artists. It’s possible to ride it down, however, double check if there’s no group of school kids hiking up which is exactly what we experienced there. In the afternoon, we made an appointment with the guys from the legendary Savages Crew of Sarajevo, an 11-member gang of enthusiastic downhill maniacs from Bosnia and Herzegovina. Their story began a few years ago when they have started to build short bike tracks on Trebević Mountain located 15 minutes from Center of Sarajevo City. As the time went on, they built more and more, so at the end, they have managed to create the complete full downhill track with a length of about 2.4 kilometres. They are constantly trying to improve the course and make it even faster, more extreme and demanding for riders. The crew is especially committed to preserving the natural environment through constant cooperation with environmental experts and activists aiming to have a minimum human impact on nature.
Even though the Balkan trip has been the shortest event in the Zam project history, we had fun all the way and on top of it, we made new friends everywhere we stopped. With most of the guys we met, we stay in touch which is the greatest benefit of travelling and exploring. This way, biking community can grow and get united all over the world. See you somewhere else next time!
Photos by Adam Marsal