Jun. 04, 2016: Ussuriysk, Primorskiy Krai, Russia

It took me two more days of hanging around Vladivostok before I was able to hit the road.

I divided the time between doing some sightseeing etc. while Yegor (I think he prefers this English spelling to Egor — my mistake!) did work in his workshop for other clients, and putting the finishing touches on my own bike.

On Thursday (June 2), I wandered out downtown for a while in the morning, visited the shopping centre to pick up some supplies and figure out how to navigate Russian shopping transactions on my own. Then Yegor fixed me up with a couple of his friends and we did a proper daytime tour of the city. I was able to pick up a SIM card and take care of the necessary documentation for registering myself in the country with the government. (There was some discussion as to whether the SIM card would work across the country, and which provider would be best, etc. All in all, not that different from the kind of conversation one would likely have in Canada. There wasn't 100% consensus but in the end I think it will work everywhere? If I need to pick another one up in Khabarovsk, so be it. It was not what you'd call expensive - a couple of bucks for more airtime and data than I'm likely to need in my entire time in the country.)

Yegor's friends were really cool and one of them seemed to be making a half-decent attempt at fulfilling the wishes expressed by Eva, my Russian teacher back in Canada... (this will mean something to some of you)

It was a fun afternoon: we mostly did sightseeing: drove around a bit, spent some time on the beach, chatted about Vladivostok and Canada, went up to the top of a couple of the bigger hills in the city to take photos, etc. and then it was time for Yegor to fetch me to take me back to the workshop.

Because Yegor is trying to continue his regular work, my bike had to wait until the evening to fit into his schedule - fair enough! I'm immensely grateful for the time he has been able to spare, so I can't possibly complain. But meant that we didn't start work until after 9PM or so, and worked well past midnight. Good thing I'm a night owl!

Got back to the apartment late, crashed, then on Friday had mostly a structural repeat of the previous day, sans group of friends. So I walked around a bit. It was a mostly overcast, windy and slightly rainy day and I didn't go far. Bought some delicious smoked salmon and cream cheese for dinner to share with Yegor (his refrigerator is a bit spare) - again cost me a couple of dollars. (After the bike and initial supplies were taken care of, pretty much everything has cost "a couple of dollars" here - I don't think a single bill, including hotel, has exceeded ₽1,500 (or about $CA30) and in total have spent maybe ₽5,000 ($CA100) in the last 3 days. Most supermarket tabs, meal bills and so on have been under ₽500.)

Yegor did find a journalist who was interested in running a story about me, so at about 6:30PM we were back in his workshop when the journalist came around to interview me. Mostly standard questions: Where are you going? Why? How long will it take? What are you taking with you? What do you think about Russia and Vladivostok so far? Etc. Rather more nerve-wracking than doing a media interview about Grizzly bears in French!! But I think it came out ok. Yegor afterward said I did a good job.

The story is on vl.ru - a Vladivostok-based news website. (In Russian, of course, but with a bunch of pictures of me working on the bike in Yegor's workshop.)

Then we get started on putting the final touches on the bike, adding the panniers and so forth. Yegor has convinced me to put panniers on the bike. I'm really (really) not a fan of the things - as many of you probably know - but sigh. A couple of years back he rode with his girlfriend from Singapore to Vladivostok, and he is giving me the racks and panniers he took on that trip. How can I possibly say no to that???

(Also, my left shoulder is not 100% the way it was following my crash a couple years back, and the potential strain of the backpack has been on my mind. I know that it aches a bit at the end of a long hike where I'm carrying several dozen pounds of gear for a couple of days.)

As it gets close to midnight, a thunderstorm sets in, the rain is absolutely bucketing down, lightning in full force — a questionable omen for the following morning's departure. I check the forecast; if there are to be thunderstorms into the next day, maybe I should stay an extra day in Vladivostok? But no: the forecast is for them to taper off then stop by 10:00, so for now, all systems are go.

At 1:00 I have all my gear loaded into the panniers and we're doing the very last planned check before I leave, when we encounter an unexpected problem: the hydraulics on the front fork are sticking. Some tinkering around later and we discover that we'd accidentally crimped the hydraulic tube when fastening the pannier, deforming the inside. We proceed to unload everything and set about fixing the dent. Not a huge deal, but rather distressing for it to be 3AM the morning before I leave, with everything re-disassembled and strewn around the workshop, filing away at the inside of the hydraulic tube.

We do finally fix it and get back to the apartment by about 4:00. We'll do some more tests the following morning before I leave. Yegor sets his alarm to 6:30 (departure was originally to be at 9, plus-or-minus rain) and I groan. I am really not sure about this.

But at 6:30 neither of us are in a state to wake up, so it's more like 8:30 by the time we head out to the workshop. The rain has stopped and it's mostly overcast. We're done with the tests by 10:30, and it's time to hit the road. I get on the bike to take it for a test spin, and life is instantly 1000% better.

No. It really, really, really is.

I hadn't realized how much I missed being on a bike. It's been a month since I put my bike in storage in Calgary and I haven't been on one since, and this has affected me more than I realized. I've been anxious and nervous and stressed, and at times wondering if I wanted to even go on the trip at all. I thought for a while it was just the ordeal with getting the visa and related stresses. But then I got to Vladivostok and the arrival went smoothly and it got a bit better but not a whole lot. And I thought it was just the anticipation of the trip, which I was still not entirely sure I wanted to... do? For some strange reason?

But the second I got on the bike and took it up and down the block a few times, everything instantly changed. I was ready. I couldn't wait. I was feeling really good. About everything. Life was great.

I missed being on the bike, so so much. It was a lot like the feeling when I got back on after a 6-month hiatus following my crash in England. What can I say? It's where I belong.

So anyway. Konstantin (the bike's previous owner) was excited too and came by for the send-off. At 11:00 we walked the two blocks down to the beach so I could symbolically dip the wheel into the Pacific Ocean.

Only 14,500 km to the Atlantic!

Left Vladivostok under pretty much perfect weather. Cloudy skies, neither cold nor hot.

It didn't last. By 1PM the clouds had burned off and it was a bright sunny sky. The internet never said it rose much above 20 degrees, but without clouds and without shade it was increasingly hot and sunburny. I was definitely a bit crispy by the end of the day. On the shopping list: sunscreen!

Especially so going up the hills. The region is not particularly mountainous like roads in BC or to the west of Calgary. But it was a very steady rising incline the whole day long. A lot of 4% uphills. Makes sense: Vladivostok is on the coast, and I'm heading inland. In fact until I get to Western Europe, most of the hills and mountains will be over the next 3,000 or so km; between here and Lake Baikal. The rest of Russia is pretty flat.

So a lot of slow and steady and hot uphill.

The destination was Ussuriysk, about 90km from Vladivostok. I wanted to go farther, but Yegor suggested otherwise, pointing out that it was the first day and so forth, and cautioning me about the hills, also noting that there wouldn't be any more hotels after Ussuriysk for a while. Fair enough, although most of this would apply to most of Russia. To get across the country before my visa expires, I want to average 135km/day. The occasional short day is not a problem, but I can't afford to make a habit of it.

But making it to Ussuriysk was definitely not a problem at all.

The roads are variable. Extremely variable. Some of the newer stretches that have been recently rebuilt are absolutely excellent - easily as good as the very best roads one would find in Canada, Germany, or wherever else. Probably 35km was like this.

Some stretches are... not so great. But even then, they're rarely *bad*. Mostly so-so. As I expected, they're probably worse for cars (owing to the wear and tear causing potholes and so forth in the driving lanes) than for bikes (where the shoulder and edges are mostly fine). And even at the worst times, there's almost always at least a hard gravel shoulder along the edge (unlike some countries I could mention, *cough*Argentina*cough*) where I can bail if traffic, potholes, or other obstacles present. In fact, riding on the gravel shoulder is not too significantly worse than riding on the pavement, for short stretches.

The worst was probably the last 5km stretch downhill into the valley where Ussuriysk lies. Sacrificing the downhill to the gravel is a little frustrating.

But made it to Ussuriysk well before nightfall, and found a cute little ice cream stand on the side of the road where I rewarded myself for a first good, full day.

Had some dinner at a nice (and again, cheap) restaurant, got back to my room and again fell asleep fast, with the computer still open to the window where I was composing this post.

Today’s weather: Sunny, mostly cloudless, high 21.
Today’s road: A370 (Fmr: M60). 92.7km, ~8h15. Generally uphill, some flatter sections. A lot of up and down near Vladivostok.

Posted on: Friday Jul. 1, 2016 @ 04:45 MST
Re: Ussuriysk, Primorskiy Krai, Russia
'haha! Maybe your Russian Teachers dream will come true if you are not careful!! lol
Posted on: Monday Jun. 6, 2016 @ 14:03 MST
Re: Ussuriysk, Primorskiy Krai, Russia
Ryan Cousineau said:

about the saddlebags

Yes and no. As with everything, there's a tradeoff... in this case, the tradeoff is balance. I find it hard to balance saddlebags, and unless they're (almost) perfectly balanced, it makes it hard-to-impossible to ride hands-free. Which is the situation I'm in now. Just from the last 3 days my hands and wrists are already giving me problems from being hunched over the handlebars so much. Usually I mitigate this by riding hands-free for long stretches (helps with the back too). But right now I can't do that. This could end up being a very significant problem if I can't do something about it...

Ryan Cousineau said:

swapping it for a rigid fork

You're probably right, I prefer a hard fork (I ride a road bike in Canada), but this is what this one had. And I don't really have the luxury of stopping to do adjustments like that for long periods of time because of my 90day visa. Once I get to Europe, maybe...

In the meantime, I'm mostly just knocking the travel down to zero.
Posted on: Monday Jun. 6, 2016 @ 03:34 MST
Saddlebags and forks
I think Yegor is right about the saddlebags. I'm the happy user of a backpack for my commute, but a tour like this is another matter.

As for the fork, unless you're going off road, you might be happier swapping it for a rigid fork at some point.

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