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Hungary Bill (Forum Supporter)
Hungary Bill (Forum Supporter) GRM+ Memberand PowerDork
1/5/24 2:49 a.m.

The trip goes well though, and honestly I couldn't say enough good things about the two women who worked at the anime shop we stumbled into.  No bigger than a walk-in closet, we had low hopes we'd find anything from the list of anime this girl likes.  Plus, neither Mrs. Hungary nor I have any experience with anime aside from me watching Initial-D or Wangan Midnight occasionally.  But alas!  The two women immediately picked up what we were putting down and went to the back and came out with an arm-full of stuff to choose from!

Great success!

We had similar luck with the candle making kit.  While there wasn't one neat box to call a "kit", the lady at the hobby store we found excitedly guided us to all the raw materials we'd need to make such a thing.

I do love it when a plan comes together.

Eventually our trip is over, we return home late at night, and the next morning it's time for the drive.

 

(Please make note that I was wearing my "delivery shirt".  It gets covered up later and I don't realize it wont make another appearance in this thread until I get home and look at all my photos)

I’m surprisingly well prepared who was just in Budapest doing some last minute shopping just a couple days ago.  The truck is packed and so are all my clothes and sleeping gear. the paperwork is on the dinner table in one neat stack.  All I have to do on the morning of is take a shower and leave the house with my coffee!

And that’s exactly what happens.  How uneventful!

Driving away from my place, the first thing I notice is that I’m not noticing anything.  I mean I have to reset the GPS four stinking times as it KEEPS trying to direct me through the Carpathian Mountains, but eventually I’m able to get it to see things my way (about the time I hit Bratislava and there’s no choice BUT for it to agree to let me go around).

And that’s about it, really.  By this time last Christmas, Mrs. Hungary and I were an hour late and we had forgotten our entry paperwork at home and had to turn around.  After that it seemed like we were stopping every 5 minutes to add another bungee cord to our net system.

But this time?  Nothin!  Even the weather is nice.  Even if it is still dark well passed 7:30…

Eventually I get to Poland and I make a note to keep my eyes open.  It’s been a LONG time since I’ve gone this route and I want to make note of anything that’s changed.  Long gone are the lighted signs that said “If you’re a Ukrainian Refugee, call 1-800…” but what about the military convoys?  Any humanitarian vehicles still traveling this route?  What about the trucker blockade that’s been in the news?

 

 

Well for those last two I’ve had vague ideas.  I’ve been in contact with recent crossers, and they report no issues.  That means there are humanitarian vehicles (the “recent crossers”), and hopefully I can get through the truckers.  Me being me, I had two other borders that I noticed were not present in the news reports that I could cross at.  One was very near Belarus, but I wasn't above backroading it to dodge a blockade.

It wasn’t much after this was taking space in my head that I saw my first military convoy.  They were heading west and completely empty.  Truck after truck, hauling flat-bed after flat-bed.

Well done, guys

 

Hungary Bill (Forum Supporter)
Hungary Bill (Forum Supporter) GRM+ Memberand PowerDork
1/5/24 3:02 a.m.

I passed a van with UA plates shortly after the military convoy.

So far so good!

It wasn’t until I was about 48kms out that I started to see the line of trucks backed up.  Not on the highway though, they snaked on a road that ran underneath.  When I’d hit an overpass they’d be lined up and pointed north.  The next overpass they’d be lined up and pointed south.  It was like they were s-curved under me in one long stretch.

On the rare occasion I’d pass a truck stop on my right side, it’d be completely full.  With police cars standing guard…

Do they use the same border I do?   This might get interesting.

At the border things had changed a bit.  No longer were people pulled to the right, and letting me pass.  This time all the passenger vehicles were lined up in the middle lane, and no one was deviating left or right.  Not the longest line, and not the biggest change, but still not the “fly by on the left, with head of the line privileges” I saw the last time I was here either (I guess it has been over a year now…).

queued up at the end, I make use of a porta potty and scope out the front of the line.  There’s a “tax free” lane that a foreign ambulance crew just used… could  I use that too?  I text Vikki to find out.

Nope.

Well, nothing to do now but wait!

And wait and wait.

and wait.

Traffic creeps forward slow.  We shut off our engines in between movements and I watch youtube videos to kill the time.  I look up to see a van fly down the right side of my truck and whip in my lane.  Apparently there was an open hole a few cars ahead and he took it.  Well, he might have taken it but the guy behind me isn’t having it.  Behind guy goes up to have some words and soon the van is sent back to the end of the line in reverse.

Eventually I do get to the customs and the Polish side goes with no issue.  When I get to the Ukrainian side I’m the last of four vehicles to be let into the checkpoint.  I’m immediately sent in to a customs broker office (by the only angry border guard I've ever seen between the EU and Ukraine) where I’m used to seeing the truckers go to, but never have I had to.  Oh well, no sense in trying to point this out to angry guy, instead I go in anyway.

Inside is a bit of a mess.  I stand in what looks like a line of exactly two people for 45 or so minutes before the broker tells me there’s no need for me to be here.  He tells me that with the cargo I have, I should just be stamped and be on my way.  This is going to be interesting because I’m going to need to go back outside and communicate this to the angry guy who sent me in here and we all know how that’s going to go.

And it goes just like you thought it would.

Not only did it go “just like you thought it would”, but my 45 minutes inside means I’m no longer the last of 4 cars lined up at the checkpoint.  I’m the last car not THROUGH the checkpoint and now I'm blocking the next four cars from coming in.  One of them is a humanitarian aid van, and another is a box truck trying to go around him and and subsequently around me (it doesn’t work, and only serves to make things more clogged)

And the angry guard here isn't just angry at me, but he seems unnecessarily angry at EVERYONE.  He even yelled at an old lady who needed a cane just to get up on the curb (which she did for no other reason to stare him directly in the eye and say some very stern Ukrainian words I’m sure I couldn’t type here even if I could understand them). 

She was the only one of us that got a stamp from that guy.

Eventually I’m told to move the truck forward (Vikki, this is where your magic photo was taken!) and we’re able to discern that I was sent there by mistake because they thought my Toyota was being donated as well (That's not the first time that’s happened).  Once cleared up, I’m told that I have an old version of the customs paperwork and need to fill out a new form.  No big deal as Vikki and I looked into this back on Dec 01, and were told nothing had changed.

Well, we were told wrong.

A fact we immediately discovered when I had no idea what registration number to write in one of the blocks.  I texted Vikki for assistance, and a civilian man approached me asking me if I needed help.  I was about to tell him “no” and that “vikki had it covered” when I thought better.

“I don’t know what to write in blocks 1 through 4” I responded.

The guy turned out to be very helpful, and a very nice person to have deliver the bad news.  The rules HAD changed, as had the paperwork.  If we wanted to make this Christmas delivery then we should have registered a MONTH ago and received the registration numbers we were missing.

Oh dear…

Vikki is discovering this at the same time I am, and between ourselves, the humanitarian worker (Denys from now on), and a very helpful (and english speaking border guard) we’re all able to talk on the phone together and talk about what the path looks like going forward.

Once settled, the phone is hung up, the guard heads off, and Denys says in a low voice “here, take my number.  If you need help, give me a call.  I can help you”

And that’s exactly what I do.

I have the truck completely open but I settle in to the driver's seat as it’s COLD outside.  I’ll gradually put on more and more layers until I’m wearing all my sleeping gear.  Denys calls and informs me he’s called customs and a couple guards are on their way.  When they get here, we call Vikki again and much Ukrainian is spoken.  When they leave, she tells me it’s all good news!

YASS!

Then the guards come back, they tell me it’s not all good news… (and they’ve already talked to Vikki)

They’re nice though, and tell me there’s nothing I can do.  I should just close up my truck and settle in because it is cold out and they’re worried about me.  Do I want a coffee or anything?

I decline, honestly I don’t know how this is going to be handled.  It’s Sunday, and darn close to winter break… But they’re right, it IS FREEZING!  The cold just cuts through all my layers and pierces my skin!  I’d crawl into one of my sleeping bags, but they’re in the back and I don’t want to go back outside.  Around 1930 I get a frantic text from Vikki  “show them this picture!!!!”

I immediately follow her instructions and am darting from building to building.  Eventually I find our guy!

Right on cue, the phone screen goes completely black.  I cant unlock it!!!!!!!!!!!

I had been watching videos in the truck, so I knew I had 26% battery left, but I guess the cold killed my bettery when I left the truck because it is COMPLETELY dead! 

You cant make this crap up… 

“Come back to my truck, I have the papers!” I tell them, and they follow suite.  Once there I plug my phone in (I started turning it on about 10 paces from the driver’s door), and by the time they catch up with me I’m entering my pin.  We get the magic “I’m thinking” circle and when the phone re-boots, there’s Vikki’s photo!

“Here” says the guard, “write those Ukrainian symbols in these boxes”

“ha! Well alright, here goes” I say, and he catches my drift.  Without practice and with frozen hands, what chance to I have?  He writes them in for me, and I sign on the dotted line.

Ladies and gentlemen, we are officially cleared for takeoff!

 

 

Hungary Bill (Forum Supporter)
Hungary Bill (Forum Supporter) GRM+ Memberand PowerDork
1/5/24 3:08 a.m.

Off and running I had one more stop to make.  A gas station on the other side has a currency change station, and I need fuel (I was planning on stopping here, and drove accordingly). The currency was no problem, but the fuel (I would later discover) would be.

At the pump, I unlock my gas door and leave the key in.  The gas cap goes on the roof, and an attendant arrives and puts the “benzine” pump handle in the tank.  I go inside to pay (and to use the bathroom).

Once out the attendant is trying to tell a very persistent old man that he has no idea how to work the man’s phone.  But the old man is persistent and follows the attendant all around the truck while he tries to do his job.  Eventually the pump handle is stowed, the gas door is closed, and the key is handed to me, all while this old man is REALLY trying to get the attendant to work his phone.

Nothing I can help with, so I drive off (insert ominous tones here).  For now, allow me marvel at the differences between what these cities looked like a year ago versus what they look like now:

 

 

Getting into the cities though from the border is always long, and I do get a bit bored.  With no one but the GPS to talk to, I decide I'd like to try my hand at making goofy videos.  Who knows, maybe I could edit them all together at the end and make one LONG video outlining what it's like to make a run 1000kms across Ukraine.  I start by talking to the camera while it's mounted on my dash:

 

 

 

 

I pulled into a gas station to get fuel and when I did, I realized my fuel cap was gone….  When I had set it on the roof (before the attendant took over at the last station) I had assumed he had screwed it back on before closing my gas door and handing me my keys. 

I was wrong.

Ah well, filled up and legs stretched it was time to stop for the night.  I pulled behind the gas station building to sleep.  It’s dark where I parked and I’m right next to an electric vehicle charging station (passenger side).  Off to the driver’s side are a bunch of truckers parked and doing the same. I pull out my phone for another recording:

 

 

It all may amount to nothing, but talking to the camera does break the silence (and subsequently the monotony) so I keep doing it.  Tucked in and wrapped up in my sleeping bags I am leaned up against the window and am about to nod off when the truck immediately adjacent to me touches off it’s extremely LOUD air compressor.

BRBRBRBRBRBRBRBRBRBRBRBRBRBRBRBRBRBRBRBRBRBR! Goes the compressor, immediately startling me awake.

“no prob” thinks I, “as long as it doesn’t happen too often”

but it does...

You know that scene with the trains behind Elwood’s apartment in The Blues Brothers?  It’s exactly like that…

Hungary Bill (Forum Supporter)
Hungary Bill (Forum Supporter) GRM+ Memberand PowerDork
1/5/24 4:08 a.m.

I do manage to get some sleep, but by 4am I just decide to give up.  There’s a VW golf parked next to me in the EV charging station and if they’re getting a phone call, then the chime is blaring out of all their speakers…  At least that’s what it sounds like.

Anyhoo, between that and the previously mentioned air compressor there was no chance of getting any rest so I decide to be on with it.  Out of my sleeping bag, I head into the fuel station for an Americano before going on my way.  Back at the truck, I try my hand at another video:

 

It's worth noting that I can't see these videos right now.  Windows media player will let me hear them, so I kind of have an idea of where "what" was recorded, but apparently I need an extension (that I cant install right now) to make these work properly...  All in the "you live, you learn" category.

And speaking of learnin', I thought someone might wonder "Bill!  Why the heck are you sleeping in your truck anyways???"  So I made a video for that too!

 

 

I’m making good time at this point, but I cant help but notice that the truck is being uncharacteristically “unfussy”…  All the problems I’ve had were rooted in something else.  Well on that note, it looks like the weather is going to be no different.

All the way in, it had been a little “wet”, but now it was getting foggy.  And the fog was getting thicker.  Any amount of light beyond my headlights and the whole windscreen would turn opaque!

KC daylighters:  Opaque

High beams?  Opaque

Oncoming traffic?  Opaque.

Not the worst thing in the world, but it really slowed me down.  I did catch a bit of a break in the fog a little later, so I snagged one more video before really settling in and focusing on the drive ahead.  Here it is:

 

 

Hungary Bill (Forum Supporter)
Hungary Bill (Forum Supporter) GRM+ Memberand PowerDork
1/5/24 4:23 a.m.

It hasn't gone unnoticed that everything I've recorded at this point has been completely dark.  That's just the season, really and there's not much I can do about it.  I make a mental note to take photos when the sun comes up (maybe I can fill time in a video with a slide show) but there's not much out and around this part of the country but farmland.  It really doesn't do the place justice.  Even still, out comes the camera once it's light and I just randomly start snapping.  Who knows what will be useful later?

 

There's nothing to do to fill the hours but to muse really.  I think about how familiar these roads are becoming to me.  I mean, I can't read the signs but there are certainly enough landmarks that I feel like the truck is on a railroad track and could probably drive itself at this point.

Oh there used to be a block point there.

Oh, that's the city with the market I like

Oh, that's the city with the memorial I stopped at once.  It's still there.

Oh, man.  This is where the guard asked me if I had any tourniquets I could give him...

the list goes on.

All gone now.  All moved east.  Only a few remnants remain.

Hungary Bill (Forum Supporter)
Hungary Bill (Forum Supporter) GRM+ Memberand PowerDork
1/5/24 4:30 a.m.

I do eventually pass a few military vehicles and it reminds me that I haven't been looking out for other Humanitarian Aid workers.  A convoy of Humvees reminds me of this fact, and they all get a wave as I pass them in traffic.  Shortly after I start noticing the aid trucks, and start waving at them too.

I'm really looking forward to my "Dnipro Oblast" sign, as I want another picture in front of it just like last year.  Apparently we got lucky last December, because every time I've driven by it since it's been blocked by semi trucks.

looks like this time might be no different:

Speaking of last year, it didn't go unnoticed that there was a pile of trash near the sign when I did get a photo last year.  As I'm stopped again, even with the truck blocking the sign, I see more litter around the area.  If the Gambler 500 ever comes to Europe, the first thing I'm doing is trucking them out here to help me clean up this sign.

As I'm thinking this, the semi truck pulls away and I'm able to get my shot

 

Bill happy.

VikkiDp
VikkiDp Reader
1/6/24 5:41 p.m.

Hi everyone!!! heart

The Christmas and New Year holidays are over and I think it’s time to wrap up the summer’s run story.

The beginning is on the pages 72 and 73.

We did it!!!

It’s the meeting day. It seemed like all I have to do was wait for Bill and Sarah to tell me the time of arrival in Dnipro and that’s all…

In the morning, I got the notification that the UV lamps have arrived at the Nova post office – that’s great, I thought, but… I didn’t read the notification in full.

A little bit later, when i was having my morning cup of coffee I opened that notification… ohhh, damn…. The UV lamps arrived at the other post office that located to the other side of the city from the perinatal center and it's gonna take us a ton of time to pick them up of there. Why it happened – absolutely have no idea, postal workers a few times asked me the details for delivery, but something went wrong. 

Mmmm… okay… no problem…. Requesting a new delivery to the post office we need. I’m crossing my fingers and toes and praying at the same time that all this stuff will be delivered in time for the meeting.

At the same time there was some good news - the money to pay for it came in. Ooofff, great!!! it made Bill and me nervous about.

Next all I had to do was wait and pray, wait and pray… (Bill you’re not alone in this…) and cooking borsht.

Finally I get the message from Ms.Hungary!!! Excellent!!! I’m on my way to the meeting point – the UV lamps are traveling somewhere around on Dnipro.

I'm the first to arrive and I'm looking forward to seeing the guys. Aaaa, I see the familiar vehicle – hello Toyota, hello Sarah, hello Bill – ohhh, guys I’m so glad to see you again. Bill tells me that the radiator held them up on their way – ohhh, nooo, again - I’m upset by that.

We quickly discuss our plan for the day and get to work right immediately. The awesome team is doing the amazing work – I absolutely love it!!!

I’m with the kids list on the shipping, Bill and Sarah organized and signed all the packages for each family (guys, it’s a really awesome idea and the incredible work you did to make it possible for us to ship everything so quickly!!!)

The huge box of desk lamps received and I'm just adding the lamp to the school supplies package after checking the kids list. Everything’s goes so well!!!

The postal workers are asking us to take a 5 minutes break from our shipment (I forgot to mention – this time the entire post office was almost at our complete disposal - there were hardly any other visitors).

The thing is, there was a post truck coming to deliver the packages and pick up the ones that were at the office. So we can take a little breather and chat too.

I'm showing Bill a video I received from one of the moms this morning - it really made my day and my mood for the day (especially after bad news about the UV lamps) – it’s incredibly cute. You can see it as well.

Then we both noticed how quickly post workers are doing their job!!! BTW this is the truck that brought our damn the UV lamps – great news for me!!! In time!!! Ooofff!!!

It’s time to continue!!! Two packages a little mixed up but we quickly figured it out and made it right. Great!!! Phewww, all the packages have shipped!!!

How about to picking up the UV lamps, the cookies and the sweets? Mmm…?

The cookies – received!!! The UV lamps – received!!! The candies…. Whaaaat??? Ohhh, nooo…. all this time I was sure they were waiting for us in this post office, I show the post worker the notification – he reply – yes, but your box is waiting for you in Kyiv. Where??? I ask him again. Whyyy??? The seller sent the package to the Nova post office with the same number #64, but he mixed up the city and sent it to Kyiv instead of Dnipro. How could this happen and what do we do now? The sweets have to be delivered to the children in Budapest. I don't know at that moment how to solve this problem, I’m totally upset. I'm explaining to Bill what happened. He reply – no problem – anyway they was planning to get back through Kyiv to show Sarah the capital of Ukraine and the Independence square. So they can picking up the sweets there. In any case, we have no other choice.

It's time for our magic trick i called «reload» - the cookies and the UV lamps go to the truck!!!

Just look at these pics.

This is the truck pulling up to the post office to drop off packages.

This is the truck after all the packages are sent to the kids.

Can you see the difference? No? ha, me too!!! that’s a magic!!! Isn’t it?

Our next locations are Ukrposhta (Ukrpost) and the prenatal center. 

And once again I didn't get to finish my story... the continuation will be, of course!!!

Hungary Bill (Forum Supporter)
Hungary Bill (Forum Supporter) GRM+ Memberand PowerDork
1/8/24 3:18 a.m.
VikkiDp said:

This is the truck after all the packages are sent to the kids.

Can you see the difference? No? ha, me too!!! that’s a magic!!! Isn’t it?

Our next locations are Ukrposhta (Ukrpost) and the prenatal center. 

And once again I didn't get to finish my story... the continuation will be, of course!!!

This is still one of my favorite photos.  After we dropped school supplies off for ALL of our children, our truck was still completely FULL for its delivery to the hospital!  laugh

Hungary Bill (Forum Supporter)
Hungary Bill (Forum Supporter) GRM+ Memberand PowerDork
1/8/24 6:11 a.m.

So, after the Dnipro Oblast sign comes one more fuel stop with free wifi.  It’s my last chance to let Vikki know what time I’m going to arrive, to update maps, stretch legs, fuel up, grab a drink, etc before I hit the city.

When I pull in, it looks like I stumble on some sort of military/humanitarian convention!  There are vehicles EVERYWHERE!  The whole darn parking lot is full of them!  People are kicking around, and I’m really wondering if it’s one big convoy or if we’ve just all happened to decide to stop at the same time.  My answer is given to me while I’m in the bathroom and the whole group heads out.

Ah well.  For a minute there I was one of them…  At the very least, I got to meet a dog laugh

 

 

From there it’s straight on in to the one road I know in Dnipro.  As I get close I fire up the phone for another recording:

 

 

 

I hop out all ready to set up, but running to the back of the vehicle I can’t help but notice there’s a bunch of crap outside of the office we normally use.  A closer look reveals the place has completely packed up and is empty!

I mean, the whole place is just GONE!  Like it was never here!

 

 

surprise

 

Hungary Bill (Forum Supporter)
Hungary Bill (Forum Supporter) GRM+ Memberand PowerDork
1/8/24 6:14 a.m.

Vikki is here though, and we’re both not worried.   After a brief “hello” we talk about the situation and of course there’s another office nearby we can use, so we load up and head out.  The spot I parked in was a biiiiiit muddier than I though when I pulled into it, so driving through it and back to the road was kind of funny as the front wheels slid through the mud.

At the new office we set up.  Mrs. Hungary and I prepared the truck pretty well I think.  Even though we weren’t able to wrap the gifts (for customs inspections at the border) we did label each one with the child’s name, child’s number (1 through 57), their family number, and the number of toys they received (1 of 3, etc).  We figured this would ensure that whole families would get their gifts at the same time, and each child would get everything sent.

When we loaded the truck, we took care to load each family as close as we could to each other so we wouldn’t have to dig much to find any associated gifts.

 

 

We thought wrong.

The first ones come out ok, and Vika goes in to send them off.  I dig back in the truck and nothing is matching!

I get a couple of one kids gift, but not the rest.  I get all of one kid’s gift, but they have a sibling and I cant find that persons.

It’s not raining, but there is a mist and its making my papers wet when I set them down.  The few kids I do get, I cant scratch off their names because my pen wont work on wet paper.

UGH!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I’m getting a headache.  Normally I’m lined up behind Vikki at the counter four families deep.  Today she’s able to come out on multiple occasions to see if she could help (evidence of this exists in the complete lack of pictures that are going to accompany this post cheeky )

I really should have brought Mrs. Hungary.

We’re getting things, but things still get missed.

“um, excuse me Mr. Counterperson.  Can we add this toy to that box that you already have”

“We’re missing a toy, can we look through all those boxes we gave you already”

I end up missing two things for a 9 year old, and one thing for a 14 year old.

“HOW DID THAT HAPPEN????”

Wait.  No.  it’s one thing for a 9 year old, and two things for a 4 year old.

HOW DID WE LOSE ALL THREE PAW PATROL TOYS?????

Ok, this goes on and the stress headache grows.  But somehow we get EVERYTHING loaded and on to the table except three paw patrol toys, and this really has me bothered.  In the history of us doing this, we’ve never messed up a kids wish list, and we CERTAINLY made a LOT of effort to keep that from happening this time.

All we can figure is those paw patrol toys fell out at the border during the inspection, because we KNOW they were in the truck when we left (we know this, because we spent a LOT of time in Budapest looking for these EXACT toys.  We had been searching everywhere but there was a specific character this child wanted “Ryder”, and we wanted to make sure she got it).

No prob.  The young girl has an older brother so we set his remote control cars aside as well.  I tell Vikki that I’ll give her my remaining Hryvna and ask if she’ll order and send that package on our behalf (she agrees).

 

 

Hungary Bill (Forum Supporter)
Hungary Bill (Forum Supporter) GRM+ Memberand PowerDork
1/8/24 6:24 a.m.

Out of the cooking pot, there are three families we need to send toys to via the post office.  Aside from the difficulty involved in finding a suitable means of packaging the loose items up, we had no issues getting things mailed off to their intended recipients and are heading to meet our first surprise for the night:  Dr. Julia is in town and will receive her cold weather gear as well as her son’s Christmas gift (of course he’s on our list!) in person.  With that, it’s off to have coffee!

In the coffee shop we each order a drink and sit down.  We give her the gifts for her son and of course her gear.  We talk a bit about our trips.  Eventually Dr. Julia wants to try on her new jacket.  I’m curious to see the build quality and how it fits.  She stands up and starts peeling back the Velcro over the zipper.  I’m watching and noticing that this is the real deal.  I mean even the Velcro is tougher than nails on this thing and takes some muscle to pull apart.  That's when she stops what she’s doing and looks up.

“Take pictures!!!!” she says

Laughing, I bring my camera up.

Cheese!

 

 

 

Hungary Bill (Forum Supporter)
Hungary Bill (Forum Supporter) GRM+ Memberand PowerDork
1/8/24 6:29 a.m.

Finished with coffee we go outside so Dr. Julia can look at the truck.  Vikki says she’s already finding work for me to do with the vehicles high clearance.  I tell her “I accept!”  (doesn’t matter what it is.  I’m game).

After a quick tire kicking session, we say our goodbyes and head on over to Vikki’s for our second surprise of the night.  A quick gift exchange and dinner.

 

 

Dinner is delicious, but Vikki is going to have to remind me of the name.  I remember the kaposhta, and the horseradish beet stuff (dang delicious, by the way)

 

 

 

 

But she tells me not to open my gift until I get home.  She says it will be better if everyone opens at the same time.

After that it’s time for our third surprise.  She calls Yaroslav on a video call and he picks up!

“Yaroslav!”  I exclaim, “How are you???”

“I’m 14-years old” he answers, mishearing me

We talk a bunch.  About the electronics I sent, about the tools, what he’s doing with them….  This kid is going places.  He’s build two SDRs (Software defined radios) and uses them to pick up television and radio signals.  He says they’re especially handy when the power gets knocked out, he can use them to pick up video and even sometimes aviation comms.  It definitely keeps him entertained.

Here’s the kicker.  The thing I see he’s holding in his hand?  It’s 100% him made.  It’s wrapped in electrical tape (the way a 14 year old would) and the antenna he’s using I immediately recognize as the spare antenna I bought for my kids AM/FM radio (the cheap metal extendable type that kids always break on their stereos).  I bought an extra when my kids broke theirs and forgot it was in the consumables kit I gave him.

"You're like the next Nikola Tesla!" I exclaim

"Or Elon Musk" Vikki says

"errr.  I... I don't want to be like Tesla or Elon" Yaroslav says.

"Oh?" we basically say in unison.

"Yeah.  Instead of trying to be like someone else I think I'd rather just be the best version of me"

This kid is going places…

Hungary Bill (Forum Supporter)
Hungary Bill (Forum Supporter) GRM+ Memberand PowerDork
1/9/24 4:58 a.m.

Before departing, Vikki tells me that my gifts are going to be best opened when I get home.  I also get another reminder about not driving when I’m too tired.  We part ways, and I head down the “bad road” out of her neighborhood.  It’s the easiest way to navigate out, but sure enough my phone GPS freezes up and I’m uncertain of where to make my third turn.

The Tom-Tom is working and it’s still providing directions so I decide to follow it.

Big mistake

The problem with the Tom-Tom is that while it may be great for MACRO navigation (Dnipro is east) it’s terrible for micro-navigation.  Like through an urban environment.  I attribute this to the fact that the Tom-Tom only seems to care if a road exists, it gives zero thought as to the size of the road, the material construction, or whether or not it’s actually a road (versus an alley way).  And that last one is exactly what I find myself in the middle of.

It all started innocently enough.  “turn righ” it said

And I complied, even though I wasn’t sure that’s what I should do.

It didn’t take long at all.  I was smack-dab in the middle of a residential area, it was pitch black out, and there were nothing but alley ways all around me.  Nothing looked familiar, and at one point the road just completely disappeared despite the Tom-Tom telling me to continue straight for several hundred more meters.

NOPE!

Nope nope nope nope, NOPE!

I threw that truck in reverse and almost needed 4wd to get me back up the dark, muddy, rain soaked, slick hill the Tom Tom had just sent me down.  But no way was I going any further.

Switching to judging landmarks by sight (dead reckoning) I tried to work my way back out of the neighborhood the best I could.  I definitely went in circles a couple times but eventually I got myself back to that point that the Tom Tom had sent me off course.

About that time, the phone GPS caught its stride and picked up the load from there.  It turns out I was a bit further off course than I thought, but all was not lost as there were two main roads that connected to the highway just a few meters further from where I was.

What a pain in the butt.

The truck, now mud coated (not kidding) made it through and to a fuel station where I was able to stretch out, fuel up, and get ready to make my big push for the night.  The only problem was the weather...

 

 

 

Lemme tell ya, the camera doesn't catch it but that fog was THICK!  Anyways, from here on the truck just keeps trudging without complaint.  The only fluid top-ups I would need were to the washer fluid.  This little bit of water means that road grime gets kicked up anytime I'm behind someone, and I have to keep hitting the sprayers to keep the windscreen clear cheeky

Hungary Bill (Forum Supporter)
Hungary Bill (Forum Supporter) GRM+ Memberand PowerDork
1/9/24 5:21 a.m.

A few hours later I'm starting to wind down and decide to let traffic be my guiding beacon.  Not long after it's time for me to tuck in for the night.  I had just punched through a small settlement and was picking up the camera to record my sleep setup, my ears perked up.  If you turn the volume up around the 0:45 mark, you should be able to hear it:

 

 

Hungary Bill (Forum Supporter)
Hungary Bill (Forum Supporter) GRM+ Memberand PowerDork
1/9/24 5:28 a.m.

Waking up the next day, it was COLD!  I was 100% wrong about it being warmer than the night prior, because come 4am or so my feet were freezing off laugh  On the bright (er, dark?) side, a truck parked parallel to me and cast a nice shadow over my vehicle for me to sleep under.

Sticking with the recording idea, I did my "good morning" update:

 

And sure enough... Not long after....

 

 

Hungary Bill (Forum Supporter)
Hungary Bill (Forum Supporter) GRM+ Memberand PowerDork
1/9/24 5:42 a.m.

Honetly though, things were still going so smooth.  If it weren't for that gas cap missing, the only thing I could say about the truck is that there's a rocker arm on the #4 cyl (probably the exhaust) that's a bit noisier than the rest.  But with all this truck has gone through on these runs, that's pretty darn pedantic (even for me!).

I was still trying to think of ideas of things to record when I remembered that people might find it interesting to learn that Ukrainian truckers drive on the shoulder of the road!  and, you guessed it, I pulled out the camera:

 

Hungary Bill (Forum Supporter)
Hungary Bill (Forum Supporter) GRM+ Memberand PowerDork
1/9/24 5:49 a.m.

Yup.  aside from the long seat time, it's just me trying to fill the hours.  I'll eventually hit traffic in Lviv.  There's a highway junction that routes the traffic on a half-loop around the southern part of the city.  It was gridlocked as far as I could see so I u-turned it and decided to cut straight through the urban area.

I've driven through Lviv a couple times now.  It's been a while, but a generally know what to expect.  Still though, I do hit traffic sooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo...

 

 

Hungary Bill (Forum Supporter)
Hungary Bill (Forum Supporter) GRM+ Memberand PowerDork
1/9/24 5:53 a.m.

And not long afterwards, we're making our run on the western border!

 

Hungary Bill (Forum Supporter)
Hungary Bill (Forum Supporter) GRM+ Memberand PowerDork
1/9/24 5:54 a.m.

 

Which leads to the beginning of our long wait to cross:

 

 

Hungary Bill (Forum Supporter)
Hungary Bill (Forum Supporter) GRM+ Memberand PowerDork
1/9/24 6:03 a.m.

7-hours later I'm out the other side!

Well, actually not quite that fast.  I was selected for a full truck cavity search.  I was asked to pull my truck over a pit while two guys and their dog went all through EVERYTHING!

No big deal to me though, I know how this works.  I stand off slightly to the side and out of the way in a relaxed "at ease" and assist when asked or as needed.  If I see them struggling with something (like say, they didn't realize the front seat folds forward for access) I say "excuse me" and pull the handle for them.

Easy money.

What started off as stern questions from one of the guards "Kalashnikov?  Bullets?"  Turned into smiles and "sorry" by the time it was all over.  In the middle of it all, one guard held up Vikki's gifts and asked what they were.  I simply responded "they're gifts from a friend.  She told me I can't look so I'll turn around, but you can open them up"

Which they did (politely) before re-wraping them.  I thought that was nice.

Once released, I got my passport stamped and I was back in the EU!  and of course that warranted another recording!

 

Hungary Bill (Forum Supporter)
Hungary Bill (Forum Supporter) GRM+ Memberand PowerDork
1/9/24 6:10 a.m.

And up again the next morning.  We're almost home guys:

 

 

Hungary Bill (Forum Supporter)
Hungary Bill (Forum Supporter) GRM+ Memberand PowerDork
1/9/24 6:12 a.m.
Hungary Bill (Forum Supporter)
Hungary Bill (Forum Supporter) GRM+ Memberand PowerDork
1/10/24 3:37 a.m.

I was hoping to have the finishing touches done on the final draft of our children's Christmas video, unfortunately I fell just a few minutes short this morning.  However in falling short, I'm realizing I forgot one of the most important parts about what happened while I was waiting in line to cross the Polish border:

There I was... 

This was right after I finished my video about going over the truck.  The hood was closed, we had just moved forward, and I was standing in front of my truck looking over at the fuel station and wondering if now was the right time to head over and get some warm food, or if I should wait for one more movement before I did.  A man is walking up from the back of the line, headed towards the front and he glances my way.

"I recognize you!" he says. 

I stare for a second, but I don't know this person.

"You're American, but I'm afraid I don't recognize you" I respond.

He introduces himself as "Roy" and we get to chatting.  He lives in Kharkiv near a friend named John.  They both live and work in Ukraine but need to cross the border to get a stamp to reset their visa for time in country.  Apparently Roy is a Pastor, and John has a solar power business, but that's second in importance to how in the heck someone would recognize me!

He says he used to be a member of NAFO.  A mutual friend in NAFO shared info on our "Dnipro Expres" efforts on Twitter and he recognized me with the truck!

Honestly, the idea that a stranger would know who I am OR who my truck was is about as likely to me as me growing tentacles and turning into an octopus, but I digress.

We get to talking and sharing stories.  Some of them are even true!  I'm explain what I'm doing, and he does the same.  We swap numbers to stay in touch before we ultimately part ways.

Half an hour later I get a text message from Roy "Bill! John says there's paperwork to get a 'Humanitarian Aid exemption' to this line if you didn't want to wait in it in the future.  We'll get you the details later!"

Copy that, man

I've talked about "head of the line privledges" a bit in my videos and I think it's time I elaborated a bit on this.  I suffer quite a bit from "impostor syndrome".  Putting the red cross stickers on my truck was a huge leap of faith for me, as I don't always think it's appropriate for me to be flying those (Can I really deliver on a level that would do those justice?).  I'm not always hauling medical supplies these days and on trips like our last one to Uzhhorod where the truck is mostly empty, it does eat at me.

And then there are the naysayers.  I've caught flack from humanitarian workers in the past (mostly from people who stay in country non-stop) "well, the only thing I can see someone driving in is refrigerated blood!",

or from the border guards we've already talked about "commercial equipment... no military value..."

and of course from internet trolls: 

 

Obviously I can bat it back when required, I'm also reassured by you guys and our recipients...  but it does eat at me on some level.  Especially when times are tough and our donation drives don't do as well as they have in the past, it all kind of just adds up.

But running into a stranger.  Someone who knew the truck ONLY from the effort.  That was a much needed boost when I needed it.

I haven't heard from Roy since.  I don't even know if he was able to make it back to Kharkiv.  But he was where I needed him at that moment in time, I tell you what.

Tomorrow morning I should have that video finished.  After that we'll officially start on our next drive.

Thanks for listening to my Ted talk, guys.

David S. Wallens
David S. Wallens Editorial Director
1/10/24 6:36 a.m.

You rule, Bill. 

VikkiDp
VikkiDp Reader
1/10/24 8:27 a.m.

Bill, thanks for all your stories - love it so much!!!

Thanks for all you did and all you do!!! and thanks all those people who made these possible - thank you all guys!!!

Each of the runs is different, each of the runs brings us something new to the table - sometimes it's something good, sometimes not (the good always outnumber the bad, btw). But always, ALWAYS!!! we always found a way out of any situation!!! I absolutely love that!!!

Did it make us worried in the moment? Haa, of course!!! but you DID it!!! we did it, we did it every time!!!

Winter runs are especially exhausting - it's getting dark earlier and it's cold. I'm so glad you and the truck made it home safely. 

I'd be more excited if we could find a way to make the trips less exhausting. I really waited for every messages to make sure that everything was okay. So let's think about what we can do with this. mmm...? are there any thoughts?

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