I love the Netherlands. The Dutch are probably some of the most approachable, friendliest and helpful people in Western Europe. Having said that, the options for off-road riding are between slim to non-existent, which is problematic. But if you take into consideration the mobility Amsterdam’s airport offers, the situation is not that bad. Until covid happened.

The local draconian covid restrictions have been a pain in the ass, but the nonsensical curfew was the last straw for me. I shipped my bike and gear to Bucharest and got a one way ticket out of the Netherlands. In all fairness Romania is plagued by covid measures too, but it is also one the best off-road destinations in Europe, which provides a welcome distraction from all the nonsense. The travel arrangements were not exactly simple and required some careful planning, but in the end I made it to Bucharest legally without mandatory testing or a quarantine. The greatest off-road destination in Europe welcomed my 500 and myself with open arms and wished a good stay. What more could one wish for?

The weather is currently uncharacteristically cold, and there is still plenty of snow in the Carpathian Mountains. So I’ve been riding in foothills of the Carpathians in its South-East corner. My buddy Jon from KIT690 recommended staying at Sărata-Monteoru, which also hosts some annual offroad races for bikes, quads and 4×4’s. The area seemed interesting, so I booked a room at Vila Europa and rode in. I did a small recce of the area during the first afternoon, and it seemed like a very versatile location. The trails varied from rocky creek beds to steep and rutted climbs and open rally sections over hilltop ridges. So a bit of everything.

My recce almost ended up in disaster, as I was too easy on the throttle while back wheeling over a soft muddy section. The front came down abruptly and I went over the bars with my right hand caught in the aluminium hand guards. Luckily the brake lever clamp was fairly loose, so it swung out of the way, making room for the wrist to slide out instead of trapping and breaking it. Either way, the wrist was badly sprained and I limped back to base. I was optimistic about being able to ride the next day when Jon arrived, but I messaged back to him, asking whether he could bring elastic compression gauze to stabilise the wrist for our ride the next day.

Jon arrived the next morning and we had two epic days of riding. He was on his Husky 450 FE Rally and I was on my 500 EXC, so essentially the same bikes but in very different trims. It was an interesting combination, as Jon is primarily a successful rally racer and I’m and enduro enthusiast with no racing pedigree. It was fascinating to watch his work ethic. I had no chance of keeping up with him on the wide open sections, and he seemed to have a different mindset entirely, compared to mine. When clearing a difficult section my instinct is to get the heart rate down and recover for a second on the easier section, as opposed to Jon doing the opposite; he seemed to possess a racers’ killer instinct to seek maximum speed at every section, and he’d disappear into the horizon as soon as the trail opened up. It was very impressive to behold. But it was not like he had to wait for me at every turn; the roles were reversed once we hit technical and especially steep sections. All in all, it was very illuminating, as an enduro dude, to ride along side with a pure bred rally racer. We represented two very different disciplines, with some overlap, which I had probably not understood well enough earlier.

After Jon left, I had another two days, of riding which I spent on exploring the steeper and nastier trails of the region. Although the area offhand seems like boring foothills, it is far from it. The area offered an abundance of trails of every sort and difficulty level. The only thing that was missing were very rocky and steep creek bed climbs.

The accommodation at Vila Europa was great and the family running it was friendly and spoke good English. There was safe parking for the bike and the room was spacious and clean. A copious breakfast was included and dinner was available in the evening. All in all it was more like a homestay than a guest house, and I ended up extending my stay with an extra two days. The trails started within 400 m from their gate, so the location was perfect.