At some point, not far into our ride, we pull over and park the bikes among the hay fields, taking pictures of the landscape and some people working their land. The pictures aren’t turning out that great and we pack up the camera, pulling back onto the road right alongside a tractor coming from a field across the street. He’s going just too fast for me to pass him and soon, we’ve sunk in his wide slipstream, effortlessly drafting behind him as we barrel down the country road.
Since the rig is already taking up the entire lane, Ben and I feel justified riding side by side, and the driver chuckles at our strategy and waves, his wife also acknowledging us from her spot on the back. In all, we make an amusing procession, made even more entertaining as it becomes clear that the couple is well loved among their community. Field workers in almost every plot of land smile and wave at them, and a bit sheepishly, we wave too. An overgrown rain cloud solemnly marches in from our left and driver repeatedly points at it and gestures to his working neighbors that it is going to hit hard in five minutes time.
I’m still not over the fact that we’re passing horse and donkey drawn wagons every few minutes, or at the way we’re drafting off of a tractor in the middle of nowhere Macedonia, but soon we hit a slight incline, my speed flags, and I can’t hang onto the tractor’s speed. Ben sinks back to join me and we ride on alone. Seconds later, we round a bend to a gas station, and the tractor comes back into view, having pulled in to wait for us. We too pause, thinking we might ask them if we can take their picture. Instead, he gestures for us to keep following him and offers to buy us a drink at the local cafe!
We parade into Novo Selo, only a minute or two away, and park our bikes next to the tractor. Then, the four of us duck into a covered restaurant patio just as the rain tears itself loose from the sky. From the table, I watch the water hurling itself onto the pavement with monsoon-like enthusiasm and wonder aloud to Ben how this much serendipity is even possible.
Our next hour is spent in a rousing game of charades over Coca Cola’s: Stojco and his wife speak only a smidgen of English, which is a whole lot more than we speak Macedonian (read: none). We learn that they have a daughter roughly our age and we attempt to explain where we are from and where we are going. Stojco warns us about theft in Bulgaria (it wouldn’t be a good border crossing if someone didn’t warn us about the nefarious behavior of their geographical neighbors!) They even volunteer to feed us lunch, which we politely decline since we’ve essentially done nothing but eat all day!
Finally, the rain dries up, the sun comes out, and we exchange email addresses, hugs, and handshakes before parting ways, waving enthusiastic goodbyes as we head for the Bulgarian border. As we pedal away, I’m still shaking my head, smile plastered on my face, completely unable to wrap my mind around the magnitude of the hospitality that has been given us and wondering what kind of debt we must owe the universe.