Can you walk over that bridge?

Ever since being amazed by the Cтрелка for the first time, I knew one thing for sure: I will run in such a beautiful scenery, I will cross the Ока and I will climb the steep slopes of Нижный. With these thoughts in mind I was planning my trip for since I first arrived. And, when on excursion I saw a new bridge, I knew, this is it. “Can you walk over that bridge?” I asked my teacher. With her ‘yes’, my faith was sealed, my route was planned. The adventure into Russia’s nature’s hidden secret would begin.

The route near the River Ока (prenounced ‘Aká’) was rather rough. Though some pieces were on concrete, large sections went straight through forests with its slopes turned slippery by the recent rain. The grass and bushes stood tall and passages were narrow. Although engineers did their best in order guide the water stream from high up the hill, some small streams could still be seen here and there.

The nature of Russia is stunning, even despite being only very close to the city, the nature was wild and unplanned. In strong contrast to the planned and therefore dull landscape of the Netherlands, Russia’s nature is wild and untamed. And it looked as if people only seldom went there.

The banks of the Ока were rather deserted seen its beauty. Some buildings were present but were mostly deserted. Only in a small village of improvised houses some form of active housing could be seen. Sometimes gates were presented forbidding people to go farther, but with no fences to close the cap, they were not to be taken serious. Only once, at an abandoned shipyard I was somewhat halted when it was written: СТОЙ! ОПОЗДНО! (Stand still, Danger!) But being in Russia and with no people around…it’s better to move ahead.

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The most remarkable thing that I found on the bank was perhaps a needle. I know Russia has dealt with a high amount of drug addicts resulting in a very rapid spread of AIDS in the country. I have never seen evidence of that stereotype (Neither of wide spread alcoholism by the way). This was the first time that I have seen something like it and though I feel rather weary to draw conclusions about a country to which I am an alien, it seems as most drug use is hidden.

On the banks of the Ока occasionally a car could be seen, but all of them deserted. I would have expected a last car, parked all the way at the end of a dead end road, positioned right next to a forest to be empty too. But it was not. With both the boy and the girl sitting in the back of the car and the young man tenderly touching the young womans her rear, gave strong hints on what happened, or was about to happen in the car. I could not help but to think about how many young people still live with their parents or in communal housing on universities that might not always allow them the privacy they desire.

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Having reached the bridge at last, had gone through my water supply, I knew this run was going to be a tough one. But the prospect of being able to run accros the bridge was exciting. On my right, there would be a fall of more than 50m down, on the right, slow moving traffic due to one of 4 bridges of НН being out for repairs. The river crossing was somewhat saddened by the sight of flowers attached to the bridge half way. It was clear that this was the end of one persons suffering.

The other bank was different, less nature, more people and more traffic. But what struck me was, despite enough high rise buildings being present, parts of the city were filled with small wooden houses which seemed to have not been painted for many years. Might even seem sometimes to be abandoned. Along the same street factories, sometimes hundreds of kilometers long appeared, interchanged with the familiar wooden houses.

By now, it had all but became clear to me that I had greatly underestimated the distance and the difficulty of the terrain I was traversing. And as my feet grew heavier I was the more anxious to find a short cut. Guided by my sense of direction, I would end up in a ‘neighborhood’ of sheds and plated garages. In all directions I was greeted by an whole army of magazines offering to change tires, but no passage to the second bridge over the Ока I was so desprate trying to find for my way was blocked by a small but violently flowing stream.

My salvation was found when I found a passage over the stream I was not able to cross. No bridge, just a big pipe about 4 meters above the stream. I knew, a possible falling, possibly breaking a leg, fast running water and tiredness might well become fatal. But this is Russia, and crazy things have to be done when in Russia. I crossed and judging by these words – successfully.

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As I again was walking into normal urban areas I was starting to wonder what people might think of me: Adidas tracksuit, tank top, sunglasses, covered in dirt. I can hardly imagine sometime more Kopnik. Though by now I have grow tired and resulted to running, I did manage to find the strength for the run across the last bridge over the Ока and the climb on the bank.

Eventually home, I found I did not run a distance under the 10km as I thoughed, but covered a distance even above 22km. But, every step had been a new discovery into this unknown and surprising country.

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