Today was, yet again, another example of direct manifestation. Ask, and you will receive.
My morning was off to a grumpy start. Last night I was helped and guided all around town by an older gentleman. He was smiley, I was friendly and grateful that he helped me find a good, clean motel for 10 LEV (5€) a night. Before parting ways he asked me “please, may he come up to my room” and smiling at me held the goodbye handshake I offered him several moments too long. He left me feeling sorry for his loneliness, sad and frustrated. I recalled my best friend from high school saying once “You can’t be friendly with guys, they always take it the wrong way.” At the time I had staunchly disagreed, but my current cultural context was making me realise that perhaps she was right; perhaps the fault was mine for being too nice.
This is a land of no cyclists. Aside from Brits Les and Ruth who I met several days ago in Berkovitsa, I have yet to see other bicycle travellers. Road cyclists are also an endangered species, for I’ve noticed a total of two or three in my week here in Bulgaria…and they were older men, of course. There’s not much hope of making spontaneous friendships with other ladies, for, unless you have some previous introduction or context, most women shy away from talking with the likes of me. Gone are the days when groups of girlfriends would approach me on the street (in France or Italy, for example), in a campground or in front of the supermarket, eyes shining with curiosity and inspiration at the idea of a solo female traversing a continent on a bicycle. Here, in the former East Block, most girls are still a bit too concerned with the brand of their sandals and the sex-appeal of their fluttery tops to appreciate an idea like the Ride to Read. I get the feeling they think I’m just a bit crazy for going so long without make-up!
In short, I was in need of some company, a spontaneous encounter to brighten my day, a shared coffee with a friendly and unassuming person. I’m a Gemini for goodness sakes! I wilt if I go too long without real human interaction.
So, realizing my grumpiness and its cause, I sent up the intention for a good meeting today. To be honest, I didn’t fully believe it was possible, but I figured it “can’t hurt to ask”, as they say.
I met my friend-to-be not even one kilometer into my day’s ride. We quickly realized that we didn’t really have any languages in common, but somehow made efforts at basic conversation – a mix of Bulgarian, Russian, English and German. Most importantly though, we spoke the language of friendliness and companionship.
Slavi, a road cyclist, accompanied me to the intersection but was surprised when I turned away from my planned route to stop at the gas station instead – I needed cold water and an Internet connection. He waved goodbye; neither of us knew that we would see each other again later on.
After the break, I plowed on in the roasting sun. Tired of seeing that desert mirage-like haziness of heat panning out in the distance; I continued gulping down huge breaths of hot asphalt-smelling air. It was scorching, and I was mentally exhausted and unmotivated.
But I kept the bike moving forward. Another 20km or so and who do I see but this morning’s friend cycling in the opposite direction – he jumped the metal barrier with his bike to rejoin me and continued on the road with me in my direction.
I admit it – I was cold and distant at first. After so many encounters that have started off well and fizzled into awkward and uncalled-for suggestions, I figured I would try a different approach this time. But all was well, this cyclist was glad to simply share some time and road space.
Over the next several hours, he showed me the good water spots, the natural springs that are often off the road, took me to a little hamburger joint where I was able to get some lunch and kept me company on the road. It was the cycling with him that I most appreciated. I can’t tell you how relaxing it was to have him there cycling in front, cutting into the wind for me, but also, and more importantly, changing my view and focus. I trained my eyes on his right shoe, just a meter or so away from my nose, mesmerized and calmed by his steady and strong cadence. I haven’t felt so relaxed and calm on the road in a long time. It felt like a guide had been sent for the sole purpose of allowing me a break from blazing my own trail, and I was overjoyed to take the backseat and simply follow. Of course there was no real navigation necessary since we were simply following the no. 6 eastward, nor do perfectly paved roads require any actual “trail blazing”; it’s more the concept that mattered. It was an indescribable blessing!
We shared one more coffee, exchanged numbers and emails, he promising to learn Polish and I Bulgarian (since conversation had been extremely limited!), and it was time to continue. I took to the road alone again feeling rejuvenated – like it was only the first day of my journey, not the sixty-second!
I arrived in the industrial town of Sliven astounded by the distance I had been able to cover, and knowing that it was greatly due to the pair cycling. A hotel was not difficult to find, and the evening quickly faded with the sun…
Kasia – your manifesting cyclist
- Slavi, lunch place and the stray who got some of my hamburger
- hiding in the shade