The first time I heard about Izi was when making small talk in the assistance vehicle of Joëll. He told me about a meeting in Poland where you can actually sleep inside a medieval castle. Quoting; “Here in Belgium everything is safely tucked away behind velvet ribbons and there you can feel the history. You walk where you want, you can touch the swords and you’re able to dream about knights and dames.” He already had my attention at that point but then he started about Izi, the rider. That the gathering in fact is a charity for the son of Izi and an opportunity to get other people travelling too. Something triggered inside me and when I got home I just had to look it up. I got goosebumps reading Izi’s story, about how passionate he was for his Africa Twin, how he freely roamed in countries I can’t even correctly pronounce the name of and how he the ability to give a special glance to awkward occasions. Izi died in Tajikistan on the Khorough – Ishkashim – Langar road, one of the most beautiful roads he had ever ridden. The locations to the spot are published on the website and I suggest you look them up. They are in my satnav and one day, I am going to light a candle there but that is a journey yet to come.
Broken, everything is broken
So in a split second I made a decision, I am going to the IZI-meeting even if I only have the weekend and it is 670 miles away. Hyperion isn’t the worst bike to be on for such a long trip and I often read about ‘solo’ trips being the best. I want to figure out if that is an overstatement or not. I know I can handle the distance, there is nothing more I love to do than just ride and Hyperion is in a good condition… So I thought, Sunday before departure one of the clutch springs decides to fail and my whole clutch transmission toothing is mauled away and I’m not sure about the axial of the gearbox too. We managed to get a new clutch and another gearbox into the R1100GS in time and while we were at it, I mounted some new Mitas E07 on the rims. My old Scouts were completely worn out, so for a 1500 mile trip some new rubber wouldn’t hurt. All the evenings prior to the event were filled with wrenching, WD40 and comforting that old yellow thing that everything was going to be just fine. That being summed up, Thursday evening I test rode Hyperion and everything got a green light. That leaves an hour to pack my stuff. Luckily I really don’t need that much and everything fits in my panniers , so no need for extra bags.
Friday morning, 4am, still dark, ideal time for a launch direction East. I mount the satnav and get a dark screen! A giggle escapes my mouth to my surprise because I’m thinking about what I read about Izi, he didn’t like satnavs and trusted maps. Izi did not count in miles but in hours of riding. But I still am not Izi and I need my satnav. So I haven’t even set of out my garage and there it goes again, dismounting fuel tank and apparently red isn’t positive side in the world of Garmin… sigh. I need Bart’s help with this and he decides to just cut the wires and mount them straight onto the battery. It works and with a 40 min delay Hyperion and I set off into the direction of the rising sun. The highways in Belgium and the Netherlands are deserted and in the next few hours the scenery doesn’t really change,so I’m glad I’m out on the road early. Driving in the dark always seems like a sort of time travel, when the daylight hits the surface of the earth you’re already in another country in Europe. When I cross the border with Germany the Scala doesn’t seem to find any radio connection and the last song without a buzz is 99 luftballons from Nena, it sticks to my mind and I keep shouting it in my helmet for the next 250 miles. The faces of the car drivers in the traffic jams when a yellow bigbird passes by with a girl on it singing “99 Luftballons, Auf ihrem Weg zum Horizont, Hielt man für UFOs aus dem All, Darum schickte eine General” with probably the worst German accent they ever heard in their life, priceless!
You’re not going to the IZI, are you?
In the meantime evening is coming closer and I see myself fueling up for the second last time. Weather hasn’t been nice to me for the past 100 miles, it wasn’t just mere rain but rainstorms that had me lower my speed from a 80 miles an hour to 55. There was foam floating around on the highway so I guess it had been a while since it last had rained in that part of Germany. My Rev’It suit didn’t keep it dry either after a year and a half of abuse and I can tell you a wet ass is the last thing you’ll want after a long drive and still not seeing the end of the trip. Oh well, I don’t let it ruin my excellent mood and after paying for the fuel at the shop I see some bikers taking a rest. One of them strikes up a conversation with me and wants to know if I’m going to the Izi. They were a little surprised when I confirm, they didn’t think I had enough luggage with me. I giggle and tell them that small girls don’t need that much to survive. We bid each other farewell and a good ride till the meeting. Back into the rain it is but the weather gods give me some slack and skies in front are turning heavenly blue. Come on stallion, the last miles are always the best. On the highway I catch up with a Varadero and decide to stick with this one for a while, we both take the same exit and he’s a nice German fellow that speaks a bit of English. I feel a bit ashamed when he asks me if I already have Polish money, zloties. This is so typically me, leaving head over heels and not even wondering about the currency in the country I’m going to but that is just how I am and it has always worked out in the end. He shows me the way to an ATM and gives me some hints about the IZI-meeting, I don’t need to worry about food, there will be plenty and my favourite : BBQ ! On the other side, I should not believe anything about the rides. Onroad does not exist here, everything at least has some offroad in it. This part of Poland used to be Germany in the 1930’s and some of the roads have never been maintained ever since. With this information I feel like a lucky girl, Hyperion is my perfect companion for some soft offroad. After we fueled up, he guided me to the Grodziec Castle. Entering the site through the arch in the rampart wall, seeing hundreds of bike before the Castle. It was everything I hoped for. I made it !
After the grand entry, I first set up my tent because it is slowly getting darker and I know once I’ll get to wander around the site I’ll keep walking till night. A Lithuanian lady invites me to set up the tent near theirs with a nice view on the castle. Man, I love this place. It has the same vibes as the Elefanten in Solla. All is quiet and authentic with the occasional laugh and quarrel. Registrations go quick and I recognize Tilman, who I know through Facebook for over a year now. Meeting online friends is always something special, because you know each other and yet you don’t know jack about them for real. Tilman is a skilled photographer and visits events all over Europe. He’s quite surprised to see me because he didn’t think I’d make it with the mechanical failures of Hyperion. After a walk in the castle and a hamburger it is time for the video about Izi. In the courtyard there is a stage and all the guests gather benches to watch the video footage of Izi in Afghanistan. There’s a big guy that takes the place next me at the front of the line and as the movie starts, he whispers that this is a special moment for him. He’s the one that made the footage of the journey and he hasn’t seen it before because it was just too touching for him. I search my memory and I remember the testimonial of the man that went to Afghanistan with Izi. When I realize who I’m sitting near, I am humbled and the words -Free, Free, Free- reverberate inside my mind while I watch an Africa Twin crossing rivers and bouncing on and around rocks as far as the eye can see. Witnessing this is an experience alone, there are places out there left to find yourself again. Everyone in the courtyard laughs when there is a shot of Izi moaning “Rocks, rocks, there is nothing here but rocks!”. When the screen goes black, I see myself still lingering in the landscapes until Tilman asks if I’m ok. I’m shaken out of my musings and decide to go to bed. After all I did 670 miles today and I’m a bit sleepy. No need to tell I slept like a baby.
A warned fool should be worth two
Dawn and I’m already up, can’t hold my excitement any longer I want to go and ride. After some breakfast and coffee I saddle up Hyperion and feel a bit uneasy when tapping the Zümo to start the tour. I’d rather go with maps and compass now, but I’m just not ready and I’m really alone in a far country right now so I’ll stick with the ride that I got from the organization. It is called the Icelandic Touch in Poland and I’m pretty curious about it, online they said it was an onroad ride so I should be good. After some miles in the countryside the satnav says, ‘leave the road on the right’. I frown and then remember the advice of the Varadero and I think to myself it is just going to be a street in bad condition. Turned out differently, from gravel to forest roads to just grass up to my panniers, the Icelandic Tour had it all. Good sound advice from the guy, don’t trust them when they say onroad. During some ‘more challenging’ sections I was thinking that I would have left my panniers at the campsite if I had known there was offroad during the tour. After a segment with rocks I get back upon the asphalt and I feel something wobbling. Yeah, after three and a half years of not having a flat tire, this was the moment that the shiny new Mitas decides to tear up. I get the clutch and let Hyperion slow down, I am rather lucky because right behind the corner there is a shop with car rims, they can probably help me. I stop at the shop and point to the rear tire and make it clear that I could use some help. The guy in the shop shakes his head and starts a whole conversation in Polish that leaves me staring blank at the guy. Apparently he notices that I don’t understand a thing he is talking about so he goes outside and points out to the direction I need to go, as from what I understand there should be a store in tires just around the corner. And indeed there is a workshop there and three astonished men see me arrive with a wobbly tire. The rear-end gets pressurized again and I receive the address of a place where I can get the Mitas vulcanized. While the shop owner that speaks some English is explaining me the way, we both hear a whistle coming from the back of Hyperion and we notice that the tire didn’t get punctured but torn, there is a rip about 3,5 cm. Bugger, I shake my head and explain I won’t make it to the other shop that way and the guy agrees. “You wait for a second.”, he says and by my surprise two minutes later he drives up to the shop with a van. “I’ll drive you there.” They get some wooden gang boards and we try to push Hyperion into the van, the board breaks off course. The shop owner looks at me with frown and asks, “How much does this bike weigh, like 200kg?” And I’m like “Just 230 kg.” and in my mind adding without fuel and luggage. He just frowns again and they ask some more guys to help lift the GS into the back of the van. It all worked out pretty fine, considering the fact that the three of us in the back saw every inch of the trunk during the ride. Upon arrival at the vulcanization shop, the friendly fellow wouldn’t take any reward for taking me there, what chivalry. I really believe in the kindness of strangers.
Never underestimate stubborn little girls
I am often amazed by the other ways of living I encounter down the road. Everything seems to slow down so much, I’m always hasty at home, doing this and that and never really being present at the time. I was everywhere, being busy with everything but never enjoying it all to the fullest. Always busy with the next thing to do. In some of the countries I’ve been to the last years, it is different. It is the whole theme of this trip in fact. Take it IZI. And that is exactly what they do at the tire shop, at first I am a bit agitated, I came here to drive. I only have 36 hours then I have to be home again and then it hits me again; let the moment be the moment. I try to concentrate about what they are hesitating about. The mechanics are checking out Hyperion’s ass for 12 minutes now. I’m not sure about what specific detail they are stumbling on. I try get involved into the conversation as we both understand a little bit of German (so I know reifen is a tire) and it seems they are unsure about the demounting of the tire. With one glance into the shop I see a tire fitting machine, so I tilt my head and point to that. Seems that wasn’t the problem, they didn’t know how to get the rim off Hyperion. I start to laugh and they laugh, so we all are laughing at that point. I show them the hexagon socket heads in my panniers and try ‘sebentien’ to make clear what size of nut I need to get the wheel off. They seem impressed with my skills when the rear wheel just pops off after getting the 4 bolts and the caliper off. Whilst they are busy I dismount the fuel tank and start remounting the wires of the satnav, they came loose this morning during the offroad segments of the routes so the power gets intermittent from time to time. When the guys return with my wheel they are pointing at Hyperion and seem disturbed by the fact that he’s in a worse condition than when they had left into the shop. They make the crazy gesture at me, but keep smiling, that’s a good sign I guess. The eldest guy wanted 25 euro for the repair of the tire but since I got zlotys I wanted to pay in their currency. It became 600 zlotys and I was a bit startled by that, didn’t think that I’d have that much with me so I just took out everything I had and gave it to the guy. At the look of his face I knew I did something wrong, he quickly gave all the money back and then carefully he took out two bills, one of ten and one of fifty. He obviously meant 60 instead of 600, how honest of him. This is something I’ll keep in mind for my next trips, a bit more information about the country’s currency wouldn’t mind. After payment, I get Hyperion back into one piece, load the panniers again and off we go to the next stage of the Icelandic Tour! The following hours consist of twisty hill roads and easy rock offroad. I get enchanted by the rural side of Poland and drift away on clouds of motorcycle dreams while I enjoy every second of the ride. When the odometer says only 12 miles left till I’m back at the Castle I take a snack break. Whilst I’m nibbling on a Bueno and observing the beauty of Hyperion in the landscape I get confused by the looks of the back tire. The tear was on the other side, wasn’t it? I jump up, get the GS on his center stand and get affirmation. They mounted the tire against riding direction, that was actually my fault I should have checked it before driving off. Ah well, the roads are dry and it is something to worry about another time. With renewed spirit, we take off to the Castle for the Izi Travel Presentations and the closure party.
There and back again
Waking up on Sunday morning with the sound of everyone packing around me makes me realize that the last day of my little adventure has already begun. In about 20 minutes time I get everything stuffed away in the panniers and Tilman is already waiting for me to have some breakfast together. Last night I sketched a route flirting alongside the Czech Republic border and Tilman gives me the coordinates to a biker bar in a cave, stating I really need to check that place out. Seems Karma is with me today because the route just ends 20 km from the place I need to be and after some goodbye moments, my yellow bigbird and me leave Zamek Grodziec for the last time in 2016. Upon riding in the countryside, seeing that hill with the castle on top becoming smaller and smaller in the mirror I am rather pleased with my accomplishment. What I am not satisfied with are my gloves at the moment, I didn’t really forget to pack my thicker gloves, I just don’t have any. Hah! Sure turned out that I was wrong about not mounting the handlebar muffs, I didn’t even had this cold when going to the Elefantentreffen in the snow. Some deer that I encounter up in the hills make the ride all worthwhile, I silence the bike and watch them dawdle until they are out of sight. The road winds up and down and before I really know it I cross the Polish-Czech border. These deserted border posts are so common in Europe now and they are constant reminders of the past. The temperature drops in the hills and I get the heated grips on. I know only one of them works, but I always forget which one. Never underestimate the psychological effect of this, both hands seem to warm up at first until the difference is really noticeable. After another 30 miles of amazingly beautiful roads up in the hills I can’t take it anymore but found a good solution after giving my luggage some thought. I packed a Buff with a hoody that I can use as a muff, and what a relief, the Buff fits like a glove (haha) over the handlebar and keeps my frozen Yeti-hand out of the wind for the last miles to the bikers cave now. In Velenice I turn up on the bigger roads again and I arrive at the Motoklub Pekelné Doly. It is really strange to just ride into a cave as if it is the most normal thing in the world to do. I have a list of places where I would like to ride Hyperion to, but to be honest, my imagination didn’t include a cave, I really still have a lot to learn. I can’t restrain myself and need to throttle out sometimes because the echoing is just superb! I park Hyperion near some other bikes and get myself a hot cup of coffee to warm up. What a most unlikely place to be, it is a recommendation to anyone. With a unique atmosphere and comfort the biker club really made something worth riding into. I find some people to have chat with and they seem most intrigued by Hyperion and all his non-farkle adjustments, I get some thumbs up and another coffee in return for my story. After a while I’m alone with the GS in the dark and I reluctantly have to acknowledge that it is time for the last stage of my trip. The highway is calling and normally I really dislike the long hours of straight riding but I accepted it in some kind of way. During a 620 mile trip the scenery changes from lush green forests to mesmerizing rapeseed fields into industrial parks and backwards again whilst the clouds are constantly changing. Everything can be a joy, if you can find something to be happy for. Sometimes I wondered, am I up for the task? Then I remembered those three simple words that I read in that testimonial about Izi – Free, free, free – and I know again. I’m born to do this. The smile in my helmet is bigger than ever before as I ride into the sunset.
Grodziec 111, 59-516 Zagrodno, Poland
Lindava 315, 471 58 Cvikov, Czech Republic