TCR No.5 report 6 – CP4, Romania

Today marks day 3 of checkpoint 4 being open and so far we've had 7 riders come through and 6 of them up the road expected to come through during the night. From tomorrow onwards the mid pack will start to come in and it will probably be a lot more crowded.

At the moment James Hayden has about a 4 hour time gap on Bjorn Lenhard, who came to the checkpoint late afternoon yesterday respectively. Both of them had a fairly quick stop with us of maybe 30 minutes, before they got back on the road. In third position is Jonas Goy, who arrived around 2am and had a 5 hour kip in the Wendy house (is what I think the British call it… a little house with a slide for children to play in). From then on it got a little more exciting. Geoffroy Dussault's dot had been stationary for quite some time in Sibiu 100km away from the checkpoint, and in the morning he was overtaken by Nelson Trees. Nelson broke his front wheel a couple of days ago, causing him a couple of places in the race. But he cut back on sleep and managed to work his way back to 4th again. Not very long after Nelson left, Geoffroy Dussault, Rory McCarron and Mathias Dalgas entered very shortly after one another, all in completely different states of mind. It's so interesting to see how riders respond differently to having just ridden 3000km with the knowledge they still have 1000km to go.


Mathias Dalgas packs really light

It's been difficult for us to closely follow the race as internet is really, really sparse, so all we could focus on was the riders in near proximity of the checkpoint. I do know that the heatwave (they call it Lucifer apparently?) has taken its toll on a lot of riders, causing a bunch of them to either scratch or seriously take it back a notch. The first women have passed checkpoint 3 though, and are likely to arrive late on Sunday or early Monday morning. Can't wait to see them!


Chris and Paul geeking over Bjorn's bike

Meanwhile at our hotel things have been slow (internet in particular), but fun. Volunteering obviously means a lot of waiting around, but there are definitely worse places to sit on your arse all day. The hotel has a creek running at the back and a little campground right next to it, which turns out to be a popular weekend destination for Romanian families. It's been very crowded around the hotel and there's a constant smell of barbecue or campfire coming from the campgrounds. The hotel is sort of hot on the whole bear theme, but apparently the media team really saw a mother bear with her cubs after sunset the other day, so I find it a bit surprising that everyone is so comfortable to be cooking food in the open air and then sleep in a tent next to it. When in the States, the campgrounds were really strict on leaving all your food and items with strong scents in the bear box and not in your tent or car. But maybe that's just American hysteria, because so far there have been no reports of bears hovering around the tents here (sadly). Hopefully better news tomorrow. 😉

Oh, and let's not forget: Marianne Vos won the European Championships today, HELL YES!

Advertenties

TCR No.5 report 5 – CP4, Romania

First mission is complete, I made it to the checkpoint! After a lovely night's sleep at the Old Mill, I forced the savory breakfast in. I usually can't really handle any solid food so shortly after waking up, but I knew that I needed it and I had no clue if I'd able to get any food on the climb. The morning had the kind of hotness in the air that predicted another scorching day, but at that moment it was still quite okay.

The climb itself was absolutely lovely. It was going to be the longest and highest climb I've ever done, so I just settled into a rhythm and worked my way up. The climb went really well, it's never excessively steep and the views will keep you distracted. I did make the classic mistake at some point to congratulate myself a bit too early, thinking I was nearly at the top, when I realized the 'fun' part still was to begin. The picture above shows the last 5km, fully exposed to the sun.

Then a not so fun tunnel (I hate tunnels…) and a 15km descent down the south side of the Transfagarasan took me to the checkpoint location, where I met Chris and part of the first shifts crew. Chris works for Apidura, one of the race sponsors and responsible for checkpoint 4. Paul was also there, who you might remember as the person I copied the route from that took me over the rough gravel track after Brad. He was feeling a bit guilty, which was of course completely unnecessary, but I might still accept that beer from him. 😉

The media car following the race leaders came in late last night, because we were expecting James and Bjorn to arrive during the night. In the end they decided to take a rest before they got here. I imagine at least James and maybe both of them must have had a very rough ride along the same road that stressed me out so much on Wednesday, because the race organisation communicated earlier this morning that they strongly discourage the riders to use this road. James is now on the parcours towards the checkpoint and should be here in probably two hours, with Bjorn likely to arrive somewhere in the afternoon. The fun is about to begin!

TCR No.5 report 4 – Carta, Romania

While I'm writing this, I'm staying at Pension The Old Mill right on the foot of the Transfagarasan, realizing once again that life is pretty damn good. My ride ended at 4pm, my clothes are in the washing machine (hallelujah!) and dinner is being cooked.

The plan was to see how I felt once I got here, whether or not I'd ride up the mountain. Well, I wasn't feeling it. It had been scorching hot again all day, and my ride was not an enjoyable one. So I opted for an early shower, a long self massage of the quads and, as said, laundry.

The road from Sebes to Sibiu was still more or less okay. It was a main road, but there was a highway right next to it, so the traffic was manageable. And a main road meant plenty of service stations, so I got to top up my water nice and often. After Sibiu the situation took a turn for the worse, when the road merged with the highway and I found myself among the traffic to Bukarest. The road changed into a dual carriage way and I quadruple checked if I was really allowed to ride here, when I finally saw some other local looking bike riders come past. Okay, so apparently it really was allowed, but still I rather felt like rerouting. Google Maps wasn't really helpful, so I tried to see if Garmin had any better options. He did have something that would be 30km longer, but he chose a path that changed into gravel within 300m right in the middle of no mans land. So the choice was riding a very busy road with speeding traffic, with the possibility of going fast, or riding a quieter road with the possibility that I get to push my bike for hours again. Both not ideal, so I just went with the main road, at least I knew when I'd get there.

Credit where credit's due, most drivers still gave me as much space as they could, but this time it just wasn't as much. And then there were those drivers who didn't give me much space. The shoulder was about 10 to 14 inches wide, so mostly I could stay on the right side of the line, but I couldn't move over that much. It's just never a lot of fun when a truck passes you at full speed within arms reach. So stress level was way high, and I stopped at every gas station just to get off the road a bit and calm down. Thankfully when the road split between the 1 and 7, I had to continue East on the 1. It became a single lane road again and it got slightly less bad. But only ever so slightly. I was making decent progress, but it felt like it took forever.


These pictures sum up my ride really well

Sometimes I get in a bit of a limbo between getting to the place where my head decided I should be at the end of day or making sure I take the most enjoyable road and not worrying too much about where I'll end up. Truth be told, if I had taken more time to carefully consider my route, I might have been able to better merge these two together, but there are also many occasions where these don't rhyme. It's not a big deal, but it something I need to work on a bit more. At least I've been quite good so far at making sure I'm ending up at a nice place, so whatever happened, it will have been worth the effort. And that's how I'm sitting here in a gorgeous little village, my room smelling of the freshly washed clothes that just came in, food being served in ten minutes and 100% content with life.

No dot watching update today. I haven't had the time to keep tabs of the riders today, nor to catch up on them just now. Tomorrow I'll be at the checkpoint, so from that time it will be full on rider status updates. Now time for dinner. 🙂

Also, I got a comment my bike is never in the picture. Here it is, freed from it's burden for a little bit. Just for you, Onno!

TCR No.5 report 3 – Sebes, Romania

I cheated today! 🙊 The plan this morning was to make it to Sebes, an 'easy' 120km away. Except that throughout the day I realized I did something wrong while studying the route, and Sebes was actually more about 180km away. I decided to see how it went, maybe I'd make it, maybe not. In that case I'd just end a little before Sebes. Well, my chosen route caused me to lose a fair bit of time, and I thought I'd most likely not make it. But when the time came to figure out where I'd sleep tonight, it turned out the closest place to sleep was in… Sebes! Thing was, Sebes was still 50km away, I was extremely hungry and food wasn't easy to get by on that part of the route, and I really couldn't be bothered with probably 2 hours more riding. Maybe more, if I'd encounter more of those surprise climbs I've been riding all day. So I went over to a little bar with a man and woman sitting outside (food is sometimes hard to find, alcohol is never an issue). Yesterday's process of a Google Translate aided conversation was repeated and it was just as hilarious. Their first reaction was something like 'just cycle there!'. Ouch, that was a painful burn from a beer drinking shirtless guy and chain smoking woman. But they sat me down, gave me coffee, and eventually Google Translate said "I will get you out of here". That sounded a bit radical, but the point was the woman was calling a taxi for me. She came back a little bemused, saying it would be 100 lei, which is about €20. She looked a bit weird at me when I eagerly said that wasn't an issue, so I went on the explain to her that's about the cost for a 10km ride in Amsterdam (yes, all through Google Translate). Minutes later I was in the taxi. Of course, while on the road we passed at least 4 guest houses, one of which probably would have had a room for me. But then I wouldn't have mingled with the locals like this, so I was fine with the decision.


Restaurant view here in Sebes isn't too bad either

Rolling through Romania

Today's ride was finally a real test for the legs. Now that I got to proper hilly terrain, it would be interesting to see how my day 3 would go. Apparently Day 3 niggles don't occur when you're in touring mode! The body is 100% fine, and morale was highest it's been so far. Sure, it feels like I'm sitting on a bruise (because, basically, I'm sitting on a bruise…), but delicately sitting down, changing position often and riding out of the saddle a bit more and it was very manageable, nothing like last year. However, I had forgotten what it was like to climb with a fully packed bike. But then I ran into Simon, a Dutch guy on a Santos Travelmaster who'd ridden from Nijmegen and was on his way to Constanta. When I asked him how heavy his setup was, he casually said the bike was 20kg and his luggage 25kg. And here I am, whining about going uphill with a 17kg setup. You really gotta give it to those cycle touring guys. I know TCR style riding is by no means easy, but the thought of hauling 45kg around! And apart from uphill, I don't think he's really that much slower than me. We were both on our way to Brad, so decided to stick together and find a lunch place in Brad to exchange experiences and compare notes. Apparently he's riding for an organization that supports Romanian orphanages. He was on his way to the Romanian office, where he would also get to visit one of the orphanages. Kudos to him!

After Brad our routes went separate ways. He was travelling further up north, and I was to take the back roads towards Sebes. The area got very rural and there was hardly any other traffic, I was having a great time (as I had been the entire day). But out of nothing, the road turned into this:


You can't really tell from the picture, but this was quite a steep uphill.

The joke was on me really, because I'd been stealing Paul Ferguson's routes. Paul is also a volunteer at CP4, and rode the route a week earlier. He even put on Strava that he encountered this rough road. But somehow I thought this wasn't where the rough roads were, or that they wouldn't be that long, or actually I'm not sure what I thought. Lesson learned though: it pays to do your homework! Anyway, I had to track back quite far if I wanted to re route over a main road, and it didn't seem that long. I figured I would still be faster if I hiked this part until I got to a better road. In mileage it probably really wasn't very long, but on cycling shoes, while pushing a bike over big rocks, it felt really really long. I was almost on the verge of losing my sense of humour over it a few times, but every time there was something that cheered me up, like a patch of shade, or a much needed water source.

Still I was hoping for a big 4WD to drive past who could take me to actual tarmac, but only two cars came by, and they both went in the wrong direction. Eventually my perseverance got rewarded when to road finally changed in the smoothest tarmac that took me downhill for 15km. But by this point I already lost too much time to make it to Sebes in good time, and after the 15km downhill, I got a lot of punchy hills to chew on. The early evening had started and this is where I got to the bar with the shirtless man, the chain smoking woman and my new best friend Google Translate.


Even played the tourist today

All in all, I had a wonderful day. Enjoyed the country, enjoyed the ride, enjoyed the company, and happy with how the body is holding up. Plan for tomorrow is to ride to the foot of the Transfagarasan. It's not that far (I think… I'll study it some more) so if I feel good enough, I will even ride it up to the checkpoint. Otherwise I'll keep it for Thursday morning. Thursday is also when we expect the first racers coming through.

Dotwatching update

Speaking of racers, they are killing it at the moment! First riders came through CP2 on Monte Grappa last night, and riders have been passing through ever since. At the back of the race, the red lantern has just passed CP1, so the front and back of the race are about 1,5 checkpoints apart, but that's very normal at this point in the race. Riders in Italy and beyond have reported extreme heat, so clearly that wasn't just in Romania. Many of them will cycle really early mornings or all through the night, so they can stay away from the midday heat. At the front of the race we have Bjorn Lenhard, an accomplished ultra endurance rider most known for his victory in Paris-Brest-Paris in 2015. Even now he's still averaging 30km/h. In the women's race, Melissa Pritchard (#233) now put in some distance between her and runner up Karen Tostee (#228). I don't know Melissa, but I've understood she meant to ride this race conservatively. Either she had a change of heart after she started, or she has a completely different idea of conservative than I do. Very impressive, she remains at the front of the pack overall. I'm hoping she will show the boys who's boss. Exciting!

TCR No.5 report 2 – Sebis, Romania

It's the notorious day 3 for the riders today. Day 3 is known for various body parts to seriously start hurting (most notably the private parts) and for a dip in the morale after the novelty of the start has worn of. By the accounts of multiple riders, the day 3 phenomenon was present as ever. I saw tweets and instagram post of plenty of people saying they kept faffing around today, or just generally struggling to keep going. I had brief WhatsApp contact with Paula Regener (#14) after sending her a cheer, and she too was having a hard time, although hers came mostly from being really sad about Frank Simons. I'm sure that weighs down on a lot of the riders too. For Paula it took away the will to genuinely race the race, but for now she'll continue.

What's also not easy is that most of the riders are now crossing the Alps to get to CP2 on Monte Grappa. But as hard as the riding may be, the gorgeously dramatic surroundings will well be worth the effort. And after day 3 the body usually really starts to settle in for the continuous torture it's enduring, so it's a matter of hanging in there. Things will get better.

Meanwhile my own ride towards CP4 was again hot and hard fought. But it seems a bit daft to bitch about my 160km ride, while the rest of them are having much longer days in the saddle, with much more climbing and much less sleep. So let's just keep it at saying that 3 degrees less heat doesn't really matter when it's still 35 degrees Celsius. And the next two days it seems to heat up again, so my ride reports will probably be something like HOT and HOTTEST. I did manage to hydrate myself well, though I'm so done with lukewarm water by now. And the issue with the heat is that it takes away your appetite, so it takes even more effort to keep force feeding yourself.


Sweat all day

What was nice though, was that I crossed the border to Romania. At the first Romanian stop I stared at my phone for a good ten minutes, wondering when I'd been riding so slow to have lost so much time, before I realized I crossed a time zone. But for the most part the ride was actually rather uneventful. Just me starting to talk to myself more and more, usually just repeating today's mantra: you'll get there eventually.

I do really enjoy the few interactions with the people here. Most of the people don't speak a word English, French or German (or Dutch! Ridiculous…) and I unfortunately don't speak a word Hungarian or Romanian. Like yesterday, I just finished a long stretch of nothingness, running low on hot water and in desperate need of something cold. When I finally got to a little town, it seemed a bit desolate. There were some buildings with beer sign above the door, but they seemed dark and closed. Then I found one with the door open and some sound coming from within. It didn't look very welcoming, but I was in no state of being picky, so in I went. Inside were 4 older guys drinking beer and completely surprised at my sight. I figured either "water" or "aqua" would be universal enough to get the message across, but guess again. The guy behind the bar pointed at every other drink first, before it clicked. When I finally got my glass of water, I chugged it in one go and asked for a second. It was dark and cool inside, so I decided to sit down for a bit and take my time for the second one. The guys still had their eyes nearly popping out of their heads, no clue who this strange, smelly, sweaty girl was that just entered their man cave. But the F1 was broadcasting, so I broke the ice by simply saying "Ferrari?". They confirmed Ferrari had won, and could then tell me that Max Verstappen came in 5th. Somehow this exchange opened up to a whole new level of sign communication where I managed to get across that I just cycled in from Budapest and was on my to Romania. And just like that I became best pals with guys I couldn't understand a single word from. When I wanted to pay, they refused to take my money and wished me best of luck for the rest of the journey (That last part is a guess. I have no clue, maybe they said "never ever come back here again").


This is the "reception" of my hotel

Today was no different. I specifically booked a hotel with a swimming pool, as extra motivation to keep going ("you'll get there eventually"), and when I finally arrived, it turned out to be the recreational area for the entire village. Everyone turned their head to me as if they just saw a pink striped zebra come in. But I was immediately waved over to the "reception", where again no one spoke anything but Romanian but their demeanor was extremely friendly. So what followed was a hilarious conversation where both of us had our phones in hand, talking to Google Translate, to make ourselves clear. I nearly got beets and wine for dinner though, when Google didn't pick up my phrase very well, but finally we got there and I got to end the day with a big dinner and a short dip in the pool. Makes today's suffering once again very worthwhile.

TCR No.5 report 1 – Szarvas Hungary

Unfortunately, as some of you may know, the Transcontinental had a very bad start this year. I had the pleasure to visit the wonderful departure from de Muur van Geraardsbergen on Friday and I was about to write a first little blog about it, when I heard the news of Dutch rider Frank Simons being involved in a fatal collision after just 5 hours of racing. I can't even begin to imagine how his family and loved ones must feel, my heart goes out to all of them.

My heart also goes out to every other rider, for whom the news must be yet another cruel reminder how vulnerable they are while out on the road. And really no one needed a reminder, with Mike Hall's and Eric Fishbein's death still fresh in our minds. We can prepare everything we can and take all possible measures to be safe, but unfortunately our safety is often not in our own hands. I hope everyone is okay and can find the will and pleasure to keep going and make it a good ride for Frank, because in accordance with his next of kin, the race is still very much on.


Photo credits: Philip Velghe

Headed for CP4

So that also means I still get to volunteer in Romania, and I'm now well on my way to the checkpoint. I landed in Budapest last night and after spending the night in an airport hotel (full of F1 maniacs, oblivious of the much better race going on right now) I set off towards the border this morning.


Unauthorized ferry crossing

The East Hungarian flatlands are rather dull (understatement, red.), but riding conditions are surprisingly good. Tarmac is mostly really good, traffic is low and drivers gave me plenty of space when they passed me. And the bus stops would score plenty of hobo stars for our bivvying riders, I even saw one with a sofa in it. Unfortunately the riders won't be headed this way, but I bet they'll find some good ones elsewhere in Hungary. But the good roads combined with the flatlands being genuinely flat (not like France flat, which was a huge lie), I set out for a fast ride. I didn't factor in the heat though. I'm not one to be fazed by heat much, but today I was suffering. When the afternoon was well underway, I had to force myself not to stop more than once an hour. And it was a hard battle with the heart, because I really just wanted to stop at every gas station. All in all, I had just 5 hours of moving time in which I drank 6 liters of water/fluid. And still I started to develop a head ache, so I decided to keep today short and end it in Szarvas.

The only hotel room available in close proximity of the city turned out to be a luxurious spa hotel. Did I try hard enough to find a more suitable alternative? Of course not… I figured this is my holiday, I'm not racing, in fact I even left my bivvy bag home to make space for my bikini, so what the hell. I just went for it. I'll survive tomorrow exclusively on 7 day croissant to make up for it. Of course, after my much needed shower I had barely enough energy left to get some food, let alone to go into the spa. Maybe tomorrow before breakfast. After all, tomorrow I'll leave the flatlands behind to exchange for hilly Romania. Bring. It. On.

Good night!

Oh and before I forget: keep an eye on Karen Tostee (#228)! I met her in Girona earlier this year and I've taken the liberty to call her my friend now. 😉 She's new to these kinds of events and though I was already convinced she would do well, she still surprises me with how she's KILLING it. I'm a bit scared she's going to make me race her to CP4 (I'm not due until the 2nd shift on August 6th, but at this pace she'll be there earlier). Head over to www.transcontinental.cc to track the riders.

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.

img_4577_klein

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

etreux-city-hall

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

hotel-arlequin2

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

f1-moulins

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.

img_4126

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

hotel-du-jura

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.