Tuesday, 12 June 2018

Day 4 - Race to the border

It doesn't seem too unusual these days that I wake up in Chappie in somebody's garden. Day 4 was no exception and I quickly packed up and left to head north on route 12 just before 6 am. It was probably the coldest I'd been overnight so far. Once again, I didn't sleep very well with cats, birds and mosquitos moving around near Chappie.

I checked my messages on the first mile. There were a few panics from various ferry agents who had been in touch to remind me that I had to be out of Serbia by 1100 local time. I simply said that I would try my best to achieve that. At the pace I'd been moving with Chappie, I was on target to get there by 1800! I was happy to try and shave a few hours off that and suffer any consequences at the border.

Donna was alerted to the ferry agent's concerns and, as a result, made Igor (part of the family I met on day 3) aware of the situation. Igor and his father subsequently drove out to see if I was ok and if I needed anything. I told them that I was fine and all that I had on my mind was to reach the border as quickly as possible.

This is very much a solo effort and I'm happy to proceed without assistance of any kind. It goes without saying, though, that any help that I receive around the world is hugely appreciated. As has been proven so far, the unplanned support has been vital.

I gave a thumbs up to Igor and his father as I continued northwards towards the border.  

The roads were very quiet and, 10 miles into the day, I took the opportunity to listen to some music for the very first time on this tour. I simply pressed shuffle and, not for the first time around the world, a song played that was very much in keeping with the current situation. At this point, I wasn't sure that I'd be allowed to take Chappie out of Serbia which would mean the end of the run around the world without any doubt whatsoever.

The song that played was End of Everything by Mark Owen. The lyrics of the chorus started "Is this the end of everything we know?" which made me think that these may, indeed, be the final steps that I could be taking around the world. It could be the end of everything that I and so many other supporters had worked so hard for.

The final lyrics in the chorus "..or the start of something beautiful." immediately gave me some hope and I was able to find an increase in pace. I was determined to get to the border before 6 pm. I was happy to accept whatever fate was once again to throw at me. 

There is a link to the song below. Please have a listen, close your eyes, imagine a red hot sunny Serbian morning and try and put yourself in my position in your mind. Once you've done that, please continue reading.

By noon, I'd managed to do just over 12 miles. That seems to be the benchmark so far on this tour and I need to look to improve on that by a few miles if this run is to be a success. The quicker that I will be able to get the miles done, the more chance I will have to do 2 important things. Firstly, I must take care of my feet. Secondly, I must refuel properly. I haven't been able to do either of these so far  due to the timescales involved in getting to the border, extreme weather, being unable to properly set the buggy up and the late start on day 1. They are reasons and not excuses and I'm happy to move forward in the best way that I possibly can. 

I was pleased to see a sign for Srpska Crnja which is the last town before the border crossing. A man in a passing car stopped to ask what I was doing. I gave him a brief explanation and I was on my way again.

At the 16 mile point, I got talking to a cyclist called Boris as I entered in Srpska Crnja. He was a bee keeper and had been out of work for 6 years despite a masters in traffic technology. He seemed extremely well educated and had attended university in Novi Sad some years prior. His english was very good and he told me of his dreams to cycle far and wide through various countries one day.

I soon left Srpska Crnja and it was a further mile to the border crossing into Romania. The mile seemed to go on and on along a very straight approach to the checkpoint. 

I arrived at the Serbian border at 4 pm Serbian Time. I stood in a queue to get through customs and handed over the transit documentation prepared by the British Embassy in Belgrade. They had been expecting me and my friend, Branko, the customs police officer in Sid had previously given them the heads up that I would be arriving and what my mission was. The next checkpoint was the inspection and stamping of my passport by customs police and I showed them inside the buggy. It all went very well indeed. The staff were very professional, polite and interested in what I was doing. I was very relieved that I had been able to leave Serbia with Chappie without any problems and with a lot of good wishes.

I then approached the border crossing checkpoint into Romania. While I was waiting in the queue of traffic, there was a bus full of children and their teacher asked about my purpose and if it would be ok to take some photos. Naturally and happily I said yes.

A gentleman approached me and asked where I was going and what I was doing. He also asked if I had an injury as he could see me limping. This was due to the blisters on my feet. He looked like Hugh Jackman and spoke very good English. I also noticed another man in the queue, who was leaning in and listening to our conversation. He then joined the conversation speaking in Romanian with "Hugh" and some English to me. He was called Lucian. I asked them if they could recommend any accommodation in the town of Jimbolia which wasn't too far away. I hadn't originally planned to stay there but it was clear to me that my feet were in need of treatment.

Lucian said that I may be able to stay in a local Leisure centre and he would make a call and see me on the other side of the border.

Meanwhile, I presented my passport to the customs police at the Romanian border crossing.  Further questions came my way. These seemed to be very respectful questions born out of a natural curiosity and a genuine interest in this battered and sore Englishman and a buggy attached to him. Just like their Serbian equivalents, the Romanian customs police officers could not have been more polite and professional. I entered into Romania and immediately pulled over at the side of the road to wait for Lucian and "Hugh". 

Lucian told me that I would be able to stay at the Leisure Centre with Chappie and he would meet me there in the hour or so that it would take me to reach it. 

I later found out that "Hugh" had kindly agreed to give Lucian's friends a lift to Timiosara. The delay in getting through customs meant that they were going to miss their train from Jimbolia. They didn't know each other prior to our talks at the border so I was glad that at least someone else, other than myself, was getting some support in some way.

The 2 mile long straight road into Jimbolia was very reminiscent to me of the road into the Serbian town of Sid after the crossing from Croatia. This road seemed to go on forever. 

Relive 'Day 4 - Race to the border'

As I approached the town's sign I suddenly felt like I was dragging a ton weight. All of a sudden, I had to increase my effort 10 fold. Then I heard, a strange noise coming from the rear right side of Chappie. It was immediately obvious, that Chappie had a puncture.

"Ah, come on!" I shouted. I managed to literally drag Chappie into the Leisure Centre where Lucian was waiting for me.  

Lucian and I unpacked Chappie and loaded him into the Leisure Centre. It was deserted. It was very warm in there and there were a lot of flies buzzing around. I think that there had been a handball tournament held there previously that weekend. 

Lucian showed me the accommodation which was very basic, stifling hot and full of flies. However, to me, at that time, it felt like a five star hotel. Faur left me with some pork wrapped in cabbage that his wife had made and some bread. Once I managed to get a shower, I ate them very quickly. They were absolutely delicious.

The night that followed was possibly the most difficult that I have ever spent of any around the world so far. I opened a window to try and let some air in. It was as hot that night as some of those that I'd experienced during the run across Australia. Horribly and uncomfortably hot. I'm guessing it was around 33 - 35 celsius in the dormatory where I was sleeping. The room was full of mosquitos and if it wasn't for the protective net that Donna had insisted that I take on this trip, I would have been eaten alive that night. 

I took the opportunity at various points during the night to shine my torch around me and there were a vast amount of mosquitos just sitting there waiting. I could hear their high pitched buzz near my head all through the night. I estimate that I managed to get 1 hour of sleep.

Once the sun rose, there was no sign of the mosquitos and I packed up and waited for Faur to arrive. Lucian took me to get a Romanian SIM card and some breakfast. After that, we called in at a local hotel in Jimbolia and I managed to get their final room. What a relief!

I took another shower and gave my feet a good clean. Apologies for these photos (I've made them small) but the first one is a blister on my left heel. It's a blister that I always get in the early days of a run or where I don't manage to take care of my feet. I've seen it at its worst during the run across Australia. The next image is the worrying one for me. It's the main reason that I'm now having four rest days (more on that later) before resuming the run on Friday. 

I was able to get a few hours of much needed sleep on Monday afternoon. Faur returned later in the day to help me find some antiseptic for my feet and we were able to repair the puncture on Chappie with the help of a local garage. Thanks to Lucian for all of his help. It's been brilliantly kind of him to help me and I appreciate all of his assistance. 

For balance, I was sent the picture below by Danijela who was part of the family that I met in Klek on day 3. It was taken as I left the town accompanied by the children of the family. To me, it gives a very powerful and beautiful statement about my journey around the world and, in particular, the amount of love and support that I've received so far. I love the little girl trailing behind without a care in the world. I think others will be able to caption and interpret this picture better than I ever could. 

The video below are the above thoughts given via Facebook Live. I also talk here about how I feel that the journey around the world is changing and evolving.  

There'll be more to follow tomorrow about my plans for the onward journey which resumes on Friday.

Finally, thank you to everyone who has made a donation to St Benedict's Hospice via my Virgin Money Giving Page.  The £35,000 was hit yesterday which was brilliant. There is still a long way to go to reach my personal target of £50,000 but so far so good.