Well what a crazy, crazy few days! I think it was Tuesday when I left Istanbul, turning back towards England courtesy of various visa issues. Since that day, I have covered about 500km, crossed the Turkish border (I am finally a legal migrant – rather than the illegal immigrant that Turkey had pegged me as being!). I have set a new personal best distance record of 175km in a day…have slept on the ridges of a ploughed field and in the entrance of a cemetry. I’ve been mauled by mosquitoes, and chased by snarling dogs (I now stop my bike, park it, get off of it…and chase the dogs! Those plucky fellows need to be taught a lesson or two!). But perhaps most significantly of all; and the subject of this post…I managed to break my rear wheel!
The broken wheel…
With 2,500km of riding still to go, and plenty of fire still in the belly, I was feeling pretty good about the prospect of covering such a distance in under 20 days. I figured that with new chains on my bike, plenty of spare spokes, new chains a nice new Schwalbe front tire, and no stoker (Kez flew home to England on Wednesday of last week), there was very little to stop me in achieving this goal. However, whilst laying my bike down two nights ago, I noticed what seemed to be some stickers peeling off the rim of my rear wheel. Those ‘stickers’ turned out to be the metal fracturing away from the rest of the rim. Given that this is a 48 spoke reinforced tandem rim, I knew I was in trouble!
Now it’s fair to say that tandems are pretty rare in the UK. In Eastern Europe though, you’re more likely to see dragons and unicorns! & so it was that I began a very tentative 3km ride into Pazardzhik yesterday morning. It’s fair to say that I had a heavy heart. Pushing myself from surnrise to sunset every day really has given me such a buzz; a feeling no doubt amplified by the amazing hospitality I have received since leaving Istanbul. With such a rim failure, I was staring down the barrel of a 2,400km train trip…racing through countries that I had hoped to experience at a rather more sedate pace.
I needed friends, & friends I got!
Firstly, there was Itzor. He was just any other pensioner…enjoying a cup of coffee before getting on with the rest of his day. But upon seeing me in my predicament, Itzor took it upon himself to walk me around every bike shop in Pazardzhik in the ultimately fruitless quest to find a wheel rim! He didn’t speak a word of English, but nevertheless walked with me for a good hour and a half…before handing me over to my next set of saviours (pictured above)!
I was either just very fortunate, or Bulgarians are just inherently and unswervingly helpful people. For this next assortment of good natured souls were from the other end of the spectrum. They were schoolchildren, with one – Christina – an excellent English speaker. Upon hearing of my adventure, and of my problems, they cancelled their plans, and proceeded to walk with me the three kilometres to the train station. They then waited with me, entertaining me with break dancing and stories about what they get up to and what they are looking forward to doing in the future (the professions that they aspire to be range from dentists & journalists to forestry stewards and snipers!!). They even waited for an hour for the train to arrive, with Rambo and Arnold (the two guys) helping me to lift the behemoth of a bike onto the raised carriage of the train. A simply fantastic bunch of young adults that I couldn’t hope to do justice to in this little paragraph! (Thank you to you all though…)
& the eventual bike fix…
So I took the train the 80km from Pazardzhik to Sofia, fully expecting to have to continue riding all the way through to Austria and beyond. However, after negotiating the catacombs of Sofia’s railway station (I had to use the service tunnels rather than the stairs – for as per usual, my bike was too big!), I popped out into the main railway terminal…
…and soon had my next good soul helping me out! His name is Kiril, a man fluent in six languages, and a long-term resident of Sofia. He has a fleet of five bikes, and knew exactly the man to get mine sorted. The long and the short of it – I am getting a new 36 spoke rear wheel built, with a downhill mountain bike rim, reinforced DT Swiss spokes and a new hub – for the princely sum of 80 pounds. The mechanic assures me it will be good to get me to the UK and far beyond too…so I can now recommence my ride at my leisurely 21km/h, rather than the unengaging 100km/h of a train (or god forbid, a bus!!).
This update has been written from Kiril’s laptop at his apartment in Sofia – where I have had a most wonderful and informative stay. Next stop, hopefully Passau in Germany (where I will hopefully be meeting Anna Reiderer – a German student whom I met at Sinbad’s Hostel in Istanbul).
There’s going to be lots of cycling between here and there though…and I probably won’t get many internet opportunities. But rest assured, I am reading and greatly appreciating all of the messages that I have been receiving.
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