Werewolf Eyes (June 14th)

For once leaving a big city was quick and easy. I zipped along a few main roads, over a bridge and before I knew it I was back on the Danube cycle path. I had an unintentional  1.5hour siesta which went someway to making up for the weekend’s activities. I used up the last of my Serbian dinars in a supermarket to keep me going for the next few days until I reached a cash point in Romania. The longer the day dragged on and the closer to the border I got, the more dogs there seemed to be on the street, although it has to be said that they were all fairly sedate.

The border crossing just east of Bela Crkva from Serbia into Romania was the biggest and baddest yet. A small pack of stray dogs were chilling out in the car park, looking exhausted after a day in the sunshine. I arrived at 1940 and had to wait a full 20 minutes for the immigration team to start their shift. Why there any need for a break in between shifts I do not know. In between the Serbian checkpoint and the Romanian checkpoint there was 300metre long fenced-off No-man’s-land.  There were only two cars in front of me at the Serbian border, but once I was in the middle there were well over thirty waiting patiently and impatiently to be allowed through. I pulled up behind a sports car at the back of the queue. Two huge Romanians got out and motioned to me to cycle to the front of the queue. I did so and felt sorry for everyone else there ‘cos it looked like they had already been there for hours and many more to wait until they got through. The moustachioed immigration officer  took my passport ‘Drugs? Pistole? Cocaiine?’ ‘No, sadly not!’ I had learnt my lesson from the Croatian border control. ‘Nothing. Nichts.’  ‘OK’. On I rolled into Romania where the time suddenly skipped forward another hour into GMT+2…

Just 75 past the barrier there was some sort of café. I was running low on water and needed to replenish stocks badly. The mass of people loitering outside put me off and I thought I would be able to find a house just down the road. So I set off South towards Pojena. The sun went down over my right shoulder at 2115. (What a nightmare living in East Serbia where even in high summer the sun goes down just after 8). At the valley bottom a medium sized river flowed. I continued over a bridge until I saw a house with someone outside. About 40 metres away was a man just about to mount a quad bike, and 7 small and medium sized dogs. I propped up Olga, grabbed my empty water bottles and started ambling down to meet him. No sooner had I crossed the threshold into the garden, the dogs smelled me and instantly lost it. They tore towards me, and encircled me barking and snarling aggressively. It was like a pack of Gigantosauruses taking on an Argentinasaurus. I just about kept my cool and made it down to meet the guy. Alas he had no water. Rollocks. I made my back to Olga, the dogs still going Berserkatron all around me…

100 metres up the road I saw a farm house about 50 metres up the hill side. This was the only other house in sight. This had to be it then – my last waterhole for the day. Not so bloody fast sunshine… As I applied the brakes I saw another pack of hounds sat outside the front door. Before I had even stopped they were up on their feet and bolting down the hill towards me barking like lunatics. SHHHHHITTTTTTTT!!! So I reclipped into the cleats and pumped the bike away as fast as poss. There was a slight gradient as this was the bottom of a hill. One of them caught up with me so I unclipped my foot and had cocked my leg ready to deliver a swift and (hopefully) devastating  boot to the chops. It got the message and stopped chasing.  200metres up the road I saw a sign which said twisty road for the next 10km. I could see the gradient was becoming steeper and from looking at the map I could see that the highest peak on the hill climbed to over 545metres above sea level(no idea what level I was at at that moment). I had about 750ml of water, 500ml UHT milk, and 500ml Serbian beer. Quite a lot of fluid you might think, but this hill looked big and I needed water to cook with (I still hadn’t eaten), prepare breakfast, and drink the following morning. It was very unlikely there would be any more houses up the hill so this was it -crunchtime…

I noticed I had passed a small stream which ran under the road back down by the farmhouse so I decided I had to refill there and use some chlorine tablets to sterilise any nasties (I’d been meaning to buy batteries for the Steripen for several weeks now). I turned around and pootled back down the hill. The dogs hadn’t gone all the way back to the farmhouse but were sniffing around in a field just next to the stream. They barked as I approached and just as I thought they were just about to piss off behind some bushes, they turned and saw me. Queue a rerun of what just happened before, except this time there just happened to be two cement mixers passing round the bend at exactly the same time I wanted, needed, to pull out! Nightmare. I pulled away as soon as poss and was chased away by the dogs snarling and snapping at my feet.

I stopped for dinner half way up the hill in a parking layby. It was now fully dark. Pasta was off the menu as I needed all the water I had left as drinking water. Tinned tuna and gourmet dry bread was the plat du jour. I didn’t really want to cycle at night so I scoped out the possibility of pitching my tent somewhere close. Tissues, wet-wipes and used nappies marked the perimeter of this hillside Garden of Eden. Beyond them was a steep drop into woodland. No chance of pitching here and in reality my water situation necessitated that I continue further. I jumped back on the bike and switched my lights on. In front of me rose a giant full moon. In the woods all around fireflies started to flicker on and off. Uh Oh. Werewolf eyes.

Full moon

After 5 more kilometres of twists and turns, sweating and panting (it was probably about an only an 8% gradient), the ground finally levelled out and started to dip the other side. Let’s hope that was the highest point. A sign declared that this was the Iron Gates National Park. The road was far from in the best condition. Small potholes peppered the asphalt in a random distribution. .. I continued rolling gradually picking up speed. At one point I shot a glance down at my speedo: 37kph with the brakes on-ish. I was navigating the hairpin bends through a mixture of headtorch,  bike light, and moonlight.The hundreds of fireflies now flickering either side created a psychedelic tunnel-like effect. Just like something out of a dream. Mind-blowing. I past a couple whose car had broken down. They had to have heard me coming from a couple of hundred metres away, and then seen me at the last minute when I sped around the corner. I must have looked like a bit of a nutcase bombing it down the hill in the dark, but wow the adrenalin.

I heard a stream just beside the road so I could now relax somewhat in the knowledge that I could find water although it wouldn’t have been particularly easy. I thought I would try to make it to the next village to see if anyone was still up. That way at least I could fetch water relatively easily the next morning if I couldn’t find anything that night. I saw a guy get out of a truck on the side of the road. He was making his way to a hotel. This was the first building I had come across in about 10km. I rolled over to the entrance and asked him if it was possible to get fill up my water bottles there. His breath stank of booze. He said in Romanian and sign language that the tap water wasn’t good to drink but he would fetch me a bottle of water. This would have to do. As he came back out I produced a map and asked him how far it was to Pojejena. As I was doing so a woman walked out of the entrance and came to see what all the lights and commotion was all about. She dropped a German word in her sentence which I picked up on. ‘Sprechen Sie Deutsch?’ ‘Ja’.’Super’. We talked a little bit. I asked if she knew anywhere suitable nearby to camp and she says follow me I might just have a solution…

To cut this already too long story short…. I follow her inside the hotel. It turns out she is the owner. She ends up offering me a triple double-bed en suite room with breakfast for free! Wow, unbelievable. What amazing generosity. This is surely the cycle touring equivalent of finding an oasis in the desert. It’s late at night, you’re practically out of water, krackered and just want to crash out…then all of a sudden you are offered a free hotel room, and chilled beer.

Messed around and got a triple double

There was only one thing missing but I was in no way complaining…

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1 Response to Werewolf Eyes (June 14th)

  1. Laura Howes says:

    Such a great blog Talan, was nearly wetting myself! Laura xxx

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