The content and opinions expressed in this blog are mine. They do not represent the US Government or US Peace Corps - Jud Dolphin

Monday, May 10

Just a Bike Ride

My cell phone rings. "Are you planning to join us for the bike ride," asks Anton. He is a student at the Konotop Institute and parliament president. I got to know him through my organizational development seminars.

About a week ago, he suggested that I might enjoy a bike ride. I think he saw my bike at Hearts of Love Center. Since the weather turned warm, I have been trying to ride several times a week.

Mine is an old Soviet bike which was given to me to use for the duration of my stay in Konotop. It has those thick tires and old fashioned coaster brakes. I had to relearn how to peddle backwards in order to stop. Yikes!

There's nothing sleek about this bike. I think it weighs about 100 pounds or at least it feels that heavy when I want to ride and must first haul it down and then back up 4 flights of stairs.

I agree to join Anton for the bike ride. I am thinking, “Great fun joining a few university students for a ride on a pleasant spring morning. So I pump up my tires - Eat a protein rich breakfast - Haul the bike down the stairs - Put on my helmet - And start peddling.

Casually, I make my way to our meeting spot in the center of town. As I turn the corner, I am totally surprised. The unexpected greets me.

About 200 young bikers are massing in front of the Post Office. A few adults are busy organizing the chaos into rows as if the bikers were soldiers getting ready for a parade. My ride with a few friends is actually a healthy life style event for all of Konotop's kids.
Bikers gather for the Healthy Life Style Event

No problem. I will just blend into the back row. Ha! Who am I kidding?

First, I am the only kid with a helmet. Second, I’m no kid. In fact, I am the oldest person within sight. Third, my bike is straight out of the 1950s Soviet Sears and Roebuck Catalogue if they had such a thing. I am as conspicuous as a Soviet flag would be at a 4th of July celebration.

Anton greets me with a video camera. He tells me that he won’t be riding but capturing the day digitally. A TV crew is here too. “Great,” I think, “now there will be a record!”

Before I know what is happening, I am in the front line of all the bikers. The plan is for the American and two others to lead the pack. Me - in the middle, leading 200 kids on bikes. Can you believe it? Yikes...Leading the way
Adrenalin pumps and deep breathes calm my nerves, barely. We are off on a 3 kilometer ride with eager kids nipping at my back tires. Luckily it is rather flat terrain in Konotop and the only hill is towards the end. I chug up the hill with a few kids passing by. I blame it on my chunky tires.

We swerve into the school yard all smiles. The next few hours will be filled with competitions. The kids line up to participate in everything from chess to arm wrestling to hoops to badminton to tug-of-war and more. On a stage there is Ukrainian singing and dancing. There’s even a Kung Fu demonstration. The kids are particularly attentive as leg blows are traded.
Anton tries on my helmet

What a wonderful day, it’s turned out to be. It’s not what I expected, but I’m thinking, “This is Ukraine and it's my first bike run ever. Wow, I made it.”

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