“My friends never cycle in winter,” says a friendly guy who is staring at my bicycle. I just took a break in a petrol station outside of Saint Petersburg. “Vaude bags, you are from Europe I see.” He is a bicycle connoisseur. He introduces himself as Evgeniy. “I never see a cyclist in winter here, people usually go to Finland,” he explains. “The roads are better and the traffic is more friendly.” So far, so good, I think to myself. “Can I take a photo for the cycling club, you have facebook?”
And that’s how I made my first Russian friend from Saint Petersburg.
Today is February 7, the big day that I have been looking forward to for over a year. I just left Saint Petersburg in a snow shower. The temperature is -11. I cycled out of the big city with much confidence. It all goes very smoothly. The schwalbe spike tires are working amazingly.
This is it, finally, after a year of dreaming, I‘m back where I belong. On my bike with great adventures to come. I’ve choosing the most challenging journey I could think of. Extreme wheater conditions. Language difficulties. Road conditions. It’s all going to be a great adventure.
The first night I find myself already sleeping on a tick layer of ice. I had bought a plastic scoop from the local supermarket with which I could remove the thick layer of snow. In the remaining ice I store my tent pegs. Not much later I crawl into a thick warm sleeping bag. An amazing feeling.
The next day I cycle into the little town called Dubrovka. The road ends with a beautiful church.
A man comes out of the church. “Tourist?”, he shouts enthusiastically. I nod and after a few words ask him for directions. I’m looking for a road which leads me to the bridge over the river Neva Heba. There must be a road towards the bridge from here. “Nyet,” is what the man says and points to the road where I come from. Is this already the end of the passable road? I try to ask but further communication proves absolutely impossible. I decide to grab my phone that immediately stops working because of the freezing temperature. I ask another two older ladies, they also advice me to go back. I start to cycle back the same road out of Dubrovka five minutes later. A bit back I turn right towards the highway and soon to be plowing through a 20 centimeters tick layer of snow. After two hours of pushing I arrive sweaty at the highway. My only hope in cycling on a highway is the emergency lane but the emergency lane is full of snow.
I quickly cycle over the bridge as far as possible from the raging traffic and immediately take the next exit.
My heart pounds in my throat. These are the most scary and dangerous moments of being a cyclist.
The next day I follow a planned road along a small river. The road seems no longer accessible after 20 kilometers.
I’m faced with a dilemma. Back to the highway? I can’t do anything else. I decide to struggle a bit more on the smaller roads. It is so beautiful, the snow, the villages, the forests. But the snow is starting to be a real problem. I can hardly get through it. I decide to go back to the highway. When on the highway I want to return to the smaller roads directly. At that moment I realize that this is it, there is one snow-free road to Petrozavodsk and I can’t cycle on it without facing death.
It’s still snowing. With much effort and more scary moments I know to reach a small train station. I put my bike to a wall and walk into a building to the stations counter. In my body language Russian I explain to the lady behind the counter that I can’t continue cycling. I have to take the train with my bike. She doesn’t understand. After an untraceable but very funny Russian conversation we arrive at a ticket.
I take a seat in the simple-looking waiting room that is fortunately warmed.
I start to wait for a train to take me north hoping for accessible roads.
I’m in Petrozavodsk. From Evgeniy I heard through facebook that in years there hasn’t been so much snow and the Russian government has trouble keeping the roads free. The journey will be difficult but I will not give up. I cycle from Petrozavodsk towards Segezha hoping for better accessible roads!