It's said that Odysseus managed to hike across Ithaka in a single day - from his arrival, loaded with Phaecian gifts, in a cave by the shore, to his arrival at the spring where Eumeaus the swineherd was watering his livestock. Well, Odysseus was a god-favoured superhero, and his upbringing on the slopes of Ithaka must have habituated him to their crazy gradients. For me, the slopes well hell - at least on the uphill. But hiring a bike meant I always had something to look forward to - after the thigh-aching uphill stretches, the downhill plunge! Wind blasts in your face and chest, cool on the early morning rides, the heat pressing down on your shoulders in the afternoons; the road slides back behind you, like it's being pulled out from under your tyres. Far more than para-gliding or any of those knotty activities with all their safety measures, it's this - rolling down the precipitous slopes in which Ithaka specialises - that feels like the closest I've been to flying.
Ithaka is of course famous as the home of Odysseus - and that's why I'm here on the tip of a journey that's taken me from the Homeric battlegrounds of Troy. The epic tale is referenced in all sorts of ways here - from a jewellery store named after the Phaecian princess Nausicaa, to the Calypso Studios and Odyssaion Apartments, to a bust of Homer and a statue of a sea-wracked Odysseus on the waterfront of the island's main town, Vathy. The most fitting tribute to the Odyssey I've come across here wasn't on a pedestal or plinth, but moored on the waterfront - a Hungarian yacht, whose captain had sailed all the way from Troy, tracing Odysseus's sea journey according to his interpretation of the clues in the poem. 'It's a bit easier for us,' he admitted, 'as we have a modern ship and better navigational equipment'. Although like Odysseus, he had faced storms and volatile winds. A reminder of the best of Odysseus: a cipher for the adventuring spirit. 'Blessings from Odysseus', as the local traveller's motto goes. It's amazing to think how many travellers this fascinating hero has inspired.