25 September 2017


Ro what? Rogaining?
What the heck is this??
I have never heard this word before!

This was my reaction when Nic, an old friend of mine told me that there is a new orienteering race format. Well, it is new in Romania, but quite old and popular in other countries.

So how does it work? Simple! Each team of 2 to 5 runners gets a detailed map (usually 1:25000) with control points, a time limit and after an hour and a half of studying the map and planning the route, off you go! Each control point is worth points. The more remote and more difficult to reach, the more valuable it is! The competitors decide for the best strategy to collect as many points as possible.

Saturday I competed in the first official Rogaining competition organised in Romania! Carpath Rogaining Trophy. It wasn't planned, but just three weeks before the competition my friend Nic broke his leg... He was already registered in the 8 hours race, and eager to participate, after winning a smaller scale demo competition earlier during the summer. So why not! Let's do it!

We had a bit of an unfair advantage as the competition area covered most of my usual running trails between Brasov and Postavarul Peak. However, most valuable checkpoints (9 points) were located in the thick and wild forests on the eastern side of Postavarul massif where I have never been before! So at least for half of the route it felt like on foreign lands...

There were only about 20 teams at the start, about 12 in our category: 8 hours men open. I hope that next edition there will be more teams. Even if this was the first edition, it was very well organised at a high standard! We had electronic sticks (SI-card) for quickly registering at the check points and they worked flawlessly. The map was of good quality, printed on a water resistant paper. There were 51 check points covering an area of about 90 square kilometers. The lowest ones were at about 650m altitude, the highest at 1500m. There were three points with water and food (bananas and energy bars). At the finish we had a pizza party... after 8 hours of running, the pizza and a big hot tea tasted soo goood!

Here is the map of the competition. Click on it for more details.

My team mate, Ion is a forest engineer. He has better skills than me at reading maps. On the other hand I knew the terrain better and I was moving a bit faster than him. Overall we complemented well each other and the teamwork went very well!

The weather was perfect for such a competition. Cool (10-15C), overcast and without wind. We had a few rain drops, but we were lucky. The proper rain started just 30 minutes after finish.

The start/finish area was in the ski resort of Poiana Brasov at about 1050m altitude.
Once we received the maps we immediately noticed that the east side of the map had the most valuable checkpoints. True that the terrain was more difficult and the distance between check-points greater, but we instantly knew we have to  start with the difficult part of the route and collect the fat points.
The initial planned route worked quite well. We planned a main route and decided later along the route which checkpoints we take and which we skip. We skipped just one 9-points post.
The plan was to take the easy ones at the end of the race on the return path. We did not have too much time left, but we arrived at finish 8 minutes before the end of the race... each minute of delay is taking away 1 point... not worth risking!

Towards the end of the race we missed one obvious 5-point checkpoint (number 59) as we misjudged the distance from the previous one - The path was downhill and we were moving faster that we thought.

At the end we surprised ourselves and the other finishers with a total of 179 points collected! Only one other team managed to get that many. A team from Estonia, the only foreign team. However, we finished about 50 seconds faster so according to the rules we took the first place! The third place was very close with 176 points! A team of experienced orienteering enthusiasts, but they did not venture far enough as we did. I am sure that they reached quite a few more checkpoints than us, but of smaller value.

As for the team from Estonia... well we were very impressed! On "neutral" terrain I am sure that they would have beaten us by a large margin. I am sure that for a foreigner, the area of this competition was not at all easy! Mostly in thick forest on steep mountain slopes with lots of deep valleys. I wished I had talked to them after the competition, but right after the medals ceremony the DJ pumped-up the volume of the music far too much... it was time for me to leave...

This was my very first orienteering type race. I have to say that rogaining is quite addictive! I will probably participate again next year at the second edition. Will I win again? I do not really care. I just hope that the bar will be raised, so there will be more and better teams! I am also now looking for a good mountain runner to form a faster team next year... In the meanwhile I should get more precise and faster with my reading skills!

I congratulate the organizers and the volunteers for a very well organised event at a very high standard! And thanks to all volunteers who endured the cold autumn weather.

Here is our route of the competition. A whole mountain marathon and a quite demanding one!
Notice the shape of the route... a running rabbit.. or fox...

Here are a few photos taken along the route. Well there was not much time for photos...

The first autumn colors

Following a shortcut on a trail left by a forest tractor

The view from the most spectacular checkpoint

One of the checkpoints with the electronic device on top.

Running on the Edge!

Almost exactly 3 years after my first successful run along the entire main ridge of Piatra Craiului, here I am again on the Queen Mountain of Romania! Since last time I was several times up on the ridge but I did not cover the whole length.

September 16 2017 had the perfect conditions for the strenuous run/hike along the rocky Piatra Craiului Ridge. A day with perfect blue skies and not too warm weather. The weather was warmer than normal for mid-September, but the wind on the heights kept us cool for most of the day.

Vlad, my work colleague was my running partner this time. We followed almost the same route as last time as I find it to be the best option. It gets up on the ridge quite quickly. The route up to Turnu Peak, the northern-most peak of the ridge, is varied and this makes it seem short and easy. There are only a few cables on the rockiest part of the route.

We did the Ridge faster than last time. 4h07, including a lunch break on La Om peak (2238m) the highest point of Piatra Craiului. This time we took some easier alternative paths that go around some rocky sections of the first quarter of the ridge route.

The descent on the eastern side from the southern end of the ridge (Funduri saddle) is the only runnable access route to/from Piatra Craiului Ridge and is my favorite descent route. It was already mid-day as we were descending. We started to feel the heat, but soon we reached the deep and cool limestone Prapastii canyon. Vlad's car was waiting us at the exit from the canyon...

Here is the route of the day:

And some photos of the Queen Mountain of Romania:

Cycling on flat-lands

After a break of four years when I only did a bit of utilitarian cycling, this year I started to do a bit more cycling again. Not mountain-biking as before. Since I started to do trail running more seriously,  I feel that running is much better suited for the type of mountain trails we have around Brasov. This time I have returned to road cycling after many years... On roads I am exploring other landscapes around Brasov, not than just mountains. There are many secondary roads with good surface around Brasov, just perfect for road cycling.

The highlight of the cycling season was a cycling tour in the Netherlands. It was a last minute decision. Myself and my wife had some holiday days left for the end of the summer. As she is still recovering from an ankle injury, hiking was out of the question, but cycling was OK. 
Knowing how good the cycling infrastructure is in Holland, I proposed that we could go there for cycling in a safer road environment than in Romania.

My wife quickly searched the web for a fully organised tour. As we have never been cycling in Holland before, this was the safest option to ensure a last minute successful holiday. Most organised cycling tours seem to target the older generation; have short daily distances and e-bike option. Anyway, my wife managed to find a tour operator that had road bike tours on the menu: Holland Bike Tours. As both of us are quite well trained for endurance, we went straight for the most demanding tour they have on offer: Lake Ijssel Round Rrip; 400km in four days.

The tour was very well organised. It was an individual tour. The tour operator provided us with good quality road bicycles and a GPS device pre-loaded with the tour route. They also gave us a set of lightweight tools, a pump and a spare tube. In case we had more trouble, full bike assistance was included - luckily we had no need for it. We only had a punctured tire during the whole trip.
The hotels on the route were all booked by the tour operator, including our luggage transfer from one hotel to the next one on the route.

The GPS device was very helpful ans saved us a lot of time - especially important on the long stages. Due to the many canals that criss-cross the landscape, getting from A to B might not be as simple as it seems... Just using a compass is not of much use for finding your way in Holland...

Cycling on flat-land was tougher than I thought! We live in the mountains, so most cycling routes are 50% up-hill and 50% downhill. Moreover, the mountains protect us from strong winds. Covering a similar distance on the plains felt harder, especially with head-wind. Sure enough, half of the tour we had to work hard against the wind! Even with tail-winds, you still have to pedal, unlike on mountains down-hills...

We both enjoyed the tour very much. The landscape of Holland is as different from home as it can be! It felt like being in a delta, which in fact is the case. What I find amazing is that all the landscape we were cycling through is man-made! Yet, along the route there were many wild areas, with forests, lakes, canals and lots of water birds, reminding me of the Danube Delta.

The second day we had the longest stage. 160km. It was the one we enjoyed the most. It included Afsluitdijk, the 32km dam between the North Sea an IJssel Lake. We had west and north-west winds during this day. The first 40km until we reached Afsluitdijk were quite hard as we battled the quite strong head winds and a few light showers. The 32km on the dam were OK; we were sheltered by the top of the dike so the side wind was not so strong. The cherry on the cake were the last 85 kilometers! We flew most of the distance with strong tail winds along the lake shore and across the plains! Without the tail winds it would have been very hard to reach our destination in time that day.

Here is the route of the second day:

And some photos we took along the four day tour:

Cycling along Afsluitdijk

By the North Sea

Rain on the last kilometers of the tour...