Ahhh…crossing into the European Union. Into the metropolis of modernity, culture and sophistication. It was going to be lattes and prosciutto on quaint breakfast rolls from here on out. Gone are the days of corrupt border crossings and hungry coppers.
Well …it had been a while since I’d been through Europe. The overweight Polish border guard immediately approached me to try for a bribe. That was my first impression of the EU. On a good note I met some nice folks on the border queue up, including this cool Polish dude riding a rare and barely functioning Ural…I had to shake his hand!
I was on verge of being among friends again and I was riding hard along the Czech highways in anticipation of the reunion ahead. Traffic was really moving on this road,..I was getting passed by speeding cars all over the place…something I’m not used to. While pulling a steady 90mph on the freeway, just 50 miles from Prague, I heard a massive “WACK” followed by an equally nasty shudder, emitting from the rear of my engine. And then she died on me. Riding my momentum, I drifted over to the side of the highway to avoid being run over.
Not an ideal scenario…or was it? Aside from the cars zooming close by at alarming speeds. … Who cares! I’m not in Siberia! I’m in Europe now…its lattes, posciutte..and BMW shops in ever major city. Over 70,000 miles and she craps out now,…no worries! I’m quite satisfied with the old girl, considering the reliability she’d provided and all terrible things I’d done to her. Sure, we’d had a few…“relationship problems”(crashing, water crossings, electrical quarks), but she’d never done this before…thankfully, as I could recall areas around the globe where this sort of breakdown would be giving me serious pucker factor.
The engine sounded great, but I couldn’t get her to power the rear wheel. The rear wheel was stuck! I didn’t know exactly what was wrong with the bike,..but I had an idea…and I new I couldn’t fix her on the side of the road.
This is where having a cell phone is handy, well.. I didn’t have one….nasty things! But I did have a backpack,..so I piled my valuables into the pack,..and locked everything else on to the bike. I started walking along the freeway with a thumb out, knowing I’d get a ride at best, or good long walk at worst. I’d learn that hitchhiking along a highway is not very effective,..cus by the time the rare person who actually cares…sees you,..he’s already miles past you and cant turn around.
Well to my surprise,..right away a car pulled over to the side in front of me. I was congratulating myself as I ran the 100meters to catch up to the car. As I approached, an old lady got out of the passenger side door,…and I began thanking her profusely in English, Russian, and German…hoping something would get through..as I don’t speak Czech. Well, she yelled at me, and waved me off! As I said, I don’t speak Czech, but I got the picture. Apparently,..she figured my location was an ideal place to pull over to the side of the road and shift some luggage round and toy with my emotions.
I trudged off feeling stupid, embarrassed,…I was a novice at this hitchhiker thing.
But all was not lost,..it wasn’t raining! Not yet! And a car did in fact pull over for me. This time I approached with less enthusiasm,…wondering if they to were “shifting their luggage.” I was good hands….God bless hippies! Few things are as welcoming to a hitch hiker as a van full of young happy people. They didn’t have room,..but they made room! There was a massive party going on in that van,..you couldnt even see the floor for all the bottles. They didn’t speak much English. What was there to explain anyway? They’d seen my bike and then seen me…and they had been good hearted enough to figure it out and actually care.
Sure, my bike was broke down and temporarily abandoned on the side of a Czech freeway,..but I was feeling quite fortunate about it all,.. I had a ride,…access to a cell phone..and a long lost friend of mine in Prague was about to get a interesting phone call.
Nothing quite like testing a friendship…like, “hey,…its me Chris,..we met in an Alaskan Cannery 6 years ago…..and now I’m in Czech Republic and I need you to come rescue me!” Fortunately, I’ve got a knack for befriending the best of humanity…and Vatzlav is one of the best.
Way back in the day, we’d been working the slime line together…gutting salmon in Whittier Alaska. I’m not sure what either one of us was doing there gutting fish back then…him having a masters degree in electrical engineering,..and me …well I don’t have a masters degree..so maybe I did belong thereJ. At any rate, we’d been looking for adventure back then and Alaska was and still is an adventure mecca for wandering souls.
Within minutes he was organizing a trailer and pick up for me. Meanwhile the party on wheels stopped off at a service station…where I bought them enough beverages to continue the fun into the next decade.
Vatslav totally came through for me! I never knew two people could lift a GS into a trailer,…but he’s a deceptively strong dude! And having vehicles brush by at 100 mph provided the extra adrenaline to get the job done.
Judging by the severity of the breakdown and lack of a garage, I retreated to the local Prague BMW dealership to have the techzperts tear into her and give me the nasty news.
With the bike in the shop I had some time to hang around and explore Prague.
The following week was truly enjoyable, and Vatslav was an amazing host. These were late nights catching up on brash cannery tales, while armed with an ample supply of the best beer I’ve ever had.
Prague made quite an impression on me. Captivated by the beautiful architecture, great food and limitless history…yatayatayata-its Europe!)..I came reappreciate this continent. For so long my attention had been captured by the rugged beauty of the third world (still my preferred touring local), that I’d overlooked Europe as being unappealingly busy, sophisticated and for lack of better terms…unexotic! Well, I was having a great time…drifting down cobblestone streets, soaking up the 16th century ambiance, while never more than stones throw from the safety and convenience of modernity. Hands down..Mongolia has got Europe beat,..but you cant go to a concert in UlaanBataar and wistfully jam out to celestial notes drifting from the exact same organ played by Mozart. (although a throat singing seminar in Olgi might rival Mozart…depending on your level of weirdness.)
Whats Absinthe?..kids don’t try this at home!
The only bad experience I had in Prague was in public transportation. And that’s my own fault as I’m completely inexperienced with busses and trams. Not being a city person, I didn’t even know exactly what a tram was. I normally avoid public transportation at ALL cost, but here I was trapped. I wasn’t going to waste a week hiding in an apartment…bike or no bike I was going to explore Prague.
So..long story short, I bought the ticket for a train..or tram..or what ever you wanna call it, but I didn’t verify the ticket in the tram. As I would learn you are supposed to put the ticket in a little machine for a stamp. I hadn’t seen anyone else do it, so I never thought about it. Well,..the “federales” got me….and made me pay about 20 times the price of the ticket..on the spot. Interesting enough, they didn’t ask anyone else on the tram. Grrrrrrrr! My buddy told me I stuck out as a lost tourist with my American baseball cap..so they clued in on me…knowing I wasn’t clued in. That sucked,..but that was only the beginning, because as they were issuing my ticket I missed my stop. Not knowing I missed my stop, I continued to wait and look for the stop that I thought was still coming.
Soon I was the only one on the tram,..the tram stopped…the doors locked…and I was locked in a tram, in the tram yard for 20 minutes,.until my frantic waving caught some other tram operator’s attention. He opened the door,,..yelled at me,..and I left, swearing off public transportation for life. I was only too happy to pay my massive bill at BMW and thankfully ride off on my trusty stead.
The most exciting part about visiting Prague is that I think I’ve convinced my buddy Vatslav to buy a motorcycle! I like to think I’m collecting good karma points by introducing friends to the beauty of motorcycles and paragliders. Its like competing with the missionaries for lost souls….I’ve got about 7 happy converts so far! I’m a big believer that Riding and Flying are windows opening into exciting new worlds and rewarding ways of living……although some of my friend’s wives and girl friends may challenge me on that.