Greetings from Atina

Yo peeps,

Greetings from Atina!!!

Well I made it. The European leg of my journey is complete. It’s a very tired yet mildly euphoric Craig sitting here. Just over 3000 miles in total in 46 days for an average mileage of 65 miles per day. I’ve had two rest days since leaving England and used a campsite 3 times. The rest has been hard riding and hard sleeping along with some fantastic experiences.

First of all I’d like to thank everyone for their support so far. I don’t think I would have gotten this far without you. The phone calls, the emails and the general well wishes have been over whelming. Obviously my closest friends have been fantastic as I expected. More surprising has been the support from people I hardly know. People I haven’t even met or only met once in my life. In an age of cynicism it’s great to experience such altruism. One of my hopes was that this would increase my faith in people and it has.

Sleeping on the beach

I’ll start with the positives about Greece. It’s a beautiful country as most of you know. When I saw the Aegean sea, it was incredibly emotional. The last time I’d seen the sea was in Denmark and it was an immense feeling knowing I’d cycled from the Baltic to the Aegean sea.

Aegean Sea

The great thing about this journey is that you get to see the real aspects of a country. It’s the Greek love of hospitality that’s stood out for me. On numerous occasions I’ve entered a cafe on my own for a bite to eat and been asked to join a group of people. I’ve had no idea what they’ve been talking about but like the English, the Greeks just shout at you if you don’t speak the language. They also have a habit of slapping you affectionately which is great but they tend to be big hearty slaps from big hearty men and after 3000 miles I don’t have much meat left to absorb the blows. I met a bloke in a small fishing village in NE Greece. He was obviously the town lothario even at over 60 and after insisting he cooked me a meal we sat watching the sea while he shouted at me and slapped me heartily. That represented Greece for me and it was by no means an isolated example of the hospitality I’ve experienced while here.

As some of you will know I’m mildly asthmatic. This seems to have completely disappeared on my journey and I haven’t used my inhaler since Newcastle. Ben the Frenchmen joked that maybe I’m allergic to England. I was trying to figure out which European country I’d choose as an alternative and it’d be Greece for me. The weather is obviously perfect for what I’m doing and I’ve slept under the stars every night since I arrived with no fear of rain. The downside of this is that it makes for tough cycling but I modified my cycling slightly and tried to make sure I was up with the sun and so got a good 30-40 miles in before the heat got unbearable. Then I’d find a cafe and sit and get shouted at and slapped till it cooled down.

Greek Mainland

The downside to Greece is the hills. It’s a seriously mountainous country and unlike other countries in Europe, the nature of the mountains means it’s impossible to go round them. Usually I’ve tried to stay close to the motorway as one thing I’ve learnt is that motorway engineers know their hills. The secondary roads have still been tough as they would have been built before people had the means to blast through mountains or build bridges so they tend to wind up the side of the mountain. Sometimes I’d be climbing for ages and look down to find out that even though I’d covered plenty of ground as the crow flies, I’d moved maybe 20 feet. One day I got a bit bored of following the motorway and set off for the coast which turned out to be a bit of a mistake. To get back on track again I had to cross a 1500m mountain. I reckon I was climbing for over an hour and, if my math is correct, it was an average incline of 15%. Bessie doesn’t like mountains at the best of times and it was tough climb. At one point I cycled through a section of fruit trees and it seemed like every fly within a 5 mile radius decided to swarm me. If I stood still I reckon I had upwards of 60 flies following me. 6 miles an hour got it down to 40. At about 10 miles an hour they disappeared but 10 miles an hour wasn’t really on the cards so, when shouting at them didn’t work (flies don’t seem to take things personally), I wrapped my shirt round my head and used it as a make-shift mossie net. God knows what people thought of the mad Englishmen swearing his way up the mountain with a shirt wrapped around his head.

Annoying Fly Mountain

At some point, my minimal daily target of 60 miles per day turned into 80 miles. The strange thing about Greece is that I found it difficult to motivate myself. I think this was for a combination of reasons. For one, cycling in Greece doesn’t really feel right. Imagine you find yourself in Greece, you’re on holiday and you’ve just woken up. Naturally you’re looking forward to a day by the pool but someone comes along and says you have to cycle 80 miles in 32C heat. It felt a bit like that. I’d wake up, look at the beach and head off into the hills. I think the other problem was that after Serbia, the numerous distractions were just too tempting. The Greeks are experts at predicting when and where you want to buy something so, on numerous occasions, I’d climb some monster hill and there’d be a little Greek guy with ice-cream and ice-cold coke standing at the top. Sometimes they’re a bit too enthusiastic and at the top of one climb, I noticed an out-of-business shop which had sold jeans. I have no idea who’d want to buy jeans at the top of a mountain in 32C heat and the answer is obviously nobody. I think the other problem is that Greece was the last country of my European leg and when I arrived at the border it felt like I should be finished. I’d aimed for Greece for so long, it’s like I expected something and that something wasn’t another 500 miles of monster hills. The 50 miles I did this morning was unusually difficult. My body suddenly decided it was time to remind me of all the aches and pains that I’d been ignoring for the last 3000 miles. I know it’s just psychological though as I’d gotten this far without noticing them.

Now I’m in Athens. I friend had told me that the Greek drivers are crazy and, up until I hit Athens, I’d assumed he was just making it up. Man I’ve never seen such chaos. I’d like to say it works but on the way in I saw two car accidents and some guy get knocked off his scooter. You have to cycle assuming the guy behind you knows what he’s doing even though everything in front of you pretty much contradicts this assumption. Initially I rode like I do in England, all polite and ordered but I wasn’t getting anywhere so I started following the examples of the scooter riders and made it here unscathed. Still, with that and the heat, it’s great training for SE Asia.

I’ve booked myself into a hotel for a couple of days. My original plan was to campsite it but the one I headed for turned out to be closed so I headed for the nearest hotel. I’m happy I have as, ignoring the cost, it’s great to have my own space just to sort myself out. I had my first bath in about 10 days when I got to my room and the bath looks like a water buffalo’s had a wash in there. It’s great to have a bit of time to do things like wash clothes, camping kit and do some bike maintenance. Bessie has taken a bit of pounding and some work will be needed for SE Asia. Now I have to organise the next stage of my journey and the complexities of traveling with a bike and 30kgs of equipment. It’ll be interesting to see what the airline make of all this. Macmillan have kindly provided me with a letter explaining the nature of my journey so hopefully this will give me some leverage but we’ll see.

At a personal level I was trying to figure out what and if anything has changed. I’ve lost weight. Probably in the region of 7-10 kgs. I also seem to have picked up numerous cuts and bruises. My feet is the thing I’ve noticed the most, probably because I stare at them when I’m groveling my way up the mountains. They’ve gone all dark, hard and with numerous cuts and scars. With the feet and the weight loss I look a bit like a Mexican fruit picker. Like I’ve spent too much time outside and not enough time in the bath. Apologies to any Mexican fruit pickers on the mailing list btw. Someone told me I look like Jesus the other day which opens me up for plenty of Christ on a Bike jibes.

Mentally, I’ve obviously gotten tougher. One of the most important aspects of this journey is patience. I know it sounds strange but it takes a lot of patience to continuously get up every morning and put those miles in. Most days you barely make a dent in your map. It also requires motivation. Many a day I’ve just wanted to lie there and watch the world go by instead of tackling the hills I know are waiting for me. My confidence has increased as well. Some people would argue that my confidence wasn’t really an issue but it’s different. Whereas before, I’d never feel at ease in situations outside my comfort zone, now I do. It feels easy to talk to complete strangers whereas before it didn’t. As mentioned, my faith in people has increased. The kindness and interest shown has been fantastic. I’ve also experienced an increased interest in people and places. I mean an interest at a personal level rather than what you’re read in a newspaper. When a guy says he’s Albanian and definitely NOT Serbian why is it so important to him and what aspects of Albanian history is he so proud of? It’s these things that I want to find out. It’s a strange trip because it’s like you want to do it over and over. You want to do it once and find out what you don’t know, stop and educate yourself and then go back again and find out what you still don’t know. It’s also shown me the travesty of border controls which keep talented people from traveling and increased my belief that the European Union should be continuously expanded to give those people a chance to prosper. I know people worry about the homogenisation of cultures but from what I’ve seen, people are still culturally proud whether part of the EU or not.

All of this is given me thoughts about what I want to do with my future. The thoughts aren’t complete as yet but they’re getting there. I have another 13000 miles or so to make them concrete and then hopefully, this journey will have given me the motivation and discipline to put them into action. As with everything, we’ll have to see. 13000 miles is a long way and there’s plenty of things to come. Both good and bad.

Anyways I’m off to enjoy Athens now, have a few drinks, relax and enjoy a good hot meal. Once again apologies for the introspective nature of the email but 10 hours a day on a bike is a lot of time to think. My next email will probably be from Thailand so bye until then.

As always, lots of love,

Craig.

XXX

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