60 km – 75km | 1.428 – 1.672 vertical meters | Category 3
“You want to wake up in the morning and think the future is going to be great – and that’s what being a spacefaring civilization is all about. It’s about believing in the future and thinking that the future will be better than the past. And I can’t think of anything more exciting than going out there and being among the stars.”– Elon Musk, SpaceX
Skywards: A loud rattling sound, as if the chain hoist of a roller coaster pulls the car skywards up the ramp of the steel colossus. Then there is a bright glow. Accompanied by a hissing sound, a gigantic welding torch is ignited at night and bathes the entire surroundings in glistening light. There is an indescribable roar, the deep, muffled rattle – rising to a thunder of a heavily loaded freight train which races past you for minutes, a pulsating pounding, a quietening noise, until this dies down, as well. With a speed of more than 11.2 kilometers (6.95 miles) per second, the spaceship leaves the gravity field of the earth after its launch and sets off on a new journey into our solar system.
The dark shadowed moon: Just a moment ago the full moon shone brightly above the Cretan sea, and now it wanders off into the darkness of the earth’s shadow reaching into space. For three hours there was a total lunar eclipse, and the stars in the sky appear to shine thousands of times more intensely. At the same time, shining brightly, a distinctly red colored celestial body rises above the horizon in the southeast and moves upward to the west, only to go down again in the morning in the east – planet Mars.
At the end of July 2018, Earth approached Mars at the shortest distance of 57.6 million kilometers (35.79 million miles). The next encounter will take place on October 6, 2020 (opposition date: October 13, 2020).
Cycling on Mars: Well, how about a bicycle tour on Mars? After a flight time of three quarters of a year, which is best spent on the bicycle ergometer, the treadmill and with strength training, you reach the red planet. After the safe landing, the construction of the modules of the space station which are stowed in the hold, the connection of the nuclear reactors for energy supply, the water and oxygen generators, the greenhouses and the exploration on water ice for water production begins.
The deep Ocean: There is a planet with a huge ocean, 160 kilometers (99.41 miles) deep, filled with heavy gas from the bottom to the border of space. Various creatures live at its bottom. And this gas exerts the considerable pressure of approx. 1 kg/cm². For the chest of a human being, with an area of about 1,000 cm², this would mean that the load of one ton of weight would be effective. The bodies of these ocean-diving planet inhabitants withstand the pressure.
On Mars, on the other hand, the pressure is only 0.6% of it, about 6 g/cm². After a few steps on Mars, the brave earthlings would collapse with bloated arms, legs, and bellies, their blood boiling. A pressure suit must prevent this. Not those puffed-up, white NASA things from the age of moon exploration, but carbon-fiber-reinforced, tight-fitting, elastic and motion-optimized Mars clothing. Furthermore, humans would have to protect themselves against the extreme cold and cosmic radiation and ensure a supply of breathing air. The average temperature ranges from -23°C at the equator to -140°C towards the polar caps. With temperatures around 20°C in summer, on the other hand, it can be comfortably warm at the equator on Mars.
SpaceX: So, I guess you have paid the $450,000 for a one-way ticket to Mars on board the BFR spaceship of SpaceX, bid farewell to all the trifles of your life so far, and now, like the legendary heroes of the North and South Polar expeditions, will begin your journey. But maybe after reading Apsley Cherry-Garrard’s The Worst Journey in the World, you’ve got a few concerns, and it’s all just a bad dream that you wake up from early in the morning, bathed in sweat in a rainy city in northern Europe.
You can also go cycling in Mars-like scenery on Earth. The Atacama Desert, which accompanies the Pacific coast in the west of Chile for 1,200 kilometers, looks like a landscape on Mars, and apart from the polar regions, is one of the most arid regions on Earth. The 19-hour flight from Europe to Chile costs around €1,000. Spain is closer and features the Tabernas Desert, the semi-desert of Cabo de Gata in the province of Almería, and the semi-desert Bardenas Reales in the northern Spanish province of Navarre, for which organized mountain bike tours are offered.
The whispered message: And then there is the Kiriamadi peninsula on Crete with Cap Sideros, an arid and barren natural beauty with an average annual precipitation of only 300 mm. I had asked my landlord Georgio if it was possible to explore the peninsula up to its furthest eastern tip, Cape Sideros, and the 15 m high lighthouse at the Cape dating from 1880 (The lighthouse was newly built in 1951, the lighthouse building 1963-64).
He doubtfully shook his head, knowing full well that this area, being a military restricted area with a naval base of the Greek army, is not accessible. „Listen Nick,“ he said, „on the 4th of February each year, in celebration of Saint Isidore, the gates of the naval base are opened so that people can visit the chapel at the small bay below the lighthouse. A shipwrecked monk, who had already spent several days in the sea, deprived of any hope of salvation, was washed ashore there and later built the small chapel as a gesture of appreciation for his salvation.And even John Pendlebury, the hero of my youth, was shipwrecked here in 1934 and had to save himself on foot to Toplou Monastery accompanied by a mule.
And now …“ – he bowed his head close to me to continue in a hoarse whisper: „I know a fisherman from the area who goes fishing there at night. Maybe he would take you with him. You’d only have to swim for a while because there’s a dangerous reef just off the coast.“ Now, I had actually packed a neoprene shorty for swimming and a neoprene balaclava to protect myself against the cold while cycling in the mountains. So I would have been well equipped for this purpose, had it not been for his hint: „They have dogs there“.
The danish Mastiffs: Ever since I freely interpreted the right of public access in Sweden and crossed the Bälteberga manor several times on my way to the Kågeröd formation, until the day I met the owner’s two Great Danes, I have developed a strong aversion to this breed of dog and I don’t like to talk about this incident. My escape from them to the bull pasture was not unproblematic, either. Yes, I think I saw a certain malicious joy in their eyes. These animals are lacking in behavior and the simplest principles of courtesy are foreign to them.
The transfer stage from Kato Zakros to Sitia crosses the vast highlands of the Kiriamadi Peninsula in the very northeast of Crete, a barren, hilly landscape sparsely dotted with low Phrygana. With its red shades shimmering in the heat, it resembles a Martian landscape. From the ever narrowing band of the island, which carries the small road far to the northeast into the sea, you dive into the earth ages of the Upper Permian (260 million years ago), the Triassic and the Jurassic. The outcrops are marvelous, featuring the overthrust of the uniform limestones and dolomites of the tectonic structure of the Tripolitsa-nape over the slates and metamorphites of the phyllite-quartzite-unit at Erimoupolis, and the marbles of the Plattenkalk-nape as deepest tectonic unit in eastern Crete, with bright silicate bands and large fossil sponges at Plakoures.
Kato Zakros- Vai- Sitia: Leaving Kato Zakros, you quickly climb a winding road for eight kilometers and 300 meters in altitude, all the way up into the tranquil town of Zakros. Fill your water bottles at the spring in the center, and then proceed on the route which ascends for two and a half kilometers and another 100 meters in altitude, up to the summit of the tour at the mountain village of Adravasti.
In the varied, hilly terrain you now ride for 16 kilometers, passing the small villages of Azokeramos, Chochlakies, Kamara and Langada, going downhill for 450 meters, until you reach Paleokastro. The route runs largely through the valleys towards NNE, which are shielded from the wind. But for the last three kilometers, riding out of the windshield of the mountains towards Paleokastro, you’ll feel the gusty wind from the northwest. Intensified like in a wind tunnel, it constantly blows across this part of the island at speeds of 6 Bft in spring and summer.
Grand Circuit Kiriamadi: Turning north in the center of Paleokastro, you embark on a triangular course of a total length of approx. 44 km per round trip. It features the starting point of >Paleokastro< in the southeastern part of the peninsula, the ascent to the >Helipad of the Greek Navy< in the north, proceeds further northeast towards >Cape Sideros< and takes you back to the >Monastery of Toplou< in the north-west of Kiriamadi.
Vai: The eight kilometers to the north lead past the turnoff for Vai. Riding for one kilometer on a cul-de-sac leading through an extensive palm grove, you’ll get to the palm-covered bay of Vai, type locality of the Cretan date palm, Phoenix theophrasti. And if this is the turning point to Sitia for you, then you will reach the town after a total distance of 60 kilometers.
Straight on, you’ll reach ancient Itanos after another kilometer. Just ahead of Itanos, the turnoff to the left and towards the west leads to the Greek Navy helipad (military restricted area at the end of the road) and provides a steep 2 Kilometer/ 200-metre climb through a fantastic landscape. From here you have a breathtaking view across the sea to the offshore islands of Gianisada and Dragonadie and across the entire peninsula up to Cape Sideros.
Between the two seas: Going back to the junction, you’ll ride for approximately five kilometer further northeast on the narrowing headland, uphill past the outcrop of the Erimoupolis overthrust, on a narrow ridge between the two seas of Crete and Libya, up to the next ascent, which is already located in the military restricted area, and then on to the outcrop of the deepest tectonic unit of Eastern Crete, the Plattenkalk near Plakoures. Another 500 meters further on, the fence of the military restricted area is already reached.
Moni Toplou: On your return journey to the monastery of Toplou, you first turn west after eight kilometers, and then head in a south-westerly direction a little later to follow the road leading to the monastery for five kilometers. In the shimmering heat, you climb up into the northern foothills at Sitia and through the barren highlands of Toplou with their deep valleys, until the first vines of Toplou and soon also the impressive monastery itself appear.
Not only is the impressive monastery worth a visit, but also the winery. Available are the red Liatiko Mandilari, the Toplou Merlot-Syrah, the red Liathiko dessert wine, and the excellent 2011 Toplou Syrah, matured in barrique barrels for 12 months.
Leaving the monastery of Toplou, you can enjoy a spectacular descend taking you 100 meters in altitude downhill in wide serpentines and leading to the crossroads at the main road from Paleokastro to Sitia. Here, you can turn into a new round of the „Grand Circuit Kiriamadi“, or continue in the direction of Sitia, which you will reach via two hilltops after 15 kilometers of speedy riding.
Accomodation: Sitia Bay Hotel – The Sitia Bay Hotel is conveniently located in the low-traffic eastern part of Sitia, directly on the bay with crystal clear waters and the excellent sandy beach. Great location for biking the whole eastern part of crete, to explore the Kiriamadi Peninsula or climbing in the mountains.
The family run hotel offers guests the highest level of hospitality. All apartments have a magnificent view of the sea and are equipped with air-conditioning, double or single beds, a fully equipped kitchen, WIFI access, satellite TV, telephone, very well maintained and clean bathrooms and nice balconies. Top Pool (appr. 10*7m). Room cleaning service every day. Even now I miss the delicious Cretan almond cake, the pasta dumplings filled with feta cheese or spinach and other delicacies, which the room service left for me in my kitchen every day. Ask for Eric if you have any question concerning the surroundig area, the excursions you‘ ve planed, to visit nearby attactions or the ancient places.
Sitia Bay Hotel – Patriarhou Vartholomaiou 27 / Tritis Septemvriou 8 – 723 00, Sitia – Crete. http://www.sitiabay.com
Peninsula Kiriamadi- Cap Sideros – The Racetrack | 44 km | 910 vertical meters | Category 3
The Racetrack: Whether you drive here from Kato Zakros, Paleokastro or Sitia doesn’t matter. However, due to the jet effect of the terrain’s morphology, the prevailing wind from the northwest unfolds a distinct power, which means you’ll have most fun when completing the triangular course of roundabout 44 Kilometers counterclockwise, i.e. >Paleokastro -> Itanos-> Greek Navy Helipad -> Cap Sideros (Retour) -> Itanos -> Moni Toplou -> Paleokastro<. Otherwise you’ll have to fight against a strong headwind on the straight and rather monotonous 6-kilometer stretch from Paleokastro to the monastery of Toplou – a passage that you will usually cover at high speed when coming from the west and with the wind behind you.