I met my friend at Athens Airport; let’s call him ‘Calvin’. On the advice of his girlfriend, whom I knew through art college, we had decided to go cycle-touring. She knew us both, thought it a good idea, and that we would hit it off (it was a bit of a ‘blind-date’, I don’t think we had swapped more than a few pleasantries).
I had read a book about cycle-touring (by Nicholas Crane I think), and it spoke of travelling light – cutting the handle off your toothbrush, taking washing powder rather than loads of clothes, etc.
We thought we would go somewhere hot, and for a while looked at Spain, I am not sure how we decided Greece, but we had a map of the Peloponnese, I had read ‘My Family and Other Animals’ (Corfu – near), and it looked nice.
1985 – the year of Live Aid, big hair, baggy t-shirts and a very hot summer in Europe.
The two and a bit weeks were like a ‘road movie’, every day something different happened, rarely planned. We travelled west to Corinth and then along the coast of the northern Peloponnese, taking excursions up into the mountains and sleeping, well, rough. We stayed at campsites, but with no tent between us (a blanket each) we slept under trees & in flower beds (occasionally we were leant a tent by the sites). We quickly realised that 30 degrees in the day became what felt like 3 degrees at 3am, so we bought an extra blanket each and fashioned balaclavas to sleep in from the arms of our sweatshirts (no photos thankfully). The stars though, well worth it.
We spent all our money on food, but we were also invited into coast-side bars to eat (and drink) with the extremely friendly people. I swapped sketches for food.
People were used to back-packers, but we were quite novel I think. We only saw two other groups of cycle-tourists – 4 or 5 friendly German guys in a group (ultimately more organized/prepared than us) and a couple of American girls (who, thinking we didn’t speak English, took the mickey as we weren’t bedecked in the bath-tub sized helmets they wore).
We bought a diving mask each and swam a lot. We would try and out do one another (don’t try this at home) jumping off boats and rocks with pockets full of stones, seeing how deep we could go before unloading the stones and making for the surface.
We stopped for a couple of days at a campsite full of Dutch and French tourists. It coincided with their yearly football match against a village up in the hills, and they were short of good players. Naturally we told them we had both played for Arsenal Youth Team, were a bit rusty, but would be honoured. (Our goalkeeper, a Scot, had also played for ‘Celtic Youth’ – he may have been telling the truth, Scottish goalkeepers and all that).
The village had a proper stadium, of sort. A concrete stand, and an equally concrete feeling pitch, with patches of gravel to ‘soften’ it. We played a half each, our fitness masking our lack of talent, and it was a close, hard fought (but full of humour) match. Things got a bit ugly at 3-3, with a couple of minutes to go, and the crowd (about 100) disputed a penalty and firecrackers and smoke bombs were thrown onto the pitch.
I can’t remember what happened next, other than us two and a Dutch guy kicking the ball around with some kids at one end, whilst they all argued at the other… and we missed the lift back. A couple of the opposition were driving down to the coast in their pick-up and we could jump in the back. We wedged ourselves in for a 10-mile high-speed descent, in the dark, driven by the losing team (the ref had awarded us the game). White knuckles.
We were greeted as the ‘English Team’ when we got to the campsite, Champagne from an enormous trophy and many a plate was smashed.
On we went. The cycling almost became incidental to the journey, it was just how we got around in between our adventures.
A French girl cut my hair for me, with a pair of rounded paper scissors. Best haircut I ever had.
We reached the port of Patras, the ferry port with boats to Italy.
“Let’s forget the plane and cycle back”
Italy, crossing the Alps, Southern France et all beckoned. So did the job I had just started in London though, and we had just about run out of money. Our ‘rate of travel’ would probably mean about a month.
“Next time”, we agreed.