Storage Space Full: Processing Memories From The Transcontinental Race No.9
The Transcontinental Race is a single stage race in which the clock never stops. Caught between digital records and intangible memories, Apidura team member Ali Macleod reflects on his experience of riding 3,600km across Europe.
Reading time: 3 min
Pressing STOP on my Wahoo confirms another contribution to my digital trail across Europe, a slinking line of files that started in Belgium and has now reached Bosnia. Moments later and the evidence is uploaded online, an invitation for those following me in the Transcontinental Race to congratulate the conclusion of another day. But the day is far from over. A heated argument will follow shortly, with Google Translate acting as the intermediary. Then there will be tears, as the isolation of 2,500km on the road begins to catch up with me. The sleep that follows cannot be put into words. These are the intangible moments that define the magnitude of the experience and, whilst the day has been recorded, the data does not capture a single one.
It is somewhere in this contradiction that the beauty of the Transcontinental Race reveals itself. The race is awkwardly positioned between digital connection and a retreat from the online; an experience that relies upon remaining visible at all times, but is appealing for the escapist anonymity that two weeks on the road allows for.
It is a self-supported and deeply personal journey that riders embark on, and the result is an incalculable amount of memories that are unique to each individual.
I was first made aware of the race in 2019. Fiona Kolbinger’s win must have reached an audience beyond the ultra-racing community, a scene which I wasn’t yet familiar with. At the time I was putting together the final pieces for a bikepacking trip across the width of America. Intimidated by the prospect of 100km each day, I couldn’t comprehend the race-winning daily average of 400km.
It was a formative trip and I soon joined Apidura, seated amongst TCR finishers. Their stories from the road were varied, but they shared the same ‘thousand-yard stare’ that conveyed what was required of them to pedal across a continent. I was deeply inspired.
Time developed a mild curiosity into an all-consuming motivation to sign up and have my own experiences to recount. In some of the more challenging moments of the race, I found it useful to remember this timeline.
Processing an experience of this scale is difficult. There are patches of my memory – days through Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina – that are blurry. Articulating the emotional detail of these moments is close to impossible. To make sense of it, it’s much easier to communicate measurable statistics: distances, hours of sleep and number of packaged croissants. Things that can be recorded, listed neatly and compared. Checkpoints, timestamps, spreadsheets. They all help to make sense of it too.
I pedalled across 12 countries, around 3,650km, in 14 days, 16 hours and 50 minutes. But reflecting on my Transcontinental Race, from months of preparation before the cobbles of Geraardsbergen to the shade of Thessaloniki’s finish, I find myself drawn to the unrecordable moments, those ephemeral instants that slipped through the lens of my camera and the screens of my devices. The self-doubt that accompanied staring at a map of Europe during route plotting, the confidence that grew with a feeling of improving fitness, and the fearlessness that overcame me once I settled into the race. These are moments that are etched into my memory in a way that digital files cannot replicate.
This is not about absolute disconnection – messages received on the forecourts of European petrol stations were extremely motivating – but about discovery, that the satisfaction and reward of the Transcontinental Race comes from entirely different parts of the brain. As one previous finisher put it: it’s in the re-wired synapses and altered perspectives.
I think back to the blissful glow of the finisher’s party. A sea of orange and white caps worn by tired looking cyclists, bobbing up and down in conversation. The sun sets on Thessaloniki as riders exchange arrival times and number of punctures on the parcours. It’s evident that neither do justice to the experience that they have just had. Processing it will take time. As for communicating it, that might take even longer.
With the announcement of Transcontinental No.10, the prospect of chasing the finish-line feeling is extremely tempting. But it’s easy to underestimate the efforts I had to put in, even to get to the startline. Either from a checkpoint, or the comforts of home, I look forward to following the progress of Cap 53.