Graz-Tokyo #3: Biketravel Diary – Pushing the limits on Russian soil
Biketravel trough the Ukraine to Russia. It’s a relatively small segment of Elias and Fabio’s itinerary, yet it may be the most critical stage of the project, at least as far as time and emotional tension are concerned. So far it’s gone off without a hitch, their Austrian passports opening doors and hearts in Romania, Moldova and the Ukraine. Approaching the Russian border, however, the two young men from Graz are visited not just by the area’s notorious bad weather, but also a healthy dose of trepidation.
With hearts, minds… and Google Translate
Understand the Cyrillic alphabet? If only! But Elias and Fabio soon grasp that, on this journey, a very different language will dominate their communication: warmth and hospitality. And vodka. In Ukraine, people drink it as if it’s water.
Never did the two boys imagine that they would receive so much solicitude and helpfulness from strangers. Sometimes it’s a real effort to leave their host families on time and continue cycling. Often, the two strangers are invited into the homes of local people, where they shower, eat, drink, sleep, gossip, and laugh. And just as often, when they leave to carry on with their journey, they take their leave as friends.
Planning is paramount, but so is improvisation
Fabio and Elias have worried so much about reaching the Russian border on time that it has never even occurred to them that they might arrive early. And especially not a whole week early. They spend the extra time with their personal guide, a friend of one of the host families they stayed with for a few days hundreds of kilometres earlier. In addition, the two have earned themselves a few nights in a hostel, complete with hot showers. Showering is a luxury. Feeling clean and fresh has become something that the boys no longer take for granted. The smell of cleanliness suddenly makes them aware of the minimalist lifestyle they have been living for the past few days and weeks.
When the mattress starts to feel too soft
A dry room, a warm bed and a soft mattress. What could possibly be better on this arduous adventure? To tell the truth, even a soft mattress eventually starts to feel uncomfortable when the big adventure is out there waiting for you. Fabio and Elias really appreciate the comfortable nights, but after breathing in the feeling of freedom surrounded by wild, untamed nature every day, there simply isn’t enough oxygen in apartments, hostels and hotel rooms. Two bikes, one tent, and each other’s company – that’s all they need to start the day with fresh motivation and keep going.
Precision landing: Добро пожаловать в россию
After five days of rest in the Ukraine, it’s finally time to cross the Russian border. The two arrive at the border at noon on the 27th April, bang on time. What they weren’t expecting, however, was that it will take them a good three hours to cross the myriad checkpoints with their bikes.
Here, a point 500 kilometres distant is thought of as just a stone’s throw away.
Due to surprisingly good road conditions on the Russian side, things go well for the first few kilometres. Their first impression of Russia: distances seem further in this vast country. Here, a point 500 kilometres distant is thought of as just a stone’s throw away.
Scaling up in response, Fabio and Elias reach a new physical peak. Their daily average suddenly jumps from 75 kilometres to 102. It’s a good feeling to break the 100-kilometre barrier. Their legs and butts adjust to the new pace with no complaints.
In addition to their new impressions in a strange land, they find two familiar constants: hospitality and vodka! Fabio and Elias quickly make new acquaintances, find a comfortable place to sleep, get chauffeured through the city, rip up the Volga in a motorboat, and continue to enjoy life to the full.
Crazy. Just crazy. But now it’s time for the simple life again, and the minimalist lifestyle they have learnt to cherish. Two bikes. One tent. And the company of the person who is (still!) their best friend.