Start: Kiev, Ukraine End: Oster, Ukraine Distance: 83.1km Elevation Gain: 1038ft Elevation Loss: 1018ft Time: 6h20m Reading Material:Ukraine: A History, 4th Edition – Orest Subtelny Audio Material: On The Media; EconTalk (Bruce Schneier interview); Stuff You Should Know; Fresh Air Gandolfini remembrance
Turns out Kiev is a pretty late sleeper. Most cafes don’t open until 10am, so I had my own power croissant and pastry breakfast with a pourover coffee and was on my way by 9am. Big thanks to Viktor Zagreba, one of the bicycle enthusiasts in Kiev working on extending the EuroVelo network east, for some routing assistance which made for a pleasant and safe exit from the Kiev metro area.
I crossed the Dnieper into the region of Ukraine historically known as the Left Bank (look at the river from the perspective of a Kievian Russian in the 10th century floating down the river to the Black Sea, and not the “right” side of a modern map). After the destruction of the Kievian Rus empire by the mongols, the Left Bank often fell under control of Moscow whereas the Right Bank was fought over by Russians, Poles and the Austria-Hungary empire.
Peaceful cycling on decent roads ensued. I found the physical instantiation of Sky Mall and passed what I can only describe as a Tatooine Sand Person riding a bicycle in the opposite direction. Arrived in Oster (named for the large Oster River which passes through town) and even though it was only 330pm, decided the river would make too good a camping spot to pass up. Picked up a salmon steak in local market (my fishing skills are horrible, but I’m pretty good in a grocery store) and had a nice dinner and evening by the surprisingly swift (I will swim in any body of water) river.
Start: Starokostyantyniv, Ukraine End: Molochky, Ukraine Distance: 81.2km Elevation Gain: 1221ft Elevation Loss: 1218ft Time: 6h05m Reading Material:The Good Soldier Švejk – Jaroslav Hašek; Ukraine: A History, 4th Edition – Orest Subtelny Audio Material: Transom; Game Theory Podcast (yay new episode, but don’t eat cookies on mic guys!)
Today I learned what it is like to be a dolphin stranded in a tidal pool.
Most of the day’s ride was spent under threatening skies but no real rain. As I reached the 75km mark, I spied a good-sized lake nearby on the map and decided to scope it out for camping spots. This ploy goes against most guidelines for “wild camping” since the lake, as you might expect, is the center of the farming village making it difficult to find a secluded spot. I rode around most of the lake (on one stretch had to run a gauntlet of small but loud dogs who couldn’t quite figure out how to stop a bicycle) but returned to a central spot with a nice, flat grassy “beach” area. Hung out for an hour and read while gauging foot traffic. There were a couple of cows grazing and a few people going by, but the spot was so nice and no one seemed to mind my presence that I decided to make camp.
Two 7 year-old twin brothers ran by on their way to fish. They gawked at my tent and bashfully watched from a distance. I tried to say hello but with communication failure, resorted to sharing some chocolate Princess Leia / Ewok style. They didn’t warn of approaching Stormtroopers but also didn’t seem to mind my presence.
Thunderclouds were gathering, so I tried to quickly get everything setup and batten down the hatches. A group of three guys came over to and using hand gestures and a few common words was able to describe my bike trip. One of them, Anatoyli said that he does long-distance motobiking trips. The rain started, so I retreated into the tent.
After about 30 minutes of hard rain, skies cleared and I emerged to make dinner (Tesco canned spaghetti O’s, and spicy lime ramen) in the interlude. Just as I finished, a real thunder and lightning storm started. I got ready for bed, and figured to read and turn in early. A few minutes later, I heard a “Hello, Mikhail?” Anatoyli had returned. He was worried about me in the storm. I was confused but followed him out of my tent and into his car.
Anatoyli had brought beer, hot borscht, bread, onions and pork for me. Amazing! Double dinner never hurt and as I ate we tried to talk. It was hard work communicating but we did OK. Bonded over music as he professed his love for Rammstein and “heavy metal” and we rocked out to Mutter. Never underestimate the power of music. We couldn’t speak a common language and I was far from home, but Rammstein communicated far more.
The rain let up and Anatoyli tried to say something about fish. He wanted to invite me back to his house but I had already setup the tent and got ready for the night. I got out of the car (roll down the window, reach out and open the passenger door from the outside, “Soviet” says Anatoyli with a laugh).
Ten minutes later Anatoyli was back with more beer and firewood. While wet, we got to work on making a fire. And, then his friends returned and we all sat around eating peanuts and drinking beer for several hours. Camera phones were used to show pictures of family, friends and generally make sense of what everyone was trying to say. Around 10pm his friends left again with something about fish that I didn’t quite catch. It was past my bedtime, and I was smokey and wet. Around 11pm, his friends returned…with a large carp they had just caught and a cast iron pot and spit. They proceeded to cook fresh fish stew and at 1230am, I had dinner #3.
They could tell I was tired, so we said goodbyes, but again something about fish. I slept pretty well for the tent, but was awoken around 430am by the sound of car. Anatoyli and his red Soviet beater had returned to catch me fish for breakfast! While I tried to get some more sleep, Anatoyli started a fire, setup his lines and had breakfast-just-outside-bed ready by 730am.
It was like I was an exotic dolphin that had somehow washed ashore on the beach of a lake and Anatoyli and his friends had decided to take care of me until I could return to the sea. Now, the attention, friendship and food was appreciated. However, it is also hardwork being a stranded dolphin that doesn’t speak Ukrainian and I didn’t really get a chance to relax (or sleep!).
The entire group returned around 8am, and we finished up breakfast as I started to try and prep camp for takedown and packing. I was given another care package and (including the items from the Yatsuks) I think I have an entire pannier filled with cured pork. I think it was time for them to go to work, so we said goodbyes (“to my new Ukrainian brother!”) and prepared to head off for the day.
Ukrainian hospitality is incredible. Worried about a dolphin far from home, they will offer you their home, food, time and friendship. Also, their Rammstein.
First night under the stars (well, clouds and full moon). Probably could have found a cheap hotel, but this campground was right on the route. Part trailer park inhabited by several Czech women and their army of feral cats and part self-service campground. But, down by the water, I have a great spot with my own view.
And, yes, I’m posting this sitting in my tent in the rain tethering my laptop to my phone. What a strange world we live in…