Monday, June 26, 2017
On the plane from Paris to Belgrade, I sat next to an American couple from Alabama. Glenn Snyder introduced himself when he heard me speak English to the Flight Attendant. Glenn is three years older than I am. He and his wife were on the way to visit friends from home who had been living in Belgrade for almost two years. They went just to see the country and decided to stay. Glenn had never been to Europe and decided to visit his old friend.
A guy from Alabama with friends outside the country or who even travels outside the country is unusual. Alabama is third lowest in the nation of citizens with passports--just 22% of Alabamans have a passport. Only Mississippi and West Virginia are lower. Also, Glenn never served in the military. He said he had a high draft number and just never wanted to be in the military. Most of his family and the majority of the boys he grew up with served in the military. He knew many people who had been to Viet Nam, Thailand, West Germany, or South Korea with the military, but never had passports, because soldiers on orders or on leave don't need them.
Then we talked about C.S. Lewis. He had read Narnia and Mere Christianity. We talked about faith and books. He did not know about most of Lewis' other books. I told him about Screwtape. He thought portraying demons as bureaucrats in Hell would be fun to read.
And if Glenn wasn't already odd enough, he still cannot understand how people in the Baptist Church he grew up in could vote for Trump. "They told us sex, drugs, rock and roll, smoking, dancing, were all of the devil....They vote for a guy who brags about doing everything they said was bad, and more those old Baptists didn't even think of!"
Now that I am done riding in Eastern Europe, I can say the scariest ride so far this trip was on a state highway that had no parallel superhighway. It was a twisty twelve-mile climb from Skopje, Macedonia, to the pass that marks the border with Kosovo. On the way up the mountain, two Semis got so close I was off the road and onto the foot-wide sand strip that constitutes a shoulder in Europe. The second time the air from the truck pushed me far enough off the road that I had to stop. I got right back on the road. Adrenaline. I really wanted to get to Kosovo.
When I got within sight of the border, I looked across the road and saw warning signs that drivers should watch for bicycles on the roadway on the way down. There were no signs on the way up. Maybe the truckers thought it meant open season on the climb.
The border was jammed with cars and trucks which could mean the bike/pedestrian crossing would be jammed also. Usually the bike crossing was better, but in Ukraine it was worse. I did not have enough time to cross and re-cross the border, so I turned around and rode as fast as I could down the mountain. After eight miles descending, I saw a sign pointing for bikes to take that road. The empty parallel road had weeds growing out of it. At 27 mph (40 feet per second) I thought about taking the lumpy route the last four miles until I saw three dogs walking along the edge of the empty road.
Dog dinner or ride with Semis?
The lead dog had his head down and his tail seemed to be dragging. He looked hungry enough to eat an old bicyclist. Two days before on the ride toward Romania a dog shot out from under a bridge and sprinted at me. I sprinted and growled back. He gave up. These dogs looked more determined.
Given the choice between wild dogs and Semis, I stayed on the main road until I got back into the city. Then I pulled into a gas station and sat on the curb drinking a bottle of juice and calmed myself down. I rolled back into Skopje on sidewalks and bike lanes. The next day I could try to find a different route into Kosovo or go south toward Greece. I went to Greece. Since that day, I only rode on state highways that have a parallel motorway. Otherwise I am on a narrow road with Semi after Semi.