Day #5 How I fought my imagination
I woke up in the middle of the night. Getting up at half past two is not a drill you want to repeat. Especially when you slept 2 hours on average in past 4 nights. And it was the reason I wanted to push beyond my limits and get to the finish no matter what. I was on the edge of my capabilities.
I didn’t care about my wet sleeping bag. I wasn’t going to use it. I didn’t care about all my bruises and aches. It wasn’t going to stop me. There was only one thing to do - to ride.
I was slowly moving upward to the mountain. It started raining and I heard a dog in a distance. That wasn’t good. As I went through a lot of gates and visited a lot of farms, I didn’t want to meet their guardian. But we met. I was pretending to do my business, but I was scared as hell. He barked and kept an eye on me for a few minutes, but eventually, he left me on my journey. That was the scariest dog encounter I have experienced in Switzerland.
It was hard to find the right path in the dark and rain. Sometimes the road disappeared completely and I found myself crossing grass seas using the direction of my GPS unit. As mud covered my bike, my shoes and all stones on the road it was a challenge.
The weather wasn’t kind to me. During the day, the sun was melting me down and now I was freezing. I even wore my rain gloves. It was a good decision because the descent was long, rocky and hard. Usually, I would enjoy the route in a forest but I was so exhausted, that I had to stop in the middle to relieve my hands.
The magic of the Swiss train stations
I dropped 800m of elevation and found myself in the town of Blankenburg. Everyone was still sleeping, so there wasn’t much to do. The next section of the route was very easy as I followed a bike path near a river. My mood fired to the sky. I was singing and enjoying the ride. It stopped raining, but I could feel the freshness in the air.
As I entered the town Lenk I encountered an unexpected problem. I don’t usually plan my highest need. It always came to surprise me, making me hard to pedal or seat. And now it got me in the middle of the town. Yeah. I needed to poop.
A quick look at a map gave me an idea. There was a railway station. You can usually poop at the railway station was my thought, and so my fight against the clock began. And it was a really pleasant surprise. The toilet was very clean and I managed to wash in the sink. Even though I didn’t take a shower and smelled like trash, I didn’t feel that way. I felt like I was reborn. And I fell in love with the Swiss rail network. As you’ll find out later, it wasn’t my last stop.
In my eyes, Link was a supertown. A few minutes after I used their facilities, I found an open bakery! And I’ll tell you, I needed that. The next mountain would bring me to 2000m above sea level, so I needed some crunchy boost.
Highs and lows
I pedalled enthusiastically; the good mood didn’t leave me. The climb started as an asphalt one and as I was getting higher and higher, it was getting rougher and rougher. Soon I have fallen into my usual “barely moving” state. The worst. The hill was sucking out my energy reserves and I was eating at an unsustainable rate. I should have bought more pastries.
The following section was the hardest I have experienced on Hope 1000. There was strong wind and rain. I wasn’t sure about a storm coming up. Every day there were fighter aircraft in the sky making thunder sounds. It was hard to distinguish them.
The path was unrideable. I didn’t even try it because even the slightest mistake could send me off a cliff. It was muddy and slippery and I was swearing. There was nobody to listen to me and nobody to understand me. I was angry. Angry at the weather. Angry at the route. Angry at everyone.
This hard section was endless. I wanted to stop. What was the worst, the usual pattern – climb the hill, descend the hill and get to the town – was broken. When I overcame the worst and dropped 600m of elevation, I have begun to climb one more.
My morale was below zero. I switched to walking only. It might sound desperate, but it was my way to go. I knew it will get me to the top. Sooner or later.
To be lucky you must act as if you’re lucky
Once again, the descent was hard and I was barely moving. But I made it to Saanen seeking some food. There was nothing so I continued next to the river to Rougemont.
To me, it felt like the weirdest town I have ever been to. All the houses were the same (weird and wooden), it was full of people and there was no shop! I also found myself in the French-speaking part of Switzerland. It didn’t change my situation a lot because I don’t speak either German nor French.
I left the town without food and water. I counted on my luck and it paid off. I found a water pipe very soon and I filled my flasks with maltodextrin to get an energy boost.
As I was cold and miserable in the morning, I was hot and miserable in the afternoon. The rain has come to me when I didn’t want it. Why couldn’t it rain during the afternoon to cool me down? I was tired of this sun.
But somehow, don’t ask me how, I arrived in Jaun. From that point, I felt a little sketchy. I had to pay the toll on my sleep deprivation. In that case, it was a short memory loss and a strong feeling of Déjà vu.
I visited a local bakery, stopped for 30 minutes and continued. As you would guess – a big uphill was in front of me. I found the strength to climb it on a bike, which was a pleasant surprise.
As I reached Schwarzsee I ran into a possible serious problem. I was running out of power. You see – one of my power banks has died – and I found myself struggling to keep my devices running. I had to charge my phone, navigation, shifter and light.
I wanted to plug my power bank into electricity for like 15 minutes and it should have been everything I needed to reach the finish line. I was searching the parking lots and e-bike stations without any success.
When the hammer hits the anvil
I had 100km to the finish line and the most adventurous part of the ride has started.
I was climbing to La Balisa. The wind was blowing strong and I was fighting against it. The sky was black and I was going straight into it. I heard sounds and it certainly wasn’t a fighter plane. It was thunder.
In the middle of the hill, I met two bikers and they told me something I didn’t understand. Are they trying to warn me? I was determined to continue.
I have big respect for storms. But it looked like I was going to miss it and there were farms everywhere. It was easy to hide if it hit me. Unlucky for me, the storm struck me in the middle of nowhere. The sky was super angry and I was sprinting to hide under a semi-trailer. Yes. I watched the heavy rain from my cosy place.
I was there only for 5 minutes when the worst ended. The thunderstorm was somewhere far and a little rain wouldn’t hurt me.
But as my confidence wasn’t great, I had to hide two more times for a moment. My intention to finish was strong. But the stronger my desire was, the bigger obstacles I faced.
The next downhill was very difficult as it was on rocks, grass and mud.
After Rossens the storm was back on. I even saw some lightning. But there wasn’t any hard terrain or climbs. I was on more or less a flat section. The rain was heavy and I was completely soaked. I didn’t mind. I was in a berserk mode.
I saw Luca Bernasconi as he was hiding from the rain. This wasn’t an option for me. I knew I was so wet that I couldn’t stop! I didn’t have any clothes to change into. I had only my muscles to warm me up. So, I used them.
But even a berserker can have hard times. I was getting cold. It was dark and the spare battery of my headlamp wasn’t working. It wasn’t a problem on the road. I had a dynamo light, but it won’t help you in the mountains when you’re barely moving and searching for the right path.
It’s a trap
Unfortunately for me I made a mistake and stopped at Vuadens. I was cold beyond comfortable. I was riding in heavy rain for about two hours and it wasn’t stopping. I didn’t know what is ahead of me and if I will be able to ride without the headlamp. I couldn’t check how it’s looking, because the screen of my phone was so wet, I wasn’t able to use it. I didn’t have anything dry enough to wipe it. And since I had only 10% of the battery, I didn’t have much time. And to finish it, I didn’t have any food.
I stopped at a train station to check the weather to see when is it going to stop raining and check the route if I would be able to push to finish. I was stuck there for one hour.
Once again, the Swiss train station was an important checkpoint, where I could regroup. But this one was impaired. There were no bathrooms – or I didn’t find them – and no electricity. At last, there was a warm waiting room.
The first task was to dry my phone and my fingers, so I would be able to use it. I tried to blow off the wetness with mixed results and wait. The second task was to charge my phone.
There was a vending machine that was selling power banks. The problem was, that I didn’t have any coins to pay for it. I could use the app, but I wasn’t able to install it. I felt miserable and frustrated because I was losing time and achieved nothing.
After an hour it stopped raining, so I decided to go no matter what. The waiting room turned into a trap! I got used to the warm and on the outside, it felt freezing cold! I had to use all my mental power and toughness to get me going. Luckily there was a hill and it warmed me up.
You could think that as the rain stopped, it was easier to ride. You are mistaken! When I’m in berserk mode I just push. I know it’s a way to survive. But as I calmed down, I became sleepy. So sleepy!
It was after midnight and the price of sleep deprivation was enormous. There were people. I didn’t see them, but I felt their presence. They were speaking to me. And when I turned my head to see them, they turned into a bush or a tree. They were trying to convince me to stop pedalling.
And once again Luca Bernasconi has saved me. He caught me in the middle of the uphill and the moment I saw his light I found the energy to pedal hard. It was nice to speak with a real person and all the ghosts around me disappeared.
Mental energy has its limits. Luca’s wheel was further and further. He waited for me several times as a gentleman, but I felt so bad about this and I said: “Just go.” I can do it on my own.
I saw his light at the top and downhill. Since I used the weakest mode for my headlamp, I didn’t see the route very well. This and my ’just want to finish’ attitude meant I was riding through cow shit. You heard me. 900km I was trying to avoid them and in this last stretch of the route, it was regular mud for me.
It was really hard to navigate through the gates and steep downhills with wet grass. At least it kept me alert.
Repaying the debt
It was 24 hours since I woke up determined to finish and I still had 50k to go. And my memories of this stretch are very confusing.
There was a flat section and the last mountain (high as the highest mountain in my country). I don’t remember what the flat section looked like. I only remember I stopped at a train station for the last time.
It was only 15 minutes so I could charge my phone. Accidentally I met another participant of Hope 1000. He looked much more devastated than me. I didn’t understand how he got there. It turned out he was caught in a storm in the mountains, had a bad fall and he headed home. I couldn’t blame him.
The last climb was … something else. My mind was trying hard to stop me. It was like having a dream without sleeping. Ghosts of nature have surrounded me. I was really slow because I was forgetting that I needed to move. The sun was already in the sky, but it didn’t relieve my symptoms. But the cure was on the way.
It was a magical moment. As I opened the gate through the road, I got an electric shock. It wasn’t very strong, but it woke me up. I hopped on my seat and started pedalling again. I was like a changed man. It might sound extreme to cure sleepiness with an electric shock, but it was completely unintentional.
I was able to climb to the top and I thought it was over. Mistake! The downhill was as hard as the uphill. Hope 1000 is a challenge until the last meters.
No one will wait for you, but…
In the last 10km, Andy Styger got in front of me. What a dramatic finish! As I wasn’t really in a racing mood or downhill racing mood, I just hoped he was older than me. Turns out it was true, as my official time was like 4 minutes faster.
Seeing the Montreux and the Freddie Mercury statue was epic. You might look at the course as a set of numbers. 1000 kilometres and 30000 meters of elevation. But as you hit the route, you find many more obstacles and challenges than you could imagine. In the final stage, it isn’t about numbers. It’s about memories, experience and overcoming what I thought was impossible.
I got lucky because 3 of us (me, Andy and Luca + a race fan) met under the statue. Usually, no one waits for you. Just a group of tourists who think you are some smelly stranger. We chatted a little and enjoyed the moment when you … don’t have to do anything. And I think I needed that. Have a moment when you don’t struggle, you just enjoy being.
My official finishing time was 5 days 2 hours and 7 minutes. As my starting aim was for between 4 and 5 days it might look like I failed my expectations. But as I said, numbers aren’t everything. I gathered so much experience and saw so many new places. Yes, it was harder and longer than I expected. But I was able to cope with it.
What is the most important – and maybe describes my experience best – is that I want to come back someday.
I bought some fresh clothes as my travel to Prague was going to be long. Food from a near McDonald’s gave me a boost to not sleep during the day. As I didn’t have a hotel there, I wanted to get home. Fortunately for me, the train station was so close I didn’t have to put shoes on.
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