Over the next few days, I planned to climb up through the Cernas valley, and take the mountain pass through the nature reserve to return to the Danube river. I had been assured of my route by none other than the tourist official at Corvin, however Asli threw up some doubts here on whatsapp, I pedaled on regardless. After 40km of Carpathian climbing, the tarmac disintegrated to gravel and within meters was covered in bike height snow. A symbolic attempt of pushing the bike through ended 200m later. With my tail slung over my rear wheel, and turkish accented 'I told you so's ringing in my ears, I rolled and returned back to Petrosani to seek a new route to cross the Carpathians. The only consolation to all those climbed kilometers dripping back to whence they came were the views on the way down. Most mountain ranges form into wonderful landscapes, but the Romanian Carpathians have a peculiar quality which I think stems from how they don't soar like the Himalayas, but crowd thickly, and as such perhaps unveil their sights more dramatically.
The alternative route was another nature reserve through another river valley - the Jiu river to the South. I started out on the afternoon of the same day, not wanting to linger for to long so close to the day's defeat.
This was not a gentle meandering valley, but a towering and foreboding gorge, the sides so steep as to be impassable for a human without returning to all fours. All the trees were still naked, half of which were silver birch. The cliffs appeared to the front as jagged chalkboards with a chaos of white lightning across their face, similar to the Mark Tobey painting 'white writing'. This was drama writ on a landscape, so much so I even had to hang up on my ever-patient mother so as to fully appreciate it!
The drama was darkening as I found the first signs of humanity in an hour or so of riding. Lainici Monastery folded into view, an ancient hermitage with a troubled past: Hapsburg decrees, German wartime ransacking, and Soviet suppression have all left their mark on this stunning stronghold of Orthodox Christianity. With my mind fixed on my flimsy tent and certain ravenous brown bears awakening from hibernation, my medieval request for shelter and sustenance was granted without hesitation. The necessary cold vegetable broth was taken alongside Michel - the one monk who spoke some English, in a previous life he was an automotive engineer at Ford. His tour of the monastery was fascinating and full-bodied, that is aside from the gruesome reliquary proudly storing bone splinters of 16 different saints of the Orthodox faith. Safe to say after the day's trials, I was absent from the prayers of the small hours, restful in the dormitory. And thus the events of the evening more than atoned for the 'defeat of the day', the pang of an about-face was overwhelmed by the valley of birch and the monastery it cradled.