Day 40: Zheleznogorsk, Russia to Oryol, Russia

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Start: Zheleznogorsk, Russia
End: Oryol, Russia
Distance: 101.0km
Elevation Gain: 2568km
Elevation Loss: 2774ft
Time: 8h14m
Reading Material:Ukraine: A History, 4th Edition – Orest Subtelny
Audio Material: This American Life; Fresh Air; EconTalk

Hit the wall for real today for the first time. I’ve had this happen to me before on long day rides at home but not yet on this tour. By noon, temperatures were hitting 101 degrees F. I’m still traveling along a major motorway which isn’t the best for morale. There were several work crews paving sections of the road (got some fresh asphalt riding) and multiple times I had cars who were traveling slowly around the crews talk to me through open windows and offer some words on encouragement. About 40km into the ride, I had to battle a long climb. A few kms up the road, I found a cafe to rest, ordered some food and then just crashed. Wasn’t really able to think straight and just sat for a long while slowly eating my soup and fried rice concoction trying to get my body temp to go down. Eventually the food (and 1.5L of apple juice) kicked in and I started feeling better.

Ideally, I wanted to reach Oryol but that was another 60km and if I had to battle the oppressive heat for 5 more hours, I didn’t think I would make it. Started back on my way and, within an hour, the wind picked up and the skies started darkening. Rolling thunder over the horizon. Usually these are ominous signs but I was excited: thunderstorms mean cold fronts!

Big bolts of lightning as I passed through the tiny town of Kromy. And, then the rain. “Oh, the water!” I immediately cooled down and even though I probably could have found shelter, just decided to ride on to Oryol. The city is pretty big (~300,000 pop) and the sprawled metro area took about 10km to reach the city center along with the rest of the bumper-to-bumper traffic. Passed several shacks which looked flooded from the rain and the shoulders were covered with 3-4 inches in several places that I got to wade through.

Brought my bedraggled self to a hotel. Met a man outside who showed me his bicycle glove hand tan lines as a sign of solidarity. Turns out his name is Andrei (Andrew) and he is a journalist with a local city newspaper/web portal. After a shower and some food, I was interviewed by Andrei, his friend and a translator about my trip for their paper. I think I caused a stir in the local bike community and plans were made for an official group escort when I leave. With multiple long days in a row, I’m well ahead of schedule, so decided to spend an extra day to rest here. Will meet up with my new friends tomorrow for a local tour of the city by bike and then will ride off in my parade on Friday morning.

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