Posted by: Mark Wollemann: On the move | November 28, 2011

My biking buddy Bill is trying to kill me

OK, that might be a bit extreme, seeing as I was a willing participant. We rode for five hours today. Well, it’s more accurate to say we were gone for five hours, riding part of the time and pushing bikes up a brush-and-thistle covered trail, carrying across rivers and pushing up steep rises on rock and sand covered trails. And then, exhausted near the end of our adventure and hurtling down a hill, I crashed. Good and crashed. The first real crash I’ve had in these hills. I’ll get to that in a second.

First, it was another perfect day, cool, breezy and sunny. I knew I was in trouble, though, when we started our ride and Bill said he had work to do at school so “how about we go for an hour or two?”

I said, “Well, I don’t really have to be in the office today so I can go a bit longer.”

Bill, immediately re-ordering his priorities, said, “Great! I’ve got this ride I was thinking about; it’ll take about three and half hours or maybe four.”

I shrugged. “Sounds fine.”

So off we went.

Our first obstacle was a hill. Always a hill. When we got to the top (45 minutes later) Bill called his wife and let her know he wouldn’t return in time to walk with her to campus. Actually, what he told her was: “I’m not going to be back” … and then stammered a bit and said “in time” for that walk. He was almost right with that first utterance, though.

Once topside, we rode along a ridge and then faced with some decisions about where to go next, we started to make things up as we went along. The phrase “this trail goes somewhere” was mentioned more than a few times. Bill knows these hills, but this ride was one he (or we) hadn’t done before so there was a lot of trial and error (mostly error). But we saw some sights.

We picked up a passenger for part of the trip, a dog (pictured) who followed us at a safe distance for a good 30 minutes while we were walking the bikes, mostly, up a steep rise. Then we followed a trail to an old settlement (also pictured) where we got off, looked around and surveyed our choices for getting back to town. We could see Blagoevgrad in the distance, but it was a good distance and there was no clear path to getting there. That’s about the time I was feeling completely spent. Thanksgiving week was a long one filled with lots of eating and drinking and socializing (and hanging out with Jenna). No biking, though. So I was not in tip-top form.

Bill, on the other hand, was strong as ever and continued to lead the way. We picked a path that led through a small mountain-top village and once we got through the village, we rode right into a shepherd, her flock of sheep, a few cows and five ornery dogs. She controlled the hounds pretty well. They barked, bared their teeth, raised their hackles and looked menacing at us while she and Bill conversed. Yes, she said, you should be able to follow this path and find your way to Blagoevgrad. Yes, just down here, around there, blady-blady-blah (that’s my translation of the conversation).

So we set off down the hill, the dogs giving chase for a second until the ancient shepherd, tattered clothes but kindly and bewildered smile at the two of us, hurled her walking stick at the dogs and yelled at them to shut the hell up (my words). They did and we were on our way again.

When we reached the bottom, we faced a couple of decisions. We chose poorly. We followed a river path (pictured) where we walked, and hopped across stones to navigate our way along the path. Until the path, more or less, ran out. Too stubborn (and tired) to turn back and pick a new direction, we pushed on. We found an old walking path (or goat path or some such) and pushed our bikes along it. Up and up and up. Thistle and jagged bushes and trees tearing at us and whacking us in the face. I’ll spare the details, but we persevered until we reached the top of the hill and picked up another path (and another wrong decision).

We found a plowed farm field and started walking along the soft edge of it, looking for the trail where the tractor had used to get up there (and happy to be away from the thistle and brush). We spied a path in between the two big fields and headed for it. It was the tractor path we were looking for and we were elated. We could see Blagoevgrad in the distance and it appeared it’d be all downhill from there.

We jumped on the bikes, happy for the opportunity to glide and let gravity do its work. But as we started to pick up steam, we heard — and then saw — another big dog, this one guarding a different flock of sheep, and he was heading for us angrily. When I looked up to negotiate a path past him, I must have lost sight of a rock or hole in the ground. I hit something, in any event, and it knocked my right hand off the handlebar and spun the front wheel sideways. I was going down. The ground was hard and rock-strewn, but I don’t think I hit anything more solid than the ground. My helmet was the first thing to contact the dirt. My head banged inside of it, but the helmet did its job. Then I was skidding and sliding with the bike on top of me until I came to rest. The bike and me were twisted all together, but nothing was broken — on either of us. I didn’t move for a minute and I think that worried Bill a bit. He came back to check on me and I assured him I was OK, just taking stock. I fell on my right side and my head, shoulder, elbow and shin were banged up, but I didn’t lose consciousness so I figured I was OK.

The shepherd came over to see the show. I’m sure it’s the most entertainment he’s had in quite a while. I got up, brushed myself off and Bill asked for directions to get out of there. Yes, yes, the good shepherd said. Just down this hill, turn here and you’re on your way.

Well, suffice to say, we made a few more wrong turns (I’m starting to question Bill’s proficiency with Bulgarian. I mean, he speaks with these people, but I’m starting to think maybe something gets lost in translation. Who knows? It’s all part of the journey, I guess).

We got turned around one more time — and had to climb out of one more river valley — before we found our way home. Tired, a little bloodied, a little banged up, but with another story in my pocket.

I guess it’s true: What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Or, maybe it’s just killing you a little at a time and you don’t know it. Either way, all’s well that ends well. Or, for this ride, all’s well that ends.

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Sorry for the lousy image, but "Little House on the Prairie," right?

Sorry for the lousy image, but "Little House on the Prairie," right?



  1. […] what was available in town. And then she just up and bought the thing. Since my last ride — and crash – was a bit of a disaster, I guess she figured it was time to have video evidence of my […]

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