The day for crossing the Transfagarasian Highway starts early and badly. Up before dawn I unknowingly drop my MSR canister and only spot that it is missing after cycling along the very fast main road for an hour or so …. cursing I have to double back and scour the field and thankfully I find it. Then back down the same but even faster road … more people up and driving by this time. I take the road towards the mountains and have the worst mornings cycling yet. Very fast trucks, no hard shoulder, horrible camber to the road and gravel surface with lots of glass glinting evily in it. I am feeling exhausted and stressed from the limited sleep the night before and the mornings dreadful road ride when I finally turn off the main road onto the road approaching the Highway. The day is still hot and sunny but I can see a lot of mist and rain in the mountains … maybe not such a good day for crossing … oh well!!!
I’m feeling a bit anxious about this road but make good progress and am about a third of the way up when I meet a man who has moved his truck of bee hives down the mountain in the past couple of days. He is very anxious when I tell him I sill be crossing on my own … he tells me that it is not safe for me to stay at the top and that there have been a lot of bears around . He had bears over by the truck lat night. Coupled with this the impending storm looks very bad …
His words push all of my anxieties to the fore and as I peddle off I am grappling with my personal demons of anxiety and diminished confidence. The fears of the woman in the previous campsite all push forward and join mine leaving me certain I cannot do this …
Half way up and I stop for a coffee .. its getting colder and the clouds are pushing in … as I stand drinking the wind increases dramatically and then the heavens open sending forth torrential rain … it pours down the roads and all of the huts selling tourist tat are frantic getting their wares up onto tables and off the floors as the rain pours into their stalls.
Amazingly I meet a group of 4 Polish guys with a VW camper van who are on a road trip and am able to get a lift to the top with them!! wow!! A way out …. I can cross the mountain before dark and reach safety …
So we tie Tilly to the roof of the camper van and I get a lift up the winding road of the north side of the Transfagarasian Highway. The rain has stalled somewhat and we pass a group of 3 cyclists also heading up. The bee keeper had told me there was a group. It is misty and visibility is not great but the Polish guys are so positive and great fun to chat to in the warmth and safety of the van.
We pass through the tunnel at the top and at the next passing place the van stops and we get Tilly back down and bags stowed on her. Bustorpedo heads off and I take some more photos before heading down the south side myself ….. but not before realising I have left the MSR canister in the van ….. Aaaaaaaaarg!!!
I wave down the next car heading down and ask them to stop the van … and I head after them and my departing canister as fast as mist, rain and wind are permitting. I do catch them thanks to the other people and am reunited with MSR for the 2nd time that day.
Its raining hard again and so at the first pension I spot I stop and ask about camping …. its got bear signs everywhere .. something I am still concerned about. They kindly let me put the tent up in the opposite meadow and I have coffee in the pension and chat to a guy, Marcis, from Latvia, who is touring on an old Minsk motorbike – you can follow him on Facebook ..The Dream Route.. –
In the morning I wake to the familiar sounds of a dog being confused by the tent and barking incessantly at it in a bid to make it move!! I soon realise it is a sheep dog … as the tent is surrounded by a large flock grazing their way around it and being moved on by the dog and the shepherd.
Its a beautiful day and I head into the pension for coffee and am sat down and given egg breakfast instead … I sit outside and gaze at the mountain and for the second time in a week burst into tears. This time they are hot, angry tears … I’m so upset with myself for not cycling the mountain and for letting my confidence be affected by other people’s anxieties. I am aware that it would be stupid not to heed local advice regarding things like bears but there is advice and there is anxiety. I try to phone Bex … I want to hear that everything is ok … that I’m ok … but she is not there… its what I need… I pull myself together …i know I am the only person that can make things feel ok!!
And so I decide to leave the tent up to dry, pack everything else, stow it all on the bike and ride back up the south side to the lake, down the north side to the tourist tat stalls, back up the north side to the lake .. again … and back down to the tent! Call me crazy (‘you are crazy!!!’) but I needed to ‘complete’ this mountain … suddenly I realise that ‘one pedal, one pedal’ is not about the physical act of peddling.. at least not completely … it is how I manage mine and other people’s stress and anxiety and how I develop my capacity for confidence in my abilities ….
Marcis is going to be up there filming for his programme today as well but I get a headstart on him. The people in the pension are lovely and say they will wait til I return for the goodbyes … they just accept that this is something I need to do and let me get on with it!!
Its an amazing feeling to cycle both sides of the Highway …. the south side is utterly beautiful and sunny but once through the tunnel I am confronted with the north side being misty, cold and wet with slippery roads. None of this matters .. once I am under way I feel like a weight has been lifted … I am ecstatic to be riding in this awesome natural amphitheatre of rock and tree.
Lake Belae at the top … I am utterly gutted at missing out on camping there … it is totally beautiful and almost deserted … there is a hotel nearby which appears to be open but empty and a few people on stalls selling overpriced coffee, cheese, crystals and other tourist necessities!
The Highway itself was commissioned by Ceausescu in the mid 70’s and has been called a folly and a monument to his utter megalomania (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Transf%C4%83g%C4%83r%C4%83%C8%99an) paid for by the people financially and in loss of life whilst it was under construction. Its even more beautiful today because it is technically still shut to traffic and the roads are relatively clear … a few crazy people in big campers navigate the roads twists and turns slowly and most people beep and wave or give me the thumbs up!!!! I cannot stop smiling at how lucky I am to be able to do this!!!!
After a day of cycling up and down this route I return to the south side and speed down hill whooping with joy at an awesome day … I see Marcis, who has also had a great day of filming, and we both smile at each other like lunatics … appreciating some of what the day has meant for the other… moments of connection to both person and place.
We say goodbye and I head off to collect the tent and get a few downhill miles in!! Once back at the pension I say goodbye there … again I am lucky I have met such kind people with such goodwill. Quick packing the tent and then off, Tilly and I get in 15miles before sunset and I find a lovely spot by the reservoir to camp. Happy, tired and feeling a sense of completeness and achievement I sleep well.
The following couple of days are a bit of a mad dash to Bucharest … despite being told by lots of people that its not worth visiting I have decided to go. its more difficult to find places to camp on this side of the mountain … everywhere is either farm land or property and I feel like I am following one long straight road where the villages have all grown to the extent that they are blurring into a huge long thin city that stretches from the mountain to the capital. I had read that on this side of the mountains people were much less friendly … can you guess what I am going to say? Why do I take these ideas in? The people I meet and the people I wave to are just as friendly and I soon settle into travelling on this ‘side’ of Romania.
On reaching Bucharest I send out some Warm Showers emails and am contacted by Ludmila. We arrange to meet at her flat after she finishes work. This wonderful woman is 7 months pregnant and tired, yet still has agreed to have me stay over the weekend. I spend the most amazing time with her in Bucharest. The city has a feeling of old splendour and grandeur which had had the heart ripped out of it. The downtown area looks like it has been a recent war zone and yet this cannot detract from what beauty is still there. The scars of the revolution 25 years ago remain in the architecture and in the hearts and minds of Bucharest inhabitants.
Ludmila is involved with an AIDS NGO in Romania and is such an easy going, honest, caring person that we have many deep, emotional discussions about our lives … this journey is changing me and I feel much freer and open to new thoughts, feeling and experiences. Ludmila totally turned my understanding of how I see relationships and how I want to relate on its head … lovely lady I thank you for your insights and for being there with me in my thoughts…
On the Monday morning I said goodbye to Ludmila …. and then spent the day in the nearby bookshop talking to Vlad, drinking coffee and thinking about my experiences so far. The reason for not leaving Bucharest as planned? for the 3rd time I have left my MSR canister somewhere, this time in Ludmila’s flat. So I spend an extra night there and leave Bucharest on the Tuesday. The time in Antony Frost English book shop with Vlad was very constructive and a totally lovely day of contemplation … which was the original plan anyway only I had planned to visit monastery to do it …. a reminder that it doesn’t really matter where … only that I need to take time to reflect.
As it happens I go to the monastery as planned and find it to be inhospitable and not a place I can sit and think anyway … life flows just fine as long as I remember to get out of the way!!!
Its a short cycle from Bucharest to Bulgaria and suddenly I’m in another country again!!!