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CYCLING THE AEGEAN
ISLAND HOPPING IN GREECE AND TURKEYON TWO WHEELS
After 30 miles of biking along the jagged shores of the Aegean Sea, my seven companions and I rolled into Güllük, a sleepy port on the southwest coast of Turkey, about 600 road miles south of Istanbul. We walked into a bar, where a grizzly fisherman put down his glass of raki, an aniseed-flavored Turkish alcohol, and swaggered up to us, laughing. "Good!" he roared, gold teeth flashing, while plucking at my spandex tights. "Tesekkür!"thank youI yelled back, striking my best superhero pose. The bar erupted, raki spilling everywhere.
Güllük was our second stop on a trip that began at an ancient mausoleum in the Turkish town of Bodrum and ended ten days and 350 miles later at a nude beach on the Greek island of Naxos. A bike route that begins with crypts and ends with public nudity might seem odd, but in Greece and Turkey the ghosts of the past and the pleasures of the present happily coexist. Combining small portions allowed us to explore two cultures, and our criteria were simple: ocean views and ancient ruins.
After an olive-and-tomato breakfast in Güllük, we continued north and soon hit the Laba Dagi Mountains. We'd creep uphill, negotiating a steady slalom of sheep dung, and then race down the other side at 40 mph before hitting the next hill. At the end of our second 40-mile day we turned off the main road at a rotting wooden sign that indicated the village of Kapikiri. Instantly, trucks gave way to donkey carts, tinkling cowbells replaced blaring horns, and pantaloon-wearing women harvested vegetables in boulder-strewn fields. Dead tired, we checked into the Pelikan Pansiyon, a rustic inn just beyond the village's medieval walls, and slept until we had to pedal off early the next morning. Over the next two days we worked our way 50 miles north through mountains and along ragged coast to the port town of Kusadasi, our launching point for Greece.
Greek ferries were made for bike touring. On a bike, you're always the first on and the first off, blowing past waiting cars. On deck, you're treated to an intimate view of Greek life: grandmothers unwrap tin foiled family feasts while teenage lovers neck behind the snack bar. After two hours, we stepped onto the sultry island of Samos, famous for its orchids and sweet wine. We ditched our panniers at the Hotel Samos, near the ferry terminal in the main town of Vathí, and set off to explore.
Ten miles over the island's hilly spine we arrived in Pythagorio, where Pythagoras, the man who tormented generations of students with a2+b2=c2, was born 2,500 years ago. From Pythagorio we headed west, winding through olive groves and hill towns on one of the best 20-mile rides of our lives.
After sampling Samos, we jumped a ferry west to the Cyclades Islands and disembarked five hours later on Naxos, a windswept island that supplied the ancient world with marble. Checking into the Hotel Adriani was like dropping in on friends. The cheerful owners, father and son, welcomed us with a toast of kitron, a lemony elixir distilled only on the island.
The next morning, four of us biked 20 grueling mountain miles to Apollonas, on the island's lonely northern tip, only to find that all the residents had left to attend a funeral. We headed back, parched and slightly delirious, stopping at a nude beach. With the cove to ourselves, we stretched out on the hot pebbles and soaked up the fading warmth of dusk. In that sublime moment I feltlike the bohemian writer Lawrence Durrell before me"rocked and cherished by the present and past alike."