Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Highs and Lows of Kefalonia - May 17

Our legs acclimated to climbing, Murray and I decided to tackle our tougest ride so far - up and over a mountain road from Sami to Argostoli. Our plan was to ride from Argostoli north along the coast until we could cross to the western part of the island to Petani Beach. The road climbed from sea level to 626 meters or 2053 feet over seven miles. The day was overcast, and rain looked possible. But after nearly a week in the dry heat, we didn't think the rain would come.

I started off the day noticing that my back bicycle tire had a huge gouge in it. Fortunately, Murray had a spare tire which he put on for me. It was extremely difficult to get on. As I started my ride up the mountain, I noticed that my back tire was becoming flat. Murray was ahead of me on the climb, and I pulled over on the side of the road, attempting to change my tube. The tire was so tight on that I couldn't get it off. Meanwhile, Murray had waited for me at a pull off further up the mountain. He had deemed it a good place to take photos. After 5 minutes of waiting for me, Murray came back down the road to see why I hadn't arrived. He saw me off my bike with my bike lying down. He thought the worst.

He was relieved it was only a flat, but not at all excited to remove the tight-fitting tire. Eventually, he was able to ply it off. Onward up the mountain, and then came flat number two - on the back wheel again. This time, Murray was nearby, and he changed the tube once again.

We continued our climb, and as we neared the top, we felt a spattering of rain. We had a choice - we could turn around or continue on toward Argostoli. A sign promoted wine tasting at the Robola Wine Cooperative. Onward we rode.

We left the our planned path to Argostoli to find the cooperative. It was down a winding road to a village called Fragata. The wine cooperative had two women clerks and two people wine tasting. No one rose to greet us or even acknowledge our presence as we entered. Undeterred, we walked toward the wine table and poured wine in some glasses. Some of the bottles were empty and full ones were on the table, but the clerks didn't even seem to notice.

We tried the three options available to us. The white was light and crisp but not too smooth. It was a little sweeter than a chardonnay. The red was nasty - acidic with a strange after taste, a bit skunky. The Brillante Rose was just right - refreshing, not too sweet, with a nice strawberry flavor.

As we tasted, a man arrived. We heard him speak Greek to another visitor who had arrived and then switch to English with a British accent. His name was Bill. He was retired and had moved to Kefalonia where he worked at the cooperative. When I asked about the grapes used in the various wines, Bill explained the Greek names. I had never heard of grapes called robola, tsaousi or vostilidi. Bill claimed that these varities of Grecian grapes were the source of commonly known varieties as chardonnay and merlot. Murray had his doubts as to the authenticity of Bill's story.

We left the cooperative, and no way were we going up the steep hill we descended into Fragkata. We picked a flatter, longer course through the valley. Wildflowers brightened the landscape, the clouds had disappeared revealing a clear, blue sky.

Halfway to our Argostoli, we saw a castle - up a hill, of course. Murray wanted to ride on; I wanted to see it. He said my American vote counted for two, so we rode to worth the steep climb. When we arrived, we found the entrance padlocked, and it was extrenely hot up there. Murray had also discovered his back tire was losing air.

"I'll pump it up. It'll be all right," he said.

We left the castle and continued on to Argostoli. Before we arrived, his tire deflated once again. This time he stopped to change the tube. This would be the fourth time he had changed a tire - my gouged tire, two flats and now his flat.

As we arrived in Argostoli, and Murray noticed that his back tire was once again losing air. He stopped to change the tire for the fifth time.

By this time it was early afternoon, and we were starving. We decided to bypass the busy traffic of the city and continue on the road that crossed the bay of Argostoli. We passed on a pedistrian bridge, once a road for autos. The area attracted both tourists and locals. We noticed some Greek fisherman with poles in hand and asked if we could take their photo.

Traveling a mile along the beautiful coastal highway, we spotted a restaurant. We stopped for lunch. We split a Greek salad, bread, fries and fried cheese. This was the first time we encountered someone at a restaurant who spoke very little English. When Murray asked for salt, and demonstrated pouring it onto the fries, she became excited - ketchup? No, Murray explained the word again. Mustard! she said, and left before we could correct her. Never mind, I found salt on another table. The woman returned with both ketchup and mustard.

After lunch, we continued up the coast. The ride was peaceful and quite scenic. The world was perfect. I rode ahead, crouched on my aerobars. I turned back to talk to Murray, and he had disappeared. I stopped and then headed back down the road, where I saw Murray.

"What happened," I asked as he neared me.

"Another flat."

This was a problem. We were out of spare tubes. We had a patch kit, but there weren't any villages for a while. It would be impossible to patch a tire without a basin of water to find the leak.

We made it five miles, Murray stopping along the way to pump up the tire, when we saw some houses - but no restaurants or public places to stop. I saw some workmen on a roof and asked if we could have water and a bowl. They didn't speak much English, but he did understand water. One of the men came back with a hose. I tried to demonstrate a big bowl. He didn't get it. Murray found a discarded plastic cup, and the man filled the cup with water. Then he suggested we go back to Argostoli.

"Too far!" I protested. The man left.

Murray started to put one of the punctured tubes in the small cup. As he was moving the tube around, the man returned with a very large plastic blue bowl. This was perfect! Murray and I patched three tubes. Murray changed the tire for the sixth time.

We decided to bypass the beach since we had taken so much time on flats, and continued east riding beside the sea on the high cliffs above the northern coast of Kefalonia.

"My tire is going down again," Murray said. He may not have let the glue set long enough, but we had two more tubes. He changed the tire for the seventh time.

We rode all the way back without trouble. We stopped at our favorite hangout - Captain Corelli's in Agia Efimia.

Despite one gouged tire, six flats and missing the beach, this was by far the most scenic and fun day of our journey so far.

Total miles: 50

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