I have friends in the United States with military experience, bicycling experience, or in some cases both that ask, "How long was your tour in Bulgaria?" I am not sure of the question. Are they asking about my bicycle tour or are they inquiring about my tour of service in Bulgaria? My Bulgaria tour of service was two years and three months; my bicycle tour was only one month in duration. The surprising thing is that there is a lot of similarity in the two tours.Here in Bulgaria the more frequently asked questions are: Why did you come to Bulgaria? Why did you do the ride around Bulgaria? I have found that I want to respond the same to both questions but need the help of others to express the answer clearly. John Ciardi provides that help when he says, "If you can succeed at a thing you didn't set out to do much. The only thing worth trying is the impossible. We're all going to end up as some sort of failure, but at least take a big bite." I think that coming to Bulgaria as a Business Consultant Peace Corps Volunteer qualifies as trying the impossible. To use a cheap bike imported from Italy as a touring bike for an eighteen hundred kilometer ride around Bulgaria is the "big bite". My simple answer to both of the questions posed above is; I am an explorer and wanderer! Robert D. Ballard, the discoverer of the Titanic, explains this best when he says: "Everyone is an explorer. How could you possibly live your life looking at a closed door and not go open it? Exploration is still the epic journey, to dream, to prepare yourself, to go forth to be tested mentally and physically by the gods. To pass the test, to be given the truth, and then come back and share the new wisdom." (Sounds similar to the Continuation Of Service goal of the Peace Corps does it not?) Mr. Ballard goes on to say, "Science gives legitimacy and worth to exploration. You see a lot of stunts today, but if you're not doing worthwhile science, you're not a explorer. You're just wandering around." I rode around Bulgaria because that is what I do when I am on vacation; I wander around. I have ridden many touring miles in five countries, on three continents, because it is fun and it does good things for me mentally; it clears the mind of those things that are really not so important and lets it rest. Nicholas Johnson in Test Pattern for Living has phrased it in these terms. "You ride a bicycle because it feels good. The air feels good on your body, and pretty soon it gets to your head, and, glory be, your head feel good. You start noticing things. You look until you really see. You hear things, and smell smells you never knew were there."
This always elicits the next obvious question; What did you see? During my bike tour I saw over twenty-five of the larger towns in Bulgaria and countless villages. This answer will then always prompt a Bulgarian to ask, which town did you like best? My honest answer, and the one that causes the fewest hard feelings, has been that I do not like towns much and enjoy the villages more because they have prettier yards and less traffic! However, if I return to Bulgaria sometime in the future I will make a point of visiting Zlatograd, Obzor, Veliki Preslav, Veliko Turnavo, Belogradchik, Berkavitsa, Bansko, and Dospat again.
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I also saw, and sometimes rode over, the mountains of Bulgaria: the Rhodope, Sredna Gora, Balkan, Vitosha, Kon, Ossogovo, Rila and Pirin. I crossed and rode beside the Rivers of Bulgaria: the Verbitsa, Maritsa, Kamchiya, Yantra, Osam, Iskar, Danube, Strouma, and Mesta. I saw the forests, farm land vineyards, orchards, spring flowers, cows, horses, donkeys, mules, pigs, geese, ducks, chickens, birds, and more dogs than I want to remember. I also saw the people of Bulgaria; the language teachers and Peace Corps staff, the Community Development Center staff in Zlatograd, the many people of Zlatograd and many more during my two years here. I never knew the names of some people that I met on my bike tour around Bulgaria - I remember them nonetheless. The man who hobbled to the street in a small village to shout "Bravo" and applaud me! The villager that gave me a pat on the back as I was leaving him after a short chat about where I was from, where I was going!
One of the more surprising questions that I had from a journalist after completing my bike tour was; "What did you learn about the Bulgarian people while on your tour?" Perhaps I was to blunt, but I told him that I learned nothing that I had not learned about them while living in Bulgaria for two years. The tour was not to learn about the Bulgarian people! It would be impossible for someone to come to Bulgaria for a month long bike tour and learn very much about its people. A more interesting question, that only a few of my bicycling friends may ask, would be; what did you learn about yourself while on your tour?
Another repeated question that I am sure my cycling friends will want to discuss was: "Did you have any problems with the Bulgarian drivers?" I have to say that Bulgarian drivers are no different from drivers world over that I have come in contact with. It seems that all drivers of cars, trucks, buses and other motorized vehicles that use the roads think that bicycle riders are both blind and deaf. Therefore, the driver must be very close to the cyclist before he should blow a horn to let the cyclist know that a vehicle is near. There are some drivers, this is true in Bulgaria also, that think that bicyclist do not belong on the road and will risk the cyclist's life to prove that belief - I can only suggest discretion before valor when facing such a confrontation.
A final question, like the first one, leaves me unsure what the questioner is asking; "Would you do your tour again?" Is the question; would you come to Bulgaria again as a Peace Corps Volunteer or, would you do the Touring Around Bulgaria ride again? I will ride here some more before I leave Bulgaria and perhaps I will return some years from now to ride here again. However, will I do the Touring Around Bulgaria or will I be a Peace Corps Volunteer in Bulgaria again? I think Mark Twain answered those questions when he said: "I am glad I did it, partly because it was well worth it, and chiefly because I shall never have to do it again."