EASTERN EUROPEAN RALLY

Invited to take part in the Eastern European Rally, RUST sent along intrepid Kiwi Nick Lines. Here’s his report…

‘Please come with me Sir….’ Those were the ominous words I was rather hoping to avoid whilst trying to cross the Hungary-Romania border without my passport…

We had been having a blast on the Eastern European rally - a kind of fun, yet competitive rally-raid event run by Dutch outfit Leppink Adventure - riding and racing through Poland, Slovakia and Hungary so far. And after spending two days in the first three countries it was time to move on to the holy grail of off road riding: Romania. However before I could enter Romania there was the small matter of my missing passport. I was about to run into some serious ‘red tape’...

Traditionally when crossing national borders, it helps to have a passport with you (ahem), but mine was conveniently stashed in my bag, which had been loaded onto a support truck that morning… which in turn had travelled four hours ahead of the bikes into Romania in order to get everything set-up for our arrival later that afternoon.

I had little choice but to attempt to cross the border with a smile and minimal documentation. Approaching the checkpoint I sat right in the middle of about 15 bikes as the officials approached us. Everyone handed over their documentation but I feigned confusion and casually handed over my driving license hoping by a miracle to be simply waved through with the others… how wrong I was.

One by one everyone else was let through whilst I was asked to sit to the side. Officials were coming and going but no-one seemed to be in any hurry to sort me out. I had a race to catch. Finally sick of waiting and attempting to call their bluff I asked for my documents back and (with a cheeky smile) I told them I was going to just drive into Romania. Guns clicked, barriers came down and it was made very clear to me that should I attempt to enter their country without the proper documentation I would be dealing with Mr Kalashnikov.

That meant I soon found myself riding back into Hungary and meeting up with the official at the previous stage and calling the big boss, Gerjan. Now Gerjan is no stranger to Eastern Europe and was confident he could get me through without having to wait for my passport to arrive. We duly returned to the border and were met by the same officials who funnily enough gave him the same answer they’d given me…

 However Gerjan is a very persuasive man and somehow managed to get the officials to park us right in ‘no mans land’ between the two countries. Here we waited until a new guy came along. He was young and smartly dressed in what appeared to be a brand new uniform. He started asking us both questions the others had not, and seemed more determined than the others to ascertain our exact business. After another half hour of inquisition I had had enough and was going to return to Hungary again and try another crossing.

But the Border guard was having none of this and refused to return my documentation - as apparently I now didn’t have the proper documentation for Hungary either. So I could go nowhere without my passport which was now about five hours away, although thankfully on the way back to me, courtesy of Gerjan.

‘Come this way Sir, we need to ask you some further questions’ they said, and led me away to the local police station. I was kept under guard but allowed outside, asked lots of random questions, and given a £17 fine, before finally being returned to the border where my passport had been waiting for about an hour.

We had now finally arrived where we would spend most of our time on the rally - at the holy grail of off road riding - Romania. Romania with its lax rules and outstanding scenery has it all. That includes snow fields, grassy pasture, alpine meadows, clear rivers, logging tracks, fast gravel tracks, you name it… Romania has it in spades.

Spending four days touring around the north of the country took us to places that in all honesty you’d normally only see in movies. Let’s be clear about this, in some parts of the country there is still a healthy population of wolves and bears. Romania still has plenty of ‘wild’ places and one group of riders came face to face with a bear, which looked at them before ambling off. Not something you would usually encounter on the lanes of Hertfordshire.

Most days riding was around 250km and that would involve minimal tarmac, The off roading usually comprised of gravel forestry roads and cross county trails used by traditional herders who live in the mountains during the summer months. Sometimes these trails are well defined paths, other times they are just grassy meadows with a hint of a worn track where the animals have been herded on and off the mountain depending upon the season.

One thing everyone in the group quickly came to be aware of is the herders’ dogs. Most herders will have their own working dogs as well as three or so, ‘bear dogs’. These dogs are huge and supposed to be only interested in chasing bears away although they quite liked to chase the bikes and boy can they run fast….

Pole to Pole

The rally begins in Poland (fly into Krakow, it is then approximately 70km to the hotel where the rally starts). The hotels included in the price are certainly not 5-star, but are - I guess - the eastern European equivalent of a 3-star UK hotel. Certainly they’re more than comfortable enough for a bunch of tired and dirty bikers with all the facilities you’d expect. On a normal day we would have breakfast at 7.00am and dinner by 9.00pm, lunch was simply bought by the side of the road in one of the plentiful cafes and eateries. Prices were typically less than 5 euros for lunch, and often significantly less.

Run over eight days this rally is best described simply as FUN. Whilst there is plenty of competition and awards up for grabs, it’s more about friendly rivalry and camaraderie than who wins overall. It all feels like one big adventure that we’re all in together. Ultimately it all comes down to navigation and how well you can interpret the road book (or Trippy) and still ride at a decent speed.

For those who are not familiar with road book rallies basically you are given a roll of paper at the start of the event. The roll includes all the directions you will need to complete the route on any given day, drawn out in a series of diagrams. It will include any special instructions such as deep river crossings, and distances between instructions…. And herein lies the challenge, your distance is recorded on a tripmeter called an ICO, if you have made a wrong turn then you have a challenge of figuring out where you are on the road book, and where to get back to, in order for the ICO to correspond with your road book distance. Fortunately these trip-meters are adjustable up and down, so once you’re back on the route you can re-set it to match your roadbook.

For those of you that feel this may be a struggle, there is another way to complete the route. Gerjan  will happily hire you a Trippy, which is basically a Sat Nav showing the route on a large screen mounted on your handlebars. Additionally everyone must carry a GPS unit which is preloaded with each day’s waypoints, so although you may take a wrong turn you will always know the general direction you need to be heading (at a glance) or it will also display the exact point of the next waypoint, you will never be lost. However the challenge of getting a good result relies heavily on sharp navigation skills.

The organization of the event is outstanding. Try to imagine going on holiday with a bunch of friends, all of whom are into dirt bikes and someone has organized a route for you all to follow, but without having to stick to a strict itinerary. This is the principle behind the Eastern European Rally - it’s all about the riding, the fun and the relaxed atmosphere.

There are no serious officials or arguing about the rules, it is a rally you would take someone who was maybe interested in doing rallies but wasn’t sure. With a target number of entrants around 50 it is highly unlikely that this will become the next Dakar rally, but that is the beauty of this event, it is what it is and Gerjan will go to great lengths to ensure it retains the same relaxed feel.

Gerjan also organizes other rallies, but the main point of this one is fun and it definitely delivered. Gerjan makes a point of keeping out of the politics of the competition itself and focuses his time and efforts purely on making sure everyone is having a good time. As this goes to print he is out camping in the Romanian mountains, mapping new routes for next year’s event. Let’s hope he remembered to take his dogs along…

Facts about the rally

Run by: Leppink Adventure - Gerjan

Number of competitors: 40-50 per year

Total distance: Approx 2400km spread over 8 days

Countries visited: Poland-Slovakia-Hungary-Romania (and back in reverse order)

Main Nationality: Dutch (English speaking)

Riding: everything you can think of, but mostly gravel tracks, forest trails and rolling hills.

Bike requirements: smallest bike this year was 250 2T, however most were on 450s and a few on big rally bikes who seemed to get around with not too many issues

What to bring: Passport! Apart from that you won’t need anything you wouldn’t take with you for a week’s riding in the UK. The weather can vary but in general it wasn’t too cold and some days it was possibly to ride without a jacket. For the bike just bring the usual spares plus a spare rear tyre as you will most likely wear it out. The event isn’t particularly hard on bikes or riders, but it is a great challenge…

Sadly it would appear at the time of uploading this feature the Eastern European Rally is fully booked. However Leppink Adventure also do an Atlas and Desert tour, Rally Raid Spain and an Alantejo Rally in Portugal. Get in touch with Gerjan Leppink at www.leppinkadventure.nl for further details.

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