Mountain Biking in Bansko, Bulgaria. It’s strange how myths of mountains get under your skin. There is no rhyme or reason to it but one morning you wake up and something has stuck in your head about a particular pass or peak. I’ve spent 10 years now wandering around the Pirin mountains trying to itch various urges. Djangal, Yalovarnika, The North face of Vihren, Jumgiev rub, Suhodol.. they have all held their sway over me at some point. I would love to describe it as a raging fire, a passion, some sort of all consuming glory filled Shakelton-esque force that drives me on. The reality is more of an itch.
Yesterday I scratched one of those itches. And what a scratch! If you can imagine Baloo in the jungle book scratching up against a palm tree you will get an idea of how good an itch it was! I have been mildly inclined to ride The Flying Scotsman since its inception. The trail looks amazing on paper. A long rolling descent from the Dobrinishtay ski area back to Bansko. The graph shows things just as you want to see them 25kms of top left to bottom right. There might be the odd moment when you’ll need to pedal a bit but really only if you can be bothered. Otherwise just free wheel home baby, whoop whoop, la di da yeah ha!…..BLAH….BLAH….BLAH.
The reality is, you need to get to the top to those miles and miles of down hill. Getting to the top wasn’t tooo bad, maybe only 20 kilometers of up hill, a 1000 vertical meters of up hill, 20 kilometers of hauling 107 kilos of fat up a 1000 vertical meters of mid day sun baked, up hill. You’re getting the idea.
Pretty early on in the forest my urges kicked in and a trail I have not been down before looked like a promising alternative and so started an hour or so of following ancient trails to see if they would link up. Interesting if you are into scrambling lost in the woods carrying your bike through stream and thicket but ultimately futile. We eventually got back on the proper trail and climbed up through some fantastic country. Barely used logging trail running up through beautiful mixed forest, cool shade provided by old growth trees all in a cloud of butterflies attracted to the salt on our shirts. One of the best views down into the valley from near the summit (the photo at the top) gave a glimpse of Dobrinishtay and the extent of our climb.
Eventually after quiet a few sweaty hours we got pay back and off we rolled down the endless descent to Bansko. Wide, hard packed forest roads, little wiggly bits of single track, long straight runs, swooping linked banked turns miles and miles of fun!
On the map I’ve got they call it Trionska Livada but I have always known it as Trionska Polyana. The name is irrelevant the myth of this scruffy little meadow halfway back to Bansko has been a constant theme in my struggles with the national park. This 1/4 acre of shrub and wild flowers has been debated at ministerial level and has been a thorn in the side of 3 directors of National Park Pirin. The problem comes from the fact that even with all the will in the world not everyone who works in the mighty bureaucratic machine that is the Bulgarian National Parks Authority can know every square meter of land in the parks. Allowances have to be made, accommodations and vaguenesses . However Bureaucracy in Bulgaria is BUREAUCRACY and if a jobs worth feels the need to thrust out his chest and write to the boss and if that letter gets all the way to the top all those accommodations, allowances and vaguenesses have to be ignored and the letter of the LAW must be applied.
The details are dull in the extreme but have been a constant theme of my summers. Trionska polyana lies within the general area of the National Park however the route into it passes through 150m of Reserve. Reserve where no man may set foot, reserve so special, dam it, so sacred that it is the raison d’etre of the entire National Park. Well finally this winter some sanity has descended and a compromise reached, the minister in charge has agreed that mountain bikers can walk the 150m along the road that runs through the Reserve and the trail can now be officially be used.
So yesterday, at about 4 in the afternoon our hero sat. On a wobbly bench in a scruffy meadow. Sweaty, muddy and tired. Listening, to the birds, the little silences, the wind in the trees. He sat in Trionska Polyana and for a few moments that scruffy little meadow took on a whole new beauty.
Here is a link to a video of the downhill section of the trail!
Mountain biking on the Flying Scostman MTB Trail in Bansko Bulgaria. Written by James Hughes from The Hotel Avalon, Bansko, Bulgaria. With many thanks to Rich Walker for support with the MTB Trail finding and guiding.