Finishing the Transcontinental
Posted on August 10 2015
It felt like years to get the Third checkpoint. After the thrill of barreling south across France and then up and over the Alps to Italy, the remaining 75% of the journey to Turkey loomed ahead like psychological quagmire.
Weâ€™d already ridden through the night and watched the dawn rise ahead. Weâ€™d already stopped mid-afternoon and napped against trees like wild animals. Weâ€™d already eaten handfuls of tasteless fuel to stoke the fire and keep our legs pumping. Iâ€™ve never second-guessed so many junctions before, it was like being almost lost for 12 hours a day. People on the streets didnâ€™t understand, why would they? Nobody knew that two hundred of us were anonymously flowing across Europe as if on a tiny cycle crusade.
Weâ€™d already had the raw exhilaration of descending 6,000 meters from Mont Ventoux through gravel in the pitch black. Iâ€™d fallen, been chased by sheep dogs and smashed my phone. That night I had unknowingly pitched up next to a crop sprinkler and was too tired to evade the early morning drenching.
And here we were, scattered across Northern Italy with what seemed like enough Transcontinental boxes ticked to make it to the end. Except the end at Istanbul was another 3,000km away.
There was nothing left to do but hunker down and find a rhythm. The fun and games were over. Now it was time to embrace the grimace, develop a bitter rage for everything remotely human and get on with business.
By now weâ€™d loosely formed into very spread-out groups, I could sometimes recognize a wheel around the next corner and a helmet on the rear horizon. Weâ€™d take the chance to swap notes whenever a rest was deserved. The only big topics in our minds were on route selection. This and the constant internal battle of whether we could make it to the end.
An exhausted body can really play some tricks with your mind. When I wasnâ€™t thinking about wasting away into a skin-wrapped skeleton, I was consumed with the small pains at my extremities. By the 7th day I had virtually stopped all but fully essential gear changes and decelerations. My fingers ached more than anything I have felt before.
I think we all had a similar set of issues. Fingers, toes, knees, back, neckâ€¦ or the whole package. No surprises to hear so many people had scratched before halfway. I honestly thought about it often tooâ€¦. but I have the stubborn geneâ€¦ and there was one big box left to tick.
And so I crossed Italy, Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia & Herzegovina and Montenegro. I managed a chugging pace which I figured could carry me to the end. I also figured it was time to soak in some of the scenery. On the road, out in the fresh air for 15 hours a day, itâ€™s easy to forget that this is a journey across some of the most beautiful landscape in the word.
That is until we hit the highway between Serbia and Bulgaria. At the last checkpoint we had a decision to make between the coast, the mountains or the rolling main roads. In an effort to avoid the wind or any form of gear changes I had headed inland. Many had before. 150kmÂ later I knew it was the wrong decision.
After twelve days of cycling and complete exhaustion, no human is built to endure the hard shoulder alongside hurtling trucks. This was a freight corridor across Europe to Asia and a little guy on a bicycle was a mere speck of dust. Veering into a bush to avoid being splattered, I ground to a halt almost ready to throw in the towel.
But before the Istanbul-bound bus arrived, another one came. It mustâ€™ve been powered by that stubborn geneâ€¦ and the pressure from my dot-watchers. It whiskedÂ me to an earlier junction, totally within TCR rules. I regrouped, plotted a new map and headed south with a few kilograms of Haribo. There was nothing left to do but outrun a few more dogs, avoid exploding trucks and sleep in a school.
Rolling out of the Bulgarian mountains into Turkey never felt so amazing. Probably.
I honestly never felt anything. 16 days, 11hrs and 13 minutes after leaving Flanders, Belgium, having ridden across 10 countries and 4,000 kilometers, I had made it to Istanbul Turkey and a rather big beer. The reflection could wait.
[Editorâ€™s note: Check back next week for Jeffâ€™s reflections and TCR highlights]