I’m not sure where the terrible idea began, but a few days ago, we began tossing around the idea of completing a century (100 miles) on our loaded bikes while the roads were nice and flat. Originally, we had thought we’d do it in a few days, but the more we looked at the roads and routes, it made the most sense to shoot for completing it off today. Ben was already getting bored of the flat, Hungarian farmland and we knew we were going to have to cover lots of busy highways that weren’t going to be much for sightseeing. So, as we rolled out of camp this morning- we decided to go for it. We were going to ride 100 miles. Not kilometers, but 100 good old fashioned all American miles.
I’d only ever done one other century ride, but I’ve ridden more than twice as many miles this year as I had last year before riding the same distance, so I was pretty sure if we took it slow, it would be doable. Still, this was nearly double our longest ride on loaded bikes so I was pretty nervous!
This plan might have been a bit less insane if we’d had a few things taken care of before we left. First off, after our ATM failure yesterday, we still had no Hungarian currency (our campground kindly accepted our Euros) and due to this small problem, we also had almost no food. We ate a bit of last night’s pasta leftovers and shared a cheesy roll and then rolled out of camp with big plans and hoping to find an ATM and then a grocery store very, very soon.
As a quick note, the worst thing you can do when attempting a super long distance (100 miles may be a reasonable distance on unloaded road bikes, but on our 80-90 pound behemoths it is just plain stupid) is to not fuel properly. After a very meager breakfast, as I couldn’t bring myself to choke down the pasta which didn’t fare the night too well, I knew I was in for trouble from the get go.
The bad news was that we were still in the middle of Hungarian nowhere, and so even after nearly two hours on the road, we’d seen absolutely nothing but farmland, trees, and a scattered couple of houses. Ben pulled us over and dug out our stash of Cliff bars we have been hauling around since we left home which sustained us for at least a little while longer.
The only route option available was along a highway that had almost no car traffic, but was frequented instead by enormous, car carrying and other similarly sized semi-trucks. With almost no shoulder, the riding was tedious and frightening and I was certain that we would be the roadkill we kept passing before the day was out.
Finally, about 35 miles in, we came to the only big city that we would pass today. We looked high and low as we rolled through and never saw even one bank. We finally stopped and looked up a couple of separate locations in the GPS and followed on a true goose chase all over town where we were led to a blank cement block overgrown with grass, and a lot of regular looking houses. Planning on a century when you don’t even have any snacks or any valid money is not a good plan, and we were getting anxious pretty quick. Gratefully, we soon rolled past a grocery store that accepted our Visa. I dashed in and bought as many snack foods as I could find, and despite the fact that I couldn’t read pretty much anything, we ended up with most of what we needed. The lady at checkout was especially agitated that I couldn’t understand her and by the time I was back outside packing up our food, I was feeling pretty frazzled.
Getting out of town was pretty un-eventful and we actually found a few quiet roads to ride on for the next little bit of our day. The terrain was pretty flat and aside from an occasional tiny town, there was nothing much to look at, but at least we were making good time! As we rode, we realized that we wanted nothing more than to be back in the mountains or at least the hills where we feel at home. I guess I never saw this one coming, but perhaps even I am a true Alp lover at heart.
Unfortunately, we were soon forced back to the highway with even less of a shoulder, and as we pedaled along with trucks whizzing by in the hot, humid day, I could almost see Ben’s agitation boiling over much like the pasta in our camp pot does when I routinely over-fill it. We finally bailed off the highway, and asked Ben if he wanted to get out of Hungary. “I don’t like this place,” he announced and with that, we rerouted ourselves so that we would end up in Austria at the end of our century ride. We’d ridden way too many scary roads in Hungary and we knew Austria would be more hospitable to safely bicycle touring in the coming days. We were glad we’d come to see Hungary, but it was time to get ourselves out safely. No need to track down any more of the elusive Forint!
I too, am glad that we came to Hungary. I was beginning to be a little bit jaded by our lovely time in Slovenia, and it took a stark difference in terrain and culture to help me re-realize that. I don’t think we gave all of Hungary a fair chance, but at least as far as the western portion, I did not feel especially welcome. We met a few very kind people, but I was glad once the decision was made to head back to Austria, where the people are so friendly it is almost scary and the roads have enough room to ride!
We stopped for a lunch break at mile 60 and rallied ourselves for another three hours of riding in what was now mid-day heat. We’d already broken our record for the longest we’d ever ridden in one day, and we knew it would be a tough finish.
Sadly, it was still a long way to the Hungarian border and nothing but highway riding until we got there. We counted down every 10 miles, white-knuckling it the whole way. My hands were getting blisters from holding my handlebars so tight and from behind, I could see Ben’s shirt turning white from the salt he was sweating out. It was unbelievably hot and as our energy thinned, just staying on the road next to the speeding traffic was getting downright tough.
At 85 miles, we finally crossed the Austrian border and sure enough, within a mile or two, we peeled off the highway in favor of some nice, quiet, country roads where we could ride right down the middle if we liked. This was working out swimmingly until of course, mile 95 when the “big hill” presented itself that had to be climbed if we were to reach our campsite. We were in no shape to have to pedal over something hard, but at least the hilly road was wooded giving us shade and frankly the relief from the hot sun made the climb almost better than riding the flat roads.
From there, it was basically all down-hill to the marshy lakefront where our campground lies. We hit reception at mile 98 and I couldn’t have been more relieved. My wrists and elbows ached. My butt was getting tired. I just wanted to sit in the shade and drink something cold. But once we were all checked in, Ben announced that we were not done for the day. He was confident I’d regret it if I didn’t hit 100 (I was pretty confident in the other direction!) but he ordered me back on my bike for two more miles. I followed him very begrudgingly, and gratefully, our little two mile loop took us right past a grocery store. I sent Ben inside with orders to buy anything that was frozen or refrigerated. He came out with all kinds of cold drinks and some ice cream. At 101 miles, we rolled back into camp and all but collapsed at a picnic table to consume our loot. We were feeling altogether terrible, and actually had trouble finishing any of it.
Kindly, and probably sensing that I was rapidly approaching the end of my rope, Ben sent me to take a cold shower while he put up the tent. Once I was done and he had showered as well, we laid on our mats and just rested. It was one, long, day, but we did it!
Just as an afterthought, when Bree came up with this idea I thought she was completely nuts. I figured it would be a “couch adventure”, or an idea that sounds good while you are sitting home on your couch pondering interesting things to do (a lot of our ideas make good couch adventures actually!). When we actually decided to do it, I was quite impressed that she was even willing. I am also quite impressed with how strongly Bree rode today. It was a hot day, with stressful riding which went on pretty much forever. To finish this century was no small feat, so I publicly offer my congratulations to Miss Bree!