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The Transcontinental Race 2017 Journal #TCRNO5 - Part III

The Transcontinental Race 2017 Journal #TCRNO5 - Part III

Part I is here >> 

Part II is here >>

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]





 

Martin's top winter tips for cyclists

Martin's top winter tips for cyclists

If you're like me, and by that I mean, living in the northern hemisphere and "blessed" with a long and cold continental winter, I pity you. :) The relationship between winter and cyclists is just dead from the start. No future there! So here are my tips on how to make it through winter without loosing your sanity.

1. Dream big

The Transfagarasan Highway in Transylvania, Romania. 

The Transfagarasan Highway in Transylvania, Romania. 

If you're just stuck indoors for so many months it helps to have a big and inspiring goal for the following season. This is the time for researching your dream tour, for making plans with your rider friends and start doing the arrangements. It will give you a different mind set and a new meaning to your cold, snowy and fogy days. Personally, my ginormous challenge is doing the Transcontinentall Race #5.

>>> Need inspiration? Check out our cycling tours. Road Cycling on the Transfagarasan and Mountain Biking in the Transylvanian Alps

2. Cross train

Cross fit.

Cross fit.

I always use this time of the year as an opportunity to build my cycling strength. There are plenty of tips out there of the specific exercises you could do. I go to cross fit classes two times a week and that's just an amazing workout for me. Also, think about giving trail running or skiing a chance. Even though you're not using the same "cycling muscles", it definitely helps with maintaining your endurance. Oh yeah, one great endurance workout I've been doing recently is the rower. Awesome total body workout + endurance.

3. Join a cycling camp in the South

Tenerife Island. 

Tenerife Island. 

If you have the budget and the time to get away, one thing that you could always do is, instead of waiting for the spring to come to you, for you to go where there's spring already. I'm talking about joining a cycling camp in some place where is warmer. The Pro's usually go to Mallorca, Tenerife or Southern Spain. I'm lucky enough to host a road cycling training camp in Tenerife in March so that is something I absolutely look forward to. 

4. Ride indoor

16424066130_69800b7963_b.jpg

I hate myself for giving out this tip! I think that the beauty of cycling comes from the fact that you get to be outdoors, to explore and to feel alive. Riding indoors just kills it for me. But, I have to be realistic and admit, that if there's snow and ice on the road, there's no way to ride out. So yeah, I also use this time to ride the indoor trainer or the stationary bike. Listen to your favorite podcast or audio book, read all those articles you saved months ago and maybe, just maybe, you'll feel time pass faster.

5. Ride outdoor

Even if it's just once a month, I try to find an opportunity to go out and ride. There's nothing like a REAL ride to boost the morale and get the endorphins going. If it's too snowy for the road bike I take out my mountain bike and ride on trails, through the snow.

How do you manage to go through the cold winter times? Leave your tips or thoughts in the comments below. Thanks!

Martin is going Transcontinental in 2017!

Martin is going Transcontinental in 2017!

The start in Geraardsbergen, Belgium. Photo Credit: www.transcontinental.cc

The start in Geraardsbergen, Belgium. Photo Credit: www.transcontinental.cc

Because I'm getting closer and closer to the european cycling community, it was just a matter of time before I found out about the Transcontinental cycling race. For those of you who don't know what I'm talking about, it going to be my pleasure to introduce you to one of the greatest solo races out there. And who knows, perhaps implant the dream of actually doing this race too! I'm talking about a 4.000 kilometers adventure that starts on the Muur van Geraardsbergen, Belgium and that finishes in Meteora, Greece. There are only four mandatory checkpoints: Schloss Lichtenstein - Germany, Monte Grappa - Italy, Tatra Mountains - Slovakia and...the Transfagarasan - Romania. Other that that, every rider is free to plan and ride his or her route. This is the first year that the Transfagarasan is part of the race so I'm even more stoked that so many cyclists will climb our awesome road.

The Transfagarasan Highway, Romania. Photo credit:  www.martin-adventures.com/road-cycling

The Transfagarasan Highway, Romania. Photo credit: www.martin-adventures.com/road-cycling

The big news that I received at the start of this year is that I was also accepted in this years race together with 200 other riders! I'm excited but also absolutely scared as I've never done something as ambitious before. I researched the race and the route as much as I could and I'm confident that with training... and then some more training, I'll be able to check my objective of being in Meteora in 14 - 16 days. That means an average of 250 km of riding each day non stop for two weeks.

I wanted to share this awesome news with you and of course, I promise to keep you updated on this here blog as things progress.

Cheers,

Silviu

Meet the Martin Adventures UK Brand Ambassador

Meet the Martin Adventures UK Brand Ambassador

It's so important for Martin Adventures to be close to our local communities of explorers and, starting with this year, we're doing so with the help of our Brand Ambassador Program. I'm really excited to introduce to you Martin Cox - our first UK Brand Ambassador. In case you're wondering - no, we didn't just choose Martin because of his first name. :)

I'd like to thank our judges for their involvement and, of course, their fair judgment: Donna Navarro - award winning blogger, travel lover and women's cycling advocate, Alain Rumpf - a swiss with a pulse & chief cycling officer at Grand Tours Project, Erik Jonsson - a designer turned nature photographer by way of cycling and Tom Owen - a professional cycling writer with a travel ‘problem’ & founder of the Big Boys Bicycle Club.

We've interviewed Martin for our blog so that you get to know him better. You can also follow him on his blog , Facebook or Instagram to learn more about his cycling adventures.

Martin Cox - age 39 - freelance writer, consultant, university lecturer

You’re a self declared cyclist. Why did you choose cycling and what does it add to your life?

Why cycling? low impact, high smiles, cake-enabling exercise! What does it add? Everything? It doesn’t matter how long or short, after any bike ride I’m a better version of myself. It can stretch me in ways I’d never have considered previously, I know more about me than i thought possible.

How do you manage to combine your hobbies with your job?

I got rid of the TV to avoid that time suck, and I’m not scared to set an early alarm! other than that my work fits around my passions in life, family and cycling.

What is your favorite place to ride, how many times have you been there and would you return?

It’s so hard to choose a single favorite, because it discounts so many stunning places to ride! I would say in terms of scenery it would probably be either Tuscany in France (mountains and purple fields) or Taiwan for the sheer multitude of hills! But closer to home I adore the effects of my local roads, for the calming focus they bring to my life.
 

What is your next travelling destination and what made you decide you should go there? 

By the time this is published I’ll be racing around Ireland in the Transatlantic Way Race, a solo 2.500 km race around Ireland's west coast. Going for these stupid races is what motivates me all year :-)

You said that cycling the Transfagarasan is high on your list of places you'd like to ride. How did it end up there since is not such a well known road?

I came across a picture of the road and knew had to ride it! the scale of the engineering feat is fabulous and the story behind the road is incredible. It looks utterly crazy to ride, like the Stelvio but stretched out further :-)
 

When it comes to riding your bike in the city, what is the first thing that comes in your mind and why?

Own the space, ride like a car driver and make each and every move obvious, blatant and utterly impossible to ignore, in short; don’t get hit!

 

The essential & short 5

  • Riding with music? Yes, if the mood takes me.
  • Alone or with crew? Normally alone, I like to ride for days, exploring and racing countries, and it's easier to go alone. But I do love to ride with my son, and I'm teaching him the ways of going long!
  • Always wearing the helmet (even short commutes)? No
  • Eating gels on rides?  Yes, whatever is to hand!
  • Love climbs? Love the idea of climbs!

If you could send a message to all the cyclists in the world, how would that sound? 

There is literally nothing in this world that will provide you with more boundary-stretching fulfillment than simply riding a bike. It is THE greatest method of transportation and fun available, where else can you experience true joy on nothing more than bowl of porridge!

Why the hell should I visit Romania?

Why the hell should I visit Romania?

In case you're still asking yourself "Where is Romania?" or "Where is Transylvania?", perhaps you should read this article first: "Where is Transylvania"

Look, I know there are plenty of articles out there written by people that have already visited Romania in the past couple of years and have had an incredible, positive experience. Here are just a couple of them if you'd like to read them:

Things you didn't know about Romania by Travel Away

Here are some reasons to never ever visit Romania by Happy Traveler

9 reasons you should be afraid to visit Romania by Heart My Backpack

Lets not forget that we also have Lonely Planet recommending Transylvania (you know, that more famous region in Romania) as their 2016 region of choice. That's quite something, right?

Nevertheless, I'll still take my chance at bringing something new on this subject since people that come on our tours are more adventurous, cycling or trekking savvy and not that keen on cultural or historical aspects.

So, I'll mostly share my five reasons and one anti-reason for "Why the hell should you take a cycling or trekking holiday in Romania, in 2016?"

1. It's the nature, baby

View of the Piatra Craiului National Park in Transylvania, Romania

Most of the experiences above, mention the breathtaking nature as one of the main reasons for coming to Romania, and that's not without justification. We've been blessed with all types of land forms: the Black Sea, the Danube Delta, the Transylvanian Plateu and Hills and, of course, the Carpathian Mountains. So basically, in just 6 hours you could taking a bath in the Black Sea and then trek on top of Moldoveanu at more than 2.500 meters above sea level. This gives you plenty of options for exploration and practicing various sports on your holiday.

2. The Mountain Biking trails are awesome. And not crowded at all.

Mountain Biking trails in the high Bucegi Mountains

I actually believe that Romania is one of the least known high quality mountain biking destinations in Europe and quite possibly in the World. With a forest cover of roughly 30%, quite similar to Switzerland or Norway actually, there are endless single tracks options through the woods. Let's not forget the Alpine routes in the Carpathian Mountains. And as I mentioned at #1 you could practice MTB on all types of terrains: from the shores of the Black sea to the ridges of the Transylvanian Alps. Check out my more detailed article on the "Five of the the most beautiful off road cycling holidays areas in Romania".

3. The Road Cycling is intense

The Transfagarasan Road, Transylvania, Romania

Maybe you were actually thinking that the roads in Romania are bad, crowded and not suitable for road cycling. You wouldn't be that far from the truth. Actually I'm not encouraging you to tour Romania on a bike - although other people have done it and it's not that bad, it seems.

We have some epic climbs that are actually worth doing at least once in a lifetime. I'm mainly talking about the Transfagarasan and the Transalpina but also other nearby routes. One of our fellow cyclists and clients from Norway, has actually mentioned that climbing the Transfagarasan on a road bike was one of his childhood dreams. How about that for a new tagline: "Martin Adventures is making dreams come true". Check out my more detailed article on the "The five most difficult cycling climbs in Romania".

4. The accommodation is authentic

Inn on Balaban in Bran

I never thought that I'd put this on my list, but yes, I'm actually doing it. Most accommodations in Romania are bad and customer service sucks. I know. But, look, I'm not talking about the average places now. In the past couple of years some forward thinking B&B owners figured out they could just have decent service and that alone could take them ahead of the competition.

They managed to keep the local atmosphere and flavor, improved on the comfort level and the client service and there you have it. They are pretty successful now and others are following their lead. I can easily recommend ten great accommodations in Romania such as Inn on Balaban. You'll find them in the "The Adventure Travel e-Guide to Romania" you can opt to receive at the end of this post.

5. The community

Me with my friends and family

Me with my friends and family

Us Romanians have learned to believe that "we're a friendly and hospitable folk". This is more or less a myth. One guy, and by this I mean "a scientist", actually made a serious study on the subject and we didn't come out as friendly as other people in Europe. But here's something else that he found out. Things radically change when we're talking about small communities. Romanians tend to organize themselves in these small, trust based and niche communities.

What I'm saying is that, if you manage to make your way into these kind of niche communities, you'll be surprised by how much people are willing to give without asking anything in return. These means that, when you're planning your trip in Romania, adventurous or not, you should look for signs that the local provider (B&B, host, tour operator) has ties with the local community and they are willing to let you in.

6. (Not for) Dracula and Vampires

Bran Castle, Transylvania, Romania

You won't find any vampires here in Transylvania and for that matter...not anywhere the world. You know why? They don't exist. Grow up! :) Really now, if your only reasons for visiting Romania are the vampire stories and the castle in Bran, you'll surely be disappointed. Of course, there will be plenty of people trying to make some profits out of this story but most Dracula tours, restaurants or birth places, etc. are just a waste of your time. Believe me. If you don't, read this very long article by Livescience on The Real Dracula.

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What do you think? Do you agree with my views on this or not? Looking forward to reading your comments below.