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“Help me if you can I’m feeling down…”

I’ve just finished the bag of delicious gingerbread that Jakub’s aunt had sent me on my way with. A yummy sweet treat to enjoy in my tent each night. I don’t think I mentioned in my previous post that Jifi presented me with a 10th anniversary medal from his vintage club and I fitted it on the bike at Libor’s. So thanks Jifi.

Tollways are a bit a nightmare especially when you’re not meant to be on them! At one toll in Poland I parked alongside a truck so as not to hold up the traffic while I tried to find some coins. This though meant the camera didn’t record me going through the toll. It then took ages to sort out with toll collectors what I had to pay given everything is automated. I confused everyone at another toll by being in the correct lane this time, but not working out that you have to take a ticket and pay at the exit. Within minutes I had a huge queue behind me, all patiently waiting. A security guy and the booth operator had to come and sort out the mess so everyone could continue on their merry way.

I must admit I’ve held up the traffic for miles in many places simply because being on the freeways is often the only way I can know what direction I have to travel in. And there’s rarely any signs giving the minimum speed limit – which I can’t achieve anyway! So I apologise to maybe thousands of motorists who’ve missed their dental appointments, plane flights, court appearances & their wife’s birthday celebration because some old bugger was traveling at a snail’s pace on an antiquated piece of machinery just for the fun of it. I suspect the police in Germany won’t be quite as understanding as those I’ve met so far, those who’ve wiggled their finger at me and then asked if they could take a photo!

I’ve never been a regular customer at McDonald’s until this journey started. Did you know that I can have a wash and a shave in a scrupulously clean bathroom, ask the smiling girl behind the counter to fill my water bottle and then rather than order a big Mac, she gives me a handful of paper napkins to clean the oil off my boots & wipe down Effie’s engine… and all for the price of an icecream cone? I should include them on my list of supporters do you think?

It proved too hard to find somewhere to stop in Krakow so I deviated around the city and headed north to Kieice. Good weather for the most part, with pleasant scenery, but the chilly mornings meant putting on my thermals. I usually regretted this within a couple of hours as once the sun was up it was too hot for this kind of gear. Just wish the slots in my undies, the thermals & my trousers all lined up – I could have been arrested for tinkering with my toggle!

It seems ironical to be experiencing problems when the roads are so much better these days, but I guess Effie is beginning to feel her age. For instance, we’d done 150 kms on one particular day though it had been hard to get over 20 km an hour. The back hub was now breaking up badly – every 30 kms or so I had to stop and tighten or replace the spokes. I’d refitted the pedal gear the day before when it broke, noting I must get the clamp bolt repaired asap. Next morning having started the bike, the pedal gear fell off again snapping the brake rod, so I stowed all the pedal gear in the pannier and rode to Przedbortz to get it repaired. So now I have no brakes and no footrest and am trying to negotiate town traffic while looking for a repair shop. Fortunately, I stumbled across Auto Centrum Swiech. Tomek the owner, rang an English interpreter Tukasz, (pronounced Lucas), who organized the welding of the brake rod and the repair of the clamp bolt. When I asked how much I owed, Tomek shook his head and presented me with 2 screwdrivers, a puncture kit, epoxy, cable ties, hose clamps, 2 bottles of mineral water, some stainless steel rod and a new reflective jacket because he thought mine was too dirty. What a guy! Lucas then took me home for a shower and breakfast. All this was just another example of the wonderful generosity of the Polish people. Lucas is an English teacher who also works for local newspaper. While he took photos of the bike his lovely mum made me a traditional Polish breakfast. His grandmother in her 90’s, had the strongest handshake of anyone I’d met on my journey!

Camped that night 60 kms short of Opole after completing another 150 km ride, the motor has now developed a nasty noise. At just 100 kms from Kudowa border we’ve done 13,000 kms but it seemed we could go no further. I had an English speaking contact through Libor Marcik if I needed help, so it was now time to give him a call. Jan Kralik from the Transport Museum in Prague phoned Libor on my behalf, and he drove 300kms to meet me near Varrandov. It took me the whole day to crawl the next 90 kms to the meeting point we’d arranged. It was devastating to be so close to the end and now it looked as though Effie & I might not make it. A car passed towing a trailer and the guy driving gave me a wave. This had to be Libor – what a relief!

At his home I dismantled most of the engine that day and discovered the centre main bearing had worn away. Libor knew the crankshaft grinding man who reground the centre main. He also knew someone who could make a new bronze bearing. All this was done in one day so that we got most of the engine reassembled the next morning. Wife Helena took me under her wing, feeding and caring for me like a long lost son. I’d lost 10kg so now looked even skinnier than usual. Local club members came around together with the media, one guy riding on a 1904 Torpedo and another in his beautiful black open tourer Ford and we all went to dinner together, fortunately with one or two people speaking English.

I learnt something really neat from Arnost Nezmeskal who gave me a personal tour of the Technical Museum in Prague. He shared how before carburettors were invented and the motor started by ingesting petrol fumes, there was a provision in the fuel tank to pour hot water to create the fumes, but in times of need it wasn’t unusual for the rider to piss in the tube to create the fumes! Another pioneering trick that might come in handy. LOL

On the weekend I went for a 40km ride to Bucek campground to meet Ardie & Josie from the Netherlands who both ride veteran bikes. They had very kindly brought along an original FN seat for me.  What a difference this made to my now battered bum! Thank you Ardie for your generosity.

Returning to Libor’s the two of us went on a social ride together visiting a castle, museums & a water hammer (a water wheel which drives a big hammer to forge steel). There were so many spokes broken by this stage that Libor decided the back hub needed to be fixed properly & I shouldn’t persist with my temporary repairs that had carried me all the way from India. Back at his workshop we had the hub reconstructed by welding up the flanges and redrilling the spoke holes. He also organized a new set of spokes, driving 200 kms to pick them up so the wheel would be ready the next morning for refitting. Libor wouldn’t let me re-spoke the wheel and insisted on doing it himself & what great job he did, so much quicker at it than me. Having taken off the rear tyre to repair the wheel I decided to fit a new tyre and tube. This time thanks to the stronger Ensigns I had at least doubled the distance on the rear tyre with still some spare rubber to go, but it made sense to do it now.

While Lynne was making her way back from an intensive English teaching course in Spain, I enjoyed a four hour walking tour of Prague. It’s a beautiful city with so many stunning buildings, castles, bridges and cobbled streets, but all heaving with tourists at this time of year. Now I’ve a short respite before crossing the border into Germany on my last leg of the journey. Effie’s in good spirits and I’ve drunk way too much beer at mealtimes & the local hooch to finish off. So I leave the Czech Republic having enjoyed many great experiences and new friendships. Congratulations to Jakub and Helen on the birth of their lovely new daughter and to Libor and Helena for their hospitality and incredible assistance – thanks to you all so much. Dekuji pekne.

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