TransUckermark II Express – Potato salad, lakes and gravel
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:
- 8 Riders
- 3 Cross Bikes
- 4 26 inch mountain bikes
- 1 29er
- 3 Carbon rigs
- 4 aluminum rigs
- 1 steel rig
- 180 kilometers (111 miles)
- Average speed: 16 km/h
- Max speed: 58 km/h
- Start at 07:30, finish at 19:00
- I consumed 9 liters of liquids, most of which water (that’s 2.2 gallons or so)
- Uncountable amont of fun
- I noticed that I need a lot more water than the rest of the group. Even though I drank 9 liters I only peed once during the whole ride. So the lesson learned will be to plan big rides with enough spots to collect more water.
- GPS is great. Had I done the same ride without the guidance of Tom, I would have taken much longer and would have had to stop much more frequently to look at google maps. So getting a Garmin is a good idea.
- Tire pressure. I can not explain the reason for not stopping to remove some air pressure from my Bruce Gordon’s Rock’n’Road. I pumped the tires to 60 psi (4 bars) before leaving the house and they were hard as rocks. It made NO SENSE but still I could not bring myself to stop and remove some pressure. They did perform extremely well, but would have performed much better had I taken some of the pressure out.
- Riding by yourself is easy. Riding with your close mates who always let you ride ahead and provide a wind block for them is easy. Ride with other people, more experienced people – there is no better way to learn. You’ll be the last, but who cares? Your enjoyment of the ride should not change on account of placement.
- Find a solution for saddle sores BEFORE next ride (next weekend).
- The top of your ears and the back of your leg will burn in the sun. Bring sunscreen.
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.