By Andrew Court
Oh shit, this isn’t good. My mind moved in slow motion as the motorcycle began to skid. The cliff was getting quickly closer, and the brakes weren’t stopping the bike fast enough.
Entering the corner at 40mph my error was clear; the road was slick from the rain and I was going too damn fast. There was no way I was making it around, and there was a distinct possibility of launching off the mountain. Dropping the bike was the only way out so I slammed into the ground. My helmet smacked the asphalt as the bike skidded.
What was I doing, deep in the Greek mountains, sliding a rental BMW bike?
For most travelers Greece is a Rorschach test. Nerds think about philosophy and the Parthenon. Suburban moms want IG photo shoots atop white hobbit dwellings with the twinkling blue Aegean sea in the background. Party boys go to Mykonos glued to WhatsApp waiting for the Ukrainian OnlyFans models to arrive.
I’d been to Greece a few times and had all three of these experiences. What I didn’t know, however, is that inland the country of Aristotle and Achilles has some of the world’s best motorcycling roads. And these roads had just gotten the best of me.
It was my first motorcycle crash. When the bike stopped, I slowly moved my limbs to see what was broken.
Like a lot of life’s best—or worst—ideas, the trip was born from too much booze. Herbert “Bart” Hoover, a successful investor and international playboy, had invited me and my girlfriend to a party weekend at a friend’s castle about an hour outside Paris.
The girls were in the billiards room taking photos with a massive stuffed Kodiak bear. The Miami boys sat in front of the fire, drinking magnums of South African red. That’s when the conversation turned to motorcycles.
“Now the important thing is to stash a bike in Europe with U.S. plates, that way you don’t have to pay tickets or put on a quiet exhaust,” Bart explained. His straight-piped beast of a 200 horsepower touring BMW, with “Panzer’’ on its American vanity plate, lingered outside. A couple more shots of Limoncello and a plan was in the works.
Bart threw out the idea of a Greek bike trip around the cliff-perched Byzantine monasteries at Meteora. I knew Meteora from the final scenes of the Roger Moore Bond movie For Your Eyes Only. In my apartment I even have a vintage poster from this 007 film.
The next step was a message to the Cooters, our Miami motorcycle group. A lot of guys wanted to join but between babies, boob jobs, and business most were unable. But then Damien Rosen decided to get involved. He’s a serious biker. Damien’s the dude who has a cabin in North Carolina strategically positioned next to the Tail of the Dragon, if that tells you anything.
We picked a week and bought flights. Bart was already in Greece, enjoying the company of a buxom blonde whom he’d recently met on a business trip. Damien flew from Miami, squeezing in time around his demanding schedule as co-founder of Guardian TND, a personal safety and emergency alert key chain for women. I, the chronic underachiever, was nursing a hangover from a week of partying in NYC as I headed to Newark Airport with two goals in mind: To find a Bloody Mary and to catch my flight.
The trip got real as we left the Athens suburbs on Sunday morning. Fast food joints and car dealerships became olive groves as we ascended towards Delphi and the Temple of Apollo. With the smell of pine you’d be forgiven for assuming this was Southern California. Perfect roads, weather and riding conditions—just no SoCal assholes.
As the day progressed we began to acclimate to our rental BMW GS bikes. They were all business, no loud rumble, just quiet ruthless Germanic efficiency. The GS is pretty boring, but it won’t let you down.
Damien loves to go fast, grinding his knee through long sweepers. To compensate he’s total ATGAT (All The Gear All the Time). He exudes a quiet confidence and an air of precision, the sort of guy who can always help you out of a jam.
Bart takes a more gentlemanly approach to riding, wearing vintage Gucci loafers with his purebred Bull Terrier, Cali, perched on the back of the bike. Most bikers go with black leather, not Bart. He prefers pink terry cloth Polos.
At Delphi, Bart’s dog got mobbed like a Kardashian at Smoothie King. Middle-aged women turned their backs on the Ancient Greek temple to get photos with Cali in her doggie-sized motorcycle goggles. Inside we marveled at the ancient stone edifices, wondering why we live with potholes in 2022 when you could still host a college football game in a stadium built in 1400 B.C.
Soon enough it was time for the real mountains. We established a flow, snaking through switchbacks and hitting apexes. At its best, motorcycling has a sort of meditative quality. Your frontal lobe is engaged with keeping you alive, so the rest of your brain can be at peace.
On the second day we arrived in Meteora. Most tourist attractions fail to live up to the hype, but Meteora does. Spectacular rock outcroppings up to 1,000 feet tall are capped with monasteries. These Byzantine structures appear to float on air. Since the 11th century prophets and pilgrims have come to seek solitude and reflection among the natural splendor.
Getting to and from the monasteries was the best part. A ribbon of asphalt snaked along the cliff side, giving the effect of slaloming through the giant pillars of stone.
That night, over more red meat and wine we concluded that the trip was going great. Bart has a big appetite and used his normal ordering strategy: “We’ll take everything on the menu except the vegetarian options.”
There wasn’t a lot of pre-planning for this trip. Every morning we would sit at breakfast and decide our stop for the next night, using only a motorcycle road guide book and Google maps. That morning leaving Meteora we picked a particularly ambitious route.
On a motorcycle trip, nothing is worse than rain. The wind forces it into your clothes, it makes the roads slick and it fogs up your helmet. One of the reasons for choosing Greece was its generally dry conditions. Bart didn’t even bother to pack rain gear.
Heading out of Meteora, we set our sights on the 6,200-foot Mparos Pass in the heart of the Pindus Mountains, one of the most beautiful and challenging roads in the country. It was sunny at first so we screwed around a bit—mostly stopping to take pictures and hang out. As the mountains shot toward the sky, we were surrounded by lush forests occasionally punctuated by traditional Orthodox churches. Things began to change when we passed the treeline. A fog settled around us, rain hit our glasses. The supposedly paved road was filled with debris from landslides.
Closing in on the summit, gusts threatened to blow us off the bikes. Wind chill temperatures dropped to the high 40s, not something we were prepared for. Cows and goats crossed the road while the visibility plummeted. We summited but then came to the realization that at this speed we might not get out of the mountains before nightfall.
We had no choice but to go on. The rain was a constant somber companion and a bitter cold seeped through our bones. I took the lead and made the stupid choice to stop and clean my visor. Bart yelled “What are you doing?” I soon realized the problem: When you stop, all the excess water runs down your neck.
Damien took the lead, and despite an occasional rear tire skidding we slowly made it onward. The boulder-strewn track in low-visibility rain was a challenge to say the least. But alas, crossing into another valley we saw the sun poking through. Bart, without rain gear, was shaking; Cali looked like she was close to mutiny.
Eventually we passed the clouds and made it to our hotel just before sunset. There was, however, bad news; it was expected to rain again. Damian, glued to his phone, said it didn’t look good. Bart used a rubber band to keep a hair dryer running on his boots all night.
But then we woke up and it was sunny.
Some of the best moments in life are when things turn out well unexpectedly. Like when you pick up a girl on an airplane or when you catch a big fish while getting another beer. This sunny Greek morning next to the Ionian Sea was one of those moments.
We puttered up the coast on an almost deserted seaside road. Damien spotted a beach down a cliff and went for it. Pretty soon we got down to our underwear and jumped in the water. Getting wet from a swim in the sea is infinitely better than from rain.
Eventually we washed up at a small taverna perched just on the edge of the water. Run by a local fisherman, it only served seafood caught that morning. Standing in the water with a cleaver, the owner hacked off chunks of swordfish. That, alongside a couple bottles of wine, and things started to feel like a vacation.
On the way to our next stopping point we came across a group of guys hunting wild hogs on the back of scooters. They were exploring on two wheels in their way, and we in ours. Somehow a conversation began and we discovered we had an international language in common: cold beer.
The geography of Greece changed quickly as we left the coast for the Peloponnesian ski resort, Kalavryta. The smooth asphalt serpentined upward. Pushing ourselves closer to the apex, we were now all very comfortable going fast after days of riding. These were the best roads of the trip and we wanted to make the most of them.
But the Gods of Ancient Greece had other plans. Rain started again and the dry roads became slick as if it had snowed. But because we were on the home stretch—the finale—the last thing we wanted was to slow down.
And that’s when it happened. I crashed. Fortunately both my body and the bike were in one piece, saved by BMW’s well-constructed aluminum side case.
Shaken, I took a moment to look out at the mist-shrouded mountains. Bart and Damien got to me and helped pick the bike up. We made the decision to stop for lunch at the next village.
An old woman set down a metal platter filled with spit-roasted boar in front of us. She also brought a few medicinal pilsners our way.
There was a certain irony in what Bart said next. After a near-death experience going too fast, he began to expound on the slow life and the value of enjoying the moment without rushing through it.
Looking around the village I saw that perhaps he had a point. Older men sat together telling stories; women laughed. No one was looking at their phone; no one was stressed out. We were big city guys who jumped around the globe looking for one more adrenaline, dopamine, or serotonin hit. Maybe we should just relax and learn to enjoy life like the locals here did pretty much every day.
The sun returned and I got back on the BMW. At first I felt a tinge of anxiety returning to the bike, breaking more and leaning less. Eventually though, my speed increased, reaching a flow-state through the desert mountains and the sea became visible as the sun set.
We finally made it back to Athens. All in all we covered 900 miles over a week on these winding backroads. I arrived hat in hand at the rental agency, hoping they wouldn’t force me to buy them a new bike. In the end I just had to pay for another side case.
We have gone our own separate ways, but after the trip I felt a certain halo. A week with limited internet, good friends, excellent food, and total freedom from a defined plan had done wonders for my soul.
I’m already thinking of buying a couple magnums of South African red so I can start planning the next.