Other than a near-crash or a breakdown, there are few things as panic-inducing as getting lost on a motorcycle in a strange place. Especially in a foreign country.
I got us lost in Slovakia after crossing the Mária Valéria bridge over the Danube River from Estergom, Hungary, into Štúrovo. We were heading for Zvolen, running in the dark and looking for Highway 76.
We were due at my second cousin’s house in Zvolen that evening and we were already late.
We want 76 because it’s a two-lane state highway but I take a wrong turn and end up on 564, which serves tiny towns and is more like a country road with lots of twists and turns … no open gas stations and no streetlights.
It’s a damn dark night, broken only by the distant lights of 76 and the occasional car that sweeps past us. No markers that we can see, even when I have the bike’s high beams on. For a while I have only the vaguest idea of where we are.
That’s an odd feeling. In between towns, it feels as if we are still and everything else is moving around us, like a rock in a black river. The worst part happens when I go left when I should have gone right and we realize I’ve lost 564 and have to turn around. Now I really didn’t know where we are.
I pull into the first narrow sideroad I can find and have Linda get off so I can turn the bike around. I’m so frustrated I lose it and start cussing through the open helmet visor at everything and as she gets back on Linda says, “there’s a woman standing over there.”
And so there is, a nameless Slovak woman doing something in her yard in the dark, staring at us as if we’re madmen.
Which I am. Doubtless she heard my American English. So now, in addition to getting us lost and making us even later than we were, I’m on the verge of creating an international incident.
Linda taps me on the shoulder, indicating she’s securely on the bike, and I get the hell out of there. I am so ashamed I think of going back to apologize but I’d probably make things worse so I keep going.
Eventually we hit 75 and take it west to connect with E77. I see gas station lights in Tupá so we stop there to refuel.
The gas station is a BP and I need to call my cousins in Zvolen, but the station is playing American music — “Two Hearts” by Phil Collins — on the pump loudspeakers and it’s really loud so I have to take the cell phone to the edge of the parking lot just to hear.
I get hold of my cousin Lubicka and after some translation she kindly tells me not to worry about us being late and just to continue to Zvolen.
So we do, riding up E77, passing late-night crowds of kids congregating on small-town streets who turn to watch us zoom through into the dark. It is nearly midnight by the time we get to Zvolen, but we are welcomed all the same.