• Bumble


Updated: Sep 24, 2018

Bulgarian Border 🇧🇬 to Dragoman 🇧🇬, 6 miles

I had slept at the side of the main border road, along a cobbled service track near the railway line. It was dark when I pitched and the only light came from passing trucks and a lone firefly near my spot in the verge, each pulsing glow catching my eye as it moved through the night air.

I had some admin to do in Sofia and made my way to a train station at the next town Dragoman. It was basic, the shop sold Methos, but only Mint flavour, just to give you an idea of how basic Dragoman was.

After my trip into Sofia I popped back into the same shop and picked up some basics, I hadn't shopped in the city, it wasn't cycle friendly and I wanted to get back on track as quickly as possible. It was late afternoon, I had spent a lot more time than I had planned and I was still targeting 75 miles a day.

Dragoman 🇧🇬 to Krusha 🇧🇬, 8 miles

The storm began as I left the shop, it was heavy and the roads were wet. I passed a border police truck, they waved through their steamed windows. They didn't want to get wet for a fruitless roadside check. I pressed on. The countryside road gentled rose and fell and on a decent I misjudges a puddle. It was a deep pothole, the front steel fork forks took the impact, I maintained balance. The rear hit. I began to check. Front tyre ok; wheel, not buckled; forks ok; rear tyre flat.

Bags off, broken pannier emptied, bike upside down, brakes open, Rholnoff gear cable disconnected, wheel off, tyre off, tube out.

I had picked up some patches in Germany, they were pre glued, like an elastoplast. I covered the split in the tube.

Tube in, tyre on, wheel on, Rholnoff gear cable connected, brakes adjusted, bike turned over, broken pannier filled, bags on, tyre pumped. And made off, fifty minutes.

The tyre emptied of air, slowly. The sun was setting and I pitched up on a hill, away from the road and watched the rainbows fade in and out as the storms in the valley danced with the last light of the day.

Saturday, 23rd June. 2018

Krusha 🇧🇬 to Kyustendil 🇧🇬, 75 miles

I woke to the sound of rain and had to convince myself that it always sounds harder and heavier on the canvas before I could get up and out. When I did, the theory proved true. It was light rain. What was more the repair on the second pump up had held. Maybe the patch took a while to work.

It was cool, and I welcomed the ten degrees with a renewed energy as I made my way, dodging potholes through empty villages and up a long mountain climb which lasted a couple of hours along a deserted but well paved road to the town of Tran.

The mountain town like many I had passed through on the journey had labelled itself as a Spa Town. But the small shop I stopped at served milk in recycled coke bottles and had a tired old man behind the counter wearing a pressed but worn brown overall. His array of goods was small and he welcomed me to step behind the counter to make my selection. I felt that this was an honour reserved for the few. I selected a bag of nuts, he took them out of my hand and took a bag from the back of the row, three packs back, he wanted me to beat the stock rotation queue. He didn’t speak English, but we chatted in French. He had spent time in Luxembourg as a DJ a decade or so ago and I popped outside to get the guide to run through the Kirkenes / Blacksea routine.

Le Magasin

He asked if I wanted to go to Sofia, I shook my head and said that I had already been. He showed me the route on the map and pointed left at the doorway. Again I shook my head and said that I didn't want to go to Sofia. Again he showed me the way. I then remembered reading that the head nodding and shaking was reversed in Bulgaria.

On the third time of asking, I nodded. We understood each other. I picked up some wafer biscuits, although I knew I couldn't eat them and some milk in a coke bottle. There was nothing else to buy. He went outback and returned with a small basket of non EU shaped tomatoes, maybe eight of them. I nodded and asked for one. It didn't register on his scale. Disappointed he said, “Un cadeaux.”

I ate it at the bike. It was delicious.

After crossing cool mountain meadows and plateaus the descent began into a warming afternoon. It had been very pleasant riding. Ghost villages of summer cabins, derelict houses and occupied homes in a dilapidated state.

As I came down from the mountains the villages in the valleys below became more prosperous. Fruit farms lined the roads and houses that greeted me although missing plaster and paint, were clean and heavy with grape vines. Small tractors with trailers passed by, I longed to taste the cherries from their crates as they trundled along in the afternoon's heat.

As I climbed out of a village an old man crossed into my path. I stopped. He raised his huge worn hands, cupped and stretched out in front of him. They were full of ripe, dark cherries. He encouraged me to eat and as I tasted the sweetest juiciest cherries I dropped my head into my chest. This simple act made me realise how tired I was, how the mental muscle had been tested over the past weeks and how this old man’s kindness released a built up emotion. I resisted the urge to cry. We could not communicate verbally, but he knew his act had been genuinely received. I set about the Kirkenes / Black sea routine. He went and brought his son-in- law, who spoke English, out from his roadside home and disappeared again whilst I chatted to his son-in-law. The old man returned with a branch of cherries and talked about some of the rain damaged fruit. I ate some more. All of them. He was pleased.

His son-in-law came from the nearby town Kyustendil and his wife and mother-in-law soon joined us.

In the evening I arrived at Kyustendil and in complete contrast to the cherry village and the Spa Town of Tran I found a town that was just the right size, some cafes, supermarkets, evening sunshine and a town fair. I ate in the evening sunshine on supermarket food and listened to Robbie Williams playing out from a stage in the town square as families enjoyed a rare Saturday evening in Bulgaria.

As I left a car pulled up next to me, by a block of flats at a crossroad. The driver asked me if I needed any bike parts. The bike was doing well, over five thousand miles and just a couple of chain adjustments. “I’m fine thanks, Im lucky, its a good bike.”

A few miles out of town I stopped on a hillside and out of Instagram vanity stopped in a grass meadow with a sunset view and some thistles.

Sunday, 24th June 2018

Kyustendil 🇧🇬 to Republic of Macedonia 🇲🇰 Border, 49 miles

Yesterday’s perfect campsite set the sequence of events for the day. Sunday the 24th June was reserved for the Bumble of the week award.

Chasing the instagram #tent #campingsunset likes I had dragged Mrs F up through a field of weeds and meadow flowers that included some thorny characters. At eight when I set off it was the front wheels turn to feel a little deflated. The rear had not flattened since the second pump up.

Not a problem, up and fixed in no time. I used my new patches again. They didn’t need glue as I have said, they stick on a bit like a band aid. A band aid would have produced better results as a mile down the road we found ourselves in a lay-by.

Bags off, broken pannier emptied, bike upside down, brakes open, Rholnoff gear cable disconnected, wheel off, tyre off, tube out.

The problem then escalated, the spare tube (I had three tube- two on the wheels and one in the repair kit), had been repaired with the same patches when I bought the kit, I think. They peeled off like sun burnt skin. I had two patches left in my standard repair kit but the rubber solution glue didn’t take where the glue from the 'easy patch' hadn't set.

There must have been a repulsion to the ‘Pritt-Stick’ the guys at Park Tool easy patches used.

I think I did the "Bags off" routine five times in all, and kept my cool knowing that it was Sunday and that I was on a road in the Balkans lined with occasional villages whose inhabitants lived off the land.

Finally, with no patches left or repaired tubes I made do with the a slow puncture and resolved to pump up every six minutes or every mile. 75 times for that day. But the rice paper patch must have decided to increase the flow of air release as by the time I gave up I was pumping every three minutes. 7 miles travelled.

I just wished I had asked the man from the previous evening if he could get me a new inner tube. It was the thought I had just after we had parted at the traffic lights.

I was stuck, maybe twenty miles from Kyustendil and twenty from the next town.

After a while of pushing and debating and faffing with google maps to see that all bike and sports shops were shut, a cyclist, a proper road one, came by. I think he was a bit reluctant to stop but he helped me call a cab to take me into Kyustendil and organised it to pick me up at ‘The Resort’ a mile or so up the road.

At ‘The Resort’ which was surprisingly a complex of chalets in good condition, something that I hadn’t seen in all my time in Bulgaria or the Balkans, I got google translating with the caretaker.

When the taxi arrived I realised that the bike would stay at the resort and off I went in a yellow Astra with white and black checks down the side. The little squares of checks had peeled back a bit. It was a badge of honour in recognition of the drivers ability to drive at great speed. He phoned a friend who spoke English and I chatted while the driver occupied himself living the Vin Diesel dream.

It seemed strange going back past the places I never thought I would see again- a fruit vendor, a storks nest with chicks now indistinguishable in size from their parents, and a roadside shrine. As we passed the driver made the sign of the cross. This was more because his hands had been on the wheel for more than ten seconds rather having any deep set religious beliefs. He was working on a Sunday.

The phone rang again, he answered. He gave me a thumbs up and said “OK”.

By the spot where the man asked me the previous evening if I needed any spares for the old girl we stopped. A couple, who I am certain had been called to open their bicycle shop, greeted me with big smiles and an inner tube emporium.

Racing back, I had told the driver that he wasn’t driving recklessly enough to test the Shrine’s protection powers and we were back at the resort in next to no time. In fact that isn’t quite true. I was quite surprised as to how far I had travelled and this time I was looking at things in the direction of travel.

Leaving the Resort I had miles to make up and took the shortest of the guides suggested routes. Again I found myself on the dual carriage way and after twenty miles arrived at the outskirts of Blagoevgrad a busy city with a big retail store that sold in bulk.

I stocked up on essentials, enough for two days of snacks and meals. I was burning 5,000 calories a day and with more mountain ranges ahead that would rise to 6,000 as I also made up for lost miles. I bought a lot of Methos and Snickers. In the electrical department I bought a cable for my iPhone. My last spare had burnt out whilst charging in the rain. I saw some cheap Nokia's and thought about buying one, as a spare. I didn't.

Blagoevgrad and the border road to Macedonia, had a Sunday afternoon lorry restriction. Between 1400 and 2000 there was no lorry or coach traffic. The climb to the Macedonian border was peaceful. Villagers sat at bar tables and waved in their eery silence by stores that clearly catered for truckers. Continental truckers who I had seen pulled over on the hard-shoulder by police just outside Blagoevgrad. I took in the views and crisscrossed the empty roads to do so. As I approached the border, a little after eight, a cab without a trailer overtook me. The curfew had ended, I had beaten the rush.

At the Macedonian border hut I went to the wrong window. The Guard beat her wooden stick three times on the window frame and sent me to the window a few feet behind. 'Welcome to Macedonia.'

As I descended down from the border village, camping spots were fly tipped and when I had cleared the next town it was dark. I found a spot at the side of the road, it was noisy, and un-Instagramable. There were no thorns. A compromise in the Fairweather and Bumble relationship.