Apologies. I havent had internet for 5 days. We havent looked for it specifically and ended up staying in very out of the way places. But I am now here in a cafe in Odessa (Ukraine) eating pizza with wi-fi access so here goes 5 days updates.
- – -
Day 12: Good Friday
A look out of our window early in the morning said the weather would be good, so Marcin and I rose early to tackle the Transfagarasan. This road had been built as an escape route across the carpathian mountains to provide and escape route for communist dictator Nicolae Ceaucescu, in case the Soviets invaded as per Hungary in 1956 and Czechoslovakia in 1968. Romania is split in two by the curved Carpathian range. The plains along the Danube to the east and south of the country, including Bucharest, could be easily invaded by the soviets. But the land within the curve of the Carpathians would involve crossing the Carpathians somehow. The road is said to be a feat of road engineering up there with the best of them , and very scenic to boot.
The Transfagarasan road is supposedly only opened in mid May each year as the high pass is around 2030 metres up. I had just ridden the Arlberg pass in Austria last week and was feeling up for it. As we climbed up from the base of the mountains at about 500 metres to the level of the first lake at about 850, the temperature dropped dramatically. In theory, temperature should drop about 1 degree C every 150 metres in altitude, subject to a couple of variables, but in this case, it must have dropped 7-8 degrees in just 350 metres. By the time we would our way around the lake and climbed up through 1000 metres, the snow was becoming more and more abundant. By 1300 metres there were avalanches across the road, with narrow paths just wide enough to fit a car cut through them. and by 1580 metres, the road became impassable. Snow covered the whole road, to a depth of several feet. we were defeated. We turned back dejected for the one and a half hour ride back to the bottom of the mountains.
At Curtea de Arges, Marcin and I parted ways. He had to head North West to get back to Poland, and I had to head East and get to the Ukraine. 24 hours earlier, we had been 3. Now it was just me – “And then there was one”. The first half an hour was strange. For the first time in the trip I had no-one in my rear view mirrors; No-one in front of me; No-one to bounce ideas off; No-one to tell me my ideas are stupid. As much as I love the freedom of riding alone, I will surely miss the company of Jonathan and Marcin.
I decided to head to a bizarre double border crossing at the southern tip of Moldova. Due to the Danube estuary and delta, there is no border crossing between Romania and Ukraine, to the south of Moldova. I had to go through Moldova… but recent Romanian news reports were of revolution and demonstrations in Moldova. One voice even said the borders were closed. I took a chance and headed for the Romanian city of Galati, near the crossings I wanted to try – from Romania into Moldova, then about 1.5 km later, the Ukranian border. I wanted to be in Ukraine for the night so it was head down 120km riding all the way to Bucharest. Then I hit the ring road. If there is a worse capital city ring road anywhere in the wolrd, I have yet to see it. It took me 30 km of reckless gung-ho riding through the worst traffic and most rutted bitumen roads I have ever seen to get to the other side of the city. What should have taken 20 minutes according to Garmin, took over an hour. If I had ridden responsibly, I may still be there.
When I finally exited the ring road from hell, it was straight back to 120 km/h head down riding, with the little X-Challenge screaming away beneath me. I had been scanning the trucks I passed and those which came the other way for Ukranian number plates to confirm the border was open, despite the on-going revolution, but I had seen nothing in the hundreds of kilometres I had been on the lookout. Then, 70km from the border, a stroke of luck. I saw two Ukranian trucks parked by the side of the road pointing in the direction of Ukraine, drivers engaged in social chat. I slammed on the brakes, did a u-turn and chatted to the drivers in Russian. The border was indeed open. They assured me that all this revolution business is only in Kishinev, the capital city, and way down on the southernmost border there would be no problems.
By 7pm I made it to the Romanian border. The 10 km from Galati to the border was deserted and felt like a no-mans land. By 7:45 I was into Moldova, having been made to buy a 20 EUR insurance policy (from 4 lovely women who I photographed below) for the 1.2 km ride to the Ukraine border and then the Ukranians held me up for over an hour while they went through bizarre paperwork rituals. My passport was checked half a dozen times under ultraviolet light. So too were my registration papers. By the time I was set free into Ukraine it was around 9:30 and well and truly dark. The border guys recommended a cheap hotel in the town 6km down the road. After a quick search I found it. It was extremely soviet, Very bare. But at this hour I didnt have a lot of choice. And at 100 UAH for a room for the night (about 10 EUR) I didnt complain. They even had secure parking for the bike and opened up the kitchen for me.
Texts came in from Jon and Marcin. Marcin had made it to Hungary, and Jon who we had left just after midday yesterday (Thursday), had ridden non-stop though the night and made it to his girlfriends parents in Linz (Austria) at 7am this morning while Marcin and I were still thinking about waking up. A remarkable piece of iron-man riding.
A couple of minor milestones came up today, day number 12. Kilometre number 5000 of the trip came and went, as did the 200th litre of fuel, as well as the 22nd country and the 30th degree of longitude from the start of the trip in Wales (3 degrees 46 mins west to over 28 degrees east.) This is where the rate of border crossings slows dramatically. In the next 5 weeks there will only be 5 more countries to add to the list: Russia, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Kyrgyzstan. After that, no new countries for about 3 months.