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Crossing the Apuseni Mountains on a mountain bike (2012)

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This is the story of a bicycle tour we took back in 2012, in the region of the Apuseni Mountains.  It was our first bicycle tour and it was mostly off-road. 



May 25th - Day 1: Getting there


Somewhere in October 2011, an idea started to form within our group. That of a bicycle tour. None of us experienced a longer tour before, and we were thinking about visiting the old fortified churches of Transylvania. But, in the end, we ended up adding the Apuseni Mountains to our list. Or at least a part of them. Finally, after tons of hours spent documenting and reading maps, we had a plan and a date: May 25th, 2012.
Along the way, we were about to find out that this was the most rainy period in that region. In the end, it became adventurous, partly because of all the rain and mud we had to go through. But it was memorable! And beautiful! The fortified churches were eventuallypostponed, since we became tired and the weather was clearly not friendly. 
But, let's take it from the start, shall we?
Our plan is to get from Bucharest to Bratca (Bihor county) using a night train. From there, we'll be heading out towards Bulz and Remeti, where a stay has been arranged beforehand. Given that we'll be riding on a night train without a sleeping coach, this will come in handy. It's great to have a place to lay down, sleep properly and have a hot meal before you embark on a harder ride. 
May 24th, evening. Final preparations. The usual double checks. The next day, hours passed by at an infernal slow rate as we wait for our departure.
We meet up at the train station around 18:45. The trains is already here, preparing. One nasty surprise: the coach where we had the tickets was reversed. We specifically bought the tickets so that we'll be placed right in the first coach, towards the engine. This way, we could use the blocked doors to place our bikes, since the train itself does not have a bicycle storage space. We'll manage anyway. The front wheels were removed from each bike, thus making it easier to tie them in the hallway.
Eventually, the train leaves and we are full with enthusiasm. It starts to rain again. A lot! Doesn't matter anymore.
After Sighisoara, we began napping in turns. By Medias, we were all asleep. 
I was dreaming we were riding somewhere along a trail, in the full summer sun. At some point, a rocky section makes me more cautious, but still I hear a huge "bang!". What could it be?....
..only to wake up and see that we are in Cluj and the bikes fell over in the hallway, one of them hitting the compartment door. No biggy! 
The locomotive is replaced and a new train master (a quite big and chubby guy) gets aboard. He sees the bikes and we argue a little, even though we were sleepy as hell. After explaining the whole situation, we are charged with 10 RON for each bike (~2.5 Euro). With no ticket. Apparently, that's how it goes. We leave it like that, because we have a journey ahead and nothing can stop that :)
The train will arrive in Bratca at about 5:54 AM. We ask for the train to wait a couple of minutes until we unload the bikes and our luggage. Bratca is a small town and the train usually stops briefly here, for ~1 minute. 
Absolutely no problem. We reach Bratca, finally. The fresh early morning air is invigorating. We assemble the bikes as the sun rises from behind the hills, take some photos and get on moving towards Remeti. We can hardly wait for a shower and a nice breakfast! 
Marius reminds us that he brought palinca, and that will prove to be very, very useful! 
Thus, our trip begins!


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May 26th - Day 2: Remeti and lake Lesu



We start cycling through the silence of an early morning, on the 108 K local road towards Remeti. Having booked four places in advance at the "Valea Izvorului" pension, we're eager to get there. Sleeping for a couple of hours would be nice...
Right after Bulz, Nicoleta gets a flat tire. Fortunately, the front wheel. I proudly fetch for my "great quick repair kit", only to find that the glue is unusable. Looks like we'll replace the tube altogether and see what we can do about the punctured one later. 
It starts to rain, right as we're inflating the tire.
Passing lake Munteni, we enter the Remeti gorges. A few kilometers later and we reach the pension. The rain stops. We're presented with three options: rustic rooms at 70 RON, small cottages with their own bathrooms for 80 RON and a typical pension room at 135 RON. No matter the choice, breakfast is served at the big mansion. We all go for the cottages, that looked very, very nice.
The owner's wife arranges for the fire to be made, in order to have heat and hot water in the cottages. We briefly unwrap a few things and get to breakfast.
After enjoying a nice meal, a hot shower and some seven hours of sleep accompanied by thunderstorms which occasionally awoke us for a few brief moments, we head out. There's a break in the clouds, so it's time for an afternoon ride. 
With our bikes unloaded, we head out toward lake Lesu and the afferent dam.
Marius brings the booze along and we start cycling on a road that "gets rid" of it's asphalt-related attributes, in favour of a nice forest road along the lake's margins. We climb and laugh along.
Up at the dam, it's time to stop and take some photos and a couple of sips of palinka. That's warming up! We decide to cycle a little further towards the lake's tail.
Finally, we turn around and head back. That means we go downhill.
After just a couple of kilometers, Nicoleta gets another flat tire. The rear tube, this time. Luckily, a young couple passes us by, in a van, right at that moment. After explaining the situation, they offer to take Nicoleta back to Remeti. We load the bike but the car won't start anymore, apparently. There's little gas left in the fuel tank and the car is stopped near a pot hole, slightly tilted. Therefore, gas can't be sucked in. We give it a push and the car starts again.
The rest of us head downhill at pretty high speeds through mud puddles. 
One kilometer away from the pension, we regroup. Soon, back to comfy heat. 
Rain starts again. We leave the bikes on the porch, clean up a bit and head out for dinner. We had fresh trout, right from the pension' pond. Together with wine and beer. 
Definitely recommend the pension and it's restaurant. The atmosphere is great and you can even have some hot cocoa with fresh milk. 
We ask if we can get some glue, in order to patch the tubes. Of course, that will be dealt with in the morning.
Evening sets in and after a brief walk outside, we get to sleep. Tomorrow is a long day, and with this weather...
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May 27th - Day 3: Remeti - Stana de Vale


The night goes by quickly and dreamless. After having breakfast, we get some old-school glue from the owner and manage to patch the two punctured tubes, using a table to apply pressure over the patch. One cup of coffee later, it's time to ride away. 

The first objective on our list is the Dragan dam, somewhere between the Bihor and Cluj counties. At first, the road is slightly downhill, but it ain't gonna stay like that for long. From the last crossroad onwards, it's just up, up, up!
It starts raining. Again. 
We get some friendly honks from a car with Hungarian plates that passed us by.
It just keeps on raining. Fog is our companion for a few kilometers. Another Hungarian group, this time on motor bikes, passed us by. A lot of Hungarian folks travelling through these places. 
A nice and welcomed pit stop. A couple of photos, some palinca and on we climb. 
Right at the end of the climb, we talk briefly with a couple of ladies that ask us where we come from and where we're heading to. We wish each other all the best and carry on.
From here on, a steep descent towards the dam itself. It's still raining and our fingers are freezing on the brake levers. At last, the dam's edge.
A gentleman that was on guard at the dam steps out of his booth and kindly asks us where we're going. Actually, everyone along the way asks (and will ask) the same thing, first hand. He invites us inside to warm up for a bit, but we tell him we're used to the cold and have to keep going because we need to reach Stana de Vale. A few more pictures and we move on towards the lake's "tail" and the Ciripa hut. 
Shortly, we reach another forest hut that belongs to the Margau Forest Administration. A good time to enjoy some chocolate. Still raining, but lightly. We meet another gentleman. He approaches, with a big moustache and ranger clothes, apologizing for his poor Romanian (he's Hungarian) and kindly asks us if he may be of any help. We kindly salute and give some info about our journey, stating that we do know which way to go from here and part ways wishing all the best. Back in the saddle, steadily climbing further.
The forest road along the Dragan valley is very picturesque. Shielded by pine trees and with plenty of picnic spots arranged along the way. Even if it's May (and, thus, the rainy season in this region), you can enjoy the abundant scent of fresh vegetation. 
Fatigue starts settling in, but there's not that much to go till we reach the Ciripa hut. It rains intermittently.
Finally, the hut. Time for another short break.
From here on, we knew we had ~16 km to Stana de Vale, from which the first 6 or 7 are pretty steep on a trail-like forest road. Well...we weere wrong about those 7 km. It's a bit more than that. 
The road is rocky, steep and long. Temperatures drop and that starts to amplify our fatigue, making us resort to pushing the bikes along. 
Eventually, we reach a glade and the road gets a little better. We get back in the saddle and climb for another two kilometers until a long descent begins.
A descent which ends right at the Wonder Spring ("Izvorul Minunilor"), in Stana de Vale. A spring which that's also used for the bottled mineral water brand with the same name.
After filling our bottles, we take a few photos and move on, because a cold thunderstorm starts out of nowhere. Initially we thought about camping in this area, but setting a tent in this weather puts us off a bit. Eventually, we decide to stay at the "Iadolina Hotel" in the town centre. 150 RON for an apartment with two rooms. Not bad. Breakfast included. The staff kindly indicated a safe place for our bicycles, down in the basement, right near their supply storage (which is carefully locked and guarded during the night). 
We settle in, take a hot shower, wash a few clothes and stretch them out on the radiator, which is turned on and pretty hot (because it's colder than expected at this time of year). We definitely recommend the hotel. The staff is very kind, the food is great and the conditions are good. 
Today we covered ~45 kilometers. Not much, but the weather isn't helping either.
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