Winded

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Though the wind and the insects had completely silenced in the night, the gusty weather was waiting in the wings for morning. We woke up at 5:30 sharp, with the first signs of dawn, and packed up our camp, hoping to be on the road before the farm workers made it out to the fields. Even as we packed, the wind blew our tent every which way, reminding us that any ride could easily be foiled by the forces of nature.

As we rolled out of the orchard, I silently felt grateful for the beautiful orchard that had housed us and for the farmer who cultivated it. All morning long, we never again saw such a suitable place for camping and I was immensely glad that we’d found such a lovely, safe spot when we did.

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The scenery lining the road looked and smelled so similar to home, I kept feeling as though we were riding the Cache Valley Century in Logan. I felt simultaneously as comfortable as if I were home, and baffled that we’d traveled so far to see the such striking similarities. With the familiar plants of home lining our way, my nose accelerated from a run to a sprint, leaving me sniffles that lasted all day. Still, the morning was blissfully cool and my body was happy to be atop my bike, my usual aches and pains fading into the morning breeze.

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Two blustery, traffic filled hours later, we rolled into yesterday’s intended destination, Larissa, feeling fairly optimistic at our progress. After all, it was only 8 in the morning. We made a quick supply stop, in which I accidentally purchased fizzy water (my least favorite) and got back to work, pedaling across the scrubby landscape. We hoped to make it to Trikala, 60 more kilometers away, where we’d catch a hotel for the night.

We kept pace with our excellent progress for a while until slowly, we started noticing our breezy companion morphing into what felt like a cyclone, attempting to carry us all the way back to the sea. Almost immediately, our progress shrunk to a mere 12 km an hour, down from our normal 25-28 kph pace. From that point, we struggled for every bit of ground we covered, stopping ever five to ten kilometers to catch our breath. I felt as though we were pedaling up a swift moving river current, our destination never getting any closer.

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We had however, caught a bit of a break. The northbound highway lane was closed, forcing both directions of traffic to share a lane, a situation that seemed precarious at best for cyclists. Instead, we steered around the barriers, riding on the newly sealed road with pavement all to ourselves. We were still inching along, mashing in our climbing gears even though the road was almost dead flat, but at least we had space to move as we took turns breaking wind for each other. A couple of construction barriers impeded our progress along the way. Once, we lifted the loaded bikes over the divider and once, we noticed the barrier wasn’t anchored, and so Ben hefted it up so I could roll the bikes under. (GPP training for the win!) In addition, construction workers, farmers, and passing traffic in the other lane gave us friendly honks and waves, boosting my morale and compelling us onward.

Despite a grueling ride, we stopped frequently, chatting and laughing about our plight, glad at least to be together, heading toward a beautiful place.

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Finally, we pulled into Trikala where we located the only hotel along the way that was registered in our GPS. An outrageous price quote sent us back into the hotel’s neatly manicured lawn (a real rarity around these parts) where we ate a second round of lunch, and finally determined to fight the wind for another 20 kilometers and just get to Kalabaka today where we knew we could find a campsite.

The wind did not improve, and the traffic situation also went downhill. Rejoining the main road, the courteous driving behavior was long gone and trucks and buses created odd cross winds that jerked my heavy bike all over the narrow shoulder. Finally, I gave up on polite cycling and claimed half of an entire lane, forcing everyone to slow down and pass me like a car, helping me feel like I might actually live to tell about the ride.

Thankfully, I’d caught a break and started feeling a little better, propelling me to the base of the magnificent cliffs, but Ben’s renewed sense of go, was long gone. I could tell he was dragging and together, we counted  down the kilometers and grinded up the final hill to Kastraki where we found our first organized campground of the trip. The views were beautiful! As soon as we saw the sign for wifi, we knew we’d stay. With 140 kilometers of windy insanity covered in a 24 hour period, we were beat!

Ben –
Today’s ride was completely demoralizing – by the time we had spent nearly 10 hours in the saddle (including breaks), we were ready to call it quits.  With those kinds of hours of suffering we could have ridden Lotoja!  A measly 12 km/hour just didn’t cut it.  Three good things happened today, though.

The first, as Bree said, was that we had nearly the entire stretch between Larissa and Trikala to ourselves on a brand new road with zero traffic.  There is no feeling in the world like having an entire two lane highway to yourself on smooth, freshly sealed road.

Second – at least the wind kept the heat at bay.  With consistent 30mph+ winds in our face the entire way, I didn’t suffer for heat.

Third was the approach to the magnificent mountain range.  The entire range that extends south from the cliffs where we are camped are a deep green and tower above the dry plains of Thessaly which we have been struggling through the past two days.  Add onto that the approach to the meteoric cliffs which are just incredible.  It is easy to appreciate a place like this when we have put so much effort into getting here.

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