Thursday, April 29, 2010

Fire up the kettle
Woke up once again long before first light, did a little reading in the tent using a headlamp as I waited.
This year I packed a good set of polar fleece pants along with a polar fleece jacket to sleep in. They make comfortable sleeping gear also they are great to wear around camp in the morning when the sun had yet to warm the ground. I packed a Helly Hanson long-sleeved winter undershirt a new addition to my touring gear. In the past I would stop for lunch or at the end of day. Hot and sweaty but rapidly cooling to the point of getting a chill I would toss on a jacket that soaked up the sweat and kept me warm. This time I would pull off my bike Jersey putting the HH shirt on. Designed to wick away the sweat but as opposed to a cool max shirts these kind of winter wear under shirts are used to help keep you warm even when wet. What a difference as it worked better than expected. I would cool down but didn’t get cold. Was much easier to rinse out and hang dry then a jacket.
Breakfast had my Kettle flaming for some killer oatmeal and hot coffee. Sun was rising up on the cliffs I started to pack up but was stalled, the dew on tent fly needed to dry. What is the old saying about if you can’t move the mountain then move to the mountain? I gathered up the tent fly and walked up out of the stream bed to a rise that the sun was already shinning on. Laid out here it dried while I finished packing up.
The next village was barley awake when I arrived. Had another cup of coffee from a sleepy café owner who was on his first cup of the day. It hit me that I hadn’t a clue what time it was except morning, as for the day of the week I would have to count back sleeps to get to the a day of the week I actually knew. Such a bad thing…
As I left I spotted a small church poised high on a rocky ridge some miles away in the distance. Amazed that someone would have the tenacity to haul the building materials to such a high and remote area.
Today was also episode 27 of the ongoing saga of you can’t get there from here. When I pointed to the back road I wanted to use to get to Sigri I was told no way, dirt road, take this fine paved road that is also going to Sigri.. There was a lack of understanding that I wanted this high mountain dirt road the hugged the coast over the main road that yes it would get me there easier and faster but wasn’t the way I wanted to go. I told them in my limited way that if the road got to rough I would turn back and visit with them later for a beer. Not two miles down the dirt road came across a small church that had a covered well sporting a new shinny bucket. Under the shade of a large oak I took a great refreshing bucket shower.. okay I am lying it was a frigid icy cold, freeze my butt off wash that was wonderful. Clean duds followed felt 100% better. Off to tackle the back road route. It wasn’t long before that church that I talked about earlier; you know the one high up on that ridge. While I was climbing and climbing and now I was looking down on this same church in one direction and in the other more climb. but wait in the other direction more climb yahoo There is nothing I can put in words here that would accurately paint you the picture of the feeling of awe when I crested this next ridge. I was now going back in time as with the acceptations of this gravel road the landscape was green rolling hills with a few stone fences this area was devoid of modern mans influence.
Again road is an large encompassing term here for anything from almost a wantabe jeep track to a paved highway. The down side to this remote adventure highway was the fact that the un-marked spur roads that jutted off in several directions were sometimes as large or small as what I will call this main road. Many long minutes were spent standing at a crossroad or spur doing a mental coin flip on what road should I venture down. As hard as it is to believe never once during this days back- road trek did I have to reverse course.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Great day to be alive, better day to ride.

Great day to be alive, better day to ride.
At last clear baby blue skies in every direction. That dark threat of rain that chased me on my ride yesterday only to pour after I had arrived here had given way to a bright sunny morning. The daughter of my host who spoke English made me coffee while welcoming me back to the island. She said that her mother going out in the street to offer rooms well last night was a first. We could at this point get into the discussion about cosmic alignments and how all things that happen in the universe are meant to happen but we didn’t. They were so nice as they made me a sandwich to put away for my lunch. The road was calling my name so with sunshine on my back I wheeled out along the beach front road. I did make one small detour as my memory said that the bakery was a few blocks back from the main square. The bakery was even at this early hour close to being sold out. Racks that once had been piled with long brown loafs now showed just crumbs. I with the others that were showing up to buy were taken into the back where off right from the oven pans the baker was handing us our choices. This done I was officially ready to roll.
Low to no traffic, but the old high school mathematical problem haunted me all morning. You know the one that goes “If Mr. A leaves his house at 6:32 am and travels at 45 mph north on HWY 101 and Mr. B leaves his house at 7:07 am and travels south on HWY 101 at 58 mph. At what time will they meet?
The Answer is simple. They meet just as Chris on his fully loaded touring bike starts to cross a single lane bridge. I had to laugh for all morning while the road was wide I had it all to myself as soon as it narrowed down there would be a large truck or a rash of autos to share it with. It’s so fun to dance with the devil.
Today officially was the first real day of this tour. Body and mind were now clicking in sync. Huge long climbs that gave away to sweeping views. Green hillsides covered with brilliant flowers, add to this the total loss of day and time. Soft music drifting up from the headphones that rested around my shoulders. I was in the moment and loving it.

A long climb up into a valley to a town perched on the hillside. I was proud as I had made good time and the turn off that would let me follow a more remote coastal route should located here in this town.
A group of guys sitting at a roadside café yelled for me to stop and have a beer. I am getting to like this as this is the second free beer bought by strangers for me since I have been here. I had my map of the US printed on a silk cloth that I showed them. It list how far Oregon is from this Island and how far all the cities that most of the people know of in the states are from Oregon. It is fun to watch their eyes get wide when they say New York and I point out that it is only 4k from Oregon. This group got my wide eyed reaction when I asked about the turn off road and they pointed out that I was yet to be in the right village for the turn off. I was still ten good climbing miles away from the right village. I am laughing now. But hey beer is fuel. There was a treat that as I sat there the waitress brought out a plate of unknown to me fresh cooked sheep liver. They insisted that I try a bite. It was great..
As the day started to come to a close I wandered up a small dirt road and pitched camp next to a dry river bed. The ground was so tough I bent a few tent stakes getting them in. Another first on this trip was the real world use of my Kelly Kettle. From Ireland this is a jacketed kettle that boils 3 pints of water in 5 to 6 minutes using twigs and leaves as fuel. This camp area was covered in fuel for this kettle. So I was ready with a package of dry soup poured in to a bowl, sliced turkey waiting to be added. Red wine, fresh bread, then chocolate for dessert. But once again I am ahead of myself. A little kindling in the fire pot, a quick zap of the lighter and as advertised it was rocking fire. You feed more fuel down the chimney till the water boils. Easy, soon I was pouring the boiling water into my soup dinner was just minutes away. I had brought one item that Kelly Kettle should offer with their kit. A silicone pot holder allows you to pick up the hot fire pot base. As it was somewhat windy it was easy with the pot holder to move the open flaming base down behind a rock where the fire would die out.
I am having fun..

Friday, April 23, 2010

gimmie shelter

Dark rain clouds had been littering the sky for most of the day. I knew before long I was going to have to find some shelter for the night. What had shown on the map as a possible camp site turned out to be a water side restaurant with a nice tourist sign. Surprised at how busy it was I took the recommendation from the others dining here who were all sitting with plates of fresh fish and prawns. The owner led me back into the busy kitchen where I picked out a nice fat fish. I was really getting into this vacation shit. I ordered a beer that when delivered was paid for by the group at the next table. As two of the three spoke English we talked about (are you ready) bike touring, cameras, and music. As nice as it was chatting, those dark rain clouds had me worried that I was soon destined to get soaked. There was about 15-20 miles of paved riding to a large village getting there before the rain was my new goal.
After coming to a crossroad I turned heading for the bright city lights still another ten miles off. For the first time on this trip I was in sorta familiar roads as last year I had passed this way though in the other direction. When I came to the road construction that hadn’t progressed since my last trip I to laugh, I did as I had done the year before turning off the narrow paved main road and riding up on the empty wide smooth under construction roadbed. This was the best bike path yet. As I cruised past the shops on the narrow streets I wondered where I would find a room. The ten block Main Street busy with shoppers its café crowded with locals drinking Turkish coffee. I found the real recipe for good Turkish coffee (melts the spoon a prime indicator that you have made it right). I had always thought the ratio of coffee to battery acid was one to one but in reality it is one to six. The way you get that full burning effect in every cup. A lone taxi driver gave me the bad news that the Easter holiday had filled all the local rooms. Another six miles down the road was a beach side town that should still have rooms.
Déjàvu was this a repeat from last year. The same town he directed me to was the same place I had holed up from the rain last year. At least this time I knew the shortcut and peddled furiously as dark was chasing me. This is where it got weird. Just as I pulled into this next town I was forced to get off my bike as the streets were crowded with people on foot. A short lady popped out of the crowd. Looked right at me and said ROOM. I had to smile as this was the same owner’s wife from the same place I stayed last year in this same little village. With a big smile I followed her back to the same room as last year. If the sign had said Hotel California I would have run screaming. Now you have to know that she doesn’t speak a word of English. This whole exchange is being done just with nods and smiles. Settled in my room the rain came hard and fast for all of ten minutes. There was a festival going on and here I was right in the middle of it. A parade being led by a monked robed priest, tons of firecrackers going off, a huge bonfire, and me sitting back with a front row seat drinking some ouzo thinking this is pretty cool.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Road? What road? We don’t need no stinking road.

This morning there was a sun hiding up in the haze that failed to make it warm. Thank god for the three mile climb that allowed my body to warm up before the sun broke through. Had that going for me to start the day. This morning I needed to find a store, a bakery and some sun screen. Bakery was easy, chocolate croissants still warm from the oven, a smiling baker wrapping a large loaf of fresh bread wishing me good cheer to start my day. A little cheese from the store, a banana and then the sunscreen.
Sunscreen choice was a total of one bottle of SPF 20. My sunburn factor so far SPF 2000. Cost was $20.US, need factor out weighted cost factor so I was more than happy to find it. In reality was actually surprised to find some in this small village. I normally tour with a small bottle of sun block that I have emptied and refilled for years. I know when I get home I will find it waiting for me as it sits out on the counter wondering why I left it behind.
Today should take me to a hot spring area that was one of the major reasons that I chose this island as a place to tour. I drank my juice and devoured the croissants before pushing off following a winding stream up the valley. A major hurdle was accomplished this morning as I had finally adjusted to the weight of the bike and here I was using most of my gear range. Stone bridges, hillsides ablaze with red poppies, low traffic, this is why I tour.

Found the first hot spring, closed up but with signs saying it was open. The guard dog became friendly as I shared my bread with him. People drove in, shook the door, and peered inside at the empty office then left.
Hidden from the main buildings was a local using the hot water to clean a few birds. I wandered around taking photographs before leaving. Not sure of the age of these buildings but from my understanding there has been some type of a hot spring bath house here for roughly two thousand years.
On the map it showed that the next town also had a hot spring so I pushed off not knowing if this was going to be an still closed or not. The Greek equivalent of a lawn and garden center had an enormous amount of clay pots along with all kinds of statues. There is one photo in this set that tells it all. No it’s not the “K’’ factor photo where a stone cold beauty fails to talk to me. It is one of the others.
When looking at Google earth of this Island there was what looked like a long landing strip just outside of this village though it had no building or if it was a military strip, no bunkers for planes. A road crossed it and I guessed an air strip when looking at it using Google earth but still wasn’t sure. Today I crossed it and it was an air strip with posted military signs warning that I was not supposed to take photos. I will just have to continue to look at it using Google earth..
You know sometimes there are parts of a ride that just piss you off. I climbed a good sized hill under a blazing sun to the next town and knew something was off when I finally came to the turnoff and it was a downhill coast. Not a bad downhill coast but I was rapidly losing the entire climb and actually back tracking towards the town I had just left. Following the hot spring signs I coasted lower and lower still wondering was I coming back to the other village. Popping around a bend the off in the distant was the other village actually closer then the village I had to pass thought to get here. I could have come from the first village to here without a climb. Not fair.. Okay So I will just have to soak in the hot spring baths as a reward with a cold beer. Maybe two. The folks who ran this place were really nice said to choose either the old or new bath house and have a soak. The old bath house needed some renovation so I choose the new it being only 400 years old, the other bath house was around 800 years old.
Leaving here was a gravel road that skirted the coast I was told that it did continue to the next town but they had never used it as it was gravel. This was not for the weak of heart as gravel gave way to sand and then the sand gave way to a track by the water. For several miles that seemed like hours I pushed on following the shore not knowing if this path was just going to give up on me or ? I saw a house way off in the distant that I knew must either have a path or a road leading to it. I was at the point that if this road did not reappear by the time I came to this house that I would have to back track and find another route. Luck was smiling as the house had a road in front of it. The roads still not more than gravel was better than the path. Happy I stopped and took pictures of the road.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Sheep can't read

Once again awake in the dark. I read during the two hours it took for day light to catch up with my sleeping habits. Today was a day for exploration. I would leave my gear here at the hotel after breakfast and ride off to a few archeological sites that were close by. I think that grandma was pissed at grandpa for that free bottle of water. She took her revenge on my poor soul. I sat with the family having two fried eggs, a cup of coffee and a slice of French bread. When done grandma set the price at 10 euros.. If I had know I was dining at the Four Seasons I would have worn long pants.

Ruins of a fourth century B.C. temple sat high on a small promenade. A Greek church was a half dozen feet from this. This island is dotted with almost as many small Greek churches as there are olive trees. I have seen them clinging to cliffs high up in the mountains, huddled under the pines next to to shore..Along the roads there seems to be at least one every few kilometers.

Some are old construction in the hundred of years category others are as new as this year. None are large or elaborate but again there were hundreds of them.
I walked out on this point of land sticking out into the Mediterranean knowing that some artist stone mason had walked these same paths, looked out over these same waters. There were goats grazing nearby on the tall grass as I thought about how big the world had become in those twenty five hundred years since he was here. Okay enough of those deep moments.
A nice chat with a couple of older local fisherman repairing their boat from a at sea collision. Not bad damage but to hear them talk (broken English) the man who hit them had better sleep with one eye open.

The road. I had better stop here and define road on this island as only a way to get from point A to point B. Never in a straight line and never with a consistent width or surface. This road that I was now taking was made from poured concrete and about the width of a normal driveway. The surface was rough and unfinished, a typical standard for these concrete roadways. I peddled along enjoying the heat from the sun soon coming to an area of roadway that was dimpled with hundreds of small indentations. Bumping past it finally dawned on me that Sheep can not read wet concrete signs in either Greek or English.

Speaking of reading Stop signs are only in English. everywhere in Greece. Does this mean that if you can’t read English you don’t have to stop???

There was another town about five miles back from the coast that I headed for in a quest for dinner & lunch food. I filmed this little town and will have the video available as soon as it is edited.
One other observation picked up on this trip is that I would eat what I could pronounce or just recognize. I never eat potato chips at home but here I was picking up a bag of chips because I recognize them.
This little village had a small collection of natural history pieces that made for a nice break from the norm.
Curator was pleasant, knowledgeable and eager to use his English. Once thousands of years back this Island was buried rapidly under a blanket of volcanic ash. Caught were many animals that fossilized now serve as part of this collection. On the other side of this island I will visit the petrified forest that is a result of this same eruption

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Day 2 - Sleeping with the pines

Woke up long before dawn body clock is going to be an issue for a few days. Had bananas, rolls and orange juice for a cold breakfast. Learned my lesson last trip. Now before I push off I make sure that I have at the minimum something for a cold dinner, breakfast and an extra liter of water on board at all times. On this island everything is based around the village. The smaller the village the more basic the supplies the store carries. Fruit and fresh vegetables may be available in one village but the next village up the road even though it could be the same size may offer none. Staying ahead of the curve is going to allow me this tour to venture off the beating track heading towards places that I missed last time around.

I had the road to myself drifting down through groves of olive trees past sleeping villages barking dogs greeting me along the way. Plomari was a larger town right on the water. An impromptu vegetable market was going on along the side of the road and from the back of small pickup trucks.
But I smelled a bakery. Funny how that skill stays with me from tour to tour.
Fresh baked raisin buns still warm from the oven were just waiting for me up a side street from the main square. A vendor selling bananas another ½ liter of orange juice and I was set for a second breakfast.
Sitting on the ocean breakwater wall enjoying the sunshine I was about to make an interesting discovery. Albert Einstein is alive an well having at a late stage in his life the formula for everlasting. I am not sure how but I am including some photographic proof.

The road rose and fell like ocean waves.Yesterday I was wondering if I had bitten off more then I could chew with these huge hills on a bike that (one more time) weighted more then a humvie. Today riding under a clear blue sky I was able to even shift out my lowest gear. Wahoo.. Too soon I spoke as the next five plus miles were nothing but a solid climb. Soon I was about to put the bike to its first test. Steep downhill gravel road was the route I had picked and steep thick gravel was waiting with its tire grabbing, No prisoners grin. But before I got to far I stopped and made my first really bad rookie mistake of the trip. I wanted to photograph part of the steep hill that I had just come down. Without any trees or boulders to lean the bike up against I laid it down on its side. Both the front and rear panniers holding it up from laying completely on the gravel road. After taking the shots I put the camera back in the handle bar basket stood the bike up, down the road once again. A little speed, a hard bump and my right rear pannier flew off. A spectacular two and one half flip with a twist. The judges gave it a 7,7.5 and the Russian judge even gave it an 8.

IF when picking my bike up I had spent the 10 seconds that it would have taken to check the security of the bags after I had laid the bike down on its side I would not be writing this on a broken screen laptop.
I know from past experience it is not hard to defeat the connection system while the bike is resting on the bags. What helps hold the bag to the rack is the pressure from the lower clip. When you lay your bike on one of its bags you can easily take the pressure off this clip. While moving the bike to place gear in the outside bags and before you know it you have released this clip. Now the bag is holding on with the upper hangers only. They work best in the locked position with a solid grip from that lower clip but absent that they can twist free when the right bump gives them the force and angle. Were the upper hangers in the full locked position ? Most likely not. Anyone to blame ? No one but me. But as the say don’t cry over spilled lactose free soy milk.

The rains over the past few months had turned this steep gravel road into a rock garden that required both front and rear brakes in the full hand cramp position. It seemed like I had made better time climbing this mountain then I was making going down it. Several hours later I found myself looking down on a small village nestled in the valley below. As this wasn’t the main road I knew that there must be a better road to this place and maybe that better road was going in the same direction I wanted to travel. I take it back this wasn’t a village but a cluster of houses. But there was pavement and it was heading towards the coast. that was the good, the bad and the ugly was this huge head wind funneling up the valley road.
The closer I got to the ocean the harder it became to ride. Nuclear winds in the Columbia Gorge have some competition in the valley of Kato Stravos. Out of the valley at last the road turned and ran along to the breach. It wasn’t easier just better. I started to pass shuttered homes and then boarded up hotels, inns and restaurants. From the look of the map this place had some size (people). From the blowing sand in the street to the boarded up buildings I was alone. The strip was a couple of miles long and I had yet to encounter a soul as I reached the termination of the pavement on the far side of everything.

At one of the hotels there was someone in the back washing a truck. I went and asked if they were open?
All the shutters were down it was in my mind a rhetorical question. .Surprise the guy washing the truck was the owner. He said sure I could get a room they were not really open but had rooms still made up from when the season ended. Turns out they were there to use the restaurants kitchen to prepare part of their Easter feast. Some of you will want to see the live lambs before and after photos but I will hold off for now in posting those.
Nice room with a stunning ocean view. No food here they said but a tavern that will serve some light supper is just down the street. It was closed earlier as I rode past. Grandpa came out of the back handing me a 1.5 liter water. I offered to pay and he declined. Grandma arrives and chews him out, in Greek of course, but a ass chewing by a wife is an ass chewing, obvious without a needed translation in any language .
Owners tells me just before I ride off that I can have breakfast there in the morning. .

The only tavern open offered a stunning meal of fresh caught lightly breaded pan fried calamari, Greek salad, local red wine and fresh bread. I died and went to heaven. Then came the bill, nine euros
The cost of the wine alone anywhere else.
Full, tired, I rode back to my empty hotel as the sun was setting.

Today was another great day to ride.