To pick up where we left off; Emma and I whizzed down the highway and into a campsite run by Dutch people called De Oude Wilg.
It has come to my attention that this means The Old Willow in Dutch, the symbolism was not lost on me – my old Willow would have loved ithere too. It was quiet and beautiful and cool and had warm, clean showers and I was so very happy about that. On the way we managed to choose a very bumpy and rutted road with zero other traffic and so Scout got out for a run. She did brilliantly beside me, although she was understandably a little scared when we passed a factory with two barking dogs telling us to get away from their place – the dogs weren’t behind any gates so they had the potential to rush right up to us. I had my mind on staying calm and in control, encouraging Scout to keep moving and preparing to protect her at all costs but as with so many dogs they were all bark and no bite and we continued on without incident, however when Scout saw Anthony on the road ahead getting some footage she swerved across and into his arms for a reassurance cuddle. Fair enough, young pup, fair enough.
The pretty little town the campsite sat in had people in traditional dress, horses and carts and, to Scout’s delight and my frustration hundreds of swooping swallows. I suppose they were catching flies but I’m not sure they weren’t just teasing Scout and dive bombing her to make my life more difficult, and to give Emma and the locals a good laugh. She desperately wanted to chase them and I dearly wanted her to stay on the right hand side of the bike and not run across the road and not pull me over. It was quite a clash of wills. To her credit she was quite restrained and we stayed upright all the way to the campsite…where she saw a cat.
We met two lots of cycle tourers at the campsite (French and South African) and compared stories from the nightmare night at the top of the Transfagarasan and offered advice on onward journeys – Romanian dogs nipping at heels and fast roads without cycle paths featured heavily. We decided to continue as we had planned, crossing the border at Cenad into Mako for the 9th and cycling as much as we could on the way given the conditions. Although it had been a rainy night, the sky was beginning to clear as we made our way to the UNESCO World Heritage city of Sibiu. There was ice-cream, there were fountains, it’s seriously worth a visit, guys.
We cycled along roads that had enough space for us and a car and felt pretty ok until we approached the city and the roads doubled up and got busy. We took small roads and eventually found ourselves in the beautiful pedestrian quarter of Sibiu. Scout sat proudly in her chariot with the front flap open without trying to jump out and basking in the interested points and stares. On more than one occasion now I have wished I had a large sign or a t-shirt with K8 and K9 on it so I could direct people to the website and potentially garner more donations. The Transfagarasan Highway was a prime example of advertising opportunities – word had spread about the two women and a dog cycling up the highway – our French friends had heard about us – how great would it have been if people knew we were going all the way to London? Another example of poor foresight and prep from me!
Anyway, we then loaded up the bikes to get out of the city and take a punt on a large Decathlón we’d spied on the way in – I was still cleatless on one shoe and needed a screw to set things right. No luck – only £15 for an entirely new set that I couldn’t bring myself to spend. I did manage to buy myself some new socks – my ‘cycle specific’ ones were too big and fluffy and I only had three of them as one had been stolen by a dog (probably) on our first night in Bulgaria. On taking a wrong turn out of the city we ended up driving past KTM bicycles and I decided to jump out and ask. I showed them the twin of the screw I needed, I was met with an exhalation and a slow shake of the head before I showed them the rest of the cleat and a little cheeky grin spread across the guy’s face. He moved aside some papers, found a small plastic packet and ripped it open, he pulled out one, two screws and gave them both to me, refusing any payment. His partner said ‘nothing but hugs and kisses’ for which, to be fair, she didn’t even exact payment. I showed them the blog name and said I would thank them there. Do me a favour? Like their fb page.
Cleaaaats!! Yay. Oh god so much better. I’ll be honest I was a little worried having only used them for my Oxford training ride and nothing since but when we found a quietish patch of road to whizz along that afternoon I felt like I was really getting in the grove of this cycling malarkey and stopped being scared of falling with heavy bike.
Romanian roads are not amazing for cycling. People drive very fast. The roads are not very wide. People do fairly reckless overtaking. Emma used to be a police officer and she finds it hard to ignore the accidents she’s seen. I cycled on with blissfully ignorant, as we passed shrine after shrine of dedications to perished motorists. Seriously, they erect proper crosses and things, sometimes with pictures, not just temporary flower memorials. ‘Tra la la,’ I cycled on thinking ‘they probably weren’t on bikes, we’ll be fine.’ We planned a stop at the next lay by for snacks and who was sat there but Mr Smith, with GoPro in hand ready to film us…stopping. A quick assessment of the road and the distance still to cover before Wednesday and we decided not to endure the scary roads. We were in the van and on our way in a few minutes. Much better.
We jumped in and out of the van like this as we continued west through Romania and the towns began to change, they got a bit smaller, a bit more run down, there was a large motorway that initially diverted most of the traffic off the ‘B’ roads we were trying to cycle but it hadn’t been finished and so for a good 80km all the traffic piled on to some really small roads that were hairy enough to drive in the van – no way we were going to cycle them.
Scout loves the van. About a month ago Scout was car sick when she went to a fundraising event and she was a little sick when she travelled in the back of the van to the train station at the start of the trip but as soon as she climbs into the cab now she lies down and goes to sleep. Willow always did the same – it meant all the drivers on my TV jobs never objected to her coming along – she slept the whole way in the footwell and was completely unobtrusive. This bodes well, little doggo.
We saddled up again for the journey through the border into Hungary. It was pretty hot and the queue was long – we pushed ahead to see if there was a pedestrian or bike gate we could go through just as they opened another gate to ease the tailback caused by five or six Turkish men in German Mercedes they were not interested in letting in apparently. We passed through with ease and the border guard ladies were quite taken with Scout who sat prettily with her head out the front flap again. Top marks, pup.
CYCLE PATHS! Oh my god there were separate cycle paths parallel to the main road almost immediately. I could taste the easy cycling from here on out. And it tasted gooood. We bumbled along, Scout smiling out at her third country in a week and drawing stares and points and laughs and puzzlement (signage, Lamb, signage would be great).
Not as dramatic or catastrophic as the previous few days had been but it was a few more days with Emma and Anthony by my side. I think the challenge really begins when I set out on my own. For me and for Scout. She knows Emma and Anthony best and although we certainly have a bond, she’s very very attached to them too – I think we’re both going to miss them. I don’t know if Scout will be confused or just take it in her stride. She’s going to mental when she sees Emma in London – she’s attending a Dog’s Trust course just in time to see my triumphant return (I hope).
We spent a good few hours in the thermal baths next to the hotel, leaving Scout in the air-conditioned bathroom of our room where she good-naturedly tore the top off her foldy bowl and a few holes in Willow’s old sleeping bag. Sigh. She did very well with the separation and only seemed very excited to see us rather than extremely stressed by the situation – she’s a very independent little thing (street dog smarts) which is good in many ways, but no so much for her recall – it’s good for dogs to have a small amount of dependency on their owners – it strengthens the bond and prevents them straying too far. Hopefully that will come in time. And so will she!
I had a thoroughly unimpressive massage (I need some serious muscle manipulation and this was just firm stroking) and Emma was so mashed about in hers she ached more afterwards. Win some, lose some I guess and we thought sadly about the next day’s parting. I’m anxious to see what this next stage brings. But I’m really going to miss these guys, I only met them a few months ago but we’ve already shared an awful lot. I peed in a bowl in the same van as them for god’s sake (don’t ask but it was the only option available, there were reasons) and you don’t go through stuff like that without ending up pretty darn close. They opened their home to me with astonishing generosity. The same generosity they show every day to the dogs.
They are good peoples. But it’s clear that they can’t go on doing what they’re doing without help. Help from your donations to create safe and secure spaces for the different dogs (they have 70 right now, guys, and they just don’t have the facilities for that), help from the municipality who offer neutering funds and support, and help from volunteers who will work hard and not be afraid to get dirty and exhausted. They never stop. Which is exhausting. This trip is the first time they’ve managed more than two days away from Street Hearts in over a year and it was only possible with help from four lovely ladies – Candy, Laura, Bianca and Monica who stayed to do doggy duty. But, with your donations, there will be secure puppy areas, sick bays, quarantine pens, scared dog rehab areas and a medical and grooming room. Everything will be easier to muck out and keep clean, and the dogs and the people will be happier. So please share this blog, or the others, or the twitter account, and spread the word; a little goes a long way, I can’t believe where we are already! Or where we’ll be tomorrow. Not quite Budapest yet, but it’s close!