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 4: Postavarul Massif, Tampa Mountains and Braşov

After day 3 of the trek, I was done in. I woke up the next morning feeling better than I’d felt finishing the day, but I was still tired, sore and more than a little bit ashamed about crying down the mountain the day before.

Within 10 minutes of grabbing my breakfast, my fellow trekkers had changed all that. Everyone was so positive and excited for the final day that I couldn’t help but catch their energy.

Unfortunately there were a few people struggling with illness on this day in particular but their strength and determination to complete the trek in good spirits was so inspiring that I was feeling happy to lace up my boots for the last time on this trek.

The weather had cleared up since the downpours of day 3 and the sun was beaming down on us as we climbed up past the ski slopes and made our way on to the forest paths. This was much more like the treks I’d previously done in Yosemite and I was feeling comfortable enough to take in the sights around me now that we were on softer ground.

The trek through the forest was beautiful, all sunlight and shadows. Every so often a call would go up from the back of the group to announce bikers racing down the narrow paths. This would mean that the group had to leap into the trees on either side to avoid getting squished by our two-wheeled trail companions. As scary as this sounds, it quickly became a call down the line of trekkers, injecting a bit of adrenaline in to our tired footsteps.

Whilst some found the forest really difficult because of the consistent scenery, this was my favourite part of the trek. I had enough breath to chat to other walkers, getting to know them even better (which considering my initial concerns about meeting new people was amazing) and the smells and sounds of the forest were all around. It was beautiful and I really felt lucky to have been able to undertake this adventure.

At the top of the mountain, we paused to look out over the ridge towards Braşov centre.

For the final day of the trek, we had a hotel booked as a treat for all of the hard work. We knew we had a little bit of luxury up ahead. However, coming down the mountain and walking through Braşov centre was nothing compared to the trek up the hill to the hotel. We’d been told that the hill was a steep one. Since the word of the week had been ‘undulating’ to describe ascending mountains, we thought that we were fairly prepared for a steep hill. That hill nearly broke us. I think that because we were tackling it after 4 days of trekking, at the end of a 23km trek that day, with the heat of the day beating down on us (and because it was bloody steep), it felt like the highest climb of the week. At one point, I was walking backwards up the hill to try to take the pressure off my knees.

After many stops up that damn hill (and a lot of swearing!), we finally made it to the hotel. It was fancy. We were tired, muddy and in some cases, bloody from slips and falls. We absolutely did not care. The incredible feeling of crossing into the hotel grounds was so emotional that the literal blood, sweat and tears didn’t seem to matter anymore.

Waiting on the side of the pool was a table filled with glasses of champagne or orange juice. We toasted ourselves, each other and those who we carried in our hearts throughout the journey. There were lots of tears but I managed to hold it together until I got to my room.

As soon as I crossed the threshold of my room, I felt the emotion start to overwhelm me. The enormity of what I had achieved hit me. I called home and burst into tears. After explaining that I was fine, just emotional, it was time to grab a shower. The water was freezing. What a time for a hot water problem at the hotel! I was that muddy/ dirty, I didn’t care! I spent as long as I could in the freezing cold shower and then headed down for dinner.

We had a gorgeous 3 course dinner set out for us to celebrate our achievements. The hotel had catered for my dietary needs (gluten free and dairy free) perfectly. Despite the celebratory nature of the dinner, we were all so shattered that we headed off to bed fairly early ready for our flights home the next morning.

I would definitely say that this trek was one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done. It’s also one of the most informative experiences that I’ve ever had. It taught me so much about who I am, who I can be and who I want to be. I know that who I surround myself with can influence my attitude. I’ve learned that I can do far more than my fear tells me I can. I have a better understanding about my physical limitations and abilities. I’m better at pushing myself to complete difficult tasks when I’m supporting someone else through it and they are relying on me. I can trust my own instincts about when I need to rest and what I can push myself through. I remembered that I don’t like small talk. I want to talk about what makes someone tick, what they love, what they hate and what they think of when the night falls. It also taught me that I can travel alone and that I might just like it.

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

Life Gets In the Way: Or How I Paused Travel Blogging To Travel!

So it’s been a few months since I last posted. I went from posting every week to not posting at all.

It wasn’t a conscious decision – in fact when I realised, I felt really guilty (there’s that perfectionist trait kicking in). It wasn’t that I’d made a choice not to post that week, it was simply that life got in the way.

In my last post, I talked about training for my Transylvania hike to raise money for Mind, the mental health charity. I knew that it would be a serious undertaking and that I was going to need to work really hard to keep up with the group on such a hard slog through the Carpathian Mountains.

I was really putting my all into it. Lie-ins were sacrificed and weekends were taken up with hiking bags, water packs, hills and lots and lots of distance. I was seeing lots of new places and pushing myself to get into shape physically – it just left very little time to write about it!

At first I was beating myself up: all these new places and I’m not even writing about them! However, after a bit of reflection, I’ve realised that it was because I was too busy living it. It’s ok that I didn’t post each week, I will still get to put it all down in the blog; it just might take me a little longer!

I’ve got my whole Transylvania trip to write about, including the learning and personal challenges that I faced throughout the experience – but I can do that in my own time. Without the weekly writing schedule, it means I can really reflect on my experiences and put more into the writing, rather than just meeting a (self imposed!) deadline.

For now, I’ll just say a huge thank you to everyone who donated. You helped me to raise an amazing £2150 and contributed to a team total of over £40k for an amazing charity. I’ll share my experiences over future posts – it was one hell of a ride!!