The second day. Climbs before lines?

I wake up with the sound of a Limp Bizkit concert, a band that has somehow decided to perform right on the patio of our B&B in Borsa… what an honor, right?! My alarm was supposed to go off anyhow, so I get out of bed. The sun up in the sky was already showing its muscles, seemingly stronger than on the previous day… I’m thinking maybe it’s spent some time at the gym, making the most of the public holiday. Fred Durst was singing at the top of his lungs from a 200 g plastic speaker strategically planted by Mr. Urzica, the DJ, as Wouter calls him. We have breakfast and I see everyone’s excited, though some of the faces around me are slowly beginning to show signs of exhaustion. We spend a little time getting ready, and then I find myself in front of the parking lot, sharing last minute instructions regarding what was coming next. And what, exactly, was that?

It started with a hill-climb contest that had 200 m vertical elevation, on the road used in the past by the machines working to build the cable car line, not that long ago. Even though that particular climb, in and of itself, is worthy of respect, and not just because of the total elevation of about 750 m over a distance of 4.8 km, but also because of how difficult it is for bikes to get a good grip on the soil on the upper part of the climb. We decided to have fun only with the lower part, so that everyone would be able to participate and save enough stamina for the rest of the ride. Victor takes the crown on the climb, though some of the riders have decided not to take the contest too seriously and rather enjoy themselves with… the pushups-for-stones-in-the-bucket challenge.But let’s get to the subject. We spend some time reorganizing the groups formed on the previous day and I get assigned the task of leading the group with the highest fitness level… oh, the tragedy! Wouter takes the mid-level group and Cristi gets the ones whom I guess you could call less than mid-level. The plan was to meet again on the only serious climb of the day, but not before I had gained some additional elevation on the hills near the DN18. The view to the Rodna Mountains provided by the highest point of the first climb makes it worth to put in the extra effort, even though the downhill section that follows is rather muddy and riddled with mobile rocks.We reach the main climb, which was going to take us from the Repedea Valley, past the Puzdrele cabin, all the way to the Ridge. People usually choose to ride this route in the opposite direction, climbing on the asphalt road up to the Prislop Pass, then resorting to a little pushbike until they get to Saua Gargalau. We didn’t choose this option because of our firm belief that descending on the forest road that we took to get to the peak and then missing the downhill section from Saua Gargalau, past the Horses Waterfall and back to the tourist resort, is definitely worse. Furthermore, many of those in the top-shape group were able to complete the climb, all the way to the ridge, without getting off their bikes, with the exception of two very difficult segments, which were fortunately short. Most of the camp participants had a sufficient level of training to allow them to ride through the entire forest road, from one end to the other, and to enjoy it from the saddle of their bikes.

During the first part of the climb we were seriously tortured by the sun. It had spent a bit too much time in the gym, so now it was at its strongest, melting me on my feet, and I was actually struggling a little because of the heat. I kept looking for some shadow, but in vain. The climb goes well and we quickly catch up with the group led by Cristi, and then the one led by Wouter. I speed up so I can get ahead of them and take a couple of shots, but those in the back are really moving it and I’ve barely had time to catch my breath before the first rider shows up. I stop exactly next to Wouter’s group and take a few pictures in a hurry, from the spot I thought would be appropriate for the task. We don’t spend much time here. Soon we’re riding again, only to stop at the first spring on the side of the road. Water…I try to help the others and fill their water bottles using the improvised plastic cup that we find there.

Refreshed and with our thirst somewhat quenched, we ride up and down the hill until we reach a Mountain Rescue refuge which seems to have been converted into a sheepfold. But maybe it’s just an impression, as we encounter several tourists here, chilling over beer and grilled meat.We had no time to waste. We had some serious work ahead, a rather steep climb with patches of grass waiting to drain all of our energy.I move to the front of the group, knowing there’s only one right way to go, a line that sometimes turns right from the main trail and that will allow us to stay in the saddle almost all the way to the end. I really struggle here and there, but I manage to stay on my bike. I feel my lack of training and the backpack that’s too heavy, but I find some pleasure in this strain. The rest of the group follows me, some riding and some pushing their bikes.Wouter was riding leisurely among them and, for a short while, left me with the feeling that he’d quite forgotten about the health issues he’d been battling for the past couple of months. Next came a short descent that got us in a caldera overgrown with grass, an excellent vantage point that allows me to survey the climb and the surrounding valleys.The scenery is unbelievable. If someone was to bring you here blindfolded and you weren’t familiar with the area, you’d definitely think you were somewhere in the Alps. The ridge of the Rodna Mountains and its series of peaks of over 2200 meters simply leaves you in awe and gaping. I see the rest of the riders are beginning to arrive at the resting place so I try my best to take some really clear shots.Meanwhile I was on the radio with Iulia, letting her know there was a chance that some of the riders in Cristi’s group might need to abandon the track, describing our location so she would know where to pick us from. Out of nowhere I see Suzi, naturally on her bike, which makes Wouter utter an exclamation of amazed surprise: “You monster!” After the break everyone gets back in the saddle, grinding their teeth, and it’s not long before we reach the trail that cuts across the slope towards Saua Galatiului (odd name, I know). Once here we all feel the energy boost provided by the majestic landscape. The scenery, the ground and the altitude simply make it impossible to feel tired.The trail continues onto the ridge and a large patch of snow forces us to stray from it. I somehow managed to stay on my bike without slipping my feet off the pedals, even though I felt like the rough grass was literally gluing the parts of my drivetrain together and my legs were weakly protesting like some limp noodles.Saua Gargalaului is only a few yards away and, with a final push, we reach it on our bikes. The last part of the trail was a true test to our patience and strength, a genuine climb worthy of its name, the kind that tries to break you even on its final few meters. We stopped for a break and to regroup. Waiting for us was a healthy dose of ecstasy…One trail, two trails, three trails, lots of juniper trees, grass, fixed rocks and ground that provided satisfactory grip for our wheels. A steep and breathtaking caldera on the right, plus a lake you could only notice if you rode the trail too slowly. We had to keep going left to reach the correct trail, which was going to enable us to ride it through, without ever getting off our bikes.The large number of tourists forces us to excessively pull the levers of our brakes, but it’s for the better, you wouldn’t want to get in a serious crash in the mountains, not in Romania. And why? Plenty of reasons for that, too many for me to list them here.

Once we begin the descent from Stiol I seem to be unable to wipe my idiotic smile off my face: full speed ahead!Everybody is in seventh heaven, or at least close by, with a few exceptions.Salome had suffered a light injury at the same leg that hadn’t yet healed completely from a previous wound. No problem, Wouter and Cristi are here and they sort it out in the blink of an eye.

We continue our ride exactly over the same route we had taken the day before. I keep warning the other riders, as often as I can, that the road is filled with tourists and this is not the place to enjoy the thrill of speed. Everyone follows my advice and we slowly make our way through the tourists, most of who are excited to see us there, others a bit more skeptical about our ability to safely make it back from the valley. Well, what do they know about mountain-biking anyway?

At the end of the descent we stop for a short while to regroup again, for the last time. We still had to ride over a short forest road that was in pretty bad condition and which came with the inevitable temptation of relaxing slightly too much after the descent we had just completed. Even though we’re riding rather slowly, Oszkar decides he wants an actual badge as a memento from the Purple Lines camp, so he gets it by landing awkwardly in a turn, after a crash at 30 km/h. Some of his skin is left in Borsa, but Oszkar hops back on his bike and goes on without batting an eye. No harm done.The evening is over before we know it, as the beer, the balmy weather and the exhaustion from the ride begin taking their toll on us.The hosts surprise us with some light folk music that proves to be quite nice, and night descends over the tourist resort and over the second day of the Purple Lines camp. Waiting for us next was the final day and a foray into a world dominated by nature and mining history, with massive constructions and out of the ordinary scenery.