Posting July 20, 2017—I wonder where else in the world we could ride through four countries in just over six hours? That’s the great thing about Europe; no border crossings!
On June 27, Dave and I saddled up our steeds and rode from northern Austria into Czech Republic and Slovakia then landed for the night in Poland. For most of our hot 400 km (250 mi) ride, the scenery was of barren farm lands and we moved quickly but once we crossed into Poland, we had a scenic surprise. The flat land suddenly gave way to deep, rich forests and mountains. We came into a busy resort town with billboard ads for skiing and fancy looking wooden cabins, not unlike what we would see at home. The area was obviously for tourists and recreating city folks from nearby Krakow, only 100 km (62 mi) away.
Dave and I spent the night in a small, nicely run campground right in the middle of town run by a friendly older man with a giant belly contained behind his overalls. While we were there, he sat contentedly for hours in his lawn chair watching the comings and goings of the campground and the street outside his gate with a big smile on his face. It was a great introduction to the country of my heritage. I’m one quarter Polish and have always wanted to go to Poland.
Sadly, schedules dictate even a two-year trip and within 24 hours we were already at the border between Poland and Ukraine, which was likely one of our longest crossings on the whole trip. There was a massive line-up when we arrived that stretched out onto the highway. Cars and transport trucks were lined up four lanes wide waiting for a light to change to green indicating you could move forward to the next holding lanes. At first it looked quite orderly but once the light changed it was every man for himself; if you were tardy starting your engine, cars would drive around you with squealing tires. Looking for something in your trunk? Too bad, you lost your place in line, sucker.
With the sudden acknowledgement of what this meant for us on bikes, we tested our luck at passing a whole bunch of people and deeking in well down the line where there was a space between bumpers. We waited for a cacophony of angry horns but none came. Everyone was settled peacefully back into their waiting mode, engines off, checking their cell phones. No one cared we had just cut the line by about 30 cars so when the second advancing came to get to the actual border patrol kiosk, we did the same lane-cutting method and got in under the shade of the buildings. It was a very hot day.
We went through the regular motions presenting our passports at a window we had to get off the bikes and walk to. But sadly, all of our newfound extra time was swallowed up when we inquired about where to get our Carnet de Passage stamped. As this would be our exit from the EU, we needed to get the bikes stamped out as well. When we arrived in Scotland the import broker insisted on using the carnets for entrance, which added a whole other set of problems there and this was now coming back to us leaving the EU. The border guards had no idea what the carnet was so they told us to get into the truck line, where they may know what to do. We asked if we could cut the huge line there as we just needed the little stamps. The guards said “you can try” with something like a smile/sneer.
This meant leaving our coveted place in line. As we did so one guard came over and said he’d let us through the Ukraine side without the stamps for our bikes. But at the moment we had hopes we could do things the right way and still be ahead of the line so we exited, which caused its own problems as the next guard didn’t understand why we were leaving only to turn around again and ordered we go to the very back of the semi line, which was about 100 semis long now out on the highway. We said, please can we just sneak into the front of the line as we just need this stamp. He said, no, everyone’s been waiting, they’ll be angry. We told him we had also waited in the same line-up (leaving out the fact we’d cut in past several cars). He asked where we were from and when we said Canada, he let us through the gate. This was only partially good as we still found ourselves in the second holding area behind about 20 trucks. As we waited none of the trucks moved or even started up. Dave got off his bike and walked along the line of trucks to the kiosk, where you get a stamped piece of paper required to exit the area, and asked about the stamps. They told him the line was only for commercial trucks.
We had been at the border for over two hours now, even after cutting in line. It was over 30°C (85°F) and we were sitting in all our gear under the sun. We could easily get heat stroke so we decided not to get the stamps and worry about it later. We turned our bikes around and again rode all the way to the front of the line. I got off my bike and walked up to the same guard who said he’d let us through. He politely told me to wait where I was. After 20 mins of standing there, I walked back to the bikes and we waited until we were called up like everyone else.
For some reason we had to go all through the procedure again, handing over our passports, answering all the same questions. Then finally we could leave Poland, after a thorough search of our bags.
But that was just one task down, we still had to enter the Ukraine next. As we were leaving, Dave asked the same border guard again if we could cut the line ahead into the Ukraine. There were about 15 cars lined up. He smiled and said it’s not allowed but that he didn’t ‘see us’ so off we went to the front of the line. Again no honking from disgruntled people waiting. While in line the time seemed to pass quickly as we spent much of it talking to a local guy who was interested in our trip. He told us a few days previously, a cyber attack by way of ransom ware had initiated from within the Ukraine so they were being extra diligent.
In the end it took us about 3.5 hours to leave Poland and enter the Ukraine. It had been a long day as earlier that day, Dave and I accidentally got separated on the highway. He passed a few trucks that I couldn’t get around and the gap got wider and wider until we both started second guessing what had happened. I thought he’d merged off the highway and tried to reach me on the intercom to tell me he’d turned but they didn’t connect, which we often had problems with. I envisioned him waiting on the shoulder, seeing me pass and then trying to find a place on the freeway to turn around and come after me. This would then mean he was behind me, so I pulled over and waited a few minutes but realized that was futile. I needed to get somewhere with wifi so I could check our online tracking through inReach and see if he was behind me or ahead.
I had to ride several kms off the freeway to get into a small town where I’d hoped to find internet. Of course it had to be a tiny town with no wifi anywhere. I stopped at a deli and asked if anyone inside spoke English. They all shook their heads but luckily a young guy was in the shop and overheard me. He could turn on his smart phone and give me a wifi connection. I logged in to our inReach account and saw Dave was waiting ahead on the highway only about 5 km (3 mi) from me. I thanked the guy who helped me and jumped on my bike to dash off to what looked like a truck stop, hoping Dave would continue to wait and not ride off to the next town also in search of wifi or turn around looking for me.
I found him at the rest stop, typing a message to me on his inReach. He was a little bewildered as we’d been separated for about an hour but we got it all sorted out. He thought I’d turned off to use the bathroom or something and had also been unsuccessful with the intercom.
Things like this happen. We’ve been separated in Guatemala City, somewhere off the interstate in the U.S. and in Cusco, Peru. We both carry cell phones and could easily clear up a situation like this but when we left on the trip, I thought my phone was unlocked, therefore allowing SIM cards to be used. We found out in Africa it wasn’t so I’ve never been able to get a SIM for my phone. Dave gets them for his phone when we’re somewhere long enough but as we were in Poland only 2 days it didn’t make sense.
So there you have it; even a somewhat boring day riding the freeway can have its challenges 🙂
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