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Weightlifting in Bulgaria

Ben Keayes - 09/09/2007

Lifting Weights in Bulgaria
Ben Keayes
(all quotes attributed to E Canetti esq.)

‘A "modern" man has nothing to add to modernism, if only because he has nothing to oppose it with. The well-adapted drop off the dead limb of time like lice.’

Bulgaria had been on our minds for a vol-bivouac trip for a few years. Unsure of its politics, alphabet or even its exact position in Eastern Europe, a glance at an atlas backed up a late night argument that indeed the Stara Planina range of mountains stretched across the entire country and faced south – with impressive flatland in front. A quick search found numerous 150 and 200Km flights had been done here and the weather was likely to be great.

That’s the planning done then.

‘People's fates are simplified by their names.’

Brits on Tour
‘Dangerous’ Dave Ashcroft dug his old Ozone Vulcan out of the cupboard
Ben borrowing back my Gradient Aspen

First Impressions…
…as obviously disoriented tourists were made by a tattooed thug – Ogi – whom we met whilst Dave was being sold a Tazer (so much more handy than the .38). He took us in, showed us his demolition business and some very fine watercolours (his) – gave us a potted socio-political-ethno-religious history of Bulgaria, his personal stash (of Camping Gas) and a lift to the train station. Good start we thought.

Other reasons to celebrate our choice was the 350km+ chain is supported by a railway which runs at the foot of the mountain chain and prices from much further east!

Sliven and the Eastern Stara Planina
Sliven is pretty much the Eastern end of the chain – where the mountains dwindled to the 1000m mark. A flying site due to the chair lift and impressive steel hanglider launch ramps, the paraglider take off needed a little imagination. There was also a thunderstorm over the back – with the anvil head shading our mountain (the 1st rumble of thunder was 10.30 am).

As a result the flying was hard – weak thermals and a headwind. Crossing a succession of tree lined ridges I came across a huge grassy bowl - at last a simple landing option! Subsequent examination of the photos reinforced joint paranoia that the bowl was indeed a tank firing range – complete with five huge barrels pointing at us!

Landing that evening brought our first Lada hitches – and huge raindrops as we bought excellent dinner thanks to Dave’s Point-It ability.

The real excitement of the day came just before dusk when the entire village tried to stop us walking up the mountain. This was complete with cheery smiles replaced by black looks and cut-throat gestures whenever we started walking. Finally a fluent English speaker was produced – and he organised a lad to ‘guide’ us around the gypsy encampment. Racist abuse or reality? Certainly their ‘encampment’ was indistinguishable from the air – appearing permanent and well tended, but Dave was a little alarmed – which displayed itself, when rather than land near a solo cheery gypsy, he tree slalomed a couple of fast down wind km before embedding himself on a thorn bush!

The next couple of days followed a similar pattern of tough flying due to headwinds and thunderstorms followed by hitches (or rides on the train line that follows at the foot of the mountains) to villages situated under the biggest mountains in the range. It is a sign of the incredible potential of the place that flying was possible at all – let alone 30-40km xcs upwind.

A real feature of the flying were the morning convergence lines produced by the thermic easterly slopes of the ridges running up to the main chain and the ever present north-west wind that howled down the bigger valleys and passes. If you could connect with these they gave the smoothest most delightful cloud cruising I’ve ever had – as the base kept changing and the lift moving position with beautiful cloud caves to play in. Getting the transitions right was a little tricky though – as some of the valleys are alpine in nature!

Sopot and the Western Ranges
The best known paragliding spot in Bulgaria and rightly so due to the huge xc-potential in every direction. Due to howling winds we stayed here a couple of nights in the ‘club house’ which is a delightful farm building.

This gave us opportunity to enjoy the ‘vibe’ of the place – which comprised local instructor and good egg Nicky with local wisdom and huge appetite for ‘innovation’ and a motley crew of long(ish) term touridents who appeared to be able to survive on fresh air (and lots of altitude)! It felt like a cross between the surfer camps of the ‘60s or the climbing scene in Llanberis in the ‘80s. People dropping in and out - some with, some without, a simple non-western life with flying at the heart (but not the centre) of it all. Even the dogs were charmingly laid back and appealing. I was touched by it all – it lifted my weight in a way I didn’t expect.

‘The profoundest thoughts of the philosophers have something trick like about them. A lot disappears in order for something to suddenly appear in the palm of the hand.’

We flew xc every day too – with the highlights being just landing short of a 25km flatland out and return (into a strong wind!), and a 50km+ flight (upwind again!) towards Sofia on the last day.

Despite a landing in what I was convinced was a minefield, a lot of trees and the tent being destroyed one night, this was our easiest bivouac trip – it should be on everyone’s list – even without the other ranges of Bulgarian mountains – but in the opposite direction!

 

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