The trip to Russia was my first serious departure from the original plan, and I didn't tell much of anyone about it in advance. The subject of my first email came from a cyclist I met in Oz. The name "Wadeski" is the sort of thing an American would use to make something sound vaguely Russian. It's neither accurate nor appropriate, but it is amusing which is good enough for me.
... and I'm not talking Moscow, Idaho either. I'm in the heart of Russia, the place Winston Churchill called "a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma". It's the biggest country in the world, and the third most populous. It spans 11 time zones, and has small chunks of the country that are bigger than Europe. In other words, this is a big place. In recent history Russia has bounced back and forth from being our best friend to our worst enemy like a yo-yo about every 50 years or so. At the moment, they're our friends but in a tense sort of way. This is the country we played a 45 year game of nuclear armed chicken with, and finally won... sort of. You might call this stop two on my Cold War Tour.
I'm not exactly sure where I'm going to go and what I'm going to do in Russia. I'm getting even more fast and loose with my travel plans... or less organized depending on how you spin it. I'll be sightseeing in Moscow for a week, and then I'm joining up with a local cycling club for a ride called the Two Capitals of Russia. This ride covers the 1,200 km (750 Miles) between the modern capital of Moscow and the old czarist capital of Saint Petersburg. At the end of my stay, I'll take the Trans-Siberian Railroad across Siberia and through Mongolia to Beijing, China. In between I have no idea. I have a 3 month visa and may spent the whole time here, or I might get fed up with the place and leave in a week. You never know.
My Australia page is complete and should be posted in a few more days. I seem to be getting a bit better at getting these things done on time. Australia was a good place to visit, and I'll recommend it.
I have my page on Australia complete at Wade's Vision Quest - Australia. It's a bit shorter than the Vietnam page. I really liked the 4,000 km (2,500 Miles) of Oz that I cycled, and would recommend it as a travel destination for anyone.
I'll be heading off toward Saint Petersburg (formerly Leningrad) tomorrow, so I'll probably be out of contact for a week or two since we'll be camping most of the way.
Well, comrades I've completed the first segment of my Russia trip, and am now back in the land of the Internet Connected. I'm in Saint Petersburg (formerly Leningrad), which was the capital of Russia for a few hundred years. I'm about as far north as I've ever gone. St. Petersburg is even with Anchorage, Alaska which is the other northernmost point I've been to. I had a very nice trip with three Russian families (complete with kids 9-12 years old), and an English couple that are traveling together for three years by bicycle.
I'm WAY behind in my work, mostly because I was goofing off in Sydney while I was supposed to be working, so I'm going to stay here for 2-3 weeks and keep my nose to the grindstone to catch up. Then I'll be off on the bike by myself again for a while. I found I liked camping once I quite whining and started doing it, so I suspect I'll be doing more of it than I have been to date.
I'm finding Russia to be quite interesting, but I don't know enough to have any kind of opinion about things yet. I suspect I'll spend all of my 3 month visa here, but I'm not sure. We'll see after I ride my next segment. On the way here, I saw a monument built to commemorate the millennium of the founding of Russia. If the U.S. manages to hang together, we can build one in another 775 years.
Russia is big enough to cover 11 time zones. The time zone I'm currently in is 10 hours ahead of California. It's nice to be back somewhere that I have a chance of having a conference call without getting up in the middle of the night. Pretty much the entire workday is close enough now. This far north, the days are very long. In June, it never quite gets dark at all, but I missed that. As it is, it's light at about 4 and doesn't get dark until after 11. This makes long cycling days pretty doable, so I'll probably take another shot at some really long distances.
My sister-in-law suggested I play a game with her kids called "Guess Where Uncle Wade's Going", which means I give some clues about my next destination and they get out the encyclopedia or something and try to figure it out. If your kids would like in on this game, let me know and I'll make a special list for the kids that want to give it a go.
Hello My Friends,
I've received enough "are you still alive" messages that I thought it was time to send an update. First off, I'm perfectly safe in Petrozavodsk, Russia. That's about 800 km from St. Petersburg. I've been stopped here for about a month doing a work project. I'll be getting back on the bike tomorrow.
Nearly everyone that has emailed me asks about both my reaction and the local people's reactions to the terrible events in New York last week. Unfortunately, this particular city is the first one I've been in where I didn't make a circle of local friends. That's mostly because I've been holed up in my hotel working most of the time. So I can't really give you a good assessment of what other people around the world think yet. I've emailed a bunch of my friends asking them for a reaction, so maybe with my next update I can tell you more.
I CAN tell you my reaction if you like, since many of you have asked for it. If you don't want to hear them, stop here because that's all I'll be talking about for the rest of this note.
I was completely shell-shocked by the initial news. I happened to hear about it obliquely through seeing a reference to a "national crisis" on an unrelated website. I went to Yahoo to see what they were talking about, and at first thought it had to be some kind of horrible and elaborate hoax. I couldn't really let it sink in until I read CNN and ABC, and turned on the TV to watch a report on the BBC. I then fired off an email to the only person I know that lives and works in the area (2 blocks from WTC) to see if she was OK. It turns out she and her family are, so that was a huge relief. After that, I spent a few hours glued to the net and the TV just like everyone else, trying to see what would come of it.
Now, a week later the shock hasn't worn off, and I'm much more upset by the entire episode than even I realize. I do have a few thoughts on the matter.
Here is the most important thing I have to say. The terrorists are being largely successful in their efforts to disrupt life in the U.S. NOT because of their action, but because of America's REACTION. The stock market is taking a nosedive for no reason at all. They didn't damage enough of America's infrastructure to really hurt us unless we let them. People are canceling flights because they're afraid to fly. People are pulling investments out of companies that were perfectly sound last week, and nothing has changed except the way they're viewed in the market. This just plays into their hands.
My advice is this: Don't let them win by default. If you planned to fly somewhere last week, get on the plane and fly. Even with this terrible tragedy, it's still far safer to fly somewhere than to drive there, and in fact it isn't much more dangerous than sitting around your house. If you were sort of thinking of flying somewhere, go down and buy a ticket NOW. If you planned to buy something last week, buy it. If you would ordinarily invest in the stock market, or go to the theatre, or a restaurant, or drive to see your family or whatever, DO IT. Don't cower down and be afraid to get on with living, because that's just giving up without a fight. Keep in mind that even with these terrible tragedies, travel is still very safe and will continue to be so. This is probably these guy's best shot, and it shouldn't be enough to make us bunker down and be afraid to live. There may even be more of these attacks, but in the grand scheme of things they can't be enough to turn us into a bunch of inward looking fearful people. If that happens, they win because we've given up and let them.
I will of course be happy to hear any of your thoughts on the matter. I've managed to talk to a couple of people on the phone and with email, but all in all I've felt a bit isolated this week for the first time on this trip. As always, I'm happy to hear opinions that agree or disagree with mine. That's how we all learn, and in fact it's part of the process all of us go through to deal with watershed events in our lives. Make no mistake about it. This is a catalytic event, and things will never be quite the same after it.
As for changes in plan for me because of the incident, I've decided riding the Trans-Siberian Railway across Siberia within a couple hundred miles of Afghanistan doesn't sound as appealing as it did a couple of months ago, nor do I want to visit Mongolia. I'm still somewhat shocked by the events, and not really clear about where I go next. I'll be within a stone's throw of Norway in a few weeks, and I'm quite likely to whip across the border to either Norway or Finland because it's right there. I will definitely avoid any places that I think might be dangerous. I'm quite likely to spend the autumn in Western Europe, because that seems like a good and sort of homey and safe place to be. I won't figure that out for a few more weeks though. When I do, I'll let you know.
Note: As you might expect, this one generated a ton of replies. I eventually put a bunch of them into a single email and sent them out to people that were interested in a discussion on terrorism. As I write this almost 2 years later, I look back on these days with the following observation: I was afraid the US would go bugshit and punish the rest of the world for the actions of a few. The nearly worst case scenario I envisioned in Russia back then has come to pass. Not everything about the US reaction to terrorism is bad, but a lot of it is and I'm pretty unhappy with the US leadership since then. My personal opinion is that 9/11 was a good time for a real leader to stand up and reframe the debate and move away from hate, war and brute force as a way to solve international disagreements. Unfortunately, we had George W. Bush instead of a real leader so the opportunity was missed.
I'm writing to you from sunny downtown Murmansk, which is the biggest city in the world north of the Arctic Circle. The temperature was a balmy 4 C (39 F) at noon today. Murmansk is roughly even with Alaska's most northern border, but it's not quite as cold as that location would suggest. This city exists because an eddy from the Gulf Stream keeps the port ice free year round. Temperatures range from -13 to -8 C (9 - 18 F) in January to 8 to 14 C (45-60 F) in July.
Unfortunately, I didn't ride my bike here. I stayed in Petrozavodsk about 2-3 weeks too long, which resulted in me running into some cold and wet weather. I don't mind being cold or wet, but I've developed an aversion to being both at the same time, and my gear isn't quite up to Arctic Circle conditions. About 400 km (250 Miles) north of Petrozavodsk, I had to spend a rain day in the smallest and lightest tent I could buy in Sydney. I emerged the next morning to freezing cold riding in sporadic rainfall. Not only that, after only one day in my tent I was completely out of chocolate. So I decided to do the sensible thing. I wimped out and took the train for the last 600 km (370 Miles). I still feel guilty about it.
I mostly came here just to say I've been above the Arctic Circle. On the way to St. Petersburg, I read about it in Lonely Planet and figured if I was only 1000 km form the Arctic Circle, there was no way I could not go. You know how these things are. There are a few things to see here in this city, and there are a few other cities around here I'd like to see if I can get permission. Nearby Severomorsk is the center for Russia's Northern Fleet, which makes it home to the world largest concentration of military and naval forces. It's unlikely I'll be able to visit there. There are a few other cities in the direction of Norway that I want to see for reasons you'll probably find strange when I explain them.
I'll probably stay here for a week, and then I'll go somewhere else. I was toying with the idea of going to Norway since I'm pretty close to both Norway and Finland now, I'm running out of Russian visa, and don't need a visa for either of them. On the other hand I don't feel like I really got to know St. Petersburg or Moscow. So, I'm going to check into extending my visa, and if I can do so reasonably (again, unlikely) I may backtrack to St. Petersburg and Moscow. If not, I'll visit them again next spring.
My last email generated a number of interesting replies, some of which agree with me, some of which don't, and some of which are forwards people thought (correctly) that I'd find interesting. This is about as good as it gets for me, as I quite enjoy the dialog, whether people agree with me or not. I think some of the replies are worth sharing, but none of you signed up for a "discussion of terrorism" group, so here's what I propose: If you'd like to see some of the replies and attachments I've received, reply to this email and I'll send them to you (with the author's permission of course). If you are someone who replied to me, and don't mind me sharing that reply, please reply and indicate that. You know who you are. For the rest, you'll hear from me once I settle down and actually make a decision about where to go next, say in about the usual 3-4 weeks.
Wade The Whining Crybaby Quitter
Next - South Africa