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Cycling trip from Yerevan (Armenia) to Crimea (Ukraine / Russia) 1650KM+

This article is the archive copy. The original article was in Russian and was placed on the website of the biggest cycling club of Armenia — VeloClub.

Today, on August 20, 2015 as promised I will write a detailed report of our trip to the Crimea with Emil.
In fact, there are so many impressions of our short trip that I don’t know how detailed my report will be and how long it will take to write it, but I will try not to go into excessive details so as not to bore anyone.
So, stopping all the lyrics, I’ll start writing in chronological order everything as it was.

Part one: preparing for the trip.

For this trip I quickly sketched a map of the route in Google Maps, then cut it into fragments, approximating it so that middle-size milestones (including villages) were visible so that the whole thing was clearly displayed on my smartphone, along the way I threw up copies of our map to our iPod and flash drives, thereby eliminating the likelihood of losing them. It all looked like this):

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Format: Milestone1-Milestone2 (total KM at this point)
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In parentheses is the total distance traveled at the time of arrival at the checkpoint.

Equipment:

Emil and I approached the equipment in different ways. He used cotton T-shirts with long sleeves, mainly white, to protect himself from UV (ultraviolet) rays, not to burn in the way + pants + gloves without fingers (as a result, from time to time our fingers blackened under the sun) .

I decided to experiment and pre-ordered a compression shirt with short sleeves (Skins A400) + separately sleeves (Skins Essentials Sleeves). The manufacturer guaranteed perfect protection against heat, thermal control and the absence of discomfort on long trips, looking a little ahead, I will say that the clothes more than justified themselves. I also wore Endura cycling shorts and Compressport Full Compression 2015 socks, which Emil and I also ordered in advance (he took the white ones, I’m black, although I think that made only an aesthetic difference). Of course, we took with us helmets (which we didn’t have to use) and bandanas (which we used regularly).

Bicycles:

The configuration of our bicycles was very similar. In general, it was a full Shimano Deore 2014/2015 groupset with V-brakes / RockShox Tora / XC30 forks / Wellgo V8 pedals for Emil, and Crankbrothers eggbeaters 2 for me (I took these contact pedals with Shimano M088 shoes, to compensate the different level of physical fitness with Emil, plus that I obviously had less experience)

Of the additional options, we put the Merida horns on the handlebar, so that on long trips we could change the grip, thereby allowing certain muscles to relax.

For tires, as an extremely important detail on long trips, we choose Schwalbe Hurricane (front + rear) at Emil’s bike and Continental X-King RaceSport (light version, front) + Schwalbe Hurricane (with additional spike protection) on the back for my bike.

Actually, now I truly believe that the groupsets of our bicycles didn’t play any special role, thus, I would advise you not to struggle very much if you have, say, an average groupset below Shimano Deore. The main thing is that it should be higher than Shimano Tourney. For example my previous trip to Batumi (465KM — 50% offroad, cross-country road) was on a bike, 90% of the groupset of which was Shimano Altus, draw conclusions.

The most important thing to take care of at the very beginning is:
1. Ideally selected and run in (heavily used!) saddle;
2. Perfectly matched seat height and positioning;
3. The right tires (Right semi-slick for comfort-speed balance);
4. Correctly set atm. pressure in tires. I would recommend getting a monometer and checking the pressure in the tires from time to time, in order to keep it always the same (very vital for long rides). In no case should you transfer the tire even to “some” 02. — 0.3 atm. This can lead to extremely undesirable consequences along the way (and a huge physical discomfort). As monometer we used the Topeak SmartGauge D2.

Our luggage:

I’ll make a reservation right away: I have always been a supporter of extremely small luggage, so I took with me an absolute minimum, which cannot be said about Emil :). The details:

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1. Walkie-talkies. In practice, it turned out to be a very good communication solution. One charge was enough for a whole day of cycling. On the photo is Motorola TLKR T50 (clearly worked at distances of more than a kilometer)
2. Flash drives to keep photos and other things, and also, as I said above, an archive with valuable information, such as our map, major settlements, villages and various phone numbers of various services on our way in case of emergency.
3. External battery (power bank) Also a very important device. Used to charge cell phones, a player, and more. In the photo Genius ECO u700.
4. One pair of spare Clarks brake pads.
5.4 DT Swiss Champion Spokes.
6. Sun cream 50+ (I strongly advise you not to save on such creams, and buy European one, marked with 50SPF + label).
7. Plastic harnesses (they may always be needed).
8. Insulated hat (because we planned to sleep outdoor, there was a chance to catch a cold in the Georgian mountains, as well as in the region of Vladikavkaz, where it was raining 24/7, regardless of the season ).
9. Endura Stingray glasses with 4 removable lenses. (In general, I consider removable lenses to be a necessary thing, and the need for lenses increases in parallel with the duration and distance of the trip).
10. A small portable bag with convenient ropes from Coca-Cola :) In case you need to transport food from the store (packages in Russian stores are paid separately).
11. Three T-shirts that I took in case my Skins A400 couldn’t have time to dry. Not useful on a trip, as Skins dried insanely fast in any weather.

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12. Set for cleaning the hydropack (Came with Osprey Raptor 10 backpack). The backpack is very convenient and does not interfere at all if it is not loaded (the optimal loading level is about 3–4 kg to avoid any discomfort on a long trip).
13. Spare tubes.
14. Bicycle lock (1.8 meters length).
15. Spare pedals Shimano Saint.
16. Reflectors on both legs (if you suddenly have to ride in the dark).
17. Shimano Hollowtech II carriage key.
18. Spare saddle. Took to ride it on arrival, because it is not designed for long distances. With a weight of 144 grams, there is no harm from it, although, on the long road, there is no benefit of it at all.
19. Underwear.
20. Spare folding tire Continental RaceKing 2.2 “
Although I also took Kindle paperwhite there was very little time to read on our way.
Emil took with him much, much more cargo:

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Part two: The trip has begun.

We were going to leave at 5 in the morning, slept and peppy, but, alas, everything turned out “as always”, and we could not sleep all night, so somewhere at 5:30 we, tired and dead started our journey…

Soon our friend Arman joined us and led us to Sevan lake. We got there at 10:20AM), where we again tried to sleep a bit. Looking ahead, I’ll say that I didn’t manage to get enough sleep during the whole trip that we spent in the field, unlike Emil, who fell asleep in a matter of minutes regardless of the environment, while I envied his ambiguous skill.

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Saying goodbye to us, Arman drove back, and we gradually began to realize that our plans to reach the Armenia-Georgia border in one day could not come true , and after a few hours we tried to sleep at the church on the way to Dilijan:

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On the first day, we drove 133 km and stopped in Ijevan, where a kind stranger, Vardan, sheltered us, kindly provided us with a room and a safe courtyard where we set up our tent.

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On the second day, we had a goal to get to Tbilisi to compensate the low pace of the first day.

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It was very difficult to say goodbye to the homeland, but we found strength in ourselves .. //drama

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Crossing Armenia-Georgia border

We got to Tbilisi when it was already dark.

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Spinning around an unfamiliar city, we decided to stay in the very center, near the Avlabari metro. The Armenian church and garden are also located there (though the church was already closed by this time)

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Emil began to set up a tent when we unexpectedly met Sergey and his brothers near the largest church in Tbilisi, and having talked, we received an invitation from Sergey’s brother George to stay at their house tonight, and in the morning, already full of strength to continue our way. Once again I want to thank these people for their act of incredible kindness, because if you think about it … it is very rare thing nowadays to decide to shelter two foreigners literally from the streets of night Tbilisi. Thank you very much for everything!

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So the second day is over. We rode 150km.

The third day we started with a visit to the local Carrefour supermarket :)

The closer we got to Gudauri (next checkpoint after the Tbilisi), the more luxurious the views made us stop to take a few shots (All the pictures from the trip are placed in high quality in a separate Facebook album available here: https://www.facebook.com/AlexanyanWolf/photos_albums)

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We reached the village of Pasanauri, and stopped next to the Aragui river, where we set up our tent, and agreed with the local road officials to leave our bikes at their office until the morning.

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On this day we drove 86 kilometers (the tension in the muscles from regular driving and the headwind affected)
As we spent the night by the river with a humidity of 98%, the whole tent was wet through but we were able to more or less recover and continue the trip.

Since the Verkhny Lars — our next checkpoint, the border between Georgia and Russia was working from 4 a.m. to 6 p.m., we had to hurry, because we had the toughest uphill of all that had been before, namely, we had to go around Mount Kazbek (Attitude 3000KM+) and go down to the checkpoint itself, otherwise we risked losing a lot of time, which was unacceptable for our schedule.

So we started from Aragui river cycling up…

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Then higher…

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And higher…

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Until we reached the highest point and cycled down to the checkpoint easily crossing Georgia-Russia border in 3.30PM. This was the most hardcore uphill I ever cycled in my life.

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In Vladikavkaz, I approached to the local branch of MTS (GSM service provider), and paid somewhere around 250 rubles to get 3GB of internet, which was enough for the rest of my journey. It should be noted that in order to save battery power, the whole time that we traveled I transferred the mobile phone to “airplane mode”.

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We made friends with local guys who showed us the most convenient place for a tent, called “Avtodor”. Avtodor was an abandoned field the size of a football field and with developed vegetation on the sides. The field itself was covered with concrete slabs, and it was a very good place to stop. Special thanks to the guys for their support! However, by a coincidence, having conversed with the locals close to the at Avtodor, another kind person — Marat suggested us to spend the night in an unused old “gazelle” car in the yard, and leave our bicycles for this time with a neighbor whose yard began a few meters from us.

So our fourth day of the journey for which we crossed Mount Kazbek, and managed to drive 111 km has ended.

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In the morning we drove towards next checkpoint — Baksan. The path was not supposed to be very long, so we didn’t push ourselves, visited Beslan, the memorial City of Angels dedicated to the tragedy of the Beslan school. Actually, I don’t want to post here photos of our visits to the memorial and the school itself. All the photos from the place of famous tragedy could be found in my Facebook album.

On the way to Baksan, we met another cyclist with burnt hands (UV 50+, don’t ignore this :) )

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It so happened that I was reading about the checkpoints of our stops a few tens of kilometers before reaching them, thus, during breaks on the way I tried to find out about the city we are going to as much as possible, and it so happened that about Baksan (forgive me its inhabitants) I read little good, but the mention of this city on the forums in the mix with the discussion of terrorism and special police operations was “at every turn”, so I decided to adjust our plan and instead of stopping at Baksan reach Pyatigorsk by every means, where one of our friends was waiting for us (looking a little ahead, I will add that subsequently a lot of people later agreed with my decision to skip this city).

It was already 4:30PM on the click, and to Pyatigorsk has left “some” 125 kilometers. That fact was pretty disappointing and demoralizing but we didn’t have any other choice.
We left Baksan (Yes, I could not resist the temptation to drive through it :)) at 7:20PM, 82 km remained to Pyatigorsk.
We turned on all the lights and prepared all the reflectors we had to drive in the dark.

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Despite the occasional zero visibility, we got to the Guest House in Pyatigorsk, where our friend Armen kindly provided us with a room, and where we were finally able to swim normally after an exhausting day. On the night of the same day we went outside in search of an open store, accidentally came across a drunk man, who, as it turned out, was an Armenian named Alexander. Once he found out that we were from Yerevan, he insisted on treating us with bread and cheese, for which we are very grateful to him!

Cycling time: 13 hours, 42 minutes.
We traveled 216 kilometers, thereby setting our distance record.

The fifth day ended in silence and serenity, with air conditioning turned on and full stomachs.

The next day we decided to get rest, because in the morning I found a slight injury to my left knee, with which, in theory, I could cycle, but it would be foolish to risk our trip because of this, so we decided to make this day our first day of complete rest, which allowed our muscles to fully recover. As it turned out the next day, this played a huge positive role for us.

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The seventh day we started completely rested. The muscles were largely restored and, having learned from the guard of our guest house, which side is the exit from the city, we drove on.

On the way we met a lot of luxury buildings absolutely out of context — in the middle of nowhere. We saw churches ..

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and cardboard traffic police posts…

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And, after 10 hours of cycling, we got to Armavir — another Russian country full of Armenians, where uncle Sako (Father of Emil’s friend) met us and offered a shelter.

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It should also be noted here that on this day we set our longest double record in distance in one day (on this day we overcame 222km (!)), and an average speed of 29km / h (!).

For the first time in our journey we faced such a serious problem as mosquitoes, that literally did not let us sleep at all, which as a result knocked us out of pace and made us suffer the whole next day.
The story of our first day of the trip was repeated, and we were struggling all day to find a place where we could get some sleep... we tried to fall asleep in the parking lot and just in the fields…

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But all our attempts were unsuccessful, and in the evening we decided to stay at the village called “Stanitsa Tbilisskaya”.
By the way, as we later learned, on this day the temperature in the afternoon kept around 45 degrees Celsius (in the shade) :)

The locals told us about Aunt Tamara, who accepts tenants for rent, and since we needed get rest asap, we went to her. Fortunately, she turned out to be an Armenian, and joyfully agreed to give us a place in her house until the morning. About ten minutes later, after I had agreed on everything with her, her son approached and once he found out that we were Armenians, he insisted us to leave. Aunt Tamara was very upset, but did not argue with her son, apologizing to us and explained that her son was a former police officer in Armenia, who held a high post, then lost it after some scandal and now had hatred to Armenians in general.

Further searches for a convenient place to spend the night led us to the guest house “Shpil” located on the outskirts of the village — a perfect for tourists with low budget.

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On this day we managed to drive 113 kilometers, and our next two tasks were: get enough sleep and drive tomorrow to the next big milestone — Krasnodar.

The next day did not go smoothly from the very beginning — the headwind slowed us down so much that at times we could hardly squeeze the speed of 12 km / h on a flat (!) Road.

I would like to note that the vast majority of stores in the Kuban region had these bicycle parking lots. In general, in villages a bicycle, as a means of transportation, was used very actively. Conventionally, one could even divide the inhabitants into those who used a bicycle and those who rode a scooter, of whom there were also a lot.

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Since the headwind on this day did not give us rest, we, realizing that we would love to reach Krasnodar before sunset, were in no hurry and drove at a calm pace so we even managed to stop at the local cafe in 20KM before reaching the city.

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After we tasted the local cuisine, I found that there was almost nothing left of my bag rack and it was holding the luggage by some miracle :)

But thanks to Emil’s skillz, we got something like this:

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and went further. Here, I would like to pay attention to several things at once:
1. NEVER save on such an important part as the bag rack.
2. NEVER buy used cycling bags, no matter how beautiful / good / strong / cool they are.
3. Approach the luggage rack very carefully. Very competently balance the load of your cargo on the sides, so that there is no obvious imbalance in one direction. Please note that fixing the same rack may be different for cyclists with 26 “and 29” wheel sizes.
4. Buy in advance a lot of reflective tape and wrap all protruding parts of the rack (reflection is never superfluous). Such tapes are sold for pennies on ebay and aliexpress.

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In Krasnodar we had an unforgettable meeting. But first things first.
Once we reached the center of a completely unfamiliar city, I decided to conduct an experiment, by trying my luck at https://ru.warmshowers.org. For those who do not know what it is:

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www.warmshowers.com

Warmshowers is a service that allows you to host cyclists (mainly), and support them in anyway you want. It’s something similar to fancy “Couchsurfing” despite it’s not that fancy and it’s for cyclists community :) People share their houses, someone provides a room, someone just a place where you can pitch a tent. In short, see for yourself, the site is quite simple meanwhile we are returning to Krasnodar.

It so happened that in Krasnodar there were 4 people profiles at Warmshowers but two were busy, and the first “Available” person I called said that, alas, he was not in the city. My second call was made to a man named Oleg, who said that I called very on time because he was going to leave the house. So he explained to us how to get to him, and said that he would wait for us at the football stadium. We got to the place in 20–25 minutes, and met a very positive person with an incredibly kind soul, who, after we left our bikes in his apartment, led us to show the evening city, telling about the sights of it. Just amazing, amazing person!

In this city one moment was especially curious. As it turned out, the city authorities for a long time wanted to return the name to the city, which was in the time of Russian Empire, namely: Ekaterinodar. The city was simply riddled with a huge number of elements associated with the royal era.

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After the sightseeing session with Oleg, we came back home. Oleg prepared a special sort of Matte tea, made according to all the traditions of a real tea ceremony, the elements of which Oleg gladly showed us. On our turn we made some purchases from the local store and Emil prepared some food for us, Oleg and his friends.

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It was just an amazing evening. One of the warmest memories of all this trip.

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Oleg is the guy in the middle :))

In fact, that day we had a wonderful time, and for me personally, getting to know people like Oleg and his friends is a good reason to believe that the trip was so successful.
As for the numbers. That day we drove 118 kilometers.

The next day began for us around noon, which in itself did not bode well :) There was hellish heat on the street, and we very reluctantly gathered our stuff, thanked Oleg once again and continued our journey.

Some photos of daytime Krasnodar:

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After driving 30+ kilometers, I felt that something was wrong with the bag rack mounts.

It turned out that it’s broke off in two more places, but Emil found a very creative solution to the problem:

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In short, our day was a bit unsettled and, in principle, was the most disastrous in distance, because that day we cycled only 63 kilometers.

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We spent the night in the village of Ivanovskaya.
We left early in the morning, very excited because we had just to reach “Kerch” — the place where we could cross the river and finally reach the Crimea!

The closer we were to Crimea, the safer everything became…

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..and billboards attracted with unique offers…

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“Putin’s” cafe.
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Ferryboat

As for the procedures associated with the crossing:
The Kerch ferry operates around the clock. Ferryboats are going every half hour. Tickets, of course, are bought in advance. The ticket for one adult is 162 rubles + 108 rubles are paid for bicycles. For cyclists, there are no queues, that is, after a couple of formalities and neutral questions, they let you go on with wishes for a good journey and a smile on their faces, because they do not meet cyclists from distant lands every day here :)

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First photo taken in Crimea

Local cyclists stopped us on the way and, realizing that we were tourists, offered their help. We told them the coordinates of the place where we needed to get, and they said to go after them, showing, at the same time, to us both the city center and the embankment.

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For this day we drove 194 kilometers, and we stopped at the recreation center “Tale” of Artak — relative of Emil, in a surprisingly beautiful place, right on the beach:

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Stepping back, I consider it important to point out one vital detail in the Crimea, namely: roads. What is wrong with them? They are not here.
There are only lines stretched between forests and fields remotely resembling roads, but the quality of these “roads” is disgusting. In order not to return to this topic in the future, I will say that the situation is the same in the entire southern part of Crimea, that is, in Kerch, and Feodosia, and Simferopol, and Yalta, and only Sevastopol seems to have asphalt, but there we, alas, did not cycle and went on walking excursions.

On the twelfth day of our journey, we reached Feodosia and Koktebel…

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where we were waiting for a cozy room provided by another relative of Emil — uncle Suren:

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On the 13th day, we stayed in Koktebel to catch our breath after the painful 122 kilometers along yesterday’s disgusting roads. Many beautiful photos of this town, I will then upload to my Facebook album.

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The next day we went to Simferopol, where our friend Gago had to come by bus from Yerevan. We left early, because we no longer wanted the headwind, disgusting roads or other circumstances to become a very sad surprise for us.

And at first everything was fine :)

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but to go further after two days (okay, one and a half) of rest in Koktebel cycling was very, very lazy and hard process…thus, never get rest too much :)

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But the opening views were worth of effort

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Towards evening, we crossed the city…

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And after about forty minutes we met our long-awaited friend, Gago (perfect timing :D )

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And so, in fact, our cycling trip has ended, by the end of which we drove 1650+ kilometers of dry distance, excluding those kilometers that we rolled in the cities where we stopped.

We were the first, and so far the only ones to have made such a trip from Armenia, and now the moment has come when you need to write something tearful and sentimental. Such that it clings and makes you think…/drama

Last year, after our trip to Batumi (Georgia), when I said that my next challenge will be Crimea, no one took this seriously. Yes, there were guys who actively nodded their heads and said, “Of course we’ll join you, why not” and so on, and the number of people who wanted to go with us was growing rapidly, but Emil was the only person whose words regarding the trip I fully believed.

Now that our long journey is over, I would like to thank Emil for trusting my crazy idea and my blind faith that no matter what happened on our way, we would find a solution. Thank you so much, and never do that again, because I had absolutely no plans. I sketched a map in a few minutes, I had practically no information about our path, and the only thing I knew for sure was that it would be hellishly hot, there would be a frantic number of uphills, there would be severe conditions and there would be no way to get back easily. And in general I am a sick person lol :D

As for the people who supported us on our way — thank you all very much. It is very difficult to overestimate your contribution to our trip, because, in the end, it is you who will remain forever in our memory as people without whose support our trip would not be so bright and interesting.
This applies to absolutely everyone, starting from our local guys, and club members who cheered us on Facebook and expressed hope for our speedy return, continuing with strangers who warmly welcomed us, communicated and shared water and food with us and our friends, who, each in their own way, tried to help us on the way. Thank you all!

As for me, I just wanted to prove to myself once again that the only factor determining person’s actions should be only and only his/her desire regardless of the weight of circumstances. I absolutely did not know what awaited us, but I did not doubt for a moment that in any situation I would find the best way out.
Do crazy things to have amazing memories and you won’t regret ever in your life.
Communicate with people, be kind and do good ❤.

Thanks to all.
That’s all.

Wolf.

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Full album: https://www.facebook.com/AlexanyanWolf/media_set?set=a.3179551978734570&type=3

Written by

Cognitive Science and Behavioral Economics enthusiast. In IT for over 12 years. Here I write about Project and Product Management. My website: keepsimple.io

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