Human kindness (again), and the meditative joys of cycling

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So, I’m in Kursk in Russia enjoying a day off, well organising/uploading photos and writing this post. Five days ago I was in Kiev, rushing around trying to see as much as possible, but then decided to take it more slowly and absorb more and leave bits for another time. I can’t believe how quickly that milestone has come and gone, soon I’ll be in Kazakhstan!

Kursk

Eleven days ago I was at the border between Poland and Ukraine with a Ukrainian lorry driver called Alexander whom I had persuaded to take me across after asking about six other drivers because you aren’t allowed to cross on a bicycle. Nine hours later and we were through, Gary the snail from Spongebob would have won in a race with me. I should have been in a really really bad mood considering I cycled in the rain all the way to the border but spirits were high rather than sodden.

Into the distance: Ukraine

I’ve been on the road for over five weeks now! It’s gone by in a flash yet it feels like I’ve been gone forever. I’ve seen so much! The easy part of the trip is gone I think, summer is coming to a close and autumn is falling. The trees have started their September and October shift to different hues of oranges, browns and reds. Over the past two weeks the mornings have gotten colder, which oddly I’ve been enjoying, although that might change… In the cosy warmth of my hosts’ home here in Kursk, they informed me that at 8am this morning it was 3°C… which will be perfect for my -18 sleeping bag as I’ve been waaaay too hot.

I have a feeling that the trip over the next month will transition to a point where the highs are much higher and the lows are much lower than they have been. The further east I go, the friendlier and warmer the people seem to become but obviously winter is coming and with it bitter cold and brutal, yet mindblowingly beautiful, landscapes. Over the past month I’ve been in the pleasant comfortable middle ground of Europe where everything is relatively familiar and neither overly exciting or overly boring, unlike the thousands of miles of Kazakh steppe ahead of me, which also oddly, I’m looking forward to. Now I’ve begun to boldly wander into the much wilder lands of the adventure, full of scary Russian people and bears and wolves… Before I do that and have almost no internet access I should probably let you all know how everything has gone up to this point.

First of all, as I was cycling through Europe, I was constantly reminding myself of how incredibly lucky I am to not have been born two or three generations ago. I’ve been acutely aware of the history I may have been cycling past, or maybe I should say I’ve been acutely aware of my huge ignorance of the history I’ve probably been cycling past, to the point of disgust that I don’t know more about the huge sacrifice that millions of people made within living memory. I intend to educate myself more on it after this journey.

Artwork in Ukraine

The adventure so far, plain and simple, has been brilliant. Getting out of your normal life and surroundings seems to bring such clarity of thought to your mind, much more often than you would in the humdrum of daily life and routine. Cycling almost seems to be meditative at times and I get these tendrils of creative thought rapidly weaving their way through my mind: ideas; ideas for the present, short, medium and long term future, I have a hard time keeping track of them and sometimes if they seem important enough I have to stop and write them down. As I mentioned before, I’ve also become aware of how important it is to be in the present, which can be difficult at times when you’re hungry and tired and worried about making up the miles to get through Russia before your visa expires!

Since my last post I’ve traversed two countries. As you’ve seen, peoples’ kindness is just incredible and continues to be so. They’re all routing for me and I’ve felt such a strong sense of support from so many strangers.
I want to thank Henrik and Elisa in Meiningen, Germany who I spent two nights and a day with. Even though Elisa was eight months pregnant they still warmly welcomed me into their home and since that time Elisa has given birth to a beautiful baby girl called Linnea! They cooked traditional German food and I was given an evening tour of the town. The next day they then cycled on their tandem 20km with me to say farewell and good luck. I can’t thank them enough.

Henrik and Elisa

Wild camping is illegal in Germany but I was never stopped, either because people are kind or because I’m too sneaky. Germany is beautiful, it seems to have it all and there isn’t enough space here to describe it.

Germany

Poland was very different to Germany, almost an instant change on crossing the border which I didn’t notice I had crossed until, about 2km in, I thought, ‘this doesn’t feel very German’. It is obviously a much poorer country and that’s not surprising considering how much it’s been beaten down throughout history, it hasn’t really had a chance to stand up. I had only my second day off after stopping in Wroclaw with Mateusz, whom I also found on the Warmshowers app. After a last minute request to stay he amazingly accepted and that evening took me on a tour around Wroclaw, he was a fantastic host, thank you Mateusz! I particularly enjoyed the vodka and beef tartare in the vodka bar and the shop-bought Bigos we both enjoyed.

Mateusz

The next day I had my broken spoke incident with my lack of tools which you can read about here. This taught me the wonderful lesson that apparent problems can lead you to the greatest tear-jerking experiences of human kindness.

After a few more days of wild camping I then stayed for a night in Lublin with Poweł, an acquaintance of someone I had also contacted on warmshowers. Talk about networking! Poweł is a vegan and cooked me a delicious homemade pizza for dinner from scratch, dough and all! And then a huge breakfast of coconut butter on bread with peanut butter, nuts, raisins and two bananas!

(CLICK the images to enlarge them!)

After Lublin I slept in my last wild camping spot in Poland, a fond farewell in utterly stunning surroundings.

My last camping spot in Poland

The next morning I cycled in the rain to the border. My lorry driver friend Alexander dropped me off in Kovel in Ukraine about 50km from the border, I hope that little cheat doesn’t upset too many of you. Thank you Alexander!

Part two of this post is coming soon!

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