12.1/12.2 - Rethimno- Amari Valley- Monastiraki- Patsos- Spili- Rethimno | 83 km | 1.998 vertical meters | Category 1
“When you find yourself in a hole, quit digging” (Will Rogers)
You may have wondered why there are no love stories in cycling magazines. Hidden among ads for bike parts and wheels, you might find a prosaic personal ad or two („He, 8,000 km, seeks Her for joint rides and more„), but that’s it.
Well, cycling and romance are obviously two different pairs of shoes. But if „she“, a resolute rider, not yet busy enough with two horses in the posh riding stable, needs another object under her thumb only to humiliate the aspirant severely at the first hill („She, successful and performance-oriented, seeks cycling partner with broad back for slipstream on the bike and in life„), caution is advised!
Since this gap in the market has not yet been exploited in terms of publications, I have so far had no choice but to make an appointment at the hairdressers to research the love stories of Johanna and Phil, Haven and Tyler, or Sheryl and Lance in the trade magazines on display there.
True eroticism, however, reveals itself in the description of spare parts and components. Here, the authors are not ashamed to spill the beans on even the most intimate details, such as stiffness values, weight, and shape indices, which they are on about in the most flowery language. And if you thought carbon frames were baked in dingy darkrooms, so you should, after experimentally visiting such an establishment in your city’s red-light district, consult the YouTube videos on clinical carbon frame fabrication (and your doctor).
But let us take a closer look at this ragged biker in a Cretan restaurant. On the shores of the Mediterranean, in Rethimno, in search of a tasty meal, he enters a taverna and discovers the young Russian woman with whom he had a glass of wine a few days ago. Beaming with joy, he rushes to greet her in the most flattering way and invites her to a drink.
Idly, she looks up from her book (White Nights by Fyodor M. Dostoyevsky), and the interested reader anticipates how the story will develop. Her gaze wanders from his disheveled hair to the dirty jersey, and slowly downwards to his bib shorts, where unsightly salt marks testify to the sweaty adventures of this young Adonis. His bare legs, stained with a chainring mark and a bunch of sticky insect corpses, also indicate poor hygiene.
While she inspects him, there is a long, embarrassing pause, which literally ends with a bang: “NO!”. And that „NO“ booms and rings in the ears of our young sportsman as he, bracing himself against tables and chairs, staggeringly makes his way out of the tavern and onto the busy street.
„But he said, Yea rather, blessed are they that hear the word of God, and keep it.“ (LUK:11.28)
That night I wandered through a valley of darkness, dream and delusion, in a twilight state between sleep and reality, to the medieval parish church of Ottarp in Sweden. The church tower rises up like a dark silhouette in front of the graveyard bathed in the silver shine of the moonlight. A wrought-iron gate lead into the churchyard. The old fieldstone wall overgrown by moos. The branches of the lime trees swayed melancholy in the night wind, and shadows flit across the graves. As if moved by an invisible hand, the iron handle of the entrance door of the tower swung the gate wide open.
I walked through the cross vault of the tower to enter the deserted nave where the little doors to the pews are painted alternately in bright red and blue and proceeded to the front of the pulpit which is elaborately decorated in Renaissance style. The cover plates to two medieval crypts are set into the floor here, one of them featuring a sword, the other one a knight with a helmet and sword.
One of the small doors opens to the pew. Old wood creaks like on a schooner in the wind, and indeed, there, at the window above the south entrance, illuminated by the moonlight, stood the model of the four-masted bark Viking, fully rigged with foremast, mainmast, mizzen mast and jigger. And while I admired the gifts of gratitude for God’s protection from my seat in this consecrated silence – as well as the old Rasmus organ, the sandstone baptismal font, the vaults of the apse and the side aisles – a voice commanded: „Come, for everything is ready now!„.
Thoughtfully, I stepped out into the bright moonlight and approached the cemetery. Passing the humble tombstones and dark crosses on the graves, which are arranged in geometric patterns, I walked towards a row of apple trees, from where a hunched figure waved me nearer. Wrapped in a dark hooded cloak, the mute gravedigger himself stood in front of a freshly dug grave. The end of a ladder rose from the musty depths, at the bottom of which stood a bier with an unadorned burial shroud.
Suddenly, the mute figure grabbed me firmly by the arm, and, accompanied by guttural sounds, he pushed and dragged me to the entrance of my grave. As I descended the ladder rung by rung, I could clearly see the stratification of the glacial deposits I passed – first the grass on the surface, then pebbles in loam, glacial till, and gray clay, as well as a layer of coarse gravel with fine sand lenses – until I reached the gray clay of the underworld, laid myself on the bier and wrapped myself in the shroud.
I still saw the bright glow of the moon above the grave until a spade dug into the heavy soil which was now shoveled down ceaselessly and settled on my chest and body like lead, suffocating me in the darkness and silence.
There are moments in life when one would like to linger on a distant island in the middle of the ocean, in the solitude of the mountains or in the seclusion of a wondrous valley, in a sacred place like a monastery. As chance would have it, I found myself on a distant island in the middle of an ocean when I happily awoke from this nightmare. An island with a first-class selection of solitary mountains, and a fairy-tale valley with a monastery was also nearby.
And so it happened that a lone cyclist already left the small town of Rethimno in the early hours of that Cretan spring morning to go out into the world and seek his fortune.
THE TOUR - Rethimno- Prasies
The Tour – 83 km/ 1.998 vertical meters/ Category 1
From the historic port at Rethimno and parallel to the coast, the road runs east along the waterfront. Palm trees and tamarisks line the way along an endless succession of hotels, apartment buildings, cafes, restaurants, supermarkets, car rental companies and infrastructure for every tourist need. Just before the end of the promenade the road branches off south towards the villages of Prasies and Amari.
The spokes shine and glitter in the sunlight. At a high cadence, I pull the bike effortlessly uphill through the first curves of the 5% incline. After just two kilometers you have left the last houses of Rethimno behind and drive through fertile farmland with fig and pomegranate trees, a variety of fruit cultivation, through olive groves and vineyards. My landlady in Rethimno used to keep the fresh grapes in vodka in the fridge. A special treat.
Cedars protrude from the lush green, white and red oleanders blooming, gorse glows yellow and the tree spurge shows wonderful shades from red to brown. The road winds its way up to the village of Prasies through the water-rich valley of Neogene marl and light-colored limestone.
A small Cretan village with a unique stock of old Venetian houses, many of which have been extensively renovated in the meantime. The richness of the valleys gives a wide range of opportunities for growing grain, vegetables and vines, animal husbandry and beekeeping.
THE SIMA BRIDGE
Shortly after the village of Prasies you reach the first crest of the ascent at an altitude of 370 meters. On a narrow road you drive one and a half kilometers through lush greenery down to the picturesque single-lane Sima Bridge, which spans a deep valley. A three-arch, filigree construction of a vault bridge with a length of approx. 45m, three arches with a span of 10m each, a pillar spacing of 12m and a height above the valley of approx. 30m.
The individual arches of the vault, made of large, hewn limestone, rest on slender pillars, built with an outer shell of unworked limestone, comparable to the wall shells that were common in antiquity as opus incertum of the Romans.
The masonry formwork is filled in sections with a masonry core made of quarry stones and cement. At the corners of the pillars there is the characteristic exposed brickwork with carefully chiseled limestone frames and the trusses (bondstones), inserted at regular intervals. The scaffolding holes for the projecting scaffolding and the wooden falsework for the vault construction are clearly visible.
First, the formwork wall of the pillars was raised in sections, the trusses were inserted and the space in between was filled with quarry stones and cement. The respective arch is erected from the base with wedge-shaped blocks of limestone on the falsework that served as a flat and even support in such a way, that the brickwork joints point radially to the center of the arch circle. With the insertion of the Keystone of the individual arches, the load is distributed evenly over the compressed limestone blocks on the pillars.
Above the arches, natural limestone is used as formwork to build up to the level of the roadway. Construction began in 1910 and was completed in late 1914/early 1915.
THE POTAMI RESERVOIR
From the Sima Bridge you drive three and a half kilometers downhill through a wide and green valley with vegetable and wine cultivation to the Potami reservoir, which was completed in 2008.
With a reservoir capacity of 22.5 million m³ and a maximum depth of 44m, it is one of the largest artificial lakes in Crete. The dam is constructed as an earthen dam with a clay core and stone cover as a gravity dam with a crest length of 265m. The peak height is 55m with a base width of the dam of 350m.
The water pressure acting on the dam is completely absorbed by the weight of the dam which is fully supported by the structure of the broad dam base. The inflow comes from the Patsos gorge. An overflow channel prevents a possible overload. From the summer of 2014 to the spring of 2015, Lake Potami was home to Sifis the Nile crocodile.
THE TOUR - THE AMARI VALLEY
“… there fruit trees flourished, luxuriant and tall,
pears, pomegranates, ripe-fruited apple trees,
sweet fig trees and abundantly fertile olives.
The produce of these never failed or perished, either
in winter or summer, but lasted the whole year;
some fruits the west wind’s breeze grow, other it ripened;
pear mellowed upon pear here, apple on apple,
grape cluster upon cluster, fig upon fig.”
[The Odyssey 7/ 114- 121 – A New Translation By Peter Green, University of California Press, 2018]
On the eastern shore of Lake Potami, the panoramic road runs along the 200-meter line, past Pliocene slates, marls, and limestone to the west, then turns north until, after a three-and-a-half-kilometer drive, you leave the shore behind and climb through a wide valley up to the small village of Pantanassa at 450m altitude. After driving six kilometers from the lake, one reaches the pass at 565m altitude on the north flank of Mount Angathi [1.091m]. In a fast drive you rush down from the pass on a lonely road, over the village of Apostoli on a plateau, to the district capital Agia Fotini at 478m altitude, with a small market, health center, gas station and post office. At the outskirts of the village, the road branches off into the valley towards Amari.
Here the grandiose panorama of the gardens, olive groves and vineyards of the Amari Valley opens up, which this tour travels through in a small circle. The NW-SE trending graben zone is bounded on the east by Tripolitza limestone of the Psiloritis Massif, on the south by Mount Samitos with mainly Pindos limestones, and on the west by Mount Kedros with Pindos limestone and Pindosflysch. A series of valleys and gorges stretch from the mountains to the Amari Basin, which ensure the good water supply and the special climate of the basin in the protection of the mountains. The Platis River drains the Amari Basin to the south and empties into the sea at Agia Gallini.
Lined with oaks, maples and poplars, the road descends to Asomatos Monastery, shaded by plane and tamarisk trees. At the entrance stands a row of palm trees with large, fanned leaves. Dating back to the 12th century and a brief period as an agricultural college (1927), the buildings are in various stages of disrepair, apart from the well-preserved cross-domed church in the center.
The cyclist travels in solitude. There is no traffic since the turnoff into the valley. Through a short avenue of pine trees at the monastery you drive straight north to Monastiraki. Vineyards, extensive olive groves and cornfields line the way. In spring, the meadows shine in the most beautiful colors, dotted with yellow and red poppies, red and blue anemones, tulips and morning glory.
A murmur and whisper of a small brook, the banks covered with maidenhair over whose leaves drops of water trickle like small pearls. Magnificently oleanders shines with red and white umbelliferous flowers. Reeds stand on the shore. Neighboring grows the monk’s pepper or chaste tree with small stone berries and a peppery taste, the Judas tree with pink flowers and myrtle. The storax bushes adorned in white, cistus, wild flax and irises shine like a rainbow over the cool ground. Welcome to the realm of the water nymphs.
The wealth of the valley is reflected in the vegetable and fruit crops. Apples and oranges, figs, peaches, and cherries ripen into a sweet, powerful taste. Also famous for the variety of sheep and goat cheeses, which are produced here. The soft Midzithra, the Tyrozouli and Anthotiro cheeses, as well as the spicy hard Graviera and Kefalotyri cheeses are highly recommended.
With steep ramps, the road winds up for seven and a half kilometers at a 5-7% gradient via Monastiraki, up the eastern slope of Mount Katsonissi, to the village of Amari. Below the village of Monastiraki you find the ruins of a Minoan palace from the old palace period.
Following the signs to Amari, the narrow road lead you up in tight curves into the now more barren landscape with Vineyards on calcareous soil and olive trees. Past the church of Agios Georgios you reach the hamlet Opsigias and further on the village of Amari with the impressive Venetian campanile. The spiral staircase of the bell tower leads to the belfry high above the village.
The slope decreases and soon the village of Meronas is reached with the Byzantine churches of Agios Nikolaos and Panagia, from the 13th and 14th centuries, respectively. The wondrous world of naturalistic wall paintings depicting the life of Jesus Christ and the expressive adoration of the saints unfolded an enchanting spell in the unreal light of the church. In the center of town, you find the opulent flowing karst spring, where the climbers can refresh themselves for the remaining kilometers to Rethimno.
The road now leads nine kilometers downhill via the villages of Apostoli, Pantanassa and further above two hills to the 400m elevation line just before the village of Patsos. On the opposite slope, the mountain road winds steeply and in tight bends higher and higher to the village at 470m altitude, shaded by oak and plane trees. At the outskirts of the village, turn left in the direction of Spili. The road becomes a narrow band and meanders through the lush green bushes with a gradient of 5-7% and steep ramps at the northern flank of mount Soros [1.184m].
The Amari Valley lies deep below you as you climb through olive groves and extensive vineyards, the road embedded in the rocks of the phyllite-quartzite unit, higher and higher into the vegetation zone of the maquis. After five kilometers the pass is crossed at an altitude of 670m.
Through the magnificent scenery of the Kedros mountain you cycle four kilometers through slate and marl, over the mountain plateau and past the towering cliffs of the Pindos limestone, before a fast downhill on on a winding road towards Spili requires your full attention. After you have turned onto the main road to Rethimno at Spili, you can roll easily for another six and a half kilometers to the small hamlet of Atsiphaedes, before, on a route of five kilometers, you must overcome another climb of 270 meters in altitude. In the hilly terrain you have now the last sixteen kilometers under your wheels. Via Armeni it is a relaxed downhill ride to Rethimno and back to the shore of the Mediterranean sea.