Queens Leriotis Hotel gave me a seaview room for €30. I wake up to the sound of waves gently hitting whitewashed, ocean-worn rocks. The veranda cement floor is cold. I take a deep breath and feel the comforting rays of a warm sun strike my face. I smile as I gaze across the relatively calm Adriatic sea. “Yes now you are silent,” I say to myself. Thin fists grip the steel railing and I watch a flock of noisy seagulls hovering over one lonely fishing boat. This is my last day in Greece. The end of the Piece Prize journey. The paddling is over. The fear is over. The unknown is over.
The shower is warm and four day stubble is no opponent to a new, triple knife-sharp blade. I am thinner. My hair is longer. Cheeks are leaner. My teeth are still crooked - somethings don’t change.
She greets me - kalamera- and pours a warm cup of coffee. Breakfast is simple. Bran flakes with small chocolate puffs. A bit sweeter than my normal morning intake of yogurt, almonds and banana. The coffee is cold so I ask for a double espresso.
Back on the veranda, the sun hits my face. It’s -7 in Oslo. I rest. I think. And listen to those crazy seagulls.
I hear a pling on my phone. It’s a message from Tassos at the Olympiacos kayak club. An athlete wants to buy the kayak. Can I come within 30 minutes. I say yes and grab a yellow cab.
I met Tassos yesterday. A world champion kayaker, he is soft spoken and we have a sense of deep appreciation for each other. Intuitively we know what our ambitions have cost. Intuitively we know how fast achievements become history. Intuitively, we understand that memories define who we are. We hug.
He introduces me to Nikos, the soon to be new owner of an EPIC SPORT X18. He is a great guy. A bit shorter than me, he is stocky with arms of steel. He is a paddler, a rower. Maybe I could paddle further on a long, drawn out day, but this guy would kill me within a 20 km range. We are both happy. The money will go to charity and there is no sadness as I sign the kayak “To my friend Nick. Thank you,” Mark Fuhrmann
Tassos shows me his medals and we talk about victories and defeats. He is a mainstayer and has a place of deep recognition in the club. I look at his pictures and medals hanging on the wall. It is part of him. I feel proud to be standing beside him. I hope we meet again. We shake hands and then he whizzes off on his scooter.
Nikos and I walk around the harbor and stop for a coffee. He says we can learn from history and shows me pictures of how the harbor looked before the walls were constructed. The beaches are gone. The fishing boats are gone. Seaside restaurants have come. Million dollar yachts have come. Times have changed. We shake hands. He goes right. I go left.
The 30-minute walk back to Queens Leriotis is swift. I throw two plastic containers, a small volume of sea-moist nuts and some tattered clothes into the bin. I jam what’s left of my gear and remaining kayaking clothes into a €14 blue duffle bag purchased yesterday. I pick up the double set of Carbon paddle oars and take the elevator down four flights to ground zero. She smiles and I pay the bill. I remind her to watch ANT1. I should be on the eight o’clock news.
I take one last look at the hotel’s Christmas presentation and push through the glass doors onto the street.
The man in the yellow cab offers to drive me to the airport for €40. It’s a good price. I take it. Four years my younger, he works 12 to 16 hours every day. I see a tired but determined man. I see a good man.
He, like most of the people I talked to, want a better Greece. I hand him €50. He saw me on the news and we take a picture. Arm in arm with a stranger, we share the connection of being part of a family. He smiles and tucks the crisp ATM retrieved bill into his pocket. I don’t know why, but we thank each other.
I check in with Norwegian. The man with the Norwegian uniform fastens a luggage label around the straps. I watch the bag disappear.
He weighs my carry-on and then tells me that I probably won’t be able to carry those duck-tape wrapped, double set of EPIC carbon paddles onto the plane. I say “... it will go just fine.” He looks at me, pauses and smiles. 30 minutes later while pasting a freshly printed Norwegian luggage label on my newly plastic-wrapped oars, at a cost of €5, he says, “I told you so.” He lifts his head. Our eyes meet. He smiles. I smile. We small talk and then I make my way over to special cargo counter 77. I rearrange my Telenor toque as the mummy plastic-wrapped paddles dissappear on a black, fish-scale conveyor belt.
I make my way to row 20, seat D. I sit down and secretly glance at those closest to me. The plane escalates down the runway. The girl across from me taps her left foot nervously. The tall, lanky paddler in row 20, seat D, thinks, “This has been a great day.”