It started with a light rain while we left Auschwitz. I decided to not stop to wear my rain gear because I thought we would leave those clouds behind riding in the other direction. But I underestimated the size of it, badly.
The sky went from gray to almost black with bright lightning over the horizon.
The road started to climb and soon we were riding on twisty roads between the mountains. We were heading south to Slovakia but the rain was slowly increasing and at some point, it was pouring. It was too late for my rain gear. But this wasn’t even the bad news, because when I was completely wet to the bone and it was so cold that my legs were shaking against the tank the engine of my Hyosung died. We tried a jump start a couple of times in 2nd gear but nothing could bring the V-twin engine back to life. The road surface was simply too cold and slippery. It was pouring and we had to find a solution, quickly. So we came with a second idea: pushing the bike downhill in 3rd gear. “Are you sure you want to do this?” asked Martin from behind. I was freezing, my legs were shaking and now my head too “Let’s do it!”.
“Ok, ” he said like I just signed a disclosure agreement “3… 2… 1…”. I released the brake and Martin started to push as strong as he could. He let the bike go when I gained enough speed. In the same moment, I stood up on the foot pegs. 20 meters farther down there was a corner hidden by a wall. I landed on the seat with my butt as heavy as I could while I released the clutch. The engine started to rotate, I could feel the pistons going up and down but without ignition for a very long second. But then, insidiously close to the corner the bike gave me the best feeling in the world. The roaring 650cc started to pull again. The resurrection worked. Now we just had to keep going without stopping.
Still, can it be worse?
We kept riding until we reached the top of a mountain when Martin, put the front wheel in the wet grass, lost the control, and crashed. I saw him rolling in front of my bike and a broken case sliding into a ditch. I stopped the bike but I couldn’t turn off the engine. He got up on his feet checked his body then looked at the bike and finally me. I was still sitting on my bike.
“Romano, will you come and help me?!?” he shouted at me.
“What do you mean ‘It depends’?”
“It means that the side stand is connected to the engine, if I use it, it will kill it”
“I just crashed!” he shouted indicating the bike.
“Will you push me if I turn off the engine?” I wasn’t sure.
He looked at me speechless.
“Alright, alright…” so I got off the bike to help him to lift the heavy BMW. The bike seemed to be fine but one of the cases was badly broken. We could fix it but we couldn’t use it to store anything.
I had an idea: “Ok, we can fix it with some duct tape”
“Will it last?” he asked worriedly.
“Did I tell you about that time when we put my bike back together with duct tape before the race after I crashed it during qualifying?” I said while examining the bike.
“Frankly, I don’t want to hear it now,” he said while checking his elbows.
“It’s a moving story about overcoming problems…”
“I still don’t want to hear it”
“Fine, give me the tape”
A lot of duct tape later the BMW was fixed and we were good to go again. Well, almost. First, we had to jump start the Hyosung again. We were exhausted and we both agreed on having a break first. The rain just stopped and the view was spectacular. We were on the top of a mountain with a valley below us and a thick sheet of clouds above us. But farther down, there was one spot where the sky was open. A beam of warm yellow light came through it hitting a spot in the valley making it look bright green like an oasis. Unreachable for us. Deep in my wet and cold clothes, I was imagining how good and warm could have been to be there. It started to rain again which brought us immediately back to reality.
As before, I set the Hyosung in 3rd gear, Martin pushed me down the hill and wished me good luck. After a couple try, we got the bike going again.
The ranch on the top of the mountain
At the end of the road, we found a ranch with a room for us where we could charge the battery of my Hyosung. We hung our wet clothes. Martin leather suit weighed like the cow it was taken from.
After a hot shower, I could feel my hands again. We had a big delicious dinner and after, we seated outside in the porch drinking beer.
Martin was still in the post-crash adrenaline. “You know what? My leather suit is great. I haven’t felt anything about the crash”
“It was a 5 kph crash, Martin”
“It was a spectacular crash. Don’t try to make it look smaller” he pointed with his beer bottle in my direction.
“No, I’m just telling it as it is” I said and sipped my beer.
“Do you think it’s going to rain tomorrow?”
“I think we went through the worst part. I think it’s going to be fine”
“Me too, after all, it can’t rain forever, right?”
Dark n’ Stormy
“It’s worse than yesterday,” said Martin standing in front of the window “Check the weather forecast”.
“Relax,” I said “it’ll be finished as soon as we’ll have breakfast”. Later, at the breakfast table, I took my phone to check the weather. Martin stopped talking as my face rapidly changed expression. “Is it bad?” He asked seriously. “Let me put it this way: this app measures the intensity of the rain marking that area from light blue to dark blue”
“What color is it now?”
After a huge breakfast, we sat outside on the porch and started to repair everything.
I was sitting on the porch sewing the tank bag while martin was rearranging all his stuff in the big roll bag in the back and the other side case. I fixed the broken one with more duct tape to be sure it won’t come off.
We set off in the pouring rain.
The road was steep, slippery, and insidious. As we climbed it was also getting colder. Every time a truck drove by we were hit by a thick wave of water higher than ourselves. I had an open face helmet and when I say “I know what the road taste like” it’s not a figure of speech. I really mean it. As we climbed the Tatra the temperatures kept decreasing and the rain was growing in intensity. It was 10 degrees and frankly I couldn’t tell anymore if the rain was coming from the sky or the earth, it felt like a wall. There were parts where the road was almost destroyed, the water filled the big holes so we couldn’t really see how deep it was. We had to trust our gut feelings.
Ginsberg’s Theorem: You can’t win, you can’t break even, you can’t even quit the game
We pulled over to the side of the road to stop the madness. It was a wooden house with a restaurant. There were a lot of trucks parked outside which is usually a sign for good food. We didn’t want to go back to the last city but continuing in those conditions was really painful and dangerous. We checked the weather forecast which said that the thunderstorm and heavy rain will continue until the next day. We finished our goulash in silence.
It was time to get back on the bikes but first, we had to take a decision. Which direction will we take? Should we go back or keep going forward? And if we go forward how far will the next place be?
We challenged the Tatra
We were on the Tatra for a while now, if we wanted to go back we will have to face the mountains the next day, again.
We both agreed in continuing our journey but the rain didn’t stop for a minute. I was feeling the vibration of the engine which seemed to be ok but the fear of a breakdown out there made my senses incredibly sharp. Every suspicious sound or vibration from the engine made me worry. There was another issue way more important at the moment. I was almost blind. So the words “Super Anti-fog” on my totally steamed up goggles couldn’t feel more sarcastic.
The problem was that the foam part was so soaking wet that the air couldn’t circulate anymore. In the old days, racing drivers used to drill holes in their visors during a wet race. So I stopped and cracked open the bottom part of my goggles. It wasn’t a genius solution. Yes, the steam was out only to be replaced with water. The air was circulating again but it was raining so hard, it was like diving. Every time a truck passed in the other direction I tried to protect my face from the huge wave of water and mud. I was still blind for a couple of seconds. It was a nightmare and it seemed to last forever. It felt like a monster or some sort of ancient god who didn’t want us to be there. He was showing us all his power. How dare we to challenge him?
After a day of riding with a lot of effort but with very little progress, we started descending the Tatra. The rain decreased in intensity. The god was calming down as we were leaving his mountains.
I left my heart in Poland and a cylinder in Slovakia
We found a pension with a place for the bikes in a small town and the last miles felt like an eternity. Nobody spoke English but one woman could speak a bit of German so we could understand each other. Enough to give us a room and a hot meal. We carried our stuff upstairs and hung everything strategically all over the place in the hope that everything will be dry the next day. We also put the battery of the Hyosung to charge.
The morning after, our day began with a bad news. Half of the sockets in our room weren’t working so the battery was still flat. Again, we had to jump start the bike but this time was a lot easier because the road was dry and grippy.
The sky was partly clear and the clouds didn’t look threatening anymore. It was cold but it was more than enjoyable for us after what we’ve been through.
We were riding on the highway at 130 kph. Our clothes were almost dry, and nothing could stop our journey to Prague.
But all my confidence vanished in a moment. I felt the engine losing power for brief seconds and then again like the bike was running out of gas or some electric problem.
I pulled over to check the tank but it was almost full. Probably an electrical problem after all that rain during the last days. I started the engine again and everything seemed to be fine but a few miles later I lost a cylinder. Riding in 6th gear was impossible and I could barely keep the speed of 90 kph. We had to leave the highway but it was too late. The other cylinder shut down too and now I was in the emergency lane with a dead engine.