Friday, 6 May 2016

the motorcycle years

Last Saturday night I slept on the Croatian highway, pitched right against the unbound macadam of a slip road to nowhere. Absent any soft standing for half of the tent pegs, I bungeed instead off the bike's hot undercarriage; a highly effective, suboptimal solution. It had been a long day of three countries, three cities and many roads. I am a Spring month earlier into the Balkans than my last visit; a month wetter and a month cooler. A month earlier into twilight and its urgency to camp. Of course it is much more difficult to disappear from the highway with a machine weighing in wet at almost a quarter of a ton, plus baggage, road tyres and one is much limited in wild-camping (yes, a Balkan road is still quite wild!). I progress East South East with a nightly evidenced rapidity; instead of viable infrastructure dwindling at a rate of weeks, by engine it is gone in a day. To the village there is one road and behind its houses that road stops, its tar giving out first to stone, then abruptly to rut and mud. Of course I got stuck in exactly such a rut, between two foul reens and perpendicular to either useful direction. Revs and curses drew an old man, approaching timid as a boy. He helped with yells and pushes and I managed to get out before the entire village descended on us. One feels less right to trespass when so highly mechanised. In that initial futile heaving I re-tore an old muscular scar somewhere between sacrum and pelvis. Misfortunes trivial or serious tend to cluster; woe begets adversity and they escalate one another. In this way searching becomes lost becomes injured, becomes less resilient and more compromised, becomes sleeping on a road. As ever it was tomorrow in the morning and I proceeded stiff in back and pace to Belgrade, stopping only to break bread with Turkish truckers - a ritual happily as familiar as any in my road tripping.

I first met Jack thirteen years ago in Thailand. I was young, far from home and about to peak into my first, pivotal, psychedlic experience. He looked after a stranger generously, and remembered me when chance we met months later at university. On this my third arrival in Belgrade he furnished me a small but homely flat in typical, enigmatically capable fashion: find a cafe to collect an envelope containing an address, key and currency to eat with. He met me later for beers, mixed grill and a boozy but rather abortive Orthodox Easter Sunday night on the town. We enjoyed ourselves anyway and on the way home, drunk on bad beer I found myself waxing lyrical about the machine I'd arrived upon. It all comes out; as it happens I'm more impressed than I'd realised. This from one who generally holds the auto-emotive in no mild scorn... I unravel! How frail resolve. A good friend commented Great to see the blog back with a more cynical and less romantic perspective - "The Very Public Diary of Kaleb Debbage: The Motorcycle Years."  I'll leave that there. In Belgrade I was struck again by the polarisation of the Balkans, by the way that fortune also clusters. It was lovely to move in such luxury with Jack and his friends, another fish lunch, another nice restaurant, but also strange so soon before and after those nowhere villages of Romania and Croatia. Clearly the situational proximity is amplified by the novel pace; I'm seeing the continent all sped-up, with hardly time to locate myself relative to the socio-economic gradient, let alone reconcile how I might feel about it. Like a holiday! Thanks again for the spoiling, Jack.

I left Eastward concerned about the pain behind me. It was bad enough to send anxious messages home, improvise a lumbar roll from my waterproofs and take whatever the pharmacists would sell me. Not bad enough to rest properly... but bad enough to take a room on the Serbian Romanian border. A good excuse in the rain. In the morning I got some serious pills and some serious relief. I'm cautious now about the weighty manuevers, hoiking the machine on and off the centre stand feels risky each time. So I default to the side stand (which anyway looks much cooler) the angle of which, with the laden bike and the knowledge that I didn't replace the bearing and pin when I could've, also feels risky each time. But a mechanical risk rather than a muscular-skeletal one, which is of course precisely what machines are for; you can't strip and lube the sacral area. So there's extra cause to seek optimal camping spots. To start and finish riding early. To take more breaks. To remember that I am at leisure.

Just in time I've reached the Black Sea. Excluding this morning, I reckon I've not been in it since about 1987. I'm afraid I skipped most of the little-heard of (by me) archaeo/anthropological wonders between Belgrade and here, so they can remain such. I am a lazy tourist, ever preferring the greasy, Slavic eateries where a two euro coin gets you half a pound of steaming burek, a glass of salted yogurt and a small wad of dinar, to the places I ought to have seen. I can say that somewhere in Croatia I intersected with a previous trajectory of mine, and felt briefly sentimental. And that in Romania I've finally completed the Danube. And that the clutch is still buttery.

rut stuck

Belgrade again






Voda Negra, Vama Veche


  1. Many people consider all the biking gears to be some fashion statement, but it is actually not, motorcycle boots are also definitely used for protection purposes and not only for fashion purposes.
    Motorcykel støvler

  2. Thanks for sharing this interesting post Kaleb. Care and proper procedures must be observed to keep your bike in great form through the long cold winter months, until conditions are favorable to consider it out on the open road.