The day arrived. My bike was ready. I was excited and yet somehow deep down in my stomach knew I wasn’t home safe yet. Nothing is ever easy.
My route

▣  Highly recommend       Boring but safe      Shit. Boring, strenuous & dangerous       Incomplete

Hrs estimated duration
Hrs travelling

What I thought’d happen
It would be a long day, something would go wrong but I’d end up with my bike

What actually happened
Exactly that.

My agent called me and told me that I needed to go pick up the bike and to bring a set of tools to attach the plates. So off I trundled at 10am to my garage.
My bike was being held in a small village called Iszák, 2 hours south of Budapest by car. Of course, I don’t have a car so it was a high speed train to Kecskemét and then a bus. Except that online it says there are only two buses a day, so I had to chance that I would make it in time. In fact, I had to leave a lot of things up to chance today.

I’m on my way home from the garage

when my agent calls to tell me I need to pick up my bike before 3:30pm. The guy who fixed my bike is away on holidays so they handed it to a friend. That friend’s girlfriend is the only one home today, that is until 3:30pm.

I start calculating. Which is not something I do best. It’s 11:30. The train leaves at 11:52.

I work out there’s a very slight chance I can make it on time if I start taking any and every public transport option I can in the direction of the train station.

I arrive and with 3 minutes to buy my ticket and find my train I’m pouring with sweat. Oh how time doesn’t slow down AT ALL when you need it to. It’s one of those moments when you’re simultaneously not putting in too much effort so as to appear cool and calm and collected whilst desperately trying to make it in time for a life changing event.

I jog to the ticket machine and I start doing the thing you know, pressing buttons to order my ticket. But it’s a touch screen and the little black arrow I need to use to click those ironically ginormous buttons is not placed where my finger is. Every time I tap it does nothing, or worse, it clicks the wrong button. Infuriating.

No seconds to spare, I dash onto the train. How I made it I’ll never know.

I’m on the creaking high speed train,

sweating in my gear, semi delirious from heat, hunger and dehydration. Then I’m thrown out into the rude sunshine. Then I’m slumping, tired but victorious on a hot and bothered bus.

I made it on time to Izsák. I found the girl I’m retrieving my bike from (Erika). Things were going to be OK.

Until I’m handed the number plate.

It looks like it was made for a monster truck. With holes in all of the most inconvenient places.

While Erika tries in vain to find a way to attach it, I call my agent who says to break it in half…I’m not sure how he thought that was an option. I mean…wot? Erika then calls her father, who drives over to the house. In the meantime, I ask if she has a drill. I accompany this question with lot’s of improv sign language. Together we go hunting in her friend’s garage.

It doesn’t sound like a big deal, but when you’re in someone else’s house without the home owner and there’s a language barrier as high as Trump’s new wall and there’s a deadline because everybody’s got shit to do today bar you… things become intense.

We drill the holes as Erika’s father arrives. But the screws don’t fit. I mean, they fit the holes we drilled. Duh. But they’re too long. My old German plates have spacers and to cut a long story short, Erika’s father just did some manly shit and got the whole thing working.

I then had the lovely task of rolling the plump little bitch back out of the garage.

And I’m off!

At a snail’s pace. I can barely even reach 70km in top gear. I get that cold icy sweat forming on my back as I realise I am in the middle of nowhere with a dying phone, one credit card and a disintegrating bike.

I limp to the next town. Cars and trucks are flying past me on the highway and I’m roaring away at 60.

Something is wrong. Really wrong. And I’m all alone with no way to fix it. 

At the service station

A man hurries over and asks if I’d like Benzine. I oblige and then ask him to pump my tires. Maybe the handling is off? I haven’t pumped them up since winter.

It’s a stupid solution in hindsight.

I tell the guy, ‘there’s a problem’, ‘there’s a problem’ but he doesn’t understand and doesn’t care. I call my newest team mate Ricky, who’s all the way over in Spain but he doesn’t respond and I’m melting with stress.

I hop back on the bike and pray something has changed for the better. I do two laps of the station and concede it’s a little bit better. But as I accelerate across the highway, I can barely even move in 1st gear and panic sets in again.

I tell myself I’ll be able to make it back to Budapest…it will just take me while. I have visions of me put-putting my way through the dark like a total badass bitch, but in reality I’d be riding a really powerful bike lame and totally shitting myself before shitting my bike completely.

30 minutes later

Ricky gives me a call, orders me off the side of the road and chides me for being stupid enough to ride the poor thing.

I look at the signals on the dash and see the oil light is on. I get a thrashing from Ricky for riding it with an oil problem.

I’m ordered to get to the nearest petrol station, which just happens to be the one I just came from, to buy oil. Except I’m in the middle of nowhere with no way back. My phone battery is dying.

I see a leathered man chink the door of a dilapidated shop across the road. He hops onto a bicycle. I rush over, pointing at my bike and exclaiming ‘problem’, ‘problem’. I ask him to help open the oil cap which is practically baked onto my bike. He doesn’t understand but I’m all in his grill so he has no choice but to open his gap toothed mouth and point at the adjacent street and say ‘auto service’. Or something along those lines. I thank him and start walking.

He sees that I completely misunderstood and follows me. I walk straight past a perfectly normal, discreet house and he calls out to the owner before calling me back. A smiling, portly man plods out the front gate, followed by his son and another man. They shake hands and bicycle man rides off.

I start explaining the situation to his son, who knows the very basics of English. Together we check the oil, see it’s low and suddenly out of nowhere they produced a car and ushered me into it.

We arrive at the gas station

and my smiling companion asks which oil will do. I confer with Ricky, who confirms that although not ideal, W/40 will do. The oil is bought for me even though I protest.

We drive back to the bike, fill her up and wait around staring at the dash hoping it will start idling. No words are exchanged, just smiles and sighs of exasperation. Soon a kindly grandma comes out with cliche twinkling blue eyes and a grand smile on her wrinkled walnut face. Then two neighbours stop to watch. Then a very pretty girl, who knows a bit more English. I’m the talk of town. I bet they’re wondering how somebody so stupid owns a bike so nice.

Half an hour passes and the bike begins to purr.

I hop on and whizz down the street. No further than second gear and I know there’s still something wrong. I turn around and choke back to my adopted family, sadly shaking my head. There’s a new member, a tall, dark but also smiling English speaking man.

Meanwhile, Ricky’s racking his brains for answers. Then he suggests there’s a problem with the clutch – and as soon as he says it I know it to be true.

We bought a replacement lever from the same dreaded shop that I bought my dud battery a few months back. We fitted it and talked about how shit it was and how we should really put the old one back on, even though it was gnarly and deformed.

Ricky suggests to loosen it, but I’m really not getting the hang of how this whole clutch lever thing works and so instead I explain it to my new pit crew. It’s funny how you can always practically see a lightbulb on someone’s head when they get an idea. My adopted father rushed into the house and came back wielding some kind of tool, glinting in the sunlight. While I’m practically fainting from stress and dehydration and questioning if things are about to get better or worse, I’m pushed onto my bike and told to have a go.

And just like that it was fixed.

I grabbed all the cash I had, which was sadly only $20 and placed it in the palm of my saviour’s hands. He calculated the cost of the oil and gave me back the change. I refused. He tried and tried until he gave up, laughed good-naturedly and beamed around at his family.

If that family ever reads this, I hope they understand how thankful I am. Don’t let the media fool you, it’s the kindness of people that keeps the real world running.

I arrived back in Budapest to a city alive and bustling, boulevards full of people celebrating the latest soccer win by Hungary. And I’m out there celebrating with them too. Because I made it home. My adventure has finally begun.

What I learned today:

  1. I overrated my intelligence.
  2. Appreciation. For the kindness of people.

Join the discussion One Comment

  • Squire says:

    “Don’t let the media fool you, it’s the kindness of people that keeps the real world running.” Spot on!
    … and could have added, ” and keeps the girl riding! ” Safe travel Jessica, it’s good reading you.

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