A week before, after a memorable ride, Christi asked me if I was ready. How can one be ready for this:
And so, the Friday next, we found ourselves in Sanmartin, near Oradea, having arrived just 10 min before the scheduled technical meeting.
I still could not believe I had signed up for this. I had been really doubtful and only the perseverance of Egi made me put my name next to his on the form. The name we chose for our team was “out of office” – we thought it brought the necessary touch of irony to accompany our slightly over fetched endeavor. We were after all competing against ourselves and, as my brother put it, had to be prepared for the possibility of losing.
They say that what begins well ends badly, and what begins badly ends even worse. Egi had stopped taking his cold medicine two days ago. I started to feel my old cold creeping back on me on Thursday and stuffed myself with pills.
We wake up at 3:40 AM on the alarm. It takes me a while the realize where I am. I gather the equipment which I laid out the evening before, gobble down some milk, cereal and a banana and rush downstairs to meet Egi. You ready, he asks me? How could I be?!
0 km, 0 hours, 0 minutes
The riders are crowding the starting line and, without further adieu, the start signal is given at 4:30, right on the dot. We take it slowly, save our strength. We save a couple of teams from getting off the track, the dawn light can be tricky. After about 15 km or more, we take a little break, I eat a cereal bar, Egi spends some of our scarce toilet paper. To each it’s own.
31 km, 1 hour and 42 minutes
Mud. We try to find some miraculous solutions, but there are none to be found. The track goes through a river bed, the mud is wiped away, but so is the oil on the chain. During one of the climbs, I realize I can’t change on the small gear and so I stop to clean the gear switch. I then hurry to catch up with Egi, only to find his bike nicely resting on the ground. More toilet paper is being consumed. I begin to worry.
We keep on going, trying to balance speed and effort on the climbs, and enjoying the adrenaline rush on the descents. We still have a long way to go.
78,5 km, 4 hours and 13 minutes
We get to a technical climb. We try to stay on the bikes, but one by one, us and other bikers realize it’s more efficient on foot. Egi is still standing however. Then, I hear the thump, the kind of sounds that means trouble. I turn around just in time to watch Egi fall on his left side. Isn’t that the side where his clavicle is made of stainless steel? I can’t remember. He gets up, looks OK, I breathe a sigh of relief. But what is that black thing laying on the ground? Oh, just the break handle.
Oh no! Egi is resigned, this is not something you can fix, and so we continue uphill. Sure, you can only ride on your rier break, but for 195 km and 4000m of descent? I guess we’ll just have to find out. Egi tells me to forget about the tables and be happy if we finish. Tables? Since when were we thinking about tables?
The descent goes fairly well considering and we start to feel more optimistic. We’re now up against a difficult climb to Stana de Vale, the inclination is 9%, 12%. We meet our assistance team and stop for food: pasta made the day before, Powerade. We hop back on and finally reach Stana de Vale.
102 km, 6 hours and 20 minutes
We stop to put on some warmer clothes, we’re up against a long descent. Egi makes a dash for a bathroom in a restaurant near by. I keep waiting, start to get cold. Finally, he comes out, makes another run, this time for the bushes. Four times in 100 km, 175 more to go, harder then the previous ones. At least he will be lighter on the descents, won’t need to break as much, I think… We start downhill and Egi asks me to keep behind him, as he’s afraid he might bump into me otherwise, on account of his missing front break. I do as he says and carefully monitor him. I try to see how it feels like to break only on the back wheel. Not very good.
We’re going down through a place called Valea Iadului (Hell Valley!). It’s quite impressive and in the run of the bike, I manage to catch a glimpse of the waterfall. We reach the 4th check point and find out we are one hour under the limit time, which was 8 hours for each half of the marathon. I was more worried about the second half, then the first one, which we had just almost completed.
121 km, 7 hours and 16 minutes
So, we are almost half into the marathon and during a brief re-charge break of the 4th check point I observe that the hard part is only starting. Horatiu, from one of the other teams says that the climbs are now shorter. We’ll see about that. So, we follow the contour of the lake and reach check point 5.
The we go up on Valea Baica and down to Bratca where we are awaited by our assistance team. My left shoulder blade is hurting, and so I put on some relief gel.
167 km, 10 hours and 22 minutes
The weather is catching up with us and we have to stop to put on some rain covers. I am tired and cold, it looks like the rain is getting heavier, and we still have a lot to go. We are also getting hungry, but I dread the idea of stopping for more then 30 seconds, as I feel really cold. We keep at it till we reach another check point. They ask if we’d like some boiled eggs. Would we ever! We’re all cheered up, happily eating away, not minding the really powerful wind that almost tips over the umbrella we’re all huddled under.
We continue our ride and get into a muddy situation. The stuff is all over the place, including on my gloves, eye glasses and GPS. It seems never ending, till we finally reach the 8th check point.
204 km, 13 hours and 40 minutes
Because of some really thick mud on the ride, the organizers decide we take a 10 km shortcut and spare us 600 meters of elevation. The sun is up and I feel warm again, a feeling I had long forgotten. There is a consistent descent on asphalt and I realize my front breaks became rather thin. I don’t dare complain considering Egi has been without them entirely for the last 150 km.
Since we were now getting closer to the finish line, and in the limit time too, it was bound we also got a little lost. Eventually, we call the organizers and get back on track. We don’t have any claim on the podium, but we would also not like to lose the spot we so righteously earned. We rush downhill and I’m surprised not to see any smoke coming out of Egi’s back tire. We get back on the track after losing 4.4 km and 18 minutes.
We now follow the signs, which we would have seen the first time, had we opened our eyes. We’re heading towards a village called Balaia, we pass through it, then onto a field. After some bushes, we are surprised by a crossroad where we almost miss the track again. I break – only with the back, the front has deserted me long ago. It’s good we’re still in one piece, considering. Egi says this reminds him of the Geiger marathon in 2008.
I had almost forgotten. It as at Geiger 2008 that Egi and I met. We were both on the long ride, and since it looked like I knew the track, Egi decided we should stick together. Five hours later we were crossing the finish line together.
We reach the 10th check point and find out we had kept our place on the tables, despite our little detour. Its getting dark, 5 more kilometers to go. They pass by very slowly. We get onto another check point. Only 5 more kilometers to go. What’s that? It was 5 km, 5 km ago. This time it really is the last 5. It’s night, Egi tells me he’s running out of fuel. I don’t dare tell him that I could just fall asleep right then and there. The dogs are barking at us, while the villagers ogle us curiously.
267 (-4.4) km, 17 hours and 46 minutes
Suddenly, in the distance, I spot my girlfriends blue wind stopper jacket. And there’s the finish line gate! We get closer to it, hand in hand, me on the left, Egi on the right. With on last flash of reason, I tell Edi I can’t stop without the use of my right hand, we break off.
To quote my two year old niece:
There, we made it!
I have to say that I was the most impressed by the organizers: well supplied check points, technical support, encouragement. And all this was done by a small but very enthusiastic team, who traveled from one check point to the other, covering all of them very well. Tibi, the main organizer, still finds reasons to apologies for some small glitches. It’s rare that you meet such people and it was a joy to shake their hand and call them my friends.