Bogomil sets a fairly leisurely pace but it is obvious that he is a solid rider as he skips around snow patches and fallen branches whilst constantly looking around the terrain like a farmer checking his crops after a hard winter. As he has explained to me on the drive over, he is not really about super fast technical riding but loves to get up in the hills and show off the seemingly endless trails and routes in his home country.
He has been riding bikes and skiing in these hills since he was a child and his knowledge of the area is second to none. After a couple of hours the rain really sets in and we stop off for lunch at what looks to be someone’s house but actually turns out to be a restaurant!
I have told Bogomil before coming out that I want to sample as much of the local food and drink as possible and he doesn’t disappoint. We are just next to a river and lunch consists of some trout expertly plucked from the water and grilled in front of us as we put away a local beer. This for me is an ideal riding lunch, we simply park up and sit down - no faffing about, a stunning view down the valley and fresh local food on tap.
We are fairly damp and cold after the riding but a roaring wood burner and excellent noodle soup soon sorts us out. In the summer months when the season has kicked in it would be an even more special spot to stop.
Lights, Camera, Action
Lunch done with and the rain having eased up a bit my attention turns to a steep, technical looking climb that I had spotted just before we stopped. The wide-angle lenses we use to shoot with in many situations have a tendency to ‘flatten off’ these climbs but with the mist hanging over the trees at the top it certainly was an imposing looking hill. But I knew just the man to take it on…
I should at this stage introduce Bogomil’s right hand man, a certain Nicolay Kumanov: eight times Bulgarian national MX Champ and 11th in the FIM world standings a few years ago. At the ripe old age of 30 having lived out of his camper for 17 years and having had enough of this nomadic lifestyle, Kumanov met Bogamil in late 2012 who - as it turned out - was looking for a ‘sweeper’ and general helper for his bike tours. Considering this is only his fifth outing on an enduro bike you could say he has made the transition rather easily, and his eyes light up when I pointed at the climb and then at my camera…
Not to be outdone Bogomil had a couple of runs at it but the top is littered with loose rocks, stumps and branches making the last bit really tough and he can’t quite make the climb. Nicolay gives it the beans and nails it on his second attempt, his 350EX-C howling in protest as he finally reaches the summit. It feels like a small victory for us all and we head back down out of the misty hills to sample some more of the trails. Even this early in the season with snow restricting some of our routes and the cloud reducing what we can see around us you really do get the feeling of the sheer expanse of the riding out here.
We head into some more open countryside and pick up the pace a bit before starting to climb up the other side of the valley. We start hitting more snow covered sections of track and downed trees and stop to make a decision - either drop down again and head back onto the lower trails and tarmac or keep heading up and over and hope the snow drifts and pine tree shaped obstacles don't become completely impassable, we chose the latter…
All was going well for 20 minutes or so bar Nico’s slightly ambitious detour to avoid lugging his bike over yet another tree that ended in a three-man recovery of his stricken machine back onto the track. But just as we approached the top and the trail started to flatten out before the descent back down into Godlevo, there was a particularly long snow drift with multiple branches over it that proved to be a real challenge.
As we were all fairly knackered and the light was fading, we opted to head back down the way we had come. Gravity ensured this was a lot less effort than the way up and we had our tracks through the snow from the ascent to follow and we soon got back to where we had started.
Miraculously under the mist it was like a different weather system. It felt about 5 degrees warmer and I got to see one of the clearest views of the entire day. The lower trails and more open woodland were superb and the last hour or so really made my day, the variation of riding is quite extraordinary, it is like being in a different country to the snow filled tracks and when we reach the guesthouse I would happily have carried on for another hour if the light had permitted.
This is the essence of riding in Bulgaria, there are literally no restrictions to where you can or can’t ride except the National Parks. Combine that with the fact that everyone we met throughout the day gives us a wave or a smile and it makes me wonder how things have got so bad back in the UK. We don’t feel like the bad guys out here, just three blokes out for a day’s riding, not upsetting the locals or getting frowned at for being out enjoying the countryside in the way we choose. Or as Bogomil puts it, it’s a huge playground to go out and explore, as long as you don’t do something REALLY stupid no-one gives a monkeys!