BEAR IN THE (ROMANIAN) WOODS
Pretty cool that Red Bull Romaniacs’ riders are about to camp out under the stars as part of the event’s first ever Marathon Stage, right? Right! Except for the unnerving fact that they’ll be pitching their flimsy tents in a region of Romania that’s renowned for its angry bears. Which of course reminded us of our own bear encounter on a section on the Romaniacs course back in 2014 – an experience that gave rise this Editorial piece, which first appeared in the July-August issue (#45) of Transmoto Dirt Bike Magazine in 2014…
From a mist-shrouded 2800m rocky summit, our group plunges down a steep ravine and into the treeline. We descend through a band of moss-covered pine trees and into a thick green birch forest, funnelled ever downwards by what feels like a naturally occurring U-shaped waterslide; a clay-brown chute with walls two metres high on either side, overhanging branches, and enough loose rocks and flowing water to make the steep pitch treacherous on two wheels. It turns out we’re riding down a centuries-old channel that the local Romanian farmers have carved into the mountainside and use to drag logs to lower altitudes with their horses. We might be aboard the latest and greatest orange beasts from Europe’s largest motorcycle manufacturer, but in these remote Carpathian Mountains – made famous in two-wheeled circles by the Red Bull Romaniacs extreme enduro event – it feels like it could be the 15th Century.
Legs burning, we finally emerge from the log-pull chute and onto the lush grasslands of the valley’s foothills, where we meet a shepherd, his four dogs and a herd of 60-odd goats. He looks troubled and, after speaking in what sounds like anguished tones, our guide translates: “It turns out he lost a goat just an hour ago. The thing was torn to shreds by a bear, just up the ravine where we came from. He’s a bit upset.”
As we catch our breath and talk amongst ourselves about this ancient Transylvanian forest and the wolves and bears that still inhabit it, our sweep rider rocks up and does a head count. “We are a group of 12, right? Well, I can only count 11. Who is missing? And how the hell did that happen?”
We quickly deduce that it’s Greg Chambers, KTM Australia’s marketing guy, who’s gone MIA. I call his mobile, but it rings out. And in the context of the recent bear attack, it doesn’t take long for a rescue mission to be organised. The prospect of riding back up the slithery chute doesn’t sound appealing, and after 10 gruelling hours in the saddle, we wonder whether it’s even possible.
Thankfully, just as our recovery party sets off, we hear the faint sound of an engine on the mountainside, and Chambers appears intermittently between the trees as an orange spec. Ten minutes later, he finally reaches us – sweating bullets and doing his best to look relieved rather than rattled.
“Man, I must have lost you guys in the mist up there,” he says. “I went down some super-steep, dead-end track and lost all sight of tyre tracks. And I only just got back up that hill, too. Luckily, the mist lifted and I saw the tracks where you blokes turned off down the chute. Y’know, I’ve gotta say, it felt a bit spooky up there by myself for a bit.”
“Mate, you don’t know the half of it,” I say, not letting on about the bear attack. “Hey, Greg, did you take a shit in the woods?”