Day 14 Kastoria - nymfaio
Epic would be the best word to describe day 14 of our cycling tour in Greece “Ride with the Gods”. We all departed for our 11th ride by 8:30 a.m. from Kastoria. However we ended up taking multiple routes to exit the city, so we could avoid riding the cobblestones. Several people followed the lake for a flat ride along the shore on a bike path, while the rest of us used our Garmins to navigate to the course and avoid the cobblestones. While we found the course, following the lake would have been a better option, though 5 km further, there was not a 10% climb in the first kilometer of the ride.
Back on course we ended up on back country roads for 15 kilometers (9 miles) past apple and fruit orchards and farms. At 21 kilometers (13 miles) we began the first climb, 9 kilometers (5.5 mi) and 427 m (1400’) of climbing. Though the average grade was 4%, the final 1/2 of the climb was around 7%. While others flew up the hill my legs were screaming the entire way up. We did get some good views of the valley below and I stopped at least twice for photos. Then we rolled over the top and downhill for our break in the small town of Lechovo at 35 km (21 miles).
At this point I was toast and was not sure how the remaining 2400’ of climbing was going to go, Luckily we had another 18 km (11 miles) of descent before the second climb so I remained on the bike and enjoyed the downhill, including a wonderful draft behind our guide Paul, I was a barnacle on his wheel for at least 10 km, and did well on the slight downhill and flat. However when we hit a small incline (even 1%) my legs just locked up. So it was with great reluctance that I declared it a day and skipped the remaining nearly 10 km of climbing (6 miles) and 736 m (2415’) of climb. Though advertised at an average of 7% it seems much of the climb was in double digits. I am in awe that most of the group made the ascent, suffering through the steep pitches and swarming black flies. They have my full respect and admiration. Though it pained me to skip this challenge I had to acknowledge that a year ago I could not even walk unaided and that I have only been back on the bike since January post-hip replacement. In the end I want to ride another day and my legs were/are cooked. I’m so glad we have a much easier day tomorrow and a day off the following day
Nymfaio is a beautiful mountain village, one of the highest in Greece at 1350 m (4,429’). Characteristic of the village are the stone buildings and tin roofs (not slate like the roofs in Metsovo). The town was settled in the 14th century by Balkan travelers trying to escape the Ottoman incursions. In the 17th century it was a center of silversmithing. Today it is a tourist destination and home to a bear sanctuary, which provides a rescue home for former “dancing bears”, and circus bears from throughout Europe. They are able to live out their lives in the sanctuary. They also take in abandoned and injured bears, though if they are able to rehabilitate them without them becoming dependent on humans (unlike the former performing bears) they work to return them to the wild. They do sterilize the permanent residents so they are not breeding bears in captivity. The center promotes protection of the bears and works to provide an environment where they are safe and living like they would in the wild (including feeding them as close to a normal diet as they would get foraging and promoting hibernation as would happen in the wild). The center also encourages research and helps to track the wild bear population in Greece. It was really encouraging to see the care they are providing the animals.
Luckily we have a later start tomorrow so we are all looking forward to a good night’s rest and recovery!