Naively I had assumed that as soon as I crossed the border into Greece the sun would burst fourth from behind the clouds and I would bask in golden sunbeams forever more. My hopes were dashed as I arrived in my final country and the sun remained resolutely behind a stubborn blanket of thick cloud. Furthermore I was at over 1000m, it was cold, I had over 30km to travel and only about an hour before it got dark.
I had been held up leaving Albania by a crippling headwind, bent low over the handlebars I forced the pedals to turn at no greater than 10km/h…downhill! It was outrageous. It took so much longer than anticipated to reach the border that I had completely run out of Albanian currency and had to get by on some leftover biscuits.
I reassured myself that if I didn’t make the 30km to the next campsite then it should be fairly easy to wild camp on the densely forested mountain slopes. That was until I saw the following sign:
HOLY MOLY. That has got to be the most terrifying wildlife sign I have ever seen. ‘Please let the bears and wolves cross the road in peace’ it seemed to infer.
‘Pedal for your life before you get eaten by bears and wolves’, was how I interpreted it. I raced (thankfully downhill) the next 30km, arrived at a closed campsite and promptly found the first hotel I could. I didn’t fancy ending up as Billy bear meat.
The threat of bears lingered for the next three days during which I stopped as little as possible, expecting a big grizzly to pounce at any moment. One morning I made the mistake of drinking an entire jug of delicious orange juice at the breakfast buffet. I hastily regretted my greed when I had to stop every half an hour for a wee. And my chain coming off nearly resulted in a fit of hysterics.
Needless to say my fears were completely unfounded. There are only 150 brown bears left in the whole of Greece and they don’t attack unless provoked. The chances of me happening upon one adjacent to a relatively main road are miniscule. However that didn’t stop me thinking that there was a bear in every bush just waiting to pounce and have its fill of delicious fresh cycle tourer steak.
Another more real threat was the crazed dogs. A cycle trip through Greece is enough to put you off dogs for life. They wait by the side of the road eyeballing you as you approach, daring you to get closer. And then the barking begins, loud and fierce and sets your heart racing at a 100mph. If you’re lucky the dog is chained up and will fight in vein to get as close as possible. If you are unlucky they will hurtle down the street after you knashing their teeth. Muscley and powerful they have no trouble keeping up with a heavily laden cycle tourer. I have been fortunate to not suffer anything apart from a near heart attack from these dogs but have heard they are capable of much worse.
Apart from the bears, wolves and viscous dogs cycle touring in Greece is an absolute dream! Quiet roads, stunning scenery including moody mountains and sparkling coastlines and exceptionally good food all added up to a brilliant final week on the bike.
Unsurprisingly it was with mixed emotions that I began my final day of cycling. Of course I was excited to see friends and family again but I was also sad that the adventure was coming to an end. The day started like any other, a big breakfast, a 10km uphill climb and a lot of wind. It was so windy that when I stopped to change my contact lenses one got blown away! The last 30km into Athens however were an absolute delight. Yes it was noisy, dusty and busy like any other city. But Rita and I flew along at around 40kph, standing our own in the traffic, and taking potholes, rough roads and manhole covers in our stroke. Finally I felt like I was no longer just a person who rides a bike, I was a real cyclist.
My parents and school friend Nita were waiting for my at Syntagma square in central Athens with a finish line made from a Congratulations banner. I smashed though it and enjoyed celebrating by spraying around a bottle of champagne like I’d won the grand prix. I’d always wanted an excuse to do this and can confirm that it is as fun as it looks on the telly!
5631km, 88 days, 14 countries and I’d made it across Europe. I remember that first day back in the UK with a ridiculous amount of punctures, accidents and horrific weather conditions. It had taken almost an entire day to leave London and Athens had felt so far away. I wondered if I had bitten off more than I could chew. It didn’t look that far on Google maps. However I soon adapted to life on the road and the daily routine of eat, sleep, ride, repeat. It is incredibly liberating to go back to basics with food, water and shelter being the only things you ever really need. And I learnt that almost every problem you encounter has a solution. So you might end up being slightly delayed but at the end of the day does that really matter?
The hardest things about this trip were probably:
1) Boxing up the bike and getting it to Athens airport on the bus.
2) Deciding to go in the first place.
It is incredibly daunting to set off on a journey like this on your own but travelling solo turned out to be a magical decision. My biggest fear before I left was that I would be lonely. I needn’t have worried. I met so many wonderful people who invited me into their homes, shared food with me, helped me with mechanics, navigation and most of all great company. The hyperconnected world we now live in also makes it easier for the solo traveller as it was possible for me to stay in regular contact with people back home.
On that note I would like to say an absolutely huge thank you to everybody who has supported me on this journey. Receiving comments and messages and knowing people were reading my blog helped spur me on up the big hills and on the tough days. And rest assured I will be continuing to write in some capacity in the future. Particular thanks go to Deano and Blok for enduring two of the hardest days of the trip in the UK, Penny for confronting her fear of camping in the woods and non EU compliant bridges, Giles, Alex, Maddy and Sebasty for a super fun few rest days in France and to Anita and Mum & Dad for joining me on my journey and making the finale really special.
Finally I guess what I want to say is that although it may sound impressive to cycle across a continent, the actual process is relatively simple; cycle for a day, camp and then repeat 87 times. Along the way I discovered that the world is an incredibly friendly and beautiful place, you are capable of far much more than you ever imagine and that if you just commit you really can live your dreams.