Tuesday, June 13, 2017
In the next few days as I have time I will write more about my trip so far: the people I have met, the places I have been, the things I have seen, and the mistakes I have made.
When I first thought about this trip it was going to be the kind of head down trip I have made riding to NYC in a day or to Canada in two. I was going to ride from Odessa to Helsinki in honor of my paternal grandfather. He walked from Odessa to Finland in 1914-15 to avoid being killed by the Tsar's army.
The original route I dreamed up three years ago was more or less straight north, assuming grandpa had no way to navigate except the north star. Then the political situation along the straight north route got bad. Civil war in Eastern Ukraine included artillery duels. Artillery is very bad for bicycles. Then the political situation in Belarus got worse. So my route moved further and further west into Poland and the Baltic states.
Then the trip got bigger. I decided I could start in the Balkans and maybe ride in 20 countries on the way and even add a side trip to Israel. As I added stops and changed the route, I did not make the trip longer. My wife has math conferences in late July and early August, so I had to be back to take care of the boys while she travels for her real joy in life.
Today is June 13. My Russian visa says June 22-24. I have to get to St. Petersburg in nine days. So yesterday I got a car. For three days I will drive to and ride in several Balkan states, maybe Greece, then go back to Serbia and take trains north to the Baltic states, then Russia. I am planning to ride in Poland and the Baltics on the way to Russia. I am also planning to ride some on the way back to Darmstadt, Germany, where I will visit my friend Cliff on June 29.
The 1,500 miles I was planning to ride will surely be less than a thousand.
But instead of riding past everything and making maximum mileage per day, I have visited two museums, eaten in lovely restaurants, walked and rode slowly in the cities I visited, and talked to people.
And finally, as I travel the former Yugoslavia, every country I ride in has been conquered by the Nazis the subjugated by the Soviets. With freedom came the slaughter of the mid 1990s. Everywhere along this route, racism led to mass slaughter and death. Grandpa escaped Russia the first time when the Cossacks were killing Jews at the turn of the 20th Century. He escaped the second time when the Russian Army was using Jews to clear minefields and provide targets for German machine guns.
So the trip I am taking now will not be anywhere near my grandfather's route, but will take me to the places where racism used to hold sway, but for now civilization has come back.