I want to start this blog entry with due apologies for procrastination and lack of any input for several weeks. I left Sofia with one idea in mind – to let my hair down and ride off-road through Bulgarian mountains as fast and rough as I could with no more worries of ‘what will I do if I break down’. What I intended I actually did, with the help of a great GPS map of Bulgaria which I got from my wonderful host Yana. It was always pointing me in the right direction and showing me amazing 4×4 and single tracks in most remote locations. I had a truly great time in Bulgaria and I absolutely recommend getting the map and going there on a dirt bike for holiday as the amount of off-roading to be done in Bulgaria is just astounding. Having said this, since I left Sofia the trip no longer felt like an adventure but more like a 2-week off-road motorcycling holiday in the Balkans. In the back of my head I just knew that the trip was coming to an end and I would have to face the shear reality of going back to my ordinary life shortly after. I also already knew how many things I would have to sort out after I would get back to Poland – fix the bikes, prepare the van for the trip to UK, pack everything up, visit the doctors, not to mention sorting out some unfinished business with my PhD research, i.e. my overdue publications. It was all too much for a guy whose only worries up to then had been to get visas, cross borders and never run out of petrol, water, food and toilet paper.
In fact I am now sitting in front of my computer in the UK and still feeling in the same way. I have already taken my stuff back to the UK, I have even moved into my new apartment, I have already, albeit prematurely, went to my uni only to become aggravated with the stuff that had been aggravating me before, but I somehow forgot about all of that over the last year. You see, going on an adventure like this has its drawbacks. Once you do such a thing you want to do it again and again and again. Perhaps you will want to go back to your ordinary life for a while but wanderlust once ignited will never fade away and eventually you will try your best to go back to riding your bike, bicycle, backpacking or whatever style of travelling you like. In other words it is very difficult to start an ordinary monotonous life once you lived a colourful and adventurous one that brings you something new and exciting each and every day. In the long run it is also difficult to re-integrate back into the society that, in its majority, is oblivious to what is really happening in the world. I don’t want to sound too pretentious but I just came back from the biggest journey of my life that significantly altered my perception of the world and, most importantly, from a journey of self discovery but not many people seem to care about what I saw and experienced. I am not pursuing any fame or attention – that would be unjustified, but at the same time I’m surprised by the lack of peoples’ curiosity. Is it because they have no time as they’re busy with their own problems, they don’t know what to ask, they’re not interested or they are just not bothered?
I began to realise that for the last year I lived an easy, exciting and problem-free life devoid of any complications while the reality is not so easy and trouble-free. We live in the part of the world where although rich, we are often also discontent with our jobs, subjected to peer pressure, affected by social anxiety, and generally feeling unappreciated and unimportant. All this tension, having to deal with hundreds of little problems whilst knowing that noone cares makes us anxious and guarded. We can be cheerful and fool around with mates, talk about nonsence, but it’s too much for us to discuss serious issues, discuss the world and its problems, talk about ideas, be inquisitive – no, it’s too depressing in an already depressing reality where your boss is shit and you’re nothing but a number on a payroll. I don’t blame any of these people, but at the same time, I feel like an outsider – a hippie who ‘wastes’ his time travelling and dreaming of more travels, while they work hard for the betterment of the society. How can I fall back into that system of lonely busy people when I just went through so many emotions, ups and downs, moments of joy and depression and so many thoughts that made me realise and understand how dysfunctional, albeit comfortable, that system is.
There are so many things going in my head nowadays, so many doubts, fears, unanswered questions. “So how was the trip?” – people ask. It was great, it was tough, it was challenging and rewarding, sometimes I felt lonely and tired, sometimes I felt like I was Livingstone discovering the world, sometimes I was down, sometimes I was happy, I was melancholic and I was cheerful, I had some bad moments, one very scary one, but so many wonderful experiences too. I met so many great people and saw so many ways that humans live. I saw many contrasts. I went through an emotional journey. I confronted my demons. For a long time I was out of my comfort zone. For most of the time I was, sort of, homeless. I say ‘sort of’ because although I slept rough in my tent most of the nights I always had money on me which gave me a lot of comfort. I also learned about myself, about my needs, my insecurities, what things in life I value most, what things I fear. The trip was a journey of discovering Africa but it also turned out to be the trip of self-discovery and this, although many people told me that it would, I did not believe a year ago. I thought that I had known a lot about myself already but I had not. Whatever stage of your life you’re in, you always find new things about yourself when you’re out of your comfort zone. And I was out of my comfort zone being alone and far away from home. I had to go through places where I only could count on myself, where there were no health clinics, no motorbike garages or spare part dealers. I knew that if something went wrong, I’d have to come up with the solution. When the trip got tough I also had to deal with other personal things which hit me really hard. At one point, and that happened to be DRC, I was on the verge of emotional breakdown and needed a lot of comforting to get me through. I realised that no matter how tough we think we are, when we’re alone and the troubles come we quickly find out that we’re not all that tough after all. We are actually very fragile beings and the unwanted series of bad decisions or random events can bring us down from prosperous happiness machines to being poor and miserable little souls in no time. Good moments in life can be short and thus we should cherish them as they come instead of wasting them whilst being focused too much on the past or on the future. We all know that this is true but it takes effort to actually come to this approach to life ourselves. Noone’s words can change you until you make an effort. “So how was the trip”. In brief, it was a great adventure and a lot of free time that I spent on my own. It was time off-work which helped me to find focus for the next few years to come and, most importantly, realise what’s good in life and hence what is worth pursuing.
Now, going back to the actual travelling, I had 10 days of amazing riding in Bulgarian mountains. I know that people often go riding in Romania and I’m sure it’s equally great or even better than Bulgaria. I cannot really rate Romania however as I did not do any off-roading there and that was for two reasons. First, I did not have an off-road GPS map of Romania, like I had for Bulgaria – only a few .gpx tracks off wikiloc; but most importantly, my bike suffered so much abuse in Bulgaria that I actually worried if would not come back to Poland in one piece. As you maybe remember, my Honda was already suffering from chronic issues back in Africa and riding on purposely chosen off-road rocky trails in Bulgaria only made the problems worse. By the time I was half way through Bulgaria, my headset bearings were completely knackered and my rear wheel bearing again loosened in the hub. I fixed it in the same way as before but I knew that it was only a temporary fix and the problem would reappear shortly. And it did in Romania, although I stuck only to tar roads, such as the Transalpina. After Romania came Hungary which invited me with a torrential rain and cold. I looked outside from my tent in the morning. It rained cats and dogs and the whole sky was gray. I’d probably consider staying in the tent and waiting for improvement if my tent was not flooded. My MSR Hubba Hubba tent did not stand the amount of rain and leaked water like a sieve. I expected more from it, but I will deal with it in my next post where I will talk about what worked for me and what didn’t on this trip. Surrounded by water I decided to get going. It rained all day from the Hungarian-Romanian border all the way up to Poland. It was the worst weather I had on the entire trip. By 5PM I arrived in Zakopane. I waited for this moment for so long. I remember fantasizing in DRC about eating in my favourite bar in Zakopane called ‘Pod Smrekiem’. Now I was eating the food I was dreaming of in Africa and while I was eating it I was dreaming of Africa and how awesome experience it had been.
Poland greeted me well. First, visit at my friend Pawel’s and Marta’s place in Krakow, a party organised specially for me by Dodo & Marek in Sunny Wyoming. Then, lots of beer drinking and bike fixing with my parents in Izabelin. Time went by very fast and soon I had to drive back to UK in my Transit van. 120 kms down the road I had one more and the last breakdown on my trip. The serpentine belt snapped and I lost the charge, power steering and brake assist. I left the car on the side of the road and went to the nearest village where I was told that there was a car parts shop 1 km further. I got in, asked for the serpentine belt for 2002 Ford Transit 2.4 TD, no AC and, surprisingly, they had one. Not a bad result for a break-down 2 kms away from a village called ‘Kaczki Srednie’. I walked back to the car test if the belt is of the right length but there were so many rollers and possibilities to route the belt that I could not come up with the right routing. I went back to the shop with a rough sketch of the rollers. They had a servicing book too. I drew the correct belt route, walked back to the car and put the new belt on whilst keeping the tensioner in the down position with one of my motorbike ratchet straps. But that was not the end of the story. I had to find out what caused the belt to snap in the first place. It turned out that one of the rollers was seized up. I took it out. The bearing did not move at all. I drove it out with one of the allen keys and a hammer. Fortunately, it turned out to be a standard bearing. I had a spare one in the back of the car. It was exactly the same type as the small bearing from a rear wheel of my Africa Twin. After three hours of looking for parts and fixing, I had everything put back together and could resume my journey, happy to be lucky, happy for being able to fix the problem myself and happy from my choice of small roads instead of the motorway. The remainder of the trip was uneventful – short stop in Duisburg for beer and wurst, nice overnight stay on the beach in Calais, then costly MOT service in Dover and I soon found myself in Southampton.
The trip is over and I’m getting used to a desk job, drafting plans for my next year at uni and collecting poo samples for the surgery to be tested for parasite infection. Good bye adventure and welcome real world. Being tired of a motorbike I resumed cycling, as you can see on some of the photos below. My first trip – Leicester to Southampton in two days. I am planning a couple of more in order to get fit and lose weight for climbing.
I am going to write a few more posts in the near future with the reviews of the equipment I used, with acknowledgements of people who helped me along the way and made this journey an unforgettable experience, and perhaps also some photo outtakes.
For now I am saying ‘Good Bye and thank you for reading’.