Montenegro: lows & highs

It seems like everyone who’s done the Transcontinental has had at least one low point – that point where morale plummets and all you have the energy to do is sit on the side of the road, chin to your chest and rediscover the will to keep going. I had mine on day 17.

The accumulated struggles of making it through Bosnia finally took their toll after crossing into the dry rolling hills of Montenegro. Growing fatigue had exacerbated the challenges of heat, navigational difficulties, jagged terrain, and towns with few amenities. Meanwhile, all the hours spent gripping the handlebars and pushing pedals left me with some nerve issues in my hands and feet, despite extensive experimentation to ease the discomfort. By the time it reached noon after crossing into Montenegro, the sun had already been beating down on me for hours, my pedaling began to slow, and no amount of calories or water could revive my pace. I continued to grind along and eventually arrived at the bottom of a long hill that appeared to be the one obstacle still separating me from the Mediterranean. Depleted and defeated, I pulled off the road, sauntered to the nearest boulder and took a seat.

Apart from fantasizing about how heavenly it will be to arrive in Istanbul, and how hopping on a train would be a lovely way to expedite my arrival, quitting the TCR has never crossed my mind. So much has gone into getting here (and to that boulder in the middle of Montenegro); there’s no way I’d allow that effort to go in vain. Besides, I’m still enjoying the adventure too much. The agony of certain moments is a small price to pay for the opportunity to spend my days exploring Europe’s landscapes and sampling its cuisines, while enjoying the extreme sense of freedom that a solo bike trip provides.

In time I found the strength to walk my bike a few hundred feet up the road, and by then the idea of cycling a bit further didn’t seem out of the question. I gave it a try and after a few miles of slow pedaling, the hills began to trend downwards and it wasn’t long until I found myself looking down on the Bay of Kotor.

Every bout of pain or misfortune on the TCR has been surmounted by auspicious developments that arrived just when they were needed the most. In Kotor, such good fortune came in the form of meeting Walter Adler several moments after this photo was taken. Walter is in the middle of his own cycling mission from school in Istanbul back to home in Germany. He was kind enough to share his accommodations with me so I had a place to fully recuperate over a solid night’s rest indoors. He even gifted me a USB dongle I needed to charge all my gadgetry. Thank you and happy pedaling, Walter!

Seafood penne on the waterfront – a reward for two days of suffering through heat and hill climbs

Montenegro: Summiting Mt. Lovcen

Yesterday’s meltdown meant I wasn’t able to summit Mt. Lovcen in the evening as planned, but in the greater scheme of things I know the memories of this absolutely majestic ride will be far more positive (and vivid) after tackling it well rested in the cool hours of this morning.

After demolishing an assortment of miniature pastries for breakfast outside the walled city of Kotor I began to climb away from the waterfront toward Mt. Lovcen. This is a ride unlike any other, with a switchbacking road that affords new views of the surrounding landscape with every turn, but doesn’t get steep enough to make you break a sweat – until the last few miles…

Parting views of the Bay as I head up the mountainside

At one point after a solid hour of climbing, I ducked under a low hanging branch and my Sunskis fell off my collar and crunched right under the rear wheel. I was sure they’d be toast, but apart from a scuff on the frame they’re good as new! Polarized, half the price of Oakleys, and apparently durable too.

The damage

As I approached checkpoint 4, at a restaurant near the top of the climb, I ran into Remy Pedussel, just the fourth fellow rider I’d met since the start of the race. A Parisien sommelier who’s spent the last few years in New York City, Remy is racing the TCR while contemplating a move back to France. Though we parted ways after recharging at CP4, I wish Remy best of luck on his southern route through Albania and Greece as I head north through Serbia and Bulgaria.

Enjoying the view over a second breakfast with Remy at CP4

A final push beyond the restaurant got me to the summit of Lovcen, two and a half hours of riding and 5,700 vertical ft (6.3x Hawk Hill) from sea level.

Mt. Lovcen
Lovcen summit

Montenegro: Mountain stage

I got owned by mountains today. I’d spend two hours to get over one and another would be there waiting behind it. They just never end. Exhausted. On the upside, I must have passed through 25 tunnels today – something Bosnia didn’t have much of – and each of those saved some serious effort. You see this huge mountain looming over you and you’re dreading having to get up and over it and all of a sudden this wonderful tunnel teleports you to the other side. It’s like Candy Land but in real life… Delightfully cool on a hot day as well… Ok, enough about tunnels <333. Crossing into Serbia tonight as my campaign to circumvent Kosovo continues…

Left some tire marks on the road where I almost plowed into these two troublemakers: