A journey from fear to triumph
Sherry Cardona, also known from YouTube as BuzzAlong, embarked on an extraordinary adventure at the Bohemian Border Bash 2023. BBB, a race that circumnavigates the Bohemian Border, passing through Germany, Austria, Poland and the Czech Republic, covering 1,300 km and 24,000m of elevation gain.
Dive into Sherry's journey full of challenges and personal insights into her very first off-road ultra race, crowned by an impressive win (1st place women).
They say the best way to overcome fears is to face them head on. In the case of the 2023 Bohemian Border Bash race, that couldn't be more apt. As a gravel rookie, I stood at the start of a challenging off-road ultra bike challenge over 1350 km with 24,400 meters of elevation gain ahead of me. The daunting idea of rough gravel, remote forest trails and the darkness of night in unfamiliar forests initially made me think about taking a step back. But in the end, I decided to take on this new challenge without expectations, and what followed was a journey that not only pushed me to my limits, but allowed me to conquer my fears.
In those 124 hours and 58 minutes of racing, I discovered a resilience in myself that I never knew existed. The gravel descents that initially terrified me became exhilarating challenges, and the silence of the forest that worried me there before became a source of comfort. This race changed me not only physically but also mentally. I learned to adapt to the unpredictable terrain, to ride over rocks, mud, grass and even through water.
It is amazing how our bodies and minds can adapt to challenges when we venture beyond our comfort zones.
Key experiences at the Bohemian Border Bash
It is hard to highlight individual moments when the whole race was an stunning experience. However, there are some key moments and sections that I particularly appreciate:
Breathtaking sunrises and sunsets:
During the race, I was rewarded with the most beautiful sunrises and sunsets I had ever seen, while being completely alone in nature and surrounded only by the sounds of wild animals. These magical moments, when nature seemed to be on fire, helped me to recharge my batteries and face the challenges of the race.
The Bohemian Forest:
One of my favorite sections of the race was the Bohemian Forest between CP3 and CP4. Here, smooth gravel roads took me on a historic journey. Discovering the remains of the Iron Curtain was an enlightening experience that reminded me what a privilege it is to cycle without borders.
The post-race atmosphere:
Perhaps the best thing about the Bohemian Border Bash was the post-race atmosphere. After the exhausting race, I found myself at the BBB camp where I had the opportunity to share incredible stories with other riders. Being part of this wonderful community and meeting exceptional people who shared the same passion was a privilege. The bond created through shared experiences is truly special.
Understanding ultra-distance bikepacking races
For me, it is important to distinguish between ultra-distance bikepacking races and their more conventional road-based counterparts. Having participated in renowned road ultras such as the Transcontinental Race, Transiberica and Race Around Denmark, I was well versed in the world of road racing. But the world of off-road cycling presented unique challenges and rewards.
Physical and mental resilience:
Off-road ultra races require not only physical endurance but also unshakable mental resilience. Participants:inside are completely immersed in their surroundings, navigating the intricate details of the terrain, technical trails and daring descents. Finding the way becomes an adventure itself, and hours can pass while searching for the right path through dense forests.
The off-road terrain is a canvas of gravel, rocks, mud, grass and water crossings. Adaptability is key and a rider's skills are continually tested as they encounter a variety of landscapes.
Mechanical problems are a common theme in off-road ultra races. On my own trip, I had the daunting task of dealing with a bent rear derailleur boom that left me with only three working gears most days. The availability of local bike shops and a reliable supply of sports nutrition proved invaluable.
The route of the Bohemian Border Bash took me through breathtaking natural beauty—mesmerizing sunrises and sunsets, the silence of the wilderness and the enchanting sounds of wild animals. It was a big difference from the busy roads of conventional races.
Navigating remote, unmarked routes are a characteristic feature of off-road ultra races. Hours can be spent deciphering the correct path of vast forests.
Equipment for off-road ultras
My gear choices for the Bohemian Border Bash were made carefully, with an emphasis on a lightweight bikepacking setup for steep climbs, hike-a-bike sections and navigating obstacles like bridges and rivers. Here are some of the choices that proved essential:
The perfect gravel bike: my trusty Fara F/ gravel bike.
Cyclite Race Backpack: This backpack proved to be essential. It allowed me to carry my hydration bladder and snacks, and ensure that food and water were always at hand. In addition, its design allowed for better distribution of body weight on steep rocky descents and improved aerodynamics.
Aero also plays a role offroad: Surprisingly, aerodynamics also plays a crucial role in offroad cycling. Aerobars, an aerodynamic helmet and comfortable yet aerodynamic cycling clothes like my favorite Velocio Concept jersey and bibs contributed significantly to my performance.
The Redshift suspension seatpost and stem: These components were crucial for holding my own on rough gravel and rocky descents. They played an essential role in preventing hand problems and saddle sores—a must for off-road ultras in my opinion.
Mastering the toughest sections: When the race reached its climax with the most challenging gravel Hike-a-Bike sections, I knew it was my time to shine. My Hike-a-Bike harness made tackling these steep, challenging sections a breeze.
Tyre choice: Choosing Pirelli Cinturato Gravel M tires, tubeless mounted at 45 mm, was a wise decision—not a single flat.
Chain: YBN chain, Silca chain strip to prepare the chain, followed by hot wax and wet lube treatment during the race were part of my strategy to save every possible watt.
Fuel for the race: For energy, I relied mainly on high-quality sports nutrition. Regular replenishment at bike shops ensured I kept my energy up.
The Bohemian Border Bash 2023 was more than just a race; it was a journey of self-knowledge and empowerment. It taught me that fears can be conquered, challenges can be met and rough terrain can become a source of joy. Looking back on this incredible experience, I can confidently say that I have the “knack for roughing it”, especially in off-road ultra, where the right gear is a rider's best friend.
The Bohemian Border Bash 2023 was an epic journey that pushed my limits and showed me that adventure and challenges give us the opportunity to surpass ourselves. It has given me a deeper connection to nature and reminded me of the importance of dreaming and cycling without limits.
All pictures (C) @matypodron, @bbb_race, #bbbr23