Bored of Borders

Because of new information regarding closed roads we had to change our initial plan, which was to go straight from Krasnoperekops’k to Simferopol. Despite the extra 32 kilometers we decided to reroute through Dzhankoi thus eliminating the possibility of getting stuck in the middle of the wast Crimean steppe. This obviously wise decision came with the price of the precious hours of sleep, so we left hotel “Fantasy” unusually early. At 8:30 the four ice titans saddled up their bikes and headed out into the unknown followed by the rich sound of bells coming from the local church. After all, it was Sunday. At the road fork, where we had to deviate from our original route, we met a policeman, who put us on our initial path. He explained, that this road is closed only for trucks and it’s safe for us to take. Well, we’ll see about the safety part, but in any case these were great news, because we could forget about the extra milage and didn’t have to worry about trucks pushing the riders off the road. After couple of kilometers we entered the granary of the former Soviet Union. As far as we could see there were snowy fields and the road bended behind the horizon. The vastness was just overwhelming, and for the most part of the way there was not a living soul in sight except for our merry gang. The road was covered with rough ice, which was way better than the ice-ring we had to cross yesterday, but it still caused some struggle. At first Karlis P. felt behind the bicycle formation, but our chief Roberts acted as a true leader – he slowed down to the pace of Karlis and gave him a mental push, making the procession whole again. At least for some time. At the 12th kilometer someone kicked open the gates of the mighty steppe, and a heavy wind forced out blasting athwart to the road. The wind was so strong, that the guys had to keep their bikes slantwise to keep the unsteady balance. At this point the riders were like a row of dominos – if one of them would go down, he would take the others with him one by one. Our slim hope of being warm got blown away by the wind and the warmth coming form the bright sun could be felt only behind the parked van, which was no use for our Don Kichots fighting the great windmill. They were slowly but inevitably freezing, but still managed to keep a pace of approx. 20 km/h. At the 34th kilometer of our route we got back on the frickin ice-ring, which made things just a pinch harder. The firm hand of the wind was pushing the riders like a curling rocks and staying on the bike became a true challenge. The riders did their best not to rest their feet on the road, because getting back on the bike was even more difficult than sitting on it. When Karlis B. got blowed down like a splinter, he could not get his bike back in horizontal position, because the wind was constantly throwing the bike away whilst slowly pushing Karlis off the road. It was a total hell-storm, to say the least, but it was also breathtakingly beautiful. It felt like traveling through the tenure of the Snow queen, where everything is frozen by her breath. The grass, the trees, the road-signs and even the telephone wires were covered in a sparkling coat of ice, which was shining in the bright sunlight. The wind was shaking the frozen twigs and filling the crisp air with a gentle tinkling sound. Pure beauty and absolute roughness. The cyclists spread out on the road and started a one man battle against the grand force of nature. Karlis P. fell far behind and after several and several unsuccessful attempts to mount his bike threw down the towel. He started to push the bike by the roadside to get to the van parked approx. 300 meters away, but it turned out, that pushing the bike is almost impossible. The wind grabbed Karlis by the neck and threw him off the road and into a ditch. After fording to the van Karlis announced, that this is a totally pointless activity, and judging from the speed of crawling forward he was not far from the truth. Despite the dire situation Karlis wasn’t seeking the comfort of the van. All he needed was a shelter from the wind. He found the cover on the lee-side of the van and continued to pedal, to pull up to the scattered group. Karlis reached Kaspars and Roberts, who decided, that riding alongside the van is the only possible solution, that would allow them to move forward. The three riders settled in beside the red shield of metal and went on, to search for Karlis B., who had gone solo into the heart of the blizzard. It’s needless to say, that he hadn’t gone far. At last all four pedalers were together again and continued to move forward hiding in the shadow of our van. The shelter from the wind was a great relief, though the tires were still slipping on the ice, so even in this manner the cyclists couldn’t go faster than 20 km/h. After 8 kilometers traveled on the lee-side of the van the ice cover moved apart making space for a thin line of asphalt, which kept getting wider with each kilometer. You can’t even imagine the relief a line of asphalt can give you in the middle of Crimean steppe. “Ok, enough of hiding behind the van,” said Karlis and led the file of pedalers out of the cover a moment too soon. In an instant he was down and taking soil sample, but a second later he was back on his bike again. There was no stopping now, when the road had finally given in and the gasping dance with the wind on the floor of ice had come to an end. Though the wind continued to blow with a full force, the clear asphalt provided the riders with enough traction to stay on the road and keep the course. The luck had turned our way. At the 57th kilometer the guys made a short pitstop, to lick their wounds and renew their strength with a can of sprats and a cookie. This combination sounds weird, but there are times, when the best food is the one closest to you, and this without a doubt was one of these times. 13 kilometers further down the road a blue outline of the mountains rose form the horizon and what a treat it was for the sour eyes of the tired riders, because the mountains marked Simferopol and the finish line. At the 100th kilometer we had a short lunch skipping the soup and repeating the menu of sprats and cookies, to save time and get to the capital of Crimea sooner, which was now only 24 kilometers away. As we were approaching Simferopol, Roberts suddenly realized, that he is feeling warm for the first time since crossing the border between Poland and Ukraine. “It feels like someone has put warm hands on my shoulders,” he said riding by the open window of our van. It’s no wonder, that he felt this way, because after the freezing sobs of the steppe the gentle breath of city suburbs felt like a warm spring breeze. When we finally saw the road-sign saying Simferopol, all of the riders started pushing the pedals a bit harder and Karlis B. even got so excited, that he pushed himself down to the ground, to take some extra samples. In fact there was a good reason for the excitement, because for the first time we had a real chance of finishing before the sunset. And we did it – for once the cyclist actually outraced the darkness and after 7h and 5min of pedaling reached the destination exactly 4 minutes before the sunset. After crossing the finish line we mounted the bikes on the roof of our van and drove to Alushta, where the Radisson Blu hotel awaited us on the shore of the Black sea.

The assumption of the day: “This is starting to feel like sport.” (Roberts wresting with the wind in the middle of the steppe.)

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