I am having breakfast in a seemingly luxurious hotel in Sibiu which is still a bargain compared to western European standards. While eating my cooled down scrambled eggs (was a bit late) I am forced to listen to ‘Magic FM’ which emits an overload of nineties classics from which I had long forgotten about their existence. The radio is concurring the volume of the TV which is also on. I realise I need to camp more…
Later on the road I find out that the Transfagarasan, the most scenic mountain road of Romania (and Europe according Top Gear) was still closed because of the snow. A bit of a dissapointment, because I was really looking forward to some serious elevation after so many days through flat land. Therefore I needed to continue through the valley before crossing the Carpathian Mountains.
I found out about the Transbucegi, another scenic road starting at Sinaia in the middle of the Carpathians. It starts at about 700m height and climbing up till 2000m. A road with a dead end so it would be a touristic detour on my quest to China. Why not. I would need the full day to get to the top so I planned to spend the night there and enjoy the ride down in the morning.
It’s a protected natural park and there were signs with red crosses through basically anything fun. No camping, no open fire, no off-roading – all things I like doing. This probably had to do with the amount of bears roaming the area, or, it was just a way to keep tourists in their cars because Romanians know how to litter their beautiful landscape. Everywhere along the roads you find plastic bottles and waste of any kind.
The first bit went through the woods and was not much revealing but the higher I got the more I got treated on breathtaking views over the surrounding woods. A group of people applauded when I approached a viewpoint, heavy sweating and cycling with the speed of a fully packed donkey. After a chat I left with the warning not to camp alone in the mountains because of the threat of bears. There were two hotels further up in the mountain area, so I thought I’d stay there. At 1700m the tree line ended and revealed an open highland with brown grass, here and there still covered in snow. Eventually the paved road continued in a dirt road path only suitable for off road vehicles. A few cars were parked and I saw hikers returning from the mountain. I still hadn’t made up my mind about camping or taking one of the hotels. Camping would be much more memorable and I’ve stayed in too many hotels already so I asked some other people about the bears. They assured me that bears wouldn’t come beyond the tree line on this high altitude. I burned the last bit of energy carrying all my stuff to the top of the hill and peed a circle around my camp. Animals take territory marks quite serious, you never know.
It was pretty cold at 2000 meters. I left in the morning with the burning sun on my back and now I was wearing all the clothes I brought with me. The views were spectacular when the sky turned to gold waving the sun goodbye. It was a very quiet night. A gentle breeze made the zippers of the tent tinkle now and then, like someone is trying to open them. It made me alert and with the bear stories in the back of my head it was hard to get some sleep. I wished I could turn on Magic FM again but seeing the sun crawl up behind the mountains at 5.30 in the morning proved me wrong – It was again a very special experience.
– Martijn Doolard (www.espiritu-libre.com)
Editor’s Note: Earlier this year, Martijn shared with us his first long distance bikepacking trip. Cycling from Amsterdam to the Alps in the winter was an extraordinary challenge and lofty goal. While most may feel defeated by such a challenge, Martijn not only rose to the occasion, he has been on a new mission ever since. This is one installment of many to come from Martijn as he and his bicycle make their way to China. Martijn checked in with us recently while taking a break in Istanbul, heading south for Turkey. Look for the next chapter soon and a Live Q&A session to come!