June 14, 2013
Distance: 53.2 miles Climbing: 4425.9 ft
We spent a while discussing where we were going to go. After our less than spectacular tour from Athens to Patras, we were ready to hop on the first ferry to Italy. This was compounded by the fact that the busy highway crossed the bridge at Rios and headed north with no secondary road options. Ultimately, we decided that we didn’t want to leave Greece with negative feelings, so we would give it another go through the interior of the north-west.
We were immediately frustrated once we started looking for a route. Everywhere else we have toured, when there is a highway, there is usually a secondary road, ideally paralleling the major road, but if not there is usually a network of local roads that tie in from community to community that we can make our way through. In Greece, it seems like they just expand the local road and tie everything into the main trunk without much in the way of alternate routes. Maybe an interesting topic for a master’s thesis in urban design or something… Anyways, the only alternate route was a small mountainous road in a totally different valley.
We had to backtrack to Rio and cross the Gulf of Patras to head north to Albania. We also realized we were going to have to put in some serious miles if we wanted to go to Amsterdam and make it to France in time to meet up with my step sister and her family on their vacation. After looking at the map, we decided we needed to ride on a schedule of 50 miles every day for three days, before taking a rest day. Considering how we were feeling about Greece, it wasn’t going to be a problem to make a beeline.
We made quick work of our ride back to Rio and figured out how to get on the bridge. It was a really spectacular bridge, finished in 2004. Apparently there is a hefty toll, so it hasn’t put the ferries out of business. There was a pedestrian lane, but was accessed by stairs and isolated from the travel lanes by a large barrier, so we rode with the traffic, which was light. There was some confusion at the toll gate: first the toll taker waved us over, but then a big truck was bearing down on us, so she frantically waved us to the side. We ended up stranded in the employee parking lot, but were rescued by some bridge inspectors who activated the gate and let us back out on the road.
We rolled along some local roads and stopped at the first place we saw serving coffee. The coffee shop was also a massive bakery with dozens of breads, desert pastries and savory pies. We settled on a cheese pie, a cheese and ham pie and a most amazing chocolate pastry which was like an iced doughnut soaked in honey and lemon.
We were reluctant to leave the bakery, but had a lot of miles to cover. We headed off the main highway into the hills. Without the traffic, we both noticed an immediate change and began to enjoy ourselves again. Some linemen working on a new high-tension power line tower spotted us from a hundred feet up and gave us a hearty shout and wave. The temperature was beginning to soar just as we started climbing a hill. We stopped for a break in the shade and spotted a spring off the side of the road.
Someone had diverted the spring behind a masonry wall which poured water out of a small stone bowl. It was perfect for filling water bottles and splashing our faces to cool off. We weren’t sure if the water was clean, so we purified it with the Steripen and were happy to find out it tasted great. Feeling refreshed, we continued on up the hill. We ended up climbing almost 1,000 feet and enjoyed beautiful views of the mountains and an inviting river below.
Soon, we were flying down the hill and losing all the vert we had just gained. As we approached the river, I hoped we would end up following it closely. However, we began climbing back up immediately. The climbing started out easy and it was only the heat that was troubling. Suddenly, the road went from a mellow grade of about 5% to a grueling 10%+. I could barely keep enough speed up to stay balanced.
We had to take several breaks whenever there as any shade on the road. Even Chandler was making switchbacks on the lane to make it easier to ride up. I was cursing who ever designed this stupid road. Eventually, we made it to the top after climbing another 1,500 feet or so and I was so tired I just wanted to be done. We still had several miles to go before we reached our 50 mile goal. We wound down out of the mountains and along a reservoir. There were a few good campsites, but we pressed on.
When we hit 50 miles, of course we were in the middle of a pretty large town, so we kept riding until Chan consulted the GPS and saw we were riding towards an even bigger town, not good. After a few more miles, we reached a bridge spanning a river we thought might be an option. There were houses crowding the banks of the river and I was sure we would be biking forever at this point. As soon as I gave up all hope of ending soon, we pulled up beside an overgrown olive grove. We gave each other one look, waited until there was no traffic passing and quickly crashed our way into the trees.
The spot ended up being perfect. There was a weird tennis court and a partially constructed concrete club house or something built within the olive trees. The whole thing looked totally abandoned, except the tennis courts were swept. We set up camp in the concrete building where we had flat ground and a great hiding spot for the night. Chandler made dinner as I set up the tent. We ate, cleaned up and fell asleep after the sun set.