Monday 18 August 2014

Buggered in Bulgaria

The ambulance took forever to arrive and when it did I was disappointed that I rated flashing lights but no siren, nor a police escort.

The doctor was the reassuring sort and the driver was a human gorilla. While the doctor took my blood pressure the gorilla apehandled the heavily loaded tandem into the back of the ambulance and we were off.

Asleep while on a drip at the hospital in Balchik, Bulgaria.

The road was bumpy and as I lay there I tried to figure out where we might be going. It didn't feel like a main road. After a while I gave up caring until we went over several particularly nasty bumps and stopped. Either we were in some remote spot where the doctor and his gorilla were about to slit our throats and drink our blood, or we were in a Bulgarian hospital car park.

Trouble had started as soon as we woke. I felt stuffed, but it was going to be a short ride to the Black Sea city of Varna where we planned to cross by ferry to Georgia. We set out on the ride but I had no energy and began feeling headachy, nauseous, and so thirsty my tongue stuck to my mouth.

On a fantastic downhill it became too much. We screeched to a halt, I shoved the bike at Judy and launched myself into the shrubbery to get rid of breakfast. Over the next little while, matters worsened with more stops and me stupidly trying to push on.

Shortly after Mike's first dash into the shrubbery, an old Volvo pulled up and out climbed three New Zealanders we had met the previous day. Carmen, Yves and Mike (in driver's seat) were on a car rally of Eastern Europe, and one of the few rules was that contestants were not allowed to spend more than €500 on their car. They were having a great time, and after they had been assured Mike was alright they resumed their day's 450 km drive to Sofia.

Judy the Stoker: "At one point I was pushing the bike uphill towards some shade and I looked back to see that Mike was following. There was this pathetic little creature clutching his water bottle and following very slowly. It's an image that will stay with me."

We resumed riding until my legs finally gave out and Judy ordered me into the shade of a small tree, where I watched the ants crawling over my shoes and wondered how I would ever move again. The tank was utterly, completely drained.

Judy was having her own drama. What the hell was she going to do with me? Neither of us could ride the tandem alone - I was too ill, and she couldn't ride at the front to go and fetch help. She did the logical thing and managed to stop a car with a young couple. The woman spoke good English, she phoned an ambulance and eventually there I was wondering if we were going to have our throats cut.

The hospital staff were every bit as professional as you would hope, although it was obvious that facilities were lacking - they couldn't even provide clean drinking water. 

"38 degrees is too hot to be cycling," one of the doctors warned us as he stressed the dangers of heat exhaustion. 

A few hours later, after a saline drip, a jab in the backside and lots of photos by the medical staff intrigued by a couple of tandemists, I was given permission to leave. The next stop was the nearest hotel and an air conditioned room. Bliss. 

The day after. Still feeling tired and in no mood for cycling but on the road to recovery.

Footnote from Judy: "Looking back on it, there were some things that should have alerted us earlier to what was going on. The night before Mike was complaining of feeling very tired, more than usual. In the morning, we suspected he might have eaten something which had upset him, but we had both had the same food. It was unlikely only one of us would have been affected. And on top of that, Mike can be stoical, and likely to keep going when he shouldn't. And sometimes, a person suffering from heat exhaustion doesn't always realise it or may blame something else. If there's a lesson from this, it's maybe cyclists need to be vigilant about themselves and about their companions.

We know of three other cycling couples where heat exhaustion has been a problem. In each case it was the man. I don't know if men are more susceptible for some reason."

Heat Exhaustion - The Warning Signs

Symptoms: Can include some or all of the following: headache, tiredness, thirstiness, confusion, irritability, dizziness, nausea/vomiting and lots of sweating. 
Treatment: Cooling the patient is the most important. Also, drinking lots of cool but not cold fluids, get shade or air conditioning, lie down and rest, do not continue with exercise, cool but not cold shower or bath. Get medical help if symptoms are severe.

Relaxing on the waterfront at Balchik. After a day's rest, we resumed the ride to Varna but the experience was a turning point in the trip. We decided it was too hot to ferry across the Black Sea and resume cycling in Georgia and Azerbaijan. Next time?


  1. Recover well Mike. You are one tough fella.

    1. Thanks Ross, all good now, and just as we are about to fly out (tomorrow) the weather has cooled down. Still up around the 40 degree mark in Baku, Azerbaijan though, so reckon it's the right decision. Already looking forward to a big catchup with you all at Christmas.

  2. Oh dear Mike, sorry you've been so ill. Take it easy and fully recuperate before getting back on the Beast. Loving your escapades and hope to catch up with you next time I'm back in the Antipodes. H xx

    1. Hi Hev, feeling absolutely fine, but there's a lesson there about not ignoring the warning signs. Would love to catch up next time you are down our way.


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