Little Orleans, MD – Washington, DC , distance- 142.9 miles , climbing – 1356 feet
Although Cumberland to Hancock is known to be the section with the most climbing per mile during Race Across America, Bike Nonstop US was utilizing the GAP trail and avoiding all that “fun”. The weather during the previous week has been against me but it looked promising for the final push. On the plus side, my regular sleep schedule was the winning ticket. You can see the green tents in the photo below. They represent my sleep stops, nicely and evenly spread out .
Friends and family were anxious to see me finish and I was beyond ready to get this silliness over with. The forest was very dense and my live tracker was not updating for long stretches. I was now riding on the Chesapeake and Ohio towpath along the Potomac River. It extends 184.5 miles along the banks of the river from Washington DC to Cumberland, Maryland. It serves very important role in American history:
The canal and the adjacent trail were constructed in 1828 to support the transportation of goods throughout the Potomac valley. The “Grand Old Ditch,” as some called it, operated from 1831 until 1924 with a principal cargo of coal from the Allegheny Mountains.
Riding surface of the towpath varies from section to section but most of it can best be described as a dirt road. There were short paved sections, a couple dozen miles of crushed stone, but 90% of the towpath look like the images below. A bit rougher than your typical crushed limestone surface found on rail-trails.
No Story Without Backstory
Thinking about the journey leading to this race is nothing short of craziness. Plus, never forget that If you really love and believe in something, you can do it. Hard work and preparation will always lead to good results! I don’t consider myself more gifted than the average men or someone with special talent & DNA. I embrace the suffering and enjoy hard training as much as I enjoy hard racing. But lets make something very clear – this is not easy and everything had to be earned !
My ultracycling experience started in 1999 when I was teenager and armed with heavy mountain bike and a big heart. It all began by biking to my grandma village, “whooping” 10 miles or so 🙂 Eventually, I was biking regularly 25 miles each way to the nearest big town. It was hard work but doing it friends seemed doable and fun. Few years later I joined local cycling club and earned my coaching & referee certificate. We organized local cross country & mountain bike races. The most rewarding part was leading groups of up to 40 kids on multi day bike tours.
I was winning most local and regional races and was hungry for more. At the amateur National Championship in 2003, I took the prestigious silver medal in the cross country and skills challenge event. Cycling gives me sense of purpose, it helped me build my confidence and fight anxiety. It wasn’t just the physical benefits, it was so much more. . .
My desire for long distances grew from the stories of local riders who were involved in Randonneuring. These people were drooling over when talking about Paris Brest Paris ,a 1200 km Grand Randonee in France. It was like the Olympics in our sport they said . All of that sounded foreign but at the same time, a good goal to have. The wisdom and knowledge obtained by the people who started this sport and the chance to bike with them as a teenager was a game changer. I was so young that my parents had to sign a waiver to let me participate 🙂
Somehow, I managed 200 km and 300 km events on a mountain bike, regular shoes and t-shirt. Eventually, our Audax Club Parisien representative Dimitar Balanski loaned me a road bike for the 400 km and 600 km brevets. Looking back, it wasn’t about the bikes, the clothing , equipment or little gadgets, it was about true grit and perseverance. I was not fast rider by any means but I finished every event within the time limit.
There were times of setbacks as well. I suffered knee injury in 2011. Trying to qualify for my first Paris- Brest-Paris with little training and wrong size frame was a bad idea. My desire was a little more than the fitness at the time. Sometimes we tend to bang our head into the wall until we learn, don’t we all ? The doctors kept telling how I need to forget about cycling and tried convincing me to do surgery. This sounded unacceptable! After visiting 5 different doctors for second ( 3rd, 4th ,5th 🙂 ) opinion, one of them believed in my recovery with physical therapy. By 2015, I was back in full strength and finished my first Paris Brest Paris 1200 km in 89h( 90h time limit). Although I barely finished, it game me a lot of confidence!
To keep things interesting, I started racing 12h events in 2016 followed by 24h racing the following year. My goal was the magical 400 miles needed to qualify for solo RAAM. And lets be clear, my desire was not to race RAAM, maybe down the line if I can find sponsors. Having that badge of honor is special and desirable status to any ultracylist. A nice confirmation of good fitness and readiness to tackle the elusive RAAM (considered the toughest non-stop Ultra event ). After earning solo qualified status 5 times in 5 years, the next logical step was to go big, really big ! ! !
If you read my blog, you know that I was accepted to race Transcontinental #8 but the event kept getting cancelled due to Covid. I even used Paris Brest Paris 2019 as preparation for it, beating my 2015 result by 1 day in the process ! ! ! The finishing time was 65 hours and 17 minutes despite suffering neck issues and crawling for the last 200 miles. In addition, I was the 1st Bulgarian born rider and gave the 4th best ever recorded time at PBP for this small nation. Since becoming American, the plan is to challenge the Charlie Miller award or in short, finish PBP under 56h 25min.
Bike Nonstop US was not your ordinary race. There were plenty of harsh moments, a whole lot . . . I did my best to smile for pictures and videos but don’t let that deceive you.
The terrain included many gravel sections and plenty of climbing, especially during the first half of the race. The record breaking heat was pure hell and hard to survive. I am not going to sugarcoat it, it was a life and death situation, only the strongest made it without being slowed down significantly.
At some point, such events become a game of mental strength and fortitude. The body will get burned, injured, swollen and beaten up. The bike will break, the temperature might hit 130F or go down to 30F. It might even rain without no end in sight. Food and water might be available, but they might not be for stretches over 100 miles. There could be hotel nearby, but you might also sleep in a cornfield, on a bathroom floor or a bench. But one cannot let go, cannot allow this to stop him from accomplishing his goal!
Back to the final day in BNUS 2021
Day 22 turned out to be perfect to finish what I started three weeks earlier. The skies finally cleared, the rain stopped and all I had left was a little over 100 miles. While approaching the end of this journey, the cycling traffic was increasing. Meeting another cross country traveler was super cool. This lady was hauling a bunch of supplies and a dog! We chatted for a bit and exchanged adventure stories. While I was passing by, her dog decided to get in between us and I almost crashed. That dog was a fabulous bodyguard.
Upon entering the C&O Canal, Mike Wali appeared out of nowhere!
He was the previous president of DC Randonneurs, a local club I joined in 2011 after moving to USA. Mike is a great person, very supportive and with great sense of humor. He biked with me for a bit, we talked about Bike Nonstop US and future plans. Well, admittedly, I did most of the talking as usual, sorry Mike 🙂 He said that Eric Williams would be joining us shortly. We regularly did long brevets together.
Jersey & Bibis by Owayo Custom Apparel
The presence of familiar faces was energizing. Me and Mike were able to locate Eric and his girlfriend. We stopped for a brief moment to eat and talk. Eric is one of the first fast and strong Randonneurs that I met in America. Great person to be around and learn from. Since joining RUSA, Eric has been a force to be reckoned with. He finished as Super Rookie on his first year and tackled the famous Paris Brest Paris in speedy fashion. This was definitely someone I looked up to when my speed and objectives progressed with time.
I`ve heard many times that I inspired people to attempt big challenges on two wheels. Hearing from him that my race inspired him to continue chasing cycling goals was remarkable. Thank you Eric, you are a special one !
I never felt alone that day and truly enjoyed the last miles to the finish. Sleep deprivation was forgotten, being wet, underfed and having injuries as well. All of it was coming to an end and I was running on adrenaline.
The task at hand was huge and the challenges even bigger. Most importantly, I was able to conquer my fears, plan and execute successful race and it felt good.
Crossing entire continent, biking through four different time zones, from mountains peaking above 10 000 feet to deserts and the plains, it has been remarkable experience. To submerge yourself in the rich history of every town and be able to meet the locals and listen to their stories was pure pleasure. I feel grateful for the opportunity to see the beauty of the country first hand, words and pictures cannot really describe it.
Race like this will humble you, it will make you appreciate what you have, it will make you appreciate your existence and freedom!
One of the biggest wins was helping with $5000 towards the fight with breast cancer. Thank you to everyone who believed in my cause.
Numbers were still running through my head, just a habit from going the distance. As the day began, finishing by 6 pm seemed doable but this projection was slipping away fast. Meeting people on the trail was slowing me down but I was no longer rushing either. The new goal was to finish before darkness. I didn’t want people to be waiting at the finish for a long time.
As I was closing down on Washington DC, another dotwatcher appeared out of nowhere. I slowed down, smiled and said hello. The gentleman called me by name. He was very happy to find out that it was me as I likely looked slightly different and filthier than I did at the start 🙂 More food and drinks were handed to me and I was grateful. From having difficulties finding any food and water, I was now out of room to store it all !
I don’t mind the attention but this was surreal. After all, I was just a kid who loved going long distances since I was 15 years old. Twenty years later, I am racing across the entire continent on North America and people are coming out to cheer. To make it more special, I never dropped out of the top 3 during the entire race since we left the Pacific Coast. Despite all ups and downs, I was going to finish 3rd overall. I think that we were able to animate the race by staying close to one another and people were loving it.
There were few downed trees on the trail that required hitch hiking but it wasn’t that bad.
At some point, I was riding on a paved trail next to the cliff of a mountain by the WV border. Can I try water skiing myself !
While talking to this gentleman who congratulated me on my success, a couple was sitting on a bench next to us. They noticed that people were requesting to take pictures with this dirty cyclist and gave us curious look. My newly acquired friend was now explaining to them how I biked 3450 miles with 20 remaining before the finish line. Their jaws kind of dropped. This is how I met William Chin and his wife. After noticing that I was just offered food and drinks, they offered me whatever they had at the moment as well. I could feel their positive energy and excitement. We exchanged some contact information and went our separate ways. Little did I know that few hours later, they would show up at the Lincoln Memorial.
The messages were pouring into my phone and social media accounts. It was getting dark when I was on the outskirts of town. It was problematic as traffic was increasing and some of the infrastructure was closed for repair. The GPS decided to freeze on me but I kept going while the device was restarting. After missing a turn, I had to go back a mile or two to correct this mistake. The onlookers following my live dot were probably wondering how did I get lost with two miles to go 🙂
Here it was, the Lincoln memorial, fully illuminated and right in front of my very eyes, what a moment!
The welcoming was unreal and it brought tears to my eyes. There were about 20 or more people scattered around and screaming my name. Was I dreaming, hallucinating? With the risk of missing some names, I do want to mention few of them.
This was not RAAM, there was no stage, there was no formal award ceremony and live interviews streamed to thousands of fans. But my friends, old and new made this experience unforgettable and just as special.
My riding buddy Andrea was there, a huge supporter and good friend. We shared many miles and stories together in the last 10 years. She presented me with custom hand made finisher medal. Very special !
Misha, another good friend had taken food order from me and was there as well. She has been on complete tear all year and we rode a lot of quality miles in 2021.
My friend Hamid, the RBA of Northern Virginia Randonneurs was there. He is leading a newly formed club and providing more opportunities for local riders to accomplish their big cycling goals . His wife Shab was also present with her special homemade food and flowers. Thank you both!
How about Perry Wilderson and his wife. He was standing and screaming my name at the finish while holding a big sign. It was a picture of the entire course with photos taken by me along the way. Perry has been so kind me. He even organized post race meeting between myself and Barry. We were able to talk about our race before Barry moved to Australia. Videos should be coming up soon on my Youtube Channel
William Chin and his wife were here, a man who I just met for the first time in my life few hours ago. What a nice surprise !
Fellow DC Randonneurs and Northern Virginia Randonneurs Ed, Marry, Bob, Chris, Mitch & Greg. Apologies if I am missing anyone. Thank you for taking the time to show your support.
We lined up in front of the Lincoln Memorial for some final pictures and a quick chat. It was interesting to hear from them that I did not look tired. I guess you don’t have to look tired when you actually are 🙂 Despite how I felt, I always found ways to smile and stay positive.
I really wanted a picture in front of the Memorial. However, the bike was so heavy that I had to remove my bottles and some luggage just to be able to hold it above my head long enough to get a decent shot.
All I can say to all of you is thank you for being part of my journey. Thank you for being out on the course, thank you for the moral & financial support, thank you for believing in the breast cancer cause & fundraising.
Don’t take no for an answer, don’t stop dreaming, don’t stop working towards a goal. We can accomplish big things if we work hard enough.
Finishing time 21 Days 13 hours 31 minutes
Reminder: This race was fundraiser for breast cancer. Please consider donating at
Other ways to help:
Save $20 on Infinity Seat by using the code ” Georgi” at https://infinitybikeseat.com/
Help me race at Race Across the West and sponsor a Time Station at https://s-ultracycling.com/raw-2022-sponsor-a-time-station/
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