Life is a highway and the best road in the world just got even better…
Love him or loath him, it’s hard to argue with Jeremy Clarkson’s (former host of Top Gear and The Grand Tour) verdict of Romania’s Transfaragasan Highway as “the best road in the world”. And the innovative team at travel company The Adventurists believe they’ve found a way to make the best even better – by throwing miniature motorbikes into the mix for the latest edition of their Monkey Run series.
The Adventurists are, as their name suggests, responsible for some of the world’s most exciting adventures, ranging from The Mongol Rally (billed as the “Greatest Adventure in the World”) to the Mongol Derby, possibly the world’s toughest horse race – a 1,000km journey across the Mongolian steppe. Three years ago they launched the Monkey Run, which saw participants dropped in the Sahara and tasked with crossing the Atlas Mountains and reaching the Moroccan coast on tiny 50cc Monkey Bikes. After just the right mix of thrills, spills and camels, the success of the Moroccan Monkey Run led to the creation of the Monkey Run Peru and now the Romanian Monkey Run.
This crazy crew are always keen to show off the baby bikes’ prowess on some of Europe’s most exciting roads and trails, surrounded by epic vistas, via the Transfaragasan Highway. Whilst there’s no defined route set for the Monkey Run, riders saddle up in the city of Sighetu Marmatiei, close to the border with Ukraine, before travelling a few hundred kilometres to a location outside of Deva. In true Adventurists’ style, there are parties thrown at either end so riders can meet fellow participants and then share heroic tales of adventure and compare battle-bruises.
The fact there is no set route isn’t a result of the organisers lacking a good road map, it’s quite the opposite. It’s at the heart of what The Adventurists are all about and they actively promote getting lost and heading off the beaten track. “There are a few spots we’d recommend everyone tries to hit, such as the Transfaragasan Highway, Dracula’s Castle and Berca Mud Volcano,” explains Founder Tom Morgan. “But beyond that we encourage riders to look at their maps as little as possible. They’ve chosen this route to throw the most spectacular scenery in your path in the hope you’ll get utterly lost fighting your way through the foresty mountains and ripping down the highways.
“The idea of the Monkey Runs is to give people a true adventure that allows them to get under the skin of the country they’re in in a way that a normal holiday wouldn’t,” says Morgan. “There’s no set route, no backup and no support. That’s the whole point. You could just rock up, enjoy the launch party, team up with another rider and ride in tandem the length of the country to the finish line and you’d have an amazing time.”
However, there’s nothing like a little mishap in the back end of nowhere if you want to experience something truly memorable that forces you to embrace your surroundings and the people in it. “These are the moments that modern life is missing,” says Morgan. “We believe the world is far too safe and organised, that we’ve come to live in ever decreasing circles of freedom. Fear of litigation, greed and a spineless refusal to take responsibility for ourselves, have robbed us of one of the most interesting things in life – the unexpected. The Monkey Run rails against this. It forces you to be lost, to not know what’s around the next corner, to embrace the unknown. It’s like a jungly, mountainy, deserty velvet glove of adventuring joy. So grab your sweaty hand and shove it inside.”
The Monkey Run Romania is also an adventure that takes the impractical brilliance of a Monkey Bike – a vehicle so delightfully ludicrous for even the shortest of jaunts – and tosses it head first into some of the most demanding and challenging stretches of road that have been laid out on planet Earth. This drive for genuine adventure is why The Adventurists specifically chose Monkey Bikes rather than more comfortable or powerful rides.
“Monkey Bikes are a whole lot of fun and it’s hard to take a serious fall,” Morgan says. “Because they’re low to the ground they also feel much faster than they are, but in reality they’re slow enough for you to truly appreciate the landscape you’re travelling through. They’re perfect for this trip and they’re bound to break down at some point, which means you’ll be forced to engage with the locals and find out what the country and culture are all about.”
What’s more, the team truly believe there’s nothing quite like the sensation of a Monkey Bike between your thighs as you thunder, slowly, along dirt roads with absolutely no idea where you are. And they should know – as you glance up, there, staring down at you like a baby ant in a tinyness competition might be some of the highest mountains on Earth. Imagine endless jungles lying in wait to punch your cheeky face with the fist of adventure. Imagine deserts that stretch far beyond the horizon chuckling at your woefully underpowered two-wheel children’s toy.
Sure, you could grab yourself a multi-million pound supercar and shred up the highways, but that wouldn’t give you access to the miles and miles of demanding off-road terrain the Monkey Bike just hates to love. And the roads in Romania not only offer some of the most incredible asphalt roads in the world but also thousands of miles of forest trails that will challenge every ounce of you and your trusty steed.
To find out more about and/or sign up for the Monkey Run (there’s also editions in Peru and Morocco), a week-long adventure, head over to www.theadventurists.com/monkey-run.
WHO ARE THE ADVENTURISTS?
It all started in 2003 with a bloke named Tom Morgan who was hell bent on launching the Mongol Rally in his spare time. Having tried to drive to Mongolia in 2001 and failed miserably with his university mate Joolz Ingram, Tom created a website and invited the world to join him for the 2004 Rally. It was all part of the grandiloquently named “Morgan Institute of Adventure Research”. This somewhat strangely formed the final show of his art degree. On the website, alongside joining the Mongol Rally, it suggested people set themselves on fire and other such life enhancing ideas. From this stupidity has grown quite a beast. Now, at times, “Founder and Chief Idiot” Tom has over 500 people work together to stage races and adventures all over the world. And they’ve only just begun.
WHAT IS MONKEY RUN ROMANIA?
Although the Monkey Run Romania is still a relatively new one for The Adventurists, it is home to the Transfaragasan and Transalpina highways, epic slithers of road strewn across the Romanian landscape like a plate of dropped spaghetti. This run launches forth from the city of Sighetu Maramatiei in the North and a week later staggers heroically over the finish line at the Dark Ravens Clubhouse.