I write throwing sidelong glances at a tiny screen, one leg crossed over the other, one foot stuck through the spokes of the back wheel of my bicycle, with my back against one of those new refrigerators designed to look as if they had been standing in the same place since the 1950s. Momentarily, I will maneuver myself from my little cove and remove the bag of melting ice from my cycling partner’s elevated and swelling foot.
I should tell the stories of this section of our trip in proper chronological order but my heart shines so brilliantly from contact with our newest friend (and host) that I must deviate from the natural sequence of events.
It’s 5:00 AM, the sun is just rising and there is my newest acquaintance, a six-foot-something Belorussian boy, carrying the taped lump that is my disassembled bicycle off the train as if it were an armful of nothing but the tape and plastic. Josh and I begin screwing on pedals and wheels while rubbing the fatigue and hangover from our eyes. While slotting my back wheel into its appropriate position, I notice there is something horribly wrong. My derailleur is swinging on its cable, trailing only half its hanger with it. This tiny piece of metal has been wrenched into two pieces, rendering my entire drive train useless. My head drops as I realize my mistake in disregarding the necessity of its removal for transport. Welcome to Odessa, it is now time to make a single-speed.
We will meet a friend here, but in the evening and there are no bicycle shops open until 9 or 10. Our Belorussian friend enthusiastically suggests breakfast and beer and then a swim in the “Chornomore”. We consent and wait while he runs off to store his baggage but he never returns. After an hour spent in waiting, we set off, walking next to our bicycles in search of some nourishment and internet access.
Sitting on the terrace of a cafe, sipping hot chocolate from clear juice glasses, we connect with our host and inform him of our arrival. “Please come quickly I am so tired,” he writes, having not yet ended his night at 9:30 AM. We gulp down our drinks and set off, nearly jogging next to our bikes.
“Who are you looking for?” Asks a lady in russian while we wander around the private courtyard of our friend’s flat. Next there is a man who has overheard, tells us to wait and enters a building shouting, “Dima!” We wait, and we wait.
And then there is Dmitry. Shirtless with short black hair sticking up all different directions on his head and a thin white shoelace as a belt, he slowly descends the flight of stairs to show us where to lock our bicycles and store our things. As soon as we are settled he tells us, “Nice dreams,” with his slow smile and retreats to his bed.
Well after the sun has set, Dmitry slinks from his room to discover the ‘breakfast’ of fresh peaches, oatmeal, cucumbers, and cheese that has been awaiting him. While he eats, leaning on the doorjamb to our room, he proposes we go for a bike ride to the shore to swim and shower (since there is no shower in his flat), but first we must buy vodka.
Our time in Odessa slipped so quickly through our fingers. While there, we became nocturnal beings to meld our schedules with that of our, then host, now sweet friend. He showed us everything in the city we wanted to see, by the light of the moon. The sea, by night, architecture, by night, the outskirts of the city and a wizard of a bicycle mechanic, by night, and an unforgettably, unmistakably kind soul, gleaming through amber eyes, both by day and by night.
And Crimea! We ride straight south until we hit the water. With rocky cliffs and the most blue water I have ever seen, we follow winding roads up, up, up and then crouch close to our handlebars for the exhilarating plunge, all the while watching the sea weave in and out of sight to our left.
We spend multiple days on a rocky shore next to the clearest water I have ever had the absolute pleasure to swim in, beneath the gaze of an unfinished soviet-era hotel. For days, I swim and I read. I swim and I read. All the while there is the soft finger picked guitar playing of my partner.
When it comes time to leave, my a small piece of my heart remains. We climb almost the entire day, up and over a well known mountain pass and ride into the capital of Crimea, Simferopol, the same day. We are hosted by a friend who talks to us of art films and antique cameras. He helps us board the aforementioned train to Odessa.
Now we travel on to and through Moldova and Romania, through such oppressive summer heat that we take siestas every day.