Tuesday, April 3, 2018

What's Next? Life After the TCR

A lot of people have asked me what’s next? Is there another TCR in store for you Melissa in the near future? I’ve been wanting to let people know what I’m up to next for awhile now, but I needed to make it through writing the other blogs first. There is definitely a new adventure on the horizon, it’s actually coming up quite soon! 

The best part of the TCR was the arrival! I wish all the participants could have all stuck around for a good week chatting and sharing our experiences of the race. It is such an unusual circumstance to find yourself surrounded by a bunch of bike freaks or “crazies”, something that rarely happens. We each come from a place in our own lives, where I’m sure we stand out a bit for our extreme cycling activities. It’s hard for people in our normal lives to understand us. When I tell people where I bike, they can’t even imagine doing such a distance in a car! Therefore, at the finish line of the TCR, it was such a wonderful experience to be amongst a group of people with common, although peculiar, interests. Everyone had their stories to share which were very entertaining. You also saw people you’d come across at some point during the race and never had seen again. The hardest part was recognizing them without their scummy bike kit and dirt and sweat covered bodies.

It never seemed to matter that Jonas didn't speak English, he always found a way to communicate and have a good time with others!

Even though Jonas did not receive a dramatic kiss upon arriving to Meteora, he sure didn’t have any resentment and took good care of me after arriving. At the hotel that night, he stripped me and my bike of all my dirty gear and gave it to the hotel receptionist to wash. He also took care of my sores after I showered, although he isn’t a good liar and had a hard time telling me that they were going to heal shortly. I didn’t want to look in the mirror myself! By touch, I could tell I had two decent “quarter-size” open wounds, one on each cheek. I had to carefully position myself in bed to sleep and every time I sat down. That night, I was so drained emotionally and physically tired, I tried to explain to Jonas why I was so mad at him, but what seemed like reason enough to be mad before, had long since faded, and I fell quickly asleep.

My sleep was anything but peaceful. It was as if I had my Garmin route burned in my eyeballs. Every time I shut my eyes I could see my green route traced, glowing. I was anxious and nervous, intensely trying to follow it. I must have woken up every hour to ask myself if the race was really over. It wasn’t until I could see Jonas next to me that I knew it was indeed finished and there was no rush to get back on the bike. We woke up in the early hours of the next morning, hungry of course. Jonas had purchased some extremely rich Greek pastries the day before, obviously anticipating our hunger. So we ate some and went back to bed. 

Ian was still all smiles after the race too!

In the morning, I needed clothing. I had packed nothing extra, not even a pair of shoes or underwear. Jonas had already gone to purchase some clothing, and so I put on his clean cycle kit and we went out in search of an outfit or two. As soon as we hit the main drag in Meteora, it was obvious there was a slight invasion of TCR cyclists. They were easy to spot, either in their dirty kits still or some funny and bizarre outfit, the cheapest they could find to wear for the next few days. We hit up a sporting good store and I found myself some loose fitting attire. I didn’t want anything tight that was going to prevent my saddle sores from healing. 

Every one was in search of boxes in Meteora. Someone could make a landslide of a business opening up a shop with bike boxes around the start of August in Meteora...

I loaded up on some new antiseptic creams and after about an hour of being out and walking about I was exhausted and we went back to our hotel to sleep. We wanted to be at the finish line for Karen’s arrival in the late afternoon. Surely we’d wake up before then! Unfortunately, we didn’t and by the time we made it out of the hotel room, it seemed the second girl, Inge, had already arrived and Karen was soon to arrive in third place. In fact, on our way to the finish line, we saw Karen rolling through town. Like all of us, she looked dazed, disoriented, and exhausted as she tried to keep pedaling to the finish line. We cheered her on and told her to keep going. She only had a few hundred meters to go! Meteora is a tourist vortex. During the day and evening, the streets are swamped with hundreds and hundreds of tourists, a true hazard for the cyclists trying to pedal through. There is only one main street and every store and every person seems to be on it! I was lucky to arrive in the later hours of the evening and avoided a lot of the crowds. 

Karen Toastee ended up staying at our hotel.  It was a lot of fun to get to know her,....hats off to this strong women, much more than just a dot on my tail!
Jonas and I spent a lot of time hanging out at the finish line between our naps. It was pure fun! If we weren’t there, we were indulging in delicious Greek food. Somehow all the riders who made it to the finish line managed to get back on the saddle for the Frank Simmons memorial ride led by his son and Juliana. The next day, Jonas and I headed up to the monasteries perched on the cliffs that I had missed due to my night time arrival. I was sad I didn’t have more time to spend in Meteora, or at least a mini-holiday after the race. I had had the entire month leading up to the race off thanks to my teaching schedule, but now I desperately wanted to rest and disconnect to enjoy the moment and have some alone time with Jonas before heading back to Switzerland to start my job again. He had planned to stay in Greece for a week, down by Athens, and then fly home, and I needed to start work in 3 days time. I had booked a train from Venice, and was planning on taking the ferry to get there, to avoid boxing up my bike. I also knew I could spend the entire ferry ride sleeping, which is what I did. The journey from Meteora to Lausanne took me about 24 hours, but I must have slept about 20 of those hours. I arrived on a Sunday evening, and had Monday to rest up some more before going back to work.

Although very touristy, Meteora is a neat place to visit in Northern Greece

Just before The Frank Simmons Memorial Ride

I was keen on seeing some friends, and quickly accepted an invite for an afternoon around the pool at my colleague’s house. When I arrived, to my surprise, all my work friends had organized a big surprise party to welcome me back and congratulate me! It was a lot of fun! The next day, when I got to work, the staff at my school was overwhelmingly kind! They had the picture of me at the lake from the Guardian up on the projector to start off the welcome back session for teachers and gave me a huge bouquet of flowers and a delicious chocolate cake!
That chocolate cake didn't last very long, a day or two at most

However, going to work that week was hard. I was eager to get back in my routine of things and settle into my normal life, but my body was exhausted. It was like my mind was still lost somewhere out there pedaling in Europe and without Jonas, I was feeling a bit lonely. I spent my lunches escaping off to the nurse’s room to sleep rather than eating, still prioritizing my most important basic needs. I would come home in the evening and feel a bit empty, not sure what I was supposed to do with myself. I hadn’t realized how much of my time and energy had been consumed by the race until it was over and I had “nothing” left to do or prepare! 

It helped when Jonas arrived back in Switzerland. We spent the weekend up at his family’s house. First we had an intimate family dinner to welcome us back, and then Jonas’ family put on a huge party with all their friends and neighbors. It was the perfect distraction for me. His family is usually all full of smiles, and that weekend was no exception. I remember one of the little kids there ask Jonas, “What did you win?” It made me laugh! Winning prizes is such a relative concept when it comes to endurance cycling. Jonas replied, looking at me next to him and said, “I got a girlfriend!” That weekend, just 10 days after the race, I also got back on the bike to ride up to see Felix and go kayaking with him as he had promised me we could do after the race. I started school getting back into my groove commuting and everything seemed to be going fine, or so it seemed.
Straight from the airport to pick me up at work.  Love those tan lines and bright colors!!

I don't think Jonas took off his TCR cap for about 2 weeks after the race!
Lots of celebrating after the race!

About two weeks after the race, when the adrenaline wore off and I started to come down from cloud nine, the same empty feeling was back. People had warned me that after doing such an intense and self-destructive race, one could experience similar symptoms to post-traumatic stress, but I was in denial this was happening. I also was completely exhausted! All I wanted to do was sleep! I couldn’t seem to sleep enough, and making it through a complete day at school was almost impossible without disappearing to nap! 

Jonas and I continued to accept invites to meet up with friends and family who wanted to hear about the race, which was great, but I was starting to worry about myself. We continued with our active lifestyle, but every time I exerted myself physically, my body couldn’t cope. I was immediately breathless and couldn’t keep up with him. Then things got worse! In the morning I started having hot flashes and would feel really feverish and sick. My digestive system started showing signs of being stressed and I feared that I had put my body through too much with the race. I didn’t know what to do. 

Our friends went out of their way to make us feel like VIP

Lots of cake and alcohol was consumed in the weeks after the TCR!
We even tried out a tandem together.....

That coming weekend, I was going to see a friend in Lyon,France. On the train ride over I remembered sitting and crying, for no reason at all. I put my sunglasses on so the other passengers couldn’t see my tears streaming down my cheeks, but deep down inside I was so frustrated with myself and couldn’t control my emotions. I told Jonas I was getting worried. He wasn’t having any abnormal symptoms and was coping quite fine both physically and mentally. I wanted to eliminate reasons for not feeling well. I had bought some pregnancy tests just to be safe. The next morning, I woke up early to do one, and it was an error. I should have done a second one right there, but I didn’t. I waited until the next morning, but by then I knew what the test was going to show me. Feeling feverish and sick in the morning, breathless, huge mood swings, and exhaustion, I had all the symptoms of the first trimester of being pregnant. The next morning, before school, while Jonas was eating breakfast, I peed on the stick. Before I stopped peeing, the two lines for a positive test showed up, and I panicked! Poor Jonas, remained calm and collected, it was me who was in disbelief!   

The next few weeks were a big blur, filled with lots of emotions and talking.  Going to work and teaching was a huge help and made me stay focused, but when I pedaled home in the afternoon, I was an emotional wreck and couldn’t hold it together.  It wasn’t that I didn’t want to have kids, but I was just completely caught off guard.  Jonas and I had been careful, but then again, there had been a few times, especially during our celebrations, when we got caught up in the moment and hadn’t! 

We went to the doctor and of course the question she asked was “When did you have your last period?” The thing was, I knew it was suppose to come during the TCR, but it hadn’t come when it was suppose to, nor had it been what it normally is, as is the case when I excercise a lot and put my body through a lot of stress.  I feared the bleeding I had had during the race was spotting and that perhaps I was indeed 1 or 2 weeks pregnant during the race. If this was true, I couldn’t imagine the stress I had put on a little fetus inside of me.  If I was pregnant during the TCR, I had consumed an exceptional amount of caffeine in the form of Redbull and taken a fair share of painkillers with my knee problems. But then again, if I did indeed get pregnant after the race, I had drank a considerable amount in the weeks after the race celebrating the occasion. The situation wasn’t ideal either way! It would only be later, at the first real ultrasound that we would find out the date of conception, which didn’t make sense at all. The 3rd of August…..we all know, especially the dot watchers, that that date was completely impossible! While doctors insisted my due date was the 10th of May, we were somewhat skeptical.

Ironically when we found out I was pregnant, we had planned a cycling trip for the following 3-day weekend. We had planned a crazy 800 kilometer ride through the Vosges in France, camping out in random places and riding to our heart's content. Instead we settled for a three-day weekend in France, cycling more normal distances of 70 to 100 kilometers and sleeping in a hotel.   It was that weekend we decided this little baby was conceived out of a lot of passion, glory, and love, at a very memorable time in our lives and there was no looking back!

Riding the Vercors, France

Cycling the Vercors: Jonas had a lot of patience and waited for me trying to get up the hills
Hiking was a little easier 

Ever since my world bike tour back in 2013, I had started to truly appreciate my independent lifestyle and the choices I had made to be happy. When I was younger, I remember thinking I would love to be married and have a family, but the roads I chose to travel later in life, didn’t take me there. I was enjoying life, traveling, had strong and supportive friends and family and was fulfilled, my ultimate purpose in life. A lot of people discouraged me from riding solo around the world, They insisted I find a guy to protect me.  But I didn’t have a boyfriend to accompany me and I wasn’t going to wait around for one to appear! I had met many guys, but they all just wanted to be "friends" and go for bike rides together. I had learned to accept that and really forgotten about other life alternatives. I had no internal clock ticking and didn’t pressure myself to get married or have kids.  I was enjoying the moment and living my life to the fullest, something you learn to do very well as a result or riding a bike!

A thumb sucker and moving all around since the first ultrasound, this little girl is going to keep her Mom and Dad busy!

Jonas’ life had taken him down a similar road.   Falling in love was not part of his training schedule. He was completely infatuated with cycling. With his competitive spirit and extreme physical fitness level all his efforts had gone into preparing himself to break the Guinness Book of World Record for circumnavigating the world the fastest on a bike. He had spent years saving money, endless nights in front of his computer studying and memorizing maps. He had dedicated almost 4 years of his life preparing for his world tour. Competing in the Transcontinental in 2015 was just part of his preparation. He fell about 300 kilometers from the finish line and also during his world tour, which was why he was determined to finish the race this past summer. When I met him, he seemed way too intense for me, only focused on cycling. Of course this is the way I’m sure I came off to other people as well! 

Just after three months here, I couldn't say I had just overeaten....

I had had my doubts as you know, about being able to complete the TCR. I wasn’t sure my body could make it through such extreme conditions, which is what led me to signing up for the race. I was curious and eager to push myself to my limits and do it! As always, this doubt made me over-prepare for the race. As a result of completing the TCR, and winning it, I finally got me the confidence to give myself credit for being able to do exactly what I set my mind to doing. I knew Jonas had the similar mind-set and outlook. Rather than trying to tell me to slow down or stop, he encouraged me to follow my dreams and push myself. We completely understand each other, not to mention, we share a common passion, love to look at maps, talk about the places we cycled and the places we want to ride together in the future! Thanks to the TCR, the fear of the major life changes that were about to happen and being responsible for the life of another human being in this world calmed.

Unfortunately, my first three months of being pregnant were awful and I couldn’t imagine making it through nine. Any woman who said they enjoyed being pregnant surely had never rode a bike, in my opinion! Exercising was possible but hard work. I tried running, but was always breathless. The same happened on the bike, but Jonas and I still went out for rides. Napping became my biggest past time, which was very unlike me! I was horribly nauseous. I never threw up, but I walked around all day as if I suffered from being car sick. Cottage cheese, my number one favorite food turned into my biggest food aversion along with coffee and sweets. Before I made it to 3 months, I already showed. In fact, before I could make any sort of announcement at school or tell the director, the parents were already talking. I helped out at a swim meet at the start of October. Every time I looked over in the parent section, they were all looking at me. They had watched me go from being at my peak fitness level last year with the TCR to immediately developing a little bit of a belly. Getting pregnant after the race was actually perfect timing in the sense that I had gotten in an unreal amount of kilometers in the prior year.  Since I had gotten my fix that year training, my body welcomed a bit of change. Although preparing for a baby, is also not exactly easy on your body!  

Work colleagues were incredibly supportive. In fact, I was surprised how much my relationship with other women changed once they knew I was pregnant. I went from being this superhuman, crazy woman with extreme cycling interests to being more “normal” now that I was bearing a child. Long before the TCR, I had bought a flight to visit my family for my October holiday to celebrate my birthday in Oregon. The news came as a huge surprise to them, but of course they were extremely supportive. Jonas and I spent a lot of time trying to decide how to go about planning for a baby. We had planned for world bike tours and bike races, but didn’t really know where to start when it came to planning for a baby. We probably went about doing everything “backwards” if you look at it from the perspective of more “normal” people. However, Jonas and I aren’t exactly normal, so the way we’ve planned things has actually worked out quite well for us. I’ve really been trying to improve my French, but I completely understand now, when people say “love has no language”. We understand each other perfectly although neither of us speak the other’s native language very well! We decided to move into a bigger apartment, which isn’t easy to do in Switzerland. Apartment hunting is more competitive than the lottery for the TCR, but thankfully we got lucky though and landed a bigger place with an extra room for the baby. Although at five months pregnant, I was pretty useless when it came to moving! We started collecting some baby items, but more importantly we started to dream together. 

I commuted to school until the roads got icy and my stomach started getting in the way.

From 6 months on the only bike I could ride comfortably was the one at the fitness center at work.

We still managed to do a hiking and camping vacation in Oman over the winter holidays.

We had both told ourselves at one point or another during our lives that if we ever have kids, we’d want to share our same passions with them. We both had dreamed of a family bike tour and so this became a frequent topic of conversation. Of course we have to wait to see how it goes when this little girl arrives here soon, but we would love to take some time off to travel with her on bike! I was already starting to get antsy to travel again before the TCR. Racing is fun and I enjoy the personal challenge, but what I really savor and missed after a year of training for the TCR was a bike trip. I miss traveling at a slower pace, with no time pressure or exact route planned. I miss the social interaction that comes from spontaneity when time is no issue. I miss learning about other cultures authentically and getting a glimpse into their everyday life as you pass by on a bicycle. Jonas calls me his “pocket translator”. He loves the fact I can speak 4 different languages and says we can go anywhere in the world with these languages. He frequently reminds me the number of kilometers together we will pedal and the “big things we will do together”. This helps calm me now that it has been a good 3 months since I got on my bike to ride “for real”. South America is really where we both want to go, since neither of us have cycled there before. Of course, however, to make it more interesting and exciting, we want to start in my home town, Eugene, Oregon, where Jonas was suppose to also go on his world tour! We both know we have to wait and see how things go when this little baby girl comes, but we are both eager to explore the world together with her.

Collecting the essentials for "La Petite"

In fact, we hope to start our family travels together this summer. We’ve applied to be volunteers at Checkpoint 1. It would be a dream come true to make it there and give back to the TCR organization after all they’ve done for us. Volunteers took such good care of us last year, I'd love to do the same for riders this year. And of course if we can,....arrive on bikes! Is there another TCR in store for us in the future? Before finding out I was pregnant, it had crossed both of our minds to ride together as a couple. Obviously this isn’t the year to do so, but it’s definitely a possibility for the future! Right now, we are trying to get ourselves organized before "La Petite" arrives. The official due date according to doctors is the 10th of May, but I wouldn’t be surprised if she showed up before then, meaning that she has already done a bike tour herself! I guess only time will tell....
It's all in the stomach!

It’s been a year since Mike Hall died. I was eager to meet him last summer on the race and personally thank him for giving me the opportunity to participate in the Transcontinental Race. It taught me so much about myself and helped me find direction in my life when I was a little lost. We all love to ride bikes, but there’s so much more to it than just turning the pedals, and Mike knew this indeed! I never imagined The TCR would be the catalyst for the huge life changes up til now and still to come for me and Jonas. We will forever have our little souvenir from this race, that is for sure, thanks to Mike!
This little note on a card I got at the baby shower work had for me says it all....."1 race + 2 bikes = 1 baby!"


  1. Melissa, I've enjoyed reading your story, and what a surprising and happy ending! From Rob TCR4 #61 x

    1. Thanks! I had no idea what I was signing up for with this race ;-)

  2. Congratulations Melissa!! NO sabía que estabas embarazada... Seguro que esa niña saldrá muy muy viajera y que os la llevaréis por todo el mundo en bici. Me alegro un monton! -Carlos del CCGracia

    1. Salí con el club en noviembre,....puede ser que no nos vimos! Gracias,...si seguro sus padres estarán muy ocupadas!

  3. Incredible read, all the best in your future

  4. Congratulations to both you and Jonas - all the best wishes to you both and "La Petite". Thanks for sharing your story! Russ - Thomson 2013 Pyrenean TdF trip

  5. Nothing you do surprises us, Melissa. This is a great story! We're very excited to follow you on this new journey. You look wonderful in all these photos. I love the one of the two of you on the tandem. Did you like it? We can join up with our tandem and make a fun trip of it. But yours will have a small adaptation for carrying a little one too. Can't wait to hear an update. Take care.