It all began as a novelty back in Bosnia i Herzegovina with frozen water bottles and a frost covered tent.
However, this soon became a regular occurrence. Water bottles were kept inside the tent overnight to increase the chances of having drinkable albeit brain-freeze inducing water to drink in the morning. We slept in our down coats over layers of merino long-johns, with our cosy Albanian socks inside our massive sleeping bags, and would still often wake in the night – not feeling cold exactly but definitely not feeling warm enough to sleep.
We invested the grand sum of €1.49 each on two car windscreen sun protectors. The equivalent would have cost 10 times more if sold in an outdoor shop, but our budget solution were more than effective at keeping our butts that bit warmer as we slept.
Pedro experimented with warming stones by the fire and putting them in socks to give us some small warm thing to hold on to at night. He melted his socks. Freshly boiled eggs were found to be more effective and significantly more sock friendly.
We were probably quite dehydrated most of the time as we could barely bring ourselves to drink the ice cold water in our bottles. But despite this, my nose was effectively a constantly dripping tap. Never ceasing to run and wiped constantly on gloves, sleeves and leaves.
During the day fingers and toes were the worst affected. On the coldest days our toes would remain frozen blocks of ice all day long. No amount of toe wriggling could reinvigorate them with blood flow. We couldn’t even go to town and wear three pairs of socks lest our shoes become too tight and our feet even colder.
We made use of the free plastic gloves in supermarket vegetable aisles to had an extra wind and waterproof layer to our insufficient gloves, to surprisingly good affect. We rejoiced at the prospect of cycling uphill – maybe we’d warm up, maybe our toes would defrost?! Yet we didn’t want to warm up so much that we would sweat, for the fear of the icy chill that would follow.
We feared the downhills. How cold would we get? Would we still be able to brake or feel our toes by the time we got to the bottom? Even wearing all our layers and multiple pairs of gloves we would invariably have to stop to do some starjumps halfway down.
Our relationship with snow changed from one of childish glee to apprehension and fear of sliding sideways.
It was not just hard, but impossible to remember those summer days of four hour lunch breaks to escape the heat of the midday sun. Lunch these days was a rushed affair, in whatever small patch of sun we could find, lasting little more than half an hour as we munched on cheese and (frozen) tomatoes.
We took refuge in cafés and petrol stations, often likely outstaying our welcome and once even eating our packed lunch in prime position in front of the wood burning stove to avoid the freezing rain outside.
Inside these refuges however, we were often greeted with sympathy – we never learnt the price of a coffee from Montenegro to Macedonia as some kind soul always offered to pay it for us.
For the first time, despite our love of mountains, we started considering elevation seriously. For every 190m up it gets 1° colder. Camping above 1000m when it was more or less freezing at sea level was not an enticing prospect.
We watched in (frozen) awe as ice crystals formed instantaneously on freshly washed dishes and wondered how to make breakfast with nothing but bottles of ice to soften our oats and (frozen) bananas.
As we naïvely pedalled south in the hope of finding warmer climes our European geography improved even further, learning quite how far south Lisbon is relative to the rest of Europe (Athens is the only capital further south FYI). More chance of freak snow storms than clear blue skies and sunny afternoons.
Fingers and toes wriggling to generate warmth, we entered Greece with icy snow crystals beating into our faces. Less clothe soaking than rain, but definitely colder and for sure more painful. We grew keener and keener to reach our Christmas refuge in Thessaloniki, hoping that there would be room at the inn for two frozen cyclists and their bicycles.