#TCRN05 Race Report: Day 8 - Day 13


No sleep & exhausted. But I am still smiling #smilesformiles

Day 8 – Enter Romania 

Showered, rested and refreshed. I was not far from Hungary. Defiantly got the most wet that morning. It reminded me a of a morning commute back in England. However, It was cooler and felt a bit more like home.

Wet Europe

After the hard rain settled I made solid progress on the small climbs out of Slovakia and Hungary did not feel so bad second time round. It was straight forward riding all day with little to no issues. I settled into a good rhythm on the Aero bars in flat Hungary and ended up in Romania for about 19:00. Border patrol was fine with no dramas. I stopped for a pizza feed and resupply in Satu Maria. 

I wanted to hit the night hard as Romania was one of the bigger countries to travel through and time was slipping! I learnt fast that when riding at night, dogs were going to be a significant issue here. They scared the shit out of me the first time a huge pack chased me out of the first town. I was using lots of valuable energy during these big surges of acceleration needed to get away from these demon hounds. 
Lets fucking have you then....

Every little village and town seemed to have at least one or two packs of these wild buggers. All shapes and sizes, they all shared the same hunger for cyclist blood. I pushed on. Stopping was never an option on this night ride. I was terrified. I kept smashing back as much caffeine and sugar as I could, to keep the power down when I was getting chased during these doggy intervals. Adrenalin was pumping in my veins. Nothing was going to stop me, not these dogs! I kept repeating that in my head as a little mantra for this segment of the ride. Some of these dogs where big and looked diseased. I could see it in their red drooping eyes.

'Never bivvy in Romania they said....'

I wanted to get as close to Cluj-Napoca as I could. I managed about 295km that day & night before one long dog chase really took it out of me. I felt really shagged & I had to rest, it was about 3am. I was always disappointed with my all nighter efforts. I was strongly advised not to bivvy in Romania but I was too exhausted to care. I took refuge behind a petrol station and slept under a dis-used tractor with the dogs….


Day 9/10 - A night to remember & CP4

6am; Another rough night’s sleep. All my kit stunk like wet dog. The petrol station I slept behind provided me a coffee and a couple of 7 day croissants. I was quickly back on the road. Was aiming for a big day & night. I still had a lot of miles to cover in a very challenging country.

Breakfast climb!

Road quality, wildlife, limited resupplies & dangerous local drivers all posed a major threat to my objective. Getting to CP4 in time would prove to be my biggest challenge of the TCR. 

What Bird is this?!
After a few gravel roads and nice climbs. I arrived at Cluj-Napoca, hungry for an early lunch. Cluj-Napoca was a much larger town than expected, turns out to be a city…. I wasted time finding a pizzeria but I knew my body would thank me for it later. The banned road that the TCR team urgently advised riders not to use, had buggerd up my route. However I knew there was good reason for the ban. I did not like the sound of that narrow death trap of a road. It was cool to bump into another rider, Berk Okyay at a gas station. Always good comradery with riders this deep into the race. We briefly spoke about how wild this country was and how badly we wanted to get to CP4 in time! We wished each other good luck and went on our separate ways. 

I had to deal with the heat and fatigue that afternoon. The heat was back but I really didn’t have the time to stop and nap. I had to fight it. I settled into a slower rhythm. I consumed salt & sugar constantly, it was the best way for me to manage this heat with depleted energy levels. Romania was rough but beautiful, it had a lot of dark charm. Riding through the Gypsy villages was unsettling but eye opening at times. These where very poor communities living on the edge of the towns in the hills. No sewage or clean water. Pretty much 3rd world standard.
Give me faith TCR

5:40pm; Late afternoon I settled for another pizza in a town where the road ban started. I needed to re-access my route and night plan of how I was going to get to CP4 in time! I decided to head further east & avoid the road ban, down unknown and un-planned mountain roads….

Darkness fell and I was now at the mercy of my google maps to get me to my destination. My knee was grumpy this evening. I managed it with ibuprofen. I was conservative using anti-inflammatories and only used them when I was very sore.

I had to embrace my fear of the dogs from the previous night as they seem more energised (hungry) at night. A few more packs jumped me out of nowhere and almost had a crash. I luckily got by. I feel overall in the TCR I got off very lucky on multiple occasions and am eternally thankful for this. I heard so many horror stories of other riders who did not get off so lucky… I plugged in my iPod as this muted the sound of the dogs barking & the sounds of their nails hitting the tarmac (A haunting sound). 

Fuck it google has sent me down a gravel track in the dark. Google showed that the road I was on was a highway for 20km. But either the road was still in construction or just forgotten. This was soul destroying do I turn back? Or just get on with it. I pushed on. Gravel turned to sand and then massive rocks. Had to Hike & bike sections. Was tough going. Then the sheep dogs came... This is when I accepted my fear of these cunts. I got of my bike and used it as a barrier between the dogs and me & just screamed at them until I lost my voice. They seemed to leave me alone after they saw I was human with 2 legs rather than a flashing, noisy, fast moving lycra machine…. 

From here my night seemed to significantly improve. The gravel turned to asphalt and I got on my merry way in good speed! This was re-occurring theme in the TCR for me. IN the darkest moments, there would always be a light. It was a powerful feeling and I will never forget moments like this when living my normal 21st century life. Going gets tough but nothing lasts forever.

I turned my iPod volume up as loud as I could to get the hard beats kickin'. I was so tired but I knew I would hit second wind if I just kept going until sunrise. 175bpm drum & bass tempo always helped. If I slept I simply would not reach CP4 in time. The constant focus of avoiding the dogs also kept me alert. After a lucky find of an open petrol station in Medias at 3am. I consumed a red bull and a sandwich. This was my golden ticket of energy to get me to CP4 parcour. 
Lots of climbing in the dark on very rough pot holed roads. These where barely roads. Was immensely happy with my bike and tyre choice as my Diverge with 30mm tyres coped well.

Climbing in the dark is quite a strange sensation, it’s hard to tell when the climb starts or finishes. I think I became immune to just how bad the road qualities became. Drum & bass rattling in my ear certainly helped dampen the sound coming from the bike clunking away at these forgotten roads. A positive of using this network of old roads was that there was ZERO traffic. This was nice and I could relax (sort of). Hearing people’s horror stories of Romanian traffic on the busy highways. I got off lightly. There was an eerie feeling in the air that night as mist settled into the hills and got cold. I was in Transylvania (Dracula) mountains in the thick mist, full moon with wild dogs chasing me. What’s the worst that can happen?

Sunrise. A long descend to start of the Transfăgărășan 

highway. I could see it in the distance. Was an epic sight while the sun was rising. I was aiming for the petrol station at the bottom of the climb. 

I found another all nighter rider. Jean-Michel Rivoire a true French Randonneur. We both spoke of our desperate nights to get to here on in time. We laughed and shared stories of the dogs while taking some photos. A golden morning so far on the TCR. 

Jean-Michel Rivoire
I was having issues with my large saddle bag from the gravel riding earlier that night. The bag was drooping and rubbing my rear wheel. Extremely frustrating wasting so much time fiddling with this bloody bag, my hands where not working properly. I was also cautious of time knowing that Transfăgărășan was a 30km climb and only had 4 hours!

Don't look down
I smashed down a can of Devil (dodgy Romanian energy drink) and pushed hard to the start of the climb. Caffeine was my only true friend at this point of the race. I heard the climb had a gentle average gradient of 5%. This climb was perfect and I timed it well.


This road was pretty ridiculous. It was a giant snake twisting in and out of the mountain. I was in trance climbing, on top of my sleep deprivation. No cars so early and it was a beautiful morning. I bumped into other riders on the climb. All desperate souls digging deep to reach CP4 in time. Rider Number 77 (David) dropped me and we where having some banter and laughs while climbing. This guy seemed super fit as I was really focusing on my climbing form and breathing technique struggling to hold conversation. 

After about 2 hours of climbing I had finally reached the summit. I was dealing with grumpy knees all the way up, however it was manageable pain with anti-inflammatories. The glory of reaching CP4 in time would make up for this discomfort. 

Don't watch the dropping saddle bag
To my surprise the control was another 10km decent down the other side of the mountain. Now this was the fastest decent off my life. Bit worrying as the tension in my mechanical disc brakes had completely gone... 

I arrived at the control in time with all the cheers. I was over the moon. Getting my Brevet card stamped by Julliana was a special feeling. There was a good vibe at the control. A dozen other riders all ecstatic to have made it in time. I felt like these riders where the dregs. Everybody seemed to have either a semi-serious mechanical issue, injury/illness, poor time management, bad route or just not the strongest rider. Either way my crazy all nighter had worked and I didn’t even feel tired. However, after consuming some eggs, I laid down by the river and had a nap.

Nap time 
I awoke mid afternoon feeling groggy. I really needed a shower & restart.


The long descend down the mountain should of been a breeze, turned out it to be a slog. Lots more undulating climbing. I had really lost my momentum from earlier that morning. Could not find my rhythm. Finally, after reaching the bottom I was rudely denied from a few hotels. Not sure they appreciated a dirty cyclist & my unique smell. However, got lucky and found an excellent double room for £18. I was glad to bump into Arron at the same hotel. Although it was heartbreaking sitting down for a meal with him and he was denied food for ordering too late? Seemed like a real piss take which turned the night bitter. I guilty offered him some bread as I felt awful sitting there with a big spread of food but he fairly refused as it broke the TCR rules. Fair play Arron. After drinking 2 beers with my meal I was ready to collapse. 

Another welcome bed for me. So grateful I didn't have to wild camp again in Romania

Day 12 – Bulgarian Hospitallty 

I woke with a restoring rest. It was tough getting out of bed. Although I was feeling confident. The final chapter had started, and was Heading south directly to the finish. The random dogleg bit was over. 

My legs felt good after a proper night’s sleep in a bed. Knee's had calmed down. South Romania made for a fairly flat un-interesting landscape to cycle through. I made another route planning error here and should of ridden South West for Serbia. Instead I had planned to head much further east. My ferry crossing the Danube was very far out. To a remote place called Nikopol. This ferry to Bulgaria pretty much cost my evening and masses of time. 

Although It was a beautiful evening, my boat was 3 hours late. After speaking to my Mum on the phone she mentioned to me that nobody took this route or crossing. It was a mental blow that did not sit well with me and put me in a foul mood. My spirts where not lifted when I arrived in Bulgaria & I was hounded by a scary 'official' bloke for some money which I did not have, on top of that I was low on food & water. 

It was getting dark and I was entering a new country un-prepared with none of the local currency! Rookie mistake Fraser. I was now desperately on the hunt for a resupply. I was in rural area with no big towns for miles. Pleven was about 50km away. Shit. 

10pm. I entered a village bar asking the locals nicely if they or any local stores accepted VISA. The manager looked at me confused but amused. Then a 15 year old boy started to talk to me in good English. I explained to him my story and the TCR Race. He was amazed of how far I had come by a bicycle in such a short space of time. He then started speaking to the bar manager and asked me sit and relax. I did what he said. I was then presented with a massive beer, shish kebab and chips! I was overwhelmed. I kept on anxiously telling this kid I have no paper money how can I pay?! He replied, 
“Don’t worry, your our guest now”
He then asked would you like to stay with me and my grandparents. By this point I was full of meat and drowsy, & just said 
“OK Yes, of course. Thanks so much.” 
I had wasted masses of time today and had only ridden 220km on a flat profile going in the wrong direction... However it was too kind an offer to decline and would have been rude of me to decline. The boy warned me that the roads are particularly dangerous at night. He also asked if I was ever scared for my life about riding so far on my own in these areas. This was quite a deep question that I did not answer. Death and the fear of death had been lingering in my sub-conscious throughout my journey, even before Frank passed. It was something that I had come to accept everyday when riding on the road. I'm not a particularly spiritual person but I had adopted an almost Buddhist ideology while racing and training for the TCR. Enjoying every present moment on the bike whether it be good or bad and not take this experience for granted. Try not to worry when things go wrong as it normally bounces back.  I am extremely lucky to do what I do! 

 "There is no time like the present"

I was put up in a comfy double bed while the grandmother washed my stinking cycling clothes. Spolit rotten! I gave the boy one of my spare bike lights as a gesture of thanks. 

Day 13 - Big Bulgarian Bash 

Today I really needed to screw my head on and ride more than 260km. The last few days I knew very well I had lost a lot of time & positions. I wasn’t going to beat myself but I wasn’t in the sharp end of this race anymore and making the finishers party was becoming just a daydream. 

6am: I woke up very confused. That feeling when you wake up hungover in a stranger’s house. It was like that. Not a hotel, not a smelly ditch. I then recalled that a Bulgarian family took me in. The family made me sit and enjoy coffee while feeding me with enormous quantities of grapes. They insisted that I take this 2 kilo bag of grapes on my travels. I took the grapes, but rigging them to the bike proved to be quite awkward. 

I was blunt & insisted on getting a move on as I wanted a big day on the saddle. 7am Feeling fresh with clean kit and lots of grapes I said my thanks & farewells to the family and got a move on.

Bulgaria was already quite hot, but I felt I was finally starting to finally climatise to the heat. It was stark contrast to how I was feeling in Hungary & Slovakia. I hit a second wind for the final segment of the TCR and it was empowering feeling overcoming the weakness and dread from the previous week. The combination of two good nights bed rest and my disciplined eating strategy paid off. Not sure what state in I would be in without this.

I made solid progress that morning and stopped at a truck stop for a kebab porky sandwich. After 2 bites into this thing I ditched it. My stomach was already feeling questionable after last night’s meaty delights. And this thing was dodgy. I was not in the mood to get food poisoning. Ditching the sandwich left me hungry and a bit concerned as I had ridden past big towns and was now out in the sticks. I rode on for another 30km and luckily found some cake and yogurt from a small village store. Usual strange looks around the place. However, smiling and waving at the locals always went down well. I am a firm believer that body language and smiling is an international language that can get you a long way. Nobody likes a grumpy bastard! 

           Park tool tyre lever served as a great spoon!

I seemed to be riding on a old highway parallel to the E83 and A2 for most of the day. Very little traffic with interesting scenery. 16:00; I had a 30minutes power nap at the side of the road. Near the outskirts of Sofia I stopped at a restaurant for dinner and a resupply for a big night ride. The nice Bulgarian waiter who spoke the best English out of anyone I had met on this trip. We had a warming conversation about everything to do with me & the ride while he served me food. He seemed very interested about my bike and the TCR! Chicken, chips, salad and lots of bread. Perfect. I then bought a selection of energy drinks, biscuits and snickers bars. His family seemed quite amused but understood I needed the energy and I still had a long way to go.

                 Caffeine was my only true friend now

Back on the gravel, again. With a few dog sprints but my spirts where high. My stomach was full of quality food. I felt well prepared for the night ride ahead. I could see Sofia in the distance, a busy bustling city. I avoided the city centre like a plague and cut around the outskirts of town. Before I knew it I was climbing a massive mountain at night. Vitosha, a gentle but long climb. I was determined to get to Macedonia. It was around 3am and I had delivered a strong day of 320km with 3,200meters climbing. I could have pushed on but I was feeling thrashed so bivved outside of Blagoevgrad (20kms border of Macedonia). Meteora was eternally closer.