This morning the cyclists strapped their bikes on the roof of our van and we headed in the direction of Latvia. “Ok, at last they had enough of this madness,” you might think, but you would be wrong. The reason for this retreat in the dim light of the wintery sunrise was the location of today’s start line 32 kilometers back on the highway. With each kilometer traveled in the opposite direction the faces of the four pedalers got longer since they realized that regaining this distance will take them more than an hour. Nevertheless, none of them suggested continuing the ride form the doorstep of the roadside hotel. Cheating just isn’t in their blood. While Aigars was waggly balancing on top of the van to release the two-wheeled stallions, a horse drawn cart passed by carrying churns of milk. Not a sight you can easily see on Latvian highways. At 9:25 four bikes crossed the kick-off line and took their riders back on the road. Despite the temperature meter showing -17 degrees the guys assessed the weather as being kind of warm. There are only two possible reasons for this obviously ridiculous assessment - either they have at last adapted to the frost-fangs of Ukrainian winter or they have completely lost their senses. Only Roberts after nearly an hour’s ride proved that he’s still human by stopping at the van and getting another jacket. Others just kept on pushing their pedals and cutting through the invisible wall of already too familiar headwind. Those guys are like Chuck Noris on wheels. After a bit more than 30 kilometers we got just where we started - at the hotel, so basically this first stretch could be considered as a mellow warmup for the ride to the heart of this enormous country. The roadsigns implacably stated the remaining distance to Kyiv - 156 kilometers, but they didn’t say what awaits us there. The news all around the world are boiling with reports about the protests and brutal clinch between the local people and police in Kyiv. I guess we’ll see if these unfortunate events will influence us in any way. For now the road is all that matters to the four bike-messengers. As the morning grew into midday the air didn’t warm up to the promised -9 degrees Celsius and the wind continued to flap the loose parts of the uniforms, though when asked about the ride and life in general Karlis P. answered as a true politician - “We are taking it easy today and the weather is nice.” It seams that his strategy during this trip is to deal with hardship by refusing to acknowledge it. They say that it’s all in your head, yet I somehow tend to disagree, because today my fingers were freezing as much as my head. The total distance planned for today was approx. 190 kilometers, which by the standards of Kaspars is not a “long ride”. He says that “long ride” only starts from 200 kilometers. So when we made a wrong turn taking the longer bypass instead of crossing the city of Korostyshiv, Kaspars wasn’t bummed out. “It’s ok, maybe we will reach 200,” he said with a wide smile in his frosted face. On the roadside of this bypass the locals were selling sauna besoms and stick brooms, but since we were neither planning to sweat in a sauna nor become witches we passed this irresistible offering. Some time before lunch break the supporting van fell back to check the tyre pressure in a gas-station, which resulted in a 20 minutes wait in the nearby grill-house, while a special treat was being prepared for the lone riders. When the team reunited for lunch, the pedalers were stunned by the grilled chicken wings that accompanied for once the steamy hot soup. This hot and rich food put some warmth into the frosted bellies of the four cyclists and fired up the spirit of the team. After lunch it seemed that the last 80 or so kilometers to Radisson Blu hotel in Kyiv will fly by in an effortless heartbeat but the road proved us wrong. As the sun left the face of the Earth approx. 40 km before our destination, the temperature dropped abruptly and the wind began to poke its freezing fingers through the many layers of our cyclists clothing. Each time Karlis B. returned to the tail of the formation he was shaking his arms making it obvious that the freeze had penetrated his gloves and grabbed him by the fingers. Even Karlis P. for the first time during the whole trip approached the van and asked “How much further?”. That has to mean something. Loaded up with energy drinks and bars 20 kilometers from the hotel the guys pushed their pedals to the limit, just to reach the promised land faster and hopefully in time for dinner, but this last speed-up got cut down by the heavy traffic of Kyiv. Lets just say that night ride through the mighty city at the end of the working day was a joy-full experience. Of course without any planning our route to hotel ended at the barricades in the Kuiv center, so we had to improvise. With a good intention to save our riders last drop of strength we took the most direct detour to our destination, which of course turned out to be another roller-coaster ride up and down the slippery paved road. The best finish stretch for a bunch of tired night riders. But the hardship of the last 5 kilometers got swiped away by both unexpected and warm welcome from our friend and supporter Gints Dzirnieks, who got to Kyiv just to hang out with the team and check on us after the first half of our way. Tomorrow the bikes will rest and the team will celebrate the shared name-day of Karlis P. and Karlis B. Let’s hope that the party will be wild enough to clear our minds and gather strength for the second half of the way to the banks of the Black sea.
Fun fact of the day: Ukrainian radio station’s Prosto radio (Just radio) slogan is surprisingly similar to Nokia’s “connecting people.” Coincidence? I don’t think so.