Saturday, August 17, 2013

Miles and miles of Sunflowers

Days like today are the reason I enjoy these bike trips. This morning started with a steep climb from the Hotel to the main road. A short distance, then a jog to a small road and that's all we saw of the busy roads today. For the majority of the ride we were on small secondary farm roads passing grazing live stock and miles and miles of agricultural. Some corn but mostly sunflowers. Miles and miles of sunflowers. They had all passed their prime and the huge seed heads were hanging limply on the stalks because of their sheer weight. I don't know anything about sunflowers, but my guess is that the farmers are allowing the seeds to dry a bit before harvesting them.

  The roads climbed and dropped quite a bit and we accumulated over 1500 meters (~5000 feet) during the course of the day.

There was one point of the day where after a rest stop, the road started a long downhill and on either side was sunflower fields stretching as far as the eye could see. We were coasting with the warm wind wrapping around  our arms and legs as we went. The wind wicked away all sweat keeping us dry as we went even though if we were to stop of a couple of minutes, you would be drenching in sweat.

We were just out of town when we came upon an unexpectedly large hill, take a look at the Garmin plot below.  Up and up we went. The hill was pretty steep and being at the end of the ride, it took a lot out of us. But he rewarding downhill into town was really enjoyable and as we entered the town we discovered very large castle walls with a castle high upon a mountain peak.

After that, it was one more hill into town and we quickly found the hotel.

We're planning on exploring the town and the castle tomorrow.

Happy Biking,


Friday, August 16, 2013

Goodbye Romania, Hello Bulgaria!

How can you have any concerns in the world when you are lounging in a lovely hotel that would serve as a ideal location for a corporate retreat? The informal hotel is located in a middle of a forest on the edge of the
Danube River. We diverged from the Danube weeks ago and now in Bulgaria we have reconverted in the wonderful environment.

The day started off with the day gray and overcast as we got on our bikes. Bucharest is a big city that does not have any accommodations for bikes and we had to convoy out together for the first 10 kilometers or so. The group needed to stop and regroup an number of times as traffic and traffic lights separated the riders.

Finally we left the street cars and buses behind and the traffic began to thin out. The tension of riding through the traffic and riding in tight formation required one thing, go fast. The road was pretty much a major road connecting to Bulgaria, but the surface was largely smooth and the shoulder was wide. Plus there was a "rabbit" in the distance.

When you're biking sometime you can see a rabbit ( another biker ). Like a greyhound chasing a little bunny around a race track, you feel a need to catch up to the rabbit. The rabbit was moving at a nice clip and after maybe 30 minutes or so, we caught up and passed the rabbit just to see another rabbit further ahead. I was a lot of fun and got use to the Bulgaria border in no time.

A quick stop for coffee then a lunch stop then the border crossing resulted in entering Bulgaria pretty early. I'm guessing 11:30 or so. The town on the Bulgaria is called Ruse and our hotel is just on the far side of the town. A stop for exchange of Romanian money for Bulgaria money was needed as was a trip to the ATM for additional cash. Please don't ask about the exchange rate, after a while it's all just monopoly money anyway.

A stop for coffee and soft drinks was in the game plan followed by stop at a market for some fruit and cookies for the hotel. We then traveled on to the hotel, only a couple more kilometers.

A quick turn followed by a couple of steep drops deposited us on the steps of the hotel.

That's it for now. Our ride tomorrow is likely to be more adventurous, but today was just plain fun.

Happy Biking,


Wednesday, August 14, 2013

into Bucharest

Fairly short day today, only ~85 km (~ 53 miles). The roads into Bucharest are very busy so our tour leader, Shanny, found some quiet alternate roads which we appreciated.  The updated route took us through several small villages that we would never have seen and experienced had we been on the busy thoroughfare.

Oh we also left the mountains behind us. The ride was mostly downhill with the wind occasionally to our backs. The Garmin recorded only 95 meters (~310 feet) all day long. All in all a very easy day.

I'm very happy with how well our bikes are holding up on the ride. Except for being very dusty, the bikes are in good shape. If I can find a high pressure hose during tomorrow's rest day, I'll clean the bike.

Chet and I have gotten in the habit of taking a quick spin around town early in the morning on our days off. Usually it's only a couple of miles, but it gives us a chance to survey the town before it wakes up.

That's it for today, Happy Biking,


Tuesday, August 13, 2013

up, down, up, down, up, down, down, down

Today was a day to put some miles between the start and the finish. We started off in the cool morning air (about 68 degrees F) and headed north through the busy morning traffic. It was a relief to get on to a road with less traffic. The many trucks and cars were a feature of today's ride almost constantly however.

If you click he Garmin information ("view details") you will note that we had many ups and downs in the first half of the ride. It turns out that each of the downhills were into a small town located near a small river. The ups were climbs to a plateau before repeating the process again.

The climbs were complete as we reached the lunch stop at about 70 km. After lunch it was mostly downhill and often had the help of a tail-wind. If you take the traffic and the bumpy roads out of the equation, it was a very nice ride today.

Happy Biking,


Monday, August 12, 2013

What goes up, must come down

We spent the night at the top of the Transfaragasan Pass last night. As we were finishing dinner the skies opened up and it just started to pour, then the fog moved in and it continued to pour. I didn't know that it was possible to have it rain so hard and be foggy at the same time.

However this morning we woke to blue skies and absolutely calm air, but pretty chilly at the upper 40's. Yesterday we came up the northern face of the pass and today we went through a almost 1 km long tunnel to pop out on the southern face of the pass. The roads on this side were almost as crazy as the northern side.

We flew down the winding strips of road in the cool air. Like yesterday, the upper 10 km was above treeline and we continued to drop as through the forest. We were almost 17 km from the top before we were required to start peddling again. The cool air had chilled our legs so much it was difficult to start climbing even the most modest incline, but on we went.

The morning coffee was at a small cafe buried in the forest on the edge of a lake. A very nice stop that called for two cups of coffee and cookies before continuing the ride.

The rest of the ride was descending for the rest of the day and went fairly quickly.

We're coming to the realization that the ride is starting to come to an end. The total trip is 40 riding days. After today, we have 10 days remaining. Still time to have fun, but it's a reminder to take our time and enjoy each mile/kilometer because we may never pass this way again.

Gotta finish this blog up, 'cause tomorrow if going to be a long ride and I need my rest.

Happy Biking,


Sunday, August 11, 2013

Crank, Crank, Crank, up the mountain we go!!

We woke today with the skies clearing from a downpour last night. As I was slipping off to sleep last night you could hear the thunder in the distance and through the tent, see occasional flashes of lightening.

The storm must have been a weather front coming through because this morning the air was cool and fresh. A nice change from the past weeks.

The ride today is to the top of the Transfagarasan Highway. A crazy set of switchback that climb over 5,300 feet in less that 30 kilometers (~20 miles). We’re staying on the peak tonight in a hotel.

To get to the base of the climb we left the campground and peddled about 10 kilometers (~6 miles) through fields with the range of mountains growing higher with each peddle revolution. We tried to pick out the road as we got closer, but the dense forest hide it from us.

The forested road started to bend up slowly before the switchbacks started to appear. We must have been in the forest for several kilometers as we gained attitude because at one point and opening appered in the trees and you could view a valley below that went all the way down to the plains where we had started the climb.

At 20 kilometers (1/2 way) we came upon a tourist trap at the bend of the road that had nick-nacks, hats, coffee and sandwiches. We just had to stop. Within 10-15 minutes we had a gathering of 7 or 8 riders all drinking coffee and snacking on bread-like concoction that is rapped on a cylinder and roasted over coals and then covered in cinnamon and sugar.  Then after a while it was time to continue up the hill. There was no need to hurry. The distance wasn't too long and we wouldn't be passing this way again, so just spin the peddles and make it to the top at a comfortable rate.

As we climbed you could look up and see where the next set of switchback would bring you to and the difference in height seemed incredible!! But with time you would be at the point that you had seen 20 minutes previous and be amazed at the progress!!

With about 10 kilometers to go, we popped about treeline and could see the final 10 km of switchbacks laid out in front of us.  I would be lying if I told you that I wasn't intimidated by the sight. But I kept in mind that the pitch of the road was likely to be similar to what we had already done and it wasn't going to be much worst. Also the weather had been on our side as well. The temperature was a perfect 60-65 degrees F and the sky was still overcast keeping the sun from beating down on us, which was fortunate because from not to the top we were exposed without any tree cover or shade.

I don’t think that the photos can capture the beauty of the vista as we completed the climb but as we got higher and higher, the road below started to remind me of slot car tracks that we had as children with the road winding up the mountain like discarded Christmas ribbon after the presents are opened.

Messages painted on the road started to count down as we approached the top; 3 km, 2 km, 1 km, 300 meters as our stops to take photos increased. There was no need to hurry. It was close to noon and lunch awaited us at the top. Finally 100 meters message rolled under our tires, a quick turn and we found ourselves in the middle of a completely unexpected set of tourist trap stands and the roadway blocked with cars all of them blocking our progress. Shirley was mixed in with the crowd directing us to the lunch stop. We had to dismount and walk our way through the combination of cars and people to find our way to the end of the ride.

Well gotta go, tomorrow will be a longer day and I need to get to bed.

Happy Biking,