Desflurane's Romaniacs Blog

Chronicle of My Participation in the World's Toughest Enduro Rally – Again…

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Day two – perfection

Posted by desflurane on July 5, 2013

Unlike day one, the second offroad day was a true joy.

I arrived at the start feeling absolutely awful. Sleep had escaped me the night before – probably to do with my internal clock being severely off kilter as well as a case of intense anxiety after the disaster day one turned out to be. I had crammed down as much breakfast as I could – trying to “carb load” for the day”s festivities and as a result, was quite nauseated.

I plunked down next to Chilly White and had a chat while the minutes ticked away until my start time arrived. Chilly’s minute rolled around and off he went. After that I fell in with some of the British guys who are buddies with Mike, my roommate. We commiserated and agreed generally that today simply HAD to be a lot easier than day one, simply because the distance to cover was so great. You just can’t put together 140kM of non-stop gnarly riding and expect anyone to be able to finish it in eight hours.

My time finally rolled around and I lined up under the Red Bull arch. A quick swipe of the number cards and I was off. Thankfully the first ten miles of track were very easy and my confidence began to creep back each time I blasted around a well-bermed corner, roosting hard as I went.

Klaus had warned us that not too far after the start we would encounter some mud bogs in the forest. He offered advice in typical Klaus style. “It vill take a lot of gash to shtay on top…” He was right. The track ran directly through a quagmire of sticky mud that had been a grassy glade before three hundred dirt bikes had blasted their way through it. By the time I arrived it had been churned into a lake of black soup with deep, deep water filled ruts cut through it. Ten or twenty riders were stuck in the middle of it, yanking on their tug straps and roosting globs of mud ten feet into the air and making imperceptible progress.

Four or five of us paused just before plunging into the mess and noticed that frustrated (or intimidated) riders had blazed another trail skirting around the right-hand side of the the whole disaster. Rather than riding through above the knee lakes of Romanian slop, we took the easy way around on relatively grippy grass that served as a matting to hold the bike up on top of the chocolate pudding just well enough to allow an unscathed crossing.

After that the track was really fast and flowing, climbing higher and higher into the mountains along sunlit, grassy ridge lines. We passed innumerable picturesque farm houses as well as the sheep, cows, horses and tractors that come with them. I heard rumors later that one rider actually hit a cow. I know for a fact that another rider struck a car that had gotten onto the track. He was one of the other guys on the Arenalin Racing “team.” He got away with a few broken ribs, a broken clavicle and hairline vertebral fractures. Could have been a lot worse.

One rule that can definitely be applied at Romaniacs is “what goes up must come down.” The thoroughly enjoyable rips up the mountains must eventually be paid for in the form of somewhat less enjoyable downhills. But compared to day one’s completely punishing and (for me) terrifying toboggan rides through the dense forest, these were quite tame. Additionally, earlier riders had begun “cutting the corners” of essentially all the tight switchbacks, so there was a gentle radius to follow rather than an extremely tight one where the trail folds back onto itself.

I had only one real problem going through this section. I was coming down a bit of trail that dropped straight down the hill for perhaps fifty feet before making a ninety degree left-hand turn. The ground was covered with sticks and leaves lowering its coefficient of friction considerably. I got sliding downward, but was able to lock up the brakes and turn the bike sideways grinding to a gradual halt – ten or so feet down the hillside below the track. Climbing ten inches up that hillside would have been impossible without a block and tackle, so a side-hilling excursion was in order.

Resourcefulness and the ability to read the terrain are valuable skills in the Carpathians because the odds that you will find yourself well off the track at some point are nearly 100%. You MUST be able to get yourself back on the line quickly, otherwise gravity and the tractionless hillsides will escort you inevitably toward the bottom of some dark Transylvanian valley from which you may never emerge.

I scouted around a little and noticed that just beyond the point where I had slid off, the track dipped down a bit, until it was more or less parallel to where I had come to a stop. If I could just shoot directly rightward across the hillside I would be back in business. Unfortunately a big log lying a foot or two off the ground was situated between me and my route of egress. Further examination and I came up with a plan. The base of the offending log was just a bit further down the hill from where I was and things appeared reasonably passable if I tried to descend just a bit further, climb over the stump and then grind like hell to claw my way back up this much gentler slope to the track.

I wrestled the bike around so that it was aimed toward the stump and began bulldogging my way toward it. It’s worth mentioning that it required a MAJOR leap of faith for me to intentionally move further down the hill AWAY from the track, but I really was out of options at that point. I was greatly encouraged when I saw some tire tracks going over the stump. Apparently I was not the first poor slob to find myself down here, and since there were no corpses or abandoned bikes lying nearby it seemed like this plan had already worked for somebody else.

I got over the stump without any trouble, leaving twenty feet or so of hillside covered in leaves as well as a grove of small saplings between me and my goal. I realized that this was no time to be squeamish with the throttle so I twisted the right-hand grip hard, leaned forward and hoped for the best.

The burly 300 did not disappoint.

Seconds later I crawled back onto the track, congratulated myself for a job well done and carried on my way.

More climbing and descending followed as the day wore on, but it was all tolerable and honestly, really fun.

About twenty km from Petrosani the track came to a swiftly flowing mountain stream choked with rocks and waterfalls. Not seeing the track emerging from the other side, it rapidly became apparent that the stream WAS the track. Again, finding myself freshly out of alternatives I plunged in.

The water was very fast-flowing but, thankfully, not more than ankle deep. It was just enough to keep the rocks damp and slick the whole way down. I know that guys who have practiced riding in streams can just stay on the pegs and bounce down this kind on thing, but I’m not one of those guys. I killed the engine and carefully picked my way down using primarily the front brake with the bike in gear and the clutch pulled so that I could use engine braking as a failsafe if things started to get out of hand. They didn’t. Before long I was out of the stream bed and steaming along again.

The track rolled over a hilltop and like magic Petrosani was in view. I definitely rejoiced at this point, but as it turned out I still had quite some distance to go before arriving at the coal mine for the “factory ride” finish.

Just as we entered the town a wide stream, of bike-swallowing depth stood in the path. A Romaniacs-style wooden bridge had been built over its deepest section but somehow the “down ramp” portion had been smashed to kindling. One guy had apparently drown his bike trying to ride across a little upstream. The best solution was to ride over the bridge, hopping off to the shallower downstream side just before reaching the broken portion. The guy who had been riding along with me since the downstream section took the lead and was quickly up the other side. I followed suit and expected to be at the coal mine in minutes. But that ain’t how it works in Romaniacs! 

Just after leaving the stream the track crossed a paved street and led straight up a thirty foot cliff. Now when I say a “cliff” I do NOT mean a pretty steep hill. It was a bona fide cliff. It did, however sport a gradual transition from horizontal to vertical at its bottom and it rolled off into a dirt section at around the twenty foot height. I would never have given this thing a second glance, but it turned out to be a nearly perfect step-up type jump. Hit it wide-open in second gear and you would be lofted gently up onto the dirt portion where you probably would not tumble backward to you death. A group of Romanians had gathered up there to grab bikes in danger of rolling back over the precipice and presumably to rifle the pockets of any unsuccessful riders.

My riding buddy and I watched one of the experts give it a go and were encouraged when he shot right to the top without the slightest issue. 310 (my buddy’s number) didn’t hesitate. He gassed it hard, aimed straight for the base of the cliff and almost floated right to the top.

My turn.

This is just one of the many “all or nothing” kind of moments you encounter at Romaniacs. If you go full-force there is an excellent chance you will be just fine, but half-hearted attempts will not be tolerated.

I punched it into second, wrapped it out and hoped for the best.

I don’t recall any jarring or wobbling sensation as I became airborne, just sudden weightlessness followed by what you might call “intense interest” as I passed the apex of my flight path and gravity started doing its job again.

There was a six-foot tall mound of dirt just to the left of the ideal landing zone. I touched down on that and the bike, bereft of all momentum at that point, tumbled over to the right. Neither I or the bike showed any inclination toward falling back down. I could NOT have been happier.

Rather dejectedly, one of the Romanians helped me pick the bike back up and I continued on my way.

More hijinx ensued, but nothing worthy of note and at long last I arrived at the abandoned coal mine. As the finish of an already amazing day, the factory ride was perfect! We climbed over some piles of rubble and wound around between the buildings before entering one of them, and zig-zagging through its dark interior. Huge derelict machines and conveyor belts emerged from the gloom as we made our way along toward a steep, metal-floored chute that housed another massive conveyor belt which presumably had transferred ore from one building to the next. A bit more snaking between the industrial wreckage and we climbed another, slightly less steep metal chute. From here a hole, just big enough to permit a bike and  rider to pass, had been knocked through the wall. We popped through this and emerged onto the brilliantly sunlit rooftop where the Red Bull arch and scantily-clad Red Bull girls awaited us.

If you decide to ride in Romaniacs remember that when you think you are finished, you aren’t.

Unfortunately the elevator down from the roof was out of commission that day and we were forced instead to ride the bikes seven stories down a tight stairwell. It actually wasn’t that difficult. I could keep my feet on the floor as I rolled down each flight of steps, using just the front brake to control my speed. Once on the next landing there was just enough space to tilt the bike over, gas it and do a little burn-out to whip the rear end around 180 degrees to line up for the next flight. Seven stories, two flights per story…

I had the misfortune of entering the stairwell right behind one of the first-aid riders. I’m very glad he was there, but his riding skills were not the best and instead of each flight taking a few seconds to negotiate, he had to ride down one flight, dismount, heave the rear wheel around, climb back on and start the whole process over again – fourteen times… 

By the time we exited the stairwell I could have strangled him.

All done, right? Into the hotel for some rest and relaxation, RIGHT?

Wrong.

Now I had to ride about another 10km from the mine into Petrosani proper, locate the hotel (not an easy task as signage was sparse at best) get the bike to the mechanics, stand in a long line to check in at the hotel, catch a shuttle bus to get to the remote hotel where Mike and I were actually staying, get out of the riding gear, shower, dress, get a ride back into town (another adventure there, but I wont bore you), get the bike into the bike paddock for the night, eat a crappy dinner, go to the rider’s meeting, get a ride back out to the sticks where our room awaited, get gear ready for the next day’s ride and finally get to bed.

It was around midnight before we hit the sack.

About 2:00 a group of germans rolled in, quite noisily, and checked into their rooms banging luggage around, laughing and cavorting.

Our alarm was set for 5:30.

Day two was definitely worth the entire price I have paid to get to Romaniacs. But as far as being a relaxing vacation – it doesn’t rate!! Day three was scheduled for 140km off road and everyone concluded that it, once again, had to be reasonably easy to cover that much ground in time. 

Here’s hoping! 

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One Response to “Day two – perfection”

  1. Mark said

    Excellent! that must be your best posting yet, brought the action right here to my toilet seat! Glad your still in one piece, sounds completely grueling with such a lack of sleep

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