March 12, 2012 email: “OK road warriors, I have 6 people who have confirmed riding up to Omalos this Saturday. Jenn, Gio, Jimmy, Mel, Cameron, Andy and myself. Lets plan on 10:00 at Alikianos, 8:30 for waffles at my house, if you are interested. As you are painfully aware, this winter has been horrible, however, this Saturday looks to be full sun, high in the 50’s (10 degrees C) when we start. Let me know if your status changes. See you on Saturday! Rider of the Cretan Mountains, Richard”
Richard commutes to work everyday, rain or shine, so his legs were ready for “The Ride”. However, some of us needed some warm-up runs before the big one. So, last month a few of us set off to test our bike legs on a couple of weekend excursions around the Akrotiri neighborhood – Signal Mountain and Gouverneto.
This conical-shaped hill on the Akrotiri goes by many names. Some call it Misty Mountain because of the clouds that obscure its summit in the winter months. Some call it Signal Mountain because of the antennae that crown its top. Others call it simply, “the hill outside the base” because the airfield sits in its shadow. By any name, it provides a good road ascent and killer views.
The Akrotiri peninsula is the site of two of the most beautiful monasteries on the island – Agia Triada and its reclusive cousin, Agia Gouverneto. If you haven’t hiked or biked the monastery road that connects the two, you are missing out on one of the best experiences this island has to offer. The road narrows and ascends up into a gorge filled with bleating goats perched on the cliffs above and humming beehives tucked into a few small valleys. But the WOW factor happens as you crest the end of the road where Agia Gouverneto is located. The view from the summit opens up to reveal a blue panorama of Aegean water as far as the eye can see to the north.
OMALOS – The Big One
What better way to carbo-load before an epic ride than to tank up on a break-feast of Richard’s Belgium waffles smothered with peanut butter and pure maple syrup, steaming sausages, fresh-squeezed OJ and rich espresso. Ready to ride!
Saturday morning, March 17th, a sunny but cool St. Patrick’s Day. The “luck of the Irish” (and the good Lord) were with these the riders – five guys and a lady ( SOMEONE had to keep all that testosterone in check.) We were a rag-tag bunch of roadies composed of a British newbie, a couple of Greek iron-men, two 50+ American youngsters, and an Italian stud on a knobby-tired mountain bike.
Rather than take the typical route to Omalos like we did on our last ride in November, we took the road less traveled and headed west towards Sougia – a longer yet more scenic path. Almost immediately, the two iron-men sprinted ahead leaving the rest of us to pace ourselves and enjoy the companionship of the ride.
We experienced the expected (a flat tire) and the unexpected (an attack of a couple of killer bees), but nothing could compare with the new rush of adrenaline we experienced when we crested the ridge where the windmills stood. The view over our left shoulder was north over the Aegean and over our right shoulder was south over the Libyan Sea. A-MAAA-ZING! But the ride wasn’t over and, as any biker can testify, the last 12 km was the hardest. As we headed behind the wind turbines and up the scenic gorge, our legs start screaming for the finish at Omalos plateau.
After roughly 30 miles and 4 hours of hill climbing from just above sea level to 4500 feet elevation, we were at the finish point – where the beautiful, snow-covered sleepy and expansive Omalos plateau stretched out before us.