Am decis să public asta deoarece a trecut fix un an de când am scris ultima oară la el și a devenit clar că nu voi mai scrie vreodată despre acei doi ani.
Poate, cândva, voi considera că merită să scriu despre alți doi ani.
Are greșeli gramaticale și de sintaxă, pentru că nu a trecut și nici nu va trece prin vreo corectură.
Poate, cândva, voi considera că merită să scriu despre alți doi ani.
Are greșeli gramaticale și de sintaxă, pentru că nu a trecut și nici nu va trece prin vreo corectură.
Tot timpul l-am numit ”Welcome back, God!”
I guess you’ll figure out a cheesy title for it
Or, welcome back, God!
It might be the third time this week when I write about God and actually mean it. I start to wonder who invented him. Who gave him his name. And it’s actually not a name, it’s a word, just that it’s written with a capital letter. In Romanian it’s called Dumnezeu, and it comes from the Greek or Latin words Domine and Deus which would mean the dominant god.
Just like that, all the gods had a boss. The others were rendered useless, powerless – they were thrown somewhere. Only the dominant one mattered. So unjust, so unfair.
I’m writing about God because I found him again. Only now, I realised how powerless he is, how small he is – on one hand. He’s small because he’s the good guy, he makes you feel good – at least that’s what he does to me. He’s powerless because he doesn’t harm me, he can’t. Only I can.
Did I tell you that he’s also powerful? Is he the most powerful? Not in hell! Is he the most important? This is a tricky question. I think most people meet him in their life, some enjoy him, some hate some parts of him, just as I do and some just have a one-night stand with him, thank him and then just move on. But what do they move on to? Don’t they move to looking for him again? Doesn’t this mean that we get bored of him? Doesn’t this mean that we should not enjoy him and not only him? That we should have some other gods other than him, for his own sake, so we won’t get bored of him?
Isn’t he just like any other nice thing in our life, like our favorite food, favorite game, sport, people? Shouldn’t we just treat him like any other gods?
I think we should.
Now, you might wonder why, or what got me into finding god again. Here it goes.
I’m not your regular guy. I’m anything but your regular guy! I do look normal, quite short actually, dark hair, brown eyes, usually bearded. Sometimes long hair, the other times short, always on the run, always rushing, always fast, trained and happy to be fast – proud of it actually.
I’d like to tell you how I got here. It would make it an interesting story, but I’ll just go back one year. One fantastic year, maybe one and a half years.
I was 26 years old and lived some sort of perfect life – the happy version, not the rich one. I had an amazing girlfriend – yes, I start with the girlfriend because it’s the main thing I’m lacking now – I had great friends – not the rich ones either – the ones I could talk about being better persons than me. I had very little financial worries, even though I did not have a 9 to 17 job, my family was relatively stable, even though a complete mess, each and every one of them, maybe except my sister. What else did I have? Everything! A rented roof over my head, an actual family, made up of me, Ruxi – the great girlfriend, and George – the great flatmate. Don’t laugh – we were as perfect a family as it can get. We had enough money to buy the food, clothes, pay for utilities, basically everything we needed. We belonged to a very respected, not so well-known social group. One that’s now 44 years old and whose “ruler” I was at the time, and still am. Of course, I exaggerate when I say ruler or very respected, but let me have some glory please! It’s a mountain club that has been active in Brașov for the past 44 years and in which I joined in 2009, in my first month as a university student. I wouldn’t like to minimize my mom’s contribution, but this club is partly one of the reasons for my awesomeness – and just so that you don’t hate me for not being modest, I really hope that you also consider yourself to be awesome. If you don’t, then please replace my awesomeness with the good in me.
It’s the people who joined and left the club who made me who I am. They were all extraordinary boys and girls who saw more than themselves, they had a view on the world, the country, the city. They wanted to make them better. As a hobby, after work, in their spare time. That’s what made them not necessarily happy, but fulfilled, accomplished. And, basically, that’s what they also taught me, willingly or not, but successfully.
We didn’t save the world we didn’t even try, but we did break some boundaries, and so did thousands of people who answered our call.
People know us for organizing marathons – trail running marathons. For whoever doesn’t know what these are, it’s 42km of running when you can, walking when can’t, on trails, usually mountain ones, going up and down somewhere between 1000 and 3000 meters in total. In Romania, this movement was started 12 years ago by a cool crazy guy, from the coolest small mountain town in the country, Clinciu Lucian, Piatra Craiului Marathon. At that time, I was an average high school student who wished he could one go to hike some mountains, who never heard about trail running marathons. A few years later I found myself being an assistant in a youth mountain camp and, talking with some participants, I heard they came from a race which had just ended in those mountains – Marathon 7500. I didn’t ask for more details. I soon found out that it was organized by a mountain club in Brasov, the city I was about to move to for university. At the time, I was also part of a mountain club in my hometown, a fact which already made me extraordinary. I knew I was going to join that Brasov club as soon as I’d get there, even though I’ve never been in that city before.
Sorry for going back eight years instead of the one and a half that I promised, but the memories overwhelm me, just as they do to you, probably. Now that you know why I think we’re respected, I’ll go back just one and a half years – okay – two!
I was working for a friend who was timing an ultra-marathon organized by some Swedish guys in the same mountain that we organize our ultra. It was there where I got to talk to a very inspiring guy who told me that he was a photographer at a few editions of PER – The Patagonian Expedition Race – a thing that I couldn’t even wrap my mind around. Before I explain what this is, I’ll just have to get back to explaining what we do, and when I say we, I mean CPNT Brasov – yes – the mountain club in Brasov.
It stands for The Club for Nature Protection and Tourism and it might just be the most important part of my life. Sounds a little weird even for me, but it is what it is. It’s the kind of thing that just sounds too good to be true. You present yourself as the new kid in town and a guy, who looks pretty cool and influential over there is impressed of what you did and takes you under his wing. That means that he invites you to events, parties, and, most importantly: hikes and climbing sessions. Then you find out that there’s an entire world of hikers, climbers, or simple mountain lovers who simply trust each other with their lives and for whom respect is something really powerful and present. Later, you find out that there are people who don’t really like you, just like everywhere else in life and that’s when you actually start to learn how life is to be deal with. But since I’m talking about a perfect life and happy shit, I’m going to emphasize on those.
There’s a guy who devotes his time for a week in the winter to teach you how to ski up and down the wild mountain. Another one plans a 3-day event for three months before it happens. A girl is the president and deals with everything related to the club’s most important event, one that takes place in July. There’s a guy who’s really good with computers, graphic design and internet stuff, always pleased to show you all the tricks. Then, mid-year, magic happens. It’s called summer holiday and that means that now, not only one to three days hikes are possible, but also week-long ones. They’re usually organized by a guy who’s a teacher and actually has a summer holiday. You can also hear about other people, old members, ex-members, and always when one of them returns from wherever he was gone, it’s interesting to hear their story or stories of what it was like to be a member just a few years before.
One such person was Ruxi, whom I happily and excitedly greeted at one of the weekly meetings and whose story I was about to keep on listening for the following years. Ruxi is now my ex-girlfriend (the great one). This is the lesser known part of CPNT – the thing not visible from the outside. What people see from the outside is a lovely group of volunteers who organize three races and help organize a few others. The first race we organized was a complete alien. At the time of the first edition there was only one trail running marathon – MPC – a 9-hour limited race, surrounding a very steep little and gorgeous mountain called Piatra Craiului, totaling 42km in distance and 2150m positive height gain. Marathon 7500, our race, totaled 95km and 7500m positive height gain, cutting across the mighty Bucegi mountains’ ridges on marked routes with no supplementary markings on the routes.
It didn’t revolutionize the trail running movement in Romania, it leaped it forward a few years while trying to tie it with past classical races like the Carpathian Adventure, by promoting the team spirit with the team-of-two format. Safe to say that this leap found almost three quarters of the starting teams to not be able to meet the 50 hours time limit of the race. Take that for crazy!
After a few years of craziness, guilt started to press on us, as we were called CPNT Brasov and were not doing anything for the city, for our city, our favorite city. Thus, Brasov Marathon was born in 2012 with a pilot edition which only had a half marathon race (21km) and a cross race (9km). We wanted and somehow achieved to have the start and finish lines in Piata Sfatului – the most emblematic place in our own favorite city. The starting line was and still is facing the beautiful Tampa mountain, the very first incline the racers will have to climb. Abusing the experience from the much steeper Marathon 7500, we managed to pull out one very difficult half-marathon. I guess that otherwise, we wouldn’t feel happy doing it.
Coincidence made it so that another race organizing team from Brasov set up a half-marathon on an almost completely different route the same year as we did. Theirs was easier, but much better promoted and thus, popular. I think that we have racers going to the starting line of the wrong race every year. They’re both in April, by the way.
The next year we found a route for a full marathon and it somehow got to be the hardest marathon in the country – so hard that we decided to shorten it for the next editions.
Now that I no longer have much to say about the two races, I’ll begin with my favorite, my one and only child, the race that developed me more than I developed it. But first: some history.
From 2001 to 2011 there was one, extreme – let's say, adventure race taking place every year in Romania. A race with an unknown course, in a different mountain every year, with mixed teams of 4, consisting of more than running – it implied mountain-biking, building a raft and rafting with it, ziplining and others spread on 3 continuous and uninterrupted days. This discipline fascinated us all the time and, by the time we were ready to participate, it stopped happening. The entire Romanian adventure scene was left without any races, so the nostalgic public immediately saw us as the only ones capable of pulling up such a complex race. It took us a few years to get used to the idea and a lot of classical (or new) Romanian corruption to actually set on doing it, but we finally managed to say yes.
ProPark Adventure Race was born somewhere in 2014 and only got to happen in 2015, but it did happen.
Let me just give you an insight on the reasons why it happened.
So, somewhere in 2011, CPNT signed a contract with the Romanian Government to implement an EU funded project about promoting some very not known mountains in Romania – Persani Mountains. They are a long chain of hill-like mountains, peaking no more than 1300m, stretching from Codlea to Varghis, they are very wild and we wanted to promote them through volunteering work. We were approved 70000 Euro for a two-year project (bear in mind that our yearly turnover was around 3000 Euro at that point. We happily agreed on the terms of the contract and were supposed to receive some money, then spend them, then get reimbursed… and so on. And we did receive the first money, we did spend them and then didn’t get reimbursed. We called to ask why, they told us that there’s a paper missing. We sent them the paper, even though we had an exact copy of the huge folder in which there were no papers missing. After three weeks, again, another paper missing. This time we went to their office in Bucharest and actually pointed to the “missing” paper in the folder and they said “oh, OK, we now have 3 more weeks to reply to your reimbursement request”. This practice went on until we found ourselves doing almost nothing for the project one and a half years later, and we had no choice but to give up on the contract and wait three weeks for the reply. And the response did not hesitate to come: we had to pay back to the government every cent that we received and used for the purpose of the project – 7000 Euro in total. This might not seem like a lot of money, but bear in mind that I was a student who was living on 120 Euros a month – rent included. We looked for justice, we asked lawyers, we looked for free lawyers and finally ended up accepting to pay the whole amount, just so that we won’t have to deal with the government again and spend our youths in Romanian courts of justice. Now, where were we supposed to get the money from? First, we asked the guys we paid them to – the guy with the map, the guy with the photographs, the guy with the website and I guess that was it. We each loaned the club with as much money as we could, they gave us some money, but we were pretty far from the 7000 needed. So, we asked another environmental organization if they could lend us some money. We knew they had the finances because they were also working with European funding, but they were doing it professionally – with employees, accountant and everything. Bejana, a CPNT member who was working with them came up with the idea that it shouldn’t be a loan, but they’d pay us to organize it. As we had experience with races and they had experience with environmental authorities, it seemed like a good idea. Thus, ProPark Adventure Race was born, carrying their organization’s name, not because they asked for it, but because we liked how it sounded. We were supposed to organize three editions for the 3000 Euro they paid us, but shortly after they saw what organizing such an event means, they sincerely and nicely told us that we’re not contractually obliged to organize the next two. But we did, because we liked it!
Now, 3 years later, we have enough money to start any new project we want, we reimbursed every person who lent us money and also organize three of the nicest events in Romania’s trail running scene.
So, what is ProPark Adventure Race? It’s some sort of Carpathian Adventure that is actually combined with more specific environmental aspects. Yes, you have to have a mixed team of four with whom you trek, hike, climb, orienteer, use the compass, the GPS, mountain-bike, kayak, cross waters through, over, rappel and do other crazy mountain stuff, but you also have to know a thing or two about nature, about the natural protected areas in which you’re racing, and even if you don’t know them, you’ll know them after the race. It’s a classic adventure race spanning on almost 300 km but involving also true environmental activities. You don’t know the map, you don’t even know where it’s going to start when you register. You don’t even know everything after you cross the finish line – if you cross it, because in the first edition, out of 11 teams, only 4 finished in the 50 hours limit. And out of the 7 teams who started the shorter race, only two finished. When you compare these with the over 95% finisher rate of any race in Romania, you also start to think that his is something special.
Why is it my one and only child? It’s because I offered to be project manager for it. Not because I wanted to, not because I felt capable of doing it, but because there was no one else to do it. Learn by force I could say – here I was repairing something I didn’t break, just because there was no one else to do it. We planned on having the first edition in 2014 but failed miserably – we had one registered team, and didn’t do much to actually make the race. We postponed it and quickly realized that if it were to happen I should be doing much more of the organizing than I thought – all that while doing volunteer work for the NGO’s other races and activities. But somehow, I managed to do it.
The first edition had two races – 50 and 24 hours. It was announced at the base of the beautiful Piatra Craiului Mountain and everyone thought that the race would go on that mountain and maybe Bucegi or Fagaras – Romania’s most iconic mountains. Instead, as an irony, we sent the racers towards the Persani Mountains – a place they’ve never been, or even heard about before. And they figured it would be easy, considering they’re not high mountains – and they couldn’t be more wrong. But they loved it! Most teams slept one to two hours in the 50 they raced. They had to paddle on a mountain lake, shoot the bow, cut firewood, cross the Olt river on two ropes and many other things in just 50 hours and over 320km. It was unbelievable, and I made it! My first project as project manager was also the club’s most difficult – it strengthened my opinion that I’m on top of the world and that I’ve got everything I needed.
The second edition had its start 12km away from the first edition’s start, even though we brought the racers with busses to the start line. This time it was a cruelling traverse of Piatra Craiului hills, Leaota Mountain, Bucegi, Baiului and Neamtului on bike, plus a 40km trek on a 2500 peak in Iezer. No short version this time – only 6 of 21 teams reached the middle of the race, and were the only ones to finish. This time, not finishing wasn’t necessarily their fault – we overestimated their capabilities, even though the 6 teams that finished proved it possible on 6 different routes.
The lessons learnt in the second edition proved valuable for the third year, where we did miracles regarding the course. What seemed impossible at first, to have a common start and finish line and to separate the MTB and trekking segments with Romania’s biggest artificial lake, proved to be the best ProPark Adventure so far – with only 14 teams at the start line – we had kayaks for everyone! Even so, only 6 teams finished the entire race, while the others chose shorter routes to get to the finish line on their feet, and only one team quit, having to transport them back to base camp. This was, I think, the best race ever organized in Romania. It had everything you can imagine. And I was, again, project manager.
We started organizing trail running races in 2008. There were 3 races in Romania. One was ours. 9 years later there are - I don’t even know how many races – maybe 40, Marathon 7500 is still the hardest, while Brasov Marathon is one of the most popular – and the first of the season. ProPark Adventure continues to be the only adventure race in the country. This is what I mean when I say happy, I feel that I’m doing something right, out of passion, for passionate people, pushing the boundaries of what’s possible, not by doing, but by creating a framework, by doing the background work, the work that very few people see and appreciate.
I do need to specify that all these were done by a superb team called CPNT. It is purely impossible to do it alone. And when I say team I say, first of all, a project team, made of 5-6 people who know most of the things going around, plus the 60 volunteers who spent 24 hours without sleeping (some more, some less), waiting for the racers to pass by them. And this is not a merit, but a true honor, to have been the elected leader of this group and to get to manage these three crazy races, for better or for worse.
Now that you know what we did, do and will do, I can start the story that actually happens in 2016 and 2017. Change, the thing some people fear the most, the only constant in the universe, the thing some need from time to time – and I include myself in this category – happened! I was working part-time as a mechanical engineer. Whoa! Wait, I’m sure you want to hear this story!
Of course, we go back more! I was a university student but you don’t know what I studied. For that we have to go back to the last year of high school, when I was living in my hometown, Targoviste, an 80000-people city south of the mountains, 80km from the capital and 106km from Brasov. In the last year of high school, I decided to give up internet so that I could study for the final exams and I started to fill my time with pretty awesome stuff, like going on hikes in the weekends, volunteering for the Red Cross (a lot), and, of course, playing a lot of football during the classes. The other amazing thing that I did was to accept a Peace Corps volunteer in our house for the entire period of his language training – 11 weeks, starting May 2009. His name was Justin and at some point, he asked if he could have internet inside the house. Me, my pressing internet addiction and my mom soon said “yes, of course”. Thus, I got to stop doing the amazing things I was doing and still didn’t study for the final exam, but watched a lot of movies, because, you know, I was downloading at 10MB/s in 2009. I was the most relaxed 12th grader in the country because I decided to not study for the Romanian literature – which meant memorizing hundreds of pages of comments about Romanian literature. Unfortunately, I was the only one of my friends who actually didn’t study, so the free time I had was going to be spent alone or with the American volunteers – which were amazing, by the way!
In Romania, the final high school exam is very important – it either has an influence on the university application or it’s the only thing that matters, depending on the university. What I knew about university was that I didn’t want to study for an exam to be admitted – I’m lazy, I know – and I didn’t want to go to Bucharest, because I was poor and there was nothing to do there other than spending money. Nothing about the topic I was to study yet. As you already know, I was a member of a mountain club in my hometown and got to hear about Brasov as being close to the mountains, thus, interesting already. I have only visited Brasov a few years back with my sister and walked through the city center, but I was already impressed by the large boulevards and the high degree of cleanliness – I don’t know if I specifically remembered the huge hill in the middle of the city, but I somehow knew that that’s where I’m going to go for university. Now, about the topic – what was I going to study in Brasov? I remember two things that helped me channel. The first was a friend’s father who was an engineer at a steel factory in Targoviste and had some sort of garage next to the basement of the block he was living in. He used to weld things there, to do all sorts of things that impressed me. They also had a good financial status and I guess that helped me too. The second was a colleague’s father who was also an engineer and who told us, while we were going home from a teacher-parents meeting, that an engineer doesn’t have to know anything by heart, but only has to know where to look from the info. Combine this with my hatred for Romanian literature argumentation and there you have it: Cezar was going to be an engineer, a creative person who is going to do honest work for his money. The only question left to ask was: what type of engineer?
First, I had to look for the types of faculties Brasov University had, and to pick out of those. I basically narrowed it down to two choices – one that I wanted to go to, the second one that I knew I would get into. At the time, my sister was selling cars for a living – Fords, to be more precise, and she had been doing that for the past I don’t know how many years. In parallel, all the talks I would have with my good friends in the neighborhood were about cars – what’s the nicest in the city, what’s the nicest launched, what engine does that one have, how much power, how much torque, how much it consumes, how much it costs – basically, we knew every engine that the European carmakers currently sold. At some points, all the dealers in the city would get invited to fill a square with cars they sell, and I’d gladfully help my sister out with cleaning the cars, revving them up, admiring the lovely girls that accompanied the cars – everything just to be out in and between cars and to be around my sister, who was the good member of the family, as opposed to my brother, who was the bad one. So that was one passion I seemed to have at the time. The second one was about everything related to green stuff: I was an online Greenpeace activist – rather news feed reader, but still. I followed a lot of green car blogs, companies, I followed Tesla for Christ’s sake! We had to make a website for our high school IT skills diploma, and I chose to make it about regenerative sources of energy – a thing that really got me into thinking that green is the way to go.
After intensive, not very good research, I found that in Brasov, I can try to go to study Automotive Engineering to fulfill my car lover future at a faculty that is actually pretty good but where I wasn’t sure I’d get in because of the low math and physics averages in high school. I then found that there’s a way bigger chance of getting into another faculty specialization called Regenerative Energy Systems Engineering, a newly created one – how does “being the first in the country to study that” sound?!
Leap forward 6 years and find myself working an awesome job, at the pinnacle of Romanian automotive development industry, in Brasov’s largest company, in its most advanced engineering office, at the highest floor of the highest building in the factory – the third. While the people downstairs, a hundred engineers were modifying bearing ball sizes, we were doing the creative work on products that were going or not going to be launched in 2020 – that’s 5 years later. I spent two and a half years there working on a pump for – get ready to be blown away – the world’s most advanced electro-magneto-hydraulic valve actuation system, the UniAir. And that was my first engineering job! I finished my automotive studies 5th out of 100 or so, and immediately got employed by my teacher with whom I worked a lot on writing some research projects that actually got financed later. He was also working at this company as an innovative motherfucker and he really pushed hard for me to be employed there – a place where I miserably failed an interview before. The human perspective there wasn’t great, as we were out of the city, surrounded by fences, guarded, checked for objects when getting in or out, but the comfort was great. And the fact that I was working on such advanced projects made me feel like I own it. The pay, however, was shit. I was working 8 hours a day, 5 days a week on 250 Euro a month. Six months later it went 25% up to 300 Euro. One year later, a huge rise of 8% made it to my final salary there of 324 Euro. A normal rent at the time was 250E. But I liked it, and even with so little salary, I was putting money aside, all due to my very low spending lifestyle. I was also playing basketball, badminton, volleyball in the factory teams and I was also the second fastest motherfucker around there when it came about long distance running. At some point, I got into the firefighting volunteer team and trained with them for the competitions they participated in, until I got to be in the team. The team that qualified for the first time for the national championship, which we won! At that time, I was already working only 4 hours a day, coming to work just for the great food at the canteen and for the sports and firefighting. When we won the championship, the factory manager decided to give all the firefighters in the team a bonus of 1000E – that was the amount of money I was making in 6 months! That’s when I started thinking about buying a motorcycle and quitting my job.
Why was I working part-time at an engineering job anyone would hope for, you might wonder... Well, it’s because after bachelor, I got into a master’s program that was co-financed by the exact same department of the factory that I was working in. Virtual Engineering in Automotive Design – it sounded really amazing and it aimed at training the students for the exact job I was doing at Schaeffler, plus, it brought some really advanced know-how from Germany regarding the hydrodynamic lubrication simulation.
I, yes, I! was proposed to be the student to work with the teachers who led the master’s program on adapting a simulation software from one programming language to another. It was supposed to be a paid job, two times better than the previous one, and it was supposed to be programming, which meant an old love of mine, I didn’t quite get over. So new opportunities, better salary, again, at the pinnacle of technology, now with a flexible schedule. What could get better? Well, everything! But it didn’t!
That partnership with the teachers didn’t quite get so well, as we didn’t know too much programming and the teacher who knew didn’t have the time to teach us, thus we found ourselves (me and another colleague of mine) without the second dream job.
Winter came and I, inspired by all my skier friends, decided to enroll in the ski monitor course that was being held in Poiana Brasov, the city’s ski resort, the biggest in the country. After graduation, a friend asked if I could teach some kids how to ski, I said yes and in 3 days I made the money I was making in a month as a part-time engineer at the most advanced department of the largest factory in Brasov, working at the world's most advanced valve actuation system.
So, I quit engineering. For good!
I also bought the motorcycle and decided to spend all the money I had just so that I wouldn’t have a safety net and that I’d start learning programming and do things on my own somehow. The motorcycle was 1 quarter of the money, the plane tickets to Patagonia were 1 quarter, the school for driving the motorcycle and the truck and trailer were another quarter, while I lent my father the rest to pay some debts, hoping that he’d pay me monthly installments instead of the bank, and I’d pay my rent out of it.
Yes, this is how we get to Patagonia. Remember the Patagonian Expedition Race that I couldn’t even wrap my mind around? It started, indeed, when I met a guy who went there. This race is found in every “top 10 craziest/hardest/longest/most cruel races in the World”, as it is somewhere between 400-700 km long, close to the southernmost continental point in the world, where the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans meet, causing some extreme winds that Magellan knew best, offering 10 days to finish in a mixed team of four, in which only a few dare and afford to register. I wanted to go there as a volunteer to learn how it’s done and to return home with a richer experience regarding adventure racing, experience I which would transfer to ProPark Adventure Race.
January 27, 2017, I embark on what was the only financially expensive journey I ever took. First, I flew to Madrid and visited the city for two or three days, while sleeping at my good old friend, Teo Olteanu. I visited everything there was to visit by foot, and had one day to go with Teo to the Royal Site of San Lorenzo de El Escorial. Then, I was supposed to fly to Lima, have a 12-hour stop and then a 24-hour stop in Santiago de Chile. It was only in Madrid where I asked myself and also Teo if I need a visa to have the 12-hour stop in Peru. Luckily enough, I didn’t, but I didn’t get out of the airport either, because of the way it looked. Also in Madrid I finally found a host on Couchsurfing for the night I was supposed to spend in Santiago. It was a guy who had previously hosted ZERO people - imagine the thoughts I had when I saw that Santiago was completely full of graffiti and everyone looked just like in the mexican drug lord movies, knowing that I’d be hosted by a guy who had no ratings on Couchsurfing. Fortunately, it went well, and instead of visiting the city, I chose to talk to the guy the whole night. His name is Luciano Esteban Naranjo Jiménez and we’re still facebook friends.
I did visit the city center and actually had the luck to assist an interesting loud spontane concert in the main walkway while sewing my newly ripped backpack. A few days later, while I was watching the TV’s queueing at the airport, I saw that the band that was singing in the walkway was celebrating 50 years of activity with that spontane concert. 50 years, and that was my only day in Santiago.
Next up, Punta Arenas - the 120k people city in the southernmost continental point on earth, an old port at the Magellan Strait, a very weird city, made of small wooden houses that look like they’re ready to be washed by an imminent tsunami. This was the setup for the second month of my last two years. I landed on strong winds, hitch-hiked to the city, but not before photographing the fighter jets that flew over my head pulling out some incredible noise, the kind you can’t mistake for anything else. The ones who hitch-hiked me took me straight to the address that the race office was at. Surprisingly enough, they were surprised to see me, mostly because I told them that I’d come early but go hiking until the volunteering part starts, but also because the girl who knew this, forgot it. I was sent to their guesthouse that was just over the wall, but to which we had to go around the neighborhood. It was as shitty on the inside as it looked on the outside, but it completely worked for me. We were going to stay in bunk beds in two small rooms and have a big living room for free time activities. There was a young American guy working for the organizers, doing all the website stuff and communication with the teams. He was the one who gave me info on the hikes I could be doing in Patagonia and I decided to go hiking the next day.
As unprepared as I was, I left the next morning for Puerto Natales - a very small city that lives only of tourism - big scale mass tourism no less, that has great lakes all around and gorgeous mountains beyond every lake that you see. I hitch-hiked the 250km road that only had these two cities at its ends and passed very close to the Argentinian border. Even though it was summer, I was wearing my fleece and triple layer black jacket and still suffering from the very powerful winds that were hitting me when someone left me right in the middle of the 250km road, in the middle of nowhere. I managed to get to Puerto Natales with a truck full of gas tanks and a cool old driver who didn’t speak english, but wore great sunglasses. From there I got to some sort of camping in the middle of nowhere, seeing the snowy peaks of the very far away mountains, at the base of which I was supposed to get that day. In 2017, the normal work day for normal people is 8 hours. I disagree with it but that’s what it is. That’s also how long I waited for a car to pick me up at that god forsaken camping site. And a guy who didn’t speak much English picked me up and told me that he doesn’t know how far he’s taking me, but he’s going to tow somebody. And there I was riding together with Jaime, each learning how to say each other’s days of the week, him hoping we won’t drive far, me hoping we’ll drive as far as possible. At some point we did get to the damaged car where he was supposed to drop me, but instead of doing that, he told the guys that he’s going forward to turn the car around and he just pushed the gas to take me as far as possible. He took me to a wonderful place, from where I could see Torres del Paine’s rocky sunset skyline. That’s what happiness is: finally getting to your destination after a whole day - and when I say whole I choose my words carefully, because at 64 degrees south, a February day is 15 hours long! Nothing mattered anymore, as I was seeing my destination, I just started walking towards it, even though it was at least 20 kilometers away. At some point somebody else picked me up in the back of their pickup van and left me at the National Park entrance, where I was supposed to pay 30$ to get in. Ha, ha! It was 22:00, they were closed, meaning their employees were gone home, but their volunteers were still at the center, but couldn’t sell the ticket. So I just got in without paying, because it was “urgent” to get to the first camping site. Before departing, they gave me a map, I asked if there’s anything to look out for, like wild animals, they replied that yes, there are pumas and we said goodbye.
The entire three or four hours in the dark I held my pocket knife open and looked left and right all the time for pumas. Obviously, there were no pumas to eat my hands, so I got safely to the first camping site - Campamento Les Carretas. That night I saw the most beautiful night sky in my entire life, to find out years later that I actually saw the southern sky - which is completely different from ours. Even if I was worried that people might hear me and come and ask for money in return for the place to put my tent, I managed to gaze at the sky for at least half an hour before falling asleep dead - with the plan to wake up the earliest so they won’t see my tent and ask for the money they didn’t at night. I couldn’t have failed worse. I woke up at 11 and everybody was gone, including the person I thought was supposed to cash in the money for sleeping. He was gone because he was never there, of course - it was a free camping site, just like all the others I was supposed to get to, except I didn’t know this one was free.
It is hard to explain why everything I do automatically leads me to avoid paying. I know for sure that my life has been and still is guided by the cheapest entertainment and living options. I did not think for a second about paying for camping or for entering the National Park as I never pay for most of the things I get in my life except for food, drinks and transportation. You might hate me for it, but bear with me, you might learn something worth your time. I’ll point out the latest example I have. We went to the Danube Delta this summer to work as assistants in a corporate team building event . We went to a place called Green Village that is known for being very expensive. We stayed in small wooden rooms with access to nice toilets and showers. This was the one star experience, but they also have 4 stars in other areas of the resort. Levi’s parents are going to the 4 stars option for the new year’s eve party - a 3 day adventure which costs 740 Euros. That is 1.5 times more than the average net salary of Romania. For three days! The thing is, I don’t understand how can people spend in three days what they make in more than a month. Okay, maybe these guys make more, maybe they make 1000 a month, but still, it’s one or almost one month’s work for three days in which people serve you with all sorts of food that you can not ingest anymore and drinks you can not drink anymore. And I hear the expression “I don’t work for free” way too often, I believe they got it so wrong that I stopped explaining that if they have too much money they should take a break from working and doing what they actually want to do, not just spend more. Affording is not something new, it’s not something to be proud of. Living the life you want isn’t new either, but it’s actually something to be proud of.
But yes, Patagonia! It should be way more intriguing than my spendless lifestyle. Or should it?
I spent five more days hiking, doing the world renowned “W” trek, named by the shape of the trail, going around the 3000m high rocky peaks of the national park. Two main aspects of the experience I think are worth mentioning so that you can get a clear image of what you can find there, in case you were thinking about it. First - it’s the kind of trip that should take a thousand dollars out of one’s pocket, everything is made in such a way that you pay a shitload of money for the apparent comfort of not carrying a tent, transforming what should be a legendary week in a very expensive backgarden experience, with people welcoming your money wherever you get to spend them, forgetting to ask about who you are. Second, the nature there is unbelievable. You’re at 50m above sea level, and you’ve got one light brown lake, full of small icebergs, falling into a light blue lake which falls further into a dark blue lake which flows into the icy waters of the Atlantic, close to where it meets the Pacific. You’ve also got 3000m peaks which, starting from sea level look (and are) absolutely huge, looking like no one is ever going to climb them, or at least some of them. But I guess that that’s how our steep mountains look to the normal people too. Glaciers everywhere, by the way. Up on the ridges and also down, forming those brown, light blue and blue lakes. Enormous waterfalls everywhere, mostly glacial water falling hundreds of meters. Oh, the bonus would be the sheer amount of tourists passing those trails every day, in a very civilised manner, none of them leaving a shelter later than 16:00, even though there’s still 6 more hours of natural light in which they could walk. I guess they stay at the refuges and talk to the other like minded tourists, not like I did, not speaking to anyone for 5 days. Not because I didn’t want to, but just because I didn’t get the words to start the conversation, whichever that might have been. Just like beginning the chat with a very beautiful girl.
They were no easy five days - it was basically my longest trek ever, I was walking twice the daily distance most people were, filming myself a lot, especially after 4PM, when the trails were empty of tourists so that I didn’t look like the weirdo I was. I don’t know why, I filmed birds, lots of them - whenever I caught one I spent one minute filming it - I guess it’s the kind of craziness that hits you when you’re alone too much time. I also remember taking selfies with messages for Ruxi, telling here that I heard her thoughts and
- I also love her
- Happy birthday
- I wish to see her beautiful and smiling 22000 days from then
- Happy birthday
I still remember lots of things from the trek, like the gorgeous windless lake mirroring the very oddly shaped mountain beyond it and The Jezabels playing in my headphones. I remember the three guys running downhill in sandals, carrying huge backpacks and lots of climbing gears. They were clearly worried about not getting down in time for the bus that will take them to the plane. And, of course, I will always remember the loaf of bread that cost 8$ and which I bought thinking it’s a huge sandwich. The trek ended in a dusty camping, with me choosing not to pay 10$ on a bus to Puerto Natales and instead try hitchhiking. That worked. Two very nice argentinian girls picked me up and took me straight to Punta Arenas, even driving more through the park so that we saw the gorgeous waterfalls formed by the lakes and admiring the very powerful winds that preceded the stormy cold weather that followed.
Basically, that’s all I have to say about the “W”, one of the most famous treks in the world I suppose.
After this, I returned back to Punta Arenas to actually start the volunteering work, joining the now full guest house as the latest of the volunteers to arrive. There were the Americans Arel and Hoss, Martin, the nice german guy, one dutch guy, Mark, the british guy with the romanian girlfriend, Jeff - the american crane helicopter pilot that was supposed to be a participant but whose teammates quit, Taz - the weird australian old commercial plane pilot, ex-participant who came here to volunteer because probably no one wants him in his team anymore, Ignacio - the really cool Chilean volunteer that’s not from Punta Arenas, the french guy whose name I don’t remember - so he might as well be called Francois. These were my beer pals - the guys with whom I was about to spend the next 21 days together. They were the foreigners volunteering for the event. The race also had local volunteers but I never knew who was volunteering and who was getting paid, and now I remember even less.
I couldn’t exactly point out the work we did for the race in the 11 days prior to the race, but I do remember making fun of the organizers for making us put the food supplies in and out of some blue barrels five times or even more. I still remember drinking lots of Patagonia beers after hours, jumping the wall to get home from the office, walking in Punta Arenas, jumping over a weird small channel and ending up all wet and muddy, while all the others followed. Died laughing. I remember we repaired lots of signs made out of blue tubes one inch in diameter which had green reflective material on it. Repairment meant taking of the transparent adhesive tape and replacing it with new transparent adhesive tape. Lots of pipes!
Most of their cars were off road capable and had roll bars mounted - we figured it was because of the strong winds that can seriously turn a car upside down, but we never got a real answer. And I remember two of those cars filled up with the supplies I told you about. Shopping them was fun because they were also looking for the best quality for the price and seriously researched it.
But most of all, I remember the trips to Puerto Natales to transport the kayaks with the trailer. That was very enjoyable, especially because I slept most of the times I did it and because of the great taste of the 10$ meat and avocado burger that made you think about how the hell did they think to make it there and not in the middle of Manhattan.
As the time came for the race to start, we started dealing with the participants a little, going over their places for equipment checks and hearing how they’d be tested for rope abilities and other stuff before actually entering the race.
The stuff that I pleasantly remember about this whole trip is the days that followed in a tent, in a Patagonian icy summer. So, you remember me telling you about some food supplies for the volunteers, repeatedly introduced and taken out of barrels? Well, I was one of the three volunteers that were supposed to stay in the last checkpoint, somewhere on a glacier, hoping to see as many teams as possible passing through that point. My colleagues were Hoss Altman and Mark Mcintosh, one american and one british citizen who got along really well and naturally made me the third wheel to the … bike? Or the third guy in a group of three in which, always, only two get along. Hoss was a young sailor, working on oceanic boats and traveling in his free time. He enjoyed big breasted girls, traveling and paragliding. Mark was a kinesiotherapist who had a Romanian girlfriend who gave him the impression that all Romanian girls take their intimate parts’ cleanliness very seriously. Of course, he enjoyed that, and I can only hope that that’s true. The windy road that took us to the glacier we were supposed to be in, involved some large touristic ships that transported us, our supply barrels, the race kayaks and, of course, dozens of tourists admiring the myriad of blue nuances that the Patagonian lakes have to offer and the hundred-meter waterfalls that fill the lakes permanently. First the road, then the big boats, then the small very fast boat and then the 6 hours hike with 10 days’ worth of food and a car battery to power up the radio - the only thing that remotely connected us to the world, which at that point was the Patagonian Expedition Race.
Yes, we were supposed to stay in our checkpoint starting from day one of the race, only because they couldn’t provide the transportation during the race, but it was ok, as we were the brave guys who were to stay 10 days on a glacier.
Luckily enough, we got there on a stubborn rain that made everything that was above 200m higher white, drawing a clear line between the over and the sub zero temperatures. We were way above the 200m limit, so it snowed a little too. Need I remind you that I ignored their advice to bring a winter sleeping bag, tent, or a freaking winter jacket? The thing that I’ll remember the most vivid from this adventure is clearly going to be waking up every night shaking and eating some biscuits, the biscuits that the organizers offered us and the guys didn’t want to carry in their backpack. Starting the 5th day I didn’t only eat biscuits but I also lid the camping stove in the tent for a few minutes so that I could go back to sleep for the remainder of the night.
I think it’s worth mentioning that we planned on doing hikes every day of our stay there. In the first day of course we didn’t hike anywhere else because we were crazy tired from all the luggage we carried. In the second day Mark dropped boiling water on his sock and got a crazy burn that had his skin peeled off on a palm size area of his ankle. Needless to say he was in great pain the whole ten days we stayed there and he didn’t move more than 50m per day.
It was also in the second day, when we went up on the glacier and tried to see what’s on the other side. Tried is too much said, as we walked no more than 50m up the glacier and decided that if we slip we get hit badly so we gave up on our plan. Worth mentioning though, that there were some two or three very interesting shapes carved in the glacier, one of them looking like a combination between a pyramid and the Burj-Al-Arab hotel. I really enjoyed looking at it, touching it and generally spending time around it - it was a very good wind protection also, as the winds there were relentlessly pushing us one way or another.
After the second day, it all became quite boring and not interesting, as we had a few times a day when we did the radio check, trying to save battery as much as possible, but also trying to be as informed as possible about the race. With Mark bound to the camp, me and Hoss were going to explore the area, trying to find one way we could actually go over a ridge and see what’s on the other side of our valley. We got over at some point and it was purely amazing - a whole valley full of small colorful lakes, huge glacial valleys and huge forests in the horizon, even the finish line - we imagined. When we finally go on that ridge, Hoss ate some liver pate, an impressive to do as an American - way more classy than the usual champagne that people use to celebrate victories with.
Oh, I almost forgot about the fact that the wind ripped my tent apart and that I had to move it between these three rocks that were forming some kind of a cave protecting my tent a little more. Advice coming from my experience sewing the tent then: first patch it with duct tape and then sew - it holds amazingly!
I always exaggerate about the literature I’ve read so far saying that I didn’t read anything in my life. That’s partly true, as all the books I’ve read are the following: The call of the wild, Fram the polar bear, This book will save your life, Animal farm and The hitchhiker’s guide to the galaxy. I am only now starting to understand why people say that books are way better than movies and if you’re reading this, that means there’s no reason why I should tell you about it.
But I realised a more important thing: that no one’s born a writer and that no one’s a perfect writer. I had this movie created impression on writers, that they set themselves writing and they do not stop typing until the 300 page book is finished, with loads of caffeine drank and very little sleep, but anyhow, successful in less than a week. I’m here at page 15 on day 150 realising that I’ve changed so much in the time that passed between starting writing and now, that I feel sorry for you, trying to decipher all the mysteries of the missing info - I just don’t remember, alright? Deal with it.
But the main point is that whenever someone’s writing, their state of mind is transposed to the story and I didn’t read enough to get to notice or know or even understand that, as for me, any book that I put my hands on is written by a perfect writer, one who read a thousand or more books and who was born a writer. As you’ve probably noticed, this is not.
But to close it with Patagonia, I should mention that, finally, after 8 days, there were 4 teams passing through our checkpoint, all in two hours, then we finally managed to follow them going up on the glacier and finally see what’s on the other side. And guess what it was: Torres del Paine! Unbelievable view! As unbelievable as the speed and power of the wind that was pushing us up and holding us from going down too fast, or the other way around! Then we managed to pack everything up and, helped by other volunteers that came to our CP, we started going back by boats to the finish line, to drink the first pisco ever, and also the first PisCola.
From then it was quite simple, big boats the next day and the award ceremony in Puerto Natales’ gym, where we arranged the beautiful tents inside, along with kayaks and paddles so that the whole thing looks amazing while also playing the videos that the crew had already made - amazing coordination on that.
After that, I spent 4 chill days in Punta Arenas, trying to go on hikes to the southernmost continental point on Earth but failing miserably by waking at 10 without having a plan before, thus, the only hike I went on being the one that took me to the hills next to the city.
Yep. That was my Patagonian experience. Hope you enjoyed it and learnt something from it, as I, now, have no idea what I learnt from it.
Returning, I flew to Santiago and straight to Madrid, to visit Teo again. This time, we went to a fun park and to a very old and very beautiful city called - obviously, I forgot the name, and even though I’m in a room with two spaniards right now, one of whom grew up in Madrid, they don’t know and the photos don’t have a GPS tag - where we had a very healthy homemade salami sandwich and a nice time in general.
At some point, I arrived in Romania, looked for a couch among my facebook friends and then found Cristy who was kind enough not only to host me, but to also pick me up from the airport, very eager to find out how Patagonia is.
Here you have it, mate, two and a half years later - probably five, by the time I’m done writing this.
So there I was, again, in Romania, with seven more days left to work at the factory, looking forward to the vast and empty future ahead of me, the 25 years old me.
It was March, I was the freshly elected president of the wonderful organization that was going to organize these three important things called Brasov Marathon, Marathon 7500 and ProPark Adventure Race.
By freshly elected I mean that at the elections which were held close to my birthday, early January, I was voted with yes in a vote where I was the only candidate. I picked my team and told them my objectives, which were three large and simple conservative objectives: to continue the races that we have going on, to sort out and fix the financial aspects of the organization and to attract new members such as, at the next elections, two years later, we would have two people in the council that we have not yet met. Remember these objectives - it’s funny how it panned out.
Remember the guy who dedicated his week in the winter to teach you how to ski and to generally spend a week in the mountains in meters deep snow? Well, that program is called the winter camp and we used to have it every winter, as the main activity of the organization. Me being in Patagonia meant that I’d miss that year’s edition and that I’d obviously not organize it. So there was Bianca, my new team-mate, the secretary of the organization that volunteered for organizing the winter camp. She also volunteered to organize Brasov Marathon, which at the time, didn’t make me happy, because our classic organizer, Teo, was going to pass on the management because she was having a child and looking forward to moving out of the country, just like any other decent Romanian being.
Now, about this Teo character I would have lots of things to say. Coincidence or not, eight months have passed since the start of the book until now, and just yesterday Teo left Romania from the one month holiday she spent here with her family. She went back to her new home - New Zealand - and we did not get to see each other, despite the fact that we talked on the phone - my bad. Why would she be important to me? She’s definitely one of those people who came and left CPNT, but her mark might have just been the biggest, or the most important so far. She wasn’t the mastermind of Marathon 7500 or Brasov Marathon, but she was making them possible. She always had the “why we do it” and she was just doing it, reaping through the “how” and “what” to do, often working only for the races when she came home from her 8 hours-a-day engineering job. She was my inspiration - the powerful person behind the great projects, the figure that people don’t see, the lead by doing leader. And maan she had the why’s! She was the one motivating us on convincing people to donate to us instead of donating to Hospice, an NGO that takes care of dying people. She was the one planning the events months before they happened, gathering all of us together to split the roles and to brainstorm new things to do every year. She was my hero at the time, but only now I understand why - she had the WHY WE DO IT.
But, enough praising her - even though I could never praise her enough and she doesn’t like praises anyway, let’s move back to Brasov Marathon 2016 - the race Bianca was going to organize.
So I came home from my Patagonian adventure and found myself disappointed in the way she was handling the project management and I began to help her heavily, until the point where I took over without talking about it.
In the least probable case that you don't know me or if you didn't already figured out that I'm not really a writer, I feel the need to specify the fact that these words are written almost one year after the first words. They're being written at the seaside, in a foreign country, sometime in the middle of August, under Perseids' max amplitude. Five meters in front of me, in the Aegean Sea, there are quite a lot of worms that I can only describe as water fireflies because they lid up in water - and this, if you haven't experienced it yet, is amazing.
Hope you liked this short detour and I really hope that you weren't really keen on hearing about the organizing job for Brasov Marathon 2016 because I can hardly remember a few things about it, none that would make you excited. What made me excited at the moment was exactly the tag that I had - project manager, president, race organizer - big words that really tickled my ego. It was a good experience to realize that I'm really not that good at managing people or events, mostly because I tend to do everything instead of asking people to do everything. And when the events get to more than 100 volunteers, you've got big problems if you don't have a big team.
A team that I didn't lack at the time, but a team that was frankly getting tired of organizing the same event for the fifth time, with not many different things - you know, lead by the conservative me. Although the experience put a brick or two in the foundation of who I am today, I regretfully confess that the entire organizing experience for the team was quite dull, and that's mostly because I got to be in charge of everything - you know, because I'm the project manager, I'm the president, I'm the accomplished organizer - I'm being ironic, if you didn't already tell.
I started writing this wannabe book because I felt I have a great life which is worth telling, in order to inspire others. And it is, I swear, but I just don't remember things from what's already three years ago. There are these new experiences that keep on happening in my life that I really want to tell people about, but can't because I have a book to finish. And by the time I finish that book, I'll probably be 90. Years of age!
Well, we had a saying whenever a race ended and someone asked how it was: "well, no one died, so I guess it was a success". That could wrap it up about the first Brasov Marathon organized by me, because really there's nothing else special about it.
I mean, the whole thing is special - it involves the project manager, who's usually a very dedicated guy, trying to ask his friends as nicely as possible to be part of the organizing team and dedicate their time to this cause. This race management involves lots of soft skills, like not getting angry when people don't do the things when or what you ask them to do, not getting angry when people forget what you asked them to do and, my favorite one: not finding people to do what is needed to be done, fact which renders you in need to learn quite a few hard skills like web-design, graphic design, marketing, programming, tons of emailing, tons of signed papers sent to the city hall and the three types of police we have and many other skills in this "narrow" spectrum.
But really, how this goes is like this: a few months, maybe half a year before the event, you communicate the fact that a meeting is needed to start planning the event, because registration needs to open really early. Registration needs to open early so people register for our race and not for others. That's how you become an important player on the market - if a runner registers five months before a race, because the entry fee is lower, he won't give that up for paying at another race that is new and he doesn't know anything about, and let's be fair about it - we really had low registration fees. We had this policy because that was our lifestyle at the time - living as cheap as possible, which usually translates into using as less resources as possible, which basically means eco-friendly. We tried really hard to push this philosophy to our racers, but I think we failed miserably - but more on that later, hopefully.
So, at this first meeting we supposedly discuss what the participation kit should contain, if it's a T-shirt or something else, if it's technical or cotton, if we should have the participants pay for them separately, and, most importantly, who does what. Strategically scheduled during the week in one of the months that people never have holiday on - october or november, this meeting always has the most participants and the highest enthusiasm level. The enthusiasm quickly drops when we realize that even if we're 10 people in a room, everybody's still got at least two completely different roles in the event, while the manager still has around ten roles. Once we realize that we can not work in a team of 40 people, we take it in and continue our lives like nothing really happened that night, but satisfied with our role in the society - we volunteer for one of the most beautiful trail running races in Romania. And then deadlines - if we decided to have any - pass and the manager shortly realizes that he has around 20 more roles and 40 more tasks to fulfill, so he starts to panic and obviously, do nothing about it but worry. That's how we open registrations - with nothing known at the time, nothing but the entry fees, which we always calculated on the basis of: "if we don't get a sponsorship, we're fucked" as in the budget tells us we'll lose about 3000Euros - and I think that the budgets I made were the only professional things in this whole management of mine.
And like that, the manager manages the requests for the city hall, for the police, for the gendarmerie, for the local police, for the national police, for the public toilets, for the electricity, for trash, for catering, for Tshirts, for ambulance, for protected areas, for forrest authority, for mountain rescue, for closed roads, for fallen trees and maybe for others I don't remember. Then, once you have these answers, you can move on to finding and motivating volunteers, and preparing for the big event: the race week.
The race week is a crazy thing where you need to have all the 100 volunteers that are on the list get informed somehow, you need to make sandwiches for them, to explain each and every one of them what they have to do, you need to buy all the food for the checkpoints, you need to find a capable off road car to get the food and water to the main checkpoint, which sits right below the highest peak in town, you need to put all the Tshirts in their respective bag with the race number and anything else that the participant kit might contain, you need to give away these kits to the participants, as many as you can on Friday, so it's easier on Saturday morning, you need to make sure you fit everything in the vans that are available on Saturday, you need to transport the water to a checkpoint that only has volunteers without cars - brilliant one, huh?, this, while marking the 38km of route that might or might not contain snow on the ski slopes and thus, might or might not change on the spot, making you need to change de large maps printed on banners. And, most importantly, you need to hope that every piece of the puzzle falls into the right place at the right time. And basically that means that no one dies, because, you know, if someone dies, the project manager will probably get a criminal record for who knows what reason - basically getting out of his house.
And there is the race, we go to sleep at 2 AM and we wake up at 4 AM. You really don't know what hit you when the alarm rings. It feels like it rang before you actually went to sleep and there is a big mistake somewhere in this world, a mistake that's making your phone ring in the most wrong possible moment. But you're usually not alone - your amazing girlfiend is with you and she probably wants to cut the hand that's holding the phone and not stopping the alarm. If she's not there, some other volunteer is sleeping on the floor, or George is waking up, or, or, or, there's no way you can't wake up. Did I say 4 AM? I meant you have to be in the main square at 4 AM. Yes, and you really have to be there, because no one knows better where is every little thing that needs to be deployed in the square so that you make it look like there's an amazing event starting in 4 hours. And because of poor organization on my behalf, no one really knows more about why they're there at 4 AM on a Saturday but...me. You see, in 2016, when I overtook the role of the race manager, I was already doing something very important for the race - I was the volunteer coordinator. And, trust me, those two are two roles you do not want to have. Ever! But I did it. Awfully, of course. Again, 50 people in the main square at 4 AM on a Saturday, asking me what Checkpoint they're in, what're they suppose to do, where's their TShirt, how do they get there, who are their colleagues, this, while some with more experience are already arranging the banners, the music tent, the kits tents, the sponsors tents, the refreshments tents, the massage tents and the luggage tent. But somehow, this event got to be ok. Big frustrations for the fact that most volunteers were called at 4 AM, but that's now a lesson well learned. You know - no one died.
Why is Brasov Marathon beautiful though? Well, because we try to do most of the things on our own. It was 2016 I guess, when we decided to externalize the catering entirely - up until that point, we were boiling pasta somewhere and making the sauce somewhere else, and we would mix them in big pots right on spot, next to the museum where the food was being served. We made the medals on our own, either we found someone to cut wood and engrave it then varnish it, either we looked for porcelain manufacturers and artists to mass decorate them, the design and the ideas were completely ours. Same thing for the trophies - we gave up on awarding the winners stock plastic trophies - we started to make them - every time we had a different design. TShirts? We ordered them from the manufacturer, we took them personally to the printing company, which by then, the owner was already our friend who was doing them very, very cheaply. We only paid for the private ambulance that the laws made us acquire. All the money would go into the race and, hopefully, at the end, we didn't have to get money from the association's account, because that account was way smaller than the event budget. No money for the race organizers, no pocket money for the volunteers, barely some food, no protocol on the meetings, no bribe to the city hall or police or any authority, no bribe whatsoever. Pure passion. Pure passion thinking that by running outdoor, we would make these people see how beautiful our nature is and how important and nice it is to protect it and to even fight for it when needed. Not thinking for a moment at our needs before the event. That's what passion means and that's what made Brasov Marathon great.
But it ended, and, just as any drug that gets you high, there's a low after it. That's usually the days when you mask it with work, such as arranging all the logistics in the warehouse - a warehouse which in our case was half a room in the basement of one great friend - Misha - maybe you know him - the guy who does timekeeping for a living and volunteers for the rest of the time, but more about him later, hopefully.
If I remember correctly, I wanted to throw a party for the volunteers, but being in charge for the volunteers and the race, rendered me unable to actually organize something for them after the race. Remember about not paying for anything, the party for the volunteers was also something not budgeted. Even worse, I received a call saying that it's someone's birthday and more volunteers are going to that party, which was being held outdoor, in Zarnesti, a city 30km away. That split me and my heart in two. I knew the guy, I liked the guy, but I was feeling that there is a need to celebrate the work that the volunteers did, not another friend of ours, who didn't even volunteer for the race - but was very helpful on other occasions. That's how I decided to not continue to plan the outdoor party closer to the city, but let them party away if they want to. And I heroically chose to unload the van and then selfishly chose not to go to the party.
I remember the next day it was rainy and I had to go downtown to return the key from a commercial space that was freely rented to us by the church. The bike was and is my weapon of choice for this trip and trips like these. Done that. Returning home on a very decent rain, Bianca calls - remember, the project manager that I basically ignored and took the project from? She was calling to say she quits from her volunteer role as the Secretary of the NGO. You can't imagine the fury I felt when the project manager tells you she quits when you're biking in the rain, doing the work that the project manager should be doing. I just said OK, and then hung up.
Don't worry, we're fine, we somehow convinced her not to quit, I explained that my reaction was due to the rain and the whole context and not because I wanted her to quit and, thus, she did not quit.
Good, Brasov Marathon 2016 ended, registrations for Marathon 7500 started and we were looking forward to that. Things like hikes and one day trips sure happened between these events, but I surely feel like I sacrificed lots of these to plan and work for the club's events. I always had this feeling of sacrifice that was feeding me, whenever I chose to miss nice events in order for the big events to get planned. It was one of the heroic characteristics that I liked in all the previous project managers I encountered.
There is a very important moment in between Brasov Marathon 2016 and Marathon 7500 2016. And that is an email I got from Ruxi, an email that was presenting an opportunity for people under 30 years old, people in whose description she did not fit, or so we thought. That opportunity was something about participating in a project in France, somewhere near Bordeaux, at the begining of June. It struck me as interesting, mainly due to the fact that we had to pay for the transportation but later getting reimbursed, we had free food and free shelter. So basically a free 8 day trip to France to learn something about refugees and migration. And boy, that was a life changer.
Just to make it clearer, this was an Erasmus+ Training Course, funded by the European Union to better solve the main issues that the EU is facing at various moments. And that was the year when the Syrian war was making more and more people cross the Mediterranean and go to Italy and France. Thus, the EU was funding heavily projects in which Europeans better understood what the migrants were and how they were being handled as opposed to how they should be handled.
But I didn't know this at the time, so I just jumped head first to the free thing. After being confirmed the participation, I got asked if I knew anyone else who would want to join. And, obviously, I asked George if he would like to. In a few seconds he decided to come. So we'd both go and leave Ruxandra, the one who presented us with the opportunity, home alone.
There are two more aspects about this trip that are interesting to me: first, it had to do with the lifestyle I chose to pursue those two years that were supposed to be my presidency, and that is to live very cheaply. A thing that's quite achievable in Romania means, however a few sacrifices. 2016 was the years of the weddings - we had 3 planned weddings in our entourage, that meant quite a lot of money spent on the biggest food wasting festival in Romania - any wedding. And because I hated the wedding business but loved the people who were getting married, I already started negotiations with them, because we were good friends: first one on the list: Oana and Andrei. For their wedding I was supposed to confirm if I'll come or not. It was obvious that I'd come, but I really wanted my money to go to them, not to the restaurant, so we really tried to see if there is anything we could do to not pay my menu, Andrei was pushing the easiest, just come and not pay, I was pushing against it, telling him I wouldn't feel ok with all my friends paying and me not. Finally the project in France fixed it: I would be gone for the wedding, and that would be just a party that I'd miss in favor of a week long, all inclusive experience abroad.
The second aspect of the trip to France was that upon return, on Sunday evening, I registered to be a volunteer observer at the local elections in Bucharest, for the first time in my life. Why, you might wonder? Brace yourself, it's the greatest story I'll ever tell.
It really starts with the political situation in Romania at the time.
In 2009 there was this guy, Nicusor Dan, an activist in Bucharest that was trying to stop the absurdly, bribe based, urban development of the capital city by tying himself to the trees the authorities were going to cut down, historical buildings they were going to demolish and such events. I somehow got to follow him on Facebook and found out way more about him: he was a two time champion in the international mathematics olympics, he founded a school in Bucharest for gifted students, so that they could study at home and not have to go abroad to very good high schools or universities, he was currently a mathematician at the Romanian Academy - that's a lot to be when you're only 40 years old. He was exactly my kind of idol, modest, super smart, super gifted and still volunteering for civic causes.
Somehow, in 2012, a lot of people gathered around him and he got to compete for the mayor's seat in Bucharest - as an independent, that wasn't something unseen before, but he was the first independent candidate I ever heard about prior to his candidacy. So I started pushing the word to my friends in Bucharest who could vote and basically campaigning for the guy. Even some of my favorite bands gathered in a concert for his campaign and a lot of people believed in the guy and really donated money for his cause. There was a movement going on on the political stage and it was, for the first time, not coming from punks who just dress differently, but from a guy who I’d like to be. With a budget of maybe one hundredth of what the winner had, he got to be on the third place in Bucharest. Which is big, considering that the previous mayor got to be elected as president. Now, in 2016, the thing became even bigger: most of my friends already knew about the guy, and most of the people I knew in Bucharest were going to vote for the guy. Moreso, he formed a party in Bucharest and he found really amazing candidates to candidate for each of Bucharest's six sectors, both for mayor and for counsels. By the time I left for France, USB - the party he formed was already polling quite well, better than the usual runner-up, the National Liberal Party. USB were pushing for them to give up their candidacy because with only one stage election, they'd split the votes and lose together.
When I went to France, I told everyone there about this guy and the grassroots movement he created and I told them that I'm super excited about his chances of winning the elections and that I'm even going to be a volunteer observer in the elections, on behalf of his newly created party.
But enough with politics for now. Let's talk about France.
Or should I tell about the other two occasions I went towards France first?
All right, as short as possible, 2011, second year in University, me and Catalinux - that’s the kind of nickname you get in highschool if your name is Catalin and you say Linux is better than Windows - a good friend, a classmate in highschool and the other guy who went to Brasov for University, we went hitch-hiking through Europe trying to get to the mighty Mont Blanc mountain and do it’s famous Tour de Mont Blanc. Well, we only got to Italy, where the Carabinieri threw us out of the highway and from which point we only managed to go 20-30 km/day. We gave up and returned home safe on what was an epic 9 day trip through Europe, spending 14 Euros abroad.
The second trip to France was a success, and we even climbed Mont Blanc, and that was just one year later. But this is too long ago, I promised you 2 years, I’ll stick to them as much as my heart lets me. And actually, these two stories might just be found on my blog on blogspot, probably only in Romanian, but still, better than nothing.
So me and George went on a free trip to Bordeaux, we somehow met the third guy in what was supposed to be the Romanian team, we waited and laughed at and with him when his luggage was nowhere to be found on the belt and we continued to get the bus that was going to take us to a place called La Frayse. We still don't know if that is in Bordeaux or not, but we know we went with a bus for quite a while, without actually getting out of inhabited places. We found it hard to perceive that a city can be this big, even including it's suburbs. I guess that was our first cultural shock in this trip.
In this bus, we met other participants, 3 persons from Hungary, that seemed to be of completely other worlds, mainly because of their age, that was not 23 and 26, like ours, but rather 44 and 64. And then we got to the place - it was an amazingly big ground with a few buildings and seven or eight tents that were waiting for us to populate them, even though the facility had rooms - we didn't know why we were not staying in the rooms and we didn't care. We were more than happy with free food and reimbursed plane tickets. And then the training started, and with it, the second cultural shock - they told us that we are not there to be taught by teachers, but we are there to learn from each other. I'm sorry, but what am I supposed to teach people about immigrants if we're a country in which immigrants don't come because we're poorer than they are? That was my first thought. And boy was I wrong. And I thought so many people so many things about Romania, about our immigrants, about our culture, basically, about everything I knew. And man I learned so much. I learned facts but I also learned one very important thing: tolerance. And here's another one - when we're talking about people, there's no such thing as better or worse. There's only different. And thus, my perspective over the world changed. Dramatically. Otherwise, I loved the trainers: one, Yuan (or something like this - we never really knew), was a complete hippie, dressed like Shaggy from Scooby Doo, who could play very decent ukulele and taught us about living in an eco-community for a whole winter. Another trainer, Elise, one was also a complete hippie, but with a railway engineering background, was a completely charming person, with a huge smile on her face 90% of the time, dancing all the time and feeling as free as I've never seen anyone in my life. The chef was a very talented "any instrument" player, great cook, also a hippie, Jojo was his nickname. He cooked amazing vegetarian meals every day, and as he didn't have to participate in the workshops, he would stay up very late every night singing and drinking with the never tiring young Italians and with us, of course. We also had a third trainer, completely different from the first three - she was more serious, she was really working in the field of migration and clearly dealt with lots of people with only bare necessities. She was also suggesting us to protest, as often as we can. And I was no stranger to protests, but she was talking on a bigger level. I don't remember her name and I don't remember agreeing with her as much as I did with the others, but again, the topic she was bringing had absolutely nothing fun in it - refugees.
There are a lot of things I do specifically remember from this project, one of them was a workshop/game about inequality, where you were given a ticket which gave you different roles from a banker to a garbage man, from the son of a billionaire to a kid who has AIDS and not much to eat. And there was a trainer saying different things, like if you have a home, if you have food, clean water, security, health, cars, properties, access to education, etc. and whenever the answer for your role was yes, you were supposed to take a step forward. It was a very wide eye opener for me, as it shown graphically and physically how great the inequality on this planet is.
And then, instead of talking about Syria - at the time, the syrian people were affected by war, thus transforming them into refugees fleeing to Europe to start a new life - we found out a few things about Palestine. Up until that point, I knew almost nothing about Palestine and I now feel the need to tell you what I feel about it. Palestine was an arab country at the Mediterranean Sea that has been chosen as the refuge place for the Jewish people who were fleeing from Europe because of the persecution that was happening during World War II. Over time, the Jewish people came there in higher and higher numbers and with more and more power, supported by the Allied Forces. Nowadays, Palestine is not recognized as a country, because the state that was created by the Jewish people there, Israel, is too powerful in the UN to accept that. And Israel is slowly invading more and more territories occupied by the Palestinians, probably wanting to occupy every piece of land that is currently known as Palestine. This is done by the armed forces that are continuously pushing the boundaries of the Palestinian territories. Any palestinian political movement that cannot be controlled by Israel is considered a terrorist organization - which is, in our times, a very good reason for using weapons of any size, against anyone. All the Palestinians that I have met after this project, I found to be very eager to tell everyone about their lives, about the abuse they face every day, about the possibility to be killed by rockets or bullets, about the Israeli military checkpoints they have to go through if they want to get from one city to another, about the impossibility of going from one side of the country to another and about the atrocities that are going on in Gaza. It is completely understandable and it is very easy to blame one whole nation or another. It is harder to put yourself in their shoes and try to build instead of destroying - as it is with anything in life. And it seemed quite weird to chat on Skype with someone who was in Gaza, telling us about those things from a computer just like ours, talking on a phone that’s just like ours, telling us how they’re trying to organize and what they risk for doing that. It seemed almost surreal, the thought that he might get shot tomorrow. Wide eye opener, as I said.
This was my first encounter with the non-formal learning style, employed as such and called as such. Basically, ever since I’ve started volunteering I took part now-and-then in these kind of activities, but I never looked at them from the learning point of view, but from the fun side of it. And I’m not better than anyone, because everyone of us is learning from everything we do, I just feel like I enjoyed everything I’ve done, without much to learn from it, and just considered myself smart for no reason that makes me worthy.
For example, in this project I formed a completely different attitude about terrorism and about what refugees mean and now I always try to make people understand and look into the reasons why people do what they do. I try to make them understand that if they think that they are good and the others are bad, the others will (or already do) think the vice-versa and that can not lead to anything good. But that’s me today, and you only know the two years ago version of me.
How I formed this opinion though, is more interesting: we were waking up at 8 or 9 AM after four or five hours of alcoholic sleep every night. We were in Bordeaux, what did you think, that they only have expensive wines? We were drinking every night, only red wine and only dry wine - because the Bordeaux wine seems to come only in the dry version. And we were either playing games that were completely new for me, either presenting each nation’s food, music and dances, either discussing really deep philosophical aspects. Not necessarily related to the topic of migration and tolerance, but still, good quality topics focused mainly on the differences between our countries.
There were the older but still cool people from Hungary, the three very different rebels from Italy, the weirdo Romanian, the nice, tall Romanian and me, “the pregnant” Agatha - remember her, because you’re going to meet her again - Alexis and Ieva from Latvia and the Greeks - one of which, Charitini Petrodaskalaiki, was a very smart, very passionate historian, a passion I was so impressed about. It wasn’t my first time in an international environment, but it felt quite special, in a way that I can not really describe. I guess that’s because it was my first international learning opportunity, and as I’ve said, the first one I regarded as a learning process.
In the seven days we spent there, we experienced the national cuisine of every country represented in the project, we got to know anything about everyone we were interested in - in my case, everyone there. Oh my god, and we got to see what they call “the longest shopping street in the World” (or in Europe, I can’t precisely remember) - don’t worry, the OMG is not for the longest shopping street, it’s for the coolest tram lines I’ve ever seen: a tram without a powerline above, even going on a bridge, it didn’t have cables above it. And that, for me, as an engineer, is something I just had to spend hours thinking how it works. Luckily, I wasn’t the only one - I had Peter and George brainstorming about how the tram works. I’ll spare you the technical debates we had and go to the conclusion I read on Wikipedia three days ago: Bordeaux has the first ever ground powered tramway. Why, you might wonder - well, it’s because Bordeaux is a gorgeous historical city that wanted a tram that wouldn’t fill the view of the old buildings with cables - so it was either that or diesel buses. So they did that, and it’s amazing. Still, only three other cities have that system implemented in the world. It continues to amaze me how the need of one city can create such innovation for the entire world.
But, indeed, everything has to end at some point, so, at some point, this project came to an end - and it did. And here we were going to the airport, taking our flight through Istanbul and landing in Bucharest. In the greatest possible rush, Stef, a very good friend of George’s at that point, picked us up and rushed us somewhere in the city of Bucharest, where I was supposed to be a volunteer observer of the vote count in the freshly ended local elections of 2016.
Before I present this experience, I really need to present one important aspect of Romanian politics - for the policy makers, it’s all about the short term. At some point, when there was a big and happy political family (everyone against the president and against the government), the left wing allied with the right wing to throw away the left wing, post 2008 financial crysis, government. And they did so. When this big and happy alliance was formed, they also voted that the local elections should only be held in one scrutiny, so that they can ensure their monopoly in the entire country, having no other relevant parties to fight them. Thus, these elections were only going to be held in one scrutiny, so if you get 20% (or less, why not), but you’re first, congratulations, you’re the mayor. Obviously, this happy alliance broke soon after and the more powerful left wing was set to win everything. With this in mind, I invite you to join me in the vote counting process. As USB was a newly formed party, that was not present in the Parliament, it did not have the right to have representatives in the voting sections, but it could sent observers to count the votes. And there I was, five minutes late, searching like crazy for the classroom I was supposed to observe în, asking around if I’m still allowed to enter the process. The answer was “yes, we were just starting”. Otherwise, when the counting starts, the doors get locked and you can only exit the classroom only escorted by the police. And there I was, in the classroom, among the very base of our society, boys and girls, women and men who didn’t really know which party sent them or who is candidating for the elections, but who do know that they hate or love the left wing’s ex-news-presenter candidate. Most of them didn’t even hear about the candidate I was volunteering for, but who was at around 25% in the polls, and the only one capable to beat the favorite. After a short debate about the procedures, the counting started, and for everyone’s surprise, Nicusor Dan was not trailing, but picking up advantage over the ex-news-presenter. The people voted for four things: sector and general mayor and sector and general council. USB had a worse score than it’s candidate, but still, it was the runner-up.
The sad thing about politics in Romania is generally called corruption. But that’s general for Romania, and from what I hear, everywhere in the world. Actually, there is a thin line between selfishness and corruption, and that’s when you’re in a position of power, to decide for the people who voted for you. In one of the sectors, USB’s candidate for mayor, a very charismatic French woman, manager for one of the big infrastructure consulting companies, was leading in the vote count, and led throughout the counting of 97% of the voting ballots. She was, indeed, leading by a small margin, but she was probably going to win. Until, what I call, theft happened: it turns out that 3% of the voting booths that were still to count had a weird result: the amount of votes that, on average, went for USB’s candidate in all 97% of the voting booths, were cancelled in these 3%. Moreso, in exactly these 3% that USB did not have observers, USB’s candidate had almost zero votes, on average. That was the statistical anomaly that happened in these elections, an obvious statistical anomaly that the elections authority considered not weird or important enough to investigate. That is what I call theft and corruption. In my opinion, there were at least 8 people in each of these voting booths who accepted a bribe or other illegal forms of convincing to commit election fraud. Thus, all the 7 mayors in Bucharest are from the most powerful, left wing party, a party that is mainly composed of rich, influential and deeply corrupted people.
But I left Bucharest knowing that I did my best, that I prevented theft in my voting section and that there is still hope for Romania. Funny story, my next destination, after Bucharest, was Băicoi. Băicoi is a small city in the Prahova county, on the way from Bucharest to Brasov. The word-by-word translation means “Yo testicle”. That’s where my father lives and the place where I spent a few summers, where I got a few amazing memories and learnings - but I guess this doesn’t fall in the two year period. You know, my relationship with my father is usually two things: he asks me how the weather is in the place I currently in and I ask him how many loans he got since we last talked. But when it came to me being in Bordeaux, well, he knew about the wines and he asked me to bring him a bottle or two, to drink it together, father and son. We previously only had one father and son moments, at my brothers wedding, when we both drank a little and started talking. Otherwise, I guess, we never talked deep stuff. But this was the moment when I imagined that we would, so coming from Bordeaux, my backpack was half clothes and half wine bottles - the 2Euro bottles, of course. Now, for me, these moments create huge expectations - the son comes from Bordeaux, the place in the world with the best wines and he brings back a bottle to drink with his father. I already imagined the wine glasses, with a tall leg, big bowl, crystal clean, my father tasting it like the french experts, then we’d move on to me showing him photos of Bordeaux and Patagonia, because he’s always asking for those photos. And that’s where my imaginary meeting ends, that’s good enough for me. The reality now: I went hitch-hiking to Băicoi and one of the hinges of the backpack broke when I tried to throw it on my shoulders, so I had to somehow limp so that the other one doesn’t also break from the twenty kilogram mass, but finally managed to get to my father’s with all the bottles whole.
Don’t you, even for a second, think that I reserved all the wine bottles for that meeting. No, I imagined I would drink one with him and give him another one to drink on a special occasion, just as I reserved all the other ones for myself.
And the great moment was there, me, drinking a glass of Bordeaux wine with my father. He’s quite an old guy, but at the time he could still move properly, so he brought two different, very dirty glasses, far from the crystal clear, big bowled, tall legged wine glass I imagined, but still, it’s a liquid, you must enjoy drinking it, not the glass you’re drinking it from. And we filled the glasses, cheered and then I tasted and he emptied the glass in less than three seconds. He was thirsty - he said. And that’s when I remembered why he wasn’t there when I grew up, why I remember huge fights between my parents and why my mom always mocks him for drinking. Because he really does. And that was about everything there is to know about my epic glass of Bordeaux wine with my father - because what followed was me teaching him that what he did was not the kind of thing one should do, but rather embrace the symbolic moment that the wine glass represents. But that’s again me, talking to a wall, basically.
I returned to my beautiful girlfriend with whom I wasn’t doing great, to say the least. There have always been these feelings of finity to our relation, largely due to two major things: the 5 years of age between us and the totally different perspectives on the future - her wish for a home with a garden and kids and a jobless me with absolutely no other plans for the future, but CPNT’s presidency.
But it didn’t matter what my relationship was doing, because it was the middle of June and the registrations for Marathon 7500 were about to end, which meant we needed to start preparing for the race I was managing for the first time. This thing needed to be done, that was the mind set. And that was the mindset behind my entire presidency - this thing needs to be done and there’s no one better to want to do it. It was a bad thing and I took it as a sacrifice for the club and on the bigger picture, for the community. If it’s not clear from what I already wrote, it is a bad way to look at it. Anything you do, you must do out of pleasure, not out of responsibility or even worse, money. Obviously, the best thing you can do is to do what you like, what you’re good at, that the world needs and which pays a lot of money. But hey, the world needed that and I was good at it - so half of the conditions were met. I only now see that I liked it. And had I known this back then, oh, life would’ve been so much better - not that it’s not good now.
But back to 7500, the main characteristic of the organizing part I would say that I did quite alright: I got the approval of the authorities, registrations were going ok, even though less teams compared to the previous year, we were set with the toilets, ambulance, mountain rescue teams, maps, shirts, new ideas like magnets for racers printed în-house and on the spot, while all the other things were going to be just like every other year, left for the last week.
And that’s how you get to the last week and enter panic mode, and this is where the 2016 edition was one to remember: that year, we didn’t have any vans that were available to be loaded on Wednesday, but we miraculously found a friend who just got a thermally insulated van that was available. So I could go up on the mountain, ahead of the van, and talk to the shepherd and arrange the transportation of the water to the highest peak of the mountain: Vf. Omu, 2505 - one of the highest in the country. The road there is closed for cars and even though there is a weather station and a chalet there, none use wheels to get supplies up, but instead they use people, donkeys and track vehicles to transport their supplies there. We knew it’s possible to go with horses and a chariot and thus transport all the provisions there in one smooth ride, so I went and asked for that. And there I was, on top of the mountain, on my motorcycle, with the job done, waiting for my team to load the van and meet me in the valley. And then I got the call from Misha, saying that the van will be late and that he doesn’t really know what to load it with. Moreso, that I’m kinda the only one who knows what’s needed there and there’s not really many people who can help load. That pisses me off, me doing things while others are not available. So that made me go back to Brasov to help load the van and maybe that would send a powerful message that I had to go back because we couldn’t find people that were available for two hours in the city. And I went, and flew past the cars on the busiest road in Romania, got to the city, and when I was about to turn right to another boulevard, I saw a guy coming fast, wanting to go straight. So I calmly decided to also go straight and take the next road on the right. By calmly decided I mean not calm. At all. I was rushing and I was pissed because I had to come from two hours away to load a van with things because no one else knew what to put in it and no one else was there to do it. Yes, I was disappointed and that made me mad.
The next turn to the right, there was no one to bother me, but I still had some speed.
No problem I can’t make the turn on my lane, I’ll enter the other lane, because it’s empty and I’m not going to bother anyone. And it was empty until a van came in from another street. And there I was, front braking while turning, the front wheel slid on the pedestrian crossing slippery paint, heading towards the freshly appeared van, when I decided to press the rear brake with my right foot, while falling. That made the motorcycle fit neatly under the van and my foot caught in between the asphalt and the motorcycle.
Yep, I just had my first motorcycle crash. And it was painful. But I got up, pulled the bike out from under the van, rushed to get it up, because gas was leaking on the hot exhaust pipe and I was worried it might burn. It didn’t, but lifting up a motorcycle is not easy either, especially with pains in one foot. But lots of people came to help, the van’s driver, another driver who said he’s also a biker and who also offered to take me home and also bring the bike home, seeing I was limping. I was already considering to accept the guy’s proposal, but I had to look under the van to see if there was any damage, so that we could sort the insurance out. There was one plastic clip that was not in its place but that was all. I gave the guy my phone number and he went away. I remained with the motorcyclist to decide if I was to give him the bike and I should drive the car, but finally decided not to, since I was only a few hundred meters away from Misha’s. The ride was all right, when I arrived, I naturally leaned on the left, because that’s where the bike stand usually is, so no problem there. When I put my right foot on the ground though, my whole body caught fire, with my foot feeling like a nuclear bomb. Then I knew I was in trouble and had nothing to do but pass the word around: I started walking towards Misha’s garden, I mean jumping on one foot, and when he saw me, he immediately knew I was in trouble. I guess it was my face that was telling everything. I only had to tell him it’s bad and he immediately posted that I need transport to the hospital and that he needs help in handling the situation. The foot was swollen and it looked like one thin bone is crooked, interrupted at some point. From that moment on, the organization of the event worked pretty neat, just as it should, with me telling people what to do, instead of me doing and then asking someone to do it in my place. It was around 14:00 when I got to the hospital, waited in line at the creepy ER hallway, took the X-Ray and had a while to think about it between when I stepped off the table to when I got the picture. What did I do in that time? Well, I wrote the “don’t panic” message to Ruxi. I remember she was somewhere else, dancing - which might just be the thing she loves the most - when I fell, so I insisted on her continuing thinking about that instead of my swollen, painful foot. And then I got the X-Ray photo and some time to analyze it and to wonder how the hell is it that I don’t see any broken bones there, on the inside, while on the outside it clearly looks crooked. Not much time to analyze though, as I was invited inside at the orthopedician. He looked at the picture for less than 10 second while listening to me telling him what happened. After that he said there’s no broken bone, but judging by the swelling and the pain, the soft tissue is probably heavily injured. He recommended the RICE (Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation) treatment, gave me some pain killers and told me that if it gets bruised, I should apply some heparine on it. That was good news - I could still be there at the event. I even hopped in the first van that was going to the base camp and helped them unload it. That was because even if I was out of the game, not a lot of people were able to come and help. But I heroically sacrificed my health once again for the sake of the project.
The management of the event on the spot implied that we arrive there on Wednesday, as soon as possible, but we rarely managed to get there while it was still daylight. We would set up camp, meaning that we would raise the five or six three-by-three meters tents, we would fix them to the ground, get the T-shirts, buffs, maps, BIBs and everything else that needs to be given to the participants as the race kit, put them in a bag, write the number on them and hope it doesn’t start raining. Meanwhile, we arrange the parking lot, and inflate the starting gate, install the banners and the extra fences, transport everything that’s edible in the basement of the Mountain Rescue HQ - we do that because it’s colder there and because it has a door that the bears can not get through. On thursday, all the participants at the long race come to pick their race kit and to attend the technical briefing, where they find out about the weather and the weather dependent mandatory gear. When the girls distribute the kits, the boys go up on the mountain to help carry the ton of food and water to Omu Peak, a checkpoint that’s visited three times in the long race and twice in the short race. Every year, we found a different way to transport the stuff there, every year we had different problems using the methods, finally having to carry the water ourselves, making jokes about our hands touching the ground while standing, just like monkeys. Honestly, I don’t remember how it went that year, but I remember we managed to transport it entirely. And when I say we, I guess you can imagine that I wasn’t up there to whitness, but I had a great team who did it.
The long race starts on Friday. The first volunteers wake up at 3:30 in the morning and they hike up to the first two checkpoints, needing to be there at 6:20. The next two checkpoints wake up later and get there at around 7:30 and 8:30. The base camp starts playing music at 5 o’clock, usually “Buna dimineata”, and at 5:30 we check the mandatory gear. They go away at 6:00 and basically we just repeat the Thursday, when we get ready to distribute the race kits for the Hobby race and finish transporting the provisions for Omu Peak. Plus, we follow the live timing for the Elite race that’s updated in every checkpoint, compare the times they pulled with the record and basically enjoy the show while we wait for them to come back to base camp, which is their sixth CP.
And now brace yourselves, there’s a story that I love about this live timing feature. And it starts with this Misha guy. Well, it actually starts with me, but exists through Misha. I don’t remember how many years ago, but probably around the magic year of 2012, when I was a third year Mechanical Engineering student, learning also how to build simple applications made for Windows, I got the idea of creating an app that can create the standings for our marathons. First, I researched through the existing ones and when I couldn’t find one for free, I just dreamed of creating it myself. I started a Visual Basic app, but stopped quite soon, because I had no idea how to do this. Then I started asking around for volunteers who could know how to do it. I even talked details about this while I was on a hike with Cristi Tutunea, a guy who was a programmer for a couple of years and then decided to switch for more adventurous jobs, like mountain guiding, paragliding and ski instructing. Still no result, though - he didn’t have this big interest to do it and I didn’t push hard enough for it.
As we are a big group, someone told a university colleague and the guy said he could and would like to try to do it. And then we met at my place, me telling him what I want and him telling me that it might just be possible with Excel. But then he started telling me about him and his life and I remember that I was so impressed by him and his life that it’s a pity not to be told here. I even told him that I find it hard to find inspiring people lately and he is just that - a rare example of people who inspire me.
At the time, he was a jobless student in the Renewable Energy Engineering program that I got accepted in before I chose Automotive Engineering. He was actually a programming engineering drop-out before that in another city - Timisoara, and when he dropped out he went volunteering for the Mountain Rescue team in the national center, which is exactly in the Bucegi mountains. And he did that for more than a year - he lived there, at 1600m in the middle of nowhere. Now, he was living with his grandmother, just in front of my apartment. So close that he could see his grandma walking through the garden. Oh, and he was born in Brasov, but lived in Hunedoara - a smaller city 250km west of Brasov - and he just moved back to Brasov, the city of his childhood. Oh, being a mountain rescue guy means that you usually love mountains, so he already had a few tough European peaks in his background. He was basically a treasure waiting to be discovered by me and by our club.
A few hours later, we stopped talking about his life, I have no idea if we talked about mine. You know that most times when we have a dialogue, we find similar things in what the others say and we look for the right moment to interrupt and say state our opinion or experience? Well, I think this wasn’t the case - I just listened and then told him that he’s super inspiring, and that’s something I very rarely get to think, let alone to tell the person.
I don’t know when exactly, but he delivered the first ever semi-automated timing system that CPNT used. I was the one who was supposed to operate it and Misha wasn’t going to be there to see how it works, because he had to go to some event in Rasnov.
So for the first time in our history, we did not rely on pen and paper to create the standings, but we were introducing the BIB and the excel file he created was registering the time the participant finished the race and even more, it was automatically creating the standings based on multiple criteria, like gender, age or race. It was amazing to have the standings posted immediately after the race, when it would usually take us up to a week to centralize all the checkpoints and process them using manual operations in excel. From that, the next step was to have the results live on the internet, something unheard of in the trail running timing industry in Romania. We knew about one company that was timing races using RFID technology, but we decided not to pay 1000 Euros for that, but instead keep the registration fee to a minimum. But even they were not providing live timing, because, to be honest, there was no need for live timing in Romania at that point because there was only one long race going on in Romania and it was organized by us - so if we were to manage to pull that, we’d just be amazing. The ultimate goal would be for the app to post on the Facebook wall of the racer when he or she passed through a checkpoint. And we have yet to get there.
Misha just created a tool for timing races and he got the idea of timing other races for very low fees, because he doesn’t need lots of money and because he’s that kind. He was even timing for free on a few other races, just because he liked them. Next year, that started to be his job and one year after that even I was going to timekeep some races, because he would have two in the same day. When I quit my job, he was my main job provider and the reason why I financially survived year 2016. I always wanted more credit for this idea and he brilliantly managed to keep me from getting a share from the business while still remaining best friends. But the friends part is mainly due to the fact that he’s the kindest person I ever met and that makes him a treasure I’m happy to have in my life.
Hope you enjoyed this timeless intrusion into my past beyond the two promised years. Now let’s get back to Marathon 7500 - 2016. It was Friday, I had a swollen, heavily bruised right foot that made me jump from place to place and tell people what to do - and that made me feel way too bossy. I took it as my responsibility to maintain a nice atmosphere around the base camp, playing good music at the speakers we bought the year before. Oh my God! In the past, speakers were one of the hardest things to find when we were organizing the races. At some point we started paying for a DJ to come and also for MC’s. When we finally decided to buy our speakers, it felt like the whole world changed - we suddenly had music at all of our parties and paying DJ’s and MC’s was history, once we found out that George had great taste in music and that me, Levi and Misha enjoy speaking on the microphone. Take that for personal development while not planning on it!
Since there’s nothing special about registrations or the first part of the Elite race that I can remember, it means the race went through smoothly or with little problems. Event-wise, Friday at around noon, the volunteers return from the first CP’s and they either get redistributed somewhere on the last part of the race after they get a good sleep, or they get assigned in the open air “kitchen” where they wash, peel and cut vegetables for about eight hours. I don’t know how, but every year, even though we raise the number of volunteers, we lack the numbers and they get very tired for working lots and lots of hours. And even though that might be the main reason some don’t come back next year, it’s also the reason why most of them do - and it’s because everybody’s doing their best so that the event is successful. And that’s something you can only get done with volunteering power.
Now, about the race and how I think it is to participate in it, because I never raced in it: first of all, it’s a team game, or sport, or race. It started with a 50 hours time limit in 2009 and we got to 35 hours in 2015 - somehow, we wanted to keep the time limit equal to twice the winners time, and for the most part, we managed to do it. The trail is only using the touristic signs so either knowing the trails at night is really important, or reading the map is really important, the thing is that you have to be experienced in hiking to be able to be good in this race. You have to look at the mountains and chat with your team mate if you want to both finish. You have to carry his backpack or accept yours to be carried when it’s the case. You have to push or be pushed, you have to be patient and caring. It’s not a race with yourself only, it’s a mountain adventure against the team’s strength and against time. It is an extraordinary achievement to finish it in the time limit and it’s the only race where you’re sure you’re going to get a hug at the end, a hug where it doesn’t matter that you’re completely soaked in concentrated sweat, you stink like hell and you can barely walk, talk or eat, because the person next to you is exactly the same. These are just a few of the reasons that make us want to continue to encourage participating in a team, as opposed to a solitary race. Marathon 7500 is way more than a trail running race also because most participants rarely run - it is simply too steep to run for 14 hours, let alone the whole 32 of the last participants. It just makes people admire and respect the mountains and just come back next year.
Friday night is the hardest for us, because we have to manage the volunteers in such a way that they get to sleep, but also stay at the finish line to wait for the winners of the Elite race, to cheer for them, to register them in the timekeeping system, to give them medals and to provide them with warm food. This edition, it happened that we waited for the first few teams and then we all went to sleep because there was a big break at the previous CP’s, but sadly woke up too late and missed two teams, one of which was a winner in the mixed category. Luckily, we had two volunteers at the fire, preparing the food, who even if they were quite drunk, managed to take care of the racers and to wake us up to register them for finishing the race. Sleeping those few hours is critical, because we wake up at 5 again, play the same song again, check the gear, start the Hobby race and still wait for the Elite to finish. During the night, there’s always problems up at Omu Peak, because it usually gets foggy and cold and the participants get exhausted and start shivering uncontrollably, throw up or even faint. They come in very exhausted, knowing that they have to come back one more time or two more times and when getting there for the third time, the race is not finished. There’s still 15kilometers to go. And in this race, the distance is not the important aspect, because it is the kind of race where if the distance gets smaller, the finishing time gets longer, because that just means it only gets steeper. And if you think that using your hands to move faster vertically will help over 15 hours, you’re missing out that there’s been maybe a few hundred thousand years since we’ve last used the hands to move across long distances.
We’ve had times when the fog was so thick that you couldn’t see 2 meters in front of you, let alone run downhill. We stopped the race once because of very harsh weather conditions. We had many situations with people lost somewhere on the mountain who could only say “come help us”, and we’ve even had situations when we needed to send the mountain rescue team to search for racers but the team was completely drunk and just said that it’s not their side of the mountain. But, somehow, everyone managed to be saved by us every year, and this year was no different. They all managed to stay alive, even though not all of them got to the finish line. And we managed to miraculously provide enough food for everyone for more than 24 continuous hours.
When the 14 hours available for the Hobby race are up, we start preparing for the awards ceremony and we now invite all the volunteers on the stage to get their share of applause for the job they successfully accomplished - their own adventure and learning experience. And it’s usually about 60 of us and that is our moment. After that, we just continue to work with trash, food, washing dishes and then we get ready to drink a little because it’s usually Misha’s birthday and we just gather around the fire we used to make food at and start playing the guitars and drums made of 20l water canisters, but this is usually the shortest and least energetic party you’d ever go to, because each person had less than 10 hours of sleep in the past 50 hours. But I think that in that Saturday night, each and every one of us gets the deepest possible sleep all year long. So deep, that Sunday is maybe the most quiet day of the year, considering we’re at least 30 people stuffing materials in a van, or two, or three. Also, Sunday is the day when we split whatever things are left, like bread, bananas, cereals and other such items that would be useless just staying in a basement to rot.
And then we go home and a very few get to go back at Misha’s basement to unload the van and drink the beers, because we usually get home at night and we’re super sleepy and we just let the things stay in the van one more night and then pray there’s still some people available on Monday to do that.
That’s how Marathon 7500 - 2016 ended.
What was next?
Well, summer. My absolute favorite season of the year. The season of warmth, no rain, beach time, mountain time, long days, short nights, short sleeves - perfection.
But please don’t forget that this year, this summer was special - I could not step on my right foot.
Because my life was basically CPNT, it’s schedule was my schedule, so from 15th to the end of the month when we were supposed to go to the seaside and at the Albatros Trophy, I was just a limping guy hanging around with my cool friends. But don’t think I was stress free, because on the first of September we had to get ready for ProPark Adventure Race - remember? The hardest race to organize…
Luckily, for this year’s edition, we also chose mountains that we were familiar with. I wanted to have a special start, at night, and have the participants cross the Piatra Craiului Ridge in its entirety from Zarnesti to Podu Dambovitei. Unfortunately, or fortunately - because no one died this year either - the team decided that it would be too dangerous for the teams in case the weather would go mad. So we just chose calmer but way taller mountains to go to: all the trails, except for the trekking part, were very well known by us and we could approximate times needed to move from point to point with a bike. Still, since we wanted the race to have different start and finish points and knowing the way we exaggerated with the course in the first edition, we still needed to go do reconnaissance on the paths that were not marked. But guess who was the adventure race organizer but was unable to walk. Yep, so I just had to ask people to do it for me again - a thing which I hated, because I was starting to feel like I was asking people to do me favours - me personally, not the NGO - and I think that was the moment when I started to feel uncomfortable leading the pack.
If in the first Adventure we set the camp in a very well known place, next to very well known mountains and sent them into some completely unknown mountains, in the second edition we set the camp in a not so well known place, next to some not well known mountains, but sent them into some very well known mountains. At least that was the plan. We still had one and a half months of holiday to enjoy before the race started. I mean, my friends had, because I was limping.
What is it that am I dreaming about in the winter?
It’s the summer.
And it’s that time, when we get into cars and drive towards the sea side to spend a week or more there. Where exactly? Well, for the past few years, it had the following schedule, or at least the plan was as follows: on a wednesday, before the Albatros Trophy - I will detail later about it - we set to go on what we called The Romanian Vertical. This idea came into practice only once so far, but we really plan on it happening every year. Yes, you’ve guessed it: the magical year 2012. The vertical stands for the fact that it starts at the highest point in Romania and it ends at the lowest, which should be the Black Sea - there might be places lower than the Black sea, but we didn’t care to look for it because we really want to get there. It’s a friendly team race, and it most likely involves hitch-hiking your way from Moldoveanu Peak to the Black Sea or to wherever the Albatros Trophy is held. You go up the mountain, go to sleep, wake up at 3 in the morning, randomize the teams of two, then go on the tallest peak in Romania and start the race at 4 o’clock. The teams are banned from using their phones unless there is an emergency - and that means airplane mode, the teams are banned from using more than 2.2Euros of their own money for food or drinks or transportation - obviously, the food is carried in the huge backpack in which you also carry the huge beach towel and flip-flops. The teams have 24 hours to get to the destination. I’m not going to tell the story of the only vertical ever held, but if you get the chance to do it, I strongly suggest you to accept the challenge. It was amazing.
The end point of the vertical is, as I said, wherever the Albatros Trophy is held. And this is the moment when I explain what this Trophy is.
When I got in CPNT, the club was participating in what was called CNCTE - that stands for National Championship for Tourism and Ecology Clubs. A year-long championship that had different mountain clubs competing against each other in a Federation formed by them. The championship included two types of events:Trophies and Liras. The Liras were more on the ecological and artistic side of the activities, while the Trophies were a more sporty event. In this Federation, the rules were quite clear and they were well respected and continuously
improved using feedback from the clubs.
Before the start of every championship, every club would announce if they wanted to organize an event or not, thus, there were around 10 events every year, mostly Trophies - the ones that we preferred, as we were a young generation of enthusiastic mountaineers, while most of the other clubs failed in renewing their members and just got old all together. Among all these trophies held in different mountainous locations all over the country, where you could participate for free, regardless of belonging to a club or not, there was one that was truly special: the Albatros Trophy. This event was organized by the Albatros Club for Tourism and Ecology from Galati. Galati is one of the big cities in Romania and it’s on the course of the Danube River, just before the Danube Delta Biosphere Reservation starts. Thus, they were organizing their trophy not in the heights of the Carpathians, but in the swampy grounds of the Danube, every time in a different place.
Now I’m going to explain how a normal trophy looked like:
A club would have to get at the location on Friday evening and attain the technical briefing, then register it’s teams of five that had to be of mixed gender - usually two girls and three boys. A club could have as many teams as it wished, but only the first one was relevant for the championship, so every club had a very strong first team. Then, people would just happily play the guitar in a huge group around a huge fire, until… well, it depended, some left when the hour was too late, some left when the booze was gone and some left in the morning, when the event would actually start. In a normal trophy, the challenges would start in the morning with the theoretical tests - Flora, Meteorology, First Aid, Climbing and Geography of the area - 10 questions with multiple possible answers in which time was also important. Then, the teams would leave for the hiking trip that wasn’t a race, but you had to fit into a certain time limit to get the maximum points and carry a quite exhaustive first aid kit and equipment. Usually, during the hike, the team would stop at a point where the Orienteering challenge would take place, where two members of the team participate - one girl and one boy. The orienteering challenge was one of two types: either using a map and a compass, or using a compass and polar coordinates (angle and number of steps) you had to find and validate all the checkpoints given to you. Then, later you would get to the climbing challenge, where, again, two members would have to participate. Usually, the routes were easy for experienced climbers, 6+ for boys and a 5 for girls, both rotpunkt and on sight, if you’re acquainted with the French climbing grades.
Later, the hike was over and the team was supposed to either rest, if they prepared the cultural moment, or brainstorm and prepare it if they didn’t already have it from home - we only prepared it home once in a few years, so we usually spent time together as a club preparing the cultural moment. This moment must include: an original poem that can be read or a non-original that has to be known by heart, a comic scene on the thematic of ecology or tourism, that was mostly based on the funny things that happened during that day, and most importantly, singing - mandatory to sing the club’s anthem, one original song and one other song. This cultural challenge would usually last until 1 or 2 AM, making socialization with people from other clubs possible only after that. And people would usually continue singing around the fire until the morning, when, at 8 or 9:00 the cross would start. 5 km for boys, 3 km for girls in what was a cruelling battle with the other participants, the hangover, the heartbeat, the dehidration and the lack of sleep.
I’m not going to present how CPNT was doing at these trophies, but only because it doesn’t fall in the two years, otherwise, they were amazing moments that united us as an organization more than tens of team buildings could have.
I will tell you that we started winning these trophies at one point and even the championship, and I hope it’s not our fault, but the events started to have less and less participants and we started to win regardless of who we were sending there, as long as we had guitar players with us.
Slowly, the clubs stopped organizing the events, but a few continued to do so - Albatros was one of them.
This is a trophy which was very popular because it was quite different - it would be impossible to find big rocks to climb in the Danube Delta, or bigger hills to climb, so they replaced the climbing challenge with more creative ones, using ropes and trees, but still making it easy for real climbers to win them. The hike, however, was transformed into something way better: football and volleyball. Take that for teambuilding. Now, one thing about CPNT people is that they are usually not good with sports involving moving objects that are not tied to themselves. And here I was, after playing football all my life, I came to Brasov and played maybe once a year - in the Danube Delta. Same thing for volleyball, except that I played it way less than my whole life.
That year, the Albatros Trophy was held in Gura Portitei - the free translation would be “the Mouth of the small gate” and it is a very hyped place lately in Romania, marketed on TV through a reality show. It would classically start on Friday morning with the two sports and maybe a surprise challenge or more, then in the evening we would participate at the individual folk contest and on Saturday we would have the classical orienteering, climbing, theoretical and cross challenges, ending the event in the evening with the cultural challenge.
All I remember from this 2016 trophy was that I was the non-playing-captain, the photographer and generally the guy who looked like a Japanese tourist carrying a camping chair with him all the time. We won, because we won every time we participated because we loved it and we valued the people who would be good at these challenges. The most memorable aspect of this particular trophy was that snakes were all over the place, and more people found snakes under their tents in the morning. And that’s memorable because, usually, snakes are small in Romania - well, here, they were not and people were scared.
From the Albatros Trophy, we went straight towards Bulgaria, only passing through Vama Veche to get some of the well known pancakes. This requires a little CPNT history. Because historically, after the Albatros Trophy, the group would go to the Black Sea at Sfantu Gheorghe - a completely wild beach, with the finest sand you could ever find and the people who wanted more fun would afterwards go to Vama Veche - a place I had only heard about when I first went to the Albatros Trophy, in 2010. Somehow, in 2010, there was another generation change inside the club and that new generation of youngsters voted to go to Vama Veche directly after the Trophy.
În the case I didn’t write everything here in a foreign language in vain, some people still don’t know what Vama Veche is - you lucky bastards!
It all starts with the communist Romania and the village that sits on the actual border with Bulgaria, at the Black Sea. What was once a free village in which the rebel youth would retreat to go to the seaside, wear jeans, listen to prohibited music, talk almost freely about the regime and go nude at the beach and sleep in a tent, is now one of the most popular places to go to in the summer - and on merit. It is still full of young and free spirited people, middle age people who come there every year since they were 18, old people who just come there because they are still cool, foreigners who come there because it’s the cheapest and nicest place to have fun among lots of other nice spirited people.
În the case I didn’t write everything here in a foreign language in vain, some people still don’t know what Vama Veche is - you lucky bastards!
It all starts with the communist Romania and the village that sits on the actual border with Bulgaria, at the Black Sea. What was once a free village in which the rebel youth would retreat to go to the seaside, wear jeans, listen to prohibited music, talk almost freely about the regime and go nude at the beach and sleep in a tent, is now one of the most popular places to go to in the summer - and on merit. It is still full of young and free spirited people, middle age people who come there every year since they were 18, old people who just come there because they are still cool, foreigners who come there because it’s the cheapest and nicest place to have fun among lots of other nice spirited people.
And obviously, nice people attract nice events - thus, every year there was a free festival called very intuitively Folk You!, because it was built as a resistance movement against orientally influenced music called manele. This one would attract the best folk artists in Romania and gradually in the night more and more rocky bands would come on the stage, to end the nights with pure rock music. Four nights of very high quality music, for free, at the sea side - who wouldn’t want to go there with a great gang called CPNT? So that’s how, in 2010, we started going to Vama Veche, instead of Sfantu Gheorghe for the holiday at the seaside. A few years later, when during the days before Folk You! there was not much to do, we started exploring the beaches south of Vama Veche, first getting to the immediately next one called Durankulak. Oh my god, that was amazing - purely awesome sand and kilometers of beach with just a few people to populate it - and there we were running freely on that huge beach, just our beautiful group. Later, we found some highly impressive places called Kamen Bryag and Tyulenovo, places that had huge cliffs instead of beaches, something I haven’t previously seen, nor jumped off of. At that time we also discovered the place called Ezerec, which is basically the best place one could ever get to at the Black Sea: a man planted pine tree forest that is 100m away from the beach that has almost no people on it. It has everything you need - sun if you want, shade if you want, lots of trees to hang hammocks on, lots of room to install tents, lots of space to go naked and not be seen, and, of course, the rocks and cliffs from Kamen Bryag are 30 minutes away by car if you want to snorkel and pick some oysters and cook them at the “living fire”. That place has everything a group of outdoorsy friends needs. Provided you have a car to move from place to place, of course.
Coming back to 2016 and recapping our holiday: The Vertical, Albatros Trophy, Ezerec, Kamen Bryag, Tyulenovo, Vama Veche.
And just so we’re clear, when the concerts at Folk You! ended, at about 1AM, we would move to a place called Stuff, to dance freely with all the other people there, all night, until the surise, when the music changes from danceable to making-out-on-kind-of-music and then playing Maurce Ravel’s Bolero for 15 minutes, a moment when everybody there just goes closer to the water and either gets in naked or just admires the sunrise watching the others going naked into the sunrise red water, or the people having sex on the sunrise red beach. Basically, at that point, my definition of freedom and happiness was drunk dancing on the beach until the Bolero played.
It’s weird now, how I know that Ruxi was with me the whole time, but have no memory of what we were actually doing. I know we were not doing great together, but we were still formally a couple and I was clinging on to the relationship just because it was OK for me, but not so OK for her. And she loves spending time on the beach, and listening to folk music, so that’s why I know she was happy then, there, with me, with us.
Now going back home to the beautiful city of Brasov, a new adventure started.
I’ve never been a lonely kind of guy. I’ve always had people I considered cool close to me and I’ve always worked in teams. It was only in 2018 when I realized that I am actually great in teams and very bad alone. And planning an adventure race on your own is not exactly easy - it probably is, but it’s hard for me. Finding people to work with in the middle of August was not easy either, so it was quite easy to get involved in another project.
I already got introduced in a thread of interesting emails on my personal email address. But before I tell you about this, I’m going back to paint a very beautiful moment with Ruxi, just because she deserves it. And it all came to me because I wondered now if I had a smartphone in 2016 so that I could follow the thread of interesting emails. And I did.
Remember that besides a great group of friends, to go to Bulgaria’s empty sea side you also need a car? Well, we had one. Her name was Violeta. Violeta means purple in Romanian, and now you just found out it’s color. It was a 1994, 3 doors Opel Corsa that I got offered by a very funny work colleague in exchange for the bike I bought from a friend, to help him pay his studies, with the promise that I’ll give him the bike once he pays me back. Ruxi, at that point, was either going through or finished the classes for taking the exam for the driving license. Also at that point, you could find lots of cars that were cheap, but you would have to pay a huge second hand tax. Well, this car had this tax paid, so I just paid 350Euros for it. It was super rusty, but the engine was all right and, all in all, it was ok - so I just bought it. And we paid half and half on it, stating that it’s our first common possession. And it took us through some really nice places and feelings over the course of two years, and it gave me the chance to practice driving and to learn how to repair cars - which I love.
Coming back to that 2016 summer, while we were in Bulgaria, there was a metallic sound coming from the suspension whenever we would be going on unpaved roads. We decided we should go to a service for an inspection to check if it would be alright to drive all the way home with it. And we went and they assured us it’s alright. So we just went to the closest beach from there, just me and Ruxi. But then a storm came, so we rushed in the car and started driving back towards Vama Veche, for the remainder of the Folk You! festival. At one point, while accelerating on the national road, I heard something hitting the hood, I looked in the mirror and guess what, the phone I was checking my emails on just flew and it was hopping on the ground. I stopped the car, got out in my underwear and started waving at the other cars to not run over the phone. I got to the phone and guess what, the screen was broken and the firefighting chief was calling me. I answered and started talking to the guy telling him that when he called, the phone that I forgot on the car started vibrating, took off, and now it’s broken. I paid almost a month’s salary on that phone - never gonna do that again.
This, obviously reminds me that this was happening in 2015, when I was still working as an engineer and volunteering at the factory’s firefighting squad. But it would be a shame to delete the story now, wouldn’t it?
This, obviously reminds me that this was happening in 2015, when I was still working as an engineer and volunteering at the factory’s firefighting squad. But it would be a shame to delete the story now, wouldn’t it?
Basically, I had a different phone next year, but I was following the interesting thread of emails on it.
Remember what I wrote about volunteering to observe the local elections in Bucharest, just when I landed from France? Well, after that, when they sent the email to thank me, I wrote them that if they’re going to form a party in Brasov, I’ll want to help. Somehow, that was the interesting thread of emails I was included în. Weirdly enough, it had another friend of mine included in it, one that I didn’t know volunteered for the party or was interested in politics at all. They formed a group of people, trying to start the political party in Brasov and thus started asking around for people who would be fit to be a founding member in Post Communist Romania’s only grassroots political party. I loved the idea, I loved it’s creator and I already knew two guys who were included in the emails. One was a friend, Gabi, and one was a very well known activist in Brasov - Erwin Albu - a very controversial activist, nonetheless.
So at some point, I gathered all my courage and went in the central park for a meeting with these people. I liked them, I liked it and continued to go to meetings in which we discussed who would be better suited to run for the parliamentary elections that were going to take place in December. It is weird asking around all your friends to find the perfect person to represent us and not be able to find any answers. It wasn’t weird, it was sad. We even thought about a few people, went on and asked them and then refused to get involved into politics. Then we started the fight with the old legislation that doesn’t like newly formed parties. We had to find 5000 people who would sign with all the data in their ID card, stating that they agree to this party candidating for the parliamentary elections. That meant 2% of the city population, giving us all the data in their ID and their signature. No easy task, I tell you. Combine these meetings with the fact that I had to organize ProPark Adventure Race 2016 without being able to hike or bike, imagine my busy life without even working to provide for myself, or for my relationship, for that matter.
Here we were, a few weeks before ProPark Adventure Race, with the race course almost set, with the kayaks reserved, needing to only go on one more reconnaissance MTB ride. So I just decided I try, as now I could walk without limping, but could not run. We did it the reverse way, but we went. It is quite hard to explain the route to people who do not know it, but here’s the try. It goes up in the Bucegi mountains - 2000m - from Sinaia - 900m -, then it goes down to Padina - 1600m - the place where Misha was a mountain rescue volunteer team member - then it goes back up to the other side of the Bucegi mountains - 1900m -, then goes down in a deep valley towards Leaota mountain, called Bratei - 1000m -, then up on the Leaota mountain - 2100m - and then going down towards Podu Dambovitei - 700m - that was maybe somewhere between one third and one quarter of the whole race track. The first part was actually really nice, we went up on the paved road, then on the ski slope and finally got to the top quite fresh. Then we looked for ways down and chose a technical one, but got to the chalet and demolished a bottle of beer. After a short break we continued, went up and then down through a not so friendly forest that made us climb down a wall of mud 4 meters high, ending up throwing the bikes down to not risk falling with them. Then we looked for a way up, because there was no clear path. That was basically the trick in this entire race, finding the way from Leaota to Bucegi, that is the least tiring, least risky and obviously, shorter. We found a rather steep trail where we pushed the bike up the whole mountain. And pushing a bike 1300m up after you already climbed 1500 while on it is not an easy task. My partners in this ride were Misha and Gabi - yes, the same that was in the interesting thread of emails. At some point, Misha showed signs of weakness up to the point when he started throwing up more and more often, until his stomach was completely empty. The higher we went, the worse he got, and the less food we could give him. And there we were, changing the plans from going down to Podu Dambovitei to going home as soon as possible, calling to see if it’s possible to sleep in Bran, at a friend’s parents. It seemed that they would have accepted us, had we got there. But Misha was getting worse and worse, and even if it was just short downhills followed by short uphills, he just couldn’t do it anymore and he wanted to sleep, as he was completely exhausted. We later found out that he found a mushroom on the way and ate it raw… Oh, well, we were completely unprepared for sleeping, as we only had our raincoats with us, not even pants. We looked around for shepherds places, we even thought of making a shelter ourselves, one thing was clear - we were not going to get to Bran that night. And that would mark a premiere for myself, as I’ve never slept in nature unprepared, without proper clothes or sleeping bag. But, we heard a car approaching. And you should have seen Misha’s white and exhausted face, climbing up a short but steep slope following the sound of the car engine - priceless. Me and Gabi got to the car first and told them the story, that our friend is exhausted and he needs help. And they were like: no, we can’t help him. Here we were, in the middle of nowhere, high on some mountains, we found the only car, it had empty seats but didn’t want to help us. We told the guy again the story, thinking that he might not have understood that we have problems and we need help, and then he somehow understood and changed his attitude. He offered to take Misha into the car and transport him to the nearest shepherd’s place. He took him there, we followed and said hi to the people. Told them the story and they immediately offered us food. Nothing about any shelter yet. We were quite shy of accepting food - we were grateful enough for giving Misha some hot soup and some other nice food, while wondering what the hell we’re going to do during the night. We waited for them to offer Misha some shelter, maybe some clothes or blankets and only then asked if we could also stay there. They said yes and we moved straight away to the sleeping place. A hardwood bed and no blankets was all they had, so we just arranged ourselves on one side, making complete body contact with Misha sleeping between me and Gabi. It was cold, but it was more acceptable than I thought it would be, and the hardness of the wood was overwhelmed by the fatigue we also accumulated during the day, finally managing to sleep until very early in the morning, when they started activities at the place and the roosters started to shout out. We woke up, ate something and then flew down to the national road and on it until home, thinking how many cursing words the racers will address us for that cruelling hard MTB track. And again, that was just one third of the whole MTB part.
Lucky you, you don’t have to wait half a month to hear the words they addressed us, it’s just a few pages away, maybe even closer.
It was me who really insisted on having different start-finish points, because this way we would be able to span over more impressive distances. It was an idea that’s only going to get implemented again if we’ll ever have a very generous sponsor, because working on a low budget and hiring two coaches for 200E each is not really feasible for a 70 km ride. But hey, lessons learned everywhere.
This year, the racers would start on bikes, in the beautiful city of Zarnesti, would cross the very beautiful hills that base the Piatra Craiului mountains and stop to visit a cave, where they received a photo of a bat, one of the nine bat species that could be found in the region. At the next checkpoint, which was maybe 20 km further, they were supposed to tell the referees what species is the bat. They could call friends, google, do whatever, just say the right name of the bat, otherwise they would get a 20 minute penalty in the next checkpoint. In the next checkpoint they received details of a house that was somewhere in the village, a house that had special local architectural motifs, and also had a small photo so that they’re sure it’s the right one. When they found it, they had to say the number of the house. Next checkpoint was the transition to hiking. They changed for the completely unexpected hike that was going to take them to one of the highest peaks in Romania and started walking. On the next checkpoint, two referees were waiting for them in the middle of nowhere, dressed in national outfits and asked them to look for a certain number of tree leaves. This is my favorite task in the whole race: the team had to find the balance between dedicating time to finding one specific leaf or accepting the 5 minute penalty for not finding it. They also had penalties if they brought leaves of protected plants.
And then the night came. The first team, the legendary Grind Team was leading, while on their path the next team, a way less experienced but way more physically capable, was following them. Lights out and diversion maneuvers made some lose the others but almost met again up on the peak. The way down was quite clear, but cruelling long,the final 15 of the 42km in total length of the trek, with more than 2000 meters height gain, they just went on a tough trail marathon without being prepared for it. The first team got back from the trekking part quite a few hours later than we anticipated and way more tired than we anticipated. The last teams slept on the mountain. After that point, there was only mountain biking and kayaking involved, a thought which was alright for most people, especially considering the surprise difficulty of the trek.
Pause a little to gain some perspective - I wrote these upper rows one week before the fourth ProPark Adventure Race and I shall write the following rows now, three weeks after it ended.
So, as the morning would come closer, more teams would reach the transition point and eat, change, maybe also sleep a little, before going on further to a 1200m bike climb and then a 600m one and then another thousand. I left that spot before it closed and before all the racers got there. I had to go home to drop a volunteer, pick a few others and then head to the lake in the Bucegi mountains. At the lake I got to see the leaders stop next to us and almost miss their surprise: Radu Diaconescu, a very cool guy who volunteered to go through the first edition alongside a few teams and take photos of them racing, now volunteered for cooking some crazy but very welcome meals for the racers exactly at the lake. The leaders, just like any other team, didn’t know about this surprise so just before they got to the checkpoint, they turned and headed towards the Bolboci chalet “to get some soup”. We impatiently shouted that “you’ve got here something better!” and managed to make them turn towards us. And boy did they have a surprise! Three very different types of meals, plus one “a la carte” for the vegan Lucian Clinciu.
We were expecting the teams to be inexperienced on the lake, but we did not expect what we saw: even the leaders started rotating their kayaks on the lake and they were laughing harder about it than we were.
And then, through all our laughs, the news came in:
Out of the 21 teams that started the race, only 8 teams continued towards the lake and only seven managed to get to the lake before the deadline. We were counting that most teams would abandon at the lake, but it looked like they did the math and there was no way to get to the lake in time, so most of the teams decided to quit the race just where they finished the trekking marathon. Shit, that’s a lot of bikes and people to carry through two mountains, especially when you don’t have paid drivers for the job, or busses, just a bike trailer and a nine seater van that you borrowed from a participant that was in the leading team.
But we did it - with very little sleep and with very enthusiastic volunteering drivers, we transported all of them to the finish line.