LONG WAY HOME
A Greek student cycled from Aberdeen to Athens when coronavirus restrictions left him stranded thousands of kilometers from his family
Kleon Papadimitriou was stuck. As countries closed their borders due to the pandemic, he frantically tried to get flights from Aberdeen in northern Scotland, where he was studying, back to Athens in Greece, where his family were worrying about him. When he did manage to book a flight, it got cancelled. And then again. And again. And even if he did find a connecting flight, what would happen if the second plane was cancelled, stranding him in the middle of the continent?
But Papadimitriou was 19 and worked out about five days a week: running, swimming, lifting weights and, just recently, cycling. Naturally, then, he decided to hop on his bike and ride home.
DAY BY DAY
When Papadimitriou starts off on his journey, he’s struck by the enormity of the challenge. This will push him past his limits. What if he gets stuck halfway? Whenever he wants to quit, he says to himself, “I’ll just make it to the end of the day, and I’ll quit tomorrow.” And after a few days of that, he’s cycled all the way through Scotland. And then, a few days later, across northern England. Occasionally, he remembers how he had shared his plans on his Instagram and how embarrassing it would be to quit. But usually he’s simply too tired to think about giving up.
That is, until a forest in Germany where he gets his fifth flat tire in two days. Papadimitriou finds himself overwhelmed. He carries around a puncture repair kit and spare inner tyre tubes, but what’s to stop the replacement tyre from tearing again? And then again and again? So, he gives up.
Or rather, he intends on giving up, but first he has to take one of the repaired spare tubes and get out of the forest to somewhere safe where he can announce to the world that he feels weak and alone and would very much like for someone to come save him, please.
“I had to take a few breaths,” he says, “I had to let out my anger by throwing a few rocks and breaking some sticks. I had no choice but to fix the flat and keep going.”
Papadimitriou gets the bike working again and, at some point between beating up the forest and cycling out of it, he gives up on the idea of giving up and cycles the rest of the way to Athens instead.
He loses a few kilogrammes and his body fat drops. He doesn’t grow any muscle and, when he’s recuperating in Athens after the 48-day trip, he finds he is weaker than before he left. And tired. Weeks later, his blood tests still show indications of muscle damage. But he makes it. And he has a hell of a story to tell.