It was almost 6 o’clock on Wednesday morning when the ferry from Santorini Island finally pulled into Piraeus Port in the south of Athens. I was exhausted.
Due to bad weather, the previous night’s ferry had been cancelled, and so on this trip there were twice as many people on the ship. All of the fixed seating was taken, and piles of extra chairs that normally go unused were being swept up by anyone who could get their hands on them. There were people everywhere; in the hallways, in front of emergency exits, and under the staircases where those extra chairs were normally stacked. Each area was as brightly lit as a department store. Needless to say, finding a spot to lie down comfortably for a few hours of sleep was mission impossible.
I stepped off the bobbing vessel with my bicycle and looked around in the pre-dawn darkness; I needed to find a place to kill a few hours and wait for Maria, who was going to meet me in the area later that morning. I started to wander, walking by a few coffee shops and bakeries that were opening for business, and soon came to the port’s train station. Through old window panes I spotted a large white-walled waiting room with lots of seating; the perfect place to get out of the cold morning wind for a few hours.
I walked into the station, past the ticket lady, and into the unoccupied waiting room, where I leaned my loaded bicycle against the wall next to my seat, took off my pack and pulled out my book to read for a while. Not surprisingly, my eyelids soon started getting heavy, so I took a few moments to put a lock on my bicycle (locking the rear wheel to the frame so that the bike couldn’t be rolled away) and I put my e-reader away in my pack. I tucked my pack between my duffel bag and the wall, making sure to wedge it in place behind my head. Using the duffel as a lumpy pillow, I quickly dozed off…
About an hour later, I heard a bit of noise and opened my eyes just a crack to see what was going on. A short, middle-aged woman had come in and was mopping the floor. She briefly made eye contact, looking at me sideways as her mop swooshed back and forth across the floor. There was something in her expression that is hard for me to describe now… Was it curiosity? Anticipation? Guilt? I thought nothing of it in that moment and closed my eyes for a few more minutes. But on a subconscious level, I think there was something about the furtive look she gave me that left me unsettled. Unable to sleep anymore and needing to stretch out my aching body anyway, I sat up.
And immediately after that, I exploded onto my feet.
In the second it took for my eyes to sweep my surroundings, my heart dropped. Except for the duffel bag, the room was as empty as it had been when I first arrived. My bike, its full load and my backpack were gone.
My first thought? That the ticket lady had taken my bike while I was sleeping to put it in a safe place for me. How’s that for faith in humanity?
The reality? The ticket lady, of course, had done no such thing. Because of the language barrier, it took her a long time to even understand that I was asking her about a bicycle (if she’d seen anyone come in or out of the room, or seen anyone carrying a loaded bicycle past her ticket booth…) Once she finally understood what the problem was, she responded with concern and even took the time to walk up and down the platform with me, looking in the train compartments in case the bike was there.
It soon became clear to both of us that the bike was long gone; there was nothing more she could do to help me. At a loss and unsure what to do next, I started to wander around the neighbourhood, looking hopelessly for my belongings, for someone who could give me guidance. I knew I’d eventually have to go to the police, but nobody could give me clear directions to the nearest station, and I had a hunch that even if I found one, the language barrier would be a problem. So I decided to wait for Maria to arrive, and we’d take it from there. This decision afforded me two things: Plenty of time for a good cry, and to get on my phone (which luckily had been in my pocket) to get in touch with my friends and family for some much needed words of comfort!
Within hours, my facebook wall was covered with words of encouragement and offers of support. My friends in Taiwan were spreading the news of my misfortune and discussing ways to help. Strangers were chipping in with positive messages of their own. From my parents, I received assurances that they’d send anything I needed. From my dad, a simple message: That I should keep going.
By the end of the day, a paypal account had been set up for people who wanted to make a donation to help me get back on the road, and my friends were organizing packages that they’d send to replace some of the items that had been stolen. Donation jars appeared on the counters of some of my favourite digs back in Taiwan (Soho 7, Salut Pizza and Pizza Rock). The message was clear: This wasn’t the end of my journey, it was just a setback. Because of this rush of love and generosity from all these wonderful people in my life, what had appeared to be an insurmountable mountain only a few hours earlier had now been reduced to an annoying speed bump.
The next few days were spent getting things back on track. I got my picture taken and went to the embassy to apply for a new passport. I made a trip to Alpamayo, an outdoor equipment store, to replace some of the technical gear that had been taken. I contacted my sponsors (Topeak, Ergon and 720 Armour) and they assured me that they had my back; they would replace the items that were stolen. (What amazing generosity!) I went into some bike shops and started asking questions about what I should do about my situation. Each step of the way, the people I met were helpful and empathetic, and whenever they could, they offered me a discount on the goods or services they were providing. It was as if the world was trying to make up for my losses by presenting me with the best it had to offer…
In a few weeks I’ll be on the road again; humbled, a bit wiser, and more appreciative of my good fortune than ever. I’ll look back on Athens not as the place where my world fell apart, but where my world exploded with love and blossomed into something more beautiful than it was before. This event will become an increasingly distant memory, but it will forever serve as a reminder that everything is ephemeral; my journey, and life in general, will be a continuous string of ups and downs. What’s important is to keep moving forward, without ever forgetting what matters the most: Being GOOD, doing GOOD, and appreciating the GOOD people around you. Through all the ups and downs, this is what must endure, no matter what.