Start: Belyov, Russia End: Kaluga, Russia Distance: 98.9km Elevation Gain: 2669ft Elevation Loss: 2560ft Time: 7h05m Reading Material:Ukraine: A History, 4th Edition – Orest Subtelny Audio Material: Nerdist (Paul Feig interview); Russia – The Wild East – BBC/Martin Sixsmith; Diane Rehm
Bugs! The bugs in Russia are way more intense than anywhere else on the tour. In addition to swarms of flies which encase me in a bubble, I am now getting stung by large horseflies who know exactly which part of your shoulder blade it is impossible to reach while riding. Most pernicious are the suckers who find a way inside my shirt. Due to the heat, I’m usually riding with my shirt mostly unzipped. Twice bugs (a bee and a horsefly) have hit me at high speed and then become stuck in my shirt. They like to sting as they tumble around and I flail wildly. Must look interesting to the passing drivers.
Passed a nature preserve and got some good open landscape views before having to join up with the motorway again. Drank 1.5L of water and nearly 2L of apple juice (heat is not abating). Learned a new trick from Andrew yesterday. Most rural Russia villages have multiple communal water pumps along the road. The water is probably safe to drink (though, often has a slight metallic taste). But, more importantly: it’s cold! Frequent water pump showers are a great way to keep cool while riding.
For lunch I was joined by a pack of hungry and hot dogs looking for handouts. They had such sad faces but I didn’t have nearly enough extra banana to go around so decided to let them fend for themselves.
Kaluga is another medium-sized Russia city (~300,000 pop). Historically, the city served as a choke point for attacking Napoleon troops in retreat. But, more recently, it has become the center of Russia’s automobile industry. And, Kaluga was the home of Konstantin Tsiolkovsky, widely credited as the father of rocket science who published theoretical articles on space propulsion as early as 1881 (also, strange philosophical articles on futurism and eugenics). An eccentric recluse who lived on the outskirts of town, he taught mathematics and generally confused normal people. It is claimed that Tsiolkovsky was the inspiration for the Aeolia Schenberg character on Mobile Suite Gundam.
Start: Oster, Ukraine End: Nizhyn, Ukraine Distance: 95.7km Elevation Gain: 799ft Elevation Loss: 687ft Time: 6h55m 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; WTF podcast (Seth Rogen interview); Transom; PRI’s The World in Words; Yeezus – Kanye West (not bad, but not My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy)
Quick morning dip in the water and abbreviated breakfast of oatmeal and coffee due to large amount of mosquitoes (rivers make picturesque camping spots; they also attract bugs). Nearly flat ride all day. Alternating between smooth asphalt, rough road and sticky road (covered with a sealant that I could feel was sticking to my tires as the day heated up). The weather is hot! Routinely hitting 85-90 degrees F and no shade to hide. I feel like Buster Bluth binging on juice at every stop but still thirsty.
Passed a large monastery in Kozelets. Services were ongoing, so in my bike gear I just quickly popped my head in and continued on. Stopped at Nizhyn for the night. Many churches scattered throughout the town. Giant pizza for dinner (unable to finish) and time for sleep.
Here’s one thing bicyclists don’t talk about enough: bugs. While riding you are constantly bombarded by bugs. Smaller guys like to embed themselves on forearms where they blend in with your arm hairs. But, the worst are the ones that end up in your nose and mouth. After a long uphill stretch to start the day, I earned a refreshing downhill through the Dědice Forest that was full of bugs! Conscious effort was required to keep my mouth closed to avoid ingesting bugs. I could actually see them incoming like projectiles before splatting on my glasses (lucky) or nose (unlucky).
Opted for a fast lunch in order to arrive in Olomouc with some time for sightseeing. Olomouc is an ancient Czech city (oral history claims it was founded by Julius Caesar but written history first mentions it in the 10th century) and is the historical power center in Moravia. In early Czech history, political power oscillates between Bohemia (e.g. Prague) and Moravia. Olomouc was a seat of power for the Přemyslid House (a precursor to the Hapsburgs) and the last of the Přemyslid’s, King Wenceslas III, was assassinated in Olomouc in 1306 effectively ending the dynasty.
I had time to climb the tower of the gothic St. Maurice Church and get a nice aerial view of the city before eating a pig knuckle for dinner and immediately falling asleep.