This is a guest blog by Nicole Abrams from the Green Riders. She wrote this during the seventh week of the Green Riders tour as the Green Riders approached the end of their journey on July 31st, 2019. — The countdown to the end begins today, 10 days to the Black Sea. Ironically, I sit down to write this entry in a cafe named “Coffee Nicole” in Vidin, Bulgaria and unexpectedly learn how to write my name in the Cyrillic alphabet, “Никол”. The foreignness of this exquisite script feels less novel after riding these past weeks out of the Schengen region of Europe and into the Balkans. The pace of pedalling allows me the time to slowly sound out the words on the signage and compare the letters to my native alphabet. Now having crossed into Bulgaria, I realize I actually have some of these letters committed to memory, a testament to full immersion in a new culture and the plasticity of the human brain.
Thus far, this tour bisecting the heart of the European continent has awarded me plenty, both gifts of gratitude and humility. I know other Green Riders would agree; the road has been long, challenging, generous, inspiring, and humbling. Our past two weeks were spent in Serbia, a country that I particularly knew nothing at all about and most likely would have never explored without taking this cycle journey with my tribe of fellow esoteric adventurers. I feel I speak for all of us to say that Serbia surprised and stole our hearts. Our Serbian Green Rider friend, Milan, met most of the group at the border from Hungry and proceeded to treat all of us to 10 days of stupendous Serbian tour guiding, surprises around every corner, insider information, incredible hospitality, and his favorite, local, not-to-miss sites, sounds, and flavors. The Rakia, an eastern Europe special plum spirit, as easily accessible to us as the Danube river due to the custom of it being offered to us by every excited Serbian native, warmed our souls as much as the kindness always welcoming us around every bend in the road. The smiling faces of each Serbian citizen we met, the vistas along the breathtaking Iron Gates Gorge, the laughter at each wild camp night, will forever be burned in my memory, much like the Rakia down my throat.
Apart from France, our tour has offered more time in Serbia than the other countries we have passed through, giving us the pleasure of truly sensing the otherness, uniqueness, and distinctiveness that comes when traveling at a slow motion pace. It has been a great gift to travel this way, to sense the subtle changes of the landscape, the change of scents on the wind, the foraged fruit: first finding plentiful sweet and sour cherries, then electric orange apricots, mulberries, strawberries, gooseberries, blackberries, figs, plums, and now the early season of crisp apples and yellow and pink mirabelles is taking over, drooping juice heavy on their limbs. I have watched the crows go from jet black to gray-bodied and storks take the place of blue herons as the king birds of the river, perched high on church steeples or chimneys. The castles of Western Europe become fortresses in the East and the Danube widens and grows darker the closer we come to where it will eventually empty into the Black Sea. Every trash clean up we do seems more daunting as it becomes clear that waste management is not as high a priority for countries heavily impacted by Soviet rule before the Warsaw pact some 40 years ago. Every helping hand in a garden or on a farm, every moment spent at a local shop or cafe, every greeting exchanged feels more impactful. Yet, the spirit, determination, affection, and cordiality of the people is as bountiful and refreshing as the fresh fruit, and we continue to find plenty of both along our way.
At this moment, I am both equally excited and exhausted, spent from so much generosity as well as kilometers pushed under my two wheels through asphalt, cobblestone, grass, sand, rocky paths, and patchworked pavements. There are plenty of ways to travel and experience other countries and cultures, but none so viscerally intensive on the body and psyche as cycling. If your gear falters, you’re left pushing your 30 or more kilograms of food, water, cook ware, camp gear, tools, and clothing up whatever track lay before you or fix it while sitting in scorching heat or rain or hurricane winds. If your gear holds, you ride through it all too! But Green Rider magic is real and it has been beautiful to see the innovation, talents, and adaptability of so many be put to good use daily. We show up at our best for the good of the whole and no matter our differences of character, all of us are ready and willing to support one another with a helping hand or shoulder to cry on if needed. We are border crossers on bicycles and I think the EuroVelo 6 sign at the border from Serbia to Bulgaria said it best, “…with wide-open eyes and heart, recognizing only one last barrier: the line between reality and dreams…” We are dreamers, all of us, and it is this dream turned reality with each stroke of the pedal that binds us together.
— The Green Riders thank everyone who donated to our cause to make Doing Good Deeds possible. Our seeds and select fruit trees are funded by the Live Like Ally Foundation via The Free Seed Project and Community Fruit Trees. We cannot thank them enough and encourage you to read more about these great initiatives.