Originally titled Bat'karé in Wheel and Rope, this text presents the vertical and cycling adventures of two friends around the Adriatic Sea.
Cover design: Julien Moreau
List of sectors and major routes visited at the end of the article with the video of the trip!
[Km 0] Nantes Airport, September 9, 2018
It's been no less than 10 months since Clem and I first discussed the idea of doing a major adventure project by bringing together several of our passions: travel, climbing, cycling and slacklining.
To start, Bat'karé in Reunion Creole means to wander, to wander. The objective of our adventure project is to cross Italy, Croatia, Montenegro, Albania and Greece by bike in order to climb and slack on known or little-known climbing sites. The idea is to physically confront geography as Stéphanie Bodet says so well. We will direct our projects as much as possible towards major routes and large-scale routes in places such as Paklenica, Omis or Meteora. Attached to the versatility and transversality of mountain activities, we also wish to open or repeat waterlines and highlines on these mythical cliffs.
In line with the values conveyed by these activities: respect for nature, meeting, sharing, we will connect our stages by bike. Objective: to show that it is possible to travel without motorized means with technical equipment. We will cycle approximately 3000km with a total weight estimated at 35kg per person (excluding water and food).
Max's bike is called Livingston, a name inspired by the seagull which surpasses its condition to become an aviator...May it bring the rock to life under our climbing fingers! For the record, Max rediscovered this short story just before purchasing his bike by following the reading advice of Bernard, a 69-year-old base-jumper who had started this extreme discipline two years previously.
Joshua, Clem's long-time companion, who followed him during his years of study, refurbished for the trip and whose name is taken from the mythical ship that made the legend of Moitessier... This should carry us chance to face the asphalt waves and the hazards of a road whose path remains to be traced!
To prepare the material as best as possible, and so as not to forget anything, we divide it into several categories. First, the climbing equipment in which we have everything necessary to make routes of one or more lengths. We choose to bring an 80 meter single rope. Secondly, the highline equipment which should allow us to stretch a line of 50 meters maximum. Third, bicycle tools, to overcome possible breakdowns and adapt to the different climatic conditions that we will encounter. Fourth, bivouac equipment: we choose one tent per person in order to maintain a certain privacy and living space which may prove necessary for the survival of the team. The on-board pharmacy is rather succinct and light, because we will never be far from built-up areas in the event of a problem. Then personal clothing, mostly composed of light, quick-drying textiles and down jackets for evenings under the stars. And finally, notebooks, books, decks of cards and electronic devices (smartphones, camera, portable speaker and external batteries). We manage to fit everything into the four bags attached to our front and rear luggage racks.
In terms of financing, we were lucky enough to win an adventure grant of 1,500 euros offered by ZEOP, a Reunion telecommunications company, partner of the Au bout du rêve association which organizes the Reunion adventure film festival. . We also had great discounts on Slack Inov' equipment. The rest is personal contribution, and we plan to spend around 20 euros per day per person.
Clem poses the morning following our first bivouac. His bike, Joshua is on the left, and Livingston is on the right of the photo.
[Km 217] Disorganized beginnings and discovery of cycling travel
The adventure is well and truly launched. And that’s all we could have expected from our first two days of travel. After finding ourselves at Nantes airport, we packed our bikes in large boxes and left the animals in the oversized baggage circuit. When it was time to enter the departure lounges, Clem was no longer able to get his hands on his passport, even though he had it a few minutes before for check-in! Impossible to find him, even after emptying his pockets and bag three times. And it is by following exactly the route and gestures of the last five minutes that we find him… in a trash can! Inadvertently thrown away with the wrappers from the sandwich purchased just before. This promises significant room for improvement in terms of the organization of our business. The stress subsides, we laugh at this blunder, and we immediately fly to Venice.
Night had fallen a few hours ago when we disembarked not far from the city of the Doges. We reassemble our bikes, inflate our wheels in the airport and ride twenty kilometers, at night, on a four-lane road not very suitable for cycle travelers. Italian sports cars roar at full speed on our left. Fortunately it is midnight because the traffic is not very heavy, and we decide to camp in the first suitable field that we find at the side of the road. The next day, unsuitable settings on Livingston led to the first meeting with an Italian eager to help cyclists and the first grappa-based coffee to get off to a good start.
Then the terminals follow one another, in a lagoon as flat as it is monotonous. We are itching to climb, so we trace our route. We get lost in Italian seaside resorts, an exasperating cul de sac for the bicycle traveler who seeks efficiency in the kilometer traveled.
The next day, we drove quickly despite new problems, this time with Joshua who suffered the first puncture of the trip. Yesterday's pizzas give us the energy necessary to reach the North Adriatic coast, no more lagoons, the landscape changes and rock appears, hallelujah. But it's very hot, over 30 degrees from 10am. So we take refuge in the lands and forests of the province of Trieste. A return to our primary tribality in the Grota Caterina which accommodates us that same evening. Finally some rock, something to attach a slackline and some great projects for the days to follow.
Max on the straights between Venice and Trieste.
[Km 298] First climbs
From horizontal travelers we have become explorers of verticality. First in the Grota Caterina, sanctuary of our first bivouac in Trieste, then on the cliffs of the Slovenian village of Osp, and finally, since yesterday not far from the Croatian village of Buzet, in the pretty Buzeti Kanjon. We are impressed and often intimidated by the rock we find in front of us. During these six days of climbing we measured ourselves against routes of all styles: large rinds (one-length routes) that were vertical and sometimes streaked with fine cracks in which we had to place our fingers carefully. Ultra-overhanging routes in caves on stalactites and oozing columns, at a level that we are still far from being able to complete. Long routes of several lengths that push us to our mental limits, then rewarding us with the most beautiful landscapes. Complicity is created between the two of us, manipulations become more fluid and trust is established, solid as a double-eight with a stopping knot.
After three nights camping and twice as many showers spent in Osp, we are hungry for movement. Our first border crossing between Italy and Slovenia went as if nothing had happened. This is a little less the case for the passage between Slovenia and Croatia: 500 meters of positive elevation over 15 kilometers lead us to a small pass where barbed wire streaks green hills. A border within the EU… Mandatory passport control. Then a long descent takes us directly to Buzet. It's total ecstasy, Joshua sets full sail while Livingston takes the dive of his life. New speed record at 74km/h! Our heavy panniers, enemies of our climbs, become allies for this crazy descent in Croatia!
In the monstrous slopes of the Osp cave in Slovenia. Many quickdraws remain permanently. This spoils the aesthetics of the place, but allows us to test ways far beyond our capabilities.
[Km 423] Croatian Adventures
Columns, highlines and projects galore in the Buzet canyon! We loved the place so much that we stayed there for three days and two nights. This will have given us time to achieve great performances on magnificent overflowing limestone whose columns define long logical routes. The forearms swell and become painful, so we compete in ingenuity to trap our knees and feet in order to do the lengths.
Climbing is also an opportunity to meet great people. And this is the case at the foot of this face where strong Slovenian and Italian climbers meet.
In the evening, on our return, we noticed with disappointment that a van had set up exactly on the small site where we were planning to set up our camp. Our irritation passes as soon as we meet the owners of the van: two pretty German women on the move, quick to chat. As students, they take advantage of a few free weeks before classes resume to travel around Europe. We spent a very pleasant evening with them, trying to impress them without much success with our stories of cycling and climbing. Upon reflection, perhaps we lacked enthusiasm... but we didn't realize that the bike-climb-bivouac combo is probably the type of trip least conducive to meetings intended to add a little spice to the lives of single people .
With our gaze turned towards the heights of the canyon we keep a close eye to spot any possible lines to stretch. A break in the continuity of the cliff and some sturdy-looking trees attract our attention. After a quick survey, we set about installing the first highline of the trip, perhaps also the first in this canyon! Two hours later, Clem sets foot on 45 meters of happiness and sensations. Slack Inov' new line, the Joker, is truly perfect, soft underfoot, with a nice bounce. Our climbing rope acts as a back-up and we use our towels, rope bag, jeans to protect our dyneema straps which act as slings. In the distance we see the old fortified town of Buzet, nestled on top of a hill. Sumptuous.
It is therefore fully motivated that we take back our steeds which will have spent these three days snoozing well hidden in the depths of the forest which borders our camp. The next stage is located 30 kilometers further, Vela Draga. It is a historic climbing site which is very specific because it is made up of a multitude of limestone towers. A true city of ivory. The climbing on these smooth faces is very technical and the complete opposite of the previous days.
We keep our energy because a pass awaits us, the last before leaving the Istrian peninsula. 6 kilometers of climbing at 10% on average, it's hard. We are sweating profusely, the bikes creak under the weight of the panniers, suffering like our calves from this climb. Joy and deliverance at the summit, 922 meters above sea level. Worry too because longer passes await us in a few weeks in Albania…
We rush into Rijecka with a bang. On the program for the evening, sunset and swimming in the Adriatic! Two hundred saving kilometers for resting our fingers separate us from our next climbing destination. To celebrate the first swim of the trip, we bought a bottle of Dalmatian herbal liqueur. Comfortably installed in a small clearing covered with tall grass, we honor the local product, listen to music and chat without seeing the hours pass or the level of the bottle decrease. The result is obvious: we fall asleep very tipsy. In the middle of the night, while Max leaves the camp to relieve an overfilled bladder, he is no longer able to find the clearing and begins to wander for an uncertain length of time in the middle of the woods. Clem ends up hearing his calls and kindly gets out of his sleeping bag, gets up, finds the haggard companion and puts him back on his mattress. The team that stays united in all situations!
Clem on the first higline of our trip that we will name Unexpected German girls. In the distance, the beautiful town of Buzet. Some hikers look up, intrigued by these tightrope walkers.[Km 588] Reflections on the main route
Preparing a long route must be considered carefully: know the approach, prepare just the necessary equipment so as not to weigh down unnecessarily. Find out about the weather conditions if you decide to go on a major itinerary. Sometimes bits of information from other climbers turn out to be good tools to resolve a situation, but should be taken with a pinch of salt depending on the source. Always know how you are going down and if it is possible to turn back in the event of a problem. In short, the general rule is to anticipate as much as possible.
But in a great way lies the spirit of adventure. An entire preparation can be reduced to nothing by the desire to exercise pure freedom, a stroke of madness or letting oneself be carried away by the attraction of a different line as was the case that morning, at the approach to the largest and most beautiful wall of the Paklenica National Park, Anica Kuk. This north face, asleep in the morning shadow of the valley, is truly sublime. We discovered it after 30 minutes of walking, and the 140 kilometers of cycling the previous day. Gigantic spilling and positive ramps intersect and create a confusing appearance. At its summit, perfect deep gray grooves, chiseled by the masterful work of erosion, cover this mass of limestone, like sheets of silk.
Following a guide found on the internet, we advance towards the face with the idea of launching into The show must go on, maximum difficulty 6c over 280 meters and leading to a shoulder 100 meters below this summit which dominates the valley. Rather ambitious in our opinion for a first route in the valley. In the steep scree that we climb to approach the face, the 10 hours of cycling are felt in our legs. The start of the route is still a good 15 minutes of climbing… That’s when one of us says:
“Hey, look at this line, Klin, which goes up this first ramp and leads to the summit.
— Crazy indeed, but this one is 350m and the max rating is 6c+… Do you think it’s playable?
— it comes out at the top of the face man, I'm too hot to try it.
—Okay, vamonos! »
Preparing the bags is not so easy. We have to organize ourselves and our methods diverge. A rope is created of compromises which ultimately lead to the best possible decisions. As we will not return to the foot of the cliff we must take all of our equipment with us. We thus managed to fit a canvas bag, two liters of water and a sachet of seeds into a small compact 18L bag. And everyone will wear their shoes to their harness. The leader sets off light, having only to carry quickdraws, jammers and straps for setting up the relays while the second follows with the backpack.
The first pitches of a very accessible level nevertheless put us in a great atmosphere. Over 60 meters only a few bolts and a jammer provide our protection. The cards are laid, this path will ask us to draw on our mental resources. Arriving at the first relay, the forest and the marked trails of the park no longer exist. We already have the impression of having entered another world. Few words are exchanged, the second only steals a few minutes of rest, stuck at the belay, and immediately begins the second length in the lead. The wall seems to straighten out, accentuates its verticality and nevertheless offers us the rough edges necessary for progression in the form of strips, cracks or scales. Each shot is like a present offered by a more or less recent geology. It's up to us to discover them and exploit their potential.
The rhythm of the main route sets in and the lengths come one after the other. Beyond climbing, the fluidity of handling and the automation of the operations to be carried out are essential to avoid wasting precious minutes. Immersed in this ocean of limestone, we have the feeling of being immersed in a mineral temporality, definitely slower, and we lose track of the hours that pass. Each rocky jump is like a wave that can put us on the right path or, on the contrary, make us deviate from our course, from the chosen path. Pure metaphor for adventure.
But what does it matter if we deviate from the initial itinerary! Confidence dominates within the team and if one takes the wrong line, the other shows ingenuity, carefully placing our jammers in these often bumpy and irregular cracks in order to find Klin's route.
And the pitches continue to come one after another, a magnificent aesthetic and athletic mechanics of climbing. And schizophrenic too one could say... The sweet feeling of elevation and loss of gravity is found in confrontation with the pain in the toes, and in the fingers whose sensitivity increases as the thickness of the skin decreases. But in the last pitches, it is an absolutely perfect rock, real sculptures with generous shapes, rounded and polished by the sun that Klin has in store for us. We then forget our dry throat from rationing water and our painful feet from leaning on rods sometimes as thin as a coin to fully enjoy the present moment.
And it was 6 hours after our departure that we reached the summit of Anica Kuk, tired and happy. In the distance we see Zadar, our next destination. But above all, beautiful cliffs below on which we will continue in the coming days this decidedly exciting form of expression that is climbing.
The rope at the top of the face.
[Km 750] …and 20th day of travel, already!
Lots of big routes and big encounters during the seven days spent in Starigrad, the Croatian town located just at the entrance to the Paklenica National Park.
This limestone rock so appreciated during our first day definitely keeps all its promises but we also discover its ability to shear our fingers and tirelessly attack the layers of our epidermis. Result: it's a day of rest every two days of climbing, obligatory for us, and a big grateful thought to our dear friends from Reunion who offered us repairing ointment for the hands because it turns out to be life-saving!
At the Anica Kuk campsite (well!), we meet wonderful people. Firstly Chris and Lisa, two young German climbers living south of Munich who share an infectious passion for climbing and all mountain sports. The exchange of stories and experiences brings us closer together because we operate at a similar level and we attempt more or less the same paths in the valley.
And then, as a formidable storm hits Croatia, on our first day of rest, we begin a discussion with a discreet French couple older than us. As our discussions progress, we fall under the spell of their adventures. Denis and Annie Pivot have lived 40 years of roped life and endless climbs in the Alps, the Himalayas, Patagonia…etc. He is a high mountain guide, formerly a teacher at ENSA (national ski and mountaineering school) and now a technical advisor on the manufacture of carabiners at Camp. As for Annie, she is a doctor, a specialist in the effects of altitude on the body and reached 8700 meters without oxygen in the early 1990s. The questions abound and we listen to the answers, amazed at each new story. Denis, for his part, seems to take the pleasure of an old storyteller in front of this international audience and patiently shares all his knowledge about carabiners on how they are designed, tested, manufactured... Every evening we learn a lot about Patagonia, about mountaineering, on a significant figure in the history of climbing and also on the brands that design and produce the equipment we use every day. The evenings following our climbing days fly by and we then go to bed with our minds full of dreams and plans for future climbs.
We of course take advantage of this long stop to pamper Livingston and Joshua, completely stripped of their bags, who seem to be getting tired of these repetitive round trips in the Paklenica national park! Before our departure we return to the famous north face of Anica Kuk to attempt the Jenjavi route, 7a+ and 350 meters long. If the hardest pitches are not done on sight, we still manage to do everything free climbing, that is to say without using any means of progression other than our hands and feet. For the moment, this is the hardest big route we have done: the intensity of the previous days of climbing is paying off. The search for difficulty and progression in the dimensions are not necessarily the objectives of our journey but we find them interesting in the sense that they sometimes allow access to purer, steeper and more aesthetic lines.
Funny anecdote about this day: a drone will come several times to shoot images not far from us. Annoying noise which somewhat spoils the wild atmosphere of the place. When we get off, Chris and Lisa tell us that this flying camera wasn't there for nothing. Exactly at the same time as us, barely 50 meters to our right and while we were complaining about the difficulties of the lengths 7a and 7a+ of our route, it was the living god of climbing Adam Ondra himself who took on sight. an 8c never repeated until now! And we saw him neither at the start, nor during, nor at the end of the path! While looking for news on this climb we learn that potentially he will be towards Split the following days... Hope is then reborn in our devastated hearts of perhaps being able to cross his path!
About 200 kilometers separate us from our next climbing and slacklining destinations, around Split, and we hit the road again, delighted to ride our steel steeds again. The strong gusts of wind that we experience do not dampen our good mood.
Our rope made of nylon textile fiber then becomes aerial, creating air flows and suction. Joshua and Livingston ride side by side and we take turns against the wind, protecting the other from the gusts. To reach Split we decide to cut across the land, avoid Zadar and reach the Adriatic Sea at Sibenik. In the Croatian countryside, the contrast is striking: more bikers, villas and guest houses. The villages are relatively poor and are spread out among hills with dry vegetation where only olive trees seem to flourish. We pass old shepherdesses with sparse teeth, wearing a scarf in their hair reminiscent of Europe in the 1950s. During a break, a Croatian with a bald head and long white hair walking along the side of the road calls out to us and asks us Ask to take a photo of it. In broken Italian we then understand that a few years ago he walked from Lyon to Israel in 7 months. Respect.
And as soon as weariness takes hold of our legs and we begin to lose the pleasure of the road, we look for a place to camp, preferably at the water's edge to relax from the day... And enjoy a beautiful sunset that is hard to get tired of.
Max climbs one of the many major routes that we travel in Paklenica Park. Swallows flutter around us.
[Km 855] Contrasts, storms and sun in Split
We don't like the arrival in Split. Large buildings, trucks and factories as the only decorations. On a whim we decide to head to the heights to reach a beautiful cliff 7 kilometers from the entrance to Split: Markezina Greda. A magnificent rocky bar reminiscent of Ceüse in France, it dominates the village of Klis and its medieval castle. Adam Ondra was there yesterday to climb levels that are beyond belief. We will have missed it again, damned scrap metal nags who don't drive fast enough! But we quickly forget this slight disillusionment as the limestone is pure and we stay two nights at the foot of this site. When a storm breaks out, the inclination of the rock is such that the drops fall ten meters from our camp. We don't even bother to set up tents and sleep soundly on our mattresses on the ground, protected from the sky by the Earth.
The following day, the weather continues to be threatening and we go down to Split. Bat'karer in its streets flooded with tourists who mostly get off these huge cruise ships does not enchant us so we cycle to the Marjan peninsula which is only a few kilometers from the historic center. There we find a small bivouac space absolutely perfect for pitching our tent, just at the edge of a cliff of around ten meters which plunges directly into the sea. The wall is vertical, even overhanging in places and we can practice some psychobloc (or deep water solo), sub-discipline of climbing which consists of climbing without insurance above water. It's absolutely brilliant, we take full advantage of it, and climb until our forearms crack and our fingers are scratched, then we fall into the translucent water. The bottom seems very close because the water is so clear but it is often 3 to 4 meters deep so there is no risk of a fall. And when we get tired, we jump into the water like real kids! Then we sit on the edge of the void, snack on something and observe our surroundings. It's magical, the sun at its zenith sparkles on the Adriatic Sea. In the background, the countless Dalmatian islands do not seem disturbed by the incessant ballet of sailboats, ferries and tourist boats.
The Marjan Peninsula has a new surprise in store for us because a rock bar is equipped for sport climbing a little higher up. The south orientation of this yellow and ocher face only allows us to enjoy it for a few hours at the end of the day. But it is an opportunity to enjoy great sunset views over the large Split Bay. Some routes pass very close to semi-troglodyte houses built along the wall. Grandiose.
After setting up the bivouac, a classic evening of our trip consists of preparing food, an essential element that punctuates our days and determines the good atmosphere of the team. So we don’t skimp on quantity! The evening meal very regularly starts with an aperitif: inexpensive Croatian cabernet-sauvignon or large Karlovacko beer and as an appetizer, olives or peanuts. Then, our main dinner consists of a starch accompanied by vegetables and a various sauce. We love carrots because they can also be eaten raw for lunch, and keep very well in bike bags that get knocked around on the road. A piece of bread, a bad Croatian cheese and some fruit accompany the end of dinner. Then, exhausted by the day's efforts, the evenings rarely drag on and we each fall asleep on our books. At the moment it is The Paper Menagerie by Ken Liu for Max, a collection of science fiction stories that have received numerous distinctions, and for Clem, the now classic work by German science fiction author Andreas Escbach Billions of hair mats.
In the morning, it depends on the situation, if we are in a place where we risk bad encounters with representatives of the local authority, we pack up quickly and leave without asking for our rest. If we are calm, as is the case most of the time, then we practice a little yoga and stretching because flexible muscles are muscles that do not get injured, say the physiotherapist. The first person to get up prepares tea and we have a hearty breakfast of wholemeal bread, jam and peanut butter before breaking camp and going about our business as traveler-climbers.
For today it's rest, slackline in a park in Split and 30 short kilometers to reach the town of Omis. For us, the last great destination for rinds in Croatia. The Balkans are getting closer…
Wild bivouac balanced on the edge of a cliff which plunges directly into the Adriatic. We will then spend the entire day climbing above the water, making long crossings or attempting to cross large overhangs.
[Km 954] The giants of Dalmatia
Omis is a climbing destination we look forward to. On the map, there are many sectors that are often very easy to access, therefore ideal for our cycling approaches. The town is located at the mouth of the Cetina River, wedged between rocky peaks that rise up on all sides. Outdoor activities seem well developed in the surrounding area, which leads us to believe that this place seems to have found a better balance between local life and tourist attractions compared to some of its Dalmatian counterparts. The icing on the cake, the climbing grades are (slightly) easier than in Split or Paklenica, so we chain the routes, even unlocking new letters in the seventh degree!
Unfortunately, the weather which had relatively spared us since the start of our trip deteriorated on the second day, forcing us to seek refuge in a campsite. And it is a beautiful flood, almost continuous for two days, which falls on Omis. No matter, there is no shortage of activities. We take advantage of these two days to restore skin on our fingers. We play cards, more precisely chouine, a sort of derivative of coinche, read, write, listen to music and become real pros in solving the Rubik's cub. No longer climbing also allows us to take the time for these little things to repair on our equipment such as these pants to be sewn or this descender to be filed because the friction with the carabiner creates sharp irregularities which could possibly damage the rope. We also take the opportunity to plan the route that will take us through the Balkans. For this, Komoot is a brilliant application that allows us to know precisely the height differences of a journey with the degrees of slope that we will have to overcome. And when a lull is felt, we take the opportunity to climb on overhanging faces, protected by the rains. But water seeps into the limestone and even on dry walls, the columns that were previously so pleasant to hold become wet and slippery.
So we hit the road again, concentrated and determined because 30 kilometers further south awaits us the wild Biokovo massif. Around a bend we discover its peaks which rise to more than 1200 meters. They are partly hidden by thick storm clouds which immediately give an alpine and mystical character to our future objectives.
The first is Mount Bukovac, which we wish to reach by Dalmatinski San, a route 600 meters long, maximum difficulty 6b. From the coast, the mountain is magnificent. So we redouble our efforts to climb the last kilometers on a small winding road which reaches at its steepest 22 degrees of gradient. The bikes are holding up, our quadriceps a little less: we explode at times and are forced to dismount and painfully push Joshua and Livingston. In the peaceful hamlet of Topici, the difficulties are completely forgotten as a superb sunset treats us to an aperitif. So we make ourselves comfortable and decide to squat on the terrace of a restaurant for the evening and the night.
Anyway we leave the next day at 5am. Squirrels of the dawn, we carefully hide our precious panniers in a thicket not far from the bikes, as securely roped together as their owners will be during the day. Then it's off, using a headlamp of course. For a good hour we climb up the scree following the sometimes enigmatic indications in our guidebook, which gives a not unpleasant treasure hunt aspect to this approach. Finally, a series of cairns and the sparkle of the bolts at first light take us directly to the foot of the route. A few agile chamois decamp as we arrive, the safe is in front of us, mineral and imposing. There are sometimes major paths where nothing goes as planned, where problems pile up and progression becomes laborious. And others, on the contrary, where everything is easy, spontaneous and obvious. For us, on this day, Dalmatinski San will be part of the second category. Pure joy, the rock is excellent, the equipment impeccable, the pitches go by at full speed. It's incredible, every time we turn around, a sumptuous panorama stretches out in front of us, the extent of which increases as we get closer to the summit of Bukovac. The infinite beauty of Croatia seen from the sky. The Adriatic is so special and so beautiful, we feel good and at home here, fully satisfied to make this trip, happy to have chosen this destination.
The tortuous and confusing route of the descent will not spoil this perfect day in the slightest. We then think of what Denis, the mountaineer we met in Paklenica, said: “A guide never gets lost, he explores. » So we explore...and at one point we have to improvise a 30 meter abseil on a dodgy tree. Our 80 meter rope having been shortened by 7 meters following a snag that appeared during our sessions in Split, we embark on the rappels cautiously, to be sure we have enough length.
Delighted with this day and this smooth ascent, we collect our bikes to complete the 10 kilometers that separate us from our second objective, still within the Biokovo massif: Mount Mali Borovac.
This time, we bivouac in a forest at sea level and we decide to make the climb in the early morning without taking off our bags. As the sun sets, we move away a little from the undergrowth and the camp to appreciate the colors of the horizon. When we returned, Max's sleeping bag was missing. Suspecting a stray dog that we had seen roaming around, we went looking for him and quickly found him in a sort of illegal dump. Vision of horror, the sleeping bag is literally shredded, ripped open from side to side, goose down scattered all around. Max will spend four hours in the evening cursing this mutt while sewing up the fabric. This cocoon of softness, which has sheltered his dreams for the last 30 days, now resembles Frankenstein and gives off a sickening smell of dog drool. Of indecent value, he will have to test Valandré's after-sales service on his return... This anecdote highlights a form of traveler's paradox in relation to material objects. On the one hand he must detach himself from superfluous material needs because he can only carry the bare essentials. On the other hand, he has a special affection for certain equipment, particularly when it is the vector of his dreams and his achievements, in particular his technical equipment without which he could not live his vertical or horizontal adventures.
Wake up as early as the day before this morning with this time a long approach by bike. 6 kilometers and 700 meters of positive altitude difference, including the last 3 kilometers on a terrible track with rolling pebbles which destabilize Joshua and Livingston as surprised as we are to find themselves on such a surface. We curse for an hour and a half before arriving at the start of the approach trail. And we continue to climb, this time on foot up the unstable screes. The quadriceps, well started by the morning's efforts, are starting to tire but the route we are tackling promises a real journey. Born to live goes back to the middle of the south face of Mali Borovac. Length 400 meters and maximum difficulty 7b. At the start of the route, we notice that a rope party is already on the same route as us. Two choices are possible: either we trace, double lengths and try to overtake them at a relay, or we wait and give them time to get ahead so as not to get in the way of the sequences. We opt for the second option, and we are very fortunate because both climbers are experienced and advance at a good pace on the route. The crux (key length) of the route consists of passing a small roof and all the difficulty lies in the recovery because the only holds available are a small right shoulder, very straight but completely vertical, and an atrocious inverted left hand which allows you to take your feet out and reach very high for another sharp inversion this time for the right hand. After a few unsuccessful attempts, Max came very close to completing the length, but ultimately had to admit defeat. There are still 330 meters of climbing left and we can't work on a move on a big route for too long. Around us it is magnificently wild, the landscapes are as splendid as the day before and we have the impression of being infinitely high, levitating above the town of Makarska.
At the summit, we meet up with the rope party that preceded us and spend a very pleasant time with these two climbers coming from Zagreb. We talk about our journey and the paths we have already taken. It's incredible, the most experienced of our interlocutors knows them all, down to the last take. He tells us about their history, the openers, and we learn a little more about the history of climbing in Croatia. The descent path is much easier than that of the day before and we quickly find our bikes. The technical feedback in downhill mountain bike mode still allows us to appreciate the atmosphere of these beautiful mountains caressed by the rays of the setting sun. We are very proud of this Dalmatian double which marks the end of Croatia's climbing chapter! In two days and for these two summits, we achieved 1000 meters of altitude difference by bike, 800 meters on foot, and 1000 meters of climbing broken down into 34 lengths. For the evening and to celebrate, it will be 2 liters of beers and 1 liter of rum!
The winding road which runs along the Croatian coast and in the background the Biokovo massif and the peaks that we will climb over the next few days.
[Km 1454] Back in time through the Balkans
Managing a stage by bike is definitely not as simple and easy as we might have thought before we left. Both new to the world of two-wheeled travel, we gradually discover the key elements that allow us to live these days to the best of our ability. First of all there is planning: using Maps.me or Komoot, we decide on the best route, which is not very complicated at the moment because we just follow the coastline as closely as possible. . From a digital confrontation with geography, we then move on to a physical confrontation and we improvise as the day goes on. There are often surprises because a pass that seemed technical to us is in fact easily crossed, and unfortunately also the opposite! The wind or the sometimes scorching autumn sun add their grains of salt to the alchemy of a day of pedaling.
We are lucky to be two of us, of similar physical condition and each able to follow the same rhythm. Although it is sometimes complicated to chat one behind the other, as soon as traffic permits we ride side by side and talk about everything and nothing, thus breaking for a few minutes from this slight monotony that can set in. The fact remains that we often lean on each other when a drop in pace is felt, which undoubtedly allows us to cover longer distances than alone.
As the hours pass, a fierce battle takes place within our body, a trench war between our motivation and the inexorable weariness that takes over our legs. It is therefore a question of managing breaks well, listening to your signs of fatigue, drinking when necessary, why not taking a nap at midday if the night before was less restorative. A simple tunnel passage can be a source of intense stress: how long is it? Should we take off the glasses and put on the lights? The road is narrowing, trucks and buses brush past us and can destabilize us, falling is forbidden so a form of claustrophobia takes over us and we head at full speed towards the exit!
Despite the difficulties, it is about accepting and taking advantage of unforeseen stops, often linked to mechanical problems: breakage, puncture, etc. Like this time in Dubrovnik where we inflicted 200 meters of altitude difference going in circles to find a bike shop. A new tire was absolutely necessary for Livingston, whose old one was cut by a shard of glass. Other unexpected events are more amusing, such as when crossing the border between Bosnia and the Croatian region of Dubrovnik. Probably meeting the typical profile of drug users: male, 25 to 30 years old, bearded, looking dirty and unkempt. We have to face a search of our belongings. This does not seem to last forever but the customs officer discovers an old roll of rolling paper found on the ground, stuck together, unusable and whose existence had been totally forgotten as we lead such an esthete life mens sana in corpore sano. Mocking and sure of our total innocence, we resisted the pressure from the police and let them empty our bags with relish. Finally, Clem will have to pass some kind of test that analyzes possible drug residues on the skin before they let us go back to Dubrovnik.
Almost every day a special feeling arises during our stage. It is a more or less long moment, a moment of perfect serenity where we reach a state of absolute harmony. This often happens during a flat section with a slight tailwind, during which getting the bike to 35km/h requires almost no effort. The inertia created by our loading does the rest of the work and the landscape then passes by at full speed. Each turn of the wheel is just pure joy and comfortably perched on our bicycle we feel at ease with this means of transport. This feeling also happens to us on a slope where the speed is only provided by this gravity, a terrible ally which can turn against us from one bend to the next if the profile of the road becomes ascending. And in the long descents of several kilometers, we completely let Joshua and Livingston take control. At 60km/h, by seeking the suction of the first, the second then finds himself propelled into the lead and it is then the next one who recovers the suction taking in turn the lead. And we, like princes of the tarmac with bright eyes, laugh out loud at this ballet which shoots us with adrenaline.
At the end of the day when weariness is about to triumph, we must quickly stock up on water for the evening, something relatively easy in the urbanized areas we pass through. And then we need to identify a place to put the sleeping bag, at least what's left of it for Max. Finding the ideal bivouac spot is sometimes easy like this small idyllic cove in Mala Duba, 30 kilometers south of Makarska, where we sleep next to a small 30m waterline. But it is not so obvious in Montenegro. During the first bivouac, we were woken up in the morning by the police as we made ourselves comfortable in a sort of gloomy camp completely abandoned along a football field.
“What are you doing here?” It's private, you must go!
— Yes sir, sorry sir! »
And the second bivouac in this small country was found much too late, at the side of the road, at night at 8 p.m. No doubt because of a strategic error consisting of a sunset on the beach in Budva, a 2L beer and a large bag of peanuts.
It is at the town of Bar that we bow out to Mademoiselle Adriatique, a placid setting with salty waters, and we head inland towards Albania. The magic happens, still surrounded by century-old olive trees, we realize that we are now in the Balkans and the border crossing between Montenegro and Albania is smooth. This former communist country, once decried by the international community and still a source of more or less true fantasies concerning organized crime, welcomes us with open arms. No more mass tourism and dead camping towns on the Dalmatian coasts. Albania is teeming with life, the sound of the Muezzin resonates during our lunch break, children, numerous and rowdy, suddenly appear and send us generous greetings as we pass. Vehicle horns become friendly and are used to greet us and no longer to reprimand our erratic cyclist trajectories. Participating in the sensation of going back in time, herds of sheep pass ancient carts pulled by flesh-and-blood horses, while Mercedes of all generations roar on the tarmac. A curse of developing countries, the ditches are littered with rubbish of all kinds.
And the kilometers go by at full speed in these very different temporal and cultural settings. Pushing our bikes and our legs to the maximum, we often exceed 100 kilometers in a day. We are thinking particularly of our many friends from Reunion who are about to experience the Grand Raid weekend, and who will suffer and surpass themselves during a race. What we do is child's play compared to the 170 km diagonal of crazy people! Sometimes the roads get bumpy and the inevitable happens: a fall for Joshua that results in a luggage rack needing repair, a pannier attachment that breaks for Livingston. No refreshments organized for us, but each time the Albanians help us by lending us tools or finding a small lost screw, to repair our bikes, and we set off again, with the energy of solidarity.
Arriving in Tirana we were superbly welcomed in an apartment located on the 10th floor of a building in the city center by Eduina. An excellent friend of a former student friend of Max's, she invites us to her home, with a big smile. A computer programmer, fan of online games, hair dyed blue and pink, she is negotiating a visa to go to work in Germany. She already has a job there but the formalities can take many months. Our belongings invade his living space, the bikes on the balcony and our bags piled up in a corner of the kitchen, which is also the living room, the dining room and our bedroom for the days to come. Eduina takes this upheaval in her daily life philosophically. And for us, it's a return to city life, full of local culinary discoveries in gargantuan quantities! After an evening in the trendy bars of the capital we sleep for the first time in 40 days under a roof and on a mattress... So we let ourselves be lulled by the hum of the city, satisfied with our rapid progress, barely disturbed by this slight tingling at the tips of our fingers with new skin which seem impatient to squeeze Greek rock...
Dismal but comfortable bivouac just after the Montenegro border, probably in an old training center completely abandoned. We will nevertheless be evicted there by the police the next morning.
[Km 1841] The Great Leap Forward
Regularly during a day of cycling or climbing, faced with the repetition of efforts and the technical difficulty of crossing certain passages we leave our comfort zone and push our limits. Surpassing oneself is of course what we seek and this leads to the improvement of our sporting abilities. But inevitably, weariness and fatigue creep into our duo. With them, reactions can become harsher and listening to others less attentive. After 45 days spent without interruption, together from sunrise to sunset and sharing most of the nights in the same tent, it is a matter of maintaining the enthusiasm and motivation from the beginning. Immersed in the passion of this journey, the cohesion of the team is essential and requires healthy questioning of our respective attitudes. We need to take a step back and some evenings, talk with total frankness. We discuss the behaviors of one or the other which excited us or the other during the day. This allows us to develop a better mutual understanding and above all, we discover and learn about ourselves. Spiritual dimension of the adventure which encourages both physical progression and mental perfectibility.
Both keen to enjoy the fruits of this trip as much as possible, we also dream of future projects in very different environments. Just like reading, discussing together allows us to dream, escape and gain perspective on our current situation. We dream of oceans, snow, ice, cliff jumping and paragliding. Among the future projects mentioned are crossings with crampons between the needles of Chamonix and sailing on the water or in the air... Ultimately full of ideas sometimes far from the rock and the mechanical clicking of a transmission system. Whatever he does, humans need cycles (here in the sense of “sequence of phenomena”!) and must create desires that are necessary for balance and motivation for their current projects.
That morning, when we weighed anchor and left our beautiful anchorage at Eduina's apartment, we were pumped up, all batteries recharged and bikes smoothed. We rush out of Tirana, heading east, straight towards the mountains. We navigate efficiently on beautiful Albanian roads, with little traffic, opening our eyes wide to the spectacle of an exotic rurality. Here a woman leads countless turkeys who cluck frantically as we pass. There, farmers cut the grass from a field with scythes and collect their harvest in large canvas bags to load them onto placid geldings with glassy eyes. Caught up in the atmosphere of Albania we do not see the storm coming. A collapsed bridge forces us to ford a river and suddenly the road becomes a rutted track with rolling pebbles. The sweet lubricated music of our bearings becomes a din of heartbreaking sounds. Everything rattles in the saddlebags, the slightest screw squeaks, the chain slams on the frame and rollers knock heavily on our cranks. And we, poor people, hope at each turn to find a passable surface. In order to safeguard the integrity of Joshua and Livingston as much as possible, we reduced the sail, put our shoes on the ground and laboriously pushed our boats during the 20 kilometers that the ordeal lasted. At certain times, we no longer see any trace of civilization, internally questioning this stubborn obstinacy which leads us to sail upwind, in such contrary winds. Fortunately, a few locals we met along the route reassured us about the direction, without seeming in the least surprised to see us struggling on these lost routes. Putting things into perspective is the key despite the difficulties, it's exhilarating to be lost at this point, exploring the concept of nowhere, an Albanian adventure that pushes all despair far away. Then the storm calms down, the winds subside and at the end of the day we find the perfect trade winds of an asphalt road, soft and soft under our wheels like the carpet of a luxury hotel.
In the evening we stop at a warm roadside inn. Hungry, Max breaks his vegetarian diet to taste the tavë kosi local specialty of the Elbasan region, lamb simmered in a saffron and curd yogurt sauce. The salad of raw vegetables, garnished with olive oil and sheep's cheese which accompanies the dish is exquisite. One more point for Albania which knows how to offer tasty cheeses to its French travelers. In the evening, we pitch our tent in the tavern garden, an effective bivouac strategy which will be repeated the following night.
In the early morning, our breakfasts are hearty, rich and sweet, based on oriental pastries and biscuits. The higher we go, the colder it becomes and the signs of autumn appear. During the night, the mercury is close to zero and struggles to rise again as the sun's rays have difficulty piercing the sheet of mist that envelops the landscape. We follow a large river, the Devoll, which winds between steep gorges with bare vegetation and subject to strong erosion. The river becomes a torrent and its tumultuous waters represent an economic windfall for this developing country. We thus come across titanic hydraulic dams under construction which stand across the valley. The consequence is immediate, hundreds of trucks take the same route as us, carrying rocks and materials, raising dust, and worst of all, destroying the road which becomes a track... Déjà vu.
Further on, on the highlands surrounding the town of Korça, we see industrial ruins, dilapidated blast furnaces and old abandoned factories. These are the vestiges of the not-so-distant era when Albania lived in quasi-autarky in an inward-looking communist regime. Although the great leap forward will unfortunately not have taken place for this country, it is very concrete for us and we tirelessly keep going. The bikes show remarkable resistance and the Greek border finally stands before us. Back in the European Union, a little feeling of coming home, paying again with those good old euros, and without roaming charges on the phone.
On the small roads we take in Greece, we come across migrants walking slowly towards the North. Brief exchanges, smiles, a few words, as privileged representatives of a rich nation, perhaps a little embarrassment too. Our itineraries intersect but our roads are different.
We also meet Frédérik, a German cycling enthusiast, who already has 4000 kilometers on the clock. Joshua and Livingston look as pale in front of his magnificent bike loaded with the latest technology as our three chin hairs do in front of his long adventurer's beard. We exchange the usual kindnesses and mutual understanding between cycle travelers. His route takes him to Türkiye and the Caucasus. Ours pushes us towards the South. At the end of a 130 kilometer stage, the mythical peaks of Meteora emerge on the horizon. End of the great leap forward, our calves sigh with relief.
The tiring track on which we get lost allows us to cross beautiful Albanian villages. The change of scenery is complete compared to the Adriatic coast and we appreciate this difficult stage of our journey, which provides a feeling of total distance from the rest of Europe.
[Km 1934] Sacred climbs in Meteora
Doupiani, Sourloti, Pixari, Helliger Geist, Bantovas, Alpha Spur… There are countless peaks in Meteora. Some are several hundred meters high, others a few dozen. They all have their own shape and their very different characteristics. One stands out like a titanic shark's fin, another looks like melted Swiss cheese because it is dotted with caves and holes... They all offer the same rock, a mind-blowing conglomerate made up of pebbles held together by sandy cement. The name Meteora comes from local mythology which considers that these rocks were sent by Heaven to allow ascetics and hermits to withdraw from the world. We must therefore share this superb playground with the Orthodox Christian monks who have erected their religious buildings on these towers since the 12th century, often directly above the void. Mysteries circulate like this massive cross planted 700 years ago at the top of an extremely steep peak whose first known ascent dates only from the last century. Thus, the place definitely leaves an impression with its historical and mystical character. Each ascent offers us a different view of the village of Kastraki and the small town of Kalambaka surrounded by these thousand-year-old sand dungeons. Each summit invites us to meditation and contemplation.
To climb onto these peaks, we must draw on our mental resources. The special pudding (another name for conglomerate) is also extremely fragile. The progression is delicate, we have to hold on to pebbles that protrude from the sandy cement. Some are the size of a fingernail, and others are bigger than watermelons. Stones regularly break under our weight, and if we are not in a situation of perfect balance, a fall is inevitable. Since the holds are often ovoid in shape, we climb on eggs literally and figuratively. The belay points are often spaced apart and you sometimes have to rise several meters above the last quickdraw before being able to clip the next one, which adds a trying psychological dimension. And the insurer is not left out. Beyond the fact that it is rarely pleasant to see your climber make a ten meter flight on a giant cheese grater, he must constantly expect to see stones raining on him without the slightest warning. Many times we hear the pebbles whistling in our ears and must therefore be proactive and reactive to avoid them. When the climber undertakes long sections without protection, the belayer gently releases slack. With each meter gained on the wall, the tension increases imperceptibly until the saving installation of a protection which provokes a sigh of relief from one end of the rope to the other...then it starts again. Fortunately, our intensive climbing practice in recent weeks, combined with two days of rest imposed by the first rains in three months in the region, allows us to have a lot of fun on the legendary great routes of this magical place.
And the words of Manifesto for a poetic escalation by Antoine Le Ménestrel resonate in our heads. “The wall is a gestural score. It is essential to read this score and have a close encounter with the rock. We connect with this rhythm by climbing with fluidity or determination, with dynamic movements and pauses. […] I position myself and the catch comes to me. […] Each hold is unique and is part of the mineral heritage of climbing. Each hold is alive, wears out with time and the passage of climbers. Each grip can break under repeated grips, a victim of its success. »
We do one long route per day, looking for the most vertical faces with stunning perspectives. This is how we embark on Kiesel am Himmel (7a+) path opened by the Germans in the 80s and which literally means Pebbles in the sky. We also cover the great classic routes of the place like Direct action (8b, 6c obligatory), Duett (7a) and Orchidea (7b+). The Meteora climbing guide serves as a guide and is very useful before embarking on a route, in order to know how difficult and challenging it will be. However, we also listen to our instincts. One cliff in particular catches the eye as we walk through the village of Kastraki. This is the overwhelming face of the Pixari which dominates our campsite. But it is impossible to find any information on possible routes in place in the latest editions of the topos found. This seems improbable to us as the face is pure and we continue our research on the internet. It is then that Clem discovers a document written in indecipherable German which relates the opening of a large route on the left pillar of the cliff, Heureka!, because that is its name. This expedition only dates from 2017 and does not appear in any work. The climbers we meet do not know of its existence but all the information is indicated to carry it out, 180 meters long, and 7 lengths whose ratings in order are as follows: 6a, 6b, 7b, 7b , 6c+, 6c and 5. When we carried out a reconnaissance, the equipment seemed perfect to us, and we immediately decided to launch into the project. In key lengths, we break many holds, often while performing the most technical movements, which has the unfortunate tendency to increase the difficulty of a section even more. But we are living a great adventure, with the feeling of being pioneers, cleaning and purging (against our will) a path that could one day become a great classic. The verticality there is incredible, purer than anything we had climbed until then. Yet accustomed to emptiness, our heart races, begins to pound and a lump rises to our throat several times when we look under our slippers. But we finally reach the last relay point, lonely and happy.
The aim of this route was also to scout the summit of Pixari in order to repeat a highline opened in 2009 by the Americans. And after an hour of fruitless searching, we found no anchor point. We then contacted the openers on Facebook and by email, without success. This new failure to set a highline makes us realize that it was probably too complicated to integrate this discipline into our trip. To set lines in places where the practice and the community are little developed, it takes time and energy to find the best spots yourself and above all a lot more material to drill and create the anchors. This is hardly suitable for a cycling trip in which climbing takes a central place. The freedom that we cherish to move around Europe on our two wheels must also allow us to question the initial objectives that we had set for ourselves at the start. We therefore decide to part with our strap by entrusting it to French friends we met in Meteora. This will save us a significant amount of weight for the remaining kilometers.
Apart from climbing we share great moments with nine French friends, who will have brightened our aperitifs and our evenings with their good humor and their kindness towards us. All teachers in the Lyon region, so available to laugh and have an aperitif, we find it hard to imagine them married and fathers of families. Every year they dedicate a week of their vacation to a climbing trip. After long discussions, each fighting against the terrible inertia of such a large group, they set off on a path one behind the other, in groups of three, jokes and jokes flying from all sides. A pain for other climbers wishing to do the same route, but a treat for those working nearby! David, Jérôme, Aurélien, Corentin, Paul, Julien, Gaël, Christophe and Pierrot, a big thank you for the moments shared at the foot of Meteora.
Despite all the beauty of the place, we remain faithful to our favorite slogan: “movement is life and life is movement”, and head back towards the south. Especially since a magnificent area awaits us 50 kilometers away, right next to the small village of Mouzaki. However, a stop is essential at the Trikala climbing shop because Clem has definitely ruined her slippers on the pebbles of Meteora. The beautiful overhanging cliff of Mouzaki offers us superb rinds on compact limestone. It's so different from the conglomeration of recent weeks, and you have to get used to it again! At the foot of the wall, local climbers have built a refuge which they make accessible and free for everyone. So we took advantage of it for two nights and set up a very comfortable bivouac in this little chalet. The style of climbing is very classy, quite physical, the grades are dry and the skin on our fingers quickly finds itself in the red zone. We must rest, calmly get back on our bikes and thus leave, with regret, this little nugget of central Greece.
Max attacks the Pixari, one of the many towers of Meteora. This very recent route, opened in 2017, requires us to draw on our physical and mental resources as the rock is still fragile. Sometimes important holds in key passages break under our weight and we have to find a new sequence of movements in order to take the plunge.
[Km 2495] The gates of the Peloponnese
This morning, leaving our comfortable refuge at the foot of the Mouzaki cliff, we know that we are tackling the longest 100% cyclo sequence of our trip: 460 kilometers to the town of Nafplio (called Nafplio in Greek) at the entrance to the Peloponnese. Our legs are ready, honed by the 1900 kilometers already covered since Venice. And our mind follows as best it can, not fully realizing that it is already traveling through Greece and paradoxically, already seeing itself climbing the colorful paths of the Peloponnese.
The cyclist moves in an in-between space: neither quite on the road, nor quite on the side of the road. He sees himself pushed back from the left by the traffic of motorized vehicles and from the right by an impressive variety of obstacles ranging from a simple dead branch to the carcass of a goat, including scrap metal debris, shards of glass and other garbage thrown by less than virtuous motorists. These obstacles are like indicators of the level of development, ecological awareness or the type of economic activity of a region. By the attention he pays in front of him, in order to preserve the integrity of his tires, by the jolts which shake his bike when the asphalt becomes less regular, the cycle traveler is witness to the nature of the flows which travel and feel the scars of a road, echo of the wounds of a country. How can we not see a link between all these cigarette butts littering the road and the devastating fires which destroyed the forests in the Athens region at the beginning of the summer?
Thessaly is not the most beautiful place we will have crossed during our trip. After Albania and the fascinating ruins of communism, we face the distressing ruins of liberalism. The countryside of this region has been hit hard by this economic crisis which has been plaguing the country for several years. Cafes, warehouses, gas stations and dilapidated businesses become an integral part of the landscape. Over hundreds of kilometers we see intensive cotton crops. This perhaps brings dynamism and relative prosperity to the region. However, for the bicycle traveler, these endless straight lines, bordered by these scorched fields, with dull plants are of little interest and we are eager to leave them behind us. Many times we see official refugee camps financed by the European Union. Seen from the outside, we see dozens of container houses equipped with electricity and solar water heating, stuck together on an enclosed plot of land. It is curious to note that the barbed wire of the fences is oriented towards the inside and not towards the outside of the camp... Further, there are large panels on which the amounts of sums invested in the country are displayed, clearly. by the EU, to carry out road works for example, as if the technocratic organization had to redeem its image among the Greeks.
The medium-sized towns we pass through seem to be doing better and we are surprised by the bustling activity we find there. The Trikala market treats us with its juicy citrus fruits, the coffee and chocolate break in a bar in Karditsa could have dragged on for a long time, as could the breakfast in Lamia. In the mountains, the towns of Aliartos and Thiva are as pretty as their countryside is depressing. Beyond all these positive or negative aspects, we enjoy trying to decipher the letters of the Greek alphabet. Of course, the indication signs are (fortunately) systematically translated into the Latin alphabet. And city names that we pass like Thermopylae evoke famous ancient battles, which help to immerse our rolling rope in the world of Greece.
The first evening, we arrive at nightfall in the town of Lamia. Bad plan, urbanized areas are rarely conducive to wild bivouacs. At the entrance to the town, we hesitate, walk in circles for a few moments and finally decide to settle on the first floor of a house under construction. On the ground floor, a dog wanders around and barks regularly. This night, our journey takes on the wings of celestial tramps and Max sleeps tense, on the lookout for the slightest noise, his paltry Opinel next to his pillow.
The danger from the dogs materializes the next day. We had already noticed that there were more of them than elsewhere in Greece, but upon leaving Lamia, we had to face real packs. Some don't care at all about us and others, more numerous, rush at our knees excited like madmen by our passage. Max puts large pebbles in his handlebar bag and Clem in his pockets, ready to draw for protection. These stones act more as a weapon of deterrence and the most effective reaction is often to pedal at full speed, the hounds quickly get tired of following us.
And the journey continues, punctuated by big passes that we strategically pass by pushing like convicts on our pedals. Our bodies get used to spending long hours on this steel frame and we take fewer and fewer breaks, recovering during the descent phases. When we finally find a view of a body of water, it is no longer the crystalline Adriatic but the Aegean Sea which we follow for around ten kilometers before cutting through the mountains again. During a long descent we explode the speed record set at the start of our trip when we entered Croatia to push it to 85km/h! Joshua and Livingston ride better than ever and fly across Greece. We rush towards Athens, touch its suburbs and dodge it without lingering to head south again. The Greek capital must be full of treasures, but such a sprawling city seems more difficult to cross than the slopes of Albania. The Aegean Sea is again on our left flank, we are south of Piraeus, straight ahead of us are the gates of the Peloponnese.
The border between Attica (Athens region) and the Peloponnese is very concrete since it is characterized by the crossing of the Isthmus canal, built in the 19th century, connecting the Ionian Sea to the Aegean Sea. A few kilometers further we have lunch in ancient Corinth and visit the ruins of the temple of Apollo and the ancient city. Perhaps a little of the aura of the god of beauty could reflect on our shaggy, unshaven heads, having not seen the slightest shower head for several days...? We try for a moment to immerse ourselves in the grandiose history of Antiquity, remembering our old lessons on these fascinating subjects. Then we mount our tanks and head south again. The landscapes are sublime, the mountains caress the sky in the distance and all around us there is an alternation of citrus and olive tree plantations whose gnarled trunks we never tire of admiring. A final pass, a long descent with a divine tailwind and here we are in the superb town of Nafplio, at the water's edge. This evening it's swimming at sunset and night under the stars lulled by a gentle surf. The sea temperature is delicious, we have the feeling of having reversed the order of the seasons and finding ourselves at the start of our trip to Croatia. What a joy after these 460 kilometers covered in four full days! The feeling of homelessness is total. And above all, after so many hours spent in the saddle, we will reconnect with the rock in a heavenly setting. Experiencing such moments is an incredible opportunity.
We spend two superb nights under the stars, in a small cove, wedged between the sea and the cliff. The climbing is great on a rock dotted with holes that we happily grasp. The only problem is that the south orientation of the face and this unusual heat for November in Greece only allow you to enjoy it in the early hours of the day. So in the afternoons, we will stroll through the pretty tourist streets of Nafplio. By making a bad climbing move, Clem ended up with a nasty neck strain, the same day we decided to break camp. The pain does not go away, but we still decide to embark on this 85 kilometer stage linking Nafplio and this relatively new climbing site which seems to be unanimous among climbers: Leonidio. We are so looking forward to it, we have been dreaming of its endless columns on this bright red rock for several weeks. Delayed by a puncture from Livingston, this stage is longer and harder than expected, especially for Clem who has to take positions that are not conducive to pedaling in order to relieve his painful neck. He grits his teeth and shows great self-sacrifice, supported after each turn by sumptuous panoramas. The wild mountains and the brilliant sea accompany us and push us to this Mecca of Greek climbing which we reach at dusk.
The perfect bivouac in Nafplio where we spend two nights. The cliffs are just behind and the town is a short bike ride away.
[Km 2536] Leonidio, coveted gem of the Peloponnese
Leonidio is a huge climbing area, cliffs in every direction, more than 1600 rind routes and several dozen routes of several lengths. The rock is very often a pure red which takes on incredible shades of blood. Every day, team members from all over Europe work hard to break through this rock and create new routes for the enjoyment of climbers from all over the world. The 2017 topo, kindly lent by our Lyonnais friends from Météores, is already no longer up to date! The development of climbing is partly financed by the town hall, which is banking on this new type of tourism in order to attract visitors outside the summer periods: the cliffs are often south-facing, it is ideal to climb there during the summer. winter and inter-seasons. And the least we can say is that it works. In this month of November, the streets, supermarkets and terraces of small Greek bars are frequented by many people wearing Patagonia, Simond or North Face down jackets, Scarpa or La Sportiva shoes on their feet... In short, we only come across people climbers from the four corners of the globe.
A cooperative of around ten members was created by the locals in order to organize this tremendous growth in rock climbing: Panjika. They have a bar in which they offer local products, a climbing shop with a few items whose profits are used to continue equipping the surrounding cliffs. On our days off, we spend hours in their café, sipping fruit juice, drinking tea and playing chess. Every evening, above the city, this formidable bar of red limestone roars like a legendary dragon under the rays of the sunset.
We spend our first two nights in a campsite which, in addition to being quite expensive, is away from Leonidio and the climbing areas. We therefore do not linger there and we opt the following nights for local roaming, walkers-cyclos-climbers around the town putting down our bags in the fields of olive trees near the approach steps, rarely long, which bring to the cliffs. We change locations regularly and also sleep on vacant lots in urban areas as well as in an abandoned premises along Plaka beach on rainy nights. For hygiene, we rely on swimming in the Aegean Sea which still maintains a completely reasonable temperature and beach showers with fresher and invigorating water. In the streets of Leonidio, scooters are parked with the key in the ignition, everyone seems to know each other, there is a peaceful atmosphere which encourages trust and we worry very little about possible thefts.
On the first evening, we meet Romain and Chloé, two young French people from Gap who have been traveling in a van for two months around Europe. He is a future high mountain guide and she is a specialist in mountain pastures. Immediately a great chemistry was created between our two teams and we spent many days together. Often, we leave our bikes in the center of Leonidio, load the panniers into their van and go climbing on the surrounding cliffs. This is the first time since leaving Venice that we have boarded a motorized vehicle... But it is very practical for these day sessions which are sometimes several tens of kilometers away, at altitude. A great emulation is created at the foot of the routes, Romain's high level pushes us to push our limits on routes that are very difficult for us. And it's a real pleasure to see Chloé dancing on the wall as she is so precise and fluid in her movements.
What makes Leonidio interesting is the variety of rock styles: long rinds of 40 meters on holes, short and intense bouldering routes, and of course these very inclined slopes bloated with endless small columns which go back to the relay. On certain lengths, there are so many hills that it is difficult to read the route and find the best holds. You have to learn to place your feet, lock your knees and gently squeeze these fragile limestone structures. All this is of such quality that Leonidio is probably a victim of its success: climbing areas like Mars, Twin caves or Elona are so beautiful that on certain days there are more climbers at the foot of the wall than available routes. Despite the good-natured atmosphere between practitioners, there are so many close discussions that we no longer get along between climber and belayer and it is relatively frustrating to wait behind two people to make a route. So we do not hesitate to move away to more remote areas like The goat house which was opened by Reunionese climber Caroline Ciavaldini, and her friend, James Pearson, an English climbing legend. There, we climb two days in a row, each pushing our maximum levels. Thanks to the numerous quickdraws of Romain and Chloé we can leave equipment on the cliff and take turns working on the movements of a route to try to complete it in one go. We also attend the demonstration of a room in an 8c+ which he will be very close to passing. Another atypical climber also arrives and joins our team for a day, tackling heavy level barefoot, without chalk and without hesitation.
There is so much to discover around Leonidio and the days go by so quickly that we will probably stay there for another two weeks. So the adventure is still there, in this remote corner of the Peloponnese, but it now resides partly in the encounters, and the daily discoveries which take part in this routine which, far from being unpleasant, nevertheless gives us the sensation of being arrived at the final destination of this journey. So we are thinking about the long return to mainland France which will begin at the beginning of December, and the future projects which are being defined and clarified little by little.
The town of Leonidio dominated by large ocher and red cliffs. Great playground for climbers. Here Max on the main road Helones. The way of the turtles opened by Philippe Mussatto.
[Km 2641] Sedentary lifestyle, transition towards an end
The magic wrought by the lunar cliffs of Leonidio creates a curious breath on our hearts which extinguishes the flame of travel and contributes to our roots in the region. Combined with general weariness and very humid weather conditions throughout Greece, we decided to stay there until the end.
We continue to explore the surrounding cliffs but most of the time, without taking our bikes. They remain attached to the village and we travel thanks to the sincere generosity of our Gapençais friends Romain and Chloé. This allows us to discover many areas that would have been difficult to access by bike, such as Twin caves or Kyparissi. However, it is not practical to constantly load and unload our eight panniers, our rope bag and our personal backpacks. We also lose the autonomy of movement that Joshua and Livingston gave us as well as the flavor of a spot reached by non-motorized means. In previous months, the longer and more difficult the approach, the more powerful the flavor enhancer, making us appreciate all the paths, even the most tortuous. However, our duo-turned-quartet works wonderfully and we share good times together, simple and relaxed at the foot of the slopes, then around a dinner or a game of cards. A monotony sets in between the days of climbing and those of rest, in which rain and humidity interfere, sometimes disrupting the plans for the day or the next day. The excitement of the first two months of travel seems far away, but would we have been able to keep up the pace for longer?
During an evening at Panjika, a man enters the bar and sits alone behind a table.
“Look at the guy behind you,” Romain whispers, “it’s Michel Piola. »
This great man is an absolute reference in climbing route equipment. For 40 years, he has been opening new routes in Chamonix, his place of residence, and on cliffs around the world, most of which have become classics which each time promise a great experience to the climbers who repeat them. At first, intimidated and not wanting to disturb him, we didn't dare approach him, but finally, we asked him what his plans were in the region. And this is how we find ourselves two days later, roped up to the legend Piola, on the ledge of the Panagia cave to assist him in equipping a route. His approach is exemplary: when he spots an interesting line, he attacks it from below, slippers on, armed with a hammer and a perforator. He carefully deciphers the rock, purging the loose scales and the fragile columns, studying the best locations for the anchoring points. The pins installed with a seal are made of stainless steel which resists maritime conditions. This is not the case for other tracks in the sector, whose classic pads already begin to rust after just a few years. And when he comes back down the ledge after several hours suspended in the harness, it is with his face and hair stained with white dust, a smile on his lips and dazzling blue eyes.
This meeting made a strong impression on us and made us also want to equip a route one day and offer it to the climbing community. And two days later, when the glue has dried well, we impatiently return to this brand new route, and are the first climbers to climb it. First First Ascent of the trip for the Bat'karé team!
In the series of outfitters known and recognized in the climbing world, Philippe Mussato also holds a place of honor, famous for the originality and commitment of his lines equipped from the bottom. He also came to Leonidio to leave his itinerary there: Helones, the way of the turtles. Located on the great face of Kokkinovrachos, the glowing cliff which overlooks the town, its path goes up a gray pillar which takes us into a large cave on the cliffside only to take us back into monstrous roofs and spiky red plaster. The whole thing is 200 meters long in a sustained difficulty around 6c+/7a. It's a real pleasure to be back on the main route, the last ones dating from the previous month in Meteora! And what a delight it is to find your way without following holds all whitened with magnesia, as is the case in the busy areas of the valley. Mentally, it's quite hard to manage because the points are relatively spaced apart, and new rock tends to break. We definitely don't want to drop rocks because dozens of people are 100 meters below, enjoying the rinds on this same face. The exit from the cave, ultra-aerial and disproportionately overhanging over ten meters with more than 100 meters of gas under our buttocks, leaves us with an unforgettable memory. The Mussato turtle route bears this name because the mischievous usher found turtle shells, brought here by birds of prey, in the cave and placed on a cord. A macabre work of art which nevertheless has its effect upon arrival in the cave!
The same evening following this adventure, our French friends met in Reunion, Anthony and Océane, arrived in Leonidio after having followed more or less a route similar to ours in their van. And they don't arrive empty-handed because they have all the equipment necessary to set highlines! We return to the La Maison des Chèvres sector and open a beautiful line of 60 meters above the climbing routes, on two trees stronger than ten stainless steel pins which allow everyone to enjoy it peacefully for two days during. To honor the Reunion and to keep the spirit of the place we name it Ravine des Cabris. Without really knowing how, word got around in the small town: the two cyclists and their friends opened a line. And on the second day, we see a couple of Franco-Israeli slackliners Gat and Ronan arrive who come only to try it. They are both extremely talented and perform impressive tricks, playing with the 50 meters of voids beneath their feet. The only downside to this episode: during the night, the Océane rope serving as a general back-up is cut with a knife, right in the middle... We first suspect the goats because not a single meter is missing but the cut is a lot too clear for it to be the work of an animal. We are all very surprised by this act of vandalism as the inhabitants of the valley have shown tremendous friendliness and generosity since our arrival. Usually, even the shepherds greet us with grand gestures. But it must be deduced that the invasive presence of climbers is not unanimous. The following days, we planned other highlines with Gat and Ronan which were ultimately aborted by the wind and rain.
And finally the journey by wheel and rope comes to an end, Clem decides to leave early with Romain and Chloé in a van to take a ferry to Patras and be dropped off not far from Marseille. As for Max, he leaves Leonidio with Anthony and Océane to explore the Patras region for a short week, and in particular the climbing areas of Varasova and Kalogria.
Clem balancing on the last highline of our named trip Ravine des goats. We are opening this line thanks to the equipment of Anthony and Océane. Just below strong climbers send essays in Capricone, the legendary line of this cliff rated 8c+.
There are several ways to approach the last days of an adventure: try to make the most of it until the end even if it means facing fatigue, risking injury and finding yourself in last-minute struggles, or breaking away of the present moment, letting yourself be gently caught up in future projects and gradually extinguishing the flame of travel like you reduce that of a stove.
In either case, with regard to the project Bat'karé on a wheel and rope, the end of the journey does not exist. We rather have the feeling of a transition because the return takes place at the appropriate time, the mind serene and full of new desires. Although it is still too early to take stock of the adventure, we have clarified within ourselves our aspirations for the future. And beyond the grandiose memories of these months of climbing and cycling, the experience accumulated in the disciplines practiced, we learned a lot about what affects us negatively and what makes us happy. Thus, with the body and mind strengthened, we feel capable of swimming a few additional arms in the river of existence to position ourselves further from the tumults, closer to happiness. Isn't that the ultimate feeling of a successful experience?
List of major routes completed during the trip in chronological order:
|Osp||Goldfinger, 6c, 85m|
|italijanska smer, 6b, 80m|
|Netopir, 6c, 110m|
|Paklenica||Klin, 6c+, 350m|
|Bears on toast, 6c+, 120m|
|Senza Pietta, 6b+, 200m|
|BWSC, 6c+, 220m|
|Jenjavi, 7a+, 350m|
|Biokovo||Dalmatinski San, 6b, 600m|
|Born to live, 7b, 400m|
|Meteors||Duett, 7a, 150m|
|Heureka, 7b, 150m|
|Kiesel am Himmel, 7a+, 180m|
|Direct action, 6c, 240m|
|Orchidea, 7b+, 140m|
|Leonidio||Helones: the way of the turtles, 7a, 205m|
List of cliffs visited: