My day didn’t go to plan, but it was still quite enjoyable. As I was packing up camp a 4WD police car went past on the track above the culvert. They stopped to see who I was, explaining that I should be careful if I’m going to camp near here – apparently there can be up to 25 illegal immigrants sleeping in the culvert I called home. This explains the rubbish and few bits of old clothing lying around. I took the chance to hand over the passport I found on the road yesterday; however, I was surprised when they told me to throw it away. ‘It’s Turkish’, they said. ‘He’ll get a new one’.

I saw three separate cycle tourists today. The first two came by when I was on the side of the road with my bike upside down, working on a punctured rear tube and tyre repairs. The third one came by about one minute before I had to stop for a third time and work on my bike yet again. That’s the short story of how my day didn’t go to plan. The longer story? First I got a simple puncture. This was when the first guy came by. It wasn’t until I had patched the tube and had repacked the bike that I noticed the tyre had split, meaning that full tyre pressure pushed the tube through the split. I rode on with the tyre deflated a bit before deciding to stop and tend to the split. So, I unpacked my bike, got it upside down again, and fitted a layer of plastic/cardboard (cut from a carton of milk from my bin bag) against the split. This was when the second guy came by. My repair job allowed me to pump up the tyre a little harder than before while minimising the risk of further punctures. My plan was to ride it carefully into Alexandroupoli where I hoped to find a bike shop at which I could buy another tyre. It only lasted about five kilometres before I got another puncture. It was a minute before this that I passed the third guy. This time I surrendered to the fact that my day was definitely messed up. I decided to take my time and complete a proper fix. I took both wheels off and moved my good Schwalbe tyre from the front wheel to the rear one (so the bad tyre was on the front of the bike which supported less weight). Then I worked on my problem tyre (a Continental tyre that is continuing to disappoint). On the inside of the tyre, I applied two layers of medical tape across the split, then another piece of milk carton, then another layer of tape. On refitting the tube and pumping it up I was confident it would last the next 25km into town. In fact, it worked so well I began to be tempted by the idea that I could just leave it on the bike and not bother with a new tyre.

As I rode into Alexandroupoli, I was lucky to pass a good bike shop on the main road. I waited a while for the man to finish servicing a bike, then took his attention. He could speak perfect English. Unfortunately, the best tyre he could offer me was another Continental. I asked him if there is another bike shop in town that might have Schwalbe tyres. He said yes. I said I’d check out the other shop and come back to get the Continental tyre if I couldn’t find a Schwalbe one. While I was waiting I had been checking out the gloves he had on offer. There were two pairs of warm, waterproof gloves I had my eye on. Given my experience through central Turkey, I have been waiting for the perfect chance to get some warm gloves so I don’t have to wear socks on my hands. Now was the chance. We chatted about the pros and cons of the two types of gloves and I ended up buying the pair made from neoprene. According to the label and the bike shop owner they were waterproof. I was happy to give him custom, given that I might not be getting a tyre from him and he was happy to point me towards his competitor.

I followed his directions to the other bike shop in town, where again I waited for a bit before being served. Yes! They had the best Schwalbe Marathon tyres on offer. I bought one and a patch repair kit, given the high number of patches I’ve gone through recently. The tube in my problem tyre has ten patches in it! This owner was just as nice as the last one. He gave me a discount on the marked price of the tyre. When he asked where I was going and I mentioned Macedonia, he said the exact same thing the policemen said when I told them I was going there next. ‘They are not Macedonians’. I didn’t understand what the policemen meant at the time, but the bike shop owner gave me a quick history lesson, explaining what area of the world constituted the original Macedonia, and that the majority of inhabitants of the country that took the name Macedonia are Slavs, not Macedonians. Before I left I asked where I could find a cheap place to stay. He recommended a hotel near the train station and told them to mention his name and ask for cheap price. I did just this. The price I got (30 euros) is phenomenal compared with the prices I was paying in Turkey, but a quick internet search revealed that I paid 12 euros less than if I had booked through the internet. The prices in the bike shop were shocking too. I have definitely entered Europe.

On checking in and having a shower, I headed out for food, finding an amazing fast food shop where I got two of the most delicious kebabs I have ever had. Sorry Turkey, but I think Greece knows how to do them better. On the way back to the hotel I did some grocery shopping to get me through the next one and half days. I then tended to my bike for what I hope is the last time in a while. I fitted the new tyre and kept the problem Continental one as an emergency spare. I then started getting ready for tomorrow, washing the fruit and vegetables I bought and packing my stuff as much as I could. Finally, I got into my pjs, threw myself on the bed, rewarded myself with my favourite Turkish chocolate bar, then starting writing this diary entry.

So, despite wanting to ride further and camp, I still had a pleasant first full day in Greece. It was nice to start interacting with people, all of whom seemed very kind and welcoming. It was interesting to walk around a Greek city. And it’s good to feel confident about my tyres again, and to have a good pair of gloves.

Glorious

Accommodation Free-camp
Distance ridden today 41.52km
Average cycling speed 15.7kph
Total distance ridden 26,786km