Jun. 25, 2016: Mogocha, Zabaikalskiy Krai, Russia

Not too much to say about Friday. It was only 95km or so from my campsite to (the turnoff to) Yerofey Pavlovich, but I also knew that there wasn't much past that point for a long time, so decided to make it my destination. Or at least dinner; I might continue along and camp out again later. We'd see.

In the meantime, though I packed up in the midst of the most fly-filled forest I'd yet encountered. Evenings are usually pretty bad, but I can often get through the mornings without needing to resort to the bug spray.

Not this morning.

There had been a few light sprinkles of rain through the night, but the sun was shining pretty hard by the time I woke up, so the side road along which I'd wandered was dry enough. I dragged everything out of the forest and onto that road, packed up, and was on my way as fast as I could be.

A hot day. A really hot day. The bottle of water that I'd bought in Skovorodino the previous afternoon was still half full, but wouldn't last too long.

My map showed a cafe by the turnoff to Urusha, a little over 30km from my campsite, so I decided to have breakfast there; then I could continue through the afternoon to the hotel at Yerofey Pavlovich.

Approaching the turnoff, I went down a big hill and passed a gas station on my left, unmarked on my map. I slowed down when I went past, considering whether I just wanted to buy snacks and drinks from the gas station? But it was pretty anemic: no actual store or anything, just a payment kiosk and that was it. Such kiosks generally only sell things small enough to fit through the payment portal in the window: so chocolate bars, chips... maybe canned drinks but that would be it. I chose to press on to the cafe.

The cafe was a kilometer or two along, at the bottom of the hill.

Or rather, what might have once upon a time been a cafe, but was now just a couple of abandoned trailers, one of which had been burned out.

So, did I want to go a couple km back up the hill to the gas station for maybe a chocolate bar and a can of juice?

I decided that 62 km to the hotel was doable, and continued, deciding to ration the half-litre of water I had remaining.

The road went up and down over increasingly large hills; from one creek and watershed to the next; occasionally descending some distance to cross some now-significant rivers. Yerofey Pavlovich seemed to be on one of these, so I figured the day would end with a nice long downhill into the hotel.

Instead the road just seemed to climb more and more as the afternoon went on. My water was long gone with 40km to go; I hadn't eaten anything since the previous day in Skovorodino, and was beginning to get quite hungry, thirsty, and tired from the sun. The road just seemed to keep on climbing. I kept expecting to go over a pass and start descending, but no. 5PM and I was still on the road... 5:30...

10km from the hotel, and still the road didn't seem to want to go down. Had I read the distances right? Was my GPS working properly?

25 hours now since I'd eaten anything; I might as well have chosen to observe Ramadhan that day!

Finally, finally, with maybe 2 km to go, it started descending. Just a short tiny hill, and there was the hotel on the right!

Apparently most of the expected downhill would come after the hotel; between it and the river.

No matter, I was there. The hotel "complex" (because it also held a cafe, store, mechanic shop and bathhouse) Yerofey. Named after the town of Yerofey Pavlovich, a couple km down a side road off to the left; itself named after the explorer Yerofey Pavlovich Khabarov. Yes, that Khabarov -- the same one Khabarovsk is named after. A slightly-bigger place, that latter!

Anyway, got checked into the hotel complex Yerofey and went into my room to get my things and have a shower, just in time for the power to go off.

Ummm... was this a regular occurrence here? I decided to wait it out a bit, and get some work done on the internet (the cell phone connectivity being luckily still in place).

An hour of this later, I was getting worried and went to investigate. No power meant I couldn't recharge my phone, and couldn't have a shower; the two main reasons I wanted to stay in a hotel in the first place!

I tried the taps anyway, thinking maybe I could have a cold shower. No dice. Neither cold nor hot worked; both seemed to be routed through the hot water heater. At least in this configuration. I've now had almost 25 showers in Russia, and encountered probably at least 15 or so completely different hot water system implementations. Consistency of plumbing is... not a thing you will find in this country.

Anyway, I went downstairs where the receptionist and security guard were hanging out in the lobby. Was this a regular occurrence? No, not at all. Which meant, of course, that they had no idea when the power would return.

Could I get anything from the restaurant? I was starving! No, the restaurant was closed without power.


Back to my room to get some more blog-writing in, hoping the power would return sometime during the evening, at least. (At this point I realized I'd accidentally reset my bike computer before having the chance to record distances and times, so while the former should be close enough, the latter may be a bit off for that day.)

Finally at around 8:30 I could stand it no longer and went down to at least buy some snack food or a bottle of water or something from the store.

Only to discover the restaurant had decided to make the best of it and had re-opened, serving whatever they had on-hand and didn't need to be heated up.

I got a bottle of warm juice, some cold blini (crepes) and a bowl of cold borshch. It would do for now.

Went back in my room and the power came back on almost the same instant I walked through the door. Sigh.

At least I could finally have a shower!

Then went back downstairs to get a proper meal. And to sleep for the next day. Saturday: an early start for what I hoped would be one of the longest days (distance-wise) of my entire journey...!

I got up this morning with one plan on my mind: to make it to Mogocha.

In the hotel last night while waiting for the power to return, I'd spent some time looking at the map and options ahead. Mogocha was 195km away, with not much of anything in between; and after that it would be further 285km to the next known town, Chernyshevsk. The latter is doable in two days. But if I didn't make it to Mogocha, then I'd be totally out of sync with whatever truck stops there were, and it would be at an absolute minimum 4 days to the next hotel.

Unlike the previous day, it seemed like it would be a pretty straight run to Mogocha, with no significant uphill stretches. The weather looked promising, and finally, I was helped by the fact that my bike was being stored in the garage next door to the hotel, and the garage owner had insisted he wanted the bike gone (and the space back) by 9AM, thus forcing on me an early start.

So I decided to try. By 8:30 I was up, out of the room, and downstairs in the cafe for a quick breakfast.

Which is when I got my first true lesson on the drinking culture in Russia.

Like, I suspect, many people, I knew that Russians were hard drinkers, and had always just assumed that meant they hit the bottle hard at the end of the day.

I'd generally made a point of trying to finish the day by sunset, unlike in Canada, where I'm happy to ride long into the evening (or even all night long if the occasion demands). Not just because I'm less visible and can't see obstacles as well; I also figured that the best plan would be to be off the roads when the drunks were most likely to be on them.

So anyway, this morning, I got an education, and learned that my precautions were sadly naïve.

At breakfast (8:30 in the morning, mind!) I watched as a couple of guys came in, ordered a bottle of vodka, downed the whole thing between them, and went back out and got behind the wheel.

Nobody batted an eye or gave any indication that this was in the least bit strange.

See, it's not just that Russians drink a lot. Rather it's that they drink a lot all day long.

I think I need to reassess how careful of drunk drivers I need to be; at any time of day.

So anyway. This episode aside, it was a pretty uneventful day. A straight run through to Mogocha - I made it just a little after nightfall. It was, as I mentioned on Twitter, what happens when nothing goes wrong.

Which: true. Nothing did go wrong. There was no significant uphill (except a 5km uphill, which I knew about, right before the turnoff to the town). The road was good. There was no headwind. I had no trouble with the bike (not so much as a single flat tyre).

But neither really did anything go particularly right. It was, basically, just an overall-decent day. The kind that I always expect to come frequently, but only ever seem to rarely do.

Anyway. An hour or two out of Yerofey Pavlovich, a significant milestone: I crossed into Zabaikalskiy Krai: my 5th province. And now Wikipedia officially in Siberia!

After 188 or so km, I got to the turnoff to Mogocha. There was a cafe by the side of the road at the turnoff (but no hotel) and I wondered whether I really wanted to go the 7km into town (and back). I half-considered just grabbing dinner at the cafe and camping somewhere nearby.

Then I heard a rumble of thunder, and saw some lightning over the hills and changed my mind in a hurry.

At least the road into Mogocha was paved -- indeed it was a brilliant road, easily as good as the highway, if not better in some parts, and I made quick work of it and into the town.

Mogocha is a Regional Town (think "County Seat") and one of the bigger ones along the Amur highway, so according to my map had a couple of hotels. I'd seen a billboard or two along the highway for some hotels, but they seemed to form an entirely disjoint set from those on my map.

Oh well. I got into town, saw a sign for a hotel (not on the map) a half-km to the right. The road in said direction was not paved, and led downhill. I didn't particularly relish the idea of having to climb the hill back up, especially if the hotel turned out to be unsuitable (was it my imagination or was the thunder getting closer?) so kept it in mind as an option and continued toward the town centre.

Pretty quick I was really close to the point where my map indicated a hotel. I looked around and saw nothing. I pulled out my phone. Indeed it seemed like it was right here. There was another one a few blocks ahead, but double-checking it was listed as "общежитие" (which translates, variously, as "hostel" or "dormitory"), which was suspect. I'd tried one of those in a previous town and it turned out to be an army barracks (!!). So I was a little leery.

Instead I shone my bike headlight around, and saw a billboard for the one that was supposed to be right there. The hotel "Tourist." The billboard looked friendly enough. It showed a couple of backpackers -- generally my kind of people! There was an arrow pointing left, off the road. I walked the bike down to the left, and indeed, there it was: the Hotel "Tourist."

No lights on, or any indication it was open. But that's one of the main lessons of Russia (which I've mentioned Trichotomy.ca previously): don't let outward appearances deceive. So I decided to try the door anyway.

Sure enough, it opened, and there was a desk inside with a friendly enough receptionist that was happy to book me a room. ₽800 or so. No ensuite, but that's fine. Perfectly clean and comfortable. Shower down the hall, power outlets; no complaints.

The hotel had a cafe, but it was long closed (by now well past 10:00) so I headed into town to find some dinner. Headed for the train station, mindful of previous lessons, but couldn't quite seem to find it in the dark, so returned to the town centre, where I found a 24h supermarket. That would do for bread, kolbasa and cheese. A standard "supermarket dinner" - nothing fancy, but perfectly serviceable.

And more than adequate after a 195km day. Hurrah!

Today’s lodging: Hotel Complex Yerofey, Yerofey Pavlovich. Other than the power outage, nice, clean, comfortable. Good restaurant. Ensuite toilet; shower downstairs for extra ₽100. About ₽1200 total.
Today’s road: R297 (Fmr: M58). 95 km, ~7h. A surprising amount of uphill. Good roads, boring scenery, no cafes or any retail of consequence until YP.
Today’s lodging: Hotel Tourist, Mogocha. Simple but adequate hotel. Simple but adequate cafe. ₽800.
Today’s road: R297 (Fmr: M58). 195.3 km, 11h53. Ups and downs all day, but trending flat. One notable uphill (~5-10km but not too steep) coming out of Semiozerny, another 5km and steep uphill right before the turnoff to Mogocha.

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