Friday, August 21, 2009

12

turkish coffee - been waiting for you.
your black foamy crema is zingıng right thru
my fingertips as i take more sips
and relish a seat ın the shade.

flags reign high over the land,
at the gas station and the fruit stand.
its hard to hide the pride inside
please - take a cold watermelon.

you honk at us twice
you wave cuz you're nice
you invıte us inside
and you tell us our rides...
should have engines.

past the mountains i'd feared
we can now cheer
we're here!
in turkey - it's clear...
that we're strong ones.

istanbul awaits
150k away
and i don't want this trip to be
over.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

la de da dee da... greece?

a split second decision this morning has decided that most of the agents are adding an additional twelfth country to the ride to break the cycle europe tour. and the winner is... greece! apparently mezek, our final sleep spot in bulgaria (just outside svelingrad) is about 15k from the greek border, so the decision was made to make it a tri border cross day. spending the rest of our leva at a cafe here in wonderful mezek with the amazing bulgarian terrain and generous people, we are hesitant to leave this country which has been so good to us. my next correspondance will be from turkey. and then who knows what...

last night we all made promises for the last week of our tour. to give a high five to everyone at the end of the ride, to speak our mind, and mine is to write a poem and draw a picture of everyone before the end of the tour.

hello greek salad.
goodbye bulgars.

xo

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

over hard in plovdiv, sunny side up in kardjali

i always assumed, but never knew for sure, that there was a wall in bike touring. it creeps up slowly, and usually comes after about 7 weeks of strong cycling through unchartered terrain on tight schedules. phillipe, our driver, would have been the first to notice the trend with first a keely, then a nigel, then an eileen, erin, and a shani in the car.
i'd vouched after about a week of riding that i would ride the entire route to istanbul. no matter what. just to prove it to myself, you know? 'you can do it, gala! wooo!'
but once that wall hits you in the middle of the night, and you wake up in the overly-hot gymnasium of the french immersion school in plovdiv, and your stomach is wrenching around, and you make a mad dash to the w.c., you know that today is going to be your day to take a day off and ride in the car.
'is it ok? should i take a day off? really?' i look for reassurance among the team. jake responds, 'didn't you just throw up ten minutes ago while you were talking with phil on the stairs? i think everyone will be okay with you riding in the car, gala.'
considering the fact that the world caved in on me as i dizzily searched for juice in the popmusic playing mega marina supermarket, and i had to make a mad dash to the exit and throw up on the sidewalk, i don't feel that guilty for taking the day off at all.
(writers note: since when did i become so comfortable talking about my stomach activity with the internet? i guess its all part of the touring thing...)
k-os, bob marley, & regina spektor led the way as phil and i rolled in four wheels over the foothills of bulgaria, feeling only slightly sorry for the team.
we have a day off in kardjali today, and i haven't left the little house we are staying in for even a minute. lounging around in my short shorts with keely and sabrina, reading, internetting, dozing off like kittens, as the others hang out in town visiting local media and wandering new streets.
apparently we only have 5 days left. WHAT?! and then 3 days to debrief. it has me thinking about my next four months, and how i'll adjust to not having these 20 amazing kids around me every second of the day.
sayonara for now

g

Saturday, August 15, 2009

paint it gold, son. 492kms to go. current location: kostenets, bulgaria.

lightning storms have followed us to almost every big city we've been so far. waking up in a puddle in prague, racing through the rain in vienna, having a slightly more weather friendly budapest, and then continuing with the trend while drinking hot cocoa on the steps of a school gym on the outskirts of sofia last night while watching neon stripes crackle through the sky every 4 minutes into the night. definately an unexpected trend to note on a trip through eastern europe, where i fully expected my -3 degree sleeping bag to be much to warm to get any effective use of. jokes on me! the rain is really making an effort out here, making for much more memorable rides, like this morning's ride out of Sofia around the epic ring road and onto the A1 towards Plovdiv.

"hole!" "bump!" "tire chunk!" "gravel!" my hands come off the handlebars for a moment as i point out the obstacles on either side of our 1 metre wide stretch of highway, between giant truck tires and hot black exhaust fumes on the left, and funky ashphalt lips that have formed on the right from pressure over time. its a fast start to the morning, jumping right into the thick of things with no real buffer to warm up with. the trick is to find yourself in that fine line between being extremely alert and aware of your surroundings, and being calm enough to shut out any external hubbub distracting your focus. and then, if you find yourself up front of your 5 person pod, its finding that perfect pace that won't frustrate the fast guy, and won't wear out the (*ahem*) less fast guys (and girl). but then it really doesn't matter because suddenly on the right is a big shiny oasis of a gas station and its all red and shiny and beautiful and theres goodies inside, and you might even spend 6 Leva on some carrot juice and a cappucino because, honestly now, you deserve it, and then you pull into the gas station and your pod is all like, what's goin on, girl? and you just tell it straight: i need a break, boys.

bulgaria has definately been the most interesting terrain we've seen so far. and we've been waiting for this, too. the mountain ranges that had me second guessing whether or not i should go on the tour have found us, and they aren't all that hectic. you just do it. and riding in and out of this country's capital was almost a slice of cake, too. my apprehension has now been averted towards the ride into Istanbul, but recent conversations have suggested that we all ride as 20 bicycles in car formation taking an entire lane for that dramatic impact. (i say we do it slathered in gold paint, as well. why not?)

in other news. we stayed in a place called svoge the other night. and unexpectedly, because our host was a crazy un-normal gypsy mountain person that erin found on couchsurfing, we ended the ride day with a 6km cycle straight up the bulgarian mountainside and into the woods. but less easily than that sounds, because upon arrival at the top, we found that the "town centre" was actually an empty town hall style building, a house that sold 1.5L bottles of beer, and a watering trough. and our host, ian the tall scottish man, who said he would meet us there at 4pm, didn't show up for 2 hours with an explanation that "sometimes people say they're going to do something or be somewhere, and then they aren't... did you try the water? it's lovely."

our campsite was still another 30 or 40 minute walk down some dirt trails, so two of us stayed in centre in order to wait for the following pods to make it up the hill, while 6 others followed ian down the dirt trails towards camp. long story short... about 12 of us ended up wandering through the hills completely perdu with our bikes and the impending darkness, and the real chance of having to pitch our tents in the middle of the forest with only blackberries for sustenance. (highlight of trip? maybe...) our cries for help were answered with echoes of help as we stood helplessly on the mountaintop overlooking the valley. but, no hard feelings for those who didn't turn right around to come back and show us the way, because it turns out our hippy friends, who are in the midst of manifesting love throughout the world from their hilltop viewpoint, had sent our friends to work hauling wood and arranging water devices upon their arrival at the camp. so much for ian's offer to get maggie to help us cart our baggage to camp. (maggie is a very thin and weak looking donkey that lives with our teepee dwelling ian)

ok, maybe you get the idea. or maybe you don't because that run on sentence of a paragraph was probably confusing unless you were there. but the best part is, there was also a meteor shower that night, and we slept really close to the stars.

and now, i'll leave you again, because i still have sunlight to play in and a little town to explore. although, this popmusicplayingnetcafe is probably the most bumpin spot in town.

i bike u

gala

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

"these rocks look as if they were touched by god" the beginning of bulgaria

we are on top of the world. belgradochik, bulgaria, to be precise. yesterdays ride consisted of one 2 never ending, granny gear, bugs-swarming-your-face uphill crawls sandwiched between one unforgettable endorphin erupting downhill, and brought us to this amazing town nestled in the mountains, real mountains, of bulgaria.
crossing the border from as we rode from gogosu to calafat, romania and then into vidin, bulgaria was done in style with a police escort through the city and a special forces police night watch team surrounded our danube river parkside campsite with white caution tape as we slept. do we look that vulnerable, really? because im pretty sure my thighs are like two giant tree trunks at this point... ya.
this trip is fabulous, and i can't say it enough. even when im down, its good. even when youve eaten chocolate jam sandwiches for lunch every day, its good. when it rains, when you havent showered in 6 days, when your accomodation ends up being in the front yard of the local pub, its all good.
i dont know when it happened, but suddenly whipping out 100k per day is no news at all, and even when we still have 30kms to go, and its 5pm, and the sun is going down, and you're hungry and the food still needs to be cooked, we know that we have the ability to stop for a 1 hour stop with a local should they perhaps invite us to their backyard garden for a cup of coffee as we stand outside her house looking lost. did that run on sentance make sense?
explanation. while riding a most epic day through romanian countryside the other day, myself, mark, sabrina and shawn found ourselves at the gate of a house on the side of the road after making a left turn and not knowing exactly whether or not it was the right turn to make. shawn doubles back to ask someone for directions, just as the most lovely young woman steps up to the gate and asks if she can help us.
"you speak english!" we exclaim with mild shock, as her pronounciation is perfect. "yes" she smiles humbly. "can i help you? would you like an apple from the tree?"
we can't help but say yes to the apple. regardless of the fact that its been a long day and we still have k's to go. an apple turns into coffee in the backyard, as elena has just been sitting there reading a book being somewhat bored back at home for the summer from university. she finds 5 chairs and fills a bowl with cookies and another with chips. her mother lays out four tiny tea cups each of them floral and blue and with their own matching saucer. "these are the size of the cups we have, i hope its ok."
it's ok. more than ok.
Elena talks to us about her experience growing up in Romania. about her education and her country. she is extremely intelligent and realistic, and beautiful. she needs to come on next year's bike tour. can you imagine how the dynamic of the trip would change completely?
"what is your favourite part of Romania?"
"my home, right here."
she loves her dogs, and her family. her yard has a small grape vine which they use to make wine from, an apple tree, a lovely little home, and a barn with plywood falling every which way. her family doesn't live there in the winter. no one does, not even the dogs, who move in with the neighbors.
we don't want to leave. but we must, because, similarly to the night previous, we have no pre-arranged accomodation, and someone has to figure out where we are staying. so far, this hasn't caused any real problem.
an abandoned half built house on top of a mountain that crosses the narrowest point of the danube in borova. this accomodation came with about 10 stray puppy friends :)
and to our delite, as i have mentioned, we rode into gogosu and ended up camping on the lawn of the local pub. (p.s. gogosu's population is about 100, so we were definately at the town hot spot for our 3rd to last saturday night of the trip)

its hard to imagine this trip being over soon. its just getting going. we are finding a groove in the team and things are getting interesting terrain wise. sabrina and i were talking the other day about how neat it would be to have a 6 month twenty person bike tour. roving community. insane dynamics. im growing attached to all these people, and i think september is going to come as a bit of a shock. (not to mention i'll be in mo-frickin TurKeY!!!)

i could go on. i should go on, because i havent been writing down many of the thoughts ive had on the tour, and i havent really documented anything at all. especially now that my 8gb camera card is full and im actually too lazy to upload them. oops.

its crazy to see us getting so strong.
its crazy how much you can experience in one day.
i think everyone should do a long distance tour once in their life.
we met a french man on the road the other day who is cycling from les rochelles, france, to india. solo. over 2 years... he expects to be in egypt for the winter.
thats at least 2 people so far who are on long distance trips in order to "take a break from life". people who have never toured before and are just doing it.

and then theres kids like the two 20 year old boys from england who are taking 3 weeks this summer to ride the entire danube to the black sea. reaching sometimes 200kms per day. just for fun.
people are nuts.

i must go. because, i can't stand this internet business sometimes. there are pastries and yogurt to be eaten. there is rain to be dodged, there are streets to walk.

look up belgradochik on a google map. it was in the nomination to be one of the next wonders of the world. and we are sleeping in the park in question.

xx and o