Seven weeks and 2000 kilometres of cycling solo across the Sicilian interior, Calabria and Basilicata at night.
I wouldn’t ever do it again.
But after malignant melanoma, it’s either cycle at night or don’t cycle at all if you’re slogging it through with a bike in this part of the world during the torrid summer months.
What I didn’t reckon on when planning my journey was just how hard it would be to grab some decent sleep during the day after a full night on the road.
Indeed I hadn’t given any thought to this bugbear before departing Malta last July.
Since I cycled by night I should therefore sleep by day. Or so it seemed to me.
I couldn’t have been further mistaken.
Almost every day of my 1000 kilometre outbound journey from the Mediterranean port town of Pozzallo in southwest Sicily to Bari, I was on the verge of giving up and turning back home.
And on a sweltering mid-July afternoon, only five days into my journey, I sensed that perhaps I was trying to cope with more than I could handle:
I cracked up completely after trudging the streets of Enna in a foggy cotton wool daze and scurrying for refuge from the heat and sun in the church of San Marco just off the main thoroughfare in the old town centre.
The coloured African priest was plodding through the paces of laboriously ordaining three young women into the Carmelite order of nuns in a convoluted ceremony lasting forever.
Slumped back in my hard seat wooden chair right next to the church’s rear main entrance and as far away from the rest of the packed church crowd as I could sit, I knew I could go on no further.
What a debacle! What an ignominious defeat!
Barely 200 kilometres away from my journey’s point of departure and here I was ready to give up.
In ten years of solo bicycle touring I had never, never felt so hard pressed.
Even in the hardest of times – surviving a 120 Fahrenheit heat wave on the road through the Sicilian interior or cycling the entire length of the notorious Prizren mountain road across the Albanian Alps en route to southern Kosovo in a dessicating August heatwave or pulling through a horrifying night in a third world Ukrainian hospital in the Carpathian mountain region or cycling the mountain passes of eastern Bosnia in torrential thunderstorms – I had always felt that somehow I would manage to go on and finish my journey.
Not this time round.
I remember feeling very alone in that church packed tight with people living out their routine lives of 6 p.m. Holy Mass on a Saturday afternoon followed by an easy stroll on the cobbled old town streets to the Castello di Lombardia, dining out or sipping at a coffee on the way back home.
The long winded sermon broke my nerve but even though I couldn’t sit still one minute I grimly held on tight and stuck it out to the end.
Oh how that priest rambled on about the virtues of chastity, obedience, poverty and the Parisian tragedies and the Turkish coup d’etat!
But sitting there at the back of the church for what seemed like an eternity gave me the time to reframe my thoughts, calm down, consider my situation in a more logical framework of mind.
And it was then that this thought occurred to me –
What was the point of giving up?
Here I was in Enna, cycling by night to Medjugorje one year after having gone through the long drawn out trauma of cancer diagnosis and surgery.
I had to go on.
Nothing could ever feel worse than ending up defeated.
I owed it to myself to get there –
Kruzevac and Saint James Church and the Apparition Hill.
Clear from the start that my journey would be tougher than I had ever thought it would be.
But just because the going would keep stretching me to my very limit, perhaps even beyond my limit, still this was no reason to give up.
The best things in life are always those we fight hardest to achieve.
This journey to Medjugorje was very close to my heart.
I needed to do it for myself.
All I had to do now was to filter out the straining worry about how hard the next day or the day after that would be and focus on getting as much sleep and rest as I could every day.
200 kilometres might seem nothing much compared to my four or five thousand kilometre bike odysseys of previous summers.
But wait not so fast – I had cycled these first 200 kilometres alone, at night, after cancer surgery and my spirit wasn’t yet broken.
Now wasn’t that something so much greater, so much finer than any multi-thousand kilometre journey I had ever cycled before!
David Bugeja All Text and Photographs Copyright (c) 2016 All rights reserved