Let me start from the end because it summarizes the whole day in one picture. I was in a forest in the middle of Germany, near to nowhere else in the World, hanging in a hammock suspended between a tree and my motorbike. Next to me was a small river, I took a swim in it, it was better than a hot bath at home. The small campfire I had set up before now was slowly dying. I put a can of meat balls with peanut sauce in the middle of it, a royal treat. On top of that the Sun was setting down casting everything in golden light.
That’s how I completed the first leg of my Journey. And I really felt complete. It was this kind of a day that makes you feel you earned your right to go to sleep. I covered 500km from Amsterdam using only back roads, that took me about 8 hours. I didn’t bother with the highways, which is not as easy as you might think. In The Netherlands they are all over the place and every road sign points to them. I had to work really hard with my map. GPS? I need no stinking GPS! I could get to Poland in one day using the highways, but that was not the point. It would be fucking boring, anyway, and that’s not why I like riding motorbikes. I actually tried to make it as long as possible, just for fun. Waking up and knowing that all I’m gonna do today is riding, seems to be one of the best feelings in the world. I wanted to go to sleep and wake up as quickly as possible, but my head was full of “Easy Rider” and “Into the Wild” visions, songs, scenes and dialogs.
As I lie in my hammock it didn’t matter that I had a little bit of rain on the way. I forgot about those terrible fries in a snackbar near the border, muscle pain didn’t bother me at all, the fact that I had caught cold the day before was the least of my worries. The way I felt then made all those things go away. Now, sleeping in a hammock wasn’t as easy as I thought. Like most things that you think you know everything about but never done. When you actually face the reality it appears to be somehow different, more difficult or completely other way round than you had expected. Those things taught me a little respect and changed my attitude towards things I actually never did for real. I accept that I know nothing about it before I try it. And listening to people who talk like experts about things they only saw on TV or read about makes me sick.
Anyway, I woke up when the Sun was already high. I had some almond cakes and aspirin for breakfast. When I started to look for that place yesterday, I was already running on reserve. As I had no fuel gauge on my bike I had to make educated guesses based on my milage about how much fuel was left in the tank. I made 20km since I had to switch the fuel valve to reserve, so I knew I could keep on going for less than 30km. Seemed fine, but it was a Sunday morning and my map wasn’t precise enough. I expected a gas station in a nearby town of Gifhorn but I went through and beyond it and I didn’t find anything. I went back and turned into the town itself. There, I’ve found a city map, or a Stadtplan as they call it there, but it wasn’t helpful. The streets were deserted, it was around 8 in the morning. The situation didn’t look good and I was loosing my careless optimism. Then, suddenly I saw an older guy on a bicycle. As I expected he spoke no English, I used my trick and tried speaking Dutch with a German accent. It worked well most of the time. “Benzin station? Tank station? Tanken? Ich wil tanken.” “Ah, tanken, ja.” he replied. He talked for a minute explaining me how to get to the gas station but from my expression he realized that all I did understand was “Volkswagen und Mercedes”. Then, he showed me that he would go on the bicycle and I should follow him. Guys on the bicycles are the best help when it comes to looking for something in a place where you speak no local language. Last time I was low on fuel in a German wee town there was a biker who helped me(?). After refueling I hit the road for real. I tried to keep 120km/h as my pace speed. I thought I could still handle an encounter with the Bundespolizei with 20km/h over the speed limit. It’s a pleasure to ride on the German country roads, on the contrary to the Dutch ones, on which the speed limit is 80. The roadsides are full of speed cameras pointed backwards, so they can catch motorbikes. It’s forbidden to overtake most of the time because it seems hazardous and crazy idea for them. When you push hard trying to go 84, you feel like a criminal and have to constantly sweep the perimeter in search of the police helicopters. I’m getting fed up with this safety precautions and nanny state. It’s a country for pensioners, everything has to be safe, nice and easy. Every corner is rounded and every sharp edge is tempered. It’s no living, it’s fucking beige, as Billy Connolly likes to put it.
Back to Germany. I tried to top my bike and clocked 140km/h. Not bad for a fully loaded 30 years old motorbike that I bought not running for €250 and fix with my own hands, and a hammer, and a spanner. I don’t know how it’s possible, but in this beige country you don’t actually need to have your two-wheeler checked by the officials. Their policy is that the riders will take care of it properly per se because it’s their very own life they are putting in danger. Of course they couldn’t predict that some day I’ll show up and ride a bike that has 10m of tie wraps in it, a bold tyre, bicycle speedometer, one mirror, no indicators and a clutch lever broken in half. The idea that I would fix it myself was outrageous for my Dutch friends. They looked at me like I was from another planet. They were accustomed to the way of living where you buy everything new and use it for just a couple of years, and when it breaks you just call for help. Anyway I had to slow down to 120 because it was no fun going so fast on a naked bike for a longer time. The wind was pushing hard on me and I had to hold on to the handlebars like crazy just to not fly off.
Around noon I stopped for lunch. I found a small bar hidden in a cellar of a house in a small town. It was really difficult to even notice it if you were not looking for it. Very business wise. Guessing form the tasteless interior I was already in the east Germany, previous DDR. That explained a lot. Marketing, promotion, effectiveness, this words still didn’t make it to the local dictionary. People inside, looked like they didn’t expect any visitors and had nothing else to do but sit in a cellar at noon. Later came in some women in nurse uniforms with food carrying cans, probably from some next door health order clonazepam no rx facility. Everybody knew each other. It really looked like time stopped here 20 years ago. All I could understand from the menu card was a “Bockwurst“, or rather the „wurst“ itself. I ordered 2 of that thing and got 2 boiled sausages with mosterd and no fork. A tea completed my nutritious meal. I wasted no time there, quickly got back on the road and wondered more and more into the eastern Reich. The surroundings were slowly changing, area was getting less and less inhabited, towns looked more deserted and less well kept. It wasn’t dramatic, but a noticeable change. I made it to the point were I had to find a small road going between the lakes. And of course this very point was at the edge of my map, and the next page didn’t match it exactly, a few kilometers of the road and villages were absent. And of course there were some roadworks with not very clear signs. I got out of it and took a road heading East. None of the places I passed on next 30km were to be found on my map. But somehow I made it through this no man’s land and located myself only a few kilometers off from the designated route.
After that it was pretty straight forward all the way to Szczecin in Poland. I got there by late afternoon and called my lawyer immediately. I call him my lawyer cause I met him in a law school, when I was still studying… well, there’s now way of getting away from it, law. He’s also known as a Soldier cause he was once in the army, made it to Junior Lieutenant or whatever it was. We used to work in a student’s association, most of the time getting drunk, causing disorder and having good fun with other like minded people all over the country. This time he arranged me to sleep at our friends place.
– So how do I get there?
– Do you have a GPS?
– A what?
– What the fuck, how did you get all the way here?
– I have a map.
– A what? Shit… Listen, you have to get to the center, and don’t go to Gumienice, cause we won’t get you out of there. Where are you exactly?
At that point I went to a tram stop to locate myself.
– Guess what, I’m in Gumienice, right in the middle of it.
– Fuck! Get out of there quick and call me back form the center, when you know where you are you stupid idiot.
– Yeah right you dumb fool.
This is by the way how men are expressing how much they love and miss each other, because simple “I love you man” is considered very unmanly. When I was starting to look around for somebody to ask for the way this guy appeared out of nowhere. He had long hair, some heavy metal band t-shirt, leather trousers and cowboy boots. He started with typical:
-Fuckin’ nice bike!
Usually people turn their heads or express feeling of disgust when they see it. We started a little chat, he said he had a chopper once but had to sell it to have money for food. Than he explained me how to get where I wanted and told me to take off that high visibility jacket I was wearing because it doesn’t look good. I greeted him went away in what happened to be a good direction. Finally I managed to find Marta and Przemo, my hosts for this night. Last time I saw them was a year earlier at my place in Amsterdam. In a mean time they went for a half year trip to India, Burma, Laos, Cambodia and Indonesia, and now had a lot of stories to tell. After a dinner we went straight to the bar to meet up with Soldier and a couple of other friends.
Next morning was very different from all the other ones I had experienced in that city, cause this time I haven’t got a hangover. I packed up, greeted everybody and left for Gdańsk. The road out of Szczecin was built about 80 years ago by this little man with a little mustache called Hitler. Before WWII this was the Third Reich’s territory. There surface of that road consisted of concrete blocks which maybe worked well for trucks and tanks in 1939, but they didn’t work well for me that day. Before you knew it I heard a distinctive rattling noise in the back. I stopped to investigate it only to find out that my rear light was cracked, the license plate bracket was broken in half and hanging loose, and from what was left over only the stop light worked. It wasn’t good news cause in Poland you’re obliged to have your lights on at all the times. Best I could to on the roadside was to tie it all with a green shoelace, bush mechanics’ style. Again I didn’t take the main roads, instead I wandered into Kaszëbë, a very beautiful region in northern Poland. People there have their own language and long ethnic traditions. They derived from the West Slavic tribes in the first centuries of the first millennium, which is all very interesting if you’re ethnographer, but I decided to go through there because this is one of the most beautiful piece of land in this country and it’s consists of lots of hills, lakes, forests and small villages which makes for the most awesome roads I drove on. The roads themselves, being Polish B, or C or D roads, were quite bad, but the ride was sensational. I was flying over the bumps, squeezing into the corners, ascending up the hills and descending into the valleys. Somebody watching carefully could see a big smile on my face, from ear to ear.
That was until I noticed another distinctive sound of metallic kind, coming from underneath the bike. I could hear it only when closing the throttle and engine braking. It didn’t mean anything good. After a little investigation it became obvious that my drive chain was loose beyond any standards and was happily hitting the swing arm. This could easily lead to damaging the sprockets or braking the chain itself. I decided to take it easy from that moment on. Of course I didn’t bother to take any tools with me. I asked on a few gas stations but they had no tools either. Finally I found a small repair shop in a little town. There I noticed that the drive cushions in my back wheel were worn out as well, putting even more stress on this poor chain, and that my rear brake pads were completely gone. It was scraping the disc with raw metal any time I pushed on the brake. On my arrival two big, bold, mean looking guys came out of the shop. They were the type you wouldn’t like to meet alone in a dark street. One of them and asked:
– What seams to be the problem?
– I need to tighten my chain, can you lend me some tools?
In reply they fixed my bike in no time and wished me safe journey. I bought them two cold beers to repay the debt.
[singlepic id=205] A couple kilometers later I encountered a roadblock. There had been an accident ahead and they made a route around it. Following instructions and my map I ended up riding 5km on a dirt road. My front wheel didn’t get along with the loose sand and was dancing a lot. I was also afraid to get a puncture as my bold rear tyre was making it’s way over sharp stones. It was scary and fun at the same time, a perfect mix called excitement. This is what we’re going to miss if we won’t stop making everything safe and nice and easy. And I’m serious about it. Take a risk some time, don’t make a plan, improvise, see where it leads you. Do something dangerous, feel the fear, see what you’re made off, feel alive. “In order to live a long live we would have to stop doing all the things that make us want to live in the first place.” I don’t know who said that but it gets right to the point. I was really enjoying my first off road experience and decided I’ll have to have some more in the future.
[singlepic id=206] Later on, with only 100km to go I started to feel a distinctive sloppiness in the gear changes. It meant that my gear shifter was getting loose on its bracket. I know that feeling quite well, more than I wish to be honest. Last time it happened in April this year, right in the middle of Berlin, on the Alexanderplatz to be exact. I managed to push the bike to a bicycle shop, lend a few tools, cut a piece of aluminum out of a Coca Cola can, put it under the shifter and its shaft and tighten the bolt really hard. It worked for 3 weeks. This time I was only 40km away from Gdańsk when all I was left with was the first gear. According to the every second stupid is always lucky rule I had it fixed for free in a workshop by the road.
After that I went straight to the finish at my cousin Filip’s place in Gdynia. After my arrival we made some food and went to his friends place for a party. It looked strange from the beginning, since they demanded from us to be there at a precise time. We arrived a bit late to what came out to be some kind of a Amway meeting. Guy running it was projecting on us an image of success with a cunning use of his big flashy watch and straight from the book gestures. He was trying to convince us that this is a completely new thing and it’s much better than the good old Amway and we all gonna be rich. Except that we will have to work hard. Except that we will have to work hard and effective. Except that we will have to work hard and effective and the only way to do so is to get this priceless knowledge by attending various meetings and lectures, of which the first one is free. Because the rest quite obviously isn’t. Hopefully the guy with the big watch left after an hour and we could get some beers and get on with the party. We stayed there till 2 o’clock, which after 3 days on the road felt quite late for me. If that wasn’t enough I have set up a meeting with a friend of mine, Weronika, at the beach in Sopot at 5 o’clock in the morning. Don’t ask me why and how, but I made it. We were just enough late to miss the sunrise completely. After that we got breakfast in what appeared to be the first shop open in town, jumped on the motorbike and hit the road in search of a stable. She promised me teach me horse riding. I thought I may use some crush corse on that subject before I get to Georgia. To our surprise there weren’t many stables open at 7 o’clock in the morning. Actually there were none. We kept going West, more and more into Kaszëbë region. After another hour we gave up the search and just enjoyed the ride. It was an early morning, the temperature was slowly rising, we were getting more and more into remote countryside. In one village we stopped and talked to an older guy:
– Do you know if someone has horses for hire here?
– They have only workhorses in this village. You would have to come back 10km and turn right to Wieżyca. Actually you can go straight ahead and take the shortcut.
– Is it a good road for a motorbike?
– Of course, no problem.
And of course the road was just a dirt trail going over the hills. It was pretty hard struggle for me to maneuver this small street bike with two people on it, but somehow we made it through and came out right in front of the stables. [singlepic id=202 w=200 float=left] We still had to wait 2 hours because they had to feed the horses yet. Usually when I’m about to do something I’ve never tried before, whatever it is building a bicycle wheel, cleaning carburetors, creating an animation in for a website or making a softbox for a camera light, I look it up on Youtube first, I do my homework as they say. I did the same with the horse riding business and surprisingly it worked. My teacher couldn’t believe it was my first time. The lesson was over in 30 min, I did some basic stuff and was astonished how tiring it is. So I knew how to ride a horse, but was aware there’s a lot more to learn to do it properly.
Afterwards we slowly got back on the motorbike and headed home. It was an easy ride although Weronika asked me to hold the handlebars with both hands when doing 100km/h. We were back in Sopot in an hour, said farewell at here place and I went a couple blocks away to my cousins office. He’s setting up a business with two other lads, Kuba and Radek. They want to organize active trips and events like skiing in the Alps and stuff. There I realized how hungry I was. On the opposite there was a pizzeria called Leon’s Gang. They had a menu with funny names, I ordered “Sweet Olivia, Leon’s girlfriend”. She was good, I mean the pizza. Then I sat on a comfy chair and simply collapsed. Filip woke me up at 1700. We were supposed to go paragliding this evening but he didn’t tell me before that the place was 90km away. I didn’t see us both on my poor motorbike riding for 2 hours one way on those roads. I mean it was doable but I still wanted to use my bike later on. Instead we went to the beach, met up with Radek and had a couple of beers. We talked about things that baffle us most, that is women. Later at home we tried to watch “Big Lebowski” but we couldn’t keep our eyes open for more than 10 seconds at a time.
Next morning it was time to say goodbye and go South. Although I liked Kaszëbë so much that I went West first and turned South later on. After 100km I hit a rally big bump on speed and my rear light housing got shattered. Again I tied it all with the same shoelace and kept on going. The goal for that day was to get to my family’s home in Poznań. But first I wanted to visit my grandmother, she lives with my uncles 30km East of my city. I carefully chose my way using the least obvious roads. There was even some dirt but this time on purpose. I got a bit lost in the middle of a forrest when a car appeared out of nowhere and a guy came out of it.
– Looking for a place to camp?
– Hehe no, not today. I’m trying to get to Borowo Młyn.
– Alright, you can just follow me, I show you the way. I travel on a bike as well from time to time.
– Great, thanks man.
It’s becoming a rule for me: when you are in trouble sit and wait and let things unfold themselves. Getting nervous or whining isn’t practical at all. Finally I arrived at my grandmother’s place. She actually doesn’t appreciate the fact that I quit the law school a couple of years ago, or that I ride motorbikes for that matter, but she’s always happy to see me. Later that day got to my home. My parent’s as well don’t entirely appreciate my lifestyle but it’s getting better. Maybe now they got other things to worry about as my younger brother have quit studying cognitive science (don’t ask me, just google it) and started something even more practical: astronomy.