If cycling day 1 had been a little bit of a shakedown for Reggie, today has been a shakedown for his rider! I set off early this morning from the campsite in Corinth with high hopes of settling into another campsite in Olympia later in the day. I really should take more care over my preparation; all I had done prior to the cycle was look at the map and think, ‘yes, that’s doable’. It was never going to be the case, especially when I was trying to avoid the main roads. I’ll be honest; I don’t know a great deal about the Peloponnese and today was proof of that fact if such evidence was needed.
All that said, I suspected that I would be in for long day (although not necessarily a tough day) on the bike so I ditched the idea of seeing the ancient ruins at Corinth fairly quickly this morning instead setting off towards the hills. Unfortunately none of the more minor roads lead directly from Corinth to Olympia so it was a case of trying to assemble a route that headed in the general direction of the western Peloponnese whilst not spending too much time heading north, south or, in some cases, back towards the east. This strategy of cherry picking the best routes was at times confusing and I spent just as much time peering at the dim screen of my iPhone while consulting Google maps as I did perusing the smaller scale paper map that I had in front of me. It seemed an age before I arrived in the town of Nemea and when I did I bought a loaf of bread, bottle of Coke Zero and devoured both of them. Not the greatest of combinations I know but when you are drinking water for most of the day it’s nice to have something with a little taste to it when you get the chance. As I sat on the public bench in front of two cafés bemused locals gave me strange glances. Cyclists are not common in Greece never mind touring cyclists. They probably just categorised me as one of those foreign nutters and got back to chatting about important things in life such as how long they could stay in the café drinking coffee before their wives came to drag them back home to get on with watering the veg.
Already by that point I was surprised and delighted by what the Peloponnese was giving me; beautiful Italianesque scenery, quaint little villages, attractive churches in front of which Reggie could pose (see earlier post – there could have been many more) and friendly locals who were willing to smile, wave or peep their horns as I passed them or in the case of the horns, as they passed me at high speed. Look folks, I can do without the horns. Waving and smiling are good but unless you are about to knock me off the road and can’t stop your vehicle from doing so, lay off the klaxon! In the far distance I could see the ever-increasing height of the hills but I reasoned that my chosen routes would weave delicately between the hills and I would be able to admire them from the valleys. How wrong could I have been…
The climbing started soon after Nemea, gently at first but I began to suspect that greater challenges were ahead as the routes started to zigzag. The roads were almost deserted. Apart from the odd car hurtling up or down the mountain (we are talking about one every half an hour) and the even more sporadic lorry (also hurtling) it was just me, Reggie and our copious stocks of water. But no food. I was glad for the peace of roads; all I was able to hear was an orchestra of natural sounds consisting of the cicadas (string section), the breeze in the trees (wind section of course), my heart (percussion) and the smooth movement of Reggie’s mechanism (err… the brass section? His bell is made of brass at least and I did ping it for the sake of doing so at one point). I do consider the noise of a bicycle to be a natural sound by the way. If you disagree then frankly my dears I don’t give a damn!
Up and up we climbed… and up a bit more and then a bit more after that. My day of ambling through the Peloponnese hills had begun to resemble my day climbing towards the Gotthard Pass back in summer 2010. The Peloponnese hills were rapidly turning into significant mountains. The flip side of the effort required in the saddle were the views. ‘Stunning’ is an over used word ( I think I’ve used it many times on Twitter and Facebook myself today but there is no other word for it. OK, there probably is and someone will no doubt grab their Thesaurus but you know what, I forgot to pack mine on this trip!)… but it describes perfectly what I could see. When I wrote about cycling up the Alps in my book (have you read it yet?) I remember making the comment that I didn’t pause and get off the bike because I was out of breath, simply that I wanted to take a look at the scenery that was revealing itself behind me. It is a measure of the cycling difficulty of today’s task that when I did get off the bike to look at the scenery it was also because I needed to do so. It’s worth pointing out that three years on from my alpine efforts I’m a far fitter and lighter person…
Eventually, after many, many turns of the pedals I arrived at the col, got off the bike and recorded a short video (like you do). I will post it here immediately after having posted this. It probably better sums up how I felt at the time that a few words tapped out four hours later.
The other side of the col did reveal a long downward route and after no more than 30 minutes I was back on the valley floor. By this point in the day I knew there was no chance of making it all the way to Olympia. Looking at my map I was barely half the way along my intended route and my main priority was to find somewhere to stay in the next hour or so. The town of Levidi seemed like a good candidate. It had a symbol on the map that implied that I should be able to find somewhere to sleep in the town. Hopefully.
Unfortunately by this point my legs were beginning to fail me. I could see the town from a distance and (groan), it was on top of a hill. Not a large one but at this stage of the day even a bump in the road was proving to be a considerable challenge. I gave in, got off the bike and pushed Reggie the remainder of the 500m up the hill. I was unsure of what to expect when I arrived at this second, albeit distant second summit of the day. A shop if I was lucky? A café in which to drown my sorrows when I discovered that the nearest hotel was 20km away? I had already noted that the football pitch just outside town would make a good wild camping pitch (although the high security fence may have proved a challenge for Reggie). Much to my delight I was to be proved utterly wrong. Although mainly devoid of people, the town of Levidi boasts at least three hotels, a sufficient number of bars to fill the West End and three small cabins selling snacks, drinks & cigarettes. I filled up my stomach by visiting all three. There was much space to fill. I also bought a pack of Marlborough Red to celebrate my day’s efforts. OK. I didn’t really…
The third cabin was run by Natale (Greek readers: is that right?) who suggested a place just past the petrol station and I cycled along the road to find it. There was a woman outside waving her arms wildly (she had been phoned by Natale to prepare the welcoming party) and she showed me a room that would cost me 25€. Done deal! I showered quickly and came back into town but before I could, my host was insistent that I go to Costas’ restaurant. As I sit here typing this blog (not in Costas’), Costas is probably still outside in the street waving his or her arms wildly at any passing cyclists. Problem is, I think I’m the only cyclist in this village or, come to think of it, the Peloponnese. And that is strange because it is great cycling country! So says Cycling Europe himself…
This all sounds very reminiscent of our charity ride in France in May – don’t think there was a day without a ‘surprise’ of some kind :). Anyway, your trip so far sounds and looks brilliant, enjoying the posts.
Thanks! I’ll try keep up the good work 🙂
There could be a big diifference if you were to dribble on your keyboard as opposed to write drivel on it (not that you are writinng any drivel). My granddaughter just dribbled on my ipad and I really wish she was old ennough to have drivelled instead!
I’m not even a cyclist BUT I am sold! This is far too enjoyable! And yes I have just bought your first book! I sincerely hope more people do too! Can’t wait for the next post!
Brings the all too recent memories of the Spanish mountains to the fore. And that need to find somewhere to eat and sleep and the delight when it’s sorted. Take it you will stock up with at least some food reserves for next stage? I hate being hungry!
Me too but I ate for Britain on arrival in Levidi last night! Today (so far) has been mainly downhill. I’ve just paused for coffee and suspect that the downhill trend will continue this afternoon. It’s pay back for yesterday’s climbing!
Err… I suppose they were (????)
Congratulations! Reggie very much looks the part. You are probably aware that a site like Map My Ride is a great way to work out the elevation profile of the day ahead and the different category climbs you will face. On our recent trip we quickly became addicted to it so we could ‘measure the challenge’ a particular route would present. Just a word to the wise.
Yes, but that requires forward planning. Not my forté…
It is the unknown that makes a trip into a journey (for an armchair cyclist, I do talk dribble sometimes)
For a non-armchair traveller I also talk a lot of drivel… I’m quite a fan of the stuff (and am beginning to make a living out of it so don’t knock it!). Keep the drivel coming 🙂
Dribble? Drivel? Is there a difference?
In Japanese the same kana is used for the phonemes “be” and “ve” – it looks like this: ベ – so “dribble” and “drivel” would be written in the same way.