"I grabbed the now well-earned Pactimo water bottle (still full of ice water and sitting at the bar) and headed back to meet the other guys."
by Justin de Benedictis-Kessner, Pactimo Brand Ambassador
This morning had a rough start. Our hotel last night (the Delfini Hotel) had made us leave our bikes outside because their immaculately clean hotel apparently would get dirty from our bikes - but somehow not our sweaty and greasy selves?
We started the morning all packed up and ready to go and walked outside our hotel to where we had locked our bikes overnight and - thought they were still there, which was a relief - we noticed that (1) my front tire was completely flat, and (2) Dave's front brake was interfering with his wheel. Difficulties before we even started riding! I fixed my flat and Dave played around with his brake until he was satisfied that it was rideable.
From there, we had smooth pulling for the first 15 miles along a busy but wide-shouldered road in the relatively cool temperatures (only 70° F). Our route took us into Arta, a fairly big city, where we knew we could find a bike shop. After some circling around, we found a bike shop (called Lydia's Bike Shop, in case anyone is in the neighborhood and needs one) where she spoke fluent English and was both super nice and helpful with solving Dave's brake issue. Luckily, she also happened to have a valve adapter that we could use to match our Presta bike tube valves to the standard Schrader valves that cars and many kids' bikes have - meaning we can now pump our tires at any gas station! She sold it to us for a bargain-basement price that embarrassed us with its generosity.
After our bike shop break, we took an actual snack and drink break just across the river at a little park we spotted. The park was by the side of an ancient bridge (which Lydia told us didn't signify anything, ti was "just old" - though it turns out it actually was the marker for the border between the Ottoman Empire and the kingdom of Greece at some point in the 1800's). We ate some grocery store sandwiches along with some extra protein by way of plain deli meat slices (yes, we are eating enough today, I promise).
After our break(s) in Arta, we took off again on the busy-but-wide road with hopes of getting some solid mileage in before lunch. We then turned off that road onto a quiet road that seemed to head north into the middle of nowhere. The road started climbing a little but we were all happy to get some time next to each other rather than in a paceline because there were no cars to be found. We got to chat and ride at a conversational pace for a little bit. Turns out, even when you're spending lots of time together biking for 5+ hours each day, you don't actually talk that much. We savor the moments when we can do that.
After a bit of time on this quiet road, we realized we were due for a water and stretch break. Of course, being that it was a quiet road, there didn't seem to be any cafes or gas stations around! However, I spotted an out-of-place sign for a bar at the side of the road and saw some men at a table outside drinking and smoking. We stopped and asked if they sold water. The men, remaining in their seats with cigarettes, pointed us to a woman at the side of the house who was doing some construction work. She immediately let us inside and started handing us cold bottles of beverages; water, Coke, and water in Coke bottles. She also opened up her freezer and let us put ice in our water bottles - a godsend on a hot day like this when our cold water immediately turns into hot. Ice + cold water = stays cold a lot longer. Hooray!
We sat and enjoyed the cold, and, in a pattern that is now becoming ridiculous, tried to pay them. They forcefully refused to take any money from us. How do we possibly repay the kindness of all these strangers? Our many attempts at "thank you" in Greek (Efchristó!) never seem sufficient for their overwhelming generosity.
From our drink break, we kept going along the quiet road north. We ran into some men herding sheep along the road from the safety of their pickup truck. Thankfully they were nice enough to let us pass through their ovine stampede.
After the sheep, we turned onto an even smaller road and started some more serious climbing. When we reached a small downhill portion, Dave dropped his chain (again), and I stopped to wait. While waiting, I noticed that I'd forgotten my water bottle back at that water break at the out-of-place bar! I quickly told Dave I was going back for it and that he should tell the others to wait at the top of the next big hill that I knew was coming. So, I went back down the hill 3 miles to get it. I grabbed the now well-earned Pactimo water bottle (still full of ice water and sitting at the bar) and headed back to meet the other guys.
At this point, we've spent three days together basically without ever being more than fifty feet from one another. So it's weird to be alone, for once. I took a video so it wasn't odd that I was talking to myself. So now you can all experience it too!
I then did the climb AGAIN alone, knowing that the rest of the guys were patiently waiting for me at the top. While they waited under an olive tree, they had made a friend of an elderly man with whom I think they were close to replacing me. I had made a friend too, though; this cute slowpoke trying to get across the road.
We had another big climb after I joined the group and then a well-deserved descent on a well-paved road with views of the valley below.
The beautiful descent took us into a small town called Kanallaki, where we looked for a restaurant (somehow, the ratio of bars to restaurants here is always 8:1 or so). We saw a man with tattoos sitting outside a cafe eating, unlike everyone else who was only drinking, and so we stopped for lunch. He spoke excellent English and introduced us to an amazing new Greek food dish called Telikafteri, which was some kind of whipped sheep's milk feta with reddish color and spices (perhaps roasted red pepper) and a little spicy. So tasty! Along with the now-standard fare of Greek salad with a pound-size chunk of feta on top + exceptional souvlaki on skewers, we were quite well-fed today. 5/5 stars from me for that place on Yelp (which reminds me: there seem to be very few places that actually are listed on Google Maps/TripAdvisor/Yelp for all these towns, which makes researching lunch and dinner options quite tough ahead of time!).
After lunch, we headed out to the northwest on some small roads winding through tiny villages. We reached a solid climb just about when we were hoping for a rest and knew that we still had one last big climb of the day before reaching Igoumenitsa, where we wanted to catch the ferry to Corfu. We were trying to hurry for the ferry, but also were feeling wiped by the heat and climbing from earlier in the day. So we found a small restaurant in Karteri that we knew would have cold drinks and stopped for a quick break.
While drinking our Cokes, we realized we weren't quite sure what our route was from Karteri to Igoumenitsa. Though we knew we had a climb left according to Don's and my Garmin bike computers, Dave's Garmin was telling him to go a different direction! For background: we have been following routes that we mapped on the Garmin app on our phone, but Dave's computer also has a routable basemap downloaded to it that lets him route things on the fly. Often those are the same routes, but sometimes those routes are different! Since we are already a group with many strong opinions held with lots of unearned confidence, this can be a problem. But in this case, it was great!
Don and I set to work trying to find an elevation profile on the phone app for Dave's version of the route to Igoumenitsa and then compared it to the one we had previously planned on. Turns out, Dave's Garmin's version had about half as much climbing and only about a mile more in distance! So, we opted to go with Dave's Garmin's route. You can see the differences in elevation profiles:
As it turns out, this new route for our last 14 miles was also quite scenic. Even though we had a little bit of climbing, around each corner on this road was another tremendous view of the Ionian Sea. After a few more miles of descent with a view of the ferry and harbor, we reached Igoumenitsa, a town that is clearly both a working port and a very busy terminal for ferries to go all over the Mediterranean.
We quickly bought our tickets for the 5:30 ferry and spent the 30 minutes before the ferry left drinking some cold slushie drinks that - while they had some radioactive colors (and flavors) - were refreshingly cold.
We stowed our bikes on the ferry next to the giant buses and trucks on the lower deck and headed up for an hour-and-a-half journey into the ocean of Corfu.
We enjoyed views of the Greek and Albanian coast (and mountains we'll probably have to climb tomorrow) while having a beer and a snack on the shaded outdoor deck.
Corfu, where we are spending tonight, is an old walled city. We have only spent a couple of hours here tonight so far, but we already have been struck by how beautiful it is. I wish that we could stay here longer. I, for one, will be making a point to come back here and definitely spend more than 12 hours. Quickly biking across 3200 or 1900 miles in a few weeks may be a great and efficient way to see a whole country or whole continent, but it's sometimes sad that we don't get a chance to immerse ourselves more in the cities and towns we pass through along our way. For now, a beautiful sunset at the UNESCO World Heritage fort from the 15th century and big dinner at an Italian restaurant down the street from our AirBnB. Then we will all be falling asleep the minute we hit the pillow to try and get rest before our 7:30 am ferry back to the mainland.
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ABOUT JUSTIN DE BENEDICTIS-KESSNER
Justin is a professor at Boston University and has lived in Boston for the last 8 years. He met the others when he was a PhD student at MIT. He was introduced to recreational bicycling at a young age by his father in Berkely, CA, where he grew up. In high school, he started rowing, which he continued as an athlete at the College of William & Mary in Virginia, and then as a coach for the men's lightweight rowing at MIT while in grad school. Justin completed his first century ride on his bike in 2012 and rode across the U.S. in 2014 from Seattle to Boston with Don and Dave. Justin is also a Pactimo Brand Ambassador Alumni.