As we head out of Yannena, we slowly climb the road to the north of the lake. It’s a gentle gradient, and soon it starts to spit with rain. This is the first real rain we’ve had on the trip, and it’s actually quite nice – cooling us as labour up this hill. The views from the climb are wonderful, with the snowcapped mountains of the Pindus as a backdrop to the town, I stop a few times to try and capture it properly. We’re soon climbing the mountains properly, and after a couple of hills we come to the motorway. Surprisingly, it’s absolutely dead, so we decide to risk our luck and ride onto it. Well, there’s a beautiful massive big shoulder, and very little traffic so it seems like a great way to get through the mountains. At the first tunnel, we dismount and walk our bikes through, but we soon realise that we can happily ride along the side of the tunnel.
However, just before we enter the sixth tunnel, the police show up. They’re not happy at all with us being on the motorway, and make this clear.
So here we are, sitting with the police at the entrance to a tunnel. First off all, they tell us it’s okay provided we walk along the tunnel. Then, they tell us that’s not okay. They ask us where we’re going, and when we tell them Kalambaka, they send for an emergency repair vehicle to take us there. Result we think – a police escort through the tunnel. As soon as the bikes are loaded onto the van, the cops tell us they have to come off – insurance concern – and now it turns out we have to take a totally new route, in the direction of Gravena, and then turn off at Krania. This all takes about 45 minutes and leaves me with a very sour taste in my mouth. I’m in total disbelief that we can go twenty kilometres along this tunnel and be almost at Kalambaka, but now we have to take a 50km detour, with the torturous climb to Metsovo as well. I’m genuinely concerned it’s going to take us so long to climb to Metsovo that we’ll have to camp above the snow line. Things are not looking great. However, the emergency vehicle guys are very nice and try to explain to us how best to get everywhere. They help us put our bikes and bags on the other side of the road and apologise for the police acting like dicks, but it’s not really their fault either – clearly some higher up has decided what to do with us. I am considering taking the Katara Pass but it will almost definitely be blocked with snow and ice. Difficult decisions.
We push off along the motorway, going the wrong way, and after a couple of kilometres we exit and start to run along the E92. I find myself going very slowly, and look down to see my front tire is a little flat. I stop to discover a puncture, and taking a while to change it, ride on. Foolishly, I didn’t check the inside of the tyre for glass or metal shards, and within two minutes I have a new puncture. Taking the tyre off, I find a bent piece of wire pushing through my tyre, so I pull this out and put in another inner tube. Pumping for the second time in ten minutes, I’m knackered getting back to regular pressure, and then we head off up the mountain. As expected, it was very hard work and took us quite a while.
One of the farmers, on the second last corner into Metsovo, had about twenty five dogs running free. His house was at the bottom of the hill, and the road was about 50m above it – on a steep hill. I see the dogs, but think there’s no way they’ll run up the hill just to bark at us. How wrong I was. As I near the house, I see four or five dogs waiting at the top of the hill for me, so I dismount and wait for Ryan. He arrives a minute later, and we walk towards the dogs. By this point they’ve grown to a pack of about fifteen, and are looking pretty intimidating. Their body language doesn’t say anything other than ‘move on, this is our area’ so we walk past as usual. They get closer than any dogs have so previously, and follow us significantly further than any of the rest have done. I’m normally pretty content with the dogs, but the sound of fifteen dogs, all barking a metre or so away from you is enough to shake anyone up. But soon they’re gone, and we mount up again and ride towards Metsovo.
We stop for a break a kilometre outside Metsovo trying to decide what to do. I think it’s probably best for us to try and camp in Metsovo then blast through with fresh legs tomorrow, and we’re about to go find a camping spot when our friend from the emergency vehicle comes along and talks to us. He tells us there will be a new dump of snow tomorrow, so we should try and get to Miliu as quickly as possible. I ask him how far, how uphill, how difficult and he says it should be okay, 5km of uphill then flat and easy terrain. Well, now it’s 330 in the afternoon, we’ve spent almost all our day climbing into Metsovo, and we are told we need to leave immediately for more climbing. The cloud cover is coming in, we only have a few hours of daylight left and we don’t have a lot of food. I don’t want to be stuck here, not even a little bit. So we climb some more. Punishing stuff, as usual, but within a half hour we get to the junction from which we can choose Miliu and Gravena or Katara Pass. We stop for a picture and to put on gloves, then start to head down towards Miliu. The downhill doesn’t last for long, and soon we’re cycling through an old ski resort and then a creepy, eerie landscape, covered in ice and snow and almost completely flat. it was like something out of Iceland, or the highlands of Scotland in winter. We need to get through this area very quickly if we are to camp. There was plenty of flat places for the tent, but nowhere without snow and ice, and obviously the ground is frozen ground. So we continue. Finally, we hit the downhill leading into Miliu and we smash down to the town. It’s quiet, and everything is closed – no food here. I spy the Orthodox church that we can sleep in, but looking at the map I see Krania further on, and the road to it leads along a river. It should be flat, and thankfully it turns out to be so.
As we cross the bridge into Krania, we see a large hill with the town on top. However, there is a restaurant and hotel just to our left, importantly before the hill, so it was an easy decision to head in there and get some bean soup and souvlaki. As I’m paying, I ask the lady for a place we can camp for the night and she takes me to the gravel out front and asks if it would be okay – excellent. Five minutes and the tent is up and I’m getting warm inside.