In October 2021, when I saw an announcement on the website of the Pskov Library about the 90th anniversary of a solo cycling tour around the Soviet Union, I couldn’t believe it. How was it possible that I had never heard of a feat that matched those of early Arctic explorers like Roald Amundsen? How could popular memory have forgotten a journey that went from Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky to Lake Baikal, Tajikistan, the Caucasus, and Crimea, through Moscow and St. Petersburg to Murmansk and Arkhangelsk, then through Novaya Zemlya and Dikson Island to the Chukchi Peninsula and back to Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky? And how could anyone have accomplished such a feat 92 years ago, without today’s bicycles, tents, backpacks, bike trails, camp stoves or other outdoorsy accoutrements? And what’s more, how was such a trip possible without electronic maps, cell phones, cycling gear or freeze-dried food? And going through the Arctic? Can’t be! This whole story must be fiction.
Turns out, truth can be stranger than fiction. All by himself, between October 1928 and October 1931, Gleb Leontyevich Travin pedaled the periphery of the Soviet Union – down the coastline of Primorye and the Far East, along the southern border of Siberia and the Central Asian republics, and, most amazingly, along the coast of the Arctic Ocean. In winter! By bicycle! This incredible journey lasted a bit over three years, involved plenty of deprivation and hunger, and cost Travin his toes to a bout of frostbite. It also went down in history as the remarkable achievement of a man who pushed the limits of physical and mental endurance.
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