Monthly Archives: June 2013


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.


Day 39: Hlukhiv, Ukraine to Zheleznogorsk, Russia

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Start: Hlukhiv, Ukraine
End: Zheleznogorsk, Russia
Distance: 132.0km
Elevation Gain: 2546ft
Elevation Loss: 2254ft
Time: 9h48m
Reading Material:None, too tired
Audio Material: Diane Rehm Friday News Roundups; On The Media; Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me; WTF podcast (Iggy Pop interview); PRI’s World in Words

Oh man, so tired. A long day and a long distance covered.

Started the day 30km from the Russian border. Hearty homemade three egg fried egg breakfast to get me on my way. A good 2km line of trucks at the border but private cars (and bicycles) could weave the line and approach the border directly. Mostly confusion with little in the way of formal lines. At one point I tried to traverse the fenced-in pedestrian lane but was directed back to the regular car lanes. No questions, no inspection and I was across the border and in Russia.

About 2km later, the road surface degraded drastically from smooth pavement to slab concrete which stayed constant for the next 100km. Also, the flies in Russia are way more intense than Ukraine and Europe. At points, I felt like Pig-Pen with a full swarm for flies hovering around my moving bubble. At around 20km/hr the flies are unable to keep up but on bad pavement you need a really nice downhill to gather that kind of speed.

Went for nearly 60km without any road services. Drank nearly 2L of liquid (grapefruit juice, water) and was running on empty for a while before reaching the outskirts of Zheleznogorsk. Rode through what I only imagine was a large high school graduation before finding a hotel in central Zheleznogorsk, a town formed in 1957 to support a burgeoning iron mining industry in the region. Benefit of staying at the hotel is getting official registration for my Russian visa (or at least I hope that’s why they kept my passport at the front desk).

During dinner offered a glass of white wine by a slightly sloshed party nearby. It seems one of the members is originally from Israel. Participated in one round of vodka toasts but begged off to fall asleep. Evidently, I must have lost an hour when crossing the border and it’s still light out at 11pm.


Day 38: Baturyn, Ukraine to Hlukhiv, Ukraine

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Start: Baturyn, Ukraine
End: Hlukhiv, Ukraine
Distance: 97.1km
Elevation Gain: 1666ft
Elevation Loss: 1534ft
Time: 7h55m
Reading Material:Ukraine: A History, 4th Edition – Orest Subtelny
Audio Material: WTF podcast (Thomas Dolby/Marshall Crenshaw interviews); The Moth (I really wish they would make their full episodes available as podcasts); Planet Money; Cure for Pain – Morphine

Got an early start this morning in order to explore Baturyn — an ancient capital of the Cossack Hetmans. Unfortunately, it was a Monday so the sights didn’t open until later in the day, however, friendly docents allowed me to wander around. After an uprising led by Cossack Hetman Bohdan Khmelnytsky in 1648, the Left Bank gained independence from Poland (and also killed many Jews). Baturyn became the capital of the Cossack Hetmanate from 1669 to 1708. While Ukrainians hold the period as a pivotal time in the fight for an independent Ukraine, Khmelnytsky eventually ends up signing a treaty with Moscow for protection that leads to centuries of Russia rule in the Left Bank.

Most of the original buildings from the Hetmanate period have long been destroyed but Baturyn is another example of former President Yushchenko’s movement to highlight Ukrainian history. The former palace of Count Kirill Razumovsky (the last and mostly emasculated Hetman from 1750) has been renovated and a giant wooden fortress in the Cossack style was built overlooking the town. The modern town comes off mostly as a dinghy road rest stop with minimal connection to the historical Baturyn celebrated by the monuments. But, it was interesting to be in a physical place steeped with history.

The day’s ride was almost entirely straight along the E101 motorway. Some long distances between services had me thirsting for juice but the cloud cover was a welcome respite from the blazing sun. Just outside of Hlukhiv, I met a white dog traveling in the opposite direction. I suppose maybe he’s from Moscow and headed to Kiev, and my conversation with him was about as fruitful as my other attempts to communicate with Russian speakers.

I’m staying at a guesthouse right at a lake on the outskirts of Hlukhiv (~$20 for private room, wifi, a/c and a great homecooked meal). Took a dip in the lake to cool off after the day’s ride. Road into town which was cute with some nice wide, tree lined streets. This description makes it sound charming but I don’t think I have much more energy to explore. Tomorrow I exit “Little Russia” and enter the big one.


Day 37: Nizhyn, Ukraine to Baturyn, Ukraine

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Start: Nizhyn, Ukraine
End: Baturyn, Ukraine
Distance: 96.2km
Elevation Gain: 721ft
Elevation Loss: 686ft
Time: 7h26m
Reading Material:Ukraine: A History, 4th Edition – Orest Subtelny
Audio Material: Russia the Wild East – BBC 4 Series by Martin Sixsmith on 1000 years of Russia history; Nerdist (Billy Crystal interview); WTF podcast (Kristen Schaal interview); Stuff You Should Know

About 20km into today’s ride, stopped at the memorial to the Battle of Kruty, an important event in the history of independent Ukraine. The waning days of WWI were a chaotic time in Ukraine. Neighboring empires were collapsing and the Bolsheviks were in the process of grabbing power in Russia after the Tsar abdicated. For the first time in nearly 1000 years, a central authority (the Central Rada) declared an independent Ukrainian state. However, people were confused and the Ukrainian army of nearly 300,000 dissolved. The Bolsheviks invaded Ukraine in the name of a united Russian Peoples (and also because they needed Ukrainian food and raw materials). Without an army, the Central Rada dispatched a ragtag group of students to defend the homeland. A group of 300 schoolboys confronted 4,000 Bolsheviks traveling by armed train on their way to Kiev at Kruty and were absolutely massacred. The event was officially forgotten during the Soviet era, but newly independent Ukraine with the direct involvement of former President Yushchenko recently created this monument to the fallen students. In addition to the monument, there are replica train cars which can be toured with photos and memorabilia from the battle. Armed trains were popular during the Russian civil war (and by Mexican rebels if you remember Sam Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch) but quickly fell out of favor since it’s pretty easy to destroy a train with an airplane. The “curator” on sight was very friendly and gave me a tour though lacking a common language and English translations of the exhibit, most of my information came from prior reading.

Some decent flat riding on rough roads followed. Passed a lot of corn and my first wheat fields. For the last 30km, I caught up with the E101, a secondary motorway which I’ll follow all the way into Russia. Nice smooth road with good shoulder made for easy, if tired, riding. Spending the night near Baturyn, an important Hetmanate center from the time when bands of Cossacks fought for this part of Ukraine’s Right Bank.