2wheels: The Return
Edward Genochio's bicycle expedition from China to England
September 2005 - November 2006
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Horseman Stole My Bicycle!
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This article first appeared in The Adventure Cycling Handbook, available in bookshops or at www.trailblazer-guides.com, and is reproduced here in edited form by kind permission of the book's editor.
If you're riding in Russia, there's a good chance that someone will invite you in for a banya - a traditional Russian sauna. No matter that at home you might think twice before accepting an offer to work up a sweat over a few beers and a spot of light sado-masochism with a burly Russian woodcutter: never turn down a banya invitation. These things have magical restorative properties. I had been flogging into the wind all day somewhere in the southern Urals. Eight hours in the saddle and I was all but spent, ready to find a camp-spot and call it a day. I stopped in a village seeking bananas for a quick carbohydrate fix, too tired to contemplate cooking dinner. Instead I found Aleksey, who insisted that he fire up his banya for me. An hour later when I emerged, I'd sweated out all the day's tiredness and aches, and felt ready to ride another eight hours. It was like getting two days in one.
It's standard practice in a Russian banya to give your fellow bathers vigorous beatings with bundles of birch branches. This is supposed to encourage the pores to open and ensure a deeper cleansing. It is also fun, some people think.
Siberians, though, who enjoy living up to their reputation as Russia's hard men, think birch branches are for wimps. Real men - or real Siberians, anyway - like to be beaten with giant Siberian stinging nettles. The odd thing is that it feels so good. The nettles do their stinging stuff, but within a few minutes the pain soothes into an all-over body tingling that lasts for several days. I'll never go back to boring old birch.
Of course, if you visit Siberia in winter, there may not be any stinging nettles available. Real men just have to make do with a refreshing dip in Lake Baikal instead - in swimming holes cut through the ice.
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|Copyright © 2003, 2004, 2005 Edward Genochio
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