June 10, 2013
Distance: 34.8 miles Climbing: 1656.8 ft
Athens apparently did not want us to leave and did everything in her power to stop us. About a block away from the hostel, Chandler dropped into his smallest rear cog ring and his bike produced an awful noise. He stopped to investigate and he noticed that the smallest cog was just spinning around and his cassette had come apart. We immediately pulled up on the curb and Chandler determined no major damage had occurred. The stack of three small cog rings on the cassette had just come loose. We have a tool to re-tighten the cassette and after a few minutes of fiddling his bike was back together and we were back on the road.
About two minutes later, I noticed my front tire was a little low. We pulled over at a gas station and sure enough I had run over a staple. We pulled it out with our mini-vice grips (indispensible), patched up the tube and inflated the tire with the air at the gas station. Back on the road and headed out of town.
We made a stop at a little vegetable stand in the center of town to pick up groceries, then a bakery for more spinach pastry. Chandler spotted a bike shop so we stopped to pick up another chain to replace the spare I am currently using on my bike. A discussion between the owner and the employee ensued which is always a bad sign after asking the price of something. Not surprising, the chain was overpriced by about 10 Euro so we continued. Not two seconds after leaving, I heard a crunch and a familiar hissing sound. I had run over a small piece of glass which gouged a hole in my tire and punctured the tube. We couldn’t believe that after having only one flat tire in 5 months of riding in Asia, I got two flats within hours of each other. We quickly did the necessary repair work and continued on our way.
We were getting pretty fed up of trying to get out the immense sprawl of Athens and stopped at a McD’s for ice cream. We felt better after our snack and Chandler found a more direct route on the GPS, so we headed off once again. Then the Athens bike gnomes struck again as we were pedaling up a hill, my crank arm fell off. It wasn’t a huge deal (this happens all the time- both of our Shimano Hollow-tech II cranks are garbage and fall apart all the time, Chandler’s is currently held together with a piece of paracord, a tent-stake and electrical tape), but after all that had gone wrong, neither of us were in good moods.
Finally, after several hours we made it out of the city only to find ourselves funneled onto a huge highway. Consulting the GPS, we found the highway was our only option for a few miles until we could get to a smaller frontage road. The traffic was fast and there was basically no shoulder. It was the only through road for miles, and didn’t seem to be designed so much as just evolved from a donkey path to major expressway, so gas stations and houses sat right on the roads which resulted in cars and trucks constantly merging in and peeling off at freeway speeds.
Blessedly, we found a secondary road that actually appeared to connect to the next town on the GPS which turned out to be a service road for the sprawling oil refinery that dominated the shore in the area. When we finally left the highway, we were both out of breath, completely jacked up on adrenaline and cursing the traffic, the city and the country. It was the worst bit of riding of the entire trip so far, easily twice as bad as the closest contender: our day long stint on Highway 1 in Vietnam.
Our spirits improved immediately once we were on the quieter road. While the traffic wasn’t any friendlier but there was less of it. We had to travel through the oil refinery and the appending industrial slum, which was stinky and boring. We were beginning to doubt our choice of coming to Greece.
We finally escaped the industrial maze and headed along the old highway 8 which was much more relaxing, though riding and scenery were pretty dull. We were in the small town of Neraki when my tire went flat again. Seriously, 3 in flats in one day? Luckily we were right in front of a gas station where the attendant was friendly and helpful. He had a small garage where he changed tires and it was immaculately clean, on an OCD level. The wrenches were all lined up perfectly in ascending order above his bench and the concrete floor was so immaculate you could eat off it. The mechanic let Chandler borrow a wrench to really tighten both of our cassettes. Back on the road again, the scenery changed and the riding was lovely. We spotted a small bike shop and picked up a chain for a perfectly reasonable price. The mechanic filled up our water bottles and sent us off with a wave. We were in a good mood now. Do we seem a little manic depressant?
After awhile the road left the town and went straight along the coast. We had the sea to one side and big hills on the other blocking us from the main highway. The traffic started giving us more room and people started waving and returning our smiles. There were a couple of spectacular sections of road reminiscent of Highway 1 in California near Big Sur.
We realized we were exhausted so we started to scout for campsites, which is always a challenge in steep terrain. Chandler noticed a road leading up to a radio antenna which are sometimes good low key places to find a place to camp. He rode up the hill to investigate. It was even better than he had thought! The antenna was right next to the unused small gauge rail line and the fence along the track was in a pretty bad state so it was easy to follow the tracks a few hundred feet or so down to a small clearing totally hidden away out of sight, perfect for camping and setting up hammocks. We even had a glimpse of the ocean through the trees. After a very trying day, we were more than happy to stop, relax and make dinner.