Walk #10, with: Laura (born 1974)
Where: Five hour circular walk from Poiana Brașov, Romania
When: 10 May 2016
In early 2015 I shared with friends an idea about running cycling-for-health tours for women. One of the amazing, encouraging, talented and generous friends I discussed the idea with was social business founder Laura (who started Club Soda* in 2014, to help people change their drinking). In fact it was Laura's immense energy (urging me, for example, to work part-time and pilot my idea) which helped me realise that, whilst mine is a great notion and I could do it, I didn't/don't have the wherewithal to do it yet. And it was that realisation, I think, which finally galvanised me into retiring instead and taking off on this adventure. Meanwhile Club Soda goes from strength to strength, so I feel very honoured that Laura has managed to take a whole week out to come and meet me in Transylvania.
*for which I am the poster boi!
Yesterday we packed a picnic, laced up our hiking boots and then, just as we'd acquired from the tourist office an excellent map of the way-marked hiking trails around Poiana Brașov, clouds gathered around the popular ski resort and it started to hail. So we made a cup of tea on my Trangia and sat in our hotel lounge eating our picnic of hard-boiled eggs pilfered at breakfast plus bread, cheese and salami. I had my laptop open and started formatting the headers in version one of my personal User Guide, which led to an interesting conversation with Laura about metacommunication, namely how we communicate with our close people about how we communicate! Specifically we talked about introversion and extroversion, the five love languages, and about how differences between personalities and communication habits can make relating hard.
At half past three the sun came out so we set off for what we hoped would be a four hour circular walk into the dense surrounding forest.
While crossing a (grassy) ski piste immediately outside the village I said to Laura 'Oo what's that? Fuckin' 'ell it's a bear!' We stared at the medium-sized brown bear (which was about 100m away) and the bear stared back at us, rising onto its hind legs for a better look/sniff before walking unhurriedly into the undergrowth.
Continuing our planned walk we quickly pooled our knowledge:
- Talk or sing while you walk to avoid startling a bear
- Generally only a mother with cubs is likely to be aggressive; avoid eye-contact and back away slowly while talking softly to the bear
- In the unlikely event of an attack, play dead in the foetal position and protect the back of your neck until the bear (hopefully) goes away
About two hours later we reached the furthest point of our walk, a dramatic rocky ridge overlooking immense cliffs and, in the distance, snow-capped Carpathians. It was around this point I spotted several bark-stripped trees, bear scat and bear prints the size of our own hands in the recently-fallen hailstones. I'll admit, as we scrambled down a steep, narrow trail through dense undergrowth to join a larger trail I was scared. I really, really didn't want to meet a bear in there.
At the bottom of the hill we failed to spot two nice wooden footbridges, leaping heroically but quite unnecessarily across a substantial stream and clambering through stinging nettles instead! This, along with an eagle, a black woodpecker and a dog that decided to lead us for the next hour, provided some temporary lightness in what was mostly a rather anxious walk!
It was around seven by the time we begun our homeward ascent, one sign stating 'Poiana Brașov 2-2.5 hours' and another (see photo) 'Beware of bears - Entering the forest is forbidden'. On the one hand I felt reassured by the presence of the local dog, on the other I'd read some dogs will spook a bear by barking. The last hour of our walk was steeply uphill and with nightfall imminent Laura concentrated on keeping going in spite of her sore legs (bursting occasionally into a chorus of 'Algie met a bear, a bear met Algie, the bear was bulgy, Algie was the bulge'). For my part I was aware of bear tracks everywhere and just wanted to get out of the woods as fast as possible, so walked in front trying to maintain the pace and talking nonsense loudly to myself.
Eventually we re-emerged onto the ski piste where we'd seen the bear, startling two deer and three huge boar! On finally reaching the safety of the resort just as the sun went down I hugged Laura with relief and we made straight for the sauna where we began our protracted debrief. This was one walk I will not forget in a hurry! Thank you Laura for your fearlessness and good humour! Again, sometime?