Sofia Varna Sofia 1200 – June 22-25 2018

Ride report from Dave Thompson:

It’s actually more properly labeled Silven, as that’s where the ride actually starts and ends; three hours from Sofia.  Varna isn’t the mid-point; it’s the first Control on the first day, about 200 km from Silven … but all that said …
Yes.  This was a good one.  But I usually say that about all of them.
First, overall impressions …
There’s some really pristine countryside but in other areas, it seems that once someone throws some garbage, it’s open season to dump yours there.  Roadside bins are overflowing.  It’s a matter of money.  Still, most of our riding was in areas where the scenery was beautiful with endless sunflowers in the flat areas and roadside wild fruit trees.
There are dogs aplenty.  Mostly they they ignored me but a few ran out.  In general they are small and not a problem.  In a few cases they did get the adrenaline pumping!
There is no, repeat no, real bicycle infrastructure.  There are no shoulders.  However, the drivers are courteous, more so than I have encountered on average in North America.  On the last day, a long flat stretch with zillions of trucks due to the highway being closed, you watched your line but there was never a problem.  Pull-offs are every few hundred metres so you can always (and I did) take a break.
If an adult cyclist is approaching you and you have to take a bet as to whether or not it’s a Randonneur … if you have to put down money … say yes.  I only saw 4 other riders!  There were kids and errand bicycles in the towns, but no cyclists.
On the first day we had hot.  It hit 99F on my Wahoo.  It almost hit that on the last day as well.  On the second we had chilly and windy (in our face, of course) to start.  On the third night the temp dropped to 40F and rain; I was on the edge;  I made it.
The route was a figure 8 this year.  Out to Varna then north for the first overnight.  Back to Sliven for the second overnight.  Into the mountains for the third overnight and then back to Sliven.
The first two days were somewhat tough, mostly due to that headwind in the morning of the second day.  A figure 8 makes it too easy to throw in the towel, which is what happened to 5 riders out of 11.  The third day has a lot of climbing into the mountains, up a gorge late at night, water roaring.  Back down that gorge in the morning, the views were glorious and then we climbed … a 30 km climb, up another gorge.  There was payback from that, of course, with a long, long, descent to the valley followed by the seemingly endless ride north on the flat with all those trucks, back to Sliven.  That last bit was the toughest for me, wanting the ride to be over, grinding along a straight, mostly flat, line.
Lazar has run this 15 times now (or 14?).  He changes up the route constantly and this was a hillier instance.  I really enjoyed the ride.  Even that last bit would have been OK had I remembered to bring some music to occupy my mind.  I blew it.
There were 11 riders including Lazar.  Two Russians, one half & half Canadian & American (me), one half & half Bulgarian and American (Georgi), one Japanese and the rest Bulgarian.  For the first part of the ride I was in the front half of the group but then, of course, the DNFs knocked off the back half :).  The Japanese fellow and I traded places throughout the ride; Lazar was the lanterne rouge.
Weather is always a variable, of course.  The Japanese fellow said that it was hotter the last time that he did the ride.  I think that Lazar made this time hillier than most but with those hills (gorges) comes the beauty.  Rolling open countryside isn’t anywhere near as interesting.
It’s a low budget ride.  The accommodations at the start/finish & 2nd overnight at the Omega Bistro are friendly, clean and basic, with great food.  The 1st overnight is what I would call dormitory – three single beds in one room – not shared – private bath as I recall.  The 3rd overnight is rustic; a hostel in the mountains with foam mats on the floor and a shared shower.  The atmosphere more than made up for the rusticity :).  It’s well planned with food stops; coupons for those locations to encourage you to eat there; hosts well prepped to serve good, hearty food.  The route this year went through enough towns that I was never short of food or liquids.
I highly recommend the ride.  Don’t let the almost 50% DNF rate scare you off if you’re considering adding this to your bucket list.  Lazar is even willing to get input from potential riders on the routing.  He’s done it enough that he can cut and paste to please.

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