It had to happen to one of us sooner or later. It just happened to be me that was first. What started as a good day, later descended into one I’d rather forget.
The day started well; we woke to beautiful misty views across the Danube and, after a quick bowl of cereal, we were on the road by 08:30.
There was sharp climb out of the village then, a few KMs into the ride, we joined the E70: a main trunk road adjacent to the Danube. After cycling on the Euro Velo 6 path and quiet country roads, it was a shock to the system to have countless lorries thunder past us. To be fair, there was a reasonable hard shoulder and the majority of the trucks gave us gave us plenty of room; but it was a bit hairy when we had to cycle through a tunnel with a juggernaut bearing down on us from behind.
The traffic eased off but the terrain didn’t. We started ascending the day’s main climb, which was about 6km long at 8%-10% gradient. It was now midday and we felt the full force of the sun on our faces. Sweat dripped from my forehead and pooled on the inner rims of my sunglasses until it poured, in one go, onto my shorts, mixing with the salt patterns that had already formed on my thighs from the previous days’ cycling.
At the summit, I spied a patch of shade by a layby and called for a quick time out out to get my breath back. As soon as I stopped the bike I didn’t feel well, but I couldn’t quite place why.
I managed to prop my bike up and leant against a concrete buttress at the side of the layby. Suddenly, a huge wave of dizziness hit me. The world in front of me rotated but I couldn’t focus on it. My legs went weak and, had I not had my back against the wall, I’d have fallen to the ground in the litter-strewn ditch.
I took a step forward and lay down on the filthy floor. A mangy mutt approached and licked its lips as If I were to be his first and only meal for the month.
At this point, Emily took over. She mixed a High5 energy drink and commanded me to drink it whilst force-feeding me sugary sweets.
Once I felt a little better, we decided to find somewhere more comfortable to rest so crossed the road towards a small stand where two kids were selling honey. Beside their stand was a large metal box, which was in the shade, so I motioned to them that I wanted to sit on it. They agreed that I could, but without looking me in the eye.
I sat on the box, tilted my head back and closed my eyes. I could hear buzzing. Was this a symptom of the dizziness? I opened my eyes and saw a cloud of bees buzzing by my head. It was only then that I released that the metal box I was sat on was one of the many mobile bee-hives we’ve seen in the fields throughout Serbia and Romania. I had sat on a beehive! The kids selling the honey looked on blankly, possibly wondering why anyone would do such a thing.
Emily got the stools out and, after another High5 and sugary sweets we moved on and tentatively took on the descent.
Emily decided it was time to eat, so a few KMs further on, we found a grassy spot under a big tree outside a police station. Sandwiches were consumed slowly; with every mouthful I had the overarching desire to fall asleep.
We discussed weather we should continue or find somewhere to rest up. I wanted to continue but, every time I got to my feet, I immediately had to lie down again. Emily was clearly concerned as to whether we should continue. I wanted to give it one last go because we still had over 80km to do so, after my 5th attempt, I made it onto the bike and back on to the road.
With about 75km on the clock, and the same distance again to go, we stopped at a petrol station to stock up on water. Sadly, with my first sip of water, my sandwiches reappeared in a somewhat more diluted form as a puddle by my feet.
However, I almost instantly felt better.
I got back on the bike and I plodded on, keeping on Emily’s back wheel for a further 25km along the trunk road. (No change there, some might say!).
We stopped at another fuel station and, as Emily went in to buy more water, I lay on my back on the paving at the side of the kiosk. This, apparently, caused a scene and, as Emily emerged from the shop, a couple of motorists asked her if I was OK. Right on cue, I scurried to the grass verge to be ill again. My body simply wasn’t taking in all the liquid I’d consumed.
Emily had a quick conference with a motorist who’d stopped and asked about accommodation nearby. The closest being 25km away. Our intended destination was still 40km away.
Again, I felt marginally better after being ill, so we got back on the bikes to see how further we could get. By this time, I’d lost all strength and if was an effort just to look at Emily’s back wheel let alone keep up with it.
It was a touh decision to make but, in the state I was, It would not have been possible to complete the 40km to our intended destination, Calafat.
We plugged the nearest accommodation into the sat nav and made our way towards that, 2km as the crow flies, but an agonizing 7km by road. All I wanted to do was lie down and go to sleep but Emily was really keen that we slept near to civilization and not in a field (just for peace of mind).
With 5km to go, the final hurdle was a short and steep hill; which I simply didn’t have the energy to climb. I looked at the map and thought I could see an off-road route that would bypass the hill so we pulled onto a track, where two farmers watched as I was ill again at the side of the road.
I was wrong about the shortcut so, we had to take on the hill. However, I simply didn’t have the energy. About a quarter of the way up I had stopped and Emily put her bike to one side, ascended on my bike and left it at the top, then ran down to walk with me and her bike up the hill. I simply couldn’t ride or push the bike up to the top, I cannot remember ever feeling this weak. I knew in my head it was only about 5km more to go, now downhill but it took every once of energy, and a lot of gentle encouragement to get me to the hotel on the banks of the Danube, some 30km short of our intended destination.
Emily was told that ‘they were full as they were holding s festival’ but after a bit of pleading and pointing in my direction (I was now a familiar position lying on my back at the side of the road) the hotelier miraculously found us a room.
I was ill once more en route to the bedroom, to the surprise of the hotel workers but once I was inside, it was a quick shower then a power nap.
We put the day’s episode down to dehydration. And it’s no surprise really. We’ve been cycling in temperatures in the late 30s and, foolishly, we haven’t been stopping for enough water since we have been in Romania – I think this is because there has not been a water pump in every village we pass through. Foolish in hindsight. I remembered that I hadn’t really drunk anything the night before whereas, normally, we’d drink at least a litre of water in the evenings.
Emily mixed up two rehydration sachets during the evening and, although I wasn’t able to eat anything, I spent the evening sipping salty drinks whilst listening to the sounds of the music and film festival outside.
The hotel itself was wonderful. It’s owned by a poet and they have various cultural events throughout the year. It was very tempting to stay another night there but, after a good breakfast, I managed to find a 30km shortcut meaning we didn’t have to add on yesterday’s missed mileage to reach tonight’s destination, Bechet where, I’m writing this sipping a water and feeling, thankfully better.
A lesson was learnt the hard way but we are both glad we have some decent first aid knowledge that allowed us to monitor our situation and stay safe.
If you’ve enjoyed reading this blog post, please donate to World Bicycle Relief. Every penny goes to the great work the charity does in Africa – not to fund our expedition in any way.