Chasing Dreams

Istanbul, Turkey:  I did it!!!

What started as an idea in the cornfields of the American Midwest last year became conviction by the time I reached the Atlantic:  to keep pedaling in an easterly direction around the world.  Now at the very edge of the European continent, 5,847 kilometers from Lisbon, I find myself at the crossroads of Asia, having pedaled across a continent to get here.

This journey started alone on a June Sunday morning in Praca de Commercio, the historic heart of Lisbon and the westernmost part of continental Europe.   At that time navigating out of Lisbon was my biggest concern, and I privately worried this whole endeavor might get sand-trapped in Portugal’s cobblestone capital:

Every day since served up some kind of menace:  forbidden highways, wrong turns, mountains, tunnels, rain, wind, sun, dogs, fatigue, flats and language.  I negotiated the Pyrenees, the Alps and the Balkans, climbing cumulatively more than 41,500 meters (that’s 41.5 kilometers straight up).   I followed the coasts of one ocean and three seas.  I traveled across invisible borders and militarized borders.  Somehow I managed through it all, forging my own path on my own terms.   In crossing two continents I never fell off my bike once.  Considering all the possibilities for things to go wrong, four flat tires, two fearsome dog chases, and one police reprimand is a small price to pay to cross a continent.

My arrival in Istanbul tonight at dusk was very different from my solo departure from Lisbon at dawn. Four great guys — John, Cetin, Halil and Dimitri — safely escorted me to the finish line through an amazing route on local backroads while mother nature smiled upon us. Cycling along the Marmara Sea and past Istanbul’s icons — the ancient town wall, the Blue Mosque, the Hagia Sophia — was a memorable experience.  It finally sunk in that I had crossed a continent when we reached the eastern edge of Europe at the Bosphorus, with Asia in clear view across the water.  John ask me how I felt.   I said I felt like doing a thousand more kilometers.  I was kidding, in case there’s any doubt.

Today’s cycling provided a perfect ending to an epic expedition.   We arrived in the hustle and bustle of Turkey’s commercial heart this evening to be received in Taksim Square by ten members of Istanbul’s cycling and sports community.  Naturally I had to finish atop one of Istanbul’s biggest hills.  I was presented with a bouquet of flowers and the warm greeting, “Welcome to Istanbul.”  Later we had a celebratory Turkish dinner for which my parents arrived from Hong Kong just in time.

Not everything went smoothly today.   When I retrieved my bike this morning, my back tire was flat, a so-called “hotel flat.”  It was meant to be, I suppose.

I set out to cycle Every Friggin Safe Inch of road between Lisbon and Istanbul.  I did.

Eating exuberantly across a continent, I also sought Europe’s tastiest dessert.  In my estimation, it’s a tie between Italian gelato and Iberian flan.  I’ll take both.

For a continent with so much religious history, I also searched for the prettiest church in Europe.  There are many.   This church in Dubrovnik, Croatia offered me quiet and calm and refuge from a city taken over my tourists, and has special meaning to me:

I set out to raise US$35,000 to help provide the 120 deserving Thai kids at Yaowawit a shot at a productive life, and maybe a chance to chase their dreams.  I believe in breaking the poverty cycle through education, and Yaowawit provides strong educational and vocational training to these kids from society’s margin.   This is still work-in-progress.

But what I most sought as I struggled across Europe is to make a difference.  Instead, the world changed me.   Now more than ever, there’s so much need in the world.  The incredible and often intense experiences of this journey, and the kindness I have received, give me hope.  What I most hope is this little bike ride inspires others to action – whatever the cause and the form.  I remain convinced that if we each try to make a small difference in the lives of others, together we can have a big impact.

I am swirling with emotion right now, but one feeling prevails:  a profound sense of gratitude.  Gratitude for my safe passage.  Gratitude that I have the health and the means to chase a dream.  Gratitude to my family and to the many, many supporters who have encouraged and helped me get to this point.   Gratitude that I do not have to get on the bike tomorrow.  Thank you all, and thank you dear reader for accompanying me on this tour.

Like a good movie, TransEuropa 2011 sets up a sequel.   Someday — not tomorrow or next month but hopefully within the next five years – I shall return to Istanbul with Bubba Too, my sturdy touring bike, go over the Bosphorus and cycle across Asia.

But today this journey ends.   This blog, however, does not.   There’s much more I have to say about my experiences in crossing Europe, and more adventures ahead.   For the next few days I will explore Turkey with my parents before returning to Hong Kong early next week.  In three weeks I embark upon another epic expedition, to Antarctica.  After working my lower body for 82 days, it is time to give my upper body a workout by kayaking in Antarctica.  I will also climb back on to the career ladder as well.   It all promises to be one helluva journey.  Stay tuned.

In the years to come I will continue to chase my dreams.  I hope you will chase yours, too.

Follow your bliss and God bless.



12 October 2011

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Time to Bring It Home

Silivri, Turkey:  For the second time I checked out of the Golden Yat Hotel, said my thanks, loaded my bike, and entered Tekirdag’s morning rush hour traffic trying to get to Silivri.   This time I made it.

Today’s ride along the Sea of Marmar in the Thrace (European) part of Turkey was pleasant, but today’s cycling wasn’t about the journey.  Today’s ride was all about the destination and positioning myself on the edge of Istanbul, which finally comes into focus through all the grey clouds.  The end is in sight. Tomorrow I finish an expedition which spans 82 days, 16 countries, an unrelenting variety of challenges, and every possible human emotion.  Tomorrow I bring it home.

In another incredible display of Turkish generosity and hospitality, two cyclists from Istanbul are giving me a helping hand to the finish line.  After cycling on roads with wide shoulders for much of Turkey, 10 kilometers outside of Silivri, when the traffic picks up, the shoulder disappears.   Now I understand why Istanbul instills fear in some cyclists.

John, an American in Istanbul, braved the cold and clouds and traffic to cycle today from Istanbul to join me in Silivri.   Tomorrow John and I will be joined by a Turkish cyclist, Cetin, who will guide us on local roads into the heart of Istanbul, the only metropolis in the world situated on two continents.

It’s been much more of a fight to the finish line than I ever expected, but the Turkish people continue to shower me with warmth and welcome.   Today I stopped in a gas station for a quick rest.   The owner asked me where I come from and repeatedly said Nashville.   He then got his son, who lives in Nashville but happens to be in Turkey, on the phone.   After a quick chat the son asks me whether I need anything.   Even as I send this blogpost, I am benefitting from the helping hand of a hotel which did not get any of my business.   The wifi in my hotel does not work; no luck either at an internet cafe.   So I went to the only other place I could think of with wireless in town to compose this blogpost.

Tomorrow my parents arrive in Istanbul from Hong Kong to meet me, while my son anxiously waits in Hong Kong for them to bring me home.

Day 80:  Tekirdag — Silivri, Turkey

Distance:  72.42 kilometers

Ascent:  536 meters

Weather:  What a difference a day makes!

Terrain:  Gentle rolling hills

TransEuropa 2011 Expedition Summary:

Distance:  5,762.29 kilometers

Ascent:   40,936 meters

Countries:  16:  Portugal, Spain, France, Switzerland, Austria, Liechtenstein, Germany, Italy, Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Albania, Macedonia, Greece, Turkey

Incidents:  6: flat tires on Days 45, 53 and 56;  police reprimand on Day 2; two terrorizing right-on-my-heels dog chases on Day 71


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A Helping Hand

Tekirdag, Turkey:  Today unfolded in a way I never wildly would have predicted.  Often on this journey I visualized my arrival in Istanbul, triumphant and jubilant, to keep me going.  I never remotely visualized the conditions I faced today, and if I had it’s quite possible I would have turned around a few thousand kilometers ago. Here’s what happened…

I awoke early this morning, just before the 6am prayers and after a stormy night with wind and rain producing the kind of noises I associate with typhoons.   I checked the hourly weather forecasts on multiple websites. While the forecasts weren’t pretty, the forecasts suggested more of the same kind of weather as yesterday, which I survived.   So I decided to stick with the original plan and trudge to the outskirts of Istanbul.  I called John in Istanbul to update him on this plan.

I left Tekirdag in the cold, windy and wet Monday rush hour.  Shortly after I got out of the city bad weather became nasty weather.  I fought against powerful cross winds for control of the bike, pedaling hard to go downhill.   Visibility was bad;  I couldn’t see with my glasses on and I couldn’t see with my glasses off.   As I stopped at a gas station there was thunder and lightning.    This was not unpleasant; this was dangerous.  I needed shelter, and once again service station attendants provided it.  Frustrated that I had only progressed 12.5 kilometers, I watched in disbelief as the storm raged.  After about an hour of this, I realized there was probably no way I could safely get to my intended destination of Silivri today.  I decided to abort, and immediately called John back with a further update.

Here’s where the story gets interesting.

While waiting in the gas station, I strike up a conversation with Ugur, the regional manager, who speaks English.  He suggested I go to his restaurant next door to wait out the storm, and even offered complimentary transportation for me and bike back to Tekirdag.  I appreciated the offer, and never ever remotely expected to take him up on that.  The rain eventually eased but the wind did not, and after two efforts to get on the bike and pedal back from where I started this morning, I just couldn’t do it.  I am out of juice and out of spirit.

I took Ugur up on his offer.   For the first time in two continental crossings, I voluntarily hitched a ride, and I checked back into the warmth of the Golden Yat Hotel six hours after checking out this morning.

I’ll try again tomorrow.

If there’s one indelible memory of this trip, it’s the considerable kindness, assistance, support and encouragement I have received from many along the way, often from strangers.  These random acts of kindness range from supportive honks by motorists to the provision of shelter in a time of need.  This generosity and willingness to lend a helping hand fills my heart with warmth on a blustery October day.   In truth this is not a solo cycling expedition across Europe. There is a large cast of supporters and enablers that make this journey possible. I’m just the wet guy on the bike.

Day 80:  Tekirdag, Turkey

Distance:  0

Countdown to Istanbul:

Remaining Days:  ?

Remaining Distance:  ~ 140 kilometers

TransEuropa 2011 Expedition Summary:

Distance:  5,689.87 kilometers

Ascent:   40,400 meters

Countries:  16:  Portugal, Spain, France, Switzerland, Austria, Liechtenstein, Germany, Italy, Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Albania, Macedonia, Greece, Turkey

Incidents:  6: flat tires on Days 45, 53 and 56;  police reprimand on Day 2; two terrorizing right-on-my-heels dog chases on Day 71

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“Stay at Home” and Other Relevant Road Advice

Tekirdag, Turkey:  Turkey really dished it out today — rain, wind, coldness, fog, big hills and nuisance canines.   It was one doozy of a miserable day, the kind of day I’d rather forget but will probably vividly remember for a long time.

When I appeared this morning in my pre-daylight hotel lobby the receptionist immediately said “Problem!” and pointed outside to the rain and to the discouraging skies.  Problem was an understatement.  I took off from Kesan in a drizzle, but 25 kilometers into the ride on the outskirts of Malkara, the skies opened.  It poured.   I quickly headed for the nearest shelter, a gas station.  The attendant welcomed me in from the rain, and I spent nearly two hours in the company of Mustafa and Hasan.  They were excellent hosts.  Although we did not share a common language, we managed to communicate.  To warm me up they turned on the heat, provided me with many a cup of hot tea (chai), and even offered me a hot shower.  In return, I shared some of my Clif bars, which they enjoyed.  I think they would have been fine if I had stayed the whole day.   Every time I tried to take off the clouds emptied in a fury.  I wondered whether I would be grounded in Malkara for the whole day.  The rain eventually eased to drizzle, and as I said thank you and farewell, I gestured that they will be in my heart.   They returned the gesture, and gave me their phone numbers and email addresses.

It continued to rain off and on for the remainder of my ride into the port of Tekirdag, on the Marmara Sea.  On two occasions I thought I might actually get a little sunshine, but mother nature was just messing with me.  I arrived in Tekirdag cold to the bone, my feet soaked, my body chafed in some delicate areas.  I spotted the Golden Yat Hotel in the center of town. It’s much nicer than it sounds, and immediately I made myself at home.

This morning I received some advice from John in Istanbul:  “Please be extra careful. The drivers can be careless, inattentive, and display the same sense of social distance (or proximity) on the road as in the post office, bus station, supermarket.”   John and I have been communicating on a daily basis for the past week about my ride through Turkey, and he has been immensely helpful in directing me in this last stretch.

“Stay at home….”

John’s advice caused me to think about all the other advice, comments and questions I have received over the course of this journey.   Here are my favorites:

“Relax, you’re not going to Timbuktu”  said Mr Lee at Flying Ball, my bicycle shop in Hong Kong, after I was spending so much time in his store.

I prefer to go to Istanbul by train,” said bike mechanic Charlie of the Rad & Tat bike shop in Innsbruck, after riding my touring bike Bubba Too around the block.

Sometimes it’s good to color outside the lines,” said my cousin Kevin about the Portuguese police reprimanding me for cycling on the highway.

“This is nicht for me,”  deadpanned my two-time Innsbruck host Josef, on watching me go through my elaborate morning ritual of packing my bike:  four panniers, a camera bag, a handlebar bag, two water bottles, and a tent.

Wo ist das? (Where is that?)” asked an elderly Italian potato farmer about Istanbul, speaking in German.   He spotted me coming down a ridge, and stared and stared.  I am quite used by now to people staring in disbelief at the sight of a guy on an overstuffed bike in the middle of nowhere, but this gentleman was different.   He was profoundly perplexed.  He motioned for me to stop.  He wanted to talk.  He asked me where I am going, and after explaining my ride auf Deutsch, he just looked at me with wonderment.   I explained that Istanbul is 3,000 kilometers from where we are.  He continued to stand and stare.  I was at a loss of words. Fortunately, a car stopped to buy some of his potatoes and I got rolling again.

Are you scared” I was asked exactly once.  I stopped to validate directions with a group of men standing on the sidewalk in Bar, Montenegro.  It so happened that one of the men is a Montenegrin-American who speaks with a strong Staten Island accent and drives a car around Bar with Florida license tags.  We chatted about the ride, and he asked this question which no one before or since has posed.  “No.  Should I be?,” I replied.  I had start-up anxieties in Portugal at journey’s start, but I never felt scared until Day 71 and those two frightful dog chases.

Keep the rubber side down and the chamois on the inside,” advised fellow cross-country cyclist Margo.   Very good advice for any cyclist.  I have been known to forget to keep the chamois on the inside.

This is your playground,” exclaimed Hong Kong pal Humphrey as we got out a big Collins map of Continental Europe and spread it over my dining room table, just days before I departed for Portugal.  Humphrey cycled from London to Hong Kong two years ago.

It looks like you are having a great time, we need to add some hail, bugs and 30 – 35 mph head wind to make it more challenging,” kidded fellow cross-country cyclist John.  I think mother nature took care of that today.

“You’re missing nothing by being out of Hong Kong at the most sucky time of the year,” wrote my friend Nancy.  “We’re getting the usual combo of blast furnace heat, biblical torents of rain and mushroom-growing-in-shoe inducing humidity.”

And my favorite:

Stay at home,” as an antidote for all our travel mishaps, suggested Dr Dora, a Romanian pediatrician whom we consulted when my son had a tummy ache during my first hiatus.

On a day like today I thought hard about Dr Dora’s reasonable advice, about how nice it would be at home, warm and dry and with my family.   I had to dig deep to keep going. But then I realize it is moments like this when life really happens.   This day illustrates to my son the meaning of commitment.  This day renders truth and fullness to my desire to go the distance for the kids of Yaowawit, in the hope that maybe, just maybe, they might have a shot at a better life.

I am about 140 kilometers (less than 100 miles) away from Istanbul, but if this weather system doesn’t pass, the push to the finish line might be the most arduous of the whole journey.

Day 79:  Kesan — Tekirdag, Turkey

Distance: 84.85 kilometers

Ascent:  951 meters

Weather:  Enough said already.  The big question is, what about tomorrow?  The forecast is not promising.

Terrain:   Big rolling hills

Countdown to Istanbul:

Remaining Days:  2?

Remaining Distance:  ~ 140 kilometers.  While I could do this distance in one day, several people have suggested to me that I stop at the edge of Istanbul, and set aside a day for the tricky ride into the heart of the city.   Depending upon weather, I also may be grounded tomorrow before continuing on to Istanbul.

TransEuropa 2011 Expedition Summary:

Distance:  5,689.87 kilometers

Ascent:   40,400 meters

Countries:  16:  Portugal, Spain, France, Switzerland, Austria, Liechtenstein, Germany, Italy, Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Albania, Macedonia, Greece, Turkey

Incidents:  6: flat tires on Days 45, 53 and 56;  police reprimand on Day 2; two terrorizing right-on-my-heels dog chases on Day 71

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A Whopper of a Windy Day in Turkey

Kesan, Turkey:  This morning I ran out of Greek road.  Turkey here I am.  For the first time on this Euro expedition I consciously and conspicuously took the autobahn to get here.

Entering Turkey, the final country on this 16-nation tour, was the most complicated and the only militarized border crossing I experienced in Europe.  It was easy leaving Greece, but not before a dog approached and barked at me, naturally.   I barked back.    I then entered a two kilometer no man’s land and cycled on a bridge over a river which demarcates the two countries.   There were military patrols on both ends of the bridge, and neither side allowed me to take any photos.  I then cycled into a large complex where the Turkish immigration formalities take place.  Although there isn’t much traffic between Greece and Turkey, the queues were long because the process is so slow.   It involved waiting in lines for two separate passport checks, two separate custom checks, and the purchase of an entry visa.

Finally I made it into the country and once on the road, I was blown away, literally and figuratively.  It had been blustery in Greece, but the southern cross winds coming in from the Aegean and across the plains were fierce.  At times I struggled to control the bike.  It was a hard and slow slog to Kesan.  I was also blown away by the contrast between the two countries.  This part of Turkey is very agrarian and seemingly very poor.  I have not seen such an abrupt transition between countries anywhere else on this journey. I have been to Istanbul before, but this is my first time in the Turkish countryside.  It wasn’t long before I saw horse-drawn buggies on the road.  As I entered Kesan I also saw a Burger King and realized this is the first fast food joint I have passed in perhaps two thousand kilometers  (I did spot a tempting Starbucks on my way out of Thessaloniki).  I worked incredibly hard to get to Turkey and the first thing I do when I arrive is visit Burger King for lunch.

Kesan is a lively market town sprawling with activity and friendly people.   They don’t see too many foreigners in this part, I guess.  I strolled around the central market area this afternoon as prayers blasted from speakers at the town mosque.  Many people asked for their photo to be taken.  It’s a scene that very much reminds me of Asia, with opportunities on the street to buy just about everything that one might need and a few things that one probably doesn’t need.  One person tried to sell me a shovel.

I’m still thinking about that shovel.

Day 78:  Alexandroupolis, Greece — Kesan, Turkey

Distance: 81 kilometers

Ascent:  593 meters

Weather:  Fierce cross winds, but the 40% chance of precipitation didn’t happen.   There is a nasty weather system moving across Europe.  I hope to make it to Istanbul before this weather system.

Terrain:   Hilly

Countdown to Istanbul:

Remaining Days:  3

Remaining Distance:  ~ 230 kilometers

TransEuropa 2011 Trip Summary:

Distance:  5,605.12 kilometers

Ascent:   39,449 meters

Countries:  16:  Portugal, Spain, France, Switzerland, Austria, Liechtenstein, Germany, Italy, Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Albania, Macedonia, Greece, Turkey

Incidents:  6: flat tires on Days 45, 53 and 56;  police reprimand on Day 2; two terrorizing right-on-my-heels dog chases on Day 71

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Are We There Yet?

Alexandropolis, Greece:  On the first morning of the first day of my cross-country American ride I randomly asked a cluster of fellow cyclists,  “Are we there yet?”    Thus began a ritual which I repeated many times as we migrated across America.  Typically someone would answer, “almost there.”

This morning, as I climbed a minor mountain in a strong headwind, I spotted the first road sign with an arrow pointing to Turkey.  That’s when it hit me:  I am almost there.   The Turkish border is just 25 kilometers away from this port on the Aegean Sea. Constantinople, Istanbul’s name in the middle ages which many Greeks still prefer to use, is just 315 kilometers away.   I will be there on Tuesday.  In keeping with my “Go Greek” philosophy, I have planned a comfortable, unhurried pace for the finale.   After all, last impressions are lasting impressions, and I want positive memories for this adventure which has consumed six months of my life.

Navigating Istanbul promises to be one of the trickiest parts of this prolonged journey. To help me I have sought some guidance.  John,  an American living in Istanbul and a friend of a friend, has very generously assisted me in planning my Turkish leg.  He has reached out to the cycling community in Istanbul for advice and to round-up a guide or two to lead me into Europe’s largest city.   I have heard from other cyclists that getting through Istanbul can be a near-death experience on certain roads.   I’m hoping to avoid those roads.  Here’s a link to a Facebook invitation that was circulated earlier this week asking for guide volunteers:  The Turkish invitation

Europe vs America

I do not want to get my front wheel too far ahead of my rear because I appreciate that almost there is not quite there.  But with just four days left of this epic ride, my thoughts have shifted to reflective mode.   In two years I have cycled across two continents and the experiences could not be more different.   The only thing in common between the two transcontinental rides is the use of two wheels;  even the bicycle types are different. But both have been defining and deeply rewarding experiences.

I crossed the United States during the summer of 2010 in an organized, fully supported ride with nearly 50 other cyclists.  All the logistics were taken care, but we had just 50 days to get from coast to coast.  It was very much a physical challenge to keep pace with that ambitious schedule.   I rode a carbon fiber bike and my luggage was transported by truck.  My job was to pedal and steer and follow cue sheet directions. It was an intense group experience as well.  We were in our own little world, a “bubble,” crossing the United States.   Enduring friendships were formed and there were many tears at the end. When I reached the Atlantic I did not want to stop cycling.  I had an intense yearning to keep going, which led to this journey across Europe.

This European ride is the opposite experience.  I slowed down (81 days in Europe vs. 50 days in the US over similar distances) so it’s been less of a physical challenge.  There have been physically hard parts for sure, but I consider this European ride mostly a mental challenge.  I am totally self-reliant and self-contained, and there are a thousand possible ways I could have cycled from Portugal to Turkey.  On a daily basis I had to figure out the way. For every hour of cycling I spend an equivalent amount of time planning.  Going solo has also been much harder than I anticipated.  I am bored with myself already.  I expect tears at the end, but for a very different reason:  relief that I don’t have to get back into the saddle any time soon.   I yearn for my normal Hong Kong life.  I want to go home.

My Big Fat Greek Octopus 

The past two days of pedaling through Greece have been wonderful.   The scenery’s beautiful and I rarely complain about riding near the sea.   Two small towns especially stand out:  the fishing community of Porto Lagos, where fishermen were bringing in fresh catches of octopus and squid,  and the friendly farming community of Aratos, where I tried to communicate with many of the locals who speak only Greek.  Aratos, like most of the towns I have ridden through in the past two days, has both a mosque and an Orthodox church.   Cotton is the major crop in this region, and residual white balls can be found all along the road.

But I still ride in trepidation of another canine chase. Every bark I hear, every stray dog I see, every open gate, every junk yard I pass (there are many), and every structure with a guard dog causes my hair to stand up straight and my defences go on high alert.  I don’t know which dog is friend and which is foe so I have this reaction all too frequently.  I throttle up and speed along.  Yesterday I saw a pack of five dogs in a field, heading toward the road.   I pedaled like there is no tomorrow, speeding up to nearly 40 km/hour.  The dogs were not even interested in me, and I laughed after passing the danger zone.

Tomorrow I enter Turkey.  I pray the dogs are friendlier there.

Days 76 – 77:  Kavala — Komotini — Alexandroupolis, Greece 

Distance: 117.38 kilometers (Day 76) and 65.82 kilometers (Day 77)

Ascent:  282 meters (Day 76) and 483 meters (Day 77)

Weather:  Perfect

Terrain:   Hilly

Countdown to Istanbul:

Remaining Days:  4

Remaining Distance:  ~ 315 kilometers

TransEuropa 2011 Trip Summary:

Distance:  5,524.12 kilometers

Ascent:   38,856 meters

Countries:  15:  Portugal, Spain, France, Switzerland, Austria, Liechtenstein, Germany, Italy, Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Albania, Macedonia, Greece

Incidents:  6: flat tires on Days 45, 53 and 56;  police reprimand on Day 2; two terrorizing right-on-my-heels dog chases on Day 71

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Go Greek

Kavala, Greece:  A curious thing happened as I progressed across Northern Greece.   Greece finally seduced me.  Maybe I’ve had one salad too many, but I’ve gone Greek.  I realized no one else in this country is in a hurry, certain angry dogs excepted.  So I decided to not hurry through an unhurried place.   I’ve slowed down to enjoy the moment and the place, and to try to get to know Greece as it really is.

I am also struck that every day here feels like Sunday.  It seems that shops in Northern Greece are always closed, but the cafes are full.  I’ve learned that many stores in this country close at 3:30pm on Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays.   No wonder the country is in so much debt;  they just can’t afford this unproductive lifestyle in an economy that now has to compete globally.  Presently it’s a very different situation in Athens than what I observe in Northern Greece.   In Athens there is a general strike; thousands of people are on the streets.   The city is paralyzed.  Here’s the latest from today’s New York Times:

Protests against Greek austerity

Today’s coastal ride into the likable port city of Kavala is my most enjoyable yet in Greece, pedaling through sun-drenched olive- and grape-growing country.  I arrived in Kavala, a city that dates from the 14th century, very early in the afternoon, which gave me plenty of time to explore the city.   I visited yet another castle, and watched from my al fresco dinner table as the fishing boats prepare to go out for the night’s work.

Day 75:  Asprovalta — Kavala, Greece 

Distance:  86.14 kilometers

Ascent:  185 meters

Weather:  A very comfortable 24 degrees centigrade in the morning, and a very toasty 32 degrees centigrade in the afternoon.  At least in that heat the dogs feel like sleeping rather than chasing me.

Terrain:   Mildly hilly and coastal, through olive and grape territory

Countdown to Istanbul:

Remaining Days:  7

Remaining distance:  ~ 515 kilometers

TransEuropa 2011 Trip Summary:

Distance:  5,340.92 kilometers

Ascent:   38,091 meters

Countries:  15:  Portugal, Spain, France, Switzerland, Austria, Liechtenstein, Germany, Italy, Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Albania, Macedonia, Greece

Incidents:  6: flat tires on Days 45, 53 and 56;  police reprimand on Day 2; two dog chases on Day 71

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