Solitude

With the tour at 11 am, the morning started slowly. I ate a large breakfast with Timos, packed everything (well, theoretically everything at the rate I’m going) onto the bike, and we four headed out for the walking tour, loosely accompanied by others from the hostel. Interesting but unspectacular, a journey wending our way through the city viewing monument after monument dedicated to failed and successful revolutionaries. With our final walk down Gurko Street (which we four traversed by car and foot at least five times) we returned to the hostel, only to all go our separate ways around 2 pm, by bus and bicycle.

As expected, the first 10 km cycling  were excessively traffic-filled, but also unexpectedly up, before cycling into the nice flat countryside. Planned as a short day, I arrived in Pavlikni around 6 pm, and as expected, the expected campground wasn’t there. As not expected, the hotels weren’t there either. I searched longer for them than I should have, and by the time I was back into the countryside it was getting late. Reviewing my options, I found a spot off the side of the road and set up camp.

I was awoken at 2 am to the sound of rain starting to fall upon the tent, and nature’s call. After dashing out and back in, I went to fall back asleep when I heard hoofbeats on the road outside. As the rainfall increased, I couldn’t tell if the hoofbeats stopped on the road outside my tent. I didn’t get much sleep after that, and was up at 6 am, and on the road by 8.

Today was a simple ride – long straight, partially shaded roads.

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With a forecast for intermittent rain, and the sky cloudy and often threatening, I kept an eye out for bus stops, gas stations, and other covered areas as fallback areas for potential shelter against the rain. While I felt a few rain drops from time to time, nothing substantial ever fell. 

In Bulgaria, small villages often have a central square. Sometimes that square is just a large area of open concrete. Sometimes that area is a shaded park, and a great place to stop for lunch. Today a couple of those squares had a different monument:

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The roads had been “improved” for the final few kilometers into Pleven. The backroad I’d selected from the map was now a 4-lane highway. Frazzled, I found my way to the hotel, and settled in. Wandered about the town, found the central square, picked up groceries and dinner, and found the fortress’s location.

My rear wheel has been giving me trouble the past couple of days, with the bike feeling unstable. First suspecting the tire being out of true, in actuality the rear tire has delaminated. I found two cycle shops in my wandering (in true Eastern Europe style, across the street from one another), and a visit is in the order of business for the morning. The shops don’t open until 10, so I can visit the fortress first.

I’m usually comfortable within my own head, but the past few days things have continued to rattle around, and I’ve used The Martian to drive them back a bit. Marnie and I both normally function well on our own, with the joy of knowing we have each other for support.

I’m often asked about cycling alone, both from a safety and solitude perspective. I’m rarely alone for long when cycling, with the people I meet along the way. A higher than usual number of hotel stays this trip haven’t provided as much company as I’m used to.  The group experience in Veliko Tarnovo (and our trek to Budludza) typifies the comraderie I find among other travellers. All very different people, we still have that bond in common. Everyone going their separate way reminds me that I’m alone again, and the disparity between the two states is always jarring.

On my first tour the world was different. I was totally on my own, without the connection via the Internet I have today. I remember being in a hostel, alone, somewhere in Switzerland, the day after one of those group experiences, and sitting next to a juke box, feeling alone and listening to “Stand by Me” over and over. Now I’ve even got that tune on my phone.  

At least I’m not on Mars.

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