In at the deep end

And I would walk a thousand miles.

August 28, 2008

Well, drive at any rate.
I’m so glad I didn’t drive from Prague to Kiev in two days, that would have been murder.

Warsaw was ok, didn’t really see very much of it, the old town seemed quite nice, as did the hotel bar (which we managed to wrack up a HEINOUS bill in).

But all too soon it was time to move on, To KIEV!

My first border crossing was smooth if lengthy, and soon enough I was driving down the ridiculously wide and well paved road from the border post.

Which… abruptly ended in road works and dumped me onto something a bit more traditional.

Mile after mile after mile of endless straight roads!

Kiev was signposted right from the off so I thought “ooh, this should be easy!”
Except that eventually even the undulating, patchworkof a road that I’d been converted to, also abruptly ended in roadworks.
No matter, I simply turned onto the nearest road, which was a washboarded unpaved road.
“This can’t be right” I thought to myself as my spine tried to escape throught the seat of my trousers.

Eventually the road went through a tiny little village, and upon noticing a group of teenagers huddled round a hay/fire I pulled over and pointed down the road.
Turns out Kiev is prounounced more like Kia than anything, so at first they didn’t understand what the hell I was on about.
Despite not sharing a language they invited me to warm myself by the fire, and as we got to talking they invited me to stay the night!

Being as Kiev was some 300 miles away and it was utterly dark I was more than glad to take them up on their offer.

One of the kids had his own motorbike, so he was very excited to give mine a try.
Thinking that he was just going to tootle round in a circle I let him jump on and start it off.
15 minutes later I was starting to wonder where the hell he’d got to.
Though seeing as he’d left me with what was presumably his girflfriend I felt there was a certain amount of mutual trust involved and stayed by the fire.

Eventually he came back and showed off a very impressive gash on his leg where he’d binned the bike -See! It’s not just me!-.

Him and his group of mates showed me back to a house, which seemed to belong to an extremely randy old man who was desperately insisting I have sex with one of the girls… Though as the teenage lad was saying the same I suppose I shouldn’t blame the old guy too much…

We spent the evening pantomiming questions to each other, they were very impressed by the cost of my shoes, which struck me as rather odd as they all had the latest mobile phones.
Admittedly the standard of living seemed to be pretty low, 4 beds to a room, and it looked like they ate what they grew for the most part.

I was somewhat non plussed when he asked for ten euros for the nights stay, but didn’t begrudge him his money, price of a hostel anyway!
Another five euros for breakfast next morning struck me as a little ridiculous however.
The breakfast was in itself a feast.
It consisted of an omelette that tasted NOTHING like any omelette I’ve had before (including the one I made with duck eggs!), which had the worlds saltiest bacon in it. Alongside this was a plate of fat strips, and for the main component we had a giant bowl of mashed potato each.
It was actually pretty nice, just… really not what I wanted first thing in the morning!

One of the kids was going to Kiev that morning, so I volunteered to give him a lift.
He didn’t have a helmet, despite owning a bike, so we scoured the village looking for (presumably) the one guy that had a helmet.
But.. Since he was, from what I gathered, unavailable, we made a trip to the nearest bus stop some six miles away.

The roads in between were pretty epic.
The earth road was fun, the gravel road was hair-raising but the weirdest of all was where they’d taken an old, undulating, potholed road and put COBBLES on it without flattening it.

At one point we were quite happily bombing along a delightfully flat unpaved section at some 40mph, when suddenly we came upon a 3 foot wide, 3 foot deep TRENCH spanning the entire road.
If I’d braked we’d have locked up the wheels and still hit it, so I just went for it.
Down went the front wheel, UP went the front wheel; me and my pillion hanging suspended at the peak of our parabola quite seperately from bike.
THUMP the bike landed straight and as we kept whizzing on, awestruck by our good fortune I turned and looked at my new friend and we both laughed the nervous laugh of two people who for a split second thought they were in deep deep shit.

Eventually we got to town and it was decided that since he couldn’t describe how to get to Kiev I would just follow the bus.
This was all well and good until about 5 miles down the road my fuel light flicked on.
“Oh well” I thought to myself, “I’ve got about another 70 miles before it actually conks out, I’m sure we’ll be on the main road by then”.
Little did I know that this bus took the worlds most winding route to service all the tiny little villages in the surround area.
Sixty miles on I found a petrol station.
“No cards” Shit, I had no local currency.
I soldiered on, even though by this point I’d lost the bus and consequently had no idea where I was going.
Praise the lord I found a town, even rarer a town with a CASH POINT! WOOHOO!

Fuelled up and feeling pleased I stopped in front of a sign to consult my map.
Head buried in my “Cart” I heard over the top of it “Do you need some help?”
“Holy crap! Somebody that speaks English!”
He grins at my amazement.
It turns out I ran across one of three guys who own a metal working company locally.
The odd thing? Just a couple of months ago they hosted a pair of Danish bikers doing a long haul bike tour!
He invited me back to the office to meet his friends, I went along delighted at my good fortune.

Over lunch we all got to know each other a little better and they agreed to have a look at improving my side stand.

Good god what a job them and their guys did.
My side stand is now about two yards long and has a foot on it the size of my hand!

It’s amazing how much difference such a seemingly small thing can make, but it’s improved my confidence in the bike astoundingly, and they didn’t even charge me!
This is the Ukrainian hospitality I’d been hoping for!

We also discovered on further inspection that in my friends late night escapade he’d managed to bend my pannier rack, moreover one pannier had popped half out of the rack and was held in only one place!
How it held on when we were flying through the air on those roads I have no idea, but I thoroughly reccomend Jesse panniers!

After straightening it out it was dinner time and my new best mates took me to a local restaurant.
I would love to regale you with the stories we shared and the exciting things I learned about Ukrainian culture.
However I don’t remember much after we polished off the first bottle of vodka.

Waking up in the morning it was reassuring to find a big bowl and a bottle of water lying next to me.
“Aah” I thought to myself “At least I’m not the first person to get really drunk round here”

That day was spent mostly recovering from the hangover to an extent where I was able to drive the rest of the way to Kiev.
But eventually I did recover and fare-thee-wells said I strode off, mounted my newly strengthened bike and headed for Kiev.

Where I eventually found a Hostel run by a loquacious Norweigan.

And tomorrow? Tomorrow I go to Chernobyl!