Weekend Warm-Up: Explore Some of Europe’s Wildest Ranges in ‘Balkan Express’

The Balkan Peninsula — also known as Southeast Europe — is a wild place. Endlessly rugged, achingly beautiful, and contested for centuries, the region has a storied history as complex as the landscape is magnificent.

Into these mountains ride Max Kroneck and Jochen Mesle. The two men have a powerful bond forged by a long-running series of adventures. Their latest plan was as follows: Start in Thessaloniki, Greece, and cycle northwest to Munich, Germany. Along the way, ski as much as possible.

Max Kroneck and Jochen Mesle ride their bikes in the gloom

Max Kroneck and Jochen Mesle on their way to shred. Photo: Screenshot


It sounds deceptively simple. But as shown in the Arc’teryx film Balkan Express, any kind of travel through the region — much less bike packing with ski gear strapped to your rig — is a legitimate challenge.

Witness a scene only minutes into the documentary. The pair have been riding for only an hour, the lights of Thessaloniki still visible in the pre-dawn gloom behind them when they get stuck in inches of thick, gloopy mud. If you’ve ever participated in any human-powered adventure travel, you know — struggling right off the bat can deliver a crushing dose of demoralization.

But Kroneck and Mesle are seasoned adventurers, and soon enough, they’re on their way again.

“We are excited to get to know new mountains, new people, new countries,” one of the pair narrates.

First up on the list of “new mountains” is Mt. Olympus. Yes, that Mt. Olympus — home of the big 12 in the ancient Greek pantheon.

Mt. Olympus at dawn

Mt. Olympus. Photo: Screenshot


No togas on Mt. Olympus

“I imagined Greece differently,” one notes as they climb the snowy flanks of the famous mountain. “Sunnier. But snow on the road means we’re about to hit powder.”

Time for an equipment change.

bare feet changing boots in snow

Brrrrr. Photo: Screenshot


Kroneck and Mesle don’t scare up any sleeping deities, but they do reveal some epic lines as they skin up, then ski down the ancient slope. And the steez is in full form.

a man skiing over a dramatic ledge

Get it. Photo: Screenshot


There’s something incredible about undertaking long expeditions using multiple forms of human-and-gravity-powered travel. The change in tools and gear keeps things fresh and exciting.

Of course, no bikepacking trip is complete without interpersonal issues, mechanical problems, friendly strangers willing to lend a helping hand, good food, good company, and miles of open road unspooling into the distance. Balkan Express has all of the above.

biking on a very snowy road in dim light

Using different methods of human-powered travel is a fantastic way to keep adventures from becoming boring. Photo: Screenshot


The film doesn’t say anything particularly new about bikepacking, ski mountaineering, or adventuring. But it delivers 40 minutes of good old-fashioned adventure travel set against the backdrop of some of Southeast Europe’s best scenery — with top-notch production values to boot.

It’s not to be missed.

Andrew Marshall

Andrew Marshall is an award-winning painter, photographer, and freelance writer. Andrew’s essays, illustrations, photographs, and poems can be found scattered across the web and in a variety of extremely low-paying literary journals.
You can find more of his work at www.andrewmarshallimages.com, @andrewmarshallimages on Instagram and Facebook, and @pawn_andrew on Twitter (for as long as that lasts).