After 13 months, 33,000km, 20 countries, 100’s of awesome moments, 100’s of shitty moments, 1 broken leg, riding over the highest mountain ranges in the world, deserts, beaches, being taken in by so many different cultures, sharing a meal with thousands of unique people, camping in all sorts of strange places, navigating corrupt police and officials, keeping the motorcycle running, and somehow managing to keep myself alive, me and the motorcycle made it to Europe from Australia. I rode into Bulgaria under the blue and yellow flag of the European Union. The last day on the bike took me through the rolling hills of central Bulgaria. The final red, orange, and yellow leaves clung for dear life to the trees quickly becoming bare. I made it to Europe much later than I had expected to in the beginning. There wouldn’t be any enjoying the nice fall days surrounded by the amazing color displays. I could feel winter rushing towards the region, like a bird sensing the seasons. It was time to migrate south to the warmth. A lot of emotions flowed through me during those hours. Memories and moments in time from the past year came at me from all directions. Yes it felt amazing to make it on some level, but I also felt a lot of nostalgia. A sort of longing for the past and feeling of sadness that a chapter was closing. Sometimes a situation or experience along the way didn’t seem like a big deal or was even a “bad time”, but many of these memories came back to mind and put a smile on my face. I thought about the summer I spent in Bend, Oregon and the hours of scouring the internet when the whole trip was just an idea. The entire thing was some pipe dream of lists and info scribbled all over strewn pieces of paper. Now the idea had morphed into a reality. I thought about the night in Australia when I was camping in my little white van on a cliff overlooking the ocean and had my epiphany of it having to be a motorcycle trip. Remembering the feelings I had felt while reading that fateful section of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance when everything suddenly made since, and sleep was impossible. I can’t say I loved every second of it, but that would be boring. You can’t set out on something like this and think it’s all going to be magical and inspiring at every step, but getting through the rough times makes it all feel that much better.
Before my final destination I stopped into the town of Veliko Tarnovo and ended up having one more heart warming experience with locals. The absolute best part of the entire journey were the local people I met and shared time with along the way. No matter how hard the powers of the world try and convince us that we are all so different, they can’t change the truth. When it comes down to it, we are all pretty damn similar in what we want in life. Sometimes our foods, homes, bathrooms, customs, traditions, and appearances can be much different, but deep down none of that matters. When I came out to my bike there was a guy who had just pulled up next to me and was giving it a look over. He ended up being an incredible guy that epitomized my experiences with locals all over the world. He was so excited to hear about my trip that it got me excited as well.
Sometimes it was easy to forget about how lucky I was to be on my path. My new friend wanted to give me some money to donate to the trip, but I kept refusing. He was persistent that he wanted to help me out, so I told him I’d take a sandwich at McDonalds. I wasn’t leaving there without a bursting belly if he had anything to do with it. Each thing I ordered he doubled it for me. He was there for a casual meeting and I ended up part of it. The cool part about this was that the meeting was with Tania Dangalakova, the gold medal swimmer from the 1988 Seoul olympics, and her daughter who is also an accomplished swimmer that ended up swimming on scholarship to UNLV. Here’s a good write-up about her from swimvortex.com: “Deprived by the Soviet-led boycott of the 1984 Games, Tania Bogomilova (BUL) contended herself with collecting several other international prizes either side of events in Los Angeles. At 19, in 1983, she took bronze in the 100m at the European Championships, in 1985 she matched that result at the same event and added the European title in the 200m and then in 1986 at the World Championships in Madrid, silver in the 200m and bronze in the 100m. In 1987, she did not turn up to defend her European crown. The reason: she had retired after falling pregnant. A daughter was duly delivered but mum, now sporting a married name of Dangalakova, longed to return to the pool to get back in shape.
Her comeback was successful enough to place her back on the Bulgarian team for the 1988 Games. Once in Seoul, Dangalakova gave warning of her form when she missed the podium in the 200m by just 0.09sec behind teammate Antoaneta Frenkeva after having led for much of the way before tiring at the end. The race was won by Silke Hoerner (GDR), ahead of Huang Xiaomin, among the first generation of Chinese women swimmers who shot to world-class prominence without having shown any previous international form.
Two days later, Hoerner, world record holder in the 100m on 1:07.91, was tipped to become the first woman to win both Olympic breaststroke titles. But in the fourth heat, it was Dangalakova who set the pace, with an Olympic record of 1:08.35. Hoerner led down the first 50m of the final, in 31.53 to Dangalakova’s 31.90 and respective splits of 32.18 and 32.43 for Allison Higson (CAN) and Frenkeva. Half-way to home, the Bulgarians piled on the pressure, Dangalakova passing Hoerner and going on to claim the crown in an Olympic record of 1:07.95, just 0.04sec shy of Hoerner’s world record.”
She was a lovely person and wrote a nice note on my motorcycle.
Before parting ways he insisted on taking me over to the supermarket and doing some shopping for me. He got me some snacks including a kilo of ham, and three 2-liters of Bulgarian beer. He just wanted to do something nice for someone traveling through his country. Another random act of kindness from a random person along the way. It’s always very humbling.
I’m storing the bike at Motocamp Bulgaria in the tiny village of Idilevo for the winter. It was sort of sad to say goodbye to it. I thought about all the beauty we saw together. Come spring we will reunite and tackle Europe, but for now, I’m migrating to the tropical weather like a bird. My final day in Bulgaria saw the first snowfall of winter.