It feels like an age since I was last in Romania, leaving the house on the hill with tears in my eyes, and tramping down through the vines to jump in a minibus to the airport. The summer here has been kind; there’s been little rain, I’ve caught up with friends, worked to save up some money and got some good training in; and now my mind is finally turning back to the reality of arriving back in the little village of Siria in just a few short weeks.
Of course for the last little while I’ve been doing my best to shout about riding back to Romania. All the while assuming that people even know where it is… at least to the point of placing it somewhere east of Paris. So let’s have a closer look at where Rob and I are headed, and what we might see along the way. Most people can picture northern Italy on a map, now track east in your minds eye past Slovenia and through Hungary. And there you will find the western border of Romania, a beautiful country nestled gently atop the Balkan region. If you hit the Black Sea you’re too far east, and probably a bit wet. So that’s where we are headed, not all the way across Europe but taking on a sizeable chunk.
In a bid to cross as many borders as possible, and to take on the Alps through Switzerland and Italy, we won’t be taking the most direct of routes. After we hit Calais in northern France, we’ll head east and hope to cross the border into Belgium before campign on the first evening. Day two brings the first major landmark as we plan to tackle the cobbled climb of the Koppenburg, made infamous by the one day classic of bike racing the Tour of Flanders. During the tour of Flanders you’ll often see even the pros having to push up this short steep climb, it’s sure to be a rude awakening on the second day, but hopefully there will be less traffic when we face the wall.
In the days that follow we’ll head south east through Luxembourg, duck back into France again, before crossing into Germany near to Strasbourg. The Black Forest in Germany promises to be stunning. We’ve both lived and studied in Sheffield for three years now, and having trained in the Peak District as well as riding in Snowdonia and the Scottish Highlands we’d say we know a thing or two about hills… but this theory will be tested after we leave Germany. As we slip into Switzerland, and then into Liechtenstein (Europe’s fourth smallest country) the formidable land barrier of the Alps will be looming large. Day seven will be highly anticipated, both for beauty and difficulty, as we traverse the Alps into Italy at a smidge over 2000m of elevation, all the while being motivated by the thought of camping on the shore of Lake Como as we toil ever higher.
Some respite the next day as we swap Lake Como for Lake Garda, hopefully I’ll get to swim there for the second time this year after a hitchhiking adventure chasing the Giro d’Italia earlier in the year. We’ll swing north again the next day to tackle the brutal climb of the Mont Grappa, a regular inclusion in the Italian grand tour. I think once we’ve hoisted ourselves over the summit of Grappa, it will feel like downhill all they home, even If that’s not quite true.
A brief hop into Austria will make for ten border crossings up to that point, and then we’ll be opting to trace a route along the River Drava through Slovenia, into Croatia and finally Hungary. The river representing one of the more sensible topographic features we will choose to follow, gifting us the flattest days of the entire ride. It’s then just a short skip across the Hungarian plains, before we reach Romania in time for a shower and a well-deserved beer on September 10. I think one of the keys to success in any endurance sport is to be able to compartmentalise each section of the route or race. It can’t be helpful to be mindful of every climb and every potential difficulty at all times, by simply focusing on a day to day, hour by hour basis, the task becomes manageable. A series of epic days rides in quick succession. We can’t wait.
Head back tomorrow to find out how you can follow our progress, and if you’ve been thinking about donating towards my volunteering fund so I can spend another year working in Romania check out the Support Me page above!