After a great night of sleep, I woke up a bit late without any real motivation to start riding like crazy. Anyway, tracker was working again so I had no excuse but to get on my bike and move my lazy ass. With 1030KM to go and four days until the finishers party and great weather, I expected it would be an easy ride to the finish.
New at the blog? Read the previous parts first:
- Transcontinental Day 1-4: Enjoying France!
- Epic mountains, rain nor MTB tracks can stop me! Transcontinental day 5 -9
- What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger – Transcontinental Race: Day 9 to 12
The first 20km was downhill into the beautiful Montenegro valleys around the Tara River. Since I was not feeling well I decided to find coffee first. The sun was out and the views of the valley and bridge were amazing. With the minutes passing by, the happy feelings came back and it was time to get some decent milage done.
A few moments after I went back into climbing I bumped into fellow rider Eyvind Bergström which was a great way to get my thought of the body full of pain and chat a few hours about our experience. He also introduced me to the most famous food for long distance cyclists: 7 days croissant with chocolate fillings! They don’t start rotting, can be compressed easily in your bags without loosing any taste so the ideal food for TCR cyclist. Compact, tasty carbohydrates 🙂
The pace was OK, averaged the first 110km with 28.5km/h while climbing around 1200 meters. Nothing to worry about! During the afternoon temperatures started rising to well over 35C so I eased my efforts a bit and decided to push through the evening as well. Still had around 2000 meters to climb in the next 150km so enough to worry about so I focused on just turning the pedals and eat as much as I could. Kosovo border was no trouble at all, they already had several others pass by during the past few days. One of the guys wanted to have 5 Dutch Guldens, to bad they’re not available anymore. Just after entering Kosovo, I was attacked by a dog that looked like he expected cyclists ready to attack. Similar thing happened to the two guys that passed there just a few minutes after me. To bad I was descending into Peje for my evening meal and I had no intention to slow down to socialize with him.
After diner I loaded the bike with water and food to dive into the night. Temperatures dropped below 20C and I was ready to double the milage for the day. Nothing specials happened actually and around 01:30 I found a nice hotel with drunk people, including the staff that were willing to give me a room for a few hours if I bought them a beer. Since the beers were 50 euro cents I got myself a great deal. Finishing the day with 317km on the table and a warm shower was all I needed. 1 day ahead of schedule and Kosovo didn’t kill me.
The alarm went off at 07:30 and the drunk staff were still drunk. No breakfast was served, I could choose between coffee and beer. You can guess what my choice was… The night brought rain into the country and I didn’t really care since temperatures were OK to keep riding anyway. The crazy headwinds were not so funny though. After 90km and pushing across a few smaller climbs I arrived in Trgovište, close to the border with Macedonia and Bulgaria. Time for lunch and do some shopping. During the lunch I noticed someone posted the picture below, asking my parents if I was always stubborn and choose a completely different route.
Everybody else was going through Macedonia, I thought I found quick road into Bulgaria were I would have to follow one main road directly into Turkey and ride around the mountains between Macedonia & Greece. Once in Bulgaria, I would follow the road that was also taken twice (2014 & 2016) by the winner of the TCR, Kristof so I thought it was a smart choice. So after lunch I got back on my bike, confident that I would pass a few riders and move up in the classification. Then this happened:
And after 2 kilometers of climbing, this nice little pool of water welcomed me.
No real road anymore. The next thing I can remember is that I lost phone reception and had to walk certain parts because even the gravel was no gravel anymore:
As you know by now, I’m not the guy that turns around and find a better solution. I was telling myself I had to continue so next race I would prepare my route better. But after another hour of walking / riding slow my water was finished. It was still way over 30 degrees Celsius and I got myself stuck in the most remote part of Europe. Great job mate 🙂
It took me three hours to reach the top, completely exhausted and dehydrated. I was thinking about Bear Grylls tactics to survive but drinking my own piss was still way over my limits at that point. Crazy that I actually considered it. Thinking about the worst scenario, I was thinking about the fact that I would die in one the most beautiful places of Eastern Europe. That made the suffering less, really. Hunger makes you grumpy but doesn’t really affect your thinking. Dehydration actually made my brain slower, thinking less clear but I was still able to move and had no real other choice. One other solution would be to return back to the intersection with the last water I had seen, drink and try to take down those electrical cables. Someone would start looking why there was no electricty running anymore, and would find me, right?
The hilarious thing that made me aware I reached the actual top at 1444m was a cow trough sponsored by the European Union. How ironic and from now on I will not complain about paying tax again. At least I could smile again and found water, problems solved for the moment. Months later the doctor told me the water wasn’t as clean as it looked though… nothing serious, just some friendly parasites that had enjoyed my body.
The downhill road was even worse and I average 14,6km/h on a 20km downhill section! Happy my Mason had a great set of breaks. Due to all the walking, my left cleat completely broke so I wasn’t attached to my pedals anymore. Living on the edge, going downhill through the rocks and just hoping I wouldn’t crash. Always check Google Earth and local sources, because most maps showed this road as a normal, yellow national road: nothing seems what it is during Transcontinental Race…
As you can imagine, my moral was completely gone. My shoe was damaged, I had hunger and enormous thirst so I booked a five star hotel in Kyustendil, asked the valet parking to clean my bike and cleaned out half of the local supermarket to restore my energy levels. Only 182km ridden, I felt defeated but during a clear moment I remembered the one important line in the TCR Manual: never make decisions about stopping before taking a good night of sleep. The lovely ladies in the hotel asked me what time I would like to have my breakfast served and were not happy when I told them that 05:00 AM would be a good idea. Somewhere in I my head I knew I still had two days to go and “only 590km” to cover before the party and that was my motivation to get up early!
Without any trouble I woke up at 05:00: no breakfast, no smiling ladies at the frontdesk and my bike was still dirty. You do expect a bit more service for 17EUR right? I had one big climb (550m) to overcome before downhilling towards the A1 which would lead me to the Turkish border. The hours went by, average speed was OK and I was focused on keeping my energy levels steady and not push to hard with my fresh legs so I could continue at least 24 hours. I truly motivated myself to finish the last 590km in one go. Completely crazy if you consider that I had already spent 13 days on my bike. During the afternoon I got my first flat, not bad after 3500km. After repairing my tube I decided to sit down and have a huge dinner to make sure I could survive the night without any problem.
Focused on getting to finish as soon as possible, seeing other riders doing similar 400+ rides towards Canakkale I was determined and strong. Just after the sun went down, bad karma hits hard. Another flat tube, quick change of my second spare tube and riding again within 5 minutes. 10 minutes later: another flat tube. Not good, and after three attempts of fixing it I had one last thorough look at my tire and one of the sidewalls was completely worn down. Probably because all the extreme off road riding I did the previous days.
Damn it! Tried to fix the outer tire with some emergency tire boots, but there were just to many small holes in the sidewall, all over the tire. There I was sitting on the sidewalk, in a deserted Bulgarian town, no chance of riding anymore. My digital supporters were still encouraging me to continue and not give up but I after trying to fix it at least 12 times, it was done. The race was over. I would not get to the finishers party in time. Defeated by my materials. At that moment it was the worse what could happen: if I would mentally not be capable of finishing the race, I would have accepted it. If I was physically not fit enough, fair enough. But not finishing within the target time, because of a mechanical issue was difficult to accept.
While I was crying and feeling pity for myself, it took me 20 minutes to make the right decision. I still had a bag of peanuts and around a liter of water left. Google Maps showed civilization was 15 kilometers away and shop were not open anyway so it wouldn’t make sense to start walking in the dark risking some drunk driver would hit me. After wandering through the abandoned village I finally found a busshelter to protect me from the wind. No alarm set, I had been defeated anyway.
When the sun rose above the collapsed houses, I packed my stuff and started walking. Took me a few hours to reach the city of Chaskovo and asked a few locals for a bikeshop. The third one I found looked like they could help me (MTB’s and one race bike behind the window). They opened at 12:00 so I bought half a super market and sat down for a few coffees. The heroes from the shop fixed both of my tires and at 12:50 I was racing again. They dismantle their only bike on display to get me a decent racing tire, what a service 🙂 Later on I understood why they only had mountainbikes: the road quality in Bulgary is exceptional. Exceptional crap.
Next was a funny border crossing into Turkey, where non of the border guards knew what to do with me since tickets were issues based on number plates. Guns were aimed at me, I was send to three different counters and eventually the last one just waved me towards the exit. I arrived in Turkey! I was still disappointed about everything that happened in the last 24 hours, but I can still remember a small moment of excitement when riding into the last country on the list:
When I reached the tourist trap of Edirn, I robbed a supermarket, felt asleep in front of a traffic light and decided to call it a day. No motivation and only 15km of walking and 107km of riding done. After a well deserved diner of cookies, chips, doner kebab and a litre of coke I felt asleep in stinking hotel room.
At 04:00 the alarm goes off after 9 hours of deep sleep. Having no constant urgency in doing everything in race mode, my body could finally really recover. Legs are fresh and motivation is back. I want to reach the finish before lunch so I can you the other Mason riders for a goodbye bear and picture. I enjoy the sunrise and make the first selfie of the race:
Dedicated to the bone, I managed to push the last 214km and 1700m of climbing in just 7H15M. Unbelievable what mind over muscle can accomplish, or maybe it was the urgent need of a cold beer! It’s just after lunch that I reach the Clock Tower of Cannakale. Job done. Survived. Finished. What a journey.
Since I like lists and data a lot, a few statistics to summarize the most extreme bike ride to date. Let me loose in Europe on a bike for two weeks and I’ll break:
- A saddle
- Two cleats
- A dynamo
- A GPS tracker
- Front Brake
- Shredded both tyres
- 3 inner tubes
- 2 bottles, one exploded (don’t put hydro tablets into sparkling water, basic chemistry)
- The spirit of all the dogs that couldn’t get to me.
Some day to day progress numbers, to bad my Garmin had some issues so the number of meters climbed on my way to Canakkale is an estimation.
|TCR TOTAL||4125KM||180H 31M||22,85KM/H|
*Estimated climbing: 39.000 vertical meters. Around 22 kilometers of walking was involved in making this trip 🙂