Riding a bicycle that has bags loaded over two racks, things strapped, stuffed, and dangling off of nearly every inch of empty space draws a certain amount of attention from locals. Frequently, we are asked about our destination, the weight of our luggage and sometimes even the state of our mental health. Immediately upon crossing into Romania, despite its horrid reputation, we found its inhabitants to be incredibly warm. Everyone is smiling, everyone is waving. We decide we like it here.
Rolling into our first Romanian city, we receive an unfortunate awakening. While looking for some specific supplies at a few different locations in sweltering heat, we run into multiple problems with multiple security guards and officials. No one here seems to like bicycles and everyone is beeping their horns. We give up and try to find a park with shade to have some lunch, again, our way is barred by a heat angered guard who actually follows us while we try to plan our next move. So out of this city we ride, and as quickly as possible.
Twenty kilometers later and we are sweat soaked and sun baked. We stop for cold drinks and meet another cyclist who buys us many rounds of cheap, cold and so delicious Romanian beer. We talk of our trip, our professions, and we ask for some pointers from this local about our prospective route. He tells us to call him George and invites us to backtrack our twenty kilometers to have dinner, a shower, and a bed at his house. We accept. We could not have imagined the kindness of his family, and on such short notice.
His sweet mother cooks us delicious food, washes our clothes until they are actually clean for the first time in a month (how they smelled!), and his father entertains us with stories and homemade visnata. George shows us what young Romanians do for fun on the weekends and how they deal with their hangovers before church on Sunday morning. We depart with panniers overflowing with the kindness of strangers; homemade jam, bread, chocolate, lunch cooked and packed for us, and a bit of George senior’s famous cherry visnata.
We ride towards the mountains, towards the promised shelter from the sun of the damp forests, the coolness of altitude, and the beauty of scenery. One slow morning, we break camp, coast back to our road and begin cooking breakfast at a roadside picnic table. Fresh cinnamon rolls and oats! While baking, a lone cyclist, loaded with bags, rides by, stopped by Josh’s elated questions concerning her destination and place of origin. She stops with a smile and joins us for breakfast. “I’m Verena, I am german and, yes, I am traveling alone,” she tells us with her smile.
Now we are three, traveling through Romania’s wild and rocky mountains and narrow, winding and steep roads. Our routes are ultimately different but Josh’s and mine is so flexible. We decide at some point to accompany Verena, our new, happy vegan third to her destination, a music festival. Her route is now ours and we meander through mountainous Romania together for the next approximate week, spending the three hardest days of riding our entire trip thus far around the ever popular and so beautiful Transfagarasan Pass and surrounding area.
Being well prepared mentally for the length of this pass, the climb was, mostly, cheerful and the evening at camp beside an aqua lake, perfect. While dipping water to boil for coffee from it the next morning and chewing a porridge of oats and fresh apples, we had no idea what our road had in store for us.
The next day, our legs already showing signs of fatigue from the previous day, we pedal up and around, down and across, a massive power generating reservoir, finishing the day with our sweetest campsite yet; in the midst of a plum orchard. And plums are in season!
There is a point at which your body can still pedal your heavy bicycle up an incline but at which your brain does not agree. There is a point when, after climbing so many switchbacks you feel as if you will just roll right off the side of the next one you see, voluntarily, but your body is still going.
Then, there is a point when you see your road, still, going up, and up, with your sun doing the exact opposite, and your fatigue, your frustration, your screaming muscles, all melt into a kind of maniacal hilarity and you look at your wild eyed fellow cyclists, your fried, sweaty, panting friends and you can only laugh, throwing your heads to the sky, throats to the moon, releasing uncontrollable cackles like wild animals screaming through the forest.
Then you arrive at the top of the world, at your destination, at your rendezvous point, and it was all worth it.