CycloFran

cycling adventures and beyond

Category: On the Road

The Transcontinental Race No. 4

Prologue 

In a way, the first Transcontinental Race was the starting point of my obsession with cycling and bikes. I first heard about it in a German outdoor sports forum. Someone on there then mentioned that there was a World Cycle Race, too, and people who know me know what that lead to.
It lead to me entering a whole new world and become a different person.
After quitting the World Cycle Race and riding a decidedly tame (but successful) Trans America Bike Race, I didn’t have any immediate plans of riding the TCR. However, I got bitten by the TCR bug when I first kind of volunteered for the event in 2014.
It was the fall after Trans Am and I had secured a job as a bike messenger. I had some time before I would start and as luck would have it, there was a Checkpoint on Stelvio Pass. Back then we lived in Munich, so the drive was only about four hours, and I reckoned it would be fun to witness the madness.
By the time I made it there, Mike had already continued to the next Checkpoint and Stelvio ended up a little understaffed. I offered to do whatever would help them out and so I sat there and did what people now apply to do: stamp people’s Brevet cards, give out hugs and words of encouragement.
When I returned home, I was filled with a desire to go out and do more. Luckily I soon after started working as a messenger and my daily quota of bike riding was easily fulfilled.

Fast-forward to 2015. Life is what happens when you’re busy making plans. We moved to Frankfurt on account of my husband’s job. I stopped working as a bike messenger and didn’t pick it up again, as we ‘suddenly’ found ourselves with two dogs. One was planned for and happily stayed home alone while I rode my bike. The other one was not planned for at all and didn’t like me leaving his side for more than five minutes at a time.
Animals are a big responsibility. Between moving, trying to finish my semester at University (I later dropped out because it was simply not feasible for me to study in Munich and live in Frankfurt) and caring for the dogs, I took a big step back from cycling.
That didn’t keep me from wanting to ride the Trans Am again.

It had been a deal between me and my husband: if we moved to Frankfurt (meaning I had to drop everything – job, University, friends), I’d ride Trans Am again, alone. It was important to me.
But I was horribly underprepared (due to the aforementioned complications) and ended up quitting after a mere 10 days with no hopes to make my flight in time.
A lot of people suggested just to “race my own race” and take the time I needed, but as it were my own wedding was going to happen two days after my scheduled flight out of Baltimore – so taking more time was really not an option.
I ended up hitching a ride with a fellow drop-out and flying back home. It was sad, and I was embarrassed. After that, I barely even looked at my bikes anymore.

But it was all a good learning experience. I knew that I would have to prepare better, lose weight, figure out my bike setup more and spend more time on mental preparation.

Come summer, I was riding occasionally, one of the dogs was still unable to stay home for longer than an hour – that complicated things “a little”. Nevertheless I managed to volunteer for TCR again, even though it was now an 8 hour drive to my checkpoint in Italy, and it was great fun.
It was only in October, when talk about the Transcontinental Race picked up again on Facebook, that I started honestly thinking about entering. It was on my bucket list. It was one of those things I wanted to have done before having kids, before complicating life further.
I sent in my entry. I pretty much knew I was going to get a spot – Mike had said that volunteers would get preferred entry, and on top of that I’m a woman and that really improved your chances of getting a spot (as there still aren’t that many of us).
So I started my preparations, on that day, November 1st.

The next few months were a blur of different efforts to prepare for my biggest race yet: I lost 10kg of weight, rode my bike regularly (including a 1500km trip up the Pacific Coast, fully loaded), spent a lot of money and time on perfecting my road bike (and my skills as a burgeoning bike mechanic) and practised mental techniques to be able to do more with less perceived effort. I started running regularly with my dogs, and luckily, the problem dog had since learned to stay home for a couple of hours, making it easier for me to get away and ride longer distances.
I still kept the riding fairly casual, never doing the super-long distances that other people do, and instead added weight training to my regime.

When it was time to race, I was ready. I had spent weeks on route planning, my bike was dialled. I had hand-built my own wheels, I had taken the bike completely apart down to its bones and rebuilt it so that I knew where everything went, how everything worked. After having done a few long-distance trips and races I now knew which items of clothing and equipment worked for me and which didn’t. I reduced my load until I was comfortable on the bike and I trained with a full load for at least two months before the race.
Not only was my bike ready, but my body was ready, too. I had lost quite a bit of weight and I was no longer ashamed to be seen in bib shorts.
In my head I knew that I wasn’t going to quit barring a major complication or injury. This was my chance.

The Muur 

I arrived in Geraardsbergen the day before the race. Though I had planned to take a train to Aachen and then ride 200km to the Start, I ended up taking trains all the way to Brussels and then riding from there – courtesy of pouring rain. I wasn’t keen on getting everything wet and dirty just a day before setting off.

Race day. It was a humdrum of activity, anxiety and giddiness. Riders ogling each other, sizing each other up. I knew I wasn’t quite part of that game, but it was fun to watch.
I was getting anxious, too, after registration was done and I had nothing to do but sit around and wait. I decided to check out the Muur to see what I was going to have to climb at night.
Oh golly it was steep, and I didn’t even ride up the steepest part just then – but I was able to get up the hill without stopping and that calmed me down a little bit.
When I was just hanging out at the registration center, chatting to people and making plans to have a beer, my husband texted me a picture. Of my dogs. On the Muur.
What the…?

Well, he had made plans all along to see me set off, so he had packed up the dogs and a friend and driven all the way to Belgium. It made me giddy. He’s always supported my crazy ideas, even when it is an inconvenience for him, even when it costs us a lot of money. But that he’d drive all the way just to see me for a few hours, that was incredible.
My heart racing I set off to ride up the Muur yet again to the pub near the top, and there he was, nonchalantly sipping a beer.
I think I almost cried, I was so happy to see him (and the furry ones!).

But soon it was time to get ready, assemble down at the market square and set off into the unknown. Darkness fell, my light worked on and off (a connector broke that day – I tried my best to tape the cable on tight, but I had a fully charged headlamp as a backup, phew!)

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When the countdown started, I was shaking. I could barely keep it together and fought back the urge to cry. There aren’t many situations I can think of where I was more nervous.
After a loop behind the car, it was time to climb the Muur for real, all the way to the top, and I was so scared that I would embarrass myself and walk up the hill, but it went much better than I thought. Dodging two riders in front of me who had gotten off and now had problems getting back on, I surged up the hill, pushing with all I had. When I stood up and pushed up that second, 20% incline, I could barely feel my legs, all I could feel was the blood rushing in my head, my lungs screaming. People were basically yelling at me to keep going, shouting Hup! Hup! Hup!
I could hear my husband shouting, my dogs barking, and thinking back at this moment still brings tears to my eyes. It was incredible. It was an experience like no other.
And then it was over as quickly as it begun, I got to the summit, rolled along the road, and almost slammed into the masses of riders stopping by the side of the road to check their Garmin.
At the end of the road, the field split up. Some went right, some went left. The air was still buzzing with excitement, and I knew this was what would keep me going through the night.
Confession time: I’ve never ridden through the night. I really value sleep and I don’t like riding in the dark because I suffer from night blindness. It means I can really only see what’s inside my light beam. I can barely make out shapes further ahead, if even that. This can be really distressing, especially going downhill.
Lucky for me, Belgian streets are lit up at night! …well but unfortunately, I had routed myself along canals for quite a while that first night.

France 

Somehow, the night passed as I pedalled through Belgium and into France, and I was overjoyed when I found my first open bakery around 5am. Two croissants, one (horrible) coffee and a pastry for later, and on I went. Soon after sunrise I navigated myself onto a rough path through a field. The maps (I had full LTE connectivity most of the time, thanks to my European data plan) told me that a detour would be lengthy, so I welcomed the chance to walk for a bit… or something like that.

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Around lunchtime I ran into my husband again. He and his friend had been driving down through France, taking pictures of riders, but I didn’t see them until they caught me ordering two burgers, a softdrink and coffee at a McDonald’s in Reims (I think). Obviously I was overjoyed (and no, I didn’t let them get my food or do anything that I would normally do myself). I think this was a very “grey zone” moment and I would discourage them to do this again, but it was the last time I was going to see him for quite a while and if anything, I was keen on hopping into that car instead of being super motivated for the next few hours 😉
But it wasn’t an option and the feeling passed quickly as I rode into the day which had heated up significantly.

I had reserved a hotel earlier for a total distance of a little more than 300km, which was ambitious (for me), but manageable. Still, the heat of the day was tough on me.
When I finally made it to the small town where the hotel was in, I really was done for the day.

These first three or four days are all about settling into a routine. The first night can be difficult. There are many conflicting needs: food, sleep, resources, charging batteries, checking the tracker, talking to loved ones.
After checking in and convincing the hotel owner that leaving the bike in a shed was *not* an option (especially since I planned on setting off before 5am), I plugged in the things that I wouldn’t need for the night and took off again to find food and re-stock my supplies. A supermarket was not too far away.
Dinner was another thing. I couldn’t decide what to do. Eat a LOT, that was for sure. Luckily I rode by a pizza street vendor on the way back to the hotel, bought one and devoured it all in my room, plus a salad from the supermarket, plus a greek yoghurt (protein, yo!). A coffee drink and another yoghurt went in the fridge for breakfast as nothing would be open.

By the time I had eaten, washed my clothes, showered, made sure everything important was plugged in and checked over the bike, it was going on 9pm.

The next day(s) turned out to be very, very long. I didn’t have too much time to make it to Clermont-Ferrand in time for the first checkpoint to close, so I knew I would have to ride through the night again.
Luckily I followed a beautiful bike path along a canal for almost 100km. I slept once for about an hour, just lay down in the grass, put my feet up on a bench and bam I was asleep. My food supply was running a little low, though I always had my 600kcal-bag of cashews as a backup. Dinner looked a little sad.

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I had eaten at McDonald’s again earlier though, I basically ate at every single McDonald’s I could find in France. There were very distinct advantages: the food was quick to come, not half bad (actually there were some pretty awesome choices in France), clean bathrooms, Wifi, and on top of everything, I could order at a machine and they brought the food to me. No standing in line, no wasting time, didn’t even have to talk to people.

When night fell, I did try to find a place to sleep. Since I carried only a bivy bag and no sleeping bag, I was fairly dependent on hotels and shelters.
Unfortunately, it was not to be, so I just carried on into the night. After two more hours I passed a town that advertised a free campground for touring cyclists so I went to check it out. Nothing fancy – not even a shelter – but running water to fill my bottles, a bathroom (always appreciated!) and a seemingly safe place to lay my head in the company of other cyclists. I didn’t speak to anyone and they eyed me suspiciously as I rolled out my bivy bag on the grass, put on all my clothes and crawled into the bag.
By 3am I was up again and took off. The few hours of sleep I had gotten had been cold, very cold. Moving was the only way to warm up.

Sometime around 5 or 6am, an incredible exhaustion came over me. I was 100km away from Clermont-Ferrand and had to be there before 3pm that day. In my desperation, I found a park bench right next to a roundabout in a town and simply lay down there. An hour of extremely uncomfortable sleep later the sun had risen, I was shaking from the cold and ready to drop dead.
Instead I got back on the bike.

What a slog to Clermont-Ferrand. I did make it in time though.
Once there, I got a hotel room at the hotel the checkpoint was in and then proceeded to ride up the Col de Ceyssat. Now, this is not a particularly difficult climb (though the bottom part through town is really sleep), but I was too tired to even ride, so instead I walked. I had company, too. Dominik from Germany also had to walk. We realised that dot watchers would find it suspicious to see our dots so close to one another, but we figured that at a breakneck speed of 2-3km/h no one would accuse us of cheating by walking behind one another.
On the top, we took some pictures, ate some ice cream with the guy who had been staffing the checkpoint (and rode up the Col for fun), and then I descended into Clermont-Ferrand again. I had to stock up on food and eat dinner (where else… McDonald’s!).

The next morning I finally got to head East into the sunrise.

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I did 270km that day, and they were a hard fight. After a few fast and easy hours, good breakfast and sunny skies, I got into the real French countryside – as in no stores, no nothing, just hills and hills and hills. I made the best of it and frequently stopped at people’s farms and houses to ask for water. Luckily I speak French, and over the course of the day I tried out different sentences to ask for water in the most eloquent way possible. After all, I had a bit of time on the bike to figure it out.
Meanwhile I listened to Audiobooks. With my iPhone mounted on the stem I didn’t need headphones, and they aren’t legal in France anyway, so I was extremely happy to discover that on quiet roads, the sound wasn’t bad at all.
I distinctly remember sitting by the side of a road through the woods and finally finding a phone connection. I found a hotel in Lons-le-Saunier that had a 24hr reception and booked a room. Once again I had set myself an ambitious goal for the day, but it was just the thing to keep me motivated: a bed, a shower.
The last 50km were horrible, a feeling I know all too well: make this stop, I hate this, why am I doing this? At least my sores were starting to hurt less and as the sun set, at least the heat was over with.
When I got to Lons I faced my familiar dinner problem, with no supermarkets open and no McDonald’s too close to the hotel. In fact the town was pretty dark. By chance I passed a take-out pizzeria. Ordered a pizza and the guy told me it would be twenty to thirty minutes. My face must have fallen, because he looked a little concerned and explained to me that he had to do the pizzas for the group in front of  the store first.
I asked if there was any way he could make it a little bit faster, and he told me if I went for just a cheese pizza, he’d put it in with the others. Relieved I agreed.
It did end up taking about fifteen minutes, which in a normal situation is really quick, but I was just yearning to go to bed. He surprised me by putting tuna on the pizza after all with a little smile. What a nice man.

I woke up the next day feeling like a truck had run me over. Barely picked myself up and got on the bike. I knew that I would have to start climbing immediately. Into the Jura mountains I went… slowly.
By the time I found food I had only managed 50km and didn’t feel any better. My plan had been to make it to the checkpoint in Grindelwald before it closed at Midnight.
It was still possible for a while. But when I navigated myself down a steep path onto a hiking path, I knew it wasn’t going to happen. Now, I wasn’t the only one to run into this trap. I guess we all made the same routing mistake. It is a funny anecdote now, but it wasn’t very funny when it happened.

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I clawed my way back up and was at least rewarded with a great descent to Neuchâtel.

Switzerland 

I had crossed into Switzerland now. I don’t even remember when exactly I crossed the border on that day. The only thing I know is that when I got to Neuchâtel I passed a lot of people taking a swim in the lake and eating ice cream from a small store… but I didn’t have any Swiss Francs yet. Argh.
At least I still had a can of somewhat lukewarm Fanta, so I sat down, evaluated my options and decided to book a room in Bern.

Riding over to Bern was, in fact, a lot hillier than I had expected. I had dinner on the way and then checked into the ibis. My routine had gotten a lot faster by then: get in the room, take off all my clothes, drop shorts, base layer and socks into the washbasin, run the hot water and soap. Plug in electronics. Jump into the shower. Rinse the clothes, wring them out, roll them up in towels and stand on them to get more moisture out. Hang them up to dry.
Put salves on saddle sores and anything else that needs to be taken care of, drink another liter of water, refill bottles for the morning, go to sleep.

Switzerland proved to be my Everest.
I got out early the next day (..and threw up my breakfast, something I’d later remember in a different light) and pushed up to Grindelwald where I put a stamp in my Brevet card (they had kindly left it behind) around noon. The climb up to there was hard and I knew that I wouldn’t have made it the day before.

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The parcours that lay ahead scared me. Three consecutive Alpine passes.
I walked up most of the Grosse Scheidegg. Just didn’t have it in me I guess. The views were breathtaking. Up on the pass, I had a big Radler and chatted to two other racers. Both were incredibly arrogant and laughed at me when I told them I had walked up the pass. One of them, a woman who dropped out halfway through Switzerland, actually asked me how I thought I was going to manage Furkapass if I couldn’t even do this climb?
It made me upset and sad. Until then I had always only exchanged words of encouragement with other racers. I decided to put it behind me and start descending.

Having received warnings of bad weather ahead I was a little anxious about what was to come. And as I headed up Grimselpass, the second climb of the parcours, the weather did indeed turn foul. It started to drizzle a little bit. To put it mildly, this worried me. I wasn’t equipped for sleeping outside in the Alps and I wasn’t sure about hotels coming up, so I started checking on my phone while riding (you learn to do a lot of things while riding in races like this). I saw a hotel not far from where I was, but it looked expensive.
When I got there, I decided to pull over anyway on a feeling. My heart sank when I saw the place. I could see diners through the window, all dressed up smartly. I inquired at the reception anyway and voilà – she had a single room, and I could afford it. It wasn’t exactly at the cheap end, but it wouldn’t make my credit card explode (or my husband for that matter). As I handed over the card, the skies opened and it started pouring rain. I took that as a sign of approval from the weather gods.
The hotel was magnificent. I apologised profusely for being wet, dirty and stinky, but she wasn’t worried at all. I asked if there was a possibility to eat dinner, and she said yes, if I made it downstairs by 8pm. Anxiously I told her I had only a simple Merino T-Shirt and casual shorts as “dinner attire” – and no shoes – and she assured me it wouldn’t be a problem. Would I like to use the wellness facilities? Um, yes, but I hadn’t brought a bathing suit. No problem, here’s a bag of items left behind by other guests, take your pick. Amazed, I trekked up to my room on the third floor (the bike was locked in a designated bike shed and I didn’t even think about complaining), did my routine, put my Merino shirt back on (boy was I happy that I had chosen to ride in that thing, it still smelled okay) and stumbled back down in my hotel slippers.
There was a dining room that looked a little more rustic than the one I’d seen through the windows and it seemed to be for the hikers, bikers, and other dirty folks – but the service was just as great and the food the same, too.
Happy, I downed a beer, ate a big pork chop, had dessert, and afterwards went for a dip in the pool and a quick sauna visit.
This bed was without a doubt the most comfortable one during the race, with a huge down blanket embracing me and telling me to stay a little longer.

Come morning, the rain had really found its groove and it was just a few degrees above zero. Meh. At breakfast I still debated with myself whether to stay longer and wait the rain out, but I couldn’t. I had to keep moving.

Well, maybe waiting it out would have been better. Riding up Grimselpass was a nightmare of lashing rain and winds so strong that for the last kilometre or so I had to walk my bike. I’d been almost blown off it by a gust and decided not to take unnecessary risks.
On the top, rain turned into a rain/snow mix and I walked into the first guesthouse I saw.
Bad choice. The room was cold, they didn’t have any towels (they gave me two kitchen towels, well, better than nothing at all) and didn’t care much about my predicament. I ordered incredibly expensive tea, then soup, then pasta, then two more teas. I needed to brace myself for the descent.

Descending Grimselpass was bad for the first few kilometres, then it was okay. What wasn’t okay was that my rear brake started to fail and I didn’t know why and didn’t have the dexterity in my fingers to really find out, so I descended on the front brake. I was so frozen when I made it down that I immediately started up Furkapass without even thinking about it.

That girl on Grosse Scheidegg had it all wrong, because I didn’t have to get off to walk on Furkapass once, in fact, I found it the easiest of the three.
Descending it was another thing. The weather had turned nastier again and I was absolutely terrified going down. Might have been the scariest and sketchiest descent of my  short cycling life. My rear break didn’t work at all (I later found out that there was a tiny blob of metal on the rim and it was an easy fix). I was shivering all over, barely able to grab anything when I was at the bottom, and stumbled into the first restaurant that looked open. This time they were nice and it was warm and cozy inside. I took a selfie to illustrate how I felt – like a drowned rat.
I ended up going over the next pass, the Oberalppass, after booking a hotel in Disentis.
The pass turned out to be pretty easy and almost enjoyable, but the descent was – again – miserable. I rained so hard I could barely see and anything waterproof had long given up.
In my daze I even rode past my hotel and continued two kilometres downhill. When I got into town I realised my mistake, cursed myself, and schlepped myself back up the hill.
A half hour long hot shower sorted me out, but everything was soaked and disgusting, so I had to spend more time than usual on getting everything clean and ready for the next day.
Dinner was accompanied by a beer again and I was barefoot, as there were no slippers and it wasn’t an option to get into my soaking wet shoes again. The rest of the evening was spent blow-drying clothes to give them a headstart on drying.

Around this time, I started feeling more and more tired. Getting up in the morning was becoming really difficult. I put this down to the exertion of the race of course and was disappointed in myself for not being stricter with doing early mornings.

The next day I rode Albulapass (and another one, I don’t remember the name, somewhere around Laax and Thusis) and it was, against all odds, fun.
I don’t remember much more about that day. I think my room had a bathtub and was really old-fashioned.

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Day I-don’t-know-how-many. Today’s task would be the scary sounding Nigerpass. Unfortunately there was another pass in the way, one that for some reason I didn’t have on my list. Oh well. Just another day in the office. After Ofenpass, I crossed into Italy.

Italy 

Oh, Italy. The first thing I did was eat a pizza, a big, fat, glorious pizza. In fact I had stumbled into the German-speaking part of Italy (Südtirol), so I could even get Apfelschorle (half sparkling water, half apple juice – us Germans don’t understand why this isn’t a thing everywhere in the world). Prices were suddenly humane again too.

Nigerpass, oh Nigerpass. This was the hardest pass I rode, and one of the prettiest.
Once again I forced myself to do more than I felt like doing by booking a hotel room on the other side, in Moena.
The pass is a 24km, 1400m climb with long sections of 14% and more. The views were magnificent. I passed many restaurants but didn’t want to stop. I talked to a farmer once who asked where I was going. “Moena”, I said. “Tonight?! That’s impossible.” he replied. I shrugged and kept pushing my bike (cough, cough, this was on a 20% segment). It wasn’t impossible, it was just really hard.
I exchanged a few WhatsApp messages with my family. I sent them pictures of the sunset, they sent my pictures of their dinner. Normal banter. It kept me entertained.

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Boy, was I glad when I summited that darn pass. It had gotten dark by then. On the very disappointing descent I passed A LOT of open restaurants with people sitting outside eating pizza. Most of them were attached to hotels with big fat “VACANCY” signs out. Arrrrrrghh.
There was nothing I could do about it, so I pushed on to Moena, where miraculously the town was still awake at 10pm, the hotel receptionist was super sweet and told me to go across the street to a bar that served food.

I went there, ordered a Gin Tonic – I deserved it that night – and inquired about food. They didn’t serve the regular menu anymore but they could make me sandwiches. I ordered two different ones. “Two, are you sure? They are quite large, you know.” – “I’m sure.”
I think they ogled me as I basically inhaled the admittedly well-sized panini which were delicious. The alcohol made me happy and tired and I went to bed.

The day after was the beginning of the end. It was the day I would finally get to checkpoint three, which had long since closed. I wasn’t the only one late for it though and that made me feel, well, not like a complete failure at least. I was still out there doing it.

Passo San Pellegrino was unexpectedly hard with long, steep gradients. Getting up to Alleghe was just as tough.
At the hotel that we had to take a selfie with I ran into Berk again. We’d been bumping into each other throughout the Alps. He still looked fresh. Since he didn’t speak much English our conversations were a little limited, but he was a great guy and later went on to absolutely crush it. I think he had the advantage of riding home going for him. That’s pretty good motivation.

I sat there and ate my pasta, and wondered whether it would be smart to start a massive climb in the midday heat. I’ll cut this short, it wasn’t smart. It was horrible. I walked 90% of Passo Giau, and to add insult to injury, I was frequently passed by bare-bones Italian cyclists, looking all leathery and ascetic on their well-oiled expensive rigs, yelling “Forza!” at me. That wasn’t the worst part though, cars kept stopping to ask me whether I was okay and whether I wanted a ride up the pass.
So I put a big, artificial smile on my face, and whenever a driver looked like he was about to pull over, I’d stop and fiddle with my phone.
For the last two kilometres I took my shoes off and carried them up.
When I got to the top I had blood blisters on the soles of my feet and on my heels. Ouch. Now cycling hurt and walking hurt too. Great.
One Radler later I descended, immediately started climbing again out of Cortina and that’s when I got weaker and weaker. Even an easy pass took everything out of me. My heart was racing, my legs trembling. I felt like I was going to throw up. I was well hydrated, had had enough food and salts, there was no obvious cause for this, except for maybe I was in over my head after all?

Even the long downhill that followed after the next climb was just bad. But I was determined to at least make it into Austria. The route I had plotted took me across a small part of Austria and then into Slovenia, instead of riding down the Croatian coast. Seeing all the posts about the winds in Croatia made me glad for my choice.
I did make it into Austria, barely. It didn’t feel victorious. I didn’t know where to spend the night. By the time it got dark I stood in a small town, going from hotel to hotel, and no one had a room for me. It was time to cry a little bit, feel completely lost and then figure out what to do. I ended up seeing an empty room on booking.com just 1km away – for 300 EUR. It was my last chance. I called the hotel directly to ask for a room. It was 9pm already. Yes, she had a room for one person. “How much does it cost?” I held my breath. If she said 300 Euro, I was going to cry again. “110 Euro with breakfast” – “Book it! I’ll take it! Please!” That came out like a gunshot, and she laughed. I asked if it was okay to arrive in half an hour or so since I’d have to find dinner. No problem.
I found a restaurant that agreed to make me a Schnitzel and Fries to go (I would have preferred pasta, but that’s the first thing they said when I asked if they could make me something to go and I was too tired to argue – and too scared that I’d miss my check in) and I drank a beer while I waited. Didn’t take long and when I got to the hotel, they were still cheerful and didn’t mind my late checkin at all.

I ate the Schnitzel with my fingers while I called my husband. It was the first time we really talked on the phone. For almost an hour. I lamented about my day, told him about my tribulations to find a hotel room, all the while munching on cold fries without ketchup.
After “the routine”, I went to bed.

I woke up the next morning feeling worse than ever. Dragged myself down to a wonderful and huge buffet breakfast, tried to eat something and have some coffee. My heart was racing, I was seeing spots, and I could NOT figure out why.
At some point I managed to get going again, and luckily the next 80km or so were basically a very slight downhill.

During these kilometres, I started thinking about why I was feeling so bad and that I’d have to really pick up the pace now that I had the Alps behind me.
I had this creeping feeling that something wasn’t right with me.
I was eating right. I was getting more than enough sleep. Hydration was not an issue. None of my joints gave me any problems, the bike was working just fine (except for the shifting which drove me mad, but it was workable). What was it?
On a random idea, I checked Clue, an app for tracking your menstrual cycle.
Interesting, I was five days overdue. Five days? That had happened before, even my App told me so. Still, something inside of me told me that this wasn’t normal.
Now another thing got my heart racing.

I decided to find out whether my feeling was right.
When I got to Lienz, the next largish town, I went to a drugstore and bought a test. A pregnancy test. I had taken one of those before (which woman of almost 30 hasn’t?), but until now, I was always certain that it would be negative. This time was different.

This wasn’t how I had pictured this to happen. I thought I’d wake up one morning and throw up or something, realise that I’m overdue, tell my husband and pee on that stick while he waited. We would stare at the stick together and when it said “pregnant”, we would cry and hug and jump around.

Instead I snuck the test into a McDonald’s bathroom and barely managed to pee on the damn thing with my bib tights. I think I held my breath as I put it down on the floor.
It didn’t take long for the two pink lines to appear. Positive. I was pregnant. Holy shit, I was pregnant.

Sitting outside the restaurant next to my bike – and next to a busy road – I texted my husband to ask him whether he’d have a moment to talk. He called.
I told him, right then and there. I cried. I think I said “shit!” a lot while he said “awesome!” a lot. I told him I didn’t know what to do, he said “Well, keep cycling?”.
At a pharmacy I bought another test, one that told you pregnant or not pregnant in words, you know, just to be sure. I stuffed it in my pockets and cycled on.

The weather turned foul again. In a small town before my next climb I found a bakery café where I could have a hot chocolate, pee on the second test, and ponder my options. My mind was racing. Feelings between “this is awesome!” and “why now?” all the way to “I really want to go home”. It was hard to think of anything else.
Well, the second test was positive too, and apparently I was around 5 weeks pregnant already (I did the math after a little Googleing).
I couldn’t continue like this.

When I rode up the next climb, it started pouring rain and I was soaked to the bone again in minutes. Wonderful.

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At the next town I found a hotel, checked in, lay on the bed and texted my best friend. And my sister in law. I needed opinions. Would I harm the baby if I continued? Obviously I’d have to scratch the beers and most of the coffee and some food items too, and obviously I’d have to be a little more careful descending freezing mountain passes.
There was no definite answer. The consensus was “do what feels right”.

It didn’t feel right to continue. Everything inside me screamed “go home”. I knew that exercise alone, even strenuous exercise, wouldn’t lead to a miscarriage, but I felt a sense of responsibility. On top of that, I was simply tired and weak and it wasn’t much fun to keep riding.
In the end I let my body decide. I continued the next day like nothing had happened, and after 100km it was obvious that it wasn’t going to work. My cycling mojo was gone. Even very very minor hills sent my heart racing and I’d have to get off.
That’s when my race really ended. I decided to let it go. The race wasn’t worth it. Had something happened, had I lost the baby for whatever reason, I may have blamed myself for it for the rest of my life, even though I know the cycling wouldn’t have been the reason.

It was an odyssey to get home from the southernmost reaches of Austria, in fact it took way longer (and was more expensive) than it would have from Çannakale. Well, it served me right I guess.

 

This was my Transcontinental Race. It ended abruptly, and I didn’t become a Finisher, which is really all I wanted. I was so saddened and disappointed that I couldn’t bear to look at everyone else’s Facebook posts for the next two weeks.
But my body demonstrated that I made the right call. After I got home, I slept almost all day for many days, only getting up to eat a lot of food. For the next few weeks, I could barely get through short walks with the dogs. My husband would sometimes have to come home from work early and do it for me. Once I had to stop in the middle of cooking dinner because I couldn’t stand up anymore.
Never in my life have I been more tired than in the first Trimester of this pregnancy!

Today, I’m 20 weeks pregnant, or in other words: halfway through. I’m glad I got pregnant at peak fitness, for I gain weight notoriously easily and am always afraid that pregnancy will turn me into a fat cow. I think I’m still on a decent path for now, but you can judge that for yourself.

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In case you were wondering, no, it wasn’t really an accident. We decided that we were going to start “trying” in October, after TCR and after our probably last big cycling adventure together for a while, which was going to be Route 66 on our tandem.
So it did happen a LITTLE earlier than expected or planned, but you can’t really call it an accident when you’re not using anything to prevent a pregnancy.
To be honest, I’m glad it happened like this. It’s a little bit like it was meant to be.

Do I plan to return?
That’s a big fat YES. I plan on making my return and becoming a finisher in 2018.
Luckily, I have a husband who thinks that’s a great idea. 🙂
I hope that the route will be as awesome as next year’s route, where finally people don’t have to ride through the French countryside anymore but instead get to enjoy Germany. 🙂

 

Adventure report: Tuscany Trail

I’ve been on an adventure – all the way through Tuscany!
I first heard about the Tuscany Trail from Markus, the owner of ‘velorado’, a bike shop in Nuremberg. When I read the description of the ride, I thought to myself – why not? Sounds awesome. There was just a little problem: I didn’t own a Mountain Bike and this adventure could certainly not be done on a road bike.
A lot of consideration went into what kind of bike to buy and in the end, velorado decided to support my adventures which made it possible for me to get a very awesome Salsa Fargo.
My Fargo basically has two modes: MTB and road warrior. For the Tuscany Trail, it was set up with a RockShox Reba suspension fork and Schwalbe Racing Ralph tires (tubeless).

The next little problem was that I’d never actually ridden a Mountain Bike before. But not having any cycling experience hasn’t stopped me before, so I just went for it anyway.

The Plan 

The second edition of the Tuscany Trail was going to be 560km long with 11.000m of elevation gain. To put this into perspective: the Trans Am Bike Race has 66.000m of elevation gain over 6800km. In other words there was a buttload of climbing to be done.
My goal was to take around 4 days which translates to roughly 2750m of climbing per day.

The Adventure

Markus and I decided to drive down to Massa, the start of the trail, together to save money and keep each other company. After dropping off my dog at a friend’s house he picked me up on Thursday morning. In the late afternoon we arrived at the athletic complex where lots of people had already gathered and put their bikes together.
There was an impressive array of different types of bikes, from carbon Fat Bikes to Cyclocrossers, even a few more Fargos (but not as many as I’d thought).

Dinner was at a restaurant nearby with everyone else. Stories were being passed around and ideas exchanged – and I started to feel a little inadequate and intimidated. It reminded me of the final night before the Trans Am. It’s easy to feel intimidated with so many experienced people around but in the end, you just have to do your own thing and you’ll see that not all big talk is going to be followed up. So I tried to get back into my own head and concentrate on the fun ahead.

5:30am. People started getting up and pack their stuff together. Why so early? I had no idea. The start wasn’t until 8:30am and we were only a few kilometers from the starting line. I tried to squeeze my eyes shut and ignore the sound of air mattresses being deflated but it was useless. Time to brush my teeth and get into my new velorado jersey.

I stuffed down a pastry from the night before, packed my bivy bag back onto the bike and joined the convoy to the start at Plaza Aranci in Massa.
A cappuccino for the nerves, another pastry for energy. I tied my “Tuscany Trail” sign onto the bike and soon enough, we finally took off.

I got caught up in the commotion and pedaled fast to keep up with everyone. There’s this risk of going too fast right off the bat. I didn’t want to be alone right away plus for the first couple of kilometers it was reasonably flat and easy.
Once we hit the first ascent, I was on my own. Well, not completely. Obviously with 220 participants there are a lot of people faster than you and also some slower than you, plus depending on when people take breaks you keep passing each other. A couple of times I felt like I MUST be the last person but people kept coming up behind me.

Up we went. For a fairly long while it was just an asphalt road leading up a pass. I really started to feel the difference between my road bike and the Fargo – with the knobby tires and the suspension fork there’s a lot of energy not transferred onto the road.
I finally managed to settle into my own rhythm. A couple of bites of food, my first SaltStick capsule, a quick stop to take off my Berino jersey. Now the adventure was on. It felt like a race in the beginning, even though I knew I could never be competitive in this event having never trained on a Mountain Bike.

The road turned into a gravel path, still uphill. People started to ride a little further apart from each other. I started to concentrate on the path.


After a little while longer, a rideable gravel path became a steep hiking trail. Time to hike the bike. I had read up front that we were going to supposedly push the bike for about 45mins and to be honest I had no idea that it wasn’t going to be all that easy.
It started with a set of stairs. A couple of stairs became a rocky trail. Then a rocky trail eventually became something that I’d  have found hard in hiking boots. Pushing the bike became carrying the bike. Carrying the bike? Yep. Since I couldn’t shoulder it, I basically just lifted it low on the seat tube and was happy to have fairly strong arms.
Still it turned into a shuffle. Everyone suffered. One Italian guy offered to carry my bike, I wouldn’t have it obviously. I think they thought I was very strong to keep up with them. I felt the same way.

Two, three steps – pause. Repeat.
This was cruel. A couple of times I twisted my ankle and shuddered from the thought of breaking bones or tearing tendons up here. It would have been easy to get stuck between rocks or slip on your cleats. And then what? I felt comforted by the fact that I wasn’t alone up here and that I still had cell phone reception. This was Italy after all! Still, the dangerous concoction of exhaustion, unsuitable shoes and a heavy object to carry was a recipe for disaster. Fortunately I haven’t heard of any disasters on this part of the trail.

Once we had made it up to the top of the first summit, I actually though it would get easier from there on. After all we’d just done about 1000m of climbing!
Well.. off I went, to carry my bike downhill.
Downhills are supposed to be your compensation for the uphill struggle, but apparently in Mountain Biking that isn’t really so.
People around me were moaning and groaning and I couldn’t blame them. Sometime you could roll down for a couple hundred meters until there was yet again something unrideable. A few people on Fullies gave it a go but had to get off eventually, too.
For me it was so surreal that I didn’t really have time to think about how crazy this was. I was on a hike! I though I’d signed up for a bike ride!

Alas, asphalt reappeared at some point. A bit of nice downhill did follow. I spent my first rest stop at a cafe close to Bagni di Lucca – filled up my water, ate a sandwich, drank some Coke and stashed a small can of Coke for later (good idea!).
After Bagni di Lucca, the second long climb of the day started. Basically it follow the scheme of the first one – ride up on asphalt for a while, then turn off onto a gravel path.

I was pretty much by myself at that point, but at least this meant I was consistently going my own pace. I put some music on and started up the pass.
I don’t remember much about that part. I was lost in a rhythm of pushing up steep slopes, trying to ride for a bit, getting off again, and so on. It topped out at a summit cross with a good looking shelter which would have made a good place to bivy – if only it hadn’t been so early into the day.

A bit of pushing downhill, too, but mostly just standing on the brakes navigating a way between the rocks. I learned a lot about riding my Fargo on this first day. I’m pretty sure that I lost a lot of time and energy on the descents, most people descended much faster than me – I didn’t yet trust my bike and my ability to stop it without crashing onto those rocks.
Pontito, a mountain village, was next to be navigated on steep and slippery cobbles. I met some other riders and we stood around puzzled about the track, trying to find our way. I was silly enough to follow them as they went down the wrong path – a very steep, grassy path next to the village – but I figured out that it was wrong after a couple hundred meters. They merrily bombed down that trail. I’ve no idea who it was but I’m assuming they had a bout of yelling and swearing when they discovered that they went the wrong way.
With a grunt of disapproval I started up the trail again. What a penalty.
Once through Pontito, the gravel paths gave way to asphalt again and I kept on seeing other riders. For a while I had felt like I HAD to be last but that wasn’t actually true.
We came through a couple of villages that didn’t have much and I started to get hungry. One rider hung out with me for a little while and we talked. I asked him where he was intending to sleep tonight and he told me they’d made plans to go all the way to Prato because they didn’t want to be stuck in the mountains for the night.
Prato was quite far away at that point. Luckily he also told me that Prunetta would be the last chance for a meal before dropping back into the mountains proper.

I stopped at the first restaurant in Prunetta, walked in and, in extremely shaky “Italian”, asked if they were open for dinner. I tried asking whether there was a hotel in town and the lady told me about a hotel in another town that also had a restaurant, but since I didn’t really know what I was going to do yet I decided to eat first and then see about that hotel.

Having purchased a 3G plan for abroad I was able to check out possible accommodations. Unfortunately there seemed to be nothing in Prunetta.
The waitress didn’t speak a work of English, but all hail modern technology – with the help of Google Translate I managed to ask her what the closest hotel was, whether it was an up- or downhill road there and even badgered her into calling the hotel to ask whether they still had a room. I wasn’t up for riding off route only to find that the hotel was closed or full.
There was a room and I was told to eat up and get a move on, aspetta! She’s waiting for you!

As I stepped out of the restaurant it started to rain. I took that as a sign from the Universe to rest. 3km (downhill) later I was safely inside a cozy hotel with a sweet Italian lady who showed me where to put my bike, asked me whether I wanted to eat something and when I would leave in the morning.
I thought that with speaking French and Spanish fairly decently I’d get along in Italy, but to be honest, I just blurted out Spanish phrases and tried to Italian-ize them. Embarrassing.

The shower was hot, there were extra blankets and I settled in for the night.


Day number two. I had set my alarm to 7am, wanting to leave by 8am. It was odd to get into this bikepacking routine again, not having done it for almost a year. Putting your dirty clothes back on in the morning, greasing up your “seat area”, brushing your hair with your fingers – all fine by me, I just needed to get the routine back. My shirt was still white.


I ambled downstairs, stuffed my things back onto the bike and then my hostess asked me whether I wanted to have breakfast. Well, of course!
Unfortunately in Italy breakfast means coffee and a pastry. Now, I love their coffee, and I loved being able to get a really great cappuccino for 1,20 EUR, but the pastries all sort of taste the same, they are all sickeningly sweet and yeasty. I’ll choose something savory over something sweet any time and a pastry is quick energy that burns off almost instantly, not great.
Not having any other options I stuffed down two different pastries and a cappuccino, chose some whole-nut chocolate and a couple of nougat pieces for later and set off – into the rain.
Even though I knew I’d be hot, I put on my rain pants, jacket and waterproof socks since it looked positively awful outside.

There aren’t many pictures of Day 2. It rained and it was so foggy you could barely see anything. Which was just as well.
I hiked my bike a lot that day. A lot more than I like to do. It wasn’t a whole lot of fun to be honest. Climb after climb, and so steep that I simply didn’t stand a chance.
What added to the “fun” was the mud and rain.
The trail passed by a great spring and in addition to drinking my fill of fresh, cold mountain spring water I sprayed down my bike a little bit. Not that it made a noticeable difference.

What I was really grateful for were my waterproof socks. I had just gotten them a day before the event and I had no idea how great they were! My feet were basically the only dry and clean part of my body. Even going through two streams didn’t worry me – at least my feet would be dry. Lovely!

It felt amazing to get out of the mountains. As I descended it became gradually warmer and right before the asphalt started again I finally took off my rain jacket and pants. Two guys passed me while I did that – I wasn’t last yet?! Nope.

A few hours on asphalt later and I was in Firenze.
It was early afternoon and sunny. Getting through the city was a pain in the ass. The route took me right past the major tourist attractions and I didn’t even try to ride my bike. I leisurely pushed it past the Duomo, the Uffizi and across the Ponte Vecchio. What a mental choice of route. I get it – you’re supposed to see what Tuscany is made of, and Firenze is a huge part of that. Had I not been to the city several times I think I would have appreciated it more. Now, still in a bikepacking race mindset it just annoyed me to lose so much time.
When I got into the city I had already anticipated that we’d have to climb up to the Piazza Michelangelo. It is actually a great choice since you get a panoramic view over Firenze, but it’s a pain to climb and the Piazza was home to some sort of ice cream festival – packed full of people.

I took a small break and pondered my options. Only 4pm and I was already pretty toast. Getting over those mountains had been exhausting and now the heat didn’t make it any better. Briefly I considered looking for a place to stay in Firenze but that would have put me at far too few kilometers to stay within my 4-day goal.
A couple kilometers further I happened upon a McDonald’s.
Now, I’m certainly not the biggest fan of that establishment, but it has everything a bikepacker needs: cheap, quick food, bathrooms, power outlets, Wifi, air conditioning – and no one cares if you hang around for a little while.
Devouring a couple of cheeseburgers and getting my water bottles filled up motivated me to pick a goal for the day and I found one: Certaldo. I had thought in the morning that Certaldo or even San Gimignano would be awesome for the day. Alas, I made a booking for a cheap hotel in Certaldo and got a move on.

The afternoon went by in a blur, from village to village, getting off to push up steep hills from time to time.
At 10:05pm, I rolled up in front of my hotel in Certaldo. I was so happy to have made it there, so looking forward to a shower, a bed, just time to relax. Dinner would have to be found somewhere, too.

But it wasn’t meant to be. The hotel was closed up already, so I called the provided telephone number. The man on the other end of the line explained to me that the online booking had gone through by accident and that he didn’t have any rooms. All hotels in town were supposedly full. And that was that. I asked whether I could just sleep in the lobby, but he didn’t really understand English. I hung up. And hung my head.
Then I called my husband and broke down crying. He knows better by now than to suggest options right away and instead just listened to me cry and complain. I’m like that – I first have to get my feeling out of the way before I can do anything constructive. Some people chose to interpret that as weak, I just find it honest. I felt really shitty after all.

Well, nothing would happen from standing around, but if I had to go on through the night, I’d have to eat dinner first. Most everything was closed so I asked someone who looked young enough to speak a little bit of English. He referred me to an Irish pub which was, ironically, almost next door to “my” hotel.
There, I once again hung my head, ordered a Coke and a pasta dish and tried to enlist my waiter to help. He was eager to do something and started calling hotels, but they were all full. Soon enough his boss told him to get back to work.
Luckily, a trio of guys had witnessed the whole thing and must’ve seen me sit there in a corner, miserable. They told me not to worry, they would find a hotel.

And they did. They ended up talking to the guy from “my” hotel who told them there was a hotel in Castelfiorentino – 10km off route in the completely wrong direction. 10km? At 11pm? Would anyone there even wait for me? I made them call the hotel and the guys decided to bring the car around and drive me to the hotel.
Normally, I would’ve denied the offer, but it was off route and I would have to do ten extra kilometers in the morning to make up for it.
I was amazed that they would be happy to put my dirty, muddy bike in their clean car – those guys were my heroes!

Off to bed. Finally.


Day three started a little later than I’d liked. I just couldn’t get moving, having gone to bed way too late. I also hadn’t eaten enough the night before, so my body was running on fumes. The hotel didn’t have breakfast, so I just went to the next open coffee bar I found and forced down another two pastries. YUCK!
Let the penalty miles begin.
Luckily it was fairly level and after a short while I had made it back to Certaldo. First order of the day: raid the supermarket that I just happened to pass.

Then past Certaldo it became ridiculous. Instead of riding a perfectly good road I’d have to turn off it and then push up a ridiculously steep hill. Maybe my gears don’t go low enough, maybe my quads aren’t steely enough, but in any case, I pushed until my heels bled – literally.
The worst always happened when the route took me on the Via Francigena, which is a pilgrim’s path. I do not like this path.
At least there were pretty flowers along the way.

At some point I climbed up a hill slow enough to pick flowers along the way. Here, I picked a little bouquet for all of you!

Well, most of the feelings that I remember about this day are negative. First came the mountain village of San Gimignano, extremely pretty, but extremely annoying to go through – more tourist hordes. As with so many of the villages of this region I had been there already and impatiently pushed through the masses to get out on the other side and enjoy a steep descent.
By this time I had decided to give up and stop the adventure in Siena. Incredibly enough, this made me a little more energetic and with the thought of being finished soon I pedaled on. I stopped to take some pictures from time to time – the landscape really is spectacular. The first time you come to Tuscany, the sight of those mountaintop villages stops you in your tracks. It didn’t quite have that effect on me anymore but I really enjoyed it.

Then came Siena. I had been looking forward to Siena from the beginning – one of my favorite towns anywhere! Having relayed my plans of stopping there to both my husband and Markus they’d both told me to think about it. And I did. Markus told me that it got a lot nicer past Siena. A lot of strade bianche to ride, the white roads of Tuscany. No more technical trails [he was wrong, but he couldn’t know yet].
I thought about it long and hard while eating cheeseburgers and putting my feet up at McDonald’s right outside Siena. After studying the map for a while I decided on a goal for the night – Buonconvento – and called a hotel there. I had learned my lesson about online booking.
If I still wasn’t having any fun by the end of the day, I could still find a train station later on.

Unfortunately, there was some sort of church-y celebration on the Piazza del Campo. I had planned on sitting there for a little bit but it was packed. So packed in fact that I couldn’t follow the GPS track and had to improvise a little bit.

Past Siena it did indeed become a little nicer – until, after an hour, I got to a street sign that said “Siena” again. For a moment I thought this was a cruel joke. I had been going around in circles! The center of Siena was again just a mere kilometer away and all I could do was laugh.
Luckily, right after this the route turned onto the roads of “L’Eroica” which had incidentally been going on that Sunday.
Rolling more than steep, nice views along the way and the spirit of this classical bike route embedded in it, I did enjoy myself for a while there.

Buonconvento was reached in the early evening – before it was dark – and I found my hotel right away. An extremely nice woman who spoke English (!) checked me in, made sure to find me a spacious room where I could wheel my bike in with me, explained my dining options and gave me a free Wifi code. Now that’s what I call a good end to the day.
I went on to dinner and ate not one, but two pasta dishes. Pasta in Italy is considered a “first course” and mostly the portions aren’t actually that big. Well in this restaurant the portions were quite generous and by the time I finished my tortellini in cream sauce I felt like the waiters were starting a bet whether I would be able to finish the next dish, too. Spaghetti all’ amatriciana, one of my favorites.
I managed to stuff all of it down and by the end of it I quite frankly felt sick – but I knew I’d feel great in the morning with my glycogen storages replenished.


Day Four took me on a lot of climbing again. As I started going towards what seemed to be Montalcino, I looked onto my map and was extremely relieved to see that we wouldn’t have to climb into Montalcino. It’s a very nice town and great for wine tasting but high up on the mountain. Instead, the road turned left towards San Quirico d’Orcia and then Pienza.

Right before San Quirico I actually overtook a group of Italian guys – I STILL wasn’t last! The weather was beautiful but I had lost my sunscreen while going down some rocky slope (presumably). My arms started to become a little red but I wasn’t worried yet. Of course I had forgotten my sun sleeves back home. Who needs sun sleeves in May… in Italy? Well, fair colored blond girls.
Pienza looked beautiful from afar and for once I got there faster than I’d thought.

Past Pienza, the day’s longest climb began towards Radicofani. For once this was a climb I could deal with: on the road, not too steep, going on forever. I had gotten used to this kind of climbing last year, though this one was steeper than most passes in the Rocky Mountains and the MTB tires didn’t help. I stopped for a quick stretch next to Castiglione, another village we didn’t have to go through. It did look beautiful with the olive trees in front of it.

Once into Radicofani, I made for the public fountain and drank my fill. It was time to find something to eat and to plan the rest of the day. In the early afternoon, everything was closed, the village looked positively deserted – finally, no tourist hordes, which was mostly because it wasn’t the weekend anymore.
One bar was open and had some very basic pizza slices available. I ate three of them.

I met an Italian couple there that I’d been leapfrogging with for the last few days. The group of guys I had met earlier in the day passed there just as I set off again, too. Downhill we went, but not on the asphalt for long – there’s always some sort of turnoff onto a gravel road. This annoyed me most when going downhill. Alas, this one was steep and I stood on my brakes again.
All in all, the riding wasn’t bad that day. I rarely (not never) had to get off and push. My heels were thankful. They were raw by now.
My skin was starting to suffer. My arms had turned alarmingly red and I started to really feel it. Sunburn is a dangerous thing and not to be taken too lightly, but there was nothing I could do. I couldn’t wear my long sleeve jersey, I would have gone up in flames from the heat – so I tried my best to ignore it.
More mountain villages were on the agenda today. I’d been to all of them before. Sorano, in a spectacular setting built right into the mountainside, was first, and I lay down near the fountain for a little while to cool down and think about everything.

For the first time since Day One, I felt like I could do this. In my head I was doing calculations. Depending on how far I got today, I could surely finish tomorrow, staying within 4 days and a couple of hours.
Right now it would still be possible to finish in under 4 days. I wasn’t more than 150km or so from the finish. It looked like there was going to be a lot of downhill riding on that last stretch.
I decided to go on to Pitigliano, have dinner, and then decide what to do.

Despite a spell of climbing, I made it into Pitigliano before sunset – 120km into my day – but getting there was a cruel joke again. I could envision Andrea thinking “How can we make this a little less enjoyable?”. The road would’ve taken me into the town, but instead the route turned off onto a steep, winding, narrow path that was unrideable (for me, at least) and went past many caves that looked like good bivy spots if you weren’t scared of the dark.
After the winding path came the stairs, and once again I found myself lifting my bike up stairs. I couldn’t even be mad anymore, I just laughed. It was so ridiculous that I literally burst out laughing.
Sweat was running down my burned arms that had become so hot and red you could’ve fried an egg on ’em.
I filled up at the fountain and then just walked through the empty down. It was too early for dinner yet and many restaurants were occupied by couples having a sundowner.
Finally I did find a restaurant that looked way too nice for the way I was dressed, but I didn’t care. The prices were touristy but it looked great.
I thoroughly enjoyed crostini, tagliatelle with wild boar sauce and tiramisu (for the first time on this trip!). It felt like a king’s dinner.
The only problem was – my arms were REALLY hurting now and I didn’t know whether to go on into the night, find a bivy spot past town or find accommodation in Pitigliano.

It took me a long while to decide. I wandered around looking for hotels. By now it was almost 10pm and most receptions close around 9pm.
On the one hand, I had enough energy to keep on riding. It wouldn’t have been a problem to ride for a couple more hours. But then what? I didn’t have any food left in my bags except for a little bit of chocolate and there wasn’t anything open to buy food. Markus had said something about not finding a bivy spot on his final night which was somewhere past Pitigliano. I wasn’t too optimistic about climbing a lot more.
In the end, I found an Albergo and managed to get the hostess out of bed. She sounded a little upset over the intercom but once she saw that I was a girl, alone, with a bicycle, she immediately softened, gave a key to a room, collected my passport and went back to bed.

Honestly – I felt stupid. I was sitting in a hotel room when I could’ve gone on. In fact, I didn’t even feel like sleeping right away. Yes, I hadn’t seen the Tuscany Trail as a race from the start, but obviously I wanted to do it as well as I could and that night, I didn’t.
I had no idea yet that it would become clear on the next day that staying was a pretty good choice. I would have never made it to the finish at night.

In a feeble attempt to ease the pain I wrapped soaked towels around my arms, but it didn’t really do anything.
As I drifted off to sleep they were ablaze with pain.
During the night I woke up multiple times, feeling like I was on fire. That was a horrible pain. A sunburn like this is basically a first-degree burn wound and to have it all over your arms is just painful like hell. I’d try to re-wrap the towels and go back to sleep – there was nothing else I could do. I didn’t even have any moisturizer to calm the skin.

But enough – the night ended at some point and I thought I’d set off at 7am to make good use of my last day.
That wasn’t going to happen. The reception didn’t open until 8am, a detail I hadn’t asked for the night before. It’s standard procedure in Italy for the hotel to keep your passport, in the morning you pay and get it back.
So after having gotten ready to leave, I wandered around town looking for breakfast and at 8am sharp I badgered the receptionist into letting me pay right away so I could leave.


How to describe the final day?
Misery. Utter and complete misery. I’m really not complaining, I’m just telling it as it is. I’ve had plenty of cycling days that were miserable but still enjoyable in their own cruel way. This wasn’t one of them. I was just yearning to be done.
Since the last train to Massa would leave before 6pm I really needed to get a move on. For the most part, this wasn’t too hard – there were, in fact, quite a few downhills, even though those were often along steep paths that you couldn’t bomb down. Bummer.
Until Marsiliana I rode with my Berino jersey on – a crazy thing to do given the day’s heat but I could not bear the sunlight on my bare arms. It was only 11am or so when I made it to Marsiliana and found a store to buy sunscreen. Unfortunately I was stupid enough to buy factor 50 kid’s sunscreen which had mineral filters. Needless to say I slathered it on, and it hurt. The minerals hurt my skin so bad.
There wasn’t anything to do but grit my teeth and go on. Thanks to a tailwind for a couple of kilometers I was in Albinia, the last town before the lap of the island, in no time.
Another cruel joke almost made me break down: I passed a sign saying “Capalbio: 13km”… Capalbio was the finish. I could have been there in half an hour.

Instead, I went straight into cycling hell.

Even getting onto the peninsula was arduous. A never-ending road with plenty of traffic. Then, the sea appeared and I briefly felt happy to be there.
That feeling didn’t last for very long.
It’s a beautiful peninsula and the road wound its way through villages. I talked to Markus on the phone who decided to drive down from Massa and pick me up – that was a relief for sure, now at least I wouldn’t have to worry about not making the train. Still I had to hurry. He would take about three hours to drive. When he said “oh, you’re still on the asphalt?” I had this sense of foreboding.
Had he told me what lay ahead, I think I would’ve just turned around.

We weren’t actually going to go around the peninsula per se, we were going through the peninsula and apparently summiting every peak it had in store – on the steepest, rockiest paths on all of the trip.
I don’t have many words to describe these hours in the mountains. The wind was so strong it pushed me down a couple of times (and once into a road barrier, I had to dismount and walk into the wind). I not only had to push uphill but downhill, too.
The vistas were amazing, but I had a hard time appreciating them.
Once the highest point was done with, I felt incredibly strong. Then it just went downhill from there.. no, not literally, just my feelings.
Push down, push up, sometimes so steep my cleats would slip on the rocks and all that kept me from falling was grabbing my bike’s brakes.
I didn’t take many pictures. There was no time for it. I texted my husband telling him that my water was empty and that according to the map I had a long way to get out of these mountains yet.
This was true. I hadn’t filled up my water in a long time in an attempt to stop as little as possible. In hindsight, it was stupid not to stack up on everything because getting onto the peninsula, but I hadn’t done my route research and didn’t know what the last kilometers were going to be like.

Fortunately, at a point where I’d already began to stumble and feel weak and slightly disoriented, a spring appeared out of nowhere. I’m glad I didn’t miss it. At that point I couldn’t have cared less about the water quality. The water was flowing, I hadn’t seen any livestock, there was a bottle next to it and it tasted great.

I drank as much as I could get down, filled up my bottles and continued the struggle.

The feeling of relief when I finally made it out of the mountains and onto a paved road (…to then push up a 25% ascent) was huge. I was going to make it.

After that, I just bit down and gave it everything that was left in me.
At 5:45pm, I rolled up to the finish line where Markus and Alan were waiting for me. I had texted Markus a “5km-warning” so he knew when I would roll in. He took a couple of pictures and I dismounted my Fargo for the last time.
He bought me a beer and I sat down. Reveled in the feeling of accomplishment.

4 days and 8 hours. This was my Tuscany Trail.


Be your own windkeeper – riding the Trans Am Bike Race

I’ve shied away from writing up my experiences in the Trans Am 2014 for months now, mainly for two reasons: one, I’ve already written a detailed travel log in German and two, I tend to feel like my experiences are not as valid or important. I’m not included in any of the much-anticipated film coverage or in their pictures (even though I was the only other woman to finish aside from Juliana) and obviously coming in 10 days after the nearest placing person doesn’t exactly make it a photo finish. UPDATE: After finally seeing the movie I have to go back on that one. I WAS included. I got my 5mins of fame. And I didn’t even look too bad on my bike.
I did get a lot of recognition from people who’ve been following my story and my struggle – and I’m thankful for that.

However, I try putting this into perspective. 45 people set out in Astoria. Of those 45, only 25 finished the race. Many dropped out within the first week. Of those 25, only two were women, me included. The Trans Am was my first ever bicycle race and I had been sidelined with an Achilles injury for weeks before the start, which you can read all about in my post about failing in the World Cycle Race.
Considering a drop out rate of almost 45%, I feel pretty good about finishing the race! Some people dropped out because of injuries, some had mechanical issues, others couldn’t make ends meet with their time schedule and some found it quite simply too hard (there’s no shame in that).
I’m still insecure about my own “worth” as a cyclist, hence the preface – now let’s get to business, if you got this far, you probably really want to know what it’s like to cycle the Trans Am in slo-mo 😉 Watch out though, this is going to be a long one… and I switch back and forth between past and present tense, which I didn’t notice until the end. That’s a bit annoying, but just put it down to me not being a native speaker.

Disclaimer: I stole the idea of copying my Facebook statuses and commenting on them from Marcus Thompson, who finished in 15th place, taking 29 days. I met him briefly on the first day when 5 or so of us convened in a cafe in Manzanita to dry off and eat breakfast. After that I obviously never saw him again. I checked, he doesn’t mind me copying the idea. 

June 7th  – 100mi

When the sun finally came out the day got better… We are having a great time, currently lunching in Tillamook. It is amazing how far away the race leaders already are!

The first day was hard. As advertised we set off at 5am sharp, after Thomas Camero made a champagne toast. The film crew was already shooting their cast, Nathan made some last-minute announcements and then off we went. It started drizzling right away.
Tobi and I got separated early on. Lots of us had trouble finding the right route, the GPS track would constantly tell us we’re off route. I remember riding with Bruce Wylie and checking the map to see where we were supposed to go.. at some point we just decided to stay on the road we were on, which was the right choice.
I ended up finding Tobi, Anthony and Eric (I think) at a gas station in the first town we got to, Seaside. Got a quick coffee fix – as we hadn’t had a real breakfast – and then pushed on.

The beginning was much hillier than I had expected and truth be told, I wasn’t in any particularly good shape. But my tendons didn’t give me any issues and I worked through it.
I saw many of the other racers on that day, had breakfast with a couple of them in Manzanita. In the cafe we checked on Trackleaders and saw just how fast the leaders were opening up a gap.

160km, 1500m climbing. Dipped our wheels into the Pacific Ocean, now at our first campsite in Pacific City. Enjoyed the spa pool… Now FOOD!!

At the end of the day, we arrived in Pacific City. But not without trouble first: Tobi’s seatpost clamp broke. I’ve now learned that this is not an uncommon problem. Juliana had it, Marcus had it, I had it in the WCR… well, we weren’t anywhere near a bike shop. I cycled ahead to Pacific City (it happened a couple miles before town) to check whether there’s a bike shop. I asked around but all they could tell me was that there is an ACE Hardware store. Better than nothing. I headed there and asked for help.
The nice guy ended up drilling through his seat clamp and fixing a bolt with a wing nut to it. Not perfect, but it held.
We found a campground that had an indoor spa pool and a restaurant next door, didn’t hesitate to pay 35$ for it. Relaxing in the pool felt amazing.
Cynthia was staying in town and we texted with her, but I think she decided to have an actual breakfast the next day instead of getting up at 5am like we were planning to.

June 8th – 130mi

We’re in Corvallis eating burritos and stocking up on water. 150km done, but since it is all straight with a tailwind to Eugene we’re doing another 60km. It was baking hot today with lots of climbing, but we feel great.

Pushing to Corvallis was a chore. It got super hot during the day and the hills (yes, I had no idea that these were just hills, not proper climbs) were killing me. Tobi had to go all out to make it to Corvallis in time before the bike shop closed.
They fitted his bike with a new bolt – they didn’t have seat clamp that would fit I think – and tightened it to 8nm or something – and advised him to simply not change his position ever again. Luckily, Tobi had a professional bike fit before the race and marked the seatpost, so it wasn’t going to be necessary to change it (hopefully).
After the fix, we had dinner with Jason Stephens, who we had continued to meet at rest stops. We decided to push on towards Eugene since it was starting to cool off and the guys at the bike shop promised a beautiful road.

They weren’t wrong. I flew along this stretch while Tobi’s batteries were drained. I did a 27km/h average on this road, completely nuts. When I finally found the Armitage County Park in the dark I set up camp and had a snack of tuna and pasta salad while waiting for him. We fell asleep quickly and set the alarm for 5am again.

June 9th – 94mi

Had a great day yesterday doing 210km in 9hrs. Slept until 6 and are having breakfast after only 13km but we feel great. Muscles a bit tight but all tendons and joints are happy. McKenzie Pass today, aiming for Sisters tonight.

Well, as above.
I started feeling muscle soreness, but everything else was fine. I had no idea what McKenzie Pass would be like. I was about to find out. In retrospective I didn’t practice climbing nearly enough. Big mistake.

What a tough slog up up McKenzie Pass. It took us hours. But we didn’t give up and made it to Sisters. Will do only around 100km tomorrow as we have to visit the bike shop. Achilles is still excellent!

McKenzie Pass almost broke my spirits. We got to McKenzie Bridge late in the afternoon and had a big lunch. Then we stocked up on extra water and food and started up the mountain. I thought it was going to take a couple of hours, but five hours? Yes, it took me five whole hours to climb that beast. A few times I had to get off, and two times I bonked hard. The road started to sway before my eyes and I almost threw up. Instead, I sat down on the ground, ate a Clif Bar, drank some Gatorade, and waited for the world to become less wobbly. Then I got back on.
We talked for a long while on the way up. About all kinds of things, just not about how freakin’ hard this was. It helped take my mind off the fact that my thighs were exploding.
At least my tendon held up. It was one of my biggest worries going into the race.

I don’t have fond memories of Sisters, but that’s mainly because I was a crybaby and Tobi was cheap that night. Jason got a hotel room, Cynthia got a hotel room, and we slept in the city park. Yes, it was (almost) free, but I was longing for a shower and a bed so much. However, the CFO put his foot down and led the way to the park. I was seriously upset.
It didn’t help much that my mattress was losing air.
Oh well. In the end, I got a decent night’s sleep and there was a shower there, too.

June 10th – 38mi

The best part about Sisters was breakfast. We finally refueled while Tobi’s bike was in the shop. To be honest, in hindsight it was plain stupid for him not to really know his bike. He’d only purchased it a couple months before and only ridden it for a couple hundred km, if even that. He didn’t know how the disc brakes worked and it had never been in the shop I think. Yes, it was naive – now we know better. It had started creaking and making all kinds of other noises, plus the rear brake actually stopped working on McKenzie Pass.
It took two shops to figure out the brake (which is actually not an uncommon one – Shimano BR-CX77) and then the second shop managed to put a rear rack on his bike, too.
By then it was noon and we set off.

Only 60km today in dry, hot crosswinds. What a horrible road from Sisters to Prineville! Since it is 5pm and there are literally no services between here and Mitchell which is 85km and a mountain pass away, we are calling it a day and taking advantage of the time to wash our nasty clothes and get up real early to hit the pass before 8am. Getting up super early is so much better than riding late, me thinks…

Yeah, that road was ridiculous. Escaped near death a couple of times.
We sat in the McDonalds in Prineville and quite a few weirdos came over and talked to us.

Did I really write that getting up super early is better than riding late?? I must’ve been trying to convince myself of that.. I HATE getting up early, no matter the reason. Tobi LOVES getting up early. Seriously though, I can’t believe I publicly wrote this.

June 11th – 115mi

Baking hot today after a freezing 5am start. 140km done, heading for Mount Vernon 40km away – if I don’t fall off my bike. 

It really WAS freezing at 5am, and there was no breakfast to be found. We had bought some things the night before and breakfast consisted of chocolate milk and crackers. Overall the food situation was mostly horrible. It isn’t exactly ideal for performance or recovery to go to bed without dinner or start out without breakfast. We did both of these things quite a few times.

Ochoco Pass was on that day. I actually liked that one. Pretty gradual and it wasn’t too hot or cold.

This was lunch in Mitchell. We made it almost 180km to Mount Vernon where we were unexpectedly met by Christy who took us to her Bike Inn. Enjoying towels and a futon couch, Awesomeness!

Mitchell, oh Mitchell. A cute town, great food, peculiar locals. The pass after Mitchell – Keye’s Creek Pass – was horrible, so horrible. It was buuuurning hot and there was no shade anywhere. I really struggled on this one.
When we arrived in Mount Vernon, Christy found us and took us back to her Inn. There were some microwaveable food things and we ate most of them since there wasn’t any restaurant open anymore.

June 12th – 90mi

Woke up with a splitting headache and severe neck pain at 3am this morning – not from cycling, my very picky back didn’t agree with the futon. Had to resort to prescription painkillers and still cycled in pain for two hours. Then climbed three consecutive mountain passes, after which we battled into the meanest, most frustrating headwind I’ve ever witnessed. Bollocks! Splurged on a motel for the first time. Today wasn’t fun at all (except for the sweeping descents maybe) but I’m still glad to be here and doing this.

Oh god, this was a truly horrible day.
I don’t have a very bulletproof body, I have arthritis and a ton of other issues with my joints. My back tends to be picky about sleeping surfaces. On top of this, I always (!) sleep with an open window, even in the coldest winter, because otherwise I get a headache – guaranteed.
The futon was super hard and we kept the windows closed because of the dinosaur-sized mosquitoes. Well.. mistakes happen.

I actually cried from the pain, it was so unbearable. Tobi woke me up at 4:45am after packing up most of our stuff to let me rest a little more but then we had to leave. I took the strongest painkillers I carried (for emergencies like this), Novalgin, which unfortunately is a mild muscle relaxant as well. But this was my only choice.
For the first few hours, every little bump in the road split my head open.

The three passes after Mount Vernon aren’t horrible, but they are horrible when you’ve taken a muscle relaxant. Truth be told, I shouldn’t have been on the road like this. We were lucky that there wasn’t a whole lot of traffic.
Coming into Baker City the wind almost blew us backwards, so even though it was slightly downhill, it was extremely tough going.
We checked into a motel, did our laundry and then the real fun began.

No restaurants were open so we went to a bar that basically had fried foods they could prepare. Fine, better than no food.
While we were in the bar, we received a message from Jason. He’d continued past Baker City, and then his chain broke.. along with his chain tool! What misfortune. We tried finding someone who could pick him up but we were sitting in a bar.. none of these people could still drive. I realize now that helping him would have been a break of the rules, but honestly, at that moment we didn’t even think about that.
In the end, Jason managed to hitchhike back to Baker City. He would have to wait until 10am the next day until a bike shop opened. It was unfortunate for him, but it meant that there was a chance of seeing him again.

June 13th – 110mi

Day 7 was so much better! My body is really starting to catch up – muscles aren’t really sore anymore, no problems sitting in the saddle all day. We did 175km with 1750m of climbing today, got chased by thunderstorms, battled into fierce headwinds in Hells Canyon and climbed out of the canyon in the rain. Then raced down Brownlee Mountain HARD to make it to the only restaurant in town open and made it with 5mins to spare, luckily they still fed us. Got the very last motel room in ‘town’ and took a hot shower. Another long day ahead, but it is really starting to be fun! Frankly I am amazed that it is going this well. I barely trained after my Achilles injury and gained 5kg after the World Cycle Race, and Tobi, well, he rode about 800km in total in preparation for the race since he didn’t have any time at all. I’m pretty sure we were right not to go out too hard in the beginning, now we can build up on our mileage… 

Ohh, sleeping in a hotel for the first time was glorious! My body had started to adapt, which was great.
It was a crazy day. We met a couple of touring cyclists in Hell’s Canyon and I cycled along one of them, John, for a while. He told me about his former job as a Helicopter instructor and I told him about the race.
At some point in Hell’s Canyon there were people on the side of the road cheering for me! They actually said “Go Francesca!” – that was crazy! I didn’t stop, I was too confused to think of that, but it spurred me on for a long time.

We met Mike Norman at the Idaho border, which is right at the dam. He ended up overtaking us at some point, I think it was halfway up the pass when we stopped at the last place to get food. There, we asked about restaurants in Cambridge and the lady called to check their opening times. We had crossed not only a state border but also into a new time zone and subsequently lost an hour. Damn.
Mike set off and we did, too, into the rain.

Racing down that mountain was great fun in a way. Tobi was a bit knackered to I went for it. I had no idea whether Mike would make it, so I gave it my all, I REALLY wanted hot food that night!

The diner was still open and I saw Mike’s bike leaning against it. He had arrived there only 5mins before me. The lady was extremely nice and said that she’d been feeding racers all week.
We ended up getting the last hotel room available in town.

June 14th – 100mi

Cold morning, late start, long climb. But then on the long descent from New Meadows the sun came out – all better! Since everything is booked up here in Riggins we will have to continue past Lucile to camp. I was already looking forward to sleeping for more than 5 hours for once but at least we’ll get our 100 miles done.

It took forever to get going. We were at breakfast at 7am sharp but the cook was new and alone and food didn’t appear for a long time. This really is one of the things where you lose time. I wouldn’t do it like this again.

We leapfrogged with Mike on that day. In Riggings, we found out that everything was booked since it was Steelhead fishing season. My maps were a little outdated and Mike’s map listed a B&B a bit past Lucile. He called there and they told him they didn’t have rooms but would let him sleep in the office.
Since we weren’t sure that would work out for all of us, we decided to just find a spot to camp.

So we cycled out of Riggins and just before the 160km mark we found a hotel, Steelhead Inn, which wasn’t on the map. They had no rooms but are letting us sleep in the office with access to a shower, washing machines and breakfast tomorrow morning for a reduced rate. Mike, Tobi and I are enjoying it and we are hoping that Jason might make it here, too…

The lady at the B&B was very nice. It still cost something like 50$ I think, but for the three of us. Tobi was hesitant (seriously!) but I convinced him.
We took turns showering and doing the laundry. Jason didn’t make it and camped somewhere before Riggins.

June 15th – 110mi

Having coffee in Kooskia, being chatted up by a young chap just out of High School. Got a quick overview of the type of deer in Idaho. He’s excited to hunt Black Bears tomorrow. And you’re finally allowed to hunt wolves in Idaho! Oh, America, your hillbilly backcountry makes me bite my tongue so hard…

One of my favorite days on the whole trip! This was the day we climbed those switchbacks to Grangeville. It looked quite intimidating on the map, but to be honest, it was one of the nicest climbs. Mostly gradual switchbacks instead of the typical American direct ascent, and we met a woman (Hetty) with her two horses who was riding the Nez Pearce Heritage trail.
Kooskia was a strange town. But we got coffee and a piece of cake for under 5$ in the weirdest little cafe. The server was really obsessed with talking to us. As a European, I’m not excited by people hunting black bear and wolves. The obsession with guns eludes me. We politely listened and got on out of there.

The day’s end was in Lowell. We play our favorite game: Tobi is knackered and I have to sprint ahead to secure dinner. Gender roles reversed? In any case, Mike was in Lowell way before me. We had called ahead to book rooms since there was basically one place to stay there.
Jason ended up catching up and sharing a room with Tobi and me. Again, I guess we broke the rules: I had the foresight to buy a sandwich for Jason since we saw on the tracker that he wasn’t going to make it in time for dinner.

June 16th – 85mi

Cold, wet, wet and wet day. Made it to Lochsa Lodge after 66mi and warmed up a little, then pressed on to Lolo Pass. I was shivering and my hands froze to the brakes upon descending in the pouring rain, but then we were at Lolo Hot Springs where we had a room booked… Niiice! Still not pumped about this rain, will lose some more time since we are going into Missoula tomorrow. I don’t really care though, back here we are more about the fun and making friends!

We didn’t really want to leave the hotel! Actually, Mike was a little disappointed that we were actually going to leave instead of sitting out the rain 😉 But he was the best prepared with full rain gear and everything. We were jealous.
The sun came out a few times but mostly it was just miserable and cold. The Lochsa Lodge was a lifesaver! I stumbled in (to find Mike already there of course), tried to dry off my legs a little bit and ordered a Hot Chocolate. There was a gas fireplace going and we all tried to dry our socks a little bit. Tobi and Jason arrived a little later and we had lunch.
The weather wasn’t going to get any better and we didn’t fancy camping in the cold rain. The lady in the Lodge called the Lolo Hot Springs Lodge (which is where Billy Rice stayed while waiting for his replacement bike) to ask about rooms. They were super expensive. We still booked two.
The pass actually wasn’t too bad, it would have been nice without the near-freezing rain. It was close to zero degrees celsius and actually started to snow during the night.
Descending was oh so horrible. I couldn’t feel my hands anymore. I have literally never been this cold in my life. We arrived at the Lodge shivering, I could barely talk or walk and had to pry my fingers off the brake levers. Brrrr. Got into the room, jumped in the shower, put my bathing suit on and ran over to the indoors pool. Those hot springs were a lifesaver, too… My skin burned when I went in but I simply waited.
Later we bought some frozen pizzas from the lodge. As always – better than nothing. It was too late to go have dinner at the restaurant.

June 17th – 40mi

After falling short on mileage two days in a row (only slightly), we went for the ultimate sin and only did 40mi today, going into Missoula. Had our picture taken at the ACA HQ (plus free drinks, ice cream, WiFi etc.), bought some awesome panniers for Tobi, then headed on to REI to get some leg warmers for myself. Staying in a fancy hotel on bonus points and only doing 65mi to Darby tomorrow – instead of getting caught on the passes with 100% chance of snow, we will sit it out and wait for Thursday for which the forecast is great, sunny and dry! Plenty of time to make up for it – this is a marathon, not a sprint!

Got up, made do-it-yourself waffles, descended into Lolo. That was sort of nice, but still freezing. We then went to Missoula – none of us wanted to miss the ACA Headquarters and I really wanted to go to REI and buy some warmer things.

While we were all sitting at the ACA HQ, using the Wifi, eating ice cream, we decided to stay in town and refuel. Tobi managed to book a hotel room for all of us using bonus points and we did laundry in town. Ate a ton of food, cycled to REI without our luggage to get some things. Tobi switched his stuff to panniers.

We looked at the reports of people ahead of us. There were a few people ahead of us by only 1-2 days – Jason Woodhouse, Paul Gildersleeve, Angeline Tan and her friend, Derek Wilson. They all reported snow on the next pass. The forecast didn’t look promising: 2-4inches of snow the next day. But the day after it said sunny and dry, so we made the executive decision to NOT get caught in the snow! I would’ve made that decision even if we had been “racing properly”. It doesn’t make sense to put yourself in danger and lose time because you can’t really keep going in the snow.

June 18th – 65mi

Cycled from Missoula to Darby today – 100km uphill in 4:30h. Nice leg stretcher! Camping tonight – only wussies stay in hotels each and every night, I say! Tomorrow is going to be a long day, but the weather forecast is great. Racing for me isn’t about who can endure the most hardcore conditions, it is about being smart! 

Yeah well, I only wrote that because I WISHED I could have stayed in a hotel every night 😉 Camping there wasn’t too bad though.
Dinner was in a nice cafe and I had pizza. Jason chose the chicken strips. It was not a good choice.

June 19th – 75mi

A few pictures from today – Darby to Jackson Hot Springs. Great weather and Chief Joseph pass was actually quite easy despite looking intimidating on paper, or maybe I’m just getting stronger? Anyway, a good day! In Wisdom the lady at the only restaurant spoke German to us – she’s from Frankfurt! Small world! Absolutely loving the scenery here, I hope one day I can afford to stay at a Ranch around here and go horseback riding all day long.

We got up early, left without breakfast and decided to have breakfast the first chance we saw.
Mike left a little later (he had stayed in a hotel) and Jason also set off a little after Tobi and I.
This was a tough day – mostly for Jason. Apparently the chicken strips did not sit well and he became sick. We didn’t know this until we were waiting at the tiny restaurant in Sula (the last place to get food before Chief Joseph Pass) and Mike came along telling us that Jason had been sick and told him to go ahead.
We all waited for Jason. It was the only right thing to do. He had had so many misfortunes already, it would’ve just been wrong to leave him alone.

Jason was crushed and you could see that it was bad. We stayed with him until he felt better and told us to go ahead.

We all arrived in Wisdom within 1,5hrs or so of each other. Jason was better and we were all happy to be back together. The people I met really made the race special.

In Jackson Hot Springs, there’s a lodge that has a hot pool and a bar and you can camp behind it for pretty cheap. That’s what we did, it was a nice lawn. Towels were provided – always awesome – and the hot water was great for our sore bodies.

June 20th – 94mi

Saw this storm approaching and decided to sit it out rather than getting drenched and caught out in lightning on a flat section without shelter… Seems we made the right call, it is all around us now but moving fairly quickly.

Jason’s troubles continue: his rear wheel is acting up. There’s a bike shop of sorts in Dillon so we ride there and have lunch. He had to stay in Dillon to meet the shop owner at 4pm. We sat out a big thunderstorm at a McDonald’s. The storm almost caught us, but it moved over us while we were sipping coffee and afterwards we just trailed it.

The road past Dillon is pretty horrible and we were on it in rush hour. Not a great idea. Jason ended up getting run off the road and injuring his knee and ankle. While Mike, Tobi and I cycled to Alder which had a campground, Jason stayed behind in Twin Bridges. He dropped out the next day. We were sad to see him go.

June 21st – 97mi

No Facebook post that day. We cycled to West Yellowstone, which was a fairly hard day.
On our way, we meet Joanna from Australia. Most of the people who are reading this will know that Joanna was a cross-country cyclist who got killed in a car crash just a few hundred miles from her goal, Washington D.C. She was riding a heavenly laden bike and doing it on the cheap. She walked up most of the hills because her bike was too heavy to ride.
She asked us about camping in West Yellowstone and we told her that the town was pretty much booked up. This was true, we had secured a last-minute tent spot in an RV park. The other option was a campground about 20mi or so before town and we didn’t want to fall short that much. We told Joanna where we would be camping in case she wanted to join us.

She did show up at 11pm. Most of us were already asleep but Tobi was on “dryer duty” and met her.

June 22nd – 94mi

Still no Facebook post. No Wifi.
Cycled across Yellowstone park (which includes three passes across the Continental Divide, I had no idea!). I’ve been there in a car, on a bicycle it is horrible. Bad, bad roads with no shoulder, huge RVs, people stopping for wildlife sightings without a warning and a lot of climbing.
We managed to dodge a thunderstorm, just ran into a lodge when it suddenly started pouring. Whew!

Ended the day in Colter Bay. Tobi stayed a bit behind because he had a puncture, and as always he sent me ahead to scout for food and beer. Mike and I found a nice restaurant a bit above our budget, but decided to go for it. It was right by the campground and we weren’t going to eat convenience store food again.
Instead, I got pasta and Tobi arrived only half an hour later or so.

I managed to lose my wallet in the parking lot, but would only find out the next day.

June 23rd – 9mi (rest day)

Well, that day had some surprises in store.
I discovered in the morning that my wallet was missing. A disaster. I anxiously asked at the restaurant and I was lucky: the manager had found it in the parking lot in the morning. The cash was missing, but all my cards were still there. Really lucky!! Especially since I only had about 20$ in there.
Relieved we went for breakfast and set off.
Just a couple miles out of Colter Bay (up a hill of course, what else), we stopped at a scenic viewpoint. The weather was amazing. The Tetons looked their best. Tobi and I had visited Grand Teton National Park a couple years ago and absolutely loved it. I looked at those mountains longingly and told Tobi that I was a bit sad – I had originally planned to take a rest day here.

Well.. he told me that it wasn’t too late. I was shocked. Could this be the same guy that made me wake up at 5am every day and was always complaining that we weren’t doing enough miles?
It was tough to split up from Mike and we promised to try and catch him again. With a sad wave we watched him go, but we were excited to get a rest.
We cycled to “our” campground (Signal Mountain), which is on the Jackson Lake spur. The campground has a new convenience store next to it that carries beer, coffee, food, everything you could ask for. Found an awesome biker/hiker site, set up camp, slept for a while, ate a lot of greek yoghurt (for those poor muscles), then went to buy chips, ice cream and beer.

I’m going to spare you the details because they’re kind of private, but on that beautiful lake with the Tetons looming behind us, Tobi pulled out a diamond ring and proposed to me.
That beer almost slipped out of my hand and I was truly, honestly surprised. How did I not find a RING in our meagre luggage? Genius that he is he hid it in a 10 Euro-bill that he knew I had no reason to touch.

Well, the evening was quite awesome and we celebrated over dinner at the lodge.

Definitely *the* best day on the ride. Obviously.

June 24th – 140mi

Getting up is much easier when you’re floating on a cloud.. We went to conquer Togwotee Pass! This was definitely an awesome day.
The pass is harmless when you’ve just had a rest day and the weather is nice. It was quite fun. Might have been the diamond ring talking.
We hadn’t told anyone yet and I tried sending a text message to my friend Christina. Every time I hit “send” (while leaning on the aerobars climbing a mountain), the reception would go away. Nerve-wracking!

It isn’t easy going to Lander because of very little refueling stops. Had to resort to Clif Bars and pre-packaged sandwiches. The only reason we *really* want to make it is because that’s where Mike is staying.
Plus, we get caught out in a bad thunderstorm. On a high plateau with nothing around us – no trees, no high structures of any kind – that is dangerous. When it moves right above us we have to resort to lying the bikes on the road and hunkering down in a ditch until  the storm passes. A driver actually stopped and told us to get off our bikes immediately.
After that, we make for Lander, our longest day yet. We get there by 10pm and Tobi checks out whether there’s a bike shop. There is one but it won’t open until 10am. However, there is someone inside and Tobi is obnoxious enough to knock… Ed actually agrees to service his bike. So kind of him. I’m pissed because all I want it go eat and find a hotel.
He straightens out Tobi’s wheels and even gives my drivetrain a clean and tune-up.
When it’s all done, all the restaurants including McDonald’s have closed 🙁 Bummer. We resort to gas station burritos (yuck) and end up sleeping on Mike’s hotel room floor since our tent is completely wet from taking cover in the storm.

June 25th – 130mi

The last two days were a big push to Rawlins, doing 220 and 210km. Last night I broke through ‘The Wall’ for the first time, covering the last 50km in 1:45h despite a climb (and the rest of the day wasn’t exactly flat either). I thought of what Juliana said when I trained with her in Italy: climbing never gets easier, you only go faster. So I put my head down and pushed beyond the pain to the land of effortlessness. It was amazing. Today, I got to sleep in because we’re watching the Germany-USA game! Go Germany!!!

Yep, the push to Rawlins. Another amazing day. First we broke the news to people at home, then started out really late. Still covered a lot of ground. Totally got into the zone. Had to race into town to make it to McDonald’s a minute before they close. Phew. Shared a hotel room with Mike (who was already there of course).

June 26th – 62mi

Riverside, WY after the worst headwinds ever. Found a lovely cabin for the three of us and thought we’d totally earned a beer or two, luckily this hamlet of 56 inhabitants has a really nice bar/restaurant. Like my tanline? I need to get new shorts since mine are too big now… Might go for shorter ones next time, get a new line going.

Gusts up to 40mph. Sustained headwinds of about 25mph. Lovely! This day was a true struggle.
Luckily we all agreed to cut the day short and share a cabin on a campground.

June 27 – 110mi & June 28th – 100mi

Yesterday was ridiculous. Such strong headwinds, such bumpy roads, I yelled aloud in frustration. Add to this that my legs are weary, the thunderstorms and hail we got stuck in and the 2800m pass and you’ve got one hell of a day, we still did 177km though. 

Today isn’t much better. Hot sun, traffic, tired legs and the highest pass of the entire route. Had a slow flat 5km out of Silverthorne and decided to walk it as I’d used the last fresh inner tube on my first flat – yesterday. We’ll probably be a couple more hours to the summit and then get to Fairplay in the dark… Again… Another big push to Pueblo tomorrow. I’m longing for a good day to remind me why I’m doing this. It isn’t particularly fun right now.

My legs had started to be really weird. I basically couldn’t really stress my quads anymore, they just didn’t respond. I took electrolytes, ate well, stretched,.. nothing helped. I taped my thighs which helped a little bit at least.
The slog against the wind, the cracks in the road, it just plain sucked. I couldn’t even listen to music because the headphones kept falling out from the wind. We all rode far away from each other (we mostly did actually), so to each his/her own battle. We got stuck in hail once, which really hurt, and climbed an annoying pass (Willow Creek).

Climbing Hoosier Pass almost broke me again. I remember sitting in Breckenridge, crying. I basically pulled myself up hills with my calves by that point. Tobi gave me a little pep talk and convinced me to not stay in Breckenridge and instead go over that stupid pass. I ate Peanut Butter M&Ms all the way up. The altitude is crazy. I couldn’t stand up to pedal. The switchbacks become really steep close to the top, about 15% on the inside. I also couldn’t drink water while riding. Exhausting! When we arrived on the stop, I was truly, incredibly relieved.
We couldn’t get cell phone reception to see whether Mike had found a hotel for a long time, but when we got to the first town it finally worked and we found out he had a room in Fairplay with a second bed for us. Yay!

June 29th – 130mi

Despite what the tracker says, we’re in Pueblo, halfway across the USA! Good day today, 7:30hrs net riding time for 200km – well okay, a lot of it was downhill, too. We had a very long lunch break in Cañon City to try and wait until it got a bit cooler – but it was still almost 40 degrees celsius when we took off again. Ran out of water, which was rather painful – lesson learned! May take a slow day tomorrow, my legs are sore and I need to buy new shorts – mine are too big now!

My tracker stopped working around Breckenridge. I had changed the batteries and that’s what did it. So I took lots of photos and updated FB as often as I could.

It was a good day, fast riding, but some hard uphills, too. I had to walk them. My legs were done, the muscles simply didn’t respond.
In Cañon City, we caught up to the heat – 40 degrees celsius and more – and waited indoors for quite a while. Getting to Pueblo was then not too hard, but we ran out of water. Should’ve taken every opportunity to fill those bottles!
We had booked a hotel with bonus points and it was slightly off route, so we had to cycle a couple miles into the wrong direction. However, the hotel was worth it. Thanks to being a Platinum (or whatever) status member of that chain, we got upgraded to a Suite. A living room, huge bedroom, kitchen. Amazing.
I think all of us were like “are we really only going to spend the night?” and discussed right away whether it would be a good place to take a rest. We decided for it and Tobi went ahead and secured the room for another night.

June 30th – rest day

Rest day today to prepare legs and mind for the long haul across Kansas. It is 40 degrees celsius outside and we’re of course watching the GER-ALG game… What a nailbiter!!

We watched all the football games Germany played – except for the semi-final (of all games…) which we couldn’t catch. This cost us a considerable amount of time. I’m still glad we did.

After sleeping in (only waking to eat the complementary breakfast) we each did our thing: Tobi cleaned out our stuff, I cycled to a bike shop to buy new shorts, Mike did nothing. We all went to swim in the pool at some point and wrote a few E-Mails.

July 1st – 115mi

So the SPOT tracker won’t even work when hooked up to a USB source, sorry guys. We are currently in Tribune, KS. Flat roads are definitely an interesting change. You can see the next town’s grain elevator from many miles away and the road shimmers in the heat. Looks like we dodged another storm and the greatest heat by taking a day off in Pueblo, still Tobi takes UV defense measures like a red-haired person has to and I enjoy my new sunsleeves, too (and my new awesome shorts). Strength is up and we are making fairly good time, despite that whole lie that there is a ‘prevailing wind from the west’. Trying to make it to a nice place for Fourth of July. (…and the GER-FRA game)

What a shock to ride flat roads. Hadn’t seen any in a while. The first few hours were amazing. Then it started to heat up – and become boring. My legs started working again.
We never did experience that “prevailing westerly wind”.
We sent away some stuff – down vests and such – a little past Pueblo. It was just easier to go to a post office in a small town. There’s one every couple of miles.

Cycling past all the feedlots was horrible. Mainly because Cheeseburgers are one of the only options for food around here. At home I usually only buy organic meat. I can’t fathom how Nathan did this on a vegan diet. I think I would’ve starved.

It is only 6pm when we reach Eads and Tobi wants to push on, but there aren’t any options for food or camping for the next 50mi. So we stay.

July 2nd – 105mi

Kansas – I got blessed twice today… I said ‘Thank You’ like a polite person. I don’t want them to run me over with their harvest machines later. 

I’m an atheist and riding in the bible belt confronted me with religion a lot. Oh well. I got over it.

It was hot riding on the SAME FREAKING ROAD ALL DAY LONG. I’m not even kidding. You stay on SR96 for 500mi or so. It’s really really hard to get lost here.
We make it into Kansas early in the day. Finally! Another state! We had no idea how hard Kansas would be…

We share a hotel in Scott City and rest up for the next windy day.

July 3rd – 118mi

Made it 118mi to Larned, KS. Hot and windy during the day, then cool and pretty when it got dark. Fireflies lit up the fields but they also got caught in my hair and man, better keep your mouth closed at night. Yikes. Splurged on a motel room and are relaxing with a drink now. Sweeeet.

This year, I’m going to be doing a lot of night riding if the heat is as bad as last year. I loved the fireflies, but I didn’t have clear glasses (note: big mistake). We go by a really nice rest area in Alexander which would make an excellent overnight stop. There are picnic tables with roofs and an air-conditioned building with bathrooms and water. I’d definitely sleep in there.

July 4th – 56mi

Independence Day! No excuse not to pedal.
The wind is extreme today and really makes everyone’s day miserable. The heat does the rest. We watched a soccer game in the morning and started around noon.
All of these things combined lead to going off-route into Sterling. We enjoy a tailwind for 5 glorious miles and then settle at the City Park, which will have a big celebration and BBQ at night. The city officials are really nice and show us a good place to camp. We set up and wander around, drinking lemonade, eating fair food. Mike goes to call home, Tobi and I lie by the lake and become philosophical about America. The fireworks are nice. A good end to a bad day.

July 5th – 103mi

Good god, Newton Bike Shop is amazing! We were in dire need of some mechanical help and even though they weren’t planning on being open today they opened up the shop for us and are taking care of everything. Mike and Tobi are napping while I am trying to learn something. Also, thanks for the awesome blue dot watchers who came out to meet us in Hesston and Newton! In other news, we found a turtle on the road today that was way too big to pick up for fear of losing fingers. I had no idea there were so many turtles in Kansas!

Unfortunately, NBS couldn’t see us coming since my tracker was out and we didn’t read that they were planning to close on the 4th and 5th. We really didn’t think anything of it – we could’ve gotten a service at another town – but they came back from their trip to open up for us.
So after a great burger in Hesston we hauled ass to Newton. The shop was a great reprieve from the heat and I think Mike passed out on the bunk bed within 20mins of arriving. Tobi eventually did, too, and I stayed awake to talk to James.

They almost convinced us to stay, but we still had some juice left. So we continued to Cassoday which had a city park.
In Cassoday, while the park is pretty basic, we met a guy who let us shower in his home. I’m not sure whether I would’ve taken him up on that offer had I been a woman riding alone to be honest, but his grandkids were there and he was super nice. Even gave us beer while we took turns showering.

July 6th – 100mi

This morning we woke up to the gentle roar of motorcycles passing our peaceful park. We had breakfast with the crowd and then did a few side-windy hours into Eureka. By the time we were there it was 35 degrees and rising, and once we finished lunch and went back outside the 40 degree humid heat hit us like a baseball bat. None of us are great with heat so we went to the pool and took a nap in the shade. Finished up our 100 miles afterwards and it was a great 100k stretch really – the setting sun, cooler temps, fireflies, gently rolling hills… Now holed up in a cheap and run down motel in Chanute. Oh well, there is always something to complain about. 

There’s a big motorcycle thing once a month in Cassoday and it happened to be on the day we were there. It was fun to watch. Most of the bikers greeted us, too. They face many of the same problems as us on the road.

We cycled the Flint Hills. If James warns you about those hills and tells you that Kansas isn’t flat after all, don’t be afraid. They really are just hills. Just high enough to enjoy rolling down them. Plus, the scenery gets much better after Newton!

After lunch the heat was literally too much to bear. We couldn’t continue and it wouldn’t have been smart. The pool was okay. A little stinky and the loud music was ridiculous, but we still napped for a while and then pedaled on.
Couldn’t find any dinner in Chanute so we ate what we had (mostly crap). I’ve never been in such a run-down motel – not even in South America – but the sheets seemed clean so what the hell…

July 7th – 94mi

So, so hot. After a pleasant overcast morning it got so hot and humid I had to spray myself down with my water bottle which helps for, like, two minutes. Having a huge meal at a Chinese place in Pittsburg, KS – our last stop in Kansas. Tonight we will be sleeping in Missouri, finally! Just wait until the sun goes down, we’ll be flying again.

Missouri beckons! We rolled into Golden City after dark, filled up our water bottles at a local cafe that was already closed, and the found the city park. To our delight there is a shower. It is very basic, but it’s running water to wash away the grime and sweat.
A guy in an RV next to us warns us that there is a severe thunderstorm warning, so we set up camp right next to the huge gazebo. There are power outlets under the gazebo and we manage to set up everything in a way that our external batteries can charge over night without getting wet.

We should’ve just slept underneath the gazebo without the tent (ours isn’t free-standing) really.

July 8th – 85mi

Missouri is like the Rainbow Road in Mario Kart… Just without the shortcuts.
Braved a huge thunderstorm in the tent last night, it was crazy. The seams finally soaked through in the morning but we were lucky to be next to this huge gazebo. We road the rollercoaster for the rest of the day without any rain. It is fun but really hard on the knees. My Thermarest mattress is useless now, hoping to find a new one in Farmington the day after tomorrow.

That thunderstorm really was crazy, I don’t think I’ve ever experienced something like it. In the morning our sleeping bags started to get really wet and we rescued ourselves over to the gazebo. My sleeping mat popped during the night, so was now completely useless. An eventful night.
While Mike was still sleeping, we hauled over to Cooky’s Cafe in a break in the rain. Tobi got a haircut and beard trim at the Barber’s Shop next door while I ate all the pie I could. Really, eat pie at Cooky’s. You won’t regret it.

During the day, Germany plays against Brazil and wins 7-1. This of all games is the one we miss! We try to get updates online frequently and can’t believe our eyes when it’s already 4-0 the first time we check. Amazing!!!

We only cycled 85mi that day and found a hotel in Marshfield. That wasn’t easy. They weren’t bike friendly. The first hotel we tried told us we couldn’t take the bikes in the room – a no go. There was only one other hotel in town, a Holiday Inn, and we didn’t want to risk not finding anything, so the guys hid outside with the bikes and I – who had a jersey on that passes as a regular shirt – walked up to the front desk and asked for a double queen. Got a room, found the back door, stealthily carried our bikes into the room and then never left it again 😉

At this point the heat had really gotten to Mike and he was talking about taking a rest. That meant splitting up again but we couldn’t stay with him since our flight date was approaching…

One of the greatest things about this race is that it really makes you appreciate the small things. A decent shower, finding a bowl of pasta for dinner, sleeping in a comfy bed. Things we take for granted instead of being overjoyed every time. That and the amazing small-town hospitality are my favorite things so far. Never would I trade it in for a full-comfort, supported trip through big cities.

I really mean that. Of course that post had a reason. Angeline Tan, who had long since dropped out of the race (she decided on a more direct, easier route to the East Coast in Newton) did her race a little different than what the rules had in mind, including a film team with a van that trailed her. While she was posting about how much more fun cycling into big cities is, I discovered that what I really loved about the Trans Am was the tiny towns, the peculiar people, the hospitality almost everywhere we went. As long as we kept an open mind, other people did, too. Since I was lying in a comfortable bed at the time, it deep down made me appreciate that luxury.
I washed my hair twice that night 😉

July 9th – 112mi

Missouri is absolutely beautiful! Despite the fact that we haven’t found a single stretch of flat road we are really enjoying the ride here. 105km in the bag before lunch and luckily we asked the locals about a place to watch the game – good food coming our way and a big TV, too! If only we could have been here yesterday…

Mike stayed behind while Tobi drags me out of bed. Maaaan, I want to sleep in, too..

We want to watch the soccer match while waiting out the heat, so we find a place in Houston. It was a bit fancier than usual – but with our Berino jerseys we almost look civil 😉
Since our ultimate goal tomorrow is Farmington, it doesn’t really matter how far we get today. Still we cycle all the way to Eminence. I make the mistake of choosing a campground which is a 2mile ride down an unpaved road. Stupid. We regret that in the morning!

July 10th – 87mi

We made it to Farmington, MO today and I was immediately welcomed by Brian and Wayne in the bike shop. The hostel here is AWESOME and we are going for dinner in a few. Tomorrow, we leave Missouri again, I am kinda sad. Absolutely beautiful state, even though the climbing is hard as hell. Such nice people, too, and mostly really courteous drivers. 
We did get chased by quite a few dogs today, including a pack of them. Better get used to it, I heard it gets worse in Kentucky. 
I’m glad to finally be having fun again. This rocks.

The hills right out of Eminence are awful, but we found a good breakfast in town. The people in Eminence were lovely.
The scenery in Missouri was beautiful. It is the state I’m most looking forward to riding again, despite the hills.

Brian had tracker-stalked me and caught me on a corner looking for the bike shop. He took the time to hang out with me at the shop and take a picture. What a nice guy! It was great to be greeted on arrival, it always makes you feel so special when people actually come out because they want to meet you.
Tobi headed over to Al’s Hostel and secured a double room for us. That hostel is nothing short of amazing. Really. If you plan on taking a rest day, take it there!

At night, Wayne and his daughter took us out to dinner and I enjoyed a pasta feast. I wish I could’ve gotten pasta every night, but unlike in Europe where it’s really a staple and something you can order in every restaurant, in the American midwest it is somehow uncommon. Maybe if they planted less corn and more wheat…?

July 11th – 100mi

We stayed at Al’s Place last night which is a cyclists-only hostel run by the city of Farmington. Hands down the best place to stay on the route! So amazing. Comfy beds and couches, a laundry room, kitchen, bike storage and everything. All within walking distance to great restaurants, the best sticky buns ever and an honest-to-good coffee shop. Had my first latte since Astoria! We loved it so much we decided to spend the day and nap. Left late in the afternoon and are putting in a night shift today! Riding is awesome in the cooler temps and with an amazing full moon above us.

Yeah, as I said, Al’s Place is amazing.
We went to breakfast with Jane, who was cycling across America with her friends (the “Girls with Grit”, check them out on Facebook! Their trip was amazing!), and Wayne. First we were planning to just go ahead and leave, but then we saw that Mike was only two hours or so from Farmington and decided to stay for the day, rest up, eat, drink coffee, wait for Mike and then head out in the evening.

And that is exactly what we did. Mike arrived quite early on and went on over to the bike shop to finally get the correct chain on his bike again, and then we all slept. Started out around 6pm I think. It was amazing riding.
Tobi’s bike started acting out again just half an hour outside of Farmington and he decided to turn around and get it fixed since the next bike shop would be far away. We agreed to meet back up in the evening and keep in touch, and I gave him our maps, relying on Mike and my GPS.

We get to Chester in the dark and Tobi catches us. After the mandatory state sign – we cross into Illinois –  picture we looked for something to eat.

Mike does a massive day today but he feels good riding in the cooler dark. We eventually stop at a campground at some lake and set up camp at 4am.

July 12th – 50mi

We have a conundrum. We really want to – need to – watch the Soccer World Cup final. Germany is playing, there is no way around it. The issue is: where will we watch it?!

For today, our biggest issue is heat again. We woke up sweating in our tents and tried to cool down with the cold showers they had at the campground. There was nowhere to get food, so we cycled to the next town, Goreville. There, we find Delayne’s, a real Trans Am institution. They, like many other restaurants (and sometimes even gas stations) along the route have been keeping a journal since the 70s. They also take pictures of everyone. Under a glass plated table there are many of them, and to my amazement we discover a picture of Joff Summerfield, who has cycled around the world on a penny farthing and whom I met during the start of the World Cycle Race. It’s a small world.

The waitress at Delayne’s comes to our rescue concerning the Soccer match. She calls restaurants in Marion, KY, and actually finds a burger place that is willing to put it on for us! This means that tonight, again, it doesn’t matter where we stay, since Marion is not very far away from us.

In the evening, we got into Eddyville, where I ordered a pizza at the gas station that was about to close. The guys are nowhere to be seen yet (yes, often times I was ahead of at least one of them!) so I buy a couple of things. When they got in 10mins later, they immediately ordered another pizza and the lady from the gas station told us that there’s a campground in ‘town’. We decided to stay. Mike went ahead since Tobi had a flat, and we ended up camping in the campground’s “cowboy church”.

July 13th – 90mi

What a day! We crossed into Kentucky, Germany won the World Cup and we are staying at a church! We were making good time after setting off again at 6pm in Marion but right after we left Dixon we could see a huge lightning storm ahead of us. 20km later in Sebree we checked the radar and saw that it was headed for us. We were 26mi short of our goal but there happens to be a church that hosts cyclists in their youth center downstairs. The pastor took us over to his house to meet his wife and have some ice cream, our clothes are in the dryer and I had a fantastic shower. Looking forward to a good night’s sleep in the chilly basement. Outside it started pouring rain 30mins after we stopped so it was the right call. I never thought weather would be such a big factor on our journey!

Jeez, that game was exhausting. I sat on the edge of my seat the whole time.
The church in Sebree is a gem. Don’t miss it.

July 14th – 97mi

No news on Facebook. We had a hard time finding a place to sleep and ended up camping on the porch of an old gas station. The owners were really nice and there were a bunch of touring cyclists already there.

July 15th – 120mi

I’m ready to be done with this… Grrr.

I had a major breakdown that day. After only 10mi or so we had yet another gas station breakfast and I was so on edge, I refused to eat (not sure why that was my reaction). I just couldn’t stand it anymore. I stood outside crying and Mike went ahead without us while Tobi taked some sense into me. This is one of those situations that I’m pretty sure could’ve been more dangerous, had I been completely alone. I’m prone to rash decisions. If you find yourself in that state of mind, call someone. Talk it over. Sleep on it. Just keep moving in the meantime.

I did and we did a really long day. It ended up being a great day and we splurged on another motel room. Ordered huge Lasagnas and ate them sitting on our beds while the laundry was in the machine. Awesome.

July 16th – 97mi

We did 120mi yesterday and still finished before 8pm, treated ourselves to a motel room and lasagna delivered to us – a good day! Then this morning, Tobi actually rode over to Walmart to buy fresh fruit, greek yoghurt and a few muffins for us, the best breakfast I’ve had on this ride. We are on schedule for our finish next week and hope to cross into Virginia tomorrow. Now lunching in Berea and then off to the (apparently) wild East!

Do you understand now why I married him? 🙂 We end up in Booneville (what a name) and camp behind the Presbyterian Church. Excellent spot to bivy, too, as it has a big gazebo, a shower house, water and power outlets.

July 17th – 118mi

The Appalachians are hard! Off the big roads the scenery is still very pretty, though the poverty definitely shows. Hills are getting longer and steeper. I wish it went by a little faster – this last week is a challenge. But when we’re through it we will have braved the entire trail without any shortcuts, without cheating and still have done almost exactly 100mi/day excluding two rest days. I feel good about that.

The Appalachians were definitely the hardest climbing of all of the trail. Compared to the Rocky Mountains, we climbed more every day keeping the same mileage per day. Unlike the Ozarks, where the rollers are steep but relatively short, the Appalachians feature steep, long climbs.

This last week really was a test of our endurance – not just physically.
Late at night we got into Lookout to stay at yet another church, this time indoors again. There were showers and I tried to untangle my hair with the conditioner someone left there. I ended up ripping out some strands. Ouch.
We eat some sandwiches and go to bed…

July 18th – 62mi

It is still raining. ‘Nuff said.

Well, another disappointing day. We wanted to get all the way to Damascus to stay at the hostel, but the weather had different plans for us. It was cold and rained all day long. We all got separated, though I found Tobi again. We ate a good lunch at a local restaurant in Honaker and then start up again at 5pm. Mike is having a hard time, too, we find out when we stop at a gas station in Rosedale. He got so cold and wet that he wanted to change and warm up. Unfortunately his sleeping bag got wet and he’s not really excited about continuing. Luckily, he isn’t far past another church to stay in and we agree to meet there.

The church is great, it has cupboards full of food for cyclists (soups, Mac’n’Cheese, things like that) but no shower. There’s forced air heating which is perfect for drying everyone’s shoes.

July 19th – 100mi

Showers pass! I could be all melodramatic about how my joints hurt during the night and how much I hate riding with thouroughly soaked feet (soaked everything actually) or how annoying the climbing was, but I’m not going to be a crybaby and suck it up instead. I picked up the pace for the last 40mi today and it was great. We’re sleeping in a hotel tonight, luckily. Note: when the receptionist recoils in shock, it is time to wash your clothes. We only did laundry once since Farmington…..

I really did try not to complain too much. Yes, I had hard times during the race. My arthritis is rheumatic and acts up when I eat too much meat. Unfortunately that was basically the staple of my diet (along with chocolate milk, orange juice, Sour Patch Kids and… french fries). So at night, my joints would usually hurt a lot.

I DID suck it up instead and we had the foresight to book a hotel again. Honestly, having a hotel room booked is a great motivation. This time it was a fancier place again (thanks to Tobi’s bonus points).
The receptionist literally took a step back when Mike and I walked in. Too funny. But our clothes really were disgusting. The hotel didn’t have a laundry for guests but there was a huge truck stop just down the road which had a Denny’s and washing machines. So I did the laundry wearing my down vest, bathing suit and causual shorts. I looked ridiculous. They still let us eat at Denny’s luckily.

July 20th – 110mi

Mike: “This race is like Groundhog Day.” Rise and shine!

This might be the best quote about the race ever. Because it is so true.

It was a long day and we went to Buchanan that has a motel near a gas station. We got celebratory hard lemonade and stayed up talking for a while.

110mi done today, about to pass out in the hotel after a good dinner and a beer. One more big-ish climb tomorrow and then it is practically straight all the way to Yorktown… At least thats what the map says! Cheers, good night.

July 21st – 95mi

Today was hard. More than 2000m of climbing with a stretch of 14% or more for several miles. I walked part of it but even that was like mountaineering. These are honest pictures, somehow I don’t look like a fitness model on the bike. This is what it looks like when you’ve just climbed a very steep hill and then stuffed gummy bears down your throat. We are in Charlottesville tonight, less than 200mi from Yorktown. Just booked our train to NYC on Wednesday so we better hurry tomorrow!

Oh god, just the thought of riding up Vesuvius again makes me recoil in fear. The maximum on that climb is 24%. It takes forever and both of the guys pass me. I catch back up to Tobi on the Blue Ridge Parkway which is nice but not as spectacular as promised.
We booked a hotel in Charlottesville, we now really needed that motivation, that promise of a good night’s sleep and a shower. Especially the shower.

July 22nd – 135mi

135mi done, 60 to go tomorrow. Spending our last night at a great church so we don’t even have to get out the tent! We are very excited to finish tomorrow. 

Are you familiar with “Graduation Goggles”? That feeling when something that was actually dreadful comes to an end and suddenly you see it in a different light?
Well, I wouldn’t say that the race was horrible, but on that day, after hoping for a week that it would finally be over, I was a little sad that it was actually going to be over.
We rode all the way to a church in Glendale. There’s nothing really after that where you could stay and wild camping is difficult in that area. We could’ve all cycled further, but we wanted to enjoy the last day.

July 23rd – 75mi 

We did it! This is the first thing I’ve finished in years. Right now I am beyond proud and happy, even though we are almost last to finish. It was a hard ride, but it was an amazing adventure and I loved every part of it in some way or another.

Well.. here’s how that went down.

First we rode the Virginia Capital Trail to Williamsburg. Next time I’ll just stick to the road. The bike trail kept switching sides or disappearing all together. We did stop a couple of times to read the historic markers.
There was absolutely no food to be found until Williamsburg – nothing was open in Charles City early in the day. So by the time we made it there, we were all a little cranky, though excited. We found a Starbucks in Williamsburg (A LATTE!! HOORAY!!!), ate something, I bought some yoga pants for the train ride later that day, and then we powered on to Yorktown.

As others have experienced, the Colonial Parkway is the worst road on all of the trail. I got so annoyed with it I rode standing up for a while. Seriously, what’s the point of even building a road when it’s like that? Could’ve just left it unpaved..

Despite that, we rolled into Yorktown. My heart was beating really hard. I was so excited to finish, I cried all the way up to the monument. We finally rolled up to it, all of us together, got off our bikes, hugged, and just sat there in awe. Had we really just cycled across all of the United States? Through the heat, snow, thunderstorms, wind, across plains, over mountain ranges? All within just a few weeks?

It didn’t really sink in for a while. We had to haul ass out of Yorktown and to Newport News after discovering that the “Yorktown branch” of the Bike Beat bike shop is not actually in Yorktown. It was a horrifying trip down the 8-lane highway but we made it in one piece. We had arranged for them to give us some boxes and then call a taxi that would take us to the Amtrak station.

While Mike and I went about disassembling our steeds, Tobi HAD to cycle over to Walmart to get some things.
When Tobi still hadn’t reappeared and the taxi was already there, Mike almost got a heart attack. I think he was close to ripping Tobi’s head off when he finally got in. We ripped his bike apart as fast as we could, stuffed it into a box, closed it, and stuffed all the boxes into the taxi. Tobi had 3 bags of stuff from Walmart with him. They contained comfy pants and sweaters, T-Shirts, wet wipes, water, food, Flip Flops, fresh underwear and so on. AMAZING!!! You can’t imagine how I felt when, after fighting with the Amtrak agents about whether or not our bike boxes could go on the train (we won), I went into the bathroom and changed. Into clothes that weren’t dirty. That weren’t made out of synthetics. I had never felt better in my life!

On the train, we got some celebratory beers and congratulated each other. We hadn’t exactly come in first place, but we had braved all kinds of things and we had battled the hardest enemies you can ever have: our own minds.

 

 

Whoa, ho, hey!

Yesterday, a story broke on Facebook: Lee Fancourt, the arguably best contender to win this year’s World Cycle Race, was disqualified.
A reminder: the World Cycle Race serves both as a framework for people wanting to go for a Guinness World Record and as an independent race. This is important. You need to apply directly to GWR in order to have a record ratified. They will ask you for details of your route and provide you with a list of the things you need to do to verify your record. These are, for example, keeping a detailed log book, collecting photo evidence and collecting signatures of people along the way.
They also provide you with a list of the rules.
This means that whatever happens in the World Cycle Race, what really matters in terms of record breaking is GWR and their rules.

Lee wasn’t robbed of the World Record. He is still free to apply to Guinness World Records with all his evidence after he completes the circumnavigation. The disqualification from the World Cycle Race does not impact that. It just means he isn’t going to place in the World Cycle Race, which he originally didn’t even have on his radar anyway.

Now, the people at Guinness are fairly strict. Other people have applied for circumnavigation records before and were shot down. Thomas Grosserichter, who did it in 105 days including all transfers in 2012, was denied the record, otherwise he’d be the one to beat right now. This was because of three things. First, he drafted behind his support vehicle. I do think that is unfair and in the set of rules I received, it is specified that drafting is strictly forbidden. But apparently this wasn’t in the rules he got (see, they do evolve). Second, he had trouble verifying his mileage. It came down to 120km (!) which weren’t recorded by his GPS. This goes to show just how important it is to use multiple methods of recording distance.

Finally, and this is the most important in this discussion, he took one overland flight and three overland buses (in California and Mexico respectively).
This was seen as a breach of the “unbroken line” rule. Simply put, you’re not allowed to skip any overland portion unless you have to. Lee was disqualified mainly because of this rule.

But when do you “have to”? Clearly, when there is an ocean in the way, or a country you’re not allowed or able to enter because it is a war zone. Rivers, too, when there isn’t a bridge. If you have an accident or are in need for repairs, you may of course go off the route. But then you always have to return to the place you last stopped, however hard that is. But what about abominable road conditions, issues with finding food and water, serious accidents, and anything else you could think of?

It becomes messy at this point. Messy and emotional.
I expected there to be some turmoil on Facebook even when I first read Lee’s own posts on Facebook on how he had taken a taxi to Kolkata and how he was in a hotel currently and was being picked up by an airport taxi later on. Side note: the latter would have sufficed to disqualify him in the eyes of Guinness. 
But I was a little disappointed to see just how fervent the responses were. A lot of “Fuck them”s. A lot of vitriol. Against the people who decided he had broken the rules. I find that incredibly unfortunate and unfair. If people are unhappy with the rules, they should lobby Guinness World Records directly – after Lee has submitted his evidence.

I would like to appeal to everyone who is upset to reconsider their aggression. Turn it into something positive instead. Make it a point to donate for Lee’s charities. Accept the unfortunate fact that Lee has broken the rules and that he was given the choice of going back to where he stopped cycling, but didn’t. It doesn’t make him any less of a great cyclist, but he needs to reconsider choices like that when he goes for the record next year as he’s already posted on his page.
Because I’m with Mike Hall on this one: other riders have faced very serious issues before. Sean Conway was hit by a truck and broke his back. He managed to get back on his feet and continue his journey after a few weeks, and he started it by going back to where he had he accident. Mark Beaumont, who rode through Pakistan and Iran and should get bonus kudos for that was forced to get into his levy’s truck more than once but always made them go back to where he last stopped cycling. I imagine that’s a tough task, practically and psychologically.
So the upholding of this rule should also be done out of respect for all the other who’ve previously done the circumnavigation. They, too, faced difficulties, and they, too, were ‘disqualified’ when they didn’t follow the rules. You can’t overlook a rule for an individual. It wouldn’t be fair.

 

 

An analysis of failure

When we fail, it isn’t always possible to pinpoint the exact thing that went wrong. However, we can look at everything that happened and use it as a lesson to improve.

As you all know, I barely stayed in the World Cycle Race for one week. After six months of planning, training, raising funds and getting excited about seeing the world again, my journey stopped abruptly and I wasn’t able to get back on the road. I had acute tendonitis on both achilles tendons, but more than that, my ankles had swollen to twice their size. I couldn’t pedal without excruciating pain, clicking out of the pedals was almost the worst part, only surpassed by going up hills. Unfortunately, none of this can be avoided when cycling. Furthermore, I didn’t have the means or possibility to get ice and decent rest every day, I had barely been making it to bed before 11pm every day, mostly I didn’t reach my accommodation until the late evening. I’m sure other people, other cyclists, aren’t fazed by tendonitis, but I simply couldn’t take the pain anymore – and I was worried about permanent damage.

I’ve had problems with the right ankle, which was and is worse, before. In 2012, I traveled around the world. As part of that six month long trip I did a lot of hiking. I hadn’t had problems until hiking for four days through the Grand Canyon, where on day three my right ankle started to hurt quite a lot and turned blue on the inside. It was rapidly swelling up and I was slowing our group of four down. Luckily one of them stayed behind me the whole time, keeping me company, but it still wasn’t much fun. I switched from my hiking boots to Five Fingers which made it better for a while (and yes, my hiking boots were well worn-in, tried and tested over many other hiking trails) but I was extremely relieved when I made it out of the Canyon the next day (and promptly burst into tears). Upon arrival a friend got me a cold Coke and I hobbled into the car.

See, that’s the thing. I got into the car. I was able to rest up a bit after this. We went on to Zion Canyon and I took it easier for a few days, doing fairly light hiking and icing my ankle frequently. We did two hikes in rivers (The Subway and The Narrows) which helped a lot.
But I was always able to stop and rest for the rest of the day. I didn’t have this possibility on this trip.

I never got that ankle checked out because I didn’t think anything of it. The problem never really returned. I switched to lightweight hiking shoes for the remainder of the trip and never had problems again, not while hiking up Cotopaxi and not while doing the Abel Tasman Coast Track entirely in Five Fingers with a 15kg backpack.
So I didn’t figure it would be a weak point for cycling.

I had only started cycling in August of last year. At first, I rode a horribly outdated (but beautiful) steel bike that belongs to my Dad and which made my fingers go numb but got me into cycling. When I bought my current road bike I had a fitting in a shop. I thought that’s good enough. That, combined with just testing and trying, sufficed to find a very comfortable position. I never had problems with my feet while training. Not over short and punchy distances, not over long distances, and not on crazy hill repeats with Juliana in Naples. On the contrary, my body had started to adapt.

On top of the cycling I trained with a brilliant personal trainer and my muscles were (and are) actually quite strong, especially the posterior chain. Right to the end I improved my performances on the Deadlift, Squat and Bench press (okay, no legs involved there) and scored high on the Functional Movement Screen.

So what did it? Why did I have to stop?

A few things came together. First, an apparently dodgy ankle. I’m working on finding out exactly what’s wrong with it. Second, I didn’t cycle enough in the weeks leading up to the race. It was cold, I was too focused on sorting out everything else (immunizations, funding, logistics, arrangements for our apartment while I’m gone,…) and doing all kinds of things.
Third, the first days in the race didn’t actually go very much to plan.

On my second day, everything that could go wrong eventually did.
I got up and there was no one at the hotel, thus no breakfast. I grabbed two croissants from a bakery but couldn’t find any coffee. I eventually saw a McDonald’s upon leaving Calais but I didn’t want to stop again after just starting out. I completely forgot that it was Sunday and I was in France. This was my first big mistake. I didn’t carry any food, wanting to just rely on roadside stops. Generally, this actually works perfectly fine in Europe. But not on a Sunday in France. My Garmin sent me through beautiful small villages and there was nothing, nothing at all. I didn’t find food for almost six hours, burning almost 4000kcal in the meantime on top of my normal metabolic rate of about 1600kcal. So I had burned almost 6000kcal already and only eaten less than 1000kcal. Even with my fat reserves – even at less than 20% body fat I’m not exactly “thin” – this doesn’t work. By the time I found food I basically stumbled around. I could no longer put in any effort on the bike.

In the meantime, I had also had mechanical problems. I was trying to adjust my seat position a TINY bit and the screw broke. After much consideration (losing about an hour) I did manage to fix it with part of a latex glove and some zip ties, but I wasn’t able to fix the seatpost in my usual position, it was slightly higher. I rode in this higher position for about 200km more.

Around 7pm I finally found real, hot food and was barely able to eat it. I was shivering and it was dark. The town I was in was still about 45km from where I had booked a hotel, but there was no way I would make it. I had been struggling against a head wind all day, rode in a different position and was cold.
Unfortunately, the town didn’t have any hotels and the next town, 15km away which may have had a hotel was straight up a hill (I found out the next day that it would have been about 400 more meters of climbing). Luckily, I was carrying camping gear! I started in the direction of the town at first but had to call it quits on the climb. Defeated, I descended and found a campground that was technically closed. I set up camp behind some uninhabited mobile homes and went to sleep. It rained all night. Since I didn’t wake up from it I couldn’t re-tighten the guy lines and woke up with the wet inner tent hanging into my face. Lovely.

Of course this meant my down sleeping bag was also wet. I packed up, found the campground owner and paid for my night there. Then I fought my way to the next town, stumbled into a McDonald’s and had coffee and breakfast. In the meantime my boyfriend had found a bike shop in Amiens (another 30km) and considering that I had wet camping gear and the weather forecast had more strong headwinds in store I decided to call it a day in Amiens and redo my route there.

The local bike shop fixed my bike – I now have a bomb-proof seatpost clamp on there, it may not be pretty, but it’ll take the strain – while I had coffee and booked a hotel. I checked in, unpacked everything, had a much needed shower and ate A LOT of food. My spirits were quite high.

The next day I did 205km from Amiens to Reims.

It was too much. I was very sore by the end of the day and couldn’t walk down stairs anymore. This should have been a warning sign. It was a great day though and I don’t really regret it.
Over the next days, the climbing never let up and I never once had a tailwind, only headwinds, all the freakin’ time.

So let’s recap. I’m relatively new to cycling. I didn’t cycle enough in the weeks before the race. It was quite cold (around 0 to 5 degrees in the mornings, going up to about 11 to 14 during the day eventually, but with strong winds), there was a strong headwind. My seat position was messed up because of a mechanical problem. I didn’t get enough rest or food and I pushed too hard in the first days. All of this together eventually led to the catastrophe.

Am I disappointed, angry, sad? Yes. Also embarrassed and frustrated.
But above all, I don’t regret a single turn of the pedals. I said before the race that if I broke my leg within the first week, it would still have been worth it.

And I stand by that. It was worth it. From the moment of deciding to do it to the moment of deciding to scratch, it was worth it. I have met so many great people, I have never been fitter and more athletic in my life and I’ve finally found a sport that I truly love. Cycling has made me a happier person, and all this in only half a year!
The whole experience also made me realize what a great life I have. I’ve been battling with finding my passion, finding a job, finding something that makes me feel worthy. I thought everyone else had it all just because they have a job. The grass is always greener on the other side, and having failed to complete my Master’s degree (by my own volition though) I thought that this would be the ultimate end. I failed again. I can’t get anything right, eh?

But it isn’t so. I keep trying. I keep getting back up from disaster and I haven’t given up.
While I may not have found a cool job, I have everything else. A beautiful home. Family and friends who love me. A healthy relationship in which we’ve now lived together for almost four years. A ton of experience abroad, friends all over the world. An awesome “timeshare horse” with a great community. And I live in a great city, too!
Basically, that is more than most people have. I should feel fortunate and I do. This did play a role in stopping I admit. I had a life to return to. A place to call home. I didn’t have unlimited time for this race – not because I had restraints from an employer or such, but because it isn’t a life I actually WANT to be away from for more than I need to.

So in the end, everything will have happened for a reason. I still love cycling and I think there are great races in my future. I decided to still do a long-distance race this year, the Trans Am in June. This means I’ll have done at least one leg of the World Cycle Race. I am also aiming to cycle 20.000km this year. It may be a lot less than what I would’ve done, but it is still a lot of cycling in a year! Maybe I’ll do even more, who knows.

To all my sponsors big and small I would like to say Thank You. Your money wasn’t wasted. It enabled me to go as far as I did. Buying kit and covering cost for visa fees and logistics swallowed up a lot of the funds and in the end, I actually had to start using my own savings before the end of the first week, so you can rest assured I’m not going around spending your money on something else now.
Without your help, I’d have never made it to the starting line.

I would also like to thank everyone who encouraged me to do it, everyone who posted on my page and told me to go on, everyone who simply clicked “Like” and showed me that people care. You were a huge boost to my morale.

A special thanks goes to Juliana Buhring. I would have never signed up for the race if she hadn’t encouraged me to. Her guidance and help was most relevant and imported. I hate to think that I’ve disappointed her, but I know she understands. I look forward to racing with her soon and I’m just happy to have gained a new friend.

The test run

This week, I braved the wonderful fall weather (attention: sarcasm) and went for a two-day trip from the middle of Germany to Hamburg. My intention was to test both material and body. That I did.

The short version: I’m glad that I won’t be spending too much time in winter weather next year, the Revelate Design bags really are waterproof, and I need a better rain jacket. And proper lights.

The long version: First, I followed the Weserradweg from Hann. Münden to Holzminden. From Holzminden, I took a turn away from the river and towards Hildesheim, where I spent the night at a youth hostel. I’d forgotten to check where exactly the hostel is and was pretty surprised when I saw that it was actually on a hill next to the city, but I’ll get to that… After Hildesheim, I skipped a segment by taking the train and then followed the local road to Hamburg.
I had set my daily goals way higher than I could do. Up until this week, I had never done more than 80km in one day, so it was bizarre to think I could do 180km. But had I said, well, I’ll do 100km, I probably would have been satisfied with 90 – I know myself. This way, I was motivated to try as hard as I could and get as far as I could.

It was a nice contrast to be in northern Germany. The architecture is different and very pretty. Everything is so flat, at least compared to where I live. And the fields were still green, whereas down here, almost all of them are already plowed.

On the first day, the sun came out a few times and it rained very little, the terrain was softly undulating and mostly on well-paved cycle paths so I managed to maintain a 24km/h average even though I had to take frequent breaks to find my way. In a lovely town along the way I had lunch in a butcher shop.

What a nice lunch break! Food was followed by coffee, and then I pedaled on. For hours and hours. Until it was almost dark (4.30pm these days), I was freezing, and started to lose my way. After the wind turned against me and I fought in the dark and crept along at a decidedly discouraging 12km/h. Since I had inadequate lights, didn’t really know where I had to go and was starting to be really cold, I found the next town and took the train to Hildesheim, where I then found out that I’d have to cycle up the hill to the youth hostel (in the rain, of course) with a 10% gradient.
Luckily, I had my own room and a local pizza place agreed to deliver to the hostel. I devoured a ridiculously overloaded pizza, downed a beer, brushed my teeth, and fell into a coma-like sleep.

The next day, I decided to skip the first part of the cycle and take the train instead of cycling first and then finding a train station later. While the network is very good in Germany, this was still easier, plus it gave me more time to wake up. So I cycled back to the train station in Hildesheim and bought some breakfast.

Later that day, I found myself cycling in torrential rain on a road that hadn’t passed through a town in 25km (not that common for Germany) when, out of sheer luck, a small Italian restaurant appeared as if out of nowhere. I gladly stopped, had some hot tea and spaghetti, dried my clothes, and then got back on.
I arrived in Hamburg without any more glitches, met my sister-in-law at the Apple store (they allowed me to take the bike inside as I didn’t want to leave it outside in the middle of the city), smothered my niece in kisses and that was it.

Though I was happy to have a rest day after that, I can report that while I certainly can’t to what I have to do next year yet, I’m not that far behind. Cheers to that!

Four more months…

The last time I counted down months was a year ago, when we were traveling the world. A year ago today, we were en route to Valparaíso in Chile (which is what you see in the picture above), crossing the Andes and even catching a glimpse of Aconcagua, the highest mountain in the Americas. It was one of the last places we visited in South America, before flying to the Cook Islands and ultimately New Zealand where I celebrated my birthday on the beach, flying kites, eating fresh strawberries and drinking excellent wine on a picnic blanket. It was perfect.

This year, I’m sure the weather for my birthday in a few weeks will be as dreary as ever, and there will be no beach in sight. I’ve been in serious weather denial these days. Yesterday I dragged myself out of bed early in the morning to go for a 2 hour cycle before spending the day baking, winning 2nd place at our stable’s “tournament” and carving pumpkins. It was cold, it was raining, and I looked like I had done downhill afterwards. But what can you do? When the weather’s bad all days, you still need to go out and train. It takes some determination, but I’m learning that I actually HAVE the determination to do it.

Now I’m counting down months again. On November 1st, I was very aware of the fact that I am only four months away from flying to London with all my kit and setting off into the unknown.
People around me are starting to understand that I’m actually doing it and that it isn’t some very distant plan. I’ve been asked about my route plenty of times and while I’m still working on the details and the individual days, I do have a plan in place, aided by the gigantic map of the world that we happen to have hanging on the wall here anyway. It is laminated, so it is perfect for drawing routes and trying out stuff.

Since I’m going low-budget, I have to maximize the time I get out of each continent. I won’t have enough cash to fly to South America or stop over at some fun island (I’d love to add the 30km of Rarotonga..). Going with the seasons I will be going eastward.

Leg 1: London-Istanbul via Eastern Europe
Leg 2: Mumbai-Calcutta
Leg 3: Bangkok-Singapore
Leg 4: Perth-Brisbane
Leg 5: Dunedin-Auckland
Leg 6: Vancouver-Boston via Denver, Chicago and Charleston
Leg 7: Lisbon/Porto (depends on flights)-London

So, pretty standard. As a woman I won’t be going through the Middle East, and I don’t feel like crossing Kazachstan or China with a road bike and limited options for storing food and water. In the US, I’ll try to cover some new ground by going with the north route after cycling down to Arizona and New Mexico. There are only a few states left that I haven’t been to and this is a good opportunity to see them. Obviously I want to visit my Colorado friends, too, if only for a night. And I’ve been dying to go back to Charleston, South Carolina ever since I first visited there in January 2010. I already know where I’ll eat at and pack sandwiches from – five loaves café!

Tomorrow I’m packing up Blitzi and taking him a couple hundred kilometers north, from where I’ll cycle to Hamburg. The weather forecast says rain, rain and wind, good thing I have some waterproofs…

Share the road?

In Germany, bike lanes parallel many of the bigger roads and some drivers do think that cyclists are required to use them. * Alas, they are not. There have been court rulings that state very clearly that the roads are there to be shared (with the exception of the Autobahn and some other high-speed roads, of course) but that doesn’t save you from road rage.

I’m guessing that every cyclist who’s out and about a lot experiences these drivers once in a while. Even here, where I am out of the city within minutes, where the roads are wide enough to pass me easily in traffic, some people choose to annoy me – or in some cases, endanger me.
Take, for example, this past Tuesday. I’m cycling on the hard shoulder, there isn’t much traffic at all. The bike lane doesn’t start for another couple hundred meters and it is on the left side of the road, meaning I’ll have to turn. Now, I’m still on the hard shoulder, not even indicating that I’ll be swinging into the center in a while, when a car passes me by centimeters, blaring its horn the whole time. This was a small car which fit into the lane with tons of space to spare. The driver, a young guy, was clearly not happy about having to share one second with a cyclist on the same road.
Obviously my adrenalin kicked in when he passed me this close, had I swerved even a tiny bit in this moment, it could have been a serious accident as I was going about 30km/h. When he had finally passed me, I motioned my anger and carried on. This prompted the guy to pull over. Lucky for me, I was finally at the turn-off for the bike lane and proceeded to the other side of the road. There’s no telling what he would have done if I had passed him. Would he have pushed me off the road? Yelled at me? Flipped me the bird? No idea. There was no reason for him to be upset as I didn’t hinder him in any way.

In less extreme ways, this happens quite a lot. I happily chose the bike lanes as long as they are wide, flat and don’t go up and down the sidewalk. However, fall brings a new set of problems: leaves and harvest debris. Corn fields are being harvested right now, and the bike lanes next to them are full of pieces of corn, leaves and dirt from the truck tires. This is dangerous when you’re on 23C wheels and going fast. Same story on tree-lined roads: while the road itself is usually free of leaves and branches, the bike lane is full of it. Not fun! Luckily, I just saw the road service cleaning one of the worst offenders, so here’s to hoping that they’ll stay on top of things as fall progresses. Otherwise, I’ll just keep on annoying cars with my incessant hard shoulder-riding. (really big trucks to have to wait until they can pass me sometimes, even though they tend to be happy with doing a really close pass if they’re in a hurry, too…)

Considering that I will be riding on roads most of the way around the world, I am building up both calm and ignorance on the road. I always stick to the rules that apply to cars, signal for turns super-early and very visibly, use the bike lanes whenever possible and safe for me, and I don’t swerve into the lane. This makes me confident that even when someone honks and yells at me, it’s not because I am doing something wrong, it is because that person is, pardon, an idiot.

* Another popular error is that “cyclists aren’t allowed to listen to music”. False. In Germany at least, you’re allowed to have earplugs in, so long as the music isn’t too loud to hear traffic and sirens.

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