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Summer Lovin: Happened so fast, cadet biked so hard his brakes were trashed

Tom Coyne
 

Senior bikes through Romania with his dad for children's relief

 

August 12, 2022

Vlad Lovin ’23 (Company C) and his father, Radu, decided to spend time bicycling together this summer. They rode so much that they wore out their brakes. In a week. 

That’s because their chosen route, the Via Transilvanica trail through the Carpathian Mountains in Romania, can be hard on bicycles and the people who ride -- and frequently push -- them. That’s because much of the trail is off road through thick forests, meadows, barely marked trails, and grades that can be as steep as 60 percent. 

That meant backbreaking climbs and breakneck descents, which quickly wore down brake pads, during the 10-day, 500-mile journey. 

“Some kilometers took hours, and some took 30 seconds,” Vlad said. 

There are many techniques for pushing a bike up a mountain, he says, and Vlad and his dad tried them all. The hardest was when they were going up the steepest climbs pushing the bicycle, which weighs about 30 pounds, and their equipment, which weighed another 30 pounds, ahead a few feet, squeezing the brakes, and then pulling themselves forward. 

“The brakes are very important for pushing the bike up a wall-like hill that looks like a gateway to heaven,” Vlad says. 

 The Via Transilvanica is a grueling trail that can make the Tour de France look like a Sunday ride through the countryside. Video of the trip can be seen here. The ride was quite a challenge for the tough Lovins.

 

The view of Romania the morning after the first day of the Lovins' bike trip.

 

“You reach the top of the mountain and you’re like, ‘Finally!’  Then you look ahead and there’s another mountain. And then another one behind that,” Vlad said. “It felt never ending.” 

But they conquered all, raising nearly than $2,500 for Romanian Children’s Relief, which offers support to Romanian children and families in need and to prevent child abandonment. The organization serves more than 2,000 abandoned and at-risk children and children with special needs. He easily surpassed his $2,000 goal and people are still donating. 

Vlad’s parents are from Romania and he speaks the language fluently. He learned about the Via Transilvanica and the Romanian Children’s Relief while attending an event in Chicago with his parents and was inspired to help. 

“I decided to put these two things together and help the orphans. The Romanian Children’s Relief is doing such important work,” he said. 

It was quite a challenge for a 17-year-old whose previous long ride was 200 miles across Michigan. 

Just getting to the starting point in Putna, near the border of Ukraine, was exhausting. The Lovins took a 7.5-hour flight from Detroit to Amsterdam, had a 2.5-hour layover, then a three-hour flight to Bucharest, and a three-hour drive to Brasov, where his mother, Mihaela, grew up and his grandparents still live. After some sightseeing, there was an eight-hour bus trip and a half-hour train ride to get to the starting point in Putna. 

The ride got off to a rocky start because the bicycles they ordered were missing the cargo racks needed to carry their tent, sleeping bags, clothing and other gear for the trek. Also missing were extra inner tubes they ordered.

 

Along the trail of the bike trip.

 

That set them back about five hours while the owner of the hostel where they were staying drove them to the nearest bicycle shop, about 20 miles away, to get cargo racks. The shop only had one extra inner tube that fit their bikes. 

The goal was to go 100 kilometers, 0r 62 miles, a day. They planned to finish in eight days. But they didn’t realize how challenging the terrain would be, especially on the first day. 

“After three hours of pushing the bike, you’d only get five minutes downhill. That was really disheartening,” Lovin said. 

Instead of going 62 miles that first day, they barely went 12. 

“I felt like it would take a month to finish,” Lovin said. “That was the hardest day.” 

That first day wasn’t helped when Vlad spotted a sign warning people to beware of bears, and shortly after he and his dad spotted bear tracks. But they didn’t run across any bears. 

The Lovins continued to push ahead through the forest about an hour after the sun set when they met a shepherd about 11 p.m., who let them pitch their tent in a nearby field.

But they hadn’t eaten since lunch and they didn’t carry any food because they knew they’d pass through some villages along the way. The next morning they woke up and found a tree with small plums that would have to hold them until they could reach a village for lunch. 

 

Once Vlad and his father rode over one mountain, then there was another. And another.

 

The journey was never easy, but the ride became less problematic, and they occasionally hit a smooth downhill descent to enjoy. That would be followed by another arduous climb. 

But they also got to pass through centuries-old villages and visited some monasteries. They didn’t camp out every night, though, because they needed to stay in places with power so they could charge their equipment, including their camera, their phones, a computer, and a drone. The Romanian people, including a pair of shepherds and a priest, were incredibly hospitable. 

The Lovins spent one night in a smoke-filled shepherd’s hut and smelled like smoke the next three days.   

They finished at his grandparents’ home in Brasov – with no flat tires -- finishing a day earlier than planned. Vlad said his legs were tired for a week. 

 

At last the end of the line, in Brasov, Romania.

 

But, he said he’d like to do a 500-mile bike ride again, just on slightly different terrain. 

“Somewhere with no hills. Or if it is hilly, only downhill,” he said. “I’m tired of the hills.”

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