I had a very good night's sleep at the Idol Hotel and a good breakfast. Then I headed for highway 4, which also is E772, another expressway which goes to Sophia. Shortly after I got on the highway, I saw a no bicycles sign. Since I didn't have any alternative which which wouldn't have cost me at least a days extra travel, I needed to ride this road. Besides, this is Bulgaria, not Germany or the Netherlands. Nobody is going out of their way to interfere with someone else. In Germany, been there done that, every frigging car will beep at you if you ride where bikes are forbidden. In Bulgaria, no one beeped except in approval of my riding my bike through the mountains.
Heading for the expressway
On the expressway
I don't want to go to Sophia
The last time I was here, it was legal to bicycle on the A roads - really fancy high speed roads - and the expressways - ordinary high speed roads. I figured there must be some special reason why I shouldn't bike on E772 and I kept expecting to find a tunnel - been there done a few tunnels in Bulgaria - or something else that could be problematic for local bicyclists. I never found one.
In the river gorge
Climbing for a long time
At the top
E772 goes along a river gorge for the first 10 km or so, then it climbs over a big ridge. That was a rough climb in the heat with a gentle tail wind. I stopped several times in small patches of shade to drink water and try to cool down. There weren't many patches of shade and the sun was intense.
After the top of the ridge, the road descends into a broad valley with pretty big cities on either side of the road as it climbs another ridge. At the top of that climb, 48, the road to Kotel, crosses the expressway and I had to climb yet some more to get on it. I expected to do a lot of climbing today, and, by the time I got to the road to Kotel, my legs were already quite tired. They needed a break, so I stopped and ate a sandwich I bought right after leaving my hotel.
Done with my expressway riding for today
Lake on 48 at start of climb
Shortly after that, there was a service station so I bought a 1.25 l Coke. I figured it would help with the climbing to come and it did, but by the time, several hours later when I worked my way though .75 l of it, my tummy was telling me I'd dumped too much carbonated sugar water into it for one day. I honestly don't know what happened to the rest of that Coke. After my late lunch, the bottle was missing.
Climbing for a long time
Then down and up and up and down
With some flatish riding
That service station had pretty much the only services for the several hours riding required to cover the first 23, of 38, km to Kotel on 48. The road starts climbing and keeps climbing for 5 km or so. It was another hard climb, but the fact that a good bit of 48 was shaded made it easier than the climb on the expressway. Each of those climbs probably took me more than an hour. Then 48 descended and climbed again repeated with probably more climb than descent on each of those cycles. It was very pretty and very nice, if challenging, riding. The road was very good and there was no problem with the traffic even though it did include quite a few big trucks.
Finally, the road started a very long, very fun, descent. I stopped in the middle of that for a major break. I had been stopping only to swig coke, but now, with my stomach hurting, I made some simple sandwiches with bread and jam and bread on nutella and I ate a banana I'd bought yesterday. I also had a swig of coke, my last swig from that bottle.
Continuing down that LONG descent, I was having a great time even knowing I was going to have to climb back up every inch of it.
The descent ended at a medium sized town where, since I'd already put some food in my tummy, I bought a beer at the local store. There was a group of older - some almost as old as me ;-} - men sitting at a shaded table outside the store and they called me over and invited me to sit with them. We had no common language, but a very enjoyable visit sitting there drinking beer. Then I cranked on to Kotel.
Looking out before the long descent
Starting the final climb
I knew,from looking at the terrain on Google maps, that the last 11 km climb, followed by a 4 km descent into Kotel, would be the hardest climbing of the day. It was. I climbed for about an hour, covering 7 km, and stopped for a break to cool down and rest a bit. Then I climbed for another half hour to get to the top of the ridge before Kotel. Interestingly, from near my break point, I could see the place on the ridge where the power lines went over. After several long switchbacks up the side of the ridge, the road crossed at the same point.
My bike, resting after climbing for an hour
Check out those rocks
I got to look at them for a long time
Spectacular rocks on top of the ridge
Looking back at where I rested
I guess this sign just means danger
Power lines coming over the ridge
The descent was fast and it wasn't long before I was in Kotel, looking for a place to eat. The one place to eat, and sleep, known by Garmin, no longer exists. I stopped and asked two men who were walking near where that place was and they directed me to restaurant near by where I had a big pizza and two half liter bottles of beer. Since I need some time to sober up, I got out my computer and worked on the images for this page.
Coming down towards Kotel
That is one big ridge ahead
The road goes around it
Leaving Kotel, I passed this fellow on his horse
Coming down from Kotel
When I left. I figured I'd ride 48 about 15 km and then look for a place to camp. Near Kotel, the land is much too steep for camping, but, 15 km of mostly nice descent later, it flattened out before climbing another ridge. I ended up part way up that ridge. That is when things got a little out of hand.
I found a place to setup my tent, but when I put the ground cloth down I discovered there were lots of tough little plants with sharp thorns under the long grass. I spent the next 20 minutes hunting for a better place. I found one, set the tent up and then the sun came out from behind the clouds and the tent became way to warm to stay inside. The flies and mosquitoes were too bad to stay outside. I did some more site hunting and then set up the tent in a better shaded, but not as level, location. By this time I'd spent well over an hour and drunk most of my water supply. I had a site, but I didn't have enough water for the night. I had gotten 2.75 l of water, from one of the many 'springs' along the road a few km back, before the hill. Now I rode back down to get another 2 l of water and rode back up to my site. It was a good stealth site, so I had to memorize a landmark to be able to find it again ;-}.
After all this effort and at least a dozen mosquito bites, mostly on my back, I was able to get in the tent, set up my thermarest chair, stretch out naked on my Zrest pad and let my body cool down for 15 minutes and, finally get started on writing this report.
These folks,and another couple, came to get water from the same spring I was using. They said it was good water.
Looking up the hill on my way back from getting water