Got on the road - yet again - at around noon today.
Yesterday evening's light drizzle continued through the night, and tapered off early in the morning. So with no further bike maintenance work to do, and with 120km to Khabarovsk, I took advantage of the break and got on the road, under mostly hazy skies.
The first 50km passed uneventfully. The road continued to be in largely decent shape, similarly to yesterday. Mostly flat, some occasional minor undulations. Looking at the map, there's almost no elevation difference between Vyazemskiy and Khabarovsk (which is mostly at the top of a bluff overlooking the Amur and Ussuriy rivers. The rivers are at a lower elevation, but Khabarovsk is not).
In the early afternoon the rain returned, but mostly in the form of spotty showers and generally overcast/hazy periods between them. I extricated my raincoat from my pack, but ended up spending most of the time with it just tied around my waist, the rain not being heavy enough to bother putting it on.
Almost exactly halfway (60km) between Vyazemskiy and Khabarovsk lies the town of Pereyaslavka. When I arrived at around 3:00, it was during a dry period, so I stopped briefly to grab some lunch. Another roadside snack bar like the Бистро24 in Dalnerechensk, although this chain was called the Авто Кафе ("Auto Cafe"). This one had shawarmas!
I decided to get a shawarma, just to see what it was like. Not too bad - lots of shredded lettuce, like the Canadian ones (except more of it, and shredded more finely) - although with a rather ketchup-y sauce that frankly I could do without, but eh. It was wrapped not in pita, but a thinner flatbread, similar to lavash. All in all, would eat again.
I'd made decent time getting this far: 60km in 3 hours, and so with another 60km to go, was figuring that if all went well, I'd be in Khabarovsk around 6:00, well in advance of nightfall.
Famous. Last. Words.
Leaving Pereyaslavka, I noticed the traffic getting rather heavier. Made sense, as we were approaching a major city. Vyazemskiy is actually the end of the suburban commuter rail service for Khabarovsk, so in some sense I was passing through the city's exurbs.
Unfortunately, the road did not hold up its end of the bargain. At 60km from Vladivostok (indeed, the entire 90km to Ussuriysk), the road was at least 4 lanes, and for the large part, divided. The same was decidedly not true here. There has been a lot of recent infrastructure work done in Vladivostok related to the 2012 G20 summit held in that city. Khabarovsk did not see a similar boon, so the highway was still only two lanes (one each way), and not even a shoulder to ride on. Which had been the case for a several hundred km already, but with the Khabarovsk traffic added to the mix, became rough going.
There was almost no let-up in the stream of trucks going by, and with the roads seemingly getting worse as I went on, I was frequently forced over onto the gravel shoulder.
Soon enough, the inevitable happened, and 50km from Khabarovsk, after some agonizingly slow going, I felt the telltale squishiness under the bike: another flat tyre. In the increasing drizzle, I wheeled off to the edge of the shoulder and fixed the tyre. No metal shard this time (as is often the case); just rough rocky riding.
Pumping the tyre back up, something felt wrong. It didn't seem to be inflating as fast as it should, or at all, really. Annoyed, I went to pull the pump off the tyre to take a look at it, when the entire thing just seemed to disintegrate. Or more specifically, the chuck lever snapped right off.
I just stared at it, dumbfounded, for a few seconds. Wha...?
I have the same brand of pump in Canada (along with a few others) and it's always served me well. I don't know if I was just lucky in Canada, just unlucky here, or whether they make things cheaper for some markets than for others. My experience around the world in the past leads me strongly to door #3, but ruminations aside, I've resolved never to buy that brand again.
In any case, all that was neither here nor there. For now, I had no spare pump. A flat tyre - fixed - but with no way to inflate it. ARRRGH. I consulted the map on my iPhone, looking for gas stations, or really, anything.
The closest ones were either 10km behind me in Pereyaslavka, or 20km ahead of me.
I decided to press forward. I'm always reluctant to retrace my steps, and it was certainly possible that there would be something ahead of me that my map just didn't know about. I certainly knew however that I had passed nothing since Pereyaslavka except forest and crappy road.
Crossing my fingers, I gingerly trundled the bike onward, hoping that I wasn't in for a 20km walk.
A 20km walk, mind you, that would do who-knows-what to my rims. The panniers and full saddlebags were still weighting the bike down considerably, even without me on it, and this was hardly the healthiest thing ever to subject it to. But I seemed to be out of options.
I was in luck!
About 4km on, I came across one of the omnipresent Шиномонтаж-es (Mechanic / tyre repair shops), as I suspected, not marked on my map!
It wasn't much more than a clapboard, tin-roofed shack. Out front was a rocking chair, fashioned in what can only possibly be described as "the Russian style" out of a bunch of springs and mismatched pieces of car seats.
And lounging in said contraption, a grimy, wizened old gnome of a man. I approached and hesitantly asked if he had an air pump.
I got a stream of language in return. I presume the language to have been Russian, but it didn't contain a word a I recognized.
I tried again. "I have no pump" - I pointed to the flat tyre for illustration, then showed him the broken pump.
In return, more words.
Finally I understood: "Час!" (roughly, "A few minutes!") After some effort, both of us trying to speak as clearly as we could, I understood that he wasn't the mechanic - the mechanic was out and would be returning shortly, and would definitely have a pump.
The gnome wandered off. Ummm...? Not having any better options, I sat tight. Sure enough, he returned with a younger equally-grimy fellow who turned out to be the mechanic. Said mechanic's accent was almost as thick as the old man's but it didn't take long to get the tyre pumped up and me on my way.
I thanked him, shoved ₽100 into his hand and left. Was he expecting payment? Was that an appropriate amount? Did I insult him? Did I waste his time? I have no idea. I'm sure I screwed up in at least one way, but whatever. This escapade has cost me at least 2 hours and my Khabarovsk arrival is getting closer to dusk - I just want to get going.
So I was back on the road. But down one air pump. Khabarovsk is a major shopping point, indeed the last major shopping point for at least another couple of weeks, until Chita (2200km) if not Irkutsk (3200km). So I've been composing a shopping list for the last several days, tallying up all the things that I've realized I need. Added to the list: an air pump.
No. TWO air pumps.
In the meantime, I was riding very gingerly, breath held. A puncture on the highway comes, on average, about every 200km, plus or minus tyre types. The same is not terribly different in Canada, or anywhere else. It's the bane of highway riders the world over. Doesn't matter how good the roads are, crap gets strewn along the shoulders. And a lot of that crap has sharp and pointy bits.
So anyway, with 45km to go, I should make it to Khabarovsk, but I'm not taking anything for granted.
36km to go: I come across a big detour sign. Emphasis on the word "big." The distance has just gone from 36km to 104km.
Pretty much all the traffic seems to be going straight, though. I cross my fingers, hope this is just a detour for trucks, or something. And equally, that there is no big "10km of mud"-type section ahead that the detour is avoiding. If so, I think that... I'll just walk over that part.
I'm in no mood to push my luck.
30km to go: entering Khabarovskiy Municipal Region! (Regions are basically county-level (in the American - as opposed to British - sense) administrative jurisdictions.) The on-and-off drizzle is now decidedly ON. Indeed, it's not a drizzle any more; it's rain.
20km to go: I come around a corner, and see two giant white sails swooping toward the sky. The sculpture/artwork marking the entrance to Khabarovsk!
I take the requisite photo.
The previous 15km since the detour sign (which never resolved into anything further) have been quite hilly. Lots of up and down. Crappy road continued to be generally crappy. (Not bad... just not good.) There was some minor construction (they are in fact building a new 4-lane highway out toward the south, but at least it's parallel to - not in place of - the existing road, so the latter was paved pretty much the whole way). So between the hills and the road and the construction and my being very careful about the tyre, my pace has been cut in half. Added to the cloudy, rainy sky, and it is already dusk when I reach the city border.
But I still have 20km to go to reach the city centre.
20km in the dark, and the pouring rain. Dodging city traffic, holding my breath with every puddle, hoping it doesn't hide a bike-swallowing (or at least wheel-destroying) pothole. Because, y'know, there's no shortage of those on Russian roads.
(Actually, the highways aren't too bad in that respect. The city streets, on the other hand...)
I have a contact in Khabarovsk, and had been planning on staying with him, but it ended up that he's in Moscow right now, so my options are generally limited to hotels. I could find someone else through warmshowers.org (the site through which I got in touch with Yegor in Vladivostok) but at this short notice... ehhh.
So last night in Vyazemskiy I scoped out a hotel reasonably close to downtown and shopping, and also reasonably priced.
5km from downtown, the road suddenly got infinitely better. They've recently rebuilt this section! Not only that, but a few km on, it picked up a wide pathway that doubles as a bike trail! (Not a huge fan of bike paths in general, but in this case I will absolutely make an exception.)
I also noticed that it has stopped raining, for the time being.
With a sigh of relief I wheeled the last couple of km to the hotel and checked in. A little guilty about dripping water everywhere, but as always, some things can't be helped.
In Khabarovsk for two nights (one full day). Tomorrow: shopping!
(Also, tomorrow: Sunday. I... did not notice this until getting into the hotel just now. I have in fact been entirely ignorant of the days of the week since my arrival. A perk of being on holiday, until it comes back to bite you. I have no idea what Russian weekend hours are like. I hope this doesn't mean I have to stay an extra day?)
|<-- journal index||Contact: seanni (AT) trichotomy.ca|