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.


Lago Carezza

Day 9 – Merano, IT

Thank f*** god, Switzerland is behind me! The country is wonderful, but the route through it was absolutely ruthless. From where I started it was only about 40km maybe to the Italian border, but it took me all morning to get there, thanks to the Fluela pass and the Ofen pass that each climb up and over 2000 meters above sea level. Together with the Oberalp Pass, the Furka pass and the Grimsel pass I’ve now climbed 5 2000+ climbs in three days. If all goes well, I should be able to make it to CP3 tomorrow, and by then the worst of the climbs should be over. 

Italy had been calling for a while now

Physically all is still OK, although I’m clearly not fresh as a daisy. The Fluela and Ofen are passes that should usually suit me well, long but not too steep, they hardly get over 10%. And I still think I did OK, but by now I can’t manage them anymore without an occasional stop by the side of the road to take the tension off the legs and bring the heart rate down.  I guess that’s what added luggage, and fatigue from riding 1500km in a week will do to you. No, believe it or not, and this is such a first world female problem to say, my main physical concern right now is a ripped nail on my left hand. Due to the numbness it has happened more than once that my finger shut off the shifter when trying to shift, and that caused a painful rip quite low in the nail. Obviously there’s no way I want to scratch due to a broken nail, so I’m just trying to keep it from getting inflamed by cleaning it up as best I can and find a band aid somewhere.

Spirits were also way up again today. I felt well rested and the weather was great to ride the bike. And I was really happy to get to Italy, another country to check off the list. Only thing that very sometimes crossed my mind is that I could also just give up and get to my family at the Garda lake and continue my holiday there. But then I remind myself that the thing I looked forward to most was cycling in the East European countries, so I owe it to myself to at least get to Slovenia. And if, God forbid, nothing serious happens, I see no reason why I won’t, because the mind is in the right place again. That being said, it seems like a lot of people have had to scratch the past couple of days. I think it’s because a large variety of reasons, but it goes to show, this edition is again hard as hell!

Anna van der Breggen wins Olympic gold

And lastly, today’s ride will be dedicated to the Dutch female road racers and especially Annemieke van Vleuten, who had an extremely nasty crash. I haven’t been able to watch it of course, but the road race has been on my mind the entire day and I’m extremely proud we got to take home gold again! Well done, girls!

Day 8 – Saas, still CH

Back on my own from here on! I just had dinner in a very Swiss hotel restaurant where I will also spend the night. Henning kept me company while drinking beer and then decided to keep going. He’s a lot more comfortable than me to ride in the dark, and I was determined to get an easy day’s ride and an early night sleep, to then hopefully be fresh and ready to pull longer days. It was only a matter of time before we parted ways and after two days it started to become more apparent that you slow each other down, so I’m looking forward to continue alone again. That being said, he was great company, and I was happy to have him near. 

That guy in the distance is Henning 🙂

In terms of riding it was actually rather uneventful today. We got on our bikes quite late. Truth is, yesterday’s ride knocked me out more than I even realized when I finished the post this morning. Only when I completely broke down when I talked to my mom, did it dawn on me how much energy I’d been spending on trying to keep myself together. My family did a great job on putting me back on my feet, and I felt a lot better after crying the emotions away. And what’s more cute and heart warming than having your 7yo niece tell you that you can do it?

Despite the good sleep and the extensive breakfast buffet, I promised myself to take it a bit easy today. The legs and mind were still tired, so better to reset it completely before the last hard bit of Alpine/Dolomites climbs. Henning and I didn’t necessarily decide to stay together for another day, but it just so happened to be that we left around the same time, so we just had a good time together joking around and chatting.

Excellent fuel stop.

After some deliberation I took the Albula pass out of the route and decided to go for Davos instead. Albula seems to be breath taking, but I couldn’t be bothered with such a serious climb today, so I’ll rather save that for some other time. It means that I’ll still have the Fluela pass ahead of me, but from what I could find online, is the profile a bit friendlier. And the way today turned out, meant that I could postpone the climb another day. 

I’m really really looking forward to be crossing into Italy tomorrow. Switzerland is beautiful, but the expensiveness starts to bore me. Besides, I’m looking forward to just be in the next country, and of course to overload on pizza’s! Most likely scenario for tomorrow is that I’ll get close to CP3, so I can stamp it off on Monday. 

In other news,

  • I haven’t checked the tracker, but I think Kristof is already enjoying a cocktail by the pool. Or it won’t be long now.
  • Another Belgian, some guy no one has ever heard of, also seems to have won some small race somewhere in Brazil. 
  • If I wasn’t smelly before (I was), I’m definitely smelly now. Thanks to the rain the stench of sweat is now mixed with the stench of wet dog. I need to come up with a plan to get laundry service while I rest somewhere.
  • Marianne Vos will try to defend her Olympic title tomorrow. Her road to the Olympics was not exactly smooth and she is even more a strong outsider than a real favorite. Since I’ll have to focus on my own ride, please will her on for me! And let me know how she did it. 

Day 7 – Tujetsch, CH

We’re now a week in the race, and quite the week! I was going to do a little bit of reflection on the entire week, but this past day was so damn intense, that it currently occupies my entire memory. I started this post last night, but fell asleep halfway in.

Strava tells me we’ve only managed to ride 89km at a painstakingly slow moving pace of 11,4km/h. But I’m still surprised we (Henning and me) managed to do that much, because we still had 2/3 of the parcour to do, but the Alps didn’t seem to like our presence very much and continuously spit us in the face. The average temperature was 11 degrees, with a minimum of 2 degrees.

The alarm in my nun’s cell yesterday morning went at 6am, when it was raining very hard. The deal was if it was still raining, we would allow ourselves some extra sleep. I got to reset the alarm to 730, still raining. So Henning said he wanted to try and score a poncho somewhere, but of course the shops wouldn’t open til 9am. Hop, back to bed for another hour, enjoy our complementary breakfast and to the shop.

My cell

It was quite nice to have an easy morning like that and as a bonus it stopped raining when we left. That first part up the pass was like a fairytale! I’m pretty sure I saw a troll washing himself in a waterfall and elves playing hide and seek down the valley.

But the higher we climbed, the further we got into the low hanging clouds. And the clouds brought their friend rain, who brought his girlfriend wind. The wind was so strong that I nearly got knocked of the bike twice before I deemed it too dangerous to continue riding. Problem was, up there was actually NOTHING to take shelter, so the only option was to keep pushing the bike. But even that proofed very difficult when another gush of wind came by. Henning was already further up the road out of sight, so I was just hoping for a message he was drinking coffee somewhere, because that would mean the end was near. I actually posted a video on the Transcontinental Race FB page to show everyone what was up (this page is by the way a wonderful resource for those of you who got hooked on dot watching and would also like to get some news from other racers). Video Grimselpas

The plan was to warm up a bit before descending, but the restaurant owner on top of the pass wasn’t very welcoming. Back on the bike it was, getting down to Gletch and get a real lunch. The descent was extremely difficult due to the rain and especially the wind trying to push you over the cliff in the switchbacks. So we had to take it really easy, which meant braking a lot, which meant very frozen hands when we got down. We took our time a bit to get warmed up and dry our kit as much as we could before the Furka pass. 

Luckily the Furka pass was a lot less bad, although the wind was still really strong on top. But altogether it was a lot more doable, Henning just felt bad for me that I didn’t get to see the pretty views. I still think they were very nice though, just in a different way.

This descent was more or less the same story, especially the wetness of the road really forced us to be extra careful. It didn’t matter too much, we were already congratulating each other for having this ridiculously steep part behind us. We decided to have food in Andermatt, which was by then only a flat 9km away. But just out of nowhere it started to piss down and strong headwinds came up. We just cracked on as quickly as I could, but it did feel like a bit of a slap in the face from the weather gods.

Turns out, it wasn’t the last thing they had in store for us. While having schnitzel dinner in Andermatt we decided to reserve a hotel in Disendis, 20km further up the road, which seemed to be the only somewhat reasonably priced hotel in the area. 20km wasn’t too far, but we knew there was still the annoying little Oberalp pass in the way. It’s only 6km long, but it was 830pm, so we quickly had to get going. 

Turned out, the ascent wasn’t too bad, but we underestimated what it would do to us mentally to have yet another climb late at night when you’re just ready for a shower and a bed. Also, darkness fell completely before we were well on top, and the little drizzle started to get worse. When we finally reached the top, I think it was a little before 930pm, we passed a hotel. Henning suggested to stop there, but I just felt like continuing to a place where we were assured of a bed. Big big mistake! The road was pitch pitch black and the rain was getting worse and colder. Where we usually would have been able to use the descent to cover the distance in no time at all, we were really forced to slow down to probably 15km/h. The road never seemed to end, it was so so cold, we were so so wet, and the end never seemed to come in sight. Going back wasn’t an option, because it would mean yet another climb, so the only thing we could do was keep going until we found shelter. I was really a bad place at that time, not only because my hand and feet were about to fall off my body but also because I felt so stupid and guilty for making us descend in conditions like that. 

By that time we both agreed we would take whatever next hotel would take us, at whatever price, and forget about the hotel we already reserved. I was at a near mental breakdown and so so so cold. Poor Henning was probably having a hard time putting up with me at that point, I hope he realizes that I was in fact very grateful that he was with me yesterday. 

Finding another hotel wasn’t that easy, because as we already noticed when looking for a hotel earlier that night, a lot of them were fully booked, and were turned down three times before we found one with available rooms. It was like a damn oasis! The hotel is really nice, and expensive, but not outrageously. Besides, it had a wellness shower and I took full and long use of that. I could easily stay here another 3 or 4 nights. By this time I felt like getting under the covers, but I decided to have another drink with Henning at the bar, just to have a wind down and also to try and be good company after being the witch I was earlier. 

So of course, as always, all ended well. But it was a hard time getting there. I promised myself I would only get going if all my clothes were dry, so I will soon check their state and then we’ll see what the plan for today is. Probably taking it easy a little bit, to give the body a bit of time to rest. Will keep you posted as always!