_Her fingers keep touching the screen. Enlarging and focusing. Refreshing again. She still has an ear for her surroundings, but her eyes are fixed on the device on her lap, and will be so until her dearest stands before her within hugging distance. Which he will be, in a matter of minutes. But those minutes seem to take forever.

Time does not travel in equal measures. While the Transcontinental Race had hundreds of riders traversing the European continent as little dots, their movement brought life to a standstill for others.

They’re not even dots, come to think of it. Rectangles. Baby blue rectangles, keeping friends and family glued to the screen for days, or even weeks. A few digits moving over a map as the only consistent lifeline with their loved ones. Every halt of that movement inviting speculation, as it can indicate any number of things: a well earned rest. A mechanical failure. A bout of exhaustion, a body pushed to its limits. Or even beyond that.

Life, reduced to an infinite pressing of the refresh button.But maybe that is the real genius of this race. Time is taxing, on all of us. It never seems to travel at the right speed. We waste it, it consumes us, it distances us from what we used to love, or dreamed we would become. The Transcontinental Race allows us a vacuum. Both in time and space. Both for riders and followers.

_With every finisher coming in, the little town livens up. There’s a juice and ice cream bar down the road where After Race Life seems to gravitate. Every day it sees a new set of riders craving to satiate their deprived bodies with as much protein and fat as it can process. The shop owner doesn’t know what hit him. He is grinning and waving more frantically as days pass by. As if I have been solely responsible for his turnover of a lifetime by telling him what was coming. But it is a fact: if there’s anything of importance to the riders, it is food. There’s a Greek saying: ’I ate the world to find you’. Seems TCR finishers rode the world to eat.

There’s a way in which your mind expands after spending sufficient time alone. It’s where thoughts start to float around randomly in all the freed up space. They might bump into each other to form new thoughts or might never meet again. It’s the very nature of this race that allows this space-time continuum. There’s no support car, no assistance, no outside distraction. Just the bike, the body, the mind and the road. Some riders crack under the pressure of this zero gravity existence. Some revel in it. But all take something home from it.

'If you get lost, get unlost'. The evil genius behind this race knew what he was talking about. I think all riders get lost at some point. But the ones reaching the finish seem to have found a way to get unlost again.

_The tan lines are a giveaway. Usually accompanied by a bought-off-the-rack fashion statement that with some imagination could be referred to as a contemporary Cruise Collection. It would have turned heads in the tourist trap towns of the Spanish coast in the nineties, I’m sure. If not those, the slow reluctant shuffle in which they cross the street in the first few days will tell you you are dealing with a TCR finisher. What’s going on inside is another story however.

It’s extraordinary to see finishers arriving in so many different physical and emotional states. Natural highs are a big one. Reaching the finish after cycling 4000 kilometers is bound to release some endorphins. Some look so fragile though. Gazing miles into the distance, beyond reach for the first ten minutes. Their minds traveling slower than the pace their bodies managed to set. Others seem completely unfazed, as if just coming back from a visit to their local gym on a Saturday afternoon, evaluating their efforts as if it were the average session in a 6-week fit program.

The pace is different for those on hold. The arrival of their loved one is the sole moment they’ve been waiting for. For days at least, sometimes for weeks. Or what it often comes down to: a full year. Their ordeal is not the fatigue, pain and hunger, it’s managing expectations. As their vacuum dissolves at a different speed than that of the riders. Having waited for so long, only to find there is still some more waiting to do.

_The atmosphere becomes giddy. The first tall tales find their way through the expanding crowd of finishers. Bear encounters, broken rims, dog pack chases and the amount of 7DAYS croissants consumed. Even some careful hints of taking on next year’s race. Boys will be boys will be girls — oddly tanned, relieved, but most of all proud. And rightly so.

For whatever reasons he had, Mike Hall couldn’t have picked a better place for this race to finish. The monasteries towering over all riders on the last stretch down the parcours he set out for them were given the name Meteora, which literally translates into: suspended in the air, in the heavens above.

For some, this race will be about just that. Allowing them a temporary release from the restraints of time. Just hanging there for a moment, suspended in the air, until gravity pulls them back into the weight of life. That is not a bad thing in itself. As much as that weight can be a heavy load, it can be soothing too. Having to deal with limitations and boundaries other than your self-inflicted ones. Feeling grounded, comfortable, instead of free, but lost and deprived. I guess it’s neither the suspension nor the weight that holds the hardship. It’s the transition between states that is the tough part.

So let them linger for just a moment longer. They’ll be back.

This story was written and published after the 2017 Transcontinental Race.

Words and photography by Lian van Leeuwen