The noise was horrendous, honking horns from cars and trucks, all loaded with intoxicated bigots brandishing hundreds of Swastikas on poles in the dark. I had nowhere to sleep and got up from the park bench as the rally approached and hid under it as the Nazi March raged all around.
I was 17 and scared to death.
I was in Brindisi, Italy waiting for the morning ferry to Kerkira, Corfu in English. I had just started my first summer of hitchhiking through Greece and was green as Iowa corn.
Luckily no one noticed me that night, a plump, pale, scared kid with a lumpy backpack carrying too many things. At dawn I walked down to the harbor and bought a ticket for the first ferry out.
While sitting there waiting a burly grizzled Canadian all of 19 sat down next to me.
He was tanned, dusty, lean, muscular, unshaven for three days, and definitely not a novice on the road like me.
“ Where you going?” Out of politeness to an obvious newbie of the road.
“ Kerkira, and then on to mainland Greece”.
He eyed me with some skepticism and all I could think was
“ Wow, he knows what he is doing, maybe he will take me in….save me…be my Hero”.
Just as quickly as he sat down he left to find breakfast leaving me there alone on a bench as dawn moved on.
I boarded the ferry
and found a place on the deck to sleep during the 8 hour ride…I was exhausted but felt safe away from the last night’s chaos.
Three weeks later, tanned, leaner, more muscular, dusty, and unshaven I stood in the market in central Athens haggling with a merchant over the price of an old broken pocket watch I thought I could fix.
I looked up to see that same Canadian eyeing me from across the street. He crossed, tipped his hat, and with a smile on his face complimented me as no one had before.
“ I see you made it”.
I instantly knew what he meant…I had become like him, a road traveler with tanned thickened skin.
Two weeks later as I sat on the roof of a Youth Hostel near Olympus two Americans, about my age sat down across from me. Like deer in headlights he and she stared at me…I recognized that same look, one I had seen in a mirror…5 weeks before after a bad night on a park bench in Southern Italy.
I took pity on them and explained how the hostels worked, where to get inexpensive food, and how to get a shower for cheap.
Three weeks later I was near Epidarus for a summer play of Euripides to be performed that night at the actual amphitheater used by the ancient Greeks.
I was again on the roof of a Youth Hostel in Navplion about to take a nap when the two from three weeks ago appeared in front of me. They took off their packs, and sat against the wall for a break.
They were tanned, dusty, leaner, more muscular, and smiling at each other obviously in love. They looked up to see me and recognized my face as had the Canadian mine in the market place.
Not a word passed between us. I smiled, winked, and rolled over for an afternoon nap. They knew what I meant…they too had made it.
4 weeks ago this ride started in Bar Harbor, Maine. Some of us were grizzled, tanned, muscular, and lean.
Some were not.
Some acted as helpers but there is really not much one can do, others asked for help but found there was minimal that could be done.
It’s a hard lesson to learn that you are on your own.
The bottom line is always the same…you carry your own pack, you pick your own road, you find safe Youth Hostels to call your home.
You get on your bike, you pedal a million times, you climb hills and mountains all on your own.
We have all gone 2100 miles now.
We are all muscular, lean, grizzled, and tanned.
There are no longer novices in the group, just experienced riders “Who have made it”.
2000 miles to go but now not as new and old, pale and tanned, novice and wizened…but as a group of equals who will pedal a million times again…
West, always West because we can…