Saturday, June 19, 2004

SVS Day Three (Tri) - Back on Course - Madara - Sliven - 179km (111mi)

Early morning at the Ski Chalet
Lazar and I turn in - I plan to set out with him in the morning for at least a few miles before falling back. We walked out of the Chalet together, but I had to stop before descending that steep drive to get my front wheel and brake setup right after having removed it last night. Down the steep drive before sun-up and out of town - then I remember that I left my wallet in the drop bag at the Chalet. Climb up that steep drive to get it? Hmmm...Mitko will probably be along soon enough with the drop bags. Then again, maybe not, and that steep climb IS part of the course - part I didn't do because I SAGged up it last night. Okay, I'm going back - besides I wanted to see the view from the Chalet in the daylight. The climb wasn't nearly so tough as I'd imagined, but the sun still hadn't burnt off the morning fog enough to get a good view from the top. Got the wallet and down again. Westward past Shumen and then south toward Tragovishte. Glorious countryside - mountains with lakes at the foot.

Mountains clouds and lake
It's Saturday now - possibility of thunderstorms in the forecast, but it's been days since I've seen a forecast. It's overcast, cool and the fog gets pretty thick in some of these hills. Stop at a gas station for water and juice and answer the attendants questions about what we're doing - "Oh yeah, we DID see two others this morning" Richard and Lazar maybe? But I think Richard went through last night. Climb back into the mountains. I'm thinking this is like the Appalachians, only without rednecks selling fake hillbilly trinkets and Elvis rugs by the side of the road. I do see one man selling peaches by the roadside - he's made himself an interesting small shelter of logs with a thatched roof - just big enough to give him a place to sit and keep the sun off.

I come down a steep mountain road and fly into a town, but I have to stop because the view from the bridge over the rushing mountain stream is so beautiful it must be photographed. The village boys come running to see the stranger in town. "Ratko" is talkative and friendly - I wish I had those North Carolina postcards to give him, but I think I left them in my drop bag. I wonder if I can mail him something "General Delivery". I pull out my cue sheets to show them what we're up to, but just then a gust of wind slips the last one from my hand it goes sailing through the air down to the river far below. Uh-oh. Good thing that wasn't today's sheet - I'll have to figure out what to do tomorrow.

A (Soviet?) fighter jet posed as if shooting from the ground
Gyrov and the Bulgarian Adrian come flying down the hill that brought me into town and the three of us set off. We're the Three Amigos for the rest of today anyway. Got some big climbs between here and Sliven and we stick together most of the way. Gyrov tells me about a National Folk Music School in the next village. It seems like a lively place, there's a couple of combines coming up the road through town and throngs of people gathered at the roadside restaurants.

Up into another mountain and we stop at a roadside water pipe to refill. As we head out a pickup truck we three locals has just pulled in and I see they've got a big basket full of what looks like Portabello mushrooms. I go back to photograph them with their mushrooms. They're quite pleased to have their picture taking and post proudly together with the 'shrooms. Then the lady insists that I take a bag of the strawberries they've been picking.

I catch back up with Gyrov and Adrian and saunter on through steep climbs. I notice a big blue Turkish tandem truck that passed us is now stopped in a turn-out while the drivers hammers away underneath the truck banging on something near the rear axle. 20 minutes later he passes us again, and then again we find him up the road, under the truck with the hammer. He appears to be awfully well dressed to be crawling around under a truck.

Tichen - where Adrian and Gyurov find me
The last mountain before Sliven is a heck of climb. It's not hot, but I think the sun is getting to me. At the top, I seem to need more time to rest than the other two, but I take off just behind them. They warn me that it's a dangerous descent - wear your casque (helmet) and be careful on the turns. In one fast turn I glimpse a huge white statue of a Daniel Boone-like figure by the side of the road. I think I saw him carrying a big musket and maybe even a coon skin cap, but Lazar, who lives in Sliven has no idea what I'm talking about so maybe I imagined it.

These boys come running in Tichen to see the stranger in town on the bicycle
Near the bottom we meet up with the first other road cyclists I've seen in Bulgaria. I'd seen plenty of utility cyclists, but this is the first time I've seen racing bikes and people in cycling clothes. Gyurov and Adrian know these guys so we talk awhile then head into town. I'm still feeling fazed by the sun and now that we've come down from the mountain fog and tree protection, the sun is more intense so I let them go on ahead. This is a MUCH more "modern" town than any other I've seen in Bulgaria. I get a little confused in town and stop a guy on the street for directions. He speaks no English and I speak almost no Bulgarian, but it turns out we both speak a little Spanish! I'm looking for the Mineral Baths and, ironically, the word for bath is the same in Bulgarian and Spanish.

Adrian and Gyurov find me in Tichen - "Come on!"
One more stop at a gas station to get a drink and confirm directions. Then I meet a utility cyclist and check with him. "Follow me" he says - he's on his way to fill some bottles with mineral water. It's a good thing I found him because it's several km farther than I expected. I don't find any cyclists there and the baths don't appear to be open. I'd scene the sign for Bistro Omega just up the road so I head back to it. When I get there Irina is waiting at the corner for me. Standing on her toes and waving, she calls out to me and I'm wondering how she even knows my name and how she knew to meet me here, now, but I guess it's no surprise because Gyrov and Adrian must've told her I was right behind them. We walk up a long path of square coblle stones arranged in a scallop pattern where a shepherd is leading a large flock (with bells) in the other direction. He waves his staff a bit and I'm marveling at how well the sheep are behaving, moving over to the right side of the path to allow us to pass, but he seems to be apologizing to us as if the sheep weren't behaving to his expectations. Adrian and Gyrov are dining outside, there's Bira, Shopska Salad, Cherry Juice and Vodka. I tell Irina that I'm vegetarian and they fix up some vegetarian Mousaka for me while I feast. After the Mousaka (Greek Mousaka is eggplant; Bulgarian Mousaka is potato), they insist I take another Shopska salad. Okay, NOW I've had enough Shopska salad.

Adrian and Gyurov find me in Tichen - "Come on!"
I ask Adrian and Gyrov if they've been swimming - Bistro Omega appears to have their own hot Mineral Water Pool beneath a large tent. "No," Adrian tells me, "It's not good for cycling. Your leg will break." I know this isn't exactly what he means, he's pointing at his thigh and apparently he means you're muscles will cramp. I'm having a hard time understanding what's going on - is Lazar inside asleep or has he already left? 8am or 8pm? Today or yesterday or tomorrow? I think Adrian and Guyrov are planning to head out at something like midnight. Mr. Balanski and the boys will be in sometime after 2am. I'll wait for them and ride out with them. That gives me a ridiculously long sleep, but I don't feel like doing the night riding at this point. One day left, about 300km and we don't need to be in until 10pm. Pass me that cherry juice and vodka, then I'll shower up and hit the bed.

Sprint for the peak!

They thank me for taking their photo with a gift of strawberries!

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