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This post continues from my previous post, which you can read here
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!
The following day I began my four day cycle along the M-07, one road which goes all the way to Kiev, two days of which I had wonderful tailwinds, and the rest, soul-destroying headwinds. Ukraine seemed to be as poor again as Poland compared to Germany, the road was lined with people supplementing their income by selling mushrooms they had collected in the forest in the early morning. Sometimes in the dawn while cooking my breakfast I would see them walking quiet as ghosts with a bag or bucket and a knife, they never disturbed me or spoke to me. I took very few pictures in Ukraine due to cycling so much which I feel a little regretful of. They’re of course all in my head, I just can’t show you! What I saw of Ukraine is beautiful with the peaceful pine forests, and wetlands with open plains. There were so many peacock butterflies fluttering along the road, although sadly many succumbing to car windscreens, reminding me to be careful if I didn’t want to meet a similar but messier end.
Soon I was in Kiev taking a day off staying with some more amazing warmshowers hosts. Anton and his wife Sveta and their very cute four year old son Vanya, took care of me and welcomed me into their small flat with my bike and it’s parasitic luggage. They treated me to proper Ukrainian food which was delicious, the last night of which included dried fish with a beer, or two. They sent me away with five fish wrapped up in paper which I really enjoyed with another couple of Ukrainian beers, in the dark, in my tent.
The journey from Kiev to Kursk was headwinds all the way which upset me massively at first but I learnt to deal with them, and learnt that shouting profanities into the wind has the opposite effect you would want, what with the microgram of thrust produced by your own breath slowing you down even more. So I decided that the extra force required to overcome the headwind would make me stronger and the rest of the journey easier, a philosophy which could possibly be applied to many aspects of life?
Just before the Ukrainian Russian border in the ancient town of Hlukhiv I was taken by surprise. I was at a shop about to buy some food when a guy called Roman stopped on his bike and started talking to me. He asked where I was going and where I had come from and as is usual was shocked when I told him my intended destination! He then invited me to his home for food and said that he and his Father would cycle with me to the border.
The Ukraine-Russia border was… totally fine, they were very friendly but ever so slightly intimidating, which I think is no different than any other border crossing. They did a little search of my stuff, thankfully no rubber gloves were needed.
It was pitch black by the time I got into Russia, so I cycled about 2km and put up my tent in some woods in the dark, cooked my dinner, had a dried fish for pudding, and went to sleep. In the morning in my tent while packing up I heard a Jeep pull up next to the woods, cracking twigs and quite voices alerted me to the fact I had been discovered. I came out of my tent with an unthreatening friendly face and was greeted by two young border guards with Kalashnikovs. They weren’t at all intimidating, apart from said Kalashnikovs. They asked for my documents, looked at them and then smiled and left. I then cooked my breakfast and packed up.
So my first day in Russia began slightly eventfully and continued that way with yet again, wait for it… (is this getting boring?) more human kindness!! I went into a small village shop to see if they would accept Ukrainian money, as it was so close to the border. They didn’t accept it but asked in very broken English and hand gestures what I was going to buy, I told them just some water and some crisps because I wasn’t really sure but I couldn’t say I wasn’t going to buy anything. They took them from the shelves and put them on the counter. I told them I have no money, they laughed at me and said “it present, for you!” I tried to say no but then quickly accepted as I didn’t want to offend them.
So yesterday I arrived in Kursk and just before that wonderful moment which I will get to, I was chased by a pack of dogs. There I was, cycling along happily, quite tired, when I heard barking. Looking about, I couldn’t see a dog anywhere, so I continued my cycling, but the barking wasn’t going away, confusingly it was getting louder. I turned around and, holy shit! Running out of the entrance of a large mechanic’s garage was a pack of about five dogs, paws skidding, throwing up dust in a brawl of spit and fur and teeth. You’ve all seen Jurassic park, you remember that scene with the T-Rex and the jeep, the T-Rex is gaining on the jeep and Jeff Goldblum is screaming at the driver to go faster. Imagine five T-Rex’s. So I started peddling, screaming mentally at my legs to peddle as hard as I could. One of the dogs impressively ended up alongside me, I could hear its panting and guttural growling, teeth bared, legs at full stretch, obviously enjoying the chase. I’ve never peddled so fast, i didn’t think with all of the weight on the front of my bike it would be possible to wheelie it, but out of fear I pushed so hard the front wheel came off the ground and luckily I didn’t poo myself. There was also a woman at a bus stop laughing at me, I was also laughing manically out of fear. After this intense burst of physical activity combined with fear I felt superb. Note: I’ve heard the dogs in Kyrgyzstan really are quite terrifying, I’ll look forward to them.
So, the wonderful moment of arriving in Kursk. I let my Warmshowers host know where I was and then sat down in the local park to eat my lunch. You already know what I’m going to say. A woman came up to me and asked in Russian where I was going, I told her and then she took me to her house and gave me coffee and biscuits and chocolate bars.
I need to remind you of my state at this point, unshaven, probably stinking of a mixture of BO and fish because of my late night snacks in my tent, filthy hands and stained trouser. This woman invited me, a complete stranger who doesn’t speak her language, into her lovely warm house for coffee.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this update, I know it’s been a long time coming! I’ll do my best to get some more posts out.