Day 11. The Eclipse. August the 11th 1999.
I woke early at about 6:30 am to torrential rain and thunder. It was not
looking good for the eclipse and I went back to sleep a bit worried. At
a more civilised hour I awoke again to find that the weather had improved
markedly, with clear blue skies as far as the eye could see. Excellent.
After making a pitiful impression on a quite enormous breakfast we
sat around and failed to decide on where we were going to see the eclipse.
Bogdan and Sergio arrived, and on their urging we decided that the EnduRoMania
headquarters at a hostel/farmhouse/Chinese medicine centre a few miles
into the mountains would be a good choice. The only drawback with this
plan was that, being as it was an enduro event, the road up there wasn't
really. It was OK for the first 10 miles, allegedly, then became a track.
We decided to ride up the good road and then decide on the track when we
got there. I was co-opted to transport Bogdan, who mentioned that a recent
flood had carved away the banks of the river in the valley we were to ride
up, and that in places the road had been undercut. He arranged to warn
me when these places came up. He needn't have bothered, In some places
half the road was suspended in mid air, and in others it had simply fallen
in. Not easy to miss.
We then climbed up out of the valley and through an abandoned pithead.
Where the road ran out, but only temporarily. I managed to ride through
the rough bit without too much trouble, but the next bad section, straight
but deep gravel was more tricky, the bike slewed sideways as the front
dug in, but remembering Jeremy's advice I gave it a bit more throttle,
the bike straightened up and all was well. I had been wanting to try offroad
riding for a while, but hadn't envisaged doing it 2-up on an FJ.
We passed an abandoned hydro-electricity building scheme, just the
foundations of what would have been a sizeable dam and the abutments blasted
into the walls of a gorge. In time we arrived at the point where road ended
(after a wrong turn when Bogdan mistook his route). I abandoned Bogdan
there (as Sergio was there with a Landrover) and, emboldened by my earlier
exploits decided to ride the FJ up to the meeting point. A triumph of machismo
over common sense. Similarly afflicted were Jim, Marvin, Crispin and Mike.
Jeremy was on the Tiger so not riding up was never an option. It wasn't
all that bad, and much easier without a pillion. Fording the river with
a loose gravel bed was probably the hardest part. The others with more
sense set off to walk. Eventually we were all once more assembled, and
after an abortive attempt to watch an enduro video (the power went off)
Those with camera equipment set it up and I broke out the welding filters.
Jeremy didn't have a tripod so blagged one off of a French television crew.
Kevin had one, but had forgotten it, so scrounged a lift back to the hostel
on the back of an enduro bike.
Then it was a matter of waiting. Bands of cloud kept passing worryingly
overhead, and it was quite tense wondering if we would get to see the eclipse.
After lots of worried waiting first contact happened, and the moon started
to eat away at the disc of the sun. It all happened rather slowly, and
with the cloud cover, intermittently. Fortunately the head of the Romanian
motorcycle federation had brought his daughter, and ogling her was an acceptable
substitute for watching the eclipse. We later found out she was only 16.
As totality approached, it got strangely dim, and quiet. The wind (which
had been fairly fresh) dropped to nothing, and all sounds of wildlife ceased.
Sadly, total cloud cover also came over, and we couldn't see anything at
all as it got darker and darker, in a strange way as it was clearly daylight
all round us, like an all-round sunrise. Suddenly the cloud parted and
we saw the glorious spectacle of the total eclipse. The corona could be
seen clearly to be reaching out a good half sun diameter and was unexpectedly
colourful, with reds, blues and electric pink shades. Then the cloud closed
up again and remarkably rapidly it got light again. It seemed to have lasted
barely an instant, but both photographers got off 90s exposures, so we
probably actually got 2 minutes or so.
It was an amazing sight, and one I will never forget. I don't think
I can do it justice here, so I won't even try.
After the event things started to feel rather anticlimactic. No-one
seemed that interested in talking to us, and the EnduRoManiacs were all
settling down to eat. We had been hoping to scrounge rides on proper enduro
bikes, but it didn't look like it was going to happen so we decided to
head out and go for a ride to the Danube gorge. Back down the track we
went and regrouped back at the hostel. Kevin stayed behind to manufacture
emergency headlight lenses from plastic drinks bottles (top improvisation),
Mike decide to try to repair the mirror which had died in Switzerland.
I can't remember who went on the trip and who didn't, but the ride down
there was OK, the Danube gorge was an impressive sight and the Danube itself
was distinctly lacking in blueness. On the other side of the river was
Serbia, a country the UN had been bombing in our name just weeks before.
We realised we were in range of snipers and hid the union jacks. Back at
the hostel another marvellous spread greeted us when we got back, and we
stayed up drinking and talking to the wee small hours.
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