Rallye FIM 1976
Part 2 - The Great Escape.
Parts of Bucharest are very beautiful but we must have got stuck in the bad areas
- Ben Crossley
Romania was a big letdown. The only interesting part was the Carpathian Mountains. Brasov, the most modern city we saw in the whole country, lies at the foot of the Meridonal Carpathians on the edge of the plains. After camping here for the night we set out through the mountains. The most striking feature of the area was the great variety of roofs, all tiled in different materials and every building covered in gable upon gable, towers and even tiled chimneys. Unfortunately our schedule for the journey out did not give us sufficient time to explore this beautiful area or photograph the buildings. (Excuses)
The fifth day brought us to Neptuna. Everywhere in Romania we were 'ripped off' and cheated. At the rally we were not allowed to have our motorcycles. Everyone complained about this and the British contingent of fifty staged a spontaneous 'sit in' at the International Jury rooms. We left after being promised a review of the situation. But the following day we were told we still could not have our bikes out of the police and navy guarded compound.
Many British people may be apathetic or idle and claim their sluggish temperament is a phlegmatic characteristic. It was not from among that type of individuals that the British rally contingent had sprung. We did not go two thousand miles across Europe to be phlegmatic.
The Italians had already gone to the compound in twos and threes and were having a splendid time arguing with the guards and anyone else they could involve. This served a dual purpose; it got the Italians nowhere and it blocked up the entrance for everyone else. The British, with some Danes and Aussies as allies, decided that things needed to be put right. It required only three things - A Plan executed with Precision and Luck.
The police were bound to try to arrest people so we had to keep together. We marched as a body the two or three miles to the compound. Reconnaissance scouts told us of the situation at the entrance where the Italians were still causing havoc. We also found an alternative entrance from which all but a few guards had been drawn to the Italian front.
The guards wanted to check our papers but this would have caused an intolerable delay and only allowed us to enter as a thin stream. We therefore brushed them aside with typical British disdain. Fortunately we all had a few extra tins of Disdain with us because, for best results, it must be brushed thick. Once in the compound we soon had the bikes running and after checking that no-one was about to be left behind we started the escape.
At this critical stage the whole action could easily be lost by a moment of indecision or an unfortunate move. At the entrance we only had seconds. There was a metal barrier and a steel cable. The barrier was heaved out of the way but the cable would not succumb to pincers so we had to hold it up and ride beneath it. The police, at first taken by surprise, rushed out, but it was too late. With the first half dozen through the wire they just did not know how to deal with the situation short of shooting us. Fortunately they did not do that so all fifty of us got through.
A quarter of a mile down the road we reformed ranks to make sure that no-one got snatched from the back. Every road junction was covered by the police but they were helpless in the face of fifty bikers in hot blood. We rode straight back to the campsite where we celebrated in the same manner as after the Battle of Waterloo - a nice cuppa tea.
Our success had a galvanising action on the rest of the two thousand rallyists.
"Did they let you out?"
"How did you get out then?"
"How could they stop us?"
By mid afternoon there had been so many escapes and such bedlam at the compound that the organisers capitulated and allowed all of the bikes out. But not until many more battles had been fought. For instance, a German/Norwegian group escaped successfully but could not get into the campsite. They numbered about thirty to begin with but the police kept misdirecting them around town and they kept losing numbers. Many were separated and returned under guard to the compound and only about ten eventually made it to the campsite after following the edge of the lake on a precipitous path and then pulling down a steel fence. The police had not guarded that approach as they thought it impassable.
To be truthful, it was the best part of the rally. Until then we might have been at a funeral but once we had the bikes back it was like a carnival. In the centre of the site a huge market sprang up where everyone bartered stickers, badges, tee-shirts and anything else possible.
At the prize giving on the last evening the hall was packed. The French and Italians were in the centre flanked on one side by Scandinavians and on the other side by Dutch, Germans and British. When the chairman stood to address the rallyists he was met by a Mexican wave of stereophonic booing. After thirty minutes of this they got the message.
Next morning we got up early to complete our escape and get out of Romania. We retraced our outward journey across the Danube and stopped nearby for breakfast. Everywhere were signs forbidding us from taking photographs. The place we stopped could not be called a cafe. If we wanted coffee they expected us to supply the ingredients. We then continued on new roads leading to Bucharest. Like the Hungarian capital this city is very short of road signs. I have heard that parts of Bucharest are very beautiful but we must have got stuck in the bad areas. The good bits were cobbles and tram tracks. The only modern feature of the whole place was the traffic jam. We were all glad to get out of Bucharest.
The road on the other side of Bucharest was a pleasant surprise, modern, wide and traffic free. We stopped along here for a short break and petrol.
At the end of this major road the route once more deteriorated but we rattled on through the eastern edge of the Carpathians. At one place we had to stop to put some screws back into a headlamp bracket. Unfortunately this allowed some storm clouds to outflank us and at Craiova the heavens opened. We stood under trees for an hour soaking up water then, as there was no sign of a break, recontinued with the aim of finding a hotel. Within five miles we were back on dry roads with no sign of rain!
We were now pushing on with some desperation to get out of this accursed country, but our haste was our downfall. Steve Shutie ran out of petrol and to add extra delay the rest of us got stuck on the wrong side of a level crossing trying to get back to him. After siphoning some petrol across we continued slowly until we found a filling station. They only had low grade fuel of course, a kind of diluted paraffin.
We struggled on against the low sun but were forced to admit we would need to spend another night in the damned country. At a small hostelry we saw a number of motorcycles and tents so we pulled up for the night.
We put the tents up quickly and made a beeline for the restaurant, not having eaten since breakfast. What a blow! They would not serve us as it was almost eight o'clock. We stormed the kitchen and bought an old loaf of black bread for half a quid.
We spent the rest of the evening watering down a packet of cuppa-soup and sponging it into our mouths with morsels of bread. We followed up with coffee and then retired.
The only bright spot was that we were within spitting distance of the Iron Gate and the border with Jugoslavia.
Greybeard aka Ben Crossley
Next issue .. Bastille Day.