Six AM and Ben and I are jamming stuff back into our panniers, ready to get going. Arms full of food, I squat down to fill our food bags. Halfway, I’m met with searing pain in my back. I recoil and the awkward movement unbalances me. In an instant I find myself flat on my butt amidst the sea of our gear. Attempting to downplay the incident, I try to hop back up, but it is too late. Ben is already looking at me with concern. All day yesterday I wrestled pain from my low back, hoping it would clear up, but today, I simply know it will be tagging along on what we hope will be a nearly 60 mile ride.
The ride out of town leaves me so worried. This much pain should be a dead stop for riding a bike but we are too far from anywhere to have any other real options unless we wish to be stuck in Thiva forever. If we can just crank out one more day, a ferry will take us away to the island of Skiathos where we can start making a better plan for managing my injury. And so we press on.
The morning is iced with cloud cover and a bit of wind skates through. I’m happy to note I’m a little cold. The light dances on the hills. I am outside on my bike. Though my body feels stiff, this is my happy place. Fear gets folded up and stuck in my panniers.
Five miles in and the road which isn’t in our GPS anyway turns to gravel. The freeway runs next to us, but high up in the air. We can’t get on without a long backtrack and ten extra miles would be a big setback. The gravel road might dead-end too but turning back is unappealing. We roll the dice and keep going. (The picture proof of that moment shows my un-surety about this plan.)
Off-road riding has never been my strong suit. In fact, I am downright terrible on a mountain bike. I wouldn’t have felt confident riding this road unloaded on my mountain specific bike at home, much less this loaded one with street tires on it. I expect to feel scared of crashing but to my surprise, once I commit to the task and set to doing it, I am perfectly capable of riding this trail. Slowly, we teeter around the lake, lit up beautifully with silvery sun. I am glad we chose to come this way.
The a closer study of the GPS indicates that this path should eventually join up to the freeway, so even when the gravel road turns into a rough trail that would best most four door sedans, we keep riding. Ben rides a bit faster than I do, and before long, he is just out of site. At one point he comes back to help me, assuming I would have gotten off to push over the uneven terrain, and instead was surprised to find me still atop my steed, cranking away. Pain in my back clung to me as I went but my mind was focused on keeping the rubber side down.
A while later, I pull up behind Ben, who has stopped, gazing at the top of the hill, amused to note that the freeway is indeed right near the end of the road. The bad news is that the road ahead of us further degrades into a loose slide of rocks, a poor hiking trail at best. Like he does, Ben wordlessly hops off and gets right to work, heaving his bike up the steep incline. Wishing I always seemed as I un-phased, I laugh, cringe a little and follow suit. He returns to help me with my load, and together, we coerce the bikes to the side of the freeway.
Triumphant, we stand together at the top, looking back at where we’ve just been and remarking that our views were every bit as nice as Lake Como. Then, we turn, weave our bikes around the cement barrier to the freeway and join the speeding traffic.
Freeway riding always strikes me as a bad idea, but in this case, the shoulder is clean and at least 8 feet wide. The ambiance is lacking but it the going is safe and easy-a welcome change. We coast happily for a while before stopping outside an auto shop for a snack.
The mechanics soon come outside, bid us “Bon appetite!” and of course, ask if we need water. One shepherds us inside to the fridge where he fills our bottles with a cold jug. Though I may worry about injury, the weather, and about steep terrain, I cannot deny how safe I feel here, with Greek generosity lining our way.
Back on the road, we take a short break from the freeway and start to head uphill over our only mountain pass of the day. Ben stops frequently to photograph tortoises on the side of the road. Gusty wind keeps us cool.
Within an hour, we summit the pass, rejoin the highway and head downhill. Halfway down, an intense crosswind shoves me hard sideways and I feel the fear, coming up on me from behind. Semi trucks are keeping us constant company, adding to the odd windy situation and reminding me that a spill could have dire consequences. My back is hurting and I’m perched on my bike in an awkward position, slowing my reaction times. I’m hanging on to my handlebars like they are my last hope and my mind is completely running away with me. And then, I remember. Fear is only a mechanism to keep me safe. Is there anything I can do to help myself be safer in this moment? Stopping won’t help, and there is no other way down this hill. I am riding in a wide shoulder and no one is anywhere near hitting me. I also remember that I’ve survived hundreds of crosswinds before and though I don’t like them, I’ve never actually crashed in the wind. I slow down, keep pedaling, and the fear drifts off behind me. Triumph.
Safely at the bottom, we pedal on with the coast now in sight. The landscape in Greece has reminded me so very much of Utah that I hardly felt like we’d really left, but the smell of seawater jerked me across the continent and an entire ocean, reminding exactly where I am and why we’ve come. The rest of our day is spent in view of the ocean with sea breezes cooling our faces. The heat that so menaced us just a couple of days ago is now only a minor bother.
My back is searingly uncomfortable, but mostly only when we stop and start, go downhill, and when I need to accelerate or check my balance. Since we’re cruising along the highway and at a really good clip, my pain is low and manageable, and I can really focus on the scenery. Beautiful flowered bushes line the highway. This mornings frosting of clouds have bloomed into puffy white ones that stretch across the landscape. We are so lucky to be here.
Just as I start to realize that I’m really ready for lunch, Ben announces that we’re only 10 kilometers from Agios Konstantinos, our port town destination. We stop for a cookie and some photos and then quickly propel ourselves into town, marveling at what a beautiful day we’ve had on the bike.
Once we arrive in the unassuming beach town, we buy a cold juice and get cozy in the park where we spend the next three hours eating, reading, talking, working on our bicycles, and befriending the old park dog, who followed us around for the rest of the evening.
When the ticket office finally opens, I head over to buy tickets to Skiathos, a nearby island where we plan to really vacation, swimming and sightseeing from a central base for a few days, and allowing us both time to work. I’m ridiculously anxious to get on this ferry, because if for some reason we don’t, we may have to cover another hundred or so miles by bicycle to catch it out of Volos, and I’m in too much pain to find that a very compelling option.
After a bit of runaround, the agent informs us that it is normally impossible for bicycles to go on the ferry, but just this once they might make an exception. This explanation baffles me, but I nod appreciatively anyway, hoping to keep this woman on my side. She calls the captain of the boat to verify, and once he learns that our bikes break down to half size with couplers, he agrees to let us on.
I dread breaking the bikes completely down, only to reassemble them in a dark port town, but when the ferry arrives, no one mentions it. We simply wheel the fully loaded bikes on board, bungee them to the deck, and sit down like everyone else. So much for impossible.Two hours later, I’m green with sea sickness, and we disembark in nighttime blackness.
We walk past a crowd of people trying to convince us to use their hotel rooms- we are determined to head out of town. The “plan” was to head up to a wildly inexpensive hotel we’d read about online, with ocean views and a brilliant reputation, and so it is, that we climb back on our bikes and climb up and over the hill to the next cove. We shove the bikes up the steep steep hill, following the signs to the hotel. Beautiful though it may be, the resort is closed up tight. No further signs note a reception area and there is no bell or night manager. Perhaps we should have made a reservation?
A bit deflated, we ask around at a couple of nearby hotels, end up with some expensive price quotes, and finally, head back into town to find a cheap place for the night. The restaurants are still lively, but at 11:00, the lodging in town is locked up tight. I’m excruciatingly tired, our day began at 6:00 AM and in my fatigue, am finding difficult and excruciatingly painful to weave my heavy bike through pedestrian traffic. I am out of patience for being homeless and I feel my emotion rising in my throat. Resilient as ever, Ben actually seems to be having a great time puttering around in the dark but resourcefully directs us block by block, checking with various hotels for an open front door. We try half dozen places before we finally check into the first open place that reopens on our behalf. They agree to put our bikes indoors and welcome us inside.
I practically crash into bed.