Castles, Caves, and River Waves
Posted on May 15, 2015
With only a few countries in Europe still ahead, completion of the trip felt so close, but with the Alps still ahead and a road weary bike beneath us, the finish line began to recede from grasp.
I love riding through places with a weird or striking natural landscape and on this stretch of the journey it was the Karst topography of Slovenia that served up the goods. Karst terrains are formed when limestone goes into solution in water moving beneath the surface, creating subterranean caverns and the like.
The stalactites and stalagmites that we roamed between belonged to the Postojna caves. With a row of lights to guide us we walked through an absolutely gaping cavern 115 meters below the surface. The entire cave system is more than 20 km long and in the cold and damp air I found it hard not to think about the millions of tons of earth perched above our heads. I can see how the dwarves get into this scene.
We left the caves, and zipped along on the motorway north. I pressed up over 80 mph a few times passing trucks along the way. And then Dyna Rae stumbled. When I pulled over to assess her condition, she wouldn’t idle. It was as though I’d pushed her too far, taken her steadfastness for granted and she finally spoke up about it. She’d been punished all the way across Africa (twice!), climbing goat trails, rattling down corrugated roads, and sucking diesel dust. She’d done all this with a minimum of fuss and I didn’t even get her some new shoes until the soles peeled right off the ones she was wearing back on the coast of Croatia. And now I wanted her to hurtle down to motorway keeping up with all the Audi A6’s and BMW M series. She wasn’t havin’ it.
As the rain started to trickle down, we pulled off the motorway into a beautiful little town called Bled to sort out the problem. I could think of worse places in the world to be stuck camping in the rain.
Battling the wind and rain on the motorway and then battling Dyna Rae’s issues had worn me down. When we found the campsite, all I could do was hug a tree.
The inlet filter to the carb wasn’t clogged, so the inability to idle pointed clearly to the need to dig into the carb to clear the pilot jet of whatever crap had blown in there when I stirred things up blasting along the motorway. As it turned out, there was plenty of gunk in the bottom of the float bowl. And check out this little mystery nugget I found chilling in the fuel line.
Unfortunately I’d lost my little screwdriver ages ago and never managed to replace it. Jamie came to the rescue, with the perfect sized set of tweezers to remove a pilot jet.
The needle has seen better days. I found a severe notch on one side along with erosion of the plastic spacer on the other side. The way the bike runs is very sensitive to very small changes in these tiny little parts, and it’s a good bet that some of Dyna’s rough running of late can be attributed to what you see in the image below. The needle sits in the middle of a slide that moves up and down by the pressure gradient created in the carb when you open the throttle. With the needle and spacer in this state, the needle is probably sitting cocked sideways and messing up fuel delivery. While I have a spare needle, I don’t have a spare one of those little spacers. Oops.
Taking your bike apart at home is one thing, but on the road is another, especially if you’re a crappy mechanic like I am. When you mess up and break something or strip a bolt, replacement or extraction may not be so easy. I know that I know how to put everything back together, but even so, looking down at my pile of carb in a random sink in Slovenia still inspires just a little bit of anxiety.
With her bits cleaned up and reassembled, Dyna fired right up and idled like a champ. It was time to climb into the Alps and I was happy to have a running bike again. Austria seriously looked like the Sound of Music film the entire way across.
We rode through more than 20 miles of tunnels crossing the Alps and lucked out, only hitting a few showers along the way. We made for Munich, where I’d heard for years about a standing river wave with a crew of local surfers. I’d met German surfers in places like Dakar that had learned to surf only on this river wave.
There’s even a local surf shop, where I got a board and suit to use. Only problem was that I no longer had a board rack on the bike. But I had a plan. Sort of.
We were kind of a scene. I can’t really think of a better way to get pulled over by the police than riding all over downtown Munich like this. We weren’t in Africa any longer where 30 chicken cages loaded onto a 125cc is standard practice, and the Germans are rather fond of their rules. Against all odds, we made it to the Eisbach River wave in central Munich unmolested.
The locals were ripping it.
It looked so damn easy. Just jump on, stand there, and boogie around the thing. After all, I’m a surfer from California. I’ve spent my life surfing waves in the ocean. How hard could this be? Pretty sure I was going to rule it.
I may have been slightly overconfident. As I stepped off the ledge onto the board ready to slip down the wave face and felt every drop of the River Eisbach trying to push me up and over the crest and down the river. Before I knew it I was sucked under, rolled around on the rocky bottom and then floating downstream and swimming for the bank. Alright, I thought, had to get that one over with, now I think I’ve got it. My second wipeout was even more comedic than the first.
You had to be really precise with your position on the wave to stay down in it and not have it suck the nose of the board under. Looking down at the mesmerizing maelstrom of white swirls and eddies, it was difficult to judge position on the wave face. With every humbling trip down the Eisbach, I imagined an ironic narrative from the crowd of spectators gathered on the bridge above, “Those German surfers rip. The guy from California sure sucks.” After enough bounces on the riverbed, the local guys gave me some tips that helped immensely. Jamie managed to capture a few glorious seconds that actually made it look like I could actually ride the thing.
It was loads of fun when I wasn’t floating downstream cursing. We retired to our campsite and I licked the wounds to ego and flesh.
In Dachau, outside of Munich I finally managed to get our fork seals replaced at the local moto shop and the pre-load increased on the rear shock. We’ve had about no oil in the fork since Albania, which makes the bike ride like total garbage. Our girl’s legs now finally feel back in shape. In Dachau, we also got a chance to take in some history with a visit to the Dachau internment camp from the holocaust era.
The camp was complete with gas champers and crematoriums, a model upon which others were constructed throughout Europe in the Nazi regime’s zeal to cleanse society of whomever they deemed unfit to belong. In 1930’s Germany, national socialism consolidated and radicalized a number of political positions – nationalism, imperialism, social Darwinism, and resentment of liberalism. The Nazi movement strove towards a racially pure body, wherein all elements that weakened it or didn’t fit in were eliminated. The Jews were painted as scapegoats for Germany’s economic woes following the First World War and were the focus of racial hatred preached by Hitler’s Nazi regime. As World War II wore on, treatment in the Dachau camp worsened: people starved, were experimented on, and executed on the whim of the brutal SS officers. The words printed on one of the buildings where people were forced to labor day after day reads ‘work brings freedom’ in a mockery of hope for the prisoners.
You certainly can’t accuse the Germans of forgetting their history. They’ve got it all on display and the stark images and words of Dachau leave a lasting impression. The day we were there, the place was filled with school groups come to learn about this terrible episode in history.
We rode north out of Munich and stopping at Nuremberg to camp for the night and paid a visit to the castle. The campsite was packed and no one bothered to ask us to pay, so we didn’t. The party didn’t stop for most of the night at the campsite and we didn’t really understand what the occasion was on a Thursday night until the next morning when a girl drove up to us on the bike, rolled her window down and asked, “You guys know which way to the AC/DC show?”. In that moment, The World War II era Germany couldn’t have seemed further away.
We’re just about to the end of our road in Europe now and enjoying every mile left.