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RIDING IN KYTHNOS (Cyclades)





(foreword of sorts)

It’s July 8th, 2022.


As they were for so many people throughout the world, the last two years were an accumulation of shit that was regurgitated weekly by a rancorous maw of calamity, that was then re-digested in some Sisyphean purgatory of zombie-like existence. As Edward Norton’s character narrates in Fight Club…. “I suppose these things happen.”



I haven’t written anything in a long time. My riding consistency has been anything but, and a sense of pointlessness was almost incapacitating. Why do anything…ever? Not to be completely bleak. Of course, sometimes it's fun to do things..

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Sometimes there’s a sense of purpose…and there’s something about not being completely useless. For, that comes from showing others the incredible riding that Greece has to offer. So here we are...


My mom needed to go the Cycladic island of Kythnos back in June and I asked to tag along and bring my bike. A change of scenery is always good, and eventually I’d like to ride through and feature as much of Greece as possible on this site. And so once again by the grace of parents, I was able to go somewhere new and explore. And as with so many places in Greece, it’s a place I need to go back to.



A bit of general information about Kythnos: It’s reachable only by boat, and is about two hours from Athens. It’s a relatively small island, with approximately 100 kilometers of coastline and the highest peak is 365 meters tall. For you climbers, this isn’t much but the elevation gain achievable within even a half day of riding is impressive because of how dynamic and steep the terrain is.



There are two main towns: Chora (every island has a main settlement with this name) and Dryopida. There are also some coastal towns which are increasing in population, most notable being Kanala and Loutra (which has functioning thermal springs).




What impressed me immediately about the island was it’s bareness. It’s said to be one of the last remaining Cycladic islands that hasn’t been vastly changed by tourism (though my guess is that will be an extinct notion in the next 5 to 10 years). Their tourist season also starts later compared to other islands (Naxos for example starts in May, whereas Kythnos locals told me that the big influx of tourists occurs in July) For me, this was a blessing because it meant almost zero cars on the road. Another aspect of the barrenness is that there are not many paved roads yet, and as I have said about the riding in Naxos, I do wonder if a proper gravel bike or appropriately geared cyclocross bike might be better for the island (as any cyclist knows, you really do need both at minimum). The majority of the beaches (there are over 90) are not accessible by car, and often while ascending or descending, I’d catch glimpses of beautiful beaches accessible only by dirt roads. In fact, the network of unpaved roads greatly exceeds the paved ones, and it would be incredible to explore that network with the proper bike.




On to the riding: if you’re staying at any of the beaches, your ride is going to start with a steep, strong climb that is rewarding because of views you get within just a few minutes of ascending. It’s that steep.



I myself was staying in Agios Dimitrios, and once you ascend to where the road is relatively flat as you ride to the northern part of the island, you have exceptional panoramic views of the islands rugged terrain and the network of drylaid stone walls that run throughout almost its entire surface. These walls are used to delineate private properties for farming or for animals like sheep or goats. But they’re so low to the ground that they look like remnants of an ancient civilization or something like that.





Thyme Blooms

Further out, you see the Aegean sea with islands like Sifnos and Serifos in the distance behind you. While I was there,

thyme was blooming almost everywhere, and I can only imagine what the island is like in April or May, when it is likely exploding with a variety of colors from a variety of wildflower blooms. That said, and not related to the thyme, in no other place in Greece have I encountered so many bees flying around. I suppose it’s a consequence of there being one main road with a connecting loop on the island, so the area for beekeepers to place their hives and have them be easily accessible is not only limited but also concentrated. To their credit, the bees are pretty good at avoiding you, but seeing them flying about is intimidating and also it’s only a matter of time before a collision happens. So, I made it a point to ride with my shirt zipped all the way up, especially on the descents. On one particular descent..not necessarily a steep one but enough that I was going pretty fast, I saw signs for a “honey factory.” It wasn’t anything huge, but there were hives lining the road up ahead, and I could see an unsettling amount of bees flying around. “You should probably close your mouth,” I thought to myself. But as the saying goes, “by the time you think about what might happen, it’s happened.” My first though was panic that I might swallow the bee that had flown into my mouth, and that it might sting my throat, and swell me into suffocation. That thought passed as I caught a sting on my inner upper lip on the right side, and I’m glad I didn’t fall off as I was trying to swat it out of my mouth. I have this on video by the way. If you wanna hear a 41 year old "man" shriek...watch below.


By this time I’d already passed the “factory,” so I turned back to see if maybe they also happened to have something for stings. There was a migrant worker repairing something up on the roof and I asked him if he had anything. He told me “That’s with the boss…and the boss left. You get stung?” “Yeah,” I told him, and he started walking over and asked where. I told him on the upper lip. You know those situations where something starts happening and you watch it happen from a third person perspective…and are unable to stop it? It was like that time I bought weed from a homeless guy in San Francisco and I watched in horror as he stuck the dirtiest fingernails I’ve ever seen into a bag of Blue Dream that he then slow-motion extended out to me, no bag or anything. That’s what this was like…he walked over…and slow motion extended his hand out to my face and stuck his fingers in my mouth…DUUUURING A PANDEMIC….AFTER WORKING ON A ROOF, POSSIBLY WITH CHEMICALS…and pulled the stinger out.

“Thanks,” I told him, as equally stunned from the mouth assault as I was from the bee sting. And as he showed me the barb, he was like, “This, you see?” It’s out. Now, you do nothing.” So off I went, knowing that the main Chora town was maybe 25 minutes away by bike and there I’d be able to at least ice it. Which is exactly what I did in between pounding a fredo cappuccino and enjoying a “wow” inducing homemade, open-faced cheese pie.


While I sat there, I observed an older man in his early 70’s…one of those “they don’t make men like that anymore” types…mustache, denim, a button-down long sleeve shirt over a white undershirt, and a walking stick. What really struck me was…the guy didn’t have a bead of sweat on him. And I know he didn’t walk out of his house that was down the street…he’d come from somewhere far away enough that he should have been soaked. “Why do you even notice something like that,” you ask? Because I sweat like it’s fucking hip the moment the temperature goes above the freezing point. It was nice though, to see the small town waking up..old ladies clad in black stepping out onto their balconies to water their herbs, workers stopping by on their motorcycles to grab a coffee…everyone greeting one another.

After about 40 minutes of 10 minutes on, 10 off with the ice, the swelling had gone down so I did a short little ride through the narrow alleys of the Chora, taking a few photos by some street

art, and then continuing on to a long, steady

descent before coming to the switchbacksthat preceded another long and sweeping descent to Loutro, very cautious of bees and stopping to zip up completely to hopefully avoid another sting, or even worse, the terror of a bee getting caught between the shirt and my skin and squirming around in there before ultimately stinging me in a self-sacrificing effort of defense.



What I noticed first about Loutro were the yachts anchored in the harbor, which had me thinking about accumulation of wealth, excess, dead sea turtles and the general destruction of marine ecosystems. But the water was everything that one would expect from the cyclades. My negative thoughts aside, the place definitely had a vibe, with water-front cafes and bars. Behind them, sharp slopes rose dramatically spattered with the purple blooms of thyme that contrasted against the vegetation that had yellowed as summer had set in.


I took a road out of Loutro that I thought would loop around to the main road I took from Chroa, and it was one of those climbs that doesn’t seem to be too imposing but when you’re in it, you start seeing signs for 10 degree grades. The sun was beating hard enough at this point too, but the views were just impressive..not only of the bright blue shores of Loutro, but also of the deep blue of the Aegean extending out to the horizon where it blended into the sky.



Unfortunately though, the wonderful pavement suddenly ended halfway into a descent and turned into a very rocky dirt road that was completely unsuitable for my road bike. Begrudgingly…I turned around and ultimately rode all the way back the same way I came, meeting my mom at a beach called Megali Ammos (Big Sand) by the town of Kanala.


That descent is one of the best I’ve ever done…no sharp turns…slight breaking for control…and excellent vantage points allowing you to know whether any cars are coming up or not. That’s where I hit a sustained speed of 84.3 kmph (about 52 mph). There’s something about descending to sea level, and to the actual sea, that makes the experience all the more exhilarating. Maybe it’s the notion that you’re practically diving into the water way down below.



Megali Ammos Beach

The beach was remarkable; a half moon crescent shaped about a mile in length,with very few people. In my excitement I completely forgot to stretch and my legs cramped aggressively (especially the hamstrings) soon after getting into the shallow, crystal clear water, but the scenery was captivating.


I could easily see soles gracefully and casually gliding over

the sand even when I was standing in four and a half feet of water. And when there's no wind and the surface is perfectly still like that, it's like looking through a glass bottom boat at every little detail, every grain of sand, every scale on every fish, and every aquatic plants growing on various rocks and stones.

A small beach bar whose name I can’t remember was playing beautiful jazz music. We ended up eating there and the food too was outstanding. When I go back to this island I’ll make it a point to find out what the name is because it’s worth going if you visit. For what it’s worth, it’s just about in the middle of the beach with wooden beach beds out front, and they also rented SUP boards. Also, hands down, some of the best tomatoes I’ve ever eaten, which I was surprised to learn are not local, but imported from Serifos (one island over).








When we drove back up, we had quite the view of a magnificent setting sun.




The bedroom view the following night was this:




Ride 2


The plan this time, was to ride to parts of the islands I hadn’t been to yet, taking the circular loop to the harbor and coming back to a beach called Skylou (dogs?). I had told my mom I’d meet her there so I thought maybe I should check out the beach first to see if it’d be suitable for her (she’s not one to spend the day at the beach if there’s no umbrellas), so I rode down. This too was a very fast descent, but with lots of sharp turns requiring heavy use of the breaks.



It also had some rough sections where the concrete had some nasty potholes. It was decent enough where I was certainly descending fast, but there was a heavy use of the brakes. When I got down I realized the beach was barren…no beach bars, no restaurants, certainly no umbrellas. So I dismounted and called her to let her know we’d have to go somewhere else. She didn’t answer. Not only does my mom never have her phone on silent, she has her ringer all the way up for both texts and calls. And emails. Everything. Everything that happens on her phone makes disruptive noise. So when she didn’t answer the second time, I definitely reacted with one of those physical exclamations where I turned dramatically to the left, rising my left arm into the air and pulling the bike close to me with my right hand…and, in some disgusting twist, pressed the disc break into my calf.

Post-salting

Initially I thought I had been stung by a scorpion or something, and I heard the sizzling of flesh. It was a nasty sight, and the searing pain sent me into a rage of self loathing, self pity, and obviously, tremendous spite at my mom for not answering. Clearly this was her fault. I poured some water onto it and started riding back up, with no dissipation of the anger that didn’t even really motivate me on the difficult ascent. Instead I got a headache. The only joy I did get was of the very fast descent back down to Agios Dimitrios (not as fast as the one to Kanala but still really good).







No matter how much fury we all have for our moms, we need them. She dressed the burn with sea salt, providing not only instant relief, but it also stopped the swelling. In fact, the only parts that blistered were those that didn’t get completely packed in by the salt she’d put on. This was something she'd learned from her mom. Who said pseudo-science isn't real?



We ended up going back to Megali Ammos, where this time the little beach bar wasn’t playing jazz, but 80’s synth driven music like Tears for Fears, New Order, Modern Talking and Human League. That night we went out to Apokrousi Beach for dinner, eating at a place called En Plo (a name I’ve seen for many seaside restaurants throughout Greece). It was near enough to the famous Kolona Beach so I could fly the drone out and get some nice footage.


The dinner was remarkable…fresh red mullets, a local kind of cheeseball (Sfouggata), and the traditional Greek salad. The view..well it was golden hour…with a huge beach down below, mountains across from the other side, and sailboats dancing drunkenly from the slow moving waves that came in. It certainly wasn’t a bad way to end the evening.






I'm going to head back to Kythonos and the surrounding islands next spring, so until then, here's another batch of photos:




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