Monday, 27 September 2010

08/09/2010 Bjala - Novi Pazar (Distance 145km)

The Formula 1 breakfast may be adequate for the average appetite, but a typical cycle tourist develops a mammoth capacity for food. I ask for “one for the road”, and although they oblige I suspect I pay a little over the odds. I get my trusty steed from it's hiding place in the corner of the car wash and return to the sun terrace. There I sit for some time with the hotel manager. For the last 24 hours he has been very helpful, not bad service for 18 Euros. I purchase some croissants from the bar and scoff the lot before returning to the road.

The riding was reasonably entertaining. Endless fields extend towards the horizion in every direction. Every so often a cluster of charming rural houses would pop up. Donkeys stand idle in gardens while waving children running through the street. Inbetween such settlements the road would disappear ahead of me until lost in heat haze. I ride bareback for a while, my black top is not so appropriate for blazing sun.


My first stop for the day is in the town of Popovo. As I roll through the streets I'm taken aback to see people sitting out side caf├ęs drinking coffee. It's at this moment I realise I haven't seen people socialising in this manner for some time. All of a sudden I feel teleported back to Western Europe. It's nice to see the contrast, but I have developed a liking for shack style coffee drinking with grubby lorry drivers. An environment for which I tend to be appropriately dressed. I take a short lunch break on the floor of a Penny Supermarket entrance.

Back on the bike I spend a few minutes hunting for the main road. Once on it my afternoon is simply a case of following the undeviating route. On a particularly long decent I build my speed to 63kph. A cluster of men are standing in garage lay-by, as I zip past they laugh and wave. Further on down the road I hear sirens behind and I pull tight to the verge. One of the men from the lay-by passes me in a beat up Skoda wearing a huge grin. I can't help but chuckle.

I arrive in Shumen to realise there have been some route modifications since my map was printed. Some of you may already sense where this is going...I conclude my map had been hanging around in the Serbian book store for some time. Though it's now twilight, it's not so dark that I can't see the green sign telling me that the road I am merging with is in fact a highway. Great! I'm slightly concerned by my effortless ability to seek out such roads. But what concerns me more? The majority of my route through Bulgaria had been on main roads. While on such roads I regularly hear people tooting their horns at me. Some to say “hi” some to say “move” and some for no apparent reason. And yet, as I pedal down the highway in the fading light, no-one gives a shit! The one road on which it is forbidden to ride, is oddly the one where my presence is tolerated most. The highway is new, and doesn't have an exit for 30 km. I dilly dally for a moment. Tossing up whether to cycle the wrong way back to the main road. Or push on until I reach the first exit. Both seem dangerous, I decide to go with to flow. The only saving grace being that the surface is great and I can hoof along at 30+kph. But even at this pace it will be getting on for an hour before I am back on single lanes roads. Not my finest moment. I consider camping on the verge and continuing in the morning, but after passing the second semi decomposed dog corpse I rule out this idea. I search the black landscape for an underpass or adjacent country lane that I can carry my bike to. None turn up, I pedal on. After 20km I see a sign for Novi Pazar, the final kilometre to the junction lasts forever.

I round the corner of the exit and stop to study the signs. As I do this a fairly large wild dog decides I look like a fun object to chase. I pay thanks to the adrenaline in my blood stream for raising my energy to a sufficient level that I am able to make my getaway. “Fido” is more persistent than most wild dogs. I think he could sense my fatigue, and the potential meal that came with it. But thankfully the stubborn mutt looses interest after five hundred metres. Before me I see the light pollution from Novi Pazar. I'm in no mood to be picky about my camping spot tonight. I pull into a field, it's not flat, it's not smooth and it's not hidden. But it's bed.

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