Sunday was the last day of this amazing adventure, the Carpathian MTB Epic, it has been a mental and physical roller coaster from day one.
Lining up at the start line on Sunday I felt a twinge of sadness that this incredible experience was nearly over but also a little relieved that this would be the last day of pain! The final day saw competitors in the 1-day-epic join us at the start line for a shorter 40km loop, this was an appealing idea, just 40km instead of 60km…
For the first time in the race we headed out of the arena and into new territory battling a grassy off camber field with ruts and diverts the size of my front wheel it was tricky to navigate after this exhausting affair we were greeted with a hike-a-bike section, I won’t miss these, at the top I had a decision to make 40km or 60km. It wasn’t hard really it had to be 60km!
The trail continued down on a fast descent, but line choice was important as huge gullies had opened up leaving a thin ‘safe zone’ on which to ride.
I felt really fresh and continued to make good progress. The course was amazing with so much packed into 60km riding through lush green forests, over tiny bridges and vast ravines with the sound of the water echoing.
Once we climbed out of the ravine the descent down was really tricky almost like riding in a river bed of boulders, it was a case of eyes up bum back try to stay straight, my arms were getting a serious workout as I rumbled through the rocks.
At the bottom was every riders nightmare, the air ambulance, I’m not sure what had happened but I do hope whoever the rider was he is okay.
After this I rode slightly more carefully these rugged mountains we were playing in meant business and the consequences for choosing the wrong line could be nasty. The course continued to climb until reaching the steepest downhill I’ve ever come across, channelling my inner Rachel Atherton I rode the first 20m before grabbing a tree in order to stop. Walking my bike was as hard as riding, to keep it going slow enough for me to slide my feet forwards the breaks had to be locked out which made the bike skid sideways.
After battling gravity through the wood the bottom was in sight and the course started to climb, again.
My nutrition strategy was working every 40 minutes EAT. This worked well and I pushed myself hard until the end was in sight. The last 5km were tough following the same course as stage two it felt a really long way, but finally the white arch was in view and I just had one more climb to make and then it would be the home straight.
Rolling over the finish line was an awesome feeling the Carpathian MTB Epic stage race had held nothing back, a massive adventure which pushed my mountain bike skills to the max and challenged what I thought my body was capable of. Turns out it was more capable than I thought!
Coming into the race I was not prepared, training had been mediocre at best and a mixture of family and friend events had not exactly made me ‘super healthy’ either. What I learnt was that your body is incredibly adaptable and you just learn to suck it up, smile and keep pushing those pedals and eventually that climb will finish.
Until next time…
Stage two of the Carpathian MTB Epic started with the same route out of Fundata as stage one this gruelling climb hadn’t become easier overnight which was a shame as my legs pushed hard, body weight over the bars just to keep traction on the front wheel.
The route climbed a similar path up to the first feed station but today instead of turning left we went right a short sharp climb led to what felt like the roof of the world towering above the mighty Carpathian mountain range, standing still to catch my breath my heart beat was the only sound. The vast wilderness stretched out in every direction un-touched by humans, rugged and wild.
Now for the descent! The start was a grassy meadow, with a twist as it was basically a vertical drop, I opted for two feet! This came with the nuisances of flies, which seemed to think I smelt great. I’m sure I didn’t!
Once past the rather daunting top section the climb entered the woods and became a whole world of fun, loose earth, roots and switch backs made for technical riding. I kept my eyes up and picked my lines carefully as I swept through the forest my Specialized 29’er making easy progress down the mountain side.
We were at the bottom far too quick, a long an arduous gravel road climb took you straight from glory and back to the pain cave for what seemed like an age, as I made my way out of the tree line the rumbles of thunder got louder.
Finally seeing the red tent of the all too familiar feed zone I had made it to 25km in 3 hours 21 mins and passed the cut off for continuing into the most technical section of the course. As I started to climb the weather growled, thunder and lightning seemed to be surrounding me and the rain was coming down like someone had turned the hose on! Reaching the woods I slipped off the path and hurt my ankle, it wasn’t that bad, but in that moment I
decided that my head had to rule and to turn round and back to safety. Reaching the red tent I was surprised how far I had actually climbed. Not stopping at the feed zone I continued on through the rain and wind feeling so cold I just kept pushing, not noticing the time tick by… By the time I realised my lack of eating and drinking it was too late to reverse the damage I had done, it was if someone had switch the power off in my legs and the only gear was slow and painful, I crawled back into the race village.
On unpacking my stuff and reflecting it became even more evident why I was I trouble my full camelback told the story, I was so dehydrated my body was just running on nothing. It’s safe to say stage two was a steep re-education in looking after myself. Usually I am so good at refuelling but the conditions got the better of me and then I paid the price hitting the wall 10km from the finish.
Stage three I promised myself would go better, and it did!
To see more photos head over to my instagram.
This first stage had a total distance of 60km with an elevation of 2,700m (although my Garmin said 2,995m)
Friday was the first stage of the Carpathian MTB Epic. The day started with a hearty breakfast and plenty of procrastination on my part.
After what seemed like an age waiting in the starting box the music fell silent and the loud heart beat timer started our count down, I could feel my heart racing and tried to control my breathing. The starter sounded and the sounds of clicking pedals and gear shifts filled the air as we set off out of the race village towards, what for me, was about to be an awesome day in the saddle.
The climbing and heat hit me straight away as the other riders pulled further up the road, I knew I needed to pace myself after all I was here for the enjoyment and adventure not to ‘race’ but as a ‘racer’ that can be quite difficult to get your head round.
The course took us through some spectacular scenery we climbed up on to a ridge line, where the first feed station sat, at just over 12km into the race. It had been a mixture of ‘hike a bike’ and gradual climbing to get here up fire roads with horses grazing in the woods and loggers hauling huge trees behind tractors.
I looked up at the climb to the top of the peak and ate another date, I was going to need all my energy for this one! Once up this short sharp climb the course stayed high and traversed the sky line, the view was incredible! The first proper ‘descent’ felt very steep and loose.
The next few hours are a bit of a blur the course continued to be gruelling and amazing at the same time. The clouds had once again pulled in and the thunder in the distance worried me, it was going to get wet, very wet! I stopped and put my rain jacket on and continued my descent towards Feed Zone 2, reaching this I was right to put my jacket on when I did as the heavens open and within seconds everything was washed out, the next section was a road climb which seemed to go on forever, the road had become a river and the rain was making it hard to see.
I was relieved to be off the road and back to the gravel; even though this was harder to climb I didn’t have to worry about the cars.
The route meandered through the valley with towering rock cliffs on one side and the open meadows on the other, farmers and their cattle watched on as I slowly made my way around the course following a stream which then became a river to cross before tracking the valley on the other side. I could see little dots behind me, which I thought were cyclists and it felt comforting to know I wasn’t the only one!
The climb continued and on reaching the top the huge rock face stood in the distance, you’re going over there said the marshal, wow it looked far away!
Continuing along and down I was surprised to reach the rock face quicker than I anticipated proving that all you have to do is keep pushing those pedals and you will eventually make it.
The next climb was exhausting and I really began to question the ‘fun factor’, it was a grassy climb and in the wet my shoes kept slipping and it seemed to take hours to reach the marshals who were lovely, they said one little bit of up then it’s all down! That sounded promising.
Of course that’s not quite how it went it was more like up, down, up, down, up then down.
It was a spectacular descent now on the other side of the rock face and open valley to my left the descent was rocky and challenging I kept my wits about me as I negotiated the rocks enjoying the challenge. The trail led into the woods where I felt really at home working my way through rooty sections, looking for the best line when the trail was off camber and holding on for dear life when it got rather steep in more than one place! Sometimes the descents would be gradual and then turn steep and committing 100% was the only way to make it down, the descents pushed my ability and belief in myself but time after time I made it to the bottom without coming off.
The final 10km was hard work the descent for 4km to the road was a rutted field with steep sections that came out of nowhere the last 5km up the road was a killer, pain seems to be a prerequisite of cycling so I sucked it up and pedalled on. Soon enough the white archway was in site and I crossed the finish line.
Stage one down, two to go!
Today was the start of the Carpathian MTB Epic, a three day stage race in Romania. I was under the illusion the 10km prologue would be a gentle introduction to the beautiful mountains surrounding the resort. I was in for a shock!
The day started pretty chilled breakfast and working out the jigsaw of putting the bike back together after, what already felt like, epic journey to get here.
After packing my camelbak in the heat of the Romanian afternoon I wasn’t entirely convinced carrying a bag was the best way forward, but it was too late to go back to bottle cages now. The music playing loudly and the chilled out vibe reminded me of the Trans Alp and as the sun shone I made my way out onto the course.
10km doesn’t sound like a very long way but it soon felt like it. The climbing was insane! I always knew it was going to be, it’s hard to practise for ‘mountains’ in Southern England but I kept pushing forward, knowing that it had to end eventually, didn’t it?
The ground was loose gravel and rocky and traction was proving tricky. The first descent was steep but manageable down a grassy bank, this brought you back into the area over two little jumps and then back out and up.
This final climb finished with two switch backs and then a short descent onto a gravel road which took me into the woods. I felt at home in the wood it was cooler and felt more like home riding the trail was loamy and I enjoyed making my way through the trees. Until, I got to the first ‘A’ line, when you see three downward pointing arrows you know its worth having a little peak before jumping in. I am glad I looked.
Nerves have always been a nemesis, I know everyone gets them, I seem to tie myself in knots quite easily pre-race and the knots had not released my brain yet so my feet hit the ground and there they stayed until I was at the bottom. Mind-set is something I find fascinating, how one way day it can just flow and on others not so. Whether your approaching a steep descent or your own ‘steep descent’ being able to think clearly enables you to react in the way you want to. Lets just say today there is a little fog in my brain and thinking clearly is hampered!
Anyway, back to the course after another fun section through the woods it was back to the climb a long an arduous single-track trail, the jumps and drop offs soon made me realise we were riding up a downhill track, the climb got so steep it was taking all my efforts just to keep the front wheel on the ground. I decided pushing may be more efficient and got off I am not sure if this was the case and what felt like a long time passed before the gradient eased out enough for me to remount.
After the ‘hairy’ descent and brutal climb it was just a case of staying on two wheels back round into the arena. With a sign of relief to see the white arch and flags again after what had been a testing adventure.
After a shower and sitting down to write down my thoughts on today it was a mental and physical battle, but one that I did enjoy, I think. The Carpathian team fitted an extraordinary amount of gradient, obstacles and work into 10k it was packed full of surprises no kilometre was the same.
Tomorrow it gets a little more serious! 60km 2,700m of climbing… I feel tired just thinking about it.
Hiring a bike is always an option when going abroad, but hire costs can be expensive and if you are like me your faithful bike is set up how you like it and no ‘hire’ bike can quite compare. Fortunately, there are many ways to take your bike abroad – here are just a few options to consider.
This post comes on a day when I have spent, the best part of the day packing up my bike ready to fly to Romania for the Carpathian Stage Race. I am flying with my bike and borrowed a bike bag of a friend. It’s a Evoc bag with wheels making life easier to wheel it about. There are other ways to travel abroad with your bike so below is some information on what else you could do:
Travelling by car
If you’re travelling abroad by car, you could consider getting a bicycle rack fitted. A bicycle rack can be fitted on the roof or on the boot of your car. Both types of rack have their advantages and disadvantages – roof racks allow easy access to the boot but will add height to your vehicle, whilst boot racks won’t affect the height of your vehicle but will limit access to the boot. Consider which one is more practical for you.
If you like to go on family bike trips abroad, you could even consider investing a caravan or a motor home that will allow to carry multiple bicycles. Caravans could allow accommodation on the move as well, saving you money on hotels. You can look into local caravan storage if you don’t have space outside your home to park your caravan and you can even rent out your caravan when not using it to make some extra money. Pickup trucks and vans are other good options for carrying multiple bike racks.
Travelling by Eurostar
An alternative option could be to take the Eurostar to Europe. By booking ahead, you can reserve a space for your bike on the same train as you – not booking ahead could mean waiting for your bike for several hours on the other end whilst an available space is found. There’s a fee of £30 for taking you bike on the Eurostar. If you’ll willing to bag or box up you bike, it will count as oversized luggage and only cost you £25 – however this can entail dismantling your bike.
Travelling by air
It’s also possible to fly with a bike, which could be useful if you’ve got plans for a cycle trip further afield. Different airlines charge different rates for taking a bike – in some cases it’s free, whilst the likes of Ryanair and Easyjet charge £15. Most airlines require you to bag or box up your bike. Bagging it up in a see-through bike bag Box My Wheels are also a great option, where you hire a bike box for your trip.
Plan ahead when getting to an airport – if you’re taking the train to an airport and need to go via the London Underground, you may find that some lines don’t permit you to bring a bike.
Travelling by ferry
Taking a ferry is one of the more convenient methods of travelling abroad by bike. Most ferry operators charge only £5 and it’s a simple case of rolling it on and locking it up. If you’re taking a foot passenger ferry, be wary that your bike could be stored on the outside of the boat exposed to the elements, so make sure it’s well locked and consider taking off any luggage you may have with you.
The Dunwich Dynamo is not a race but an adventure. On Saturday Dad, Andy, Richard and I set off to London Hackney Fields, the start of the Dunwich Dynamo. Arriving there for 19:00 we set up our bikes, had a last-minute pee and then started our Garmins and rolled out of London, on what was to become a great evening’s ride.
Making our way out of London past Epping Forest we soon left the hustle and bustle of the big city behind and the scenery turned to arable fields full of golden corn.
The hours ticked by and we were making good progress, eating on the bike I had a mixture of salted peanuts, cheese and onion chick peas, dates and
homemade granola. Our plan was to stop once we got to Sudbury at the fire station BBQ, the half way point, but as we travelled through little villages friendly locals had free cake! Too tempting for my Dad, who was after all, spending his birthday biking from London to Dunwich.
As we cruised through the back roads the light faded, bikes whizzed by decorated in fairy lights and with glowing wheels, note to self to decorate my bike next year.
The ride is not a Sportive there were no route markers or support as such, however at each junction our route was illuminated by a flicker of a candle showing us the right road to take.
After 57 miles we entered the town of Sudbury and the smell of BBQ filled the air as we pulled up to the fire station who put on an excellent array of food and drink, all in aid of their charity. Hungry cyclists lined up for burgers and sausages and warming cups of tea. The place was alive with people chatting excitedly about their adventure so far, bikes were stacked up all around the edge of the fire station.
Munching on a cheese burger and drinking tea at 1am was a wonderful ride break, I now understand the importance of coffee stops when cycling and will be looking to add them to my rides!
Taking the opportunity to fill our water bottles we headed back out into the darkness, at a slightly slower pace, I blame that on our full bellies!
Leaving the town back out on the country roads we got back into our rhythm we passed groups of cyclists including one man on a Brompton bike.
This section of the journey was a lot more undulating than the last and the hills, although not as big as my South Downs hills, really seemed tough at times, this also was to do with riding in the ‘witching hour’ between the hours of 2 and 3.30 I felt tired and dug deep to keep going.
The weather had been very kind, especially as the rest of the country was being blasted; we had a spatter of rain but remained dry and had the wind on our backs, thank you weather gods!
Rolling through the night 6 hours into our ride my Garmin battery decided to nap. Losing the ability to know when I had to eat was challenging I kept asking my Dad for the time and tried to gauge what I should eat it was also disappointing to not have the whole ride on my Garmin as I was keen to see the difference between the first and second half’s data.
Riding into Framlingham I knew we were close but as we had been wiggling through back lanes it was hard to judge just how long would be left to travel.
The dark night sky had started to turn grey with cloud and a pinky red glow was appearing us as we neared the beach, 10 miles to go and then 5. We started to see people’s twinkling lights coming towards us, people leaving the beach some on the trip back to London, I take my hat off to those who cycled back!
Rolling into the car park it felt exhilarating to have made it there for sunrise, there was a gorgeous smell of bacon and a buzz of activity as people shared their stories and talked about the ride.
We walked onto the beach and watched the sun rise for a moment, the morning air-cooled us quickly and I soon felt my teeth chattering. An obligatory team photo was needed before the adventure continued, sadly not to the café for a bacon sandwich but back onto the road to finish our adventure a 15 mile bike ride home.
Until next year DD.