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.
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.
And for those of you worried about road conditions, they’re not all like this post-Budapest:
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:
1. Gimp knees
2. Stressed Achilles tendons
3. Several cuts on the shins from fenders
4. Sore hip
5. Water blisters on palms
1. Numbed hands (especially the pinkies)
2. Tired legs
3. Several a pedal in the calf or back of the knee
4. Butt welks
1. Ass apocalypse
2. Bee sting to the head
3. Infected toe from a cut while swimming (it got better)
4. Several a pedal in the calf or back of the knee
1. Brake pads rubbing discs
2. Flat tire
3. Loose toe clips
1. Massacred wheel
2. Two flat tires
3. Rubbing brake pads
We keep going on and on despite any mishap. Nothing our bodies or steeds have experienced compares to some of the damage we’ve seen while riding through Croatia and Serbia.
Water Tower War Memorial
Croatian War Ruins
Days seem to be split into good and bad halves as we head southwards from Slovakia to Hungary and onto the Balkan states of Croatia and Serbia.
We had a hell of a morning getting out of Gabcíkovo where all of us realized the path was no longer sign posted. I ended up completely off of the route maps taking a highway into Komárno while Tom and Woody got lost, backtracked and did for more kilometers than necessary. Somehow luck struck when we both got to our lunch destination at the same time and Tom and Woody yelled out “Anton!” from atop a bridge seconds before I went under it mistakenly.
Werner tagged along with us the latter half of that day while we took a shit off-road path to see a lackluster Roman ruin which was nothing more than a stone foundation, leaving little trace of the battle fortress that had once existed. The day really started sizzling and we think we may have driven a badger-bear nutty with our sweaty stench drifting ahead of us as some massive creature had a hole torn in its side and died teeth and claws bared in its death pose.
The basilica in Esztergom, Hungary, just on the other side of the Danube from Slovakia, turned out to be a huge carrot as we rode the last bit of a tiring day into our fourth country. Tom showed off his Italian skills as he said yes to knowing the language in order to get to our hostel. He doesn’t know the language but got the directions right.
The ride into Budapest was very pretty with forested hillsides slipping into the river. The rain started falling as we cruised into the city which made our day a little less enjoyable. I got us out of an accommodation-less stressful situation by tapping into my human GPS skills and finding the same hostel that Tom and I stayed in two and a half years ago which just happened to have three beds available. We made the most of one of Europe’s coolest cities by lounging in hot baths and drinking in the very cool Szimpla ruin bar while still finding time to check out the palaces, cathedrals, basilicas, synagogues and parliament.
Getting out of Budapest was a pain. We tried taking an unpaved route that we thought would be a short cut. It turned out to be about 10 kilometers of grassy path on top of a dike which included two young hooligans harassing us yelling and swinging their arms and rows of stone pillars with circles that looked like the security fence that keeps the smoke monster out in ‘Lost.’ I wondered whether we were on the outside or inside and figured the former based on the villages on the inside. We ended up getting back on the road and rocked the latter half of the day to Kolocsa where we chilled out alone for a bit and then had one of our best meals at a super cool beer garden shaped like a boat.
I learned a shitty lesson today. Don’t mess with something if it’s working alright already. I changed my brake pads for my disc brakes and spent most of the day trying to align them unsuccessfully, meaning I rode the 156 km today with my brakes slightly engaged. I really put us behind our normal pace and delayed our arrival in the very happening Osijek, Croatia to 19:00, making this our longest or second longest day of cycling. We made it though and push on tomorrow with a short 120 km after 306 in the last couple days. We’ll enjoy our rest in our killer apartment of accommodation with leather couches and flat-screen TVs to boot! Here’s a phone photo of Osijek’s cathedral.
The bright morning light shined through the balcony windows, waking us up bright and early. We yanked our tight black cycling shorts up our legs, Tom baring all his glory in denying to wear athletic shorts over the top. “Hot Bond” was born, a cycling super hero by day and a beer garden connoisseur by night.
Elastics still digging their first imprints into our thighs, our friendly hostess climbed the trophy hunting stairs with a serving tray full of tea, coffee, meats, cheeses and rolls for our first fueling before taking on the river. We ate with the bright sunlight shining over us in the absolutely fabulous room, laughing with anticipation to get on the road.
The road felt great as we coasted down our first hill, the air incredibly chilly. Our first bit of steady ground came and Woody was yelling at Tom to stop. Some clinking and clambering he heard. Self-trained mechanical skills kicked in and he got the screw driver out to make some adjustments to the rear derailer. Like I said earlier, only the slightest set backs. We rode on through the centre of Donaueschingen, up to the palace aside the headwaters of the Donaus!
The bikes needed a carrying down the stairs to the sunken spring: a turquoise emerald pool with bubbles floating up from the sands and vegetation below. A neoclassical statue of curvy goddesses and a baby looked over the spring. The signage: “Bis zum Meere 2840 Kilometer” and “Uber dem Meere 678 Meter.” No problemo! We climbed those stairs and started to make it all disappear.
My approach to training has always been keep it as simple as possible, so I started with three goals (1) build strength, (2) maintain weight and (3) increase endurance.
One of the lasting benefits from the Olympics being in Vancouver is the handful of venues that have been transformed into community recreation centres. The Hillcrest Recreation Centre served as the curling rink during the 2010 Winter Games and has recently been transformed into an aquatic facility, ice rink and community gym. With the city providing a more reasonable membership rate than private gyms, it has become my own little training facility in the months leading up to Black to Black.
Not much of a muscle head or protein packer, I’ve always fumbled my way around a weight room unsure of what to do exactly. I decided to get some help for this trip and have used the book Training Plans for Cyclists by Gale Bernhardt to develop a weight lifting and riding routine. I spend about two to three hours in the gym four days a week working on leg presses, squats, chest presses, lateral rows, bicep and tricep curls, push-ups, pull-ups, crunches, dips and more to strengthen my body before the trip.
Bernhardt’s book has taught me the importance of having a well-balanced nutritional diet during training more than anything. With all the strength training, I have to make sure my muscles get their nutrients and don’t break down on me crying and whining. An unexpected and much welcomed side-effect of preparing for this trip is that I have honed my cooking skills over the last few months working on cooking meals from unprocessed whole foods that include healthy helpings of carbohydrates, fats and of course protein. My favorite discovery: a spicy chipotle lasagna with European cottage cheese, zucchini and organic beef and Italian sausage.
With muscles honed and food in the belly, the only other thing to do has been ride, ride and ride some more. Let’s just say I know the bicycle paths in the Lower Mainland very, very well by this point. I have even left the province to travel down to Bellingham in Washington state one weekend to get an extra long ride of 100 km. I have fun with the rides working on pedaling as fast as I can in low gears, powering hard in the high gears, sprinting for one minute bursts, increasing my heart rate for three minute bursts, riding as far as I can for as long as I can and more. Rather than bore you with words, let me share some photos from my rides!