mud: discovering the value of local knowledge

In Bulgaria it rained a lot. I didn’t mind getting wet that much but sometimes the rain was a bit of a problem. I spent a pretty difficult day negotiating some mud. This was definitely my own fault because some guys in a local village had warned me that the road I was intending to take was very dirty – and, as it turned out, they were absolutely right.


I had already spent the morning riding in heavy rain and according to my map, the way I wanted to go was much shorter. There was a three kilometre stretch of unpaved road between two villages and the only alternative route involved a thirty kilometre return to the highway in the direction I had already come from. I never enjoy riding on busy roads and contending with heavy traffic is even more unpleasant in the rain.

In addition, by this stage of my journey, I was very used to people telling me that what I was doing was, in their opinion, difficult and dangerous and, therefore, probably beyond my capabilities. So, despite the fact that the men I asked for directions were quite adament that my intended route was a serious mistake, I ignored their advice. Within about fifty metres I knew that I had made a bad choice but, being immensely stubborn and a little proud, I continued until the idea of turning back made no sense.

The unfortunate result of this decision was that I spent about four hours dragging my bicycle and its thirty kilos of luggage through mud so thick that the wheels of the bike wouldn’t turn. I discovered exactly why mountain bikes don’t have mud guards – because they get full of mud. This is my bike after I’ve just spent ten minutes clearing as much mud as I could from the mud guards, the brakes and other moving parts.


However, within about 10 metres of being cleaned the bike was packed with mud and totally immobile again. I quickly realised that a bike with wheels that won’t turn is a another word for a useless lump of metal. I was in the middle of nowhere – there was nothing visible except muddy fields for miles around. The road was extremely slippery and I couldn’t get any traction, even on foot. I hadn’t eaten lunch and I didn’t have any food with me. It looked like it was going to start raining again. At one point, after maybe an hour or so of stuggle, I considered the possibility of crying or of giving up and trying to find someone to help me.

However, in the end, instead of crying, I started laughing because no matter what happened in Bulgaria it always seemed quite funny when looked at from a certain perspective. And, having no alternative, I continued wallowing in the mud, dragging my useless lump of metal, with four heavy bags attached, behind me. Eventually, the road got so steep that I couldn’t really stand up, even without struggling with the bike so I left it lying in the mud and slid down the slope without it but as no real solution to my predicament presented itself to me I returned to the bike and dragged it for another twenty metres or so. After a while that felt too difficult so I slid down the hill without it again. As I descended the hill trees appeared along the side of the road but nothing else changed.

I was getting very sick of the mud situation even though I still could see the funny side. I stood for a monent, looking down the hill, wondering how much further I had to go before something different happened. This, I thought to myself, is a situation where I have seriously underestimated the the value of local knowledge. Suddenly, as if to reinforce this minor revelation, a small, hard object landed on the top of my head with what, from the inside at least, sounded like a resounding crack. To surprised to swear, even though I am often prone to cursing in moments of stress, I investigated the source of this assault. At my feet, I saw a walnut. I guess, if I’d had a nutcracker, I could have eaten it.

Accepting the walnut as some sort of sign, I decided to admit defeat. I continued sliding down the track intending to get as far as the next village where I hoped to get some assistance. But suddenly and totally unexpectedly, within about twenty metres of my epiphany, I emerged onto a paved road. I returned to the bike and dragged it to the tarmac.

I resurveyed the situation from the perspective of a paved road. The bike – every last part of it – the chain, the gears, the brakes, the panniers and I were all covered in mud. I tried to clean things up as best I could with water from my drinking bottles but given the scale of the problem, this had little impact. Having emerged on the outskirt of the village which had previously been hidden by the walnut trees lining the road, there were some houses, which, no doubt, had taps but no-one was around. I was very concious that I was extremely conspicous in the state I was in. My shoes were so muddy that it was difficult to walk but eventually, still covered in mud, I got on the bike and set off into the village.