Monday, February 26, 2018

CP 3 to CP4: Facing More Challenges That Come with Endurance Cycling

It would have been easy to stay and chat and get really comfortable at CP 3, but I knew that I needed to descend before sunset as the road was dangerous and the clock was ticking. Directly after coming down the Tatras Mountains, riders had to choose how to cross Slovakia to approach Romania via Hungary. I was originally going to go to Poprad and then take some minor roads that led me south of Presov to Kosice. However, on my train ride to Paris, Urs had asked me if I was following the Facebook group discussion about this road. It seemed there was road construction and that it was complicated to pass a final bridge that led directly to Kosice. I had changed my route at the last minute to take the main road to Presov, then directly south to Kosice. I quickly signed on to the GPS trackers to see how others were getting to Kosice. James and Bjorn had taken the route I was planning on taking which reassured me. Other riders were taking my original route, but since I had changed my GPS track, I decided to follow the main road. 

There was a steep climb on the outskirts of Presov, but then a rewarding descent. After the descent, when night had come, I decided to pull over for a second dinner. I tried to find a restaurant rather than a kebab joint, and the locals pointed me to a restaurant up top a building. It was impossible to get my bike up the stairs to the restaurant, so I left it in the stairwell. I went upstairs and found a nice calm pizza/pasta restaurant with some really comfortable seating. It would be a perfect place to eat and then sleep for an hour or two. I ate peacefully after seeing that Toastee was at CP3 and seemed to be inactive. I thought I would have quite a lead on her if she chose to rest there. Descending in the dark would have been ridiculous. After I finished a huge meal, I asked the waiter if I could sleep until closing, around midnight. He didn’t mind, so I quickly lay down and fell asleep.  

Slovakian food always looked so delicious, but it didn't have much flavor.  I hope to prove myself wrong some day!

I woke up, about an hour or so later to the blaring sound of music and young drunk guys, who were signing and creating a lot of noise. What on earth was going on? I couldn’t imagine how this peaceful restaurant with no more than a handful of clients had all of a sudden turned into a bar or nightclub for drunken Slovakian men! I immediately panicked about my biking, imagining they had probably tampered with it in the stairwell on their way upstairs. I quickly packed up, glaring at these drunken men, as I left, as if I had all the right to use a restaurant as a hotel, and they shouldn’t be partying in a bar (Yes, I’m aware, no logic in that argument!) Luckily, they hadn’t touched my bike. However, before taking off to ride, I checked the GPS tracking sight and saw that Toastee had indeed descended CP 3. Anyone who took on that road at night was up for some serious cycling, determined to catch up with me! There was no more time to sleep or rest. I had to keep on pedaling to hold my lead. 

I pedaled as long as I could that night, another 2 or 3 hours on hilly roads that I wasn’t expecting and approached Kosice where I found a McDonalds that was still open around 3am. I pulled over, not to eat, but to snack on the pizza I had wrapped up from the other restaurant. I was close to the Hungary border and happy with my progress. I decided to continue pedaling until I found a good place to hide and sleep for a couple of hours. This proved to be harder than I thought. It was in the wee hours of the morning, and despite being a weekend, I wanted to make sure I was well hidden as I would probably sleep until 7 or 8am when other people would wake. The best place I could find was in the parking lot of an apartment complex. There were quite a few empty places and a dumpster with recycled cardboard, that looked inviting to use as a floor mattress. No sooner did I lay a piece of cardboard down on the pavement, under the carport, when it started to downpour. I had sought shelter just in time, happy to stay dry. I tried to sleep as long as I could, which was probably only a few hours. When you are racing your body says one thing and your head another!

The rain had subsided into a drizzle, and I was determined to cross into Hungary and make my way to Romania. I was prepared for Hungary to be complicated. There were many “no cycling signs” on the roads and it had been hard to research an effective route through this country, which is why I tried to limit the kilometers I pedaled there. I found a service station where I could pull over and get breakfast. Coffee tasted disgusting since I left Austria and I had settled for Flavored Redbull instead. Not much better but at least it was cold! The variety of food at the services stations was becoming less and less appetizing and I was relying more and more on candy bars and prepackaged nasty sweets filled with artificial preservatives and flavoring. Had I been on a bike tour, I would have gone to much more of an effort to eat well, but I didn’t have time to seek out decent food, I had to make do with the options on the side of the road. I remember clearly hopping online for a few moments and writing Jonas, who responded immediately to my message. “You are taking a break too?” I asked him, since he was responding immediately to my text messages. “No!!!” He answered, “I’m pedaling!” I had asked a rhetorical question knowing that Jonas could cycle comfortably and “safely” in his aerobars while texting at the same time. I never attempted that myself, and probably wasted a lot of time messaging others, but it gave me a bit of a mental break from the race. 

I started riding again but struggled that morning. Temperatures had gotten even hotter in Eastern Europe. In fact, there was even an official name, “Lucifer” for the heat wave that was passing through Eastern Europe. Temperatures were already close to 40C and it wasn’t even noon! In the last two days, I had developed saddle sores, something I had also never experienced before the TCR. I had done a lot of reading for how to avoid getting them, including using an array of ointments and creams. I had started using a Chamois cream ever since departing CP 3 but it wasn’t helping. With the heat and the extra sweat, my bum was really irritated. I was reminded of this discomfort every time I started pedaling after stopping, and had to adjust myself well on the saddle for a good couple of minutes before finding a bearable position in which I could ride.

Always such great spirits when I saw Paolo, hence giving him the title of "My Favorite Italian"

In addition to my sore bum, I was exhausted and out of energy that morning. After only a few hours of pedaling I decided that it was best I pull over for a sleep. I choose a nice cafe along the side of the road and ordered a coca cola and a sandwich. After eating it, I rested my head on the table and passed out immediately. When I woke up, thanks to the puddle of drool under my chin, I saw one of the Italians I had cycled with on the bike path back at CP2. I was excited to see a familiar face and asked him how he was doing. His riding partner had scratched and he was continuing solo. He seemed to be in good spirits and better shape than me. We had a nice conversation, he even paid for me before I had a chance to, and then set off again before me. My bum pain was worse and worse every time I got back into the saddle. I had changed bike shorts to my “not so comfy pair” at checkpoint 3 and ever since then I was really suffering. I needed some relief, and quickly thought about how I could increase the amount of padding I had on my saddle or bum. I found a supermarket and went in to search for thin sponges and womens sanitary pads. I was hoping one of the two would provide extra cushion, either by cutting out a donut like shape from the sponge to put around the raw sores, or by covering the wounds with a sanitary pad, one on each cheek. I normally don’t disclose information about these sorts of things, but I think it helps you understand the reality and brutality of such an event. I used my mini swiss pocket knife to make the donuts and tried those for about a half hour. They didn’t seem to help. I tossed the sponges and gave the sanitary pads a try. I put one on each cheek of my bum and slowly raised my bike shorts to try to keep them in place as best as possible. The pads provided more relief, doubling up and using two on each side I had a bit of extra cushion. 

However, between the heat, irritated bum, and complicated road signs in Hungary my morale descended. Soon I found myself on a completely grass path down by the river doing circles to avoid dead ends. I got frustrated at myself and my lack of good navigating! How had I not caught these routing errors while going over my route prior to leaving? I was making stupid mistakes and wasting precious time in the saddle. Something had to change. I needed to sleep so I could make better decisions and lift my spirits. I decided, for the first time during the race, that it was time to check in to a hotel. Unfortunately however, when you want a hotel, they don’t just magically appear, especially when you are off the beaten tourist path in Northeast Hungary, in the middle of the afternoon. I tried 3 hotels and they were all full. I pleaded with each of the receptionists and insisted that they give me any vacant bed, as I only wanted to sleep for a few hours. It was no use! Just when I decided to keep on pedaling and go on to the next town, I saw signs for a pension on the outskirts of town. I rang the doorbell and a nice lady opened, who spoke no English. We communicated with gestures and writing down numbers and symbols. 

She had a room, although she couldn’t understand why I wanted to check-in for only 4 hours. I think people usually probably do this as a couple if you know what I mean, but she let me anyways. I quickly went upstairs, stripped down, hopped in a hot, then cold shower to refresh myself and clean-up. I took advantage to wash my bike shorts, air out my jersey, and clean my open wounds on my bottom. I was in bad shape. My saddle sores were completely raw, about 2 cm in diameter on each cheek, although I couldn’t bring myself to looking in a mirror. They were perfectly placed right where my bum bones contacted the saddle. To make the situation even worse, I was receiving all sorts of messages from my friends asking me why I was stopping so frequently. One of my friends who I adore, a tough love kind of girl and incredibly sporty herself, who had become a TCR dot-watching junkie, insisted that I keep pedaling. She told me Toastee had just passed and was taking the lead. Sure enough, when I checked the GPS tracker, I was now in 2nd place for the women and my overall position was slipping quickly. Previously this had given me enough motivation to keep on pedaling, but now, at this very moment, my body was in full-on rebellion and there was no way I was going to pedal another 100 meters. I desperately needed some quality rest. My plan was to sleep for 3 or 4 hours in a cool environment and then head out in the evening around 7pm. I would pedal as far and as long as I could through the night into Romania to make up for the time I was losing to sleep now. I couldn’t battle the heat any more; my lack of sleep had finally caught up with me!

When my alarm went off at 7pm, I was so sluggish, I had a real slow go packing and organizing my belongings. I went downstairs to checkout and asked the lady where I could find a decent restaurant. She told me there was one right down the road. However, when I pedaled by, it was closed and I decided to keep on riding. I stopped at a petrol station and loaded up on candy bars and red bull and continued to pedal. I was determined to make up the time I had lost in the hotel. My sores were calmer although still raw. I hit the Romanian border a few hours later. The border patrol officer was really nice, so nice, I asked if I could use their toilet. When I saw it involved parking my bike and going through several of their offices, I decided to pedal over to the other side of the border control, and hide myself behind one of the cement posts. It was not a subtle place to go pee by any means, but I had lost all my vanity and didn’t care! Who was ever going to see me or my bum again! Although I can guarantee you they probably had never seem one with sanitary pads on each side! It always seems to happen, that at the beginning of a bike tour or race, I’m much more prudent and discreet when it comes to doing my business. But towards the middle or end of a biking event, I could care less where or what I use as a toilet. It comes with the territory of biking! Going to the bathroom was a tricky routine of pulling down my bike shorts and keep my sanitary pads in place so as not to disturb my sores, and then get them back up again! 

Back on my bike and my first time in Romania, my strategy to sleep through the hotter hours and get some quality rest was proving to be a good idea! I was making good progress despite finding a restaurant where I could eat a proper meal. I kept on pedaling into Romania until I ran out of water. I was in the middle of nowhere and there was nothing around except for the sound of dogs howling, making me even more eager to continue pedaling. I finally came to a small town where it looked as though there was some sort of big party at a community center. I pulled over, and without taking off my reflective vest and turning off my blinking lights, I headed straight inside for the loud music in hopes to find a bar where I could fill up my water bottles. As it turned out, it seemed the big party was actually a wedding. I could see the bride and groom, family and friends, rocking out on the dance floor. But what really caught my attention were the tables where some guests were sitting with huge bottles of water and soda that were at the disposal of the guests. I gestured using my empty water bottle, if it was OK to fill up and they nodded. Just as I was finished filling up my eye caught hold of a massive fruit sculpture on a table close by that was also filled with extra desserts on little plates. I would have loved to have sat down and devour everything in sight but used my rational judgement to decide that would be outside assistance, and instead I helped myself to a banana. I did this at the same time the father of the bride saw me, which wasn’t hard, considering my helmet light was flashing and my fluorescent neon vest glowing. I quickly headed for the door, not wanting to cause anymore problems. He was really, really upset and came running after me shouting something in Romanian I couldn’t understand while pointing his finger at me. I could tell other guests were trying to calm him down and let me hop back on my bike and escape without a problem, which is exactly what I did.

At the time I thought I had hit the Jackpot with all sorts of goodies to help me pedal through the night.
Ironically 20 minutes down the road there was a petrol station still open and I pulled over to stock up on food. It was here in Romania where I first came across the brand “7 Days” that so many veteran TCR racers had warned me about! I bought a few along with some red bull, coke, and chips and devoured as much as I could sitting on a rocking bench they had in front of the entrance. I wasn’t tired at all and decided to keep on pedaling. I checked my progress on the GPS tracker and to see the progress of the other riders. In Romania, there were so many different choices of roads, the progress of the racers was hard to decipher as no two racers seemed to be on the same route. Not to mention the race organization had written all the race participants deciding to ban a certain road that James and Bjorn had both taken. James had had a close incident with a truck and due to all the heavy traffic decided to warn the organization that the road should be prohibited. This last minute change of road usage, didn’t change my routing, but it did affect the route of a lot of other riders. I was approaching CP 4 from the west, whereas most other racers were coming in due north. I had a good look at the route I was going to take to get to the Transfăgărășan road, and started to wonder why I had routed myself so far west. I decided to take an alternative route that other riders were taking including Jonas. I pedaled as far as I could to reach this road. At about 5am, having pedaled continuously since 7pm, I found another TCR rider, who I had seen on the GPS tracker map. He had just awakened for the morning and was starting his ride. We rode together for about half an hour, when I finally decided to pull off the road and sleep for a couple of hours. I found a little church tucked in beside the main road with a fence to protect me. Romania was known for having an extreme amount of wild dogs and I had already heard and seen enough of them in the middle of the night to scare me. I slept for about an hour on the church lawn. I wanted to get pedaling again before the weekly morning traffic picked-up.
I remember this sign humored me....Stray dogs were everywhere in Romania, somehow I think D.O.G is an acronym for something else here....

The road was actually quite pleasant. It wasn’t too hilly and the traffic was light. It was spotted with little towns and I was able to pullover at a service station to get some food. I also found a pharmacy and decided to hit it up for some more cream to help calm my bum. I had enough lubricants but needed something that could numb the surface, the same gel that was used on babies when they were teething. Before the race, I had contacted Janie Hayes who had won the Trans AM race for the women this year and asked her for advice on saddle sores, just to be prepared. She had told me that the least expensive and easier to find anesthetic gel was one that is used on baby’s gums when they teeth. Using hand gestures and the sound of a baby crying I was successful in letting the pharmacist know exactly what I needed. Unfortunately she only sold the numbing gel in small containers and only had 2, so I bought both. Outside the pharmacy I stuck my fingers down the back of my bike shorts, and applied the gel to directly on the raw wounds on my bum. It stung immediately, but after about 45 seconds, the pain had disappeared. I readjusted the sanitary pads that I was still using to give extra padding and started pedaling again.  

All the different creams I was using, plus Sudocream...It was quite an array!

The numbing cream did the trick and I was pain free during a couple of hours slowly making my way up a steep climb. Yes, it was a hard climb, but traffic was minimal so I couldn’t complain, except that I realized why no one was on this road once I reached the summit. There was road construction that started on the descent and lasted the entire 20 kilometers downhill. I had to descend cautiously to avoid any big rocks and loose gravel, not to mention dodge big construction trucks and workers. What looked like a good alternative on google maps, had turned out to be a bad idea. Once down, the road got better, but there was a brutal head wind and with the heat of the midday, my progress was slow. I stopped for an ice cream and a quick nap to regain some energy. I could see that Toastee and the other riders, who had taken a more northern route, were catching up. It was going to be a tight race to CP4. I kept pedaling as hard as I could but the headwind was strong and my progress was minimal. I came to Sebes, a good sized town and looked for a place to eat. The golden arches caught my attention and I couldn’t resist.

I don't get what people love so much about McDonalds.  The food has no flavor at all.  I did like their clean toilets and free wifi though...

It was the first time I had eaten anything more than an ice cream cone at McDonalds in more than 25 years! Cyclists wave about McDonalds because it is calorie laden, a known quantity, cheap, and the restaurants usually are clean, have a toilet and offer wifi. I was not proud of the fact I was eating here, although it did save time and I knew what it is that I was ordering, regardless of the fact it was tasteless. After my meal, I hopped on my bike again, hoping to pedal as close as I could to the turn off to CP4. The wind had died down and so had the traffic and the heat. I continued to pedal until about midnight when the thought of a hotel enticed me. It wasn’t so much for sleeping in a bed, but cleaning up my sores and remaining infection free! The hotel I chose had a really small room, but they let me bring my bike in with me. 

I could see that Toastee was also sleeping and seemed to be struggling a bit coming down to CP4 as she had turned around and back-tracked several times. I was certain we were going to meet on the climb to CP4, and was motivated to get an early morning start. I set out around 5am the next morning and no sooner than I started pedaling, that it started to downpour. I quickly took refuge at a petrol station and took advantage to have “breakfast”. They sold mini Seven Day croissants in multi-packs with peanut butter filling and offered instant coffee. The breakfast of champions for the climb that I was about to do!

The best 7 Days croissant flavor by far with peanut butter filling, irresistible, especially if it's your only choice!
Before departing I put on all my rain gear, including rain shorts over my bike shorts and shoe covers as well. I had a rain jacket, but I thought if I used it I would have nothing left for the decent and if the rain continue at the higher elevations I would be out of luck. As I turned off to the 4th checkpoint, I thought this one was going to be hell of a climb; difficult and unforgettable! With a steady downpour, Toastee right on my tail, and an epic climb ahead of me, the women’s race in the TCR was getting good! I stopped quickly at the bottom of the climb to get my last does of sugar and caffeine, buying a few candy bars and coke. Despite the rain, I was warm, climbing at a steady pace. The first part of the climb went through a forest and there wasn’t much of a view. Then the real climb started and the traffic got heavier as more tourists arrived. The road was lined with all sorts of tourists stands. I would never have stopped there, but I saw that one of the stands sold rain ponchos. Still fearing that I might be cold on the descent, I bought a brightly colored poncho, nothing more than a luxurious trash bag with a hood and arm holes, that I tied down over me so that it wouldn’t get in my spokes. I must admit, it did match my bike kit at the time, but didn’t look very classy and never showed up in any of the official race photos!
Ponchos like this one are not elegant, but they keep you really dry! Photo courtesy of James Robertson
An impressive and beautiful climb!  I would go back any day to do it again! Photo courtesy of James Robertson

Pretty soon the race organization car caught up with me and took some memorable pictures. When the rain let up and I was plenty warm, I took off the poncho hoping to dry out before the descent. The climb up the Transfăgărășan road was tough, but not harder than any of the other checkpoints. The road had the most impressive zigzags allowing you to take in breathtaking views of the surrounding mountains and waterfalls. Along the road was a crippled dog that threatened me with his barking. I was so tired, I couldn’t out pedal the dog wobbling on 3 legs, but luckily he wasn’t too aggressive. It was hard to see where the road ended and I gauged my arrival at the summit by the amount of cars on the road and the tourist stands. I had the race organization car in front of me, and another photographer following me as well, who I would later learn was part of the Apidura staff, the company that sponsored the fourth checkpoint. Despite the heavy traffic I made it to the top of the climb and started descending carefully. The roads were busy and wet and passed through several tunnels. I was keeping a close eye out for the 4th checkpoint as I didn’t want to whizz past it on the downhill. As I approached I could hear people clapping and I knew I had made it. The volunteers, sponsors, and race organizers were also trying to keep warm and dry.

Definitely happy with the rain shorts Chris White recommended on his ridefar blog and the waterproof booties from Jonas. Photo courtesy of James Robertson

In my zone, climbing slowly.....Photo courtesy of James Robertson

Pretty thoughtful drivers on this road in Romania.  Otherwise this country has some of the world's worst drivers! Photo courtesy of James Robertson

I coincided with one other rider there, my favorite Italian, Paolo, who I had seen riding as a pair at CP2 and since then in Hungary. He had descended and passed the checkpoint and had to ride back, climbing up the hill for a good 15 kilometers. I met the Apidura representative, Chris Peacock, who had been super helpful in advising me on the right gear to purchase prior to the race. After warming up with a couple of coffees and chatting with the people who had gathered around, I started the descent with Paolo. I kept up with him for about 20 minutes and then he got ahead of me as everyone did. I could see Toastee was starting the climb to CP 4 and it would be a matter of a few hours before she arrived at the top. The weather had changed and I didn’t need any of my rain gear. 

The descent was long and gave me some time to rest. My bum, that had started out horrendous after CP3 was considerably better now that I could numb the pain and treat it with other creams to try to help the wounds heal. I was prepared mentally although not in the best of physical conditions for the final stretch to Meteora!

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

On my Way to CP3: Enduring Unbearable Pain

My ride from checkpoint 2 to 3 is a big blur, filled with a lot of pain and agony that I thought would hinder my continuation of the race. I had made a smart choice to sleep an extra hour at CP 2. When I woke up, I could see the majority of riders had already set out to tackle this monstrous climb, The Grappa. I quickly packed up my things and set off before the sunrise. I was amazed to see the checkpoint manned by volunteers bright-eyed and cheery waiting for the arrival of other riders as I departed.

I couldn’t have been more than 20km from the checkpoint going up the parcour, when I saw a cyclist on the side of the road. He was straddling his bike, as if he had decided to pull over and sleep, mid pedal, somehow wrapped inside his bivy sack, embracing his bike. It was a funny sight to see, especially when I realized it was Michael Wacker. His decision to start the climb the following night hadn’t gotten him far,....perhaps he should have listened to my advice and slept at the campsite after taking a nice hot shower. I wanted to stop to take a picture, but the Grappa was so steep I knew I would have a hard time getting back on my bike again if I stopped. Thankfully the photographers saw him to record this priceless moment.

I ascended alone The Grappa alone in the early hours of the morning. The only other riders I encountered were the Italian pair who had gone to the summit and were coming down in the same direction, choosing to cross the northern plains of Italy. The photographers were close behind them in their white minivan. I waved hello and continued on my way. Monte Grappa is an incredible climb, a “massif” that rises out of nowhere! Along the winding 19 kilometers, you can see the valley below as flat as a pancake. The road climb relentlessly with no end in sight, which makes it tough to keep your motivation. There are some incredibly steep gradients which forced me to zigzag back and forth on the narrow road that had to be shared with cars. However I couldn’t complain. I considered myself lucky having hit The Grappa in the morning avoiding midday temperatures around 40C.
The Grappa towers over the flat Northern Italian plains below.  It is a 19 kilometer never-ending climb.

Jonas had given me strict instruction to ask for a free grappa liqueur at the restaurant at the summit from Margarida, one of the servers. He had done the parcour on a recon trip and insisted I pay her a visit. However, I arrived before the restaurant had even opened and there was no one on top. I took a few photos, and another rider arrived, Matt. He was a British cyclist who I’d seen the night before at CP 2, walking around in his underwear entertaining me with his stories of crossing the Alps on the steepest of mountain passes during a thunderstorm. Matt was also taking the same route as me, going down the grappa the back road. I tried to keep up with him on the descent but it was impossible as he rode considerably faster than me. To say it was a delightful descent would be a complete lie as the road was mixed with a lot of ups and false flats. I had lost my patience and was hungry for breakfast, not having any food reserves on me and long since burned off the huge dinner I had eaten last night on the climb. When I finally reached the bottom, Matt and I both had the same idea. We stopped at the first supermarket we found and loaded up on food. I’m a big fan of supermarkets when bike touring because there is more variety than a restaurant. Of course the package sizes are not ideal, but I did manage to eat an entire melon, yogurt and half a pack of biscuits before setting off on my way to find the Austrian border in Northern Italy. I never saw Matt again, although I was motivated to catch up with him and roughly followed the same route he did.

Matt rode up The Grappa shortly after I did.  Surprisingly, we look incredibly fresh after the horrendous climb!

No sooner did I set off, than I noticed a slight pain in my right knee. I thought it would go away as I started to pedal, but the opposite occurred. The more I pedaled the more painful it became! I’ve been a lucky cyclist when it comes to injuries and new had any major injuries in my career of bike riding. Which is why I immediately panicked! How could this be happening to me right now in the middle of the TCR? The pain became intense quickly and by the time I decided to stop at a pharmacy for a painkiller. I got off my bike in such a rush and leaned it up against the automatic door of the pharmacy that when it opened, the door ran right over the right hood of my handlebar. I could have had a serious mechanical issue had the door done damage. Thankfully it didn’t, as I had a one track mind to get some medical relief. I asked for the strongest pain killer they could give me without a prescription telling them I had a throbbing pain in my knee. She gave me a box of painkillers and told me I could take one dose every 4 to 6 hours with food as it might give me an upset stomach. I popped one in immediately and ate a snickers bar at the same time. I started to pedal again, but didn’t make it too far, still bothered by the pain and now overheated and hungry for a real meal. I found a restaurant, ordered some food, and decided that I needed to rest some more. Perhaps when I woke up, my knee pain would disappear.  

The best part of riding in Italy is that no matter where you stop for food, it is always DELICIOUS!

I would love to know how many other riders chose the approach I did for resting. I have a hard time imagining a lot of the men participants curling up in a ball and falling asleep on a restaurant bench. But this sleeping strategy was key for getting enough rest during the race and it only took me a matter of seconds to fall asleep. Rather than resting my head on my water bottle on the table, I chose the most comfy bench seat and used my water bottle as a cushion, curled into fetal position and passed out. I managed to sleep for an hour or two without the man in the restaurant or other clients bothering me. When I woke up I ordered an espresso and a pastry to down another dose of medicine and started riding again. 

As soon as I started pedaling the pain came back. I was incredibly frustrated. I wanted to make it as close as I could to the Austrian border that night, but with all the pain in my knee, I knew that was going to be impossible. I could see the other riders were gaining on me, especially Toastee who had climbed The Grappa in the heat of the day! She was tough! When the medicine kicked in, I had about 3 hours of “pain-free” cycling that I had to take advantage of. Unfortunately, at the same time, the route at this point was complicated. The roads in the area had been prohibited and we were forced to ride the cycle path. I had called hotels and tourist offices in advance trying to plot out the right way to hook up with the bike path, that wasn’t on google maps. My preparations had failed me as I didn’t see the entrance to the bike path, and was left at a nasty intersection of main highways. I decided the bike path must be on the opposite side of the river and crossed over. Thankfully I saw another cyclist coming off of the path and turned on to it. I was following my GPS route, parallel, on the other side of the river, as it seemed like a good alternative, despite being unpaved. Later I would find out that Jonas had a difficult time with this part of his route, couldn’t find the right bike path or a bridge to take him over the river and ended up walking through the river to get back to the other side in the middle of the night. Poor guy!

To make my afternoon all the more entertaining and to confirm my bias judgement about Italian men, an Italian cyclist, out for a relaxing ride, caught up with me on the bike path. He was definitely feeling the heat or trying to attract the attention of others, riding without a shirt. I can understand a lot of Italian, but talk Spanish to communicate in Italy. He happened to be going in the same direction as I was, and wasn’t shy to ask me out to dinner. I couldn’t seem to get it through to him that I was in a race and in a hurry to be on my way. I was having a hard time pedaling faster than him given the terrain, my knee, and my fatigue, so there was no easy escape! Thankfully he turned off and I continued to ride peacefully. When I started to feel my knee again, I managed to find a restaurant where I could stop for a couple of cokes and pop another pain killer. After that, I kept on riding as long as I could. I came across a few other TCR participants and we were all struggling to try to follow the bike path and stay off the main drag. At one point we had no alternative but to cross over the busy highway to ride on the bike path. I stopped to let the organization know what I had done, but felt better that there were two other riders who had done exactly the same thing!

Flattered or disgusted? In the state I was in, he still wanted to take me to dinner!

I rode up until it was well past dark, trying to push through the pain and stop at a decent size town where I could get a warm meal. I lucked out and found a restaurant with a kitchen still open around 10pm with nice comfy bench seats. I hopped on the internet to check my progress and that of the other riders while I ate my dinner. At this point in the race, all the dots were dispersed across Northern Italy and Southern Austria. Some riders chose to avoid the mountains in Southern Austria and instead rode the flatter plains of Italy. I could see Toastee was behind me on the same route, Jonas was way ahead of me on the a similar route, and many dots were inactive, meaning they had decided to call it a night and sleep. I decided to sleep for an hour and keep riding as the nighttime ambiance was a lot easier for me to cope with compared to the heat and traffic throughout the day. I asked the waitress if I could lie down on the bench until closing and thankfully she took pity on me. I got a good hour of rest in before I headed off again.
Probably the nicest bike path I rode into Austria.

I was surprised that the upcoming kilometers were a nice gradual descent and I was able to cover a lot of kilometers, making it past the Austrian border before I decided to call it a day. I couldn’t find a great place to sleep, but finally settled for the a grassy patch next to a bus stop. Blowing up my air mattress, I learned it had a hole! I had patches on me but not the time or energy to spend to look for the puncture. My sleeping gear was now reduced to a bivy sac and a thin liner with no insulation from the cold ground. Thankfully, however, it didn’t matter and I fell quickly asleep and slept a good 3 to 4 hours. When I woke up, I felt like I’d been run over by a train. I still had a lot of knee pain and my body was tired, despite the fact I had woke up without an alarm. I took a selfie that morning, it was a scary portrayal of the reality of my condition: eyes swollen, looking exhausted. I somehow managed to get myself back on my bike and pedal until the first petrol station where I could buy some breakfast and take another pain killer.

Definitely hurting here after a few hours sleep, I don't know how I got back on my bike to continue riding.

This would be the day I had the most pain and thought I might have to quit the race. The pain killers were wearing off faster and faster and I couldn’t pedal more than 2 hours before I had to stop. I got some ice at a cafe, had a coffee and tried to sleep a bit. As soon as I stopped pedaling the pain went away, but once back on my bike it continued. I remember going through a small little city center cursing and swearing at the top of my lungs in complete pain. People turned around to look at me. I didn’t care, I didn’t know how else to cope with the pain! Despite crossing the border into Austria and being in the mountains, the heat was still unbearable and my progress was ridiculously slow. I knew my friends were concerned about me, I could tell by some of their comments in the Whatsapp group. I tried to cover up the fact I was injured and told them I needed to escape from the unbearable heat and would start a nocturnal riding schedule so they wouldn’t worry about me. I couldn’t tell them about my pain. I longed for their sympathy, but I didn’t want to let them down. I was completely frustrated at myself. How could this be? How could I develop a tendonitis now during the race after all the training I had done? It wasn’t fair! I considered my options, I knew them quite well: continue pedaling and grin and bear the pain, or quit.

I started icing my knee every time I stopped to eat or drink.

I pulled over at a petrol station, took shelter from the heat inside, and laid down once again at one of their tables. I reached out to a really good friend in Barcelona, knowing there was nothing anyone could do for me, I just needed to hear a familiar voice. I told him I had developed the classic cyclist tendinitis and that the pain was unbearable. He took pity on me and told me it was OK to stop, that only time would make it better. I knew this was the solution myself, but I was in denial about accepting quitting. I am NOT a quitter! I had never quit a race and after all my preparation I wasn’t about to! When I hung up, needed to start pedaling again. The heat seemed to have dissipated thanks to a lurking thunderstorm. I made it about 30 min. Before there was a complete downpour. I took shelter turning at the first road I saw, a driveway to a few private residences. There was a covered car park for 2 cars detached from the house. I quickly took out my bivy sac and climbed inside trying to keep dry and warm while I waited out the storm. Endurance cyclists have to be efficient with their time. If you are going to stop riding, it can only be for two reasons, to sleep or eat! 

The people living inside the house must have seen me take shelter because they came out to see if I was OK. I told them I was waiting for the storm to pass. They didn’t seem to mind. When the rain turned to a steady mist, I hopped back on my bike and pedaled. I was determined to find another pharmacy where I could ask for a stronger pain killer or another medicine for my knee. Right before closing for the night, I found a pharmacy. They gave me an anti-inflammatory as well as a muscle cream to rub on my knee. With two different medicines, I was hopeful things would get better.

At some point during that night while riding, I remember reading about the possible injuries that could come about with endurance cycling. I decided that I should try adjusting my bike seat to see if that helped at all. Magically it did, it was almost like an instant fix. I don’t remember too much more that night except that the pain had reduced and I took advantage to pedal as long as I could. I took a nap somewhere around midnight on a park bench in the middle of a climb. I remember receiving a message from Felix, who was following me closely. “Sleeping?, he asked, sending me a picture of the park bench from google map. Crazy! I thought to myself. How many details my GPS tracker provided, yet it didn’t pick up on any of the emotional turmoil I was experiencing, my fatigue, nor some of the awful road conditions. After a quick nap, I pedaled quite far that night, pain free after I adjusted my saddle. I knew I had to make up the distance I had lost earlier in the day. Somewhere around 5am I pulled over behind a public clinic and laid my bivy sac out on the concrete patio. No longer did a rock hard or cold surface bother me. I slept soundly until morning, when a person walking their dog discovered me. I quickly got dressed and started to pedal, motivated that I was approaching the Slovakian border. 

I realized I was pretty much pain free, except for a mild ache in my ankle. I decided to adjust the clips on my shoes and this just about eliminated all the pain I had previously. In the matter of 36 hours, I had overcome the worst pain I had experienced in my life from bike riding and I was energized and optimistic to be back in the racing spirit! I also realized at this point in the race there was gear I wasn’t using, extra items that were weighing me down. Jonas had told me to throw out anything I didn’t use to save weight. Being the frugal person that I am, and not wanting to part sentimentally with my gear, I found an Austrian post office wear I could send these items home. Of course I was spoiled by the Swiss postal services with all sorts of packaging material at your disposal to help you mail a parcel. The Austrian post office had nothing except for a mere scale to weigh packages and the lady working there was not in the mood to help me find a box. I quickly scrambled for a solution and ran across the street to find a bar, to use their daily newspaper to wrap-up my extra items. When the attendant at the post office saw me again, she realized I was pretty hopeless and came to my rescue with a small box and some tape. I stuffed my extra jersey, my only pair of underwear, the punctured air mattress, leg warmers, and extra USB charger in the box and sent it to Switzerland. This freed up some space and weight in my saddle bag.

I was feeling pretty good again, lighter, pain free, and determined to keep the lead until Checkpoint 3! I entered Slovakia, through Bratislava. It was my first time visiting this country, but not my first time in Eastern Europe. I maneuvered my way around the city and then headed Northeast to the Tatras mountains. I wanted to ride as close as possible to CP 3, so that I wouldn’t have to make on the climb in the heat of the day. I stopped along the way at some point for an ice cream. If there is one thing I remember about Slovakia, it is their food. Everything looked enticing and the portions were enormous, but the food had no flavor, with the exception of their ice cream and some small powdered donuts I found in the service stations. I couldn’t complain however, as it was dirt cheap! Before starting my night ride, I enjoyed a delicious 3 scoop ice cream sundae. In fact it was so good and cheap, that I went back for a second 3 scoop sundae! This sugar rush gave me the energy I needed to pedal as far as I could before the hunger became impossible to ignore and pulled over for a late dinner. I hit up a local Italian joint with a ton of people sitting on the terrace. I went inside in hopes of comfy seats where I could nap after eating. I ordered a heaping portion of pasta, a pizza, and a salad. I wrapped up the pizza to bring with me, but before I headed off again to ride into the wee hours of the night I took a nap in the restaurant. 

I had developed a very successful riding routine considering the hot temperatures during the day and the empty roads at night. I would stop for lunch around 2pm, eat and nap for an hour to an hour and a half. Then I would ride until about 9 or 10pm and stop again to eat and nap for an hour, before riding into the wee hours of the night, when I would finally stop around 3 or 4am and sleep until about 6 or 7 in the morning. I was getting about 5 hours of sleep divided all throughout the day and my body was OK (or so I thought) with this routine! Not to mention, no one seemed to mind that I sprawled out on their restaurant furniture to sleep for an hour or two. 

That night, making my way to the Tatras mountains, I came across another cyclist, Lee Pearce, a veteran TCR racer. I was impressed by his race strategies. He was organized and coordinated enough to eat a proper meal in his saddle, enjoying a burrito as he rode next to me. I was impressed he had managed to find a Mexican joint in Slovakia, and also a bit jealous he was organized and fast enough to take advantage of sleeping at hotels. He had reserved a room a few kilometers up the road and was determined to arrive before they closed. He turned off the road convinced it was the way to his hotel, I kept going straight, making my way up to the Tatras mountains. I saw him at the end of the race and he admitted he got lost that night and arrived incredibly late for his reservation.

Not a bad place to sleep for a night.  I got lucky finding the plywood and cardboard to insulate myself on the ground.

I pulled off the road about 100km shy of CP 3. I was exhausted and took shelter behind a set of apartments where I found a large piece of plywood and cardboard I used to protect my bivy sac from the bare ground. I slept for a few hours before I was up again, excited to arrive to CP 3. The main road I had to follow was a nightmare that morning, and there was so much traffic I was getting annoyed. I made several wrong turns before I finally pulled over and studied an alternative route up to CP 3, leaving the main drag behind sooner than I had intended. I couldn’t bare the traffic and I saw a few other racers, including Jonas had taking this option, so I decided to give it a try! It was a steep route but the advantage was that I had some downhill before doing the final ascent up to the checkpoint. Shortly into the route, another woman cyclist came pedaling towards me. She seemed delighted to see me and it took me awhile to realize who she was, although she immediately seemed to know me. Svenja Schrade was a volunteer at Checkpoint 3, who had taken a break to go for a ride and thought she could find me along the road after following my dot for awhile. She was determined to compete in the TCR in the near future and was using this year’s experience as a volunteer to learn about the race. Like many other dedicated volunteers, she had rode from Germany to Slovakia as a test to see if she was ready for such a feat. She was awfully nice to come and find me. I think I was pedaling much too slow for her on the uphill, but she stayed along my side for a little while to chat before continuing her ride. 

The Tatras mountains and surrounding forests reminded me a lot of Oregon, USA
Svenja rode next to me for awhile and snapped this shot.

Just after she left, I found myself cursing Mike. He’d managed to choose yet again, another checkpoint with nothing around! There were literally no opportunities to resupply and I was out of food, and soon to be out of water without even reaching the last brutal part of the ascent. I came across what looked to be some sort of mountain retreat, at the start of the 3rd parcour, but I couldn’t find a proper entrance to the building. It wasn’t until I went through the back door and wandered around the hallway that I realized I was in a senior citizen home! I didn’t want to startle a grandma or grandpa and I thought that if I filled up water there or asked for food, it would have been considered “outside assistance” and illegal. So I toughened up and decided I could ration the last small portion of water in my bottle until I got to the top. What I didn’t realize was that the gradient up ahead was so steep I couldn’t manage to balance myself on my bike and ride with one hand while I grabbed my water bottle to drink. I would have to stop in order to drink because I was pedaling too slowly. I thought the The Grappa was a hard climb, but the road up to CP 3 was twice as difficult! It was so narrow, in fact, it seemed more like a pedestrian trail than an actual road with areas of rough pavement at times and gravel batches. I made a mental note to descend cautiously and with daylight! 

Trying to smile for the camera crew climbing up to CP3

Halfway up the climb the camera crew caught up with me, startling me by hiding in the bushes to catch some natural shots of me suffering. Although they were only a few meters in front of me with the back on the van open, I had no extra energy to chat with them. It was hot, I was hungry and thirsty, and the climb was beyond difficult. I did, however, feel fortunate to have eliminated all my knee and ankle pain, in order to give the climb all that I could. I had seen pictures of other riders at the top and saw that there was a pristine mountain lake awaiting me, a feasible “bath” to help me cool down and clean-up! I was eager to arrive!

Final Sprint....over my dead body, I just tried to keep the pedals turning!

The face says it all....

Juliana hadn’t been at the 2nd checkpoint but she was waiting for the riders at CP3 with a big smile on her face. Little did I know the race organization wanted to interview me, still in the number one spot for the female riders. I, however, was fixated on the lake next to the hotel at the top of the climb. I put on my rain shorts, took off my jersey and let out a quick shriek as I took a dip in the ice cold water. I was filled with an overwhelming sense of relief! It was incredibly cold water but felt so refreshing! This would be the second “shower” I would take during the race and felt incredible! I hadn’t followed my normal napping pattern that day, as I could see Toastee was only a few hours behind me. However, I decided to rest for a bit at the checkpoint and did a live interview with the race organization before indulging in a delicious meal, chatting with Juliana, and then descending. With 3 out of the 4 checkpoints completed I was more than halfway through the race and determined to keep on fighting to stay in the lead!
Dinner before my departure, I couldn't have eaten the double or triple, but the clock was ticking....

Saturday, February 10, 2018

From CP1 to CP2: Crossing the Alps

At the top of CP 1, Jonas' spirits were up again before we went our own ways.  He would pass 20 riders in the next 6 hours to regain second place.

As I set off from CP 1 the exhaustion set it. I didn’t realize how much energy had been consumed back at Schloss Lichtenstein and to top it off, I was on a roller coaster riding south to the Austrian border in Germany’s southern hills. I had changed this section of my route after my reconnaissance trip. I opted not to take the German local highways with considerable traffic at high speeds although we were allowed to ride them. Supposedly there were cycle path alternatives close by, but I had had a frustrating experience on my recon trip trying to stay on them, so I reorganized my route down to the Austrian border using secondary roads. I regretted this last minute route change as I seemed to be riding over every small hill, choosing what seemed to be the most rolling terrain in the whole area. I had to cross the Alps shortly and I needed to reserve my energy for the first mountain stage.

That afternoon was frustrating, probably the all time low of the whole race. The heat and humidity had come and with little sleep during the first 2 days of riding, I was exhausted. I rolled into Biberach, a decent sized town in Southern Germany, a pit-stop on my recon trip and I immediately spotted the same ice cream shop I had hit up before. After devouring the double scoop cone, I managed to freshen up in the public fountain, despite the vigilant eyes of the locals. I found a small kebab shop around the corner and quickly signed on to see Jonas’ progress. Sure enough he was quickly passing others and would soon be up in front again.

When I started pedaling again towards the mountains, I could see that I was headed straight into a storm. It wasn't the most ideal weather conditions by any means, but I hoped for the best. A few riders passed me who were "gung ho" on taking on the mountains regardless of the lightning storm that lit up the sky ahead of us. I rode a good distance behind a cyclist with a slight figure who kept coming on and off the road, taking a lot of the cycle paths. I admired them, because I didn’t have the patience for German cycle paths. Everyone speaks so highly of Germany and it’s cycle paths but for road cyclists with a “purpose” they are a true nightmare! I saw the “slight figure” pull over to a petrol station just in front of me. I continued in hopes of stopping at a restaurant just before I started the big climb at the Austrian border. Later I would realize that the cyclist with the “slight figure” who I thought was simply a very young rider, was indeed Karen Toastee, who would always remain within 40 to 100 kilometers behind me for the entire race.

Putting optimism to the test, pedaling straight into a thunder storm in the alps at night as I cross the German-Austrian border.

I saw what looked to be a good restaurant, parked me bike and went in, only to find the kitchen closed. I pulled up to another restaurant a few kilometers down the road and unfortunately the kitchen was also closed. At the third restaurant I tried, I came across another TCR cyclist who was eating, he smiled at me when I entered. Seeing him, I thought I was in luck, but when I asked the server, he told me the kitchen was now closed. I looked back with envy at the TCR rider who was eating so contently and couldn’t help but feel a bit of rage at the same time! By now I was starving and I had tried 3 restaurants and struck out all three times. Every time I got off my bike, I was losing time! You can’t get frustrated when you are unsuccessful finding a place to eat or sleep when riding. This is one piece of advice Jonas gave me before the race, but I also knew it was true from my own travel experiences. He said, don’t get frustrated if you can’t find a good place to sleep or have no luck with a restaurant, there is a better place yet to come. Optimism is the only way to combat frustration, including hunger! So I got back on my bike and pedaled on, forgetting I was about to hit a big town before riding up the Fern Pass. As can be predicted in a town of any decent size, there will inevitably by a Pizza/Kebab joint. I thankfully placed my order and had a seat outside.

At that same time, I saw the same “slight rider” I had been behind before. As they rode by me, I realized it was another female rider, hence her slight frame. I said hello in both amazement and shock. As she passed me I knew I was in for a tough race, she looked determined and tough. Sure enough, when I checked the dots, there were two of us women in the front of the pack. Karen Toastee, or “Toastee” as I called her, and myself. Karen was another “nobody”, like myself, when it came to female endurance riders. I was expecting to see other racers at the top who had experience and were more known, such as Emily Chappell, Paula Regener, and Shusanah Pillinger. As I would later learn, Karen, like myself was a novice endurance cyclists. We both seemed to be pretty tough and have a lot of “grit”, which would make an intense and interesting female race to follow.

As I sat and ate my kebab, I quickly chatted with my family on Whats App. Probably looking for a little bit of sympathy, I told them that a woman had just passed me. I clearly remember my sister-in-law telling me in the most direct of ways without any pity, to simply get back on my bike and ride! Her tough love approach worked and although the sun had set, the sky was lit up with a massive thunderstorm in the distance. In any other circumstances, I would have called it a day, as no cyclist really wants to ride over the alps in a thunderstorm, but I knew I had to keep on pedaling. Toastee was just in front of me and I couldn’t let her get away. I had ordered too much food, as always, and packed up a pizza to take with me on the back of my bike. I started out, hoping luck would accompany me over the Fernpass, and I would stay dry. Miraculously I was able to count my blessings and didn’t get wet, although the pavement gave evidence of the storm that had just passed. On my recon ride, this was a nasty pass to do during the day with a lot of summer holiday traffic. 

Approaching midnight, I had no traffic to contend with and no rain to speak of. Midway through the descent, my route was going to lead me through a longer, but flatter valley into Innsbruck. Alternatively, I had studied a different route that had a short, but steep climb that would get me to Innsbruck even quicker. My legs felt good so I decided to take the short and steep route. I knew that any “normal” person in their right mind would have thought it were foolish to take on a mountain pass in the dark, but you aren’t really a “normal”person when you are trying to pedal 4000km in 2 weeks time! It was then on that pass that I realized just how amazing it was to climb at night. With several lights on my front and back side and reflective clothing, I was lit up like a Christmas tree, completely visible in the darkness. Traffic was minimal and so was the suffering as the temperatures at night are much cooler. In the dark, it is hard to tell just how steep and difficult the climb is because you can’t see too far ahead. Considering I didn’t have this part of my route traced on my Garmin, I enjoyed the suspense, wondering when I would be at the summit. In the end, the climb was less difficult than I anticipated and I was surprised just how quickly I made it over. The next 40 to 50 kilometers to Innsbruck went fast too as it was a gradual descent. 

The last time I had pedaled through Innsbruck, I was overheating and overwhelmed by all the tourists. This time I was completely alone. I quickly stopped at a petrol station, loaded up on some more food and beverages and was amazed at how good I felt. It was now about 3am. A hotel was out of the question. I could see Toastee was sleeping somewhere in the valley, and I was proud of myself for making a last-minute change to my itinerary to strategically regain the lead. I still felt like I had the legs and energy left to start the Brenner Pass. I knew it wasn’t a difficult climb as I had done it before. With an outlet mall at the summit, by no means was it scenic, so I didn’t feel bad riding in the dark. My plan was to ride as far as I could until I got tired. I knew it wasn’t very smart to start climbing and sleep at altitude, but I was on an adrenaline rush and stopping wasn’t an option. 

I made it about 15 kilometers up the road, before I found a bus stop that looked inviting. Of course at 4:30am there isn’t traffic on the road, so I peacefully rolled out my sleeping bag liner on the narrow bench, took off my shoes, pulled my neck warmer up over my eyes and climbed inside. I tried to find the pizza I packed up but couldn’t locate it. On my phone I had received a message from Jonas’ brother, Dimitri, with an update of his progress. He was quickly regaining the lead as he approached Monte Grappa. He also told me that I was very close behind James Hayden, which seemed impressive, but James Hayden was just about to get up for the morning and start riding and I was just going to sleep, hoping to get about 4 hours in order to feel fresh riding up the Brenner Pass in the morning.

My plan to sleep 4 hours was very optimistic. I had too much adrenaline in my blood and I was up again after about 45 minutes. There was a steady flow of traffic driving by and the noise was impossible to sleep through. As I sat up, I heard a “Good Morning!” from a fellow rider who was passing, all cheery and fresh. I, on the other hand, didn’t feel so hot, but knew that I was too antsy to sleep any more. As I started packing up, I found the pizza I had been looking for which made for a nice breakfast as it was actually warm from having slept on it! In the last town before the top, I pulled over at a bakery. I must have looked pretty bad, because the waitress gave me a second cup of coffee and another pastry on the house, after hearing where I had pedaled from the night before! As I climbed to the summit of the Brenner Pass, I came across several cyclists coming down, pedaling in the opposite direction. They had numbers as well and seemed to be in some sort of race as well. One stopped, turned around and caught up with me. He told me he’d done the TCR the year before and this year had signed up for The North Cape race and was on his way to Norway. He took a selfie with me as I continued to pedal. Soon, I found myself at the top The Brenner Pass and started the descent to Bolzano. There is a cycle path that runs parallel to the main road which is probably advised to take, but I had gotten lost on it on my recon trip and stuck to the main road this time. 

Despite the cool air in my face on the descent, I was starting to feel really really sleepy and knew I had to pull over sooner rather than later so I could get some quality rest. Down below in the valley, it was already getting hot. Finding shelter to sleep is not always easy and when you are completely exhausted it doesn’t help either. I made a poor choice and stopped at a busy petrol station. I saw a little room with an open door. It looked like a storage closet and I decided to pull my bike in and lie down. I should have probably asked first, but I was asleep in minutes despite the buzz of people and cars outside and the petrol odor. Five minutes couldn’t have passed when someone was kicking me. I think they must have thought I was dead, lying on the floor. In my Spanish, wanna be Italian, I said, “dormire….vinti minuti!” It sounded good enough and they did leave me in peace, but the sleeping conditions were less than optimal. After about 20 minutes, I decided to get up, buy some food, and keep on riding. The temperatures had gotten really hot and I was overheated and delirious. I tried to ride as long as I could but it was too hot and I started making wrong turns on my route. My mood improved when I got a message from Jonas that he was on Monte Grappa, completely alone, with no other cyclist or race vehicle in the vicinity. I managed to keep riding until the early afternoon when I found a bar to take shelter. Unfortunately, it wasn’t much cooler in the bar, but I sat down anyways and ordered some food. After eating, I thought I’d put my head down on the table and rest for a few moments. I used my water bottle as a pillow, still sitting in my chair. 

An hour and a half later, I woke up in a big pile of drool as my head had slipped off my water bottle and was lying directly on the on the table cloth. I think it was then that I realized I had developed an unbelievable ability to basically sleep on command. I’m normally a good sleeper considering the large amount of energy I burn everyday with all my activities. But the TCR had turned me into a professional sleeper. Whether I had 5 minutes, 10 min. an hour or 3, sitting, lying down (and later on the bike) I could fall asleep within moments. As I sipped an espresso, I looked outside at the road and saw a few other TCR cyclists ride by. I got the energy and motivation to start pedaling again as the temperatures had cooled.

Italian bike paths, despite being a total maze, were better than the ones I encountered in Germany.  There was NO alternative as the other roads in the area were banned by the TCR.

It seemed to take forever to reach Monte Grappa and Italian traffic made it feel even longer. I found an Italian pair of cyclists, in bright pedalED jerseys and their twin caps, riding along the bike paths I was also using. They were very friendly and pretty impressed I could keep up with their pace for a good 30 k’s. I don’t think you can be accused of drafting on a bike path, especially when the race organization prohibited the roads in the area. But eventually, as all the other cyclists ended up doing, they dropped me. The scenery was changing from Alpine mountains to lower elevation hills that were blueish-green in color in the early evening light. I thought I would arrive to Monte Grappa before dinner, but it was well after sunset when I finally found the second checkpoint. The bike paths eventually spit me out on a main road, but I got lost trying to cross a river and walked my bike over a pedestrian bridge and hiked back down to get back on my Garmin route. My spirits were up again as I approached CP2 and the adrenaline started to pump as I reached the TCR tent. All the volunteers were so excited to see the first female arrive!

The closer I got to CP 2 the happier I was
At this point, I had seen that Toastee had taken an alternative pass to Brennar, which I had taken as well on my recon ride. She was a good half day behind me, which gave me the motivation to properly rest at Checkpoint 2 at the base of Monte Grappa. It was a popular stop with other riders as they were giving out free shower passes at the campsite. Most riders had been caught in last night’s thunderstorm as they crossed the alps and were filthy! Even if the guys didn’t have a change of clothing, most were showering and cleaning up, wearing whatever “extra” clothes they had, which was usually a pair of briefs. I took the time to take a nice long hot shower and wash my clothes. I finally brushed my teeth for the first time during the race and realized that my personal hygiene was slipping, despite my efforts to try to remember to do these simple things. I had stashed my toothbrush in my feeder bag, but every time I stopped, brushing my teeth was the last thing on my mind.

Posing for a photo at CP 2
Bikes are the perfect drying rack for laundry that needs to dry, no matter where you are.....

It’s amazing how revived a hot shower and clean clothes can make you feel. In fact, for a moment, I contemplated hopping back on my bike and starting up the Grappa that same night. Luckily my rational mind convinced me that I needed a proper meal and some decent sleep. Not to mention, it was fun to chat with the other riders and hear their tales from crossing the Alps. So many had gotten hit by the big thunderstorm. I remember one rider in particular, Matthew telling me an amusing story of descending a very steep mountain pass that Google wouldn’t even let me use as a viable road when I was route planning. I remember thinking at that point, what fun it must be to dot watch the TCR, especially on a mountain stage when there are a diverse number of passes riders could choose. 

At CP2 I also ran into the cyclist I had seen the night before, eating the last meal at the restaurant I had desperately tried to order food. When he introduced himself as Michael Wacker, I couldn’t believe my ears. I knew exactly who he was as I had followed his dot on the TransAm earlier that year. He had been battling for second place, also the first woman, Janie Hayes, when he got hit by a car in the Mid-west. I couldn’t believe that I was keeping up with him, riding almost at his same pace! It gave me a boost of confidence and motivation. We had a good laugh about the previous night and the route option he’d taken to arrive at Monte Grappa. He had somehow managed to ride through a sliver of Switzerland before coming into Italy. I tried to convince him to shower, but he was intent on riding on after getting some dinner. The restaurant at the campsite was a soon to close and I made it just in time to place an order. If I would have had more time, I probably would have ordered a second or third dish of everything. Italian food is a cyclist’s best friend!

I should have ordered 2 of everything!
Jordi, the Catalan video filmer for the TCR, sat down with me. I had met him at CP1 where he had picked up on the fact that Jonas and I were dating. He started asking me all sorts of questions in Catalan. Little did I know he was filming (and would later use this interview in a film to contrast Jonas and myself as riders), I was just delighted to have some company while eating. I popped online to update my friends and family and I was surprised to find an overwhelming amount of messages that I couldn’t respond to. It was the first time it dawned on my just how many people were following the race. My family was tracking me closer and closer and my Dad was writing me a thoughtful email every night. Later, I’d find out from my Mom that he was an absolute nervous wreck and wouldn’t leave the computer room all day except to quickly eat a meal. My older brother who works in the finance world and crunches data on a regular basis was starting to pick up on the patterns of other riders and warned me to slow down and rest more, telling me it wasn’t a sprint, it was a marathon! I knew this, but my body’s energy was relentless. In fact, my energy level surpassed anything I thought I was capable of doing before. Every time I hopped back on my bike it was like I was starting a new ride, fresh and recuperated. I wasn’t feeling the accumulated kilometers, at least not yet! And best of all, my mind was determined to keep riding!
Another cyclist, Wacker, who I rode behind nearly the entire race.

I laid down in my bivy sac down at the back on the campsite, where a few other riders had passed out as well. I set my alarm for 4:30 am to start the climb up Monte Grappa. Just before I closed my eyes, I decided to sleep one more hour. It was a smart choice!