Butterflies. As we packed up our bikes and pointed them north, the knowledge that we needed to ride out of the metropolis of Athens was making me really nervous. The city boasts some intense traffic and the roads aren’t great either. Also, did I mention that neither of us have attempted a real ride on a loaded bike yet this year?
Although the traffic was indeed busy, Ben carefully crafted our route through the most residential streets we could find, ultimately making for an uneventful ride out of the city. I had one near miss with an uneven road that nearly bucked me right off, but mostly, things were going great. The suburban, and eventually industrial sprawl lacked character or interest but we didn’t care a bit. Despite the lackluster scenery, we were feeling really good because to our surprise, Greek drivers remind us a lot of French ones- they are terribly polite!
Normally, big trucks are a cycling menace, but more than once today the drivers of the big rigs came to our aid, carefully tailing us during otherwise tight spots in the road, both refraining from passing us during a critical moment and also preventing anyone else from going by. Other cars gave friendly honks and waved as we went by, and soon my nerves were completely at ease, leaving me alone with my thoughts as we cranked away the morning. I couldn’t believe how simple it had been to get out of Athens and how well we were both riding despite a complete lack of cycling specific training. The air was powdered with flowery smells and the traffic gave us more than enough space.
Thankfully, the early morning hours were cool and nice, but as the morning faded into high noon, we remembered just how hot it has been over the last few days. We’d easily burned through our breakfast. We’d pedaled almost 40 miles in three hours- a huge accomplishment considering that most of those miles were stop and go city miles. At that point, we needed to make a grocery store stop, and we needed to get out of the sun for a bit. Realizing that camping was also seeming out of the question (so, so hot, and not an ounce of shade in sight) we also started thinking about where we might find a hotel.
We pulled into a grocery store in a nearby town for some lunch items and some ice cream (we ate the whole carton) and then headed across the street to sit under a tree and eat. A local man hanging out in the park must have watched us try the nearby water spigot without much luck, because soon, he had come over do ask us, “did you need water?” We nodded, hoping he’d point us in the direction of a working spout, we were a bit puzzled as he turned and disappeared. Five or so minutes later, he returned with a shopping bag full of bottles of cold water!
Baffled by his kindness, we chatted for a few minutes as he explained to us how about the poor employment situation in Greece and about his upcoming trip to Germany. We aren’t exactly sure, but I think he may have also told us we were welcome to eat in his home. Soon, he turned to rejoin his friends, and we got back to eating.Although his simple act of kindness only took a few minutes, it hit me hard how easy it could be to make someone’s day.
We’d been told there we no local hotels in town, so we broke out the computer to try to figure out our next move.With the aid of unexplainable free wifi in the park, we realized that the nearest room was nearly 15 miles away, but at least it was in the right direction. . A bit reluctantly, we hopped back on to finish our day. Now well into afternoon, the day was blazing. We caught a few miles of impressive speeds fueled by tailwind before it turned on us, transforming the rolling hilly terrain into an uphill treadmill. We pedaled and pedaled all while the traffic picked up and the wind blew harder and we hardly went anywhere. The sun was broiling us from above and my skin felt as though it would catch fire. Knowing that sunburn was inevitable even despite a couple of rounds of sunscreen, and ignoring the pinching pain in my back, we carried on.
I was starting to get completely overwhelmed by how rotten my body was feeling-it is one thing to be tired and even extremely tired, but I was rolling straight into downright exhaustion- the kind you don’t recover from for days. I knew Ben was also dealing with awful chafing, together we lamented how long these last 15 miles were taking. In either event, there was nothing to do but get back on and keep going, even at a snail’s pace. The cold water in my bottles was my only remaining comfort, and the kindness that had brought them to us kept me company while we suffered. Naturally, our intended hotel was up a steep hill to the main street in Thiva, supposedly the birthplace of Hercules and Dionysos. By that point, I couldn’t muster up the go in my legs to tackle the short, steep town roads, and I had to get off twice to push. Ben of course, powered right on through, coming back to help me finish my loaded walk.
Once safely at the top, the hotel we arrived at seemed closed indefinitely, but luckily another place was waiting just around the corner. I frankly think we would have paid whatever the guy in the lobby asked- we just needed to be “home” for the night, but he kindly worked us out a deal and offered to store our bikes in the lobby. The hotel was overly nice for us to be wheeling two dirty bikes through, but the hotel staff paid us no mind. That was a long first day on the road!