Just like other college students all across the United States and Europe, Kleon Papadimitriou was forced to return home when college classes were canceled this spring due to the coronavirus.
But Papadimitriou faced a few extra complications in addition to the mass cancellation of flights that snarled everyone’s travel plans, according to CNN. He was attending the University of Aberdeen in Scotland, which is a long way from his home in Athens, Greece.
Although Europe does boast of such things as rental cars and trains, Papadimitriou did not want to spend time in quarantine, and with the logic that only an adventuresome 20-year-old can supply, he came up with a different option — a 2,175-mile bike ride.
It took 48 days, but he made it.
“It’s just now dawning on me how big of an achievement this was,” he told CNN. “And I did learn a lot of things about myself, about my limits, about my strengths and my weaknesses. And I’d say I really hope that the trip inspired at least one more person to go out of their comfort zone and try something new, something big.”
Papadimitriou had competed in a bike race in 2019 and spent a few weeks this year training for another one, but that small amount of preparation was all he had when he was taken by the idea of this trip as an alternative to the prospect of being stuck in Aberdeen for weeks on end.
As the time for departure neared, he let his parents in on the secret.
“They thought it was just an idea that I would eventually let go of,” he said, noting that his parents set one condition: that he download an app so they could track his trip.
The adventure began on May 10 as Papadimitriou took off from Scotland, laden with a tent, sleeping bag, food and some bicycle equipment.
Days would range from 35 miles to 75 miles, he said, along a route that, after leaving England, took him from the Netherlands to Germany, Austria, Italy and then by sea to Greece.
He camped outdoors on many nights, but when possible he reached out to friends for indoor accommodations that included a shower.
“As a relatively introverted person, I was forced to kind of get out of my comfort zone in the sense that if I did not do some things, I would not have a place to stay, I would not have water,” he said.
“It forced me to kind of have those interactions and reach out.”
Papadimitriou reached Athens on June 27.
“It was very emotional,” he said. “Coming from a family from two parents that were very adventurous in their younger years, seeing me kind of follow in their footsteps, I think is very emotional to them and obviously gives me a lot of meaning.”
Looking back, he said the journey was more than just a trip home.
“I think I improved as a person, I’m more confident in myself, I’m more confident in my abilities,” he said. “If I didn’t know that I’ve done the trip and you asked me now if I could [do] it, I would say no, how could I do all those things?”
And that is a message he shared with others who think they cannot handle adventure.
“When you set the bar really high and you attempt to reach a really ambitious goal, whether you achieve it or you don’t, you will have improved,” he said.
“You will learn things about yourself and you will surprise yourself.”
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