Dave the motorhome is still parked in a field near the village of Gusterija neat to Sibiu, Romania. He’s just a little over 100m from the finishing arena for the Red Bull Romaniacs Hard Enduro Rallye.
Last night we went for a walk that Orvi, who lives in the house across the road from where we are parked, suggested. The hill top opposite is home to a huge cross which lights up at night, and also gives a view over the city of Sibiu. To get to it we wandered up past the finishing arena; a JCB was hard at work creating a mound, a tanker delivered water to fill a huge ditch and campers secured the best viewing positions. Then two huge Romanian-registered motorhomes wobbled past us and parked up. We’d opted to stay down at the bottom of the hill as the ruts in it could easily take off one of Dave’s wheels. It was tempting to fetch Dave and join them as they were setting up for a BBQ, but we erred on the side of caution and stuck with where we were.
The walk to the hill top took us over a huge motorcross track, open and free for anyone to use. As we scrambled up the steep jumps we speculated on where the riders would go, surely if they were finishing just the other side of the trees, then they’ll be using the motorcross track too? At the viewpoint, an electric spark cracked rhythmically and the cross lit up. Below us Sibiu, shrouded in mist, also lit up as the street lights came on. In the distance the Carpathian hills had clouds hanging below their peaks.
Back at Dave we moved him as far off the road as we could on Orvi’s advice, as the rough road tends to flick up stones when cars and bikes go past. Throughout the night big sounding stuff went by, but Dave was fine. The big-sounding stuff was chased by Orvi’s dogs, who barked us to sleep.
This morning we peeked out to see many more cars and trucks up by the finishing arena, it was all starting to take shape. On top of the massively steep mud slope was a Red Bull arch – the finishing post – clearly visible from Dave. Cars and off-road bikes continued to pour past, some of the bikes opting to use the fields instead of the road. We joked that the ubiquitous Red Bull mini cars with oversized cans on the back would never make it up the gravel road, then ten minutes later two drove past us. Figuring it was all about to kick off, we slapped on some sun screen, packed some snacks in our rucksack, dug out the camping chairs and set off to find our viewing spot.
Ducking under some bright orange KTM tape we were inside the natural bowl shaped arena. We climbed a small mound of earth to one side and set up camp on a flat spot right opposite the finishing post. Realising that we weren’t going to get any shade, Jay headed back to Dave and grabbed an umbrella to create our own. By the time he had returned our chairs were surrounded and the place was filling up. The Offspring, The Sex Pistols and numerous other angry sounding tunes blared out from the speakers set either side of the Red Bull branded Hummer that the DJ sat on.
The announcer thankfully used both English and Romanian to tell everyone what was happening. There was so much going on we didn’t know where to look. Someone attempting the steep finish climb (unsuccessfully), a JCB still piling up dirt, banners being hung around the security fencing, armed police with bullet proof jackets wandering around, off-road bikes weaving through the crowds – it kept us entertained until the helicopter arrived and landed in the motorcross field behind us. A signal that the first of the riders was due.
Of course this was hard core stuff, we’d been foolish to think they would use the motorcross track, that was far too tame. These guys only seemed to tackle vertical slopes, many many of them. Sometimes the bikes made it up and the riders didn’t, other times the rider scrabbled over the last bit of dirt while the bike fell away. Then they had to try and reunite themselves with their machines – as there seemed to be only a few spectators among the trees on the steep banks to help them.
Attempting the big finishing slope was optional, but soon the first rider arrived at its base, but when I say big, well that really doesn’t cover it, it was huge. He made it about three quarters of the way up, then his bike ground to a halt and tipped over. Again and again this happened until eventually someone made it, to a massive cheer from the crowd.
We made a den for Charlie between our camping chairs so he could stay out of the sun and spent a great day sitting on our hill and taking it in turns to wander around. We watched over 350 riders from 40 different countries try to kill themselves, but thankfully no one succeeded. In fact we saw many tumbles, but they all got straight back up and back on their bikes, granted some gave it a kick first. Probably less than 10% made it up the huge slope to the top – each time rewarded with a massive cheer. Chris Warwick from Australia must have tried about 25 times, before we think he must have finally given up.
Once over the ‘finish line?!’ the riders disappeared off into the trees again and we could see glimpses of them now and again tackling smaller, equally vertical sections until they were in the main arena, where the riders had a choice – the ‘chicken line’ which was to simply ride over the line, or to try and cross the water. As the first person to rise to the challenge lined up the crowd were on their feet. They got to witness a spectacular somersault finish in the water, with rider and bike both getting submerged. A crew jumps in and feels around to help retrieve the bike and help carry it to the finish as there is no hope of it starting again. Funnily enough few people attempted the water jump after that, but the pro-riders who did make it across came and stood by the start of it and coached the local guys as they attempted to cross the pond.
Back at home, something like this would probably have cost us £10 – £15 to go and watch, and would be full of security and rules. Here it was all free and although there were a few police around it was all very laid back and relaxed. Beer and Red Bull flowed despite about 25% of the crowd watching having arrived on off-road bikes themselves. Once the competitors started to wander around too it was difficult to tell who was here to watch and who was here to ride.
It was an amazing experience and the best part was that it was all won by a Brit – Graham Jarvis. We’d never heard of him, but he’s out there on the circuit doing Great Britain proud! As usual we took way too many photos, above is the very edited highlights, (and video which we’ll upload once we get wifi).
After the podium ceremonies took place and the crowd thinned we headed back to Dave, but riders were still coming in for another hour or so. Just after 4.30pm the sky darkened and it has started to rain, thankfully cooling the air down and dampening the dust kicked up by the bikes. The locals riders that weren’t in the competition are now attempting the huge slope and water feature – every so often we hear a cheer go up, not sure anyone has made it to the top yet though.
Orvi suggested heading into Sibiu this evening, and offered to call us a taxi and will write down exactly where we need to go to come back. He’s told us the price of the taxi (less than €6 return) so we won’t get ripped off. At first we were reluctant, after a whole day in the sun we’re both tired, but it is Saturday night and it would be rude not to. So I’m off for a quick shower and to get my glad rags on.