In summary: 4650 kilometres, 32,000 metres in altitude, through 10 European countries (Italy, Slovenia, Hungary, Slovakia, Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Finland, Norway).
200 participants, including 25 women. 102 reached the North Cape, including 5 women.
Small anecdote at the briefing: the interviews were done there. I wore my North Cape cap and watched the events for a while. Andrea didn’t ask me if I wanted to be interviewed, I asked him after a while what criteria he used to select the people to be interviewed. Andrea: „Well, the participants of the NC4K…“. Hmmhmmm, I’m also planning to get the North Cape … Well, you wouldn’t know by looking at me, an old lady with grey hair, that I have the courage to go this long way, hat or no hat…
Departure: up to the Borcola Pass with the bikes fully loaded, mine weighs about 20 kg without food and drinks. I chat with some of the participants, I find it particularly remarkable that the 23 year old Karl participates here. I will meet him more often in the coming days. At the top of the pass I joke with Eduardo that he should enter the ‚queue‘, the line to take photos … I will meet him even more often in Finland. Overnight in Tarcento, but with very little sleep, as my roommate does not arrive before one in the morning, I wander around the hotel in my underwear to open the door for him and I cannot get to sleep while he does the laundry and tidying up. When the lights go on at half past three and the devices to be charged are moved, I escape awake and ennervated and continue on my long way.
The Vršič pass lies before me like a ghost. After the idyllic Soča valley, there are more than 40 hairpin bends to the top of the pass. I push my heavy bicycle for the last few metres. After Kranjska Gora, you can’t even go at full throttle, the 40 serpentines downhill have very rough cobbled hairpin bends. Already after the second hairpin bend I feel a spray on my legs. Oh dear, the first puncture already? Has my tubeless tyre punctured? I stop and remove the sticky mass. It’s not latex, but peach juice. My bag with the fruit, just bought in Bovec and placed on the rear bag, had come loose and was now banging against the spokes. Broken the bag, the contents spilled out onto my legs. Woe betide what would have happened if the plastic bag had got caught in the spokes….
In the valley there was a kilometre-long cycle path with a lot of traffic. During a break I chat with Detlev. After eating an ice cream we lose sight of each other. I can’t say where he has retired to. In the unspeakable heat of midday there is another small step, then the descent to the picturesque lake Bled. Here I meet Sara, who will arrive at the cape a day before me. She enthusiastically thanks me that it is „my fault“ that she can live this adventure, I told her about it last autumn at the Gravel patent „Schottergaudi“.
After spending the night in Žalec, I leave the hotel without having paid. I had thought that I had already paid with my booking on booking. On the way, therefore, I still have to arrange payment. I drive through the beautiful agricultural country of Slovenia. However, there are also a few kilometres of gravel road construction. Along the way, there are always storks in the meadows or high up in their nests on pylons. We break for lunch with soup in a small, lonely restaurant. I am the only guest, until suddenly the place fills up with policemen. Are they after me for speeding? Or more likely because I’m riding too slow? Ahhhaaahaa. The heat is almost unbearable. Looking for water, I look around for garden hoses. Nothing far and wide. Then I have a brilliant idea: I stop at every cemetery and take a „shower“ there. After the Slovenian border, the first 50 km I remember with horror. It had been up and down all day, but now with megagalactic road surfaces and lots of traffic. Several times I jumped with my bike on the shoulder of the gravel road when a Cammiom approached without braking. Past a car lying on its roof, ambulance and police already on the scene. I thought these 50 km would be the worst experience of my trip, but over the next few days I would be taught otherwise. Luckily there is a cycle path along Lake Balaton.
Early in the morning I leave the small hotel. Another participant is also here, but apparently still asleep. Gate 1 in Tihany was not spectacular… no sign of the NC4kK, but the view from the village over the lake with the rising sun is wonderful. Then the terrain is pretty flat. At the Danube before Budapest I meet Paul in a restaurant. He recommends me to eat the fish goulash. Excellent. The road before and after Budapest is terrible. Traffic is crazy. I had hoped for a bicycle path along the Danube. I booked a flat near the border with Slovakia. Towards evening, I pedal along with Xavier and Burak and we agree to share accommodation. However, there is no such accommodation. We are therefore forced to make ourselves „comfortable“ in a nearby park and bivouac there. At least I didn’t have my bivouac stuff with me. It is a quiet place, but the mosquitoes torment me.
At dusk I leave the park. Today there are actually three relatively small mountains to climb, but with the heat and the heavy bike, some doubts arise today. The first day of crisis has arrived. Fortunately, there is little traffic on the roads. On a winding descent, however, I pass a truck lying on its roof in the bushes at the side of the road. But someone is already there, two people have parked their cars at the side and are looking at the victim. Should I have stopped? A little later the fire brigade is already on its way. The second climb is tormenting, unbearable slopes under the scorching sun. My motivation diminishes more and more. Before the third climb, a lively voice next to me: Olena. After a brief exchange, she has already left. We will meet again sometime, she will arrive at the North Cape a day before me. I had booked accommodation in Strba, in the Tatras. But I couldn’t imagine that it would be so far away until then. Almost 40 kilometres through lonely valleys. But the view of the city against the backdrop of the High Tatras makes you forget all the crises of the day.
The next day, already the sixth, light rain. Passing under the High Tatras, I meet Paul, who tells me that he’s going home by train, he can’t sit on the saddle anymore. How lucky I am, no problem there. I ride one day with my Assos shorts, then two days follow with shorts without padding. Perfect. The border with Poland makes me think. Apparently the route leads through a meadow covered with tall grass. Even Google Maps does not provide a solution. My route leads in a completely different direction. I turn around again, have I missed something? No, so I follow the road a bit and lo and behold, there is a hidden, bumpy concrete track leading in the right direction. After the idyllic little roads between villages, I now have to pedal a busy road towards Krakow. Again and again, multi-axle lorries with trailers rumble past. Terrible. When I hear the sound of such a monster approaching again, my whole body tenses up. The drivers make no effort to brake, and at some point I decide to stop each time on the gravel shoulder, where my wheels sink inches deep. I arrive in beautiful Krakow with many doubts as to whether I should risk my life for such a race. The next day I get the news that Olga, a participant, on Lake Balaton, has died in an accident. So sad.
The next day is Polish farm country, and the weather is good again. Idyllic peace and quiet, no traffic. You just have to be careful not to have a dog chasing you from time to time. Acceleration and interval training are bad after so many kilometres in the legs – ahhaaaa. I pass the time by reading the signs with place names. It’s amazing how Polish words with ten letters can get away with 1 or 2 vowels. Pure tongue twister for me. I ride alone, meeting almost no one for days. The accommodation in Lipsko is a bit out of the way. In the village of Lipsko I notice a woman on the side of the road taking photos and applauding. On the way to the guesthouse, a car suddenly stops in front of me with its emergency lights on, the same woman, Urszula, gets out, stops me and says I had taken a wrong turn. I explain that I want to go to the accommodation. She tells me that she is ‚following‘ the race on the map and is thrilled that there are women there. I was the second woman who had passed by today. Urszula gives me two cupcakes, which saves me, because unfortunately no dinner today.
Day 8 is again characterised by lots of farmland, but in between there are 20 km of busier roads, where I am overtaken by countless Cammions with or without trailers. Accommodations are few and far between, so there are more than 290 km on the schedule today. It is a good tactic not to think about 290 km, but always in increments of 5. No other NC4k participants all day.
The mosquitoes are annoying. If you find a place in the forest and take off your shorts, countless ravenous suckers immediately pounce on your unprotected naked parts.
On the 9th day I leave the comfortable hotel at around 5am, as I do every day. The route runs close to the Russian border, which I only realised later from the tariffs of my mobile phone provider. It’s always slightly up and down, which I only realise because on the speedometer I only reach 21-25 km/h, then 30 km/h and more.
Every day is the same: Pedal, pedal, pedal. Shopping. Eating. Pedal, pedal, pedal. Coffee or ice cream. Pedal, pedal, pedal. Thinking. Calculating. Pedal, pedal, pedal. Photographing. Pedal. Check in. Washing. Load mobile phone, Garmin, Tracker. Shower. Sleeping. Get up. Packing. REPEAT … 30 kilometres before my next overnight break I meet Olena and Karl at the supermarket. Olena shows me the weather forecast: rain is forecast for the next few days. I have to look for accommodation in Sakiai among many dilapidated buildings. I have to give a ring and someone comes to open the door. I am the only person in the whole building.
It is not easy for me to decide to leave on the next day, the 10th. It rains as expected. I scramble for a long time to delay the departure. The first few kilometres drag on like chewing gum. I’m soaked through in no time. I stop at a supermarket to warm up a bit. No way. Air conditioning and even colder than outside. There’s not even anything useful to eat. Frozen kefir and dry cinnamon rolls. In the next village another shop. There they sell pieces twice as big as donuts. No one speaks English. When I asked what was in them, the woman waved her arms. Aha, something with poultry. Very tasty, by the way. I have to wait until the next gas station for a hot coffee. Rain. Rain. Rain. But the closer I get to the 100-kilometre mark, the more the bad thoughts disappear. In between, the most criminal stretches of road. Heavy vehicles speeding past. One wrong move… I meet Karl, who is completely exhausted and tells me that the suction of a camion almost pulled him under the wheels of the next truck. I continue as in previous days: I jump off the edge of the road when I hear a heavy vehicle approaching. The rain stops, then the clouds gather again. Let’s hope it’s not a thunderstorm, as warned. At a certain point there are only 30 km left. Wind gusts. In front of the hotel I stop at a car wash. Two other cyclists bring their dirty bikes to the room. This one is also okay. And what will tomorrow bring? It will be tough, because before Riga there is an obligatory diversions of 30 kilometres on gravel. Also, there are no accommodations between kilometres 240 and 350.
Today, day 11, there are 30 kilometres of gravel road planned. The organisers have chosen this route to avoid the busy A7 road to Riga. In fact, there should be penalty points if you stay on the A7. But there weren’t, which I don’t think is fair. Safety was important to me. However, there would have been a wide shoulder on the road. On the alternative route, I’m all alone. It is a dirt track on which you can only ride at a walking pace. Small and large stones baked or loose. Not at all suitable for racing bikes.
Scary experience during a traffic jam. Suddenly three dogs in front of me. A huge black shaggy old one and two smaller ones. I approached slowly. When the big one notices me, he comes running towards me. Big head full of scars, bloodshot eyes and a mouth full of foam. Growling. I jump off the bike and put her between us as the other two come from behind. It doesn’t look good. Somehow I drag the bike along. The big one keeps making growling jumps at me. Then they let me go. With trembling knees I push my bike a few meters …
During the first few jolting kilometres I lost my peach without realising it. Then the cheese sandwich … Booked a hut in Kämping Peebu for this night. However, more than 6 km off the route. This means extra kilometres.
On day 12 departure again early to get in time the ferry from Tallinn to Helsinki. Hotel booked in Helsinki. Today „only“ about 190 km. The morning is cold.
Before arriving in Talinn, I notice that the tubeless tyre is leaking air. When I pump it, I notice a cut. The air comes out again. What should I do? I see a bike shop right in front of me. Lucky me. I go in and someone approaches me and asks: „But you’re Gabi, aren’t you?“. It’s Matthias Siegert, also a participant in the event, with a derailleur problem. I’m going with him for the next two days.
I put a new tyre on the front and back; this one also had some cuts. I’ll take it with me as a backup as there are few bike shops in Finland.
Today there were several rain showers, put on waterproof stuff, took it off after 5 km … put it on again and so on. The mishaps accumulated on this day:
Puncture, then wrong ferry terminal, so I arrive in Helsinki two hours later than planned. Then I had to wait ten minutes in the belly of the ship because the guy who had chained his bike to mine got lost. Then we had to wait until all the containers and trucks were out. You have to see it once, it’s pure madness, if a pedestrian gets in the way, woe betide him. Off the ship and no internet…. How could I find the hotel? Help! Then I noticed that the mobile phone is set in flight mode. At traffic lights I have to wait two long stages until I figure out how to make the thing work to indicate I want to cross the intersection. Nothing works automatically. In the hotel the lift doesn’t work, so I push my bike out again and into the next one. It doesn’t work either… until I realise I have to hold the room card in front of a sensor…. WELL, not my day.
Early morning departure on day 13. Very well maintained cycle paths outside Helsinki. I still have to smile about the ferry crossing: we cyclists had a big corner to ourselves. No one else wanted to get near us, an unmistakable smell rose up … Cyclists with socks that hadn’t been washed for days. First coffee stop at the service station. Matthias, Stephan, Julien and Gedas get ready to leave. Interesting. Many participants have now organized themselves into small, steady groups. I ride alone most of the time. The landscape is beautiful. A lot of forest. I will hardly see anything else in the next few days. Or rather: a lot of lakes embedded in the forest. I spend my time with some music for the first time. With Sonata Arctica, Stratovarius, Sirenia, I’m going for the miles. Over the next few days, I’ll also enjoy audio books. What a surprise: our cyclist friend Heikki is waiting for me along the route and we have an ice cream together. He now lives in Finland again, follows my journey and has come by bike to say hello. Later I meet Matthias again. We decide to complete the 300 kilometres to Jyväskylä, first there is no accommodation to be found. It starts to rain and it is bitterly cold. Frozen, I move to my room.
Today, day 14, breakfast at the hotel. I don’t want to do as many kilometres today as the day before. Matthias and I meet Maurits, or rather we find one of his flip-flops first. He joins us after a fabulous stop at the supermarket with a delicious cake, strawberries, kefir, … Now he only has one flip-flop left. Why doesn’t he throw it away? One is better than none. Hahhaaaaa! We cycle all day through forests and fields. Very nice. Since the original route is very busy on today’s stage, the organiser spontaneously proposed an alternative route. I want to take this route today to travel without stress.
As accommodation along this route is few and far between, I book a room first thing in the morning. However, this is 13km off the route and means twice as many extra kilometres. In retrospect, the alternative route was not that great. There was a lot of traffic at the beginning. I am not very motivated and I am happy to arrive at the hotel in Hirvikoski after 215 km. It feels like the end of the world, the last stretch of dirt road. There are three of us alone in the guesthouse and we are even allowed to use the washing machine.
In the morning, day 15, we have breakfast at six. Then we leave. We must first turn back 13 kilometres on the original alternative route (hahaaaa). Back on the road, I said I’d like to see a moose. A few minutes later, a mother moose crosses the road in front of us, followed by her calf. Matthias says I shouldn’t wish for a bear too.
Surprise today. A 13-kilometre-long dirt road. Rapid progress is out of the question. All the more demotivating when you find out on the tracker map that most of the participants don’t take the alternative route. Cycling in company is sometimes quite pleasant. The motivation that was sometimes lost on the road due to bad weather or hellish traffic is back again. I get on my bike every morning without thinking about the kilometres ahead of me. That’s how I see it: it’s simply my daily work. In the evening I can get off again for a longer break. Because there is so much to see here, I don’t keep looking at the display to see if there are five kilometres to go… The next day I would be with Santa Klaus, Father Christmas. Just before Oulo I follow my trail. Matthias and Maurits stay on the main road. Now I won’t meet them again until the day after the finish in the hotel in Honningsvag.
Although my departure falls at night (it is never dark up here), I pass a 24-hour supermarket near Oulu. This is my luck, because otherwise I would probably have starved to death that day. Because after that there was nothing, nothing at all for 200 kilometres. Just forest, forest, forest. Besides, I have strong headwinds today. I keep looking suspiciously at my GPS device to see when the compass direction will change. Unfortunately, there is no change for tens of kilometres. I can’t imagine if I hadn’t been able to buy food and drink, and even worse the idea of having problems with the bike along the way. Alone in the forest. The first reindeer. Ahh … not completely alone after all. Jumping across the road, yes, really jumping. Towards evening, across the Arctic Circle. Father Christmas in Rovaniemi has unfortunately already closed for the day, so I can’t visit. But today I have a cabin with its own sauna. Pure luxury! I reluctantly leave in the morning.
Day 17: Today we cover 250 km of up and down roads, but they are beautiful to ride. Many campers on the road, but there is a small shoulder and I feel quite safe. It works well, it’s not as depressing as the day before. After 125 km there is a supermarket. Salmon, vegetables and creamed potatoes – very tasty, fresh and hot from the counter, plus blueberry juice and a blueberry yoghurt. So fortified, I continue. Again up and down and again a few drops of rain. When I put on my mackintoshes, the rain is over again. All day long the clouds hang heavy in the sky and I hope to get as far as I can without getting wet. There is a lot to see… the forest. The occasional reindeer. I spend most of my time with an audiobook. Today I lost a whole cucumber again … Peter S. comments that if you can’t find your way, all you have to do is follow Gabi’s food … Hahhaaaaa!
In Saariselkä the club hotel is already waiting. After recharging my batteries, washing and showering, I eat the delicious evening buffet. With cranberry juice. Instead of breakfast I get a packed lunch and can start independently.
Penultimate day: It’s 3:30 in the morning. At night it is never dark. Always only twilight. I can no longer sleep. Maybe I overdid it at the buffet…. So an early start. Now I’m well organised with the bike. When packing, every move is perfect. I hope I don’t miss the salmon sandwich. There are also chocolates. I’m sorry about the big tube of toothpaste that is in the room as a guest gift. I am still thinking about whether to take it with me … Beautiful landscape between Ivalo and Inari. A landscape like magic. Sometimes it rains… I haven’t taken off my leg warmers and jacket for days. But pleasant enough after the heat of the first week. From Inari it is more than 70 km just up and down the hills. You can see the ribbon of asphalt for kilometres and kilometres. Always the same scenery. But that will soon change. At noon we cross the border into Norway.
Today I want to reach the finish line. It’s going very well. The area is varied, the vegetation becomes increasingly sparse towards the north. With Queen, “ don’t stop me now…“ I speed along the coast. Wonderful. I get a call from Bolzano – the moderator of radio Südtirol 1 – wants to interview me. I wonder who’s behind it … I suspect … Hermann, my husband. I’m cycling along the sea. In front of me, in the distance, two people are looking at the sea. Are there maybe dolphins here? I get closer. The jacket looks familiar. Surely not…? Yes – what a surprise!!! At the side of the road are my daughter Katrin and my husband Hermann – I don’t believe it! I thought it was a mirage … The motivation rises again. At the finish line they will be mine!!!
There are still 3 long tunnels to go through, including the Northcape Tunnel, which reaches the island under the sea. Long 7 km, 10% downhill and in the second half 10% uphill. Already days I was scared… THE TUNNEL is really scary. The underground car traffic makes an infernal noise. I step onto the narrow pavement. I would never want to cross it again by bike …
Last stop at the gas station in Honningsvåg. Now it’s time to get serious again. 30 kilometres with two climbs of about 300 meters in altitude. I was already terrified at the thought of climbing here. During the last kilometres, thoughts inevitably arise:
Finally done, when I see the photos of the busy roads in front of me, but even more: pity, soon to be over, when I think of the countless beautiful stretches and the many wonderful experiences. And somehow my chest tightens, I have to suppress the tears. The mountain demands everything again. Fog. Strong wind. And then there’s me! Emotions rise… And the best thing is that at the end of the world my daughter and my husband are waiting for me … A dream trip is over. Destination „end of the world“ reached!!! Horst and Olga have travelled with us. R.I.P.
Beautiful video from Guendalina Capone