** Before you read on, please do read the previous post. Go on.**
Amongst the flurry of messages between me and Siria that afternoon was the offer to crash at Sammy’s family home in Arad. Admittedly it would mean falling 30km short of my mark, but on the plus side it would mean not having to ride one of the most dangerous roads in the county in the middle of the night. The realisation of losing an hour on crossing the border had served perfectly to knock any remaining wind from my sails and I was happy to accept the compromise. Bleary eyed I turned onto the main road into Arad, suddenly all to aware of the comfortingly close passes of the eighteen wheelers from Hungary which came thundering past my left shoulder with alarming frequency. Thanks to the wonders of urban sprawl I crossed over into the city limits but still faced a 10k slog across an industrial waste land before reaching the blinding lights and familiar sites of downtown Arad. Somehow I made the theatre at the top of Boulevard Revolutie where Nata met me at that unseemly hour,a beacon of hope to guide me in.
I have only a faint memory of collapsing into bed when I arrived, reasonable at the end of a day that topped out at around 285kms.
After expressing my gratitude and eating a huge breakfast I was on the road again, the tank still feeling empty for the final ride into the village. What’s more I was confronted by a block headwind which came rolling over the plains to wreak havoc with my forward progress. The ridge of hills at the bottom of which you will find the village nestled seemed to inch closer in agonising slow motion. All I could do was long for the final sweeping right turn that means you hit the smooth tarmac and take in that magnificent view of the castle perched above the village. Always a welcome sight at the end of a hard days work, and even more so for the road weary cyclist.
It’s a challenge to convey just how beautiful it is to be welcomed back into the community I used to live in as though I had never been away. People come and go and the organisation moves forward, but between the Romanian staff and volunteers I found more than enough familiar faces to seamlessly slip back into the rhythm of the place when I was there. Seconds after I had made it through the gate of James and Susie’s house Sammy came bouncing out of one of the cars to greet me. He had nearly put it in a ditch earlier in the day and was in a rush to make it back to the centre on time. It was like I had never left.
In the end I was having such a good time being back that I stayed a couple of nights longer than planned. The bike got some love, long overdue catch ups over coffee and some great friends even got engaged whilst I was there. But I could never have anticipated the knock on effect this would have by time I actually did pull myself away.
That Saturday morning was the first hot one of the trip, and by anyone’s standards I was dragging my heals. Eventually I could delay no longer and set off accompanied by Sammy for the first 10km, taking the road that snakes along the bottom of the ridge line with views across the vineyard lined hills.
A brief goodbye in Paulis and he was gone. Just me and the bicycle. Plus all of my half formed thoughts and emotions from Budapest the weekend before, and the experience of coming back to the place which used to be home. That had been held in check by that epic ride, great company and happy memories; but now they would hit me like a raging torrent.
Between bouts of weeping by the roadside I managed to eek out just 40km,all the while fighting the urge to turn back.I crested a small rise on the road to Timisoara and found a table and benches, so I sat gazing back at those hills through tear stung eyes. I can only say that I was emotionally defunct. Broken. Empty. Defeat seemed close.
My gaze would flick back to the bicycle and I could think of nothing more pointless to do than to continue hauling that lump of steel, rubber and plastic even one kilometer further. Let alone the thousands of kilometers still separating me from the Indian subcontinent. I was supposed to meet long time suffering riding partner Rob in Istanbul the following week, yet even this failed to provide even a flicker of motivation. If I could have shaken a magic eight ball, no doubt “outlook is bleak” would have been the outcome.
Such an emphatic loss of forward momentum and drive is something I had never experienced before. And being accustomed to setting myself a challenge and overcoming whatever obstacle is necessary to meet my target, I still felt utterly unprepared to handle this situation. In an instant all your motives become questionable, and the ability to reason seems to just leave you. It feels uncomfortable even to recall it now.
There was nothing else to do but forego trying to summon my own strength and rely upon someone else for help. No doubt this happens all the time when you travel, but this was something else. I have my girlfriend to thank for keeping me on the road that day, and another friend who’s parents lived only 20kms further up the road. After two hours of going nowhere I somehow rallied to start moving again. I spent a few nights staying at the house on the outskirts of Timisoara, just trying to process all that had happened which culminated in me being stuck at the side of the road. And it took many days of riding after that to start to feel even remotely normal. I was certainly finding the challenge I had sought after.