The alarm rang. Again. 4.30. This is getting tiring. The first challenge of the morning, get up off an inflatable mattress without being able to put my feet on the floor or making the damn thing squeak excessively. Back roll? Flip over and crawl? Easier said than done.
The next 30 minutes are a pure ballet of coordinated chaos in Loris and Laura’s kitchen. 4 weary cyclists trying to brush their teeth, get dressed, and find their odds and ends in about 4 square metres of space. Loris and Laura were fantastic, effortlessly squeezing around us and being the perfect hosts.
Donning my freshly washed kit (it smelt sooo good), I got ready fairly quickly, and spent some time helping Chris to change his brake pads out on the balcony. Soon we were all ready and crept along the outside corridor and down to the front door. 5am – it’s cold and dark, hardly welcoming conditions to ride 250km into the hills with over 2,000m of ascent. This would promise to be our toughest day yet.
It was almost the usual routine, head back out of Regensburg and up the road we came along two days ago. Once we made it out of the city, I was raring to go and keen to make some progress along the flats before the hills started. All four of us were been pretty we matched in terms of personality and general speed, however on the early days in the hills I had the feeling that Christian and I were very similar in terms of power and pacing. Even on the flats we had a tendency to ride at a faster pace than many others were comfortable with.
With the benefit of hindsight, I’m not sure what convinced me that this day would be a speed day. Within the first 30 minutes, Christian and I were both fairly fast, whilst Chris and Bastian seemed comfortable taking it easier, leading to a natural gap forming between us pretty early on. After having a quick chat on the go with Christian as well as Chris and Bastian, we decided to split up today and see how we managed riding as pairs.
I eagerly dropped into the aero bars and soon we were riding at 30-35 km/h through the country roads, with Christian taking over on occasion to let me slipstream and recover. We had agreed a little earlier on that we were both ok listening to our own music, audiobooks or podcasts, but we still worked well together, making good progress. Stephen Fry was back on the job, doing an admirable job as always of bringing Harry Potter to life.
As the day brightened and warmed up slowly, Christian and I continually kept an eye out for any open bakery. Passing through one village, I zoomed and scrolled around on my Hammerhead computer and was excited to spot a little little for a café. We redirected into this town and discovered that the café was at the top of a very steep short hill. It was however plainly clear that his was shut (seemingly as well as the entire village), and even after consulting the only human for miles (with exception of a pensioner who rocketed up the aforementioned hill and past us on a city bike to our astonishment), we wasted 20 minutes to discover that everything was shut.
We soon came up with a brilliant idea. Ever since we stopped off in the restaurant on day 2 for dinner, both Chrisses had regularly been dreamily discussing my Zigeunerschnitzel and how good it looked. Since the restaurant was also a small hotel, why don’t we stop there and ask if they do breakfast?
After rummaging around in the gravel and the odd railway crossing we had just passed two days ago, we eventually found the village and rode into the beer garden at the back. Thankfully the owner remembered us and we plead our case to convince him to open up his kitchen 15 minutes early so that we two poor wayfarers might have a good breakfast. Grudgingly agreeing, the waitress from last time brought us two large coffees and, after a wait which seemed suspiciously close to 15 minutes, two plates of scrambled eggs and bread. We enjoyed every mouthful of this simple treat for the senses, and again mindful of time, we paid up and headed off, direction Waldershof.
I couldn’t help thinking where Chris and Bastian would be, as, despite charging off into the distance this morning, we did waste a lot of time looking for breakfast. Whilst time well spent, this was going to be another “tortoise and the hare” sort of day.
Getting closer to the dreaded hills, we spotted a local roadie out on his Sunday run. Christian quickly nipped over next to him, had a quick chat, and a few minutes later came back to confirm that the local would ride with us for a few kilometres. I wasn’t sure what to make of this, but it seemed impolite to refuse, and it was quite nice to have some more company. After about 20 minutes of riding, he bad us farewell and we continued towards the foot of the hills.
The hills begin (checkpoint 6)
The route was exactly the same as from day 2 and I was struggling to remember how the terrain looked in reverse, made even more difficult by the different light conditions. Things started when we hit the first steep hill which had a long ramp of about 17% and then smoothed out into “just” an 8% climb. It was on this hill my fatigue from the last days started to show. I made the 17% ramp but at some point I needed to get off and push. We had already met Chris and Bastian a bit earlier, and Christian, Chris and Bastian all made it up, leaving me in their dust. This ramp marked the beginning of 40km of ascent, all the way up to the top of the last hill before Waldershof.
True to our earlier split, Chris and Bastian reached the top, turned left, and I could see their profiles whooshing down the next descent together. Christian was kindly waiting for me at the top, and after remounting, we enjoyed the next glorious downhill together.
Over the undulating hills, I started to hear a creak somewhere on the bike. I went straight into troubleshooting mode, shifting up and down, standing and sitting, pedaling faster and slower, and a variety of other strange motions. During a quick chat with Christian, he suggested that it might be the pedal. After about half a minute of pedaling awkwardly, I agreed with him – it was very likely my left pedal. I started to wonder if this might be the beginning of the end of my ride. I’ve had the Shimano SPD-SL pedals for about 7000km, which seemed a fair amount, but perhaps not far enough to warrant a defective pedal. Things turned even weirder as Christian then said his right pedal was creaking.
After a few more hills and descents, we caught up with Chris and Bastian near the two serpentine bends from day two. This time my legs were feeling a bit better and I arrived at the top in third place ahead of Bastian, who seemed again to be fighting with his 11-28 cassette. Reaching the top, Christian and I continued down the road and it was Chris’s turn to wait.
This really was tortoise and hare stuff, but the serpentines had marked the beginning of the 30km of almost continuous ascent. My legs largely behaved themselves on the way up, and we wound our way through various ramps, cumulating in the final long ascent through the Naturpark Steinwald, a beautiful road snaking its way upwards for 5km with luscious forest left and right. The Chrisses and Bastian had all passed me again, and for a while I ground my way uphill with both Chris and Bastian just in sight.
I was sure I still had some power left in my legs, but after a while I decided that I would give myself a break. Pulling the brakes, I leant over and unclipped, took my handlebars and just pushed. Sure, I might be a little faster riding up, but to be honest I wanted to relax my muscles completely, take the pressure off my saddle sores and burning feet, and just walk.
I switched off my audiobook, took out my headphones and listened to the noises of the forest. Walking. A simple enough action, which I oddly realised that hadn’t done much of over the last three days. I continued for the next 2km, just walking, pushing and losing myself in my thoughts. Pure bliss.
I finally reached the top, remounted, and turned the pedals – my legs now feeling renewed. Out of this reverie came something which made it all worthwhile. A 6km descent into Waldershof. The trees around me picked up speed, and I got into my aero position. Hips back for optimal weight distribution, hands on the drops to keep my body low and offer maximum control, fingertips on the brake levers, and feet at 3 and 9 o’clock for minimal wind resistance. This was riding as I knew and loved, descending at 50, 60 km/h. The trees opened up into fields, and I passed through several towns, adjusting my speed and position to offer the best balance of speed, smoothness and safety.
I soon rolled back into the Waldershof checkpoint a happy man, and was pleased to see that the Chrisses and Bastian were still at the checkpoint. I got my stamp, hung up my bike on a stand inside the tent, and lay down on the grass to rest. There were a few others in the tent, busy eating and drinking, tending to their bikes, rummaging through their drop-off bags and chatting. I took the opportunity and asked the volunteers if they knew anything about creaking pedals. One kindly took a look and confirmed that the left pedal was indeed the culprit, and added some oil down the spindle. He reassured me than the pedal was a long way from giving up, but I might need to order a new pair soon.
I cleaned my chain and relubed it, refreshed my electrolyte stash from the box in my drop-bag, picked up some more chamois cream (known in the local parlance as “Arschcreme”), and dumped a few more heavy items into my drop-bag. I even found a small can of deodorant which Mrs MT thoughtfully gave me but I left to save weight, and I took great pleasure in applying it and once again smelling like a normal human being.
Chris and Bastian left fairly soon after I arrived, determined to find a local restaurant for lunch. Christian and I stayed a bit longer to eat a few leftovers I still had stashed in my Tailfin. Adrian had also arrived, and we had a bit of a catch up since last seeing each other at Regensburg in the dead of night.
Christian and I discussed where we should stay overnight. The next stage to Dresden promised to be one of the hardest – 236 km with 3,130m of elevation. Having already ridden 135km that day, we took a quick look at the map and found a town where we should arrive at about 10pm, which would need another 100km of riding and 1,140m of elevation. Eibenstock.
The gummi bear saga
We loaded the route onto our computers and rolled our bikes out of the tent. The sky looked a little grey with a hint of sun, and after about 5km of riding the heavens opened. This was the first time I got wet on the trip, but thankfully it was a quick shower, so nothing to worry about. Riding out of the city we passed a pair of riders in Rapha kits. Unfortunately I never managed to get their names, however as we shall see them again a little later, I’ll rather clumsily refer to them as the Rapha boys on account of their taste in clothing.
The route continued uphill, starting with some little ramps as a teaser. The soles of my feet were burning again and I just couldn’t get any power out of my legs when riding uphill. Christian was riding well, and to avoid me holding him back, I told him just to ride on ahead, perhaps he could book a hotel for that evening in Eibenstock.
Just as Christian left, a black car stopped by us with the window open. I was taken aback when I saw Ben and Daniel inside, who both looked at me standing at the side of the road with concern on their faces. “Was I ok?” “Yeah, legs burnt out, I’m just taking a quick break.” With speed that any Formula 1 pit crew would be proud of, Daniel flung open the door, jumped out and rushed to the car boot. He pulled out a bag of gummi bears, tore it open, rushed over to me, and tipped half the bag into one of my feed bags. “All good? Go, go, go – good luck!” Daniel jumped back into the car, and they tore off up the hill into the distance, leaving me slightly confused as to what just happened.
What a feeling! I downed a couple of gummi bears, filled up a water bottle with electrolyte, checked and pumped up my back tyre (which felt a little low, don’t forget this), picked a few choice songs to get myself in the mood (in particular this beaut), clipped in and rode onwards and upwards.
I made it up the first series of hills and again found my rhythm when the route deposited me on a broad, fast road with a slight downhill on which I clocked about 60km/h.
About 50km away from Waldershof, the route took me right by the Czech border, leading me on a long, straight road which sliced its way through a vast and ominous forest. This was not a place you wanted to be stuck in without help. Seeking a morale boost, I called Mrs MT and briefed her on my progress so far and where I was. Whilst I had merely been following the little yellow line on my computer, eating frequently and sleeping on occasion, she was impressed with my progress, which at once brought things into perspective for me. I would be lying if I said I didn’t shed a tear, but this is the emotional journey such a long ride sets you on.
The route took me through some unusual areas, including past a Cold War border tower, and down some long fast roads with avenues of trees. My musical taste had taken on a distinctly different direction, and I was singing out loud to 80s rock hits, including Separate Ways by Journey (the Stranger Things theme song). Motivation no end. That and the gummi bears.
The hills continued to roll, sending me though increasingly quaint tiny villages. The one thing that had struck me on this trip was the still noticeable differences between the West Germany (represented by Bavaria) and former East Germany (every other state I rode through). After another few hours of riding, I was treated to an unexpected surprise when I saw a couple of cyclists riding up a hill in front of me. No, it was four. Could it be?
I pulled alongside Chris, Bastian and the Rapha boys with a cheery “Hallöchen” to their complete surprise. Back from the dead (or close enough to it). We caught up on recent events, and Chris offered to top up my water supplies as they had just refilled from a very friendly woman a few minutes previously. We stopped for a bit at a local pub for some well needed refreshments, and whilst I was was sitting at the table by myself waiting for the others, two young boys sitting with their parents at a neighbouring table struck up a conversation with me.
Not wanting to be impolite, I obliged. I really didn’t feel like I belonged in normal society when I was asked “where are you from”, “where are you cycling to” and the like. I confused them a little by explaining that I was from Scotland and tried to explain where that was, and that I was riding from Berlin to Munich and back again within 5 days. One of the boys followed up with a prudent “why are you doing that?”. Another wave of exhaustion came up and I simply responded “I’m really not sure why.” The mother summed it up best with a kindly “I think he wants so see if he can do it”. Couldn’t have put it better myself.
The final push of the day
Wearily waving off some packets of Haribo kindly offered by the barman (I was slowly getting sick of the things), we said our goodbyes and continued the 50 or so kilometers to Eibenstock, knowing that one of the biggest ascents of the day was just around the corner.
This was an amazing climb, about 2km uphill with ramps of 10% through fields leading up to the pretty town of Schöneck. As the road wound its way upwards, we were treated to views of the town church sitting proud at the top of the hill, made even more beautiful in the evening orange light. Passing the town sign, my feet played up again and I decided again to dismount and push my bike up the remaining hundred metres.
I took a quick photo of the church, and continued through the town’s cobbled streets. I caught up again with Chris and Bastian, and we raced back down the next descent, rushing through a forest in the dusk, embracing the cool evening air.
The hills on the route were by no means finished, and to add insult to injury, the next village included a nice and steep 15% ramp of about 400m which simply destroyed my will. Chris and Bastian were grinding their way up but I couldn’t take it anymore, my legs were drained. I got off and pushed.
Once I got to the top, Chris and Bastian weren’t at the top waiting for me, which normally wouldn’t be a problem. This time I was a little concerned, given that I didn’t know where the hotel was. The stretch of road from then on was thankfully downhill, and in the twilight I was riding through old mining towns, complete with the industrial buildings and train yards, all nestled in a valley surrounded by trees. The area was incredible and a photographer’s paradise, I had to hold myself back from stopping every few minutes.
I caught up with Chris and Bastian a few kilometers down the road, who were waiting at a junction and chatting with a local walking his dog. I heard they were discussing the road ahead, which – aside from one biggish ramp – was largely downhill.
The road did not disappoint – a broad, well maintained road which wound itself slowly downwards through the valley, bordered by a small river and surrounded by a vast expanse of trees and the odd picturesque outcrop of rock, seemingly placed there for our personal enjoyment. The going was fast and smooth, but I couldn’t help but count down the kilometres to Eibenstock. It was the same old story – if you focus on the distance to go, time slows down. 20km turned to 17km, eventually 15km, and then 11km. That’s the distance of my commute! That should take me 20 minutes, no problem. Now its 10km. Drat.
Darkness fell and my computer started flashing up h warnings. Low front light battery. Great, I won’t be able to see. Low rear light battery. Super, now nobody will be able to see me from behind. Low computer battery. When I checked my phone, the battery icon was red. Goodbye mental composure, I’m sure I’ll see you later.
Keep riding, we’re almost there. Suddenly I saw a sign for Eibenstock – turn right off the main road. After a minute or two, I discovered that this side road would take us uphill. Great. The bloody town was on a hill. Keeping true to my day’s efforts, I got off and pushed, after all it was only another 2km.
Dinner and recovery
I caught up again with Chris and Bastian who were waiting for me halfway up to the town. Hungry and irritated with life in general, I was slightly less than receptive to their suggestion of riding an extra few kilometres to a well rated restaurant which wasn’t close enough to the hotel for my liking. All I wanted was a meal, shower and bed with as few kilometres and metres of elevation as possible between them. Chris and Bastian then disappeared, and I tried to call Christian to find out where the hotel was. I was sent a name and street name, but for some reason I just couldn’t find anywhere on Google maps, asides from a restaurant in far away Osnabruck.
Eventually I found the place after riding through the darkness, and discovered it was in fact a restaurant and not a hotel. Where the heck was I and where was the hotel? My level of calmness dropped down a few more notches, and after leaving my bike in the restaurant’s bar, I grumpily followed the waiter to find out who was waiting for me. At a table in the corner of the beer garden, I spotted Christian and the Rapha boys, both of whom were wolfing down pizzas.
I sat down and, whilst trying to be as conversational as possible, I admit I vented a little too much. I complained about the route, the hills, my computer, my lights, my phone, my saddle sores, my feet, and everything in between. After a moment, one of the Rapha boys burst out into laughter and cheered me up immensely by replying “so it’s not just me then”. That’s the audax way. We were all hurting, but the good relationship between the BMB riders really made it so much more bearable.
After eating a large pizza and enjoying a good discussion together with the group, Christian and I set off the short few hundred metres to the hotel, which turned out to be quite a nice a countryside resort. Christian again won over the receptionist, and we managed to take our bikes up to the room.
It was a large room with beds in separate rooms, and Christian and I embraced this new found space and personal freedom. I spent some time repairing a slow puncture on my back wheel (told you this would be important), and shortening the shoulder straps on my other pair of bib shorts to make sure these would fit properly once again (note, always bring a mini sewing kit on long tours).
After this I had a shower, which was the best feeling in the world after such a tough day, and I’m sure I must have drank a few litres in the process. After washing my clothes again and drying these out, I coordinated our start time with Christian, headed over to my comfortable bed, and whilst listening to Stephen Fry doing what he does best, I fell asleep.
Read my next post in the series here!
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- Distance: 246km (total distance: 1,086km)
- Elevation: 2,530m (total elevation: 8,360m)
- Average speed: 14.5km/h
- View the Komoot route