Thursday, July 28 at 10:00 p.m. Normally at this time
I'm driving around town I'm somewhere between level 4750 in Candy Crush Saga under a quilt and trying to stay upright watching the little dog find the perfect pee spot in a nearby park. However, this evening is different. Michał is sitting (or standing) at a concert in some distant city, I am listening to the sense of creating a monorepo in the microservice structure during corporate integration. There is no indication that a dozen or so hours later we will be on our way to Romania. With each subsequent trip, we are prepared better and better. It is no different this time. Like real professionals, we already have a refueled car and a well-arranged route - that should be enough. When it comes to lodging, packing, getting in shape, food logistics and other crap… it will be somehow.
Someone might ask why we are going by car from the center of Warsaw to the airport parking lot in Cluj-Napoca. That someone could be, for example, me asking Michał or Michał asking me. It would be justified, because the flights are cheap (PLN 400 one way) and the dates are convenient (perfectly coinciding with our trip). We both know, however, that we are able to make appropriate mental acrobatics, justifying a 10 times longer journey. It reads: packing bikes in a cardboard box. We regret our decision somewhere after an hour of driving, when we check in at the Salomea junction (16 km from the house) and turn wrong twice on it. First we go to Ursynów, then to Pruszków. The advantage of driving a car, however, is that no matter how slowly you drive, nothing will get away.
A curiosity here, from Warsaw to Cluj-Napoca, which is not closest to the border, is only 900 km away. The problem is that they are old school kilometers. Even in Poland, we travel along roads so narrow that they cannot be narrower. Traveling around Romania is also a surprise for us, because we drive 160 km from the border to the airport parking lot for over 3 hours. These are 3 hours of landscapes, during which we doubt if it was a good idea with the whole Romanian Carpathians. On the way, we sleep in Košice, because half of the way falls somewhere, and it is getting dark outside. And when it's dark, you sleep. So we spend the night in the dormitory: ŠD Němcovej 1.
We do not know much about Romania: wild dogs will kill us, bears will eat us, local drivers will kill us, we will visit Transalpina and Transfogaraska, where there will be a lot of tourists, and as we push the two most famous roads within hundreds of kilometers, around them on it will be terrible too. Generally: instead of the lonely Romania we expect, we will get into the worst cycling pathology. Fortunately, everything is completely the opposite.
The planned route is slightly different from the one we actually drove. Initially, the plan is to go from Cluj-Napoca through the Carpathians, crossing the two most famous roads / passes to Brasov, take the train there and return. However, we quickly reckoned that 7 hours on the train and our inner need "let's go faster, we'll make it earlier" will make us unnecessarily tired. If I wanted to get tired, I would go to gravel races. So we make a loop, although also different than the planned one. Mainly because the difference between "what I want while sitting in a chair in front of the computer" and "what I really want while driving" is considerable. As usual.
Is this a loop that can be taken and copied to live our life? Well, I don't know because I don't know what we missed. But I can honestly say that the route is hard, but good - even very much. The level of diversity is enormous - the only thing missing is the sea. From big mountains, through small mountains, hills, off-road, national, local, gravel, rocky, hopeless, perfect roads, dikes, meadows, fields, bridges, rivers, villages, cities, towns and so on.
The surfaces are various, but especially in the first part, the terrain dominates. Except for the famous Strategic Road, there are no technical difficulties on the 38mm tire. Even though it is not technically difficult, and the hands just hurt and it is easy to kill yourself by falling into a meter-long gap in the middle of the road. The only difficulty may be the length of the off-road segments as well as accommodation and food logistics.
We start the tour on Saturday afternoon and end on Wednesday at a similar time. We go from wake up (around 7-8 am) until dusk - why travel to new places when you can't see them.
As for the route itself - there is nothing on it that a man who was in the Bieszczady and Alps has not seen before. At least in terms of nature, because when it comes to the cultural and social aspect, it is a bit different. Such a better Lemko region and Podlasie.
The total distance is 840km / 13,000m. It is felt, however, much larger, mainly through the terrain.
The doggy case.
Many people warned us against hordes of dogs that would want to kill us. Well, we had zero dangerous situations with dogs - uncomfortable maybe 2. Maybe we were lucky, maybe such a region, or maybe experience with shepherd dogs in spring in Sicily paid off. In fact, we met a lot of dogs, most of them quite solid, massive and able to kill us faster than rushing Racuchwhose sock was taken. But the vast majority of them were not homeless, and you can even say that they were completely well-groomed.
Our 3 police gases have been useless. It is known that when you ride your bike in a hurry into a herd of sheep at the end of the world and the general chaos and scolding panic begins, the dog whose only task is to guard this panic will not be happy. But stopping always helped. Stop, get off the bike, pray and walk slowly on. When there were more than 4 dogs, usually there was also a Romanian shouting at them in the distance. Whether the scream helped - I don't know, but it certainly made an impression. As if they had not been able to recall them many times before from the cyclists buried somewhere in the area who decided not to stop because they were not with us in Sicily. We were and we know that when you run away from a chasing dog, he chases you more. If you don't run away, it doesn't chase ... unless it's chasing - then you're fucked up.
From this point, I would like to remind you that none of the advice posted on the blog is legal advice and I cannot be held criminally responsible for not escaping from a killer dog.
There are no surprises here. As always, I drive on Factor Vista on Force AXS, but exceptionally in 38mm PANARACER GravelKing SS + tires - this is definitely a better choice than my classic 35mm Goodyear tires. Tubeless of course, although I don't know if it matters when driving above 3 bar. Maybe if I wanted to let go a little before the heavier sections, and pump in front of the asphalt ... but I don't want to. I am waiting for the technology to solve the problem of selecting the pressure while driving.
The clothes are an experiment because I give up the classic cycling bibs (shorts). Perhaps it is because of the size of the Assos, which, for mental reasons, does not allow me to wear a size larger than XL. During the last few expeditions I found that on long journeys I have a problem with the harness pulling my arms. It could also be my IT arms, I don't know. Anyway, I'm wearing regular shorts (Pedaled JARY) plus, underneath, pants with an insole (ASSOS Trail Liner Shorts) - the solution is perfect. We all need a few kilometers to settle down, and then I forget about it. It combines business with pleasure, and in addition I do not feel like a cyclist, which emphasizes my feeling vacation on a trip. Especially in combination with the merino jersey: Pedaled KAIDO, which is also far enough from the classic style.
All luggage is modest enough. Besides, what's on, the bags include: a sweatshirt, raincoat ultralight, spare socks, rain shorts, civil t-shirt, some tools, chargers, a few bars and that's it.
distance: 103 km / elevation difference: 1565m / walking time: 5: 35h / total time: 6: 24h
Saturday, July 30, 3:05 pm. We check in at the car park at the airport in Cluj-Napoca. It is about two hours later than our plane from Warsaw would have landed some 20 hours after our departure. We change, leave the car keys to the guy who sits in the booth and looks fair, and we set off on our bikes. We are not afraid of the car, because the car park is called ParkingOK, so it will definitely be fine.
The first kilometers, that is, leaving the city, makes us realize that it is exactly the same as everywhere else. Maybe the blocks are a bit poorer, but no exaggeration. Such Sicily or Naples better, with the difference that it is clean. Yes, in the part of Romania we had driven, it was clean. Zero rubbish in villages, zero in forests, sometimes a bit of shit near a larger city, but generally better than in our country.
Saturday is the day we need to get wet. Already while driving a car, the temperature ranges from 17 ° C to 34 ° C within an hour - the sun burns once, and a wall of rain a moment later. Black clouds hang on the horizon and just wait for us to reach the most distant of the most distant places.
You leave Cluj-Napoca comfortably, practically from the moment the city disappears, and the traffic disappears completely. We quickly enter the hill zone with good asphalts, then a few reflections on more and more side and off-road roads and suddenly we find ourselves in a place where epic photos for spreads in the Bikepacking Journal could be created. My fears of avoiding 'side Romania' are disappearing very quickly. We are where we wanted to be.
Unfortunately, it is also associated with moments of mud and puddles, so after the second hour of the trip, everything does not matter with our bike - more pitted will not be anymore. If it was spectacularly good before, now it's very good and brilliant. Gravel, asphalts, hills, rocks and houses that the best open-air museums would not be ashamed of. The buildings and the general atmosphere are so good that the only thing missing are film crews shooting something about Eastern Europe - almost caricaturally good. We look forward to meeting Borat. Some cows, some dogs, sometimes a man with a horse ... and in all of this we, people from a completely different story.
Even a more serious uphill ride gets - after a reflection on a road that at first glance does not exist, but is still asphalt - 4km with an average 9%, and then further up as far as 1000m above sea level. We accidentally reach the vantage point Panorama of Dumeștiwhere we meet a group of several tourists with a local guide. They are shocked with where we came from and how we got there - and so did we. The difference is that we can continue to push the terrain. And then it gets even better.
The problem arises when we start looking for accommodation. Booking suggests that we will reach the nearest accommodation in the middle of the night, which is not the best option, especially considering the general fatigue of the trip. On Google Maps we find a hut marked as an accommodation (Dor de munte Apuseni). We reach her at dusk and learn that yes, but no. I mean, maybe it would be possible, but if we had our own tent. We get a glass of water, an English phone number from a hostess who speaks perfect English, just in case, and a link to the monastery that supposedly receives weary travelers (Schitul Hopagi). For unexplained reasons, we find on the way that we are not, and we decide to risk a descent to the next point on the map - Casa Bunicilor Apuseni.
The accommodation is perfect, its only drawback is ... it's busy. It is a hut that someone has already rented. After calling the owner, the landlord (speaking perfect English) agree to give us one unused room with a bathroom. We pay them exactly as they pay for the whole house (PLN 200) and we stay. As you may have noticed, we forgot about eating and drinking that day. There was simply no store on the way, so in the evening and in the morning we are a bit hungry. Fortunately, we only have a few dozen kilometers to reach the nearest store with terrain somewhere at the end of the world. But all this does not matter, because we spend the night in the village DUPA DEAL. Google tells us that the ass is "for" and the deal is "hill", so ours is Zagórze.
distance: 199.8 km / elevation gain: 3093m / walking time: 11: 21h / total time: 14: 04h
We would have been going a bit faster that day, if it hadn't been for the slipper and the discovery that among the 3 spare tubes, one is road and one is let through, because it was glued. We lose a total of 1.5 hours when playing with inner tubes. The start is also not very easy, because almost two days have passed since the last decent meal. Add to this the fact that we are trying to cross the gate from the farm for a few minutes so that the dog does not go out with us. When we finally succeed, it passes beneath it and carries us to the horizon.
The villages and views make up for it all. We even reach a large town, where we include Penny Market. As it turns out later - the only store where we will be for the next 30 hours. If I had known it then, I would have planned my purchases differently.
Because of flat, comfortable and empty asphalt, sometimes interwoven with terrain, we have a lot until we go down the gravel and the uphill ride begins. It's good that we are well tuned to it by hooking on an electric shepherd while riding our VERY WELL PLANNED route. The endless driveway (with a slight slope along the road) starts somehow at 108km (8 hour drive) and lasts nearly 70km. We climb from around 250 meters to 1400 meters to reach the asphalt, which we will climb even higher - in complete darkness.
The driveway is terribly long, off-road, with a stable slope and still through the forest. To spice up our adventure, it starts pouring and the temperature drops to a few degrees. Of course, the lowest is exactly when we start going downhill.
One problem is finding accommodation. It turns out that their absence is only half the problem - apart from any infrastructure, there is also no coverage on the phone, which makes the search a bit more difficult.
On Booking we find what looks like an overnight stay and is only a few kilometers away from the route - Cabana Groapa Seaca. Well, we forgot to check how much it differs vertically, although would anything change? I do not know. We get there in the middle of the night and it takes a while to find anyone in the facility. In the end, for another PLN 200 we get a room from a man with communication skills equal to zero. When asked about a store, food or restaurant, the guest only smiles in surprise. We go to sleep again without breakfast and dinner. In the morning we will lose 20 minutes trying to explain that the payment was made by card via booking. Maybe it would be easier if there were any coverage. The situation is dynamic enough that the booking assistance phone is even played.
distance: 170km / elevation: 3275m / walking time: 10: 24h / total time: 12: 39h
We start the day by entering the highest road in Romania - Transalpina. As we expected, there is a bus with food in front of the key section of the driveway. We load up nearly half a kilo cakes consisting of sugar and fat - a warm and perfect meal. The driveway is like a driveway - smooth, with serpentine, through the forest, practically no traffic. At least up to a certain point, after which we do not know how it is, because the fog limits visibility to a few meters.
The summit is cheated, because after reaching the top you have to go down from 200 meters to climb again a few meters higher than before - on Pasul Urdele. We reach 2145m above sea level and we turn back taking advantage of the fact that at high altitude the situation with clouds is changeable and there are moments when we can see where we are. And it is actually very nice - so alpine. And we turn back, because we want to do the exit from Transalpina alternatively. Not asphalt, but a reflecting area a bit before the summit. Although the Internet suggests that this exit is not suitable for our bikes, we know that it was launched that way Transcontinental Race, and the competitors are riding on the roads. Since the organizer let the road riders with 3000km + in their legs go that way and since it is a downhill ride, it cannot be wrong. Well, these are two contradictions that together do not confirm.
Strategic Road is beautiful and you have to admit it, but it is neither road nor gravel road. It is over 40 km, which we spend almost 4 hours. Despite the stop to admire the views and lunch (a bar), it gives us a second time on Strava. The road looks like from an exclusive bikepacking magazine, but it would be traveled on MTB. We were shaken mercilessly, and to the unasked question "is it worth it" I have no answer. What happened next that day, I don't know - I must have a concussion. I remember some hills, especially the very steep ones, sections of the terrain, a lot of asphalt, a piece of a border where we are afraid to go below 40 km / h. The most important thing, however, is that there is a shop in the 8th hour of driving and we can refill the bars. We made peace with eating them.
In the evening, we start the ascent to the most famous road in this part of Europe - the Transfagaraska Route. We even stand in some restaurant for the first hot meal ... or even "just a meal" for over 3 days. We are so surprised that we even decide to stay overnight in cabins by the restaurant. This option is rather luxurious than cheap (in our understanding of the onion world), but the nice lady tempts us with breakfast at 8 am. It would be nice to have breakfast, I even remember what it was like to start the day that way.
distance: 182 km / elevation difference: 2450m / walking time: 8: 49h / total time: 10: 42h
Hand up, who is surprised when I say that there was no breakfast. As befits serious people, we arrive at 8:50 am for breakfast. Dark, deaf, everything closed. After a while, a guy comes who says it's 8:30, and then a lady who mentions something at 9:00. So we haggle the price for the night and we fall. There are no more shops and restaurants on the way, and we are starting the climb from 600 meters to 2000.
The Transfagaraska driveway from the south has this to say that it starts, but does not start. We go through the forest on asphalt, next to a large water reservoir and the road never ends. After 40 kilometers we are 300 meters higher. A bit hungry, we accept the fact of dying from boredom and weariness, until our trip is changed. There is a bear on the horizon, a bear sitting on a concrete band and looking at us. I tell Michał to wait until I take out the camera and let it go forward. As you are hungry and tired, your brain works a little slower. We pass the teddy bear that is too unmoved, I check if there is a photo ... and so-so. So we turn back and pass it again. If I saw guys like us, I'd say they must be stupid. The bear posed for a photo and when we passed it, he went down from the wall and walked slowly in the middle of the asphalt on his journey. Probably looking for someone who's easier to steal a lunch basket than for us. I had already completed the trip, no matter what else was going to happen. Well, damn felek, we met a bear in Transylvania, during bikepacking. It's better than elephant meeting while kayaking in Thailand.
Transfagaraska itself is very nice - completely different from Transalpina. Greener, but whether it is prettier - I do not know, I am not trying to compare. One thing is certain - in good weather we reach the top, standing on the way for some local meat that tastes like kebab. In the tunnel at the very top, we are hit by a fog so dense that we can not see much. It turns out that on the other side of the mountain the visibility is up to several meters in gusts and the country's most famous vantage point allows us to see absolutely nothing. But maybe it is better - we also do not see the stalls and the mass of cars that are parked there.
Then the exit that sees us on the counterpart Płaskopolski and an infinitely long cut, which mentally exhausts more than all the previous days combined. We spend the end of the day on the very pleasant rolling hills through empty villages and end the day at the lorry inn on the motorway. We finish the first time when it is still light outside - mainly because the next, potential accommodation is not earlier than 60km away ... the store too. We sleep in Hotel Restaurant Apolduabout which I can say the price is good, the food is huge and the service is extremely rude. The bikes sleep outside, strapped to a rack hidden behind the hotel. If there was any other hotel in the area I would go to it. But it didn't exist, so there was no problem.
distance: 186 km / elevation difference: 2410 m / walking time: 9: 12h / total time: 10: 23h
On the last day we don't feel like driving too much. We take the direction of "airport" and we are already heads in the car with air conditioning, loaded with sandwiches from the gas station. It's a pity, because the day is very diverse, both on the surface and in terms of scenery. We have gravel like from a fairy tale, views of soaring mountains, some meadows, a little bit of everything. In addition, the heat is amazing and the sweat pouring from the head.
The highlight of the day is the type of cows taking a walk along the narrow road. Any attempt to avoid them ends in a cow sprint and the guy with a stick screams. The scream is probably heard in Bratislava, although we are not sure if it is screaming at us or at the cows. It is only when Michał tries to overcome the barbed wire with his momentum, and the guest throws a stick at him, that I begin to guess that he was saying something to us. Well, we may have mentioned that we don't understand, but I don't know if that would change anything.
The day turned out to be much longer than we expected, but the views were also completely new. It only remains to envy the people of Cluj-Napoca the gravel opportunities that start just outside the city.
Romania lands on the list of places we will definitely come back to ... but probably with a tent.