TCR No. 4 Part 6: The Final Push to Çanakkale – Part 1

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 

And the official Transcontinental Race YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCKRsd5HOKbR2O4517b7cmLA

Kosovo

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.

Macedonia

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.

screen1
Taking stock in Skopje – in the pack chasing the top 10

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.

Dogs

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.

Keep Going…

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.

Stats (part 6 & 7 combined)

  • Distance: 1,096.6KM
  • Ride Time: 42H 44M
  • Elevation:  6,160 m
  • Calories: 23,471

Strava Files

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