A really tough days cycling. I only managed to cover 120k despite being on a reasonably good and very flat road. A headwind from hell, gusting at Force 7 or so played havoc with progress all day. I could only manage 12k per hour for most of the day and felt like quitting several times. The highlight was swimming in a canal which ran for many miles parallel to the long, straight road. Some local lads were playing a sort of water polo game and I joined in for a while. The canal was alive with little frogs but nobody seemed to care. The low point was was when I stopped for lunch having to divert for a few off the road. An old guy who seemed to be the village idiot took my phone after insisting on having a selfie with me. The shopkeeper had to forcefully prise it from him. It was an unfortunate end to a good lunch. I’m camped in a small town where the army, which is very unpopular with the locals has requisitioned most of the buildings in the town and set up camp. The place is swarming with soldiers and the only shop/bar/restaurant in the town does a very brisk business in cigarettes and beer. I’ve given up cooking since I reached Ukraine. The bar food is really good and very cheap. So after a good meal and a few beers -at 70c a pint, I’ve set up camp myself in the grounds of the village school where there are toilets and running water. I’m hoping that the awful headwind won’t be an issue tomorrow as I’m ready keen to get to Russia some time this weekend.
The firey blasts from the steppes of Russia continued unabated all day today. I knew when I broke camp early in the morning that it was going to be a really tough day and briefly considered resting in the village for the day. Many adventure cyclists don’t cycle into strong headwinds, preferring to wait until the wind drops and try to make up time lost later. In this case, I knew that strong winds from the East were expected for the next few days and this village wasn’t the most attractive place to hole up. It was an agonising struggle to cover 150k, cycling all day with two short breaks. The wind increased in strength in the afternoon as the temperature rose to 42 degrees. I found it difficult to keep myself hydrated as the sweat was oozing out of me and evaporating as fast as I could drink. Incredibly, I drank 12 litres of fluids and that doesn’t include the beer I’m drinking now. My target was the first seaside town on the infinitely long, straight road towards Russia. At times, when there was some shelter from trees, I managed 15k per hoot but most of the time it was a painfully slow 12k and that required a whole lot of effort. Eventually, just as the sun had set, I reached this seaside town with a completely unpronounceable name. I’ll sleep soundly on the beautiful long beach with impossibly white sand and enjoy the company of the many Ukrainian, Georgian and Belorussian families who have come here for holidays. I’ve just enjoyed a Black Sea fish platter washed down with a few pints with a nip of vodka as a nightcap for €7.00! A lovely Belorussian family have invited me to have a beach breakfast with them tomorrow. Given that the wind force is due to increase again tomorrow, I think I’ll accept the invitation and chill here on the beach for the day. I also have to work out where, how and when to cross the border into Russia.
By the seat of my pants…I was much too harsh on Ukraine and it’s people when I pronounced the everything here as being grimon my first day here.I’ve now spent 10 days here now, much longer than intended and after spending a full day chilling, chatting -via google translate, and entertaining the kids with Sillias Sock, my puppet friend, I can now claim that it’s not so grim after all. The people’s of these once soviet republics have long and complex histories of occupation, war and most exist in relative poverty, so it’s no wonder that they can appear to be less than cheerful at times. I spent a long time with a Belorussian family today and really got a feeling for how they live, work and enjoy themselves. It was a wonderful privilege to spend the entire day on the beach here. It’s so different from any other beach I’ve been. Large family groups sit and share food, -no soggy sandwiches here, they bring huge picnics of delicious food. There are loads of vendors selling dried fish, shrimps, boiled maize and more. All for a few cents for large portions. Some older folk dig down for mud under the sand and plaster themselves with it. Groups of extremely polite and friendly teenagers play cards, board games and chess under the sun shades, which incidentally cost only 70 cent to rent for the day. Everyone, young and old sip at glasses of beer and bkar, a curious non alcoholic drink made from stale bread. I was up early at 7.00am for an early morning dip and lots of groups were on the beer already. Yet, I haven’t seen any drunkenness or rowdy behaviour. I’m going to spend the evening with a group of teenagers who are really interested in my story. They keep insisting on buying me beer and I feel guilty because I know they haven’t much money. Tomorrow, I’m up early, wind or no wind to tackle the 160k to the Russian border. I’m crossing near a town called Maripul and when I tell people they cross their wrists or spray me with machine gun fire. My source in the military tells me that missile attacks are only’sporadic’ these days and that the situation remains ‘dynamic’ none of which is reassuring. I had a brainwave with the flag situation. I’m obviously not going to fly a Ukrainian or Russian flag in this contested province but what about a flag of peace? The only white fabric I’ve left is my spare pair of underpants so after dinner I’ll fashion a crude flag from them and hopefully get over the border ‘by the seat of my pants’
Not even my newly laundered underpants flag could save me this time. No amount of charm, money or cigarettes ate going to get me across the border to Rostov on Don. It’s time for plan B.
It was an agonising, tortuous cycle in the worst headwind I’ve ever battled against. For 12 solid hours I battled against them and nearly won. Everyone loved my flag and made peace signs as I struggled eastwards. I passed through Mariopul where I had been warned I’d had trouble, without any problems. It was more like Belfast in the 80’s than the Beirut I was expecting and was only 15k from the border when I was stopped at a huge roadblock where there wee lots of very grim looking soldiers. I’d sailed through several of these earlier and was able to bluff my way through.
This time there was simply no way through. The soldiers were polite and professional refusing money but gladly taking cigarettes. They suggested other possible crossing points but they all turned out to be blocked too. My only option is to take a bus to Krykhov, 450k to the north and cross from there. This is allowed in the Guinness rules. I’ll work out what to do from there.
To the many people who recommended Krykhov, I apologise for not taking your advice. To those who suggested the coastal route…..well I should have done better research myself but I know for a fact that groups of cyclists have managed to get through not so long ago. It’s pretty serious but not disastrous. My Russian visa expires on Aug 28th and Im going to have my work cut out for me to get across in 14 days -that’s if no other problems emerge. In any case I won’t have to face that awful headwind tomorrow!
Check back soon for more drama and excitement from GoGo Dermos Adventure #GoGoDermo