Words and photos by Johanna Wildmoser (@jorunswild) and Nadia Kägi
It’s early evening, and Nadia and I are coasting along beautiful Walensee, Switzerland, with wind in our sails. At this point, on the first day of our first ultra-bike race, we’ve both done more climbing in one shot than ever before. It’s Nadia’s longest bike ride so far (I once rode 248 kilometers in an attempt to ride to my parents’ house, crossing almost all of Switzerland in the process – my only prior ultra-cycling experience). It’s crazy what a good tailwind can do – we don’t feel tired; in fact, we are still buzzing with energy.
Pride in ourselves and relief that our bodies are holding up are the main reasons for our stoke. Like on any race day, we were feeling aches in our legs from the get-go. I’m especially proud of Nadia; her right quad started hurting after the first of five cakes (a most delicious brownie). She had pain pushing into the pedals. This meant that climbing to the second checkpoint, at Skihütte Oberebs, was excruciating for her. Yet she fought like a champ and never complained (don’t worry, it stopped hurting).
Once we reach Walenstadt, I excitedly purchase a Snickers from the Selecta vending machine (these can be found all over the country, true lifesavers when in need of dirty calories). At this point, we’ve already given ourselves the nickname “Team Pause” – we take a lot of breaks to eat our snacks. We’re already flabbergasted by the amount of eating that is involved in ultra-cycling. Is this a bike race or an eating competition with some biking thrown in for good measure?
As prepared as we are to ride into the night and start chipping away at our next climb toward the third cake in Sankt Martin at the end of beautiful Calfeisental, we come across a playground with perfect amenities. It has a clean port-a-potty, a water fountain, and a little tower structure in which we can lay out our sleeping bags, giving us a roof over our heads. Even better: a river runs next to it, so we even have a shower. In other words: it’s a perfect place to sleep for dirtbag ultra-cyclists like us.
Even if this is supposed to be a race, we don’t rush. We’ve gone into this with the intention of having fun while challenging ourselves. Nadia is one of my favourite partners for mountaineering, skiing, and climbing adventures but we’ve never biked together before this. This made it even more important to clearly set our expectations and to have open and honest communication. We wait for bakeries to open to enjoy croissants and cappuccinos, eat Älplermagronen (the Swiss version of mac and cheese) on top of Kunkelspass before a harrowingly steep gravel descent, stop to take pictures, and never take ourselves too seriously.
On the second day, after Kunkelspass, the going gets especially rough. I feel exhausted, it’s hot, and the sun is burning us to a crisp. We’re on our way to the furthest and highest checkpoint, located at the end of Safiental. This is when Nadia’s parents appear–seemingly out of nowhere! They took the day to track us down and cheer us on. No surprise, then, that Nadia starts motoring up the valley (as I still struggle in the heat and am unable to really keep up). She has to wait for me several times as I am trying to keep going without pushing beyond my limits. Luckily, it’s nothing a bottle of Coke and ice cream can’t solve.
On the third and last day, we only have one checkpoint left. We have the least distance and least climbing to overcome, yet this turns out to be an even tougher challenge than Safiental. The previous night, we ended sleeping next to a bunker along the Rhine after we dismally failed at riding through the night (we were this close to falling asleep on our bikes). For me, the morning starts with a flat tire; my tubeless valve had become leaky. Great.
Later on, in Toggenburg, my planned route forces us to do some hike-a-bike through cow pastures following barely existent hiking trails. It’s a lot of fun, though. The last climb to Hochalp involves mostly walking – we’re too exhausted, it’s too steep, and our batteries are running low. But, regardless of how our bodies feel, we keep our stoke and reach the final cake. From there, it’s mostly all downhill back to Sankt Gallen. We might be among the last people to finish, but we don’t care. And nobody else among volunteers and other races cares about that, either. It’s the spirit that counts, and just making it to the end.
And we made it – with spirit.
2021 Dead Ends & Cake Results
- 1st Women: Eva Lindskog (21h 00m)
- 2nd Women: Andrea Seiermann (32h 04m)
- 3rd Women: Franziska Schöni (35h 43m)
- 1st Men: Adrien Liechti (20h 06m)
- 2nd Men: Simon Geiser (22h 16m)
- 3rd Men: Remo Wild (24h 28m)
The 2022 Dead Ends & Cake is already scheduled for June 24th from St. Gallen, Switzerland. Check out the event listing for the details.
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