Mediterranean Cycopaths

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. 



April 18, 2007 - Posted by | Uncategorized

1 Comment »

  1. tombsy – your character building stint has (almost) bought tears to my eyes. I am so glad that Jon and Sean – tender souls both – are there to help and guide you through this painful process…. I have no doubt their gentle words of encouragement and support are all that keep you going at times!

    Comment by Ben Gilmour | April 19, 2007 | Reply

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