I’m slowly going down the paved little streets of Sultanahmet district in Istanbul. I get to the main avenue. And the rain is pouring so nicely that I don’t see much around me. Only the guy on the scooter who points me that my chain is very loose and that I should stretch it. Really? Do you know this chain is that loose due to the stories it’s carrying and that don’t go in anymore? I’m not stretching it any further, I’m going home.
Big crowd at the exit. It was raining hardly, then it was raining well, then it was raining badly. I’m busy with carefully watching the Turkish drivers who, though we don’t see anything and we all roll with 100 km/h with few meters between us, are more preoccupied with the global crisis and global warming and they save energy, by driving with their lights off. There’s a genuine ordeal to get to the ticket pay-office of the highway. A child selling pretzels sees me hindering the entire queue with my fighting all the gloves, helmet, rain suite and sweat I have over me and he helps me get my ticket. The barrier is lifting. And now we’re flying, but we’re flying responsively, as we have to burn 570 kilometers today. Come on!
Would I do it again? I don’t know. But for certain the answer is not “No”. I’d rather let the time fall over these memories and answer this question after a while.
After one hundred humid kilometers I see at the horizon today’s favorite color – blue. Yees… that’s the way we go. The rain is going away, the clouds disappear, the sun is rising. We’re leaving the highway, towards north, to our brothers, the Bulgarians. The last stop in Turkey is for getting rid of the money, wisely spending it on gas and one ton of chocolate. I want to leave, goodbye, waaait!!! One of the guys in the gas station is pointing the rear part of the bike. Yes, sir, we know, it’s the chain. Does it show that much? No, it’s not about the chain. It’s about the flat tire. The same guy shows me the compressor to inflate it. Aaaah, don’t worry, we all know what this is. It’s something Doyle hasn’t experienced so far on this road and he considers that right about now is a good moment to start experiencing it – a flat tire. I take the compressor, let the air go in and I hear the tire fizzling. Well, I was a bit afraid of this. I’ve never played the levers on the rear wheel so far and the legends I know, well, they all say the respective tire is fucking hard to be taken away and then put back in place. There’s nothing else to do but trying this myself. And quickly, as it’s already too late and it’s obvious at this moment that I’ll get in Vama Veche after dark.
And how “cool” do I think I am? Well… honestly? I don’t think I’m “cool” at all. I was thinking I am during the first thousands of kilometers. Then I met people that broke this feeling down, without wanting it, and I’m thankful for this. We all are travelers, this is what I think, and the age, the vehicle, the duration or the destination are details that don’t matter that much. There’s nothing special or out of the ordinary in what I did, except maybe of the fact that I took forty three names with me there, where the roads took me. And this is not something that happens to anyone. This is the only thing I consider myself lucky for. And “cool”!
The tire is down and the tube is out down in few minutes, much fewer than I imagined. Wow, what a beautiful hole and how nicely it appeared, on this huge fold made but that hotshot that changed my tires in Erevan. I’m not in the mood for patching now, so I’ll use the spare tube, so that it can be pleased it didn’t travel so far for nothing. And off we go.
Well, I was saying earlier that I don’t know if I’d do it again and now I say there’s no big deal. Right, these are not contradictory concepts. I’ve found out in this journey that “nomad”, this fairytale word, is something that we are born with, you’re not learning it. And I, unfortunately, don’t have it in me. I couldn’t do this my entire life, not even for five years or two or one. A friend of mine told me these people are “the ones that make the world go round”. It’s right, this is who they are, and I am one of the lucky ones that met them. But I, I would be afraid. I’ve been afraid now. I’d be afraid of what I feel when coming back home at the end of the time. And I’d be afraid if, on my way, I face the moment when I can say I’ve seen EVERYTHING. I don’t think this is impossible, it only sounds impossible. The world is not endless, only time is.
The road to the customs is winding between the mountains and Doyle and I are madly climbing. The chain is cracking on an afro beat and the rear wheel has learned to squeak since I changed its tube. I don’t know what I’ve done wrong, but I’ve managed to become a brass band of tires. There is a crazy autumn around here. I’m all alone on this road and on the stretches where there’s a carpet of leaves on the ground, I pull the accelerator, shout and watch the show behind me. Do you see, Doyle, how beautiful this is?
Hero? No way. I was saying I did nothing special. I’ve just gone out of my home for a while, that’s all. If there’s a gheroi in this entire story, there’s only one of us and the gheroi is Doyle. He span tens of thousands of kilometers beneath his wheels, he ate gas that cannot be called gas, he bit all the holes on the road that wasn’t a road anymore, he suffered from heat in the deserts, he got frozen at night under the stars, while I was pulling an extra blanket over me, he broke himself instead of breaking me, and he’s the one that brought me home in one piece.
I get to the customs. I know there are many offices in the Turkish part and my hand is shaking at each of them when handing the papers. I was threatened that the money for that fine will be taken away from me here and I expect this inevitable to happen at any of these offices. The last one. Thank you, goodbye! Oh dear God, I thank you too and please let me tell you that was one undeserved fine. On the Bulgarian part everything goes smoothly. Everyone lets me pass. I take my passport out, but no one wants it. Well done, guys! That’s the way every border of every country in this world should be. Let’s burn it, now, as the sun is not on our side.
What place did I enjoy the most? Hah. How am I supposed to answer such a question? I’d say Mongolia and Tajikistan, but this answer would be away from the truth. I’m sorry I saw too little. I fully enjoyed every place I’ve been through, as there are people everywhere and people are beautiful. Yes, I know, some would say that not all the people are beautiful and that I’ve met enough cases on my way to say that the above is wrong. It’s true, except the ones that take your clothes off to steal, together with those that purposely dry up seas, well, those are not human beings.
I stopped at a gas station in Burgas to ask if I can pay with my credit cars. Of course I can. Great! I give Doyle something to drink and we run again. I keep thinking of this dilemma I have. The last two hundred and fifty kilometers will be after dark and this is not good. Is this bad? Well, it’s not that bad, after all. Should I sleep a night on the Bulgarian side? Ummm… I don’t feel like. And anyway, by every kilometer that goes from ‘in front’ to ‘behind’, it’s getting clear: we stop in Romania today.
What about the existential questions? Have I found out who I am and all? No, not at all. And I don’t think I asked myself these questions from the beginning. I’ve been too busy seeing and feeling. I don’t come back home with a different Mihai than the one I left with four months ago. Not to mention that I quite know who I am. What I want? That I will never know and the answer to this question is not even at the end of the world.
This is a night with half of moon. Hah, when I left home, at this hour there were five hours until it was getting dark. My headlight is just for fun, more to put Doyle in a glamorous light, as I don’t see where its beams are going and the long phase is going somewhere at that half of moon I was telling you about. Luckily, we have projectors. And they worth as much as gold at this moment. We bother a little the ones from the opposite lane, but being sorry is not making light for us. We’re riding lightly.
Do I miss home? Badly. Do I miss Mongolia? Badly. Make up your mind, Mihai. I miss my at-home-Mongolia. Badly.
I stop twice. First time to revive a little and the second time because of the cold. Doyle is helping me to warm my gloves with his engine and I attack the bag with chocolates at each stop. It’s dark and I haven’t eaten anything today besides that breakfast I had in Istanbul. We leave after the second stop we’ve made before the border in the parking lot of a gas station. I’m sorry I don’t see the sea. Does she see me?
What about some breakthrough conclusions? A traveler’s advice, a guide in picking a bike? The guides are in libraries, the bike advices are in magazines and I don’t know where the conclusions are; what I know is that they’re not here. I’d be happy to know that at least one of the people that came with me in this journey took the map in his arms after we returned and looked at it for a while, with a little smile on his face, asking himself “What if?…” There’s no bigger earning for me than knowing I pass this on. I don’t need other earning.
Customs, ahead. Road sign – Romania 3. Excitement, then two, one, happy birthday! A customs officer jumps out of his office when he sees my lights approaching. When he sees what the three-eyed creature is, he makes me a sign to go on. And that’s it, I’m out of Bulgaria without knowing it. Romania. Our customs officer stops me. I don’t try to find an explanation for this: I feel like jumping in his arms and kissing him. But he seems away from sharing my feeling. He looks at the papers, at the license plate, he tells me to take off my helmet. C’mon, duuude, don’t you recognize me? It’s me, Mihai. And this is Doyle. Well, yep, go away now.
Helmet on, ignition, pass the last barrier. I’m thrashed. I rise in my stirrups and I scream as loud as I can: “Bravooooooooooooooo, Doyle!!!”. Few times. I look at Marcel that has frozen because of the thrills six kilometers before the customs. “Bravoooooooooo, Marcel!!!”. I sit back in the saddle and a trembling mere whisper comes out: “Bravo, Mihai…”.
What about courage? As they say there’s big deal to ride alone on a bike for so many kilometers for so long. If someone told me before I left how easy this actually is, I wouldn’t believe it. The courage you need easily goes in the eye of a needle. It’s more dangerous to cross the street to get yourself a pack of cigarettes. I’ve never considered myself a great biker. I’m the one that falls in a curve without knowing what stroke him. I’m afraid of speed, I don’t know how to put my knee down or grind the stirrups and I’d gladly take a roundabout route of one hundred kilometers to avoid five kilometers of sand. I envy those who make all these with courage and I look at them as a child looking at the window of the candy shop. I know something else instead. I quote something Mister Ted Simon said: “I’d rather go far that fast”. “And back” I would add.
Vama Veche. Empty, with half of moon above. I ask at a store for a place to sleep and I find it across the street. It’s love at first sight, as it’s warm. I change my clothes and I go on the beach, accompanied by a suite of dogs. I don’t stay long, just as long as it takes to listen to the waves for a while, and then I go back to my room. I sit on the stairs for a while, with Doyle beside me, without saying a word. I’m in my room. Where do all these thoughts find room between these four walls? Where am I now, actually?
What about the recipe, if there is any? Well, it’s easy. Once you got your ounce of courage, you’re already on the way. Afterwards it gets even easier. You have to have patience, to stop often, to meet people, to wave your hand, to let yourself overtaken, to smile a lot, not to hurry, to see, to feel, to look behind you, to have trust, to know, to find out, not to be embarrassed to cry, not to stop wondering and, above all, to love.
I’m somewhere in Mongolia, lost in this empire that remained so empty, small and away from home, in my tent, under this sky full of start. I’m cold, but my sleeping bag is taking care of me. I’m tired, but I’m fine. I hear children playing around me and animals still speaking their language. Do rest, Doyle, my faithful companion. You have the horses beside you, you’re home. And goodnight to me.
What have I learned? Well… I’ve learned a few things. I’ve learned that every dream in this world can come to live and it’s only up to me to have the world in my palms. There’s no big trick here, no magic or wise words or a quote from the classics. I’ve learned that you have to hold your way with every strength you have and you have to know that you might not get once more to these the places you’re in and, at the same time, when you’re too tired or too cold, hungry or afraid and you don’t feel like going any further, to know how to say “and then what if I don’t get here again?”. That no matter how much money, how many sponsors, how many cameras, how many assistance trucks, how many five stars hotels, how many people talking about you, good or bad words, no matter how many of those you have, you only have yourself in the saddle. And that two is a much bigger number than one. That it is never too soon but tomorrow can be too late. And that, although it doesn’t seem so, there are more good people than bad people in this world. That there is a balance between all things, that it cannot be just bad or just good. That there is no problem without solution. And one more thing. A simple lesson, but that I’ve learned so hard. I’ve learned that, in the end, you are never alone.
All that is behind is just a part of it. There are certain things you cannot talk about. It is allowed, but there are no words for it. You can only find out, but the way to them is pretty long. Our friend Marco Polo, the way of whom I crossed a few times, while he was lying on his bed before he died, surrounded by skeptics that were telling him “C’mon, dude, admit it now in you last hour: all you’ve been saying is a fantasy”, said this: “I have told you not even half of what I’ve seen”. About the other half I’m (not) talking about.
In the morning I woke up at eight, as usual, and I went outside in a hurry. Doyle, dude, listen how cool is this! I dreamt that Gabi woke me up from that bed I was sleeping in at home at Radu, who had been drinking all night long with Alin, and that I was somehow lost, and that the sun wasn’t up yet, and there was silence on the streets and that you were waiting for me in the yard and that both of us were supposed to go somewhere, far-far, far away.
Doyle is looking at me frowning a little, as if he had two palms he would not hesitate to slap me. Yeah, Mihai, how cool is this…
Then I got dressed and we went home.