Romanian Mountain Adventure Part 2

Continued From Romanian Mountain Adventure Part 1… Dawn staggered blearily onto the scene at about 5:30. We staggered upright shortly after the arrival of daylight and finally set out to see if we could fix the recalcitrant ATV throttle. This took two hours, compounded by the battery that had decided that holding a charge was no longer required. The jump leads that we packed right at the last minute now proved to be worth their weight in copper, but the fiendishly tricky task of adjusting the throttle took two hours. This gave time for the sun to light up the surrounding area, and brought the arrival of an eagle high above, slowly cruising higher on the thermal currents that the warming land created. We took this to be an omen, and so it proved to be. The throttle finally worked properly and we were on the road again. It took me all of two minutes to drop my rear wheel into the water carved crevasse as the side collapsed and my position was about eight cm to far to the right. More pushing and cursing followed, but the training from the previous day paid off and we were swiftly on the move again.

Knowing that the uphill burst followed by the tree jump was going to be difficult, we followed a third track that we discovered with the benefit of daylight. Following the leader, I rounded a corner to see the ATV axle deep in mud – not a good sight! Leaving my companions to extract the ATV, I walked on to see if there were further obstacles to progress. There were a few, such as large rocks, logs and small fallen trees that were manageable, but the landslide was a jump too far. There was no sign of where the trail had been or where it re-started, so we were left with the tree jump test. It was not a big tree but the steep sloped approach made it difficult. Our fears were unrealised as my more experienced friends made it all look easy.

This took us to the next challenge – the canyon. Getting smarter, we spent a few minutes relocating an assortment of logs, rocks and gravel to create a crossing. With this in place we were soon on our way back up the hill and to safety. It still took several hours and couple of wrong turns to reach our destination. One incorrect turn led us down to an area with a breathtaking view, with a small waterfall to our right and layers of mountains marching into the hazy distance to the left. This gave us the chance to pause for a few minutes to savour the view, refill our water bottles and admire the maps again. One of my companions checked his GPS device, but as this was primarily to measure altitude all we were able to discover was that we were at 1100 metres. As there were a multitude of points on the map at this height, looking at the map was for entertainment purposes, although passing sheep could have been impressed. When we reached the farm at the end of the trail we once again asked for directions and again turned back the way we had come.

We found the right track and rode on, again riding along forest tracks, logging tracks and through mint patches. We managed to find deep patches of mud but without getting stuck this time. We did have to ask for more directions, but the assortment of people cutting trees down were all happy to point us in a direction. The approach to logging has no identifiable logic, but seems to be based on going as high as a truck can get, installing luxurious accommodation for the crew then cutting down anything that doesn’t move. This does not appear to be regulated or smart, as it leaves barren swathes of land and discarded branches. We must have been a rarity in these parts as one of the workers took photos of us as we passed.

After an assortment of trails we finally found a track out of the hills and in the correct direction. We finally arrived at the oasis of Fratii Jderi, 22 hours later than planned. As we were all weary from our trials and lack of sleep, this was the highlight of the two days. Fresh food, cold beer and warm showers all acquired medicinal properties, and an hour later we were very happy chaps. Dinner was divine – chicken cooked in wine and garlic sauce with mamaliga and French fries for a carbohydrate boost and fried eggs for extra protein. Fat and happy we were in bed early and promptly asleep.

Day three arrived as forecast with rain clouds replacing the sun. This soon turned to rain, but it looked like it would pass from our point in a bowl of tree covered mountains. Being low on fuel, a volunteer set out to the nearest OMV with the jerry can strapped to the back. Ten minutes after his departure, the black clouds arrived, bringing with them thunder, lightning and torrential rain. It was a very bedraggled ATV driver that arrived back, complete with the jerry can bouncing behind him. Swift investigation revealed that it must have been hanging off for a while as the base was worn to the point of leakage and we had a very lucky driver as a spark could have been catastrophic had it met the leaking fuel. Whilst waiting for fuel, I had whiled away the minutes watching the Xmas movie that was bizarrely being shown (in July). This left me with the curse of the Silent Night tune running through my head for the rest of the morning.

Once we had jump started the last ATV, we set off for Rimnicu Valcea. At this point, the skies again opened and for the next hour emptied onto the mountains. Judging by the amount of water that fell, the skies had been very full. This turned the tracks into fast flowing streams, making everything a challenge. At points I started to sympathise with wild salmon that have to swim upstream to spawn, although hoping that I would not match the fate of these noble fish. The mountain seemed to go on upwards forever, which was proving arduous for my weary arms and shoulders but at least replaced the tune of Silent Night with The Long and Winding road.

As the rain continued to pour, the roads were becoming slipperier than a politician with a contract to award. We finally reached the top of the climb, which proved to be a short lived joy. Going down was even more interesting that going up! The brakes were already faded from the adventures of the previous two days, but were mostly ineffective under these conditions. Switching to 4×4 and low gear was the best way to establish an element of control, but the descent was a barely controlled slide through mud and rocks, with the rear of the ATV occasionally trying to sneak past to the front. This is not ideal when the trails are narrow and the drop off the edge enough to focus attention.

The logging operations on this part of the mountain had been temporarily suspended, although we had to dodge a large truck and trailer combination working it’s way up through the rivers of water that were cascading down the hillside. We finally reached a point where the gradient eased off, and lead rider informed me to switch to high speed. This was briefly a cause for deep concern until I realised that he meant high gear ratio, and I had a quiet smile at my interpretation.

We finally reached our final destination to find it dry. This meant that our drenched appearance attracted some very odd looks from anyone we passed, but I was a long way past caring. My waterproof trousers had failed their first major test, leaving me wet from just below my waist to my ankles. My jacket and boots had actually performed better than I could have expected, so I had dry feet and a mostly dry torso. The ensuing strip and shower were again an absolute joy, and I could have happily spent the rest of the afternoon under the hot flow of water.

I must confess that I ended the adventure with a few deep aches and pains, probably a mix of some testing activities with the lack of flexibility that no longer being in the first flush of youth can bring. It felt like I had just completed several hours of circuits in a gym with a psychotic instructor. My shoulders had developed a deep ache; I had forearms like Popeye on a bad day and the right thumb of a PlayStation expert (but far less dexterous).

Settling down to write this I asked myself would I do this again? My answer, from the comfort of the armchair was a qualified yes. My two companions had been towers of strength and capability that pulled me through. The sights, sounds and smells of the three days will stay with me forever and the entire experience can definitely be described as character building. Accurate maps would be a big help, but are likely to be a long time coming. Ongoing tree cutting operations will keep changing the overall layout of the network of tracks – the valley that we ended up sleeping in had clearly been logged but abandoned at least a year ago. A no entry sign would have ideal, as anything apart from an ATV or an enduro bike will not survive the experience.

Bucharest Expat is keen to promote the natural beauty that Romania still has outside the cities. The infrastructure means that reaching it is still the biggest obstacle, but it is worth the effort once you arrive. Our advice would be to choose guides and equipment carefully and go soon while there are still areas of stunning nature and some trees left.