Balkan Final Stage 36 Schinos to Athens, Greece

Oct 17, 2022

Stage 36 of 36, day 43 of 43: 106.6 km, 1846m climb, 5:24 Moving, 7:16 Total,  71.6 kph max

Bosnia & Herzegovina211.01444

Somehow it seems like an anti-climax but we’ve done it – ridden from Ljubljana to Athens! The final morning could’ve started better. We had to get up way before it got light and pack up and eat breakfast. It was quite windy and most people didn’t sleep well. But we did it and it worked.

The view from camp, pre-sunrise, was great

We left camp at 8am and since the first section was rough and steep but straight downhill, I got ahead of everyone and was out in front alone. I didn’t hammer too hard and the pack caught me after a few kilometers. We rode up and down, along the shoreline, mostly into the wind, and I was ready for a break from leading when we finally turned off at 21 km.

The scenery as we whizzed by – shot while riding into the wind
Sigi’s video of me (yellow/green), Anita (pink) and Bob (black and white) riding the coast. At the end, I shot the photo above

After a clothing stop, we headed up the first of four big climbs for the day. This one was the steepest, averaging almost 10% for 4.4 km. There were some sections up to 17% and with the strong winds it was a tough climb. Sweat was dripping down from my head although it was mostly all in the shade and quite cool.

The view all the way back to our campsite from partway up the first climb

From the top there was a short cold descent where I hit the max speed for the day, then a second big climb, up to about 800m elevation. Then more squirrely downhill followed by a bakery stop then a third big climb. A bit after we made that we came upon the lunch van, for the last time. Ype and Henk had set up in a very windy spot (like everywhere) and you had to be careful holding down your food.

After a quick lunch, we took off and rode straight into the wind for some time. Then there was a miracle: a more than 90° turn the right way and we sailed along to the bottom of the final climb. This one was the easiest and it wasn’t long before we were back up around 800m, cold and windy but sunny.

At the last summit of the Balkan Boulevard – wind turbines generating power madly

The descent was magical. It was a somewhat twisty mountain road and had sharp corners so it wasn’t particularly fast, but it was so scenic, smooth and the opposite of all that climbing we had done during the day. We were all stopping along the way for photos – in addition to the mountains, the gigantic city of Athens was visible in the distance.

Athens from about 25 km

We finally cruised into the outskirts of Athens and then it got progressively more busy as we headed on. With about 18 km to go we were finally in the city traffic – we could tell because the traffic was so heavy and slow that we were riding much faster than the cars could go. I was riding with Bob and Tom, having a blast, then Bob J caught up so we picked it up more and started really having fun. He is a maniac, and we rode in the oncoming lane, passing all cars and busses. Some motorcycles used our technique too. A couple of times it was jammed and I led the guys onto sidewalks and curbs and whatever is possible to keep up the speed. There were a couple of underpasses, somewhat scary as you don’t know how dark they will be and they both were where traffic was moving really fast. You also lose GPS in them so have to memorize the route on the Garmin before going in, and hope that it will reacquire the route soon enough so you know which way to go after. This whole time I stayed in my highest gear, adrenalin junkie.

I would say the drivers were generally very considerate and we really had no close calls or problems. It wasn’t long before we saw the Olympic Stadium, where the first modern Olympics were held in 1896, which was our goal. Marc and Per who rode the second half of the stage were already there and it was beautiful weather. We could see the Acropolis, looking great on a nearby hill.

With my roommate and most excellent riding buddy Bob, after so many kilometers
These bikes brought us safely here from Ljubljana in six weeks

More and more riders arrived and there was much high-fiving and many photos. I wanted to go in and take a lap around the stadium but it was not possible. Finally we had all but Harry and Kevin, then they arrived. Harry had blood on his leg and told the story of being bitten by a smallish but mean dog on the way into town. At least that was the only mishap.

Finale at the Olympic Stadium in Athens

After a group photo, we loaded the final 2 km track into our Garmins and rode to the hotel. We had a big party outside with lots of prosecco, smoked salmon sandwiches and other snacks.

Final party in the hotel parking lot

Then we checked in and took great showers. We hung out talking about the trip, and Bob and I had a nice talk with Katie, then it was time to buy some beer for the pre-dinner party in Tom’s suite. Seven of us invaded his amazing top-floor suite and passed a couple of hours and many beers, talking about the trip more.

At 8pm, we had our last Bike Dreams event, dinner at a nearby restaurant. Bob and I weren’t sure we even wanted to go when we heard that another staff member had tested positive. But we sat as far away as possible from the positive people and ended up having a great time for over three hours. The food was good and our table had so many delicious drinks (ouzo, grappa, limoncello and countless negronis), plus four bottles of sort of mediocre Greek red wine. It was quite a party. I tried to work on this blog after I got back to the hotel but it was nearly midnight and the WiFi was still crap.

It’s quite a weird feeling to be over with this trip. We talked about it at dinner. Our super-simple life: get up, have breakfast, ride to lunch, eat, ride to camp or hotel, eat, then eat a big dinner and sleep hard…is over. The world has continued on these last six weeks, but I haven’t kept up with any news or worried about it much. When I look back at all the stages we rode, the places we visited, in seven countries, I am amazed. What a great experience and I feel so lucky to have been able to do it. Now if I can just get home, covid-negative!

I REALLY enjoyed meeting and riding with so many amazing people. I especially loved riding with Bob, Sigi and Anita; we called ourselves Team Alemannia (Sigi and Anita are German, I will become German later this year and Bob has German roots too). Thank you three for being such awesome people and coming on this trip!

Sigi shot this photo of the rest of us a couple of days ago – I love it!

2 thoughts on “Balkan Final Stage 36 Schinos to Athens, Greece

  1. Congratulations 🎊 👏 💐

    Thank you for sharing your journey, I loved every word . I’ll miss reading about each stage and experience. Onward to home and negativity (COVID style)

    Liked by 1 person

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