Getting to know Greece on two wheels!
My answer to the question “Do you know your home country well?” is always a somewhat shameful “No, not really.”. I left Greece 13 years ago. At first it was for studies, but about 7 years ago, I became more of a vagabond. I started traveling from country to country, choosing a place to live in for an unplanned maximum of two years and then hitting the road again. All these years, I have seen places of unspeakable beauty and unfathomable interest and have met people that continuously inspire me to this day. However, despite the fact that I spent my childhood and adolescence years here, I am not at all familiar with my own country. People mention important landmarks and I couldn’t tell you if they are located north or south.
Furthermore, I have traveled and crossed continents on buses, trains, airplanes, cars, trucks, hitch-hiking, camels, goats… Even on foot. The means of transportation I have yet to use for a long distance journey is the good ol’ bicycle. I love cycling and have done triathlons and ridden distances of up to 100 miles, but never more than that.
Now is the time to rectify all this. On the 17th of April I shall depart from Athens on my trusted bicycle and will embark on a trip that will take me through the whole of Greece north of the capital, into Turkey and south alongside its coastal line. This is roughly estimated to be a distance of 2000 kilometers and I have two months to cover it in.
There is a lot to be put to the test:
First and foremost, my endurance. I am in good physical shape, but riding up and down the Greek mountains through unknown terrains, and maintaining and average daily distance covered of approximately 35 kilometers, is no simple feat. I have no idea how I will cope, but I have never backed out of a challenge, so I’m excited to see where my limits are and push them further.
Secondly, my bike. My beloved Felt Z85 is no touring bike. It’s a road bike, designed to also perform exceptionally in races. That means it is most certainly not optimal to be used as a touring bike, where it will be taken through all sorts of terrains and will be required to carry a certain load. It has been modified as much as possible. I have replaced its tires with steel reinforced ones to avoid punctures. I have replaced its carbon seat post with a stronger one and have installed a small rack on it that can hold 12 kilos of weight. I have adapted the seat to make it more comfortable for repeated long distances. Experts would probably advise me against this, but I don’t care. I love this bike, I find it very comfortable and I want to take a journey on it. If it breaks in the process, or if I break in the process, so be it!
Thirdly, minimalism. As you can imagine, I cannot possibly carry a whole lot of stuff with me. The total of my items will have to be limited to a small backpack that will sit on the rack and another even smaller (and breathable) bag that I will be wearing on my back. I will have to choose very carefully what I will take with me on this trip. No luxuries allowed!
Last but not least, hygiene and shelter. Being on the road, often in the middle of nowhere, amidst mountains and beaches (what a terrible image, huh?), finding a shower and a bed is hardly guaranteed. I am equipped with a small, super-light tent and and equally lightweight sleeping bag and am more than happy to camp out wherever I find a suitable location. (Don’t worry, mom. I know to be careful of wolves, bears , snakes and crazy people with axes.) When it comes to showering though (something highly necessary after riding for hours under the scorching greek sun), it will be somewhat trickier. It’s a good thing I’m a very extrovert character and I will not feel reluctant to ask for a couple of buckets of water from any lovely old couple I find chilling on the front porch of their country home. And who knows, maybe they will even offer me a hay bed to lie my fatigued legs on.
Some will say that it is very difficult to cover that distance in two months and I will agree. If it were a flat road all the way, it would be easy. In this case though, we’re talking about heavily mountainous regions and possibly even unchartered roads. One day I’ll be able to cover 100 klm and the next I’ll barely push through 10. Also, needless to mention, the route marked on the map above is only a rough guide. I have no predetermined destinations and no specific goals. I have the tendency to follow signs and roads that get my attention. That means getting sidetracked shall be a common occurrence.
As I always do, my ultimate goal is to reach Izmir, but I don’t consider this an obligation. My purpose is to travel by bicycle and to get to know the less traveled sites of my home country a little bit better. Ideally, I would like to have enough time to do the same through Turkey as well, but if time runs out and my journey ends without reaching Izmir, I am ok with that. It’s not about reaching my final destination. It’s about using it as a heading. American writer John Steinbeck mentioned in his book “Travels with Charley: In Search of America” the word “vacilando”, which perfectly describes the way I travel and the way I will address this journey.
“In Spanish there is a word for which I can’t find a counterword in English. It is the verb vacilar, present participle vacilando. It does not mean vacillating at all. If one is vacilando, he is going somewhere, but does not greatly care whether or not he gets there, although he has direction.”
As I am writing this I am getting more and more excited about this journey. The people I will meet, the villages I will see, the food I will taste, the beaches I will lie on… Only two weeks to go until my departure. I better start getting ready……..