The Forest to the Sea

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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

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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


Photos of Tom, Woody and Ezra on the Road

Fixing the First Mechanical Problem

Happy near Donaueschingen

 

Astounded in Ulm

 

Drinking Monk's Dunkel-Weissen

 

German Ferry Ride

 

Larger Crowd in Passau

 

Austrian Ferry Ride

 

Hot in Croatia

 

Near Novi Sad's Fortress

 

Trail Riding in Serbia

 

Approaching Golubac Castle

 

Trio in the Iron Gates

 

Narrowest Point in the Danube River Gorge

 

Twizzling the 'stache

Ezra Anton


Highlights and Lowlights

Our hours in Constanta rocketed by about as fast as Toody (or Wom) on Tarantino with hurricanesque tailwinds. As soon as we snapped celebratory shots of us above the Black Sea, we were looking for celebratory drinks and then more celebratory drinks. We partied as tourists party in Maieia, the strip of land between the Black Sea and a long lagoon in the Romanian resort town. It seemed like a really crummy version of Cancun which notes how bad it really was.

Within seven hours of going to sleep (yeah going not awakening), Tom and Woody had booked flights back to Vienna and Berlin (including a spot for Tarantino) and we had our bikes loaded underneath a bus destined to Bucharest or The Capital of Faff. After a dismal 24 hours in the city which included a night in a hotel where sleaze doesn’t even begin to describe the occurrences on the street, Tom and Woody had rode Tarantino to the airport where I met them after a bus ride. Our last actions together were to wrap the tandem in bubble wrap and share one last drink together. Woody left first and I was next on the bus back to the very cool and friendly Funky Chicken hostel. The staff helped me find a store with a box for my bike and the last of the puzzle pieces to make this trip an absolute success seems to have fallen into place.

As I chill out in Bucharest, I ponder the best and worst times of Black to Black. Top three lists are called for:

Best Riding Days:

3) Regensberg, Germany to Passau, Germany (150 km): despite losing my wallet and having to climb a mountain to a castle where we slept this ride proved I could do the long days

2) Belgrade, Serbia to Srebrno Jezero, Serbia (130 km): wild dogs, fast riding and singing with other voyagers by the Danube

1) Srebrno Jezero, Serbia to Drobeta – Turnu Severin, Romania (130 km): Iron Gates River Gorge! nuff said

Worst Riding Days:

3) Silistra, Bulgaria to Constanta, Romania (120 km): steep cobble hills, hot and humid weather, high head winds and numskull drivers

2) Ulm, Germany to Ingolstadt, Germany (160 km): first long day with several unexpected hills, got lost and major bonking when I ran out of food

1) Kolocsa, Hungary to Osijek, Croatia (160 km): rode 75 km with my brake pads engaged, head winds, hot weather and never spent my 8,000 forints

Favorite Cities (excluding Budapest cause I already knew it):

3) Svishtov, Bulgaria: great beer garden, friendly people, cool economics university with a stone amphitheater where we watched a meteor shower

2) Ulm, Germany: tallest cathedral in the world, great river front and nice restaurants alongside canals

1) Belgrade, Serbia: Bohemian quarter, great street food (Chinese and pizza), bridges with bicycle elevators, happening nightlife on a Monday and lit basketball courts in the fortress

Least Favorite Cities:

3) Ruse, Bulgaria: broke a spoke on the major highway, lots of shoddy apartment blocks, crappy riding in and out of the city

2) Bechet, Romania: a bit shit

1) Drobeta – Turnu Severin, Romania: real drag after riding through the Iron Gates River Gorge

Favorite Memories:

3) Singing songs with the other travelers in Serbia and the appearance of the mysterious 72 year old Frenchman who was canoeing the Danube

2) Dancing on stage with Ojos de Brujo in Krems, Austria

1) Laughing uncontrollably with Tom and Woody in Gabcíkovo, Slovakia for reasons we don’t even remember

Least favorite memories:

3) Watching my water bottle explode as it fell into the road and under the wheel of a lorry outside of Novi Sad (and the water didn’t even splash me on the hottest day of all!)

2) Tarantino’s back wheel bent to smithereens after it went into a pothole on our third day riding

1) Losing my wallet in Dilligen, Germany on the fifth day riding

That’s about all for now. I won’t classify the people I met but there were loads of great characters on the road: Dani, Claudia, Peter, Werner, Ivan, Veneta, our fellow ferry boat travelers, the crowd in the rakia bar and party animals in Constanta. The best of all has to be Woody though who I didn’t know much before this trip and became close friends with over 3,000 km in 22 days! Going through such a gauntlet brought Tom, Woody and me together in absolutely unexplainable ways.


We Never Said It Would Be Easy

One of our biggest taboos during our trip was talking about arriving at the Black Sea as if it was a given fact we would arrive at our final destination. Throughout our journey, it became a necessity to end any mention of Constanta or the Black Sea by saying “if we arrive at the Black Sea.” Whenever we became cocky or confident, it seemed our bikes broke down or the Danube threw a major obstacle in our face such as a pack of wild dogs or a bent-to-high-hell wheel. This was never more true than our final ride from Silistra to Constanta.

We got through the Bulgarian/Romanian border with relative ease early in the morning. Then, as soon as we headed eastwards, the roads turned to cobbles and sloped upwards. All morning long we dealt with jiggly arms and particularly tricky nobby hills. The sun was smoking the land early and sweat just sopped off our arms and backs. Nevertheless, we enjoyed the scenery of terraced wineries and farm fields, with even one Dervish Monastery, taking us away from the Danube for the lady time. A herd of goats and sheep blocking the road and hunched over old folk creeping along with canes to the monastery were more of a laugh than a hinder.

Near lunch, our lackluster breakfast took its revenge as the rolling hills got steeper and steeper and our energy levels bonked. I even got a puncture four klicks from our planned meeting spot but was able to ride into town on low air. Tom and Woody whipped up sandwiches while I displayed my vastly improved ability to mend a flat in short time. We were back on the road before an hour’s time and all thinking without saying it that the smell of salty winds was in the air.

The hills were becoming fun and somewhat easy when the traffic evacuating Constanta started about 45 kms from the end. A long line of cars with no central destination poured out of the city. Jerk after jerk zoomed into out lane to gain a second’s time on their overall traveling time. Cuss words flew from our mouths and some not-so-nice hand gestures may have been flashed.

About 15 kms from Constanta, we came rocketing out of a forested section of road to be hit by an incredibly strong headwind that decelerated us to snail speed. We inched along the final stretch of highway with the exhaust of cars clogging our lungs and dismal views of hideous fuel refining factories to the south of the city.

Nothing would keep us back though. Out energy grew as the building grew bigger around us and older and more refined the closer we got to the center. A few traffic lights slowed us down in the last couple klicks but about 4:00 yesterday we reached road’s end and saw our first glimpse of the blue Black Sea. Our journey from the Black Forest to the Black Sea is done!

Ezra Anton