January 21

Had a long and brilliant day today, hence why I’m writing this at 2315.  Just made camp for the third time, having the previous two attempts failed by dogs, after having spent the evening with the cycling group of Katerini!

We broke camp this morning at 7 and had a bit of bread and nutella for breakfast before hitting the road.  I lost the milk that I’d been saving for that morning, so I was not a cheerful bunny as we cycled off towards Elassona.  We had a decent climb to take us up to Elassona, but we were there by 1030 so I was quite happy with our progress.  Had a bit of a break for some chocolate croissants and to take a look at the baker’s creations – one of which was a bullet with the word Charlie written on top of it.  I thought ‘hey, that’s my name’, but soon realised it was for Charlie Hebdo.  Slightly less cheerful. 

From there we travelled across the valley and before we entered the big climb of the day, we spot for a bit of lunch.  As I sat there eating my salami and philadephia, I looked behind us and saw blue skies and white fluffy clouds.  Looking forward I saw what could only be described as unhappy clouds.  Grey, dark and menacing.  Unfortunately we were going forward, as that way led to Katerini. 

I don’t know if it was the extreme humidity, or the food settling slowly in my stomach, but the few kilometres we did after lunch were slow and tortuous.  The air was so close that even on a downhill in my t-shirt I couldn’t lose the sweat gathered around me.  As it grew worse, so did the mountain come closer, until we were at the foot of it, covered in sweat and ready to climb.  So climb we did.  It was slow going, with trucks chuntering past every ten minutes or so, but thankfully there was a strong breeze the higher up the mountain we got until we were at the top and ready to get bundled up for the downhill.  The pass was another 1000m+ ride, but this time it was only from 500m or so.  Still, a difficult climb. 

But the downhill from it was so sweet.  The map made it look like we had a constant downhill to the sea, and that’s not far from the truth.  Two or three baby hills that we were able to speed up didn’t stop us from enjoying the longest relaxed ride we’ve had so far.  There were beautiful views of the valley around us, leading down to the sea and we caught glimpses of Mt Olympus to the south every so often.  One fly in our ointment was a particularly psychotic dog, who looked properly crazy.  First time I actually thought we might need to use the dog spray, but thankfully the standard tactic worked a treat.

Once we arrived in Katerini, about 5pm, we had some time to kill, as we only needed to camp about ten kilometres out of town, so we went to a bar and had a few beers from the moodiest barmaid I’ve ever met.  After the beers, a couple of gyros and we were ready to go find a campsite for the night.  Walking our bikes back to the main road, I saw a bunch of other cyclists congregating and thought it looked somewhat like Critical Mass (an event where cyclists meet up and bike around a city for a while) and that’s pretty much what it turned out to be. 

As soon as I walked around the corner, a girl named Maria spotted me and quickly came over to ask if we wanted to join in for the night.  It seemed like an opportunity far too good to pass up, so we accepted and were soon cruising along the backstreets of Katerini with another 30 cyclists, music blaring and whistles shrieking.  It was great fun.  Our destination was an old lady’s house, where she gave us some traditional Greek Christmas cookies and then we hopped back on our bikes and headed to a bar for some gluhwein and Christmas cake – thankfully I didn’t win the traditional sixpence.  We chatted for some time and then we realised we needed to find a place to stay for the night.  On the way to the camping, a couple of kids tried to race us on their light, agile little BMX’s.  You’ll be glad to know we destroyed them.

This took a little longer than anticipated.  We realised our first spot wasn’t ideal when Ryan took his bike in and the barking dogs erupted on all sides.  We realised our second spot was far less than ideal when a dog appeared ten metres away when we were about to get the tent up.  Our third spot however, after a certain ‘fuck it I’m going away from all habitation so there’s no damn dogs’ is great, hidden from the road by some reeds, but close enough we can get moving early.  Tomorrow should bring us to Saloniki, where we intend to spend a couple days getting our Turkish visa and figuring out my movements for the month of February. 

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