Day #1 How I burned all matches
I got stuck between two mountains, unable to move. Without strength nor a plan I simply sat next to the water fountain and drank excessive amounts of liquids. This was no bike adventure; this was a survival game. Me and the others were dehydrated, burned and our stomachs were severely bruised. Despite all conditions I found hope.
But let’s get back to the beginning…
I’m not a newcomer into the game of bikepacking. I entered this world as an unskilled rookie who basically risked his bare life, because I threw myself into a 1000 miles long mountain race without the proper gear. But as time passed by, I found enjoyment in this way of life. It’s like an addiction. Long is no longer long enough. You want harder, you want bigger, you want steeper. And where else do you get as much elevation as in Hope 1000?
The magic of this race is that it isn’t a race. Is it an adventure? Is it a leasure ride? Is it a challenge? It can be whatever you want. As soon as you hit the road, you’re on your own. There isn’t any media team, you don’t have any number on your bike and no one will wait for you at the finish line. You even have to put detours to the final gpx by yourself :joy: You get nothing for being first or last and you pay no starting fee (well … you pay the tracker fee, which kind of is the starting fee …). And where is all this paradise? In Switzerland 🇨🇭
What to expect
You will start with a fresh breeze of Bodensee at Romanshorn, you will cross countless mountains and valleys of the Alps and you will end at the statue of Freddy Mercury in Montreux. When I convert it into the numbers, its roughly 1000 kilometers with 30000m of elevation. You will hit peaks as high as 2000m. There is no place for sea rats. Is there even a place for me? As I live in Prague and I consider myself very lucky when I hit a hill with 200m of climbing.
Even though I now have many experiences (or because of it) I do not hit bikepacking events blindly. This time I will go to a country I never visited before. I don’t understand the local language, I don’t know anything about “how it works” in Switzerland and I never spent time in such high mountains. I spent dozens of hours watching dots of previous attempts to estimate my pace and set a goal time. I created a rough plan of which parts I will do after dark and in which parts there will be open shops and petrol stations with all the goodies I will crave.
As the Hope 1000 was closer and closer, one thing was sure. It will be hot 🔥 I tell this to everyone and all the time – I don’t feel good in a warm weather. I don’t understand the people who seek out the sun, lay on beaches and enjoy themselves. I suffer. When the clouds break, I look for a shadow with a loud moaning over my state of despair. In high altitude, it won’t be as hot as in lowland but still… it won’t be easy.
The adventure doesn’t begin at the starting line. The adventure always begins when you try to get there. I flew my bike to Italy once and despite everything going OK, I just didn’t like it. Disassembling and assembling a bike is stressful – what if I do something wrong – and the bike box is difficult to carry and weighs tons. No, when I have the chance, I’ll do it by train.
It wasn’t an easy task
It wasn’t that easy. First, I took a train from Prague to München. Easy ride you think? You’re wrong! I encountered a police border patrol, which was asking me questions about where I’m going, what I will be doing there and if I’m carrying some kind of weapons. Luckily, they didn’t search my bags. Not that I had something illegal, but white bags of unlabeled maltodextrin might look a little bit suspicous.
But there is more. You might not know it, but the Eurocity Train 358 alias “Západní expres” is a very special train. When it goes it München, it connects to another train in Schwandorf and it continues to the final destination. But since we were delayed because of border patrol, they didn’t want to connect the trains and we had to transfer. It wouldn’t be so bad, but I was in a train which was half of the regular capacity! You can image that I was feeling like a sardine in a can.
Luckily, I had a lot of time to transfer in München. And I used it to buy some oversized baked goods. Then I switched to a train to Lindau (I won’t explain how I ended up in totally different carriage then I had reserved). You might ask – why Lindau and not St. Gallen, which is closer to the start? Why? First of all, you cannot book a ticket that crosses the border with a bike. Don’t ask me why. I already accepted that I live in the world where things are just … weird. But also, Lindau was definitely cheaper. And the distance? Luckily – I had a bike.
It was a pleasant ride next to Bodensee. I crossed the border to Austria and then to Switzerland. It was only 50km and I saved 50 euro!
I passed a lot of cyclists. Bikes are very popular in this region. I didn’t see so many e-bikes in my life. Why do people have them, when the terrain is so flat around the lake? :joy: Maybe they use it for headwind…
At the evening there was a „welcome party“. We gathered at the three long tables in front of a restaurant. We could order food and drinks. I got myself one Coca-Cola and my wallet already started to cry. But to be fair – I was told I don’t have to order anything. But thirst is a tough negotiator.
Instructions were clear and I knew almost everything from the race manual. I was intrigued just by one thing. Felix, the organizer, told us that there is basically no wildlife in Switzerland, so we don’t have to be afraid of animals. But there is one dangerous creature, that could be deadly. I didn’t know the word, but it sounded like some malicious venomous fantasy snake. Well … it was a tick.
For the night I had accommodation in “a typical Swiss house – the Yurt”. It was really nice. I had to bike 15km to get there, but that’s basically nothing. And I needed this last night of good sleep.
The next day was the start. It was organized in waves, so the oldest participants went first. Me, as a young skin, had plenty of time to sleep and I started as one of the last.
It was funny to watch a few waves as every rider was different. Some of them documented their rides, some just took a leasure pace and some of them just sprinted out of the town. And it was OK. Hope 1000 isn’t a race, so racing is optional.
I usually start very conservative. Keeping my Z2 level, don’t rush over the hills and DO NOT race in the first miles. But this time, it was a little bit different. I knew what was coming. I knew the heat will be there and I wanted to have as many miles as I can in the morning. I was one of the guys who shot out at the start.
It was a good opportunity to say hello. I was passing the riders one by one, had a quick chat with a few of them. There were no rough sections or steep hills. Everything was gravel or asphalt. I was passing many farms. I always think about Switzerland as a rich country – there was a lot of expensive cars on the road – but this was a different picture. A rural land.
Since the first day, one thing was clear – there won’t be any problems with the water. A Belgian guy at the start told me, that there will be some stretches without it. But according to my clue sheet there weren’t. Water pouring pipes were everywhere and only one thing could make them better. If they could be switched to Coca-Cola. Never mind…
As hours have passed, it was getting hotter and hotter. My cycling jersey was becoming white as it was collecting all the salt from my sweat. If some wild tribe of cannibals would want to eat me, they wouldn’t really need much seasoning. I rode through some running event, where the others were passing me easily. “I have another 900k to go,” I wanted to scream.
Despite harsh conditions I was conquering the miles. As I look at the map right now, I know exactly when it switched. The moment, when I realized, it will be bad and Hope 1000 will be one of the toughest events I have ever done. The climb to Chümibarren.
Temperature was a pleasant 32°C and I was pushing my bike up the steep hill. I usually don’t mind doing it. I don’t take in as a punishment and I don’t feel ashamed to do it. For me it’s like having a snack. Normal thing to do. But this time … I was just too exhausted to do it. Stop. Push. Stop. Push. I passed some house in the forest and a nice guy offered me water. The hospitality helped a little and I went on the bike once again. But how I could make it to the finish, when the first hill struck me down?
People were overtaking me. But it wasn’t that bad. I had a little chat. I shared the struggle. It was good to know that I wasn’t alone in this.
Soon I learned one important thing about Switzerland. There’re a lot of gates and a lot of manufacturers of these gates. Sometimes, I knew a way on foot, but I couldn’t find a way how to cross it with a bike. Luckily, I didn’t snap anything off. When I saw someone operating the gate, I finally figured it out :sweat_smile:
My morale was rubbish. I was sitting in shadows as my core temperature was too high. Lots of times I couldn’t find any spot to rest. There were fences everywhere, blocking my way to trees. I would give all my money for a little breeze. But the air was still like a budhist monk and dry like a desert.
What was worst – I didn’t have fun. That is the reason, why I do all of this. I don’t mind hard terrain or pouring rain. I will push through. But this … when I tried to pedal harder, I felt I would faint on road. My mind focused on the evening. That will be my time. I will shoot like a lighting and storm up all the hills in front of me.
My rock bottom
Stöcklersiten was the last climb I have done in high heat. Temperature already dropped to 22°C and the sun disappeared below the horizon. The descent was fast, on road, and I hoped I will have some fun at night. The truth couldn’t be further from it.
I went through the city, short stretch of flat road, and started to climb another mountain. But it wasn’t good. It was terrible! My core temperature was still high. Every minute I had to get off the bike, sit and breath. Probably heatstroke or something.
I couldn’t ride during the day. I couldn’t ride at night. What was the purpose of this? Usually, I tell myself – the bad weather will pass, it will be good again. But in that moment, I couldn’t see it. I knew the forecast. It will be the same all of the days up to the finish. There will be no rest. And no fun.
Desperate and exhausted I laid down at the parking lot just next to the road. I took my sleeping bag and used it as a comforting blanket. I closed my eyes and tried to sleep. There was nothing better I could do.