102 km | 2.471 vertical meters | Hors catégorie
“The Truck was no closer, but it hadn’t lost ground, either. Mann’s eyes shifted. Up ahead were hills and mountains. He tried to reassure himself that upgrades were on his side, that he could climb them at the same speed he was going now. Yet all he could imagine were the downgrades, the immense truck close behind him, slamming violently into his car and knocking it across some cliff edge. He had a horrifying vision of dozens of broken, rusted cars, lying unseen in the canyons ahead, corpses in every one of them, all flung to shattering death … “ [Duell, Richard Matheson, Playboy 1971]
The Truck- And Tanker Drivers Go On Strike: In May 2008, lorry and fuel tanker drivers in Greece went on strike for higher transport tariffs. There were long queues at the petrol stations in Athens and Thessaloniki. The nerves of motorists were raw, and you could see fights over gasoline at Athenian gas stations on Greek national television.
The rental car I picked up at the airport in Heraklion to drive across the island to the southern coast still had a ¼ tank filling. Enough to reach the south coast at Ierapetra, as the friendly employee of the car rental company reassured me. She must have known that this information was only half the battle, but she told me that the strike would certainly be over by the time I got back, so I wouldn’t have to worry. But I was worried!
Considering my German origin – a person known to be worried about everything – she advised me to drive around Heraklion to find a gas station that still sells gasoline. Now, there’s nothing I “love” more than „driving around“ in Heraklion. Once – on foot, I went on a kind of scout mission and tried to figure out the route from the „Central Parking“ car park to the hotel in the center of Heraklion that I would have to take by car the next day, carefully taking into account all the one-way streets. It took all the tricks of my mnemotechnic verse to remember the mad two-kilometer route through Heraklion and I was on the road for almost half an hour. The linear distance between hotel and car park is just 100 meters, and it takes three minutes to get there directly.
The Big Void: Finally I found a petrol station, whose owner gave me another 20 liters of petrol, so that my expedition could begin.
The streets were swept clean. Crete is undoubtedly the only independent Mediterranean island in terms of its supply of drinking water and agricultural products – but no oil has yet been found there!
The Tanker Truck: Unfortunately I got used to this heavenly situation too quickly. Throughout that week I only encountered a couple of cars on my bike tours, until that memorable, stormy day when I saw a big tanker truck standing at the gas station by the crossroads just ahead of the village of Arvi.
I was on my way back from Tsoutsouros via Keratokambos to Mirtos, and had just embarked on the eleven-kilometre stretch, leading 700 meters in altitude, steeply uphill to Amiras. The strike was over, and soon I heard the heavy engine of the truck roaring behind me. Now, these narrow mountain roads feature a rising road embankment on the one side, and grasp at virtually nothing on the other side – there is no space for an evasive move! I had to try to lose the truck.
Duell: In Steven Spielberg’s film Duell, based on a short story by Richard Matheson, travelling salesman Mr. Mann (Dennis Weaver) is chased and almost killed by a 40-ton monster of a fuel truck in a lethal cat-and-mouse game along a desert highway in California.
The truck driver tries to push him into a passing train at a closed level crossing, to force him off the road during an overtaking maneuver, and a telephone booth from which Mr. Mann wants to call the police is flattened by the truck. Mr. Mann can outpace the truck on an ascent towards the mountain pass, but then his car’s radiator hose bursts, the engine boils, and the truck approaches again.
Just in time, Mr. Mann manages to cross the pass, and the opponents chase down the mountains in close succession until the duel reaches its climax at the end of a dead end street in front of a gorge. The truck hits the car that Mr. Mann has just dropped out of, and, accompanied by a long, loud honk, the truck crashes into the abyss. The story is based on an incident that the author, Matheson, experienced himself. He was chased by a fuel truck on his way home through the desert.
The surviving „Duel“ (1971) Peterbilt Conventional 281 truck, restored, at the 2010 Virginia-Carolina Truck Show.
The Uphill Battle: Now I felt hunted, too. For six kilometers, the road keeps winding up to the first ridge with gradients of 7-12%, through sparse scrub, juniper, olive groves and past greenhouses. I felt the heat from the greenhouses scorching my skin, but reaching for the water bottle took time, and in every bend I heard the sound of the truck engine attack and ebb away as the driver shifted gears. Pure adrenaline flooded my body, because I had already covered 75 kilometers and approx. 2,000 meters in altitude, and I could feel them in my legs. I was clearly cycling at my limit, but another relentless ascent of 500 meters in altitude lay ahead of me, and the truck was on my tail.
You may wonder why I did not stop somewhere at the narrow side of the road. I SIMPLY COULDN’T STOP! I saw myself trapped in a film sequence where the plot is not yet complete and the story is not yet told to the end. The actor cannot leave the band of the street, the big stage that moves along, until the narrative takes a satisfying dramatic turn to reveal an exit strategy. Would I win this man against machine contest, or end up beaten, in the dust, a scorn to my fellow men, like Don Quijote?
The Bells Were Ringing For The Last Act: Fearful and horrified, I took a careful look at this howling, even roaring monster behind me. Just when I thought I had gained a lead, I could feel the truck’s soaring radiator front right behind me and heard its strained engine howling at high revs in every turn. This truck wanted to push me off the road, and – I still shudder today – I heard bells ringing. Somewhere in the distance, bells rang in the last act of this drama.
On the ridge I managed to gain some strength, so after about one kilometer I increased my speed on a stretch with a lower gradient in order to conquer the next ascent towards Amiras with gradients of up to 15%. But it was just a pie in the sky. The truck had obviously slowed down deliberately to start another overtaking maneuver at this ascent. Honking his horn, he was directly behind me and tried to get next to me.
Just ahead of Amiras, on a path branching off downhill, I rescued myself by jumping into the dust and the fuel truck passed by. Spontaneous applause went up, but as it turned out, not I was meant, nor it had anything to do with my landing in the dust – in my opinion an absolutely worth performance. A little further down, people were playing basketball, and the crowd cheered for their teams. In Greece, basketball is at least as popular as football.
Like Don Quixote – Battered In The Dust: After a few minutes of catching my breath I picked myself up again and brushed off the dirt. I looked up to the village of Amiras with the turnoff to the main road to Mirtos. And unlike in the film, the truck didn’t wait for me behind the next hilltop to continue the merciless hunt.
Early in the morning I left the lovely village of Mirtos and rode uphill into the mountains on a well-maintained, winding road – first in a northerly direction to Mournies, then to the west, where increasing, strong headwinds and gradients of 5- 7% provided a challenge while I went further uphill. After 14 kilometers I reached a plateau near the village of Pefkos at 680 meters in altitude.
The dense greenery by the roadside and on the slopes, including pines, zithers, ashes, oaks and olive trees, is dotted with the yellow blossoms of huge broom bushes. In a slight ascent, the road now climbs above Amiras and towards the pass at 730 meters. Next is a fast downhill ride on the picturesque mountain route along the southern foothills of the Dikti Mountains to Ano Viannos.
Ano Viannos: Surrounded by olive groves and beautifully situated on the slope, the white houses soon come into sight.
Enjoy a break here or take a short trip to the monastery of Agia Moni. Shaded by cypresses, you’ll find it just below the village. The abbot’s English is perfect, and you can beautifully argue Greeconomics with him.
From Ano Viannos you will now ride another 20 kilometers, first on a wide road leading downhill into the valley at Kato Vianos, then over a hilltop featuring a 100-metre ascent.
The route proceeds constantly downhill via the villages of Martha (turn left here) and Skinias, through the Messara plain, and towards the steeply rising Asterousia Mountains, until you reach the river crossing of the Anapodáris in the valley near Demati.
The Climb: Here begins the 6.5-kilometre ascent to cross the pass at 450 meters. Afterwards, we’ll go downhill towards the sea.
The route gets really steep after you turn south in Kato Kastelliana towards the coast and in the direction of Tsoutsouros.
At an average gradient of 9%, and in breathtaking scenery, you climb the winding road in narrow hairpin bends, and its very steep ramps with gradients of up to 15% towards the pass. The slopes are covered in maquis and lavishly adorned with the yellow blossoms of flowering spiny mullein (verbascum spinosum), a plant the goats avoid because of its hairy leaves.
Once you have crossed the pass, you reach the barren landscape of the southern slopes that descend steeply towards the sea. There are a few olive trees, a bit of juniper and holly, but the real gem adorning the mountains is the road that goes downhill in wide bends for six kilometers.
Tsoutsouros – Keratokambos: Above the coastal village of Tsoutsouros, the road turns back eastwards, and for 18 kilometers your route proceeds along the asphalted coastal road. You will cross the Anapodáris river valley again and climb another 300 meters in altitude while you ride over three peaks. Proceed via Ag. Ioannis, Kastri, and Keratokambos until you reach the intersection just ahead of the village of Arvi.
Accomodation: If you love to stay at this lovely spot Keratokambos for a while, I can recommend PAN APARTMENTS owned by Georgios Papadimitrakis and Charlotte Philipp. Wonderfully located on the hillside with a wide view over the sea. Lovingly designed studios and apartments with genuine Greek hospitality. Georgios lived in Munich in the 1990s and works as an innovative physiotherapist for the Bundesliga Football Club 1860 Munich. Treat yourself to a massage of the master!
The Coastal Road: This is certainly one of the most remote and most beautiful coastal roads in Europe. With every bend, and every height, a new, elaborately decorated landscape opens up. The panorama is dominated by the turquoise sea, set against the background of the steep, towering mountain range, and everything is immersed in the soft light of the clouds drifting before the sun.
Once you complete the last ascent of 200 meters and go downhill through a narrow valley towards the coast and Arvi, you will enter an unreal, tropical world. The spray of the stormy sea runs through the valley like a veil of mist, and rises up at the slopes of the mountain. It gets much warmer, and thousands of sweet-smelling bananas and large tomatoes ripen in the greenhouses. This is a lonely, quiet place – there is no hint to the creator of this tropical marvel, only the sea keeps on raging.
From here, you have to master another 500 meters on a gravel and sand road leading through the banana plantations down to the sea, and after you turn onto the coastal road towards Arvi, the circle is completed at the following crossing. Turn left to the north, and after eleven kilometers of exhausting climbing at Amiras and Kefalovrisi, you will be back on the Viannos-Mirtos-Ierapetra mountain road. Following a 17-kilometre descent in breathtaking scenery, you will reach the coastal town of Mirtos at the southern slopes of Mount Dikti. Go for the adventure.