It took a lot longer to arrive than I had predicted, but sometime closer to midnight, the rain finally came, somewhat justifying my decision not to try to make it to Chernyshevsk on Monday. I probably could have gone a bit farther than I did, but Chernyshevsk was several hours away yet, and I was unlikely to have made it before the rain set in.
Besides which, I rather needed to break for the night when I did. The last 15 or so km to the campsite near Aksonovo-Zilovskoye had been a rather steady uphill, and my broken wrist was starting to bother me a bit, from all the leaning on it I'd been doing.
For those of you who don't know, this broken wrist is nothing new, or particularly alarming, as such.
I broke it when ice skating, around 25 years ago. But (unbeknownst to me at the time) it never set or healed properly, and so the bone that was broken never fused back together. Hence I have an "extra bone" in my left wrist. Not a big deal 99.99% of the time (although it is slightly more susceptible to re-breaking). Mostly it just sits at a funny angle if you look at it closely. More to the point, though, it also gets fatigued easily if it is stressed. Which of course...
Again, I normally mitigate this by riding hands-free if I'm on the bike for long periods of time, but... well I've already complained about this.
I am, however, considering trying to readjust things when I get to Chita; by lighten the saddle bags as much as possible and putting as much as I can into the backpack. Then will see if that helps me handle the bike, and if I can go back to riding hands-free. We'll see.
In the meantime, I had a гостиница waiting for me in Chernyshevsk, so up-and-at-'em!
The rain that had come in the night also left in the night (or at least long before I woke up; sunrise is somewhere around 4AM, so just what counts as "night" is perhaps questionable). Hence by the time I started packing up, everything had dried off. A few light clouds dotting the sky, but that's not anything to complain about! The clouds were not of the type that suddenly spring forth water.
As half-expected, my campsite was pretty close to the top of the hills, so I began my (short) day with mostly flat roads that trended slightly downhill.
As I came down, the predominantly coniferous taiga around A-Z gave way to the more common conifer-broadleaf (aspen) mix so predominant in Russia so far. And then I began to see increasing meadows.
It was a little over 25km from my campsite to Zhireken, where I hoped there might be a cafe or something resembling breakfast (though my map was not promising much).
I got there, and... no. There was a cafe just off the side of the road. It might have been open, but looked more questionable than not, and I decided I just didn't care. Chernyshevsk was close enough.
Another 15-20km of ups and downs, and then, I was out of the forest.
No, I don't think you understand. When I say I was out of the forest, I mean that I was out.
I mean that I was very suddenly surrounded by grasslands and agriculture and (cattle) ranches, and there was no forest and there were no trees.
It was a pretty spectacular transition. Coming out of the Rockies into the Alberta prairies can be (depending on where you come out) abrupt, but this was a whole different level. It took maybe 5km. Maybe. To go from riding through forests to literally (literally-literally) not a single tree anywhere in sight.
As Emeril might say: "BAM!"
(now there's a reference that is in danger of becoming dated!)
So. Right. Grasslands. About another 20km of this and I would be in Chernyshevsk. Good thing too; my skipped breakfast in Zhireken was starting to make me hungry.
The road flattened out some (no more ups and downs) but was still going slightly downhill, so I was making good time.
14km from Chernyshevsk, I was passed in the other direction by a silver Porsche with a big fat spare tyre on its roof. It slowed down as it passed and a couple of bearded faces peered out at me.
I am used to being an object of curiosity, but not so much the bearded faces. Beards are uncommon -- extremely uncommon -- in Russia. I've seen maybe a dozen or two since my arrival, in total.
I'd known about this before I came, and was seriously contemplating shaving mine off, for the risk of drawing unwanted attention in some of the more rural parts of the country. (Think: the attention attracted by the protagonists' long hair in Easy Rider.)
It turned out not to be quite the issue that I'd feared, so I never got around to it. But nevertheless, the beards on these two fellows were unusual enough to instantly mark them as foreigners.
I continued on, but kept an eye on the Porsche as it came to a stop a few hundred metres behind me, turned around, came back at me, passed, then stopped a few metres ahead. I glanced at the licence plate as I approached and came to a stop myself. Not a Russian plate, that's for sure!
No surprise there, but: where? It looked familiar but I couldn't quite place it. I was still puzzling when one of the guys, having exited the car, walked up to me, and after a moment of hesitation on both our parts, asked: "Parlez-vous français?"
So! Philippe Delaporte and his son Thibault are from Paris, and are driving around the world in their Porsche 928. They're pretty cool guys, and we chatted a while about our respective adventures.
They're off to Vladivostok, will take the ferry to Japan and drive to Tokyo, then (timing dependent on the whims of the shipping industry) across the ocean to Anchorage, from which point they'll drive down through Vancouver, into the US and then across to New York. Be sure to keep an eye on their progress and say Hi if you're anywhere in the area when they pass through!
A few km before meeting the team Delaporte, I'd passed a couple of guys on motorbikes with Korean plates off on the side of the road, taking photos. We mutually waved as I passed. There are a lot of Korean motorbikers here; it's obviously a common thing. Since encountering my first convoy just outside of Luchegorsk, I've come across at least 5 or 6 others. So this wasn't that unusual.
Anyhow, after I passed them, they passed me while I was with the Porshche.
I continued on the last couple of km to Chernyshevsk, the first large(-ish) town since Belogorsk, 10 days earlier. There was a hotel in the centre of town that I was aiming for, but first: food! And right on the highway, where I needed to turn off to get to said hotel, there was a cafe. I pulled in to get some belated breakfast, and saw a couple of familiar motorbikes with Korean plates parked out front.
Sure enough, the two guys were finishing off their lunch, and just making their way out as I went in.
The place was alright. Kinda pedestrian. I had my usual kind of meal: borshch, plov, and some other random bits and pieces. Coming out, I saw another cafe across the street which seemed to be where all the truckers were hanging out. That's probably where I really wanted to go! Oh well.
A few km into town to get to the centre. Chernyshevsk straddles a small river, the Aleur, and the town centre was on the other side. There seemed to only be one or two bridges, so I had to take a slightly circuitous route to get there. The roads were very decent though (especially for being a side road through the town) - they were paved (most side roads are not, in anything other than the bigger cities - and often even then).
Being out in the middle of the grasslands, Chernyshevsk has a much different character than most of the (forest-situated) towns I've been in so far. Many small wooden houses with fenced yards. Seeing as how much of the populated parts of Russia are in the southern grassier areas, I suspect this town was actually more representative of a "typical" mid-size Russian town. But I guess we'll see.
Anyway, after wandering around and over the river, I made it to the town centre, and to a rather handsome looking brick building: the Hotel Karina.
With -- you guessed it -- a couple of by-now very familiar motorbikes out front.
I went inside to check in, and there were the Koreans in the middle of a bit of a discussion with the receptionist.
It transpired that they spoke decent English, but I spoke much better Russian than them, so my help was quickly enlisted to get the paperwork sorted out. (Not sure how they'd managed so far? Perhaps just always stayed in bigger places?)
Anyway, the main issue was that they had no visas. Which turned out to be not a problem in itself. As I had rather begun to suspect given the number of Koreans I'd encountered, Korean citizens don't need visas to enter Russia!
The problem this presented, however, was that their passport thus had no Russian in it (in mine, the Visa duplicates all the information on the ID page, but in Russian; which is convenient).
Anyway, easily enough sorted out. But interesting.
So. I used the evening as an opportunity to wander around and do a spot of shopping for a few things that I'd realized over the last couple of days that I still needed. Went to the train station to get some food -- the rail yard in Chernyshevsk is quite large, and very fascinating! And then time to get some more sleep.
I got out of Chernyshevsk this morning much (much) later than intended. I did a bit of fiddling around with the programming for the blog... trying to write some code (not quite finished so far) to integrate some of the social media platforms a bit better.
Twitter has a nice, usable, and very friendly API. It took me not very long at all to get some working test code that did what I wanted.
Instagram... not so much. :-/ Its API seems to make everything way more difficult than it needs to be, and I'm still plugging away at it.
Anyway, enough whining. Upshot: I spent a lot of time futzing with it. The time came to check out of the hotel, and I just dragged everything into the cafe and continued fiddling at the table.
While chowing down on blini and condensed milk. This stuff is available everywhere. It's a standard breakfast item, and really about as commonplace as borshch. Blini are of course crepes, and the condensed milk is pretty much Russia's answer to maple syrup. It's... a lot more delicious than anything on the planet has a right to be.
And very dangerous. I can deal with it just fine while biking 100km+ every day, but there's definitely a lot of potential for this stuff to be a vector for packing on the pounds.
So. A few hours of this later, and I was finally on the way, somewhere in midafternoon.
Which is really too bad because there was a terrific tailwind blowing. Despite not leaving the hotel until almost 3PM, I still made it over 140km. If I'd gotten out on time and taken proper advantage of the wind, it could have hands-down been my best day to date!
Oh well. No use crying over condensed milk. As it, uh, were.
The tailwind blew me mostly across more flat(ish) grasslands. A lot of ranching country: lots of cattle, a bunch of sheep herds, a couple goats, the occasional pig. Minimal cultivated land; I couldn't quite tell what, exactly, was being grown.
Near the end of the day, the I started to get back into the hills separating Chernyshevsk from Chita - a medium-size city, and the end of the Amur highway. The grasslands gave way (much more gradually) again to forests, and at one point as I was coming out of a river valley, the road just seemed to keep on going up and up and up. I went to check my topo map, but I had no signal at that point and the topo map requires a connection (I can download it for offline use, but would take up way to much storage space, etc; not really worth it). My regular map showed I was crossing a fairly significant watershed divide: that would explain it.
With the uphill not seeming to want to end, and the sky growing decidedly dark, I figured it was time to duck into the forest and set up camp. Here is as good a place as any!
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