After writing the post last night I lay on the sofa back in the flat in Reading but didn’t sleep a wink. By the time my colleague Stéphane arrived to pick me up at 4am I had moved all my things into the street including of course a heavily wrapped-up Reggie so it was only a few minutes before we were heading down a deserted M4. I referred to ‘yesterday’ in conversation with Stéphane but it seemed anything but; just a continuation of one very long day. At Heathrow Terminal 5 I sighed with relief when my efforts with the bike packaging were accepted by the British Airways check-in staff without comment and the rest of the morning went to plan, the flight arriving in Greece slightly earlier than planned. I spent much of the time at 35,000 feet gazing down at the shattered islands that crumble away from the Dalmatian coast trying to imagine where I would fit into the picture in a couple of weeks’ time. I tucked into a relatively hearty breakfast on the assumption that I would be burning off the calories later in the day as I made my way south to Sounion, the Temple of Poseidon and an evening camping at the Bacchus campsite. Alas events were about to conspire against me…
I picked up my bags from the conveyor belt at Athens airport but logic dictated that Reggie wouldn’t be appearing anytime soon from behind the strands of vertical rubber in the wall so I made my way to the baggage enquiry desk. Before my time came however, a man appeared with the bike and he looked in good shape (the bike not the man who could have done with a few sessions down the gym…). A cursory glance through the plastic and bubble wrap gave me no cause for concern. I found a shaded spot outside the terminal building and started to reverse my good work of yesterday, cutting through the packaging, realigning the handlebars and refitting the pedals. Not a difficult task at all and it was completed in just a few minutes. Only the small job of pumping up the tyres remained and I did so with the rear one but the front seemed more temperamental. Whoever invented the Presta (I think that’s what they are called) should be prosecuted for crimes against the cycling community. Unscrew slightly the valve, place the nozzle of the pump over the valve, lock it… I have never managed to pump the tyres of my bike successfully in the past (they never quite get as hard as I want them) and it certainly wasn’t going to happen today. I tried over and over again but without luck. The valve and pump just didn’t want to enter any form of relationship. I kept trying – what else could I do – but eventually only managed to break the delicate inner working of the pump! Brilliant! With a rear tyre inflated to about 80% of where it should be and a front tyre barely inflated at all I wasn’t going anywhere fast. Or indeed slow. I stood and stared at the bike and swore. This wasn’t part of the plan at all. I tried to think logically. Where could I find a pump that worked? Perhaps on another bike locked up on a bike rack? Athens Airport didn’t appear to have one. I asked at the information desk for assistance and the lady suggested I go to a petrol station (to use the air pump although I was sceptical as to whether this was actually possible and even it it was, wouldn’t I run the risk of blowing up my tyre?). The problem was that the petrol station she had in mind was on the other side of the motorway and that I would need to get a bus. She wasn’t sure whether I would be allowed into the bus with the bike. This was rapidly turning into a Greek tragedy. However, with no better plan I enquired at the bus office and the middle-aged guy who seemed to be in charge indicated that it would be OK to put the bike in the bus. He gave me the impression however of not being totally convinced by my reasons for not simply cycling so I tried to explain the broken pump situation. He knelt down for a fiddle with the Presta valve, unscrewed it completely and then lost the bit he had unscrewed! I now had a broken pump and a defective inner tube…
I paid my 5€ for the bus to central Athens with the intention of alighting at the petrol station. The bus was being driven by Greek Stig however and I fought hard to keep both Reggie and myself in an upright position. It didn’t help that the bus was a bendy one and the back section was whipped around with such vigour that Reggie was a greater risk on the X95 bus than he probably ever had been in the combined hands of the British & Greek baggage handlers. It is clear – from the albeit limited evidence of this one bus journey – that brakes in Greece are there to be punished and boy! did this driver give them hell.
I never did get off at the petrol station – I didn’t even see one – as a plan B was fermenting. Plan A, as mentioned was the cycle to the Bacchus campsite. That clearly want going to happen today. In central Athens however, I did have my booking for Monday & Tuesday evenings at the Hotel Tempi. Could they put me up for another night? Locating the hotel wasn’t difficult – just a ten minute walk from where the bus had screeched to a halt with a handbrake turn – and my woes were about to be forgotten…
The owner, who was outside the building directing another chap with a hose, couldn’t have been, well, more accommodating. ‘Of course, no problem…’ He’s even bringing in his own pump for me to use in the morning. The hotel is a basic affair – for 35€ a night in a cracking central location with a view of the Acropolis from the street you wouldn’t expect anything more luxurious – but it is now my base for the next three nights. I haven’t yet abandoned the idea of making it to the Temple of Poseidon, my iconic starting point to the cycle. There is a bus from Athens every hour and as long as I can fix Reggie quickly in the morning we should be back in the business of crossing Europe by bike. In theory at least…
Today statistics? Zero kilometres cycled & zero time spent not doing it. Hopefully tomorrow will be cycling day one.
Have a great trip.
Day 0 is always a shakedown, best have those problems now than in 50km time in the middle of nowhere. Most things are fixable. Best of British with the temple
Brilliant start to the story! This is what makes following your adventures so worthwhile. Rivals the broken spokes drama in Reggie 1.
Steve (above) is right. Nothing wrong with Presta valves, but you don’t want a pump that connects directly to them and imho most mini pumps can’t generate the pressure needed without running the risk of tearing the valve seat out of the tube. Steve’s choice is an honourable exception. On my recent trips I have just stopped off at Bike Shops and asked to borrow a proper floor standing pump to top up my pressures. But overall I hope you are seeing this misadventure for what it is – a great chance to develop your problem solving skills and coolness under pressure!
Hey! You are in Greece. Home of the biggest tragedies and dramas. Anyways…. as we say in Denmark. You will be cycling away in no time. Starters unluck. 😉
Seriously, I think that all the unforeseen difficulties makes us wiser and more competent. Right? 🙂
Having only just got back from Croatia, I am now up to speed fella! Ah well shit happens, best out the way early doors! The Temple of Poseidon will be sorted!
Omg what a start. .. can only get better x
Will reading your blog spoil your forthcoming book I wonder?
I hope not! Quite a lengthy piece today as I had the time. There will be a lot of much shorter ones…
Look at it this way, extra time to do the tourist
thing! Hope you can sort Reggie in the am!
This is the exact reason why I fitted Schrader car style valves to our bikes, Prestas are rubbish! We’ll keep an eye out for you on the south coast of France…
Depending what pressures you run, Schrader are not typically very good at holding high pressures of a road bike.
The only reason for presta valves is so will also have to buy the little presta to schrader adapters!
I think you should go to the Temple of Poseidon and sacrifice something to the gods. Preferably a Presta representative.
I may just do that… 🙂
Make the most of this day of rest. You sound like you will need it.
Andrew, at the earliest opportunity get yourself a Topeak Road Morph mini track pump. All other pumps are rubbish by comparison. I always have one about my person and have helped out numerous fellow cyclists.
The one I have is a Top Peak one… Short & bright yellow!
What is the start of an epic adventure without a hint of drama? 😉