And so, on final day of my ride I awoke early in a small hotel on the outskirts of the Romanian town of Călărași. Behind me lay 3342KM and 29 days of cycling. During that month I’d stopped for one rest day and averaged 120 km (75 miles) a day. Before me was a short ferry ride for my last crossing of the Danube and 146 miles into Constanta, the Black Seas largest resort town and my finishing point.
Awake at 06:00, I was on the road 30 minutes later headed for the ferry in the cooler than normal morning air. Information on what time it would depart was conflicting so I erred on the side of caution and made a plan to get there in good time to ensure I got across as soon as possible. A mishmash of cars, trucks and foot passengers slowly assembled in a scene which was far removed from the efficient organisation I had seen on my first day in Dover. After an hour wait, a floating pontoon pushed by a tug boat left the far bank and eventually arrived with us. The arriving vehicles were just about allowed disembark before a free for all ensured as everyone made a beeline to ensure they made this crossing. Amongst them were a 40’ articulated lorry; I’ve still now idea how it made it onboard and how the little floating raft didn’t capsize but for everyone else this was an everyday experience with no great mystery or surprise.
The crossing took no more than 15 minutes and once safely ashore the majority of traffic headed one way while I was left to a day of quiet, undulating roads full of stunning scenery and the joyful knowledge the finish line was just 145Km away.
Lunch was taken in the small village of Adamclisi next to its random but charming archaeological museum. As I was finishing, Cat and Sven, a German cycle touring couple arrived and then as I was leaving the village Polly and Joe, a cycle couple from Bournemouth were also having lunch at a small village shop. I chatted to them all briefly and saw Polly and Joe on the road over the next 100Km before losing them on the outskirts of Constanta.
As I crossed the man-made Danube Canal, the road developed into a duel carriageway, the volume of traffic increased and the hard shoulder disappeared. Combined together this made for a busy and at times scary 20km but I couldn’t have cared one jot. The whole time a broad smile was plastered across my face as the sea edged over closer and the reality of what I was about to achieve started to hit home.
From the industrial edges, through countless suburbs of housing, passed the train station, on to the ring-road and finally, after 31 days and just shy of 3500km there it was; the Black Sea, the finish line.
I arrived on a cliff top overlooking the golden sandy beach at 17:15 on the 21st August 2018. Multi-coloured sun umbrellas laid out in neat rows stretched along the beach; people played in the all but flat calm ocean water and sun worshipers stretched out on their sunbeds taking in the final rays of another day. Amongst the feelings of joy, elation and relief was a strong desire to keep going. The moment to dip my toes in the water could wait for tomorrow, first was to find my hotel, shower, drink beer, eat a huge amount of food and generally feel rather pleased with myself.
A quick look at a map showed Istanbul just 750Km away. At the pace I had been going I could be there in just 5 days and then maybe onwards across the Bosporus and on into Asia and beyond. Alas, duties as a Best Man to the rather special Dave Cornthwaite were an immoveable fixture in my diary so the thought left my brain as quickly as it had entered (almost.)
The following day was spent exploring, swimming and doing my best to even out some of the epic tan-lines I’d acquired. By late afternoon it was time to pack my bags and head for a train which would take me to Bucharest and a flight home. Having carefully researched which trains bikes were allowed on and had my knowledge double confirmed at the ticket book it was still somehow no surprise to reach the platform and be told no bikes were allowed. With a steely air of determination, I politely (but persistently) questioned any member of station staff what should be done until one relented and with a casual nod towards the train indicated that my bike and I should get on. With the train sat 4 steps above the platform this was easier said than done with my fully loaded bike but, with front wheel and several bags removed we made it on. Taking up a full 5 seats of space I departed with a fear of the train stopping to pick up more passengers and being faced with disapproving looks and angry exchanges as people fought for my seats. Thankfully, I soon gleaned that this was a non-stop service and as I relaxed in to the 2 hour journey I gazed out of the window as a whole new part of Romania came into view. Each small town we passed through came complete with a multitude of sidings, engine sheds and the odd turntable; all now disused and pointing to a once golden age of train travel in the country.
My brief 24 hours in Bucharest was spent sourcing a friendly bike shop to help box up my bike and get it to the airport along with some very gentle sightseeing and generally reminding my legs how to walk again having been deployed to cycle mode for the past month.
Having completed two very different descents of the Danube I still have unfinished business with the River. As much as travelling by bike allowed me to see more than I did whilst paddling, there are still many many places along its banks I’ve yet to discover. No river on the planet passes through so many countries or capital cities which makes it a unique guideline for focusing an adventure and giving direction to a journey. I’m sure I will return to discover more of the countries it passes through but next time possibly with the use of a motor; either in my trusty campervan or with a motorbike. That being said – all ideas are welcome…
Finally, having reviewing the notes written as I peddled, I had listed 4 points of learning. These are far from the only things I learnt but they’re the ones I enshrined in my diary:
1. Never breath in when passing road kill, that stuff can seriously honk.
2. Be careful what song you listen to before getting on the bike. It will be with you all day.
3. The ability to move forward is made up of 2 parts, the mind and body. As long as one of those is functioning, you’re good.
4. Chocolate milk is magical.