Today was pretty horrendous, which makes it somewhat a surprise that I can say it is ending quite pleasantly. As I went to sleep at the end of a day of great weather yesterday, I found it hard to imagine that the forecast could be correct and I’d be facing rain today. Unfortunately, waking up in the middle of night to hear rain on the roof of my little home proved the prediction true. I wasn’t particularly daunted by the prospect of bad weather, as I knew it was coming and felt ready to tackle the challenge and learn a little bit more about dealing with wet and cold weather on the bike.

In the last bout of rain I had to deal with, I got incredibly cold, owing to the fact I didn’t bother having full skin covering underneath my waterproof layers. This meant when my jacket and pants got wet, they began to cling to my skin and transfer the cold directly onto my body. My feet also got painfully numb. In an effort to prevent this from happening again, I made sure I wore leggings under my waterproof pants and a long sleeve shirt under my jacket. I also donned three pairs of socks – two normal pairs under a waterproof pair. On my hands I wore the neoprene waterproof gloves that I bought in Alexandroupoli.

Things went incredibly well for about 25km. Then a devastating headwind picked up. Without the headwind, I’m quite sure the entire day would have been relatively pleasant, despite the rain. With the headwind, I slowly grew very cold. Whether by the force of the wind or of its own volition, the rain slowly forced its way down my neck and up under the bottom of my jacket, so my shirt (already getting moist from sweat) got damp. At some point my gloves soaked through and I am not sure if the rain slowly worked its way in, or if sweat slowly worked its way out. Whatever the case, they became wet all the way through. My waterproof socks soon began dripping wet and it felt as if the water had gotten through the socks underneath too. My fingers and toes began to go numb. I stopped for some food at a bus shelter, resting only long enough to throw down a nut bar, crunchy muesli bar and two bits of fruit. In the brief time I stopped I got incredibly cold and realised that my body is better off if I keep it moving.

As I entered crazy network of roads on the outskirts of Thessaloniki, I faced the annoying prospect of trying to navigate via my phone in the rain. I knew the easiest solution would be to jump on the motorway, but knowing that bikes aren’t allowed put me off. I attempted to find my way onto a minor road, and had some success for a while, but then suddenly I found myself on a road heading onto the motorway. Screw it! I rode the motorway for a while, trying hard to recall the map in my mind so I could work out when I’d come across the right exit. In the end I basically got forced off the motorway onto an exit by busy traffic I didn’t want to compete with. This put me onto another major highway heading in a direction I didn’t want to go in. Fortunately, I worked out that if I took the first exit, I could finally make my way to a minor highway that would take me away from Thessaloniki in the direction I needed to go. I wound my way through some small roads before popping out on a main street lined with shops. I paused for a second to look around and found that I had stopped right next to a good looking fast food restaurant. I couldn’t resist. I parked up my bike and walked my sodden body through the doors and onto the piece of cardboard they had put just inside. I stood there for a minute or so waiting for some feeling to come into my hands and face while letting the cardboard catch most of the water running off me. I received a warm welcome from the staff. The girl behind the counter called me over and invited me to hold my hands over a hot plate to warm up.

Eventually, I felt normal enough to sit down comfortably and order some food. The girl helped me choose a club sandwich and she treated me to a free cola drink. The sandwich was huge, as was the portion of chips it came with. As I ate I pulled out my phone, dried it off and then managed to get on the restaurant’s Wifi by correctly guessing that the password was the phone number printed on the napkin in front of me. With my phone GPS not finding a position all day, I was finally able to check exactly where I was by searching the restaurant on the internet. As I warmed up, I noticed that my feet were getting warmer too, which made me think that perhaps the socks under the waterproof ones were actually still dry – if they were wet I was sure my feet would just get colder and colder. I was tempted enough to have a quick search for accommodation in the area, but the only ones available were out of my budget range.

Perhaps from the good food and feeling warm again, I felt buoyed enough to decide to throw myself out into the thick of it again. It was around 2.30pm by this point, which gave me about an hour to try and get out of the busy outskirts of the city and find a place to sleep. Before I left, the girl wanted a selfie. She told me her name, but it was a Greek name I’d never heard before, so I accidentally quickly forgot it. I managed to navigate fairly easily onto the minor highway that I hope will take me all the way into Macedonia. I had no chance of getting away from the city though. The traffic was jamming and then the wind was purely awful. A few times I simply had to stop riding, because I couldn’t ride in a straight line and would very nearly be blown in front of passing traffic, the gusts of crosswind being so strong.

All the while I was keeping an eye out for a potential home. There were some abandoned buildings right next to the highway that I thought might be suitable, and I was also tempted to try and get to some abandoned train carriages. Just as I was on an overpass, I saw two abandoned buildings down to the side of the main road. The ground around them looked a bit swampy with the recent rain, but I noted that I could probably find a way in on my bike if there was an exit from the highway nearby. There was. I found my way back to the buildings, parked up and went for a quick reconnaissance walk. The first one I checked out was perfect. I retrieved my bike and quickly got myself into the building and out of sight. I immediately set up my tent and used it as a change room. I was happy to discover that most of my under clothes were dry. They had only felt wet during the day because it was so cold. Yes, my two pairs of socks were dry, as were the bike shorts and leggings I was wearing under my pants. My shirt was damp though. I changed into warm clothes.

My home feels like a whole house, complete with a grubby looking couch and a long wire that is the perfect clothes line. I hung up my wet clothes, then got dinner on.  The building has some open windows and a big opening where I entered, but luckily these all face away from the wind, so despite the fact that the wind is raging outside – making the trees swoosh and the tin roof sound as if it’s tearing away – I feel snug and calm where I am. My dinner was delicious and I finished it off with an orange for dessert. Thus, despite a horrendous day, I am feeling warm and comfortable. I’m especially happy that I’ll have dry clothes to put on tomorrow. I need to make a decision though, giving that my toes went numb today, and given that they also got very painful as they thawed out, as did my fingers. The question: do I wear shoes or not? Today I wore my sandals, which pose no problems getting wet because they dry quickly. But they provide no barrier to cold air and wind. On the other hand, my shoes would provide an extra layer that might keep my toes warmer, but if I face rain all day again then the shoes will eventually soak through, and then I will have both numb toes and wet shoes to deal with. It was really nice getting into dry shoes tonight when I got changed. The girl at lunch told me that the same weather is continuing all week.

Almost a house

Accommodation Free-camp
Distance ridden today 80.69km
Average cycling speed 15.9kph
Total distance ridden 27,148km