Today's "ride" featured a lot of pushing and plenty of bleak-looking skies. Thankfully, the dark clouds that loomed overhead for the entire day only threatened to rain, and the terrain we practically dragged our bicycles through was (for the most part) completely flat. We started off by heaving our bikes through the deeply rutted riverside field we'd camped in last night. It took at least ten minutes of pushing together to force our 130lb-rolling-beasts back to the road, one at a time.
After a quick breakfast of bread and butter, we began our hunt for a route through the Tempe valley. A week or so ago, when planning our leg to Macedonia, we were warned that the pass was closed. Somehow we both conveniently forgot about this little detail until we were making camp just outside of it. I guess the allure of a flat road for several hundred kilometers clouded our memory a bit!
As expected, we found the muddy roads into and around the valley under heavy construction. The first two hours of our morning were sung to the tune of loudly rumbling diesel engines from all directions. We tried our hail mary pass first, getting on the main highway just to see if we could sneak through. We've found time and time again that construction areas which are deemed impassable are often anything but.
So, we pedaled our way towards the closed road, frequently with our necks craned like moviegoers in the first row, waving at the smiling construction workers in their giant vehicles as we passed. We recieved many smiles, honks, thumbs-up, and disbeliving looks on our way. When we reached the closed road, we were waved ahead by a busy-looking worker. Success!
…or so we thought.
No more than a kilometer later we met thoroughly impassable gate, fastened shut with a hefty padlock and guarded with a manned security booth. As we spoke with the stern worker about passing through the valley he directed us back the way we'd come.
Briefly dejected, we turned around to regroup. The Greek were proving to be a quite a bit more serious about their road closures than the French or Italians had been! So, we continued back towards the river we'd camped by while I pored over our GPS looking for some sort of promising alternative.
Tara, who is always a good sport about my adventurous/crazy ideas, had time to brush her teeth while patiently waiting, laughing in amusement as I took off my socks and shoes, trying to find a way for us to cross the raging river before us. To be honest, I'm not really sure what my plan was at the time. I think I just thought it would be fun to ford a river, and that our luck would change on the other side.
I came to my senses after several attempts at various points found me thigh deep in a frigid, heavy current after no more than a few steps from shore. Too bad we couldn't caulk our bikes and float across! (Kudos to anyone who actually gets that joke besides me).
Back to the GPS, I discovered a railroad following the river. With a little more inspection, I even found a bridge crossing it just a few kilometers back. That should be easier, I thought, as I nonchalantly mentioned it to Tara. She smiled, handing me a towel to clean my muddy feet off, and said nothing about my futile river wading just a few minutes earlier.
So, we took to the rutted roads once more, quickly arriving at the bridge, and then the disused railbed on the other side. Once again, I set about convincing Tara that I had a plan. We'd push our bikes along the rail-bed to the other side! It was perfect!
As I suggested this, Tara was hesitant and began citing her concerns that the day would end "à la Fried Green Tomatoes" (someone getting run over by a train). Once I had pointed out enough foliage growing over the rails, and the new, electric powered rail-bed several meters above us, she reluctantly agreed and we were off!
V e r y S l o w l y.
It was short bit of rail we'd have to cover, only 9km or so of pushing by my best estimates before we could rejoin the highway on the other side of the pass. It took Tara a few minutes to get over loathing the task of pushing her bike through gravel. Once she did, we had loads of fun admiring the railway and feeling particularly carefree.
It was a very bumpy route, and it required many muscles we don't normally use to traverse it. It felt like an entirely new adventure. Or an old one. We both reminisced about our favorite books involving railroads, from The Railway Children to The Boxcar Children.
Tara joked that it would be fun to hike across the US traveling on old rail beds with our belongings tied in a bindle, sipping from a hip flask, and whistling "Big Rock Candy Mountain" of course.
At length, we came to a dark tunnel which smelled strongly of oil. It was exciting to push through it, as well as a relief for there was a narrow sidewalk on which we could roll our bikes.
When we emerged through the light at the end of the tunnel, we decided it was time for lunch. As we sat on our walkstools and ate a picnic lunch of sandwiches, we watched a herd of goats graze a little further down the track.
As we were eating, we heard a loud noise. Tara panicked for a moment, thinking maybe I was wrong about the track being disused. But the commotion was actually a helicopter at the construction site on the other side of the narrow valley. It was taking off, so I quickly ran for the camera to capture this:
Once all was quiet, I went to inspect the area around the tunnel while Tara finished her lunch. I was suprised by what I found. There was a huge riverside compound of some sort, that seemed to be part campsite, part church, part outdoors center, part cafe? It was all closed down, but it featured a footbridge across the river!
Unsure of what lay ahead, and slightly concerned about the possibility that getting our bicycles back to road level at the end of the valley would require a piece by piece disassembly of our machines, I crossed the bridge to see what lay on the other side.
To my delight, I found a staircase and a winding dirt road leading back to the highway! Before bringing Tara along on this next phase of our adventure, I went up to the road to ask at the construction site if it would be okay to cycle from there. Two workers busily clearing brush happily agreed once they got over the surprise of my popping up out of nowhere.
I returned to report the news to Tara, and we finished lunch together before heading to the other side of the valley. Some 7km from where we were denied entrance, and about 2km from the end of the construction zone, we rejoined the closed route.
Thinking we'd already passed the security gate for the opposite side, we lazily pedaled our way along the last of the perfectly drivable roads, waving at all of the wide eyed construction workers who unanimously gave us thumbs-up and smiles. Check out this guy drilling into the side of the mountain! Cool! (Taken with our telephoto, we were well clear of any flying debris!)
Then a highway security man showed up and said more or less: "HOW!? …did you get here?" / "It is impossible!" / "There is no way!" We were escorted to the end of the construction zone (just a few hundred meters) where an equally stern guard was baffled and clearly upset by the predicament. Two other guys working there winked at us and smiled, letting us know everything was fine, but the main guy was obviously astounded and uncomfortable.
After we assured him that we did not in fact, storm the gates, and that the construction zone wasn't impenetrable after all, (we just pushed along the railway and then crossed the bridge!) he gruffly took down our passport information and let us go. We made it!
The next few hours were spent making up for our slow start to the day. We rode to the seaside and biked with Mount Olympus towering above us as dark clouds sprinkled from time to time. Eventually we made it past several dilapidated closed-down campsites and the towns they inhabited, arriving in a much nicer area perfectly suited for free-camping.
With a little searching among the flat grassy bushy area, we found the perfect spot and settled in for the night. While I worked on a project for a client, Tara made grilled cheese and piping hot cream of potato soup. YUM! What a cool day!