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Gleb Travin - The Badass Cyclist Who Crossed 85,000 km In 3 Years

Gleb Leontievich Travin (1902-1979) was a Soviet traveler who, between 1928 and 1931, undertook an extraordinary journey cycling around the perimeter of the Soviet Union, including the Arctic coast. Covering over 85,000 kilometers, this epic adventure was accomplished in an era when bicycles were far less comfortable and reliable than they are today.

Born on April 28, 1902, in the village of Kasievo, Pskov uyezd, Gleb Travin acquired vital survival skills from his father, a forester. Travin's interest in extended bicycle journeys started in 1923 when he met Dutch cyclist Adolf de Groot in Pskov. De Groot had recently finished a bicycle race across Europe. Motivated by this encounter, Travin conceived a more ambitious undertaking — circumnavigating the globe by bicycle.

Gleb Travin's route map

In 1925 Travin joined the army. He served in the Leningrad region not far from his native places. A competent and physically developed guy quickly became an excellent student in military training and a platoon commander. And during demobilization, his adventurous spirit came into play - those who served in the army had the right to free travel to their place of residence, which Travin took advantage of. In Pskov, he was registered on Petropavlovskaya Street, and by simple manipulation of the not very competent army bureaucracy, the street turned into a city - the capital of distant Kamchatka. It was Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky and the alluring Far East that seemed to young Gleb Travin as an excellent place to start a cycling trip.

In Petropavlovsk at that time there were less than three hundred houses, and Travin quickly found his place among the builders of the first power plant in Kamchatka - literate people with skilled hands were then in short supply.

In his free time, he trained on the Leitner army folding bicycle, manufactured in Riga at the Alexander Leitner factory.

The power plant was operational by the spring of 1928, and with the bonus for his hard work, Travin bought a new Japanese bicycle - in Kamchatka during the NEP, imported goods from Japan and America were almost freely traded.

Gleb Travin and his bicycle

During this time, Travin began planning his bike trip. He selected ideology as the driving force behind his journey, aiming to promote physical culture and secure permission to travel globally. Recognizing that the Soviet authorities would likely deny him the opportunity to venture outside the country and circumnavigate the world, he devised and obtained approval for a route along the borders of the USSR.

For his bicycle trip, Travin received from the Kamchatka City Executive Committee an American road bicycle Princeton model 404 red in color with white arrows on the frame (this bicycle was specially brought to Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky for Travin). For the trip, he (at his own expense) purchased a Japanese Kodak camera (the camera he ordered was delivered the same ferry).

In addition to a bicycle and a camera, his luggage included a registration book, clothes (including winter clothes), medicines and tools. As food for the journey, he took seven pounds of pressed biscuits and a kilogram of chocolate. He also took a small amount of money. Travin did not forget such a characteristic detail as a supply of business cards. "Tourist Around the World" cards were handed out at stops and overnight stays.

The fully loaded bicycle weighed 80 kg, the same weight as the athlete.


An article about Gleb Travin in Soviet geographic magazine "Around the World"

Travin’s planned daily routine during the trip:

10 hours in the saddle, minimum daily riding time is 8 hours;

Eating twice a day - at six o'clock in the morning and at six o'clock in the evening;

Sleep in the open air.

On the cyclist’s sleeve there was a green Dynamo armband with the inscription that amazed everyone he met: “Bicycle traveler Gleb Travin.” Having started the journey, Travin made a vow not to cut his hair until he completed it. He put a patent leather strap on his head. During the trip, Travin kept a diary, which in the 1930s was destroyed by his relatives along with the original photographs for fear that they would be repressed following Travin's biographer Vivian Itin.


On October 10, 1928, Gleb Travin left Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky with a bicycle and went to Vladivostok by ship. The bike ride started from the capital of Primorye on October 23.  From there he rode the bicycle along the Trans-Siberian Railway through Khabarovsk to Lake Baikal. Travin crossed Lake Baikal on the ice on the advice of the lighthouse keeper. Later, he also crossed rivers and lakes on ice.


Gleb Travin

Along the Trans-Siberian Railway, Travin reached Novosibirsk, from which he turned south, to the Cossack Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic, then to the Central Asian republics of the USSR - the Uzbek Soviet Socialist Republic, including the Tajik Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic, then to the Turkmen Soviet Socialist Republic.

In May 1929, the traveler reached Dushanbe, where the editorial office of the local newspaper, at his request, translated the inscription “Bicycle Traveler Gleb Travin” into Tajik for his armband.

Since the word “bicycle” was absent in Tajik, as a result the inscription in Tajik had the meaning “traveler on a shaitan-arb”, that is, literally, “traveler on a damn cart”.

Travin traveled from Central Asia to the Caucasus via the Caspian Sea by ferry.

From the Caucasus in the summer of 1929, Travin traveled through the European part of the country and in November 1929 reached Murmansk, from where his winter Arctic part of the journey began along the coast of the Arctic Ocean, during which he traveled most of the way on ice.

Gleb Travin during his travels

In one of the polar northern villages, Travin got hold of a fur jumpsuit, which allowed him to sleep comfortably in the snow, buried in a snowdrift.

The hunters taught the traveler how to catch seals, walruses, polar bears, arctic foxes and deer. He taught himself to fish using a bicycle spoke in cracks in the ice. As a result, the main components of Travin’s diet in the North were raw meat and raw fish - fresh and frozen (stroganina).


In the area of Dolgiy Island, a serious problem occurred with Travin. Waking up after another night in the snow, he discovered that his boots and overalls were frozen in the ice, into which the snow that protected him from frost had turned overnight - at night, near him, the ice cracked and sea water came out of the crack. With the help of a knife, the traveler was able to get out, but at the same time severely damaged his clothes and shoes. Then he had to travel with his legs exposed to the frost and in torn overalls. The traveler came across a deer trail and, already frostbitten, reached the dwelling (plague) of Nenets reindeer herders, his journey in torn clothes and shoes took about a day, Travin overcame the last part of the journey to the camp crawling due to his legs giving out.


Gleb Travin's registration book


After undressing and warming up, Travin discovered signs of fatal damage to his toes. To prevent gangrene, he decided to partially amputate them, cutting off the dead skin as if removing a sock. This led the women who witnessed the act to believe he was a cannibal spirit named Keli.

Following this incident, Travin earned the nickname "the devil on the iron deer" from the northern inhabitants, as the bend of the steering wheel reminded them of deer antlers. This nickname later inspired a book title. In the 1960s, Alexander Kharitonovsky published a book about Travin titled "The Man with the Iron Deer: The Tale of a Forgotten Feat," which underwent several reprints.

After this, with his legs still not healed, Travin got on the icebreaker “Lenin” of the Kara Marine Expedition, where he communicated with its leader, Professor N.I. Evgenov, a hydrographer. The professor doubted the possibility of reaching Chukotka alone on a bicycle and was surprised by the traveler’s assurances about the convenience of riding on ice.

On the day of Travin’s departure from the Kara expedition, pilot Chukhnovsky took his photograph, which has survived to this day.

Before the Taimyr peninsula, Travin fell through the ice, got out and spent a long time drying his soaking wet clothes - first he tried to dry them in the cold in the wind (while burying himself in a snowdrift), then he got dressed and dried them on himself, actively moving. During this run, he found a pile of deer carcasses dumped by local hunters, climbed into it and slept well, having the opportunity to rest in the warmth.


Gleb Travin's bicycle on display in Pskov State Museum-Reserve

On the Pyasina River, Travin again fell through the ice and almost died.

After this, on the way to Chukotka, Travin came across a mammoth cemetery and took with him one tusk, which he managed to pull out of the frozen soil.

In the small town of Russkoe Ustye on Indigirka, Travin worked as a geography teacher.

At the end of the journey, Travin reached Chukotka. One of the Chukchi craftsmen made plates from mammoth ivory and on one of them carved a seal, a walrus, a whale and the inscription “Bicycle traveler Gleb Travin”.

In July 1931, Travin reached Cape Dezhnev, where he again tried to obtain permission to leave the USSR for the purpose of traveling around the world along the route: the western coast of North and South America, Tierra del Fuego, the African coast, the Sahara, the Arabian Peninsula, India, China, Tibet, Mongolia , USSR.

Having received a refusal and an offer to board a ship to Kamchatka, he sailed to Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky, where he finally completed his journey.

Gleb Travin doesn't look like a man from the 1930s! Could he have been a time traveler?

After the trip to Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky, Travin was presented with a GTO badge and a pennant with a memorable inscription: “Kamchatka Regional Council of Physical Education to an active striker of the physical education movement of Kamchatka”.

Many publications, starting with newspaper notes published during Travin’s travels, indicate unrealistically large distances traveled by him, which do not correspond to the route entries in the traveler’s registration book. Thus, in the book “The Man with the Iron Deer,” Kharitanovsky indicated the length of the route as 85 thousand kilometers, which contradicts the entries in the route book (exceeds the route indicated in it). Moreover, in a note published on October 13, 1929, the newspaper “Pskov Alarm” reported that 80 thousand kilometers had already been covered then, despite the fact that this was only a third of the route planned by Travin. In that publication, the distance traveled was clearly overestimated.

According to realistic estimates, the length of the longest (northern) part of the route, that is, the route along the Arctic Circle, is estimated at 10-13 thousand kilometers.

Gleb Travin's knife

According to the entries in Travin’s record book, stored in the Pskov State Museum-Reserve, he covered five sections of the route by ship:

from October 10 to October 23, 1928, the Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky - Vladivostok section, 2600 km long;

from July 26 to July 28, 1929: Krasnovodsk - Baku - 280 km;

from August 22 to August 26, 1929: Rostov-on-Don - Yalta - 580 km;

from August 20 to September 11, 1930: Vaygach Island - Dikson Island - 850 km;

from September 30 to October 17, 1931: Gulf of Lawrence - Ust-Kamchatsk - 1900 km.

Section of the route covered with dogs:

In Russian Ustye, where Travin appeared in January 1931 and stayed for more than two months, residents presented the traveler with sleds with dogs and persuaded him to continue his journey on a dog sled.


According to eyewitnesses, Travin was seen riding a bicycle on a sled pulled by dogs, traveling from Russky Ustye through Krestovsky Island and Chetyrekhstolbovoy Island, where Yakuts also saw him. They reported that the traveler continued towards Chukotka, specifically Shelagsky Cape. However, after Chetyrekh Stolbovoy, there is no evidence that he utilized dog sleds.


After completing his extensive journey, Travin settled in Kamchatka, where he trained cyclists, motorcyclists, and motorists. During the Great Patriotic War, he served as a teacher of military affairs at the Kamchatka Marine and Fishery Technical School. Only in 1962 Travin returned to Pskov.


Gleb Travin's compass

A quarter of a century after Travin’s polar “bike trip”, journalist Alexander Kharitanovsky ended up in Chukotka. Quite by chance, from local residents, he heard a story about a strange cyclist that struck him. Bicycle in Chukotka?! The journalist didn’t believe it, but decided to figure out the origin of such an amazing “anecdote.”

The notes and brochures of the 1930s were long forgotten; no one remembered the name of Gleb Travin. However, Kharitanovsky conducted a real journalistic investigation, looked up archives, found eyewitnesses - to his amazement, he discovered an extraordinary and completely forgotten feat. It was the end of the 50s, the era had changed dramatically. The forgotten hero turned out to be completely in the style of the new time - in those years, the heyday of camping and tourist romance began in the USSR.

In Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky, journalist Kharitanovsky found a modest teacher at the nautical school - Gleb Travin himself.

And the former “tourist on a bicycle around the world” took out for the guest a “passport-recorder” carefully hidden since the late 30s, documentary evidence of a unique trip.

Thus was born the story “The Man with the Iron Deer” - a romanticized, slightly embellished, but sincere story about the life and exploits of a unique cyclist. The story has gone through many editions in the country and abroad. Even in France a brochure based on it appeared.

Unfortunately, his dream never came true, as the Soviet authorities didn't grant him permission to embark on a bicycle journey around the globe.

In 1969, Travin and Kamchatka journalist N. Ilyushev flew by plane along part of Travin’s travel route from Arkhangelsk to Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky with stops in Anderma, Tiksi, Chersky and Pevek.

The registry book was stamped on its pages with the seals of all the authorities and postal stations he passed by

Among lovers of tourism and cycling, the name of Gleb Travin literally thundered. He immediately turned into a living legend, a true idol with an unsurpassed achievement. Dozens of cycling clubs “named after Travin” appeared throughout the USSR. And in East Germany, after the German translation of the book “The Man with the Iron Deer,” several cycling clubs named after him arose.

The last years of life Travin spent time in Pskov, where he organized a home museum and introduced everyone to the materials of his travels. The words from his registration notebook remain relevant: “I survive because I don’t fight against nature, but try to live according to its laws.”

Today a separate exhibition about him is featured in the local history museum of his native Pskov, showcasing his bicycle, registry book, and other items.

Gleb Travin died on October 19, 1979 in Pskov.


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