Chased


"I'm going downhill!" my sister yelled, as she grabbed her bike, hurled herself over the seat and vanished down a twist in the mountain road.

By the time I reached my own bike, the dogs would be on me. If I ran, they would chase me and I had no chance against five huge Romanian mountain hounds.

So I froze where I stood, my mind blank with fear.

Sixty seconds earlier, me and my sister Bella had been standing at a shallow bend in the steep mountain road, taking a moment to drink water and gaze at the vast, forested landscape. Late evening sunlight danced between peaks and we had watched silently, caught by the simple majesty of the place.

The Romanian mountains are wild in a way that has long since disappeared from the UK. Wolves and bears still roam the woods, and many villagers lead a peasant lifestyle that hasn't much changed over hundreds of years.

We noticed a small shepherd's hut nestled on the brow of the hill, a plume of smoke trickling from the thin chimney. Perhaps sensing our presence - or just coming out for a smoke - the shepherd emerged from his door, and we shouted ‘Ciao!’ and waved enthusiastically.

As two young girls cycling alone through the Romanian mountains we were met with a mixture of curiosity and friendliness. Children waved and old women in patterned headscarves called out from front porches. We would grin and respond in kind.

But this time, as the shouted greeting echoed through the valley, the air was ripped apart by baying dogs, who unseen a moment earlier were now hurtling up the hill towards us.

My sister, holding her bike, escaped immediately with the pack hard on her trail. Two peeled away and raced towards me, lips drawn back in angry snarls.

Then a whistle pierced through the air, followed by a volley of harsh, angry Romanian. An old, gnarled shepherd whipped into view. He threw rocks at the dogs with furious accuracy, striking the animals. The dogs who were running towards me slunk disappointedly back. He whistled some more, spat out another stream of furious Romanian and then looked at me sadly, shrugged and made apologetic sounds.

The spell broken, I nodded my thanks and grabbed my bike.

As I sped downhill after my sister, scenarios flicked through my mind. Almost as big as the bike itself, these dogs were half wild. Bella was prey and if they caught her, they would go for the kill.

The mountain itself was steep and Romanian lorry drivers flung their heavy articulated loads around the blind hairpin corners at impossible speeds. If Bella met a truck on a bend, speeding in the other direction, the outcome was unthinkable. The edges of the road fell vertically away into a bone-shattering mash of trees and sharp rocks. You would be unlikely to survive the fall.

Down and down I raced. Every turn in the road brought an appalling sob of fear and the immediate relief as there was nothing, nobody there.

Finally I rounded what must have been the hundredth bend and there was Bella stood by the side of the road, all intact. Shaking and crying we embraced, both talking hysterically, trying to reassure each other that we were in fact, OK, alive, yes, alive.

Later, calmer, we pulled ourselves back onto our saddles and resumed the gruelling thousand metre climb to the next village, arriving late into the dark night.

We continued our adventure for another six exhilarating weeks and were welcomed into family homes and on farms, shared brandy with travellers and government protesters. Camped with wild horses, trekked through mountain gorges. But now we always quietly checked for dogs, before shouting hello to an unknown shepherd.



D Ritzau-Reid

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