Dubrovnik-Athens: The Charity Challenge

So the charity bike ride is complete and after five days off the bike I am sat here in Athens. Yesterday I left the city, got 15km, and had to return for my helmet. Stop laughing. Fate or forgetfulness had clearly intervened so I stayed for one final evening.

Next up is an Athens-Athens loop before temporarily flying home and then coming back to cycle onwards to Turkey. So it is the first time I am not making progress on a roughly drawn line from A to B. No two ways about it, it’s a holiday. With my new found freedom I decided to sit around rather than set off through smog filled streets to the Pelopennese. The wrong choice, no doubt, but it resulted in this blog post.

Holiday anecdotes aside, leaving the cause I have been cycling for behind is a complete wrench. Yesterday morning I left my hostel and immediately found myself in a huge queue for a food bank for refugees. A young girl of about 15 or 16 was being violently and repeatedly sick just next to the hostel entrance. She declined some water I had just bought from the shop, and I walked off in my squeaky lycra. Pathetic.  Just seeing the very surface of what people are going through makes you question your behaviour and values. And then you meet people who have given up jobs and savings and personal lives to help out, and hear their stories, which absolutely beggar belief.

It helps put a little bike ride in perspective. So on to that, for now, and who knows what next.

The charity challenge. 1150km along and about 15000m up in 10 days. How to put this. The worst I experienced was thinking to myself that I could be catching up on Game of Thrones when I needed to climb a small mountain in rural Greece at 7pm as the sun went down. What I did is not overly hard. It was actually really great. I just felt really lazy quite a lot.

I slept, ate and drank well. I met wonderful people and saw wonderful scenery. I cycled alot but not more than eight hours per day. Sometimes it rained. My feet got wet about three times, which caused mild discomfort.

With training much, much more than what I did is perfectly possible, and having been on the road for three months I had plenty of training. I met a 65 year old guy who ran 160km with 10000m elevation gain in one go with 45 minutes of sleep. That is a challenge…!

So with that off my chest, some highlights from a breathtaking trip…

Day one took me from Dubrovnik to Utjeha in Montenegro in 175km. It was mostly hilly coastal road in the heat. The bay of Kotor took me on a huge inland loop, before I zoomed past multiple welcoming beaches in Budva and Bar to end up in an empty hotel high up on a hill making pasta and pesto on the balcony.

dsc01884.jpg

img_20160510_125128.jpg

dsc01923.jpg

dsc01902.jpg

dsc01918.jpg

20160510_192708.jpg

dsc01925_1.jpg

My Russian hosts did not speak a word of English and I don’t speak a word of Russian. But we got on great nonetheless and the next morning, in a good mood, I decided to take a shortcut over a pass through Pecurice. After the initial disbelief that cycling up a hill was so hard, I eventually saw the misty mountains in Albania in front of me. Entry into Albania marked a change in the environment. Much more obvious poverty, horses and carts, the sound of the call to prayer, and crowds of kids chasing me down to say hello in all of the towns and villages I went through. Heading inland after the long coastal road of the previous day, I set off on the long, straight, dusty dual carriage way from Schkoder to Tirana.

dsc01927.jpg

dsc01928.jpg

20160511_124605.jpg

Day three went wrong quite quickly. From Tirana I went to Elbasan in the rain and multiple punctures later admitted defeat in pitch black countryside near Peqin. This was about the most friendly place I have ever been though and I was taken in by a wonderful family for free. An 11pm dinner of whole roast chicken with freshly cut chips and salad later I am forever in their debt. I even managed to maintain a three hour conversation with my point it picture book – thank you Keiko, Elliott, and Kezia!

20160512_113710.jpg

20160512_123744.jpg

20160512_221801.jpg

20160512_231830.jpg

I said my farewells about 12 noon after a 10k trip with Klodian Tata to Lushnje. With good vibes I made it 150km to Gjirokastra in a hurry. A late departure from the stunning hill town the next day took me to the Greece border and on eerily abandoned roads to Ioannina.

20160513_095608.jpg

20160513_145332.jpg

Day six marked the start of the bigger mountains, going up to 1700m, and my aim was to get up and over in a day. That didn’t go very well. Constant wind and rain, and multiple dog skirmishes, slowed me down and after around 70k of slow climbing I stopped off in Metsovo at about 1400m. I pulled my still soaked cycling gear back on to do 120km up to the peak and down to Karditsa the next day.

dsc01938.jpg

dsc01939.jpg

dsc01943.jpg

dsc01947.jpg

dsc01961.jpg

Day 8, 9 and 10 were characterised by me moaning about smaller hills as I saw the end drawing near, and a wonderful sojourn in the mountain town of Modi overlooking the great peak of Parnassus. The worst of the mountains were over and 300km in three days was all that was left. I cycled from Karditsa to a camping spot near Mendenitsa on day 8, on to Thiva via three hours of eating and drinking in Modi on day 9, and then in to Athens on day 10. Finished! And very happy to be joined by my brother Matt and friend Tristan for a few days holiday after.

dsc01963.jpg

dsc01965.jpg

dsc01974.jpg

20160518_104548.jpg

20160518_115055.jpg

20160522_191854.jpg

It was an amazing experience. I still just about remember the feeling that absolutely anything is possible, blurred by the haze of struggling to leave Athens for three days.

More widely, though, on arriving in Athens it is humbling to see so many volunteers devoting their daily lives to help with the refugee crisis. And horrifying to see the daily reality of so many people that are stuck here. Reminder that this little charitable endeavour was a tiny drop in a vast ocean…

Subscribe to Blog via Email

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 271 other subscribers

7 thoughts on “Dubrovnik-Athens: The Charity Challenge

  1. Hi Dave

    Your bike trip is wonderful and I fully understand your thoughts on people that you have met on your journey.

    I have am also on a bicycle journey, cycling from Scotland down to Sicily, albeit I took s ferry from Genoa to Sicily.

    I intend to cycle around the island then up thro the mainland to Slovenia and beyond. I will be cycling a similar route to yourself and i was wondering if you could provide answers to a few questions that I have, namely:

    How did you find Albania re the people and access into the country ie visas?

    What pre planning did you do re cash for travelling thro the ‘Stans’ countries on your way into China?

    and finally

    Organising Visas for cycling through the ‘Stans’ and China?

    Look forward to hearing from you.

    Fellow cyclist Steve

    1. Hey Steve, great to hear from you! Sounds like an awesome trip. Wish I had gone a bit further down into Italy, Sicily sounds great.

      On the questions, its a while ago now, but I didn’t require a visa for Albania, it is 90 day visa free for UK citizens. Fast border, no problems. I raced through really fast, which was a shame, as it was stunning, particularly the coast near to Greece, and the mountains near Lake Ohrid look amazing. I really loved Tirana; the food was awesome and I could have stayed there a long while. The roads sometime had what seemed like longterm roadworks and detours, but were otherwise fine. Met some wonderfully friendly people like those above, and didn’t have any issues with anyone. Stopped in a few villages and chatted with huge groups of kids in basic english.

      On the cash, no pre planning at all… Which was a problem as I was unable to get any dollars in azerbaijan. My plan was just to get dollars from the bank there but the govt had stopped all dollar withdrawals and conversions for the short time I was there. I don’t get the impression that is very common but can happen. The conversion rate was great on the train from Aktau to Uzbekistan surprisingly, compared to what other people got. Then just converted dollars in bazaars usually when needed. Didn’t spend much. There was one ATM I used in Tashkent. Am sure there are others.

      Azerbaijan Evisa. Very easy. Uzbekistan I applied in Baku. Same day turnaround, very easy. All others in Central Asia for me visa free. China I got a 2 year visa from the UK embassy in London – I could only get that in my home country. While It has a start date you don’t have to arrive in the country before that date, so you have plenty of time to get there. Other option is to apply on route, which sounds quite difficult from what I hear, or get to HK somehow, or send your passport home. I cant remember the recommendations people had on where to apply if you are doing so onroute, I think it was Almaty, but others have said to apply earlier in Turkey or Georgia. Not sure. Could always ask in the bicycle touring and bike packing FB group.

      Hope that helps!! Find me on instagram or something if you post photos, would be great to see them!

      1. Hi Dave

        Firstly, really appreciate you getting back to me with answers to the array of questions that i raised. Very useful indeed.

        I will get USA Dollars prior to going to the Stan countries. Thoughts on how much I will need would be useful to get me through the Stan countries and into China, would be appreciated.

        I cycled the Netherlands down into Normandy, across Brittany, north coast of Spain (wonderful journey thro the north of Spain), then into Portugal and back into Spain – did both the Spanish WY and El Cid Camino, brilliant cycle trip.

        I cycled along the south coast of France and into Italy to Genoa where I took a ferry down to Sicily.

        I intend to head around Sicily at the end of January then up through Italy. Quite keen in doing the Dolomites after reading your blog.

        It’s either Bulgaria or Albania and after your recent email I think it will be the latter and possibly sample the Cha Cha

        Luv to send you images but I am not a tech minded person

        If you have an email address i could send you some Along my trip .

        Regrettay, I have a Facebook page which I have set up folders for each stage of my journey and am now providing a narrative for most shots. If you want to join, send me a request. The image on my Facebook page is of a heart cut out in stone with a brick surround. It’s an image that I took of a facade detail in France.

        Please keep in touch, speak later.

        I may ask you questions along the route as you are well ahead of me.

        I started in Scotland last May, nae regrets though wished I had done it earlier in life. At 63 it’s been nae problems even the mountains in central Portugal at 2000m’s in heat of plus 40oC, I coped – Just

        Ciao

        Steve

        1. 🙂

          what is the name of your facebook page? mine is davesbikeride, follow that and I can find your one. if you have any questions as you go, ask them on there and it will be easier for me to see them. And I can ask you about Spain and Portugal when I get back to Europe!

          Things were cheap in Central Asia, and the camping was great. I camped and stayed in peoples houses almost exclusively in Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan. Uzbekistan a few houses for free, a few hotels, and camped a few times, but it is a bit more strict which can take the fun away a bit. I remember leaving very early to avoid big troupes of cotton farmers accompanied by police… I cant remember how much I spent in the region as a whole to be honest though… Less than $10 per day though for sure.

          Can’t recommend the Dolomites enough, and thanks to the cycle paths being often on old railway lines, it isn’t that steep. In any case, nae bother 😉

          All the best!

          1. Hi Dave

            Thanks for the info., very much appreciated.

            One question is why did you take a cargo boat from Baku to Aktau as opposed to the ferry to Turkmenistan? Is it standard to get on The said cargo boat?

            I am going to look into getting the necessary visas for Central Asia.

            While you need a visa to get into Turkey, I understand that you pay USD for an entry fee?

            I fancy the Dolomites, but thought as I will see many mountains in Central Asia coupled with the fact that I need to get into China before the winter sets in that I would give it a miss.

            I am going to cycle The Eurovelo routes 7 and 8 which is from Sicily , through Italy and down the Adriatic coast and into Greece.

            I’ll try and check out Facebook page and send you an invite.

            I only use Facebook to log my images in folders. There are many folders of my trip through Spain and Portugal. Hopefully they will inspire you on your trip?

            Speak later

            Steve

  2. Hi Dave!

    I am planning to cycle from London to Athens in the summer, and would love to get your advice on routes and planning…

    Do you have an email address I could contact you on? Couldn’t find it on the site!

    Thanks!!

    1. Hi Ellie! Sounds awesome – you can reach me on davidedwards.lspa at gmail.com

      Look forward to hearing from you!

Leave a Reply