You are about to read the story of Bart Knaack's journey to a healthier life, and an 'one-of-a-kind' conference at the beach. Bart went on a 200+ km cycling tour to challenge himself and prove himself that he can do what he sets his mind on. Side characters are an outdoor conference, karma, and a spare tube.
When Bart started the AgileTD Fitness Challenge back in November 2021, he was on a journey to become healthier and the Fitness Challenge is his way of getting inspiration, motivation and companionship along this way. If you want to read more about the AgileTD Fitness Challenge and take part in it, then read Bart's "The ATD Fitness Challenge".
Living in Utrecht and going to Agile Testing Days in Potsdam by plane or car is the only option. I tried doing it by motorcycle, but that was in Summer, and even then, it was not an option either. So when the AgileTD Open Air was in Cologne, I realized I had my chance. And – as the initiator of the Agile Fitness Challenge – I did feel an obligation to set an example.
Do not get me wrong! I am not saying that anyone in the fitness challenge should pick ludicrous attempts as I did, but I do want to inspire. So when the seed started to grow in my head, I used the power of peer pressure to force me into making an effort. ( I call it shaming myself into it, though!) The more people I told about my plans to cycle from Utrecht to Cologne, the harder it got to weasel out of it
Of course, a journey like that takes preparation. I started to train, not only in stamina but also in restraint. I quickly learned from (bad) experience that if you want to go too fast too soon, you will blow up your system and get exhausted after 60km. But I had to do over 200 kilometres. Also, food and drinks were important, so I started to set a timer to make sure I drank in time.
That all resulted in a D2 Gran Fondo in April, which showed me that I could have plenty of energy left after 100km. (Gran Fondo is a cyclist term for a ride over 100km and D2 refers to a moderate heartbeat rate.) But would it be enough to do 200 kilometres?
I realized that if I wanted to make it before 6:00 p.m. when we would be leaving for the restaurant, I would need to start early. So I planned to leave at 6:00 in the morning. Taking four krentenbollen met kaas (Dutch raisin bread with cheese) and two bidons of juice as power supply, I started my cycling tour.
The early hours and the thought I had to cycle 200+ km (when I had never done more than 175 km before) made my start somewhat awkward. I quickly realized that I was wearing too much gear, and the jacket I took with me was way too warm, which made me sweat heavily. I would need to change soon.
On my ride, I needed to cross a river by ferry twice. The first time was after 26km, a perfect time for reflection and taking off that jacket. As I had done the first 50km in a scouting trip (the D2 Gran Fondo), I knew what I was up to for the first part. After the first 50km, I took my first break and ate one of the krentenbollen. From now on, I was going into uncharted territory. The weather was good: a slight wind from the front, but it was dry. Although there was rain predicted for the day, it worked for me.
After another 50km, I came to the second ferry, which was a perfect time for the second break and the second krentenbol. Not long after that, I entered Germany. Immediately the cycle paths changed. A lot of the time, there were no paths, so I had to ride on the road with the other traffic, and sometimes the cycle paths were so poor that I had an excuse for driving on the road.
After about 125km, I saw another cyclist struggling with his saddle. I always carry some tools, so I was able to help him, and 10 minutes later, we were both on our way. (You never know when you need karma on your side). At 150 km, I stopped at a supermarket to get more fluids and bought a Berliner bol. Checking the weather forecast, I saw that the last part of the trip was going to be tricky regarding the rainy weather, so it would be best to try to get to Cologne as quickly as possible. But I still did not know what my body could handle, so I did not want to go full force yet. It had got to be a balance. I have had a lot of luck so far. I saw the rain puddles and knew it would rain again.
The third krentenbol was eaten at 185km while cycling. I reached Cologne but needed to cycle 12km before I arrived at the hotel. The hardest part was the city traffic, and the cycling paths were hideous and took a lot of energy, but the knowledge that I was almost there kept me going.
After 209 km and 11,5 hours of cycling (including breaks), I reached the hotel. Was this the best time ever? Not by far!! But I felt reasonably relaxed and had almost no aches. I had a quick shower and went with the others for dinner.
The AgileTD Open Air was a blast! I was lying in a chair on the beach, listening to keynotes in a tent, learning from fellow software pros, and dancing on the beach. Life could not be any better than this.
The trendig crew had gone to great lengths to make it a beach learning environment. There were plenty of ice cream and food, but more important, great talks, hands-on workshops and many learning activities. If you needed to cool down (and believe me, you needed to once in a while), there were plenty of breaks to take a quick dive in the lake, which was nearby.
Doing a presentation on the main stage at the beach was quite an experience, and the atmosphere was very relaxed and easy.
I had to remind myself now and again that this was not a holiday (but it sure felt like one).
On the last night, we even had a dance party on the beach, which I regrettably had to leave early since my departure in the morning the next day. (I was going back home).
The Way Back
After the conference on the beach with only a little rain (1 hour of HEAVY rain), it was time to go home. The Friday was not going to be as easy as the Monday. Lots of rain was expected and maybe even some thunderstorms. To make sure I got home safely, I planned the way back to go to Roermond as quickly as possible. I decided to follow the train tracks from there so that every 10 to 15 kilometres, I had the chance of catching the train if the weather got bad. That would prolong the kilometres to 235km, but I was not too worried about that as it felt good to have a backup plan.
On Thursday evening, I checked the bike and saw that the front tire was not as hard as it should be, but still, there was enough air in it, so I decided it was an acceptable puncture, inflated the tire and would see what happens the next day. (In the back of my mind, I could hear my inner cycle coach screaming that there is no such thing as an 'acceptable' puncture, but I hushed the voice and stuck to my plan.) I still had the offer of Huib that I could ride home with him with the bike in the back of his car. I decided to postpone the decision till the following morning.
At 6:00 a.m., I was in the breakfast room. I had some bread and a cup of coffee and took two bananas for the ride. When going downstairs, I noticed the front tire still seemed okay, so I decided to take my chances (I had spares on me anyways, so I could always exchange them). Due to replanning my route, I suddenly found myself in a bit more hills than on the way over, but nothing too drastic: it was still a nice ride with a bit of wind in the tail.
Then after 24 km, my inner cycle coach was proven right: there is no such thing as an 'acceptable' puncture. My front tire went flat, and I had to stop and get the spare tire out. I unbuckled the wheel, unleashed the brake, took the wheel out, removed the outer tire with my tire irons and put in the new one. Wait a minute, what was that? The valve on my spare tire was not long enough! Dammit! I had no spare tube with me, as it turned out. My head started to go into spinning mode. What next? That probably meant I would spend the rest of my day trying to travel home. I was in the middle of nowhere. I put the wheel back in and started to reverse to a 4-house-village I just had passed, wishfully thinking that there would be a bicycle shop there.
I was walking for 2 minutes when karma checked in: a car stopped, and the driver inquired if I needed help. I confirmed and asked if he knew if there was a bicycle shop in the last village. Negatory, but if I walked to his house, his wife might be able to help me. Karma moves in strange ways.
I followed the directions to his house, and his wife was already opening the door, directing me to the garage. To my astonishment, there were about five bikes, of which two were racebikes, and within five minutes, I had a fitting inner tube. I paid €10 for the inner tube (she was hesitant at first but finally accepted), and with one hour delay, I was on my way again!!
When checking the weather forecast, I saw that if I pushed through, I might reach Weert (a Dutch city) before the rain started, so I pushed on with minimal breaks.
As it turned out, I reached the McDonalds in Best (another Dutch city) just before the tears of heaven started to pounder on the earth and me. I ordered a menu and ate while taking a rest. Looking at the forecast, I saw two wet spells divided by a dry spell of approximately one hour. Not to be caught out too late, I decided to use that dry spell to ride another 20 to 25 kilometres.
I arrived in Vught just before the second shower hit me. I went to the local pub to sit the second one out for about 45 minutes before starting the final leg of my journey. Just 60 more kilometres to go, but after the showers, the air was unstable, gusts of wind blew from all directions, and the feeling was a bit strange. The road got less predictable, and my iPhone (read navigation) was running low on battery. Although coming close to home, I was in unfamiliar territory since I hardly go south on my tours.
At 9:00 p.m., I reached home. Was I exhausted? No, but I did feel general drowsiness in my entire body. But mission accomplished nonetheless.
As I said, I do not want to impose my ambitions on anyone. But if you have a journey from AgileTD Open Air or any other Agile Testing Days conference to report, please send your blog to Uwe Gelfert and see if we can make a nice collection of memories.