When you are on a motorbike trip, 1000 kilometers away from home, it’s all about trust. Trusting the weather, the road, and your motorbike. On a lonely trail unrolled before your eyes, you feel hopeless and the motorbike becomes the only shelter.
When I was a kid, I saw a motorbike packed with bags on a hilly road of the Amalfi coast. The foreign registration number meant that the rider had traveled for hours, maybe for days.
How would it be to ride solo? Would I feel lonely? Would I be scared?
I saw my answers on the tired face of that stranger — He was happy.
That is all you need to be happy
I leave Berlin early in the morning when the summer air is only timidly warm. The comforting sound of my Moto Guzzi accompanies me out of the city and roars through the empty streets. Keeping a comfortable speed, I head south-east, towards Dresden.
I will not have time to stop there, but at least I will have the chance to appreciate the unique landscape of Saxony, a well-known tourist destination at the border between Germany and the Czech Republic. I ride along the river Elbe, through villages surrounded by green valleys and hills. The temperature drops to an ideal 25°C, but before I can really enjoy the refreshing wind, heavy clouds gather on the horizon; through the black plastic of my visor, they appear much darker than they really are. Raindrops on my jacket are pleasant at first, but, eventually, I start shivering.
We, humans, have some real trouble accepting reality. When you are on a motorbike and it rains, you constantly think how you would love to wear dry clothes; if it is warm, you dream of the cold weather you encountered a couple of hundred kilometers before.
The range of temperatures in which we feel comfortable, in which can be alive, is so narrow that makes you think life in the universe, the way we know it, is indeed a miracle. Or a huge stroke of luck.
The cold, the rain, the sun are all inevitable. Everything can be pure pleasure. Or intense suffering.
Centuries of wisdom whisper that it is in the gap between reality and fantasy that our suffering occurs. It would be so much easier if we could mindfully accept what is.
Fuck it, it is warm; Fuck it, it is raining.
“That rain is not going to kill you,” I repeat to my self. The worse can happen is that you may have to find a diner and wait for the sun to come back. And who knows, maybe, in that diner, you will find the love of your life.
I stop at a petrol station. It might be my lucky day.
We keep passing unseen through little moments of other people’s lives
Some 500 kilometers from Berlin, I am about to approach Brno, a historical city of Moravia. I would need at least a day to visit the Cathedral of St. Peter and St. Paul, famous for the bells that always ring noon one hour earlier (here is why), and the Brno Underground, a network of tunnels, crypts, and cellars, with the second largest ossuary in Europe.
The sun has heated the rain away and the Czech motorway feels cozier compared to the fast curves of Germany, where the no-speed-limit policy allows drivers to push the pedal to the metal. Without warning, the traffic slows down and I have to weave between the vehicles for about ten kilometers, but, eventually, I surrender to an impenetrable wall of heat, steel, and people.
Among families on holiday, pissed-off truck drivers, and road workers, four fellow motorbikers have gathered on a side of the road: No helmets, jackets loose on their machines. It is too hot keep the engine on, so I switch off mine and join them. Three are Austrian – they are riding to Brno for the superbike race that will be held next day. The fourth motorbiker, from the Czech Republic, tells us in his difficult German that he knows an alternative route.
“The good news is…” he says, mixing German and English, “I can bring you away from the traffic.”
“The bad news?” I ask.
“That road does not go to Brno.”
The Austrian riders have paid expensive tickets to enter the race and decide to stay. I am open to suggestions; I just need to travel south.
When the Czech fellow rider starts the engine of his bike, an elegant red Honda CB750 – 1978, I can tell that those pistons have been going for a while and have no intention of doing otherwise. We ride together for about thirty minutes on a dirt road that bends away into a valley, until we reach a busy crossroad.
“Moto Guzzi! That is all you need to be happy.” He says with an almost perfect Italian pronunciation. We then hug as if we had been friends for years.
I am again on my own, heading south.
The island of Krk: A magic treasure chest
The pale yellow-gold hue of my glass of Zlahtina reflects the summer light that brightens the stones of Vrbnik, a walled medieval village on the east coast of the Croatian island of Krk. Tourists crawl its narrow streets that climb to a 50-meter cliff, which then dives into the blue waters of the Adriatic sea. The calmness of the view is an unexpected reward for the 2-day ride that brought me from Berlin to Rijeka.
That everything you think, you are
The night before I stayed in Podhum, a small village twenty kilometers into the hills of Kvarner, in a five-square-meter hole, with one tiny window and no air conditioning. Perhaps reading the disappointment on my face, Alexander, the owner of the pension, offered me a drink. He spent most of his life working as a farmer until he opened his humble house to tourists, mostly motorbikers on their way to the coast. Watching those huge hands pouring a second round, I asked him where I could find those beautiful Croatian beaches that everybody is talking about.
“You have to ride to Krk,” said Alexander without a hint of doubt.
That is where the magic began.
The slow, open curves of the hilly landscape of the Kvarner region gave me a kick of enthusiasm; I felt like Jack Nicholson on his way to Louisiana, the ever-groovy song of the Steppenwolf accompanying the silence of my helmet. At the toll station of the Krčki most, a bridge offering an absolutely stunning panorama of the island, my white Moto Guzzi and I got noticed by a man driving a station wagon filled with suitcases, two kids, and a wife. He launched a fist out of the window and shouted: “Ride on, man!”
Trusting Alexander’s suggestion, I chose to ride some five kilometers south of Vrbnik to Potovosce, a quiet pebble beach guarded by a pine forest.
One minute into the waters of the Croatian island of Krk and all sort of memories flooded my mind: A young kid laughing, a father telling a child that it is time to go, that familiar man who sells granita on the beach. My body instantly recognized the scent of salty air and the sound of waves — it remembered that it grew up by the sea.
Alexander was right, Krk is a magic treasure chest — once you open it, memories and some of the most stunning beaches of the Adriatic sea will materialize before your eyes.
Pag, the lunar island
From Rijeka, I take the E65 route, which chases the fragmented coastline endlessly. The view through my visor renews at every turn — yet another lovely village, the vast blue sea never leaving my sight. The weather is tough, though; temperatures are above 40°C. Fortunately, only a few cars are willing to drive at this time of the day and my ride proceeds smoothly. I stop several times for a swim and a long sip of cool water.
My intention is to continue on the E65, a well-known route for motorbikers, reach Zadar and ride back north to the Island of Pag via the marvelous Paski Most. But it is too hot and halfway through my plan, I fall back on a far easier alternative: Take a ferry in Prizna, get rid of all my motorbike gear, and let myself rest for a couple of fresh hours of sea breeze.
Back on my Moto Guzzi on the route to Pag town, there is no escape from the desert-like terrain and the boiling air that adds up to the engine heat. No trees, no water — it is an unfriendly and exotic lunar landscape. I almost expect to see an alien aircraft on the side of the road. I wonder if they would even survive here.
Temperature, just as Time, is a physical quantity that often keeps my mind busy.
Think about it: The lowest temperature possible is -272°C (even atoms freeze!), but the upper limit is infinite, or, if you believe in the concept of absolute hot, a humongous figure.
We live in a freezing world.
Is there any species in the universe that can survive at 1000, 5000, 10000°C?
Could these organisms live on the gaseous surfaces of stars?
Am I going crazy?
In the high country of the mind, one has to become adjusted to the thinner air of uncertainty
Pag town is a half-moon-shaped strip of land populated by locals and tourists. Riding at low speed, I get lost in a dedalus of little streets that bring me to the Frane Guest House. I am too tired to be picky, so I book a room and rush to the outdoor restaurant to order a beer. I will unpack the motorbike later.
The sun is still high and most of the tourists are away either sunbathing at one of the beaches of the island or spending money in the small shops that sell the famous Pag cheese or lace works.
A young couple seats at the restaurant; they have just ordered a salad with cheese and tomatoes. Their eyes wonder on my motorbike then hover over me as to determine whether I am a troublemaker or a dangerous fellow.
“I am harmless,” I say with a smile. To reassure them further, I take a book from my bag; somebody who reads cannot be a criminal. The notes crawling out of the creased pages remind me, if I would ever forget it, that this book has been a loyal travel pal.
The Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert M. Pirsig, the cover reads.
The Frane Guest House makes me feel at home and all I do for days is to read, swim, sunbathe and swim again. It is a quiet and simple life in Pag (unlike Novalja, the party town nearby). One day I ride to Zadar, a city not to be missed, with its Roman ruins, the famous Sea Organ, and the Sun Salutation; the next day, I set off on the exploration of Vir, the sister island of Pag. Not a twin sister, though, with its trees and flowers, milder temperatures, and the Kaštelina Fortress, a military construction built in 1620 by the Venetians on a beach characterized by a geologically unique mix of clay and sandstone.
During my quietly happy days in Pag, I got stuck on one thought, an image that attracts both the scientist and writer in me. It is the crystal seed concept that Robert M. Pirsig describes in his travel accounts.
All you need to lose your sanity is a single, persisting thought, a crystal seed that can transform your fluid mind in a solid block of hardened chemical impulses.
One day you are Robert, the next you turn into Phaedrus.
You look at where you’re going and where you are and it never makes sense, but then you look back at where you’ve been and a pattern seems to emerge.
I have traveled for 15 days, 250 kilometers a day, through six European Countries. Robert M. Pirsig and Phaedrus were with me all this time.
His life, yours, mine: It is a journey that will perhaps make sense only at the very end.
All we can do is to keep breathing, keep choosing, keep trusting.
— WRITTEN IN PAG, BIRMINGHAM
All photos were taken during my trip. For more check on
All quotes are by Robert M. Pirsig