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  #1  
Old 12 Apr 2010
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Dodging Death In Eastern Europe


Bob & Viv Goddard face untold hazards ‘Beyond Bucharest’

It’s mid-summer in Romania and I’m about to die.

Storm force winds are shrieking between the lampposts and lashing me with horizontal rain-bullets as I struggle to control my heavily-laden Honda over broken cobbles. I’m on my way into Bucharest city centre and wishing I was anywhere else.

Surrounded by suicidally-impatient drivers who are nudging my bike with their bumpers, and dodging un-fenced road works trenches full of swirling brown floodwater, I think things can’t get any worse. Then I see they most definitely can…

The car ahead of me rears into the air, crashes down and slithers sideways as it hits some obstacle in the road. Now I can see what it is: glistening steel tram-tracks cross the road at 45 degrees. These rails stand a full six-inches above the road surface.

“My God!” I whimper, “They can’t expect us to ride over those?”

Realising there’s no alternative, I stand up on the footrests just as a bell rings beside me. A quick glance to my left confirms my worst fears. It’s a tram. It’s going to cross the road at the same instant I hit its tracks. There’s no time to stop. I’m going to die.

There are moments in life when one has to make a snap decision. I crack open the Varadero’s throttle and the big V-twin surges forward. Turning my bike at the last moment to hit the wet steel at near right angles, we lurch, bump and crash over first one, then two slippery rails.

Miraculously I’m still on the bike, still upright and the tram has missed me. Phew! Then I remember my wife Viv, riding her Honda Transalp right behind me. Omygod!

I twist to look over my shoulder just in time to see her bouncing her bike over the rails only feet in front of the advancing tram. By some miracle we both made it.

Many others weren’t so lucky. Next day, as we watched the TV news from a flood-bound hotel in neighbouring Bulgaria, we discovered the nightmare storm had washed away houses, roads and bridges. Cars, lorries, buses and pedestrians had been swept away in the biblical deluge. In all 62 people were killed by the floods, falling trees or lightning. Thousands more were left homeless.

What on earth were we – a pair of dithery grandparents – doing riding through all this on our bikes? Were we mad?

The answer was obviously YES. But we were mad with a motive. We had set off from home in Norfolk to visit the overseas projects of UK children’s charity EveryChild and, hopefully, raise some publicity for their good works in the process.

Inspired by Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman’s Long Way Round trip when they visited Unicef operations in Eastern Europe, we figured we could do something similar, but without the TV crew, fixers, medics and support vehicles. We knew we would take in 12 countries along the way and clock up something like 5000 miles, but we had no idea what we were letting ourselves in for.

We started in scorchingly hot conditions – it was the summer that thousands of Parisians died of heatstroke – and when the weather finally broke it did so with a vengeance. We had visited several EveryChild facilities in western Romania, done interviews with the local media and were heading for Bulgaria when all hell let loose. Frankly, the roads and the driving were so bad here, they didn’t need the storm of the century to make them insanely dangerous. These were just some of the hazards:

1) Tyre grooves: On Romania’s tired, beaten-up old roads, the heavy lorries lean towards the verge due to the camber of the road and their overloaded chassis. The result is a tyre groove near the centreline of the road and a much deeper one near the road edge, where the combination of tyre-trench and displaced tarmac sometimes creates a ridge over half a metre high.

2) Potholes: These are often a metre or more across and up to half a metre deep. Fail to spot and dodge these in time and you can puncture tyres, break wheels, damage suspension and snap motorbike frames and luggage carriers, not to mention being pitched off your bike.

3) Slumps: These are not potholes but can be just as deadly. These are where the substructure of the road – maybe an underlying drain or culvert – has collapsed, leaving an almost invisible hollow where the road has dropped. Hit these at anything above jogging speed and the suspension fires you out of the saddle, shortening your spine in the process.

4) Horse poo: A novel hazard that you don’t see much on British roads, but with lots of horses and carts in Romania, there are frequent piles of steaming horse droppings, made even more interesting to ride over when heavy rain turns it into a slimy slurry.

5) Slick tar: Not only road repairs, but whole sections of road, especially in bends, are polished glass-smooth by vehicle tyres and lack of road maintenance. In the wet these are treacherously slippery.

6) Diesel: Romanian trucks have leaky tanks and faulty filler caps. But with their own oil wells in the south of the country, this is of no concern to the truckers who spread slippery diesel oil over the roads. In the dry this is dodgy, but in the wet the combination of oil lying over a film of water is deadly, especially in bends.

7) Road signs: Those that haven’t fallen over, been driven into or rusted away have usually been shot to pieces. For some reason, everyone with a gun seems to find road signs irresistible for target practice, the satisfying ‘clang’ of a wounded road sign must make up for the absence of hunted-out wildlife, perhaps?

8) Dogs: But you can’t spend too long looking out for road signs or you’ll hit a dog. Romania has packs of feral dogs running along the verge beside you, barking maniacally and threatening to throw themselves under your wheels any second.

9) Drivers: Despite all of the above, by far the greatest hazard on Romanian roads were the other road users. In the space of two hours we counted four accidents – still fresh and warm.

The first was a chap who had spun off on a wet bend – one of the smooth tar hazards – and had smashed his car to a pulp around a tree.

The second was a bus with the front stoved in, the driver and another man trying to pull the glass out and restart the engine, so that the poor passengers could be delivered to their destinations. What had mangled the front of the bus was long gone, but it looked like the back end of a lorry, judging by the damage.

The third was a major crunch between a lorry and a car, the latter having no engine or front wheels left. This one was sufficiently serious for the police to be in attendance and a sheet-covered shape on the verge looked ominously like a body.

The fourth was at traffic lights, a shunt with three vehicles involved, their drivers all shouting and arguing with each other instead of moving their vehicles so that others might pass. Fortunately we were narrow enough to squeeze past before the fists started flying.

These were challenge enough, but when the storm of the century broke just as we got caught up in the manic city traffic of Bucharest, we both thought we would never make it out alive. Miraculously we survived, reached Veliko Tarnovo in Bulgaria and spent a couple of days drying out and recovering.

Eventually the flood waters receded enough for us to continue to southern Bulgaria and complete our mission. After more charity visits and an appearance on Bulgarian national television, we allowed ourselves a couple of days R&R on the Black Sea coast before the long ride home. Surely nothing could go wrong now?

Shortly after crossing over the Danube and back into Romania, a second storm brought renewed flooding and misery for those who were washed out of their homes along the route we had to travel. A long day of treacherous riding through mud, rubble and falling rocks left us so exhausted we settled for the only non-flooded guesthouse we could find.

This roadside trucker’s halt was even rougher than the dodgy hotels we’d stayed in elsewhere on the trip, but we were too tired to care. We were thankful for a room, despite live wires protruding from the walls, outrageous plumbing and a bed with no mattress, just a few odd cushions scattered over the springs.

The two young waitresses in the café downstairs made us welcome as we munched our way through the limited menu. We snatched what sleep we could as guests arrived and left at all hours of the night and when we stumbled down for breakfast next morning we were surprised to see the same two girls still on duty. We were 200 miles down the road before the penny dropped and we realised we’d just spent the night in a brothel!

The full story of this ridiculous journey – hairy, scary and often hilarious – is in the book of our travels: ‘Beyond Bucharest’. Come and meet us at the HU 10th Annual UK Travellers Meeting in Ripley from June 24-27, 2010. We will be giving a presentation (possibly two!) and signing books. Hope to see you there…
YouTube - Beyond Bucharest: Motorcycle Adventure Travel, Romania & Bulgaria
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  #2  
Old 13 Apr 2010
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What a great read.

Brought the momories of my own jaunt through Romania a couple of years ago right back to me....


Oh the dogs,,,,,,


Oh the ruts, dips and trenches.....

Brilliant!
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Old 13 Apr 2010
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Superb see you at the meet
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  #4  
Old 13 Apr 2010
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Hi, its the adventure of Romania and Bulgaria that make them great places to tour. i have toured Bulgaria 3 out of the last 4 years and Romania last year, get off the main roads and enjoy the B roads and trails. Accomodation can sometimes be difficult to find. Andy B
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  #5  
Old 13 Apr 2010
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Great story, well written, thanks for posting. It vindicates our descision to miss out Romania on our planned route back from Qatar to the UK via Turkey, we plan to zip through Bulgaria in a day for much the same reasons. We'll take our chances through Serbia/Bosnia/Croatia. Maybe we'll have similar tales to tell, let's just hope for a happy ending, Bon Route!
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  #6  
Old 13 Apr 2010
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I sent a PM which you may or may not receive, given limited number of posts. Basically, I disagree heartily with the premise of riding Romania and/or Bulgaria as death-defying feats. They're fine, the roads and people are fine, even the weather is generally fine....or at least no worse than I've seen in other countries, on other continents, repeatedly all my life.

That doesn't mean you've got nothing to offer--it merely means I don't think anyone should be scared off by a bit of purple prose.

Mark

(stalling my departure from Foz do Iguacu, Brazil)
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  #7  
Old 13 Apr 2010
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Quote:
Originally Posted by markharf View Post
Basically, I disagree heartily with the premise of riding Romania and/or Bulgaria as death-defying feats.
er, yes, the account seemed a bit over-dramatized to me as well. I was in Rumania last year and seem to have missed all of the exciting bits. It's great that you're out there having a good time and all, but let's not get carried away...
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  #8  
Old 13 Apr 2010
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Romania varies...

I agree with few things: other road users and pot holes.

Drivers are nuts in there, we experienced so many close situations along our way that cant even remember all of them. Few to name: if you are outside the road, engines off and a bus hits you (luckily with a speed of walking), according to the driver, it's your fault. If you are driving with a truck, you can pass over in the curve even if someones is driving towards, as you are bigger. It is fine to drive on a middle of a road, even if someone comes towards. It's ok to pass over on a mountain road 160/km into a no visibility curve. And so on...

Pot holes are especially nasty in Romania, as they occur only now and then. Unlike in Moldovia, where there are several bigger or smaller ones in every 10 or so meters. In Romania, the road can be a month old, fine asphalt... and then you hit on a pot hole lurking in a shadow after a curve. You pull over to check your bike, and while making sure the bike is "ok", you see a car hitting the same pot hole... and another... and another... and another... every single one of them pulling over to check they are ok. And of course, no warning singns in any of these places.

However, don't let these bother you too much, I really enjoyed driving in Romania (in general ) and will propably do it again some day. People are in great and helpful, there are good parties, amazing views... and a lot more. We spent four nights there as a part of our longer trip, definately worth it.

Oskari

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Travel with Snella
YouTube - Broadcast Yourself.
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Old 13 Apr 2010
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I can't wait for Hollywood to buy the rights and make the movie !


I thought the guy was dodging bullets by the title, not horse poo !


Definately inspired by E&C !!

Still, all good fun eh !
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Last edited by *Touring Ted*; 27 Mar 2011 at 08:28.
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  #10  
Old 14 Apr 2010
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Originally Posted by *Touring Ted* View Post
Still, all good fun eh !
I agree.

I loved Romaina, the holes, the dogs, the mad drivers. It kinda felt a bit safer than the UK, I know bizzar, but you appriciate that everyone really is out to get you and once you get into the flow of it, I found it quite good fun. In the UK of course it's the ones you don't see that are out to get you!

I read the OP and it brought back great memories, a bit flowery ? yes maybe but it rekindled a past and it's clearly taken, or to be taken, from a book. Real life isn't that interesting, if you're going to write it down you need to keep readers interested.

A bit of fun, nothing wrong there at all.
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Old 15 Apr 2010
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Not a big fan of people embellishing their own rides to make them sound more dangerous than they are. Plenty of riders have gone to Bulgaria and Romania and done just fine. I found both countries thoroughly enjoyable and the conditions are not that bad. Just keep your wits about you. Sounds to me that you were going too fast.

I understand that you want to sell your books but this is a bit much.
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Old 15 Apr 2010
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Austin Vince does a clever bit in his presentations using a poster for an old b-rate action film. If I remember correctley, it shows the hero being attacked by a tiger while being shot at and with explosions going off all around. He says that some people would have you believe this is what battling your way across Eastern Europe is like. He then cuts to the Mondo Enduro boys riding down a lush green valley next to a river with big beaming smiles on their faces.
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Old 19 Apr 2010
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Wow!

What a fantastic response. My thanks to all of you for taking the time to read my first HUBB post and leave your comments - good or bad (not indifferent, thank goodness).

Here's an admission: I wrote two articles, one a racy item intended for a biker mag, the other a de-tuned piece more suitable for the HU community. In my haste to submit the HUBB post in the early hours before setting off on another trip, I muddled the two and you got the high-octane one.

A week and 3000 miles later, I've just had the chance to check the HUBB and discovered this wonderful feedback. Big thanks to those of you who have already gone to the website (Timbuktu Publishing - Home Page) and ordered a book (written in a lighter, more humorous tone!). And to those who've promised (threatened!) to look us up at Ripley. Looking forward to meeting you all.

Incidentally, to those who think I've exaggerated the dangers of our own personal experience, I would just point out that you weren't there! 62 people died in the part of Romania we rode through on the day of that terrible storm. Hard to exaggerate that, I'd say...

Every traveller has a different journey and chooses to tell it in their own way. It's what makes the world an interesting place....

Bob Goddard, Cyprus
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Old 20 Apr 2010
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Originally Posted by BobGoddard View Post
Wow!


Incidentally, to those who think I've exaggerated the dangers of our own personal experience, I would just point out that you weren't there! 62 people died in the part of Romania we rode through on the day of that terrible storm. Hard to exaggerate that, I'd say...

Yeah !! We probably just don't get it. It's not like most of us here havn't done long and dangerous trips into the great unknown...

Although, you've got a point ! I've just come back from 4 days in Wales and the horse poo there was exceptionally dangerous. In some towns, they didn't even have ATM's and in one village, they didn't even have a waitrose !! I don't know how we made it out alive ! Thank god we had GPS and our armoured escort..

Anyway, the book is on the way !!

"DODGING DEATH IN SNOWDONIA & THE BLACK MOUNTAINS"
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Old 20 Apr 2010
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ouch folks being abit harsh here, its a ride from their perspective if their average daily ride was once a week down the road to asda then coming accross mass floods, carnage, animals used as transport and poor roads would seam a bit hairy.
I know guys that have been riding all over europe and they do it for a few weeks every year for the last decade and they still wouldnt go to eastern europe. Some folk consider even that an adventure.
If you keep pushing the bar on what is deamed as adventure or what is dangerous and judging everyone else by the standards of some of the very well travelled people here then god help those like lois pryce and her hubby.
I can just see them now announcing their next ride, "well because guys like siberskyextreme and others have been pushing the limits, we are going one step further, we will now ride around the middle east offroad on honda goldwings with no support and only wearing matching thongs"
Ive now seen a few ride reports put up that have been slated for not being a tale of mass carnage and chaos in both the 4x4 and bike section and grant wonders why people dont post reports as much as other forums.
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