A chorus of alarms drags me out of the depths of sleep, both my watch and phone nagging me to get up. I can’t recall any long distance ride where I’ve fallen asleep so quickly, and slept so soundly – there were some pretty lurid dreams too which I remember mentioning to Yoli, but for which the details have now gone. As I potter around the room repacking my gear and attempting to make tea nothing is overly sore either. My bum is rarely a problem area anyway, but my hands and feet were worryingly painful last night and both now feel like they can handle another round in the blender. The only black spot on the morning is that tea. I totally stuff up the unfamiliar brewing contraption, covering myself and the furniture in near boiling water in the process. If I wasn’t a stubborn Brit I’d probably have given up, but tea has a near mythical property for me in the morning and on a second, more careful, inspection I figure my mistake and manage a half decent cuppa to go with a couple of muesli bars. The few minutes delay is more than worth the calm bliss this brings.
Yesterday was a solid distance – pretty much bang on the target I was aiming for. As I sit drinking my tea I spend a few moments on the ‘ride smarter’ goal for this TCR. Something in the region of 270km today would put me in good shape for being inside cutoff CP1 and allow for a bit of recovery too. Not so much physical recovery – the body is feeling OK on that front. But there’ll be lingering fatigue from the overnight leg which would benefit from riding within myself today. Studying my cue cards, Erfhurt or nearby would be a decent target to aim for. With that in mind, I pack up and do my best to follow the MI5 security level exit procedure for the hotel – a 6 digit code on the keypad outside my room which apparently will somehow unlock the foyer door for me when I get there. Impressively, it works. I assume some facial recognition must have also taken place to ensure that no imposter was using my launch codes.
0Km – Altenkirchen – 04:15 26 July 2022 (317km total)
The forecourt of the hotel is brightly lit making it easy to kit up and check the rig before wheeling across the curving driveway. The one way system wants me to take a circuitous route out through the car park. I completely ignore this and nip back down the deserted entry ramp and back onto the road. I know yesterday evening’s climbing was the start not the end of the hills and as the light of the hotel fades into darkness the uphill begins. It’s gradual though, almost gentle – the effort it draws isn’t even enough to distract from the wonderful damp smell of the deep woodland which lines the road. The beam of my light paints mesmerisizing looping patterns that dance their temporarily dance on the smooth tarmac ahead. There are few things which make me feel more alive than pedalling a traffic free road in the crisp air before dawn.
As the first rays of sun creep over the landscape, the cycle path I’ve followed starts to resemble gravel single track. Fun as it is, I’m not in the mood for the enforced leisurly speed. The main road is empty and quicker to cycle. Shortly after Hachenburg (one of my other candidates for stopping last night) the road starts to climb in earnest, seemingly becoming more of a main road at the same time. Luckily it’s still early enough to be carrying few cars, and there’s a crawler lane which I can sit safely in as the few vehicles pass me in the outside lane. It’s a decent but manageable slog – the opening ramp a continuous 300 vertical metres, although never steep. By the time we’ve dipped and rolled through the valleys across the top, it’s pulled me up another 120m to a high point of 625m. The gradient has barely gone above 8% though and the breathtaking beauty of the lanscape has completely taken my mind off the work to get up here. All around me are steep, forest clad hillsides and rolling pastures – it’s like a miniature version of the Alps, although in some ways almost prettier. Rolling through one of the mountain villages I spy an open cafe – fractionally ahead of schedule for breakfast, but too good to pass up.
44km – Breitscheid – 07:00, 26 July 2022 (361KM total)
After the mornings exertion my stomach is not in a mood to take prisoners. So to accompanhy my coffee I order two of the largest looking offerings in the counter: one savoury (a sort of toasted baguette thing with bacon and cheese cooked into it); and one sweet (a super sized raisin danish). The young lass serving is super helpful, but in the process of paying does something to the dissatisfaction of the older fraulein hovering behind her. I don’t really follow the details – it sounds like she’s processed my payment as a mastecard rather than a eurocard. Perhaps they pay more for credit rather than debit card transactions. My immediate concern is the possibility of my provisions being annexed in the ensuing altercation, so I rapidly retreat to the only table inside the shop, quickly taking a sip of the coffee and a bite out of each pastry just to rule out any chance of their seizure.
The food and coffee hit the spot – combined with glorious riding so far, my spirits are high. It’s too early for Yoli to be up – or maybe I was out of cell signal. Either way, I leave a message but we don’t manage a call. I’m tempted to go for a 2nd coffee, but time is ticking on and I’m not sure we’re got beyond “payment gate” with the older lady yet. So instead I beg a water refill and make a polite exit out into the morning, shedding some kit into my saddle bag now the temperature is beginning to rise.
My mood lifts further in the realization I seem to have crested the immediate peak and am now on a long run downhill – on a mix of side roads or cyclepaths rather than the now much busier main road that runs down the valley. Somewhere around Mittenaar I spot that my Wahoo has lost it’s map again (stuck on Loading the next tile, a known problem). It did the same once yesterday so I now know what to do. I pause the route and reboot it, which does the trick and recovers the existing track log so I haven’t lost any of the data from today so far. I’m back on the road for a stretch after this point, but it’s urban riding and the traffic is kind. When I do head off onto cycle path again it’s a part I instantly recognise from my planning sessions: a looping section around a large dam. What I hadn’t spotted sat at my computer was just how stunning it was – especially in the morning light.
There’s a lot of rural riding beyond this but I must confess a lot of the details have now gone. I stick mostly to a mix of farm roads and paths which, although delightful, are somewhat devoid of memorable landmarks – aside from those which I captured by camera as I rode along (sunflower fields and a silo nearby). I can see several inclines in my ride profile, the first of these I do recall well up into the town of Homberg. Spying a garage with shop partway up I stopped for my next break
118km – Breitscheid – 11:00, 26 July 2022 (435KM total)
The shop turns out a little more spartan than I’d hoped, but they have what need: AAA batteries for my rear lights, plus of course rolls, snacks and drinks for me (including a large bag of paprika chips, purely for the salt of course – it’s getting hot). A handful of locals come and go as I sit perched at the small high table by the door. The assistant also mills around, taking a cigarette break outside. I find myself lulling into people watching mode and have to snap myself out of it, there’s a lot of distance to cover today still. I haven’t reached the stage yet where I actually hope someone will steal my bike, but it also seems a quiet and fairly safe area so I don’t bother with the lock as I head across to the loo on the far side of the station.
It turns out I’d stopped at the bottom of the hill proper, leaving me rather more of a slog up and through the town than I was expecting. Which is immediately followed by two more similar up and down slogs as the route winds along and then up and out of neighbouring valleys. The legs are still in good shape though and none of the inclines are long or especially troubling. The paths and side roads I’m navigating alternate sides with a main road which I’m roughly following. Soon after one of the bridges where I pass under this road I spot the unmistakeable figure of a TCR ride above me, riding on the main road. We exchange waves as we do, although our paths don’t cross again (she’s likely travelling faster than me at this stage, as my route meanders around). The “shoot while I ride” photography style I’ve adopted make it harder now to piece together exactly where I took certain shots, there being no speed drop in the logs. But based on time, I think the “pretty old german town” shot I snapped and shared was whilst rolling through Alsfield (144km into today’s riding). I also seem to recall either this town or one soon after was enjoying it’s summer ‘dig up the main road festival‘ in true German fashion. And when they dig the roads up, they do so down to the bare ground – leaving a cavernous scar to negotiate on foot or by bike.
There’s a sizeable ‘lump’ on my elevation profile after this point (420m) which I have pretty much no recollection of riding, although the picture of Burg Herzberg castle on Google does look vaguely familiar. The town of Niederaula though, now that’s a place I can answer your questions on – or more specifically the Imbis in the semi industrial area on the outskirts of town, and the wors with curry sauce and chips which they serve. Delightful.
173km – Walters Imbis, Niederaula – 14:35, 26 July 2022 (490KM total)
In no time I’m sat in the shade of a parasol, with a plate of easy to eat tasty food, with chips and lashings of sauce, and only 100km (6hrs) or so left to ride for today. What’s not to like?! Yoli and I manage a call and I talk through the rest of my strategy for the day with her. It isn’t exaclty complicated. Ride. Ice cream and drinks. Ride some more. Hotel, eat, sleep. Or as close to that as the road ahea allows me to get. A few spots of rain patter off the canvas above me, and the clouds around suggest there could be a soaking somewhere along the way. Given the oppressive heat though, that may not be an altogether bad thing. Whilst I’m sat there, eating and recharging devices from my extender batteries a guy pulls up on a well loved mountain bike. He casts more than one glance at my rig, but goes to sit with the ladies on the table behind me without asking. Probably for the best – much as I love a good conversation with curious bystanders, I really should get under way again.
I get a little lost in the next major town (Bad Hersfeld) trying to pick the route between flyovers and railway. At first it seems like I need to take an underpass, but then I spot a bridge across the tracks up ahead. I’m annoyed with myself for not having my phone at hand to snap the enormously long train of new cars which is going under as I cross. Ben would have cringed at the ‘auto bahn‘ dad joke that was right on my tongue as a caption. Once I’ve untangled myself the route unfolds into easy, if hot, riding along the course of wide floodplain of the Fulda river valley. Still sticking to the farm roads, it’s mostly farm traffic which I encounter along the will – as with Belgium previously, the harvest work is in full flow around me as a pedal easily along.
Skirting the town of Bebra, swings right and gradually upwards out of the valley as it starts to follow the railway line rather than the river. I soon get pissed off with the path alongside the tracks which I’ve plotted. It’s free of cars, but at every small road junction it dips down to a tunnel for a road to go under the railway, and rises back up on a punishingly steep short ramp to get back up to the level of the track again. Small as they are, the exertions are unwelcome so I bail back onto the main road, which is fairly free of traffic and devoid of needless hill repeats. At one of several railway crossings beyond I’m held up for a train, and whilst waiting get to meet cap #9 (Wendy). Coincidentally she’d been stood with friends nearby to Nico and I in Geraardsbergen town square minutes before the start. From our brief conversation as we wait for the train I learn she’s also been using a lot of farm roads and we’ve both seen a large amount of wildlife as a result (deer, owls etc). The valley seems to have a compressing effect on riders as not long after this I meet cap #154 (Danny) who rides into the gas station I’ve landed at for that ice cream.
220km – gerstungen – 17:50, 26 July 2022 (537KM total)
Danny is not enthused by the absense of still water to top up with – he’s using a bladder in his frame bag, and explains water with gas doesn’t work so well. I’m still enjoying the bubbly water in my bottles. Plus as well as ice cream, they have more of that elecrolyte-cum-sports drink I had yesterday evening on the run into Altenkirchen. As we both begin to roll out, Wendy comes past.
The route undulates slightly, but the riding is so easy it’s actually hard not to clump together and violate the no drafting rule. So much so, I snap a record photo as evidence of us being 50m+ apart in case the distance between our dots isn’t clear on the tracker positions. We come across an enthusiastic TCR supporter somewhere beyond the gas station stop . He rides alongside for a short while, dropping back to each of us in turn to chat about how we’re doing, what this TCR is like etc. He’s on a lovely, classic bike – old school frame, gears and rim brakes (I have a vague memory of it being a colorful vintage Colnago, but may have mis-remembered that part).
Our strung out line is broken up already by the time I pull over in the town of Horschel to snap another picture of a scarily high road bridge across the valley (the Werratalbrücke Hörschel). I’d intended to post it under the caption ‘fear of heights‘, but looking back at my feed it must have got missed.
I’d been thinking I might stop for the day around the 250km mark, for which the town of Eisenach would have been near spot on. I forget now whether the time seemed too early, or I didn’t spy anywhere obvious, but either way I rode through and on, crossing paths with Danny again around the point the road ducks under the railway lines again. The road beyond passes by an occasional cluster of houses but nothing resembling a hotel. The light has grown gloomy, partlyt with the time but also with gathering clouds, which now begin to unload their rain. It’s neither cold nor unpleasant though, so I ride on – splashing along the largely deserted road, slowly getting a proper soaking. As the road rises up to a high vantage point, I’m looking down towards an expanse of rooftops and high rise buildings. The city of Gotha is just ahead. I say a little prayer that I’ll be there in time to find a hotel before their receptions all close (which happesn around 8 to 9pm based on last night’s experience).
Over the crest of the hill it’s a lovely fast run down into the suburbs of Gotha – somewhat chilly though, with a slight spray throwing up from the tarmac, still glistening from the rain. I pull off left into the first building which says “hotel”, but a couple of guys outside inform me it’s only the cafe which is open, the hotel is closed down. They do say there’s pelnty of hotels in the centre which brings some optimism as I turn back out onto the main and spin down towards the middle of the city. At some point it strikes me I need a plan, so I pull out my phone and do a quikc Google search. A couple of places look possible, so I mount the phone on the Quad Lock on my stem and follow the directions to the nearest one. It’s closed up with no signs of life when I get there though. My spirits sink momentarily, but I know what needs doing and rapidly begin phoning the other options I had spotted. I strike gold on the first attempt. The helpful receptionist at a hotel I assume must be near the city castle has a room, will wait for me to arrive, and has safe bike storage. Result!
275km – Hotel am Schlosspark, Gotha – 20:45, 26 July 2022 (592KM total)
The Quad Lock mount is rapidly becoming my favourite packing addition. The Wahoo is great for the long distance navigation, but the phone can’t be beat for the last kilometers to find a specific location. In this case it quides me quickly and directly to the hotel and the patiently waiting receptionist, and in minutes I’m checked in. Better still she’s organised the kitchen to organise me a packed breakfast to take with me tomorrow – although I possibly missed a trick here to get a room service dinner too (luckily I’m not super hungry).
The parking garage entrance is a short around the block and I’m soon locking the bike into the rack and empty the essentials from the frame bag into the musette we were given on TCRNo5. I’m not quite so practiced though and it takes two more trips back to the bike for things I’ve forgotten – one of them I’ve barely left the garage, but the other (my second USB-C charger) I annoyingly only notice when I get to the room. I make a mental note of the full unpack list for future nights.
When Yoli asks me later what the room is like the first thing that comes to mind is “it smells funny”. At this point I should point out that I have a super sensitive sense of smell, so it’s probably not something any one else would have noticed. It’s also not a specific smell (smoke etc.). If “slightly dated” (which the decor is) could have a smell, that’s what I think it would be like. It’s not really a complaint though. The room is ideal in every way – comfortable and functional, and devoid of strange climbing apparatus, and caves or raised beds which need navigating. In no time at all it’s adorned with my drying laundry and I’m lying flat on the bed waiting for the knee pain to reach it’s crescendo and subside. I’m fast asleep long before it does. .