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