A 2010 Postscript to a 1983 Tour - Athens to London in 1983 - CycleBlaze

A 2010 Postscript to a 1983 Tour

I still have my entire journal, my separate daily log of routes and estimated distances, a print-out (done in PIE Writer on an Apple II+) of my equipment list with scrawled notes and checkmarks, and most of my maps. And, although some brain cells have expired, I retain many clear memories of amazing experiences.

On the road I wrote at least one entry daily, often several each day. They were sometimes complete sentences and well-constructed paragraphs, other times just fragmentary notes. In 2010 I've tried to stitch everything into a single coherent entry for each day. The Web edition veers recklessly between past tense and present tense because that's the way it was originally written.

Some place names are undoubtedly spelled incorrectly, and in a few cases I wasn't certain of the name of the nearest town or village. Notes I wrote about exchange rates and prices in 1983 seem absurd in the economic world of 2010. That US$2 beer that felt like highway robbery sounds perfectly reasonable today.

In the 2010 transcription I've tried to gently enliven my hasty scribbles, switch to active verbs, and utilize adjectives other than the "good" and "great" I was constantly jotting down to describe things. I added a few details I can clearly remember but for one reason or another never got around to putting down on paper. I also added a few clarifications for readers that weren't in my notes because they were completely self-evident to me. On the other hand, a few points that must have seemed self-evident in 1983 have become mysteries to me in 2010.

The Web version leaves out a few private musings. Other than that, it retains people, places, and events in original context without -- I hope -- distorting them through the prism of 27 years. This is not always absolutely a word-for-word transcription of my original handwriting, but it's remarkably close to what I put on paper in 1983 while I was travelling, which also means it's not exactly a honed prose masterpiece.

No one else has ever read the journal. I intended it just for myself. Nowadays many of my jottings would not be considered politically correct -- maybe not in '83, either -- and I'm embarrassed about a few of my thoughtless comments and foolish actions (like passing a car while going downhill around a curve in the rain).

I've had occasion to tell some of these stories enough times over the years that my wife and son are sick and tired of them, and our son never wants to hear me tell him "piano, piano" ever again. But going through the journal for this project brought back a flood of forgotten stories, and I'm pleased that I managed to record (and retain) a diary of the journey. 

My advice to anyone setting out on an expedition? Write it all down and keep it safe, whether on paper or in a blog or both. The day will eventually arrive -- maybe not for 27 years -- when you'll realize your journey has become ancient history, your memory is fading, and you'll be grateful for keeping track of it all. And, unlike me, you should take plenty of photos.

Looking Back

The Route: The plan was always to ride from Athens to London. I held an open ticket from London to Chicago that would expire after 90 days, so that was a firm deadline. Other than that, the route evolved constantly. The initial strategy of going through Yugoslavia, Scandinavia, etc soon proved overly-ambitious. Even with two short, unplanned hops by train, it became obvious that something would have to give, so the itinerary gradually shrank along the way. By the end of the ride I still had over two weeks before the flight deadline, but at that point I was running out of steam. In particular it would have been nice to get to Ireland and/or see more of the UK, but in retrospect I still think I made the right decision to turn toward Heathrow. The route shifted, but I successfully navigated more than 3000 miles from Athens to London.

Bike and components: Much as I loved Bob the Bike, he was only marginally suitable for the ride. At a minimum, he really should have been outfitted with beefier wheels and tires. Even so, despite a rash of punctures near the end, everything held up well enough. The only real problem was the broken front rack. If I understand correctly, that turned out to be a flaw in Eclipse design or production. The panniers themselves worked great.

Tent, sleeping bag, and gear: The tent was rancid by the time I got home. Entirely my fault for always being too impatient to wait for it to dry before packing up. Other than that, the June Bug served well on that expedition and (suitably cleansed) for many years afterwards. Same with my sleeping bag, which did well enough considering how many nights I crawled into it without showering after a long, sweaty day in the saddle. For me, not taking camp stove and cooking gear was the right decision, saving some weight. I wasted some money in restaurants mostly because I wanted to sample the local delicacies, like ris de veau. I could have saved funds -- and sometimes did -- by shopping for food to eat at camp, but still no need to cook.

Food and nutrition: Man, I would eat anything in any combination in those days! I get indigestion just thinking about some of those picnic lunches along the road. I was always desperate for fuel, and not very discriminating. Never in the wilderness. Always plenty of food around. Had I paid attention and devoted a modicum of effort toward seeking it out, I could have been consuming a much more nutritious diet, far better suited to long rides. I suppose it's a good thing I went to a lot of restaurants.

Drinking: I'm surprised while reading the journal to see how much it seems like I was drinking. You would think this was an alcoholic binge from one end of the continent to the other. Actually, I seldom consumed more than one or two beers each day. Nowadays I drink less than just about anyone I know. Just a little Riesling.

Health: My first aid kit must have contained aspirin, but I don't remember taking a single one on the entire tour (and the journal is silent on that point). Other than a tender knee (for about two days) and a couple of minor bouts with upset stomach and diarrhea, no problems. My ankle, although skinned up pretty darn good in the crash, healed quickly. Not sure what I weighed at the start, but down to 155 at the end. Probably lost around ten pounds, but remained six feet tall.

Weather: Huge variation in temperature from Athens to London and everywhere in between from early May through mid-July. It's not like I expected to always have sunny days, but sometimes it seemed like far more rain than usual. I almost never knew the forecast, which made it tough to plan ahead and match up riding days with good weather and rest days with bad weather. As to wind, I know I had a couple of good tailwinds, but mostly I remember days with gusts up my nostrils and down my throat.

Critters: Neither memory nor journal contains any reference to insects, dogs (except one yapping at night), mountain lions, or bears (except the performing bear on a leash in Athens). Definitely never chased by any canine.

Roads and drivers: No country seemed to be much better or much worse than any other when it came to courteous drivers. I never felt uncomfortable about the drivers anywhere. Of course, I ended up on some tough stretches of road with too much high-speed truck traffic and no shoulders, but the drivers weren't discourteous. Roads varied immensely, from some rock-and-pothole miles in Greece -- had to walk -- to some wonderful, smooth, empty, secondary routes in every country. I appreciated that the Dutch had created separate bike paths, but the day-to-day slowpoke two-wheel crowds weren't really conducive to effective tour riding. Constantly nervous about riding on the left in England, and never quite adjusted.

Other bikers: Especially riding alone, it was always a pleasure to meet up with other touring cyclists. Although most of our interactions were brief, everyone biking with gear seemed unfailingly bright, friendly, courteous, and on the ball. Always some kind of instant bond. This has probably changed over the last 27 years -- and it was only a 73-day sampling -- but in 1983 it seemed like loaded touring was limited to bikers from a relatively small number of countries. Lots from English-speaking countries (including US, UK, Ireland, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand). Plenty of Germans, Dutch, and Danes. One or two French. That's about it. Saw no recumbents, trikes, tandems, or trailers, and -- darn it -- saw very, very few female cyclists, and in each case the woman rode with a male partner.

Electronics: Notable by absence. Only a wristwatch. Calculated speed by minutes elapsed between mileage signs. In an age where -- check all the other journals here at crazyguy -- riders seem to spend half their day trying to locate free WiFi (okay, I exaggerate), I think I made a grand total of two telephone calls during the 73-day expedition and sent one or two letters and a handful of postcards back home. That was it for communications. (While I was writing this, my wife pointed out that my mother, with no way of knowing where I was or what was happening, worried about me the whole time.) Had to carry real books -- heavy! -- and paper maps. Calculated all my own routes by studying road maps of various scales and quality. Found shops and food and campgrounds just by looking or asking around. Had no idea how my favorite baseball team was doing until I got back home. And no websites for support or info!

The Kindness of Strangers

More than anything else, as I typed up my old entries I was constantly amazed to remember how many people along the way showed remarkable generosity, from simple things like giving me free mugs of tea in the rain all the way up to repairing my rack for nothing. While I was working on putting this together, my wife remarked "I hope you've been paying it forward."

Bob the Bike

Bob, by the way, survived the return flight intact and gave me many more years of faithful service. It was a sad day when -- with a garage full of newer bikes -- I finally donated him to the Salvation Army. I remember Bob fondly, the same way many years later you remember your first sweetheart.

What Happened to Mike?

As for Mike, I never saw him again in Europe after we parted company in Italy. We just had completely different touring styles and goals, and we couldn't reconcile our approaches. All these years later I'm much more aware of how hard it is for two people to make those kinds of joint expeditions work out, especially two people who really don't know each other very well, and especially when one of them is as solitary as I am. It can be tough to find a compatible riding companion. Back in the States, Mike and I were in touch and filled in each other about our routes and adventures, but we never rode together again.

The last time I saw him was at the tail end of 1983 or very beginning of 1984 when I was setting out on a fresh expedition -- Trans-Global '84 -- with Deb, who had been favorably impressed with my legs when I returned from Europe. This would be an even longer and more adventurous journey -- around the world -- which we survived together, and Deb and I have been married ever since. 

But that's another journal for another time.


Thanks to everyone who helped me along the way, and thanks for providing a venue to publish this goofy old journal that no one really cares about. Except me.

More tours, day rides, articles, photos, information, resources, and links at Bill Bikes.

Approximate route from Athens to London, 1983
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The original handwritten journal from 1983
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Scott AndersonYou’re wrong about no one caring but you, Bill. Great journal, great bit of history. Thanks for publishing it.
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