One of the allures of the Transcontinental race is that it does cross countries, at times on a daily basis. Such travel would not have been so easy just a few decades ago with the eastern bloc countries being part of the Soviet Union. With the various activities in the middle-east having an effect on migratory patterns it appears that this may have a knock-on affect to border crossing in years to come, possibly even in the 2016 edition of the race?
If we look back though, we can see that this race wouldn’t have been at all possible just twenty years ago. In the 1990’s after the disintegration of the Soviet Union, the former country of Yugoslavia was torn apart in a series of wars throughout the Balkan region.
As a child at the time I remember the daily news on the TV, images of the siege of Sarajevo, of shelling taking place from the overlooking hills, and stories of ethnic cleansing and atrocities taking place throughout the region.
This war ended 20 years ago this November, bringing to an end a process which saw over 130,000 people lose their lives.
When he designed the checkpoints for TCR Mike always had a nod towards the history of the regions, racers would encouraged to be reminded of the history of where they were riding.
Whether it is Zagreb, Sarajevo, or Vukovar, the towns and cities of the Balkans carry their scars still, in some cases to remind themselves of the atrocities of war, in others simply because of the expense of reparations.
Hills seem familiar, having seen them on TV countless times, although now they are silent, no whiffs of smoke giving indication of artillery fire. Forests still contain warnings to stay on the path, the hidden munitions from a long ago war still waiting to kill and maim.
The scenery is ever changing throughout the Balkans, Slovenia is reminiscent of Bavarian Germany, whilst areas of Montenegro appear to come from the moon-scapes of science-fiction.
As we ride we encounter people for whom this was not some thirty second slot on the nightly news, this was their life at the time, the shelling, running between buildings, and constant fear of snipers or starvation as towns were laid siege to. “Remember Vucovar” we were urged by a old man on the street as we looked at bullet scars in the the buildings of the town.
But these people, whether there were Christian, Muslim, or atheist, were our hosts as we passed through, giving directions, going out of their way to fix a tyre, or keeping a restaurant open a little longer to help us refuel our tired bodies.
They are people, separated by roads and seas, but sharing similar hopes and dreams as us; To have a safe, happy and comfortable life. I spoke with children in Bosnia, old men in Croatia, and young men in Montenegro. Shopkeepers, farmers, and shepherds, communicating in my rubbish German whilst we shared stories of travel and adventure.
Laughter and incredulity is universal, a smile goes a long way in every language. We may not speak the same words, but we share the same DNA.
The Transcontinental will stretch your body past its limits, but will open your eyes and mind to the everyday beauty of the countries that you ride through.
And hopefully, as we travel our minds will see that it doesn’t matter about the religion, the colour, or the clothes that are being worn, what matters is that we are all just flesh and bones, trying to make the best journey we can through this time we have.