Desflurane's Romaniacs Blog

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

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Day three – and now for something completely different…

Posted by desflurane on July 6, 2013

I left day two on a very high note, but dragging myself out of bed and onto the bike to ride out for day three’s off road start was extremely difficult. I was still very tired from the two days before, had gotten barely enough sleep and was still feeling very anxious about what was coming. I would have to say that I felt even worse than the day before as I waited for my minute to come up. But come up it did, and I headed off. If things went more or less as they had yesterday, in half an hour or so I would be feeling like myself again and I would rally throughout the day.

This is more or less how things started off, and just a few km into the track I was doing alright.

Then, in a fashion very similar to the debacle right off the start of day one, there was a miserably steep, snotty hillclimb that had bikes piled on top of each other and essentially nobody moving forward. In stark contrast to Wednesday almost everyone pitched in to help other riders out.

The climb wasn’t actually that bad. It was somewhat steep, rocky and slick, but with a little momentum this was easily surmounted – although many, many riders failed to do so. The only really difficult part was the last ten feet at the top. Right at the crest of the hill the grade became a bit steeper and muddier. Slimy exposed roots and sticks and ever deepening furrows in between (from excessive wheel spin) made it hard to get over that last few feet.

Somebody had broken out a tow strap and the hoisting of bikes up to the top had begun. Riders even waited in an orderly fashion some distance back, so that there was sufficient run-up to the base of the climb. Chilly was there helping riders up the alternate path through the weeds and trees on the right-hand side of the trail, but they were still working quite hard at it and I felt like my chances were probably just as good on the main trail. Beside that, I just didn’t yet have the energy for an uphill battle (literally), pushing the bike through the sticks, branches and undergrowth.

I made the decision then and there that I would get over the top then stay to help as many other riders as I could.

I had gotten stopped in a near ideal spot to make my attempt and I took full advantage. Plenty of throttle leading up to the rocky section, then careful line selection beyond that got me ALMOST over the top, but not quite. The strap was quickly fastened on to my bike and with another blip of the throttle I was up.

There was a wide, flat area at the top where the road we were following was in the process of switching back on itself. I parked my bike far back out of the way then set to work pulling other bikes up. In the forty-five minutes I spent there, working my butt off, I don’t recall seeing a SINGLE rider make it over the top unaided – either by way of the main track or the side track.

If that wasn’t enough, perhaps fifty feet along up the road, a big log had fallen right across the whole thing. The road was quite a steep one to begin with. Drop a tweny-four inch high log across it and you have a real obstacle on your hands.

It may not have been so bad at first, if two-hundred guys hadn’t hung their back wheel up on it then blasted on the gas trying to get the rest of the way over. In addition to the diameter of the log itself, a trench perhaps a foot deep had been dug out from the log’s downhill side, making for about thirty-six inches to clear – going uphill, through loose churned-up dirt. It wasn’t happening.

Again, riders came to their own rescue and were lifting each and every bike over the log.

The technique was simple. One at a time riders would line up on the switchback as far as possible from the log (about twenty feet) then when the rider ahead had gotten clear they approached the log and popped the front end up and over. This required a gentle touch in order to prevent looping out and flopping back downward. Then the three or four guys positioned at the log would just heave it over the rest of the way.

Babu (who I believe is from Kenya) was just ahead of me. When his turn came up he popped his front wheel over then employed a maneuver I have never seen before to get the rest of the bike up. He climbed off the bike and got himself over the log. Then he turned around and stood on the log, facing the bike and straddling his front wheel. He grabbed the handlebars and more or less let himself fall backward while keeping his feet planted where they were, allowing his own body weight and some leg power to pull the bike up rather than using all upper body strength, the way I would have done it. Another lesson learned from Romaniacs.

From there the track was fairly easy, climbing higher and higher and higher into the mountains along very scenic ridge lines. This continued until the vistas were just stunning. Beautiful mountains covered in dense forest and shrouded with mist, stretching away in all directions.

Like everything in Romaniacs, this was too good to last. As I was humming along climbing ever higher, the landscape faded away into dense clouds. I continued on until I was swallowed in the fog. I put on my rain jacket, and kept going.

Visibility began to diminish as altitude increased. It got down to perhaps fifty feet, at times even less.

Suddenly the track petered out and I was riding across the scrubby, tundra-like grass that covers the hills above tree line.

The night before, while I was laying in bed half-asleep, sweating, heart pounding, my head was filled with wild visions of various disasters that could befall me on the trail. One of the most vivid involved me riding over the top of a hill. As I come over the peak, the ground begins to drop away, steeper and steeper until it becomes a sheer cliff. At this point I was suddenly wide awake.

This nearly came into reality on top of the mountain.

I had slowed considerably and was scanning back and forth across the mountain top trying to spot a trail marker or tire tracks that might tell me which way to go from there. I was just beginning to drop down the backside of the peak when I realized that what had appeared to be a broad, cloud-covered field just below me was not a field at all, but what I can only describe as a vast, cloud-filled chasm opening up directly ahead. I stopped dead in my tracks realizing that a sheer cliff of apparently massive height lay perhaps ten feet away from my front wheel.

No barrier, no warning tape, no “Danger” signs leading up to it, just certain death lying just a few bike lengths away.

At that moment I saw where the track actually was and sped off in the other direction, which is good because if I had really stopped to ponder what had just transpired I think I might have been too terrified to continue.

But again, options were pared down to one: keep going.

The track followed the edge of the cliff for some way (and I wept well back from it) then turned off toward several other peaks.

At one point there was a long side-hilling section, though side “hilling” doesn’t really do it justice. While the track was several feet wide (allowing reasonable room for error) it crossed a very steep mountainside that dropped down hundreds of feet below the trail. Coming off the track probably would not have been lethal, but good luck retrieving a bike once it has started down that slope! Extreme caution was in order.

Right in the middle of this there was a slippery rock ledge to climb up. It was only twenty or so inches tall but it was angled just slightly so that a wheel-spinning attempt to get up would result in the back end kicking out and the bike pitching over the edge. Again, it wasn’t so steep that I was in fear of my life, but I was very much in fear of loosing my bike down the hill.

I got off the bike and hopped the front wheel up without problem. I then tried to ease the back end up as gently as I could. Chalk it up to poor skills, anxiety, fatigue, whatever you like, but I spun the wheel just a bit too much and (as I feared) the back end began sliding toward the edge. I chopped the throttle and grabbed the clutch immediately and kept the bike from going over, but I was definitely in a precarious position.

Just before beginning this maneuver I had noticed another rider pulling up behind me. I now turned around and shouted to call in a little help. It turns out that it was Klaus, and he sat patiently on his bike for what seemed like minutes as I struggled to keep my bike from falling into the valley below before he finally dismounted and came to my aid (to be fair to Klaus he may very well have been at my side in seconds, it just seemed like an eternity to me). Together we got the back wheel right up and all was well, but not before I spun the tire a little bit more and received some scolding from Klaus.

“Vay too much gash!! Vay too much gash!!”

After that I trickled along the trail, getting passed at regular intervals by other hobby riders. I finally found my place just ahead of a bunch of british guys who were in it together. We descended another rocky stream bed that wasn’t especially difficult but seemed to go on and on for miles.

The track had dropped enough elevation by this point to be free of the clouds, but this side of the mountains had definitely received a lot of rain earlier in the day. The trails were relatively mild, but now that they had gotten wet the grippy Romanian dirt had turned into axle grease. Fortunately most of the downhill sections were in the trees and weren’t quite as wet as the grass out in the open areas. The train of riders moved along, a little slower now due to the slippery conditions, but moving none the less.

We were following a line of electrical towers when we came to a big hill. In dry conditions it would have posed no problem to most riders, but just add water then allow two hundred bikes to tear it all up and you have a nearly impassable obstacle. I gave it three tries and fell just short each time. The rest of the gang rolled up and everybody tried to make the climb – without success. One of the British guys got out his tow strap and we all pitched in hauling bikes up. In contrast to the bike-pulling competition of the morning, this time we had to yank the motorcycles a good thirty to forty feet up a slick, grass covered knoll where it was hard enough just to walk yourself up – not to mention a two hundred and fifty pound motorbike.

A few more riders came along and met the same fate on the nasty hill. Before we were done I think we had dragged seven or eight motorcycles up and had burned the majority of an hour doing so. The chances of coming in before the time bar were essentially zero.

After that the trail was pretty easy, even with the mud as we continued to wind our way down to the service point on the valley floor.

Arriving there a final stream had to be crossed. Owing to the recent rainfall it had grown into fairly swift and deep waterway. Onlookers (including the mechanics from Adrenalin) were standing there telling us what to do. I arrived first and they said to walk the bike across at a slightly downstream angle then swerve upstream ending up more or less directly across from where I started. From there it was a steep, rocky, chewed up climb of about ten feet to get out of the stream bed. It all came out fine and I was on the little back road that was serving as the service point. Upon being scanned in they handed me the little slip of paper which I knew contained instructions on how to get back to Sibiu via the paved roads – I had been time barred again.

It really came as no surprise by this time. I suspected that I wasn’t going to make it after I stopped to pull bikes up at the start of the day. The bad weather on the mountain tops as well as the second bike pulling session just sealed the deal. I arrived at the checkpoint thirty minutes too late to continue on.

In talking with the mechanics I learned that day four was expected to be comparable to day one in respect to distance and difficulty. I never would have suspected I would think this way, but I decided that I didn’t want to do it again tomorrow. Rainstorms were in the forecast, so an already difficult day was going to be made worse. It just didn’t seem worth it any more. 

I had plenty of time to think it over as I rode the bike 100km back to Sibiu. It was an absolutely gorgeous ride by the way. I decided to spend the day in town and go home in one piece rather than destroy myself out there in misery.

I’ll do a bit more debriefing on this whole experience as well as my decision not to race day four later.

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2 Responses to “Day three – and now for something completely different…”

  1. Gelston said

    I spent a week in Romania helping to clean/flag the course. I was mostly working on the day 4 course. I was hoping to hear your experience on the day 4 course. There were a couple of challanging sections, but a fun ride. I’m back in Kauai, Hawaii now, helping to prepare our Labor Day Hare n’ Hound race (Extreme Enduro). This year will be the 59th year of the race. If you’re ever interested in an extreme race in the mountains of Kauai, let me know.

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