The Finish, Meteora, Greece
Day 13, Romania. I woke up surprisingly fresh considering I had hardly slept in the two nights before and, after a ridiculous big breakfast, I hit the road towards Bulgaria. I was relaxed and focused as I knew that if I were to keep a pace of 250 km a day, I would check my main objective when I started the race which was to make it to the finishers party. The heat wave was still strong in this part of Europe and the day was incredibly hot. In spite of that, I was feeling strong and I was doing good progress. I was already 300 km closer to the finish. I decided to sleep for a couple of hours and then continuing through the night as it was cooler. I went to sleep in a gas station on the Bulgarian border.
Day 14, Bulgaria. I woke up after three hours feeling horrible. My stomach was bloated and was hurting like hell. I felt dizzy too. I tried to eat something but I instantly became sick and threw up. That wasn't good. Not good at all. I climbed on my bike but it was a disaster. I couldn't keep my balance and I had zero power in my legs. I was so sure I had sun stroke but there was nowhere to hide. On that day, the temperature was going to be around 40 C in Bulgaria. I managed "to crawl" 30 km and make it to the first city in Bulgaria, in Vidin. I stopped at the first gas station I could find and threw up again. It was clear that I couldn't continue at that moment. I could barely walk straight. I went to the nearest park, and passed out for a couple of hours in the shade. When I woke up it was noon already and I was feeling worse. I didn't know what to do next...I went back to the gas station and bought some ice to put on my head convinced that I was suffering from sun stroke. I found it ironic, as the last time I had this was when I was a kid. I believed I was Sun trained! A nice lady saw me suffering like a dog and I somehow managed to communicate that I was ill. She took my to a pharmacy. While talking to the pharmacist I arrived at the conclusion that I had a virus. She gave me some medicine and recommended that I rest for 3 days, eat and drink well, stay indoors. Exactly the opposite that I was planning to do... I had to take the hardest decision in my whole TCR. Quitting was not an option for me. But neither was cycling on that day. I had to take the day off and try to recover. That meant I would miss the finishers party which I worked so hard for. I was devastated to say the least. I found a hotel, went to sleep and woke up the following day, 15 hours later.
Day 15, 16, 17, Bulgaria, Serbia, Montenegro, Macedonia. I started day 15 feeling better psychically but still weak. I didn't have any apetitive for food but I knew that, in order to continue, I had to eat something. The only thing I could eat was toast with white cheese. And tea. Lots of tea. It was no more Coke, ice-cream, coffee, chocolate. No more meat. Just rice and vegetables.
I decided to address the journal for the following three days together because they were all the same: a never ending struggle to stay in the saddle for as long as possible. I cycled from petrol station to petrol station, stopping every time to go the toilet. No need to go into too much detail. You get the picture. My rhythm dropped considerably, together with the hours I could pedale every day. I only had 700 km to go when the virus hit me and by day 17, I only finished 500 km. That's 160 km a day. My new objective was just to make it to the finish safe. The bonus was to make it before the finish line closed. I never felt so helpless and powerless in my life. The suffering was so real and constant that my mind blocked that part of the race. Even now it's just a blur and I don't know how I found the power to continue for three days in that state. Never retreat, never surrender. That's my mantra...