The First Escape: Adrenaline and Mud

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Mihai Constantenec takes his old battered bike to all the Romanian mountain bike competitions out there. The perennial technical troubles – a record number of flat tires, the used up chain or tired rear derailleur – never seem to slow him down. He’s so fast, that you can’t even take a proper photo of him.

His quest for adrenaline and speed took him all the way to Bucharest (from the town of Medias, in Sibiu county), to participate at the First Escape. And here he is reporting the news from the first bike marathon of the year.

A few days before the start of the competition I was feeling quite in shape and motivated, despite the constant rain and low temperatures. O short visit to the bike shop curbed my enthusiasm. I was told that I should be lucky if I finish the race without a broken chain. Which meant I could not afford to go on a reckie the day before the marathon.

So I only got to Bucharest on Saturday and found nice weather and a lot of merrying. Lots of people were gathered at the registration, taking photos, filming and generally having a great time. But in the afternoon the clouds started to gather, and by night fall it was raining cats and dogs. Interesting, I said to myself, as I took what for me was an unusual decision – which was to relax and enjoy the next day competition no matter what. There was still one thought that kept bothering me: what if I had to run to the finish line, or abandon? None of that happened, fortunately.

Come Sunday, the weather is cold and ugly. Still, a lot of people. I chat a bit with my friend Laura and then decide to warm up and bike around the contestants. I talk with Tudi and then meet other friends who had finished the Moeciu marathon, in the snow, the day before…. This people are something else, I tell you…

I meet up with Daniela Dumitru and we go for a proper warm up on the national road. The rain means we are quickly used to the wetness, but not to the mud and all the other trouble we’re about to face. Still, we get a decent warm up and get back to the start line minutes before it begins. I try to get a place in the front, not only because it saves time, but also because the trail goes much more sour with more bikes that pass.

3… 2… 1… Start! It’s a slow start, but I overtake a few of the guys and find a rhythm. Which is fast. Very fast, but still not fast enough to overtake as many as I should be. We enter the woods and finally the adventure begins. Soon enough I have to take my goggles off, I can’t see a thing because they got so dirty. Mud, speed, puddles, falling down in the same puddles. There’s something for everyone. But it’s fun… really fun. Glad to find out the mud is fairly wet, instead of sticky.

The ride was fast and there wasn’t much time for meditation and daydreaming… especially when the others kept breathing down your neck. There were several moments that made an impression on me.

  • At every check point there were people, standing in the rain, cheering us on
  • Nusu, another friend who had taken part in the Moeciu marathon the previous day, overtaking while yelling, No breaks! No breaks!
  • The little train led by Daniela, going past me so fast on the asphalt segment… I tried to keep up with them, but I felt my pulse over accelerate.
  • The fishermen’s faces, who certainly deserved to be photographed also.
  • My bike, which I had to carry for several hundred meters, weighing 22-25 kilos (I exaggerate, but that’s what it seemed like) loaded with mud.
  • Mud. Mud with leaves. Mud and tree branches. Mud and puddles. Mud in the ditches. Mud on the trail, and mud near the trail. And let’s not forget…. mud, lots of mud covered bikers and bikes.

Getting closer to the finish line (the third part of the race), it was harder and harder to stay on the bike. The last five kilometers were the most difficult I ever experienced in any competition. I walked the last three of them with another friend, and I was happy like that, since I lacked to power for anything else. And we finish, bike and man both in one piece!

All in all, a great competition, in spite of the weather. The organizers bend over backwards for us. I know they wanted more, but that’s life. Several things really impressed me:

  • The participants who stuck through it and decided to make the most of the competition in spite of the miserable weather.
  • Learning that there was a blind person who took part in the competition by riding in tandem with Jeno.
  • The boys and girls who had previously taken part in the Moeciu marathon the day before (I know I keep repeating myself, but I was really impressed by them).
  • Waiting in line to wash up the bikes and listening to the other people’s stories, the pasta, the warm tent and Mihai and Christi coming with the car to get me.

To quote Horaţiu Câmpian: „A memorable competition. For all those who finished, I can assure you, had this been a sunny day, it would have been just a ride through the woods. Instead, it will be something to remembers for years to come.“ For a lifetime, I would say.

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