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Climbing in Crete

by Tara

I drift in and out of sleep, in a very cozy morning haze. I think I hear a truck crunching over gravel… probably Pietro off to milk his sheep. Before I drift back into unconsciousness, the thought: "so glad that's not me" crosses my mind. I roll over, and fall asleep again, tangled up with Tyler to the sound of the waves rolling in and out, in and out.

Soon I awaken again, this time to the feel of warm sunshine streaming through the walls of our tent. I smile and remember where we are. The ocean continues its perfect soundtrack, and the air is filled with the jingling of bells. Curious to see what sort of visitors we have, I unzip our vestibule door and peek my head out quietly.

Good morning, ladies!

Morning View From Our Tent (Sheep)

I rouse Tyler and point him, bleary-eyed, through the peep hole I've made. He smiles and we begin our morning routine, him checking email to make sure nothing "blew up" with work, and me tidying up camp. We've begun talking and making noise, and the sheep suddenly realize they aren't alone. They take off in a panicked flurry of bells and baaas, as if shouting "RUN AWAY, RUN AWAY!"

We exit the tent, beginning to pack up in earnest. As I organize our belongings, rolling up our bed and stuffing it away, I feel like a Disney princess, able to talk to the animals, or at least like I'm in a morning version of Goodnight, Moon.

Good morning, free-camp! Good morning, ocean!

Cretan Freecamp Cretan Freecamp

Good morning, little snails! How cute you look today.

Snail #1 on Tent Snail #2 on Tent Three Snails and Their Trails

Our idyllic start to the day comes to head when I spot dark clouds swiftly rolling our way. In reponse to the threat, we work as a team in double-time to get everything into our panniers and dry-bags. Camp safely stowed, we make our way over to the nearby church to eat breakfast. As we enjoy our leftover pizza, we rest easy knowing we can dash inside to stay dry if need be.

The storm never comes, and we begin wheeling our bikes up the last few gravel switchbacks before connecting with the pavement once more.

Tyler Pushing Up Rocky Road Cretan View

Now high above last night's picturesque camp spot, we bid it a fond farewell and continue on to greener pastures.

Green & Blue Barbed Wire Fence

This morning I am thankful for pavement. Sweet, smooth pavement. Our off-road adventure was fun but it is nice to cover ground with ease too.

As we pedal up a small hill, we pass an old woman splitting wood in front of her house. She is beautiful, clad in a black sweater and modest black skirt, her icy white hair blowing in the wind to the backdrop of a cherry tree in a full bloom.

She raises a hatchet in one weathered hand and brings it down with purpose on a dry limb of cherry wood laying on a chopping block. The branches split with a satisfying crack. She takes her piece of wood and throws it into a pile, preparing a stack so she'll have fuel to burn. The sight of this woman in charge of her own survival is so beautiful and inspiring to me. I hope to be like her when I am old.

Seaside towns behind us, it is time for The Big Climb. Tyler has prepped me for it, so I approach the series of fifteen switchbacks ascending rougly 800 meters with confidence and ease.

Here we go, up, up, up!

Tara Riding up Switchback

Well hello, sheepies! My, you have a nice view.

Sheep Livin' in Paradise

And cute ears, too!

Cretan Sheep: "Cute-Ears McGee"

Something about rusted, heavy machinery really does it for Tyler:

Cretan Backhoe

We climb, we climb, we climb some more. Music on our iPods, ample scenery to treat our eyes, we are happy and our slow ascent is easy and peaceful.

Sea & Sky Tara Climbing in Paradise

Phew, that's a lot of climbing!

Curvy Cretan Switchbacks

Finally, we make it to the "top" and cruise down into a vibrant valley.

Cretan Mountain Valley

Unfortunately we also have to climb out of the valley, but it is no trouble. At the real top, we break for a snack before cruising down, down, down.

In the middle of our descent, we are stopped by a friendly construction worker named Kostas. Traffic must be halted for a few minutes while a backhoe with a pneumatic drill attached to it pounds the mountainside into oblivion.

Our imposed break gives us a chance to chat. We learn of his upcoming marriage (congratulations!) and hear about some of the worries he has about the economic crisis here in Greece: his fiance is having trouble keeping work, and he can't find a job that suits his more impressive skillset. Good luck, Kostas!

Kostas Rocky Roadside

We wave goodbye to our construction worker friend as he smiles and ushers us through the rocky work zone. Our coasting ends in a quaint town with a river flowing through it. With 30 kilometers left to get to Hania, we realize we'd be riding into a city at dusk.

We've finally learned our lesson. We double-back in search of a free-camp. Finally after much hunting, we find the perfect spot in an olive grove. Tyler treats me to camp set-up and fried potatoes for dinner before we fall fast asleep at the early hour of 9PM.

Tomorrow we have a short day ahead of us to reach Hania!



That free camp is GORGEOUS!
Posted by Amanda on February 27th, 2010 at 12:59 PM
This is Dr Mike (yes that Dr Mike). I spent the summer running the Navy Clinic in Hania and I have friends and connections there. As always, angels are watching over you and if you need assistance, I can have assets at your location very quickly. Be sure to see where "zorba the greek" was filmed...
Posted by Anonymous on February 28th, 2010 at 3:25 AM
As always, beautiful pictures! You guys are having great luck with all the picturesque free camp spots. Hope that continues :)
Posted by Mike on February 28th, 2010 at 5:47 PM
Amanda - Thank you! YES IT WAS! Probably our best ever.

Dr. Mike - Great to hear from you! Thank you, as always, for looking out for us! It is really, really nice knowing there are kind people all around who would help a stranger in need. Thanks again!

Mike - Thank you! We hope so too! :-)
Posted by Tara on March 2nd, 2010 at 10:07 AM