The Forest to the Sea

Tracking the Trio

Welcome all! We hope you enjoy Tom, Woody and Ezra Anton's chronicles of their cycling adventures along the banks of the Danube River!

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Epilogues

Several aspects of the Black to Black saga have wrapped up in the past few weeks. We return to the blog one last time to put the finishing touches on what has happened since returning from Romania.

Amazingly, donations to the fundraiser have continued to be contributed from a handful of our great friends. We have now surpassed the 150% mark of our goal (157% to be exact) and sit at $4,715. The total is far beyond anything that any of us ever anticipated, so we sit in awe at the generosity of so many astounding people. The Pulmonary Fibrosis Foundation’s IPF Summit 2011 starts in just a couple weeks. Contributions from Black to Black have helped make this important meeting of scientists, doctors and patients from across the globe possible!  It is a great sign that the research community is focusing on finding a cure for the devastating disease. The PFF even paid special thanks to us in the most recent edition of their BREATHE Bulleting newsletter which will be distributed at the conference! Check it out on page 9 here.

Remember the mention of Anton losing his wallet before we had even left Germany? Well, two weeks ago a letter arrived at his new apartment in Ottawa. A letter from the Canadian Consulate in Munich. It stated that his wallet had been transferred there from the City of Erding (which we never even cycled through) and included all the cards and money that had been in it when he lost it! Just last week it arrived in Ottawa. Many thanks to the people and their good Samaratin nature that ensured his wallet returned safely to him.

Finally, Tarantino has returned home to England. Not without some mishaps though. Tom’s own words describe it best:

“I arrived at the Bratislava train station 2 hours later than planned, 2 hours exactly before my flight and still a 30 minute trip away from the airport. I decided to head for the taxi rank but on the way down a bus pulled up. It was number 210, the number the train dude had told me was the airport bus. I motioned to the driver, did some airplane arms and said “Flughafen? Airport?” He said, “Yes yes, get on you crazy foreigner.” So I dragged the bubbly tandem on (incidently, at no point between my flat and the airport did anybody offer to help me, not even to help get on or off trains and buses) and off we went. Except we weren’t going to the airport, we were going to the BUS STATION! I did the arm thing again when we stopped and the guy went “Ahhhhh, Lestisko!”. I guess that means airport. Nice to know for next time. I legged it through the station, two and a half meters of metal on my shoulders. By this point I was starting to get quite weak. I found the airport bus stop only to find the bus had left a minute ago so it had to be a taxi. The lovely helpful Slovakian bloke crushed it in his boot, overcharged me by about 10 euros and got me there with, barely, time to spare.

Of course when the jerk at oversized baggage went “Not possible” because it didn’t fit through the thingy, even though it only needed to be moved a millimeter to the side, I was beyond the point of caring about being nice. The bike was flying. I tried to reach over and adjust it so it fit through, but she got really angry and slapped at my hands, shouting “You not understanding me, it is not possible.” I just kept repeating that it was until she sighed, nudged it a bit and pressed the button to send it on its way. Honestly, she must have been either very bored or pure evil to bother pissing me off at that stage.

The rest was easy, triumphantly emerging with the Tarantino at Liverpool airport to find Woody’s dad waiting to take her home. It’s now three days on and my arms are still killing me. I’ve got strained muscles all the way down from my shoulders to my wrists. She might have given us some great memories, but she’s a massive pain in the ass.”

Black to Black provided many a good memory. We’re all happy to be moving into winter now though without our metal steeds giving us the occasional low among the many highs.

So long,

Anton, Tom and Woody

Last View of the Danube

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Beginnings and Endings: Border Crossings

Here’s some photographic evidence that proves we really did ride from the Black Forest to the Black Sea:

The Source in Germany!

Austria (a.k.a Schmuggler's Way)

Slovakia...apparently

Hungary

Croatia

Serbia

Romania

Bulgaria

The Black Sea in Romania!

Thank You Notes from the Pulmonary Fibrosis Foundation

As indicated in a previous post, I promised to post any thank you notes from the Pulmonary Fibrosis Foundation. I have now received e-mails from both of my contacts at the foundation and would like to share some words from them here:

  • “We thank you for your wonderful support.  We will be using your generous contributions for the IPF Summit.  It is proving to be a great occasion with over 40 faculty members and a near full Patient Session….  Thanks so much for your support and congratulations again.”
  • “On behalf of everyone at the Pulmonary Fibrosis Foundation I would like to congratulate you on your success and thank you for your extraordinary effort. You and your team should be extremely proud. Cycling across Europe is a noteworthy accomplishment on its own.  By adding the components of fundraising and raising awareness of pulmonary fibrosis you have created a unique and impressive memorial to your mother, Janice Saalfeld.”

It seems that people keep on giving. We have now raised $4,130 for the fundraiser!

There may yet be more to come related to the fundraiser. I will be sure to keep everyone up to date.

Ezra Anton

Feel Free to Contact Us for Advice!

One thing that we hoped this blog might do is give other people who do the Black to Black ride some tips on how to accomplish the fantastic trek. We know that we gave the blog address to other cyclists en route and that some had dreamed of the trip but were worried about path conditions, general safety, wild dogs, etc. Hopefully our blog encourages you all to get all the way to the Black Sea!

We definitely learned a lot and would be happy to give our advice and suggestions to anyone interested. Sometimes our lessons were through trial by fire like when Ezra fretted over whether his bike box would actually fit through the cargo doors of a very small plane between Brussels and Stuttgart.

Packed Bicycle on the Way to Germany

Lufthansa Airplane for the Flight between Brussels and Stuttgart

If you do happen to be going on a cycling tour along the Danube (or anywhere else for that matter) and have come across this blog, please feel free to contact us (via comment) if you want to know anything about our trip. Need advise on how to disassemble and reassemble a bicycle? We learned decent techniques. Where do you get bike box once your done? It’s not an insurmountable task. How do you get the bike to Bucharest from Constanta and then to the airport? Maybe this photo will help give you an idea.

Packed Bicycle on the Way to Canada

And for those of you worried about road conditions, they’re not all like this post-Budapest:

Welcome to the Danger Zone!

Cobbles!

Why I Rode Faster on the Off-Roads

With the thighs of Hot Bond and the mind of Megahead, the duo could usually push Tarantino at a much quicker velocity than me and Joni. On flats, they could easily maintain a speed of close to 30 km/h while I could only do 25 km/h on my very best days.

We managed to account for the difference in speed by choosing towns 20 to 50 kilometers away where we would meet to ensure there was no major problems on the road. I would often ride with my telephone softly playing music (Black to Black playlist to come) and just enjoy the solitude.

Every now and then, the tides turned and I would take the lead. After the bedlam leaving Belgrade, we hit cornfields with strong tailwinds. Maybe it was the packet of instant-mix coffee that I dissolved in my mouth in the morning, but my legs were feeling it that day. Overtaking Tom and Woody after they had been ahead of me a good twenty minutes or more made my pride surge. For the next hour or more, I became Megahead! Their inability to keep up with my highest gear ratio on full speed made me braggadacious.

Their true kryptonite though: single track off-road trails. Here’s a very short video of their technique on such a gauntlet:

Thank You for Making the Black to Black Fundraiser a Great Success!

The feat of cycling from the Black Forest to the Black Sea is just one of the many triumphs that we experienced on our journey. We never ceased to remember that we rode in memoriam and honor of Janice Saalfeld, my mom, and that we sought to fundraise $3,000 for the Pulmonary Fibrosis Foundation to contribute to easing the life of others living with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis.

Our outstanding and amazing families, friends and even some people we have never met made achieving our stated goal of $3,000 an absolute breeze– the kind that pushed us 180 km through Romania in less than 9 hours including breaks. We had already passed the 50% mark when I flew out of Toronto on July 21, four days before day one of Black to Black. I remember being pleasantly shocked when Tom and Woody informed me we’d surpassed $2000 as we put shoe to pedal for the first time. By the time I was first able to check our Crowdrise page, our total had broken $2,600. That was in Ulm, Germany on day three. I’d often check the webpage on my telephone if I had a wi-fi connection and read names and amounts as fast I could to Tom and Woody as the ticker of donors quickly scrolled across the tiny screen. Whichever one of us knew the donor would cheerfully yell out the relation and have a sweet sensation of knowing so-and-so had donated.

That day in Ulm was the day before our first 160 km ride, upping our previous daily klick high by 70 km. After our nightly beer gardens exploration, I read the comments people had left with their donations and we all laughed and felt inspired to push through any pain or fear that might make Black to Black impossible. Woody’s dad left a particularly funny omen: “Good luck! I think you’ll need it.” At about kilometer 70 of the next day’s ride, Tarantino’s back wheel was discombobulated… 50 meters from that glorious cycling shop. Good luck if we ever had it!

As the donations kept coming in, Woody wanted me to make sure everyone knew we weren’t riding back up the Danube if we hit $6,000. I believe it was Jackie’s donation that pushed us over $3,000. That felt fitting to me because Jackie is one of my mom’s very best friends and was with Mom every step of the way (even from far away) as she learned about her sickness and fought it for over two years.

As our funds rose higher and higher over our goal, I believe we all felt obliged to finish Black to Black because we were riding for something much more significant than just fun (though we never ceased to have fun– except maybe on that stretch of motorway in Ruse, Bulgaria when my spoke snapped).

At the time of writing, the total donation amount on Crowdrise sits at $3,855, or 129% of our original goal. The actual total is even higher because some people donated offline and their donation amounts are unknown.  We have now learned of offline donation amounts and have surpassed $4,000. We now sit at $4,025, or 134% of our original goal. Some people may still feel inclined to contribute. If so, learn the ups and downs of the process here.

I will be contacting the Pulmonary Fibrosis Foundation soon to let them know that our fundraiser is over and will be sure to post any thank you we get from them here. I have no doubt the foundation, their employees and all the scientists, researchers and doctors who benefit from your donations will be grateful for your charity.

Thank you so very much to each and every person who supported us through the fundraiser. You all deserve handshakes, hugs and nods from us! I spent my last night in Europe watching a free performance by the Opera Nationala Bucaresti in a park in front of the National Opera House. I became sentimental realizing I would never get to share this amazing experience I have had over the last month with my mom. Then I grew happy knowing how many people have supported her memory. Fireworks exploded high in the sky over the opera at the end of the night. You are all like those fireworks in my opinion, garnering oohs and ahhs with shouts of joy from the crowd below made up of Tom, Woody and me along with anyone affected by pulmonary fibrosis.

Most sincerely,
Ezra Anton Greene with Tom Youngs and Jonathan ‘Woody’ Woodsmith

Beer Gardens Of Honour

As Tom and Anton have both below covered most of the good and the great of the 22 days cycling across Eastern Europe I’ll just give my brief (ahem, expert) opinion on some of the beer gardens we frequented along the way, barely a duffer amongst them…

Whilst my German is still pigeon at best even I could sniff out the “biergartens” on offer in south Germany and Austria, and they didn’t disappoint. Whether it be on an Island on the Danube with a Cathedral view in Ulm, supping with the Gods in a monastery on the banks of the river or a traditional Bavarian spot with enough lederhosen floating around to make any nearby cows run a mile it’s safe to say we enjoyed this leg of the trip. Drinking like Kings in a beer garden in a Castle up a massive hill in Passau also passed the time, beat that.

First Beers of Black to Black in Donaueschingen

Nice Stop for a Radler outside of Sigmaringen

Monk's Abbey Beergarden

Budapest threw up a contender for beer garden of the trip in the fantastically eclectic Szimpla bar. From a band playing what could loosely be described as “music” to the buzzing atmosphere and paraphernalia dotted around the place we knew this would be hard to beat. Whilst the midnight hour striking sent us packing for a much needed rest I for one will return to this place in the future to do it justice. Venturing south in Hungary and expecting little from the small town of Kalocsa we were confronted by a beer garden of biblical proportions. Biblical in the sense it could have doubled as Noahs legendary Ark, apart from the midges flying in two by two this was an absolute winner with top notch food and cracking decor in the attached pub to boot.

Gabcikovo's Local Bar

Trofea Sorozo in Kolocsa, Hungary

Trofea Sorozo's Ark Beer Garden

Croatian beer gardens offered nothing spectacular to write home about but the locals were friendlier than a bunch of keen Jehovah’s witnesses and they definitely knew how to pepper a waterside with decent drinking establishments. Serbia was a country none of us knew that much about but came out top of the trumps with the holy trinity of good beer gardens, friendly locals and cracking scenery. Novi Sad proved the exception to prove the rule that many mainland European countries shut down on a Sunday with one street in particular transforming into a 100m long, 10 bar, beer garden deluxe that was still rocking when I managed to drag Anton away around midnight whilst he was still tying the laces on his dancing shoes. Belgrade went along the more traditional route with some baritone singers providing the sound track to several enjoyable beverages before we discovered the joys of shots of Rakia, nice.

Beer Garden under Novi Sad's Fortress

Busy Alley in Novi Sad

The final leg skirting along the borders of Romania and Bulgaria started slow with some Romanian towns that offered little in the way of aesthetic wonderment but beers that danced their way down my throat showing a larger can indeed be “all that”. We were then lead on a merry dance by our lovely hotel receptionist Veneta in the Bulgarian town of Svistov who like the Pied Piper showed us to a hidden gem of a beer garden, the Meghana Bai Ganio, complete with a water wheel, squawking parots, Bulgarian paraphernalia adorning the walls and many a great beer.

Tom and Woody in Meghana Bai Ganio

Meghana Bai Ganio

Woody's Chicken Sword

 

After about 2500km we were sure we’d found our winner and so it proved with only some nice if unspectacular beer gardens to finish the tour to the Black Sea. However stumbling across a gangster hideout / lair that doubled as a beer garden/swimming retreat was welcome relief from the heat of the day. And don’t get me wrong, supping frosty beer after frosty beer on the beach at the black sea whilst the sun went down was good and all, just gets a little samey after a while. Jealous some? Fantastic trip and thanks for all those who’ve sponsored us on our merry way. And to Tom and Anton, don’t think I’ve ever laughed so much in 3 weeks. Apologies for the daily lubeing ritual.

Woody

Last Sunset over the Danube in Silistra, Bulgaria