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The mother of all roads

Yesterday was a play day. We had set aside 2 days to be tourists and to ride the Transfagarasan, the order in which we did these was to be determined by the weather. Having checked into the hotel for 2 nights meant that we could ride the road unencumbered by luggage and the various bits of detritus that gets strapped onto a touring bike for a month long adventure which was to be a welcome respite. (As an aside to those who ride motorbikes I have to point out that I neglected to adjust the pre-load on my suspension to take into account the lack of extra baggage, which meant the bike was hardened like a race bike – fine for the tight corners to come in the first part of the day but a nightmare on the hellish return journey via a different route in monsoon like conditions!).

The day started in glorious sunshine, despite the hotel reception warning us of “changeable” conditions expected for the day so we decided to risk it and head for the road that we had travelled in excess of 1,600 miles to see.

The official (Northern) start of the “DN7c” gives no inclination as to what lies ahead. A small, insignificant sign marks the turning from the primary thoroughfare and a fairly rough patch of tar runs across a small plain through a small town to the base of the towering Carpathian Mountains that dominate the skyline ahead.

The Transfagarasan is a multi-faceted road that offers something for everyone. From the base, the road snakes sinuously between luscious green forests with long, flowing lines, lifting you deceptively from the plains until thrusting you out into the sunlight you gasp at the three thousand foot drop to the valley below!

20140704-225252-82372582.jpgLooking back – the plains are in the distance

Next up is the most famously photographed part of the road – the squiggly bits. Well, at least that’s my name for them as that’s how Lucy displayed this part on the sat-nav – it looks like a child’s first attempt at mimicking an adult’s cursive writing. Here the switchbacks exceed 180 degrees on occasion and the road climbs at a rate of about 1-in-5 (for every five metres you move forwards you climb one metre up …………).

20140704-225428-82468467.jpgPart of the squiggly bit (couldn’t fit it all in the photo)

The positive camber of the corners entice you into leaning the bike over at gravity defying angles with reckless abandon, surging forward with acceleration as you whoop with joy at the wash of feel-good endorphins that come bursting forth in the aftermath of the rush of adrenaline – this is what you came here for – this is riding rapture.

20140704-225724-82644863.jpgTaken from the handle bar mounted camera with bars nearly touching the floor (so it seems!)

All too quickly this segment is over and the road penetrates the rock face at approx five thousand feet above the plains below, just short of the summit where the decent begins in a dark, dank tunnel.

The southern decent is completely different as longer straight runs and wider open corners flow rapidly toward the cleft of the valley below, where the pen-ultimate segment begins.

As your heart rate slows to normal, the road flattens out to a gentle but constant undulation downwards towards the lake. Here the pace quickens even further and it feels similar to the wonderful roads Peter introduced me to in the Dolomites. The occasional hairpin bend forces you to keep your wits about you but you get into a rhythm on this section of the road. It’s sublime, the pace and flow making time stand still. The seconds become minutes, the minutes accumulate and an hour passes by. There is the road, there is the corner. You will yourself to be around the corner and you are – the machine between your legs is irrelevant – it’s just you and the road. This is the longest segment and it could have stretched out to eternity and beyond, I didn’t want it to stop, but it finally came to the wall of the dam across the valley with a large lake looking like a small sea. Suddenly the ache of muscles became apparent and our bodies demanded we stretched our legs.

The final segment winding down towards Arefu stretches out with feline grace until once more it reverts to simply being a road – the southerly end being as innocuous as the northerly beginning. It’s secrets revealed only to those specifically seeking out its pleasures.

There are many, many great roads in the world and I’ve only ridden a minuscule fraction of them. Many riders are attracted to the high mountain passes with their terrifyingly precipitous drop offs and fatal opposite camber corners that challenge every element of man and machine, where conquering them is considered a mark of masculinity.

By contrast, the Transfagarasan welcomes you into her embrace, cosseting you in her voluptuous curves, never intimidating, always urging you on to greater highs. The Americans refer to Route 66 as “The mother road” and in truth I would like to drive it one day. But I expect that it’s the people and places that bring Route 66 to life. In my opinion, the Transfagarasan has life of its own. It is the road which gave birth to all other roads – all the corners, all the hairpins, all the switchbacks, all the straights that you have ever driven or ridden before are all here in a 100km stretch of road.

To me therefore she will henceforth be referred to as, “the Mother of All Roads”.