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Balkan Spirit X Meet Bagoly Levente, ultra-distance cyclist, DJ and adventurer

Balkan Spirit X Meet Bagoly Levente, ultra-distance cyclist, DJ and adventurer

We continue our #BalkanSpirit series where we set out to meet awesome, beautiful people from the Balkan cycling community.

Bagoly Levente, age 30, or simply Levi, as everyone calls him around here, is an ultra-distance cyclist, born, raised and based in Transylvania, Romania. Levi is a man of many trades - industrial designer, bed-room DJ (I’m actually writing this whilst listening to one of his MixCloud mixes), adventurer and ultra-distance cyclist. He has ridden many times and many thousands k’s through Europe for fun, if you can say that. Competitively, in the past two years Levi has ridden the Transcontinental Race No5, finishing 18th, and the inaugural Silk Road Mountain Race, finishing 2nd.

Levi at the Transcontinental Race. Photo from  https://www.facebook.com/transconrace/

Levi at the Transcontinental Race. Photo from https://www.facebook.com/transconrace/

Levi, what did it mean for you as a kid to receive a bike from your parents? Do you see a connection with who you have become now?

Yes of course. The bicycle itself was always a very important element in my life. I remember one of my first bikes being a Pegas, just like for so many of us 90’s kids in Romania. It opened up new territories around the flat I was living. I was able to reach out to nearby neighborhoods in no time, somewhat what my racing bike does to me today, only on a different scale. :) My bikes always made distances shorter and cities smaller, and thus my whole lifestyle has developed around this beautiful invention.


You have more than three solo expeditions under your belt and tens of thousands of km through Europe. Do you remember how did it all start and what made you leave the comfort of your home and head out on an adventure?

I didn't rush into the big rides. I took all the necessary steps to reach this level of adventuring. Luckily my family was always bike centered so holidays used to involve some cycling as well. Until I became a teenager, 60 k rides were an ease for me. Then I started XC racing and even had a short period of dirt jumping as well. Then the next step was once I've moved out of my little city to the capital for Uni years. This is when things went all radical. Once I've started to use my bikes as daily commuting, I’ve realized the efficiency of road bikes over mtb's, got into the freshly developing fixed gear sub-culture, and saw the scene rising while I've felt a part of it. The competitiveness of my teenage years remained so I've always tried to beat my own PR's in the first place. Pushing my limits always further little by little. After a few amateur road racing competitions I've realized that I'm not strong enough to get good rankings in these kind of races, but I've found out that I'm pretty good in not stopping and pushing those pedals for the long hours. Riding long distances has become my thing and people around me started to acknowledge my achievements. Which felt good. From here It was just a matter of time for me to do the 24 hour challenges and get beyond the country borders as well by multi-day rides towards distant destinations.

When you’re here, in Romania, it seems you’re always surrounded by your crew, friends and family. What do you get from riding alone and do you think there’s something you can only experience if you are by yourself?

Levi at the Transcontinental Race in 2017. Photo by  Lian van Leeuween

Levi at the Transcontinental Race in 2017. Photo by Lian van Leeuween

I consider myself as a sociable guy and I always like to be around my people, but when it comes to cycling it's totally different. I like to ride in my own pace whether it would be faster or slower then with any potential partner. Most importantly I don’t like to make unnecessary stops. And the larger the group the more stops. I like to ride far, alone, to be with myself, adventure to foreign places and not have to confront with anybody else. I feel free when I'm adventuring alone.

You must have tons of stories to share from your adventures. Do you remember an interaction that had a lasting impression on you until this day?

It's hard to pick just one. There are so many memorable stories I'm treasuring in my bag. Probably I would underline the story of the guy I've met in Barcelona back in 2013. It was my first destination on my first ever longer trip and I didn’t know anybody in that city. Freshly arrived to the city I was sitting on a park bench a little after midnight and this guy, Pablo walked up to me and we started to chat. Both being bike enthusiast I've found myself a few hours later on the top of his flat under the open sky where I was allowed to stay as long as I wanted. It was the best thing that could have happened to me at that moment, and ever since I'm out there alone I've always have meet people with good intentions and willing to help. It's one of the best parts of being a cyclotourist.

Two years ago it was the TCRNo5, last year the SRMRno1 and God knows what’s next. Being at the sharp end of these races, is both physical and mentally challenging but yet you choose to do it. What drives you to be competitive and put yourself through the pain?

Just as I said earlier, the competition is within myself in the first place and this has not changed since I'm taking part in official races. Riding against others is just a good opportunity to get motivated and focus on overcoming my own records and to become better and stronger. Yes, sometimes it's hard, so hard that I'm even questioning myself why I am doing it, instead of staying comfortably at home, but at the end of the day it somehow everything makes sense. Just like many other sports, endurance cycling has its own ups and downs, the thing is just how you can level these out.

Levi on the Transfagarasan. Photo by  Cristian Vladoaica

Levi on the Transfagarasan. Photo by Cristian Vladoaica

We both cycled the TCRNo5 although at literally opposite ends of the race. I remember being in the race, way behind you, making my way to the Transfagarasan, where I was supposed to meet my family, when I saw this photo of you and your dad. It had a powerful impact on me and as it did on other riders and dot-watchers. What can you tell us about the thoughts and emotions that you were experiencing back then?

It was my first race of this kind and being able to meet my friends and family within the race was one of the best gifts I could possibly get. I've rushed across Romania in 2 days, but really felt like home all that time, and friends and family took a huge part in this. I remember it was so hard to carry on from that CP4, still facing a thousand km's till the finish line at the Meteora in Greece.

Mike Hall used to say that “Nothing that's worth anything is ever easy” and I see that, as many of us cyclists, you adhere to this mantra. What does it mean to you?

Although I wasn't lucky enough to meet him in person, I always felt like I’ve had a close connection with him ...I know this sounds strange. He was, it is and will be the greatest inspiration for me. This saying of his will always stay with me in my down moments, and helps me not to give up on things too early. And not just while cycling but in life in general. #bemoremike for me means to not to be a quitter, stop whining, and get to your goals even if it hurts. It's worth it.

Let’s come back closer to home for a bit. What’s your favorite place, road or climb in the Balkans?

My local climb will always be the closest to my heart. It's an 8km road to the Sugás ski slopes near my hometown. I've ridden it hundreds of times, even 'everested’ it (44reps in one go) and still can love it in every bits and corners. Other than that I really do like the Saint Anna lake climb but mostly because of the lake itself at the end of the ride. My whole local area is just the 8th wonder of the world for me and even though I was lucky enough to ride the best roads throughout Europe and see the most beautiful places, riding back home will always be untouchable by any other experience.

Choose only one. Road bike, gravel bike, fixie. Why?

Levi at the Silk Road Mountain Race in 2018. Photo by  Giovanni Maria Pizzato

Levi at the Silk Road Mountain Race in 2018. Photo by Giovanni Maria Pizzato

This has got to be the most cruel questions. Probably I would like to choose a ‘groadie’... and even so I would probably hurt my polo bike. There's a bike for every discipline, but for now probably the gravel bike would be the best all rounder. It has almost all the efficiency benefits if my road bike but added a whole lotta roads to the map and opened up places hardly reachable till now.

Music has a reputation of lifting us up when we’re at the bottom of the energy jar. What are those songs that make you give that extra 10% you need to get going again.

At the moment I'm hooked on Óperentzia - Dubweiser, FM Belfast - Underwear Killaflaw - Set me on fire and Barbatuques - Baianá (CloZee remix)

You gave some hints about a plan to cycle around the world. What can you tell us about that?

It was just a post ride blues thing… I signed up for a race which is announced for 2020. If there will be some further information on it, I would probably still consider seriously it as becoming a globetrotter would be the pinnacle of an endurance cyclist. But as with any race the hardest part would be to get to the start line.

Levi at Silk Road Mountain Race 2018. Photo by  Tom Hardie

Levi at Silk Road Mountain Race 2018. Photo by Tom Hardie

In closing, share with us why do you think it’s worth going out there, to explore the world but also to get to know yourself a bit better in the process. What have you learned?

For me the experience itself is the one and only thing money, time and effort is worth investing into. Experience will not lose its value over time and nobody ever will be able to take it from me. Living to acquire material achievements is like looking at books cover, the real value being within its pages.

You can follow Levi and learn about his adventures on https://www.facebook.com/bagolylevicyclist/

The Transcontinental Race 2017 Journal #TCRNO5 - Part IV (last one)

The Transcontinental Race 2017 Journal #TCRNO5 - Part IV (last one)

Part I is here >> 

Part II is here >>

Part III is here >> 

CP 4 - The Transfagarasan, Romania

Day 9, High Tatras, Slovakia. After all I went through in the last two days, I was so happy to make the CP3 cut, especially that it was with only four minutes to spare! Words are not enough to express the relief, the satisfaction and pure joy I was feeling. I called my family and I could barely control my voice. As I entered the hotel at the top of the mountain, the rain started to fall and the fog covered the top. Perfect timing! I joined fellow riders in downing one beer and I was looking forward to not do anything for as long as it would be possible. Not long though, I realize I had to start making plans for CP 4. Most of the riders around me, were quite pessimistic about making it on time to next CP. My morale was high especially that the next CP is the one I was dreaming about since I signed up for the race. I was going to my home country, Romania. I also felt I found my racing mode and I was feeling more confident about my cycling skills. I arrived 203rd at CP1, 195th at CP 2 and now I was 133rd at CP 3. I was improving relatively to the field so my plan was to continue in this same pace. It then struck me that I had exactly 68 hours to cover almost 800 km. Realistically speaking, since it was already 5 PM and I was planning to go the nearest town and rest, I had around two days to do that distance. Shit, I started to feel the pressure. I grabbed my bike and headed down to Poprad for shower, pizza and sleep. By that time in the race, "headed down" meant cycling one hour in the cold and rain, but it felt like going next door to buy some beer, compared to the brutal days that I've been through. :))

Day 10, Slovakia. As I wake up, it is pouring down rain and the weather is cold. It's so hard to leave the comfort of the hotel but in the end, after postponing as much as I could, I man up and start cycling through the cold rain. It's a miserable day out but it's my first day of cycling in the rain so, I can't really complain that much. But wait, wouldn't this be a great time to have a flat? Yes, indeed. My first and only flat of the race so I can't really complain. But wait, what about the Garmin failing now? Yes, let's have that too. But I can't really complain because I have another Garmin back-up with me...NOT! Actually my Garmin stopped working, for reasons still not known, for the remainder of the race. I had to rely on my phone for navigation and that was such a big, big pain. The battery lasted a lot less than the Garmin and the device was so much harder to use while cycling. Oh well, another day at the office. I cycle all day long through Slovakia and in the evening I reach Hungary. My plan was to cover the distance between Slovakia and Romania in one day but I can't make it. I decide to stop one hour before the Romanian border for a quick nap.

Day 11, Hungary. I wake up absolutely f*cking tired and with no energy at all. It's amazing how my body reacts to this effort. Some days just feel easy and on others I feel like I'm not going to make any progress. As the days progress, I usually find my rhythm but the start of each day is a pain. I eat some rice I bought from a Chinese restaurant the night before in Slovakia and head on straight towards Romania. No time to waste. I have to cycle 500 km and 8.000 m elevation in 30 hours to make it on time. My family is planning to meet me at CP 4 so I'm super motivated to give everything. The fact that I'm now cycling on home territory also makes a huge difference. Just the simple fact that I recognize the places and names gives me such a comfortable feeling. It's like I'm being pulled towards the CP. I take no pictures, no useless brakes, nothing but cycling all the time.

Day 12, Romania. It's midnight now and I still have 180 km and 12 hours to go until the CP closes. Not to mention the epic Transfagarasan climb, which, in normal conditions, would take me 2 1/2 hours to do. I'm tired and hungry, and for the first time, I think I'm not going to make it on time. That thought starts creeping in my mind and it starts building on itself. I find excuses for myself and for others. I tell myself that I was so close, that I gave everything but it was just not meant to be. Oh well, at least I tried. I know I'll get over it as long as I just finish the race. I tell myself that I'll just cycle for a couple of hours more and then just get some much needed sleep. My thoughts are interrupted by some lights coming from the distance. I can't believe it. Another TCR rider. It's Lea. We met before at CP 3 and she struck me as an incredible tough girl. She looks pumped on caffeine and adrenaline. She's talking soooo fast and she's hyper excited. "Let's go man, we're going to make it. Come on!" I try to sympathise with her but I'm just depleted. I let her convince me to give it one more try and we start riding together for a while. WTF man, she's too strong for me and I can't seem to be able to keep her pace. She fades away in the distance but she did her job for me. I'm cycling again and I'm believing again. Lea, if you're reading this. I owe you CP 4, at least. Thank you! :) We meet again tens of kilometers ahead in a gas station. She's drinking massive amounts of Red Bull. I'm getting a triple espresso, some ice cream and continue to pedal again through the night. I enter a state of trance and continue to go through the km's, one after another. The sun comes up and I'm almost at the foot the climb. I know that if nothing stupid happens, I'm going to make it on time. And to think I almost quit 8 hours ago...I take on the Transfagarasan climb and it's a grueling effort. My legs are close to shutting down as I was already did 3.000 meters elevation in the past 12 hours. I make it to the top and I'm in heaven. I have never been so proud of myself! The CP is only 15 km downhill and it's there where my family is waiting for me. I fully enjoy the effortless downhill and when I see them...oh man, it's so hard to describe the mixed feelings. I knew I looked liked shit but I didn't want them to see how much I was suffering. I hugged Tudor, Laura and both my parents. Priceless! We had a lovely lunch together and after, just a couple of hours of break, I had to continue with my race. I was 103rd now and I had an ambition to arrive in Meteora in time for the finishers party, in four days time. I cycled another 80 km to Curtea de Arges, where I stopped for the night.

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...

Day 18, Greece. I wake up at 5 am somewhere in the bushes close to the Greek border. It's the first night I sleep outside after the virus episode. It's also the first day when my appetite is back and I eat a huge ham and cheese sandwich and drink my first coffee. Tonight, at 11 pm the finishe line will close. I'm less than 170 km away from the finish and I know that I'll most probably make it on time. I decide to make most of this last day and be careful not to make anything stupid on this last stretch. The last three days were a nightmare and it feels so good not to worry about my body and just to be able to cycle. The views are amazing in northern Greece, a constant up and down through epic mountains and deep valleys. It's an important holiday today and the Greeks are celebrating at restaurants or barbecuing in their small villages. I spend most of the day crying and laughing at the same time. My family is waiting for me at the finish line and I know it's going to be an emotional moment. I try to clear myself before I meet them. :) I'm looking at my phone and it hits me: I'm 30 km away from the finish line... My mind can't really process that information. I hardly thought about the race as a whole because the distances just felt titanic. I took the race one day at a time, 100 km at a time. Only now I'm realizing what I'm just about to finish. 4000 km, 17 days, 19 hours, all alone. I cycled through Europe on a bike to explore the continent but I actually ended up exploring myself. The sight of Meteora takes my breath away. The suspended monasteries seem from another time. I could so relate to their solitude. I too was suspended in time, being there, but also in a paralel life.

I'm only 1 km from the finish line and my face is just a huge grin. I enter the hotel parking and I see my Tudor and Laura, Madalina, my sister, and Daniel, her boyfriend, waving the Romanian flag. I stop the bike for the last time and crash in their arms. I'm done. Since the last time we met at CP4, I lost a lot of weight. I look terrible but my soul is smiling. I grab my last stamp, the finisher T-Shirt and a beer. TCRNO5 checked. Out of the 250 riders that started in the solo category, 95 managed to finish on time and I was 94th in the end.

Aftermath

I spent a whole week in Greece with my family which was the best R&R I could get. My body and my mind took some time to readjust to the normal world. Here is what I noticed:

  • I lost 9 kg mostly in the last 4 days. It took me one month to put that back.
  • I ate around 3.000 kcal a day for the following first week
  • I lost all manners during TCR and I was eating like a pig when I got back
  • The palm of my hands continued to hurt for another three weeks
  • I had panic attacks the first two nights. I woke up in the middle of the night not knowing where I was

Final thoughts

Even though I was initially disappointed with the fact that I didn't make it in time for the finishers party, I'm now grateful I finished safe and sound. This was my first long distance cycling race so I'm humbled by the fact I finished it and I have learned so much about me and about cycling in the process.

I want to extend my congratulations to all the TCR participants. You're all heroes in my book! Also, a warm thought to Frank Simons family and to everybody who has lost someone dear in these cycling races. Stay strong and remember that you're not alone. A special thanks to Mike Hall who started all this madness and to his friends and family that decided to continue his legacy, even though they have been tested so badly this year. Much respect to you all.

In the end, I want to thank my dear family, my friends and the whole community here in Romania that supported me during the race. You all gave me the power to continue when I never thought I still could. I will always remember this feeling of closeness for the rest of my life.

 

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]





 

The Transcontinental Race 2017 Journal #TCRNO5 - Part II

The Transcontinental Race 2017 Journal #TCRNO5 - Part II

Part I is here >>

CP 2 - Monte Grappa

The morning after arriving at CP 1, I woke up as if I was hit by a bus. Last night's push to do the parcour on an empty stomach and the fact that I fell asleep hungry didn't help either. Sleeping was also bad again because of the cold. Since I packed a bivy bag and air mat but not a sleeping bag, I ended up sleeping with all my clothes on every night.

As I was slowly waking up, I started to notice the diverse bunch that was taking shelter at the CP. People had arrived all through the night and also in first hours of the morning. We all had a small sense of accomplishment by getting the first stamp but we were also humbled by the realization that we are just 600 k's into a 4.000 k's race. I don't why but that thought just made me laugh out loud. By now, although only three days in, I found it normal to talk to myself loudly, to laugh or to swear out of the sudden. Nope, nothing strange there...

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My plan for the day was to cycle to Austria and sleep at the base of the Alps before making my way to Italy the following day. I knew that, considering my sleeping gear, I should definitely find a hotel for that night, otherwise I'd be freezing outside. The day went on absolutely miserably. I couldn't find my pace at all and I was constantly hungry. I managed to enter Austria in the evening and the welcome was as bad I as expected it to be: windy & cold. I went to the first McDonalds I could find and ordered basically everything they had. My mental status was one of relaxation because I knew that I would sleep in a hotel and, as the temperature was dropping, I was happy to do so. But wait...The idiotic thing I did was that I didn't take the time during the day to book any accommodation. Now, at 10 pm, I found myself realizing that...guess what...in this tiny city in Austria, there weren't any places available. My morale just fell through the roof at the thought that I would need to sleep outside again. After spending more than 30 minutes on research, I summoned up all my courage and went outside. Yep, still windy, even colder. What happened in the next hour is something that you could call "the desperate hunt for shelter"! I turned the small city upside down looking for a shelter, clothes, blankets, something to keep me warm. Nothing! Around 12 pm I realized that it's just useless - I either start cycling through the night or, just as well, go to sleep out there. I went into survival mode. I managed to find a secluded place and, after putting all my clothes again, I went to sleep. I woke up several times shivering and I had to massage myself to sleep every time. It was horrible...

As I woke up at 5, my Garmin was showing a temperature of 8 degrees C. I couldn't wait to start pedaling. My first stop was five minutes away in a life saving petrol station, for a hot coffee and a sandwich. I kid you not: I was hugging the coffee cup, crying and laughing at the same time. I was slowly realizing what it would take to get to the end of this race. New limits, here I come!

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My plan for the day was to cycle all the way to Bolzen in Italy via Reschen Pass. That would put me 160 k's away from CP 2. What an amazing day this was. I left the somewhat boring hills and plains of Germany behind and now I was cycling through these amazing valleys in the Alps. The vegetation was green and lush, water was plentiful and the most important thing, the sun was up and it was so nice and warm. The top of the Reschen Pass is one my favorite places in this whole race. After a grueling, long climb, arriving at top, with the turquoise lake and the 4.000 meters snow covered peaks in the distance, was just as arriving in paradise. I stopped to eat a pizza at the first pizzeria in Italy - literally it was in the first 50 m into Italy. While eating that pizza, I also booked the hotel in Bolzano. He-he, learned my lesson! :) The road down to Bolzano was epic - all downhill on bike paths trough the vineyards. Oh man, the first night at the hotel, after a hot shower and a cold beer, was a life saver. Only topped by the buffet breakfast in the following morning that I absolutely destroyed. Must have eaten 1.500 kcal at least :D

On that day, August 2nd, at 5 pm, CP 2 was going to close. I felt I had enough time to pedal the 160 k's as long as I wasn't going to waste any time. The cycling for the day went incredibly smooth and I reached CP 2 with 2 hours to spare. The only things that kind of slowed me down was the heat. Little did I know that it would only be the start of it. The atmosphere was extraordinarily lively at the check point. I also felt good and my morale was high. After four day into the race, I was getting the hang of it and I felt I was being more in control of the race. After I got the much desired stamp, I joined other TCR participants that we're waiting for the heat to go down a bit so that we could attack the Monte Grappa climb. We chatted for an hour or so about our adventures so far. Their stories of grit and resilience were amazing. I had the realization that everyone was suffering at some level. Just like me. We were all pushing our limits. I suddenly stopped feeling alone in this crazy challenge and I felt I'm apart of the amazing TCR community. I wasn't just the outsider anymore, the rookie that was dreaming to do this race one year ago. I was doing it! I left for the Monte Grappa climb all pumped up...

>> Distance from start: 1.200 km. Duration: 4 days 17 hours.

(to be continued)

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The Transcontinental Race 2017 Journal #TCRNO5 - Part I

The Transcontinental Race 2017 Journal #TCRNO5 - Part I

At the beginning of this year, as I was accepted to take part in the #TCRNO5, my feelings were of excitement and panic, in equal amounts. Now, after successfully finishing the race, as I look back at that moment in January, I feel that I'm different person. I have no idea how the Silviu Martin from January had the guts to do this race now that I know what I've been through and what it took to finish this beast of a race.