The first time I visited the ancient city of Karthea on the Greek island of Kea, decades ago, I felt transported in an Indiana Jones film! It was not only that there is nothing to betray its existence to the outside world: no road leading to it, let alone tourists, guides, fences or signs. It was the experience of discovery as my friend Elias and I emerged onto the beach from the tunnel of vegetation that covered the ancient road next to the stream. We had to make our own way around the ruins to identify the temples, the sunken remains of the pier and the theatre.
So when we visited Kea last month, I could not resist the temptation of running there. It would be a 9.5k (6 mi) loop starting at the village of Kato Meria, at app. 400m (1,312 ft) altitude on the island’s ridge and then descending, first on tarmac but then on a rocky path down the walls of the Vathipotamos ravine to a spring and eventually the shore. The ascent would take a steeper, more direct route, all off-road.
I was talking to myself more than usual on this run, as I was experimenting with recording a voiceover on my phone: The result was unfortunately inaudible but describing my surroundings, thoughts and sensations to an imaginary audience helped me be fully conscious of all sensations, especially smells: of the fig tree early in the run, and then close to the end of the steep ascent ¾ in; the whiffs of salt and iodine when the wind was from the sea; and of course the blend of oregano and thyme that is the trademark smell of Greek countryside in the summer.
It also led me to voice my thoughts out loud: What would the 20-year old me that had walked down the same path think of his 44-year-old evolution running down it? How close have I come to realising my dreams, and at what cost? Did I lose sight of my principles along the way, leave the things I once loved by the side (that last with a glance to the shimmering sea), or have I evolved into a richer, wiser person?
Few middle-aged men with a family, a 9-5 job and a dadbod can withstand scrutiny through the eyes of their uncompromising 20-year-old self. But that morning, running through the aromas of my childhood summers on the uneven path with a smile on my face, I was inclined to be kind in my judgement…