June 8th: Pula
While writing my blog posts today (I was behind and had to catch up on a couple days), I realized a lot of my blog posts were missing emotion and how I was feeling in certain situations. It's hard to remember those emotions a couple days after the fact, especially when problems are no longer problems. Therefore I made myself promise that I would write my blog posts before going to bed each night.
So here I am, laying in my hammock, watching spiders crawling on the outside of my bug net trying to find a way in. I'm pretty bummed but also feeling excited. Today felt like the first taste of "adventure" we're about to have traveling through Eastern Europe, Asia and the Middle East. We woke up on Neven's lawn and slowly began to pack up. I felt like I had a hangover from relaxing. It had been so nice being able to keep our stuff at Neven's and explore Pula. It was the first time during the trip that I did not want to get on my motorcycle and keep riding. I wanted to spend much more time in Pula and get to know the area. However, this feeling was something I knew would happen on the trip. We are traveling so far in such a short amount of time that we can't possibly see/do it all.
Neven's back yard: The first place we spent 2 nights since Toronto
James and I have been having problems with our kick stands. Due to the excess weight of the luggage, our bikes have been leaning too much when we rest them on the kick stands. If we don't put a piece of wood or rock under the kick stand each time we get off the bike, there's a good chance of it toppling over. When Neven saw this, he said "it is stupid to do this, I will ask my friend who works with iron to fix it". We met his friend in the morning, however he was still recovering from a grinding accident. He had turned his head towards a grinder and got 3 pieces of steel stuck in his cornea. Quite understandably, he could not see well and was unable to help with the kick stand repairs. Neven's friend took us to his friend, who also worked with iron, instead.
We followed Neven's friend about .5 km from the local Caffè Bar in Sisan to a nice restaurant/hotel/welding shop. They immediately got to work to fix our kick stands. They lengthened the bar but also made the pad of the kick stand larger so that there would be more surface area touching the ground, decreasing the chances of our stands sticking into soft ground.
The beginning of the repairs. The feet of our kick stands were cut off and scrap steel was found to lengthen the kick stands.
The care he took with his grinding and stick welding was phenomenal. He even painted the welds when he was done: black for mine and silver for James's. The repair took an hour and we paid 200 Kuna total (~$30). If we had been back at Head Rush and had access to the welders, James and I could have done the repair in a couple minutes with scrap steel. However, our welds wouldn't have been nearly as good and may not have lasted. I can almost guarantee my kickstand is the strongest part on my bike now. It was a great experience to see how welding was done outside of the states; very efficiently and with great care!
His stick welds were far better than mine ever will be!
From the welding shop we decided to head to downtown Pula to get some work done. We needed to write our blog as well as update the sponsors with pictures we'd taken of our trip. As usual, we found ourselves at a McDonald's with all our electronics spread out. We spent the majority of the day (11 am to 6 pm) working on the blogs and sponsors.
After sending the emails we needed to and getting the blogs complete, we decided to head towards Rijeka and find a campsite along the way. Despite the feelings of wanting to stay in Pula earlier in the morning, it felt great to get back on the bikes and ride to a new destination. We road through a beautiful sunset and began looking for a campsite about 15km outside of Rijeka. We road down a dirt/rocky road that appeared to potentially have decent camping. However it turned into an obvious dump pretty quick. We turned around, as we reached the main road I put on the brakes and my bike immediately toppled over. Despite feeling a bit humiliated and having my pride hurt, everything seemed fine on my bike. However, once it was upright and I took a better look at it, my rear suspension was completely shot. My bike sat a good 2-3" lower than normal and when I sat on the bike my knees bent at an angle much greater than the normal ~80 degrees. We messed with the suspension a bit but could not figure out what could've happened. There weren't any oil leaks, which ruled out a broken seal, there weren't any cracks or breaks in the spring or shock. I do not know what happened to my shock!
Do not know what's wrong with the shock
At this point, I was feeling pretty worried and upset, I had replaced my shock with a near brand new one less than a month before leaving for the trip. It's the newest part on my bike and the last one I would expect to break/fail. There were few downsides to riding my bike on the smooth tarmac of the Croatian roads, so we decided to move on towards Rijeka and hopefully find a better campsite.
We road down another dirt/rocky road (very carefully with my broken suspension) and found ourselves in a creepy forest. There were signs that read "Beware of Bees" (I'm deathly allergic to bees) and not a lot of places to set up the hammocks. However it was 11:30 and we needed to sleep. So here I am, in the hammock fighting off sleep. The initial frustration of my shock failing has worn off. We knew the bikes would fail at certain points and knew it would be part of the adventure. I'm not sure if I'll need to get a new shock (may cost $500-800) or we'll be able to fix it. Either way it will lead to a situation that we wouldn't be in if we weren't traveling by motorcycle. That's a good thought for me. Once I get these spiders crawling all over my hammock out of my mind I'll be able to sleep.
June 9th: Rijeka to Zadar
We woke up in our semi crappy camp spot early and a little paranoid about the 1000 Kuna ticket we would get if we were caught. It was our quickest packup, and we were out of there in about 30 minutes. We realized that no camp spot is really that bad if you can sleep in your hammock. The bug nets make it feel nice and cozy and there is no better sleep than in a hammock. Michael’s spring was messed up so priority numero uno was to fix that. After a coffee at a café where the WIFI unfortunately did not work, we rode into Rijeka and spent a while figuring out what we wanted to eat, and where we were going to try and fix Michael’s bike. We rode up to a little scooter shop and the owner spoke good english and was very helpful. He told us the spare parts and service basically don’t exist in Croatia and that if we wanted to fix anything our best bet was to head back to Trieste. That meant backtracking across two borders to Italy which sounds annoying but in reality it was about 50 km away. The ride took us through some nice Slovenian country side that was virtually undeveloped. We made it to Trieste and went to Moto Charli. We were reffered to this shop by the shop in Rijeka and we soon found out why. I think anyone with a motorcycle or scooter problem in Trieste went there. The shop was packed and the staff were very helpful. We met a lady named Renata who spoke fluent English and as we soon discovered 4 other languages as well. She loved our bikes and that we were doing an enduro trip. She races enduro in her free time and spent the rest of the afternoon with us. In traditional Italian style she would be off from 1230 to around 3 for lunch, and she said she would show us the way to a guy who is very good with shocks. It was around noon so in the meantime I tried a cable that I thought would fix my speedometer, however unfortunately one of the connections was not entirely correct. Renata got off for lunch, hopped on her Ninja, and we sped off through Trieste to the shock shop. It turns out what we thought was wrong with the shock was indeed the problem and the guy had it fixed and ready to go before James could find a place to pee. The preload adjuster must have slipped, and increasing the preload fixed everything. The guy didn’t even charge Michael anything and did everything with a large smile. We were nervous to crank on the preload screw because we had heard stories of it stripping, but it seemed to work fine. Renata was supposed to leave and head to her second job for a bit, but she told us there is more to life than work and showed us to a nice restaurant just across the Italian border in Slovenia. We had a delicious meal and spoke with Renata about Croatia. She grew up in Zagreb and was now living in Umag. That meant that every day she commuted 110km across 3 countries! She was awesome and we really enjoyed our time with her. She had to go back to work and we were a few countries in the wrong direction of where we intended so we took off to see where we could make it with the remaining of the day.
Lunch with Renata
We made it back to Rijeka quick enough and after Rijeka was absolutely incredible. The road wrapped along the coast and there was hardly any civilization. There were some nice mountains that looked similar to what I’ve seen around Santa Barabara, but slightly more rocky. The water was the incredible crystal blue that we are now accustomed to. Every body of water in Europe seems to be clean, clear, and bright blue. As we rode along the coast the sun set and we watched the crimson sun light up the clouds over the coastal islands just off the coast. It was one of the coolest roads I have ever been on and “wow” was used everytime we came around a turn.
Along the Adriatic
The sun set and we figured we should find somewhere to sleep before we completely ran out of sunlight and were riding into peoples places at night. It has been uncomfortable finding somewhere to sleep after dark because most of the time the roads that look abandoned still lead to a house. We ended up pulling off in a camper rest stop on the side of the road next to some broken monument. It was actually a pretty spot, but we were surrounded by houses and were pretty paranoid about getting caught. We cooked up some food and passed out pretty quick in our hammocks above the Adriatic Sea.
June 10th: To Dubrovnik
After a somewhat restless night of sleep with 3 cars pulling in and out of our little trucker pull off we awoke and began another beautiful day in Croatia. We packed up quickly and skipped breakfast to avoid any possible encounters with police inquiring about our illegal camping. Only once we were on the road and headed to Zadar did I feel we had successfully avoided a camping fine in Croatia once again. Everyone seemed to be in good spirits and a good mood to ride so after a quick gas stop and a bounty bar or two we continued on towards Split. We arrived in Split around mid morning and cruised some very narrow and pedestrian filled roads before parking in some shade near a beautiful park. We explored some markets and streets searching for wifi, coffee and food. We found some delicious wraps at a pizza and sandwich place and headed down next to the water to eat them and take advantage of the free city wifi. After a quick nap on a bench I awoke and joined the others at a cafe for a coffee. Once we were caffeinated and fed we were ready for another long leg to Dubrovnik and headed out of the city.
While not quite on par with the previous day of coast cruising the drive was still absolutely stunning. We cruised in and out of small towns and little home stays. At one point we made our way inland passing some beautiful lakes with rocky hills and houses dotting their coast. We saw our first cops on speed patrol and began becoming a bit more cautious of our speed. We crossed the small spit of coast that belonged to Bosnia with now problems and barely even a glance at our pass ports and were soon back in Croatia and cruising towards Dubrovnik. As we approached Dubrovnik the excitement built as you could see the red roofs dotting the hillside. As we dropped into the city I was surprised to see a giant castle surrounding a small portion of the red roofs. I later learned that this was the old city of Dubrovnik and is where the filming for kings landing in Game of Thrones takes place. While waiting to meet Maro, our Air B&B host, we met some very charismatic German bikers who go us very excited about Albania and the coming Eastern European countries. We then followed Maro on his scooter to our garage turned paradise. The small apartment was perfect for what we needed with a small kitchenette, bathroom, beds and best of all AC. We unpacked, parked the bikes and headed to a beach a five minute walk away that Maro recommended. The beach had a sea cave that Graham and Sarah explored and some cliff jumping into beautiful crystal clear water. After the refreshing plunge we headed back to the apartment, stopping at a bakery and market for food and beer.
After getting cleaned up and having a few beers we headed towards the old city to explore and enjoy the night life. We wandered the narrow streets of the old city finding a few bars and lots of people. We stopped and enjoyed some live music at the corner of a square for awhile. I was extremely impressed and intimidated by a few of the listeners dancing skills. When we had explored what parts of the city we could and were content we headed back to the apartment. On the way we discovered that bakery's, or at least a bakery, was open late and I got a delicious calzone for a price that almost felt like stealing. Once back at the apartment it took no time to pass out on a comfortable bed with the AC blasting.
June 11th: A Day in Kings Landing
We woke up at 9am (2 hours later than usual) feeling pretty shitty. The night before was a bit of a blur and we were paying for it now. However, we were in an air conditioned room and compared to the hung-over wake up we had in Amsterdam, this was a god send. We stumbled around the room, made some instant coffee and realized how good the wifi was. There was air conditioning, good wifi, we were hungover, 3 episodes behind in Game of Thrones (our favorite TV show), and in Dubrovnik (where all scenes of Kings Landing are filmed). My brother had put all the episodes on a Google drive for us so all we had to do was click play. It was magical. We spent the morning watching two episodes of Game of Thrones and nursing our hangovers. If that wasn't paradise, I don't know what possibly could be.
Relaxing in King's Landing (hoping something terrible happens to Cersei)
From there we decided to try and make it into Montenegro. In order to do that, it required us to travel through Bosnia and Herzegovina. We road to the border of Croatia and Bosnia. The border guard in Bosnia told us our Green Card insurance (liability insurance for our motorcycles) would not work in Bosnia and we would have to buy new ones for 25 euro eachd if we wanted to enter. He showed us on our Green Card insurance card, that the BIH was crossed out, meaning it would not work.
We refused to pay 25 euro, so we turned around and headed back to Dubrovnik.
We road back to Maro's Air B&B we'd stayed at the night before and parked at a park nearby. James started working to replace his entire drive chain on his motorcycle (chain, front and rear sprocket) while Graham and I worked to find a way to get insurance for Bosnia and Herzegovina. James was working diligently to remove his old chain. For some reason, Kawasaki did not put a master link on the stock chain. Therefore, he had to break a link in order to get his chain off his bike (or take apart his whole rear sub-frame). He spent 1.5 hours banging on the chain with a hammer and flathead until a link finally broke. It was glorious! While he began replacing the sprockets, I went to try and get our new Green Cards printed.
James trying to break the chain
When I returned, with copies of our new insurance, James had everything put back together except the chain. He put it on and realized the master link of his new chain was a rivet and required a specific tool which we did not have. We checked the nearby scooter repair shop hoping they were still open (it was 8pm at this point) to see if they had the tool or a master link with a slip-on linkage. They were open, but had neither. They said our best bet would be to go to Dante Moto the next morning.
We called Maro and asked if we could spend another night in one of his Air B&B's, he had a room for us. What a bummer. We had to spend another night in Dubrovnik with air conditioning and comfortable beds? It had to be, the best possible place to have to stay an extra night.
We locked up James's bike and road to the room we were staying. If you are ever in Dubrovnik, look up Maro on Air B&B, his rooms are comfortable, clean, down town and cheaper than any hostel or hotel we could find. Great deal! All in all, the day wasn't the most productive in terms of distance traveled, but we got some work done and enjoyed ourselves in Dubrovnik.
We woke up pretty early so that we could get the master link for James’ bike as quickly as possible from the motorcycle shop that opened at 8. I had some indigestion and took a few charcoal pills. We cleaned up the place while James took Michaels bike to search for the master link. He returned about an hour later with a different size master link, but it would probably work. The other option was to try and hammer the rivet link that was included with the chain. Michael shuttled James and his boxes back over to the park where we had been doing our work the day before. We packed up the rest of the stuff, gave Maro the keys to the place, and headed to the park to meet up with James. We decided to just roll the bike down the hill to the scooter place at the bottom of the hill and see if they could help us. The hill was pretty steep and without a chain there would be no engine braking on Jolene. I have overheated my brakes twice already so it was a little concerning, but he made it to the bottom no problem. The scooter shop did not have the right tools, but they did have two hammers that we could use to try and bend the rivets. Upon further inspection the scooter link that was a different size was almost identical to Michael’s master link and it had held up fine so far. After some swearing, hammering, and plier yanking the link was on and it looked good to go. We ate lunch again at Fjelica, and it was once again delicious. Large plate of potatoes soaked in delicios olive oil and pork steak covered in sauce and mushrooms. Writing this right now makes me salivate a bit.
Delicious Croatian food from Fjelica
We were completely stuffed and now equipped with a new drive train on Jolene we were ready to head south along the coast. We made it to the Montenegro border with our new insurance documents however the border patrol didn’t like the fact that it was not an original copy. I think if they were original they still wouldn’t have taken it because there was a local lady yelling at them about her insurance and they still made her go buy the insurance for 10 euro. Not the biggest tax for insurance, but still weren’t that happy that our insurance had failed. Once we started riding again we quickly forgot about the insurance as the coastal mountains and water were beautiful. There is a large bay/inlet that goes inland in Montenegro and adds a substantial amount of driving time or there is a ferry that takes you across a narrow stretch of about .5 km. The ferry was 2 euro so completely worth it and we were pretty pumped to put our bikes on a boat.
After the ferry crossing we continued down the coast and enjoyed the beautiful scenery. I was keeping my eye out for something to jump off with the QUICKjump, and we soon came across a pretty sweet looking bridge that looked out over the ocean. I was feeling pretty weird with indegestion, overheating, and probably dehydrated but we were excited to jump off some stuff. The whole process ended up taking 23 minutes. We had the QUICKjump quadruple redundant, and Michael hopped right off the ledge. It worked perfectly! James went next and executed a pretty sweet looking back flip. It was my turn and I really wanted to try a backflip. I got to over the railing of the bridge and the combination of heat, nerves, upset stomach, and anxiety about getting in trouble in a foreign country all caused me to forget about the rope between my legs. When I went for the backflip the rope slid right between my legs, so after the freefall I hit the catch with the bungee underneath me wrapped around the family jewels. It was a pretty aggressive and violent experience as I was ripped through another rotation with the pivot point being my right testicle. The QUICKjump lowered my gracefully to the ground and a landed in small patch of picker bushes. The entire experience was thouroughly unpleasant, and I felt like I might poop my pants/throw up/both from the strange indigestion and the shock of having my balls lasso’d. I was in a strange place and recovering while Michael did his backflip. We packed everything up and the rest of the day I felt a bit strange.
Just before inflicting pain on the nether region
I had briefly seen a place called Ladies beach in Ulcej that looked pretty cool so that was our destination. Ulcej was not far from the QUICKjump spot, and soon we were in a slightly hectic town/city. Some guys followed us around on scooters soliciting us with rooms to stay in for the night. We really just wanted to find somewhere to eat, and ended up doing a loop through the city. There was another old town like Dubrovnic with castle walls surrounding the buildings. It was a lot more overgrown, but it was cool to see. While we were doing a loop around the city they blocked off the main street leading out of the city for some reason and we ended up going through some more backroads to get out of the city. This was the first place we have been that was pretty undeveloped, and it was a bit of a culture shock from the parts of Europe we have seen so far. It was also exciting though because the rest of the trip will likely be like this, and the less developed places are the ones we are ost looking forward to. After being solicited a few more times, and wandering the streets more we ended up at a little pizza restaurant. The owner was a jovial character and I enjoyed watching him swing around large platters of food and drinks without a second thought. We had some delicious pizza for much cheaper than anywhere thus far and enjoyed the environment of the place. We were the only foreigners, and our bikes were definetely an attraction for everyone else. We wanted to get the hell out of the city after dinner and headed inland towards the mountains. There were some really sweet windy roads through canyons and some really dark tunnels. We popped out in a cool little valley the was framed by a mountain range. We have had luck going up the mountains until the road runs out so that it exacty what we did. We wound our way up the side of the mountain, and ended up pretty much on the border with Albania. There were a few dirt roads up into the mountain to plots that looked like they flattened to build houses on. There weren’t any houses there though and it was a perfect flat spot to camp. We could look down on the valley and see all the lights of the towns below, and then looked up and saw some pretty incredible stars as well. It didn’t seem that buggy and the air was cooler and dry. We decided to have a slumber party so we laid out the tarp and put our pads and sleeping bags on top. We all crawled into bed and watched the stars and satellites go by. It was really relaxing and it felt good to finally not be covered in sweat. It was a great way to fall asleep and end a long day.
Slumber party in Montenegro
June 13th: Montenegro to Lake Ohrid
I awoke as the sun hit my sleeping bag and I instantly began sweating. Sitting up I looked out across the green valleys of Montenegro and Albania. We packed up and headed toward the Albania border keeping an eye out for a good place to grab some food. At the border we got stuck behind a long line of cars but were pleasantly surprised when a number of locals began pointing us around the cars. We scooted the bikes up onto a side walk next to the border crossing booths and after a fairly smooth interaction got waved through. We drove up next to a beautiful lake passing lots of bikes and pedestrians and found a lovely restaurant overlooking the lake. The soft spoken young Albanian man helped us choose a good meal for breakfast. For me he recommended potatoes and a cheese salad, while a bit odd I thought taking his recommendation would be a good idea and ended up with a platter of cheese and some fries. It was absolutely delicious though and I traded some of the cheese with Michael who had a delicious salad. After some more coffee's we were on the road and headed toward Tirana, the capital of Albania.
After some very odd google maps navigation and help and recommendations from some locals we ended up at a beach called Shengjin. The beach seemed to be very locals oriented and as we pulled up on a dock a number of local kids came up, very interested in us. We dismounted and after securing our belongings enjoyed the locals company. Michael and Graham both earned the locals respect with some flips off of the dock. We drew lots of attention with our massive bikes, complexion and weird accents. While very friendly, we all shared the feeling that we should keep an eye on our stuff or it might walk away on us. We packed up and headed out with a new guest perched on top of the QUICKjump on the back of Michaels bike. Dropping him off at the end of the street we began cruising towards our destination: Lake Ohrid.
The drive was uneventful minus some massive pot holes and a few wrong turns that were quickly fixed. we stopped at a high rise super market which had unbelievably cheap food and got some bread and meat for lunch and pasta for dinner. Enjoying the wifi and clean bathrooms we ate at a cafe that was a part of the complex before riding on. We stopped along the side of a rural road to try and buy some berries from a kid and were absolutely shocked to find he wanted more than 10 dollars for the berries. 10 dollars had bought us 3 beers, 2 meals and a number of snacks at the super market so 10 dollars for a bowl of berries seemed like a bit of a cheat. As we rode we passed lots of kids selling Albania flags and a number of police directing traffic. After a bit of pondering we decided there was a soccer game but decided it would be a lot of trouble to try and get tickets, park the bikes and make the game. Riding over a small pass we finally began descending onto the massive lake Ohrid. We took the first turn to a place called Camp Erlin where we pulled off into a field surrounded by trees with a beautiful beach bar to camp. The camp was an paradise and had some luxuries we weren't expecting including wifi, beer and showers. Cooking pasta on the beach we loaded the most recent game of thrones episode and drank a beer or two. Snuggling up into the tent we watched the episode before passing out.
June 14th: Lake Ohrid to Litochoro
We woke up early with the idea of getting some work done. We each busted out a couple blog posts, got some pictures edited and sent some emails, all while sitting under a hut in the little oasis next to Lake Ohrid. We ordered coffee, which helped the work move along and we were able to get a lot done in a two hour time. We got an Air B&B ordered for two nights, tonight and the night after. We were planning to climb Mount Olympus and needed a place to keep all our gear safe as well as a haven for after the hike. The Air B&B was inn Litochoro and is the destination for the day.
Just a bit better than McDonalds
We got on the road around 11 and o'clock and made our way to the Albania/Greece border. The border crossing itself was one of the most laid back we've had so far. The guards exiting Albania were very friendly; they joked around with us and asked us loads of questions about the trip. In between the exit border from Albania and entering Greece, we ran into a man selling sausage sandwiches. We were all starving so we each ordered one and were pleased to realize they had cucumber and french fries inside. For 1 euro, they were a great deal! Didn't fill me up, but definitely helped my hunger.
Entering Greece was another uneventful activity. We didn't have to pay for any insurance and the only documents we had to supply were passports and motorcycle registration. James and I did realize both our registrations end in July of 2015. Meaning we may have to get Photoshop out again and change that date… Otherwise we may have a hard time getting in and out of other countries!
We road for Litochoro and found a side road that could take us to our destination. The main highway (what we originally planned on taking) would get us to Litochoro in 6 hours, while the side road would only take 6.5. We decided to take the side road. It was unbelievable, it took us past a lake, through multiple forests, over a couple passes and through a few rural Greek villages, all while riding on a combination of smooth tarmac and potholed windy dirt roads.
Quick side note: The reason we got the bikes we did, Kawasaki KLR 650s, was for the ease of maintenance and their supposed worldwide popularity. The ease of maintenance is true, the worldwide popularity is not… After a month of traveling through Europe we finally saw our first KLR. It was a 250 instead of a 650, but it was a great relief to find that our bikes DO exist outside of the US. We're hoping they'll be more popular in SE Asia, but so far we've had no luck finding replacement parts, even at Kawasaki dealerships.
The man was partly excited to show it off, but I think he was more confused as to why we were so excited about his motorcycle.
We made it to Litochoro around 9 pm (an hour later than we told the Air B&B people we'd arrive). The side road we followed added an extra 1.5 hours to our trip. We were amazed by the quality of the apartment we're staying in, 3 bedrooms with a living room, kitchen and bathroom. All for under 9 euro per person.
We made plans to wake up at 4:30 am to begin our climb of Mount Olympus, cooked some pasta, drank the bottle of wine our Air B&B hosts left for us and crashed. I must have fallen asleep in less than 30 seconds.
Mt Olympos 6/15
We woke up at 430 with the moka pot for coffee ready to go and some hard boiled eggs that we made the night before. We had a delicious breakfast and then headed out for Mt Olympos. Litochoro is a pretty condensed city right at the base of the mountain so we figured it should be easy enough to find our way to the trail head. We headed out of the town in the wrong direction though and after winding back through the city we found the correct road up the canyon to the trailhead. The road up there is 18km long of windy switchbacks and we had ditched all our luggage at the apartment so the bikes felt good! It was a great way to wake up and the views were gorgeous as we rose higher and higher above the Aegean sea. We made it to the trailhead and James made friends with a puppy before heading up the mountain. We really did not know what to expect from the hike. We knew it was going to be long with a lot of elevation gain, but other than that had no idea. I had read a trip report from a guy who made it sound pretty intense so the was some apprehension.
We crossed a crystal clear stream to start the hike with a nice looking waterfall and then it was into the woods. As we rose higher the trees changed and we started getting into a high alpine environment that reminded us of Colorado. We reached the first refuge in 2 hours and figured the hike was probably overestimated. The first refuge is 6.4 km and 1000 meters of elevation gain so we were cruising. We had a quick brunch and then headed up above alpine to Skala.
Enjoying the view just above alpine
There are many peaks on top of Mt Olympos, but the tallest point is Mytkas. The route was to summit Skala and then traverse to Mytkas. The trail to summit Skala was the worst bit as it was pretty steep, above alpine, and no switchbacks. We thought it was strange not being dizzy and out of breath in an alpine environment, because everything that is above alpine in Colorado is clost to 12,000 ft. We were above alpine around 7000 ft here though so it was similar to being on top of the ski hill just outside of Boulder. We summited Skala and Mytkas was a short jaunt away. This was the fun part as it was a decent amount of scrambling down Skala and then back up Mytkas. The trip report I had read played this up to be a little more intense than it really was so it was fun to make jokes about it along the way. There were some suggestions about maps, however the route was painted on the rock so losing the route would have be near impossible unless it was covered in snow.
Reflection in the SunSkis showing Mytkas
We summited Mytkas and the clouds moved in to block our view of the Aegean, but we could still see the plains that streched out on the other side of the mountain. It was warm and not windy on the summit so we all laid down and took a quick nap. This turned out to not be the best idea because the sun was a lot more intense than we thought. We woke up with a decent sun burn, and we still had a long way to go down. As we traversed back to Skala we saw a couloir filled with snow that shot down the mountain for about 1000 meters.
Heading down the loose rock to the couloir
Everyone had brought their rain pants to try and glissade down something so we aimed for the couloir to see if we could slide down half the mountain. After climbing down some pretty loose rock we made it to the couloir and realized it was a lot steeper than it looked from above. It was somewhere close to a 40 degree slope and the snow was fast. The whole stretch of snow was no wider than 10 feet at any point and there were quite a few rocks protruding from the sides. We were all scoping it out and being pretty doubtful about the likelyhood of surviving a glissade down the thing when Michael slipped on the snow and fell straight into the couloir. James grabbed his backpack to try and stop him, but it almost pulled him down as well so he had to let go. It was a few seconds of terror as Michael scrambled to stop himself. He slid into a rock outcropping and came abruptly to a halt. After that incident it was pretty apparent that stopping yourself would be near impossible and there is about 1000 meters of steep snow and rock left beneath us. We changed plans to head down the couloir a little further and hopefully we could get on a less steep section to slide. Michael found an ice axe on the rock so atleast one of us had a braking system for glissading. As we made our way down more loose rock it became apparent that the angle did not get any less steep until near the bottom, and trying to slide down it might be a death sentence. We traversed back across a system of couloirs to the main trail a little defeated that we brought our rain pants for no reason. When we got down to the refuge Michael traded his new found ice axe for a Twix bar that will all split. He bargained hard. As we hiked down the rest of the mountain we were pretty surprised at how far we had gone up without realizing it. It definetely seemed longer on the way down. We hopped on the bikes, and putting on our helmets was pretty unenjoyable with a serious sunburn, and covered in sweat. We had been recommended gyros in the town so it was off to get some food as we were starving. The gyros were 3 euro and delicious. They were different from any other gyro I have ever had as there were french fries stuffed into it as well as the usual ingredients. They were really good regardless and filled all of us up. We grabbed some beer from the market and went back to the apartment to relax and watch the season finale of Game of Thrones! We had been singing the theme song all day in anticipation. It was a crazy episode, and we had to discuss everything that had happened afterward. Everyone was exhausted so we all went to sleep after listening to some Bob Marley.