Bored of Borders

This morning started with encouraging news. According to the weather forecast the temperature outside was -18 degrees with a wind chill of -32. We got goosebumps just thinking about the freezing day to come. Karlis B. was especially indignant and announced that 10 days in a freezer wasn’t agreed upon. But what can you do, after all it’s winter. To make a stand against the treacherous cold, guys applied heating ointment to the most important parts of their bodies and packed their cycling shoes with chemical heaters. All four bikes left the hotel in new shoes with studs. At first Kaspars was resisting the decision to change tires, because the studded rubber would make pedaling more difficult, but Roberts as the team leader stayed firm on his decision, because safety always beats the ease of pedaling. Sadly studs are of little use in snow gruel and soon pedalers got a chance to experience this old truth on their skin. No more than 5 kilometers from the hotel the riders had to cross a pool of scrambled snow formed on the highway ramp and three of the stallions got unsteady and refused to obey. Only Kaspars went through like a tank – Karlis P. managed to balance himself on one foot, but Roberts and Karlis B. airily dived into the pool of bilge. The team rejoined at the clearing in front of the police station where Kaspars was already chatting with the officers of low. At first the officers asked, who is paying the guys for doing this crazy thing, but when they realized that this is a completely voluntary thing, they switched to compassion and invited us to get warm and have a cup of tea in the station. Following the unwritten law never to enter police station voluntarily, we kindly refused the offer, but Aigars gave one of the officers a pack of Selga cookies to have with tea and we parted as friends. The highway leading to Odes was completely clean, so the first notion was that we had rushed into studding the bikes, but later on the studs proved themselves very useful. We’ll get to that later. At the first bathroom break we discovered a peculiar thing – Karlis B. had became so close with his bike that they had literally grown together and Karlis couldn’t shake his foot loose of the pedal. “You can’t give them anything good,” groaned Roberts while freeing the bike from Karlis foot and repairing the misaligned horseshoe on Karlis left foot. 40 kilometers from the hotel the front tire of Kaspars bike went flat, so the wheel had to be replaced with the spare one without studded tire. It was not at all suspicious when the one pedaler who complained about studs got rid of at least half of them in no time. Was it sabotage ore just a coincidence? Who knows. Soon after this incident we left the highway to Odes and turned on the road leading to Mykolaiv and at that point it became clear that mounting the studded tires was the right call, because some parts of this road ware covered with snow and more importantly – ice. On this stretch even Kaspars had to agree that studs increased the tractions thus making the ride more stable. The worsening of the road conditions was not the only jolly thing that this route threw in the faces of the three musketeers and Roberts – almost instantly after leaving the highway their faces got scratched by our old friend the wind. Today it blew with full force, pushing the cyclists to the side of the road and groping their bones with its freezing fingers. It felt like the sun had gone out and the hell had frozen over. The gadgets mounted on the bikes tried to convince us that the temperature was approx. -15 degrees, but it surely didn’t feel that way. Even Karlis B., who is a climber and therefore has some resistance against cold, couldn’t stand the icy grip and wrapped himself in a Primaloft jacket. Whilst keeping him warm this jacket almost caused Karlis to go down again. When he desperately tried to put on the hood of the jacket, his bike started to draw eights on the asphalt threatening to go flat on the ground. This complication got resolved with the helping hands of our own hospitality expert Aigars. Other guys tried to warm themselves internally with Selga cookies and peanut butter. I could suggest a couple of more effective internal heating methods, but that’s off record. At the 90th kilometer the sun finally showed it’s face and turned the colors a bit warmer, but that was all it did. Today there was no hope for warmth, but the pedalers pushed forward amusing the drivers of cars passing by. One truck driver even opened his window and with a wide smile shouted at us “What’s, up? You don’t like sitting at home?” The first 110 kilometers took us almost 7 hours, so soon after lunch the darkness sneaked up on us. At this point we realized that the optimistic plan to finish early today was no more than a nice illusion, because we still were almost 80 kilometers short. And those were difficult kilometers. The snow banks became wider almost entirely covering the road and the cleared part became more and more snowy. Less than 40 kilometers from the warm beds the van got stuck at a road blockage, but the riders went through. For more than 40 minutes the supporting crew was clueless about the situation ahead and the progress of our friends. When the van finally got through, it became clear that the road was blocked due to the excessive amount of snow preventing simultaneous traffic in both directions. When we got reunited with our gang, we passed by a bunch of trucks waiting for god knows what. They assured us that the road ends here, but we had to at least try to get through. The endless line of trucks started moving, covering us in their exhaust fumes. We made a judgement call – the van joined the slowly moving line leaving the cyclists behind. We could’n afford to loose the opportunity to move forward. As the van crawled beneath the 2 meters high snow banks we realized that now there’s really no turning back and the adventure skyrocketed to a whole new level. An hour and 10 long kilometers later we got reunited again with the deep frozen four. There’s no way of telling in what supernatural or post-human state those guys were after pedaling, pushing and carrying their bikes through the frozen hellhole, but they just kept on going with no squeal. There were no talk about driving the last 10 kilometers in the van despite the fact, that we had been on the road for 12 hours and the clock relentlessly reminded that it was 21:30.

So to sum up – 184 kilometrrs through frozen hell, 13 hours of pure fun, countless falls and they all are still smiling. Karlis B. even admitted that for him this was the most beautiful day of this year, because it was interesting.

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