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Robert Galka
a.k.a. IZI

He was 38 years old. He had been riding a motorcycle forever, until July 26, 2010. He died at 130. kilometer of the Khorog – Ishkashim – Langar road, one of the most beautiful routes he covered. Punch in your GPS waypoint N36 40.635 E71 44.379 and describe it as IZI. I wish you had the opportunity to light a candle in this place. Izi would certainly like to see you there.

It is very difficult to write “was” about Him, as we mostly used the future tense: we will do this, we will do that, we will go there, etc. And suddenly all plans become obsolete? So ordinary? On a straight road, asphalt, no rain, 60 km per hour, because of a stupid inner tube?
Impossible? I saw it myself – possible. Such things don’t happen to us? Are they the only ones we read about on the Internet and hear about at rallies? Yes, they happen to our colleagues and friends. Unfortunately, they can happen to us, too. It just happened to Izi far from home – in Tajikistan, but it could have happened anywhere else. We left Afghanistan that day and felt so confident, all troubles behind us: 3 days left to Kyrgyzstan, 10 days home. Maybe 7,000 kilometers. Loose, easy.

The funeral – if one can even say that about a funeral – was beautiful. Robert’s mother said it was only then that she understood what motorcycles were to him. “I realized that he had another motorcycle family,” – Ms. Wanda said. In fact, this death hurt everyone who knew him and many of us felt as if we had lost a brother. He was escorted to the cemetery by several hundred colleagues.

Panonia in a garage in Chernica, some Ifa, Iż, somewhere there is a Junak waiting for its turn. Well, and Africa, one in Klodzko, one permanently already in Kyrgyzstan and always a few in the workshop. He had a reputation, and motorcycles from all over Poland were brought to his garage near Wroclaw. He knew Africa by heart and by assembling the engine he was able to save light in the workshop. No one knows anymore how long he had his – the registration card sailed with the rest of the documents of the Piandj. The old black WOM 3399 board, however, testifies that it has been a long love. He didn’t like the new motorcycles. Computers, immobilizers, injectors and ABS – this was no challenge for him. He preferred to turn the screws in the carburetors. He didn’t use a GPS either – where he traveled it wasn’t needed. Distance was measured in hours of driving, not kilometers. Money for the trip was always a secondary issue, as long as it was enough for gasoline. If a hotel, it’s one with 1,000 stars – during our first trip, we didn’t manage to pitch a tent for a month, although it was sometimes so cold that Tajikistan’s undrinkable vodka was frozen in the bottle in the morning. What counted was character, fortitude, will to survive, fun. There was also probably a bit of boyish spite and a desire to prove something to others, and perhaps to prove it to oneself.

He was not a role model in every respect, oh no… But if I had to name an adv icon: a mix of enduro, survival and adventure, I would have no doubt. He owed his nickname to his skills, intuition and approach to life. For Izi, everything was easy: replacing the inner tube, chain, clutch, and the drive shaft. All easy.

We had been mates for a long time, but we traveled separately. He after his Ural Mountains, Siberia, BAM and Kamchatka, I after the gravels of Pamir, Tien Shan. We met in Poland, somewhere we briefly jumped to Austria or the Czech Republic, but we both knew that we would meet one day on an expedition with a capital W. The opportunity happened a year ago.

Will you come with me to Afghanistan?

I certainly can’t help you … It took me about 2 minutes to convince him to leave. The packing itself took little longer. After all, it’s not far – we’re not going around the world, a month only. A center trunk, a bag in the back and a tankbag – that’s enough. Along the way, he repaired motorcycles, land cruisers, generators, anything broken was easy.

He made acquaintances in no time; and unfamiliarity with the language was never an obstacle. He needed five minutes to make friends – no matter if a German motorcyclist, a Ukrainian militiaman or an Uzbek customs officer was standing across from him. There were no exceptions. I don’t know to what he owed this gift: a childlike smile, a look, a gesture, a facial expression? It is not easy to describe the Izi phenomenon, to answer the question of why everyone liked him. I knew him well and do not know the answer.

Did he have gasoline in his blood? He had, like many of us, but this one of his probably had more octane. He noticed others. He once organized a fundraiser on a forum for 17-year-old leukemia patient Matthew, who dreamed of being able to buy himself a crossover outfit. Last year, thanks to Robert, we took some toys to Afghanistan, including teaching aids. Izi started such actions spontaneously and easily infected his surroundings with them.

This year we went to Afghanistan for the first time as advfactory.com – on an expedition with motorcycle tourists. This is how Uwe remembers him: Although I only knew Robert for a few weeks I liked him immediately. His calm and engaging character, his willingness to help us during our trip, his way of solving the problems we encountered with a smile on his lips will remain unforgettable for me.

Memoir featured in MotoVoyager, No. 020 October-November 2010