Jun. 27, 2016: Aksyonovo-Zilovskoe, Zabaikalskiy Krai, Russia

One of the big problems with doing a long big-distance day, is the recovery afterward.

Going a long way as a one-off is no problem whatsoever. Doing it day after day is of course a whole 'nuther ball of wax.

Following my "epic" 195km run into Mogocha, it was a difficult start the next day. Not helped by a good 14km uphill first thing out of Mogocha. It was of course 7km back to the highway, about half of which was uphill, and then another 10km of uphill after that.

I stopped at the cafe at the highway turnoff for breakfast, and there ran into a Dutch motorbiker coming the other way. He was pretty clearly not local - had long hair, clothing that was obviously not local, and when I overheard him speaking to the server, that sealed the deal: his Russian was about on par with mine.

I said hello,. and we got to talking a bit. He had actually just suffered a crash about 25km away, and had hitched a ride with a truck into town, hoping to get his motorbike fixed in Mogocha. He warned that there was a lot of road repaving coming up with lots and lots of oily gravel. Apparently the latter is what did him in; the oil got all over his wheels and caused his brakes to stop working properly.

I thanked him for the warning and headed on. Not much I could do about it anyway.

The road was just fine for the first part, other than the long uphill. It was extraordinarily hazy, and visibility was not more than a few km. Also very hot and muggy.

At the top of the hill, I got to reap my rewards, 10+ km of down, at the bottom of which, right on queue, was the construction. Mostly flat through this part, at least, although curvy. Many km of on-and-off construction. New road interspersed with old, and numerous gravel sections. They were fine (if a bit oily) in the dry afternoon, but I was glad I wasn't encountering them after any significant rain. (The thunderstorms of the previous evening seemingly having stayed in the distance and not ever quite arrived.)

80km from Mogocha, I got my comeuppance.

I suddenly noticed (how did that happen??) that the sky to my left was very dark indeed.

Ahead of me: sunny. Behind and to the right: sunny. To my left: dark, black, and a few hills over I could see the rain sheeting down through the sky.

The clouds were racing from left to right.

For a minute or two I thought the storm might pass behind me, and I might barely clear it, but any hope of that was dashed pretty quick.

It wasn't just rain, but again thunder and fork lightning, and I was clearly right in its path.

There wasn't any gas station or truck stop on my map anytime soon; my only hope was a highwayside rest stop. About 50% of them have little shelters. They occur irregularly: every 15 to 60 (or so) km. I had just passed one about 15km previously... with any luck I might, just might possibly encounter another one before the storm arrived.

I biked as fast as I could: I figured I had about 5, maybe 10 minutes. The storm was moving in fast. And oh god was it ever black.

I considered finding a spot in the forest and setting up the tent as a shelter, crawling inside. I ended up vetoing that plan, mostly because I didn't think I had time.

Indeed, it was maybe 10 minutes before I felt the first drop or two. There was no rest stop anywhere in sight. I pulled over, quickly, off the side of the road, threw on my rain jacket, scrambled to get the rain cover on top of my saddle bags, and with literally a second or two to spare, turned my back to the wind, and crouched over.

It was a fierce hailstorm -- just like we have on the prairies in Canada. The kind with marble+ sized hail that destroys crops and dents cars. Within what seemed like seconds everything was drenched and I was standing in rivulets of hail and freezing water up to nearly my ankles.

I was quickly glad I hadn't tried to set up the tent. The hail would likely as not have shredded it like toilet paper.

I've hunkered down and "survived" (there is really no other word for it) a few of these in Alberta and this was no different. There were trees around but so what? Just something else that can fall on you if it gets hit by lightning.

Indeed there was lightning. The forked stuff, all around. A few times I heard a deafening crack as something nearby was rent.

Luckily, not me.

I stood shivering in the pelting hail, which gradually turned into rain, hammering my back.

After some minutes (who knows how long?), I realized it wasn't just my back, I was starting to get a face full of direct rain as well. I turned around to face the road, exposing my back once again to the downpour. Halfway through!

Some however many minutes later, and the storm was clearly giving up. It was still raining, and hard. But it was "just" rain, no longer an impenetrable storm.

Both me and everything I owned was completely drenched, so there wasn't any real reason to not get back on the bike and continue. I would have to be careful of drivers going too fast for conditions, of course, but frankly: that's just Russia in general.

It was probably only 45 or so minutes that I was crouching off the side of the road, but progress was slow after that. It always is on wet roads, with everything spraying into your face.

The sky was unmistakably lighter, and it was clearly not as hot or stifling as previously.

I encountered many trees along the highway, felled by lightning. Again: glad that wasn't me.

The rain lessened, and occasionally stopped entirely, but never for long. Despite a few sunny breaks, the rain kept returning. Mostly light rain, but plenty of thunder just over the hills, that never seemed to ever quite move on.

10km after my "weathering spot" I did come across a rest area, indeed with a shelter, and a small gaggle of cars and motorbikes collected in the parking lot. It would have been crowded but probably a lot more pleasant. Oh well, was not to be.

I saw on my map that there was a cafe about 20km ahead. I figured I'd get there, look to have dinner, then consider my options.

A km out from the cafe, I saw a sign for it on the side of the road, advertising a hotel. Yes!! A chance to dry out!

Arrived at said cafe/hotel, and grabbed a room for ₽500. The cheapest room I've yet found and, well... all I can say is that sometimes you get what you pay for.

The first thing the hostess warned me about was: there's no shower.

Didn't particularly bother me. I was already soaked. I was more interested in drying out than I was about getting further wet.

I didn't quite clue in at first that "no shower" meant "no running water." There was an outhouse in the forest beside the hotel.

Ok, that's fine. I've had a stash of toilet paper on me (in Ziploc bags, so still dry!) for at least a week, since Zavitinsk.

Key? No, no key. That's because: no lock. Indeed, the door didn't even really have a latch, as such. It was just held closed by the friction with the door frame.

You know what? Whatever. It was still a roof over my head, and out of the (now having most assuredly returned) rain.

And the food was... decent enough, if a bit plain. Borshch (always borshch!), bread, "cutlet" (which is Russian for "meatloaf"), pasta, coffee and a surprisingly good amber beer ("Polar Bear, Krepkoe").

After dinner I went back up to the room, and discovered I was wrong. There was running water: specifically it was coming in from the storm outside and running across the floor.

I moved all my gear to make sure it was uphill of the water stream. (Flat? No. The floors in this place were many things. "Flat" is not one of them.)

I considered plugging in and getting some blogging done, but decided against it. I didn't trust the power supply in this place for a second (it was very clearly coming from a chugging generator out behind the building and likely pretty dirty) and the last thing I wanted was to fry my computer.

So I plugged my phone into the backup battery to charge, and turned on the TV. No indoor plumbing, but it did have satellite TV! Priorities, etc.

Nothing of any interest on, but at least half the channels were coming from Turkmenistan. Go figure...

Turned off the TV, laid wet things out so as to try to dry them, and nothing better to do than get some sleep.



Drip drip.

Drip drip drip.

Drip drip drip drip drip drip...

It was raining. Inside the room.

Specifically, there was a hole in the ceiling about a foot past the bottom of my bed, and the rainstorm was dripping through and onto the floor, collecting with the rain coming in under the door, and out the other side of the room.

"Facepalm." To use the vernacular.

Oh well. At least the room had 2 beds. If it started raining on me, I could just move to the other one. I figured my odds were good reasonable.

And with that, I fell asleep to the continuing sound of thunder outside and raindrops inside.

After an otherwise uneventful night, I woke up this morning to a once-again sunny day. The rain seemed to have finally passed.

I spent a bit of time ensuring everything was dried out, then had some breakfast and retrieved the bike.

It took me a while to notice that my cell connection, which had been on-again-off-again through the storm the previous night was now most definitely off.

Indeed probably not until after breakfast and I was actually getting on the road did it finally occur that I had had no internet connection at all that morning.

I noticed right around the time of my first flat tyre, basically while pulling out of the hotel parking lot.

Great. Perfect timing. All I really wanted was to be gone from this place and on my way.

Rather than patching a tube that was rapidly becoming more patch than tube, I decided it was time to just replace the thing wholesale. Stuffed the old one in my bag (in case I needed a backup later) and put a new one on. There!

At around the same time, a couple kids came up in an old junker of a car. One went into the cafe while the other talked to me about my trip. Kid #1 came back out of the cafe - apparently he was ₽55 short of what he needed. He asked me if I had any money.

You know what? Sure. Whatever. I only had a couple hundred rubles in my primary wallet anyway (I have a rather elaborate system of multiple wallets, money belt and various hiding places, in case I get mugged or pickpocketed or whatever). So if they grabbed the wallet and ran off with it, it was no big loss.

I gave him the ₽55, and he ran back into the cafe with it, emerging triumphantly with a bottle of vodka brandished high.

Ha. Of course.

I was suddenly apparently his friend for life, as he grabbed my hand and held it next to his heart, declaring his affinity.

"Come on!" He invited me: "Let's go drink!"

It would surely have been an interesting experience, but not one I was really looking for at that moment. Luckily I had a convenient excuse. "I'd really like to, I assured him, but gestured at the bike tyre I was in the middle of repairing: "but I have to fix this. You enjoy it!"

Several declarations of friendship later, the two guys roared off to enjoy their treasure.

Ok, back on the road. Sans internet connection.

I wasn't too concerned about this latter at first, but as the kilometers wore on and the connection defiantly refused to come back I began to worry. Had water gotten into it during yesterday's storm? Had I fried the antenna circuit somehow? That would... suck.

It's in a supposedly-water resistant case, but other than the night in the swamp, I've never really put that property to the test.

Over one hill, then another, and another, and still no connection.

The hills were definitely getting bigger. Ever since Skovorodino, really, the hills have been getting bigger and bigger. Now they're mostly 10+ km on either side. Lots of up and down.

Then suddenly, somewhere in the middle of the day, I stopped to drink some water and noticed that I had a connection again!

Cue: massive relief.

And a few km later, another flat tyre.

If it's not one thing, it's another, it seems.

A late lunch / early dinner at the only truck stop on the day's route (other than the one where I'd spent the night, of course) and pretty soon it was starting to get dark...

...already? That's early...

...oh. No, It's just more rainclouds.

What. Ever.

The truth be told, it was getting close to evening, though. I stopped to consider. I had hoped to make Chernyshevsk today, but between yesterday's hailstorm and today's flat tyres, I wasn't really all that close. I mean, I could make it, but it would require riding very late into the night, and I wasn't really keen on that.

So I decided to continue as far as the turnoff to Aksyonovo-Zilovskoe. The map said there was a gas station there, and who knows - there might be a hotel? In either case, it wasn't too much further. I could probably make it before the rain, and if I ended up camping, then so be it. It would be an early-ish night, but not much point in going further if I wasn't going to make Chernyshevsk anyway; it would come tomorrow no matter what.

Well, not so much on the gas station. There might have been once, but now there is nothing. Just an intersection in the middle of the forest.

The terrain all around, however, makes for absolutely brilliant camping. Some of the best I've yet encountered. Flat, solid. Easy access to plenty of spaces out of sight of the highway.

I just pulled off the road pretty much at random, pushed my way through the forest ("pushed" being rather an overstatement) a couple hundred metres and found an excellent spot at the top a a bluff with a view of the sunset across the valley for miles.

The rainclouds are still in the distance and I have no doubt they will yet arrive, but they're holding off for now, and it's a nice evening.

Only a couple more days to Chita, and the end of the Amur highway!

Today’s lodging: Cafe and hotel "Багульник", Sbega.. Avoid. Avoid avoid avoid. ₽500, but just: no.
Today’s road: R297 (Fmr: M58). 114.5 km, 6h32. A big uphill out of Mogocha, a big downhill following that, then a bunch of flat, then increasingly large hills into the evening. Road pretty good, except for all the repaving they were doing.
Today’s road: R297 (Fmr: M58). 114.9 km, 6h35. Just a lot of up-and-down hills all day. Nothing exciting. General uphill trend. Terrain getting drier: more coniferous and less aspen.

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