Above the Black Sea, Krym, Ukraine

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Attention Denver, tonight only (10/9)!  Yes, we have been in Denver for several days now, repairing bikes and electronics, preparing for another few months of riding in the SW before the end of the season.  The Surly Owner’s Society and friends (SOS+) is meeting tonight at the Denver Beer Co. on Platte St at 7:30PM.  I know for certain than Andy, aka Big Dummy Daddy, will be there, as well as a few other friends from past trips through the area.  Come join us.  Ride a bike.  Don’t worry if it isn’t a Surly.   

Edit: Thanks to everyone who showed up to talk last night, and thanks to Andy and Tracy for organizing the group.

Plans are made to meet Vital for a few days of riding.  Vital lives in Krym, studied in Poland, and somehow made Przemek’s acquaintance via Polish bike forums.  We look forward to joining him atop one of the tallest peaks in Krym, above 1500m.  Leaving Bakchiseray, we shoot towards the coast to camp atop a tall ridge.  We have GPS coordinates for reference, and find a camp site accordingly.  The plan is to meet in the morning to begin riding.  The whole process seems covert, although we’re really just planning to ride bikes for a few days.

After a quick twenty miles on pavement, we break for a meal before tackling the paved climb.  We encounter unique tastes at a Tartar restaurant, including lamb, spices, and flatbreads.  We take six flatbreads to go.

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Climbing, we each take advantage of cool, clean water to bathe ourselves before another few days of riding and sweating inside rain jackets.  None of us (except me!) were excited to jump into cold water, but the reward of being clean is always worth it.

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We misjudge the climb, and are caught in the dark for the final 1000ft to the top.  Little traffic makes for a nice ride, although thick fog is unsettling.  As the air cools, we agree that it would be best to find camp before it rains, if it rains, or when it rains.

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We make it to the top, and push up a grassy hill in the dark, guided by headlights.  Behind some small trees, we find shelter from the cold, damp wind.  Tents and bags prepared, we prepare a meal of recently purchased frozen varenyky, fresh vegetables, and sweets.  A small bottle of Russian vodka pairs well with these flavors, especially with the bold taste of garlic and onion.

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In the morning, we are joined by Sasha and Vital, on their immaculately prepared bikepacking machines, complete with locally made framebags.  The roadside at the pass is crowded with vehicles.  Dozens of people are quietly walking through the forests gathering mushrooms.  Back at the road, friends are charged with preparing shashlik over the grill, while playing music from the back of the car– Russian tailgate culture.

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From 1200m, we begin the undulating ridgetop climb on dirt towards 1500m.  A small cut in Vital’s tubeless tire is easily repaired with some extra sealant, which I have been carrying since the Czech Republic.

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Vital jokes, as is printed on the sign, that this is “Russian Google maps”.

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Continuing along the ridge, we travel east.

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To discover that we are high above the Black Sea, nearly 4000ft above Yalta.

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We find a windbreak to enjoy some lunch.

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Amongst other things, this jar of nuts and honey will help us up the final climbs.

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Storms darken ahead of us, although the sun enters from behind.  After a rainy night, the afternoon has promise.

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Looking at Kemal-Egerek, the third tallest peak in the Crimean Mountains at 1529m.  We follow the ridge to the top, then down the backside.

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The final push.

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Above the trees, exposed to the wind.

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Aside from the heights reached in the Karpaty, this is the highest we have been all summer.  None of it is as high as the Rockies, not even as high as the city of Denver, but none of it has been easy.  Daily climbs up steep grades have made us stronger than ever.

Familiarity with a bicycle is important when climbing and descending, and when riding all day.  The result is a kinship that cannot be matched with a shiny new machine.  Although we’re always dreaming of better bikes for ourselves, sometimes the bike you are riding is really best.  If I was to do it again, I might take the exact same bike.  However, bigger tire clearances are always welcome.

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Bikepacking is gaining popularity all over the globe.  Among us, there are seven Maxxis tires and three Schwalbes.  Cheap, creative solutions rule the day– ultralight need not be ultra expensive or complicated.

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This is as far as we are allowed to ride towards the east, due to the Crimean Game Preserve, which is closed to all visitors.  We choose a line along a ridge, downhill back towards Bakchiseray.

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Down, down, down– one of the best descents of the whole summer.  The descent is steep and crumbly, but with a highly rideable nature.  Times like these I am grateful for big rubber.

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DIY camera system, using an old credit card.  This is a much better use of plastic, than buying more stuff online.

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Looking back on the descent.

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And looking towards more storms, coming to close the afternoon.

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Unfortunately, Vital found his wheel deep in a rut, unable to free himself from the narrow dirt corridor.  The result: a tumble into the grass and a severely deformed wheel.  How will we ride home on this?  Lael gets into her sleeping bag as we deliberate.

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After unsuccessfully trying to bend the wheel back into shape by hand, including the full body weight of two men, I insist that I have a better solution.  I locate the greatest deformity.  Without asking for permission, I lift the wheel over my head, landing it on the ground with force.  Four mouths stand facing me, gaping.  I smile, and show them that the wheel is now less severely deformed.  I take another swing, from high over my head.  After a few more, and some snickering, I slide the wheel into the fork and spin it.  Now, we can ride home.  I credit Chris Wineck with the repair.  Chris has been a mechanic at The Bicycle Shop in Anchorage since 1978, when he was 14 years old.  The man knows how to tame a broken bicycle, and he is not afraid to use a hammer.

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This will get us home, if only by a narrow margin.

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Down the mountain and into the trees, we shoot for a flat spot to camp for the night.

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Two Tarptent Double Rainbow shelters and one Big Agnes Seedhouse SL2 tent populate the forest for the evening.  We dine together in fading light and tuck ourselves in, looking forward to the remaining descent in the morning.

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In the morning, we pack up and descend gullied dirt roads without traffic.  Anywhere, forest service roads make some of the best riding.

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Back to civilization, we say our goodbyes and part ways.

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Thanks again to Vital for guiding the way.

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7 thoughts on “Above the Black Sea, Krym, Ukraine

  1. Mangling a wheel is a bummer, but it always fun to wail it back into submission enough to get through the rest of the day.

    I figured out years ago that when I go to the Bicycle Shop Chris is the man to talk to.

    • Nate, I couldn’t have been more excited to beat the hell out of that wheel. While we weren’t impossibly far from a town (15km?), it would have been a long walk with a busted bike.

      Chris is the man to talk to over there, for sure. He is the only one that can tune-up some of those old klunkers, most often with the combination of Tri-Flow and a hammer.

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