Sunday, 25 September 2011

Running Across Borders

It had been nearly 2 weeks since the 100K and I was starting to go stircrazy not running, so after a cheeky afternoon nap (beer at lunchtime always does that to me), I laced up my shoes and checked out if my legs were still talking to me.

I figured that rural Poland was a fairly safe place to run, so took no ID with me, and headed off towards the end of the road in search of softer terrain. I suddenly heard some puffing and panting behind me, and thought that someone else had the idea of running the same way, but when I turned round it wasn’t a runner but a majestic deer. That stopped me in my tracks as I’d never thought a girl vs deer race would be a fair match.

Anyway, after he ran away into the woods, I continued on my way. I wondered whether the Polish road signs had anything important written on them but soon the tarmac ended. There were a couple of stripy posts and a barrier across the main part of the road, but there seemed to be good trails going round either end of it.

These trails joined back together 100m later on a dirt road which descended fairly steeply. As this was exactly the surface I’d been looking for, I skipped along it, waving at an elderly lady who walked past me, stooped and bent double, gathering firewood and carrying it on her back. I didn’t think much of this until I saw another lady in a similar carpet dress also gathering firewood. By this time I’d reached a quiet village with many rickety cottages, but no vehicles on the dirt roads. The sign announcing the village was written in Cyrillic script and I realised that I must have crossed the border and left Poland, now being in the Ukraine.
Nobody had said anything to me, or even noticed my presence, but I felt slightly uneasy and headed back the way I’d come, not meeting anyone at all until back to where we were staying. Describing where I’d been to my father and his cousin, they were shocked and alarmed, because not only had I run out of Poland, but I’d run out of the EU carrying no ID and having no way of contacting anyone if I’d got into trouble. They had always been told that people could be arrested or even shot for approaching the border illegally.
To be honest, I thought this was a bit of scare-mongering, so told my dad that I’d show him exactly where I’d been.
The next morning, we walked back up to the end of the road, and my dad explained that all the signs were warning of the approaching border, and that the stripy posts were indeed border markers – 1 in the red and white of Poland, and 1 in the blue and yellow of Ukraine. A car had driven past us as we walked, looped round and sped off. This seemed strange, but when a police car then drove up to us, we realised that we had been spotted and reported. It turns out that it we were going to be arrested and fined for illegally approaching the border, but only some fast talking by my father got us out of it (he also had to prove he had a job in the UK, show his British passport and show that he had previous Ukrainian visas). I could not believe how lucky I had been the day before, so that was the end of my running there!