Sunrise over Kruzevac (Cross Mountain), Medjugorje David Bugeja (c) 2017
Melanoma challenged me.
Pick up the pieces, adapt to the new status quo and get back to a life worth living.
But do get back and never let any doctor, any friend or anyone else for that matter tell you what you should do or can do or ought to be doing.
Oh yes, after cancer struck, I was forced to overhaul my summer cycling routine, especially since I was determined to keep on with wandering across southern and Balkan Europe during the torrid summer months, when average UV index levels hover above the 11+ mark. I teach chemistry and summer is the only time I get the chance to leave Malta for many weeks at a stretch and do my thing.
The time I cycle, the gear I wear, even the type of bike I ride and the sum total of luggage I could now afford to carry along with me had to change.
But hey, I still was cycling and I still was riding alone as in my life before cancer.
A sharp stabbing pain shoots up my left shin as I lose my footing and half stumble, half fall over the slippery scree ledge weathered to a polished marble lustre glaring white in the early morning light.
No one around and I’m first up the hill! Kruzevac. Or the Cross Mountain.
I stop to catch my breath and squat down tight, crossing my arms on my knees whilst sending up a prayer thanking God and the Virgin that I made it this far.
Relishing the fleeting silence before the Catholic hordes storm the hill and sweep up the slopes in their hundreds and thousands – there’s never more than a brief interlude to the excited babble and chatter of straggling rosary toting barefoot pilgrims reeking of sweat and clustering up close and tight around so that you could almost taste the sour stench and want to spit it out but dare not since this is holy ground.
That pain again lancing through my leg –
And I’m in that room, with the crutches propped up at the bedside. Alone. Alone but for the fear and shock and all of the effort it takes to make just one trip to the loo and back to bed. Two years ago now since it all began. Six weeks to get back into the saddle after the wide excision surgery and six months for the last of the inner sutures to break through the skin and slough off into a hot water bath.
Good to be back again yet once more at the top of Kruzevac.
I got into Medjugorje late, arriving at Pansion Brajkovic – a couple of hundred metres on past St James Church in the direction of Kruzevac – at 11 pm.
Vicka, never tiring of her smile though looking so worn and exhausted, but still up and waiting for me in spite of having to be back on her feet by 6 am for yet another too hectic, too long summer day.
Each time I return it’s a genuine homecoming – Vicka’s warmest welcome and the spotless quiet room and the death silence of night only broken once by cicadas chirping at dawn.
Valletta to Medjugorje. 1100 cycled kilometres. Three weeks solo on the road.
I did it.
All Text and Photographs Copyright (c) David Bugeja 2018