This road felt like it would go on forever and the wind and the hills would never end
What a long, hard, day its been. I left my motel in Macedonia about 9:15 this morning and arrived at my, much fancier, motel in Bulgaria 7:45 PM this evening. This as, by far, the longest, and in some ways, the hardest day of this tour. It was also the day that began with the worst breakfast, which may have had something to do with it feeling long and hard.
The median I had to cross back over
After spending five minutes eating a pathetic breakfast which I had to wait more than half an hour to get, I went back to my room and finished yesterdays web page. Then I packed my bike and rolled it down the stairs and checked out. I had and excellent salad for supper last night, I got my bike cleaned up and the chain cleaned and lubed, and I got a good nights sleep, so it really was a good place to stay. But such a pitiful breakfast...
My first item of business on the road this morning was to get back over the median of the expressway. I did it without even getting my shoes muddy, although I did have to pick a few big burrs off my socks ;-}. My next item of business was getting my Serbian money changed to Macedonian money in Komanovo. I though that might be a problems since it was Sunday, but seeing the big mosque and no big churches eased my worry. The city was positively buzzing with activity, much of it concentrated around a huge market spread along several blocks of the main street. I found a exchange office a few blocks later and a market where I got bananas and yogurt a block or so after that. Then I made a mistake.
I headed on down - down into a valley - on the main street and, when it reached a highway, I headed east. That road went to Kocani, a place I spent the might in a couple of years ago, but not where I wanted to go today. I turned around and, stopping at a service station, got confirmation that that was the correct way to get to the road to Sofia. Then I spent more than half an hour grinding my way up the steep road into a strong wind. Ugh! When I finally got to the road I wanted to be on, I had been riding for an hour and a half and I was exhausted.
The next hour of riding wasn't much fun. It was hilly, cold, and it rained. I put on my rain gear and pannier covers and pressed on. After the rain ended, the temperature rose but the wind didn't drop. The hills just kept getting bigger and my average speed kept dropping. for the first four hours of riding I averaged about 9 mph. At the end of the. long, day my average was down to 8 mph
What I spent most of my time climbing, head down into the wind, for the first half of the ride today
I had thought that the two towns shown on my map between Komanovo and the Bulgarian border would have services. When I reached the first town, I was badly in need of lunch, but it didn't even have a market. It was 26 km to the next town, so I switched into survival mode, conserving the bread and water I had as I cranked, slowly, mostly uphill into the wind at 5 or 6 mph. I was exhausted, my tummy hurt, and I was not looking forward the the next two or three hours it would take me to get to that next town. Then I found a place to eat in a town that wasn't on the map.
It wasn't a fancy place. There was no menu and I had one 'choice' for food. However that choice - grilled home made sausages with good bread and a sliced tomato - was fine and the .5 l Macedonian beer washed it all down nicely. Life was suddenly a lot more enjoyable. The big hills and wind were replaced by a gently climbing valley with light wind. The pavement was lousy, but, other than that, the riding conditions were good.
There was a string of very small towns in that valley. In one of them, I spotted a new fancy gas station/motel. I was hurting, so I stopped and inquired if they had a room. It turned out that the motel part wasn't ready yet, so I rode on. I hoped that the remaining town on my map would have a place to stay so my tired legs wouldn't have to do the big climb to the border.
The pavement got better and riding was very nice in the valley
The clouds were threatening, but it never rained
When I got to the second town on the map, I found it was much bigger than the other towns, and quite pretty, It had some services, but no place to stay. I stopped at a service station and got a double Snickers bar and a 1.5 l bottle of lemonade. I figured, correctly, that I would need that quick energy for the climb to the border. I drank some lemonade and ate one of the candy bars, then topped up my water bottles and replaced the 1.5 l water bottle I was carrying with with the 1.5 l lemonade bottle. Then I cranked on through the town along the river.
The start of the gentle climb up the river valley
Riding up the river gorge
It was a very nice ride, even with tired legs, up the river gorge. The pavement was smooth, the grade never got too steep - probably 3-4% max - and there were lots of neat things to see. Then, maybe 5 km later, the road climbed out of the valley.
The first part of the climb was at 7%, and, except for a couple of bridges, there was a passing lane
There were several miles of climbing, most of it at 7% on good pavement with light traffic. The last mile and a half was at 6%, and my legs really appreciated the gentler slope. I stopped several times to take pictures, drink lemonade, and rest. On my last stop, in the 6% part, I ate the second Snickers bar.
Looking back into the valley, early in the climb
When I got to the pass / border, most of the cars and one of the bus that passed me on the way up were waiting. Folks had gotten out of their cars and were walking around. This was not good since it was getting late and I expected to have to ride for an hour or two in Bulgaria before I found a place to stay. the bus was second in line, behind a car that was, apparently, causing the delay. The bus passengers were all standing outside, so I leaned my bike against a bench and, when the border folks finally started processing the bus passengers, I got in line with them. The delay, for me, was about half an hour
When I got to the Bulgarian side, agent came out to get my passport. He eyes widened and she smiled when she saw it was a US passport. That is the first time that has happened on this tour.
It was a long, fast descent on good road, followed by a long flat stretch. I still had ten km to go to get to the first city on my route and it was after 7 PM. Then there was a 6% grade for 2 km sign. I coasted down that grade at 30 mph. It flattened out a bit and then there was another, much longer stretch of 6 % grade going all the way to Kyustandil ;-}. I entered town at 33 mph and had to brake for the first hotel.
The Paradise Hotel *** had signs posted along the road for the last fifteen km, so I was looking for it. It is a very fancy looking place and big, and very loud party was going on here. I almost didn't turn in because of the noise When I did turn in, it took quite a while to deal with my bike. I finally got them to let me put in in there bottle storage area, and ended up paying a 5 E 'parking fee' because, in the process of getting my bike in, I knocked over and broke a bottle of wine. My room which is air conditioned and very nice, cost 34 E with the parking fee.