Keith Irwin


A German hitchhiking friend had recommended this route: to cross by ferry into Crimea and go through Ukraine this way. He had also suggested that I go way out to Elista but I didn't have time. I didn't have time to see the giant Mother Russia statue in Volgograd either. I regret these but I was on a schedule: my Russian visa was dated and I had to be back in Germany for the start of the spring semester. I had been a little worried that I wouldn't make it out of the country before my visa expired, but of course, hitchhiking in the country was so easy that my worries were unwarrented.

I made it to the ferry terminal and border crossing into Ukraine on the last day of my visa. The border guards scanned my passport and took the other half of the entry card I had filled out near Pskov. Then I walked onto the dark green ferry.

Normally ferries are a good place to talk to drivers and try to get a ride. But I was lazy and stood out on the windy deck, taking in the scenery.

When the ferry arrived and everyone went back to their cars, I walked off as a pedestrian. I proceeded a few hundred feet and then put out my thumb. A border guard in fatigues came up to me and told me something, and pointed up behind me. I don't think he wanted me to hitchhike here, but this was a better spot than further up the road where the traffic would be going faster. I couldn't explain this to the guard of course, so I just told him "I'm hitchhiking!" He argued with me a bit, to no avail, and eventually he pointed up the road and yelled "GO!" in english so loudly that I could only obey.

There was a building up the road where I had to get my passport stamped. I got a stamp that said "Керч" with a little pictogram of a boat. So the guard was only directing me to get my entry stamp. Well, I probably could have gotten it at the same time as any car that picked me up.

When I got out of the border control building, I tried to hitch but didn't get a ride. All the cars from the ferry passed me and then there was no more traffic. So I started walking. On the other side of Kerch there would be traffic leaving the city so I would have better luck there. This is common in hitchhiking: drivers drop me off at the entrance to a city, I walk across it, and then hitchhike out the other side. This is where the skateboard comes in handy as I can zip through a town and come out the other side relatively quickly. I couldn't do this in Kerch though, because the walk was mostly uphill.

From the top of the hill, I tried to hitchhike for an hour or so, but the traffic was very light. The sun was starting to set so I decided to find a place to camp before it got completely dark. At least I was no longer in the bitter cold north and could not expect the temperatures to go far below freezing this night. I wandered off the road and down into a wooded area. There were some walking paths and I followed one to a bit of a clearing and set up camp there.

I used my skateboard as a table and made dinner. My typical camp food was spaghetti. Instead of sauce, which was heavy, I would buy dehydrated soup packets from supermarkets. I could draw water from any stream, purify it by boiling on my fire, then cook the noodles in it. When the noodles were soft, I dropped the soup powder into the remaining water and mixed it into a goo. On hitchhiking days I would not stop to eat until I knew I would arrive at my destination or had given up for the day. I treated my hangriness as a zen-like challenge. Now that the day was done, I could sit and wolf down my pot of hot food and rest my aching muscles around the fire.

My notebook for 2012-03-16

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