Stephen

Laying Low in Athens

Big News!

Two things:

First:
Seize The World now has 501(c3) status. Your donations are now tax deductible. This is a huge step forward for us. One of our major goals from the outset has now been accomplished. We are now free to pursue donations from sources that might not previously have considered making contributions. Also, tax exempt status gives us immediate credibility in the eyes of potential donors. We will post more information soon about how to claim tax deductions when making donations to the Seize The World Foundation.

Major thanks to those who worked to gain tax exempt status for the Foundation.

Second:
Seize The World is to be featured in the University of Colorado Alumni Association monthly newsletter, Buffalum Notes in the section, CU Voices, a publication that goes out to 85,000 registered Alumni of the University of Colorado. The article will be visible on May 14, and can be viewed at https://www.cualum.org/category/publications/buffalum-notes/

This is exactly the kind of publicity that our board of directors has been working to achieve. We are soon to be featured in Neurology Now magazine, and were recently featured in the Birmingham News (Thanks for help from the Pepple family in Pell City, AL for work to get this story noticed). There will be many more similar stories in the future, check back here often to find them.

I am writing this update from a hostel in a gritty neighborhood in Athens. My first impression of the city was that it was a bustling city, though manageable on foot. I now have the idea that Athens is bustling, manageable on foot (downtown) but that it sprawls to cover an area far beyond a reasonably manageable area to manage on foot. The suburbs here are giant as are their accompanying shopping developments.


After an exciting ride into the city alongside some of the city’s scooter commuter population through a thick, crawling traffic jam in drizzling rain, I got the idea that Athens was thick with people as well. And cars. Its subway works well notwithstanding the fact that it too is jammed with people. The stations are interesting, with pastel colored tiles, both Greek and English lettering, audio recordings to announce the station stops (the woman who made the recording says “mind the gap” from time to time). I took a ride on the subway out to a shopping center about fifteen miles from downtown to watch Star Trek as well as X Men Origins: Wolverine. Star Trek is pretty sweet. After several weeks since watching a movie I felt starved to see something. Anything. I also caught a Terminator Salvation preview (I saw the preview in France, where the movie is called Terminator Renaissance). I am desperate to see this. I am happy to be immersed in a city, surrounded by people, traffic, noise, fuel, bike shops, coffee shops, and a fast pace that simply does not exist on this tour anywhere else. And by the time I leave in a month, I will no doubt be equally happy to experience the slow pace of life that can be found spinning on the bike. It is all about mixing up the pace. No single speed seems to be terribly exciting for long. I am going to be in Athens for three weeks until my friend Jenine arrives from San Francisco, at which point we will continue the tour in Greece, and then I will move on into Turkey. It is a welcome reprieve from life on the bike, and I am very excited to have a travel companion in Greece!

I have not seen any of the famous tourist attractions here – Acropolis, Parthenon, other various ruins, Olympic Stadium, and many other things I probably should have heard of – but instead have spent my time trying to stem the hemorrhage of Euros which is sure to take place in the coming weeks if do not either A) find a couch to stay on, or B) find a day job. I am doing this by using three websites, couchsurfing.com, warmshowers.org, and globalfreeloaders.com. The websites are all based on fostering connections between travelers through the internet. Travelers send emails to hosts who have profiles listed online, and hosts can then allow travelers to visit them for a day or two, or more. The process seems really interesting because one day you could be going about your day to day life in a random small town or large city, and then the next day you have a visitor from the opposite side of the world. I am excited to see it in action. Now if some people will respond to my emails…

I have also begun the process, at long last, of applying for visas in the various countries which require them along my route. Visa applications to travel in India, China, and Syria are complete, and photographs for the applications are attached, but I still need to swing by their embassies during their various visiting hours in order to drop off the visa applications and to pay the processing fees (not cheap) in order to get visas. It is good that I have a few weeks here, because I will likely be required to drop off my passport in order to gain a couple of these visas.

Also, some time has gone into finding a good bike shop in Athens, of which there are a few. I have actually managed to track down a set of Schwalbe Marathon tires. I should be able to air them up, and then throw away my pump, patch kits, and spare tubes, without any further issues during the upcoming 12,000 miles (or so) to Telluride. Well…not really. But I hope to greatly reduce the number of flats that I have been having. Also, I am thrilled to have found these fabled tires in Athens, the destination of the original Marathon. Coincidence? I think so. Still, I am pretty psyched to finally have Schwalbe Marathon tires.

My friend James could tell you about my obsession with Marathon tires if you were to speak with him. James, mentioned in the last update, is an English cyclist who I met outside Budva, Montenegro. He is on a tour which began in northern France about seven weeks ago, and is en route to Jerusalem. James covers about 70 miles each day, usually beginning around six in the morning and ending around two in the afternoon. When we met, it was about two in the afternoon, and I had ridden about fifteen Km, but was excited to end early so that I could join another tourist on the road toward Athens. As it turned out, my decision wound up propelling me to Athens quite a bit faster than I would likely have arrived had I not paired up with James.

James wound up being a great companion, and in addition to being hilarious and easy to get along with, I was able to learn some great tricks about touring from him. In my experience, touring, traveling, bike maintenance, life is usually all just a bunch of simple tricks and nonsense. I discovered the 6a.m./2p.m. schedule, I learned a great approach to camping, which is to simply stop and ask people if they might have a place to camp. Amazingly, this had never occurred to me. Not during this tour, not during my backpacking experience before. Never. There is a bit of technique involved, but put simply, you can just walk up to someone and ask them to sleep somewhere, they say yes, and you are set. I was also reminded of the benefits of not removing panniers from the bike at night, but simply leaving them on the rack. Something that I had stopped doing for some reason about half way across the U.S. in favor of a more-luxurious style of tent camping. It allows for more-luxurious camping, but leads to painful mornings.

I also absorbed what I could of Turkish, Greek, and Arabic from him before we parted ways, in terms of learning in conversation, writing things down, copying things into my notebook, and copying some lessons onto my hard drives to study later. James bought my laptop from me as well, and I am happy that he will be able to use it when he is in Jerusalem and that he (not me) will be carrying it there.

At the end of 9 days (I think) of riding together, I appreciated the rhythm with which he travels. James and I are on different pages in many ways in the sense that I do not believe that I can simply maintain such a rhythm or continually. Not only does he move, fast, but he also moves steadily. When I experience steady movement, even for a couple of hours, it feels good. Although it is usually taxing to maintain it for long periods. Though for him, I can watch it and see that it is easy, relaxing, fulfilling. That rubbed off on me a bit, and I saw a way in which it can be a bit more relaxing, fulfilling, and easy for me. A day in that system might look like this:

Arrive at a warehouse at one in the afternoon, ask to sleep on a walkway, then sit down for five hours in the sun; have a bit of conversation, a bit of reading, a bit of cooking, before rolling out sleeping bags on the cement and falling asleep at 8:30; wake up at 5:15 and do it again the next day. Daytime would involve hanging onto James’s wheel for dear life (or just get dropped, and then finding him hanging out an hour later at a gas station, then beginning to move fast again, sitting on his wheel across a flatter stretch and getting pulled at 20mph for 20 miles…I would pull for short stretches, but it was more a gesture of good will than a practical measure).

As I said, I met James outside of Budva, Montenegro. Just south of the border of Croatia. When we parted ways, we were in north-central Greece. I continued the 6a.m./2p.m. schedule (although without benefit of James pulling it was more like 6a.m./4p.m.) and got to Athens in just a few days despite a few more flat tires. I was just really really happy that my tires made it to Athens. Not the first time that I have felt that way about tires and cities on this tour. And to find Marathon tires here…unbelievable. Now, if I can just line up a place to free load and get some visas, life will be good. If you have not already read it, please check out the story that went up a couple of weeks ago about Channing Seideman, a young woman in Aspen, CO who is managing to pursue her dreams while dealing with seizures on a daily basis.

Thank you for your continued support!
Stephen Allen

p.s. I feel as though I should put i a short blurb about Albania…had not met anyone who had been there before going, so I will give it a quick summary here to satisfy curiosity for those of you who might wonder about it!

James and I crossed into the country near Podgorica, Montenegro, and rode into the city of Shkoder at about 10a.m. after riding on what seemed to be absurdly bad pavement for the first few Km, piles of trash on both sides of the road, beautiful sun rising over the hills, Mercedes after Mercedes sedan from the past three decades rolling past (and nothing else), livestock and people walking on the sides of the road. Rumor seemed to be entirely confirmed (that I would see only bad roads and Mercedes Benz automobiles in Albania). Then after a few Km the road got a lot better, and the steady flow of Mercedes sedans was diluted a bit by Mercedes trucks and vans, and the occasional Citroen vehicle. When we arrived in Shkoder, I felt like it was the first city in Europe that was different. It was thick with people, moving fast, horns, diesel exhaust, bumpy concrete, old motorcycles, but practical things too: for once you could find a bike shop. The shop was stocked to the gills with Chinese stuff covered in dust from warehouses, bright paint, etc. But, had I needed to, I could have made repairs. This was a comfort after southern Croatia and Montenegro, where bike parts seem to not really exist. Bikes can be purchased from sporting goods stores, but if you want a tube or a tire…no dice. We stopped at an internet cafe on the southern side of Shkoder where a man in his mid twenties asked me in English with an American – or perhaps Canadian, as he had spent two years in Canada – accent if I needed help when I was converting money into Lek (Albanian currency – 100 Lek to the Euro; 40 Lek will buy you a small freshly cooked pizza at a restaurant.). He wound up treating James and me to coffee and juice while we had conversation with the owner of the internet cafe about some of Albania’s history, tourism in the country, etc. Before the sun rose too high in the sky – it gets hot by 10a.m. – we got on the bikes, thanked our new acquaintances, and rolled off. The roads improved in quality as we neared Tirane, as did the quality of the Mercedes we encountered. The volume of traffic increased as well. There are certain parts of the world where it is common practice for cars on two lane roads to use the dividing line as though it were a passing lane. The rode between Shkoder and Tirane is one such place. Mercedes Sedans rolling along at 60Mph, honking their horns to say hi to us, threading needles between trucks, other sedans, scooters, kept the ride interesting. We reached Tirane by mid afternoon and checked into the Tirane Backpackers’ hostel. I recommend it, they are good people. The next day, we rode 50 miles into the mountains toward the border with Macedonia, then found a nice restaurant close to the border where James asked a waiter if we might be able to stay there. The waiter found another waiter, named Yetmiri, who spoke English, and turned out to be an incredible host. We were served coffee at frequent intervals, fed a large dinner, and given a warm place to sleep in a new addition to the restaurant that had just been built. In the morning, we woke up, had coffee with Miri at 6, watched some soccer on the new flat screen TV, then set off for Macedonia. A nation of which people do not speak in Greece; the real Macedonia is, apparently, a region near the city of Thessoloniki, and the birthplace of Alexander the Great. The Nation of Macedonia is a country to the north of that region which has not done anything substantial in the eyes of any Greek other than to steel the name “Macedonia.” I have yet to look this up, although each time I explain to somebody in Greece that I entered from Macedonia, I get nasty looks. Anyhow, we reached the border after a couple of hours, were satisfied by the large number of Soviet pill boxes dotting the green hills on either side of the road there, (James and I had both heard about pill boxes before entering Albania, but had not seen many until the Macedonian border, at which point you see dozens and dozens; that is about it though, at least along the route I followed, so if you are a pill box enthusiast, go to the border with Macedonia, or look into some other regions to see about more options) and crossed into a new country. Macedonia is great too, and we laid over in a peaceful guest house in Ohrid for 10Euro/night for 3 nights. Although it seems that the mystery, for many people, lies in Albania. So maybe that short account will be interesting for a few people. Thanks for reading!

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