Once again, I’m dead to the world when the alarms go off. Hauling myself out of the bed I survey the untidy mess of gear across the room. Getting ready today is going to be a two stage affair with the bike down in the garage. First I have to get myself kitted up, for which the hotel has kindly provided me a conventionally easy-to-operate kettle and tea to lubricate the process. Second is lugging bags down to the basement and loading up the bike, passing reception along the way to collect my packed breakfast – which turns out to be an entire paper bag’s worth of goodies. Some of the contents get scoffed whilst I potter around with the bike. The rest gets stuffed in my feed bag and back pockets
Once I’m ready to roll I realise I have not asked reception for the coin which the idly humming machine demands from me to open the garage door. I shortcut the process and wheel the bike back into the hotel and into the lift up to the ground floor.
The moment I am in the lift I am struck by the bleeding obvious. There was literally nothing stopping me from just taking the lift straight up to my room yesterday, bike and all. No one would ever have known, and sure enough I get not a word of complaint from the night receiptionist wheeling the bike out of the lift, across the foyer, and out into the street. That was half an hour’s riding or sleep lost right there!
0km – Gotha – 04:45, 27 July 2022 (592KM total)
To state something else bleeding obvious – Germany is a big country. This will be my third day riding across it and it’ll be more than 200km until I reach Czechia. It’s anything but flat riding ahead too – the day will get progessively hillier the further I ride. Fortunately, CP1 is not very far over the border and I’ve made great progress the first two days. So I’m optimistic about the day ahead as I roll out into the dark and still damp streets of Gotha. I’m not sure I’ll reach the checkpoint today, but I should be close enough to make it well within cutoff tomorrow.
A thin grey light is spreading as the urban streets give way to my favoured rural roads. Althought the first sections are made from some sort of concrete blocks set into the fields. They’re fairly rapid to ride over but have a corrugated feel to them which throws uncomfortable vibrations through my hands and forearms. I’m also a little worried about the chance of potholes or missing blocks. The combination of my front light plus the early dawn rays are more than enough to see this well advance, but it demands concentration. I can’t now recall if my route led back to a proper road or if I got fed up and decided to reroute. Either way I end up on the main N7 flying towards Erfuhrt. The smooth tar is deliciously flat and fast – it’s double lane in places too, not that there is much traffic at this hour anyway. It’s pretty dull riding, but it’s efficient and forks onto a parallel cycle path just ahead of the city, taken me away from the slowly building volume of cars and trucks. Erfurht itself would have made a great breakfast stop, but it’s way too early. So instead I wind through the centre, around buses and tram tracks and a collection of old buildings which I’m sure I admired in passing but are pretty much now gone from memory sadly.
I’m making decent progress, and the signs showing distance to Weimar make this a likely sounding spot for a first stop when in Hopfgarten I come across what seems like a familar sight. Another steep ramp up to a path along a railway. I should have checked the profile more closely, but I’m put off by yesterday’s hill repeat debacle with each tunnel under the railway. In fact, this would have been just one short ramp up but in my haste I end up winding back into town and onto dodgy rutted farm track instead. It is not better, and at the first opportunity, I take a bridge back across the railway to the path. In the process discovering some cobbles to go with mud and rocks I’ve just bumped across (Yoli jokes that I am starting a collection of different riding surfaces).
I’m literally taking the first spin of the pedals and clipping in to ride the lovely flat tarmac path (what was I thinking!) when another rider comes alongside me – Su (cap #40). We chat for a while before she suggests I’m quicker and should pull ahead. We swap places at a junction ahead though where she sensibly stays on the main road and whizzes past whilst I sit waiting minutes for the most lethargic cycle crossing light in all of Germany. Weimar almost immediately makes up for this though with a lovely pedestrianised centre and so many cafes I’m mometarily struggling to choose. I opt for one across the square, and head inside.
50km – weimar – 07:45, 27 July 2022 (642KM total)
The lady assistant is just opening up and a little busy with the displays, so I order two large coffees rather than risk the delay of a second visit. I’ve still got plenty of packed breakfast so I pass on the pastries (in hindsight, this seems like a clear mistake – they looked amazing). I sit at one of the tables under the trees in the square outside under. It would be utterly delightful if it weren’t so noisy. Behind me, there is a low buzz as the lady begins hoovering the shop. In front, there’s a guy on an industrial sized ride-on hoover vacuuming the square. It’s so loud Yoli and I struggle to hear each other. There’s a brief lull as the street cleaner finds another corner to focus on, but he’s back before long rumbling and whooshing around in front of me. Even with this, it’s a pleasant stop – the packed food quickly disappears, and the coffees wash it down nicely. I’m set for the day by the time I retrieve the bike from the tree I propped it against and kit up to ride on
I have one very vivid memory of the next section of riding, which is basically thinking ‘oh fuck, I hope I don’t have to ride up there‘. The road I am riding is approaching an autobahn which climbs skyward across a tree lined hillside. There’s a brief moment of relief when my road swings left and downward, but that brings up another worrying thought ‘I hope we’re not about to go under that hill in a tunnel I’ve overlooked‘. Tunnels are not only unpleasant, they’re forbidden on TCR and in most cases will acquire a time penalty. Luckily this second thought does not transpire either. Instead I find myself on a long, fast and flowing downhill stretch through fresh, wet smelling forests. It’s pretty much the ideal scenario compared to the ones my mind had conjured up.
At the bottom of the valley road I run out into the suburbs of Jena. I remember marking a McDonald’s somewhere here, but once again the timing is off for another food stop. The riding is an instant contrast to the days before. This is real urban cycling – along and across large busy streets, under huge concrete flyovers, alongside tram tracks, cycle paths through parks and beside rivers. And above all, high rise apartments, with a distinctly soviet era feel. I realise I’ve probably crossed over into what was Eastern Germany before 1989 and the fall of the Berlin Wall. It’s only later that I realise the other reason the city name seems familiar. It’s the home of Carl Zeiss, Jena – a big brand in the sphere of optics and photography.
Apology time. As I leave the last of the parks and cycle paths of Jena behind I must have just stuck my head down and ridden. My recollection of specific details is thin – I do recall the route beginning to roll up and down significantly and I can see a sizeable lump (380m elevation) near Reichenbach, where my route cross an autobanh at almost bang on 100km of riding for the day. I can see in my track log that my next stop was at a gas station just before Gera.
113km – GERA – 11:45, 27 July 2022 (705KM total)
I managed to scrape some recollections back from my the log of my WhatsApp chat with Yoli.
Robw: 113km sarnie and coke Pixie: Yeeeeessss Pixie: Almost half way 😁😁😁 Robw: I reckon 165 ish to cp Robw: But it is hellish lumpy on the lead in Pixie: Ahhhh okay, then really almost half way Pixie: You gonna do it!!! Robw: Hold thumbs. Lots of other riders crossing paths today Robw: Saw amazing bokkies today and so many woodpeckers seen or heard - plus an owl Pixie: That's lovely!!! Pixie: Ah shit man super jealous
I can’t recall exactly where I saw the bokkies (deer), but on reading this I do have an image of them standing to my right in one of the fields I was riding across. Even after reading the above logs back it took some serious introspection to get to a clear picture of where I stopped, but it came back eventually
Riding through the suburbs it’s closing in on time for my next 3 hourly stop. I pass several places which looked like they were restaurants once, but are closed up now. The road opens up to my right and there’s an open gas station with a shop, and two very obviously TCR riders already stopped with their bikes propped against the wall. I swing across and under the green forecourt canopy and after exchanging greetings with the other riders also deposit my bike and head into the shop (once I figure the one way system). I’m pretty sure I got a meat and salad sandwhich of somekind from the cafe counter, together with of course water, coke and probably other snacks. Once outside I sit on the kerb, carefully positioning myself in the shade of the canopy – the sun is really blasting down now. No sooner am I settled than I have to move. I’ve inadvertantly blocked the exit to the one way system. Whilst eating I spot on the tracker page that Su (cap #40) is nearby. I forget whether she rode past whilst I was there (quite possibly), but I do recall the other guys had also seen her on the road. They leave well before me – my stop also requires another visit into the shop to get the key to the toilet, which is in a block around the corner.
Beyond Gera the landscape is either up or down, sometimes gradual but never flat. The next town (Ronneberg) is perched at the top of a climb but the next couple (Crimmitschau, Glachau) follow a similar pattern – a fast run down through suburbs into the town, followed by a sweltering traverse across the town itself, and finally a sweaty climb back up out of the valley. It’s hot and not especially fast riding and the time for the next break comes up on me quickly. But I’ve mis-timed things. I should have stopped in one of those larger towns in the valleys. The hilltop villages are mostly small, and the few hotels or restaurants I see look to be boarded up and long closed. I wonder if this is also COVID related – and can they ever possibly recover? I imagine many were family businesses handed down from generation to generation. Will the economics for such establishments ever make them viable again – devoid of the history and lifestyle they once embodied. Will passing trade ever be enough to overcome the hurdles of re-opening. It’s not utterly pervasive though – some villages seem to be thriving still, perhaps buoyed by a wealthier population of local residents, or just the critical mass of being larger. Whatever the reasons, I find myself short of options at the time I begin looking in earnest – a couple of places are clearly still in business but closed in one village. The next village along has a very definitely open Kebab Shop though. It’s not entirely what I’m hungry for, but it’ll more than do.
172Km – IBO’s Kebap Haus, Oberlungwitz – 11:45, 27 July 2022 (764KM total)
I’m not sure if it’s Ibo himself who serves me but despite his lack of English and my rusty German we get by. I’m debating which kebab option to go for when he suggests a ‘kebab box’, which he proceeds to me is pretty much exactly that. A bottom layer of donner kebab, something vaguely vegetable looking in the middle, lashings of sauce, and topped off with chips and more sauce. I may not have been hungry for kebab when I rode up but I’m bloody starving for one now and do my best arm waving gestures and raising my voice a few decibels to emphasize he should not just make me one, but make it quickly.
Devoid of aircon, even with all of it’s windows open the inside of the restaurant is only marginal cooler than the chip fryer, so I take the food and drink and sit on the steps outside. In my head, my very presence there is a good advert for them – sat right in front and clearly enjoying their delicious fayre. Dirty, disheveled and not smelling too great I’m doubting anyone else could possinly see it that way. At the time, I thought the owner’s suggestion I came and eat inside was just kindness. In hindsight it was perhaps more self preservation – removing the tramp from the doorstep who is deterring other trade.
I’m done before the box is, although it’s valiant effort – it’s scraps which much remain in what I toss into the bin. I’m regretting tipping the owner the couple of Euros he gave in change because I now need a water top up and they only have bottled water. In one last desperate effort to get rid of odorous vagabond from their threshold they gift me a couple of small bottles without requiring any further payment. It’s a generous if possibly not entirely selfless act.
After a couple of minor wrinkles, the next “city in the valley” is Chemnitz, a name I recognize from my planning sessions. I had the impression it sounded vaguely Soviet, but that’s apparently not the case – as a part of East Germany the Soviet era it was known as Karl-Marx-Stadt. The name Chemnitz is apparently much more ancient, deriving from local Slavic dialect (Sorbian) for ‘stony brook’. The thing which strikes me more though as I ride through is the pipework. Yeah, I know that sounds strange but bear with me. Somewhere after crossing one of the main roads on the edge of town I find myself riding along a industrial scale bundle of pipes – large, small, all sizes. At first it seem unremarkable, except how many of them there are and how far I ride alongside them. When we part company I think no more of them, except they keep re-appearing. For kilometer after kilometer, at regular intervals they come up from the ground, or swing in from one side, only to dissappear again some while later. I being to regret not photographing them, but luckily they are such a city feature Google untangled the mystery. They are a city wide heating network (along with gas that was one of my guesses). Impressive engineering on such a large scale. One of the ‘benefits’ of taking sometimes shitty back paths through cities is the random stuff you get to see along the way.
Another thing I recall (although I can’t be sure this is the right spot in the story) is what seems to be a ‘mining park’. On a cycle path in a pretty green valley along a river heading out of town I’m surrounded by relics and signs of mining, but which have been made into features of the now gentrified parkland. It’s really quite lovely, but I’m focus on pushing toward the Czech border I totally fail to capture it photos. One thing that does belong at this point in the story is an ugly escalation in the climbing. The hail out of Chemnitz is significantly longer and steeper than those so far today. Topping out at an elevation of 520m, a premature sense of optmism prompts to snap a photo of the telecom tower for Insta, with a note of how you always know it’s the top.
It’s not a bad photo, and it was the top – of that hill. But once over the top I realise the full scale of what lies between me and the border. It’s funny how when route planning you often assume a 2D view of the world. Take off the ‘terrain’ setting and this is just a wiggly run towards the next country. But looking out over it, every one of those wiggles is it’s own deep valley, and they’re stacked ahead of mine – beautiful, and forest clad, but ever rising. There isn’t just one hill between me and that anticipated border, there’s an expansive of folding landscape of them. National boundaries are very often rivers are the ridges of mountains, and this is clearly the latter. If it wasn’t such a lovely evening and the scenery so pretty my spirits would probably have sunk totally at this point. Instead I push resolutely down on the pedals and get on with it, enjoying the immediate downhill.
The first real ‘oh fuck‘ moment comes after that downhill, beyond the town of Gornau. In the distance are rolling fields and high farms, but directly ahead is an enormous cleft in the landscape which the road falls into. From my vantage point, the climb back out of it appears so steep it looks like the town of Waldkirchen is a mural that has been painted on a vertical wall. A very pretty mural – quaint alpine syle houses and a lovely chapel on top. But my mind cannot decipher the fact that I’m going to ride up there. And sure enough, after a lovely fast flowing descent into the lush green valley at the base, I don’t. Ride up it that is. The gradient is laughable, and cobbled. For the worst of the ramp I give up and trudge upward, pushing my bike. It is a lovely town, but the road is just too steep for my battered legs.
It’s heading towards time for a break, and the town at the top has a gas station. But a couple filling their bike confirm the shop is already closed, they’re only open for fuel. The stop almost costs me dearly – the supermarket I find just up the next ramp is about to close, but stays open just long enough for me to grab some provisions. There’s another rider outside who agrees to keep an eye on my bike whilst I head inside. Although I tell him to leave if I take too long.
218Km – diska supermarket, Lengefeld – 19:45, 27 July 2022 (810KM total)
I can literally hear them locking the doors behind as I exit back into the parking lot. Directly in front of me is an enormous sign that I’d missed before that clearly states a closing time of 20:00. It’s bad news for the pair of riders who appear shortly after. They ride on towards the middle of the village after checking the sign without even turning in. I haven’t seen many open restaurants for hours but maybe they have more luck. At some stage whilst I’m scoffing food the other rider leaves, possibly soon after I come out of the shop. I’m still busy eating my odd assortment, and cramming the road supplies into every corner I can find. Knowing they are full of energy I’ve grabbed a multi-pack of salted peanuts, which seem to fill every space I have in my top tube and feed bags. A chocolate milk goes in my back pocket ‘for later’, whenever that is. The coke, sandwich, and ice cream are for now. I vaguely recall some kind of muesli bars or biscuits too, but I might have imagined that.
At some point across this section I’ve discovered the dubious delight of the Wahoo hill profile feature. On the one hand, it’s beautifully colour coded ramps show you exactly how much climbing lays ahead. But on the other, it’s beautifully colour coded ramps show you exactly how much climbing lays ahead. Those may sound like the same thing but trust me, depending on your state of mind, they can be exactly the opposite. At this state of my mind they do confirm there is just one big hill ahead, but it’s a beast – the biggest of the lot, topping out at around 750m it’s the final ridge lying between me and Czechia. On any normal day it’d be an easy spin. Today, with the sun beginning to dip and a chill creeping into the air I know one thing for a certainty. That climb is probably the difference between me getting a hotel tonight or not. By the time I am up and over it I very much doubt any receptions will still be open. But if I stop sooner I am going to leave myself too much to do tomorrow and will in all probability miss the CP1 cutoff. There’s no immediate decision to make, I have to ride into the night and get over that hill and figure out what to do once down the other side. One big positive I can see now in hindsight is how well my regular routine of riding and stops are working. My body may be tired but there is no mental fog – no confusion in my thought process. I’m seeing things clearly and making good decisions. By Day 3 on my last attempt my mind was already wandering off into the bushes.
As I ride out of the darkness into the yellow glow of it’s streetlamps, I know the town of Olbernhau marks my exit from Germany, at least for now. Somewhere, close to the centre of town I pass Su again (cap #40), who is stopped attending to somehting. Without even looking at the GPS map, I can recall there are two border crossing options here – the one I have plotted is a a minor thatr splits to the right and immediately enters Czechia. Even the gas station on the left is exactly how I’d seen it on Google Street View. But, just after it seems to start up a steep and seemingly unnecessary ramp. This is not the main climb, but an excursion up the side of a hill only, I believe, to drop back down into the valley beyond. Possibly with a bit too much haste, I decide this is not for me – I’d rather take the nicely flat valley as far as I can until the start of the real hill. I’ve no idea now whether this was a good call or not, but I do get to call into the gas station on passing it for a 2nd time and use the loo at least.
The Wahoo Bolt is proving a great device, but the screen is small. Large detours like this involve a fair amount of squinting and zooming in and out to be sure I am following roughly parallel to the intended route. I ignore all the interim ‘turn right’ warnings – the rejoin point is still far ahead. And the valley does prove to be exactly what I hoped, flat, fast and winding but on smooth tar. Once again it’s just me, the whir of my wheels, and the dancing patterns of my front light. Despite being the more major road I don’t recall seeing a single car on that stretch. It was idyllic. I have a sense the scenery would have been lovely in daylight. It certainly smells like it would – fresh, earthy and green in the now cold night air.
A brightly lit junction in the road marks my turn, the road ahead carries on following the river on the German side but I turn right, crossing the river and doubling back in a horshoe into Czechia. Another gas station of the same chain as the previous one stands just across the border, but we’re past closing time now and this one is deserted and dark. It’s a little suprising to see now I look at the profile, but what feels like the start of the climb proper is not. I’ve actually been climbing slowly the whole time and there’s less than 200 vertical meters left to the top. Very soon after rejoining my route I meet up with Su again. We ride together for a short while chatting but my legs seem to be spinning faster and I pull ahead (or maybe she stopped again, I forget which). It’s really not far to the top – a few bends in the road, but they are steep and have me sucking down air in gulps. There’s one slightly flatter stretch but it’s a false top, albeit beyond there is not much left to get over. All around is pitch black but I have the sense of having ridden up onto a large expanse of open hillside – the trees are gone, and the wind whips through the grasslands all around. Ahead lies a small cluster of buildings, the street lights marking the real top of the hill.
I make a small error of judgement here, underestimating how long the descent is and how cold the night has become. Rather than layering up I just smash on, switching my light to a brighter setting so I can better anticipate and plot my path through the snaking corners. Flying around each of them is exhilirating but takes concentration and effort on the brakes, and it’s a long way down – several kilometers. I’m getting colder and colder as it goes on, and my shoulders are beginning to sieze up with the constant on/off of the breaks and the chilly air. By the time I reach the bottom I am shivering. Whatever else happens next, the first thing I need to do is fix the mistake I made at the top and get some layers on. I pull over into a bus stop, prop up my bike and quickly unpack my base layer, micro fleece, and over trousers. I also shove some snacks in for fuel, plus a few swigs of the chocolate milk. Possibly of it, I forget. Su passes me in a state of partial undress, and asks in a very matter of fact way if I’m sleeping there for the night. Only on TCR can a female rider pass a semi naked male rider in a bus stop without even commenting on their state of undress, or any surprise that they may be sleeping rough in the crude concrete shelter.
Litvinov, or the bit we see of it, turns out to be one long fairly straight road which rises gently after the descent. Back on the road again I catch Su up and we ride together chatting briefly on our plans. She’s pushing on to checkpoint. I’d considered that also, but I’m knackered. I don’t really fancy another climb, and dealing with an unknown gravel track in the dark. Dawn tomorrow seems a better idea. Plus, as we have been warned many times, I am uncertain there will be anything open or available at the control anyway. I may not find much more in the way of facilities down here, but the lack of faciliites will be exclusively mine. I won’t be fighting for floor space or a quiet corner with every other rider who aimed for the checkpoint because of the late hour.
265km – Litvinov – 23:55, 27 July 2022 (857KM total)
A little up the road I spy a hotel – or what I take to be a hotel. It’s a building I recognise from Street View during my planning, although it doesn’t look very open. One of the two outside doors to the foyer is open though, so I wheel myself in. There is zero sign of life inside. The near end of the hall has a set of doors to what looks like a small waiting room beyond and lifts to what I assume may be apartments. The far end of the hall to my right has what could be the entrance to the hotel, although the only signage suggests a Spa rather than a hotel. In the middle is a small glass cubicle with a wooden sides and a large sign saying “POLICE”. All of the inner doors are locked, and it’s utterly deserted. It’s wonderfully warm though. And dry. Neither of the other doors lead to a toilet, but I can wait until tomorrow – for now, this is about as good as it could get. I prop my bike against the wooden counter, and organise the posessions I need either neatly on counter if they are for tomorrow, or beside me on the floor if I may need them in the night. I can’t discount the possibility the open foyer door was a fluke, so I don’t want to risk leaving without anything in cae I can’t get back in. At the same time as I’m pottering around Nico has reached the control. The cell signal is weak but I manage the messages we exchange on our WhatsApp group confirm my concerns about the control.
Chris Van Zyl: CP1 179 #123 Nico Coetzee active 3 Days, 0 Hours, 59 Minutes // 22:59 27/07👍 Nico Coetzee: Tada Geen kamers Geen kos Geen water Expect nothing less :) Stay away from the tap water Chris Van Zyl: Bliksem! Robw: Taking nap b4 parcours in random lobby Robw: Warm Robw: No water. Fuck
We were warned to expect nothing more at a control than a brevet stamp but no water seems especially harsh. My last top up was hours ago. I’m probably OK to the control, but I’m holding thumbs I see something open along the way. It’s less than 30km to the control but the climbing is going to throw off a lot of sweat. There’s nothing I can do about it now though, other than get some rest. I slide the rubber floor mat across to my spot to act as a barrier from the chill off the hard tiled floor, pad out my jacket as a pillow and sprawl out for some sleep. Which does not come quickly, on account of being so cold. I am shivering uncontrollably – partly from the exertion of the day, and partly from the cold descent. I know a part of this is lack of fuel, and eat some snacks before finally drifting off.
I wake with a fright at some point in the middle of the night (or early morning). A resident comes into the foyer noisily, casting me a look of disgust as they do. I’m readying myself for being thrown out, but they turn into the apartment section and leave without a word. Eventually, I drift off again but it’s hard to say how much real sleep I manage to get.
Yoli confessed to me later that she had a very uneasy feeling about me that night. For myself, I’ve been curious whether the hotel was just closed for the night, or had shut down permanently. Some scanning on Booking.com suggests it is still an actual hotel, although one of the most recent reviews around the time I was there is a tad worrying:
Which Google translates as “House of Horror!“. It seems Yoli’s instinct may not have been misplaced.