Transylvania Trek 1: Moeciu to Cheile Gradistei

Sat in my tent, I was thinking about the reason why I was with a group of 25 strangers, in another country, about to set of on some of the most physically demanding walks that I’ve ever had to do.

I reminded myself of the reasons. I wanted to prove to myself that I’m strong enough. Mentally and physically I can sometimes struggle. I have endometriosis and the side effects from different types of medication can be difficult. I have lots of migraines and often feel shattered. I also have my own experiences of anxiety and depression. Despite this, I wanted to prove that my sense of adventure hadn’t been overshadowed by cautiousness and fears. I want to prove that I am enough and I wanted to prove to myself that I could manage a challenge this big. That being said, it was one thing booking the trip in a moment of bravado and another thing entirely actually being in a tent in Braşov, getting ready to start an unknown adventure…..

It was the first day of my Transylvania trek. Technically, this was day 2 of the trip but our first day had been a whirl of travel, so this was our first day of actual hiking. This was supposed to be a ‘starter day’, designed to help to break us in gently  and help us to test our pace and stamina. I thought that the trek leaders might go slightly easier on us for this one…. forget that – it was tough!!

We were starting our walk at Moeciu and walking through to the ski resort of Cheile Gradistei. It was a beautiful start to the trip. Moeciu was a sunny, pleasant 14km walk through meadows with stunning mountain views as far as the eye could see. The weather was beautifully hot and we were soon taking off layers to accommodate the heat. That’s not to say it wasn’t difficult – we were all soon feeling the exertion, huffing and puffing our way up the hill. It was also clear that the pace of the walls would be somewhat quicker than I had been used to in my training. It was at this point that I discovered that I am more of a plodder than a walker!

The sound of cow-bells were never far away as we walked through the meadows, creating an unearthly soundtrack to our footsteps.

Animals seemed to be the theme of the trip, with two dogs joining us for the walk. Whilst Moft (a scraggy but excitable companion) was completely up for the 5 hour trek, his friend Charlie didn’t seem to be quite as interested, leaving us to continue on without him for the last half of the walk. Having a dog in tow was amazing for morale. Just as everyone was starting to flag, along would come Moft and our spirts were raised again and again. Although he was quite a dirty dog, everyone soon forgot the warnings of ‘don’t pet the animals’ and were quite happily stroking him and snapping pictures. There is something irresistible about a friendly dog, and he was very instagrammable too!

Some parts of the walk were fairly comfortable, however elements of the trek were really quite hard, particularly the steep climb before lunch and the twisting paths through the meadow. The path towards our lunch spot looked never-ending and it was certainly a test of determination to keep plodding upwards. Particularly when a couple of walkers going down the hill, who were much older than me, seemed to bounce down with buckets of energy, leaving me panting for breath and struggling ever upwards. At the highest point of this trek, we reached 1187m, stopping at the top to sit for a well earned rest in a circle of little tree-stump seats. It was a really positive feeling to look around my fellow walkers and know that everyone was feeling the same sense of achievement.

The way back was peppered with more beautiful sights, particularly around the hilltop retreat marked with cairns and chair swings. Even though we were all pretty tired, we still managed a race to the swings, relishing in the chance to sit down and look out across the beautiful views over the mountain range.

Our descent took us down through a steep meadow where there was no flat foothold to be found.  The entire section was carried out with angled ankles and uneven steps, making us all watch our footing a little more closely. I found myself glad of the strong ankle support in my boots, without which I’m sure that I would have ended up with an injury. The final part of the descent was down the steepest hill I think that I have ever seen. It reminded me of cheese rolling competitions and I certainly felt like I was taking part in a great cheese chase as I made my way cautiously down the embankment. Moft had no problem navigating the terrain and was waiting for the group down at the bottom, happily wagging his tail and acting like the 14k over hilly terrain was no big deal.

Heading down the hill to the ski resort was a welcome relief – particularly as people were bursting for the facilities (me included). We plonked ourselves down in one of the outdoor seating areas for the restaurant and rewarded ourselves with drinks – I don’t think that Sprite has ever tasted so good!

That first day taught me a lot about walking and about myself. I learned that I can talk to complete strangers for five hours without feeling stressed or anxious. I think that as we were talking about the reasons we were undertaking the trek and our personal circumstances, we had breezed past the small talk that I usually find so difficult. Give me an in-depth conversation and I’m super comfortable, talk to me about the weather or who won a recent TV show and I’m out. However, the whole group got to know each other so quickly and it was great to have such meaningful conversation to get us through the long walk.

I’d also forgotten the impact of sleeping in a tent. Waking up to natural light helped to reset my body clock and I found that I was more awake and ready to go much earlier in the morning (which is a bit of a miracle for me – usually my brain doesn’t wake up until later in the day). The strangest part of the day was settling down into my sleeping bag in the tent alone. Listening to the night settle in outside, I was able to rest my head and start to think about preparing myself for day 2 of the trek.

 For the full trip posts, visit the links below:

Transylvania Trek 1: Moeciu to Cheile Gradistei

Transylvania Trek 2: Bucegi Massif

Transylvania Trek 3: Castle Bran and Piatra Craiului Mountains

Transylvania Trek 4: Postavarul Massif, Tampa Mountains and Braşov


Transylvania Trek, Day 2: Bucegi Massif

After the ‘warm up’ walk of day one, day two upped the ante somewhat to a 20km walk with a height of 2180mtr. The sun was shining brightly and the walk through the woodland path to the stunning mountain range was beautiful. We were again joined by a four-legged friend who made the walk look easy!

All the way up the mountain we were serenaded by the sound of cow bells, clearly rolling across the hillside – my overarching memory of the trip is soundtracked by those cowbells! The day seemed like a day of reflection for many of us, with people moving in and out of friendly conversation to reflect on the reasons for signing up to the trip. Many of us were there because of our own personal experiences: loss of a loved one, our own journeys with mental health problems, a need for adventure, a need to prove something to ourselves or simply to raise money for Mind, the mental health charity. Regardless of the reason, for me the day felt like a real sense of achievement, albeit almost surreal that after all of the months of training, I was actually doing it for real!

Soon the grassy hillside gave way to a more challenging shingle gravel and the brilliant sunshine disappeared behind a wall of clouds. We quickly realised that the Transylvanian interpretation of the word ‘undulating’ was very different to what we’d originally expected. For clarity: ‘undulating’ to a professional walker is my definition of a ‘steep climb’!!

At the top of the ridge, we came across a storm shelter – a little round hideaway to provide safety from any passing bad weather. Luckily it wasn’t needed and we trudged on across the ridge to start our descent down the mountain.

The group naturally split into walkers of different speeds throughout the day, however there was a constant swapping of faces – some walking quicker to join a conversation with the people up front, some stopping to remove or add layers of clothing depending on the temperature and ending up as part of a slower group. The ebb and flow of people throughout the clumps of walkers was my favourite part of the day. Sometimes you were ahead, sometimes behind (I was often behind!!) but regardless of the position in the group, no one judged anyone else and everyone was entirely focused on supporting each other through the day. This consistent swapping of groups also meant that new conversations were initiated over and over, helping us to learn about each other, our likes and dislikes and our backgrounds really quickly. I’m probably well- defined as an introvert and I often find it hard to navigate small talk, however, by cutting through the trivial conversations and really learning about each other, with no distractions other than the view, it was easy to bond with people, quickly stripping away any awkwardness and resulting in long and loud discussions about the passions we share.

For the full trip posts, visit the links below:

Transylvania Trek 1: Moeciu to Cheile Gradistei

Transylvania Trek 2: Bucegi Massif

Transylvania Trek 3: Castle Bran and Piatra Craiului Mountains

Transylvania Trek 4: Postavarul Massif, Tampa Mountains and Braşov

Transylvania Trek Day 3: Castle Bran and Piatra Craiului Mountains

This was the day. One of the hardest physical things I’ve ever done. I knew that this trip wouldn’t all be sunshine and laughter but I don’t think that I realised just how tough this would be.

The day started out fairly comfortably – a trip to Bran Castle – the home of Dracula. Luckily he wasn’t in when we arrive and we had the luxury of exploring the castle and the grounds without the risk of joining the undead. Once past the little market place, the walk up to the castle was extremely steep, making sure that we were warming up our legs ahead of the bigger walk planned for later in the day.

The castle was stunning – amazingly detailed and complete with hidden door and passage. Although beautiful, the inside of the building was cramped due to the number of people passing though and after a quiet couple of days in the mountains, it was hard to be around so many people!

As we left the castle, there were some frank discussions with the group. The leaders were advising us to search ourselves to ensure that we were ready for the trek ahead. Clouds were rolling in and we were advised that this would be a tough trek. Having been one of the slower walkers the day before, I experienced a major wobble, doubting my capabilities and fearing that I would hold the group back. After some amazing support from other members of the group, I strapped on my big girl pants and set off with the rest of the group.

The initial trek through the woods, whilst steep was manageable. We were sheltered from most of the rain and it was quite relaxing to hear the water dripping through the leaves above. Well, as relaxing as it can be when you are making your way up a very steep, muddy mountain!

By the time we broke above the tree-line, the weather had taken an almighty turn for the worse and it was lashing it down. Wind, rain, mist – it was a miserable cocktail. I’m from Manchester so I’m used to the rain but this was awful! We huddled under a group of trees, not wanting to stop long to refuel. Shovelling a quick lunch down our necks, everyone was up and ready to move in about 10 minutes. We were cold, tired and ready to get off the mountain. Knowing that there was still money to be raised for Mind, we paused to take a quick snap-shot at the top of the mountain to post on social media and fundraising pages. Everyone mustered up a smile but it was the quickest photo stop we had all week!

The edge of the mountain was shrouded in mist and it was impossible to see what lay over the edge. We set off making our way down the trail but the mud and rain had taken its toll. Being fairly shaky on descents anyway and knowing that I have untrustworthy, dodgy knees, I was taking it cautiously at the back of the group. The group leaders were having to brace our feet to prevent us sliding in the mud, edging down the mountain tiny step by wobbly, tiny step. I was absolutely terrified that I was second away from a slip, fall and quick trip over the edge.

Soon enough, we were all slipping and sliding down the mountain, including the group leaders (with the exception of one guy – but I’m sure he is part mountain goat). It was terrifying and my heart was in my mouth the entire time. I think I taught the group leaders some new cuss words, my muscles were sore from being so tense and I know that I cried a bit!

By the time we reached a flat ledge in the mountain, some of the group had progressed to the next section. Due to the extent of the weather, the path had begun to wash away and it had become impassible, with even our fearless leaders suggesting that it was too dangerous to attempt. This meant a swift about turn, back up the mountain to find another path down. With my head full of thoughts of mountain rescue, we headed down a grassy path on the opposite side. Whilst not as muddy, the grass was soaked, making for a sloppy walk. The final hill was more of a toboggan race to the bottom, with more than one of us unintentionally taking the trip on our bums rather than our legs. Imagine a giant slip and slide but with mud rather than water and rain rather than sunshine!

By the time we got to camp, we were all tired and cold. The welcome committee made it all worth it however and their cheers and hugs restored some of our energy. I don’t think they know just how much that welcome back meant to us.

I collapsed in my tent, completely exhausted, sore and sleepy. I was unsure how I was going to mange to get up the next morning and do it all again. This was probably the hardest point of the trip for me and whilst other trekkers left for a meal, I decided to skip tea and sleep. I was worried that I would be seen as antisocial, but in truth I was genuinely burned out and needed to rest. I knew that without getting to have a rest (and maybe a little cry), I wouldn’t be able to pick myself up and be ready for the next day. I was asleep within about 20 minutes of getting into the tent and looking back, I think I did the right thing. Having that time to rest and regroup, in addition to the amazing, positive people around me gave me the kick I needed to get up the next day and do it all again!

For the full trip posts, visit the links below:

Transylvania Trek 1: Moeciu to Cheile Gradistei

Transylvania Trek 2: Bucegi Massif

Transylvania Trek 3: Castle Bran and Piatra Craiului Mountains

Transylvania Trek 4: Postavarul Massif, Tampa Mountains and Braşov

Taking the Plunge: Anxiety and Travelling

I’m not going to pretend that I came up with the idea for this post by myself. I didn’t. I read a post by Lauren Juliff on which brilliantly encapsulated some of the fears I have about travelling – especially travelling alone. You can read the post here.

Lately, I’ve been wanting to prove to myself that I can do things on my own. That I can pack up, travel to another country, talk to people I don’t know and join trips on my own. For all the travelling that I’ve done, I’ve always been with friends, a partner or family. There has always been someone else to double check my travel plans or help me plan a route from A to B.

I’m a big fan of the ‘Into the Wild‘ movie which covers the true story of Christopher McCandless – I was first introduced to his story in a tent one night in Yosemite and it had a profound affect on me. Whilst there are different views on McCandless’s story, the quote of ‘happiness only real when shared‘ really stuck with me. I’ve always thought that travelling is something to be shared. That being said, I’ve spoken to friends who have experiences of travelling alone and have found it to be life-changing; really helping them to build confidence and self resilience. It got me thinking that ‘happiness only real when shared‘ could still be true – but that sharing might also include sharing an experience with yourself or a group of strangers.

So, after much consideration and in a moment of recklessness / bravado, I booked a trip. I wanted it to have a focus so I chose to book something that allows me to raise money for a charity. I picked Mind, the mental health charity because mental health is important to everyone. I have my own experiences of anxiety and depression and in my working life, I’m involved in the commissioning of mental health services – so I understand how much they can help someone who is struggling. The trip is organised so I have some structure to fall back on, but I will be travelling with a group of people I don’t know, so I will have to rely on myself.

I’ll be camping for four nights in Transylvania, walking 5-8 hours a day in the Transylvanian Alps and reaching peaks of 2,400 metres. It’s a challenge, and a big one at that. I’ll need to train. I have to fundraise a minimum of £2,000 – on that note, please donate what you can and share the link as widely as possible!! I’ll need to face my fear of heights and my anxiety of new people, but I’ll be doing it for a brilliant cause. I’ll get to see somewhere new and I’ll be spending my time with like-minded people. I’m hoping that this will be amazing experience that will help build confidence and really show me what I’m made of.

I’ll be sharing some of my training hike locations through this blog, along with stories from the actual trip: ‘happiness only real when shared‘, right?