Robert „IZI” Gałka

It is very hard to write that he “was”, we were using the future tense most of the time: “we will do this”, “we will do that”, “we will go there”, etc. And all of a sudden all our plans fly off the board? Just like that? On a straight strip of a smooth tarmac road, no rain, at 60 km/h, because of a stupid inner tube puncture?

Impossible? I have seen it myself – it is possible. Such things don’t happen to us? We only read about them on the web and hear stories while sitting next to a motorcycle rally camp fire? Unfortunately they do happen to our colleagues and friends. And they may happen to us too. It happened to Izi far away from home – in Tajikistan, but it could have happened anywhere. On that day we left Afghanistan and we were feeling so confident, all the troubles seemed to have been left behind: we needed 3 days to get to Kyrgyzstan, 10 days to get home. About 7 thousand kilometers. Cool, easy.

The funeral – if we may use such words referring to a funeral – was beautiful. Robert’s mother told me that only then she began to understand what motorcycles really meant to him. “I realized that he had another, biker family” – Mrs. Wanda said. His death delivered a painful blow to all those who knew him and many of us felt as if we had lost a brother. Several hundred friends and colleagues accompanied him on his last trip to the cemetery.

A Pannonia in the garage, an Ifa and an Iż, a Junak waiting for its turn somewhere out there. And Africas of course, one in Kłodzko, another one kept permanently in Kyrgyzstan and always a few of them in the garage. He had a reputation, no doubt about that, motorcycles from the whole Poland were brought to his garage on the outskirts of Wrocław. He knew Africa by heart, in fact he knew it so well that he could save on lighting in his garage when assembling its engine together again. Nobody now knows since when he’d had his Africa – its registration card floated down the Panj River with the rest of documents. An old, black WOM 3399 number plate is the evidence of a long-lasting love. He didn’t like modern motorcycles. On-board computers, fuel injection, immobilisers and ABS – none of these posed challenges for him. He preferred to turn screws in carburetors.

Neither did he use GPS – there was no use for it in the places he would visit. Distances would be measured with hours to ride rather than kilometers. Money for a trip would always be a secondary issue, just enough to buy fuel would do. Only 1000-star hotels would be considered – during our first trip together we didn’t manage to set up a tent for the whole month even though it would get so cold that unfinished Tajikistan vodka happened to freeze in a bottle in the morning.

The only things that mattered were to have guts, fortitude, a will to survive and to have fun on top of that. There must have been some boyish defiance to it as well as desire to prove something to the others or maybe to oneself too. He was not a role model in every respect, oh no… But if I had to point to an adv icon: a mix of enduro, survival and adventure I would have no doubts whatsoever. He owed his nickname to his skills, insight and attitude. Everything was easy for Izi: replacement of an inner tube, chain, clutch or crankshaft. Everything easy.

We’d been friends for a long while but we rode separately. He roamed his Urals, Siberias, BAMs and Kamchatkas, while I would ride dirt tracks of Pamir or Tien Shan. We would normally meet somewhere in Poland and jump out to Austria or to the Czech Republic for a few days, but we both knew that time would come for us to meet on a trip spelled with a capital “T”. We were given such opportunity a year ago.

Will you go to Afghanistan with me?

It took no more than 2 minutes to convince him to join me. Packing our stuff didn’t take much longer. After all it wasn’t that far away – we were not going around the world, just a month or so. A topcase, a bag on the back and a tankbag – just enough. And all along the way he would keep fixing motorcycles, land cruisers, engine-generators. Bringing anything that broke down back to life was easy for Izi.

He made friends in the blink of an eye; not knowing a local language never created an obstacle. He would normally need about 5 minutes to find a friend – no matter if he was facing a German biker, a Ukrainian militiaman or an Uzbek customs officer. There were no exceptions to that rule. I don’t know what he owed that gift to: a child’s smile, the way he looked at people, his gestures, expression on his face? Describing Izi’s phenomenon, answering the question why everybody liked him so much is really hard. I knew him very well and I don’t know the answer.

Did he have gasoline in his bloodstream? He did, like many of us do but his must have had a much higher octane rating. He would notice others. On one occasion he organized fund raising on our forum on behalf of a 17 year-old Mateusz suffering from leukaemia who was dreaming about a motocross outfit. Last year thanks to Robert we transported some toys to Afghanistan including teaching aids. Izi used to initiate such charity activities spontaneously and he got everyone around him involved quite easily. This year we went to Afghanistan as for the first time – on a trip with motorcycle tourists.

That’s how Uwe remembered him: “Although I’d known Robert for a few weeks only I got to like him a lot right away. I will never forget his even-tempered, charming personality, readiness to help everybody during our trip, his way of handling problems with a smile on his face.”

He was 38 years old. He had been riding a bike forever, until July 26th, 2010. He died on the 130th kilometer of the Khorough – Ishkashim – Langar road, one of the most beautiful routes that he ever rode. Enter the N36 40.635 E71 44.379 waypoint into your GPS devices and describe it as IZI. I wish you the opportunity of lighting a candle on that spot. Izi would like to see you there for sure.

Memory published in the MotoVoyager magazine, issue 020, October – November 2010