By bike across Mount Olympus to Athens and back (2019)

Endurance athlete and Ironman triathlete Michael Lorenz set off on August 24th for a bicycle tour of several weeks from Lauf to Athens. The athlete from the German town of Lauf covered a distance of 3086 km and carried mountaineering equipment to climb Mount Olympus. Therefore 25-30 kg of luggage had to be transported on the daily stages. On 26th September Lorenz returned to home in Bavaria, South of Germany.

Six European capitals visited

The itinerary led via Regensburg to Passau along the Danube to Vienna, Bratislava, Budapest and Belgrade, also to get used to the strains of travelling in the flat terrain at up to 38°C in Budapest. Following the sunny weather, Lorenz decided not to cycle to Greece via Romania and Hungary as originally planned, but risked the more direct route via Serbia and Northern Macedonia. This route is characterized by climbs of over 1200m in southern Serbia near Nis via Vranje to Kumanov and Skopije in Northern Macedonia. From there the runner cycled towards the Greek coast, followed the coastline to Athens and visited six European capitals. The return journey was by ship from Patras to Venice and by train from there to Bavaria.

Ilegal in Northern Macedonia

Of course, there are also numerous imponderables during such a trip. At the Hungarian-Serbian border, for example, the sportsman received a stamp entry in his passport, before he crossed the green border in Serbia after eight days to Kumanov and thus entered Northern Macedonia. He simply followed the course of the road and came across a dilapidated and abandoned border station. As it turned out, however, the 44-year-old was now illegally in Northern Macedonia. The locals said he had had to leave the country via the motorway from Serbia to the former Greek province. After relatively hard stages of 125 kilometres each, Lorenz arrived in the border town of Gevgelija. Finally he decided to ask the Northern Macedonian police for advice. To his great amazement he received the answer again – but this time from the police – to leave the country on the motorway, as this is the only possibility. A little irritated, the athlete was directed to the motorway Skopije-Athens by a police car. There the triathlete cycled on the hard shoulder for four kilometres to the border, where he waited for his fate and thus the border police. However, no officers approached him and arrested him. After a while he joined the lane for non-EU citizens and finally the runner was waved through without checking his papers. On the Greek side of the border, the identity card for entry was sufficient for transit traffic. Thereupon he allowed himself a cold beer, cycled another 500m on the hard shoulder before turning onto a country road.

Surrounded by five dogs

Certainly there are more anecdotes to report, which are about the country and its people, politics or even infrastructure. Worth mentioning in general is the diversity of gestures and facial expressions of the people across the Balkans, as well as the change of the Latin alphabet to the Cyrillic script. Besides endurance, tenacity and willpower, character traits such as composure but also luck are necessary. Once the athlete camped near a farmer’s meadow. The 44-year-old had not yet set up his tent after 116 kilometres of walking per day near the Mount Olympus National Park when he was surrounded by five large dogs. Although it is good to sit quietly, the dogs did not move on. Whether they were wild dogs (so-called „ghost dogs“), which are often found in Greece, Lorenz did not know at that time. Climbing on a small olive tree was also not an option. Finally, the athlete approached the aggressively positioned, occasionally barking dogs and also called for help, which arrived after anxious minutes in the form of shepherds, who immediately encouraged the sportsman to climb the Olympus.

Storming Mt. Olympus

After the only rest day at the campsite in Variko, situated directly at the sea, the adventurer cycled 15 km to Litochoro, then he climed 17 km to Prionia, situated at 1100m altitude. There he left the bike behind and climbed up to another 1000m of elevation to refuge A at 2100m, enjoying the open fire, full moon and sunrise over the Aegean Sea. The summit storm took place after a good breakfast. The secondary peaks Skolio (2911) and Skala (2886) were climbed. The main summit of Olympus was not the goal. Although relatively easy from a mountaineering point of view, the runner had already decided in the planning stage not to climb Mytikas (2918m) – also because of the increased danger of falling rocks caused by mass tourism – especially as it was also a matter of saving energy, because the runners had to descend to sea level again on the same day. After 2250 kilometres of cycling and mountaineering, we had to overcome 475 km of heat, which did not let up, because of the unaccustomed altitude difference and the privations of wild camping. Finally the runner arrived in Athens on the 29th day of the journey.

Michael Lorenz at the foot of the Acropolis in Athens. Also in the picture is the messenger Pheidippides, who, according to legend, brought the news of the Greek victory over the Persians in the battle of Marathon to Athens and then collapsed dead from exhaustion.

official version at Nuremberg Country news (n-land) online: https://n-land.de/sport/laufer-radelte-nach-athen (in German)

climate-friendly return journey

But flying home was not planned. Therefore all forces had to be mobilized once again to cycle another 325 kilometres from Athens via Corinth to Patras. Although the Greek dock workers went on strike, a ticket for a Cypriot ferry could be obtained by joining a cycling group from Munich. After two days at sea, passing the coasts of Albania, Montenegro and Croatia, the group stopped in Venice. On the 34th day of the climate-friendly journey, Michael Lorenz returned home.


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