I had thought about volunteering for the Transcontinental Race. Unfortunately my life situation did not make it possible to plan so far ahead. All I knew was that one day I would start at the TCR. But no hurry. I am still young.
Some weeks before the race my plan was to cycle to the start – to Geeraardsbergen. The route had even been planed. I wanted to meet some riders – and a friend who was participating and who I had not seen since many months. I also wanted to witness this certain kind of atmosphere of this awesome race.
But I had no time so I could not realize this plan.
Later, when the race had even started, I got a crazy idea. Why did it have to be the start? Why not a checkpoint? For checkpoint 1 or 2 it was already too late. But checkpoint 3 in Slovakia was a place that seemed to be really interesting. I have never been so far east before. The nature seemed to be beautiful and the prizes low. With some „help“ I would be able to reach it before most of the riders would have left it behind. There was a cheap long distance bus that carries bikes and goes to Brno in the Czech Republic. From there I wanted to cycle to the High Tatra Mountains in Slovakia. Unfortunately the bus would have left only some hours after my decision to go there. I tried but I was not fast enough to pack all my stuff. Another problem was one of the pedals that I was not able to dismount. Later I had the awesome idea to make use of the pipe of the vacuum cleaner as a giant lever. It actually worked 😀
My new idea to reach the checkpoint was this one:
I wanted to take the next regional train that goes as far east as possible. In Germany there normally are no night trains in the rural areas. It was already evening. The furthest point I could get to was the town Neubrandenburg. From there I intended to cycle through the night so I would reach the Polish town Szczecin in the early morning. In Poland I wanted to go as far south by train as possible an than cycle the rest to checkpoint 3.
With this „deliberate“ plan I rushed to the train station in Lübeck. While sitting in the train I searched for train connections in Poland. What could go wrong? 😀
Shortly after midnight I arrived in Neubrandenburg. From now on I cycled eastwards through the night.
I enjoyed the silence – no cars, no noise except my chain and freewheel. At dawn I reached the German-Polish border. Then I did an unintentionally city tour through Szczecin. I did not expect to see a beautiful town but I was extremely impressed by its ugliness. The infrastructure was also a disaster. After getting lost in this town several times I finally reached the train station.
Then I had some problems to communicate with the unfriendly lady at the desk. Somehow I managed to find a connection to Krakow on my phone and shove it right under her nose. I got that ticket. After almost missing the train because it went from the false platform I had a long train ride ahead – fortunately without having to change the train. I lay down next to my bike for a nap since I had not slept the night. It did work but I was far from deep sleep. While everyone who got into the train wore thin clothing, I had put on almost everything I had brought with me. No good idea to sleep directly next to the air conditioning probably at the highest rate. Of course I got many strange looks.
In the evening the train reached Krakow. This town seemed to be beautiful, no comparison to Szczecin. I stuffed as much food as possible into my bags and then cycled into the next night. It was extremely hot – even though the sun had almost been gone. My goal was to be at the checkpoint before Björn Lenhard and James Hayden. Unfortunately my friend had already scratched so I would not meet and surprise him.
The south of Poland is full of really steep ramps. I was happy about the night. It meant that the temperatures that were high above 30 degrees, would fall. Normally I enjoy cycling through the night. But not this time. In this part of Poland there are houses everywhere. And every house seemed to have at least one dog. This lead to constant barking. Because of the darkness I never knew whether there would be a fence or not. Some dogs strayed around. At least it made me wake up. Since how to get rid of wild dogs was one of the main topics in the TCR-Facebook-group I was well prepared 😀 While cycling through the night I cursed myself a lot. Why the hell am I doing this? Why couldn’t I just be at home an celebrate into my birthday as normal people do? Instead I was riding alone through Poland. Listening to dogs, that seemed to like to eat me if they could. Without having slept the last night. Well, I am not normal. And being at a checkpoint of the TCR at my birthday would be the best birthday present I ever had. So I continued to ride – in the hope of less dogs. Somewhen in the middle of the night I found a nice bus stop where the barking was not so loud and no curious dog arrived. I slept for two and a half hours.
The dawn was wonderful – colourful, beautiful hills and roads with almost no traffic.
At a steep Polish hill my chain suddenly fall between the spokes and cassette.
I did not have the strength to pull it out. Just at the moment I had given up a car came and stopped. It had been the only car since probably an hour. The man did not speak any English and only 3 words of German, but he saw the problem immediately. Without hesitation he pulled at the chain. He was this kind of guy where I wouldn’t have been surprised if he could destroy the chain with his bare hands. Nevertheless it did not move. But at the second try it got out. I was really relieved and thanked him a thousand times. Fortunately everything still worked and I was able to shift. With completely black hands I continued my ride.
At quarter past two I reached the Slovakian border. The heat did cost a lot of strength. A thermometer showed 38°C. Shortly after the border there was a long climb – up to more than 1000m above sea level. Here I met a nice Polish couple on their road bikes. I climbed it together with them, much faster than if I would have done it alone.
After that I took the wrong way, went into the wrong direction…well, kind of things that happen if you don’t sleep and have a new GPS 😀
But this made me lose my hope to reach CP3 before Björn oder James. They would be faster anyway. So I did not hurry up and had a long brake in the shadow of a church.
But James and Björn were slower than expected. I missed Björn shortly. James came towards me at the parkour – while I was suffering really much and while he seemed to try to break the Strava downhill record 😉 I had seen him not even a second and then he was gone. But I had seen him and we had even exchanged an “Hi” 😀
The street to the mountain hotel that was checkpoint 3 was small, narrow and steep with in parts really bad surface – sometimes even Gravel. Seven kilometres uphill – with all the luggage. I had packed a bit more than I would have for a race – for me it was holiday and not a race. After some breaks due to exhaustion, eeeh due to having to take beautiful photos, I finally made it to the top.
At the last kilometres there was a bit refreshing rain. I loved it 😀
I reached the hotel that was at 1600 meter above sea level. It was the highest mountain I had ever climbed.
Next to the modern hotel there was a wonderful lake. Shortly afterwards I found some surprised volunteers. They welcomed me and offered me a shower. Excitedly I awaited the next riders that were not far.
This is how my birthday did end. I had cycled 200 km from Krakow, in total more than 330km – with an altitude gain of 4100m. This is extremely much for a person from the plain land like me.
The following day I welcomed some riders and then went to the next camping to get some proper sleep.
At the following morning I decided to cycle westwards and find some riders on their way to the checkpoint. Fortunately I met Melissa, the first woman. Shortly later I also met Lee Pearce and Paul Toigo. I rode next to them and after some short chats I turned around.
The following days I cycled through Slovakia and the Czech Republic in touring mode. Unfortunately I felt ill, took a train and went back to Germany. It was the right decision because the day after I was home I had fever and wouldn’t have wanted to cycle a meter. But I will probably have a second chance to discover the Czech Republic by bike 🙂 I’m in for TCRNo06 🙂