This Saturday, at 6 am Perth time 18th March (Friday 17th 2200 GMT) sees the start of the inaugural Indian Pacific Wheel race. Set in Australia this is a solo unsupported bike race from Fremantle (Perth), WA to the Sydney Opera House, NSW covering 5,491km across some of the toughest terrain Australia has to offer. From the long straight desert roads of the Nullabor Desert, The Great Ocean Road in South Australia, to the Australian Alps approaching Sydney; this is going to be an incredibly tough race.
What’s more, the line up for this race is arguably one of the strongest ever for an ultra-distance bike packing race. Kristof Allegaert (3 time TCR Winner), Mike Hall (TABR, TD winner), Jessie Carlson (TABR Winner, TD runner up), Sarah Hammond (Aka the Purple Dot), Juliana Buhring (Aka JuJu), Steffan Streich to name a few of the hitters.
All of the main contenders have stated a desire to compete for the win, so should be an exciting race to follow.
The brains behind this race are those behind Curve Cycling. I’ve recently picked up my very own Curve bike based on the legacy of what these machines have done. TABR, TD, Race to the Rock… I would have loved to have taken this bike back to Oz to ride the IndyPac, perhaps next year?
Following this race will be compelling ‘viewing’. It’s really fascinating following these races – there’s no Eurosport here, it’s all about dot watching. Following the live trackers on the website: https://indianpacificwheelrace.maprogress.com/, you can see
in near real time the progress of each of the riders. Having Google Street view open on the side to see what the terrain is they’re covering, where they’ve stopped, you can really get to a level of engagement with each athlete (if that’s what you can call them?!) that doesn’t exist in many other sporting arenas. The reporting from the race will be from the riders themselves, followed by watching their twitter, Instagram and Facebook updates. Many of the riders are also fairly well know vloggers, so there will likely be much live streaming on Instagram & Facebook – watch out for Ryan Flynn, Cycling Maven and Durian Rider to name a few. To follow individual riders check out this page with all the participants info’s.
I’ve got massive respect to everyone taking part in this race and wish them all the best of luck!
Its time to take my new TCR machine on a test ride to my mums for some macaroni cheese. She makes the best. Trick is, she lives 430km away in St. Davids, in South West Wales. You can read all about my trip for Mac n Cheese last year here: TCR Training Ride
This year, I’ll be riding my new bike from Curve Cycling that I bought from G!RO Cycles, a Ti Belgie Spirit built with most of the parts from the old bike. I’ve had a couple of rides so far and I’m seriously impressed. I’ve been riding with a huge grin on my face most of the time.
You can follow my progress through a bit of dot watching as I’ll also be testing my own Spot tracker. After the loaner on the TCR failed and I still don’t know if I’ll get my deposit back, I figured I might as well get my own as the deposit/cost is not much different and will have plenty of other adventures to get the most out of it. I’ll be setting off a little after midnight on Friday morning – you can follow me here.
I’ll also be cycling back some of the way on Sunday. Due to work and time constraints (also, have you seen this weekends weather?!), it’ll only be to Bristol but tracking will still be active.
Why am I doing this? A great excuse to get a proper test ride in on the Belgie, a bit of endurance training, see my mum and eat a bucket load of pasta and cheese sauce. I also just really enjoy riding my bike, specifically riding it in Wales.
So, here we are. Another calendar year has ticked over, and there are plans to be made. This year everything leads towards the Transcontinental Race No. 5. Yep, that’s right, after last years race I caught the bug for this sort of thing. Many are surprised I’m going back for more, but I couldn’t be happier that I’ve been accepted back in.
I will be using my place in the TCR to raise money and awareness for the amazing charity, Action For Kids. The race is a huge commitment, and there will be over 6 months of training, planning and preparation to get me to the start line. Action For Kids is a charity aimed at giving opportunities and a chance for independence to young people with physical and learning disabilities. Any donations will be a huge help to the charity and can really make a difference. It will also help keep me motivated in the race!
Weight Loss: Focus for January is to try and work off some of the timber I’ve added over December. I’m really a bit disappointed about how out of control this has gotten. I keep blaming the appetite that I acquired as a result of last years TCR, but I think I just got a bit lazy with looking out for what I eat and how much training I do.
Fitness: Along side the weight loss, and to help it along I’ve started to do some indoor training to improve the quality of work I do increase my aerobic fitness on top of a strong power base. Lots of turbo and rollers sessions while watching Netflix or listening to some tunes.
Ride Far: With the exception of a few mini adventures in Wales over Christmas, I’ve not done much distance riding. Aiming for a couple of century rides before the month is out!
New Bike: Sad to say that I managed to break my Bowman Pilgrims. Terminally. This bike has been an incredible companion on some fairly incredible rides, breaking down many barriers as to what is possible on two wheels. It was such a joy to ride, and sad to say that journey is over. The bike is just a tool to do a job, so the search for a new one begins… N+1 and everything…! February will be when I aim to get this onto the road.
Ride Further: I need to get plotting to find some new lanes to explore. This will be about ramping up some mileage and some endurance ahead of the next few months. Things are looking quite interesting! I’m tempted to put a trip to West Wales down, but will have to see how the new bike is coming along and be sure the weather is going to play nice.
Keep going: March will be about assessing my fitness, weight and endurance levels. This will be a chance to work on some of the areas that are falling behind. Training for the Transcontinental Race is a really tough proposition to understand what you need to do. I’m hoping to replicate what I did last year, but try and fill in some gaps and include improvements. Hoping to have achieved some weight loss goals by this point.
TCR No. 5 Planning: I’ve already got some routing done, hopefully will have the kit sorted – any gaps will need to be filled, or planned.
G!RO…NA: Off to Girona for a long weekend of Spanish roads and Cols with Sommet Cycling Tours. There are perhaps 10 of the Cafe regulars heading out for some much needed fair weather riding and a taste of Spain.
Flanders: Probably more of a drinking weekend – heading over on the Saturday, watching the race on the Sunday, riding Monday. I’ve made the mistake of underestimating the damage Belgium beer can do on your hangover, so I will have this in mind next time.
Wales: If there is no February or March trip, it must happen in April. I’ve got to go visit my mum! I may as well just head down anyway as this is a great part of the world to explore
Heart of England Audax: Some unfinished business here. Last year I attempted this Audax with James, only to be caught on the first big hill by a snow storm. We made our way to a cafe in Broadway to warm up – never been so cold! – before heading back to the car in a taxi.
Paris – Part 1: As per last year, I’ll be riding with Challenge Sophie on her London to Paris 24 hour sportive on the last weekend of April.
Paris-London: On the Monday, as I did last year I will ride back from Paris. Hoping for warmer weather this year – suffered with -5deg C, but it was at least dry!
Sardinia: I’m making the most of some air miles, and flying out to Sardinia. I will be taking my bike and bikepacking gear for a week of bike packing around the island. I went to Sardinia a few years ago just as I got into riding, and found some fairly epic roads. Will quite likely spend most nights in hotels, but there will be some bivvy practice ahead of the TCR. It’s a really good opportunity to get everything bedded in and discover any kit issues or deficiencies, or even excesses.
Paris… Again!: Another round trip over the bank holiday weekend. This time with a whole day in Paris on the Sunday before heading back early on Monday.
TBC: Early June is currently a little open. Possibly the Dragon Ride again, along with the Fairies flattest 300 audax. Will have to see how things are.
Alps Trip: A small group of friends hiring a van and heading to the Alps. Got some epic rides planned in over a long weekend, covering some epic climbs and roads of the Alps.
Final Prep: This is almost the last chance to test any kit, fix any issues or add/remove any items from the inventory. Hopefully most of this will have been sorted out in May…
Panicking: As per last year, July is about tapering. And final preparations. Getting ready for the journey across Europe. Last year I put on a bit of weight this month, so will try and taper with an ease in diet at the same time. Or maybe just make the most of the extra weight by stopping less often on the TCR!
The TCR Starts: 28th July, on the Muur in Geraardsbergen. 10pm.
TCR: Still going hopefully! Lots of ideas about how long this is going to take me, but ultimate goal is to finish, and do so in time for the finishers party. I learnt a lot last year so hope to use as much as that to make life easier for myself. But there is so much that’s different, there is inevitably going to be so much more to learn once again! One thing that I keep reminding myself of is how lucky I was throughout the race last year. Bad routing through France aside, I managed to get ahead of, or just miss an awful lot of bad weather. Cold & rain in the Swiss Alps and Dolomites, the winds in the Balkans, the worst of the rain in Macedonia.
Rest: Beyond the TCR I’m planning to chill completely for the rest of August. I may put something together on August BH with the G!RO crew, but seeing how much damage my body took last year I’m not sure there’ll be much I can realistically plan for.
September, and beyond…
Seeing how I recover, I hope to enter Revolve 24 again. A 24 hour team relay (or solo…?!) race around Brands Hatch. Even if I don’t ride, I’ll most likely go along with the team to help everyone out.
All said and done, there’s much to look forward to, and you’ll be able to follow this journey here.
Photo Credit for header photo, at the summit of the Passo Giau, TCR No. 4, CP3. Photographer: Giovanni Maria Pizzato for PEdALED
Politics and celebrity deaths aside, for me it’s been all about the Transcontinental Race. It is more than that though, to think of everything I’ve done to get me there and then beyond; its been incredible. Most of this I’ve blogged about in previous posts but it’s worth mentioning again the amount of fun I’ve had preparing for the TCR while riding with a great bunch of mates. If you want to see those TCR posts, start here
These guys have been with me all the way from winter rides in January through some crazy overnight rides and long mid summer rides. The knowledge and experience I’ve gained just through chatting to some friends and others I’ve met on or in the cafe after rides has also gone a long way to helping me prepare. I’m often terrible at taking on good advice, but with the sheer amount of it some actually stuck in the end.
The TCR itself went better than I could have possibly imagined. I originally had an optimistic plan of a 10 day finish but that went out the window as soon as I realised how poor and naive my route planning was and I hit the third set of mountains in France. Still finishing in 12 days, the main goal I had focused on, was achieved with a time of 11 days, 9 hours and 26 mins. 12th place was a huge surprise, but there were a number of strong riders that scratched ahead of me. Most importantly was how much fun I had doing it. The freedom you feel, coupled with all the sights, sounds and people you meet on the way has me hooked on this type of adventure. The bug has been caught, without a doubt. I’ve met some great people through the TCR, and I’m still meeting them. This is a big community, and I have been fortunate to meet some incredible people. You meet them on the road, at checkpoints, at the finish, at meetup rides and events. The common language and similar experiences, as well as the shared bug for it breaks down barriers.
I was absolutely blown away by a surprise party that the crew at G!RO threw for me when I came back from Turkey. Such a nice gesture, and is certainly a highlight of my year. Since that, it has been tough time post TCR. A little bit of the blues, low motivation, some injuries lingering on. As a result, not being able to ride was tough for a bit, but I did just enough to keep myself happy. I’m really quite lucky to have a good bunch of friends around me that will keep me motivated and join me in slightly crazy rides. One issue that I still have is that I have no control over my diet anymore. Possibly a hangover from the TCR, but maybe just who I am. January will need to see some significant weight loss and will power. Needless to say there’s a lot of stored energy to burn and a lot of ideas to use it up on.
I took the opportunity to relax a bit and try to recover, but still managed to get in a few adventures with the G!RO crew in late August and September. Riding just for the sake or riding with your mates, with nothing to prove is why I do this. Highlights were a late summer cruise out to the Chiltern’s via Henley, and a ‘Castle Crusade’, in search of all the castles we could find between Portsmouth, Steyning and Esher.
In September I took part in the Revolve 24 team relay event at Brands Hatch. This is so much fun despite the tough endurance nature of it. This was the second year I’ve taken part in it with a team from G!RO Cycles, and is the best fun you can you can have on a bike with mates. So much fun! The first session on Track was a Le Mans style sprint across the track, jump on the bike and go for it!
Some serious competition this year as well. On the third lap, I gave way to let some others do the work and rolled onto the last wheel. The last wheels legs were ripped. This wheel turned out to be Jason Kenny’s. I narrowly beat Jason to 2nd in the fastest lap competition. Yes, that’s right, I’m faster than Jason Kenny!
We were doing quite well, but I think my tactics failed us towards the end. For much of the night we were holding 2nd, but gradually lost out to 3rd and finished 4th in the 4 team relay. It’s partly a luck game too – missing out on the mini peloton after a changeover meant working solo and sapping time. Still so much fun. Was a great chance to catch up with some fellow TCR No. 4 riders Paul Buckley and Stuart Bernie who were part of the team that pipped us to 3rd. Josh Ibbett was also there with the Bike Channel, and was great to see all the familiar faces.
We were racing with two 4 man teams from G!RO, and a lasting memory for me was finding a rider from the other team out the back of the track at 4am. What followed was a little over an hour of 2-up chaingang after we had managed to drop the hangers-on. Tired, cold, wet, with heavy legs smashing it round a very lumpy race track – couldn’t have been in a happier place!
Since September, things went quiet on the bike front for a bit. Sort of. I went to Las Vegas for my sister’s wedding and hired a bike. Naturally!
Biggest highlight of Vegas (after my sister’s wedding of course!) was a road trip out to the Grand Canyon North Rim, an incredible place!
I got out for one last big adventure at the end of November before the cold settled in. I rode the bike down to Newhaven on Friday night to catch the ferry to Dieppe. From there I rode down in the cold and dark night to Evreux, then up through Calvados towards Caen for a stop in a hotel before a ferry home the next day. I really enjoyed the lanes and countryside of Calvados, and must plan some more adventures like this. It was worth it just for the Boulangeries!
Christmas was once again a bit of a focus on the festive 500. I also had a target mileage for the year, so used both as some motivation to get some miles in over the Christmas period. I spent Christmas in Kington, right next to mid Wales, and used the opportunity to its fullest. On the way up from my mums in west Wales, I stopped off at Brecon and did a loop of the Black Mountain and reverse Devils Elbow. Stunning place.
Boxing day I headed over to the Elan Valley. Despite some navigational errors and some dead ends, I had one of my favourite days riding of the year. The Elan Valley is a special place, and I’m making some plans to go back there very soon!
I rounded it off with a trip down to Gospel Pass on the way back to the smoke. A really tough day, and a much steeper climb than I had given it credit for. Worth the effort by the time you get to the top – the views are incredible.
To round of my year on the bike we went for a social with the regular G!RO crew over to Windsor for some Iced buns, a perfect way to cap the year off. This ride brought my mileage for the year up to 13,000 miles, just shy of 21,000 kilometers. Happy with that!
This has been an incredible year, and have been really fortunate for the most part. Thanks to everyone that’s been a part of it! I can’t wait for all that 2017 will bring, with lots of challenges and adventures already planned and ready to go. Watch this space – I hope to keep it interesting!
Shortly after as dawn was breaking I made it to the border. I was starting to flag a bit, but there was a certain euphoria at having made it through the night and into Greece. This started to catch up with me and in the early morning sun, and I began to nod off. I decided enough was enough and pulled into a field to sit down for a short snooze to shake the fatigue.
A dog barking in the distance snapped me back into waking, realising that it could be a TCR rider approaching. Time to hop on and push on.
The short cat nap did little to lull the fatigue, but I was handling it for the most part. I’m not sure when my beloved Sportful no rain long sleeve jersey fell off the back of my saddle bag, but I only realised shortly before Seres. I back tracked for about 6 or 7km and found nothing. The frustration of losing my best jacket which had my last good inner tube, large chocolate 7 Days croissant, and my l’Etape du tour 2014 snood; it was quite a low point, losing the time in the search, riding through large puddles from the previous nights rain multiple times in a vain search for my jacket.
After giving up, I resigned myself to making sure I was refueled and covering all the things that I could in order to keep myself moving. I stopped in Serres at a cafe and stuffed myself with a large baguette, washed down with a couple of cokes. Checking the tracker, it was getting close with a number of riders closing in. Again, time to get moving.
I stopped briefly outside of town only to see Daniel Fisher motoring past in an aero tuck. I jumped back on, and proceeded to do my best to chase him down. I mean, I had to have a go, right? We leapfrogged each other a couple of times on the road to Xanthi, and in conversation on one passing, it turned out that Daniel had picked up my lost Sportful knee warmers having found them on the gravel road in Macedonia. Result! Apart from that, it was a bit of an unspoken battle and felt good to be in a bit of a race.
The heat of the day was building with a steady headwind. It was wearing me down, and after a bit of a battering on the cobbled streets of Kavala both my bike & I needed a little TLC. I had to make a hasty repair with cable ties to my seat tube bottle cage that cracked on the cobbles. I also noticed my dynamo light connector had broken while switching to charge devices, so that would need some fixing before a final push overnight to the finish, but could wait for now.
One thing had been building all day – sore feet. All the cycling through muddy puddles had taken their toll on my shoes, socks and feet which were all still wet despite the 30 deg C + temperatures. After seeing Dan & my route split at Xanthi on trackleaders, I took some time out to tend to them while eating ice cream and drinking a double espresso. Trench foot is what it turned out to be, and it was very painful. I aired my feet, socks and shoes for as long as I could, but was itching to get moving.
I took a southerly coastal route to Komotini, so was fairly exposed to the headwind. It was tough going, and although I felt I was losing lots of time, I really wasn’t that far behind Daniel. Even so, by Komotini I was bonking so pulled into a garage to get water, coke and food. I was greeted by some incredible hospitality. The owner could see I was suffering and after a short conversation about where I was going and where I had come from, invited me to sit down and have a coffee and water with him. He refused to take any money for it, and was a really nice moment discussing Greek, Macedonian and Turkish politics.
It was time to push on, and the dogs that had been sat at my feet while chatting away were now chasing me down the road. Little buggers! Before long I was through Komotini and on the road south towards Alexandroupoli. There was a small set of to hills to navigate as it was getting dark, and yet again some distant flashes hinted at an encroaching storm. The darkness set off the fatigue again. With the added heat, I was really flagging and it got a bit dangerous as I was nodding off at times on the descent. I eventually gave into fatigue and made camp in a bus stop for about an hour to recover enough to push through the night.
After about an hour I felt OK again, more driven by hunger than anything. I stopped in Alexandroupoli and ate crisps, coke and chocolate at a cafe and topped up my water bottles. I figured with about 200km to go, this could well be the last stop, so made the most of it.
Pushing up to the Turkish border was really tough. There was a steady cool headwind pushing down the hill towards me, and I was literally crawling. It was quite a low point – I had energy, but no motivation to use any of it. I kept on looking to the distance thinking that the lights ahead was the border, but it just never seem to come.
That’s when Sylvain #223 pulled up along side. His company helped me get through that short eternal road to the border. We rode side by side chatting all the way, sharing concerns about the route to take to Çanakkale. We finally made the border and the 5 or so checkpoints at about 2am. I lost Sylvian for a bit – he dropped something them met again a little further down the road. This was it now, the final stretch.
We road together for a bit, but being on the motorway it became necessary to separate. I really found my rhythm here, and before long I couldn’t see Sylvains dynamo light behind me.
The rest of the night was a bit of a blur. I had some really strange deja vu with some bizarre feeling that I’d done all this before. I had of course completely forgotten about the last hill on the motorway before heading down towards the Gallipoli peninsular, and it seemed to go on for an age as well. The sheer number of buses that past fairly close and at seemingly enormous speeds was a little hairy at times. I couldn’t quite fathom where all these coaches were headed at 3 or 4 am.
My left Achilles tendon decided to give up about here. I’d been pushing quite hard through the night, so must have just pushed it beyond its limit. For a large part of the hill I was pedaling with one leg.
The fatigue really set in too. Theres something about long straight descents at night-time that really send me to sleep. It was getting sketchy at times, but for now it was OK. My tendons were thankful for the rest.
It was about 5 or 6 am, and I was starting to really feel the fatigue. I had been glancing over my shoulder looking for the tell-tale dynamo light creeping up, when I turned back to look where I was going it was off the edge of the road, just as a bus sailed past. Before I could correct the course the front wheel was over the side of the tarmac and I was down. The small 2-3 inch drop was more than enough to stop me in my tracks.
I got up quickly, dusted myself down and basically jumped straight back on. From near sleep to buzzing with adrenaline in one spill. I’d managed to graze my arm and leg, but was largely feeling OK. I kept going for another hour before the inevitable adrenaline crash – I was double tired now. A quick stop in a service station for coffee led to some really friendly staff cleaning me up. There was a fair bit of dirt and blood on my arm and it looked bad, worse than it actually was. They kindly cleaned me up and gave me a free coffee before I jumped back on and headed on my way.
Dawn was breaking now, but the fatigue was still trying to put me to sleep. I didn’t want to stop for the fear of someone overtaking me. If I had mobile data in Turkey, I would have been able to see that I had a good hour or more on the next rider. I didn’t, so I pushed on, keeping the legs turning.
This is where I started talking to things. Partly because I was going crazy and partly to try to stay awake and alert. I would greet road signs and have very one-sided conversations. This carried on for a while, then I tried to mix it up a bit with putting in some efforts. Once I saw the 50km to go sign, I thought I’d pick up the pace.
I tried, really hard. There was nothing I could do to maintain any kind of effort. My heart rate just wouldn’t get about 110. This was annoying! I just wanted to push on and be done, but it wasn’t going to happen in a hurry. This was a grind.
I had a nice burst of pace shortly before the final town of Escabat, and the ferry. Out of nowhere, while slightly drifting off again, two angry dogs came barreling out from the side of the road intent on savaging me. That really woke me up. They had no chance of catching me though – adrenaline really does the job.
I arrived in Escabat, found a cash machine and bought my ferry ticket – the next one having just arrived. I’d done it. This felt really odd, probably as I was so tired, but it was hard to fathom any of it. I was a bit gutted I had no power in my phone and no way of taking pictures or letting anyone know, but I was sure people back home were all following the dot.
I boarded the ferry and purchased a coke, crisps and chocolate feeling utterly elated. I sat down, and slowly drank and ate. I fell asleep then, waking just as the boat was docking in Çanakkale. A sketchy walk down the stairs to collect my bike and walked off the ferry.
A short pedal around the corner to the clock tower, and that was it – finished! The race crew and volunteers were there to check me into the finish, stamp my card and congratulate me. I was asked how I felt at that point, and honestly nearly burst into tears there and then. I didn’t feel I had the energy for that though. I felt relief, euphoria, happy, sad, all sorts of emotions that are hard to describe. I’d had the time of my life and a big part of me didn’t want it to end.
I was asked how I felt at that point, and honestly nearly burst into tears there and then. I didn’t feel I had the energy for that though. I felt relief, euphoria, happy, sad, all sorts of emotions that are hard to describe. I’d had the time of my life and a big part of me didn’t want it to end.
It would take a while to source the hotel, food, clothes, flip-flops, ice-cream, kebabs and new iPhone cable before I could start taking photos and get in touch with everyone back home. But that was all OK.
I finished in 12th place, after 11 days, 9 hours and 26 minutes
I finished in 12th place, after 11 days, 9 hours and 26 minutes. My main goal had been to complete the race in less than 12 days, giving me a good few days to unwind in Çanakkale ahead of the finishers party and heading home.
It took me a while for all of this to sink in, and as a rookie in the TCR I kind of felt like I didn’t belong there so close to the top riders. Chatting to everyone in the days after helped reconcile this, but until I have another go I’m not sure it’ll be fully resolved. I’m definitely going to try to have another go at this!
This has been a truly life changing journey for me, and wouldn’t have been possible without everyone involved with the Transcontinental Race. It’s a huge community, that almost seems like a (slightly crazy) family.
To Anna & Mike for organising such an incredible event, to everyone behind the scenes that helped bring it together. To Tom for sorting out my new tracker. To everyone who watched over my little blue dot for two weeks, everyone at the start, each of the checkpoints and the finish, many of whom are volunteers.
To all the riders I met along the way, to the dot watchers that came out and said hello, to everyone on social media who wished me luck.
I feel really quite privileged to have been part of this incredible event, and hope to come back and have many more goes at it in the future.
While resting at CP4 on the Sunday afternoon, checking Facebook when I saw some from family indicating that sadly, my Nan had passed away over the weekend. This was a bit of a shock. My gran was a vibrant character, even at 95 years of age was very active. I made some calls home to see how my mum and sister were doing, and came away lost in thought, but also with some added determination to get to the finish for my Nan. Before the race she had been really interested in all the training and the riding I had been doing and had sent a good luck card to wish me on my way. I had meant to give her a call before I left for Belgium to say thank you, but with all the preparations and last-minute packing, I sadly didn’t get the chance. My mum reassured me that this was OK, I had asked her to pass on my thanks before the race and she told me how proud my Nan was of me. This gave me a powerful determination to ride – to finish and finish strong.
She told me how proud my Nan was of me. This gave me a powerful determination to ride – to finish and finish strong.
I love this pic of my Nan, mum and me taken a few years ago:
I woke on my alarm at 4am. I’d spent the previous evening sleeping, eating pizza and drying my clothes and shoes with a hair dryer. Putting them on in the morning it was clear that they were still quite damp. I’d resigned myself to getting wet anyway, so wasn’t too bothered. Most of the riders that had arrived the previous day had already pushed on, including the #212’s and #223 Sylvian. A couple of others, Daniel Fisher #133 and Stephane #12 arrived in the night and were also getting up ready to move out in the morning. I was quite organised and after a quick chat with the checkpoint night shift, rolled off down the hill towards Kosovo.
First a long twisty wet and foggy road down, then a couple of moderate climbs, but nothing too challenging apart from one shortcut through a ridiculously steep back street that thankfully didn’t last too long. The last of the climbs was the gentle road up to the Kosovan border shrouded in yet more fog.
One of the lasting memories I have of Montenegro is its familiarity. The place reminded me of my home, Wales in many ways. Steep misty valleys, rocky mountain tops. It was a feeling, and outside of the Durmitor National Park and the road to Kosovo may have little reality beyond my own mind. I regret that I didn’t really see the place, mainly thanks to the shroud of darkness or the aforementioned cloud and mist, and as such I took no photos in Montenegro. This is something I’m going to fix one day!
Check out some of the vimeo videos from the Durmitor National Park here, part of some of the incredible photography and videography from inside the race this year – https://vimeo.com/178151522
The border of Kosovo was shrouded in fog in the early morning. It wasn’t that cold, but visibility was fairly low. After a short chat with the border guard I was off down the misty hill into Kosovo, following a very cautious car. This was fine for me, as the car was a good marker for all the hairpins on the way down. It was about midmorning by the time I was down the and into plains of Kosovo.
I really had no idea what to expect from Kosovo. It was poor, that was obvious. Despite this the friendliness of the people I met was fantastic. Each time I stopped, I would be invited to sit down and talk about my bike and the trip I was on.
Sadly, my impressions of the place went down a few pegs as I moved through the country. The traffic, pollution and driving standards were all worth a few swears as I made my way. It had heated up a little bit as well, and in general really didn’t enjoy my time there. Being driven off the road by a lorry was not fun.
I’d not seen any riders since leaving the hostel in Montenegro, but I did spot some carelessly discarded Haribo Golden Bears on the road (a shameless waste of a favourite) – a clear sign that there were some TCR riders not too far up the road. I still had no data so couldn’t check, but it was a nice incentive to pick up the pace a little.
Going via Pristina was not part of the plan, more of a miscalculation – I skipped my tuning from my GPS file and used offline maps to take main roads. The town was gridlocked and a little hairy at times. Once through it was a relatively straightforward road down to the border. Again, no photos, but don’t feel an urge to go back and correct this. I made the border in the late afternoon, feeling fairly pleased with my progress and glad to have Kosovo behind me. I found the people incredibly friendly, but it was not a fun place to ride my bike.
Shortly after the border, I stopped in Skopje for some food and refreshments, only really the second stop of the day. I bought a feast at a service station that also had free wifi. This was a first chance to check on my position on trackleaders, as well as getting in touch with friends and family. I had been fairly pleased with my progress since Montenegro, but the encouragement I was getting was blowing my mind and driving me on even more.
One of the good things about Kosovo had been the road surface. This kind of fell apart in Macedonia. After setting off from Skopje, I took the only road I knew was available – a sort of back road to Veles. This had to be the worst road on the trip so far, and was just unrelenting. It all started off harmlessly enough, with some minor cobbles exposed under some fading tarmac. As I left civilisation, the road just got worse.
I heard there had been some floods in Macedonia while holed up in the hostel in Montenegro and that it was best to avoid roads to the south of Skopje, and looking at trackleaders I could see other riders had done the same.
This back road surface had deteriorated even further as a result. It was broken, warped, potholes, even large sections of cobbles thrown in. On top of this there were places where large amounts of gravel, sand, mud and debris had been washed across the road. It was tough on the contact points, with my hands taking the brunt of the impact, with my hot feet and saddle sores also wholly unimpressed.
So far, I had little to worry about from the canine threat. I had one huge dog chase me in Croatia after passing his patch of burning rubbish. No barking, growling – just chasing. Another dog I came across in the Durmitor national park, a huge sheep dog guarding his flock of sheep. I stopped in the road with nowhere to go. The dog slowly walked towards me – in a moment of genius I reached into my food pouch and broke off a stick of Twix chocolate bar. I made a friend there and then, and passed happily through the flock.
At the foot of a hill late in the rural Macedonian evening, I passed a small house with a dog barking. At first I thought little of it – he was barking away seemingly inside the borders of the property. All of a sudden this beast burst through a hedge and was snapping away at my heals. The burst of adrenaline and pace and the surprise at my own shouting at the dog was fairly intense. The unexpected burn up the hill used up a bit of energy, and only added to my frustrations.
It was difficult not to let these frustrations get to you, but when its dark and you’re tired it can be tough. The only thing you can do is keep going. Before long I arrived at the vibrant town of Veles. I thought about stopping and take on food and water, but felt the need to push on. Not long afterwards I was rewarded by the company of James & Andy, the pairs #212’s, after meeting them on the side of the road.
It was great to have some company and chat away, and was one of the nicest evening rides I’d had. Obviously riding side by side, listening to some of James’ music and chatting away the kays time flew by for a bit. With the frustrations and dark times I’d had that evening, it was a welcome relief.
We kind of took a wrong turn at one point, and ended up at a dead end that allowed a hop over the fence to a service station. I didn’t need to stop and was keen to get back on my GPS route, so I said my goodbyes expecting to bump into them when they caught me up.
This decision felt like a really bad idea shortly afterwards. I found my road fairly quickly, and almost as quickly as that there wasn’t really much of a road. It was about 15/20km of unpaved gravel track. Early on, there was a tunnel rudimentary carved out of the rock. It was only short, but was teaming with bats chirping away. I’ve referred to this road in conversations many times, and have named it the ‘Bat Cave Road’. I swear, the bats were laughing at me. The thunderstorm started then, and thats when I knew I was going to be in for a very long night.
I swear, the bats were laughing at me. The thunderstorm started then, and thats when I knew I was going to be in for a very long night.
I was trying to keep moving, keep pushing to get through the road. Lots of deep muddy puddles with all sorts of surprises lurking underneath came and went and was starting to feel quite confident. That of course is when I noticed my back wheel was feeling more than a little soft. Great. My first puncture after 3,000KM in a thunderstorm on some unknown road in Macedonia. I checked the tyre to find a large length of wire sticking out. I was still impressed the stones hadn’t pinched the tube, but I was soon to be less impressed by my light situation.
Running dynamo lights means that when your wheel stops moving, your light stops working. I had no cache battery to run it off, so had to resort to the iPhone torch. Not the most practical, but really glad I’d been saving the battery.
I worked quickly to get a spare tube out, hiding at the bottom of my pack. I emptied the contents onto the road, and made quick work of replacing the inner tube. It was filthy work, and was a bit hurried, but I managed to get it all back together in relatively good time.
When putting my kit back into the pack I discovered I’d piled it all onto an ants nest. Everything was covered in large ants. A bit of a shock in the dark – like something out of a horror movie with bugs crawling everywhere, but I quickly shook off as many as I could, packed up and pushed on again.
I maybe lasted about another 3 or 4 km before I accepted the next puncture. I hadn’t put enough air in the first time so made sure I put more in this time to prevent another pinch flat. Getting the wheel back on was a nightmare. I’d managed to dislodge the brake calipers, so had to reset them in order to allow the wheel to turn. I must have spent an hour on fixing both punctures and brakes.
The relief of leaving this road was immense. Buy now it was raining steadily, so took some shelter in an underpass in order to check everything was ok in some street light. After a short stock take and composing myself, I realised I lost my knee warmers and my Sportful Hotpack rain jacket on that one bit of road – the two specific items I was looking for to continue through the night. I wasn’t going back down that road for them. I accepted the loss and pushed on towards the Greek border.
I finally plucked up the energy to push on. A few km’s down the road before Sinj, I found a grocery store and loaded up on food and water. I was fairly baked from the last couple of days and a really bad night so refreshed my water and food reserves, enjoying the ‘delights’ of 7 day croissants yet again. Once I sorted myself out, it was time to push on in a break in the weather.
This break didn’t last that long as the rain and storms kept escalating. At one point I swerved off the road and took shelter under someone’s porch in a torrential downpour. The rain was intermittent but heavy, however I was already soaked so soon realised I was just wasting time hiding from the rain.
I managed to push on for another 20km or so. Each time I crested a hill a clap of thunder would drive me on seemingly chasing me. I finally gave in and found a cafe at a roundabout shortly before the Bosnian border. This was a good stop, as it gave the weather a chance to clear, to load up on some coffee, and for me to get a little extra charge into the iPhone by MacGyvering the cable by holding it at angles. Sadly, this will be the last time this cable worked.
I set off after a couple of hours, followed over the hill by yet another thunderstorm. Keeping low and plodding on.
Moving closer to the Bosnian border the signs of the war are still very visible. Many burnt out buildings riddled with bullet holes. For the most part there had been little I had spotted before this apart from a APC turned memorial next to the road not long after Gospić the previous day, but the signs were becoming more frequent.
Every chance I got I stopped looking for a new cable for the iPhone, but it seems the whole of the Balkans runs on android phones that use the micro USB over the iPhone. I’ll remember this for next time!
Moving down into Bosnia was uneventful except maybe for the loss of all mobile internet, right up until Mostar. The only internet I was able to use was to photo a cheese and ham baguette stowed on the aero bars. When back in the UK this short Instagramming session cost about £20 in roaming data and was probably the reason data stopped working as it maxed out.
I thought I had been making great progress, but had foreshortened the distance from here to Pluzine in my mind, the start of CP4 parcours. This was frustrating.
The road down into Mostar was fast and horrendous for a number of reasons.
The road. More badly laid tarmac that hurt every contact point with the bike. Hands, Feet, Butt.
The horrendous wind. It was blowing in every direction at about 70-80 kph. I still don’t know how I made it down that hill without laying the bike down.
The heat. Coupled with the wind, it was quite brutal.
The dust. Combined with the heat and the wind.
I found myself swearing at the wind, dust and heat many times in Mostar. The dry and dusty wind made it tricky to see and control where I was going.
I finally managed to navigate my way out of the town heading towards the local border crossing after Gacko. Between a massive long climb and Gacko there was a small matter of the most oppressive valley I’d found. It went on forever, seemingly trapping me in with no obvious end to it.
It finally relented and I came out into the industrial town of Gacko. I had a couple of options here, and was especially nervous about the border crossing into Montenegro. There were many discussions in the lead up to the race over the validity of it, and I knew that there was a long gravel road involved with a local crossing point that I might not be allowed to cross. My original plan was to enter Montenegro from the north, with this as an option to cut some distance and time and after spotting a few riders ahead of me using it on the trackleaders site, I took the chance and went for it.
I got to the bottom of the gravel road about an hour before sunset, and slowly edged my way up. It was kind of a bad time to try it, as if it failed I would have had to navigate the gravel road down in the dark, re-routing about 120km.
Fortunately, after a bit of disagreement with my loaded strava route I found my way over the mountain, part walking part riding right until the border. The road literally changed instantly from gravel to possibly the nicest tarmac of the trip. Heaven!
This was a beautiful road winding down the side of the valley down towards Pluźine and my only regret was that it got quite dark and I didn’t get to see it in its best light. You could still get a real sense of the road and environment though, and the road was a real joy.
I rolled in to Pluźine really hungry, so went looking for some food. Literally as I came into town the place went pitch black in a power cut. Yet another thunderstorm had followed me here and had taken out the power. I wandered around a little aimlessly in the dark for a bit until I found a disco bar and pizza place next to the closed hotel at the bottom of town. While ordering my food I weighed up my options, either find somewhere to stay in town or push on up through the CP4 parcours in the dark and stormy night. I really didn’t fancy the later so I asked around for a place to stay and came up trumps with a wooden cabin at the bottom of town for €12. A fair bargain! I ate my Pizza washed down with a coke and headed down for the night.
The next morning I woke late again and had a really good omelet washed down with a thick Turkish coffee. It was my first time drinking one of these, and had a bit of a surprise at the bottom of the cup!
I settled up for the breakfast and coffee and headed up to the petrol station at the edge of town to get some supplies. Here I bumped into Sylvain Blairon #223 and Stuart Bernie #142. I grabbed a few bits from the service station and we all started up the climb together.
I was fortunate to have had a good night sleep and feed, where both Stuart and Sylvain had arrived later in the night and slept rough in a carpark and I don’t think ate well. Before long I was pushing on ahead of them both and made my way up the mountain into the misty rain.
At first, the climb was really pleasant. The whole place kind of reminded me of Wales. Hilly and a bit damp with some lovely fresh air. As I gained some altitude, it was clear the weather over the Durmitor National Park was not going to be good. It started off with misty drizzle that developed into driving cold rain over the top. What I could see of the views was fairly spectacular, but for the most part the entire view was hidden behind cloud. I had to use all my layers to keep warm.
After about 50km I made it to Žabljak. I was frozen and needed to get out of my wet gear, but couldn’t find the checkpoint hostel. I went up and down the street a few times asking for directions until I spotted a TCR and Apidura flag half way down a sidestreet. I was welcomed by the Apidura team manning the checkpoint and got my brevet card stamped, somewhat stunned to find I was in 10th position overall. I decided there and then after a few really tough days that I was going to get clean and dry, refuel and dry out my kit.
The hospitality and friendliness of the family running the Hostel Highlander was fantastic, and shortly after a hot shower and change I was feasting on eggs, bacon, bread, granola, jam… everything on offer. All washed down with more of the Turkish coffee that I was starting to get a bit of a taste for. Stuart, Sylvain and Samuli Mäkinen #84 arrived shortly after me. Stuart & Samuli didn’t stop long and pushed on. The #212’s arrived mid afternoon and were also in a bit of a state from the cold.
By now I had resigned myself to staying the night, making sure my clothes were dry and I was well rested. Many other riders arrived through the day, all the while my position slipping ever further back, but it was good to take the step back and stop. It was a really difficult thing to do, but I think it was a really good idea to recover some energy and make a push for the finish the next day.
It was the shortest day of my TCR but seems I needed the sleep.