This was a day of two halves (as they say) – and something of an epic. We started on a cart track across the mountains and ended by cycling on one of Romania’s busiest roads. (And no – we didn’t accidentally retrace our steps to the night before – that was Sebis, this is Sebes – do keep up!)
It started well enough – a misty autumnal morning hinting at good weather later in the day. And a decent tarred road leading up into the mountains.
We even managed to buy coca cola at a tiny village shop. But at that point, after 10 miles, the tarred surface ended and we were onto the rough stuff. In planning the trip there was no way of telling which minor roads are tarred and which aren’t. The local map I bought in Gyula indicated just a 5 km section of our was untarred – so this lack of tarmac was far earlier than expected. Oh well, grin and bear it!
The dirt track was very muddy and only just passable by bike. It was also climbing towards the first of 3 passes for the day, each one higher than the one before. After about 5 miles offroad we reached the top of the first pass.
But the descent was extremely rough – hard on the bikes and on our hands gripping the brakes. You could not have driven an ordinary car over this. As we descended we began to reach villages that were almost cut off from the rest of the world, though they had electricity. They all grew their own food and kept their own pigs and hens. Helen’s ultrasonic dog scarer finally proved its worth in silencing a dog that had chased me and was about to chase her!
From here the dirt track improved a little – for the first time there were signs of cars having actually been driven over it, flattening it down a bit.
But don’t get carried away with the idea that everyone was driving up to the village in their old Dacias. (Ok, some were).
Shortly after this we reached tarmac again. We had covered 10 miles in 2 hours – similar to travelling from Pateley to Grassington over Greenhough on a terrible cart track. And there were 2 more passes to come, with a strong likelihood that the tarmac would end again as we headed up valley towards them! It was time for plan B. We turned the other way and descended the valley on the tarmac.
Even this wasn’t entirely plain sailing – because the valley kept narrowing into gorges too narrow for the road – leading to climbs to avoid them. But we began to get our first views of the Carpathians to the south. Stunning, but too far off to photograph.
We eventually reached then end of the valley. But there had been a good reason why this route was not plan A. Namely that we had now arrived at the major east-west transport corridor north of the Carpathians. There was really no alternative but to get our heads down and head east for 20 miles along the E68. There was just enough of a run off beside the road to make this slightly less than suicidal – but it was a very scary experience that we shall not rush to repeat. Because of the change of route we ended the day at Sebes, rather than Alba Iulia, but we have checked into the best hotel in town – a superb 3 star affair. Just as well, because this town is completely blighted by the gridlocked traffic from the E68 – there is no bypass. We are now working on an onward route that does not involve the E68!