It’s nice that travel is now relatively routine in 2022 but it’s no where near as convenient and reliable was it was pre-Covid. Going to Greece, neither my backpack nor my large bike box made it onto my connecting flight in Heathrow despite having 3 1/2 hours between flights. They both came on the next flight, 24 hours later so all was well, but just barely. To get them in time I had to drive to the airport and spend nearly two hours there.
Coming home it wasn’t surprising that they didn’t make it onto my connecting flight in Munich since the flight was so delayed they had to hold the next plane 40 minutes for me to run to make the connection. My backpack arrived on the next flight 24 hours later. The day after that, it was delivered to me in Santa Cruz at 10:30pm, 27 hours after it landed.
My bike box finally arrived two days after I did, but on a flight from Frankfurt – maybe because it was so big? It was handed off to the courier service but took 35 hours to be delivered, finally arriving at 12:30am three days after me. In all cases there was no damage but the software systems that give the status were pretty pathetic. They crash, they don’t get updated, they do not inspire confidence. I would give the British Airways system a grade of C and Lufthansa’s a D. Luckily the people I talked to were better, doing their jobs as best they can.
In Ljubljana, I ended up with my baggage less than 10 hours before I needed it to start riding. At home in Santa Cruz, my bike was delivered 9 hours before my next ride which was at least consistent. I shouldn’t complain but FFS! Well, maybe I just got what I paid for. Going to Greece I paid the $100 bike fee for the first leg but never paid for the second. Coming home I wasn’t charged at all.
To finish off the blog for this trip, I flew home from Athens on the 19th. It seemed more stressful than usual, I guess partly because flying alone isn’t as fun and easy as flying with other people. I had breakfast with a few of the guys from the trip, then ordered a taxi to go to the airport. My bike box is too big to fit in a regular taxi so the hotel desk guy ordered a big one. I got to say good-bye to a number of the riders – Peter was off to the airport in a normal sized taxi right before I left.
My driver was a funny guy and I enjoyed the 30 minute drive. He cruised at 140 kph on the expressway so we got there quickly. The airport was so crowded that I couldn’t get to the check-in counter using a cart. Luckily my bike box only weighs 17 kg and my two backpacks about 20, so I could carry everything. There was almost no waiting, but I had to bring my pack and box to the oversized check-in, far away, again not able to get a cart through the masses.
Once I got rid of the luggage, security was easy and I was at the gate with two hours to spare. The flight was delayed, then delayed more, then more. I read and had lunch and finally we started boarding. One of the two runways was having maintenance so they had to share one runway for all take-offs and landings. Basically all flights were delayed. That keeps a perfect record for me and my European trips this summer: 100% of my flights had luggage issues and/or delays.
As the wheels touched down in Munich my phone immediately connected and told me “Flight to SFO leaves in 1 minute.” We had to taxi a long way, then it took forever to get out from the back of the plane. Then (as happens a lot when I’m in airports in Germany), I had a bit of a run from K18 to L21, luckily in the same terminal. I had to go through passport control too. There was a long line but then I saw a side line for passports on a list which included USA – an automated system that worked in a few seconds. That was great. The terminal was deserted but there was one lonely woman at gate L21. “Did I make it?” She said, “Yes! But your baggage probably won’t.” They held with plane about 40 minutes as there were 28 people connecting from Athens to San Francisco.
I boarded and the plane took off soon after. 11 hours in a plane is a long time but I had a window seat and got to see Iceland, Greenland and Baffin Island. I also watched the latest Jurassic Park 2022 movie plus an awesome classic, A Fish Called Wanda.
We landed only 20 minutes late and Global Entry got me through immigration in about one minute. I did have to wait at baggage claim for all the bags, mine wasn’t there, so the guy gave me the info to file a claim and they will deliver. I did another Covid test while waiting for Frannie and Chris, then they drove me home where I picked up my truck and drove the last leg home to Santa Cruz. I arrived at 10pm so door-to-door that was about 23 hours.
What did I learn from the trip? I learned I don’t want to be away from home so long again any time soon. Even with once or twice a day video calls, being away so long is just hard. I also learned some things about Covid. I had hardly been with anyone testing positive before, but on this trip about half the people caught it and most all had symptoms from kind of bad to quite bad. Nobody needed a hospital but my advice is to try hard to not get it and to try hard not to spread it if you do. I learned that non-American people’s attitudes toward Covid vary just as much as Americans do. In retrospect I guess that’s not surprising since people everywhere are just people. I learned that as I age my love for biking and riding fast has not waned at all, but my ability to climb long steep hills fast has. Luckily the joy I get from a trips like this has not diminished at all, maybe the opposite. I was happy again to have no bike issues at all – no adjustments, flats or problems. My chain and brakes are still good after all that way. One last thing I (re)learned: age is just a number. We had three SUPER strong riders on this trip age 70-73. Louis, Rien and Bob J, you guys are total supermen and inspirations to me.
Thanks to all my wonderful riding buddies especially Team Alemannia: Bob W, Sigi and Anita. And to the “Craft Beer Lovers” on the trip: Peter, Graham, Tom and Bob, I hope we can continue our search for fine beers at a later date together.
After such a big day finishing the tour, it was great to have a free day to just relax. I slept about 8 hours (amazing for me) and had breakfast with lots of the riders. In the morning Bob and I packed up our bikes and said many good-byes.
We left the hotel around 11 and walked downtown. Bob was off for some museums and I just wanted to look around town and do some shopping. I walked all around, about 8 km, including returning on the same route I had walked in 2017 with my friend Christof when we were here after a sailing trip.
Back at the hotel I had some lunch and finally, the WiFi was working well enough to post yesterday’s blog entry. It was also working well enough to check in for my flight tomorrow. I relaxed in the afternoon, then the Craft Beer Lover’s group met in the lobby at 6:30 to polish off the wine we were gifted at the dinner the night before. We then walked over to a bar Tom had spied. But it had no craft beer! So over to the next one: same problem. But at the third, we had a round of interesting IPAs, standing in the street like the locals.
Tom had picked out the dinner place too, a high end restaurant where we ended up having the real celebration of the trip, the Last Supper. We didn’t take any photos but it was awesome, with a couple of amazing Greek red wines (big contrast from all the others we had had), delicious appetizers and entrées and Pavlova for dessert, then some Italian Amaro to finish it off. Well, to really finish it off, we walked down to a gelateria for the final dessert. Life is so good sometimes. I will never forget these guys and this day and this amazing trip.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
Sleeping next to gently breaking waves on a beach is great! I slept almost eight hours and it was quality sleep. Yesterday’s clouds were blown away leaving clear skies and everyone was in a good mood at breakfast. I talked to Katie and showed her the camp and the beach too.
We started riding at 9, knowing there was lots of climbing and the winds would be in our faces. After a little warm-up with up and down, the largest climb started, a bit over 600m in 13 km. It turned out to be pretty tough but the view at the top sure was nice.
The descent was a disappointment – all that elevation gained only to descend into raging headwinds, never able to satisfy my need for speed. It was Sunday and there was a local bike race or big club ride going – as I started down, the winners were just coming up and they looked so strong.
Down in a town after 50 km many of us stopped for coffee or cold drinks. Then we continued to the Corinth Canal at 60 km. Lunch was there, just by the lower viewpoint of the entrance of the canal. I had wanted to see this canal since I first heard of it as a kid and saw some interesting photos. After lunch we checked it out, then rode to the upper viewpoint, at a bridge over the canal.
It’s so narrow that it’s really only a tourist attraction nowadays. You can bungy jump into it and there were a few people there at the visitor center.
Soon, we headed off, and pretty soon, we were climbing steeply into a headwind again. Bob was leading us up and he was kind of on fire. Sigi and Anita held on but I let myself be dropped and rode at my own pace.
My Garmin acted up a couple of times but I was able to find the way. I caught up to them playing around with an abandoned VW bus. Then we continued and the major afternoon climb started. It went on and on, but they do always end.
I blasted down the other side (still into a headwind so not really fast), then had one kilometer of climbing to camp.
I set up my tent, had a shower, then lots of soup and other snacks. Next up was a nap – I slept long and hard, then woke up in time to write this before dinner.
Dinner was massive, with unlimited wine, although it was Greek and not full quality. We sat out for a while but we are starting an hour early tomorrow, to try and get to Athens earlier, so no one wanted to stay up late. We’ll be eating breakfast 45 minutes before sunrise, at the proverbial O dark 30.
I slept pretty well in the hotel in Tripoli until just before 7. We packed up and went down for breakfast. It was crowded and small, so I ate in a lounge instead. I had a nice call home with Katie, then we all went next door to the funny garage where our bikes and vans were stored. Marc and Ype both independently told me about the poster on a nearby store that I just had to see.
We started riding at 9am after Wilbert told us that the weather would get better through the day so there was no rush, we should stop early and often, etc. We started riding with a local Greek rider but he only went about 10 km with us. After a kilometer in town, we were out on a nice country road under thick grey clouds. It was cool, double jerseys with shorts and full gloves. The pavement felt good and fast, as did my bike and me. It’s amazing what a double rest day will do for you. I caught up to a bunch that had left before me and we stopped pretty soon for coffee. Sigi and I didn’t have anything but everyone else pounded coffee or espresso. As we watched the others cruise by we laughed about trying to be last.
The ride in the morning was easy and fun, more down than up, and had a beautiful descent that four of us cruised together at 60 to nearly 70 kph, smooth and free. Then we had a little climb, very scenic on deserted roads.
We rode along some more and came to the shoreline – it’s the Aegean Sea here, the Argolic Gulf.
We had a little food then continued but found lunch set up about 300m further along the shore. It was a beautiful spot with people coming by to walk down to the beach to photograph the flamingos. My photos don’t do them justice so are not included here. After a great lunch, we turned inland and cruised on. There was one climb, a bit over 300m, which we broke up by stopping to pick and eat some beautiful ripe figs.
We descended then took a short detour to a pretty amazing ancient (4-500BC) theater that is in good condition. It’s called the Theater of Epidaurus. Henk drove his van to the parking lot so he could watch our bikes while we all went in. After some ice cream, I went in with everyone and we marveled at the theater. Bob proposed a race to the top and I was sure the ultra-distance super runner (he’s run up to 100 mile events) would handily beat me, but my balance and fitness somehow allowed me the win.
The theater has amazing acoustics. We could hear someone talking from the center of the stage from the top even though it was windy! We checked out the museum and a few more of the archeological sites there, then remounted for the final 20 km to camp at the beach in Epidaurus. It was mostly downhill but had some squirrely winds, mostly the bad kind. We pulled in around 4pm to our second to last campsite of the trip.
Soon enough it was time for dinner and Caroline gave us another fantastic one. With two kinds of wine and yummy dessert and a nice marmot ceremony after. We hung out talking for a while but it never lasts too late as people are tired, definitely including me. I think that one of the best features of this campsite is that it’s about 10m from the sea side meaning that instead of dogs or chickens or bells or calls to prayer, we should only hear the beautiful wave noise tonight.
I woke up a few times in the night, listened for the predicted rain, didn’t hear anything and went back to sleep. About 6:45, still pitch dark outside, I tried again, no sound. But then a big flash of lightening lit up my room. The rain started about then and there was a pretty dramatic lightening/thunder storm. By the time we had packed up for the walk to the campsite 45 minutes later, our little dirt road was a river and it was hard to dodge all the deep puddles in the pouring rain. I found a couple of garbage bags to put around my two backpacks to try and keep my gear semi-dry on the hike. Breakfast up at the campsite wasn’t much fun but I ate; peanut butter tasted especially good.
We were talking and I heard Sigi say they were taking the van. I asked him if I heard right and he said, “Yes, why would you ride in this?” So I thought about it and couldn’t think of a reason. I joined a fast-increasing group of van riders. In the end I think maybe 1/3 of the riders set out in appalling conditions, to ride over 120 km with 2500m of climbing. Once my decision was made I was very happy.
We cleaned up the camp, washed a bunch of dishes, packing things up, then stood around until a very wise person (Diana) said, “Why don’t you go wait in the café and have some hot drinks?” So we did and it was great.
Everyone riding in the van was asked to test for Covid if they hadn’t in the last 24 hours. I did again and was negative. I don’t know exactly when we left but I got a seat in the fire truck. The downside was that it pointed backwards, but the upside was that the firetruck took a direct route to Tripoli, bypassing the mountain pass and the lunch stop, arriving around 1pm.
By pure chance, my bags were in the firetruck, for first time on the trip. So I had all my clothes when we arrived and took a nice hot shower. Then Graham, Marc and I went out to a delicious lunch at a nearby café.
I had a great video call with Katie, then Bob arrived, full of tales of scary dog attacks and rain and massive climbing. He rode the whole route by himself – certified tough guy. In the afternoon, I just relaxed, read a book and hung out. When it was dinner time I wasn’t hungry and didn’t even drink the beer I had stashed in the room refrigerator. I am also thinking about how I need to drastically reduce calorie consumption in just a few days. Since I didn’t ride, I basically passed on dinner and hope I don’t wake up starved in the middle of the night. The rain started up in the late afternoon and continued well into the night, so going out on the town was not appealing. The forecast for tomorrow is better so we’re hoping for a good day of cycling.
I couldn’t get to sleep early but once I did, I slept really well. Something about not having dogs and chickens and bells and a roommate (even though my roommate is awesome) is just great. Sigi and Anita took the motor-scooter downtown and bought food for breakfast and we had a great breakfast at “home”. I did a small batch of laundry, then we headed off to see Olympia.
Bob rode his bike, Sigi and Anita rode the scooter, and Tom and I walked. We visited the camp first, then walked downtown and looked in a few stores. Then down to the archaeological site for which the town is so famous.
We looked all around, and it’s really interesting to see the different ages of the ruins. Some are way over 2000 years old, some newer ones are built on top of older foundations. We ran into many other riders walking through. It was cool seeing the original Olympic Games site – you can still see the start and finish lines and the judging area, but it’s hard to imagine with 45,000 screaming fans. In fact it’s hard to imagine the whole place full of life with everything intact. Again, it really made me wish for a time machine.
We checked out one of the museums, then walked downtown, bought some beer and headed back home. Lunch was outdoors, looking over our really nice view, leftovers from breakfast, with beer. We relaxed in the afternoon, did another round of laundry, drank beer on the patio, tried to solve the world’s problems, etc.
We walked up the hill to the Garden Tavern, supposedly the nicest restaurant in Olympia, for our reservation at 7. It’s the nicest restaurant we’ve been to on the whole tour although not super expensive. Delicious food with lots of “on the house” dishes thrown in. Come here when you visit!
Headlamp-equipped, we made our way down the hill to our house, hoping the rain would be long and hard in the night and be all done by 9am tomorrow when we have to start another long stage to Tripoli. The forecast is quite bad again, but we’re also hoping it’s wrong as usual.
Again, the weather forecasts are all wrong. We woke up to a cloudless blue sky, unlike the predictions. Breakfast as normal at 8am, then grabbing the bikes out of the garage and starting the ride at 9am.
Bob, Sigi, Anita and I headed out in the lead and rode together all the way to lunch at 57 km without stopping. After we got out of town, we had another 10 km of easy warm-up, then the hills started. Even though this stage had less climbing than the two most recent ones, it seemed harder. The climbs were shorter, steep, often and many.
It was already hot by the time we stopped for lunch, before noon. We helped Ype and Henk set up and had a great meal. Then, back in the saddle. We were just over halfway in distance but under in climbing, and it got hotter, so the afternoon session was tough.
At one point, I was climbing very steeply up a brick road, felt like 20%, sweating massively, and at the top, there was a nice little shaded café with a few of our riders enjoying cold drinks. Stopping there was so great and gave me the power to crank out the last 25 km.
I rode the last bit with Bob and luckily a lot of it was downhill. But the last 1 km was another brutal >15% climb, switch-backing up to the campsite. The campsite looked nice, with a beautiful pool, but is isolated from town. We had chili soup, lots of snacks and even some special craft beer the staff had shopped for at our request (the guys are just so cool!) More people arrived and after we were full we picked up our luggage and five of us walked 10 minutes down to the house we had rented for two nights. When we rented it, the forecast had been for rain the whole time, now it’s just for the second night here. We took over Niek’s reservation when he had to go home. We split it five ways so it ended up being very inexpensive for an amazing two story house with four bedrooms, marble floors everywhere, tall ceilings, very luxurious.
The owner gave us access to his motor-scooter for trips to town and he took Sigi down to show him the route. We all had showers, the owner offered to do any laundry, in short, we seemed to be in heaven. My legs were tired – I guess the last few days of who knows how many thousand meters climbing were taking their toll.
We all sat outside enjoying cold beers in the afternoon, then walked up to camp when it was nearly time for dinner. Today was good in that there were no more positive Covid test results and most of the people infected are feeling a lot better and able to ride, either full or half days. There is a “Covid table”, on the end for dinner, all of us from the house sat at the furthest away table. We all had tested negative in the morning. Dinner was nice, with a couple of bottles of wine. Then we stayed up in camp for a while but I was the first to admit: I was really tired. Soon others did too and we walked down to the house, stopping at the fancy restaurant next to the campsite to make a reservation for tomorrow night. We made it via headlamp, and then relaxed in our comfortable home. I am so glad tomorrow is a rest day!
The weather has changed on us. The days of blue skies with hardly any clouds and no threat of rain are gone. The forecasts are pretty useless but said we’d be pretty wet by the early afternoon. We had breakfast in a very large dining room, empty except us. Quite a few people were wearing masks, even if they haven’t tested positive (me for example).
It was a really nice start of a long stage though, no uphill at all! We rode down the hotel driveway then turned to coast down to the top of town, then rocketed down through town – I hit over 65 and then led the next 20 km down a scenic valley.
Around 23 km, we stopped to remove extra clothes for the first climb.
We headed up the hill, starting out quite steep. It went on and on and on, although there were a few short flat or downhill sections. Bob and I stopped to explore a little 2-storey fort.
Back to climbing. It was steep for a long time and we had some rain sprinkles but not that much. As I got up to the summit, the road was actually dry for the first time today.
Finally there was a good descent, a bit cold so I wore two jerseys. I got to pass two giant cement mixers – the road was just barely wide enough. I think the drivers were surprised. Lunch was relatively early, at 57 km with almost 80 to still go. But we had done the big obstacle of the day and it was great to refuel. I headed off and soon we were riding by Lake Trichonida, the largest lake in Greece. After that the sun was out and it was quite hot, and flat and boring for a little while. Then a climb started and we got our plane which seems to be a daily thing now.
I picked some ripe blackberries by the road, and then we had a nice downhill to an old bridge that was loud to ride over.
By this point, we were within maybe 30 km of Patras and started to be on the lookout for water (the Gulf of Corinth) and the bridge we’d heard so much about. After another 5 km climb, we could finally see it.
We made quick work of the few kilometers to get there and soon found ourselves under the bridge at a statue of a runner carrying the Olympic torch – the bridge was opened the day before the 2004 Olympic Games and the torch was carried across it then.
After we crossed the bridge, we had another five flights of stairs to negotiate down, then about 10 km to ride through increasingly more traffic. Finally we were in downtown Patras and pulled up at the hotel, a big stage done. Caroline had MANY snacks out and we ate massively. Then it was time for showers and cleaning up. But pretty soon, it was 6:30 and the Craft Beer Lovers team had a meeting at Beer Bar Q. This turned out to be pure gold. The first three pages of the menu were dedicated to only beer. SO many types. They “only” had about 15 on draft but tons of interesting ones in bottle too. And the place was just gorgeous.
We had to use Google Translate in camera mode to find something without meat on the menu – delicious “Vegetable Burgers” FTW. It was so fun. We ended up with our Craft Beer Lovers group of five plus four others. After dinner and several rounds, Tom, Bob and I walked up the street marveling at the sheer number of people out enjoying the evening on a Tuesday. It was really amazing. We had a round of excellent gelato, then walked home. What a great day!