Words by Dalene Heck / Photography by Pete Heck
Ask Pete about the one thing he misses from our more “settled” life, and he’ll give you a quick answer: driving. Cruising the open road or careening through traffic, speeding and weaving, and generally just having the freedom to be in total control of his journey.However, but, au contraire – I definitely don’t miss his driving. In fact, it has historically been a bit of a sore spot between us.
During our first few years of marriage we got along famously. Sure, we had little tiffs like normal couples do, but the only notable thing we really came to blows over was his aggressive driving. Nary an excursion would pass without my heart nearly leaping from my throat, my imaginary passenger-side brake foot pressing to the floor, my knuckles turning white from gripping the door. His mantra, repeated over and over was: “But I’ve never been in an accident,” to which I always replied: “Yet.”
Finally, after many years, countless arguments, and my constant begging for him to slow down, stop weaving, and put more space between us and the vehicle in front, he relented. When I finally asked him: “Do you realize how much of a panic this puts me in every time you drive? Do you really want to make your wife feel this way?” he realized that his answer to both those questions was no. And thus, his scary driving habits were broken. (And on the odd time when they would creep back in, I would just have to say: “Don’t drive like an asshole, K?” and he would ease off.)
“Don’t drive like an asshole, K?” I said again, many, many years later, this time standing at the peak of the Transfagarasan road. “Or, at least, if you want to drive like an asshole, then do it alone, and come back up and get me after.” I acknowledged that the boy inside his brain was likely bursting with excitement, knowing that those curves were begging to be taken at a good speed.
At the peak is the stunning Balea Lake, casting perfect reflections on its still water, shielded from the wind by a circle of green and snowy mountains. With some time to spare during our stop at the top, we also made the steep hike to see Capra Lake, which gave us some moments of divine seclusion before being chased back down by heavy cloud that rolled in. And as we stood at the peak, staring down at the famous ribbons of asphalt we would soon be cruising, I could see the twitch in Pete’s feet and the glimmer in his eye. Just the night before he had watched the Top Gear episode of the British car enthusiast’s epic road trip here, and had read every article that listed this highway as one of the must-do rides of a lifetime. Our little rental Opel was not exactly his ideal set of wheels (especially considering we had already endured one flat tire earlier in the day), but it would have to do.
But the speedy joyride would not be. The spectacular scenery repeatedly caused pause, and the condition of the road along with the turtle’s pace at which other cars moved in front of us meant a more cautious and gradual descent.
Pete was thankfully not too disappointed; it frankly would have been hard to complain after the sensational landscapes we had feasted on the entire day. And I was appreciative too, for being able to keep my heart relaxed in my chest and for not having to call my husband an asshole (which I never like to do).
Of course this post comes with a short and juicy video of our drive for your viewing pleasure…
how to do it
Visiting the Transfagarasan on a day trip can be done from several points in Romania (Sibiu is the closest city). Note that if you rent a car from Sibiu, in order to be able to pick it up downtown, a reservation must be made in advance (or else you end up taking a cab in the airport to pick one up there, like we did).