“OK, the ride is upon us! 0800 Starbucks, Chania port. Leave at 0830 after a jolt of espresso. Weather looks to be STELLAR!! 20 degrees C, 68 degree Fahrenheit for our US friends – at the Port. When we leave the Port, it should be about 16C/60F, however, we are climbing, figure 3 degrees F loss for every 1,000 feet. We are climbing almost 5,000 feet, so assume the high at the top will be no more than 13C/55F. Bring water, air, tubes/patches and light snack. Layer for changing weather as well. Check your bike out BEFORE you arrive, brakes, gears and air in your tires. It’s helpful if you do this tonight, so you aren’t running around in the morning. Need I say more, get a good nights sleep.” (Email sent out by Richard day before The Ride)
Saturday, October 22nd 8:30 a.m. We started out the morning sitting in Starbucks at the old Hania port area, tanking up on a good jolt of espresso before heading out on our road bikes. The original team of four core bikers dropped to three (Andy was stuck in Athens due to yet another ferry strike). The morning was clear and cool – a perfect start. Our dedicated sag wagon driver and friends joined us at Starbucks and after a few small adjustments to bikes, comparing notes on apparel, and secronizing our trip plans we peddled out through the streets of Hania heading southwest towards the mountains. Spirits were high, as only veteran bikers understand when you head out on a long, arduous ride. With the thrill of the goal ahead of us, all logic dissipates and we’re off – with smiles on our faces and high hopes under our helmets.
Heading out from the port was an easy warmup grade for about 16 km (10 miles) after which we hit nine switchbacks ascending to the beautiful village of Lakki at km 22 (14 miles) in the foothills of the Lefka Ori mountain range.
We arrived in Lakki in good shape ready for a breather before tackling the meat of the ride.
Peddling out of Lakki, it wasn’t long before the “young buck” Jimmy, motored ahead of us. Leaving us in his dust, we didn’t see him again until the top. Richard rode with Mel for a few miles before tackling the hills with his usual ease (“motor legs”). Note here: It’s a good thing Mel didn’t know what was ahead of her or she would have stopped in Lakki.
“The landscape after Lakki is no longer “human.” There are no orange groves and no cultivated lands, nothing to remind one of how man “tames” nature. The road (A3) climbs suddenly through steep mountain slopes with tall cedar trees and thick bushes, and as it climbs it offers a spectacular view….
Be careful, though, because it has many dangerous hairpins. About 15 km south of Lakki, at a height of 1200 metres, the road goes through a pass from which you have a sudden view of the Omalos plateau some 200 metres lower. From early fall until the end of spring, the mountain peaks surrounding the plateau are covered with snow. In the spring the snow melts and the plateau is turned into a huge swamp or even a lake. Those parts that are not covered by water are full of wild flowers. In the summer, most of the flowers are gone and the mountain greens have been eaten by goats or collected and made into herb-pies. In the past people grew potatoes in this place and they took pride in their delicious taste that was known all over Crete.” (Alpha-Omega Travel)
From Lakkos to the Samaria Gorge trailhead, the road was far steeper than anticipated and required focus and a good dose of pride to keep on going. Did I mention insanity? But the anticipation of reaching the goal was motivation to keep cranking and after a sweet descent into Omalos plateau, the end was in sight…or so we thought. The last 2 km were by far the most difficult on a straight but steady incline to the top of Europe’s longest gorge – Samarian Gorge.
After climbing for over 3 hours for a distance of 1,400 meters (4,600 feet) we were rewarded by the cheers of friends and the beauty of the mountains.
After documenting the finish with photos, we settled in at a local taverna in Omalos for a feast of Cretan delights and relived the ride with each other over glasses of cold Mythos beer and souvlaki.
I seriously doubt that Churchill was a biker, but somehow he connected with bikers everywhere when he said, “There will stretch out before you an ever-lengthening, ever-ascending, ever-improving (OK, that’s debatable) path…But this, far from discouraging, only adds to the joy and glory of the climb.” (Winston Churchill)