I remember that day… It was summer in its heyday. It was noon in its very climax. The sun was beaming mercilessly against that lonesome mountain that had happened to stand on my way that very day. The road was completely desolate. No car had crossed me, nor overtaken me, for some time that was long and seemed even longer. There was only me staring impatiently at the purview of it getting slowly closer. There was only me witnessing the diffraction of the melting tar caused by the extreme heat. The meridian silence was profound, no bird was singing, not the slightest trace of wind was blowing. That silence would be deathly, if it wasn’t for my heavy respiration – which was boisterously expressing my toil – and the rhythmic gurgle of my bicycle’s chain.
I was exhausted. It was only noon, and I already had cycled well over a hundred km since I had, earlier at dawn of that day, left that field which made for me a home the last night. That day, I had already come up and down many hills, and many valleys I had crossed in between. But that mountain, right then, seemed to be of an endless height. It should have been at least two hours I was going up. The inclination had been constantly steep, and it would only change to become a little less steep or steeper. It had been long I was devoutly waiting for it to finish. A strong faith that I should reach the top any moment now was permeating me… but no! After every turn, after every knoll, there was still more to go.
The saltiness streaming constantly from my forehead down onto my tongue was keeping reminding me that I was sweating heavily. I could feel my breath, and heart, and muscles approximating the limit of their capacity. I had a strong desire to hold aside, let the bicycle fall on the ground as it is, lie down myself under the dense foliage of a tree and not move at all for some hours to come. But I couldn’t do that because an even stronger desire was in control of my body and kept pushing forward. It was the desire of what was lying hidden from my vision behind the bulk of that mountain. It was the desire to reach home.
Right pedal, left pedal, right pedal, left pedal… I was approaching that knoll, and every meter I was getting closer, the presentiment I had of it being the end, was tending to become certainty… and it did, indeed! I amassed every remnant of my power to boost the bike and myself up those last few meters, and there I was… sitting on the saddle, leaning my head on the handlebar and gasping excitedly, while the bike was rolling by itself on the even road for some meters till it stopped. Whereat I raised my head and saw the road starting its descent, twisting along the steep slopes, all the way down to the low fields. And then… the Greek mountains… home.
It was right at that point, when I raised my head, when I finally heard something intruding into the silence. And it only was a few seconds after, I saw that dude. It was a blonde guy in his near-fifties, he was pedaling up the mountain, gasping and sweating, the opposite side than I just did. He didn’t have a hat on his head, nor sunglasses, nor shoes on his feet… in fact he didn’t wear anything except a pair of jeans – if you can still call them jeans when they’re torn down to the size of underpants. ”Poor fellow”, I thought on the sight of his like-been-whipped-a-thousand-times red skin, but he didn’t seem to bother.
As soon as he did notice me standing by the side of the road, just a couple of moments after I noticed him, he started cheering and hilariously uttering some inarticulate exclamations. Whereat, in my turn, I did pretty much the same thing, endeavoring to animate him as he was struggling up the last meters of uphill which separated us. He made it. He came and shared with me the limited shade a lonely pine-tree had to offer. “Is it going further up?”, he ask me pointing to the way wherefrom I had just come. “No”, I responded, “you’re going down now”.
He turned out to be a Scottish cycling around the Balkans. We stayed there for some twenty minuets, reassembling our strength and marveling at the surroundings, while chattering mirthfully and laughing resoundingly – the way one should do when just achieved something big and purposeless, being perfectly aware of its purposelessness well before attempting to achieve it. After the while, when our heartbeats had dropped down back to the normal and our spirits still high, it was time to get going. “I’m going home!”, I said to him. “I’m going farther away from home” he said to me. And we both let gravity lead us away , while bidding farewell to each other by shouting rapturous vociferations on our way down, for as long as they could be heard.
A while later the Greek flag was wavering in front of me… I had made it! After an entire, long year of thrilling adventures I was back in my home country. In a few more days I would be home. Yet A while later that very evening I found myself laying down at a secluded bank of lake Doiran, where I was to overnight. I was glaring at the darkening sky and daydreaming of yet more adventures in remote exotic lands they were to come, fancying in earnest the day I was to leave to home once again.