Well I entered Ukraine but now not able to ride even 1 km. Last evening as I was pushing my bicycle inside I embedded the rear derailleur and the cassette into the snow and then forgot to clean while chatting with people. Now they are completely frozen. The rear derailleur is fully covered with ice. The chain just slides over the frozen cassette. Furthermore, there is about a kilogram of ice stuck on the bicycle here and there. Here, I’m in Yampil the border town of Ukraine. The road goes towards north without passing through the city center and I found a car washing by chance. Since snow and ice are common here, the cars are washed with hot water. Also, if salt is to be spread on the roads, then it must be done on regular basis otherwise will cause harm to cars. Well, I have also got my truck to be washed. J
Generally, it is wise to stop over for one or two days when you enter a new country. You get a rest and also have time to get informed about the country, etc. But, wouldn’t be better to keep moving since the weather is so nice and sunny? What, if it turns bad tomorrow? The next town ahead is Tomashpil. As I asked where to find a hotel and bank, I was told Tomashpil. Looks promising. Meanwhile, as my bicycle was getting washed I was offered a cup of coffee. The employees tried to talk with me. As they heard where I was coming from all shook my hands. The people here are quite friendly. That’s good.
The road to Tomashpil is a little hilly but pleasant. There are small villages embedded in snow, pine trees all covered white, woww, beautiful. The only hook is that the road getting narrow not cleaned for snow and having two sided traffic. I pedal slowly on the snow and arrive to the town, Tomashpil.
I ask people for a hotel which they show me immediately. Just across the hotel is a bank automat and next to it a supermarket and restaurant, great. I enter the building, there is not a reception. Leaving my bicycle I go up to the second floor. Closed. I continue to the third floor and shout: “Is there anyone?” Nobody answers me. I return down. There is only a couch at the entrance. Inside it is quite warm, compared to outside. Well, who cares, I could sleep on this couch this night. I won’t step out of the building from this moment on. A man comes in and looks at me and makes a gesture as if asking what I’m doing here. I make sleeping sign and try to tell that there is no one upstairs. He immediately grasped his phone and called the owner of the hotel. Advantages of being in a small town, everybody knows each other. A woman at the age 60 came and apologized in Russian. Doesn’t matter, I would had waited till next morning in this warm building. Afterwards we went up to the first floor. Only the first floor belongs to the hotel, the others are normal apartments. I saw such kind of a hotel for the first time. She asks for my passport at the reception.
– My name is Nara, and yours?
– No, no. Gurkan!
– No! Guurrr-kaaann.
– Yes, yes Yurkan.
– Ooo Yuri!
– Yuri or Yurkan who cares, babushka (elderly woman in Russian). Yes, my name is Yuri.
What the hell ever babushka, I’m really tired, let me sleep.
I’m used to such name confusions. In China, since they were not able to pronounce my name, I said Young the English meaning of my surname. This is a common name used in China and also in South Korea. So when they asked me what my name is, I simply said Young. In Mongolia I was called as Turk with the iron horse. My name in Japan was given by Ada Turanli and Tomochan as Takashi-San since I tracked the route of Samurai to get to Tokyo for my courage. This was even mentioned in Japanese newspapers. Now the Russian version of my name became Yuri. Suitable names for each geography.
What the hell is this? She is fostering a panther in her room. Come on kitty, kitty. Actually, I’m bad with cats but I like ones puffy like her. They are cute. Dude! It is freezing outside while she amuses herself in this warm room.
Tomashpil is a small town. Everything is placed on the main road about 200 m in length. Actually the entrance of the town starts well ahead but the center is here with three storey buildings. It is easy to get a mobile phone card. The most phone line used is called Life (Paying only about 30 $ I did all my phone calls and internet connections throughout my Ukraine journey with this card. It works at every corner of the country.) I went to the supermarket and then to another store but all didn’t take credit cards. Nevertheless, I was able to take cash from the banking automat with my credit card. It seems that till Kiev I need cash to pay in stores. I took 500 Hryvnia (about 61 $) cash. That will be enough since I don’t spent much when pedaling.
Well, since it snows a lot the must-have toy for the kids is sledge. I stay two days in this town. The last day, my nose starts to flow. What the hell is this? I don’t have the luxury to get ill. The next day I will be on the road. I wake up in the morning, feel exhausted, don’t want to go, etc. I take a look from the window. It is snowing, the roads are covered with snow, it is muggy and it is for sure pretty cold. Dude, I go out. F…k! It is really very very cold. The temperature decreases with every country I pass. Let’s see what the temperature will be in Russia. Hehehehe J That I would gain experience in pedaling on snow in this country is for sure. The road I’m on is not a main road rather side roads connecting the villages. Being so, it takes time to be cleaned by snow plows. Anyway, we’ll meet somewhere with these vehicles. It snows denser as the day passes and since lesser cars pass with every kilometer I gain, the road becomes more and more snow covered.
Meanwhile, as I keep moving on this white covered road I see a cyclist ahead. Good, I’m not the only maniac on the street. Woa, what a snowstorm. I have food, a tent and heating strips. The weather is not so cold, only minus 5 degree. But anyway, it is better that I keep all at my arm’s reach. I decide to use the heating strips which I bought in Japan in the thought that I may need them during world tour. Waste not, want not. I try to follow the tracks of rarely passing cars. I feel as if I’m pedaling in a desert, my bicycle started to sink in snow. High pedaling rate with an outcome of few kilometers. Just pedaling and again pedaling. Focusing on the road I’m not able to look around. While stopping for short breaks I repeated many times: “Wow, this place must be looking wonderful during spring”. For sure, these are wonderful places. But I liked this white covered status also very much. The only hook travelling at such a bad weather is not being able to shoot photos and taking videos or only a few. I start to feel cold as soon as I stop. I pedaled 47 km today, that’s enough. No meaning to wear myself out. Starting at 7:30 am and stopping at 4:30 pm when the sun sets down. I would take a rest at the exit of that village, Ivanochi. I found the store and bought some food. A man came in, said something in Russian and went out. Then, he came in once again with a glass of vodka in his hand. He was talking with me what I didn’t realize at the first time. A sympathetic dedushka (elderly man, grandpa in Russian) was inviting me for a glass of vodka. “All right, let me finish shopping, I’m coming.” I stored the provisions in my bag and went to the tent next to the store. I said:”Selamin Aleykum Agalar” in Turkish. Hahahha. It leaves a sound impression than simply saying hello, for sure. Sometimes I enter sites with such a greeting. The meaningless impression of their faces let me smile. A piece of bread, cheese and a small glass of vodka to bottom up at once. I drank four glasses saying nazdarovia, nazdarovia. They examine my clothing and wonder whether I am feeling cold. They all are wearing thick parka. On the contrary I’m wearing a bold green jacket without any fur. I tell them about the technical properties of the jacket in Turkish adding some English words. No matter, there won’t be anybody who understands what I’m talking about.
– I know little English.
Dude, this is the second time that it happened. The first was in Moldova. Next time I would definitely ask if someone knows English.
– Look here! Why don’t you mention that you know some English and let me struggle with the words. Come here! Nazdarovia.
– Well I want to camp in the evening somewhere around. Is it possible to camp in one of your backyards?
– In the tent, forget about it! I’ll host you this night. I’m Alexander.
– I’m Yurkan.
– Ahhaaa Yurkaaaaaaaaann!
That’s it. This name goes down the treat. J
Vodka is the regional beverage, for sure! J As we moved towards his house I realized that the road was covered with snow making it non-passable. Alexander is 26 years old. He is mechanic and also makes wrought iron doors. Even though so young, this is his second marriage. He has a daughter from his first wife. He asks me: “Do you have children?” I answer him that I didn’t have the opportunity since I’m travelling. What caught my attention was that people in these countries have children at very young age but usually the parents are separated. Not so many in Romania but in Moldova and Ukraine the number of young people whose parents are separated is really very high. Alexander is leaving with his parents, his father Ivan, his mother Katya and his second wife Nadia.
By the way, the name of the dedushka who invited me to drink vodka was Ivan. The closest friend of Alexander is also Ivan. Boo! This is too much coincidence. What the hell is this, everyone is called Ivan. Who knows how many Ivan’s there are in the town?
After introducing his family, Alexander takes me to his workshop. His neighbor Ivan also comes next to us:
– Hey Yurkan. I will give you a cow for the jacket you are wearing.
– Come, I’ll show the cow.
What are you talking about old man? He really took me to the cowshed and showed the cow. He liked my jacket that much. Alex is interpreting. A cow for a jacket… On top of it, he praised his cow for giving that much milk. I said all right, but how do I carry the cow with me? We laughed a lot.
– Ivan if you accompany me till the next city with bicycle I’ll send you a jacket the same of mine, promise. I know you have a bicycle, saw it in the garage.
He seriously thought about this deal. The next city is 52 km ahead. I’m bluffing. J Hahaha. He went outside to look at the road then came back. “No, I cannot pedal in this snow, impossible. If it will continue to snow like this you would even not be able to leave tomorrow.” He is right.
– Alex when will the snow plow come and clean this road? Would it come this evening?
Before answering me he interpreted to the surrounding people and everybody started to laugh.
– Gurkan since I was born no snow plow had never come here. If cars pass the road, it cleans up by itself, if not remains closed.
How come, dude? Buster, I could get stuck really. I didn’t happen to face such heavy snow in the mountains. Meanwhile, I visited all the cowsheds in the village. Ducks, pigs, cows, chickens… Also the people of the village had prepared for the winter, I saw their store rooms.
The room I stayed overnight was heated like being in a sauna. Buddy, really hot! There was a big stove embedded in wall partly in saloon partly in my room. A saw a similar stove at a train station in Romania, also.
Alex and I woke up early in the morning. He is like me early riser. Well, since you are early bird then start to work, “the snow in front of the door has to be shoveled”. I go outside, boo how much it snowed. I hope that some cars had passed overnight on this road, I really hope! After shoveling the snow for about one hour we had breakfast. Meanwhile, I looked around and saw that the road is not at such a bad condition to stick here. There is a lot snow but I would manage it. The whole family got ready at the front door to send me off. Katya, the mother of Alex was worried about me. She asked for my mobile number to call me afterwards. That is the case when you are a mother. She kept staring at me during breakfast and afterwards gave some food before I left J
We said good-by to each other. I had just started to pedal when I fell down on the snow. All right, I would have a lot of fun today. Even Alex offered me to give ride to the next town which I didn’t accept. I would go. I pedaled so 5 km and fell down again and then once more. An ice sheet had been developed below the snow. It doesn’t matter if I pedal on the right or left hand side of the road. The bicycle is on a continuous pendulum. The tires slide on this icy snow covered road and let me fall down continually.
Within 1-2-3-4 days I crashed down 18 times on the total. It is really good that there is no one except me on the road. After a while I managed to take over the control. Yeap, that’s it. I’m able to pedal on ice and snow at the end. Buster, my bottom still hurts the last two crashes were really hard. Meanwhile, I also learned how to drift. I’m pedaling much better so. I shouldn’t go fast but also not fall below a certain speed to keep my balance. J Furthermore, it needs to follow a straight line. At this point, the road bikers come in my mind. You might know that their training is really hard pedaling for hours on a single straight line. Really a very hard job. The roads of Ukraine not only teach me how to pedal on slick ice and snow but also to balance on a straight line with such a heavy load. It continued to snow, the whole day. Pushing a 50 kg bicycle through the snow!!! Nothing but crazy man’s job. Come on dude (J), come onnnnnn… You would do it. I stop pushing my bike and look ahead. The road seems endlessly and I can’t see beyond the end of my nose. Keep on…. I pushed for hours and don’t remember how many times I fell down at the slopes. Somewhere my boots slid on the road and I fell on my knees. My arms were not able to hold the bicycle which tumbled down over me. Hahaha… I got embedded in to the snow. My god! This is my utmost point! This is my limit, I cannot stand it anymore. I draw the towel! My feet and my arms are all aching. It is minus 8 degrees. I don’t know what to do but know I have to camp somehow. If there is that much snow ahead on the road I would get embedded till my belly. I have to go inside my tent somehow otherwise this snow storm will bury me. I hear a car coming closer, did not pass a car for hours. I try to tidy up but the bicycle is really heavy like a dead bull. I drew off as much as possible, my bags only half full. As I stand up I see a yellow pickup. The driver stops next to me even asking whether I need help. He opens the rear door immediately and makes a gesture as if saying “How do you pedal in this weather, have you all your nuts with you?” Buster, he just came on time, if not I would be completely buried in snow till morning. Ehehue.. Not a single snow plow had passed by. I had pedaled 37 km in this snow, woww.
What a luck I don’t need to take off my bags and put the whole bicycle behind the pickup while sitting next to the driver. If had wished anything else. I event don’t ask his name, Ivan or Alex. I called him godsend. He has even tire chains. Let’s go my godsend.
I check from my GPS where we are going. There is only 15 km to the town ahead. I couldn’t make it up, what a pity. But my arms and shoulders are aching tremendously. I guess I used all my muscles groups to balance the handlebar. It needs a high power to balance the bicycle riding on the snow. After this point it goes out the frames of an ordinary tour. This was a real scramble between me and the nature. I failed. Nothing to do. Let’s get prepared for the next games.
After 15 km he set me off at the outskirts of Vinnitsa. All right, what to do next? Since I arrived to the town, let’s stay at a hotel. Meanwhile, I would decide which road to choose. It is not wise to use the side roads. They almost all are closed. I haven’t seen any snow blowers cleaning the roads for days. I ask my Garmin GPS to guide me to the nearest hotel. I easily find the way to the hotel. It is really quite practical to use this property of GPS. Everyone who sees me in the city stares at me. The bicycle and me are just a huge clump of snow. There is less snow in the town. The muddy snow thrown by the cars becomes the kiss of death.
The city Vinnitsa is actually worth to go around for sightseeing according to my internet researches but in this snowy weather it is impossible. After staying one night in the hotel and a short tour around the town, I leave. I do this from time to time. If I don’t have time for sightseeing then I tour around or on the streets of the city for some 20 km before leaving. Doing so, I both get some sense of the city and also some nice shots. I have to hit towards north but there isn’t a main road. I have to keep pedaling through side roads for a while. But this time the road became more dangerous also cars are added to the snow. Keep moving but carefully!
Previously, I used to check the distance I covered on my Sigma road computer from time to time. But meanwhile only the time button is on. I start to search for a suitable camping site when it is about 3:00 pm. Since it gets dark around 4:30 pm, I have to erect my tent before that. It is impossible to find a suitable camping area everywhere during this season. Every night I camp and sleep on snow. The air temperature inside the tent is approximately 5 degrees higher than the outside. 15 minutes after I jump into my sleeping bag the temperature rises up to 24 degrees. Once it had increased to 27 degrees but not higher. You might even shorten this period by getting inside the sleeping bag with only shorts and short armed t-shirts since your body heat is transferred more easily. I sleep with my thermal underwear for the last week which I also wear during cycling. At minus 20 degrees it is not a fun to change your clothing. Well, you also don’t sweat so much. Taking into account that I change my wearing and wash myself every third day, I can say that I’m quite clean J
Before I departed I met Tunc Findik in Istanbul and had a lot questions for him. You might not know Tunc Findik, just surf in internet. He is among the top mountaineers of Turkey. My sleeping bag has an extreme of minus 47 degrees and I use an additional silk sheet which adds on 5 degrees. That makes up minus 52 degrees and with your thermal underwear you might stand minus 60 degrees cold. J But Tunc Findik used a minus 25 degrees sleeping bag during Everest and K2 expeditions. Why? I also was curious about it and asked him. “Isn’t it colder up there?” He answered me as: “Yes, but we get in sleeping bag with our goose down jackets.” By this way they reduce their weight they have to carry, quite wise. But, why do I use a tri-climate jacket and not a down one? My sleeping bag is as heavy as my tent and occupies a large space in my bag. But a down jacket and a thin sleeping bag is not suitable for my bicycle tour. First of all many down jackets are not water proof and if water proof then not breathable. The utmost purpose of a down jacket is to keep warm. While pedaling your pulse rises sometimes up to 150-180 beats, at an extreme up to 200. You would get sick wetted in a down jacket. Your single choice on jacket must be right.
My tent is about to die J. I bought my Husky tent just before the bike festival “Gokova under my pedals” in October 2009. After 5 months I found myself on my Turkey-Japan tour. I spent 242 nights of this 343 days tour in the tent. Erecting, putting down in hot or cold weather, I never gave up. After I returned Turkey I may used it for 15 nights and not more. About one and a half year it remained untouched. After I departed in September 9th for my world tour I had stayed 38 nights in tent. This tent encountered the hot in Karakorum desert Turkmenistan, minus 35 degrees in the desert Gobi in Mongolia. Its poles bent under the desert storms but resisted. It faced the monsoon rains in China, protected me from rain and cold in Japan for weeks. Now I’m on my world tour. The tent is struggling together with me throughout the coldest winter of Europe for weeks. Snow, rain, frost… But it tends to give up the struggle. The zip attacked by the guns of the soldiers while pedaling in Tajikistan is now completely broken down. The zipper of the outer tent broke down in Romania since it was completely frozen. Also, the other outer zip does not function. Now, both outer tent doors do not zip properly. It is time to change the tent with a new one.
One night I found a camping place among the trees. Initially I stepped on snow to smooth the area. Anyway, next morning I prepared everything and tried to get in my boots. Oh no! The boots got frozen overnight. It is impossible to put my feet in. Hahaha. The boot I’m using is winter SPD boot of Shimano with vibram sole and Gore-tex. Also, I put an additional wool sheet on the shoe sole. Furthermore, Shimano shoe cover (it is said that it is waterproof but narration. I tried the best also the worst quality of these covers but their waterproof capability hold up to a certain point, some without any). So then, why am I wearing them? As wind stoppers… Additionally, I also wear a pair of Gore-tex gaiters. That is, I try to protect my feet and legs as good as possible. But, the moist on my boots froze the whole night albeit in the tent. Stiffened like a stone, also the laces. F…k it…. My feet started to freeze. I got back again into my sleeping bag. It took a long time till the frozen moist on my boots melted. Another experience: You must loosen your laces before you sleep. The worst moments are when you have to pack up your tent and attach your bags on the bicycle in the morning. Every morning there is pain for sure. I use two types of gloves. The one I use when I get prepared for the day and the other during I pedal on the road. Kayhan abi (elderly brother) advised me to use dishwashing gloves. Sometimes I wear both gloves simultaneously when I pedal to keep my fingers warm. J
I managed to arrive to the main road before Kiev. 145 km is left. There is only some ice on the right hand side of the road. But since it is a double lane road and is cleaned up there is enough space to pedal. I was not using the SPDs since a long time. See what will happen now? It is minus 17 degrees and the sun is shining. That means frost. I pedaled at a speed of 22 km/h for a while. All right, I started to sweat, time to change my jacket with a wind stopper one. Meanwhile, sweat out so much as if I’m boiling. On the straight road my speed becomes 35 km/h lasting for a while. My leg muscles are burning. I feel myself quite well. Good, I’m really fit. It seems my ice has melted. J For sure I would pedal faster in Summer time leaving time to sightseeing J
What happens if I pedal with a speed of 35 km/h at minus 17 degrees? J Let’s start right here. The digital meters on the screen of the Sigma computer would turn crazy, afterwards won’t show any data, frozen screen. Garmin GPS! The processor of the device started to show data with 10 minutes delays. My I-pod and Canon camera although their batteries were full initially are both out of duty due to cold. The feels like temperature fell down to minus 40 degrees. On top of it, I’m not able to calculate the front wind speed and its additional cause due to chilling. Well, as your pulse goes up to 150 you don’t feel the cold that much.
I really push my limit getting up in this ice cold weather, go out and then turn back to the tent. How does it feel to take a break in this ice cold weather? As soon as I stop I change my thermal underwear also wind-stopper. J I have to do it so. Doing so in the cold, I find them frozen the next day. If I need to stop I must stop in a warm place. It is not wise to stop for a photo or video at a nice spot in this cold. The important point is to take care of ballsJ…. If I wear pants which do not stop wind, I would probably face tribulation the next time. Therefore, the pants I’m wearing must also be wind-stopper. That is why I wrote about every single detail included my underwear in my website under Equipments section.
To be honest, I don’t recommend to anybody such kind of a travel. I won’t advise to come and travel these places in this coldest period of the year. If you really want to come and visit here, come in spring. Especially, visit Ukraine. The hospitality of the Ukrainian, after Japan, is invaluable. It is cheap, has a good cuisine, you might camp anywhere you want. The panoramic views of the side roads are marvelous. Did you know that Roxelena, also known by her Turkish name Hurrem, wife of Ottoman sultan Suleyman the Magnificiant was Ukrainian? J A country with so many stories…..