Rowing Biking On Crete – A Report by Alexander
I was a Crete newbie as the plane spit me out at Heraklion airport. Of course every one I asked was polite but no one knew where I could pick up the box which contained my rowing bike. Somehow my pre-ordered cab driver showed up. With his support I was able to find my box somewhere behind a fence beside the airport. The Greek staff seemed to interpret the top arrows on the box as exactly the opposite.
The driver delivered my box, my luggage, and me to my target Myrtos. It was a hellish trip; the driver was in a hurry. I could not tell where he drove me. I had to close my eyes most of the time to stand him driving on a lane that only he was able to see.
Shivering, I left the car to receive Derk’s welcome. Bartel, Johan and he were busy setting up rowing bikes in front of our apartments. I looked around. Yes, all the things I came for were there: sun, warmth, mountains, the sea, palm trees. I could hear the waves on the shore.
In the evening I also set up my bike and Derk installed the new revolver shifting system. I, being the steel cable ripper, was supposed to try my weight and power on a very light Dyneema® cable and a nylon snek.
Very soon the Retsina time appeared. The sidewalk in front of hotel Mirti had been chosen to be a meeting point for rowing bikers and friends. The really small sidewalks on both sides of Myrtos’ main road were equipped with a row of tables and cute Greek chairs. Soon one could find the rowing bike boys and girls sitting on these chairs enjoying drinks and Greek appetizers. Also present were all kinds of cars and motorcycles emitting every kind of noise and tons of exhaust gas. I was told that is Southern behaviour. Besides us, I could not enjoy this very much.
On this night I was informed about Males points. Wooha! With hindsight I can’t tell whose idea it was. I supposed it was Bartel’s but he denied that and said Derk had had the idea. The Males point challenge was easy: drive your rowing bike from Myrtos to Males and you’ll get a point painted on your bike (if you like). Of course there also was a time trial involved, but this was not a must to receive a point. The handicap was 60 minutes, measured from the branch to Mithi / Males to the traffic sign “40” at Males, marked by Bartel with 5 yellow stripes. I went to bed with this information and the sureness the next day I would try to get my first Males point.
The program for the weeks on Crete was that there was no program. Nevertheless the rowing bikers just wanted one thing: to ride their bikes in the mountains. Yes, some exceptions due to social commitments were necessary: beach, gorge hike, hike and pick someone up days. It came out there was a kind of day routine:
Wake up: A Greek guy started the engine of his old Audi 100 every (yes, every) morning around 7:30 am and let it idle until the high engine speed decreased to normal. The procedure took around 5 minutes, enough for me to be wide awake.
Breakfast: The bakery was near by. Visiting it entailed a very nice walk beside the sea. The staff at the bakery spoke English and if I showed up at the right time I could get some raisin snails and huge croissants besides the bread. Back at the apartment the breakfast was held on the balcony in the sun under blue skies and in a soft breeze. Such situations should never end.
Gathering: Bartel was Mr. Schedule! His (inner?) clock made him grease his bike’s bow sprit at around 10:00 am. He then carried his bike downstairs and, equipped with a book, he waited (with a lot of patience) for his rowing bike fellows.
Rowing biking: Always starting from Myrtos, we used the good maintained roads to head in any direction but South. Myrtos is surrounded by mountains. In the East the mountains aren’t located close to the borderline, giving a slight wavy terrain some space.
Every trip started with a slope up to 600 m above sea level, which each of us had to master. We then stayed on this altitude and followed really lovely roads with very nice views. The surroundings were also impressive for each one of us due to the scent of wild flowers and herbs. The roads followed the cleft terrain with the support of only a few bridges. This means lots of curves and a constant up-and-down.
The rowing girls and guys used different techniques: Long Harm did not move his upper body that much; he worked with legs and arms on a high frequency. Most of us did the classical style on a lower frequency and with the use of the upper body. Jacques, always very fast, mixed both techniques. He also developed the just-take-a-shower-from-the-drink-bottle-while-waiting-for-the-others technique.
My admiration goes to Beb and Caroleen. While rowing up to Males they held a nice conversation. I don’t know how they could manage their breath while doing really strenuous climbing which included 20% slope parts. Even if they were out of sight, due to the curves, we could hear them chat.
Heading to Crete’s North coast, or just as a target, we often visited a tavern in Anatoli for some cheese, water, Coke, juice, lettuce, beer. We got some rest there, then we jumped on or bikes to continue our tour. Due my weight, I was the guy with the red lantern, I was the slowest one. My ego was able to stand this because I never had the impression that my faster friends were upset by waiting for me.
I can tell you ñat least for me- it was strenuous. The question why I would torture myself is answered easily. It was a challenge for my physical as well as for my mental power. In addition to this, the work out on this fantastic rowing bike was special. This is why I came to Crete: I came to ride my rowing bike in the mountains, warmed by the sun and constantly supplied with great views and smells. I came for the “you made it” feeling when reaching the top: passing the 5 yellow stripes in Males, just a few more strokes to a stop in the shadow of a chapel to lean the bike against the wall there. Then to walk to the road’s edge and look down on the way I just passed. That’s great, really.
In the evenings when we rode downhill home to our apartments we had to pass more than 90 curves from Males to Myrtos. It was very hard to believe I made this way uphill some hours before. But I did and painted the point on my bike’s frame after returning to the then current Greek headquarter of rowing biking.
Late afternoon: It was time for a shower (the sun had done its work and heated the water tanks on the roof), coffee, some lazy times at the beach, swimming, or running errands
Dinner and nightly events: We met each other on the sidewalk in front of the Mirti hotel to have some drinks, to exchange information with the non rowing bike people and to organize where to have dinner. No matter where we showed up the staffs at the taverns were very polite and always served tasty food. We usually didn’t make it to another location and instead stayed at the taverns until it was bed time. The dinner was the nightly event.
During such a tavern session Bartel and Johan devised a challenge whether they’d be able to ride their rowing bikes to Males five times in one day. These guys really were hot for Males points. Guess what? They made it.
I admit I was a bit unsure that I would like riding a rowing bike on Crete. Now, looking back, it was for me (as I suppose it was for all the other participants as well) big fun. I put some new terms in the vocabulary: “Warmduscher” and “Weichei”, often used on all occasions.
None of the Crete-Rowing-Bike-Weeks attendees were a Warmduscher or a Weichei. Each one performed an extraordinary effort. We enjoyed all the trips we did together not only because of the lovely area, but because it was also very nice to be surrounded by rowing bikers!
I fulfilled my job of testing the new shifting system in a way that gave Derk some fun. The system worked fine even under heavy strain. Without success I tried all to kill the cables. All used rowing bikes worked without any fault.