Sunrise over Kruzevac, Medugorje David Bugeja (c) 2018
The priest said –
“Do one little bit of good in a sea of evil. What does it count? It counts for God who can multiply that good as he multiplied the five loaves and two fishes. It does matter that I try to help someone even in a little way. That person perhaps might then go on and help someone in return… God wants me as I am, even if it is only my sins that I bring with me to Him. But I must believe that I can change. Not remain stuck where I am… Just do all the good you can as you are, with all of your sins and you will change if only you trust in Him…”
6 am start from my suburban guesthouse in Trebinje. 127 kilometre trek. 12 hours on the road. Rumbling thunderstorm closing in fast at Ljubinje. 90 km on the road and thunderclap and cloudburst at Stolac. And one last push to complete my solo folding bicycle journey across an interminable sequence of steep hill rises and descents. And the shifting storm never once letting up the pressure but always circling in, close and tight and threatening to strike.
One hell of a day in the saddle just to listen to some priest’s platitudes at the 7 pm open air Holy Mass at the back of St James Church.
And why cycle there alone?
I could have just as well travelled as common mortals do – in company, by bus, luxury coach, taxi or perhaps even by hitchhiking my way there.
So why the bicycle? What did it all mean to me in the end? Was it just some silly, quixotic ego ride? Out to prove I was still young and strong at 46 and falsely soothing my conscience with pious, sentimental notions all of the time that this was not the case?
My journey hadn’t started in Trebinje.
Almost 800 kilometres in 17 days –
Cycling across the Sicilian interior from Pozzallo to Modica and Lentini, then east to Catania and trekking along the Taormina Riviera and onwards to Messina and Villa San Giovanni and as far as Marina di Guardia Piemontese on the Calabrian Tyrhennian coast and switching eastwards across the Calabrian interior via San Marco Argentano all the way to Sibari and Villapiana Lido on the Ionian coastline.
And one final slog in 45 centigrade heat to Ginosa and Bari and surviving the all night Jadrolinija ferry to Dubrovnik and cycling straight off the ship and climbing 400 metres up the suicidal Jadranska Magistrala before crossing over the Croatian border at Ivanica into Bosnia, then Trebinje.
Always dodging the sun as much as I could by travelling at night or at dawn or after 5 pm with the worst of the day’s sun and heat over. But at times all through the day, hoping that my multilayered UPF 50+ rated shirts and pants and headgear and SPF 50+ sun protection lotion provided sufficient protection from the midsummer extreme UV index levels of southern Italy and the Balkans.
What was I doing out here in the sun for hours at a stretch and for weeks on end after having had a malignant melanoma lesion surgically removed from my left shin?
No, my journey was not inane bravado nor a macho death wish proving I was better than cancer or a midlife crisis.
My journey was because I loved Her and believed that She had miraculously intervened with my God on that evening in Valletta when I discovered the cancer on my leg three years ago.
That’s why I cycled from Malta to Medugorje every summer.
So many hours alone in the saddle through the brute heat and sweat and exhaustion. And the exasperation of not finding a place to stay the night. And the few snatched hours of sleep for an early morning start and another long day on the road. And doubting my strength and my will to endure and to keep on cycling till I got to Medugorje and Kruzevac and the Apparition Hill.
But cycling there alone in such a way as mine forced me to stand well back and take one long hard look at where I had arrived in life and where I was going. Clear that this would be my last all the way by bicycle journey to Medugorje. I couldn’t imagine suffering that sort of strain again come next summer. But for now, here I was on the road alone for nine weeks before returning back to my classroom teaching.
The pain I endured made me feel stronger. Each hurdle I tackled made me feel more confident and capable of dealing with my daily life and classroom challenges back home. The many hours of solitude on the road provided me with time to reflect about how much help people had given me on this journey and three years ago when I was struggling to beat cancer and muddling my way through the onslaught of months of fear and anxiety in the wake of cancer surgery.
Never could I have pulled through this journey nor cancer alone. And I only managed because of the kind of help that priest was speaking of in his evening sermon at the back of St James Church. That priest was not speaking empty platitudes that evening. He was speaking about what I had discovered for myself on those days on the road to Medugorje – in the end it’s all you do for others that counts, just as others have done for you.
All Text and Photographs Copyright (c) David Bugeja 2018