This past Saturday was a fellow PCV’s birthday party, in which I was invited, along with some others. It was a great time. But I’ll get to that a little later. The real story here is the method of transportation I chose to take in order to get there.
It was proposed to me by my pal Mattison, who lives in Konstantinovka, about 22 or so kilometers west of me, to go rock climbing early Saturday afternoon before making our way by bus to Margo’s apartment in Dobropillia, where her party would be held. The plan was to cycle to rock climbing and back, then take a bus or two west to the party. But the weather forced us to change our plans. With the rain coming down pretty consistently, we decided to forgo the rock climbing, thinking it nearly impossible to grapple with a wet rock wall. Instead, still wanting to go for a ride – and I’m still not sure how I was enticed into this particular idea – Mattison and I rode 65 kilometers, or about 40 miles, to Dobropillia on our bicycles.
Through wind, rain and severe cold, mud, muck flooded roads and clay, past men with shouldered shotguns, rifles and ammunition, cows, chickens, ducks, and every other conceivable farm animal, being slapped by walls of oily brown water splashed up by oncoming dump trucks, we rode west along highways and village roads. We stopped to rest from time to time, usually because I needed a short break to stretch my lower back and adjust the large pack on my back that kept slipping into an uncomfortable position. Twice we pulled to the side of the road to fix the crank shaft on Mattison’s bicycle, which kept stripping out. We were a mere halfway to our destination at that point. Miraculously, the thing held the rest of the way.
I’d had it in my head that upon arriving we’d be greeted with a catered dinner and a grand amount of vodka. Mattison had fixed this in my mind many hours earlier. Supposedly Margo had told him that this was the plan. Those last teeth-chattering, thigh-burning 10 kilometers in which I had lost all feeling in my toes, completely numb from the water and cold, what kept me going was the thought of lounging on a sofa, my feet in wool socks, with a plate of food and a glass of much-deserved booze resting at my side. A night in, I said to myself, would be nice tonight. But when we arrived, I could tell right away something was up. The girls had on dresses and shimmery belts wrapped high around their waists, black knee-high boots set carefully by the door. Everyone was passing each other in the hallway without saying much. There was a frantic disposition about the place.
“You made it just in time!” Margo said, welcoming us in. ”We’re gonna leave for the restaurant soon.”
Er, restaurant? We were both caught by surprise. Mattison and I walked our bikes into the spare room and threw down our packs. While Mattison went to the washroom, I shed everything from my body. My clothes were caked in mud and an unusual white clay, and wet completely through. My toes were blue and numb, and when I stood it felt as though there was nothing beneath my feet. It was one of the strangest feelings I’ve experienced. I can only imagine what world-class mountain climbers experience during their summits, trying to stay warm in sub-zero temperatures. Do their entire bodies feel this way?
At the restaurant we toasted to Margo’s 25th birthday and gorged ourselves on a variety of Ukrainian foods. After enough liquid courage was consumed, minor dancing ensued. Taxis brought us back to the apartment that night. We chatted for a while more over drinks. A good time was had by all.
I remember first thing the next morning checking to make sure all my toes were still where they should be. A dream I had that night included me losing some of them. They were all there. I chose not to ride the bicycle back to Konstantinovka. I opted for the comfort of a warm bus instead. I couldn’t find a reason to put myself through what I’d endured the day before again, especially with a hangover.