IAC #5 — Catching up with whatever this is!

UPDATED October 25th, 2019 — this is a dispatch from my cycle tour of Ukraine and surroundings this past Summer with my partner Nastia, an open project on an Autumn/Winter hiatus — check out the project page more information, and sign up for my newsletter if you would like to be notified when it resumes 🙂

I finally found some time to edit, add a few more photos, and cross-post my tour de Ukraine dispatches to this website, where you may now find mildly edited versions of them:

  • Day #0 — my very first day back on the road, one day before than originally planned;

  • Polishing it up! — a quick update from our first few days on the road after getting Nastia’s bicycle;

  • If only this were just an extended vacation — a reflection on my travel process, particularly on how it depends to some extent on the kindness of people i meet along my way, and how i may want to change some of how i handle it going forward;

  • If not an extended vacation, then what is it? — another live update, and a bit of a warning about what to expect from my newsletter while i’m on the road;

  • Some bus stops in the Chernivtsi Region — a document of bus stops along our route by bicycle through the Chernivtsi Region, with a few tentative notes/brewing thoughts on national borders and identity.

If you prefer sharing my writing more broadly in social media than by directly forwarding some of these emails to select people, i hope you’ll find the links above convenient — whatever you do to promote this newsletter will be much appreciated, so long as you sincerely endorse it <3

I’ve also started a page to collect photo galleries and articles from this tour, which i’m giving the working title In The Countrie — that’s a free (and intentionally misspelled) translation of у країні (u kraini), which in turn is a play on words with Україна (Ukraina), Ukrainian for Ukraine. If you don’t want me to make puns in your language, better not let me learn any of it! Anyway, Nastia likes it, and i hope the other seven of you who can speak both languages will also 😀

Speaking of Nastia and the other seven of you who can read Ukrainian, she also has a blog, where she’s been writing about her experience traveling by bicycle for the first time, as well as in the country she grew up but never saw much of. Machine translations work relatively well also.

Cool. That’s about it for today.

“I’ll be back in five minutes, please stir the jam every half-an-hour” — that came up at our dinner table with our hosts a few days ago as the kind of notice they’d give their children when going to the market, or to pick up something from the neighbor.

I thought it was hilarious — and it accurately described my own experience growing up with my grandmother! If i went out to look for her, i’d often find that she’d barely left home before getting stuck catching up with a neighbor. Upon seeing me, she’d sometimes react — “Oh, great, you’re here, can you please go to the market and get me an onion while i wrap up the conversation, so i can go finish cooking lunch?”

I love Grandma.

In that spirit, see you next week!

Featured photo: a still somewhat disoriented Nastia preparing our nevertheless delicious dinner at one of our wild camping sites (Ukraine ’19)

Sign up for my newsletter and receive long-term travel
inspiration & advice delivered weekly, straight into your inbox

In the Countrie: cycle touring; Eastern Europe, Ukraine

IAC #3 — If not an extended vacation, then what is it?

UPDATED October 25th, 2019 — this is a dispatch from my cycle tour of Ukraine and surroundings this past Summer with my partner Nastia, an open project on an Autumn/Winter hiatus — check out the project page more information, and sign up for my newsletter if you would like to be notified when it resumes 🙂

A practice?

Whatever it is, it is still a weekly newsletter with a monthly roundup — even if it’s a bit late 🙂 Whether or not that’s warranted is a different question — these are part of the process now, and i’m curious about where it may lead.

The tour so far

After a week of preparation and another week of what we could call a dress rehearsal, Nastia and i spent another week or so making a few final adjustments, saying goodbye to friends and family, and then sitting for the road.

I love this concept, by the way — to sit for the road — to take a moment before leaving to cool down from the rush of getting ready. I learned it from Nastia, who learned it from her grandmother on her mother’s side. We try to apply every morning when we’re preparing to resume our journey.

I’m enthusiastic about being finally moving away from our home turf. We are now headed to the Odesa region, which i visited on my 2017 tour. We’ll look for a few old friends from that tour along our way, but unlike what i did two years ago, we’ll travel through the Khmelnytskyi and Vinnytsia regions in Ukraine instead of crossing Moldova and Transnistria.

What to expect from these updates

On the one hand, i’d like to tell you about places like Rivne.

I stumbled upon this peculiar pentagon-shaped village while devising our route from L’viv to Stryi, to avoid one of Ukraine’s most dangerous highways.

What i first thought could have been established as the (planned) living quarters of a sovkhoz (state farm) turned out to be modern-day Königsau, one of the many German settlements in the area. They came in the late 18th/early 19th Centuries to then Galicia, part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and were evacuated (to Germany) in 1939–40 after Hitler and Stalin split and annexed Poland as per the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. [123]

What piqued my interest the most about Rivne, rather than its geopolitically rich and eventually tragic history, is the distinct regular pentagon shape that it has retained for more than 200 years since its settlement. Neither the locals we talked to nor the Internet could account for that. An Austrian engineer by the name Burgaller is credited for the shape [45], but i couldn’t find anything about this person, and the why will remain a mystery — i suspect it may have something to do with the golden ratio.

On the other hand . . .

Roadkill still makes me think about death — a dog eating another dog’s carcass makes me think, period.

A lot of what is natural feels so weird. I’m not a dog specialist, but it seemed like the dog thought i might also be interested in the remains, or perhaps in the dog itself — in a way i wouldn’t know how to communicate (to the dog or to you), i was interested in both.

If you’re concerned that i display a morbid attraction to this topic, i hope you’ll be relieved to learn that it leads me to think a lot about life as well 😉

As i alluded to in my last dispatch, i also feel absorbed by the basic cycle touring process. The novelty for Nastia is a challenge for both of us — it took us six hours to lift our first wild camp — when Nastia told me she felt lost, i finally understood that’s where i was myself! It only took us two and a half hours the second time, but in light of the underlying emergency (a thunderstorm that my trusted Norwegian Metereological Institue had failed to warn me about), i wouldn’t take that as a reference.

On my last cycle tour in 2017, i was sharing my experience daily on social media, and people still found it difficult to follow me — “What is this about?” — “Is this about the people you meet?” — “A spiritual journey?” — “What’s up with those deliberately misinterpreted signs, are you a comedian now?”

I’d say, it’s all of the above, and then some — and then none of it. The real-time experience is hard to conceptualize, especially after you’ve been on the road for a long while — “it’s not unlike that,” i once told a friend who was telling me about psychedelics — some things i didn’t notice before become fascinating, other things i used to think and worry about a lot become irrelevant; when the birds are chirping, it sounds like they’re inside my head — the present becomes increasingly vibrant and colorful, while memories from before the tour become increasingly distant, as if they’re memories from a movie i watched a long time ago.

Someday i may take the time to process all of this into a coherent narrative in a more timeless format. Meanwhile, if my questions and diffuse impressions as i pursue some of them are of interest to you, then you’re cordially invited to join me in this journey!

Featured photo: Nastia conquering yet another sizeable hill on the foot of the Carpathians (Ukraine, Summer ’19)

Sign up for my newsletter and receive long-term travel
inspiration & advice delivered weekly, straight into your inbox

IAC #2 — If only this were just an extended vacation

UPDATED October 25th, 2019 — this is a dispatch from my cycle tour of Ukraine and surroundings this past Summer with my partner Nastia, an open project on an Autumn/Winter hiatus — check out the project page more information, and sign up for my newsletter if you would like to be notified when it resumes 🙂

It’s been a couple of weeks since i started my ongoing cycle tour of Ukraine and surroundings with my partner Nastia. 

If i were to superficially acknowledge the kindness and generosity of just the people who helped Nastia and i find a place to spend the night so far, it would read something like this:

Most of you already heard about Liubomyr and Anastasiia, who gave me a bed in their apartment on my first day on the road, some cycling apparel, and some company next morning on the way out; on my second day, Vitaly, another Vitaly, Mariana, Ivan, Yura, and Vasyl’ offered me a tour of their village and a taste of their lifestyle, including a lake where i could take a dip and a sweet spot for my tent. Krzysztof and his family (11 people, if i didn’t lose my count) made room for the two of us in their home while we got a bicycle for Nastia and she practiced riding it loaded; after we left them, Piotr, his mother Marta, and his fianceé Alicja found time for us in the middle of wedding preparations, making Nastia’s first day on the road (by bicycle) a smooth, short, encouraging ride; we then moved into Aneta’s bare apartment one day before she moved in herself, and there we were invited to “camp” for as long as it took us to sort out the pannier bags we still needed to complete Nastia’s cycle touring set. Now on our way back to Ukraine, we were offered shelter from the rain, smiles, and good vibrations by the jolly Podolec Family; next day, Maria allowed us to set camp in their front yard; the day after, it was Shakhlar’s restaurant backyard. We finally made it to our friend Dima’s in L’viv, where we now rest for a few days — and run yet another few cycle touring errands.

On-the-road hospitality, spontaneous or pre-arranged through friends or social networks such as Warmshowers and Couchsurfing, don’t just make my travels possible — they’re a large part of what has made them worth it. My encounters along my way have shattered my prejudices about people in places i knew little about and startled my expectations about how they might treat a complete stranger like me.

I have already shared a fair lot about that in reaction to my previous tours in 2016 and 17 — not the least about Ukraine, where the bulk of this one will take place. What else can i say about the topic?

Here are some of the thoughts that arise when i reflect on this question:

  • It was more convenient to express my gratitude for my hosts when i used to share my experience in real-time on social media. I reckon it was also more convenient for them to continue following my journey onward there. That’s not the headspace i currently inhabit though, and i’m not sure how to handle this on a (supposedly) weekly newsletter — definitely not with such run-on paragraphs at the beginning of every issue.

  • Although that was already a mouthful, it doesn’t do justice to how those encounters developed and felt like — it doesn’t convey my relief when Liubomyr answered positively to my request to spend the night at his place, or the encouragement when he rode the first 30km with me the morning after — it doesn’t track the progress from my initial hesitation to approach Vitaly, Vitaly, Ivan, Yura, and Vasyl’ (then nameless able-bodied, adult males expressing some apprehension themselves), to our assimilating each other’s peaceful motivations, to feeling comfortable following them into a swamp looking for crayfish.

  • Even that is just part of how i experienced our chance meetings, and might not duly reflect what my counterparts would have liked me to emphasize in sharing them forward.

  • Indeed, my perspective in writing about this so far has been the perspective of a relatively clueless observer — i knew little about the places i was visiting, and couldn’t speak more than a handful of words in their respective languages. I could read the energy underlying our encounters, which was overwhelmingly positive, but i’d be left wondering — is this guy always so jolly when he drinks? — how often does his wife reach an orgasm when they have sex? — how do these people feel in general? I was unequipped to approach even far more superficial questions.

  • I’m mindful not to take any of what i have for granted. I’m privileged to have so far gained access to just about everything i’ve ever felt i needed, and at the expense of comparatively little compromise.

  • I don’t believe any higher power watches over me — the boundaries between the people i meet and me are negotiated on a case-by-case basis. I find that hard to do even after two or three years of practice almost every day, sometimes several times a day. I nevertheless find my present circumstances more comfortable than the abundance that i left behind to live like this — at least so far.

  • I don’t expect things to be much different going forward either.

  • Thanks in no small way to the support from some of you, i’m not (or at least no longer feel) as strapped for cash as i did in earlier expeditions. So, i also expect to be less dependant on local generosity where it may not emerge.

What are people getting from helping me? Actually, what am i getting from being helped by them? I got my bath at the end of the day, and a safe place to sleep — but do i want to be drinking this much vodka this often? Have all expectations been set clearly enough, and are our mutual needs being met?

I’ll leave it at that for now — i’ve been dwelling on this for a couple of days already, and it’s time to let it out.

So, we’re in L’viv now.

This is my third time arriving here on a bicycle — the first time was when Nastia and i met, the second one when i came back a few months later, and we moved in together. This time i arrived here with her.

I don’t have much to say about L’viv as a tourist. I lived here for a year, and my most active association is a common feature of the whole former Soviet Union and its sphere of influence — the microdistricts and Khrushchyovkas (panel buildings). They remind me of my hometown’s superquadras, and this yields a sense of familiarity i believe has something to do with why i like it here.

After tens of thousands of kilometers of overland travel adding up to hundreds of days across dozens of countries, i thought i had mastered the art of long-term travel in general and cycle touring in particular — i thought the underlying process was committed to my muscle memory and intuition — that i’d have plenty of space in this framework to pursue experiments beyond the practicalities of how to make it all happen on a budget.

That might have been the case if i’d continued cycle touring solo. But i decided to wait for Nastia, who had never traveled by bicycle before. This brought the master back to school — many of the solutions that had become second nature to my process don’t quite work for her, and some are even incomprehensible — even what does eventually work for her also is not always easily implemented.

I’d like to think we both find the disruption mostly welcome. She didn’t know she could climb a 100m-high hill on a loaded bicycle — i didn’t know those were edible berries. I push her to explore her limits — she draws my attention to things i’d filtered out before knowing they even existed.

There was no doubt plenty of drama, but these are the main ways in which i noticed we might add to each other’s process after a week together on the road, and i want to end this week’s note on a positive note: there’s potential — it might just require a tremendous amount of trust and patience from both of us.

Featured photo: “muda de roupa” (Poland, Summer ’19)

Sign up for my newsletter and receive long-term travel
inspiration & advice delivered weekly, straight into your inbox

In the “Countrie” — Day #0

UPDATED October 25th, 2019 — this is a dispatch from my cycle tour of Ukraine and surroundings this past Summer with my partner Nastia, an open project on an Autumn/Winter hiatus — check out the project page more information, and sign up for my newsletter if you would like to be notified when it resumes 🙂


As you read this, i’m officially back on the road — and one day earlier than my latest projected departure! I’m nailing this :p

Nastia is starting tomorrow — hitchhiking — we’ll meet in Poland in a couple of days to pick up her bicycle, strap her backpack onto it, then head back to Ukraine to get the rest of our luggage and begin our exploration of the country. The working title i’m giving to this project is the intentionally mistaken translation of “у країні” (meaning, in the country), a play on words with “Україна” (Ukraine) — unfortunately, declensions in English and Ukrainian don’t quite map into each other, so i had to take some liberty 😉 (UPDATED October 12th, 2019 — as i traveled through “the country” and experienced a few of its multitudes, trials, and uncertainties, i decided to relax the definite article, settling on “In a Countrie” for the eventual project title, and leaving this post otherwise unchanged for “historical” reasons)

I have much to thank Nastia for the push to leave today — “Go” — “It’s OK, i can leave tomorrow and help you a bit more” — “Go — you wanted this so much, and now you’re ready — i’ll have plenty of time to catch up with you, i’m hitchhiking.”

It’s fitting that our journey together will start like this, and i’m curious about this little experiment — i anticipate some anxiety about whether she found a ride already — is she safe? — has she managed to cross the border? — has she even left home or is she still looking for a place to dump our last bucket of organic waste — and somebody interested in adopting the homeless container?

I believe Nastia will also be nervous — “has he been hit by a truck? — is he eating well? — is he paralyzed endlessly re-editing this newsletter at a gas station along his way?”

I’m indeed overthinking, but not at a gas station — i’m at Liubomyr and Anastasiia’s, in Drohobych!

Liubomyr was riding in the opposite direction — recreationally — “I’m retired,” he later told me. We waved at each other. This always puts a smile on my face — in Ukraine, roads are still monopolized by motorized vehicles, and i believe cyclists of any appetite are some of the few to notice each other.

While i rode the next 10km, Liubomyr rode the 30 between where we met, his turning point, and where he eventually caught back up with me. (Sorry, i should have mentioned at the beginning that you might want to have a pen and paper handy for this one.)

I was at first disquieted by the little space between him and the edge of the road. That being my first day back on the road, my cycle touring rig and i were not yet one — it will probably take a couple of riding/sleeping cycles before i’ve once again internalized the classical mechanics and fluid dynamics of a heavily — and somewhat unevenly — loaded bicycle.

It didn’t take much for that to develop into my present circumstances. I managed to explain i needed a bit more space, and a conversation started. “What’s your goal for today?” — “Somewhere between Drohobych and Sambir — i’ll look for a place to pitch my tent by the river” — “Do you have friends there?” — “No” — “It’s going to rain” — “How much time do you think i have before it comes?” — “Maybe a couple of hours?”

Should i ask this guy if i could spend the night at his place? I’m going to ask him if i can spend the night at his place. “Can i spend the night at your place?” He wasn’t quite expecting that — “Hm, let me think.” It was a longshot — “Sure — it will be better than your tent.”

Anastasiia happens to be a cycling coach. We chatted in fellowship to the limits of my Ukrainian and her English over the meal and beer they offered. I was impressed with Liubomyr’s patience to follow my pace given that he can seemingly ride at least three times faster — when we said goodnight, i learned he’s is planning to ride with me again on my way out tomorrow morning.

I couldn’t think of a more serendipitously privileged way to start a tour than this — even without my partner Nastia, i’m still not alone.

My plan for the next few weeks/months is to share weekly updates from the road on my newsletter — call it delaygram, if you like 😉 I’m not quite sure what shape this will take though. I’ll try to find time to cross post it here on the website as well, so it’s easier for those of you who may want to share it, but the priority will be the newsletter. You’re invited to sign up for it if you would like to follow it more regularly 🙂

Whatever develops, i hope you’ll enjoy it, and feel welcome to share your reaction by commenting below or writing directly to me — i’ll read and eventually respond to all of it, and possibly even incorporate some of that into my process!

It’s bedtime now — have a great week and remember to breathe!

Featured photo: moving out!

Sign up for my newsletter and receive long-term travel
inspiration & advice delivered weekly, straight into your inbox