Today we are doing little chores like laundry and repairs, but mainly we are resting. Rejuvenating tired legs and bodies.
We’ve had some long cycling days with more climbing at a higher percentage grade because of the small roads and old highways we’re riding that have been replaced by the national highway here. The new roads and highways rarely get any steeper than 6 to 8 percent grade. In the US they have national standards to build them that way for safety, and also so semis can navigate them. Here, too, that is the goal. As cyclists we are much safer on gravel roads, small lanes and older highways with little traffic. Our route is designed to keep us there. However, it does mean a lot more climbing at grades 16% or higher. On some of the gravel and small lanes with short, sharp hills, the grade can be even higher but too short for my GPS to measure it. It’s very taxing on cyclists’ legs to climb these higher grades.
As in most places I’ve cycled around the world, people in Greece have been very courteous and friendly. The reaction to bicyclists is great. I think people appreciate that we are willing to be “vulnerable” . We are at their level, whether they are kids playing in their yard, women hanging up clothes, or old men chatting amongst their buddies at outdoor cafe. They smile and wave. Proprietors at cafes come over to chat with us. “Where are you from? So far away, and you come here?” We often are given desserts on the house. One lady handsqueezed a pitcher of orange juice which was not on her menu, just because we asked for it. Then we asked for another. “No problem.” Cars beep and wave in these rural areas. We feel very welcome.
I said I would write more of the 74-year old Frenchman we met along the way. He is cycling back to his home in Nice, France from Athens. He’s a short, medium-built man who is somewhat stiff with age. I came upon him when going to my bike to retrieve something. The hotel in that town had few guests and our bikes were stored behind a stairwell. When I saw him rifling through a bike bag I thought it was one of ours. “What are you doing there?” Then I saw it was not our bike and hastily apologized. In our ensuing conversation we quickly made amends. He is retired linguist who taught languages in universities in several countries. English wasn’t one of them. His many stories came out haltingly but we were not in a hurry. He also was an attache in the French Embassy in Berlin, France’s second largest embassy. His wife likes to travel to paint so then he takes off on his cycle. He told us later of trips hitchhiking in his teens and twenties. He was once robbed at knifepoint in Mexico and lost everything. The French Embassy there gave him a plane ticket to NY and $200. He made friends in NY who invited him to go to an outdoor concert. Off he went to Woodstock not knowing how iconic that week would become. He ran races most of his life including a 2:29 marathon. Now he has an artificial knee, so, along with increasing age, he has slowed down. We had dinner with him and invited him to join us in our ride the next day but it was too hard for him to keep our pace. We hope he has a good ride back to meet his wife.
Yesterday we met two young women cyclists from France while on a hilly country lane. They were headed to Athens on a similar route to ours. They asked where we were going, and when told them Albania was next, they said, “Great, the nicest, most accommodating people in Europe live in Albania”. We will be there tomorrow and hope the Albanians are just as friendly to three aging male cyclists as they were to two young, vivacious, and athletic French women