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Rowing Biking On Crete - A Report

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.


Dear fellow rowingbikers,

Unfortunately, I did not manage to organise a rowingbiking weekend in Luxembourg in May this year. What went wrong?

In January, we exchanged the big house with the comfortable terrace in the woods of Luxembourg for a small appartment in Brussels city. No sorrow: lots of excellent restaurants within a stone-throw distance, nice shops and above all very kind people. I am still surprised that people in the street say "bonjour" and that they stop for a short talk spontaneously. That did rarely happen in Luxembourg....

My only real concern was the rowingbike, as you can imagine. There is no space in the appartment to store the bike and the cave and the bike-storage room are unaccessible with the bow-sprit erected. And what about biking itself? In the beginning, nothing than complaints from my side. But things changed.

On May 27 at 1700 hours, I left on a rowingbike trip (Thys 222 CVT) to a little village in the French Auvergne close to the Puy de Dôme (Clermont Ferrand). I had no time schedule, no sleeping arrangement reservations and I was not in a hurry. After navigating for about 20 minutes through the busy streets of Brussels, I arrived at the canal that runs from Brussels to Charleroi. Alongside the canal runs a small road /biking path. It was a hot day and I was facing a "refreshing" head wind.

Belgium is a country full of surprises: being Dutch, I thought canals (water) are always level and the (bike) roads alongside are flat, except in case of a lock. Not so in Belgium. At Ronquières, 40 km south of Brussels, the canal starts to incline with about 5% (68 m) over a distance of 1432 meters. Have a look at this picture.

A week earlier, I had climbed other side of the hill alongside the "Ascenseur de Thieu" (elevator for cargo boats, 73 meters). That was at the end of a remarkable and very well organised biking tour (130 km) that started in La Louviere (close to Charleroi). It was called "el Diablo Claudio Chiappucci". I chose to join the group with Claudio Chiappucci himself, which departed at 8. A "pack" of about 200 bikers and guess what? There was a safety car in front, a car at the back and 5 motorbikes to guide us. Everything and everybody had to go out of our way: cross-overs were cleared, traffic from the opposite direction was ordered to stop at the very right side of the road. Amazing.
Within a few km, I had lost my drinking bottle. Commonly, drinking bottles vibrate out of the holder on the very bad Belgian roads Less frquently, the saddle bag jumpes off. Maintaining myself in the group was not easy. Downhill those racing bikes are so slow, but uphill they are too fast. After about 60 km we arrived at Geraardsbergen. On a difficult ascent just before the famous "Muur", I had lost connection with the group. I had decided not to bike up the Muur, but to walk, to avoid damaging my sensible knee for my trip to France. The Muur is not very complicated from the mathematical perspective. In fact, there are 2 very short parts: 30 to 40 meters with about 20% inclination. But the problem is the surface: on the small dry stones the rear wheel already started to slip away... image when it is wet.
By then, I really needed something to drink and to eat. The Ravi was nearby but I did not found it. I peddled around with some other lost souls. Suddenly, I saw the group riding about 2 km in front of us. After a big effort, I managed to rejoin. The route became hillier. I lost terrain on each ascent, which I had to recover downhill. After about km 90 or 100, the "Theo-syndrome" (filled-up and refusing legs) struck me and I saw the group disappear at the horizon. The ascent over the "Ascenseur de Thieu" felt like biking to top of the Puy de Dôme. I walked up the 22% ascending street in La Louviere, I managed the last 12% challenge just before the end of the tour and finally I got lost in the streets of La Louviere. Exhausted. (Pictures). But it was great fun.

The evening of May 27, around 21:00 hours I had arrived in the north of France and I deceded to stop. Unfortunately, there were no hotels or "chambres de hôtes" in the village or around. In the dark, I found a camping. After an extended demonstration and explanation of the rowingbike, the chef offered me a bench in a caravan.

The next morning I woke up at 9:30. Kind of stupid, because it was going to be a hot day again. My camping hostess advised me to go over the very beautiful roads through the Forêt Mormal. 20km nothing but trees, hills, bird sounds, rabbits, a fox and lots of shadow, but also barriers to block access of the roads for cars and a few kilometers of dirt road. I bought breakfast in the first village south of the forest: a "baguette", a "pain au chocolat", sweet stuff for "on the road" and water for the drinking bottles.
I had mounted 4 drinking bottles for the trip: two below the chair and 2 on the rear-fork. One of them contained spare inner tyres and repairing stuff. The other 3 were the water supply. The standard Thys saddle bag was filled up with the minimum of clothes, a raincoat, a pair of slippers, suncream and vaseline. I had mounted new tires and a new cables for the trip, so I did not carry a spare propulsion cable.
There was very little space left to carry food.

The roads where good. Nice asphalt, little traffic. The hills in the north of France provided beautiful views. The landscape was wide and empty. Due to the rowing up-end-down in the hills, and the temperature of 33 degrees celcius, progress was slow. Alongside the road and in the villages, I did not discover many attractive places with a romantic terrace to take a break. I remember from years ago, that you could find them everywhere in the country. Not this time.
After a light dinner on a terrace, I continued for a last hour and a half. I had arrived in the most western part of the Champagne. Outside the village, "la route du Champagne" led me to the top of a hill. Alongside nothing but vineyards and woods. Now and then a farm. The evening light reflected fairy-tale-like landscapes. No single car. Marvellous. I ended the day in a small hotel in Montmirail. The hostess had Dutch sister in law, her husband new more about Holland than I did and they kept on talking and talking. Asking questions was not necessary...

The next morning I had breakfast at 7:30 (earlier was not possible) and I left around 8. Fortunately, the first part was not so hilly any more. In Nogent-Sur-Seine I expected to find a trestaurant with terrace on the river bank. Nothing. After a few laps through the town, I bought bred and sweet stuff in the backery and decided to pick-nick in front of the city hall.

At that time, the heat was back. I asked a gendarme how to get to the next village on my list. Instead of sending me in the right direction, he gave me the "touristic" alternative, a trail of more than 10km and with a "beautiful" hill to conquer, whereas the most direct road was only 3 km and flat. Besides, I had to "fight" myself against a stream of participants of a local running competition. Although I was not in a hurry, I just didn't like to be sent in the wrong direction.

To find my way to the Auvergne, I had cut and pasted small lists with the names of the places to go through, the road number and the distance to the next village. The lists (2-sides) was seeled in plastic, to resist rain and sweat and was tied to my upper-thigh with an elastic cord. This worked fine in France (in Belgium you get lost anyway). I did not have to stop to see where I had to go or to consult a map. I think I have asked for directions about 3 times in total. I did not carry any maps. The only disadvantage of this method is that you have to stick to your route.

It appeared to be river-crossing day. Before arriving at a river, there was always a nice and easy downhill of several kilometers. The bridges were in the center of ancient villages. After working myself up into the hills again, the reward was always there: beautifull views over endless valleys, hilltops, forests and lakes. The country-side of France seemed to be closed and sleeping on Sunday-afternoons. Twice, I did not manage to buy water or to re-fuel at a gas station or in a bar on time and I knocked the door of a house to ask for a refill. Biking during the hot afternoons was quite demanding. I tried to ride slowly, but ascending requires a more than moderate effort. At the end of the afternoon the temperatuur started to drop a little bit and biking became more comfortable again. I ended the day in la Charité-sur-Loire. I found a nice hotel with a good restaurant alongside the Loire. After a long shower I saw on the news that the French had rejected the European constitution. Those French claim to be the founders of the EU and that there is no EU thinkable them.
After a nice dinner with a view over the Loire, I left for a walk in the village, where I admired an impressive monastery-complex, build in the 11th century.

I woke up at 6:45. Breakfast started at 7:45. I was surprised finding out that the hotel owner had locked all the doors and that I could not leave the hotel to prepare the bike, to walk outside the hotel or even to access the lobby or the restaurant. When I called him with the telephone in the room, he said I had to wait in my room. At 8:10 I crossed the Loire. The weather had changed: a moderate rain and wind (side). In fact, that morning it was too cold to stop.

The first 25km went alongside the Loire and a small canal. Mostly flat like Flevoland. That was nice to start with. After 2,5 hours, I stopped in a village to buy some food. In the grocery store, I saw choclate on eye- height and I lifted my arm to get it. Oops, a very painful shoulder did not like that movement. An hour later, the rain dissappeared and I arrived at the foot of the "Massif Central".
Leaving Commentry, a small village east of Montluçon, I rowed my way up over a very small road for about 8km, gaining 600 meters in altitude. A little before the top I used the climbing assistant for the very first time. During the ascend, I enjoyed the views over the low land behind me (yes, Derk provided me with a tiny mirror to be glued inside (sun) glasses. Works fine) but the reward at the top was different this time. A towering Puy de Dôme at the horizon.

Three weeks later, I rode one of the organised tours in the south of Belgium, near Charleroi: 160 km, 1900m elevation. There was a Belg on a racing bike, age around 50, with a very big belly. He was certainly not a slender king of summits. We met several times at the Ravi's (a place where they feed the animals). The guy had just one leg...

G roets, Reinier

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