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Friday, August 6, 2004

Samarian Gorge

August 6--Crete and Samarias Gorge with photos!

Having gotten comfortable with the five star resort near the town of Georgioupoli, I decided it was time to do some exploring today. But first, the highlights from yesterday.

The first day of real training after three days of traveling and transition can often be a bit tricky. Add a bit of heat and humidity, and it can be downright hard. In the morning I got in an easy 40 minutes at the track in nearby Rethimno. The most exciting thing about the workout was getting to and from the track. Security has been fairly tight since we arrived with a police escort from the airport. But the trip to the track was a bit much. We had the usual police escort of two motorcycles, two squad cars, and a jeep stopping traffic, running red lights and generally making a spectacle of ourselves (I always wonder whether discretion wouldn't be a wiser course of action), but then out of nowhere, we had a police helicopter following us along the winding coastal roads to Rethimno. It got totally out of hand when we didn't get on the bus at 11am to return to the resort (we were waiting for Sheila Burrell to finish her workout) and the helicopter landed on the infield of the track to make sure everything was okay. I'm just glad I wasn't doing laps out there!

In the afternoon, I was able to get in my first hot-weather speedwork with a pair of 3kms on the highway frontage road. It's flat and we had measured out a good 3km loop after the morning workout. The rest of the day was spent wading into the crystal clear waters of the Kritiko Sea on the north side of Crete. From the room that I share with John Nunn, I can see and hear the small waves washing over the sand. It's too bad I'm not here on my honeymoon; it would be perfect.

So that was yesterday. Today I got up early and met Curt Clausen for a long day of adventuring around the island. We started at 7am with a bus ride to Chania, a transfer to the small town of Omalos at the head of the Samarias Gorge, and then a steep descent into the longest ravine in Europe. At their highest, the sheer walls of Samarias reach over 2,000 feet up and at their narrowest, only 10 feet separate them. This time of year there is a small but steady stream of water at the base of the gorge. In the wet winter and spring months, the popular hiking trail is closed because of the dangers of high water and flash floods. The gorge has been inhabited for centuries with the remains of numerous chapels and homes dotting the trail. In 1962 the area was designated a National Park in order to protect the native kri-kri or Cretan wild goat.

Once we had hiked for a few hours and broken some park rules, like wading in the river, we found ourselves in the village of Agia Roumeli on the southern coast of Crete. Still hot and sticky, despite our river-wading, we jumped into the sea for a good saltwater rinse. Lunch was gyros and french fries, a delicious and greasy blend of Greek and American foods. The town of Agia Roumeli is so remote, the only way to reach it is by taking a ferry or hiking through the treacherous Samarias Gorge. We opted for the ferry on the way back. In Sfakia, a friendly English couple offered us a ride part way home, but we gambled with the twisty, turny, narrow, make-me-wanna-hurl-don't-look-now-but-the-front-wheels-aren't-on-the-road bus ride back to Vrisses and then to Georgioupoli and the resort.

It was nice being out and about all day, especially without the security detail following us around. Curt and I joked a few times, though, that if we had gotten into trouble on the hike, we could have called in the police helicopter for a daring mountain rescue.

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