On the third week of summer holiday in Romania, I embarked on an overnight bike trip with Silviu and his college friends (Florin, Ionel and Nicolae) – “The Boys”. Last year, we did a day trip on Transcindrel and Transalpina national roads. This year, we explored the recently completed Transylvania mountain bike trails, a network of 100km of mountain bike trails, linking 8 Saxon villages. The trails traversed across forests, meadows, and rolling hills. Our itinerary was:
Sighișoara – Aurel Vlaicu – Daia – Meșendorf – Viscri – Dacia – Rupea (49km + 18km)
Rupea – Fișer – Bunesti – Criț – Meșendorf – Grânari – Lovnic – Văleni – Făgăraș (62km)
Train ride from Sibiu – Sighișoara
From Sibiu, we took the 6am train to Sighișoara, via Copșa Mică. I had heard from Silviu only disparagements about the Romanian train system (endless delays, out-dated and slow trains) . As such, I was expecting all sorts of train mishaps.
The first train to Copșa Mică was late for 30 minutes, which was better than I expected. In addition, the train seemed to be relatively new.
The connecting train to Sighișoara was almost on time. However, this time round, our storage space was so cosy that we had to stack the bikes up.
Sighișoara to Viscsri to Rupea
Our initial plan was to ride through Saxon village of Criț , and replenish our fluids before heading to Viscri, giving us a total of 74km on the first day. However, by the time we reached the junction down to Criț , most of us were really exhausted. Our progress was slower than expected. All we wanted was to get to Viscri, the last village on the Transylvania mountain bike trails, as soon as possible. At Viscri, we would have a proper meal before heading out on 17km of mainly asphalt to Rupea for the hotel.
In short, we cut out the 15km deviation and rode directly to Viscri. A direct route from Sighișoara to Viscri means that there were no means for us to replenish our victuals and fluids. No villages nor streams along this 49km of Transylvania mountain bike trails. Fortunately all of us had enough food to last till Viscri, albeit we ran low on fluids.
It was a very nice shady green forest with trails strewn with little pebbles, and thickly padded by dead leaves and branches at certain sections. From the perspective of a trail runner, the trails were non-technical and extremely runnable. On the other hand, from the view of a MTB newbie, it was another story. For a novice like me, the size of every turn, bump, pit and obstacle on the trails are magnified ten times. You can imagine how the whole ride is like for me – a roller coaster that makes stomach clenches overtime.
Roller coaster ride
Some of the trails were narrower and lay on the edge of a [slope]. If I did not pay extra attention, a trip on a stubborn rock or branch would mean tumbling down the slope. There were also muddy sections and big logs across the trails that I had to stop the bike in time. If not, I would either be stuck in the mud, or crashed into the logs.
They were not hairpin turns. Yet, for a newbie like me, I found it hard to make a proper swerve, without getting flunk off the bike.
What I called “The ditch crossings”. I would drop sharply into the ditch and then leveraging on the downhill momentum to push the bike out to the other side. Initially I was afraid that I would be stuck in the ditch, but I eventually got the hang of it.
I did not terribly mind the ascents as the quadriceps strength I gained from my running was a great help. It was the descents I hated – my achilles in cycling. As previously mentioned, grisly images of me being flung out of the bike pass through my mind at each fast descent. I could climb better than an average biker due to my endurance training, yet descents make me sick to my stomach. Descents on uneven roads like that of the forest trails were worse.
Mosquitoes and flies
I was constantly swarmed by flies and mosquitoes and often found myself having to ward off the circling flying creatures with one hand while on the bike. These cunning managed to slid behind my sunglasses and entered into my mouth (protein supplement for me). They also left traces of themselves on my limbs – the red, itchy bites. I was amazed that I did not fall from the bike while fending of these pesky insects.
My poor arms
As I was tensed throughout the ride, holding on to the handlebars as if my life depended on it, my arms seemed to have a tougher workout than my legs. The unwieldy 14kg of aluminium bicycle (smallest bike as compared to those of the guys, yet the heaviest) did not improve my situation. At the end of Day 1, my arms were so tired that I could feel the fatigue during my sleep, and that even holding my cutlery became a chore.
Rupea to Făgăraș + Detour
The original itinerary was to cycle 40km on asphalt roads, directly from Rupea to Făgăraș, reaching Făgăraș by early afternoon. This would leave us plenty of idle time as the train for Sibiu was scheduled at 7pm train to Sibiu. I was hoping for an easy day, lazing around at terraces, after the body aching ride from the previous day.
Change of itinerary
Hélas, my hopes were dashed. Over breakfast, Silviu and Nicolae suggested taking a detour to the villages of Criț and Meșendorf, extending the route by 20 km. The detour would provide an opportunity to visit fortified churches in these Saxon villages. I could either join Florin and Ioan who preferred to stick to the initial plan, and spend the rest of the afternoon in a pool in Făgăraș, or join Silviu and Nicolae.
Fear of missing out (the infamous FOMO) on the fortified churches and the idea of spending the afternoon in the pool did not strike me as particularly interesting, I chose to join the latter. Besides, they promised the route would be on mainly asphalt, and perhaps some gravel, but no forest trails. I would break down and cry at just the mere thought of spending a few more nerve wreaking hours on the forest trails in the company of flies and mosquitoes.
At mid-way mark, my energy fell to the lowest point of the 2-day ride. It was also around that time we hit the forest trails in Meșendorf. It was supposedly easier to cycle in the forest with the shade. However, the stress of tackling the trails, and being immediately swarmed by flies and mosquitoes, thoroughly demoralised me. At one point, I was cursing non-stop at the boys for misleading me into taking up the extra 20km.