The TransBrandenburg starts tomorrow. Three Etape, three days, two overnighters, 450km around one of the least populated states in Germany and loads of nature. Hunter, in Zombie Apocalypse-mode and yours truly are ready…well at least Hunter is ready.
Firefly formed a team of ladies based on slightly different concepts than the traditional “we’re in it to win races” teams. The story, posted on the new adventure team website. It speaks to those of us who ride for the adventure and not the miles.
I expected that waking up after the first day will be hard. It turned out that I was wrong. An hour before the alarm clock was set to ring I already opened my eyes, a little confused, and found myself in an acceptable state in the hotel room. It was not even 7AM and breakfast was going to start was at 07:30. I used the time to clean up the bike and send a few quick emails. Next on the agenda was a massive breakfast which actually also served as dinner of the night before. It was fantastic as only breakfast in a vacation hotel could be. I did manage to consume massive amount of eggs and gluten-free toast and fruit and industrial quantity of coffee.
After breakfast I repacked, collected the bike clothes that spent the night on the radiator getting dry and hit the road. It was 08:30AM and the morning myst was still floating over the lake and its surrounding. For a brief second I felt sorry for having to ride back south and not being able to spend any time in the little city by the lake, but with some 200km ahead, I knew that there is not much room for meandering. The Garmin was fully charged and my behind was still feeling like it was holding on to some skin. I quickly got on the path and this time followed the curve of the lake on the west side. The day’s route was mostly along lakes until pretty close to Berlin.
After about an hour of riding I suddenly got the sneaky suspicion that I was riding in circles. In retrospect, it would have been hard to ride completely around the biggest lake in Germany in one hour, but something was not sitting right in my stomach and it was was not breakfast. I consulted the Garmin and my cell phone and decided to ignore my gut feeling and try to follow the route I had planned. This was also an instance where the Garmin was convinced that a line clear across a river was a valid route option. It’s entirely possible that the problem was between the screen and the saddle and not with the device itself, but given that at the end of the day I did end up in my final destination, I guess the Garmin did its job.
Riding alongside lakes does get a little repetitive after several hours. With all the peacefulness of the lake, at the end of the day it’s nothing but a very large body of water that’s pretty quiet – I was wishing for waves breaking on the shore, but this is Germany after all, waves are not our expertise really. So southward we continued covering good ground and keeping close to the water.
Several hours later I realized that I am very tired of the lake. I could not wait for a sign that will announce my departure from water land, from the state I was in and into the state surrounding Berlin. As the day progress the amount of skin on which I was sitting was dwindling and the energy was low. As opposed to the way north, I only allowed food intake from the saddle and the powerbars were running low. At around 17:00 while riding through a very picturesque village cursing the cobblestones that were accelerating the loss of skin on my behind, I spotted a fetching coffee shop and decided that this was as good a point as any to take a coffee break.
This turned out to be exactly the energy source that I was lacking. After a 10 minutes cappuccino session spent sitting in a seat other than my bike’s, I was ready for the last stretch. This took me through some remote and very deserted roads deep in east Germany. At some point, no longer that far from the ring road around Berlin, I actually found myself on a very old and deserted cobblestone path curving into the unknown. A house was hidden in that curve and between wild grass and trees. This was the only instance in which I felt like maybe the ride was not safe, but soon after turning the corner and crossing a rusty bridge I suddenly realized how close to Berlin I was and with that knowledge and a big smile on my face I headed to the city and then home.
Water World Double Century was a fantastic experience. Riding 400km in one weekend, through one of Germany’s most beautiful landscapes was the kind of fun activities you only realize are fun when you completed them. Connecting to places that are “around the corner” and yet far from the public view was also a highlight on the weekend. Riding through villages that end before you finished reading their names, hearing the gravel crunch for hours under the tires and knowing that in any distance you are the only person around build a certain connection to the land and nature. And yes, doing WWDC by myself, not giving up, and hoping that next year the ride will enjoy some more support, certainly is a source of pride.
Next year, WWDC#2 August 2-3, 2014.
Two days after I completed the ride and I still walk funny. It’s a little bit mechanic or perhaps a scene from Monty Python’s silly walk sketch, but it just does not feel like the normal walk. Completing the Water World Double Century ride feels like a huge achievement, a battle won and an epic adventure to boot. It involved a massive storm, two days of riding a total of 390 km (that’s 242 miles you imperialists), 3 power bars, 2 oat bars, a very German apple, massive hotel breakfast, 25 hours on the road and roughly 8 small deers. Oh yeh, there was a proper rainbow, just you know, ’cause they sometimes pop up after the storm.
The first Water World Double Century started from a link a family member shared about an area in North Germany called The European Route of Brick Gothic. The name is of course a marketing disaster, but I conveniently ignored the name and focused on the area. I had already ridden in parts of it, but when I looked at the map and did some investigation, I realized that this was a Water World. The whole area is a little bit of landed surrounded by canals, lakes and waterways. One lake leads to another which leads to a river and the story just continues. It also includes the biggest lake inside Germany – Müritz lake.
So I spent several nights practicing “the best way to learn is by doing.” I poured over GPS routes both on Ride With GPS, GPSies, and some other less known sites. I plotted two routes: one going north and one heading back south. The north ride was a combination of well known European bike routes such as the Berlin-Copenhagen way, as well as forest roads and loads of what looked like gravel. The second day was a tour along the curves of the lakes. Based on the map this was about half the ride and the rest was a ride through the deep unexplored corners of the state of Mecklenburg and its neighboring state Brandenburg.
Invitation to the very small group of other cyclists were sent. But… Well, the answers, encouraging and excited as they were, led to no takers. So the ride included exactly one participant – yours truly. While conceptualized as a Brevet, without any awards or checkpoints, it ended up being an endurance test and a hell of a way to see a beautiful corner of the country that gets a lot less advertising than it deserves.
We (that would be Hunter and me) left on Saturday morning. Based on some back of the envelop calculations, I figured that the northern ride will take about 10 hours, and since the sun only sets at 21:30, there was no real rush to start the ride at an uncivilized hour. Initially, while planning the tour, I debated if the tour should start from the center of Berlin or if a train ride out will be advisable. I figured that the 30 km out of the city could also be interested if a different route was taken than the usual route so that distance was added and the ride started from one of the best cafes in Berlin: Cafe am Ende Der Welt.
As soon as I left the city the ride delivered on its promise: Water World! I followed a water way which turned into a lake, which turned into another waterway and…well you know the drill.
The road turned into a gravel path in the forest with large bodies of water to the right. It was cool in the forest shade and hardly any people were to be seen. At this point with the road turning into the following image, I suspected that this might be a rather boring route.
But before I realized it, the road opened up and I was actually riding the Berlin-Copenhagen bike path. Typically this would have been the easy part of the ride, but not when the road turns into this:
This scene looked like a giant ran through the bike path knocking all the trees on the side of the path into the road. It was definitely no longer the Berlin-Copenhagen path. While I was doing my best to ride around, the few other cyclists that were stumped by this sudden outburst of massive tree suicide, did not seem to have that option. So I decided, in the spirit of Brevet of course, to stop and help. This was a massive karma point collection since a fellow that was stuck between one tree and the next was about to give up on his plan to make it to Copenhagen. His bike, loaded to the max with the latest Ortlieb bags, weighted so much that he could not lift it. We carried his bike together over the tree carcasses and slowly made progress. After about 2 kilometers of walking his steel touring bike we reached the end of the tree carnage area and I bid him good luck and jumped back up on Hunter and continued.
The scene alternated between tiny villages, a constant theme during the whole ride, fields in various degrees of harvest and of course lakes! Never was there a period longer than 30 minutes where a lake or some waterway was not accompanying Hunter and me.
The road also included other riders. These were characterized by an abundance of Ortlieb bags, Shimano dynamo hubs, flat bars and orange Garmin GPS devices that looked like a walkie-talkie. As opposed to my fellow riders on other weekends, they all admired Hunter and made comments on the speed in which I was touring. Now here was a welcome change – a group of riders that think that I’m actually fast! That was a new experience not to mention a nice complement. At certain locations along the path there were even little cyclist snack/coffee bars. They reminded me, even thought it sounds absurd, of travel coffee shops in Thailand or India – unassuming places where the company and crowd play a bigger role than the menu. Thumbs up, I only wished I had time for a coffee and a chat.
At some point, as I was riding the path between relatively high shrubs and overtaking a group of three men, one of which riding a Salsa, a very sudden change in scenery occurred. The shrubs disappeared all of a sudden dead tree stems were sticking out of a swamp, looking menacing.
As I stopped in my track and took the iPhone out I realized that the threatening nature of the swap was softened by the appearance of a rainbow in the distance. It was massive and, possibly for the first time ever, I could actually see the place in which it touched the ground!
But I promised a storm now didn’t I? Well…rainbows mean water in the air, so I was not concerned, but not 30 minutes went by and some nasty looking clouds were arriving. After living in this part of the world for 10 years, I believe that I developed a sense of “oh I’m so going to get it.” I tried to push onwards as fast as I could knowing that a city called Strasen was not far away, but the rain, coming at me from the north, was faster and about 3 km before said sanctuary, the clouds opened and massive amount of rain started pouring down.
Now, I have a certain policy about getting wet. You can only get so wet and then you’re already wet and getting wetter is not an option. Nice theory when in the city, but sadly it did not work in this case. I was hiding under a tree on the side of the road, trying to find the bigger leaves to cover Hunter and myself. Looking on the road that was not 30 centimeters away, I realized that I was standing in a waterfall. And just as I thought “wow this is the most fierce rainfall I ever saw” it started raining harder and lightening and thunder arrived. I did hope for an adventure and I certainly got it. As many storms in North Germany, I knew that it is just a matter of minutes before it will leave and indeed 15 minutes later the clouds continued on their way south-east and I jumped back on Hunter, completely soaked, shivering, and rode onwards. As I suspected Strasen was just up the road. I stopped for tea and to squeeze the water out of my shoes, warmed up, and continued north.
The rest of the day was an exercise in trying to stay warm and making it to the destination before nighttime. With the trees-covered road, the rain storm and the tea, I had lost significant time and still had the best fire roads ahead of me. I’m used to riding alone in the forests, but in the dark, without any lights, that notion seemed less appealing. The fire roads though were fantastic! They were wet, misty and made that crunchy sound of tires eating gravel. I was stoked to come out of a fire road, which turned into a gravel road by the train tracks, just as the sun was in the right position to paint the air yellow and leave the trees painted green. Yep, that’s the image at the top of the page.
I rode into Waren and checked into the hotel around 21:00. Light was already very dim and the temperatures dropped. I was grateful to have a working heater in my room where I could dry my everything. Instead of dinner, I snacked on dried fruits and before long I was heading to sleepland. The first 181 km were done. 199 km to go.
Lessons Learned from Day 1
When I visited Ride Studio Cafe in February, I developed a little crush on an Orange painted monstercross bicycle. Other than the fact that the paint job was fantastic it looked like it was ready to take on the world and do it with style. I really could not get it out of my head for weeks. I looked for information about the bike and found a nice writeup on Seven’s website.
Meanwhile I finished Der Panzer build and was collecting the kilometers on it. The characteristics of Der Panzer are very defined: it is slow moving, heavy, stable, beefy – pretty much everything you’d want a gravel touring bike to be. With 13.25 kg of weight (that’s 29.21 lbs) it’s not going to speed past anyone, but old people in wheel chairs. It was also doing exactly what it was supposed to be doing. Still I could not get the orange Seven out of my head.
When I realized that I will be visiting Ride Studio Cafe again and that I’ll be taking some bikes on a spin, I asked Patria if she could borrow the orange rig from Neil. Neil was kind enough to agree and so on a beautiful New England day, after I rode 28 km (17.6 miles) on a 8 kg Seven Mudhoney SL, I took Neil’s monstercross on a ride.
To my great surprise I found myself riding a version of Der Panzer. It was 1 kg lighter, had bar-end shifters and more volume in its tires, but it moved in much the same way. It was comfy and smooth, but the same superlatives that I use to describe my Hunter could be used to describe Neil’s orange monster cx Seven. It’s a fantastic ride and would be hella fun to take on any trail, but I already had that bike, in blue, and with that, I was released from my spell and was free to contemplate the next build.
A couple of weeks ago I had the opportunity to ride a few loops around Rosaryville in the state of Maryland, U.S.A. Local friends described the location as “literally the most fun I ever had on a bike” so with such endorsement I could not contain my excitement. We packed the bikes on the back of two cars, another first for my Hunter, and left the city.
It had rained every evening that week in Washington, DC. The kind of rain that I have only seen before in places like Singapore. Every day the heat and humidity competed on who can get closer to 100 – Fahrenheit and moisture in the air, and then, in the evening the tropical rains came. The day, however, was clear and already scorching by the time we left DC (9:00). Quickly we forgot the previous’ evening downpour and concentrated on keeping cool until we got to some shade.
The entry to the trails was a little sign that said “TRAILS” with an arrow pointing forward. It’s not like there were any other options and the direction was clear. There were in fact two options: ride counterclockwise or clockwise. We decided before we even left the city to do two loops – one in one direction and one in the other. Once we got on the trail and found shade under the canopy of the trees and bushes I thought “oh that should be so easy, we should do more”.
After one loop I realized that there are things that are easy to say and things that are hard to accomplish. I managed to get mud in my eyeball for some reason, be covered in sweat all the way to my socks and develop the theory that the Rohloff gearbox was pulling me backwards. The trail was filled with trees and branches that were sticking out in a very “Indiana Jones” kind of a way, threatening our very fragile body parts with eminent annihilation. The trail kept disappearing into water paths, loose sand and mud. At some point I also realized that I was riding the brake levers so hard that my hands were turning black from the rubber.
After we finished the first loop I could not wait to do it again, in the same direction, now that I mapped most of the deadly spear-like branches in my head and knew where the path ends abruptly with a fallen tree. We dove in and this time rode much faster and with more confidence. By this point an additional risk was added to the trail – other riders. On a few occasions some unlucky riders came dangerously close to being hit by the joint mass of yours truly and Der Panzer -not something that I would recommend to any mountain biker.
After the second loop we were pretty well dehydrated, dirty, sweaty and were all bringing home many grams of Rosaryville mud. I did not get to bring said mud back home to Germany, to my great joy, since we quickly cleaned the bikes when we got home, but as we came out of the trail, Der Panzer looked like this.
Mud is fun and so are trails in the forest. Having disk brakes in such an environment would have helped a lot especially with all the water and mud around. Even with the stopping power of the Paul Mini Moto, I often felt that I was too close to really loosing it. For the German in me, the idea of riding in a car to a bike ride in a car was a strange concept. I love taking the train out of the city and then riding back in or riding in nature and then coming back in the train, but Rosaryville is not accessible by public transportation and is too far from the city. But having a car around also has its benefits. We could keep our things in the car (including the camera and food) and did not have to fight our aching muscles on the way back. The trail was also technically demanding and I was wishing for a much lighter and more agile and significantly lighter bike. Der Panzer is after all a touring bike that I am using as a 29er, but that’s just until Mr Van Der Mark is able to complete The One.
What makes a grown man open his eyes at 05:03, full 4 minutes before the alarm clock was scheduled to ring, and jump out of bed? In the not-so-distant past the only answer was a club night, but in a recent Saturday morning, the answer turned out to be: the TransUkamark tour.
The tour was organized by a great gentleman called Tom. I came across the announcement by pure luck on Thursday night and required all of 3 seconds to decide that this was definitely the agenda for Saturday? The decision process followed this path: I regularly ride 70-110 km and in one weekend have done 180 km over two days. I read in a recent requirement for a ride organized by Ride Studio Cafe, that the requirement was to have done at least half the distance already and to keep up with a certain speed. Well…I looked everywhere on Tom’s posting for any mention of average speed but once that was nowhere to be found I decided that I meet the criteria and announced my participation.
My preparation included rebuilding Der Panzer on Friday night (it was still in its suitcase after our return from Washington, DC), riding by a mega-bike shop and buying a handful of power bars and electrolyte bars of all sorts of makes and models, checking out the route before hand, and going to sleep at 22:00 to try and make 7 hours in bed.
Excitement got me out of bed before the alarm went off. It was already bright outside, but the air was crisp and cool. I brewed a fresh cup of black wake-me-up juice and was devastated to see that there were no eggs in the fridge. I wolfed down a massive bowl of granola with yogurt and banana, showered, packed all the snacks in the Revelate Mountain Feedbag, made sure that the water bottles were full and that all the tools were securely packed under the saddle and then I took off.
The meeting point was set for a train station not far from home where I spotted a lonely mountain biker. I approached him and realized that this was in fact the tour organizer. We introduced each other, got tickets and started getting nervous since the train was about to arrive and another cyclist that was supposed to join us was nowhere to be seen. Just as the train arrived the third member of our party arrived. We boarded the train and were greeted by three other members of the group.
The tour stating point was in a tiny village called Chorin just north of Berlin. I’ve done a tour that started from this point a few weeks back so the location and the area was somewhat familiar. When we got to the station we were the only ones to get off the train and were greeted by the seventh tour member. There was yet another fellow to join the tour – he started his ride in Berlin at 4:30 which really meant that he was already pretty warm up when he found us.
And we took off into the forest.
In the first three hours my main focus was staying with the group, not getting killed and understanding what was happening. I was unable to speak much since I was so focused on the terrain ahead of us. We crossed a few forests and alternated between gravel, packed sand, very fine sand, mud, and some fire roads. At this point I was feeling confident and was happy to have had a chance to ride Roseryville single-track train in Maryland just a week before this ride. The forest smelled fresh and the air was far from warm at this point and I was feeling fully awake, fully engaged and fully stoked on the ride.
A ride like this is never without surprises and excitement right? The first exciting and amusing part was probably the instance in which I landed on my left side on a muddy puddle in the middle of the forest. It was truly a Zoolander moment where my left leg was adamant about not separating from the Egg Beater while the right leg was trying to find an anchor in the air. I wish I could say that this was the only instance. But really, as I looked at my muddy kit I was thinking “how often can an adult fall into a puddle of mud in the forest, laugh about it and continue with his day as if nothing happened?”
The ride then alternated between a paved bike path in the forest and some off-road sections until we suddenly arrived at a picturesque little village. It was 11:00 and we have already covered 78 km (that’s 50 miles). The village had a little coffee shop which looked promising, but for some unknown reason related to “time” and “lets go”, we had a very short stop. This was also the location where one of my biggest mistakes of the day was made. I ordered a plate of potato salad and did not really bother chewing it as it went down.
Did I mention that practically drinking a whole plate of potatoes covered by a mix of yogurt and mayonnaise is not a good idea while also trying to ride around lunch time at high speed in the great wilderness of Northern-Germany? Well…it’s a bad idea. My stomach was violently complaining about the abuse it was experiencing and I started wishing that I was able to puke. Add to this feeling the heat (nothing too bad but still in the 26 C or around 80 F) and the fact that we were at the edge of my comfort zone and you can imagine who took a firm lead at the back. Yep, I was the last in the group. I wish I could say that the situation changed afterwards, but it did not. Someone have to be at the end and that someone was me.
I quickly became comfortable with being the last of the group – the scenery was simply too beautiful to concern myself with distance, speed or demonstration of prowess. We were riding through an area that looked to be painted and could not have been real. There were rolling hills that seemed to always end in some lake or a field. There were villages that ended before I was able to read the name on on the sign, there were very few humans anywhere we were and the whole time the air smelled new, fresh, sweet.
We did have to stop a few times due to some technical difficulties. Once it was a Ritchey seat-post that decided that holding the seat was a challenge and was constantly giving up and another instance, and lucky for us all, the only instance, one of the mountainbikers had a flat tire. None of the technicalities took more than 10 minutes to resolve and we continued pounding the unexplored road. Rumor has it that Tom shared many stories and anecdotes while riding but I was never close enough to be able to listen.
The whole day was amazing, apart from what we estimated to be 15 kilometers of cobblestone road that must have been laid down some 200 years ago. With the passing of time and the beating of the elements and humans each stone decided to take a different position in the road and a different height which meant that when I road over them each bone in my body was tested for stability and resistance. It was the definition of grueling. Other than the great cobblestone massacre I would not have changed anything about the path – it was a party for the senses.
Towards the last two hours I realized that the biggest obstacle at enjoying the full ride was going to be me. Being the last one in the line and having a significant distance between me and the rest meant that a few times I had the luxury of stopping in frustration, be it due to deep/fine sand or due to another cobblestone path. At none of these stops did I consider quitting, but taking a short break, drinking more water or slowing down (the latter as a joke, I could not have ridden slower at this point) did cross my mind. None the less, after every small breakdown Der Panzer continued faithfully forward with my ass firmly attached to the saddle.
At the end of the day we managed to collect some nice statistics:
This was a fantastic ride. Would I do it again? Hell yeh! I plan on doing another such ride next weekend. Is Der Panzer the best ride for a fast, almost professional group – probably not. But Der Panzer is all I have until a certain fabrication in Watertown, MA is done with my Mudxium.
For more pictures head over to this post from Sonderzeichenbeauftragter (special character representative). He was so fast on his 2006 Alan disk cross bike that he was able to hang back, take pictures and then ride back up to the top of the group! Massive respect. He was also happy to give tips and push me towards the paceline. I could not be more grateful for the crew who clearly wanted to ride faster and were slowed down by yours truly. But they followed “leave no man behind” even if that man was riding a 13.25 kg steel breakaway bike.
While Der Panzer is slow on the road it is an absolute beast off-road. The Bruce Gordon Rock’n’Road tires grab dirt and gravel and give me the confidence that I can corner anything and actually ride faster off-road than on-road. The weight of the bike also somehow helps gain momentum and I find that when I’m rolling on gravel I ride faster. This Sunday I investigated a fantastic route which I discovered on Bikemaps.net. It was supposed to be a mountain bike trail going north so I figured “what could possibly go wrong”. As soon as I started the route I knew that it was a good idea. It started on gravel and turned into dirt and went back into gravel. The whole time there was thick vegetation left and right and loads of swamps, lakes and small rivers. It was also covered by massive trees so the scorching sun was not doing the normal damage it could have done. After a while it turned into a gravel path between fields and horse training areas and when I realized that I was very hungry and that all energy has drained out of me, I found a nice smoked fish dealer, in a little place I ride to a lot, called Summt.
The amazing thing was really the trails.
There will be much more gravel in Der Panzer and my future.