On July 26-28 I joined 32 other entrepreneurs, VCs and engineers to cycle from Prague to Berlin and raise money for dotHIV.
It all started on Thursday a week before; our communications manager, Agnes, emailed me a link to the techbikers.de site and made some joke about how I should do it on my hipster bike. Very funny, yet another hipster bike joke. However I thought it sounded pretty exciting, and it would be fun to call Agnes's joke. "Very funny, I'm going to do it." I emailed back.
I got in touch with Lea who informed me a space had just become available as another participant had withdrawn. The organizers encouraged riders to commit to raising €750, for their chosen charity dotHIV. This sounded like quite a bit in a week, so I asked our CEO if Retresco could get me started with a few hundred Euro. He agreed to contribute €300 and my fund-raising drive was on its way.
The weekend before the ride was lovely in Berlin so my entire training program consisted of cycling about 100km in total to some lovely lakes around Berlin. Certainly a lot more pleasant than training for a charity run back in Melbourne.
In the days leading up to the ride I started worrying the maybe taking my beloved bike might not be such a great idea if there were any serious mountains. It's a 1987 Koga Miyata frame fitted with a single 52/17 free wheel gear, perfect for cycling around Berlin. When I emailed the group the first response was "I really can NOT recommend to use a single speed bike" but then there was another saying that there would be a couple of spare bikes if I really struggled. Of course I decided to take my bike, determined to ride her all the way back to Berlin.
Following the advise given to the riders I visited a cycling shop and purchased padded cycling shorts, a shirt, gloves, a water bottle holder, sunglasses and a helmet, which was mandatory. I'd previously promised I'd never wear Lycra cycling shorts, but this seemed an appropriate exception. I left €250 lighter, but feeling like a bit of a pro.
I met up with most of the organizers and cyclists who took the organized bus from Berlin to the start of our ride in Prague. I was a little surprised that only a handful of people including myself took their own bikes, it was comforting to find that most people, like me, had no experience cycling such distances.
We arrived in Prague to check-in and have diner at our place for the night, a Boatel called The Admiral. On my dinner table amongst others was Casey, a fellow Australian who runs the Google office in France and Eugine, an early-stage investor at Mangrove Capital Partners. Dinner and conversations were good.
As we were in Prague, most of us decided to checkout the city. Our group diminished to four as sensible people headed back to the Boatel to get some sleep. We decided we should a least checkout the famous and trashy Karlovy Lázně night club.
Over breakfast we were given our days route, timings, break stops etc. Most of us seemed a bit freaked out, but mostly excited by the 100km+ days schedule.
The ride out of Prague involved lots of very slow cycling, cheering, cobble stones, tram tracks and quite a steep hill. As we reached the top of the hill one of the guides cycled up to me and told me that if I could do this hill on my single gear, I would probably be alright on all the accents we would encounter. This was very good to hear and he was right as never ended up using one of the spare bikes.
I wasn't the only one who was surprised that a lunch of dried fruits and nuts seemed a bit lean for a day we planned to cycle more than 100km. I eventually worked out that it was the morning break and we'd only cycled 30km not 60km.
That break was good though as Bjorn produced boxes of Wonderpots yoghurt and fruit tubs he'd kept frozen for a day and a half on dried ice in our support car. I think he found a few fans of the Yoghurt stores he founded in Berlin. He was also one of several riders I got along with really well and hope to meet up with again.
The basic pattern for a days cycling was leave 8-8:30. Morning and afternoon breaks with mixed nuts, fruits, drinks etc. Lunch was a buffet cold meats, salads and bread. There were also periodic breaks every 10-30km for water re-fills and regrouping.
Due to some flooding at the hotel we were originally booked at for the second night, it was rebooked at another hotel. This resulted in the first day being a bit shorter and the second day being longer. As it was very hot, the organizers gave us the option to cycle the initial distance planned for the second day and get driven the remaining distance. Most people including me decided we wanted to ride the additional 40km making it am epic 172km day.
Despite the long distance and the heat, we finished day two with a sprint over the last couple of kilometres to the hotel. I hammered up to top four, but didn't realise how far it was and watched almost the entire field overtake me in the last kilometre or so.
I expected the first day to be OK, then wake up sore and suffer through the last two. However the opposite seems to be true, on the second and third days I felt I was getting stronger. While I was just surviving on the first day, on the second and third I was using extra energy to chase down group ahead and move to the front of groups to help carry them. This felt good, because I spent the first day and a half sticking to the back wheel of the stronger riders.
It was fun on the third morning when we got the route for the day back to Berlin, 109km with no elevation gain, our smallest day. Unlike the first day there was a sense of confidence, this was our Champs-Élysées, we'd done 172km the day before and survived. This would be a cakewalk back to Berlin.
I was incredibly impressed with the group as a whole. Everyone made it back, there were no major crashes or any issues I was aware of. Over the three days of cycling I think I spoke to everyone for at least a bit and everyone seemed to be really enjoying themselves.