Softening my completist personality: biking in Bulgaria


I went to Bulgaria in August, for three weeks. It was supposed to be a fairly epic solo bike trip, with some sprinkling in of time with my friends who live there. After two nearly impossible days of riding, I realized I had to flip the script — it became a train and seaside trip, with some riding. And that turned out to be perfect.

Here’s the thing: I’m a well known completist when it comes to physical activity. When I go out for a run, I run the distance I set out to run. I have ridden across entire countries by myself, and am the one who always has to set (and complete) a target like “150 km for the 150th anniversary of Canada.” I spent the pandemic winter grinding through nearly every route in Zwift (a few more await me for when the darkness settles this year, but I still have my little paper record I’m crossing off). Every time Sam adds a kilometre or two to a bike ride to get to a milestone number, she tags me. It’s a thing I’m known for: persistence, and doing what I set out to do.

And yet? When I realized that the bike trip I’d planned on paper (with the help of a local guy) in Bulgaria was, in real life, a painful, overheated slog that had actual risk of injury or heatstroke, I pivoted. I did the first two days as planned, and then, while sitting at a table on the cobbled street of a medieval town and eating an excellent breakfast, rethought my plan. I could keep doing it — but why?

So instead of riding far into the mountains on days 3 and 4 to meet my friends, I took a train. (Which was no easy task in and of itself! — loaded bike, stairs, sudden changes of train I didn’t understand? Not exactly chill). We rode through a delightfully flat city, ate lunch, then drove to the base of the mountain and J and I took this cunning, rickety chair lift up. (Also dangerous when my jacket got caught as I tried to jump off and I nearly got dragged back down). For the weekend, as planned, I hung out with my friends and a gathering of their friends in a covid-indifferent world, slept deeply in the thin air of the balkan mountains, hiked with little kids, watched the sun set over layers of peaks with my friend, thought about what to do about the remaining 10 days in the bike trip.

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