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The God Hunters. Bike Magazine

Twelve heroes endure an epic ride up Mt. Olympus, leaving battered and bruised trailies in their wake. Kevin Muggleton survives the assualt



We all slip through a set of lights that have just turned red. It's fair game. Mounting kerbs and attacking pedestrian-clad pavements is another ball game altogether. If you want to raise the stakes further, take a Friday afternoon rush hour London, add Tube strikes, bus strikes and hot, seething drivers. Then stir in an extra 20 degrees to the temperature, Greek drivers, pot holes and 12 riders on monster trail bikes and you have the setting tor an epic adventure, climaxing at the summit of Mt Olympus.

Greece is infamous as a white sand, beach island resort, where we Brits race around in Union Jack shorts losing to the Germans in the deckchair race. However, when invited to join 11 other bikers riding north from Athens, through the Greek mountains along the Albanian border and finally up Mt Olympus, it was time to hang up my beach towel, don my motocross boots and grab my helmet. I was in for Greece's hottest temperatures on record, an exhilarating ride along the twistiest roads in Europe, winding dirt tracks to die for and goat tracks carved out by animals popping LSD tabs.

After a three-hour flight from Heathrow I step out of the plane to be smacked in the face by a wall of heat. There's not a breath of wind and humidity levels are close to the inside of a steam

engine. On my way downtown to meet the other riders, the outside temperature tops 46C (115F), inside the air conditioning sounds like a Honda Cub with the exhaust removed, and the other riders are already pulling straws for bikes up the first leg to the cooler mountain air.

I sit astride the Kawasaki KLR650, which is gentle enough to see me through the impending chaos. My first test is to leave the city without losing the others. Not as easy as it sounds. They have home advantage, know where they're heading and have given me a Greek road atlas that looks like ancient hieroglyphics. I'm playing follow my leader, with my back end starting to drift wide as the knobblies slip across the scorched tarmac. But, I'm up there in the front third doing well.

At the first set of lights I ease off as they turn red, slowing for the white line. Simultaneously, the bikes behind crank their throttles wide open, hitting the lights at full whack. I'm now at the rear. With hieroglyphics in my pocket and no idea where we are heading, 1 too jump the lights, expecting sirens and flashing lights.
I catch up and, roaring between the flanks of packed traffic, watch as two bikes mount the pavement, followed by seven others. Takis, a Greek motocross champion, mounts the kerb, forgets to put his front wheel down, wheelies the length of the pavement and pulls a stoppie, to avoid the downtown metro bus.


Twelve trail blazers:
a modern Greek legend
in the making

Call me a pessimist, but I'm already rehearsing lines for when the law pulls me over. Centuries ago, while we were still running around in bearskins, clubbing each other, the (Greeks developed a passion for philosophy and debate. Their honour rests in a good bust-up. The police expect, even demand, an excuse worthy of Socrates and Plato, and provided yours is above standard the red book stays in the tunic pocket.

I'm struggling to think of a debate that would explain the pavements, red lights and cannon ball behaviour so far. All I can a think of is 'I don't want to be last'.

This main route turns into the motorway out of town, with toll booths across the road. instead of stopping, the guys treat the booths as a give way sign. In Greece, bike riders are elevated to god-like status. Only a heretic would insist that they pay the tolls. When the attendant cracks the nod, we filter between the booth and the paying car avoiding flailing arms as they throw cash to the toll collectors.


Out of the city the pace doesn't let up. The heat from the motorway tarmac gives that turbo fan-assisted cooker feel. After 200 miles on a vibrating single cylinder thumper, knobblies, zero wind protection and a seat developed by the ancient eunuchs, I'm convinced the straws drawn earlier were fixed. That is until the Yamaha TT600 passes me. The rider lies slapped flat on the tank, legs trailing behind and is grimacing so severely I could have sworn he was wired straight to the cylinder head. Even with 12 similarly intended bikes there is usually one that's less suited to the job than yours.

With night rolling in we pull into a mountain village fora long, drawn out dinner. Any opportunity to debate and they lake it. It's still a long haul to our hotel. We jump back on the bikes and head up the mountain track. Not only am I stuck with the most uncomfortable seat in the hiking world, but also the most pathetic headlight ever invented, made worse by the tinted goggles I've been wearing to keep the harsh sunlight out. My options are to let the mosquitoes use my eyeballs as target practice or, with goggles on, take a leap of faith follow the tail light in front through the hairpins as if attached by a bungee chord.

Finally, we arrive at our hotel at one in the morning. Twelve dusty riders, with one mission. To clean up. Due to plumbing repairs the hotel has had to turn off the water between 1 Am and 3am. Within minutes are jumping backflicks off the top board into the swimiiiiiig pool, with all the dirt we've gathered clouding and settling in the water.

Already the bikes are suffering shocking damage. The KTM LC4 has caught a stone in the dirt and is wounded off with a cracked sump. The Cagiva Canyon 500 has suffered gravel rash down its side as its rider dropped the bike; cornering at full pelt, he found the road ended and a grader lay across his path.

Greek Flag
I dropped the KTM Adventure on a blind corner, ripping the fuel tap off and pouring fuel everywhere. The Cagiva Canyon 900 would, by the end of the trip, blow its engine. The Africa Twin, lent by a friend, has been dropped, causing damage to plastics and paint. Even the Freelander support vehicle has two flat tyres. This is hard riding by any measure.

Expecting a lie-in at our hotel the next morning my world shatters apart as the cast iron bells of the Greek Orthodox church swing into action. That's the trouble when you rock off to bed at 2am; you don't fully appreciate your surroundings. Half blinded by the sunlight, I thrash for my pillow, trying to cut out a traction of this full pitch rendition of Byzantine chants. I'd take bike repairs and an earlier start up Mt Olympus anytime.

Looking up from the base of the mountain, the summit seems just a stone's throw away. We make a team pact that everyone takes it easy. Banned from coming off the bike, I feather the throttle gently. Okay, I'm lying, I thrash the guts out of the Yamaha TT600. The power is pathetic, the rarefied atmosphere on the highest mountain in Greece having cut off its oxygen supply, it runs like it's lubricated by toffee.

I figure it'll take a couple of hours to reach the top. Add a couple of curves in between, belt up the track and I'll be there in no time. Then 1 reach the false summit. Otus and Ephialtes, two of the gods, decided on a mountain tossing competition, piling as many mountains on top of each other until they reached the heavens. If Zeus hadn't hidden the top of his mountain with clouds we wouldn't be any the wiser. However, today there's not a cloud in the sky and you see the results of a rock slinging session; scree and jagged rocks everywhere.
Higher up the mountain track we stop for a photo opportunity and take in the view. Before the helmet is off and the sidestands down, an old shepherd and his flock appear from behind a boulder. This guy could sniff out free cigarettes from 25 miles! Other bikers translate his reminiscences of the time in the hills during the Civil and Second World Wars while sharing cigarettes. Suddenly they burst out laughing. Apparently he still refuses to wear a condom when he takes his wife to bed! He's 75.

FarmerContemplating life, and how to cadge cigarettes

As the laughter settles, he looks over the 12 bikes and gruffly states, "You remind me of my son. He too is stupid, he also rides a bike."
From the summit, surveying Greece below, you sense the feeling of invincibility the gods experienced. Add the intoxicating ride around the mountains, the warm air, Athens street cafes, and the beautiful women, and you pick up on the god-like aura. It stays for the next few days of the same manic pace.


In this mood, I load up the bike for a last ride through Athens' traffic before getting a taxi to the airport. Too hot for motocross pants and boots, I strap them behind with my camera.

The horns blare, I'm on a high, until from the corner of my eye I spot a courier slip into my gap. He can't fit through, and sure enough his tail end clips my front wheel. My god-like invincibility shatters as the bike slides to the left. My left ankle, now bootless, is dragging with the bike on top of it. My right inner thigh is riding shotgun on the exhaust pipe and my helmet bouncing off the cars as 1 halt.
The traffic stops, and the commotion dies down around me. I'm alive so, in theory, still eligible to re-enter the fray. A driver stops and queries my health. "Fine," I mumble, my tail between my legs. "I'm just a fallen god."