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:
Later checkout possible?
“4hr sleep, cleaned some grit out of some crevices, ate some more junk. Now in Greece. Warmer.
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.
“As wrecked as I am, can still bust out a kilowatt when dog pack gets jump starting in the road.
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 data limit hit?!
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
“Hmm ride another 400k or watch slow motion beach volleyball replays in garage!?
“Fuck. Punishment for wasting last night. Massive head wind.
“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.
“Actually over hills spears to be another country. Bulgaria is closer than I thought.
“Sun’s up. Wind is down. Good.
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.
Less than 200k remain.
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.
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!
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)…
“Lying in bed now. Kit was covered in salt. Let the Cramping begin!
“SitRep: Day: unknown, Time: morning, Bottom: sore, Mouth: dry, Eyes: furry, Palms: numb, Toes: numb, Lips: replacement required