Well, as you can see, I’m afraid the adventure has come to a premature end. Sometime late on Saturday night in Sibiu we did a serious reassessment of the route ahead – in the light of our experiences of the previous few days – and decided that cycling across Romania is either too slow and difficult on heavy touring bikes (the dirt roads) or too traumatic and pretty nearly suicidal (the main highways). There is nothing in between. We have been beaten by Romanian roads – or, more precisely, by the lack of accurate maps showing the true state of Romanian roads.
We always knew that there are lots of dirt roads in Romania, and that we would have to ride some of them. But Romanian road atlases (and Google maps) show the usual range of roads – red or brown for big highways – yellow for larger country roads – white for small country roads or lanes – and a thin single line for very minor routes. In Romania the latter were clearly going to be dirt roads, and probably most of the white roads as well. So I planned our route mostly on yellow roads with, inevitably, some short linking sections on main roads or dirt tracks. You’ve guessed it. The yellow roads turned out to be mostly dirt tracks as well – and tiny ones at that. The road to Mag (a beautiful yellow road with a number on the map) was no more than a scrape in the grass at the crucial turning that we missed. The yellow road over the mountains from Brad was a tiny, stony track that would have been impassable for ordinary cars. With mountain bikes the dirt roads are rideable – and would be good – but we could only manage 5 or 6 mph with all our baggage, even downhill, and we were being shaken to bits. It just wasn’t practical to ride them all day over the mileages we had planned.
The second concern was the danger of the highways. We knew we would have to ride sections of them approaching Bucharest, and the day from Bucharest to Ruse in Bulgaria was planned as 40 miles of highway because of the lack of good alternatives (the only such planned day on the entire trip). But after the trauma of the previous few days we didn’t want to ride any of them – at all – ever again. I can still hear the rumble of lorry tyres fast approaching behind me on the bumpy paint strip at the side of the road – the same strip that I was riding 12 inches to the right of – and then being surprised to be still alive as he moved out just enough to thunder past me about 4 feet from my left shoulder.
We considered how to get across Romania by train or bus – but neither was very practical. All the locals warned us against Romanian trains – slow, filthy and unreliable. And they don’t take bikes except in boxes. Buses are also difficult with bikes. But when riding into Sibiu we had heard the rumble of a passenger jet overhead, and noticed the airport. It turns out that Sibiu now has an international airport – it has been upgraded very recently. So we weighed up all the options and, reluctantly, we decided to fly home. I should say that we are both as fit and well as we have ever been and have no doubt that, physically, we would have made it – had there been suitable roads to do it on. And we were still enjoying the trip (except for the roads – see above!). So I have to accept that, in my desire to see the Carpathians, I chose the wrong route. Sticking closer to the Danube would have been safer, but nowhere near as interesting. You win some and you lose some!
On Sunday morning we booked ourselves a flight home on the Tuesday, via Munich. But Lufthansa said that, whilst they normally carried bikes, unboxed, for a fee – they couldn’t take ours on this flight because the plane was already on its weight limit. Suffice to say that we were very unhappy about the prospect of leaving our bikes behind. We decided to try and box them up so that we could send them home by courier. And so we spent Monday tramping round Sibiu looking for a bicycle shop that might give/sell us empty cardboard boxes. We came across a wonderful shop called ‘Explorer Sport’. It was an all round outdoor shop, with a good bike section. And bicycle mechanics, as well as being the coolest guys on the planet, are also the salt of the earth. Having heard our story they moved heaven and earth to get 2 boxes to the shop, and our newest friend, Alex, even boxed them up for us and refused to take any payment. “I no want pay – this I do for you”. Though he did accept a beer! Thanks a million Alex.
With the bikes boxed we decided to try to get them on the plane – falling back to the courier plan if unsuccessful. And, would you believe it, there was no further mention of weight limits. Lufthansa charged us for them, and off we flew.
We have had a wonderful trip. Spending such a long time together has been absolutely brilliant, and the slow, daily rhythms of cycle travelling have been so relaxing. I am not sure that I want to go back to a faster pace. Of course, there are some regrets about not finishing what we set out to do, and about not seeing Istanbul. But we are happy that we made the right decision in the circumstances. We are already plotting what to do with the time that remains before we must return to work!
Helen’s tracks of recent days:
Monday has to be Shania Twain, I feel like a woman, as a memory will stay with me of Alex singing this in his heavily accented English whilst he worked miracles on our bikes to get them boxed up.
Tuesday has to be Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, Spread Your Love as this turns out to be the most played track on my playlist so is part of my internal soundtrack for this trip. Just goes to show that rock is best, or something.
And finally, as we prepare to get home to Yorkshire today, the last track of the trip,
Midlake, Head Home.