Bulgaria was the destination, Shambhala Open was the event, so off i went.
Heading out Wednesday morning after a midnight finish at work, with the flight landing us in the Bulgarian capital, Sofia. The Passport control were not convinced i was me.. so came looking for more ID. To be fair my passport looks nothing like me, and i possibly made this worse by handing them my driving license, which again looks nothing like me nor looks anything similar to my passport photo.. So i got asked a few questions about my visit and with my charm convinced the authorities I was actually me. So, onto baggage claim.. all good. Then onto the task of finding our driver, i had no idea who he was. But all was good. A few more Brits were on the same flight; fellow SPS rider Dale Russel, along with Adam Brayton and Reece Langhorn so surely they knew who we were looking for… Turns out they didn’t have a clue either! So we all sort of wandered around whilst constantly being asked if we needed a taxi! “i do you good deal for all of you”, “no tar mate” was said a lot!. I then get an arm wrapped around my shoulder, first thought was ‘oh crap, more police and authorities to take me away because they still don’t believe i’m me’, but fortunately no, it was a Bulganeez (made that up) chap by the name of Kamen (probably spelt very wrong) who whisked us away to meet up with Nikolay and his big Sprinter van.
Nikolay runs RAM bikes and did an amazing job of looking after us Brits, with out him and his team the whole experience would not have been what it was.
Off we drove, and how we drove. The Bulganeez are nuts when it comes to driving, ragged, flat out and weaving through traffic like nothing i’ve seen before! An amazing experience in its self.
We made a short Pit stop at RAM bike HQ while we waited for another plane of Brits to land, then once all together we headed off to Sopot, approx. 2+ hours of interesting driving. At one point the road literally ended and were on a rough dirt track that seemed to waltz through some farmers field. We arrived safely however and once we found our rooms in the hotel, prepped for dinner, which was a very reasonable price for what we got!
Anyway, onto the track, and what a track! Long, dusty, drifty, fast, flowing. Just a good laugh. It was a track where not too much pedalling was needed, speed was picked up by how much you dare let off the brakes. The chairlift was pretty sketchy. With no slow down mechanism the chair seemed to come flying at you while you were trying to hold onto your bike and guide it off the launch pad while hooking the pedal onto the seat. That was about all that held the bike on!
I went up with 4X and BMX legend Martin Ogden, who was kind enough to look after me and show me how to mount the chairlift as well as give me a riding partner for the day. Oggy had been here a fair few times so was accustomed to the whole situation.
Onto the riding. Things started well, with the idea to slowly build up the speed over the next 3 days i was feeling good, riding bikes in the sun on a track i didn’t need to pedal on, what could be better. All was going well, I was enjoying the place, having a laugh and enjoying being on my bike. Then I tried an inside line and ended on my back in some awful pain! I must of hit a rock or something, but either way I didn’t see it coming and I went down hard, folding my front wheel pretty bad in the process! Only the 3rd run in as well! So that put an end to day 1.
Team Ram were good to me and sourced me a new rim from the local shop, which got built up for me that evening. With being in a lot of pain in the lower back region i asked Kamen to sort me out with some Bulganeez painkillers. I got a box of pills where i could only have 2 a day, sounds good!!
They seemed to do the job too and the next day I was back up riding again. A couple more runs and into Quali.
With an idea! Ill roll the whole track, no pedaling, that way, I’m guaranteed to make up loads of time in finals. Genius I thought! However, It turns out that everyone else had the same idea. But still, i rolled over the line and ended 5th. With a strong British contingent, we soundly rounded out the top 5 with a few more in the top 10 and more a little further down the field.
All was going well. I was happy and ready for finals. Off we went, a couple more runs under my belt and I was ready for finals. Then the rain came, and the wind and the thunder storms. It was pretty intense for a while and the organizers had to call off the finals. Fortunately, due to past experiences, they had scheduled a spare day just in case of bad weather, so finals were rolled over to Sunday.
And onto Sunday.
Again, a couple more runs, and ready!!
All was going swimmingly, I felt good on the bike and was cranking out of turns, letting off the brakes and flowing. A small error up top caused me to slip my pedals but not too much drama. Then a small wash out in a slow section again resulted in not too much drama, and on into the final section. I was enjoying myself and was carrying speed well. I cranked into the final section and pumped the ground for more speed, coming into the final turn and getting ready for the sprint to the line. Suddenly, disaster struck! My rear wheel seemed to kick up, maybe off a root, and pointed me straight towards a tree. I tried for all it was worth to wiggle around but no luck, I ploughed the tree with my shoulder and got taken off the bike and ended up in a tangle. I bounced back up and tried to get to the line as quick as possible, but the damage was done. 5th place was the aim but 10th the result.
So not what i was looking for but not a complete loss. 10 points picked up and an experience well worth taking away.
A huge thanks to Nikolay, Kamen and the rest of the RAM bikes team, they put on a cracking event and took care of us Brits well, without them, it wouldn’t have been the same.
Only one more ‘experience’, the drive back to Sofia.. I don’t really need to go into to much detail about that ;)