“Being Out There” fever….

4 04 2011

Saturday morning and for some undefined reason, …..no plans made for the weekend.

It must have been around 9:00am when all of a sudden, “M” and myself, while laying in our bed, shortly after being awaken by the morning sun sneaking through the window shields, catching up consciousness with our eyes nailed on the bedroom white ceiling, started feeling the old-familiar “being-out-there” fever crawling up, from our deepest guts within to our foreheads and into our brains….

It was then, after laying a bit like that and experiencing the anxiety of the wasted-weekend-probability, that  the walls in our very room felt like they started moving towards one another and the room itself started becoming worryingly smaller and smaller….

Packing fast and running out from our own flat seemed like the only option….!!!

And there we were…..Soon enough we were driving down the National road with all our hiking and biking gear stuffed into our car, running away from the “devil’s city”. Our destination was a place I always wanted to visit and “M” was glad to come along. The Mount of Ziria.

Ziria, is the 14th highest mountain of Greece with a peak at 2,374 meters. Situated at Corinthia prefecture in North Peloponesse has plenty of nice villages all around, which are filled with guesthouses, traditional hotels, tavernas, cafes and all that tourist and visitors’ service places. When coming to Ziria from Athens, the village closer to the mountain top is “Ano Trikala”and this is where we decided we should spend the evening.

After a two-hours relaxed driving we arrived at Ano Trikala and started looking for a place to stay. We didn’t have any bookings, but it was just a common weekend, not a long one, and we didn’t have any difficulty in finding a guesthouse to spend the night over. Actually, it proved that the lack of accomodation arrangments eventually turned out to our benefit, since we had the opportunity to choose amongst a great variety of guesthouses and eventually pick out the nicest, the best situated and best value-for-money rated place.

Having found a place to spend the night over, we unloaded our bikes, our gear and few stuff and we headed to the reception in order to get some information about the existence of any hiking routes and bike trails in the area or any must-see sites we should visit while our stay. Unfortunatelly, the value of the information received was less than expected, and thus we decided not to waste any more time and to hit the road the soonest possible. So, we took a quick glimpse at our map, decided to move on and thereon to determine our destination along the way, depending on how it would “go”, and rode off.

We pedalled hard upwards a small road leading to the main road and after that, we pushed on uphill a little further and further more. Few kilometers up the main road, we saw a dirt road turning right and into the woods. Having heard about a small seasonal rain-lake, Lake Tsivlou, we decided to follow that road and see how lucky we’d be in finding it. The view was wonderful. There were no long slopy hills so we had the opportunity to enjoy the tranquil scenery and the fresh air, without gasping our lungs out.

It all seemed so ideally matched at that momment, but looking back at it, right now, I really think that I should have known better, since as it was proven later on, that serenity wasn’t destined to last for long….! The rains that had fallen the previous days were quite a few and when the rocks started becoming fewer and fewer, the terrain started turning gradually into a mud-pit. Pedalling was becoming heavier and heavier and every now and then the wheels felt like braking because of all that mud and all that small stickst that were getting built up between the tyre and the wheel fork. It was desperate!! Every 20mtrs or so we had to get off and clean the mud to unblock our wheels from turning. This was hardy desribed as cycling any more….. Nevertheless, we tried to ride on, hoping that the mud would finish at some not-distant-point. Despite our optimistic expectations, it only kept getting worse and worse.

We had done most of the uphill part and we were about to hit the slope downwards but at some point, riding over all these muddy potholes and turning and braking on this uncommonly slippery mud, seemed that it might prove to be quite tricky for “M”, since these were her first steps in mountain biking, and we felt that we shouldn’t test our luck further. The time was running late after all and considering that if we carried on riding further we would have to climb all these muddy uphill terrain on our way back, left us with no doubt that we should admit our defeat in grace and head backwards to the main road. Soonest we got back on the tarmac, we decided not to risk a second disappointment in the same afternoon and to play it safe. We decided to stay on the main road and ride further uphill for few minutes more, till sunset, and enjoy the wonderful evening. A few minutes later, the sun decided to set behind mountains for a good night rest and we decided to call it a day for ourselves as well. We took a last glance at the setting sun and we rode back to our guesthouse.

Back at the guesthouse, we tried to take the mud off our bikes, so that we spare our carpet back in the appartment from the extra mud stains. The landlord was rather surprised that we had being away for quite a few hours and having seen all that mess we had done of our bikes offered to help us out in cleaning them. After getting rid of the big parts of mud that we had been carrying along with us under our saddles, between our pedals and undeneath our bike frames, we decided that we should also have a nice and hot shower to clean ourselves up as well and drive around a bit in order we decide our options for the next day.

We visited the small ski resort which was actually closed at that time and we tried to get some information about hikng trails by some guys who seemed like local hunters and they were just hanging out there having a chat over coffee inside the chalet. They told us that there was actually a trail starting a few meters down the resort’s parking lot and it was leading all the way up to the peak of Ziria mountain. Although, they suggested that since it could take us at least 3 hours of intense pace, we shouldn’t try it unless we were really fit. Instead of that they said that we should better drive most of the way uphill and then do the last 30-mins part of the hiking.

Feeling a bit disappointed by all these we exited the chalet and drove off. There was a small thing that we still had to do. We had to pay a small visit to the seasonal rain-lake Tsivlou, this time by car, and thus compensate for what we had failed to do earlier that morning on our bikes. To our surprise, doing so,we found out that there could have been eventually a far more easier road we could have followed for our return if we had kept on riding through the muddy potholes earlier that day.

Having had quite a long day, it started becoming apparent that it was about time we should pay also a visit to the village and get some of the early evening atmosphere. We got into a cosy little cafeteria and we enjoyed a drink nearby the stone-built fireplace. Later on, having got rid off the day’s tension, we had dinner in a nearby tavern where we tasted some of the local delicacies and also had a few glasses of spirit-settling wine. Luckily, the visitors were really few and we had a really nice time. Having done all that and after we went through all the adventures of the day and we had discussed about our tomorrow’s options we drove back to the guesthouse, set up a fire in our bedroom fire-place, sipped a last glass of white wine and had a good night sleep.

Next morning, we had one of the most fascinating wake-ups. The sun rose behind and amongst the branches of the trees which were consisting the natural property-line of the guesthouse’s backyard and offered us one of the most colourfull breathtaking spectacles.

Soonest we got up and headed towards breakfast room, we realized that it had grew a bit more windy than the previous day, but despite that, our spirit remained high and we felt strongly that this day would compensate us for all the hardship we went through in the muddy trails during the last day. The breakfast menu could be considered quite descent, with freshly made honey-pancakes, being the highlight of the menu. After we have had enough pancakes and we eventually acquired both that stuffed-turkey-look and its walking style, we went back to the reception arranged for late check-out and got our hiking boots on.

When we left the guesthouse, we hadn’t decided yet which hiking route to follow and so we were still discussing about it while driving in our car uphill. “M” insisted that we should do the Ziria’s peak, or at least try for as long as we would have time to make it back safe before it got dark. It was already 11:30am, since we had got up some time later than what we had in mind (last night’s spirit-settling wines had played their part in this) and I was a bit reluctant about trying the Ziria peak trail. I never liked quitting and i wasn’t sure if what these guys had told us back in the chalet last day was true or not, and if we had enough time to make it up to the top and back before 17:00 hrs. “M” compromised with my non-quitting principle and we made a drive around to check on some other trails we have seen the previous day setting off some nearby places.

We had got off the car and were discussing about doing a route that was supposed to lead to a place called Hermes’ Cave. We weren’t very keen on this idea, when all of sudden, a hiker in his mid-60s or even more appeared out of thin air. It turned out that he was hiking all the way up from Ano Trikala and that he was heading towards Ziria’s peak. He claimed that it was about 1 and 1/2 half, “maximum 2 hours” he said, from the place that we were standing that very moment. Although, he suggested that if we were up to it, we should head a bit further up, and pointed us to the ski resort’s parking lot, since there was nothing interesting to hike between that place we were and the parking lot.
We were really excited from what we heard. We thanked the guy and drove to the parking lot. While changing clothes and packing our backpacks, we looked at the other side of the parking lot……… and there he was!!!! The hiker we saw a few minutes earlier, had crossed almost all the way we had driven by car and had caught up with us ………on foot!!!!! We looked each other with “M” and actually crossed our minds that these guys in the chalet the other night were quite right saying Ziria’s peak would take us about three hours or even more and that this old-geezer over here was calculating time-distance basis his own walking speed, which was remarkably a bit slower than this of a car.
Meantime, our speed-hiker had approached us to a voice-hear-distance and explained that what he meant was that we should go even further, on the other side of a small plain with the semi-wild horses, about one kilometer even further, since we would get really bored to cross it on foot. “And since you have the option why not drive on the other side….”, he said.

We looked at each other once more with “M” and without  making a single sound, we climbed in and drove on the other side of the plain, following a circular route. While underway, “M” said: “imagine when we get there, this guy to pop out of nowhere again,…. that would be really creepy!!!!”
Well, guess what…? Soonest we got there, we parked the car on the side of the road, chatted with some other “hikers” (who most probably had also passed by the chalet and had decided to take the advice of the guys hanging in there, obviously devoted to tell tourists to go to Ziria’s peak by car) and we were just about ready to set off…..there he was!!!!! The speed-hiker!! Or i should better say, …the Phantom-hiker.

“Hey guys” he said, “you got here, alright”. That’s where i mean you should set off, in the first place. Since you have eventually decided to go all the way to the top, you can come along, if you feel like it”. “Not sure. We may be a great deal of stall for you”, I replied. “Don’t be silly” he said “I am an old guy. I will be the one holding you guys back. Come on!!!”. “He must be really teasing us”, i thought to myself. We made the necessary introductions and we finally…. set off.

In the beginning, we had difficulty to get a rhythm. “B” (the “phantom”-hiker) seemed to notice that and suggested that “M” should lead our way. “M” has always been quite anxious to reach at her final destination when setting a rhythm and knowing that, i volunteered to lead for the sake of all of us, inluding “M'”s of course. After a while we started chatting about hiking-interest stuff and “B” seemed that was actually enjoying our company, at least as much as we did. After a steep rocky ascend, we got to Ziria’s Refuge and then we crossed a few kilometers of a more levelled soft terrain till we crossed that 4×4 road that we were told that was leading close to the peak.

Ascending in altitude and following the track, it had started gradually exposing us to more and more strong south winds that were blowing at the moment. “B” made a quick stop to wear his wind/water-proof jacket and his fleece hood on. “M” was shivering cold. I took my water-proof jacket out from my back-pack and helped her put it on. She took it willingly, struggling at the same time not ot paraglide down Ziria. We pushed higher and higher. We had already started to struggle to keep up with “B” and the muddy potholes’ effect had started to show its impact on us. After a while walk in the strong winds we came across some snow. The peak was apparently close at last.

The last few meters to the peak were quite steep. “M” was really struggling to stand on her feet with all that wind gusting constantly upon us and she was trying to keep her center of gravity lowest possible to the ground, while keep walking on the same time. She was two steps behind me when she extended her right hand towards me and i saw despair in her eyes. I took her hand and tried to encourage her, “Come on love. We can do it!! We are almost there!” She nodded her head and tried to climb her way on the knify stones. I pulled her up and pushed on. I remember i was actually pulling “M” behind me for the last steepy meters.
But eventually, ……we were there at last! We had made it to the 2,374 meters up and we were stepping on the peak of Ziria. That was actually our first peak! We were thrilled!!


“B” seemed to share our overwhelming happiness and I reckon that he actually enjoyed himslef watching us jumping round and round like if we had made it all the way up to Mount Everest. After we settled down a bit, we seeked shelter from the strong winds, had a quick snack with nuts, oranges and tangerines, enjoyed the wonderful view and hit the way back. Descending seemed quite easy! At least in the beginning….
We had a very interesting chat and we all had a great time walking down Ziria. The weather, if we except the strong winds, has been proved to be really kind with us and the mountain was also really welcoming. Although, after we had gone the 3/4 of the way back, we both started having sore knees. Especially “M”. We were so excited with our “achievement” and our chatting and the scenery, that we lost focus and actually neglected to take care for descending techinques and things like that. and On the other hand, “B”, has remained really concentrated on the path and seemed quite fit, confident and determined to keep on hiking downhill even when we offered to give him a lift down to the village after we had eventually reached the place where we had parked earlier. We said goodbyes, exchanged telephone numbers, big handshakes and smiles and headed our seaparate ways.

We got back to the guesthouse with a feeling of completeness and satisfaction. We were proud for ourselves but mostly for one another. At least this is how I felt for “M”….

We packed our things, thanked the landlords for their warm hospitality, checked out and took the sad way of the return to the “devil’s city”. Nevertheless, deep inside us there was this feeling of content and desire, at the same time, longing for the next peaks that were to come!

P.S:

Thanks “B”…!!! You were a revelation and you still remain our “guide”…..

“N”

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