TCR 2017

Yes people, I will be back for TCR 2017! Not as a racer this time though. I succesfully kept myself from signing up last november, but I will be back as a volunteer (if I get assigned, even the volunteer spots are really popular, but otherwise I’ll just go as a supporter). Volunteering places still need to be assigned , but I signed up for either one of the easterly checkpoints, which for this edition means I will get to go to either the Tatras mountains in Slovakia, the Transfăgărășan in Romania or the finish, which is Meteora in Greece.

The plan right now is to ride my bike to the checkpoint, doing volunteer-y things for however long I’m needed and then do some touring in the area. I really look forward to seeing some of the action in the front of the pack, which I didn’t get to experience at all last year. I also look forward to welcoming in some familiar faces, as I met a couple of women at the Adventure Syndicate training camp in Girona in January who are joining this years’ Transcon. The womens race should be particularly interesting this year, as there are reportedly 50 women at the start (as opposed to about 20 last year). The start list still has to be released so I don’t know how official it is, but I can already tell you some of them have quite the reputation when it comes to ultra distance cycling. And never rule out the ‘rookies’. One of the TCR women in Girona is new to ultra distance cycling, but the way she can climb was equally admirable and intimidating. I’m sure the women will put up a great dot show for us this year, and I’m very excited to write a daily update for you from the comfort of my volunteer seat somewhere in East Europe.

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One of the brilliant group rides with The Adventure Syndicate

Places I stayed – France

With the risk of changing this blog into a travel guide, I’d like to take the time to highlight the places where I stayed during the TCR. They only ever managed to get a mention if it fit the narration of that particular day and/or if they were otherwise note worthy. But I have some fond memories of pretty much all of them, and I wanted to write about them all, probably more for my own entertainment than yours. Still though, if you ever plan to do a pilgrimage of my TCR16 ride, here’s where you get to sleep.

Night 0 – Etreux

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My comfortable bed was on the right side of the Hotel de Ville, just outside this picture

Initially I planned to not sleep at all during that first night right after the start, but I was forced to wait out the first daylight after a front light malfunction in the dead middle of the night in rural Northern France (you can read about it in a bit more detail right here). It was about 4am and I estimated it would be another hour or 1,5 hour before the sky would start to light up enough for me to safely resume my ride. The village of choice – or not so much choice, just the first upcoming village on the route – for my short nap was Etreux. The village had an English cemetery (probably the 5th or 6th one I’d come across), but there didn’t seem much else to it. But there was a Hotel de Ville with a little nice looking square in front of it. Nice and exposed and in the proximity of other (sleeping) people, that’s how I preferred my first night ever bivvying out. There was a canal next to the Hotel de Ville with a nice looking patch of grass next to it. So I parked the bike against the fence, got out my bivvy with silk liner and blow up pillow, put on my leg warmers and down jacket, bunny hopped into the set up and laid down next to the bike. I wasn’t necessarily very sleepy when I had to stop, but since there was not much else to do until daylight, I had little problems getting the energy levels down and fall asleep. It was actually quite a quality nap too. Sure I got a little stiff from lying on the grass and it was a bit sweaty in the bivvy (I opted for cheap and light, instead of quality), but when my alarm went off an hour later and I saw it was still rather dark, I was comfortable enough to give myself a 30 minute lie in before I got up, packed everything away and got on the move again. First time bivvy: success!

Night 1 – Hotel Arlequin Troyes

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Hotel Arlequin right in the historical centre of Troyes

Once I got to the city of Troyes I stopped quickly to look for a hotel that was as little out of the way as possible. Luckily there was an Ibis Budget hotel right in the center which was on route, so I continued my way until I found it. Alas, it was fully booked! So I had to do a new Google search and found another sort of budget hotel which was a bit out of the way, but only 700m away from where I was. So I started making my way there when I passed a little boutique hotel. Since I was there, I figured I might as well inquire, and they had a room available for €55. Sold! The room however was on the 3rd floor and there was no elevator, so I didn’t even try to negotiate to have my bike in the room. There was no way I was gonna carry the bike all the way up, it was a struggle enough to carry myself up with my tired legs. My bike didn’t need immediate maintenance and I could get to my bike whenever I wanted and get out of the hotel, so that was good enough for me.

That first shower felt like a godsend. At that point I wasn’t really used to being in bike clothes and feeling sweaty all the time yet, and my off the bike clothes were completely fresh. After the shower I was so very sleepy, but there was work to be done. I had to get dinner and find a grocery store to stock up on food for the next day, which was the dreaded ‘Sunday in France’, when it’s hard to find opened service stations. The plan was to go for a pasta or pizza somewhere, but once in the Carrefour I decided I was too tired to have a sit down meal, so I stocked up even more for a dinner in bed. I cranked up the AC, which made a hell of a noise, but I knew I was tired enough I could sleep through it. And that proved to be true, when my alarm went off at 6am, I woke up from a very very deep sleep.

Night 2 – Hotel F1 Moulins

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The hotel looks a lot less depressing in daylight

The ride on day 2 had been absolutely amazing in terms of views and scenery. But it was also a lot more up and down than I had counted on and I didn’t get as far as I hoped. I wanted to reach Saint-Pourcain, but when night fell, I wasn’t even past Moulins yet. Moulins wasn’t even on my route, I was supposed to pass it a couple kilometers to the east, but it soon became clear I wasn’t going to find accomodation en route (that would be open at least) anytime soon unless I’d take a little detour. On Google I found a Formule1 on the south side of Moulins so I started navigating there. I foolishly hadn’t charged my light the night before, so it then became a race to get there in daylight. I didn’t make it that fast though, partly due to a road that was closed off and then some difficulties finding an alternative, so I had to ride the last 20 minutes with just the extremely low setting of my front light. That was a bit uncomfortable, but the traffic was low and the roads were smooth, so it wasn’t that long after dark before I got to check in at the F1.

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One bed for me, and one for the bike

For those unfamiliar to the concept of Formule1 hotels, these hotels are absolutely brilliant for people joining events like these, or anyone who’s just in need of a simple bed and shower and nothing else really. They can typically be found on N roads or highways, are usually quite cheap (sometimes as low as 20 euros) and they never mind if you take your bike up to your room. For any more luxury than mentioned above, this is not for you, but when in the TCR, this is just perfect.

Night 3 – Hotel l’Atelier Ennezat

After two very long days in the saddle, I needed an early night in. Where I initially planned to continue to Vichy I saw a sign for the Hotel l’Atelier on the road and decided I was done for the day and went to look for the entrance. I was a bit nervous when I got there, the place looked so fancy that I thought it would be extremely expensive. But thankfully the price was very reasonable and when the lady saw my bike, she said ‘oh you’re in the Transcontinental?’. Apparently I wasn’t the first one to knock on her door. I got to place my bike in a huge room under construction, which was going to be a restaurant. And a nice one I’m sure, since the room was already beautiful even unfinished. I parked the bike against the big fire place, where it made friends with another rider’s bike overnight (see picture in this blog) .

The room itself was simple but charming. The bathroom was a bit outdated and not as clean as you’d expect for a hotel as nice looking as this, but the fluffy pillows more than made up for that, they just felt like a big hug. It made it hard to get up in the morning, but at least I felt well rested for the day to come. I wouldn’t mind coming back there at all, especially when the restaurant part is finished.

Day 4 – Bivvying at Hotel du Jura, Louhans

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My second and last bivvy experience of the trip was on some hotel lounge chairs in Louhans. In my post on day 4 I already described how it came to be. What I didn’t mention was how I actually screwed this up earlier that day. A few hours before I quickly talked to the B-twins #227, telling them I wanted to push on for Louhans. They said they just cancelled a room in Hotel du Jura, planning to stop earlier. If I’d call now, they said, I could probably get their room. Not sure why, but I stupidly ended up not following their advice. 

So there I was in Louhans, three nice hotels almost directly next to each other, but no bed with my name written on it. I asked the neighboring restaurant for some suggestions, and they had a card of a chambre d’hote somewhere, but it wasn’t that close, looked expensive and I doubted they would let me in that late. The most reasonable other option after bivvying was riding along for another 20km to the next Ibis Budget. But I couldn’t get through on the phone and since the Ibis in Troyes had also been fully booked, I was reluctant to take that risk. The lounge chairs would by far be the most comfortable bivvy option, and the only sleeping option at that time I was certain of. I deliberately didn’t write a post that night, not wanting to share with my family that I was bivvying. The added advantage of that spot would be that my tracker showed up at a hotel, so my family would think I found a hotel room. I knew otherwise my parents would be worrying and my brother who had developed a habit of trying to tell me what to do, would have probably told me to continue looking for a bed. I didn’t want either to happen, so that took care of it.

This is what finding a place to sleep looks like


It was warm enough to just lie in my silk liner, so I didn’t have to sweat in my bivvy. The cushions were comfortable, so far so good. There were several other problems with that place though. On the adjacent building there was a large motion triggered outside lamp that shined right in my face, which also reacted to cats. The upstairs neighbor had a metal balcony and stairs that was quite noisy when she walked on it, and she found it necessary to come down several times to look for her cat and do who knows what. At first I was afraid she would see me and shoo me off, but either she didn’t notice me or she didn’t care. Then a group of drunk guys came out to play. I think they were staying at the hotel and just came back. They were messing with a bunch of chairs on the patio only 2 meters away from me, and I was afraid they would come to bother me. But again, either they didn’t notice me or they were kind enough to let me be. Still their presence was annoying, because they were noisy and they kept triggering the light. After that it got a bit calmer and I think I still had two or three hours of proper sleep. When my alarm went off at five, I was in just a little bit of hurry to get away, worried that the owner might show up soon for breakfast service and send me away like some homeless person. It had been a rough night, but riding through the morning mist quickly turned my foul morning mood around and what was to follow was a gorgeous ride through the Jura and into Italy.

Reflections

Unbelievable, it’s been three weeks already since I’ve abandoned the TCR. Three weeks back at home and two weeks back to work and my old routine. It felt so relaxed, not having the pressure of trying to balance training time with social life all the time. And the weather has been really good, we even got a heat wave, so lots of terraces, park picnics, swimming and going to the beach whenever I could. I’m enjoying myself and I’m doing well, but not a day goes by where I’m not thinking about anything that’s happened in those days between July 29th and August 15th.

In many ways the signs of the race are still showing on my body. On my hands and the top of my feet the skin is peeling. The tips of my left pinky and ring finger are still a little bit numb and the strength in my hand isn’t quite back yet, but they only cause very minor inconveniences (like being unable to open a jar) and I’m kind of used to it by now. My tan lines on my hands, arms and knees are fading, but still very much visible. But I cherish them as kind reminders that the race and the entire experience was real, so on the hot days I’m making very little effort to hide them. 

Eventually they will fade though, and the memory will be less fresh. Sometimes I read back one of my blog posts and relive certain parts of the route or think about where I was at the time of writing (I really didn’t do enough justice to some of my overnight addresses, I might have to get back to that sometime). Other riders have also started to write up their experiences, and it’s really funny to read how everyone’s story is so highly individual, yet huge parts are extremely relatable and sometimes nearly identical. This goes from certain places where I know I’ve also paused, to route fails or other bad choices I’ve also made, to emotional processes I’ve also been through. 

Reading blogs from fellow riders I’m sometimes triggered to go back to trackleaders and pull up certain parts of my route. When I look at my route, it’s amazing how many little details this brings back. Though my daily blog has been quite OK in describing the overall day and highlighting some note worthy anecdotes, I now noticed I definitely omitted a lot of details. Mostly because I wanted to keep it kind of short because I was tired and wanted to sleep, and sometimes it just wouldn’t fit in the flow of the story. Or it just wasn’t of any particular interest for you, eventhough it’s still a really nice memory for me. So I’ve now started to write up a more elaborate recap nearly on an hour to hour basis, just as a way for me to not forget anything, and not necessarily meant for publishing on this site. But who knows, if I do come across a particularly funny or interesting memory, I might dedicate a little post to it.

Post Race Thoughts

Ever since I’m back, the question I received most is how I feel now. Mostly they were referring to how I feel physically, but also how the trip has enlightened me. A couple of days after returning home I went to my physiotherapist and told him about the pain in my knee cap that suddenly occurred in the first couple of days, but then also left on its own. So he said ‘oh that probably came from here’ and proceeded to pinch in my upper leg. That immediately got me doubled up, shit that hurts! ‘Yeah, that’s definitely a bit stiff’. My physiotherapist has a sadistic kind of humour sometimes. Apparently the pain in my knee derived from overburden on my lower back and hip. So he massaged that area to decrease the tension and I’ve been taking it relatively easy on my bike rides (except the one where I had to do a 15km time trial to the train station to make it to my train home in time), to give my legs a bit of a break. 

In terms of catching up on sleep, it only took me about one day to feel fully rested. But then again, I wasn’t nearly as sleep deprived as most others have been, sleeping relatively long and nearly every night in a proper bed during the TCR. Only my sleeping pattern seems to be a bit off, especially the first couple of days I’d sometimes wake up in the dead middle of the night, thinking I was still underway and that I had to get back on the bike again. That doesn’t occur anymore, but now I still have nights where I can hardly stay awake til past 9pm, and other nights where I can’t catch any sleep before 2am. Not really sure if that’s directly caused by the TCR, but sleeping is usually one of my bigger talents, so this isn’t normal for me.

As far as if and how this has enlightened me, I can say it mostly reaffirmed what I already knew: biking is fun! And it’s even more fun when riding your bike in areas you don’t know. Since my return I got to ride a fair share of pancake flat rides, which was a nice change from my hilly ride from Belgium to Croatia. But boy, do I miss those mountains. The views and scenery I got to see were truly spectacular, and I can’t wait to go and see more of the world on my bike.

On a more inspirational, life lesson-y note, I’ve been thinking a lot about something Anna McNuff wrote in a Facebook post: “if the last few years have taught me anything it’s that there’s nothing waiting at the finish line that I do not already have”. (Seriously, if you were even remotely entertained by my blog, you should consider following her. She’s a British adventurer explorer doing nothing but cool stuff, but she also writes very humorous pieces about all that cool stuff) That quote really helped me be OK with deciding to quit the race, but it also made me realize that the journey was just as important as the finish line. The stars may not shine as bright once you managed to reach them, so you better make sure you enjoy the way to get there. So there you go, your motivational quote to put on a tile and hang on the wall!

What’s next?

Good question, but I don’t have a good answer just yet. I’ve been inspired to continue doing more bikepacking, but for TCR2017 I will probably step down and let others have a go. I’ve been thinking about voluntering on one of the checkpoints next year and then continue on a touring holiday on my own account. Doing a bit more touring is definitely appealing and I already have a long list of countries in my head where I would like to do that. I’m also still considering the option to fly back to Split somewhere late spring, and finish my route to Turkey. There were still some wonderful areas on my route that I missed out on, so I’d love to go back and make up for that. And lastly, I’d love to do a similar challenge sometime soon. Probably a bit shorter, a bit cheaper, maybe some randonneuring events, but I’ve learned so much about bikepacking on this trip, and I’d love to learn even more and continue fine tuning that knowledge. So yeah, I’m really not sure yet what will be next, but rest assured. Whatever it is, I will be writing about it on this site.

A picture says a thousand words

Here’s a previously unshared image to compensate for this otherwise imageless post.


My pit stop on Day 2 just after National Park Morvan. It was hot and I’d been craving a cold Coke the entire afternoon, but it was Sunday so nearly everything was closed. But then I stumbled upon this little gem of a service station. It was also a tiny restaurant and hotel, and it was so charming, I’d love to come back. If not to stay there, then at least for the lovely melon Popsicles they sold, delicious!

Louise Soplanit – abandon

This is it, guys! I’m really sorry, I know so many people have been rooting for me, but I can’t take it anymore. Riding through physical discomfort in the first few days – fine. Having to climb the Grimsel pass and Furka pass through wind and rain – fine. Hiking up multiple Dolomites passes due to tiredness – fine. Three days of constantly arguing and discussing with myself, while I realize more and more that I’ve stopped loving the journey – that’s too much.

This was the start of the hardest and coolest day in the race, right before ascending the Grimsel pass

I’ve been twisting and turning all night in my overheated top bunk, I would have loved to let you all wake up this morning with the good news that I’m cracking on. But honestly, then I would be doing it as a favor to you and not for me, and that unfortunately won’t work for me. The official scratch email has been sent, my dot will be removed from the map and I’m going to book a ticket home.

It would be unfair to blame it all on Croatia, though it certainly hasn’t served as an inspiration. The real problem was a bad attitude. For days I tried to talk myself in a better mood, tried to fool myself, tried to convince myself that it was in my head and I just needed to turn my attitude around (which is 100% correct, but clearly I failed to do so). It’s mentally draining to a) be in a dark place, and b) work so hard to force yourself to enjoy it. I lasted for three days before I thought there’s no more glory to be gained now.

I know I can push myself very very far, but not passed the point where I don’t enjoy myself anymore. Personal boundaries have been pushed much further than I ever imagined possible, but I can’t do that for another 1500km with an attitude problem. I’ve been receiving so many messages to push on, because I owe it to myself, that I will regret it, that I should see it through till CP4 or the next border, etc. But believe me. None of you said something I haven’t come up with myself. Every reason I try to come up with to continue seems artificial and forced. My pride? F that, I have broken every single personal record I’ve had. Regret? Sure, maybe, for a while. But I gave it a try, and that’s a regret I’ll never have. Unfinished business? Only in the sense of not seeing certain countries I wanted to see. But they’ll still be there next year, and I don’t have to be in a race to see them. Do I really want this? Yes. But on my own condition and that’s a real simple one: that I will enjoy it.

In a way I wish I had to opt out due to a physical restraint, it’s so much easier to explain, but that’s just not the case. I will just have to come to terms with the idea I couldn’t mentally cope. I counted on one bad day. I even counted on multiple bad days. But when it’s three consecutive days, it’s become structural. Maybe two weeks is all I can really enjoy on a bike. Maybe I should go on an do some more touring to be mentally prepared for this, maybe maybe maybe. I really don’t know, but for now, this is where my first stint in bike packing ends.

This time I’ll have to settle for this:

  • 15 days of riding
  • 2495 kilometers
  • 32.130 vertical meters
  • 95.129 calories burned (says Garmin Connect)

Only thing left to say right now is a massive THANK YOU for the outpour of sweet messages and support! WordPress kept sending me messages to say traffic went out of control, apparently the daily views went up from about 30 to 300. I loved writing the little daily pieces, even if it was eating in my sleep time. Luckily I didn’t race this in a way where 30 minutes of sleep made a lot of difference. 😉 It really has been very humbling to feel so immensely supported, and I almost feel more guilty for scratching towards you than towards myself, which in itself says it all really. I will be writing up a more elaborate reflection in the next days. If you have any specific questions you’d like answered, go ahead and send them my way and I will put that in the reflection as well. Can be anything, from frame size to questions like ‘do you feel like a loser’ (the answer to that is no).

I may have failed, but at least I tried.

Day 15 – Split, HR

God, I had no idea how old you could feel at 29. I’m in a hostel in Split, surrounded by Brits and Americans in their very early 20’s on Euro camp, while I’m here wearing my now-not-super-clean-anymore-and-also-kind- of-sober off the bike clothes and I’m suddenly feeling very aware of those 3 or 4 grey hairs I have on each temple. Of course it’s Saturday night, so the dorm smells like 50 shades of Axe, but at least the youngsters are on their way to the clubs. Should be fun when they get back. 

As we speak, the finishers party in Çanakkale is in full swing. And also as we speak, I’m still trying to determine if I should go on. Those who are friends with me on Facebook already know that I called it quits early today, because I was struggling with motivation (as was already becoming apparent in my earlier blog posts). The thing is, I’m not having fun anymore, which I find a lot harder to swallow than legs too tired to climb up a mountain. The last three mornings I found it really hard to get myself back on the bike again, every morning a little more than the one before. This morning I could feel immediately that I would be a burden to Henning. I just couldn’t bring it up to be nice to myself or to him, and the bore of Croatian land really started to get to me. By the time we got to Senj around lunch, I told him I had no further aspirations for the day, I would probably roll into Split and stay there for the day. I don’t think he was very sad to part ways at that point and last time I checked he made it well into Bosnia. Job well done, I don’t think he would have made it that far if I had stuck around.

So I’m now at the point where I’m wondering if I can live with myself if I quit now, or do I find it worth it to push on. In the end the answer will most likely be determined by how I feel in the morning. Will I be exited to get back on the bike, I will push on. If not, I will make my arrangements to get back to Amsterdam.

Tomorrow D-day!

Day 14 – Knin, HR

Oh no, we’re two weeks on the road already? I had to check the title of last night’s post to see where I was. Anyway, I was so determined to finally make another 200+ day again, that I made zero photo’s. So I just made a picture of some of my clothes instead. 

Just be happy you can’t smell them


It’s actually not that well visible on the photo, but my jersey is all covered in white marks left by the salt of my sweat. My base layer was definitely once whiter than that, I wonder if I can ever get the neck and armpit area to look white again. My bib shorts are actually not too bad, that one gets the most washes of everything. My socks on the other hand, which by the way also get by far the most washes, are almost standing up on their own. They could basically double as shoes. I do have an extra pair, which so far have been used after rainy days, so I could have something dry and warm on my feet. But I think the time is about right to completely switch over to them. The hardest one to actually deal with are my gloves. They smell quite bad, and since they are on my hands, I smell it very often (whenever I drink, or even just itch my face). And it doesn’t matter how often I rinse them, one hot moment in the day or one decent climb and my hands start sweating and will make my gloves smell.

Now everyone is up to date about my clothes, let’s quickly talk about today. Last three days really felt like a walk in the park, the ride out of Italy for obvious reasons I already discussed, but yesterday and today where I was faced with hills and wind felt quite easy too. Of course, I still break a sweat, but every bit of soreness is out of my legs and no other body part shows any sign of stiffness. It’s not that the body doesn’t work hard, but even after today’s 230km ride I get off the bike like I just got back from getting groceries. So you’d think the time is right and step it up, but unfortunately the last few days I’ve been struggling with keeping my head in the game.

This is a hurdle I never once saw coming, and I’ve been trying to wrap my head around it all day. Was it a secret disillusionment of falling this far back? Not really, I couldn’t care less if I ended up last. Maybe the whole fact that my body is doing so well could be the reason. During the mountains my brain as working non-stop to keep pushing the body. Now that’s not really necessary anymore, maybe my brain got bored with cycling. I’m really not sure, maybe it’s also just that I don’t like what I’ve seen from Croatia too much. The 8 route was pretty, but touristy. The backland showed pretty landscapes, but boy, is it remote and desolate. The villages are few and far in between, and they mostly seemed so empty. The town where we tried to have dinner, but couldn’t because they didn’t have a restaurant, really looked like a shithole that’s had it’s best time. The town where we’re now in a hotel, doesn’t appear to be much better.

Either way, the inner voice I mentioned yesterday was even stronger today. I had to have firm talks with myself all morning and tell myself to be in the present and enjoy the moment. That kind of worked, but I snapped in and out of that state of mind. Because of my early start I had overtaken Henning in the morning, but I sensed I could use a bit of company. So around lunch time I sat down on a terrace (in the city of Otocac, which was the only place that seemed nice) and waited for him to catch up with me. Talking to him and riding together definitely helped to distract the mind a bit. It also helped that the route was so calm and the road so nice and relatively flat. Everything felt so perfect and empty, that we sometimes got a bit suspicious. Did we cycle right through the Apocalypse? Are we going the wrong way? But it was all OK, and when I found out I advanced another 230km by the end of the day, I was really pleased. So I’ll just approach this the same way as when my body was failing me: I just keep going and will take it one day at the time.

Tomorrow hopefully a bit more upbeat news from Bosnia!

Day 13 – somewhere in Croatia

I’m at a place with terrible reception, so pictures will be added later.

Well, Slovenia was a short lived adventure! I entered the country early in the morning and around lunch time I was already out. That’s good news for progress, but it’s sad I didn’t get to see more than just the route 7 (I think it was) and the quite severe gusts of wind. So in that respect I wasn’t too upset I got to leave soon, the wind was sometimes so strong even downhill I had to pedal strongly to maintain 20km/h. It felt like the wind would blow me ride back up the hill if I didn’t keep pedaling. 

Those wind gusts are apparently called Bura and it seems to be crazy this year. Many other riders ahead of me (i.e. nearly everyone) have had many troubles with it, but I secretly hoped it would have died down by now. The Bura in Croatia wasn’t be neccesarily less, but from the border almost all the way to Rejika is a nice downhill. So asides from holding on tight when a really firm wind gust would come by, they didn’t bother too much.

From Rejika my route was going a little more inland. I had contemplated to just stay on route 8 before, but now with the wind so strong, I was hoping it would be less noticeable on the back roads. At first that choice didn’t seem to pay off at all, there were still moments the wind almost pushed me off the bike, but a little further down the road it really did seem to make a difference. Also, the traffic wasn’t too bad and it was really nice to pass all those small villages, most of which had a beautiful sea view.

I’d have to say that my main problem today was reasoning with the inner voice that feels like sitting by the pool with a cocktail. It talks to me at least once a day on a moment when progress is slow, or I’m tired or something else like that. For some unclear reason it was a bit stronger today. 

‘All those whose have scratched, have taken a shower by now, started a book, are wearing clean clothes everyday, get to do nothing’. 

‘Yes, but all those scratchers would love to trade places with me and continue to race. We actually like doing this’. 

‘Sure we like this, but we also like washed hair, sitting and drinking on a terrace with friends, sleeping in our own bed. And besides, you’re halfway, you’ve had 6 countries and 3 checkpoints, that’s already quite impressive.’ 

‘Yes, I know, but I want more! I’m feeling really well physically, I want to see Bosnia, I want to see Montenegro and all the other countries. And I want you to shut up!’ 

I don’t have any actual intentions to quit, nor any doubt that I can finish this (there’s doubt I can do this in the time I set for myself, but that’s something else). But today it cost me a bit more energy to shut the voice up. Luckily I know I have now built a small army of fans, all of whom would push me to keep going, so I’ll always have that as a backup if the voice grows too strong. 

The other problem I had, with riding through the backlands of Croatia specifically, is knowing when to stop for the night. There are plenty of villages I passed through, but many of them are too small to be able to find rooms for rent. And in between them it can sometimes be quite remote for some time. On your Garmin you can’t always tell if a town is big enough that there might be something available. Sure, I have my bivvy bag as an ultimate last resort, but I actually don’t really want to use it. Also, I’m not very comfortable to be riding in the dark in places where it can be remote. So when I passed a house advertising available rooms at 630pm, I was a bit in doubt what to do. It felt way too early to call it quits for the day. The next town was 12km away, so even if the road would be going uphill, it was definitely easily doable in daylight. It’s not like I was still in the Alps. Now it was just hoping I would be able to find something.

In the end I actually got there pretty quickly. But the town was really small, so I wondered if I could find a room. There was the doubt again, maybe I should continue one village further? I decided I should at least ask if there’s a room available, if not, the choice would have been made for me and I’d continue. I saw a man on his balcony, so I asked if he knew anything. He started to laugh and said ‘you’re the second! Do you want to have a look?’ When he said that, I thought he meant to come look on the Internet to see if we could find something. But what he actually meant was that he rented a room in his house! Well, that went easy. When he came down, he told me about another girl a couple of days ago, who also needed a place to stay. She was from England and was going to cycle to Bosnia, Montenegro, Albania, Macedonia and after four hours she was gone again. Apparently it just so happened that I stumbled upon the same house as the infamous Emily Chappell, the undisputed winner of the TCR women’s competition. If Emily ever happens to read my humble little blog, the couple sends you their well wishes, they think you’re a very very nice girl. In fact, he said I don’t like English people very much, but Emily is really nice. If that’s not a compliment, I don’t know what is.

So although it was still a bit too early, I couldn’t do anything but accept this room, which already bears some TCR history. The couple then invited me for dinner and I had a wonderful night with them. The ultimate way to shut up the little voice is to have a great time and that’s exactly what I’ll do.

Good night!

Day 12 – Monfalcone, IT

To anyone willing to listen the last couple of months, I proclaimed that the nice thing about riding up a mountain, is that you also get to ride it down again. I usually use this as a motto, to stay motivated to get to the top. However, the last few days I seriously started to doubt this motto, because it was working the other way around as well. During the Alps and Dolomites I realized every meter I was riding down, I would also have to climb back up again. But not today. Apart from a few very very minor passes to get out of the Dolomites, I would be descending down to just about sea level and I would stay there for the rest of the day. Today was a good day.

Hardly stopped for pictures today, but here’s one from Lago di Barcis


I set the alarm at 6 with the intention to start early and assure arrival in Slovenia today. But I had a very restless sleep and it continued the rain, so I ignored the alarm, woke up at 730am and decided to feast on the breakfast buffet. After breakfast it took me a while to find the courage to face the rain, but when I finally did take off at 10am, it miraculously cleared up. The high mountain tops around me were all covered with a fresh layer of snow, but I never got to feel a single drop of rain today.

I knew there was still a minor pass of about 3km climbing 200m up, straight out of the village. As soon as I got there, the legs tried to urge me to just start walking. But the mind was stronger than the legs and I can proudly say that I’ve cycled every single centimeter today. Fortunately the couple ascends I was faced with weren’t too bad anyway.

I’m so incredibly done with these signs! (as my face clearly shows)


After the Staulanza pass, it took me about 30 minutes to descend below 1000m altitude. It was such a great ride down, knowing that the worst of the climbs were now over, the road wasn’t too busy or too curvy, so I could stay clear from the brakes most of the time and the surroundings looked beautiful. Even startled a deer on the road and buzzards were flying over (I think it were buzzards, but I’m no expert in birds. Could have also been just crows. Or what other birds are brown?). This part of the Dolomites is really gorgeous and I’d love to come back there someday. But maybe next time for a ski holiday or a hiking trip. You know, without pushing a bike forward.

The rest of the way was actually quite uneventful but also so extremely enjoyable! The legs were having such a good time just easily spinning, and not a single body part was complaining. Knees, neck, back, butt, everything was in full harmony with the bike. I even got to use the aerobars the way they are supposed to be used, so even when the wind picked up on the flatlands, I could maintain a very decent pace all day. Everything just felt like a well oiled machine and physically this was the best day so far. 

Unfortunately I just fell short of making it to the border, still have about 40km to go, but my rear light is out of battery and I couldn’t find replacement yet, so Slovenia will have to wait for tomorrow. Henning is a bit ahead passed the Slovenian border and told me the wind is horrible. Once I hit the wind and hills in the Balkan, we’ll really know how I survived the Alps. For now, I’m just going to be content with today.

See you soon, Slovenia!

Day 11 – Santa Fosca, IT

Wow, I nearly had to scratch just now. I missed a step in the dark corridor in the hotel while wearing flipflops, damn near broke my ankle. But all is forgiven because of the rather theatrical hotel receptionist, who just tore open three sterile gauze packages from her first aid suitcase in search of a bandage (to replace the dirty one on my broken nail), to discover that there was none in there. ‘No wait, no wait! I have! The last one! Here you go madam, now go in the bar and have a drink’. ‘Ok, yes ma’am’. 

Luigi and his son


It’s 830pm right now and I’m already showered and checked into a hotel with a tea at the bar. Not really how I planned it, I was hoping to do another 50 or 60km after finishing the Passo Giau. Unfortunately the weather had other plans, right when I left the pizza place where I refueled, it started raining with thunder. I passed a hotel not long after and decided to wait 30 minutes. If it would clear up, I would continue for another hour or hour and a half, but it didn’t stop and it quickly got darker. At all cost did I want to avoid a situation like a couple of days ago, riding through dark and rain, so I did the only sensible thing and checked in at the hotel.

The clouds had been looming over me all day. At midday there were some episodes where the sun was fully shining and it was properly hot, but it was cloudy all day and some minor raindrops fell down every now and then. Since I had two more passes waiting for me, I didn’t mind the clouds too much. It made San Pellegrino quite doable, I actually rode about half of it I think, so that’s quite the improvement.

ok, that part I may have walked


I arrived at CP3 around noon and quickly had something to eat. The jury was still out at that point whether it would be another blistering hot afternoon or if it would rain, but in any case I wanted this end boss to be behind me, so I got going. 

After the first steep kilometer there’s an announcement that the pass will have 29 turns. I always like that, it gives you something to count down (or they actually counted up) and focus on. There were a lot of cyclists out and about and whenever one would pass me while I was walking, they’d ask me if I was OK. ‘Si si, tutti bene’. Everyone was extremely friendly. Luckily the second half was better, and I could still ride decent amounts. 


But sure enough, by turn 20 it started to rain. It was nothing like on the Grimsel, because it still wasn’t cold en there was no wind either. But it was surely highly inconvenient, especially because it meant I had to descend a wet road. Thankfully I had finally gotten around to changing my rear brakes this morning, because they really took a beating on the wet roads in Switzerland and they were almost completely exhausted.


As soon as I arrived on top, I quickly ate an apfelstrudel and got all my cold weather gear out for the descend. I hardly took the time to admire the views, which were a little less spectacular because of the weather anyway. The descend was basically like all my descends, careful and slow. But I do think I’m starting to get better in them. The best part about the descend was running into Luigi at the bottom. At 68 he’s the oldest rider in this year’s edition, such a hero. He still had to go up, and his son just arrived to come cheer him on. He seemed to be in good shape, I hope he will make the finish.

Well, that’s about all I have to share. Because this day ended so early, I will have to work hard to reach Slovenia tomorrow. Hopefully the forecasted rain will not be too bad, and can I finally make use of the flat roads again.

Good night all!

Day 10 – Moena, IT

Let’s first start this post with a shout out to yet another road angel. While I was hiking (I’ll get to that later) up the first pass, Christian pulled up in his car and yelled ‘Aahh, Transcontinental!’. He then offered me all kinds of things I couldn’t accept, like taking my bags up the mountain in his car etc. But then he asked me if I wanted to come to his farm 4km up the road for some food. In the back of my head I knew I shouldn’t lose too much time today, but I also already knew what kind of day this would be, and I might as well make full use of this beautiful side that is also part of the Transcontinental. 


We agreed he would wait for me near his house and I cheerfully took off with a beautiful tumble to the tarmac. Still not sure what happened there, but it was one of those moments where I knew I would hit the ground well before it happens. Yes, I know how to put up a good show. Nothing serious, but at that point I was OK with him loading up my bike in his car and be driven to his house, as long as he would take me back to that exact same spot to continue the journey by the rules.

His farm was absolutely amazing and his wife presented me with a great pasta lunch. They even offered me to have a swim, which was very tempting, but I knew I shouldn’t wait too long before hitting the road again, so passed up on that opportunity. I’m extremely grateful for their hospitality! They also rent out apartments, so if you’re interested: Brentwaldhof . If anyone reading this could book an apartment there, I would feel like I’ve returned the favor. 🙂

Let me also briefly mention Stefano and Lorenzo, whom I met while I was fueling up for the Ofenpass, and recognized me as a TCR rider as soon as they saw my setup and cap.They’re very experienced Italian randonneurs themselves, so they were highly interested in the race. We chatted for a little bit, took some photos (but on their phone) and then we took off in opposite directions. It’s a really special and beautiful thing to meet strangers this way!

Dolomiti present themselves


But back to business…

This morning I had a bit of a late start. I thoroughly rinsed my clothes yesterday evening (the benefit of which is already long gone after today) and they didn’t completely dry overnight. And besides that, I accidentally ended up in a hotel suite bigger than my apartment the night before. I got it at a good deal, because I was so late, but I still paid a lot more than budgeted for, so I felt it was necessary to splurge on their breakfast buffet. I took my sweet time with bread and meat, scrambled eggs, apfelstrudel, yoghurt with fresh melon (which reminded me of the two half melons that are still in my fridge in Amsterdam and may now have grown a pair of limbs, or whatever melons do after a while), and hot chocolate and coffee. I could hardly stand op straight afterwards. And then I spent an hour blow drying my clothes, and even contemplated waiting for the whirlpool to open at 10am. But I knew very well that would be overdoing it.

My hotel suite deck. One of them.


So it was an easy morning and the spin from Merano to Bolzano was a slightly downhill one, only spoiled by my intermezzo with Laurel and Hardy. Two middle aged men were looking all soigné on their bikes, but were cruising along with a tempo of 20km/h. As soon as I passed them, they sprinted to get in my wheel. I hate it when people start drafting me uninvited, so I forced them to pass me again by completely slowing down. But as soon as they were in front of me, they went back in cruise control. So I passed them again, and you can guess it, they started drafting. This repeated twice before I yelled some obscenities to them and seriously picked up some speed, which finally made them get the hint. It was lovely being aggressive on the road again, almost made me feel like I was riding in Amsterdam!

All this time my legs showed no extra signs of fatigue. They have been heavy and stiff for days, but were completely cooperative. It was only when the first of three cols presented itself today I could almost literally feel all the juice flow out of my legs. They were just done. Done done done. I forced them, begged them, bribed them, scared them, tricked them, but they were having none of it. After several attempts in maybe 500m it was clear, I was gonna have to walk up the pass. I was hoping at some point it would get a bit flatter, or I would feel better and give it a go again, but neither really happened and I guestimate I walked about 80 or 90% of the uphill parts today. It was yet another lesson in humility by the mountains and resulted in yet another quite embarrassing Strava ride. Surprisingly I still got 90km done, but I still have the Passo San Pellegrino and the Passo Giau left for tomorrow.

But at least I was having a good time. Half the time I spent laughing myself in the face for being such a smug little idiot, thinking I’d be able to do this and the other half I spent genuinely enjoying the beautiful surroundings and views. The road was mostly quiet and shady, so it was as enjoyable as pushing your bike will ever get. It’s a lot easier to interrupt your walk to take a photo, than it is to interrupt your ride. I was in touch with Henning and Franziska throughout the day, who are both a bit further up the route and they were experiencing the same difficulties, so that was a relief. And on the upside, I got quite good at pushing my bike up a steep slope. Plus, even more important, the dot is still moving! I think I’m still in the race for top 200. The mountains may have gotten me on my knees, but I’m not defeated just yet.

Forza!

Lago Carezza