June 16, 2013
Distance: 55.7 miles Climbing: 4429.1 ft
With our 50 mile daily goal, we were trying to get up early to take advantage of the cool morning temperatures. After the usual morning routine, we hit the road and I actually had to wear a sweater for the first hour of the day. While the day was slow to warm, when it did get hot, it was almost unbearable.
We had a little excitement right away when Chandler spotted a few turtles in the middle of the road. When we rode up to each turtle, it would usually spot us and hideaway in its shell right in the middle of the road so we had to stop and help. If the turtle didn’t notice us and kept moving, we would just hang out and make sure it got to safety without any cars coming. A couple of times we acted as a temporary roadblock diverting traffic around the turtle, while the drivers just gave us a weird look.
Our destination for the day was Ioannina, which was the last big town we’d hit before crossing into Albania. As usual we stuck to the back roads. Chandler noticed a bit of a shortcut on the GPS which cut out several miles and decided to follow it. The road deteriorated into a gravel path and we resorted to pushing the bikes up the hill. I wasn’t sure we were on the correct path, but thankfully, Chandler’s shortcut did bring us out on the road.
The heat was tremendous and the road appeared to go straight up. There was no shade and I was so miserable. Chandler was so far ahead of me, I was sure I would never catch up to him. At the top of the short hill, I was crying and Chandler was waiting off the road under the only tree for the last mile with a giant bottle of Tang he mixed up. When I got close, he ran out of the shade and grabbed my bike so I could get some relief.
After drinking the entire bottle of Tang and an additional liter of water, we were concerned about how much water we were going through. Our shirts were completely saturated with sweat despite the direct sun which usually keeps out backs dry, so we were obviously dumping water almost as quickly as we were drinking it. At the next village, we approached a house with two men drinking beer and eating on the patio. I walked up shaking an empty bottle and asked “nero?” The owner, Dmitrius, came out, spoke great English and filled all our bottles. He was very curious about our journey and we sat in the shade relaxing and chatting. His son had cycled to Iaonnina before so we got some information about how far and how high we had to go. We have many more miles to cover so we had to leave after just a few minutes. Dmitrius asks if he can take our photo, headed into the house and returned with a camera and a bag full of tomatoes and a cucumber for us.
Feeling refreshed and grateful for Dmitrius’ generosity, we start up the next mountain. The grade was mellow, but the sun was brutal. There was absolutely no shade and no breeze, so the climbing was hard. Chandler is a much stronger climber than I am and far ahead of me, so I was free to cry without worrying him. I pretty much cried my whole way up the hill. Even though I drank several liters of water, I felt like I was going to pass out from dehydration. On the last bend, I noticed a series of switchbacks leading even higher up the mountain, which was the last straw and I just began sobbing. Just a bit further along, I saw another road actually heading down the mountain, which I hoped was the primary road.
I also noticed Chandler’s bike parked on the side of the road with him clinging to the side of a small rock underneath a tiny bush. The bush produced the smallest amount a shade, but it was enough to cover both of us. When I pulled up to Chan’s bike, he jumped out of the shade and grabbed my bike and again sent me to the shade while he took care of everything. As he made us a bread, oil, tomato and feta snack, he told me that before he saw the bush he actually considered crouching in the miniscule shade next to some beehives, just to get some relief.
Feeling much better after our break, we pedaled off under the blazing sun, but this time heading down the hill. Our relief was temporary as we soon began slowly climbing uphill again. We had assumed it was all downhill to Ioannina after we made it over the pass, so we were especially disappointed to be working so hard. Just as I had begun to cry again, we spotted a spring on the side of the road. It may have been a blessed spring as it was right next to a small stone church in the middle of nowhere. We filled all our empty bottles, drank and drank and drank and refilled. We splashed or faces and hair with the cool water. It is really amazing how much better we feel after putting water on our bodies.
Finally on our last push to town, we started talking about pizza. We decided that we would eat an entire pizza each ourselves. We opted for a route through a farming neighborhood instead of the highway. The road naturally took us over another giant hill. At this point, we just laughed at how ridiculous the day turned out. The last few miles into town are thankfully all downhill.
Once in town, we pull over at the first pizza place. The owners are hanging around outside and watch as we park our bikes, take off helmets and gloves and prepare to sit down. Chan goes to order when the woman says that the place is closed. That was the straw that broke the camel’s back and I started crying again. I was turning into such a baby. I cried the next 3 miles through town when Chandler noticed another pizza place. After confirming with the young guy running the place that the joint was open, we ordered a large margarita pizza each. The pizza was really good, and worth the splurge.
Everything was right in the world again. We found a room no problem right next to some sort of cave and settled in for a relaxing night.