Category Archives: Khan Tengri

Valea Alba

Trying out once again the plastic boots

The first pair of winter shoewear which I’ve bought was a pair of plastic boots, nearly 6 years ago when I was begging to venture out in the mountains in the winter time. Unfortunately as plastic boots are a bit to much for the romanian winters eventually they got replaced by a pair of normal winter boots, and they have been laying around unused.

And as I’m going to need them for Khan Tengri, and as I’ve forgotten in the meantime how it is to wear plastic boots (not completely, some ski boots feel similar or even worse) I though that the weekend would be a good opportunity to bring back those memories. Unfortunately snow has been really scarce this winter in Romania and we headed for the only place where it can still be found, the shady valleys of the Bucegi mountains.

As training we decided to carry the bivy gear and to sleep somewhere on the plateau, so the backpacks were a heavier than usual. This, combined with the fact that the valea Alba wasn’t in the best condition made the ascent a bit longer. Basically even if it’s late January in a normal year there should be more snow here in November, but the weather and the climate is changing and somehow to a certain extend we all share the responsibility for the change.

We’ve spent the evening and the night at the refuge from the Omu peak with Mihaela and Cosmin, two friends which ascended via the Bucsoiului ridge, and after a long sleep and a foggy morning we decided to descend on the Morarului valley in hopes of finding enough snow for an easy descend. In the end we found enough snow but at the same time we’ve had a small incident with a crampon breaking at the wrong moment, but after a quick improvisation (without duct tape) we managed to make it once again usable until we got down.

And regarding the plastic boots in the end they were quite ok, unexpectedly I would say. The only issue is that in warm weather they have to be dried every evening in the tent or in the refuge. In these moments the advantage that no water can come in turns in a bit of a disadvantage as at the same time no perspiration can get out, and you basically get wet from the inside…

Undeva intre toamna si primavara, dar iarna nu e sigur..

Somewhere between autumn and spring, but it certainly isn’t winter

Plasticii de testat.

My not so shiny plastic boots.

Ajunsi la verdeata.

Getting to a place called “La Verdeata”, literally meaning at the green place.

Cam greu cu rucsacul mare in spate.

It’s not so easy as it seems with a heavy backpack.

Moment de pauza.

Taking a break.

Inca putin pana sus.

Jut a bit more until the top.

Ora albastra.

Ora albastra.

Alungati de vant, si noi si norii.

The wind blows fog over the Omu peak, and we follow it to the valley.

Cosmin si soarele.

Cosmin and the sun.

Cer de ianuarie, nu si zapada de ianuarie.

January sky without the january snow.

Si totusi mai sunt si portiuni cu ceva zapada.

On one of the snowier sections of the valley.

Trei crai de la rasarit.

Three friends.

Bent Wheel

The bad hour and the bent wheel

Some things are not meant to last. And amongst those things I can also count my front wheel which last week has fallen victim to a traffic incident in Bucharest. Just when I thought that my bike is ready and that I could start off in any moment if I wanted to, the incident happened. Me riding on the side walk, a large car parked in such a manner that it blocked an angle, a car exiting a parking lot a bit to fast and bam, my wheel ended up being dragged for about a meter by the front of the car.

It all happened at a really small speed and the only damage was my front wheel, which I’ve just rebuilt less than one month ago for the journey through Central Asia. As the guild was probably shared we both walked away with our own damage and it was up to me to try and temporarily fix the wheel so that I could use it for the following weeks until the replacement rim arrives.

The main problem with 28 inch rims is that the demand in Romania is way smaller than the demand for 26 inch wheels (everybody seems to be riding a mountain bike), and the rim which I ewant is almost impossible to find on a short notice. And so I have to order it from Germany, and hopefully it will arrive in a couple of weeks in time for my departure in mid February.

The temporary fix was a bit easier, and after two bike shops which said that it cannot be done I ended up at one of the most romanian bike shops in Bucharest. The shop itself seems to be frozen somewhere in the communist 80s, in the attic of an old house, with old bike parts scattered around in an apparent chaos, with bikes waiting repairs hanged on the walls, everything in the filtered light of a large window. Beer is almost always on the table, and in the background one can hear a radio playing romanian folk songs sometimes interrupted by news bulletins.

The bike mechanic is also a very interesting character, probably a good example of a romanian trying to make his way through the fall of the comunism and the beginning of the market economy, still a bit nostalgic of the times past. And in this case he tries to do what seemed impossible in other places, to temporarily fix my wheel, on the spot. And with a glass of beer, with a hammer with some time and with a lot of talking about different things the wheel starts once again to turn into an actual wheel.

And somehow everything is on the opposite end on how things would happen in German, and it’s a completely different way of doing things a way in which to some extend the Romanian society works. Much can be said about Romanians but one thing should be granted to them: they can adapt really quickly and they can improvise. One the other hand this also usually means that you’re not going to get the best end result, but it will generally do the job.

This was also the case for my front wheel which is once again in working condition, but with which I wouldn’t start a long journey. And at the same time I’m not sure that when I’m going to have the new wheel built from scratch that I’m going to do it in the same place.

And about the incident even though it’s a pity I should be grateful that it wasn’t more serious and that I came out without a scratch, and that it happened before the journey while I still have time to fix the issue. At the same time it was a reminder that the civilized traffic of western Europe is gone, and I should pay more attention as the most of the drivers certainly don’t.

I unfortunately didn’t have the camera with me when it happened so I took the picture from Yngve Thoresen. My version of the bent wheel was a bit worse though.

Cicilovete

Returning home to Romania.

It’s been two weeks since we’ve returned to Romania and after this short period I still have some mixed feelings regarding our decision of leaving Germany.

Probably one of the main benefits of living and working for a longer period of time abroad is that you get to see your own country with different eyes. You get a similar change in perspective with travelling, but the efects are longer and more profound when you actually live in a different country.

We’ve found Romania in the grey colours of a snowless winter, which is somehow the perfect setting for seeing the many faults of Romania. And after a full year probably the first thing which pops into our eyes is the garbage which lays around in almost any place connected with civilisation. It’s the curse of plastic bags, of pet bottles and of a still uneducated population. It’s something which unfortunately you get used to, and right now probably anyone in Romania tolerates it to a certain extend. We’ve grown unused to it though, coming for a really tidy Germany.

One other thing which we’ve noticed is the feeling that almost everything seems rushed. Maybe it’s just us and maybe we’ve grown slower in the past year, but I still sometimes seems that there is no plan but everything needs to be ready. And sometimes it feels that time has stood still and that you haven’t missed anything while instead we’ve gathered a lot of experiences.

On the other hand there are all the friends, the parents and all the family members, and all the social interaction which I find it to be on a completely different level than in Germany. And all the mountains which are dear to us and which with all due respect cannot compare with the plains and the endless forests of Germany.

Either way we managed to get outside more than in the past two months in Berlin, we’ve seen the sun more than in the past winter there, and we’ve spent a lot of time with friends and family. But all in all I can’t help but wonder if we’ve taken the right decision.

In the following period I’ll have to continue preparing the expedition, do a couple of tests with the new pieces of gear and maybe start of a bit earlier if the weather remains so warm, in order to have more time for Iran and for other distant places.

Camping salbatic, pe undeva pe langa Lugoj.

On the way back to Romania, wild camping with almost all our belongings packed in our small car.

Once again back home in our mountains.

Din nou acasa.

Early in the morning.

Matinal.

Desertul de gheata.

The ice desert.

Acasa.

Home.

Malul impadurit.

The misty mountain.

Wakhan

About maps and navigation

A really good question is which would be the best way to navigate 7000 kilometers through unknown countries, which might also use a different alphabet. In today’s world, where you have a million gadgets which get smaller each year and which can do more and more stuff, it doesn’t seem that difficult.

The thing is that usually I hate being guided by a GPS, especially when bike touring or when running or trekking in the mountains. I do find a GPS useful in the cities, as you really can’t carry a map for each city, and sometimes asking locals for addresses inside a city doesn’t really yield good results. After all if I would think about Bucharest where I’ve spent almost ten years if someone would ask me about an obscure street I would have no idea how to guide him.

And I really like maps, I like having a physical piece of paper on which you can have an overview of where you are coming from and where you are heading to. They are somehow reminiscent of a time when I started exploring the mountains of Romania, and when a map could tell you advance which places you’re going to see the following day. With time, and with getting to know the mountains the maps started remaining at home, as sometimes the map which construct in your head throughout the years is generally good enough.

I also think that sometimes with a GPS it’s impossible to get really lost, as you always know have some sort of coordinates and eventually an underlying map. At the same time getting lost isn’t the goal, but sometimes it’s nice to find yourself in the middle of nowhere being forced to figure out things for yourself.

At the same time I realise that there’s no perfect solution, and it’s simply a matter of choosing the advantages which you like and the disadvantages which you can live with. At least in my case it’s going to be combination between real maps, digital maps and a smartphone for getting some GPS coordinates if needed.

Regarding the maps, probably one of the most interesting collection of maps which I’ve found in the past months are these soviet topographic maps,  which include maps in a good scale for almost half of the globe, the half in which the soviets had interests at one point or the other. The only issue is that they are in Russian, but at the same time I plan to learn a minimum of Russian before reaching the stans.

Another site with really useful information regarding the climate in different places on the globe can be found here and I’ll probably use it to get a picture of the average temperatures of the places through which I will travel through.

Last week I got two paper maps for Central Asia, one for Iran and one for the Stan’s but the scale is too large to make them really useful. But at the same time I find it is really interesting to look at these maps, and to dream that in a couple of months I will travel through all these places.

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Maxcycles Townlite

The bike, preparations for the journey ahead

The starting point.

It will be my house on two wheels for about 8 months, so I should prepare it for the road ahead.

My current bike, and at the same time the bike I’m going to use for the trip is a Maxcycles Townlite, probably from 2009. I bought it used 2 years ago before the trip to Mont Blanc, and when I bought it I thought that it’s going to be my next city and touring bike for the next 10 years. This though helped justify the otherwise high price tag (even for an used bike).

It’s my forth bike in 20 years, the first one beeing a Pegas (the comunist ideea of a city bike), the second a Neuzer Matrix, which saw quite a bit if use Bucharest and in the mountains from Romania, and the third was a Kona Fire Mountain which was a bit too big for me. And then came the Maxcycles, which I’ve used for the past 15000 kilometers.

When I think about it all my bikes up until now were second hand bikes, and all are still working and they are used by friends. The Kona Fire Mountain even was used by to friends which learned riding a bike on it. Either way, the purpose of a bike is to be used and to gather as many kilometers as possible, and this I’m really glad that they are still working and that they are fulfilling their scope.

But now getting back to Maxcycles Townlite, the bike itself is an odd build. On one hand it has parts which have endurance bike touring written over them (like the Rohloff, or the SON dynamy, or the Magura HS33 brakes, or the frame), while on the other hand another set of parts was chosen in order to save some weight (for example the carbon fork, some titanium components, the back rack, or the wheels).

The result is a bike which designed for city use and for light touring, and I think it’s more than enough Europe. On the other hand if you think of rougher roads, some things are to be desired. In the past two years I’ve used it for touring in Europe, and we ended up really often on paths which were perhaps better suited for a MTB, and thus I discovered that it can handle quite some rough terrain. You can’t cruise down a rough single train with 40 kilometers per hour, but I’m pretty sour that with loaded panniers I wouldn’t do that.

The heart of the bike is the frame though, and I really enjoy it and the size fits me really well, so I’m not going to change it, even though it’s made from Aluminium. The second heart is the Rohloff hub which without any maintenance just keeps going, and going, and going…. You get the idea, and there are hubs there which reached 100.000 kilometers and which are still going strong.

The wheels

Probably the most important part after the frame, I really think it’s worth investing a bit more in a durable wheel, otherwise you can end up with a lot of problems which aren’t that easy to solve. The rims on my bike are a set of lightweight Alexrims AT400, not exactly suited for heavy duty touring. The one on the back wheel already has cracks on the side and has to be changed, and in the process I’m also going to change the front one.

In order to build a new wheel you need 3 things, a good rim, a good set of spokes, and a good wheel builder. And thus after some research and after some asking around I ended up with the following options:

  • Mavic A719 – relatively light and with good reviews, medium price
  • Rigida Sputnik / Rigida Andra – the cheapest ones, but also the heaviest. The Andra was designed with Rohloff in mind, but at 815gr it’s necessarily light.
  • DT Swiss TK 540 – the lightest and the priciest of the 3, weighing in at 545 grams and it can handle up to 130 kilos. On the other hand the price is also double.

And regarding the good wheel build I’m probably going to do it in Berlin, as there are some bike shops which are well known in Germany for the wheels they build. I’ll also have to exchange the Rohloff sprocket with the largest one, and I lack the tool for that.

The tires

Choosing the tires is a bit easier (I’m on my second set of Schwalbe  Marathon tires), and even though the price seems high just as the Rohloff they keep going, and going, and going. And as the Mondial replaced the last star, and as it has some pretty good reviews, the decision is simple. The only thing is that I’m somewhat limited by the frame, and I’m probably going to get the 42, with some small chances for the 47. A wider tire would translate in better off-road performance, but the 42 might be enough.

The front fork.

I’m not going to leave on such a journey with  a carbon fork, so I’m going to have to replace it with a basic steel fork with holes for the front rack. At the same time the offer out there isn’t that great, and I can’t really think what would make a good steel fork, so I’m probably going to go with the Maxcycles stock fork.

The racks.

Also here the things are pretty simple. I already have a Tubus Airy which is really light at 233gr but which doesn’t have the best durability out there. I can already see where marks in place which had contact with the panniers. And this I’m going to replace it with a Logo on the back and I’m also going to get a Tara for the front wheel. Once again they are guaranteed for 30 years, and if failure occurs (which I doubt), they can be easily fixed.

The panniers.

Once again the things are simple, I already have a  set of backroller classic which is ore than enough for Europe, but this time I will back some additional things and I will get the frontroller classic to match them, and this should provide enough space.

Chainglider.

Probably one of the main advantages of a Rohloff hub is that you can “seal” the transmission with a Chainglider, which limits the amount of dust which reaches the chain and which keeps the oil on the chain in rainy weather, thus reducing the maintenance needed. It may be a bit loud, but I would chose the noise over reduced durability each time.

The handlebar.

Currently the handlebar is a light titanium model, and it’s probably going to be left at home this time. I will have to chose between a classic aluminium handlebar with Ergon grips, or the low cost is to reuse a butterfly handlebar which I already have at home. I would have to test it though in order to see if it’s ok.

The saddle.

Selle SMP TRK. I think that the designer thought of my behind when they designed this saddle. I already used for 3 years, I’m extremely content with it and I can’t imagine another a better saddle. The only issue is that the artificial leather started to crack, and I need to exchange it for a new one.

It might seam like a lot of changes, but the heart (or the hearts) of the bike remain the same, and if when I look at the list I only see things which I would need. If they would be absolutely needed though is another question, and there are a lot if people riding around the world with cheap bikes. In the end the desire to start the journey is probably more important than the bike with which you start it.

Picaturi de toamna

Khan Tengri, the beginning

A really good question is which would be the how do you start to prepare a trip like this, and what would be the things you need. First of all you one need time, way more time than the normal yearly holiday.

Time is probably the most important and the only limited resource which we have, and while living in our modern society when you would wonder how would it be to have all the time in the world. Finding a balance is difficult, but at least for me, and for my plans for the following year 30 days really isn’t enough, as I would need 9 months, or the equivalent of the holiday days for 9 years if such a trade were possible.

And so we come to the first step, and after 18 months spent in Germany and after a small cultural adventure, we realized that our place isn’t here, and there are to many things we hold dear that we’ve left behind in Romania. And after taken the decision, it follows that the best moment for such an expedition is between jobs. Related to handing out my resignation, by chance the Romanian half of the team in which working was in Berlin. And so when giving the news I had a small public made up of my work colleagues. It did make things a bit more eficient (I didn’t have to tell the story 20 times over), and it did provide a bit of a feedback.

18 luni.

18 months.

Whether the german coleagues, or the romanian coleagues understood my plans for the next year it’s hard to say, but over time they probably realized that I tick in slightly different way, so the resignation wasn’t met with to much suprise, rather with curiosity. At the same time finally telling the people about my plans came as a relief, as the decision was already taken for quite some months. And in the end I could talk freely and with passion about my plans for the next year.

Colegii de munca si in acelasi timp micul public.

My work colleagues and at the same time the small public..

I tried at the same time to make a discreet movie with my resignation speech, on one hand in order to preserve the moment, on the other hand in order to avoid telling the same thing over and over too many times. Unfortunately because I tried to be discreet, the footage isn’t that good, so for the first part you can only hear a talking headless t-shirt with feet.

At the same time giving my resignation did feel like a small step in to the unknown, leaving the financial safety of a job with no idea about how things will work out at the end of the adventure. But perhaps exactly in that lies the beauty of an adventure, in the uncertainty in which some of us thrive, and some of us completely hate. But it did feel a bit like jumping without a safety net, but only time can tell how the landing will be.