Mediterranean Cycopaths

Cycling Shorts #2

Three Billy Goats Gruff

The road from Sarande to Vlore in Albania was undulating and in shocking condition to the point where, by 4pm, we had only travelled 70 of 130kms.  Standing between us and Vlore was a 1000m mountain pass and, while the road was sealed from this point on, we were presented with a new challenge on the 2nd hair pin bend.  Standing in our way was a herd of innocuous looking goats.  Innocuous, that is if they arent accompanied by 6 of the most vicious mutts this side of the Korean DMZ (I assume the dogs there are pretty vicious?). With the three of us tackling the climb at our own pace, we each adopted different combat methods to get through.

The first I knew trouble was on the horizon was the cacophony of barking.  I looked up to see Sean going uphill at downhill speed whilst woofing back at the dogs and spraying water at them.  I arrived on the scene soon thereafter and 1 of the pr*cks came down the road and signalled to the others that I was coming.  They stood there, 6 across, growling at me.  H2O is quite a valuable commodity going up these mountains and I was blowed if I was going to waste the team’s Gin stockpile which occupies my other water bottle – so I stopped, picked up some rocks, fired a few opening salvos then headed into battle.  I have never been so scared of a pack of animals in my life.  Boy, were they were mean, but the whirring of legs and me dropping rocks at their heads (in thrown-down fashion) periodically, managed to keep them at bay and I survived to blog another day.

Dogs are Talking

I didn’t dare stop any closer

A text message warning to Tombsy, a dog lover from way back, was taken with a grain of salt until he too was confronted.  They were probably even more aggravated by that stage, but with a combination of the tactics already described and the fact that there was a little less meat on offer, he also got through unscathed – physically at least.  These dogs were so aggresive they were trying to bite the tyres of cars as they went past … and it was all enjoyed by a viewing audience comprising the goats and a smug shepherd hiding in the bushes.  Gladiators, Albanian style.

Land Speed Gripes

The flip side of the any uphill is the downhill to come and the monster mountain described above provided 20kms of it.  The race for the land speed record was back on!  During a particularly quick section Sean managed to break it by 0.05 kph!  This left a bitter taste in my mouth – not so much for the narrow margin but the fact that I was right on his tail at the time and, but for some gear failure, believe I would have had him.  After 7,000kms my rear tyre started to come apart and I could only manage 79kph.

Gear Failure ...

 

The battle for the coveted land speed record continues

I am inevitably and deservedly copping plenty of ’sour grapes’ ribbing, but I will wear that.  Meanwhile, if anyone knows of a tyre manufacturer that makes equipment more suited to my high octane approach to cycling, then please let me know.

Conspiracy Theories

With Tombsy self admittedly being a little undercooked when he joined.  The long days in the saddle are as much a mental challenge as physical, so he always likes to know exactly what he’s in for before the start of play in order to psych himself up.  Sean and I have been doing our best to manage his expectations both on the distance and topographical front however, as is the case with other famous seers like Nostradamus, our prophecies have sometimes proved inaccurate.  Whilst he revels in the over-estimations, it was a none too happy Mr.Tombs who arrived in Makarska after riding a hilly 155kms (a new personal best) over the course of 8 testing hours.

Sean and I, fresh from a swim at the beach, were accused of conspiring to make him tackle a distance he would not have otherwise attempted!  While we were only 10% out (the map was 25% out) and refuted all claims of responsibility, Tombsy admitted to cursing us (read turning the air blue) for the last 50kms of his journey.

Jon

April 27, 2007 Posted by | Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Dashboard – Week 14

  • Days Cycled – 4
  • Distance Covered – 387km
  • Cumulative Distance – 7422km
  • Conspiracies Uncovered – 1
  • Walled Cities Visited in a Single Day – 5
  • April 27, 2007 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

    Albania for Dummies

    19th April 2007 

    The Lonely Planet has used the phrase “shrouded in mystery” to describe the Albanian people. Here at Team Cycopath uncovering mysteries and educating the masses is considered part of a days work.  Thus without further ado I present to you “Multiple interesting things you probably didn’t already know about Albania” – possibly not to become a regular segment.

    • The vast majority of all vehicles in Albania are Mercedes Benzes. The vast majority of all Mercedes Benzes in Albania have been nicked
    • Vehicular presentation is extremely important in Albanian culture. A previous Albanian census revealed Car Washs (Lavazho) to outnumber both cars and people
    • Exceeding this, potholes in Albania outnumber car washs, cars, people, blades of grass and carbon atoms combined
    • Mother Theresa was Albanian
    • My mother – Theresa – is not Albanian
    • Albania’s 1960 exit from the Warsaw Pact and shift to a self-reliant defence policy has left the countryside littered with 750,000 concrete bunkers
    • The current Albanian population, most of whom were created in these spartan love-shacks, have re-named them “Bonkers”
    • Albania is widely regarded as posessing the best flag of a Balkan nation to depict a double-headed eagle – the Montenegrans hotly dispute this
    • The most ubiquitous beer in Albania is Fosters – of course – as Albanian as a barbie and a game of beach cricket
    • In the mid 1990’s an Albanian population, naive to the workings of a liberalised economy, plunged $US 2 billion into pyramid schemes. This collective absurdity led to the overnight loss of the equivalent of 80% of the country’s GDP and begs the question “Why do people keep sending me chain emails when there are 3.5 million potential Albanian recipents screaming out for dodgy promises and false hopes?”
    • In Albania, as in many Balkan nations, the Western system of nod and head shake to indicate yes and no is reversed – a situation that can cause significant consternation for the uniniated:

    Jon Do you speak English?

    Patsry Man Nods

    Jon You do speak English?

    Pastry Man Nods

    Jon Will you speak English?

    Pastry Man Nods

    Jon Now?

    Pastry Man Nods

    At which point Jon storms out of pastry store muttering assertations about Pastry Man’s intellect and family circumstances.

    I hope the above points have helped clear up most of the burning questions on Albania that I know needle our readership. Please direct any further enquiries, denouncements, refutations, arguments or complaints to either Michael or Jon who are more than happy to mop up any small details I may have overlooked in compiling this comprehensive body of work.

    Sean  

    April 22, 2007 Posted by | Uncategorized | 3 Comments

    Baptism of Fire

    18 April 2007 

    ‘Character building’ – A term used, usually in hindsight, in an attempt to describe positively an event or circumstance that is generally unpleasant by most measures. My first few days as part of Team Cycopath can only be described as character building, at best. After a lovely week of sailing the Aegean Sea from Turkey to Greece, it was finally time to get down to business and climb aboard my trusty stead, Samantha. With zero bicycle touring experience and limited training in the preceding months, my first week was predictably a testing affair.

    The first day was particularly tough and the mountainous terrain provided what Jon referred to as my ‘baptism of fire’. It hurt, boy did it hurt. Each part of my legs were burning as the lactic acid built up in the muscles. My heart felt like it was beating out of my chest like that of the adoring skunk in the ‘Pepe la Peu’ cartoons, and the toxic mixture of sweat and sunscreen pooled in my cycling glasses the way water gathers in the ill-fitting goggles of a swimmer. I would like to tell you that it got easier as the days went by, but the Balkan Peninisula’s unforgiving coast line that is so spectacular to the eye was never designed with bicycle touring in mind. The hills progressively got higher and steeper as the road surfaces deteriorated and became less stable, to the point where I was considering trading Samantha in for a Jeep with a winch.  The long arduous days made my training sessions of leisurely cruising around Surrey on a Sunday morning and the odd Spin class (ok, I went once) seem horrifically insufficient.

    So this is what 1000m feels like!

    With 6,000km and 3 months of cycling in their legs, Team Cycopath’s incumbant duo made relatively light work of the mountains that nearly brought a tear to my eye. This led to solo cycling for all but the first five minutes of most days, as Sean and Jon disappeared over the horizon before I had managed to slip into second gear. Jon even offered to carry my tent one evening on the last leg of a particularly gruelling day, but I reluctantly declined. I wasn’t ready to accept charity just yet.

    Like many things in life, bicycling touring is about putting in the hard work and then reaping the just rewards. After an afternoon-long slog up a bicycle-killing mountain, that feeling of summiting the final brow to meet a sheer cliff face dropping dramatically to the clear blue Ionian Sea gives a satisfaction matched by few others. From this vantage point, the progress achieved is visually tangible. Compounding this is the knowledge that the final 15km are a free fall straight down to sea level past a herd of goats with bells around their necks congregating on the road side waiting to usher me by, the same way fans line the final meters of a Tour de France stage. There is no time for autographs though, as an outdoor restaurant on the water front is waiting to prepare a seafood feast and icy cold beverage I have so rightly earned.

    One can only assume that as my legs get stronger and my fitness builds, the cycling will become increasingly enjoyable to match that of the other aspects of the trip. That said, I just had a quick glance at a topographical map of the coming days route – it looks, err, character building. 

    Michael 

    April 18, 2007 Posted by | Uncategorized | 1 Comment

    Dashboard – Week 13

    • Days Cycled – 6
    • Distance Covered – 637km
    • Cumulative Distance – 7035km
    • Weight shed by the “Not So Big Greasy” – 11kgs
    • Land Speed Records Broken – 1 (81.8 kph)

    April 18, 2007 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

    Hellenic Highways and Sage Advice

    12th April, 2007

    After an enjoyable, albeit short, time in the Islands and Athens, it was time to saddle-up the bikes and get back to business. The addition of an extra team member would undoubtedly mean some changes in day-to-day logistics and cycling strategy, but Team Cycopath is a modern, flexible organisation that thrives on such challenges.

    While we are modern and flexible, we also subscribe to old school principles of education and initiation, so Tombsy wasn’t going to get it too easy. Not only was a challenging schedule drawn up to get us to Dubrovnik in 2 weeks, Sean stole his lunch money on the first day and I gave him a wedgie for good measure.

    Considering the task he has set himself – commencing in a mountainous country and joining two blokes who already have 6000kms in the legs – he is doing pretty well, but I will leave it for the man himself to give you a first hand account in a subsequent post.

    Cooling Down

    Hot and Hilly in Hellas: A tough initiation for Tombsy

    While we were ‘Guidebook-less’ in Greece, we managed to find our way around ok and very much enjoyed the country, particularly the picturesque North-East which doesn’t usually get much of a look-in from foreign tourists.

    We also made a stopover at the ruins of Delphi, the ancient city famous for it’s Oracle. The Oracle’s prophecies were hugely respected in the ancient world and no major decision was made without consultating her – counsellees have included Hercules and Alexander the Great. The momentous occasion of a Team Cycopath visit to the country was yet another chance for the Oracle to impart some words of wisdom and, although apparently out to lunch when we got there, she didn’t disappoint – leaving a post-it note with a message for each of us:

    Jon: Stop following Sean on mountainous detours to look at piles of old stones.

    Sean: Stop leading Jon on mountainous detours to look at piles of old stones.

    Tombsy: Detour is spelt D-E-T-O-U-R.

    She also suggested that we start giving some recognition to those readers who have donated to Fred Hollows by putting their names on the site. Sage advice from the old girl, particularly given many donations aren’t being credited to us because donors aren’t putting our details in. SO, if you have donated, please send me a quick email (jon@gourlay.com) so that we can credit you on here. If you haven’t donated – click here for details!

    Jon

    April 16, 2007 Posted by | Uncategorized | 3 Comments

    Cycling Shorts

    A forum for stories from the road that we can’t shoe-horn into other posts:

    Dumb and Dumber

    Incident #1: Sean and Jon cycle 45kms from Fethiye before stopping to grab a bite to eat.  Jon reaches for his wallet only to realise that he has left it back at the Fethiye accomodation (under his pillow).  Later that afternoon he hires a scooter and drives a 140km round trip to retrieve it.

    Incident #2: Team Cycopath stop for a morning break after 40kms in the saddle and Sean reaches for his mobile phone … only to discover he has left it back at the Agrinio accomodation (under his pillow).  He hitches a lift in a ‘Mafioso’ style Mercedes to go and get it (taking his helmet to “Explain his get-up”) and returns 2 and a half hours later on a bus.

    Needless to say a morning checklist has now been instigated.  Some Benny Hill music on the iPods would come in handy too.

    Dumberer

    We are loading the bikes up in Lattakia (Syria) and a middle aged man is taking a keen interest in proceedings.  “Where do you put the oil?” he asks.  “On the chain” Jon replies.  He continues to inspect our machinery and it soon becomes clear that he is searching for a fuel tank.  It takes a good couple of minutes to explain that these are bicycles – pedal driven, human powered, the like of which he sees every day, but he’s still looking confused as we PEDAL off.

    Fuel for the Ride

    The road to Delphi has just presented us with a steady 14km ascent on a hot day and we’ve arrived at a ski resort.  Sean pulls over and proceeds to consume: 1 x Large Chocolate Milk, 1 x Double Chocolate Cornetto, 3 x Mars Bar and (to balance it up) 1 x Fruit Juice.  As we cycle away from the carnage of this gluttonous rampage, the big man justifies his actions simply – “I was shaking when I arrived, but I’m not shaking anymore”.

    Mistaken Identity

    As you would expect, we are constantly subjected to people guessing at our nationality.  All to often however, they seem to be mistaking Jon’s sun tan for regional ethnicity.  Even after Sean has trotted out the “Australian” line it is invariably followed by – “… and your friend? Español?” or “e siete Italiano?”.  A hotel receptionist in Turkey took the cake though when, 2 minutes after asking whether Jon was German, he couldn’t stop himself from checking again – “Are you sure you’re not German?”.

    Groundhog Day for Tombsy

    Tombsy: “Hey Jon, have you got the time”

    Jon: “Yep, it’s 9.15”

    Tombsy: “Same as yesterday!”

    Jon: “Umm, yeah, it happens everyday mate”

    April 14, 2007 Posted by | Uncategorized | 6 Comments

    Dashboard – Week 12

  • Days Cycled – 2
  • Distance Covered – 222km
  • Cumulative Distance – 6398km
  • Cats Hit – 1
  • Gyros Eaten – 39
  • April 14, 2007 Posted by | Uncategorized | 1 Comment

    High Seas – High Drama

    8th April, 2007 

    Being a veteran of several ferry crossings of the notorious Bass Strait (stretch of water seperating Tasmania from the Australian mainland) I had perceived taking a ferry ride through the Greek Isles as the maritime equivalent of driving a ride-on lawnmower around your own backyard. Alas the Agean Sea – an associate of our sworn enemy the Mediterranean – decided to portray it’s domination over man not once, but twice on our recent passage between the islands of Rhodes and Santorini.

    Case 1

    Selecting a good vantage point from the rear deck I settled down to watch the routine loading/unloading of goods and people in a port on the island of Karpathos – one of many stops. Our ferry backed onto a square concrete platform which was accessed by a narrow wharf with room for one way traffic flow only. As the ramp was lowered, the sea picked up, rocking the boat and occasionally sending a wave crashing over the platform and the water cascading over the opposite side. Not seeing any demarcations normally used to create queues I wondered how the ferry staff would organise the multiple trucks, cars, people and packages wishing to move on and off … not at all is the short answer!

    The moment the loading ramp first caressed the platform was akin to the starting guns of 2 marathons firing – their participants lined up facing each other. People and vehicles on both sides surged with scores of collisions miraculously missed by last minute diversions. As for the ferry officials, who to a man insisted on doing little other than blasting their whistles continously – releasing a set of rabid pit-bulls would not have generated more chaos.

    The ‘Loading’ Platforms   Bang! … and they’re off!

    2 women – clearly not local – stood frozen on a small step, clinging to each other, their posture and their eyes betraying sheer terror at the thought of traversing the platform to board. A ferry official, recognising their plight, hastened to assist – screaming like a drill seargent, feverishly waving a flag and several sharp blasts of the old whistle for good measure seemed to do the trick.

    The people moving off the ferry attempted in vain to avoid the inevitable shin deep drenching by hugging the edge of the platform – I was sure a small child or little old lady was going to be swept off at any moment.  Thankfully this eventuality was avoided – for humans at least. As we pulled away I counted at least 2 full sized suitcases bobbing in the harbour, their owners gesticulating wildly whilst ferry officials had suddenly become rather inconspicuous – presumably vanishing until tommorrows ferry when this daily routine would again be enacted.

    Case 2

    Some 12 hours later our ferry docks in Santorini, a stones throw away from where the Sea Diamond, a massive cruise ship holding 1600 people, is slowly sinking to the ocean floor (under the cover of darkness – unfortunately for our photo site). The incident has spurned 24-hour analysis and debate on Greek TV – which we are having difficulty interpreting save to say that the Captain apparently didn’t see the 25km long island he ran his vessel into (in broad daylight). The comments of a British passenger were also quite clear, describing the evacuation as chaotic, a situation exacerbated by “…to be honest, the Americans, who were grabbing all the life vests…” including those already attached to other evacuees!

    Which leads me to the 2 lessons I will take from these shenanigans:

    Lesson 1: Never underestimate the power of the ocean

    Lesson 2: Never underestimate man’s total incompetence at dealing with the power of the ocean

    All of which makes blokes like Ken Gourlay (Jon’s uncle – in the final stages of a solo circumnavigation of the globe by yacht), all the more impressive – read more via the link on the right hand side of the page.

    Sean

    April 11, 2007 Posted by | Uncategorized | 1 Comment

    Team Addition

    Marmaris not only marked the end of our time in Turkey (and with it continental Asia) it also heralded the arrival of a new team member in the form of Mr. Michael Tombs. Tombsy was an original collaborator since we were in the earliest stages of trip planning, however personal circumstances dictated that he couldn’t begin with Sean and I.

     Tombsy

    Tombsy

    So he now joins the fray as the Team’s fifth and sixth wheels and it’s great to have him on board.  He’s the first to admit that he’ll be a bit behind the 8-ball in terms of bike fitness but we’ll cut him some slack and how well he takes to it will determine how long he hangs around.

    First up – a cruise through the Greek Isles. A tough initiation for the lad.

    Jon

    April 8, 2007 Posted by | Uncategorized | 1 Comment