Trails to cherish: Wolowec to Rakhiv to Friendship

   Leaving Stryj early morning I head straight for the train station to catch the elektrichka, tickets are cheap and I’d rather go straight for the mountains past Volovec than slog my way through busy traffic on main roads.
Paid for me and my bike, left it in the passage between train cars. I sit down, watch trees smoothly roll by and listen to Gypsies playing their instruments in the far end of the car.
I almost miss my station at Volovets – things look different from a train window. While packing my bike at the side of the tracks I chat with a local, at least as far as my non existant Ukrainian and Russian knowledge allows. He’s talkative, that’s enough to keep us going. At the rail station I stock up in a nearby shop full of cardboard boxes with Polish names on it. A proper food pyramid ought to start with ice cream and chocolate, then meat, cheese, fruit and bread at the far end. I understand the necessity of good nutrition and follow these guidelines from a pack of cookies.

Hear the crackling, then the crunching, through out all of that the sun on my skin doesn’t stop.

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I aim at the village of Kolochava, Polonina Krasna awaits. Entering the mountains I can again enjoy roadside treats of free mineralized water, rusty sediment encrusts the place where water falls. While I drink a strong smell creeps up my nose and bubbles tickle down my throat. Seems I’m 25 years bellow the average.

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Not many cyclists roll by me, in fact he was the only one I’ve seen so far, a bikepacker at that! Sasza if I recall. We look at each other’s bikes and bags and stuff, sniffing like dogs that just met. Opposite directions mark the end of our friendship.

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Past Mizhhir’ya and up into the rainy clouds I go.

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One hour before I reach Kolochava rain salutes my effort and stays for company. Riding into the village I catch a glimpse of an unusual sign, bilingual Ukrainian and Czech. Hospoda. Just what I kneed now, a cold beer. Creeeeck! Does the gate as we enter. A mix of locals and Czech backpackers had the same idea before me. There’s free WiFi, not to be underestimated in a place like that. Checking the weather forecast for next two days I quickly decide to ask for the room price. At around 4 euros for a single room, double bed, balcony and dry head it’s seems reasonable to stick around. Czech treats await me downstairs.

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It’s a nice place with familiar artefacts.

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Smažený sýr (friend cheese), beer, WiFi and Skype, that’s my evening dinner with a friend. One may discuss modern world electronics and their influence on our social life, but damn at times like these it’s nice to have this stuff around.

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Next day brings more rain, I make use of a dry window and go for a ride around the area. A bridge and a tarmac road once went through this valley, until one day that river washed them away downstream.

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I cycle down to a nearby reservoir

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Past statues of mankind…

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…and nature…

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…and consumption.

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Four hryvnas a shot, horseradish vodka. My medicine. The big bartender has hairy hands, hairy face and a bald head and doesn’t appreciate my sense of humor when I ask for more medicine calling him my doctor. I’m looking at a sentence of no more alcohol. I need my medicine, my throat aches a bit, better cure it now.

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Two rainy nights later the sun comes for a visit. We go and play.

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Red and white points to green, green points up through other people’s gardens.

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Looking down at Kolochava.

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Gate to Polonina Krasna.

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This is the view I mostly enjoy on steep ascends.

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When it gets flattish I see this.

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Much needed friends in times of solitude.

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Down I go to Ust Chorna.

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People in Ust Chorna are quite different than in Kolochava. Friendly, helpful, smiling, open, willing to help out and not rip you off in the grocery shop. On my mission to find a place to stay for the night I meet Luca and Vlad, a Czech couple backpacking through Ukraine. They’re going where I came from, I’m going where they’ve been. We share a piece of ground on an old sports field by the river exchanging beer, vodka, food and stories.

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Grocery shop with fresh produce can just as well be found in someone’s porch.

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Next morning starts fresh and misty. Clean, white fog seeps down into the valley grazing tree tops.

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Gravel roads upon gravel roads wind through the valley of Brusturanka river. Trails to cherish as they’ll get me to the other side of Polonina Svydovets.

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Water abound on the road side, with a fancy cup for those who have non.

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Blue and yellow is Ukraine.

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In the middle of nowhere. 3 hours of riding, pushing and carrying from the nearest village.

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Up I go and encounter trails that might just as well be in Poland. I smile as I ride through my imaginative homeland.

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Pass of Chorna Tisa (Black Tisa), just above town of Jasinia.

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Riding into pasture land I feel as revisiting my grandmother’s youth, although she didn’t use a cell phone.

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We need a wash, a clean, new look before heading into town.

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Just before Rakhiv a shitstorm breaks out. I ride into town and look for a Turbaza (cheap hotel). I stand at the counter in front of a young, black haired and good looking lady, waving my Polish passport. Trying to make the best of my bad Ukrainian and her bad English. A small, bald, debonair man walks in, waves his Slovakian passport and shoots perfect Polish at my ears. With his help everything is clear. He gives the girl a Slovakian chocolate with gummy bears a Slovakian delicacy. Three euros worth of dryness also get me a shower, four beds to choose from and a local disco blasting laser lights and beats into my room. I choose the bed with Barbie bedding.

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I spend the evening with Milan, listening about his travels to Ukraine, business with salami and chocolate, his women and numerology of relationships. He’s on the look out for the “old guy”. The next morning I join him on his quest.

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I should stay, he says. Together we should enjoy an evening of partying in Rakhiv, I opt for having just a cold Kvas and hit the road.

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Waving hills of Ukraine goodbye I put my eyes and pedals where to border to Romania is – Solovyne.

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Mostly mountain biking for the past 1000km. Never mind the socks.

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I stand at the bridge border crossing. In front of me Romania, more Carpathians, more riding, more solitude. I know that Nick and Lael are just about to head for Lviv and ride in Ukraine. Three is more than one. Romania, stay where you are! I catch a 16 hour train just about to leave for Lviv. 7 euros, no ticket, no place. I’m being thrown around from place to place by passengers with their Platzkartas, finaly find one free just to have some older guy rub his but against my feet. I flee up, to where my bike is. Hard, but cozy. I sleep through most of my way to Lviv, to Nich and Lael, to friendship.

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4 thoughts on “Trails to cherish: Wolowec to Rakhiv to Friendship

  1. Ride to remember, smells weren't that bad. An elder lady staying below constantly reminded me that I will kill her grandson with my bike… Didn't have much faith in my ensuring “trust me, I'm a Polish engineer”.

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  2. nice trip, thanks a lot for writing it.
    what maps do you use for route planning?
    we are going to have a 8 day trip with bicycle in the south-west part of ukraine, carpathians. We prefere “wild” traveling with sleeping in tents and making food on the fireplace or on small portable gas stove. We a looking for a route avoiding roads with more traffic, but capable to drive through with “travel” bike
    Could your suggest what resources to use for trip planning, for looking for what to see there. google doesn't help a lot. Thanks

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  3. Vaidotas, from where do you plan to start your trip?
    I have used Polish topographic maps issued by COMPASS, you'll find most of the Ukrainian ranges from this publishing house. In Lviv, on the Mickiewicz Square there is a book store with a selection of topo maps for less popular destinations in Ukraine. Although some of the trails seem a bit out of date, these maps would provide a good overview.
    Wildcamping and fires are not a problem in Ukraine in some places there are even designated places for that, but for most of the time we camped where we stopped. I have found the people of Western Ukraine very friendly and hospitable.
    Generaly what applies for Ukraine is that if you are not traveling on main arteries the roads are rather quiet and drivers obey speed limits – possibly due to the bad state of roads. Many local roads are just gravel with lots of potholes to keep you occupied with your handlebars. Even on the main ridges you find good quality doubletrack, since these are in constant use for berry harvesting. Problem in getting there are steep inclines not suited to heavy touring bikes as you're often forced to push uphill.
    There is also a topomap for Garmin devices somewhere around the internet, look for Brainstorm TOPO. It's covering western Ukraine and I think it is based on old military maps, so some of the trails could be outdated.
    Enjoy your trip, Ukraine is beautiful.

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