Daylight is already fading as I set off to Vienna, turning my bicycle trip from Russia to Austria into a reality
Day 1, July 26: Saint Petersburg—Krasnoe Selo (Russia), 40 km
Eight o’clock in the evening is a rather unconventional time to embark on a cycling trip. But circumstances leave me without a choice this time: Coming back from a trip in Russia, I do not want to spend (and pay for) another night in Saint Petersburg, the city where I have just spent half a year for studies. Petersburg’s white nights should make it possible to leave the city at such a late time, as sun stays up relatively long. In theory.
Returning to Petersburg from Moscow at 6 p.m., and I head directly to my friends at Skatprokat, who were kind enough to store my bike and luggage while I was away. Manager Daniel personally prepares my bike, pumps some five bars of fresh air into those tubes and waves me off.
Before leaving Petersburg, I check in at the Church of Spilled Blood one last time. This beauty is my favorite among the city’s sights; it looks stunning at any time of day or year. Tatiana meets me there for a final farewell, including selfies with signs she prepared beforehand (which, given a one-hour notice, is pretty amazing). And then I’m off. До свидания, Питер.
Pedalling along Kanal Griboedova, my head is full of questions: Am I ready for this trip? Shouldn’t I be more nervous? Have I really done everything I wanted in Petersburg? Seen, discovered, experienced enough? My conclusion is: yes. For now, I can be satisfied. Time to let go. The last half year has probably been one of the most eventful six months in my life—now I’m off to another chapter.
One hour to sunset, I find myself stuck in evening traffic. Steaming exhaust pipes in front of me, a slowly darkening violet sky above me. Tonight’s plan is modest: Get out of the city and pitch my tent in a forest. About 30 to 40 kilometers and this prologue to my bike trip should be done.
I end up in a mosquito-abundant swamp in complete darkness. It is 11 p.m. Looking for a camping spot, I step into a small, grass-covered river, soaking both my shoes and socks. I want to swear, but then I decide to save my energies. This early into the trip it is easy to see a problem in every little thing. This is exactly what I want to escape from—I want to challenge myself and my environment by attempting this 2000 kilometer trip on the strength of my muscles and the power of my mind. Let’s see how far I get.
I want to challenge myself—2000 kilometers on the strength of my muscles and the power of my mind
So far, I’ve gotten out of Petersburg. And that is enough for today. Pitching my tent in the darkness is a matter of muscle memory, and as I crawl into my water- and mosquito-proof cave, I feel true comfort and serenity. Just hours ago I travelled on a plane ten kilometers above ground, on a metro 80 meters below soil, on a train at 250 kilometers per hour. All this may have been faster and more efficient than my current, two-wheeled means of transport. But none was even nearly as exciting.
This text was first published on July 31, 2016 on Facebook.