Day 32 - Vranje to Leskovac: Winter was supposed to keep the bugs away - No More Taxi Drivers - CycleBlaze

February 16, 2015

Day 32 - Vranje to Leskovac: Winter was supposed to keep the bugs away

The road out of Leskovac boasted an 18% downhill gradient sign, the highest I've seen so far, though I'm sure I've faced climbs that steep even if I can't make that claim without a sign to prove it. One thing's for sure: if I pass an 18% uphill sign, I'm definitely keeping it as a souvenir/trophy to hang on my wall.

Okay, not really. I don't have a wall to hang it on. Plus I wouldn't want to drag all that extra weight up an 18% hill. I'm travelling without even a book to read because its weight-to-practical value ratio is terrible. Adding a huge metal sign right at the start of a steep hill would be far worse. To put it succinctly: I don't want to carry that s***. And that's why people who understand gravity trust bicycle tourists. Except for the Dutch. And maybe people from Kansas (or wherever that watch-your-dog-running-away-for-three-days joke originated).

You may have noticed that I'm rambling a bit. That's because I have no photos today so I'm trying to fill all this blank space with words. It was a scenic day (better than yesterday, which got me wondering why border crossing days in southeastern Europe are all dull. I decided the countries argued/agreed to split those areas that have no tourist brochure potential), with the hills closing in on the road in a semi-dramatic fashion, yet no photos because of two major distractions.

The first was the initial stretch of secondary highway, passing through villages that I assume looked very charming and picturesque. I didn't get a good look because the narrow road, in addition to being a crumbly, bumpy mess, was covered in motorway traffic, the motorway being closed for reconstruction.

The second distraction, fortunately, was after the traffic situation eased. One of the perks of doing this tour during the winter was supposed to be the lack of bugs. But every time it warms up a bit, I see the occasional fly or bee. Or, like that time in Turkey, not see, but instead hear and feel a bee--in my helmet.

Not being allergic to bee/wasp stings, I can calmly deal with the occasional bee encounter. Horseflies, though, are an entirely different matter. As any cyclist knows, those things are relentless, persistent menaces. You can't shake 'em. They fly faster than you can bike (okay, faster than I can bike) and they won't give up. They fly circles around you, buzzing, occasionally coming too close for comfort, bzzz behind your head, bzzz on your handlebars. So you try to swat them away, but it never works. You just have to put up with them, getting more and more irritated, until they either bite you or you manage to kill them or you give up and go home.

You guessed it: I picked up a horsefly on that road. But this one was bigger than normal, with an expensive road bike and shiny red tights. It passed me, greeted me briefly, then pulled over. Happy a cyclist wanted to chat, I stopped. But the horsefly didn't say a word, just pulled out its phone and started taking photos of me. I tried to ask how long the road construction lasted. Despite my obviously having navigated to that point from some faraway land, despite the many road signs being in two different alphabets (both of which I can read), despite my waving goodbye, the horsefly apparently thought I was asking for directions. It decided to accompany me.

Being faster than I am, as it trailed me, I could hear the bzzz of the freewheel as it coasted. As it hovered beside me, bzzz. When it moved in front of me, it over-zealously tried to stay close, so that I had to brake going down a hill. Bzzz went the horsefly. It moved beside me and dropped back a bit. Bzzz. It followed me. Bzzz. It took more photos. Bzzz. It moved in front of me again, and again it stole my momentum coming up to a climb. Bzzz went the horsefly. It stopped to take more photos of me. I said ćao/goodbye and felt relieved.

But only for a moment. Bzzz. It was back! That horsefly followed me for a full hour, until it got to its town. Then it took more photos, apparently thinking an annoyed look and a sharp tone of voice meant "sure, how about a couple more?" And then I kept going, and finally it didn't follow, and finally all I could hear were the comparatively soothing sounds of cars and trucks. And now the horsefly has a whole progression of photos of me from smiling to looking like I'm about to slap a horsefly.

Today's ride: 74 km (46 miles)
Total: 1,456 km (904 miles)

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