Several minutes pass and no one seems to notice our presence at the Albania-Greece border. We root through our bags looking for food to kill time, but it doesn’t take long to realize we’re out of provisions. More time ticks by, eating into the late-afternoon daylight that’s essential to finding a spot to pitch our tent tonight. When still no cars pass through and nobody materializes at the unmanned window where we’re waiting, we exchange a half-annoyed, half-amused glance. “I guess I’ll go inside,” Justin offers and hands me his loaded bike to hold steady. As he leaves in search of someone who will “allow us” in the country, I’m left pondering how very different border crossings are back home. My palms sweat just thinking of the interrogation that is crossing into and out of Canada. “They said they’ll be out in a minute. I think they’re finishing up a smoke,” Justin says when he returns. He meets my wide, disbelieving eyes with a smile and a shrug. Because what can we do? When a guard emerges outside at last, he stamps our books in less time it takes to stub out a cigarette. As we take our first pedal strokes in our eleventh country, I turn just in time to see the border official walk back inside. The sun sets and we climb in silence so we don’t disturb the fields of penned sheep and their aggressive guard dogs blessedly snoozing after a hard day’s work. Our eyes are trained on the side of the road for a market or sheep-free field, and we come across neither. Just before darkness engulfs the road in front of us, we spot a clearing behind a monument that’ll do for the night. Dinner is a handful of crumbled cookies discovered at the bottom of our food bag and we drift off to sleep with rumbling stomachs. The next night we find an inexpensive room in Ioannina that’s cheaper than the local campground, and bask in the luxury that is a shared kitchen with an oversized propane camp stove and flush toilets that can’t accommodate toilet paper of any quantity. A bit of research reveals we won’t be able to flush toilet paper anywhere in Greece. How many times we forget to discard paper in the bin instead of in the bowl promises to be excessive. Over the next few days, we ride along the coast, stopping to eat while overlooking sparking blue water and on deserted off-season beaches.
In Agrinio, we get a room overlooking the town square and stroll the streets at dusk, eating baklava-flavored gelato. Our stomachs are bursting tonight, but on the way back to our room we pass the gelato shop for a second time and are handed a free cone. The owner saw us arrive on our touring bikes, we’re told.
The next several days of riding have us meandering past big, beautiful bodies of water…
Through whitewashed villages…
And up into the mountains.
One night we spot an olive grove that’s seen better days and bushwhack through low-growing shrubs to pitch our tent. We settle in for the evening just in time to watch the sun sink below a blood-orange horizon.
The next day, the same thorns that tore at our ankles and calves in the dilapidated grove also ripped through Justin’s tire, and we start our morning by changing a flat. Several kilometers down the road as we begin our ascent into Delphi—and nearly 3,000 kilometers after turning my first pedal stroke in Munich, Germany—I get my first flat tire. Justin pumps and I patch, and we’re on our way again in minutes.
The climb into Delphi is slow-going, steep and sweltering. It gives us time to admire the massive mountains and muse about ancient Greek lore. Delphi, it turs out, is the “navel of the world.” When Zeus wished to find the center of grandmother earth, “gaia,” he let two eagles loose from either end of the world and they collided here.
We stay at the center of the earth for a couple days, catching up on work, resting and chatting with young locals who wonder what we see in their “boring” town.
We explore ancient sites, most notably the Delphi Theater, built in the 4th century, B.C., with a killer view of the surrounding mountains…
…and the sanctuary of Athena, created between 380 and 360 B.C.
Cotton fields are set afire to remove excess residue, and we pedal through the smoke as we descend out of Delphi and toward Athens.