I spent the night sleeping in an orchard and woke up that morning in a dense fog. A fog so thick I could see only a few meters in front of me as I pedaled my fully-loaded bicycle down a series of long bumpy roads.
After stopping in my first Ukrainian town to stock up on food, water and a new foreign currency, I jumped back on my bicycle and pedaled north, cycling along a lonely dirt and gravel road near the border of Ukraine and the breakaway territory known as Transnistria.
It was here, no more than a half-kilometer from the border of these two countries, that I realized I was being followed.
But I wasn’t being followed by the Ukrainian, Moldovan, Russian or Transnistria border officials, police, of military personnel. I was being followed by a small brown dog!
I have no idea where the dog came from or why he started following me. During the two days the dog stayed with me, I never once attempted to give him any food or water (because I knew that doing so would make it even more difficult for the dog to leave me alone after that).
Due to the poor road conditions and the occasional uphill climb, it was extremely difficult for me to ditch the small dog (and trust me, I tried). During my time with Ukraine (which is what I started to call him after a while), I said goodbye to him more than a dozen different times… and saying goodbye wasn’t easy. It hurt me just as much as it hurt him. But just when I thought I had finally lost the little guy, he’d come running up the road in the distance behind me, yapping and crying and doing his best to pretend as though he wasn’t actually following me.
This continued for several hours on day one, and several more hours on day two.
I tried to find a local to take the dog, but no one I met along the way spoke any English. And when I did attempt to speak to someone about the dog, Ukraine would run off and hide. I’d point off into the bushes where I knew the dog was hiding, while the locals stared at me with a confused look on their faces.
“I can’t understand anything this guy is saying,” I imagined a local farmer saying to his wife. “And why does he keep pointing at that bush?”
It was my first night camping with Ukraine, however, that proved especially difficult.
I was nervous that having a dog in my campsite (a wild camp, no-less) would give away my location. But Ukraine was a very good dog. When I was setting up my tent, he kept himself busy by running around in the nearby bushes and (I assume) hunting for food. He never barked and only occasionally whimpered.
When night fell, Ukraine curled up in a ball and fell asleep in the leaves outside my tent.
When I was woken up to the sound of rainfall a few hours later, I immediately thought of Ukraine. Peeking my head out of the tent into the cold, pitch-black night, I couldn’t see him.
“Maybe he ran away?” I thought to myself.
But when I got out of my tent a few minutes later (to relieve myself behind a nearby tree), I saw the poor little dog curled up in a ball underneath my bicycle… and he was absolutely drenched! Shaking wildly, crying and seemingly near death, I tried to pick the little dog up and carry him over to my tent. But Ukraine wouldn’t have it. He was still afraid of me and wouldn’t allow me to get near him.
The cold, however, seemed to have slowed him down, because it only took me a few seconds to chase him through the woods, grab him in my arms and carry him over to my campsite.
Once I had him inside the rain-fly, he ran off one or two more times before he finally took a seat and settled in for the night. He made no attempt to dry himself off or get warm. He left that to me. I tried to dry him as best I could before I eventually went to sleep with the little brown dog laying just a few inches away from me in the dry protected area underneath my tent’s rain-fly.
In the morning, Ukraine was still there. He was dry, but freezing – as was I. With temperatures well below zero degrees Celsius, I slowly packed up camp and hit the road again. As you might expect, Ukraine kept with me.
I knew that this couldn’t continue forever. I liked having company for once (I really did), but I was planning to ride my bicycle all the way to Germany – more than 1,700 kilometers away. And along the way I would be staying in hotels, renting apartments, cycling through the snow, crossing international borders and a whole lot more. There was no way I could bring a dog with me – even if I wanted to. I knew that at some point, I needed to say goodbye to the poor little puppy dog and go back to being on my own.
Over the next several hours I tried to leave Ukraine time and time again, but he just kept catching up with me. It was a terribly emotional time for both me and the dog.
Eventually, however, I hit a flat smooth road and Ukraine and I parted ways.
Ukraine had traveled with me for more than 50 kilometers and I wondered where he would go next. Would he lay in the bushes and rest for a while? Would he simply start following the next person to come along? Or would he follow my scent and come running up behind me hours, maybe even days later?
In the hours after leaving Ukraine behind, I kept looking back and half-way expecting that little brown dog to be running up the road far off in the distance. But I never saw Ukraine again. I continued cycling north… and I hope (I really do) that my little brown travel companion is somewhere safe, dry and warm.