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Heatflicker to the finish line

After checkpoint 3 had consisted only of a table for the organizers available in front of a hotel, checkpoint 4 was located in a pub. I used the locality to wash myself. It felt like there were kilos of dust stuck to me. Afterwards, I treated myself to two frappé. There was a bike store across the street. I bought a new water bottle, tire levers and repair kit. That should get me over the remaining just over 425 km. After a longer break, I started on the last of the 3 courses that belonged to checkpoint 4.

Between the famous monasteries of Meteora I screwed my way up in well over 40 degrees Celsius. But time for a few photos had to be. At the end of the course, after 13 km and 720 meters of altitude, my planned route actually continued straight ahead. I had to realize that there was a gravel road. And I wasn’t in the mood for that. “Does this have to be?”, I thought. I sat down in the shade and started to re-plan my route to Thessaloniki. I knew that the first of the race had gone back down the course, then flatted out via Larisa to just before Thessaloniki. That was only 30 km longer, but flat, with no gravel, and with a partial tailwind, as my weather app showed me. So down again. Now it was afternoon and the heat was just unbearable for me. In the local of checkpoint 4 I loaded my electronics, played the new route on the Garmin, and allowed me another Frappé. But then it started. And it went very well. Finally flat. In addition to the major roads, there were service roads, with no traffic, that took me quickly to Larisa and beyond. On the way once again buy something to drink, and on and on. It was getting more and more humid. Behind me thunderstorms were approaching. But except for the humid air masses I did not notice anything else. At some point, however, I had to take another power nap. Unfortunately, benches nor something similar, on which one could have made a break, were not present. But since there was no traffic at all on the service roads on Saturday, I decided to just lay down on the side of the road on the asphalt. When I sat down on the same and lay down on my back, it felt like a fango pack. Man was the asphalt hot. But the pain quickly subsided, and maybe it even relaxed my muscles.

I continued in the direction of Katerini. Maybe a good possibility for an overnight stay. In Platamonas I reached the Aegean Sea for the first time. I could not see the sea in the darkness, but I could hear and smell it. Mount Olympus lay a little to the northwest of me in the dark, and I wondered if the gods would be kind to me for the rest of the race. 

Now we were going through tourist towns, and on a Saturday night. There were lots of people and cars on the road. I stopped at a restaurant and ordered souvlaki with bread and a non-alcoholic beer. It tasted very good. When I went back to Rad, a family was standing around it, and the father was explaining the technique to the son. “Are you participating in the Transcontinental?” he asked me. When I answered in the affirmative, his eyes sparkled. I barely passed an autograph session, and slowly continued my journey through people and cars. I would not reach Katerini anymore. I was too tired and it was almost midnight. Finding a suitable place to stay turned out to be more difficult than I thought. No free hotels, because this was a tourist area. Everything was fully booked. Also no really good other places in the open. I searched for almost 45 minutes before giving up. I wouldn’t find anything decent so I pushed my bike behind an excavator at a construction site. That offered some protection from direct view of the road, and there were no dogs here either. Sandy and dusty, but the excavator made a great clothes rack. I slept well and long. At 5:30 a.m. the alarm clock won the battle after continuous ringing, and it went into Sunday, the penultimate day. Still approx. 300 km stood on the program up to the goal. And I wanted to keep for the last day, if possible only about 100 km of it.

Sundays are always difficult. One must save oneself with cafes and gas stations over the day, because many supermarkets are closed. The heat and the sun were back, and from about 20 km behind Alexandreia, at the height of Thessaloniki, the road rose again. In Kilkis, it was already early afternoon, I allowed myself an ice cream, was able to buy something reasonable to eat in a bakery, and first took a break in the shade in a park. My neck began to hurt, perhaps consequences of the falls in the night to Saturday? Many participants took a break, I could see that on the livetracker. It was also really too hot to continue. I went to a café, enjoyed the air conditioning and charged my phone meanwhile.

At some point I continued towards the last course and my neck was getting worse. I had trouble putting my head back in my neck to see far enough ahead. More and more often I supported my head with one hand while lying on the aero trailer. I wasn’t really going fast anymore this way, but there was no other way. It was not far to the start of the last, more than 140 km long course, when I saw a grocery store on the left side. I was able to buy water and something to eat, and also allowed myself an ice cream. As I was leaving the store, a Belgian participant joined me. We chatted together outside for a bit. Actually, we were both ranting about those insane gravel sections. He said ironically that maybe next year there should be skydiving and rafting in addition. We drove on shortly after each other. He became dusky again when I reached the course.

This time the gravel course was a little more rideable, and if not, I pushed carefully. My stiff neck no longer allowed me to look far enough ahead, and I had to keep both hands on the handlebars. And I didn’t really feel like another crash just before the end. At some point it was over. I reached at the edge of the Kerkini lake, it was about 23:00 o’clock, again asphalt. I had just sat down on a bench in a playground to eat something when Kim Heikkinen passed me and called out that there was a restaurant a few meters away. I hadn’t seen it at all. We both had a good meal there. 2 bifteki with fries, preceded by a Greek salad. After a few minutes, another participant, Erik Ringkvist, joined us. It was already 1 o’clock in the morning when we asked the landlady if we could spend the night on the restaurant terrace. That was no problem, she replied. We pushed the tables and chairs aside and slumbered away, exhausted. Shortly after 4 o’clock the first alarm clock rang. Slowly, three tired and exhausted cyclists set out to pack their sleeping mats and sleeping bags. Without breakfast they set off. Unfortunately, there was no bakery or gas station in any of the villages on Monday morning. Here all the sidewalks were still folded up. It was around 8:40 a.m. when I came to a small village with a pharmacy on the left and a supermarket on the right. And I desperately needed both. The pharmacy because of my neck, and the supermarket because I had nothing to drink for almost 2 hours. At the temperatures, the 30 degrees Celsius were long exceeded, no fun.

The pharmacist was sitting on a chair in the customer room. After I asked her if she had anything for my neck, she shouted something across the street and a young woman appeared. This was to act as an interpreter, because the pharmacist understood very little English. I bought a neck brace, put it on and walked over to the supermarket. The young woman went with me, because she was the saleswoman. I quickly bought drinks and breakfast. Kim and another participant were also just shopping here. I dined in front of the supermarket, and the saleswoman made me another frappé, all for free. She probably just took pity on the old man in dirty clothes and a neck brace.

Freshly strengthened, we continued on the course. There were a few more kilometers of gravel ahead. This time rather sand, and nothing really wild. Normally rideable, but with my neck unfortunately very difficult. Again a lot of walking and pushing. But at some point this last piece of gravel and sand was also behind me, and it went straight towards Thessaloniki. But these last kilometers were not as easy as I had hoped. They had built all the inclines into the course that they could find. Uphill it went reasonably well, but downhill my neck pain became unbearable. I needed both hands to brake and could no longer support my head. The added pressure on my neck as I descended and braked almost made me pass out. Standing, I supported my head, looked at what was in the way for the next 50 meters, then rolled those 50 meters, stopped, and the whole thing all over again. It went across Thessaloniki like this. At some point I finally arrived at the white tower, one of the landmarks of the city. Now it would go only a few kilometers flat along the promenade to the finish. I could support the head again, and drove after 3853 kilometers on Monday afternoon happily by selbiges. There was applause, I received congratulations, handed in my brevet card for stamping, had a beer at the finish and sat down in the shade. A physiotherapist, Hanna de Sousa, offered her services free of charge to the participants. A Swede living in Portugal, triathlete, who wants to start next year at the TCR, thus securing her starting place. When I asked her if she could look at a neck, she replied that all the day’s appointments were already gone. Somewhat disappointed, I sat down in the shade not far from her and was first busy reading and answering all the mails, WhatsApp and Instagram messages. Impossible, because as soon as I had answered one, at least two new ones had arrived. Somehow Hanna then saw that with my neck and helped me super fast yet. What a relief. After about two hours of mental and physical emptiness in the finish area (in the best company), I went to the nearest supermarket, bought slippers, food, and toiletries, booked a place to stay, and slowly cycled to the same. There I showered extensively, and there was still enough time for an afternoon nap until the Finischer party at 1900.

At the finisher party, I was able to see many now familiar faces again. Often the paths of the participants have crossed. Also the first 5 of the overall ranking were present. There was a lot of talk and shop talk. Everyone was happy when the award ceremony finally started around 9:15 pm. Only Christoph Strasser was still there from the first of the overall ranking. The others, meanwhile hungry, had taken the way to a nearby restaurant. Around 22:30 I also left the ceremony. I was just too tired, and I was hungry too. At the exit I met Jesper again. He had also made it to the finish. He had not reached the fourth checkpoint in the time limit, so he was no longer in the classification. But he made it to the finish, and that was what mattered to most of us. Back at the accommodation I booked my flight for Thursday. Tuesday I spent packing the bike. It was not easy to organize the appropriate boxes for transport.

Wednesday I went shopping in the city center and on Thursday Herbert Schmerz and Bernd Esser from the project group Malabon e.V. met me at the Düsseldorf airport. That was the end of an exciting and eventful tour across Europe. More than 3800 kilometers in 14 1/2 days, with the usual ups and downs, great encounters, and impressions that no one can take away from me. In addition, I collected more than 6000 Euros in donations for the street children. Mission accomplished!