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