Posted on Leave a comment

No One of Consequence

May 22, 2019

Volos, Greece

It is still Greece.  A word hodgepodge.  Or maybe a happening hodgepodge.
Today was the longest distance day of this journey, around 75 kms.  Around because I had backtrack some as the Greek Air Force guard with a big gun would not let me use the best road, just because it ran across the runway.  What a little mind.  

Elena & Juan

The last 2 days I have spent with a wonderful German woman cyclist I met while saying goodbye to Yannis, the owner of the bicycle rental store where we repaired my bike.   Yannis and  I had a couple of meals with and a lot conversation together as you read earlier.  Elena has been cycling Greece for almost a month and is just a couple of weeks away from returning to Germany.  We did not cycle together but met 2 nights for an evening together.  Before you get some other impression her road boy friend Juan was also present.   

A little note about Juan.  He walked from Barcelona to Athens as the first part of his journey.  He is planning to walk from Athens to Sidney across the China, Russia, you get the idea.  
The first night we met at a closed camping ground.  The second at a thermal bath town.  The first I made the meal and she the salad.  We enjoyed them at a table and chairs I barrowed from a nearby site.  It is wonderful to have a table and chair for dinner.
As we identified the north star and the big dipper from the beach we toasted each other as 3 freak travelers while watching the true travelers.   The second we prepared a joint meal in the city park where the thermal waters flowed into the sea.  

After spending $8 for 2 nights camping and zero for a third I spent $30 for a hotel room in a spa hotel with thermal baths.  Last night I spent $30 also for a great small apartment right on the shore.  Tonight the same $30 for a small room in an ok hotel.  
Greece is not flat but today I did find a big valley of almost all flat roads.  The wind has been at my back for the entire time in Greece, but I have always been climbing.  Today the wind was in my face.  Not sure how to explain that.


Big city tonight.  Not my favorite thing.  Needed to get some gear from places only big cities have.  Did find a brewery.  As I sit talking with you I am drinking a “Strong Ale” from them.  I am also watching from my balcony, the sunset over the bay on a balmy evening.  
Did not meet a soul of any consequence for me today.

–Bill H.

Posted on Leave a comment

Failed

May 15, 2019

Chalkida, Euboea, Greece

I failed today. I failed big time. I just could not do it. It was too much.  

The day started well enough. A very nice, cool morning, good ride along the sea.         After such a wonderful time with the restaurant owners and their friends I was ready for a long day in the saddle. I had planned 127 kms with some serious climbing.        

I rode the coast road for about 20kms with a few ups and downs before a long climb began. It went up steeply about 3 miles. I could see a snow covered peak in the distance from the top. As I looked down into the valley ahead and at the map I could see that there was no paved road out from the very small village on the cove.

Normally I like to use Google Maps for bicycle route finding. In Greece Google maps will not find bicycle routes, only car and walking. I had been using walking but with some problems, like one way streets and narrow paths but nothing serious until today. I stood for a while at the top looking into the valley and then at the map knowing in my mind that I most likely was facing a dirt road out. A pickup stopped and asked if I needed help. I asked about the way out and they confirmed it was a dirt road climb. I have done these before and was not too worried.

“Go to the church and turn left. Stay to right as you come to forks.” OK, with additional information from others I knew it was only about 13 kms to the paved road. What I did not know was the angle of the climb. I started up.

After about a ¼ km the road became paved. The angle increased from about 10% to around 15%, then it got steep. I was in my lowest gear and working very hard. I looked ahead and saw that it was really going to go up. It was more than I had in me. I am not sure about how steep but it was beyond my capabilities.         Already at my maximum the road was soon to be dirt again and the angle increasing. I knew I could not do this for 10 miles.

I turned and headed back down the hill thinking I will climb back the way I came and go the longer way. As I began the big paved road climb I shifted down again to my lowest gear. The chain made its way to the big cog and continued into the rear wheel. All stopped. I knew better than to peddled and got off the bike. But it was too late. With all the force on the pedals the chain was completely locked onto the rear hub.

After about 30 mins I had the cassette loose and the chain off. Now I could assess the damage. The rear derailleur was bent as was the part of the frame that held it on. In addition other parts of the rear shifter were damaged. The last car I had seen was about an hour ago. This was a very remote and small village. The only solution was to fix what I could and ride out.

Then a pick up passed by and gestured to ask if I needed help. Yes, I did.         They stopped and in broken English said they would be back in 1 hour. In about 20 mins another pickup stopped and I recognized the driver as the man who had spoken with me at the top before I descended into his town. As it turned out it was “his” town.

Bill, is the police, town maintenance chief, water supplier and general everything. He asked what he could do. I needed a bench vice and some other tools. We loaded the bike on top of the wood with exposed nails that filled his pickup.         To his house we went. There we accomplished as much repair as possible.         I realized that sufficient repair to get over the mountain was not possible. Bill offered to take me to Chalkida where he knew there was a bike shop. I had come from Chalkida the day before. I hate U turns.

We loaded the bike into his car and then he suggested a cup of coffee. We talked a long time. Then Bill asked if I had eaten. No, so he asked his wife to prepare a meal. A nice meal of a cheese covered pasta, fried sardines, feta cheese blocks and a chick pea dish. All was very good served with a bread type I have never tasted.

We talked more with his wife and children.         He seemed to be at a crossroads in his life.         The town demanded a lot from him and provided his house. He felt a little trapped in this remote village. So many I meet seemed to have lost their planned life path. I think it is my way of life that brings out such feelings. I do wonder if it is not just a temporary longing generated by their perception of what the life of a traveler is.

After dinner we proceeded to Chalkida. Bill’s business partner in a shooting range owned a hotel and arranged a room for me in case it took time to order the parts.         As soon as possible we went to the shop, which was across the street from the hotel. They had the right part and would repair the bike within the hour!         As it was already after 6 Bill and I sat in the restaurant and talked for a while. He returned to his family and obligation and I went to retrieve my bike.

Tomorrow I will take a different route to go north.         I hope success is found on that route.

–Bill H.

Posted on Leave a comment

About an Injury

May 11th, 2019

Just a quick story about an injury.   Not really a big deal but none the less a different kind of method and outcome.
Leaving camp this morning the road was a 4 lane divided national highway.  I had a choice, ride against traffic for 50 meters or ride away from my direction for the day and then turn around at a crossover.  I started to ride against traffic and decided it was a bad idea and turned around.  As I did so a car came out of a driveway and forced me to turn onto the sidewalk.  I missed the turn a little and had to grab a metal post.  The top of the post was jagged and rusty.  It tore my had deeply for about an inch and a half. Not fun.
What do I do.  I put a band aide on it and rode to find a pharmacy. In a couple of blocks there on the right was what I wanted.  I entered and asked if they spoke English.  I explained what had occurred and the lady asked to see the damage.  It was not pretty, but she persevered.  A new style of bandage, antibiotics and a tetanus shot were prescribed.  Soon she had all that was needed. Asking her male assistant to administer the shot,  she put the bandage on the hand telling be to change it in 2 hours and apply the antibiotic cream.  He took me into a private room and administered the shot.  All this in about 15 mins and at a cost of less than $20.
In many countries pharmacies do much more than in the US.  Often more like a mini urgent care facility.

–Bill H.

Posted on Leave a comment

Drosia

May 14, 2019

The beach!

A wonderful little non tourist beach.  Most of the businesses are still closed from the winter.  I am mostly alone in the campground.  I found one restaurant open last evening of the many here.  But what a find!

I walked down the shore line road to find this open air, patio style bar and eatery.  When I entered there were no other customers, just the staff setting up and arranging things.  I sat down and waited.  They appeared not to see me, although I knew they did.  Finally a woman came over and asked if I was going to just drink or if I might have something to eat.  A strange way to open the conversation.  She continued not giving me a chance to answer.  Maybe a small plate of something to eat with my beer.  I had not yet ordered a beer.  She continued on talking offering options but not stopping to give me the opportunity to choose.  Finally she stopped and just looked at me.  I looked back and said nothing.  I could see this was a game of sorts.

After a while she named some beers and walked off.  She reappeared a little later with a plate of food and a beer.  The food as you can see was a topess type of plate.  I could not tell for sure what most of it was.  I did recognize the spinach with feta cheese, but others were new to me.  As it turned out the white things were chicken in a  cream and onion sauce and a meat ball.  Still not sure what type of meat.

As I ate, yes for those that know I do not eat chicken I did eat it,  I began watching a man building a driftwood sculpture.  He was very good at seeing what should be placed where and when.  I looked around the room and saw many, many uses of driftwood.   Some amazing pieces just placed here and there and others assembled in various  ways.  I walked over to watch more closely and asked if he spoke English.  This is the standard opening for all my conversations in Greece.  He did not or maybe a little. 

I had been watching for a while when who I thought was the bar tender asked me where I was from.  Then he asked why I was here on this a local’s beach in off season. Soon we were moving to the music that he was playing from his lap top over the bar’s speaker system and in a deep conversation.  We were joined by the waitress and the cook.  They were interested in how I came to be in this place.

I discovered the he was not the bar tender and she was not the waitress.  He, Dimitris was the real sculpturer and she the owner.  Although she described herself as the wife of the owner.  When I told them I had bicycled here the interest grew and the owner got on the phone telling her husband to come to the bar.  I was asked where I was going and when I said Norkapp the interest excelerated.  Turns out Norkapp is a big goal of Greek motorcyclists of which she and her husband are.  They have this goal, as she said.

Now more people arrived and it was time for me to go as I wanted to be on the road a little early in the morning.  I had a 80 kms day planned through some small mountains on the way to Delphi.  But no, I could not leave until the husband arrived.  He did very shortly and we talked a little.  Saying I must go he invited me to breakfast in the morning at 10 so we could talk a little more.  That would too late for me to leave so I decided to stay another day.

Breakfast was excellent!  Not for the food, but the company.  Reina and Tasos, the wife and husband both came along with the apprentice sculpturer and several others.  The conversation was a mix of Greek, English, pleasure and business. 

I had my first cappuccino, along with a toasted ham, tomato and cheese sandwich and a loquat.  What is a loquat?  Sort of like a smaller cumquat but different tasting.  Helpful, right?  You can look it up.  

I had a few errands to run and excused myself but not before Tasos gave the name and address of a friend in a town I was going to pass through.  He told me to please stop and meet his friend.  I will if possible.

Tonight I will stop by the bar for a little while.  Tomorrow I must get moving early.

Meeting others is such a large part of travel for me.   

–Bill H.

Posted on Leave a comment

Cheese and a Mistake

May 10

Nea Marki

Big cities are always a challenge to enter or leave and Athens did not find itself to be an exception.  In addition to the traffic, learning how they drive and that 2 wheeled vehicles pay little attention to traffic control devices like traffic lights there were the hills.  Just little ones, like a ½ mile and gentle like 13 to 15%.  But the good thing was there were not many like 20 or 30 or maybe more, I lost track.  Just up and up and up. 

Down, you ask?  Not that I found, just up.

How can that be, you ask?  Why do you have so many questions?

At the end there was one down.  It went on and on.  Not a good hill as the road was in very serious need of repair, had many intersections, and many twists and turns. 

Complain, complain that’s all you do.  First about the ups and then the downs. Don’t you like cycling? 

Ok, actually I did enjoy the leaving of Athens on a bike.  It gave me confidence that I was getting strong again and that hills were not going to be a problem.  Also that I could still find my way around.  Good things, but if there is no conflict there is no story.  So, if I have to suffer so do you.

Last night I stopped at the local cheese and wine store that also had fresh fruit and some other small store items.  I asked the ladies to help me prepare a small meal of cheese, meat, bread and wine for my last meal in Athena.  They took over, running around the store selecting this and that.  Cutting cheeses and meats, picking the right bread but when came to the wine the little one took me by the hand and pulled me to the wine rack.  She had no idea which wine.  I told her a dry red Greek would do fine.  After much discussion we came to an agreement.  She insisted that I stop at the store in the morning before leaving Athena to tell her how I liked the wine. 

–Bill H.

Posted on Leave a comment

Athens (Still)

May 8th 2019

More Flight

The gentleman sitting next to me on the Phoenix to Frankford had a GoPro and another camera out and was filming when I sat down.  Wow, I will bet his friends and family never ask him about his trip, I thought.  Turns out he runs a blog on air travel.  Not about the hotels, taxis or any other part, just the airline.  Apparently he is well know by airline crews as we received great service from the moment we sat down until we left the plane.  We were in the back of business class but were always served first.  When we were asked which main course we wanted filet, vegetarian or fish they neglected to ask which of the 3 starters we wanted.  They did not ask because they gave us all three.  Our glasses were never empty and our needs were anticipated. 

It was interesting watching him film the food, the personale, the seats, which were great. They fully reclined and were very comfortable in every position. I slept very well, unlike other long flights. He continued to film and record comments on all the features of the flight.  He told me he would send me the video when it was released.  Hope he does.

I only had an hour layover scheduled in Frankfort, which I knew was too short.  We left Phoenix about 10 mins late and arrived in Frankfort about 35 mins late.  Then I had to go through immigration.  Never even got the gate for my Athens flight before beginning my search for Condor customer service.  Frankford is a very large airport and it took a while.  When I arrived they had my name on a list for the next Lufthansa flight to Athens leaving in 2 1/5 hours.  Very good service as I have always experienced with Condor.   I have never, hard word to use here, dealt with a Condor representative without seeing them smile and show real joy at doing their job.

As I write this I am drinking typical Greek coffee that I made this morning.  I will not make it tomorrow morning, that is certain. 

The flight to Athens was on time and only a couple of hours in length.  The flight was made even shorter by a father and adult son who were returning from a trade show.  They are owners of a package manufacturing company that is 3 generations old.  Very interesting talking with them. I arrived to find my bike in great condition and took a limousine for the long drive to the city center where I am staying.  It was after all about 2 am. 

A little note on getting into my apartment.  The owner sent me a link to a web page with 2 grey buttons on it.  I hit the top button on my phone screen and it opened the lobby door.  When I got to my apartment door the second screen button opened the apartment door.  After I used them the went away so I had to use the remote keys that were in the apartment there after.  Pretty neat.    

Took a 7 or so mile orientation walk around Athens, doing a little shopping for supplies, getting to know my neighborhood, acquiring a sim card for my phone and generally relaxing.  Tomorrow I will take an Athens tour, contact a couple of cyclists I know here and get a general idea of how to get out of the city by bike.   

The road is calling.

— Bill H.

Posted on Leave a comment

Athens, Almost…

May 8th 2019

 

A long flight,  just about 24 hours.  Aren’t they so much fun.  Who wouldn’t want to have such a day?  It was interesting however. Let’s start with the middle.

Dinner was served.  Ok, at least that was the middle of the time spent getting to Frankfurt.

After a nice lunch with John Burt he dropped me at Phoenix International.  Leaving me at the curb with my bike and bags to deal with Condor Airlines, as he should have.  He did mention once that he might park the car and come in to listen and watch me negotiate their accepting of the unboxed, fully loaded bike.  But in the end he did not want to deal with rush hour traffic.  I was going to charge him for the show anyway.

The counter was closed and would not open for another hour or so.  Off to roam around the airport.  Nothing like pushing a touring bike around an airport.  Many are interested and want to talk.  A flight attendant stopped to compliment the fully matching set up and my clothes that she said demonstrated a professional traveler.  A big boast to my ego.

At 4:30 back to the check-in.  I was now 3rd in line and still the counter was not open.  A representative came over and asked about the bike.  Was this my only baggage, nothing else to check in?   Had I flown with Condor  before with a  bike?  Ok and she moved on.  The staff arrived and a man lowered the stantion ribbon and  told us to go to the scales to weight our baggage.  As I wheeled the bike forward he asked if I had any other baggage.  No, and he told me to go to the counter, weighing was not required at this time.   OK, one big hurdle passed.  Condor had told me that I was limited to 35 kilos, just over 70 pounds.  My bike with all the gear is around 45 kilos.  Could have been an expensive experience.

As the agent was processing my ticket and passport a supervisor approached and asked why I had not boxed the bike.  I said I had spoken with Condor baggage and they told me, “It was recommended that I package the bike but not required.  She said she would check that information and be back.  Meanwhile the check in process continued.  I asked about an upgrade to business class.  Yes, they could do that for $325.  The bike charge was going to be about $175 and if when the supervisor returned and asked to weigh the bike it would be another $150 most likely.  On Condor when flying business class bikes are free and the allowed weigh goes to  50 kilos.  I quickly agreed to upgrade as I had also gotten a very good price on the basic ticket, although I did not know then just how good.

The supervisor returned saying ok but I had to sign a release of airline responsibility.  Bike accepted, upgrade done, off I walked with my handlebar bag and helmet in hand to the business class lounge to while away the 2 plus hours with great service, free food and drink.  There I found out that a one way business class ticket to Frankford was about $1100.  In all I had paid just under  $900 with the bike!   By the way they never asked me to sign the waiver.

Frankfort, next.

–Bill H.

Posted on Leave a comment

Preparation

5/6/2019

What is it like preparing oneself for a journey of unknown duration, route or difficulty?  Even something as simple as the already booked air flight can offer unknown challenges.  How do you resist becoming worried about the cost?  What about lodging, food and unknown dangers?  
One way is not to plan very much.  Don’t try to predict where you will be on a certain day.  Just let each day bring itself to you.  After so many years of finding each day, not planning is what I do.  Recently when traveling with another person this became an area of difficulty.  They expected to know where we were going and what we would encounter when we arrived there.  For me that concept is hard to understand.  
I know what you are thinking.  How is it possible to just strike out and not know the destination?  Sometimes I will plan to stay the night in the next city north when I mount up  in the morning but will never make it to that city.  Something will distract me and my original destination will be completely forgotten.  So, what?  What does it matter?  Many say that it is about the journey and not the destination, but are incapable of living out that philosophy.  
I have told you that I am cycling from Athens, Greece to Norkapp, Norway.  That however is just to give somewhere to start and an idea of what could happen.   The road is far too unknown for me to have any real idea of what I will find as a route or destination.  The path will be decided each day.  In fact EuroVelo 11 is still in early development.  It is not clearly defined, so it fits me perfectly! For many years I would declare  a “Wind Day” before I crawled into my tent for the night.  When I arose on that next day I would ride out of camp with the wind at my back.  The only directional criteria was the wind.  I used to say it prevented me from being tied to having to be in Tucson on Tuesday.  My interest is not where I am going but rather how I get there.    
So, how do I prepare myself for such traveling?  A travel list helps.  Each and every item packed is on that list.  It is a list that has taken many years to develop and provides for the right clothing, bike equipment, camping gear, meal preparation facilities and all needed for a month or a year on the road.  The list prepares me for almost any problem.  Sunny days, storms, snow, broken bike parts or a broken bike itself.  No, hotels, no campground, no store or restaurant, no problem, the list provides for my backup.  What about theft?  How does the list help with that?  On the list and hidden away is $200 dollars.  On the internet is a copy of all my credit cards and the main page of my passport.  All things that the list tells me to do.  How about injury?  The list reminds me to have a first aide kit, my medical cards and emergency evacuation insurance.  What does the list say about routes?  It tells me to have a map.
With the list carefully prepared and following it precisely when gathering and packing my needs a big area of worry is eliminated.  It provides self confidence and restful sleeping.  Yes, many years of doing this helps but remember there was that first trip and that was when the list began.  
As for the unexpected problems.  Remember you are on vacation, don’t let happenstance stress you to the point of acting in such a manner as to increase the problem.  Yelling at the person causing your problem seldom accomplishes your goal of finding a solution.  Many, many times I arrive at the ticket counter and the agent has difficulties checking in my bike.  Even though I have spoken with the airline and gotten permission to fly it the agent is the final word.  I smile and talk with them as a friend.  I explain that I have done this many times, flying around the world to all but the Antarctic continent .  After a while they come to my point of view.  If I started telling them they were wrong and acting in an aggressive manner.  I would only be hurting myself.   
To answer the initial question of how does one prepare for such a journey as the one I have before me?  Confidence generated by being prepared and knowing a journey is about pleasure reduces worry.  Approaching the challenge with the anticipation of learning and meeting new people works well for me. 

–Bill H.

Posted on Leave a comment

Bisbee and Other Interests

The End Continues

May 3rd, Phoenix

John and I through a series of cars and trucks have moved to our wonderful lake  front home.  A complicated, involved, convoluted connection.  

First we cycled to Bisbee, AZ and stayed in a nice 3 bedroom, 3 bath home in the Warren district.  More on Bisbee later.  Upon arrival our hostess, Kim informed us that our scheduled and arranged with difficultly, transportation option had changed.  Gordy, a tourist trolley driver in Tucson had agreed to pick us up in Bisbee and drive us to Tucson.  Kim and her husband Ken would take us to Tucson instead.  Confused yet?  
 
Gordy had arranged our stay with Kim at her Airb&b for a total of $50.00.  We each an on suite bath, a split unit a/c, a great massage chair in the living room provided wonderful relief from the big climbing that riding to Bisbee entailed.  A fantastic stay but on with the story.
 
Our now goal was to retrieve John’s truck from John Burt’s driveway.  Our original plan had been to ride a big loop from Phoenix through Tucson, then to Tombstone, ending the south bound portion in Bisbee.  >From Bisbee we would head a little east and then turn north toward Miami, Globe and back to Apache Junction to Phoenix.  After the difficult ride south we decided to just find our way back to Phoenix and Lake Pleasant.     
 
So, a tour of Bisbee with a wonderful 19 year old in a golf cart.  Facillcia, a recent graduate of Bisbee high provided an excellent introduction to this old copper mining town. Bisbee is a town built in a very steep valley.  The streets climb away from Tombstone Canyon at a very severe angle providing road edge drops offs that maintain your attention when rounding curves on their 1 ½ lanes.  The open sided golf cart provides little reassurance against a good rolling return to the center of town.  At the end of the tour  a sarsaparilla was not sufficient to calm our nerves.  Something a little stronger was required. 

Ken and I worked on an old  rusted receiver hitch bike rack trying to get in a condition that would provide the bicycles security for the trip to Tucson.  By the way, that is pronounced Toosoan.  Removing the rusted bolts, lubricating the pivot points and cleaning the contract places, the rack became usable again after many years of loneliness sitting in the barn.  
 
At 8am we departed to retrieve the rental car from the Tucson airport.  By 1pm we were loading the bikes on John’s truck and were headed to 3 nights at Lake Pleasant.  Not an easy couple of days, but interesting.  We met several very good people, saw a lot of western history and learned a little more of how touring can provide its own challenges.
 
John left today to return home and I moved in with John Burt to await my flight.   Maybe a local ride or 2 with John B. 

–Bill H.