2019 Italy/Greece Summary

First, the numbers:
I traveled from May 7 to June 12, cycling from Milan to Athens. I arrived on May 8 and flew out on June 12; 35 days of touring. Rob left May 20, 13 days in. I caught the ferry to Greece on May 29.

Italy: 21 nights
Greece: 14 nights

I spent eleven days not cycling, for 1874 km – an average of 54 km /day total, or 78 km / day for days I rode. That’s a significantly higher amount of down time, even considering the three nights related to Rob traveling with me. I rode 127 km on my longest day, with no other days breaking 100 km, in part due to accommodation consistently being either 80 km, or 130 km.

I spent 8 nights camping, 15 nights in hostels, and 12 nights in hotels/B&Bs. That works out to be only 23% of my nights camping, far below my usual 40/40/20 split. More hotels/B&Bs simply because of fewer opportunities to camp or hostel, combining that with fewer camping opportunities in southern Italy. I spent a fair amount of time sick this trip, causing me to avoid camping. I also spent a record five nights in Athens.

At a simple level (not counting airfare or ), I spent $1768, or $50 / day. A ~10% increase over previous trips, driven by: increased strength of the euro, with me not feeling well as an associated factor. I visited fewer attractions than usual, so that cost is even more driven by accommodation (and ferries, which added $144 to the total).

I spent more time ill this trip, and more ill. The cold near Altamura is just par for the course. I spend enough time on the road that occasionally being sick is no different than home.  The appendicitis-like episode on the other hand was different. That took me out for days, and I still don’t know quite what it was. Still, besides the emotions of, “what’s going on?”, the combined total of both episodes was only a few days.

Instead of cycling down from northern Albania, I cut my initially-planned trip short by taking the ferry directly to Greece, due to (mostly unfounded) concerns about mountains in Albania. I realized after returning home I made that decision while both sick and under the influence of cold medication. That choice eventually lead to me arriving in Athens far too early.

Lost Gear

A number of things managed to make their escape, primarily in the first few days before I had my rhythm. After years of trying, Soap Dish made it out before I’d even left Milan. The stuff sack for my warm jacket fell out of my pocket somewhere in northern Italy during those early cooler days in the mountains. After the rain crossing into Genoa, I put the rain covers for the panniers somewhere to dry in the hostel; out of sight, out of mind for gear that’s relatively new to me means an easy escape.

Equipment Notes

My watch failed Day 1. Not having the date and time immediately available did weird things to my ability to track time and day. I kept thinking about finding a battery, but that watch is programmed with a cable that I didn’t have. That loss of time sense is another contribution to shortening my trip by bypassing Albania.

I’d made a number of changes and repairs to my bicycle before leaving. I’d changed out the headset to make the bicycle geometry more closely match my alternate bicycle. I failed to consider the change in cable length that caused, leading to a source of irritation of hard turns making the rear brakes rub.

I’d replaced the fender I tore up somewhere in Croatia or Bosnia, the new fender having narrow clearance between the fender and tire. I’d intentionally not replaced the tire, but margins were razor-thin. Enough that sand on the tire would scrape the fender. After repeated tinkering I figured out how to move that from “irritating” to “tolerable.”

I had only a single flat tire (as did Rob) which I can’t complain about. Realized that first tube had two patches, I purchased a completely unnecessary spare in Pisa. Repairing Rob’s flat led to the discovery that his bicycle shop had for some reason last replaced his tube with one meant for much smaller tires – weird.

The worst failure was the damage to Rob’s rear derailleur hanger. Whether the flight banged it up, or Rob had damaged it when he’d fallen a couple of weeks prior to the trip, we were fortunate that Rob immediately noticed the derailleur pinging on the rear spokes. If that derailleur had been off by even one more millimeter it would have gone into the spokes and likely destroyed itself and the rear wheel. Careful tuning addressed that, although concern for that failure stressed both Rob and myself for the remainder of his trip.

On a related not-quite-failed gear note, Rob’s rear cassette has a “mega” gear – the largest gear as a substantial jump up from the preceding gears on the rear cassette. I used to think those were a great idea, but my opinion has … shifted. While that gear brought Rob’s overall gear range closer to to my own, it meant he had no ability to vary in the upper range. I could shift up and down to vary the work for minor variations in steep terrain; Rob could not. Those gears might be great for short, quick bursts, but not extended climbing.

After Croatia and Bosnia/Herzegovina’s steep climbs, I came home to replace my smallest front chain ring with a much smaller chain ring. That decision was brilliant; having that improved ability to climb I repeatedly reveled in, even at one point climbing an extended 14% grade.

I still stress a lot about running out of battery power with my 5,000 mA battery. While I had to talk Rob down from carrying ~40,000 mA of power, I stress about running out of power when low, even with carrying a second phone. I keep thinking about carrying more battery, but really there’s no point to it; I never came close to running the phone and battery out of power. My only real mistake at one point was wandering about somewhere with low power when I’d left the battery behind.

Summary

“So how was your trip?”

Always a hard question to answer. Cycle touring has extreme highs, and correspondingly extreme lows. This trip probably had more lows than highs. I didn’t end up with any particularly quirky stories (both a plus and a minus).

With my scheduling snafu and illness near the end, I “lost” about a week of cycling. I’m primarily a solo cyclist; having someone along for effectively half of the trip cut my solo cycling window short. Rob commented at one point that the trip was the most time he’d had alone in years. Inversely, for me it was the least time I’ve had alone in a long time. These factors lead to the trip feeling only a couple of weeks long.

It really wasn’t until Greece that I found my groove. Cycling along the coast of Greece was incredible. I’d been concerned about the mountains of Greece, but the long steady grades were more than manageable (as long as I paid close attention to routing). I encountered far more hostile dogs in Greece than anywhere else I’ve ever cycled. The roads (and drivers) were fantastic (good, because I could stay on larger roads decreasing dog encounters).

 

And where next? Thoughts include the C&O trail in the US, and Puerto Rico, both a bit closer to home. They’d also let me answer “yes” to everyone who asks if I’ve cycled in the US. Lithuania and the southern coast of Spain are the only real stretches left in Europe I haven’t cycled through, so I’ll need to move farther afield soon.

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