Following the relief at finding the hotel on Wednesday night, I went to the adjoining restaurant, had a quick supper of borshch (the "Chinese" style of borshch - mentioned to me once by my friend Leanne in Calgary - which has no beets, but does have beef), steak & potatoes, bread and some nondescript beer, then went straight to bed.
The hotel "Eldorado" in Bikin is actually rather cute. Very western themed (hence the steak & potatoes for dinner), with arched plaster doorways, western art everywhere. Not to mention that it is reasonably priced. I like it (quite aside from my aforementioned relief).
So I awoke in the Eldorado yesterday to the promised thunderstorms: rain crashing down all around, frequent growls of thunder. I checked the weather for the day, and saw that for every hourly forecast through to the evening there was a 85% or higher chance of thunderstorms. I decided to sit tight for a day and use the opportunity to catch up on blogging and otherwise. (I'll admit: I also didn't want to think about the pedal crank.)
I went down to the receptionist, and mentioned that it would probably rain all day. "Yes, it will," she confidently agreed. Could I stay an extra day? A bit of apprehension at this idea: apparently my room was already booked for last night. I indicated I didn't mind switching rooms - to one costing ₽1100 ($CA 22) a night instead of ₽800 ($CA 16). She was relieved and so arrangements were made. I carted my stuff over, and with the rain and thunder competing to see which could crashing more loudly, sat down with my laptop to bang out a few posts.
And awoke about 6 hours later, having hardly made any dent in the writing before falling asleep. Apparently I had other reasons for needing an extra day's stay.
Oh well. The late afternoon already making forays into evening, I finally got some blogging done proper. Didn't feel entirely right about another big dinner after having done nothing but sleep all day, so I wandered across the parking lot to the Роснефт gas station, bought a sandwich and light fare, then returned to my room to continue on the computer. In retrospect I should have made it a proper Ramadhan day, but hindsight not being foresight, 'tweren't to be.
By this point the rain had pretty much stopped, although it was still rather humid. I went to sleep (again) not too long thereafter, resolved to make up some good time today. Pedal crank notwithstanding.
I woke up to mostly overcast skies, and a forecast that called for afternoon showers.
Checked out of the Eldorado, collected my bike, and sat down to take a proper look at the pedal crank. I pulled it apart and checked for wear and tear. Actually... there didn't really seem to be any! I've seen a couple of worn pedal crank bolts in my time, and this one... didn't look anything like those.
This is good news and bad news. Good because it means I'll probably make it to Khabarovsk before it falls apart on me. Bad because: now I don't know what's wrong with it. And that perhaps worries me more.
I did a quick Google search, but came up with nothing particularly relevant. Maybe there was just still a little bit of crud in there from the other day's mud-slog, preventing it from fitting on snugly? I'm not sure.
Either way, I cleaned it out properly, re-assembled it and cranked down on the bolt the best I possibly could. Half the problem may also be that I only have a "bicycle multi-tool" thing (kind-of a Swiss army knife of bike tools) that we picked up in Vladivostok. Great, but it doesn't have the proper leverage I need to really crank hard on this bolt, which is what I should be doing.
I resolved to stop every couple of km to check on it, and tighten it before it came loose enough to notice so at least I wouldn't cause further damage. Not much else I could do.
I went back across the parking lot to the Роснефт to stock up on supplies - water, juice, chocolate bars. The security guard started lightly chatting with me as I was packing things into the saddlebags - asking me about my trip, the usual. At one point, he points up to the sky and mentions that it's supposed to rain today.
"I know, but not until afternoon, I think. So hopefully I will be far away and can maybe escape it."
He shakes his head and shows me his phone. Rain. All day long. Well, doesn't change anything; if it is to be, then it is to be. Besides, I know my app says not until afternoon. I'll maintain a bit of wishful thinking.
I heave off with a wave to the security guard and hit the highway. The road is really good; nice forests alongside. It's still overcast (which is rather nice) but not raining yet. A couple of km later, as I promised myself I would do, I eased off the highway and checked the pedal crank bolt. It still seems solid. I crank it tight again as best I can, but it hasn't loosened enough to make much difference.
Back on the bike, 4 km later, I stop and re-check. Still solid. Tighten and resume.
7 km later, another check. Still A-Ok.
10 km later? All systems go.
I slowly, slowly allowed myself to feel some relief. Maybe it did just need a good cleaning.
The only downside is that the morning's maintenance work meant (yet again) a later-than-intended start. But otherwise, the day went super smoothly. The roads are mostly excellent. The very best roads I have yet encountered were back in Primorskiy Krai, around Ussuriysk. But on average, I've so far found the ones in Khabarovskiy Krai to be better.
I don't know if I had much of a tailwind or not. Certainly I didn't have a headwind. I was still checking the pedal crank every 15 km or so, but other than those brief interruptions, I made excellent time all day.
After almost exactly 100km, I reached the town of Vyazemiskiy, and encountered a really cute little motel on the side of the highway: the "Fountain."
I was a bit conflicted about this. 100km is still short of my target, and I was making really good time today: I still had a couple of hours to go before it got dark - this could very easily have been a day when I exceeded my target, by some measure!
On the other hand: 1. The motel is rather cute. 2. The promised rain had held off so far, but the darkening clouds were telling me it wouldn't be long. 3. No matter how far I made it, there was no way I was going to get to Khabarovsk today anyway, so in practice it would make little difference, as I will reach there tomorrow in any case. 4. I have no idea how far it will be to the next hotel: Google isn't being very helpful.
So with some minor frustration I chose to stop. I checked in and took a quick walk around town just as the rain started to lightly fall. Vyazemskiy is cute: I like it rather more than I did Dalnerechensk, the last town I walked around. It seems slightly less run-down. I took a quick poke in the supermarket down the street from the motel to buy bug spray. Because oh lord, after being eaten alive thrice over the other evening just outside Bikin, I've come to realize just how badly I will need it. Sigh.
There's a sticker on the bar fridge in the motel room: "Across Urasia 2015 - Seoul Silver Biker." I'm apparently following in someone's illustrious
foottyre-steps? I'm assuming this is a motorbiker, like the ones I encountered the other afternoon near the provincial border. But maybe not?
It's a sometimes strange hobby these few of us have taken up.
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