My companion was also my guide. She knew the lay of the land. The day came for me to experience what the riding would be like in this corner of the world but on that day she would be busy with other business. So as I adjusted the fit of my borrowed, European style, one-size-fits-all, mountain bike, she scrawled a rough map on the backside of a, partly unused napkin. It was an inauspicious beginning for my first foray into riding on this totally foreign soil. I would be riding in unknown territory, not able to speak any of the local languages, traversing challenging terrain, on an ill-fitting bike, praying that I didn't get my map wet. As I prepped my bike, I realized something that would make matters slightly more complicated. Not only did the bike have schrader valves but, its wheels were bolt-ons. Thus my emergency toolkit was rendered all but useless. I would have to rely upon hope that I wouldn't get a flat. At least I brought my trusty clipless pedals, to take the edge off of the climbs.
I decided to have a positive attitude. Sometimes we perceive a complexity to situations that really isn't there. After all, I was just going for a ride, something I've done thousands of times. I rode out. The ride began with a rousing climb up and out of town. Warmed up almost instantly, barely into the first mile of the ride, the elevation leveled out at the approach to one of the few traffic lights in a town. This was one of a handful of roads large enough to accommodate cars. Several cars sat at the light in spite of the fact that it was telling them to go. They waited for a herd of goats to pass safely through the intersection. I took advantage of this pause to make my way through the light with my fellow wanders. Onward I climbed up and up, over rises that lift out of the view of town into wooded surroundings.
The road twisted up the heights of the island, curving to meet the mountains' steep incline in some drivable fashion, switchbacks carved to soften the 'rise over run' that vehicles would have to face. Any sense of town fell away behind me, single lane road beckoning ahead. I found myself intoxicated by an herbal scented paradise flavored by local wild growing thyme, oregano, curomaktz, and a bouquet of hundreds of other edible treats, all easily found growing along my route. The journey would see me through groves of olives and wild growing palms, agave, lavender, rosemary hedges and bay trees all of which are part of the natural flora. Then, all at once, I came to a clearing, popular amongst tourists for it's remarkable view. I pulled off the road to see the world from the vantage point overlooking an ancient fishing town, rich with history of wars and myriad territorial occupations. What remains is a culture from a different era, a whisper of the past, one foreign to present day Americans. The view is pristine but so much more lies at the base of this mountain than the scenery. I take in the view and then I pedal on.
Along the road I pass hiking paths as transportational as the roads. Their wooden posts carry signage directing foot borne travelers to distant villages, towns and sites. Abruptly the road in front of me rears up. I feel the steep camber digging deeply into my legs. I struggle with the incredibly steep pitch. Cars struggle past me, their petroleum engines almost succombing to the mountain. Perspiration floods from my brow. I taste the concentrated saltiness of my sweat in the corner of my mouth. I strain harder to lurch forward just another pedal stroke. The strain almost becomes too much, the lightning bolts of pain shoot through my legs in an unfamiliar way, especially with the fact that this bike is totally not a good fit for me. I look up to see my progress. I'm only halfway up this one climb, one that initially didn't look all that long. Struggling on, I eventually reached the top only to see a long downhill followed by a climb equally as wicked as the one I have just crested.