Everyone writes their own unique story .. and each and every day they compose a new chapter. Imagine just how many stories that really is .. and imagine just how many of them are almost unbelievable. Most of them, I suppose. We all live in our own little world .. and within each one is just someone trying to make it through another day. But the varying degrees of that immense challenge is what makes some of those chapters “unbelievable” to those of us who have yet to travel that road.
But .. in due time, everyone will eventually get there. It’s really just a matter of that person truly understanding, let alone comprehending, what they’ve experienced once they arrive. The “stories” may vary immensely, but pain is pain, fear is fear, joy is joy, happiness .. sadness .. loneliness .. love … any label you want to assign to a “feeling” is within those chapters. The “vehicle” you take to experience those emotions is all that varies .. yet the “arrival” is always the same. That .. is how we connect on that same “nerve” when the destination arrives .. and it’s how you just “know” .. and experience the contentment that accompanies that feeling.
So everyone has a “bucket list” .. even if it’s barely a subconscious thought .. but there’s always something that you’ve told yourself you wanted to do .. wish you could do .. or have the courage to do. This, again, is just something we all have in common. And if you have any sense of adventure in you at all .. that list is as never-ending as my own.
The more outrageous my list gets at times .. the more determined it makes me to move items closer to the top. Time and money .. what a coincidence .. we just happened to think the same thing about the two most important variables that factor into our “when it will happen” equation. And the only variables .. are always controlled by you. As you well know “nothing is impossible” .. although sometimes people’s actions can be outrageous, offensive and oftentimes laced with moral turpitude. Well crap .. I promised myself I wouldn’t make any political insinuations or analogies this time. OK .. I’m done.
I’d always wanted to ride around Europe on a motorcycle .. and throughout my last year of college with my lifelong best friend, Noel Peckinpaugh, we planned to ship our bikes over after graduation then head for the “adventure of our lives”. Unfortunately, prior to our departure, I had the “adventure” that changed my life forever. (Adventure 1 – Survival) I was happy that he went ahead and took his girlfriend in my place, without a bike. At least he did it! I saw the trip through his eyes as I laid in a coma .. but that’s another story in itself .. and not a very short one, I might add.
The “Adventure of Europe” remained on my bucket list until just a few years back. I had met two incredibly beautiful and intelligent women from the Czech Republic, and because we each shared that same spirit of adventure, we connected. While they lived and worked here in the states, throughout the time on their visas, Lucie (Roubikova) bought herself a motorcycle and we rode the southern California coast. Upon her return to “Bohemia”, she shipped it home and still rides every chance she gets. (You should see her “horned” helmet and the women she rides with!)
Jana Kopickova, the second “kindred spirit”, and her fiancé Vladimir Dancova, continued their world travel adventure after leaving California by backpacking through South America and an enlightening visit of Cuba on their way home. Their pictures and stories can keep you on the edge of your chair for days .. and that’s with the abbreviated version.
We all stayed in touch .. and each begged me often to come visit the real heart of Europe .. “Bohemia”. Jana and her family owned three Hotel/Spas. She operated and managed one of them, the Francis Hotel, in the world famous city of Frantiskovy Lázne, near the German border. Lucie was a private English tutor, where she lived in Prague, and was also a popular singer/songwriter who performed everywhere. Her rock band is called Black Bull. Through Lucie and Jana, I now have an intricate family network that, to this very day, still keeps us all “connected”. It’s that feeling you just “know”.
There came that moment when “all the stars aligned” and I couldn’t resist my need to go any longer. I had no more lies to tell myself why I “couldn’t”. Remember, anything can happen if you put your mind to it .. and it usually does. My “dream” was about to be fulfilled, and I made plans to be gone a month. Lucie planned “surprises” for me, as her apartment was my “home base” while experiencing my first “whirlwind tour” of central Europe. And wouldn’t you know it .. she and her roommates all owned motorcycles, so I would have a bike to ride!
The sheer anticipation of this upcoming “adventure” was like foreplay, as the amount of sleep I got each night became directly proportional to the number of days left until departure. Dreams are real .. and you step out of one into another. Here one day .. Prague the next. A twelve-hour luxurious ride on Lufthansa Airlines, where all the food and drinks were at your beckon call, was highlighted by a seven-course gourmet meal that you ate with real utensils. Anything you wanted .. just ask. I was spoiled already .. let alone by what was about to happen the moment I set foot in the Czech Republic.
I was blown away when Lucie met me at the airport .. for as we walked to her car there were girls running up to her yelling her name .. this woman IS a rock star! I really didn’t even feel the pain in my legs as we walked .. compounded by another “mishap” that occurred just a few days earlier. Wouldn’t you know it .. Bosco and I got slammed, and as I flew over the car I watched him do a “barrel role” on the pavement in the 50 mph traffic. I got bruised up and cut pretty good .. but Bosco suffered over $13,000 in damages! Once again, my helmet saved my noggin’ when I landed on my back and my head slammed the pavement.
As my helmet bounced, the thought that was running through my mind at that exact moment was “damn .. glad I was wearing this thing!” The witnesses that immediately came running to me were amazed when I sprang up and ran to Bosco to shut him off. He was screaming and it made me sick to see the damage. I immediately grabbed my camera from the saddlebag and started taking pictures of him and the scene .. which really came in handy down the road. Now, we each had more “character” scars and I was already hoping he’d be fixed by the time I returned.
I guess if that had to happen .. the timing was right for that particular “mishap”. Bosco went to the shop and I went to Europe .. but not before being forced to lay down and take another one of those emergency runs to the nearest hospital .. where a team of seven “trauma specialists” were awaiting my arrival, despite my many objections. You can imagine what the actual charges were for that little adventure .. and because it was a “motorcycle” accident, the standard procedure here is “let’s gouge for gold as deep as we can .. he’s an American and he’s got insurance!” Was that a good hint .. or did I let my biased opinions interfere again? Too bad …
I suppose the truly comical part of that wagon ride (after I blew a gasket when they cut halfway up my Pike’s Peak Harley tank top) was when one of the other EMT’s removed my helmet and read the sticker I wear on the back of it: “In case of emergency .. give me head!” He just nonchalantly stated, “don’t be counting on me following your instructions” … and then everyone cracked up!
Sorry about that detour I just took from the airport .. got sidetracked for a moment when I thought of all the walking I did over there and how much more painful each step was compared to my “normal” agonizing gait. Back on point .. Europe .. I too, finally did it!
Bear in mind, the entire Czech Republic consists of 30,450 sq. miles with a population of 10,562,214. In comparison, my home state of Indiana has a population of 6,537,334 within 36,418 sq. mi. Over the course of the next month .. I visited nearly every major city and as many of the villages in between as possible .. and I couldn’t help but cross all the borders.
Tomas Miklos, the Solovakian-born brother I mentioned in Adventure 27 – Respect, just happened to be visiting his homeland during my visit. He too, is a friend of Lucie’s. Not long after he came to visit us in Prague, I rode a train to his hometown of Banská Bystrica and was welcomed into his family. His father, Vojto, has a “green thumb” and, ironically, has a passion for succulents and cactus .. especially those found in our southwest. The live collections in his home and garden are truly amazing .. considering the variations of our climates.
One of the very first things Vojto did for me was to present me with my own “personal” shot glass. It was encased in a hand carved, stitched leather shroud with neck-strap and engraved with “Slovakia”. Apparently, it’s the European “tradition” to welcome a guest with a toast .. and usually it’s with their version of “moonshine”, known as Slivovice. Most often, it’s made from plums .. but many fruit variations makes the sampling even more interesting. In case you weren’t aware .. the “proper” way to toast someone is to look directly into the eyes of the person you are toasting as you click your glasses. Lesson of the day.
Tomas’ mother, Eva, is an incredible chef and tried to spoil me with her talents. If it hadn’t been for the number of miles I walked over there, the astounding array of delicacies I sampled throughout my trip would have packed on the pounds. Fortunately, it did not .. and I tried everything! His brother, Lubos, is a professional driver who continually travels all over Europe and he, too, made me feel like “family”.
Incidentally, Slovakia has a population of 5,440,000 within 18,932 sq. miles. For the next few days Tomas’ best friend, “Bimbo” (real name Marek Janciar), gave us a rapid-fire tour of the historic sites across Slovakia. Tomas and Lubos translated as we explored the many villages .. and went from the deep mines to the snow covered slopes of the High Tatras, where its highest peak, Vysoke Tatry, is only 8,710 feet. An interesting note: Only at the highest of peaks of this mountain range can be found the scarce and cherished white flower called Edelweiss. A patch was specifically created and proudly worn on the lapels of the Nazi SS Mountain Troops, but only after they had personally retrieved an Edelweiss and pinned it to their uniform first, signifying their incredible personal feat. I presented one of these preserved flowers to my sister upon my return to the states.
College educated with a degree in Geology, “Bimbo” spoke rather broken English. Thus, my need for translation. He helps run his family’s business but his true passion is his heavy metal band, Maria Chuana. I couldn’t have asked for a more perfect “tour guide”, despite how overwhelmed I would become by all the villages .. the castles .. the countryside .. the culture .. and the “history” of all those who would share their lives with me.
After returning to Prague and accompanying Lucie and her band to several gigs around the country .. we took some time and spent the night with her mother (Verka) and sister (Regina) at her mom’s “garden” .. a summer cottage out in the country, away from Prague, where an actual garden was grown. I’ve never seen such huge raspberries and blackberries as those we spent the sun-filled day picking .. eating .. and then “toasting” the night away under a bizillion bright stars in the pitch-black sky. I slept in the woodshed, which was made into a bedroom for me .. and it couldn’t have been any cooler than the best camping experience you could ever hope for.
Later, I took a bus ride to Jana’s hotel/spa in Frantiskovy Lázne where, once again, I was treated like royalty for several days in a five-star hotel with gourmet chefs. Each morning after breakfast, I was treated to a private “massage” and therapy session from a gorgeous lady who ended up accompanying Jana, Vladimir & I “out on the town”. After a few more days of exploration and personal partying .. Jana & Vladimir drove me halfway back to Prague to meet Lucie and her friend, Philip, at the Plzen Brewery, founded in 1842, for another incredible lunch and a tour of the facility. Its underground caves still store huge vats of brew, which were tapped for our sampling.
As the month wound down and Lucie taught during the day, I spent a lot of time exploring Prague and amassing many of the 5,000 pictures I brought home to share. One of her last “surprises” was a quick flight to Amsterdam (also on my bucket list) where five of us had an incredible 4-day weekend. I’m quite certain that the “what happens in Vegas” rule actually originated in this “greatest place on earth”, but I can share a few stories down the road. With so many experiences there to compete as my “favorite” .. I believe that the short time I physically spent at 263 Prinsengracht, in the exact attic where Anne Frank and her family hid from the Germans, for months, took the prize .. it gave me clarity. The “energy” I felt within that confine .. in what was just a miniscule fraction of the time she hid there in fear .. in hunger .. defies my description. All I can say .. is that it touched my very being.
Awhile back, I mentioned that one day that I’d get you to this “Bohemian Adventure” .. and now that I’ve finally opened the door, I can continue to dig out specific memories that should keep you smiling for some time. Especially when you hear some of the other “surprises” Lucie had in store for me .. or when I returned the following year for another nine weeks of adventure and the capture of an additional 7,000 photos. I would like to share some of the stories and adventures of the real “Bohemians” who have touched my life .. those I will forever cherish and consider my “family”.
Our common denominator .. my connection to you .. is that we all have people like that in our lives. Relationships and “feelings” that cannot be put into words .. or moments shared .. something I can communicate because you all just “know” what I’m talking about. We each have people who played a significant role in our lives .. people that we will cherish beyond time .. because they helped shape our character and gave us the strength to be who we really are. Even if it was merely by the pure acceptance and Love they gave to us in a moment’s time .. it was given freely and with no expectation of return. THIS .. in my experience .. is the true character of the heart that beats within Bohemia .. and I didn’t take it for granted.
The amount of pure “Love” is immeasurable .. like how much you love your own children .. or family .. and that “feeling” escapes words. It’s one of those things you just “know”. I’ve said it before in jest .. but it’s true. I don’t know much .. but I know what I know if you know what I mean …
Such a perfect moment to end with the profound words of Michael McGowan: “When you get those rare moments of clarity .. those flashes when the universe makes sense .. you try desperately to hold onto them. They are the lifeboats for the darker times .. when the vastness of it all .. the incomprehensible nature of life is completely elusive.
So the question becomes .. or should have been all along .. what would you do if you knew you only had one day, or one week, or one month to live .. what lifeboat would you grab on to? What secret would you tell .. what band would you see .. what person would you declare your love to .. what wish would you fulfill .. what exotic local would you fly to for coffee .. what book would you write?”
Don Miguel Ruiz writes, “We only have a few sunrises, a few sunsets, a few full moons that we can enjoy. This is our time to be alive, to be fully present, to enjoy ourselves, to enjoy one another.”
YOU .. have a bucket list .. “who you gonna call?”
Until next time .. ride smart .. ride safe
and the Adventure continues …
ps: But the greatest surprise of all just came when Lucie showed up at my door two days before Christmas! She rode Brian’s bike and we spent Christmas day along the California coast. Two weeks later .. poof .. she’s gone. But she DID it .. what’s your excuse?