Start: Przemyśl, Poland
End: Lviv, Ukraine
Elevation Gain: 2286ft
Elevation Loss: 2067ft
Reading Material: Red Cavalry and Other Stories – Isaac Babel
Audio Material: This American Life (topical, road stories); Nerdist podcast
Epic Day! Crossed a border, slalomed cows, navigated a mud pit, road the highway, met a bike buddy and arrived in Lviv.
I started the day about 12km from the Ukraine border but was warned that crossing could take multiple hours. There was a long line of stopped cars as I approached with drivers and passengers milling around. I bicycled past the cars and was directed by a friendly Polish border control officer to a side building with a separate pedestrian crossing. Passed through both the Polish and Ukraine customs buildings with no wait and only a few bemused looks as my passport was stamped. The Ukrainian officials conducted extensive searches on the babushkas returning home with giant bags but all I got was a flip of the handlebar bag lid and was sent on my way. Guess I’ve discovered a pretty good way to smuggle cigarettes across the border in the future.
I planned to avoid the direct M11 motorway to Lviv and take smaller secondary roads. I made my turn after the border and while the road was unpaved it started in decent shape. Soon, however, I was navigating giant potholes and increasing mud. About 5km in, a driver stopped, got out of his car and using the hand signal for potholes & bumps (big round arms, and that thing kids love to do with their hands when they stick them out of moving car windows), indicating I should turn around. The gps indicated I could cut back to the motorway 10km ahead, so I decided to press on and see what I could discover.
First, I discovered beautiful landscapes. For the first time on the trip, the land opened up and I was riding under a big sky on a wide-open expanse of nature. Technically, the Ukrainian steppe doesn’t begin until farther east, but this was my first taste. Reminded me of the big landscape feeling from places like Alberta Province in Canada or Southeast Alaska. This Polish-Ukrainian border is the first one I’ve crossed where you can tell geography as much as politics created a natural divide.
Next, I got to practice my cow dodging techniques. Two large herds were being driven down the road. While non-confrontational, cows can get moving pretty fast so I had to stay on my toes. Many more cats warily watching me pass and free ranging dogs who were generally ambivalent about the bike. And, then the real mud started. Now I know why the driver tried to dissuade me from this route. Giant puddles and deep mud made it nearly impossible to move even by pushing. I struggled and it took about 2 hours to go 10km.
I cut back to the M11 motorway which really wasn’t that bad for cycling — two lanes and only light-to-medium traffic. Congestion got worse as I approached Lviv. About 10km from the city center, cobblestone began and I was overtaken by a road biker. We biked together and started chatting while avoiding cars and navigating cobbles. Eventually, we stopped to chat and take some pictures. Daniil lives in Lviv and is a bit of cycle gear-head. I showed him some of the more “advanced” features on my bike and he shamed me by asking lots of technical questions about US bike gear that were a bit beyond my skill-level. A few of his friends walked by and I got my first taste of Lviv hospitality. Daniil even escorted me all the way to the apartment I’m renting and watched my bike while I carried up all my gear. Thanks cycle buddy (and thanks Lviv for the friendly welcome to the Ukraine)!