Mud attack

The last month has not been the best one in terms of ridable weather. We have had a lot of winter weather since we had to leave Turkey and went back to Bulgaria. Lot’s of snow and freezing conditions meant that we had the opportunity to do some skiing and enjoy the winter wonderland landscapes and vistas, but other than that snow is no good.

To expedite things, we decided to stay mainly in the lower lands between the mountains where -as can be expected- springtime weather will be more likely.

And springtime weather we had. Enough to make me want to go and ride again. but the results were mixed.

First we were staying near Rosen, in the upper Thracian valley region. Not the number one mountain bike spot, but hey, can’t have it all I guess. Because the GPS mapping did not show a lot of dirt tracks, I decided to use satellite images to help decide which tracks I was going to take. I managed to create a nice route. So off I went to ride through a nice mix of agricultural land, interrupted with patches of wild grass lands and forest.

This is a common mix in the lower parts of Bulgaria where agriculture takes place. The tracks were nice and solid. I mention this, because later it became clear that this is not always the case in this time of the year.

I did a second ride close to Kostenets. This place is situated just on the foothills of the Rila mountain range. Which of course made me want to ride into the Rila. Well. It started nicely, along a waterfall area into a narrow valley. The dirt track was steadily rising it’s way up into the mountains, every now and then crossing the river to change sides.

It was rocky, some patches of snow, but I managed to climb steadily. Luckily a 4WD had made some tracks that I could use in the snowy sections. As I gained altitude, the layer of snow increased too. Unfortunately, long before I reached my target, there was such an amount of snow that continuing was no longer possible.

My third ride was again close to Rosen, because there was a nice camp spot with all the things we needed: quiet, mobile coverage, and a river close by. The first time I had already spotted a group of 3 or 4 hills in a mainly flat area. The hills featured communication antennas. That meant a road was going to go up there, because I figured no way the Bulgarians are going to construct this kind of masts using helicopters. that’s too expensive.

And I was right. Again I created a nice circular route. But after climbing two of the hills that -by the way- had insanely steep sections, I managed to find some really muddy sections that were going to set the norm for this month. At first I drove into a wet section, halfway on the slope where I did not expect it: water runs down, so I expected a wet section at the foot of the hill. Not here. The clay holds the water in place: the water does not seep through quickly. I tried to drive through and was successful for most of the part, but then I hit a stretch of track that was running between two ploughed fields. The surface looked good, but halfway I started to realize that I was not going to make it riding. I had to dismount.

The wheels and brakes were blocked with mud. I had not yet experienced such thick and sticky mud before. I had to walk on and find a pool to rinse the sticky stuff off my bike in order to use it again…
After that it was still a challenge to get to the nearest asphalt road. It seemed that the muddy sections kept coming to prevent me from reaching asphalt.

My fourth attempt was close to Lilyache and Vratsa. Again we were camped in the middle of agricultural land. I decided to create a route that would bring me near to Vratsa and the Recha Range where -no surprise- some antennas are placed for communications.

A nice goal. but also bit of a hit-and-run affair, because to get there I had to cross 10km of -again-agricultural land. All went well and I reached the antennas fairly easy. The first antenna was obsolete, but obviously not dismantled. The second and third antenna were in working order. But because the power line had collapsed (not recently) both antennas were now powered using an auxiliary diesel generator.

On the way back, the mud was there again. And it was not just after me, the mud managed to get it’s grips on an abandoned car too. There were wet patches that were difficult to navigate and then the rest was dried up; solid as concrete with the ever present imprint of huge tractor wheels. It made the ride back tough. But I managed and what was supposed to be a mostly flat route turned out to have about 1100m altitude gain.

It was nice cross country riding but I can’t wait for the snow to melt and open up the mountains again…

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