Travelling to the event almost made me give up, before arrival.
Scheduled departure to the airport was 0120 mainstation Heidelberg. I had a small rest from midnight to 0100, this was 20mins too long, I missed my train. Great start. I figured out a bus going to the airport, so I quickly left to keep some buffer. The trams refused to transport my bikebag, as it was fully crowded due to some festival in town. It made me walk for about three kms with my heavy bikebag. Arrived at the busstation, after arrival of the bus, the bus driver refused to carry my bag. I needed a little rest to regain some power, at this stage I almost gave up.
Well then, moving this huge box -by walking- home.
I decided to put the box in the car, although I already knew I gonna arrive back home at another airport. Departing from Stuttgart and after arriving back home in Frankfurt, I got to get to Stuttgart and pick up the car immediately, as I had to get to Berlin on the day after my arrival.
Taking the car to Stuttgart, the autobahn was fully blocked, twice. At 0530 I finally arrived at Stuttgart airport, departure of the flight 0630. This is the well-known Max-Timing.
On this early Sunday, someone definitely did not want me to catch this plane. As a project manager, it is normal to have several options available, still it is totally annoying to be forced to take all options. I made it, check-in easy with pre-booked bike option, food, drinks, resting 20mins until departure and sleeping the entire flight.
Getting off at Dubrovnic airport easily, meeting my pre-arranged driver. I arranged him the night before and received a confirmation quickly. He helped me with my box and drove me to Molunat safely.
Arrived, hallelujia. At some point of this night, I didn’t believe in this moment anymore. So it felt even better.
Unloading the box, saying hello to everyone and signing in. This was it. Mounting the bike, getting it checked by Ivan Rogić (999). Around 1130 I was ready to race, still 21hrs and 55mins to go.
Food shopping, lunch and a quick rest until race meeting at 1500. Talking to other racers and meeting some of them for a short dinner, combined with a nice mediterranean evening rain.
Race – Day 01
Getting up at 0600, down to the sea and having a quick swim, what a life! Simplicity is luxury. Everything packed and wrapped to the bike. Getting fresh bananas and sandwiches then off to the starting point, Prevlaka.
15kms of peaks and valleys wonderful scenery with sunshine and almost no wind.A last Espresso, GPS set up and go. It was a time trail start, so I had several riders ahead of me. My weak point, when I see a rider I have to catch him. Quickly I decided to leave into the mountains, onto my route. It was a painful change from speed riding to monster climbing.
I climbed for hours and was rejected to cross borders. I could not understand the reason and tried to walk across the green border. I fully failed with this attempt. Additionally I paid two flats, damaged cleats and a heartbeat of app. 200bpm, as I realized that this area could still be full with mines. Flats repaired, back on track. Crossed the border to Bosnia and up into the hills, again. Back to my original track.
Fatal error no2. No local border crossing. This police guy was really polite and could speak English well enough to explain the rules to me. So back to the coastal line, again. Then I went back onto my track once more. Where did it lead me to? Right, local border, what happened. I could cross it, so I did. Getting ahead, hours later, getting out of Bosnia took a while to find an international border. Learnt a lot, wasted tons of time and power. Continued my track into direction of Makarska.
Wind came up, it was dark and I got tired. Falling asleep around 0200 at a post office entrance.
Race – Day 02
Woke up by sniffing dogs at 0500, really cold outside of my cosy and warm sleeping bag. Taking the first steep climbs to get to the first cafe. Finding a reflective signal vest on the road, it was clear I was way behind everybody. By leaving the coastal line, mentally I started to ride my race. I did not check the daytime, no position check of other riders, only my ride.
Riding the second day, I had time to look at the scenery, countryside and people. Breathtaking, amazingly beautiful and at the same moment, totally broken and dead. Heat, small woods and climbs, all over. When you find a food shop, make sure you collect enough water. You won’t find these small markets every hundred meter.
At night I had to cross deep woods. as it was dark, it was the first time, I could smell the animals without seeing them, really scary. I can tell you. In between, small villages with free running dogs, goose bumps, again and again. This day, I made it to Rijeka, cross the peaks with strong winds, getting down into the city. Have a rest from 0230 until 0515.
Race – Day 03
Crossing Rijeka and getting closer to the first real climbs of the day, I met the first two guys from the race. It was a great moment to know, to be back.
Climb started, a next guy was sleeping in the bus-stopp. Met Goran Livada and Goran Zec at the climb and Ivan Rogić was just arriving on the top. All five water bottles, empty. Refilling and getting down on the northern ramp of Učka. Caught flat no 4 on the downhillside, lucky me. Some riders already walk up Učka coming back from CheckPoint 01, this one is steep for sure. Going down with Ivan, he waited for me after I repaired my flat. Loosing him and waiting for him at the petrol station, but no Ivan arrived. While waiting I had several espressos and sandwiches as breakfast. I decided to head on towards Savudrija, but I preferred to have one more really steep climb and then let it roll until CheckPoint 01. Pacing a little, going fast, reaching CP01. Having more food and drinks, rinse all clothes salt free, have a swim in the sea, what a thing, sooo good. Take a good rest for an hour, after that fix the broken tube, to be able for a quick change on the road.
Leaving the camp for an extensive early dinner, 1630. Getting back into the race at 1730, direction CheckPoint 02, Sveti Martin na Muri. Crossing Slovenia via Ljiubiljana, breakin the rule of border crossing again. At that point I already assumed to be disqualified, as I crossed the border to Bosnia for several times before, but only now I received my DSQ. Anyway I continued this ride.
Climbs again and again, at night strong headwinds came across, they forced me to get off the bike and walk. I decided to have a rest after midnight for about three hours. Checking the winds every 30mins, without any bigger change. Getting out of my sleeping bag into the cold, packing all stuff together and start riding getting the body back into a warmer stage. Reached the capital for a good breakfast and some coffees, chose the wrong bridge for river crossing, was a little hazzle to cross the river. The heat was already more than just there, it was soo hot. Getting into the smaller hills, coming closer to Sveti Martin, slowly. At Podloze, the heat finally hit me down. Eventhough I had rests, drinks and food, the last drink stopp was too long ago. I found a shadow place and my system ran down. slept for 30mins, got my orientation back and found an ice cream parlour. mixed some salty water, had the best ice cream of my life and got back into life. Listen to your body, always and everywhere.
A guy on his race bike found me and shouted over: “Max, why are you here in Slovenia. I was looking for you to show you a smoother way to Sveti Martin.” I was amazed. Before people were applausing and shouting, but this guy went out to find me and show me a way to CP02, which was not so hilly. This gave me a good push, speed rose up and I could reach CP02 Sveti Martin, eventhough I was disqualified. My original plan to reach Ilok did not change by any external decision. Food, drinks, calling my wife for a longer time, recharging powerbanks. Fixing another flat and leaving again. Climbing and climbing, then mostly down and straight ahead.
Race – Day 04
Almost at dawn, the crazy free runnings dogs made me tired. All these little sprints. These dogs always came up at evening in the villages, at night you only hear them running and breathing behind you.
I took another rest outside the villages, on top of my sleeping bag. The last kilometers shall be finished today, assuming to reach Ilok around 1800, not expecting it to get that hot again. But it happened differently.
Stopping for refueling every hour, burning hot sky, heated up roads, and winds. No real food the last day, as it was just too hot for eating. Today the day starts the same. Forcing myself to eat, bah ugly.
Around lunchtime I meet Sasha on the road, another supporter that came by bike to find me. He told me about other three guys resting in a park, close by. He guided me to the other racers, we continued together towards the finish line. After another one or two hours of cycling with ugly headwinds, only Ivan Puja and myself were left. We made several stopps to cool down and getting back sugar into the blood circle.
We took a lot of time, talking, motivating, shouting, laughing, eating, sharing. Ivan had several painful parts, knees, legs, feet. His frame was suffering from a repair welding on the road. It was more than clear to finish this race together, do not stick on assumed finishing time, if there is no real reason. I took it easy and we rode together. One last time I needed a 5 mins powernap. Ivan woke me up and he headed forward, climbed some last hills and collected some more water from people living next to the road.
At 2030 we finally reached the finish line of Ilok.
Shower, saying hello to the other guys and having an extensive dinner, beers and many many stories.
Afterrace – Day
Next morning breakfast, saying goodbye and then getting the bike and myself into the car to Belgarde Nikolai Tesla Airport.
Everything just in time, check-in boarding, quick drink, sleeping in the plane.
Amazing experience, amazing people!
Thank you all!
.HardCro 2016, 1st edition