Thursday, September 13, 2007

Three months of life on the back of a bike

Ahh, good old exercise - makes you feel so good. I ride my bike to work, at least I have for most of the summer. It takes 20 minutes, mostly downhill on the way there. I used to ride the bus, but it just became unbearable. Stopping at every corner - literally - the bus ride is 45 minutes long and full of nerve-grating noise and uncomfortable idiocy. They could cut ten minutes off the route by eliminating half of the stops. Just think about it, how much time is lost when they have to slow down, pull over, then wait for traffic to clear so they can pull out again? Sure, you'd be at a stop a little longer with more people getting on fewer stops, but you're waiting far less time to pull out in traffic.

Then there's the crackheads, crazies, and freaks who ride the bus. I couldn't stand that any longer. I suppose one of the final straws was a guy who freaked out because the bus driver wouldn't open the back door due to a law that prevented him from doing so. A car had parked in the bus stop area and the bus couldn't pull over to the side of the road; therefore, he was not allowed to open the back door for passengers. Metro bus drivers hit 22 people last year, killing five of them, and this smart bus driver didn't want to risk his job and possibly his freedom by breaking a law for an irate passenger. Instead of just walking his lazy ass up to the front of the bus and getting off, the freak threw a fit. It was mofo this, mofo that, and finally, "I wish I had my gun right now cuz I'd kill you. I'd go crazy on you mofos." He then went on to say something about how he was trying to get to the hospital to see a family member and nobody gives a shit. Well, if you're trying to get to the hospital, instead of wasting time by throwing a fit, USE THE FRONT DOOR, YOU IDIOT.

So anyway, I started riding my bike to work. Two weeks ago I mysteriously began to feel tired during my rides, and soon it became difficult. Perhaps I was sick or something, but I had to take a break from riding, which meant the bus. I got on my bike for the first time in nearly two weeks yesterday morning. Man, could I tell it had been awhile. I guess I hadn't realized what great shape I had been in. I woke up this morning and my body felt like it had been hit by a truck. Or a bus would be more appropriate in this city, I guess.

I'm bringing my bike to Bulgaria. Yes, I love to walk, love to wander the streets of the past, present, and future, and I will do plenty of that. But riding a bike (and being in the shape to do so!) gives a person the freedom to cover distances much more quickly without all of the hassle of a car, what with the parking and the parking and the parking and all. What I'd really like to do is spend some time biking from small town to small town and seeing the countryside. It'd give me a chance to see things most people don't see, to meet people otherwise forgotten by unconcerned tourists, and to experience grassroots Bulgaria, whatever that means. I'd have to do this first, while the weather is still decent, before settling into Veliko Tarnovo, which has begun to sound quite magical to me.

Transporting three months' worth of living on a bicycle is going to be a challenge. I have a set of panniers I bought back in June when I first conceived the notion of going on a bike ride across Western Europe. I had planned on taking a circular journey, first starting from Frankfurt, riding up the Rhine and down the Mosel into Luxembourg, spending a few days there, then heading on over to Paris and down to Tours, up to Flanders, where I'd spend a week (I looooove Flanders), up through Holland and across Northern Germany to Berlin, then down to Prague to visit a friend, then to Salzburg to visit a friend, then back to Frankfurt to go home. Yeah, it sounds like a lot, but it was only three months' time, and that was with week-long breaks several places. I certainly got into shape to do it.

But once again, I digress, as I frequently do. I could digress about digression right here, but I won't. Suffice it to say that I will digress more often than not. I was talking about riding in Bulgaria. No, packing for riding in Bulgaria. Or riding in Europe. Yeah, I gotta stuff three months' worth of life onto my bike. The panniers I bought are rather small - I filled one side with one fleece, one pair of thick long underwear, two thin sweaters, and a turtleneck. The other side I will fill with toiletries. I'm also going to load up my travel backpack and strap it to the top of the rack I have on my bike. It's a pretty big bag - I used it on a two month trip through Europe in 1999 during a graduate program I took on the European Union. As business attire was required during the program, I had to stuff it with a couple of suits.

As I think about it now, I wonder if I should just purchase some clothing there. I don't have much money, as I said before, but if I look at it in a Bulgarian context, where the average monthly wage is $272, I have a whole year's salary, and that's after I purchase the plane ticket. Wow, that's some perspective.

I found an incredibly cheap ticket to Budapest and was thinking about flying there and riding my bike down the Danube as far down as I can go before crossing into Bulgaria, but that would have taken three weeks, about two of them being through countries only a decade removed from war, so I'm not sure how well-developed their roads and bike paths along the Danube are. Not being a member of the EU, I imagine Serbia hasn't exactly spent its money constructing bike paths - I am sure there are more important things to build - rebuild - like oh, say schools and homes and the basic infrastructure. This is me using logic to make plans.

The reason I don't want to fly into Sofia is because I am going to be visiting some friends at the end of the trip and don't want to have to back track to Sofia to go home. This, of course seems stupid, because I'm going to have to buy train tickets there and back, and if I bought tix to Sofia, I'd have to buy train tickets there and back, too, but hey, at the end of a trip you want shorter travel distances, right? I'd rather go one way and not come back than go all the way to Prague and Salzburg then go all the way there and back. And yeah, they have to be train tickets. I hate flying and love trains. In the end, the combo of plane and train tix will probably cost the same no matter where I fly in, but again, hey, it's my life, right? ;)

I'd love to spend a week on the road, but from where to where? My indecisiveness is delaying the purchase of my plane ticket. I have to act now! AAAAAHHHHHHHH!

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