CP 3 - High Tatra Mountains, Slovakia
Day 5. It is now the evening of my 5th TCR day and, after waiting for the heat to go down a bit, I start to climb the famous Monte Grappa. Even though this is one of the most brutal climbs in Italy, I'm so excited that I made it on time for the CP, that it doesn't really affect me. I make it to the top at the same exact moment as they close the restaurant. That's good bye for the food, water and the Coke I was dreaming about for the entire climb! I put on my night shift gear and head off on the mountain. It's not long I find myself cycling at around 1.600 meters on the plateau on what seem absolutely non sense roads. I was expecting to start descending straight away but, after one hour, I am still cycling on this f*cking mountain just as my front light is starting to fade away. Just great! After some more skirmishing, I finally get to the descend and it's absolutely steep and with a lot of hairpins. I start descending in the dark and the feeling is amazing. I am both afraid and excited. I can hear my breaks squeaking and the tires sometimes loosing their grip. My hands hurt from so much pulling on the brakes but the feeling is fantastic altogether. As I arrive at the bottom, I meet some really nice Spanish guys and we start chatting. We end up having some kind of sandwich and ice cream dinner and we crash in the same orchard for the night.
Day 6. As I wake up on the 3rd August, I'm 1.000 km away from CP 3 with 3 1/2 days to make the cut-of time. The elevation profile is quite friendly so I figured that I can easily ride 280 km a day and make it on time without a problem. Yeah right!! What I didn't take into account was the fact the temperature was going crazy at that time in Italy due to a heatwave called Lucifer. That particular day, the temperatures was around 40 C, sometimes even more than that. I'm not that affected because I'm used to cycling in the heat here, in Romania, where the summers can get as hot. But what this means is that I need to make a lot more stops to get precious liquids in. I drank 10 liters at least, not to mention that I was stopping to soak my cap and and clothes in water. All in all, the day was a good one and I made a good progress towards CP 3 by getting 260 km in before stopping in Ljubljana, Slovenia.
Day 7. I wake up refreshed today and feeling good. I'm still 750 km away from the CP but I feel confident. As the day unravels, the heat becomes unbearable again. As I start cycling through the mountains of Slovenia, something happens that it's difficult to put in words even now. I just love the Carpathian Mountains which are the biggest mountains in Romania. I cycled them, I hiked and ran them and there are a big part of who I am as an outdoors person. The Carpathians have a distinct smell because of the plants that grow there. It's different from the Alps altogether. As I was cycling through this beautiful forest area of Slovenia, by the side of river, the same smell, the smell of home just hit me. It was so sudden that I couldn't control my feelings. I busted straight into a river, no, a tsunami of tears. I stopped one the side of the road and let the emotion go over me. I was home sick, thinking of my family and my friends, and especially my 5 year old son. It took a while to get back on the bike after this but I managed to find my composure and continue. The day went slow because of the heat and, as evening was appropriating, I was nowhere close to the quota for that day. I made a decision to stop for a big dinner and then continue as much as possible in the night to make up the time wasted in the day. As I was heading into the night, a storm came out of nowhere with furious winds and rain. I had to stop in a small town close to the Slovenian - Hungarian border with no other chance than to wait it out. I managed to find some shelter in the form of bus stop and I finally understood why this amazing piece of human engineering is worshiped by the TCR participants. If it weren't for that shelter I would have been finished. I took my bivvy out and wrapped myself in it, while sitting on the small bench inside the bus stop. The next thing I remember was this weird feeling of falling that I had loads of times while dreaming. This time it was for real. I woke up midair while I was falling as a sac of potatoes, head first on the pavement. I woke up as in sheer panic. The rain had stopped and I must have just fallen asleep on that bench, sitting on my ass. My heart was exploding out of my chest. I bruised my hip, knee and elbow but luckily my head was ok. That would have been such a stupid way to get an injury...Just another reminder that you always have to be vigilent. It was around 1 am when I started cycling again and I tried to do it as much as possible and after four hours I stopped again in a miserable bus station in Hungary and fell asleep for two hours.
Day 8. I wake up just as the sun was coming up and I couldn't wait to be on the road again and leave that miserable bus station I slept in. I was making the calculations and I realized I was almost 500 km and 34 hours away from the CP. Theoretically, it could be done but I wasn't sure that it could be done by me. I have never done anything like in my life so it really meant I had to dig really dip. I just took it one hour at a time and was doing my best to get closer to the objective. I cycled all day long through Hungary and in the evening I entered Slovakia by passing over the Danube river. After 20 hours of cycling my body was shutting down and I decided to sleep for two hours in a gas station before pushing through.
Day 9. As I woke up, it was still dark and I was feeling very tired and confused. I tried to cycle but I was having trouble keeping my balance and I was falling asleep on the bike. I panicked and I stopped for another hour of napping in a bus station. By now, the sun was coming up but my brain was still not starting. I went into the first gas station and I pumped myself full of caffeine and sugar hoping to get some energy going. I managed to cycle 340 km in the last 24 hours but I was still 10 hours away with 150 km to go. It felt impossible as the gradient was starting to go up and I had no idea how the climb to CP 3 looks like. I decided then and there that I would just give my absolute best to make the cut off time. And that is what i did. I only took short, very short breaks, and I pedaled like crazy.
As the afternoon was approaching, I was growing confident that I could do it. I was looking at my Garmin and it was estimating that I would arrive at the top with 40 minutes to spare. My brain was trying to get me to take longer breaks because of that extra time that I seemed to have but I decided to push on. After days of not seeing any other fellow TCR participants, I started to meet them as we were all making our way to the bottom of the climb. They were all in a big hurry, bigger than me, anyway. Some of the guys I was talking too, seemed to be in panic mode, worried they would miss the cut off. I didn't understand that. Yet! My Garmin was showing me that there's enough time to do it. Anyway, I didn't mind the others too much and I kept my own pace. As I arrived at the bottom of the climb I pulled out my phone to check that I'm not missing the mandatory parcour. Well, it's then I finally understood why everyone was in a hurry. I was at the bottom of the wrong f*cking climb! When I planned my route, I just put the wrong climb in it. I almost fell of the bike in despair. I worked so much for this to miss it for a stupid mistake. I looked at the map and I was 13 km away from the bottom of the correct climb and the climb was 7 km long with more than 700 meters elevation. I had 90 minutes to do all this. It was going to be tight but I literally gave it all...I was not going to fail. I cycled those 90 minutes as my life depended on it. My heart rate was going through the roof but I just didn't care. Failure was not an option for me. I was shouting, growling and f*cking screaming at my self to keep going. And I made it to CP 3 with 4 minutes to spare!!! Brilliant! I just looked at the Strava stats for that climb and I have a TOP 10 performance from all the TCRNO5 competitors that uploaded their ride. :)) Adrenaline, baby!
I arrived at the CP3, got the stamp and crashed in the hotel restaurant for beer, lunch and tons of stories with the TCR heroes that were already there.
[to be continued]