Not unexpectedly a month into our cycle tour I was cycling slower than James. This meant longer days in the saddle to cover the same distance, leaving us both with sore twinges in our wrists, aching bums, and strained backs. Bosnia is also challenging, with warnings from locals about dangerous suburban areas, numerous dog attacks, and tunnels with psychopathic Lorries. Having worked for the NHS, my masochistic side is fully developed and I saw a few hundred miles of Bosnia and Serbia as the ultimate challenge.
James however is much more sensible and was keen on getting towards Greece, so we discussed getting a train even though we both thought it would be a smelly and irritating experience. We had also met a party of American tourers who had their bikes stolen on a train and were being interviewed by the local press about it, so we were worried about theft.
In the end we got to Skopje in Macedonia after a fairly horrific overnight train, which involved lots of standing time, some petty theft and gypsies making coffee on a burner worryingly close to wooden carriage walls and felt seats.
Later that day, getting lost in Macedonia was the last straw, and as we cycled in circles through 46 degree midday sun, slowly becoming aware of all the things that had gone missing on the train, I was feeling something akin to a wolf in a cage being poked with a stick.
The thing about cycle touring though is it changes so quickly from being awful to wonderful.
Asking for directions led to being taken in for the evening by a Macedonian family, who fed us homemade almond cake, watermelon and ice cream until we had to firmly refuse any more, let us shower, and gave us directions for the next day. They had a baby no more than a couple of weeks old, and very limited funds, but wanted to share everything they had with us. I remain unconvinced maternity care was very good as the young mother described having felt unwell for a few days and some other telling symptoms that pointed to infection, but a trip to the hospital had ended in a postnatal ultrasound (!?) and a clean bill of health. So I just told her to go back if she felt worse or symptoms didn’t resolve. Dad was a physiotherapist so hopefully had good access to healthcare at any rate.
The riding became beautiful again and the navigation much more simple. Macedonia has a cheerful, rural feel and lots of motorists waved, honked and made ‘peace out’ signs. We were also spotted by a Swedish couple in a camper van while filling up water bottles, who asked us if we wanted ‘Swedish hot bread’. Not knowing what they meant, but always saying yes to free food we were given hot dogs and nectarines and continued cycling with renewed faith in the world.