Looking around for gravel / off-road options I stumbled onto Mark Goldie’s http://ridgewaydouble.net/ route and a vague plan was formulated, some more kit was purchased for @malwinki and packing commenced…
The weather looked good and since I’d finally given away the rear rack I’d had sitting on my porch for 10 years (typical!) our only option really was bivvy bags – the 1p Macpac tent I used touring Europe in 2005 was too big for any of my bikepacking bags. Malwinki got my waterproof RAB Alpine and I would use my ultralight most-certainly-not-waterproof fly bivvy. She had a full-length Alpkit sleep pad and I had a 3/4-length Thermarest NeoAir. I took my down jacket and half bag and Malwinki used my old, heavy, large full-length down bag, stuffed into a handlebar harness I’d just bought off @Aroogah.
Rather than go straight into wild camping I thought I’d ease Malwinki into this world by using a proper campsite – you know with showers and toilets. With other sites closed until April 2021 she found that the Barge Inn, Honey Street was open and we booked Sat night.
Day 1 – Saturday
Reunited and moving along the actual route now, we pass the Bridgewater Monument / Ashride Estate just before 9am and it’s already very busy with walkers and other cyclists.
Riding up Crawley’s Lane, a road climb we’d done on the previous week’s gravel grinder, we caught up to a bloke riding part of the route on his MTB and had a chat for a few kms. He done his knee in a couple of weeks before hitting a deer at speed but seemed well on his way to recovery. I let him go while waiting for @malwinki at the mowed field, where all the Kites were circling for critters, last weekend. It was a good call because it got a little more off-road through this section and I wouldn’t have been able to keep up on slicks with my skill level anyway and I didn’t want to ruin his fun. Thanks for the chat dude.
Through the woods we had a few navigation issues (I took a Garmin Edge 1030 and Garmin etrex 30x that I was trying on a new 3D-printed etrex mount (thanks to @Stonehedge for the printing and Ty Domin and/or his partner for the design). Disabling a borked map on the etrex helped but in the end I turned it off and stuck with the slow, but clearer Edge 1030. Eventually we popped out into this clearing with a lovely view. Turns out it’s Whiteleaf Hill, which I’ve climbed a lot from Princes Risborough on the road but never seen this side:
Further along the trail we start seeing security guards sat on folding chairs along a fence line. WTF? Looking through the trees all I can make out is that it’s a big hole. I assume it’s some kind of mine or maybe a water storage reservoir but why the guards? Well, we google it just now and it turns out it’s this: Water dyed black at Chinnor quarry to deter swimmers
At Goring we stopped for a sit-down lunch and refilled our bottles outside Pierreponts Café. Here we got chatting to a cycling trio from Tatrafitness. I think they were as curious about our bikepacking setups as I was about why they had jerseys referring to the Tatra mountains (border mountains between Poland and Slovakia). Turns out they were Reading locals but his wife was Slovakian. They were on a loop to visit World’s End. I suggested the pub in Camden. 🙂
There’s a reasonably steep climb out of Goring (unpaved road or the rougher side track we took) and then you start getting out into more exposed open sections.
I’m not sure about the flat pedals. At least I know the pins work much better than the Catalyst allen key studs but really what I want is a midfoot SPD setup. I’m going to look for SPD shoes that have the furthest back cleat mounting point and see what I can do with those. Also, I might move back to 700C wheels with say 42mm tyres and see if that lifts the Kinesis up enough to help with pedal strike in the ruts. Or just take an MTB 🙂
Kevolar, Steve, Malwinki and I won the Mixed 4s category. We were beaten to the Overall Mixed team prize by about 14 laps – they were a team of 8 riders though so I don’t feel so bad about that (we weren’t watching outside our category anyway – probably should read the rules again!).
Weather this year was nicer than last time I raced here a couple of years ago and the hills seemed a little bit smaller :). It was still chilly off the bike but racing was warm all night. We slept in the car this year instead of setting up a tent. I think everyone had fun and now Mal has better win ratio than me by a long stretch! Time to get her a 10mi time…
I’m getting very lazy with race reports so here’s Jasmijn’s blog about the Revolve 24hr. Basically it was quite similar to 24hr MTB enduros I’d raced in Oz without all the crashing and dirt. Think 6 x 25mi TTs spread over a 24hr time period. We were racing for custom compression-wear company Isobar Compression (I’m wearing their bespoke calf-guards in the picture above) so big thanks to them for the kit and allowing us to race and to Jas for pulling the team together and winning us the bubbly 🙂
In Hotel Macedonia near Lake Dojran desperate for sleep and once again I wake up before my alarm! Seriously brain, seriously?! I’d bought food from next door’s market, eaten some before sleeping and packed the rest onto the bike before leaving the hotel. I’m sure the hotel boss was still talking… Even with all the food, I find it hard to resist stopping at a nearby bakery for some more before crossing the border into Greece. Buy lots of stuff and hand the woman a note for 200 Denar. It’s too much and I tell her to keep the change, since I’m crossing the border in a matter of minutes. She insists on giving me even more food though to make up the difference so I’m fully loaded as I ride into yet another country I’ve never been to before.
The email I’d sent to myself to remind me what to ask for at hotel reception desks:
Room? Breakfast? Price? Checkout time? Later checkout possible?
“4hr sleep, cleaned some grit out of some crevices, ate some more junk. Now in Greece. Warmer. #TCRNo4“
Country roads and warmth. Probably why I was struggling to stay awake hours ago – it’s warm and humid so possibly contributed to grogginess on the bike. There’s big mountains all around me but for now it’s flat and reasonable progress is being made. The roads in Greece are much smoother and the little agricultural villages remind me of where I grew up.
Once again I’m struggling to remember this section of the ride but eventually it gets dark and I remember stopping at a service station asking for coffee. He says “we only have Greek coffee” and I look at him puzzled, “frappe”, he says. I ask “cold, blended, ice?” “Yes”. “Awesome!” I think. “Yes, please!”. Finally getting the hang of multi-tasking re: toilet stops, I ask but no luck here. Asking how much for the coffee he says “it’s free”. Puzzled, I ask him again, in case he meant ‘three’ or something but he insists it’s free. I ask why but it gets lost in translation – something about the service station providing. I want water too and he says “go for it!”. Wow, free too. Score! Thanks Avin services.
“Dozies already. Not good. Potholes playing havoc with right sitbone. #TCRNo4”
“As wrecked as I am, can still bust out a kilowatt when dog pack gets jump starting in the road. #TCRNo4”
Rolling up to a small but busier town than the others I’ve been through I approach a couple of places looking for food. Eventually a guy tells me to head down a side street, so I do and find a cafe-style place with people sitting outside. Not quite knowing who’s running the place I ask if they’re serving food and a guy says “Deutsch?”. “No Deutsch, English?” I reply. “No English. Deutsch?” he says again. Hmm, this isn’t getting me far so I think back to my cycle touring around Germany and say (excuse my spelling, this was all done verbally) “Essen? Dranken?” and he responds with some German. I say “souvlaki?” and he runs through a load of options. I kind of recognise some stuff like “kase” and “zwiebel” but in the end I get lost in his German and think for a bit… “Allez!” I almost yell at him, happily, remembering how I used to order kebabs in Berlin. We do some more of this weird ‘bad German’ talking and eventually the woman who was running the place cooks me two souvlakis and I grab some drinks. The German speaking local guy sits me down with his friends outside and we start talking. It turns out he does know some English and we have a stilted but entertaining conversation about where I’m from, how far I’ve come, where I’m going, how he comes to speak German, the viaduct and castle down the road in Kavala I need to take photos of, the dogs roaming around, cars, all manner of things. They’re amazed about the distances I’m riding. Emanuale (I don’t know how to spell his name but it’s like Emanuel with an “ee” sound at the end) shows me a knee scar he got while working in Germany and says he can’t ride and he asks me how far I think his somewhat rotund mate could ride in a day. I give an obviously polite answer but we all laugh at him. Emmanuale buys me a drink as we chat. It’s a lovely night and I forget about the race for a bit but eventually have to carry on so we shake hands and say our goodbyes and I ride off, taking in the sight of the Kavala aqueduct and castle but sorry mate, no photos.
My plan to ride through to the finish in Turkey is really falling apart now. I’m getting the dozies again already so I stop in an oceanfront bar called Ocean (clever eh?) and pay 5 euro for a can of Red Bull. At least being overcharged in a posh joint means I don’t feel guilty about ruining their toilets… mwuahahahaaaaa 😉
Another few hours along the E90 and once again I can’t keep my eyes open so I pull out the bivvy and lay down in a bus stop, not bothering to set my alarm – I’m done with being tired, and having no internet again, the race for a place isn’t a factor for me now. It’s just about getting to the finish.
Perhaps 3hrs later a slow moving car wakes me up and since I was clearly visible from the road and didn’t want to upset cops or have my bike nicked I got all my stuff together and pushed on into the sunrise, stopping at a service station for more food. While there, I watched a bit of beach volleyball on their TV and realised that the Olympics were on – amazing how unimportant that huge sporting event becomes when you’re in the middle of something like TCR. “Pfft, those Olympians have got nothing on us” I think to myself, whilst appreciating the slow motion replay of someone pulling their underpants out of their butt crack.
“Couldn’t keep eyes open. Bivvy ~3hr at bus stop. Riding into sunrise now, eating chocolate and nuts. Had to go back to dbl shorts #TCRNo4”
“Hmm ride another 400k or watch slow motion beach volleyball replays in garage!? #TCRNo4“
“Fuck. Punishment for wasting last night. Massive head wind. #TCRNo4“
“Actually I was headed north. Now East is gusting cross tail. GUSTING. almost lost it off the road a few times so strong in places. #TCRNo4”
As you can probably tell from the tweets, it was a bit windy on the Greek coast! I saw some of the videos other riders posted and they copped it even worse in Croatia. I’m 90kg and even I was thinking about climbing over some hills to get away from the crazy wind. Pushed on though, worried about possible border crossing and/or routing issues if I did head into Bulgaria.
Pretty sure I stopped at a supermarket in Alexandroupoli for drinks as it was heating up in the afternoon. Further along the road, becoming aware of the crossing into Turkey without having had a Greek beer I stopped at a roadside bar with cafe caravan outside and had said Greek beer and final suvo. It took ages to arrive so I had to use my fantastic self-control to resist a second beer.
Somewhere in here there’s a climb up a famous old road (Via Egnatia) and a service station toilet stop and water refill with a grumpy man complaining about me only have 20EU notes. The road gets wider, busier and heads north, away from the coast a bit until, what the?! I’m heading onto a motorway! The E2 or A2 or something. Whilst concentrating on nailing an endless chain of swearing, I quickly jump the barrier and head back to the previous junction where I try and fail to navigate into Turkey with the Garmin (Garmin map fail) and my phone (Three SIM fail). Argh! So close, yet so far! I race back to a service station I’d passed earlier and shut off the tirade for just long enough to ask the proprietor how I could get into Turkey without using a motorway. She knows what I mean and her instructions are spot on so I retrace even further back to a small town, Ardani to find another road that eventually leads me parallel to the motorway and joins into the Kipoi border crossing. Phew!
Four separate passport checks (“where’s your luggage?” “I’m sitting on it!”) and I’m in Turkey! The road is big, flat, smooth, fast, busy and half under construction so it’s a battle at some points to not end up down a 3ft ditch where the other lane should be. Everyone dot-watching assumes I’m stopping for kebabs at every service station but I’m actually filling up my bottles! It’s so hot (40degC+ I heard) that I’m drinking everything I have between each service station. I’d arrive, eat an ice cream and drink two cans plus fill my bottles with energy drink or water and carry on, repeating the refill just down the road.
100k to go and I’m riding up the final ‘big’ climb on the profile. A couple of bodged gypsy-looking ‘bangers’ pass me. Basically two people on a tray atop four wheels with a small engine banging away propelling it. No exhaust manifold, muffler, etc so they’re loud as! Bangbangbangbang! they trundle past me half in the shoulder, not going much faster than I am up the hill. I fly down the descent and almost lose it with gusting cross winds. “Don’t crash less than 100k from the finish you idiot!”. It’s fun but sketchy.
The road is heading south now and I enjoy zooming into a sunset on the coast with a tailwind. I can taste the finish and so I’m riding quite hard, listening to some banging tunes while passing through Gallipoli (where I’ve been before for a dawn memorial service for WWI).
As I’m riding through a town (I don’t remember which) I see a person on the side of the road doing starjumps and cheering. I think to myself “oh, that’s nice, one of the crew or one of the finished racers has come out to cheer me home, how cool”. As I pass by though I have to do a double take… it’s my missus! I knew I recognised that starjump! She’d flown to Turkey to surprise me!
I didn’t know what to do! Shit, should I stop? Hell no! I was on a mission. She would have to wait. Ha! Soz! This point was the closest I got to experience what humans call ’emotion’ and if it was physically possible for my soulless husk to shed a tear, it would’ve been around now.
My coach, bike fitter and very good buddy Scherrit Knoesen was down the road a little bit further yelling at me to “GO!” so I did, I pushed on even harder, now really excited to finally get to the finish and celebrate with my fiancée and good mate. How awesome of them to travel out!
But then I entered the parallel dimension. I swear I was riding at 30-40kph and yet the distance to go was seemingly stuck at 30k no matter how long I pedaled. I was zooming in and out of the Garmin and trying to pinpoint a bit of coast to see if I did in fact get closer to it over time. I did. Shit, I was moving. So, why is this taking so long?! The road was rolling, dogs were barking and chasing me down, I was having a mental breakdown now, “faaaaaark, make it stop!” I was screaming. But every time I looked down I’d seemingly not gone any further, so then I’d yell another tirade of self-pity and then the dogs would hear me yelling and chase me. I’d have to sprint away from them and be quiet for a while. Repeat that scenario for about 20 years and you’ll go some way to replicating how the last 50k felt for me. I was worried about which ferry to take but heading into Eceabat there was no frickin’ way I was going further to the other town! I was so frustrated with the riding I was thinking “what if I just cycled in front of that bus?”. Proper mental breakdown! All of a sudden the ferry signs reveal a ferry and I zip over to the ticket booth frantically asking about getting on. I get a ticket and he says I’ve got time. Boom!
“On ferry. Swear that last 40k took longer than I’ve been alive. Bastard of a day. Don’t care. Almost done. #TCRNo4”
On the 11pm ferry I grabbed some food – a sandwich, some crisps and some drinks and trying not to fall down the metal stairs I sit down near the bike and eat, relaxing, knowing I’ve finished the Transcontinental #4. I was near the front and with the GPS on, hoon out of the ferry port and I’m suddenly at Saat Kulesi, the clock tower! There’s a whole bunch of other finishers and organisers cheering me in and the welcome faces of Mal and Scherrit. James Hayden was there, a man of his word, with a beer for me!
There’s some paperwork to be done (Leo or Kate signing my life away), the tracker is unceremoniously detached from the bike, a bunch of dotwatchers go wild across the planet 🙂
I’d finished! That was enough for me. Just a smidge over my expected finish time but close enough to be irrelevant. Handy, because it matched perfectly with Mal and Scherrit’s flight bookings from 6 months before! Cheeky gits. Proceed to spend a week with M&S, eating, drinking all forms of coffee available and buying (and drinking) beer for (and with) further arrivees. What an event! I think I threatened Mike with physical harm at the finish before hugging him. (That’s not Mike below, by the way)…
“Not often you start a race with short fingernails and finish with them needing a trim. #TCRNo4#finished”
“Lying in bed now. Kit was covered in salt. Let the Cramping begin! #TCRNo4″
Hotel S, Berane, Montenegro, around 6 in the morning I left, saying bye to 212 crew, and rode a few kay down the road before promptly returning to the hotel after realising the manager hadn’t taken any money for the room last night. Doh! He was nowhere to be found so I gave a 50EU note to Andy and he said he’d pay the guy and give me the change when we crossed paths later. But, downstairs again, I worried that this might be considered using ‘outside assistance’ and might be a rule breach so I ran back up the stairs took the money back and then went over the road for coffee and some water and got some change. Leaving a little more Euros than the room rate wrapped around my key on the reception desk I hoped all would be well and finally I left Berane! What a mess!
“Nothing like a gravel climb before breakfast. Thanks again GARMIN. #TCRNo4”
“Rain and out of saddle climbing has taken toll on hands #TCRNo4”
“Gears rough. Cleaned jockey wheel before climb. Weight weenie. Then ate some 7-Day croissants. Not so weight weenie. Made no difference so will clean chain later.”
(It’s now September IRL) A few weeks later and I’m struggling to recall details, at least of this section of the race. Reading my tweets I remember a very long climb into fog. Gnarly, thick fog. Visibility in places must’ve been down to 10s of metres only!
“Another unexpected border! I literally have no idea which country I’m in. #TCRNo4”
After commenting to the border guard about the fog (it’s always like this, apparently) I take the winding descent pretty easy until the vis improves and all of a sudden it’s warmer, clearer and I’m smiling. Be-cause. Down-hiiiiiiiiiillllllll. Experience my first dog ‘attack’ from a little mutt sat in the middle of the road until I got closer and he barks and runs at me. Avoid incident but from now on I’ll pay more attention to them.
“Kosovo likes cars. Wowsers. Worse driving than Montenegro too which is well done. 1st dog to try attack. Lots of dead ones. #TCRNo4”
I seem to be on a constant downhill so I’m quite enjoying Kosovo. The driving is atrocious though with lots of close passes and dodgy overtaking moves. “Sure mate, I don’t mind you aiming your 2000kg weapon at me so you can drive to lunch 10s quicker”. Somewhere on this highway the 212 crew pass me and head off the road. I can’t recall if that was before or after I stop at a roadside cafe for a coffee and a beer… and a crap… and oh why not, I’ll have another coffee. The young kid gave me some jaffa cakes with my coffee which was a nice touch. Calories are king in the world of ultra racing! Free calories are king-er, obviously.
“My rear light was full of water and my phone camera is fogged up but now down low I’m hoping to dry out a bit. Tweeting bcoz WiFi. #TCRNo4”
Resuming, there’s huge tailbacks / traffic jams along the highway. One was caused by a truck that had run off the road and attending emergency services, the other way just a TONNE of traffic in a town, probably because I was nearing another border – Macedonia. The rain I’d copped in Montenegro had caused big floods here (1 month rainfall in 1 day?!) and I guess people were rushing around looking for supplies or trying to get in/out of the country? I can’t imagine it’s like this normally but you never know. Lots of dickheads driving black drug dealer V8 BMWs and Audis with Swiss plates. People suggested it was locals using Swiss plates as a status thing but feel free to correct their opinion on that?
“Currently trying to solve lostness with kebab. Might have it sussed. Arse appreciated Kosovo’s flat, smooth roads! #arsenal#TCRNo4”
After some circling around, some gravel roads, a near mental meltdown, a dodgy kebab stop and some adjusted mapping I’m breaking through to the other side, specifically Macedonia, via the sketchy E65 highway (which I’d tried to route around after chatting with 2-time racer Ishmael). It’s a fun but dangerous shoulder-free 70kph highway full of trucks doing 100kph 🙂
I vaguely remember riding through a city which must’ve been Skopje and soon after I was in a seeming no-mans-land again. It was crappier roads and small villages. I wanted the fast descents back.
Early evening now and Matthew Falconer’s distinctive kit (with him in it, I wasn’t hallucinating that much!) rode past while I was drinking a beer outside a little shop. Spot the difference in priorities!
“These roads are shit. SLOM. Tell the missus I’m alive but phone doesn’t work in M countries. Kebab not good idea BTW #TCRNo4”
“Stopped at first hotel restaurant i saw after off-road crap. Think the steerer bung loose again. Cracking noise every potholes.”
“I was level pegging with Michael Wacker for first few controls. I didn’t think I’d wasted that much time until now but he’s 100k ahead.”
I was having a shit time of it now, on the crappy concrete of the R1102 getting bashed and bruised and feeling a bit sick. Fed up with everything and clearly annoyed at my lack of progress towards the bunch of riders in front of me, I stopped for a lackluster sit-down meal and mental reset at a hotel restaurant somewhere. Yes, stopping is counter intuitive to chasing people but I was beginning not to care any more.
“Slower the restaurant service, the more keen I am to get moving. Typical. Time to neck all my painkillers and ProPlus at once and finish?”
Moving on and I stopped at a service station off a side road in some small town where I sat and ate an ice cream and had a chat with a local bloke who was hanging around with a couple of friends keeping the girl in the servo company. We had a long chat about Macedonia and mafia, corruption, politics, the roads ahead, Greece, travel, etc. and eventually I decided I should probably get moving again.
“Another rider just passed me. Meh. Where did he come from? He left servo before me, had puncture but I didn’t pass him. Are people using this motorway?? dafuq #TCRNo4”
I’m clearly getting frustrated now with people on betters roads than I am, going faster than me. Just when you think it can’t get any worse… the now infamous R1102 / R1105 rocky riverside rumble! The road stopped and turned into a rocky, off-road, access path presumably for the nearby train line. I’m too scared to look at Strava to see how long it took but I was walking a lot, trying not to let my stupid Speedplay cleats fill up with mud or stones. There were puddles of unknown depth across the entire “road” so I was sort of tip-toeing around them through the scrub. It was ridiculous.
After seemingly hours of slipping and sliding I finally saw tarmac and went mental, screaming at the trail, screaming for joy at seeing a proper road, all of which was looked on with interest by the border police parked up nearby. They asked what I was doing and I said “trying to get the fuck out of here”. I didn’t know they were border police yet and to be honest, when I found out I didn’t care. They asked why I’d ridden past them four hours ago and I said “that wasn’t me, there’s 200 of us in a race towards Turkey”. They asked for my passport, saw the state of me, looked at the state of my bike and I detected some sympathy when they gave me some navigation tips and wished me well on my way. I pulled into a service station further up the road and tried to clean the mud off everything with a bottle I’d scabbed out of a bin. I did the best I could without a mobile pressure washer so at least I wasn’t grinding more paint off the bike and I could now clip in again with clean(er) cleats. Buying a pile of food, the guy serving said one of our lot had camped in the trees “just there” pointing around the side. I guessed it was one of the French riders ahead of me.
“Another couple of hours lost trudging through R1102 riverside quagmire. ‘Road’ race, they said… Was going to ride through to finish but that took so long and I’m so covered in grit I’ll prob try find hotel.”
“Bailing. Too dangerous. Need sleep and everything needs clean before ground to pulp.”
“Got half day hotel near lake something. Near Greek border. Shower sleep resume. Might still make 12 day goal. 10 was always a stretch.”
“Clearly underestimated the cumulative sleep dep and fatigue. Barely made it 25hrs of grovelling. Learning a lot though. #TCRNo4”
My grand plan to ride through to the finish without sleep had the wheels come off very rapidly. I guess I’d already pushed myself too far and found my sleep deprivation limits now. I just couldn’t keep my eyes upon so I rerouted and headed towards Lake Dojran, where there was a town with at least one hotel. I was being chaffed by grit in my shorts so justified the shower and sleep quite easily. The first hotel I tried appeared empty but after waiting 5 minutes had no room for me. The second hotel, Hotel Macedonia, was similar. Initially the girl on the desk said no rooms were available (even though the place looked empty) but I basically wasn’t going to take no for an answer so kept talking at her until she called another woman down. This woman spoke more English, in fact she wouldn’t shut up! 🙂 We made a deal for a room and I was about ready to head up when she had a brilliant idea and went off talking for another 5 minutes. “Do you need TV?” “No.” “Do you need aircon?” “No.” “Do you need a double bed?” “No.” “We have a room without a TV, without aircon and without a double bed. Perhaps you can use this room and we can make the price…” The calculator comes out again and she tells me a price that’s maybe half of the “very expensive” price I’ve already paid for the double room. She talks and talks about it and unrelated stuff and in the end we swap some local bank notes and I think I’ve paid the equivalent of 10 Euros for a small room. So long as it had a shower and bed I didn’t care. More talking from her. I think about getting the guy washing the hotel’s front porch to hose my bike down but worry about him washing any remaining grease out of the BB so decide against it. The bike goes into an empty dining room downstairs (for once I couldn’t be bothered arguing about it going in the room) and I go upstairs to shower and sleep.
Rolling up to the front of the Bosnia->Montenegro border crossing queue I ask if there’s food anywhere down the road and the border guard says there’s a petrol station. Through the border and into Montenegro I roll and sure enough a few kilometres down the road is a servo where I do some non-English haggling and swap some foreign currency (Bosnian Marks, I think) with a random selection of food and drink that I point at until the guy says I’m done.
It gets dark and I’m now in a rain jacket heading into a storm. It’s an amazing storm – like the huge 180 degree view we’d get out the back verandah in Mildura but because I’m still up high I’m watching it over some huge mountains. It was so cool I stopped to take video but of course you never get any of the really big lightning strikes on video and it removes all the scale of the event. Just trust me, it was fucking amazing!
Fast forward an hour maybe and I’m less amazed, now I’m soaked, running for shelter under some kind of ledge, wondering where the hell I’m supposed to be going. Two local guys have stopped their car and are under the ledge too. I’m wary, thinking I’m about to get mugged or something, because why the hell did they just get out of a dry car and run through the mud under a ledge?!, but we have a very stilted chat and I show them mine while they show me theirs… I’m talking about phones and GPSs! One of them tells me it’s raining for two days while I show him my GPS and repeat “Ploozeeen”. Eventually they say “ahhh Plooshunay” or similar. Ok, so that’s how it’s pronounced. They can’t believe I’m riding there. Given the conditions, neither can I really, but I had no idea how long it would take and I’d not even considered staying in town. So I plod on. I didn’t know it but lots of other riders had taken a risky border crossing that saved this big detour – if they didn’t get turned away…
The rain is torrential, the road is swimming, rocks are falling from the sides of the road where it was cut out of the hillside, toads are bouncing across the road, it’s end of days. If you’ve read any of my stories you know I have a habit of attracting ridiculous weather but this was stupid heavy rain and it just didn’t quit, some of the worst I’d ridden in. I didn’t find out until later but there was apparently a month of rain in a day and the resultant floods killed 21 people in Macedonia. I had my headphones in and should’ve put them away but I was too busy trying to get this over and done with. I remember a truck coming the other way and being hit in the face with a HUGE bow wave off it. It hit with enough force to knock the head phones out of my ears. I was having a great time #sarcasm. It seemed to go on forever. I couldn’t even make time up on the descent into town because I couldn’t see the road and every now and then I’d just hit a huge pothole. It wasn’t worth the risk of piling into one at full clip so I nursed it all the way into Pluzine. I was so happy to find the hostel, the promise of a warm shower, a bed (it was now 3am) and some food (I’d been running on empty for a while). Cue horror slow reveal as it dawns on me that the hostel isn’t open, nothing is open. Pluzine is totally dead. No shower, no food, no bed. Shit. I see a note to stamp my brevet card front and back so I do. As I’m doing this a French guy rolls up and I explain the situation to him. We roll around town together looking for anything open – nothing. It becomes clear we either continue or bivvy here somewhere. I get onto the town’s wifi (my Three SIM wasn’t working) and examine the surrounds – nothing nearby. I’m not going to attempt the 40k climbing parcours at 3am with no food or drink and no prospect of getting any food or drink for another x hours so I leave the French guy to find a bivvy spot and wander around some more looking for my own. I see what looks like a slow police chase. Eventually the two cars and the police car reappear, driving back into town quite slowly. I wave down the police car and ask the driver if he knows of any place to stay. I also question the ‘police chase’ I thought was happening but he explains they’re friends and have been at a party. All three guys from the cars are looking at phones and calling people trying to find me a room. How cool are they?! Unfortunately nothing results, but they have an idea and point to a nearby building. “That’s an apartment. It usually has a receptionist but it’s 3:30am so no one will be there. The door will be open though. You can go and sleep in the lobby”. Um, ok, they’ll be ok? “Yeah, just, err, yeah it will be fine”.
So, that was my home for a few hours! I found a toilet downstairs so cleaned and dried myself as best I could. I didn’t drink any water – I’m not sure if that was a good idea or not but I remember Paul saying he was on bottled water only for the duration after he got sick during last year’s race. To be honest, I think I’d come into contact with quite enough water for one night!
I woke a little cold a few times but stayed there until the sun was up and I heard the doors open or close. Someone had come or gone so that was my queue to “exit, stage left”. Packed up and by the time I was out to the main road the market was open. My god, I bought everything they had! I sat outside and drank and shoveled glorious food into my face! Made about four trips back into the supermarket to put wrappers and empty bottles into the poor checkout chick’s bin! Crappy pre-packed 7-Day croissants never tasted so good!
After the binge fest I stabbed at the Garmin to load the GPX course for the required Durmitor parcours. Nothing. The SD card in my Garmin was totally blank. FUCK! I pulled opened the rubber rain cover (insert LOL here) and removed a very soggy SD card. Bugger. This is why you: 1. Never trust a Garmin! 2. Always pack more than one GPS. Not only did I have a backup Garmin Etrex hiding in my saddle bag, I also had a spare SD card that would work in the Edge 1000 or the Etrex. There were also two GPS mapping apps on my phone. Firing up the Sony Z3 Compact mobile phone (also IP68 rated but clearly more waterproof than the Garmin Edge 1000) I used RideWithGPS to navigate the parcours, while leaving the Garmin SD slot open to dry out.
The French guy from last night and another rider were filling up at a service station and we all started the parcours together but they dropped me and disappeared almost immediately – guess they’d eaten last night whereas I was still digesting a kilo of recently inserted food. This 40k parcours was a really slow grind fest. I just looked at Strava – it took me almost 5 hours! 5 hours to ride 40k! Unlike Josh Rea’s ecstatic ride (see youtube), I just remember it being miserable – slow, windy as, with rain coming at me sideways and lashing my face. Sean Kelly would’ve approved.
“Anyone else referring to their Chamois cream as ‘my precious ‘? #TCRNo4”
Stopped to put on long finger gloves for the descent and thought I’d test out the Gore overmitts I’d bought along (supposedly for the Alps). They worked alright but I didn’t really need them. Finally saw signs for Zabljak and after stopping to collect Snickers that had been ejected after hitting a pothole, I was at CP4 the Hostel Highlander. I didn’t really know what was going on – Leo was there, someone took photos of my cold, water-shriveled hands, I plugged some stuff in to charge, the lovely owner gave me a towel and a bathroom to shower in and a coffee. I ate something, showered and was going to walk down the street while debating whether or not to stay or go. The weather had eased off and after my warming shower I felt OK again. I decided I would knock off another 120k and ride on to Berane. I should arrive just after dark (although I had contingency if I was later) and would have a sleep in a hotel. Hotel S, to be precise, which I booked from the hostel.
I rode over to a nearby restaurant and pretty much ordered one of everything. I’m clearly starting to get the hang of this multi-day ultra-racing.
Montenegro, when it’s not tipping down with rain is stunning. I enjoyed a long, long descent through misty, lush valleys. It was proper Jurassic Park, Lost World stuff. Really beautiful.
With perhaps 30k to go before Berane, the terrible 2-up of 212 crew flew by. James and Andy’s technique was: ‘breakfast, smash it, lunch, smash it, dinner and hotel then repeat’ so they were having a much faster but more sociable time of this than I was as they leap-frogged riders every day. They were staying in the same hotel so when I got in, I showered and then we wandered out for dinner and a couple of brews at a nearby restaurant. Thanks for the company lads!