Cycling Around the World
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Tuesday, June 11, 2013

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I was ready to quit. The loneliness and lack of human contact is sometimes overwhelming. I long for someone to talk with at night, after my hard days cycling, but instead I’m always alone in my tent. The incessant rain and poor state of mind took me to the depths of despair. The only thing keeping me going now was stubbornness and sheer bloody mindedness. I needed to regain a sense of purpose and enjoy the cycling once more.

I think I’m going insane, how else can I explain the idiotic idea I came up with?

I would cycle into the Carpathian mountains and up & over the highest pass in Romania!! And this was no ordinary pass, I should know. I’ve cycled all the great Alpine and Pyrenean peaks and they are nothing like this monster. The Transfăgărășan Pass is a 32 km climb, which doesn’t dip or give you false summits, you’re climbing all the way.

Who in their right mind would climb such a pass in the pouring rain and hail, as even the spectacular views would surely be obscured by cloud and mist? Then try and descend the 27 km on the other side to the relative safety of Vidraru lake, knowing parts of the road had been washed away in the recent storms. Only a madman.

This is what I needed, a challenge that would focus both my mind and body.

Very cold and very wet, but I’d made it!!

But first let’s rewind to my entry into Romania, which was on another rainy day some days earlier. The border was quiet and so the policemen came out to have a good look at my bike and in particular the solar panel. They joked that it wasn’t going to be much use as storms were forecasted for the coming weeks… however as they were in a humorous mood I begged a stamp in my passport and they happily obliged.

I hadn’t at this point worked out where I was going, as I was awaiting a response from a Romanian cyclist I’d met earlier. Sadly when I did get the email, he could not meet up after-all.
It was under blue skies that I arrived in Sibiu just after lunchtime, a welcome change which only lasted a few hours. I made my way to the tourist information office, which was located in the most impressive building in the town square:

The tourist information office, Sibiu

By late afternoon the storms had arrived once more. I was holed up in a hostel trying to dry out my clothes and decided I’d take a look at some of the fortified churches that are so numerous in this area, while making my way into the Carpathian mountains. I didn’t have far to go as Cisnădie was only a few kilometers away and as I approached I could see the church over the rooftops.

The church dominates the surrounding landscape

Originally built in the 12th century as a Romanesque basilica, Cisnădie church was fortified during the 15th century, to protect the local population of Saxons against repeated Ottoman raids. There is a museum which details the history of the church which is well worth a visit.

The fortified church at Cisnădie

I’m afraid some of the photos were taken quickly during the rain and I failed to make a note of where they were, but I’ll post the images anyway…

Photo taken inside the walls of the fortification

The weather changes constantly and very quickly, one minute blue skies, the next a ferocious storm. In the valleys it remains warm and the roads quickly dry out.

One of the many roadside monastries

As I made my way towards the Transfăgărășan pass, the mountains were covered in mist and only the lower hills could be seen. I hoped that I would get some pictures during breaks in the weather.

Looking towards the Carpathian mountains

Reaching the start of the pass, the climb took me from the valley and up through a tree lined road for many kilometers. The rain was sporadic and each time I put away the rain jacket, it would start again. It was difficult deciding if to get wet from the rain, or the condensation building up inside my jacket.

Through the trees

After 20 km I had reached the Bâlea cascades, where the water streamed down the hillside but sadly not visible enough to warrant a photograph. However as I climbed higher and looked back, I could see Bâlea and where I had stopped for a welcome cup of hot chocolate.

Looking back down to Bâlea cascades valley

The closer I got to the top, the more I got engulfed in cloud and mist. I kept waiting for a chance to get a picture of the road I was climbing and sure enough I got a brief break in the cloud. I’m still about 7 km from the top here.

Did I just climb that!?

It was pretty grim at the top and after asking one of the bikers to take my picture I quickly got started on the descent. I saw no point in hanging about, I still had a long way to go.

The top.

Surprisingly once I’d gone through the tunnel at the summit (very scary!) it was pretty clear and I could see the road, which is just as well because many parts of it had disintegrated after the recent storms. Water was still running down it like a river and I took a lot of care to ensure I got down safely.

The start of the descent down.

The long road down.

In places water fell down onto or close to the road. It was pretty spectacular at times…

Water falling from the hillside above.

I eventually reached the lakeside at Vidraru and started the long cycle to it’s southern edge. By the time I made my camp just outside Curtea de Argeș I had been cycling for 10 hours and covered just 90 km – my hardest day yet. I did however have a reward – on the way down I’d stopped at one of the stalls that were selling produce and the stall holder kindly gave me some smoked cheese to sample. It was so delicious I bought a whole round (for the measly sum of 16 leu – about 4 euro) and tucked in later.

My reward!!

I had needed a boost. I might have chosen a strange way of finding one, but it had done the trick. The rain is still falling (in fact right now Romania is experiencing it’s worst ever floods) but I’ve got back my love of cycling and I’m enjoying the hills. Now all I need is a companion…

In my next blog I visit Bran Castle, made famous by Bram Stoker’s Dracula. I also have some nice rural Romanian village photos to share. Stay tuned.

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Chris McEnnerney
Tuesday, June 11, 2013 at 7:52 pm

Looking at the photo of the road you climbed up, I think you must be mad! But also very brave. My husband and I are always very grateful for each other’s company when cycle touring, for having someone to share the views with, someone to egg you on when you’re having a bad day, someone to talk to about the day’s journey when you’re tucked up in the tent at the end of the day, so I can imagine how you feel…especially after all the awful weather you have been having as well. There’s nothing more miserable than cycling and camping in the rain! Keep on pedalling, Derek, I really enjoy reading your blogs and admire your spirit. May the wind always be in your wheels!

    Wednesday, June 12, 2013 at 7:07 am

    Chris, the cycling is the (relatively speaking) easy part! What goes on in the head is what makes this kind of adventure difficult, especially when you are solo. It’s not that I haven’t tried to find someone to ride with, it’s just that my not wanting to change my (main) destination(s) has meant others have not met up. There’s a long way to go yet, so I’m sure I’ll have company at some point.

karen boardman
Tuesday, June 11, 2013 at 8:43 pm

if you get internet access and fancy a chat skype me i am always here xx

    Wednesday, June 12, 2013 at 7:03 am

    Hi Karen, I’ll do that. Romanian wifi is painfully slow, so maybe in Bulgaria or Turkey. Thanks x

Tuesday, June 11, 2013 at 11:57 pm

Hey Derek.
Dont despair my friend.
You need to pay yourself on the back
For your spunk and determination.
You are and inspiration.
God bless you and keep you safe and healthy.
Will you be back in time for Ruth’s barbeque?

    Wednesday, June 12, 2013 at 7:00 am

    Hi Andrew, coming back to the UK will be very unlikely now until the trip nears it’s end. I have my work cut out getting to India, as Pakistan refuse to give a Visa unless you’re in your home country, but it’s just not possible (time and funds don’t permit) to return again. I wanted to cycle all the way to Nepal, so I’m checking my options, but I may have to ‘cheat’ a little.

    I’m going to push on now with a sense of urgency though, as the best months to be in Nepal are October/November. Thereafter I hope to visit Vietnam & Cambodia before making my way to Alaska, then I’ll do the Pacific Coast Trail through Canada all the way down and through South America. That’s the dream. Reality could be different.

Maggie Gaestel
Wednesday, June 12, 2013 at 2:10 am

Wow, some story and again, terrific
photos. Chin up, you are doing a great job. Stay safe.
Maggie G.

Niek Veeken
Wednesday, June 12, 2013 at 11:36 am

Dear Derek,

My wife Hanneke and I did meet you see you during the cheesefondue on the campingplace in Meiringen Switserland. We remember our conversation of that evening where you explained your amazing project often en with pleasure …

Since then you have progressed al lot on your journey…

We do see nearly every evening on the television the bad weather, rain and flooding in Middle en Eastern of Europe.

Sometimes forces of nature are so great, that man have to bow with respect …

Perhaps it is a good idea ( Dutch and Englisch will say with a feeling of understatement: ”Perhaps it is not a bad idea …“), to make a bow to nature and “accomodate your project for a while“.

Weather will chance and the Black sea in the sun is beautiful.

Stay sometime on a camping side on the Black Sea and find work in the touristindustry or give clinics “Speaking Englisch“ or “ Fotography potrets of nature, cities and men“. “Take a break“ and make a plan witch give you the possibility of meeting other people for a while …

We are following you!

Niek en Hanneke Veeken – Stam

    Thursday, June 13, 2013 at 10:28 am

    Hi Niek & Hanneke, lovely to hear from you! Your words are wise, but I’m afraid taking a break now would put my chance of getting to Nepal on time in jeopardy. I do intend taking an extended rest period when I get there though… don’t worry, I’m getting good at battling the poor weather and at least it remains warm in the valleys!!

Bristol Rob
Friday, June 14, 2013 at 6:15 am

Inspirational words Derek – I have been following your blog for weeks now and loving hearing of your travels.

    Friday, June 14, 2013 at 6:51 am

    Welcome to the blog Rob, I’m glad you’re enjoying it.

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