Bike Journal: Russia / Europe 2016 Sean Nichols’ Bike Journal detailing his trip across Russia and Europe in May - November, 2016 en-ca Mon, 29 Aug 2016 18:44:06 -0500 Mon, 29 Aug 2016 18:44:06 -0500 Travel Bicycling Home-brew CMS, FTW! Bike Journal: Russia / Europe 2016 48 48 Jul. 07, 2016: Ulan-Ude, Buryat Republic, Russia Mon, 29 Aug 2016 18:44:06 -0500 20160707 Jul. 05, 2016: Novopavlovka, Zabaikalskiy Krai, Russia Thu, 11 Aug 2016 04:37:16 -0500 20160705 <p>Monday morning, it was time to leave the Flaming Dragon.</p> <p>Well, maybe more like Monday afternoon.</p> <p>It had rained a little during the night, but everything was mostly dry by the time I packed up, had <strike>breakfast</strike> lunch, said goodbye to Hotel kitty, and got back on the road. Said road continued the previous night's excellent quality and I was humming along nicely... for about 18km.</p> <p>Then I went over a bridge, rounded a corner, and the new road came to an abrupt halt. Instead, the lanes narrowed by about 2 feet each, the shoulders disappeared, and the pavement's very existence became at times questionable.</p> <p>Right.</p> <p>A few kilometres of this, and the previous night's rain decided to come back for an encore. Nothing serious, but enough of a drizzle that I decided to stop to assemble my rain cover. Just in case. The clouds were portending more on-and-off rain throughout the foreseeable future.</p> <p>I pulled off the road at the next available opportunity, and as I stretched my rain cover over the bike, realized that I had gone far enough from the hotel by this point, that I might have cell phone coverage back.</p> <p>I checked my phone, and sure enough: I did! Weak, but it was there. Time to catch up on some messages that I had missed the previous day.</p> <p>...two hours later...</p> <p>*ahem*</p> <p>That... took longer than I'd intended. Unfortunately I had some photos queued up that I wanted to post to social media / Instagram, and the latter app ended up wanting to download a whole pile of photos that other contacts had taken over the Canada Day weekend and posted in the previous day. (And did I mention that my internet connection was still weak?)</p> <p>So yes. This ate up a couple hours of my afternoon while I waited for Instagram to ever-so-s-l-o-w-l-y download its feed. I ended up having to delete several of my contacts, because: don't really have the time. To anyone who didn't make the cut, as it were, my apologies! It's nothing personal; rather almost entirely a function of the number of photos I would have otherwise had to download! I'll add you back when I once again have the bandwidth! <img src="" align="absmiddle"></p> <p>So this concluded with (and my own updates posted), back on the road, which almost immediately started to climb.</p> <p>And climb.</p> <p>And... I hadn't realized that there would be quite this much of a hill here. At least the traffic was light so I could (mostly) ride on (what there was of) the road. Although occasionally I had to pull off, onto some very rough gravel that pretty much brought me to a halt.</p> <p>It's how things go sometimes.</p> <p>A couple of times I saw some coins on the ground. Half tempted to pick them up, but they were pretty small denominations, so I figured it wasn't worth the hassle of stopping and getting off the bike.</p> <p>Eventually I reached the top of the hill, and came across a shrine on the side of the road. The surrounding trees were covered in small flags; the ground littered in offerings of rice, cigarettes and thousands upon thousands of coins. This... would explain the couple of coins I saw coming up the hill! I was now glad I didn't stop to grab any. (Although again, mostly of very tiny denominations (10 kopecks; about 1/5 of a cent).</p> <p>The shrine itself had (to my eyes) Buddhist markings on it. I'm not far from the Mongolian border here; ever since Chita, I've seen a decided increase in the number of vehicles (trucks, mostly) with Mongolian plates. Also, this area (especially the Buryat Republic; the next province I go through) is a very Buddhist part of Russia. I'd even seen a few sites of some importance before, with the flags tied to the trees, but nothing quite on the scale of this, and not until now with any actual monuments.</p> <p>I was curious about the significance (other than being at the crest of the hill), but my maps said nothing about it, and the cell connection was still pretty weak, so I decided not to spend too much (more) time looking stuff up. Instead I contented myself with taking a few photos to post to the internet.</p> <p>As I was doing so, a couple of trucks with Mongolian plates going the other way came to a stop across the road. The drivers got out and started talking with each other, one very clearly gesturing over towards me and giving me several looks.</p> <p>Was I causing offense by leaning my bike up against the shrine? That didn't seem in keeping with the otherwise anything-goes culture, but I didn't really want to stick around much longer anyway, so I got back on the bike and headed off down the hill.</p> <p>Later, once I was able to take a good look a Google Earth, I discovered something interesting: at 1128m, that was the highest point in Russia, and on my entire trip (at least until western Europe)!!</p> <p>(Not sure if that had anything to do with the shrine or not, but interesting!)</p> <p>The several km of subsequent downhill was very welcome, if a bit wet as I passed through the occasional rain squall, and helped recover some of the time I'd lost to various factors earlier in the day.</p> <p>It looked increasingly like my destination would be Khilok -- so far as I could tell, the largest town between Chita and Ulan-Ude. I'd originally hoped to make it a bit further, but was not to be, at least not without continuing for some time after dark, and I was already tired from the hills and the crappy road.</p> <p>At least the road was marginally better once I got back to the bottom of the hill. Marginally.</p> <p>Approaching dusk, I also approached Khilok, and was more than happy to turn off. I had hoped there might be a hotel of some sort along the highway, but nothing doing. My map did mention a hotel in town, though; the hotel Viola. And indeed, I'd seen a sign for the same as I approached the town, so that would seem to be the plan.</p> <p>The Hotel Viola was just outside the centre of town: a couple km off the highway into town, then across the river, and finally on the other side of the railway tracks.</p> <p>The first part was easy enough, but when I got to the railway tracks, there was a train parked there. Right across the middle of the road. With the crossing arms lowered and the lights flashing, etc.</p> <p>The train seemed decidedly <i>not</i> about to go anywhere.</p> <p>Now a thing about Russian towns: they are all built along the railway, and there is usually only one crossing (unless the town is particularly large). All cross-track traffic tends to funnel through a single road. So this situation would be a matter of some concern.</p> <p>Except: when I looked at the tracks in the dust on the road, it seemed pretty clear that it all turned off here, and didn't really cross the tracks. This was interesting. I looked at my map - Khilok was big enough that there was in fact another road crossing the tracks... about 4km to the west. Hmm.</p> <p>Just as I was pondering this, a car came up behind me, then turned off the road right where all the tracks in the dirt indicated others had been doing the same. Then I noticed:</p> <p>The car went off the road, through a break in a retaining wall, down about 8 feet into what I can only call a drainage ditch, under the tracks, then back up the other side and onto the road.</p> <p>Ha!</p> <p>Well, when in Rome...</p> <p>I turned around, through the break in the retaining wall, and down into the drainage ditch.</p> <p>This was <i>clearly</i> the way things were done.</p> <p>The ditch was about 20 or so feet wide, and with <i>maybe</i> 7 feet of clearance below the tracks (I definitely had to duck to make it under), and with the day's earlier rain, was mostly mud on the bottom. Nevertheless, in the minute or so it took to traverse, I encountered 2 more cars, one other bicycle and about 7 or 8 pedestrians using it to get back and forth.</p> <p>Definitely Russia.</p> <p>Once on the other side, I went through the centre of town, and made my way to the hotel. The hotel took a few minutes to find; it actually turned out to be more of a B&B than anything else.</p> <p>A very charming B&B with a friendly enough proprietor, albeit one slightly bemused by hosting one of them evil foreigners.</p> <p>As I was checking in, I noticed she had a pile of forms on the desk that are used when one checks in with the government. Perfect! (If a little unexpected.) I pointed to the pile of forms, and asked if I could do the checkin.</p> <p>She shrugged, grabbed a blank form, and handed it to me with a pen.</p> <p>Oh. So this time I get to fill it out myself! (That's a first.)</p> <p>It was an interesting experience. The form is in several parts - one that goes to the government, one that stays with the hotel for their records, and one that I keep as proof that I've checked in. Now it's not a matter of one form in triplicate, or carbon-copied, or the like; these are three entirely separate parts of the form, containing different information. So the part that I keep? I could just copy/paste as appropriate from the earlier ones I'd received. But the other parts... were a different story.</p> <p>There was definitely a lot of consulting with my dictionary as I determined exactly what I was supposed to be entering in each field, and figured out how one field differed from an adjacent one that seemed to be asking the same thing. (My Russian allowing me to get the general idea, but the devil, of course, being - as always - in the details.</p> <p>I eventually got through it, though. The proprietor was patient.</p> <p>And handed it in with my passport so she could fax it off, or do whatever she needed to do, while I went to have a much-needed shower.</p> <p>Once finished with the shower I came back out to encounter the landlady approaching me with the form and a puzzled expression. Apparently, the last hotel from which I checked in, the one in Chita, had "helpfully" given me a bunch of extra days on their form, claiming I was staying there for a week, and not just the two days.</p> <p>(Truth be told, I had actually once known/read this was a service that some hotels would provide, although in the meantime had completely forgotten, and it had never so much as occurred to me to ask.)</p> <p>So how could I possibly check in from the Hotel Viola if so far as the government was concerned, I was still staying at the place in Chita?</p> <p>Ha!</p> <p>Oh well. Scratch all that, then. At least it was an interesting learning experience!</p> <p>In any case, getting late, I quickly made my exit to find some dinner, before the restaurants were all closed. Found a particularly good place a block from the hotel that was slightly "fancier" than any place I'd so far eaten on the road... although in practice, "fancy" just meant fancier tableware, hand having my beer served in a glass rather than a bottle. The food was pretty comparable.</p> <p>By the time I finished dinner, Khilok was pretty dead, so I returned to the hotel.</p> <UL> <LI>Flaming Dragon motel kitty prepares for battle.<BR /> <A HREF=""><IMG SRC="" BORDER="1" /></A></LI> <LI>Doing battle... with... my saddlebags.<BR /> <A HREF=""><IMG SRC="" BORDER="1" /></A></LI> <LI>This is a "paved" road. Sort of. It was like this for a lot of Monday. The shoulder is too soft to ride on for long. :-/<BR /> <A HREF=""><IMG SRC="" BORDER="1" /></A></LI> <LI>Buddhist shrine at the top of the hill before Khilok. Highest point on the Russian portion!<BR /> <A HREF=""><IMG SRC="" BORDER="1" /></A></LI> <LI>Shrine detail.<BR /> <A HREF=""><IMG SRC="" BORDER="1" /></A></LI> <LI>Viola B&B in Khilok. Nice place.<BR /> <A HREF=""><IMG SRC="" BORDER="1" /></A></LI> <LI>These stickers (220 volts) are often beside power outlets. They make me nervous. Like: what else would it BE?? What are the possibilities that make it necessary to actually confirm the voltage?<BR /> <A HREF=""><IMG SRC="" BORDER="1" /></A></LI> <LI>"Downtown" Khilok.<BR /> <A HREF=""><IMG SRC="" BORDER="1" /></A></LI> <LI>Making posies at the kiosk.<BR /> <A HREF=""><IMG SRC="" BORDER="1" /></A></LI> <LI>The finished product.<BR /> <A HREF=""><IMG SRC="" BORDER="1" /></A></LI> <LI>Town of Khilok on the eponymous river.<BR /> <A HREF=""><IMG SRC="" BORDER="1" /></A></LI> <LI>Security guard.<BR /> <A HREF=""><IMG SRC="" BORDER="1" /></A></LI> <LI>Monument to the builders of the Ulan-Ude - Chita highway; constructed 1971-79.<BR /> <A HREF=""><IMG SRC="" BORDER="1" /></A></LI> <LI>Highway and Khilok River valley.<BR /> <A HREF=""><IMG SRC="" BORDER="1" /></A></LI> <LI>"Region 75" cafe, Novopavlovka. It claims to have rooms available!<BR /> <A HREF=""><IMG SRC="" BORDER="1" /></A></LI> </UL> <p>This morning, I left the hotel, and looking at the map didn't see a lot of promising-looking places to eat once on the highway, so decided to grab something in the town centre.</p> <p>Once arriving (said town centre is two cross-streets, each about 2 blocks long, forming an X), I pretty quickly came across a kiosk selling &#x43F;&#x43E;&#x437;&#x44B; ("posies" -- although that's not <i>quite</i> the correct transliteration, it's close enough, and I think does a good job of capturing the essence).</p> <p>&#x41F;&#x43E;&#x437;&#x44B; are a local specialty of the Buryat Republic and surrounding areas - they're a pastry (basically a pasta dough) filled with ground beef and onions, then boiled in broth and generally eaten with chili sauce. I've had them in a number of cafes so far and generally enjoyed them; this is the first time I've stopped at a kiosk specializing in same (although I saw a couple back in Chita).</p> <p>Waited about 10 minutes for my posies to be cooked fresh - definitely worth it! - ate them sitting on the steps of the neighbouring building, then it was time to hit the road.</p> <p>I got back to the railway crossing, and sure enough, there was a train parked across the road, with the gates down and lights flashing. So far as I could tell, it was the same train as the previous day?</p> <p>At any rate, I knew this trick now! Back down into the ditch, under the tracks, and on toward the highway. With one last-minute stop to get drinks as I left town. The convenience store was guarded by a giant wooden bear. Seemed effective!</p> <p>The highway was generally not much better than yesterday's. The pavement was of marginally better quality, but still very cracked and rough, and with extremely narrow lanes. After going over a sizable hill, it descended back down to the Khilok River (the same one it had just left), and followed the river valley for a while. I had hoped this might mean it would be flat(tish), but nothing doing; it kept leaving the river to go up into the hillside, then returned back down to the river valley. A lot of up and down. Despite said valley being pretty wide and apparently having lots of room for a highway, so uh?</p> <p>Quite hot during the day and very dry; reminded me a lot of going through some of the arid regions in southern BC, along the Similkameen and Okanagan valleys.</p> <p>At one point I came across a roadside memorial to the builders of the Ulan-Ude - Chita highway. It was dated 1971, so definitely a Soviet-era road. And quite clearly hadn't seen any upgrades or improvements since that time. Again, the lanes were very narrow all day. I'm guessing that during the Soviet era, there wasn't much truck traffic (or frankly, much traffic at all save for the occasional tractor or small Lada). So the narrow lanes would have been just fine back then.</p> <p>But now there is an all-day stream of frequent large trucks and semi-trailers. These trucks are... wider than the lanes. So when two of them pass (not infrequent), they have to overhang the side of the lanes and ride along the gravel shoulder. Add a bicycle to the mix, and yeah. A <i>lot</i> of riding on the shoulder, and in the dust, and worried about the pointy rocks all over the shoulder and my already-stressed tyres.</p> <p>It has not been a particularly fun day.</p> <p>Somewhere in mid-afternoon, my map showed a cafe, just past the town of Bada.</p> <p>I was out of water and out of any liquid and it was reaching well into the 30s and I definitely needed something, so seemed like a perfect place to get a snack and a whole bunch of stuff to drink.</p> <p>I stopped at the cafe, and they had... no water. No bottled water at all.</p> <p>This was a first. I had to double check a couple times to ensure I was understanding properly, as the server grew more impatient at my repeated questions.</p> <p>The cooler was not working, so in fact, they didn't have much to drink of any description (!!), but did, at least, have some bottles of warm lemonade they could sell. It would have to do.</p> <p>("Lemonade" is not the same drink Canadians are thinking of. It's something I've never actually encountered anywhere prior to Russia... it's hard to describe, and Google is not being terribly helpful. It's a soft drink - reminds me a bit of sodas flavoured with sugar cane (rather than corn syrup), which it probably is, although only lightly - and has a lemony/citrus element in about the same way that McDonalds orange drink has an orange (flavour) element. At only 1/3 the price of American soft drinks - Pepsi, Coke &amp; associated products - I am drinking it all the time. It's actually super delicious. When it's cold.)</p> <p>I downed my snack (plov - rice pilaf - and more posies) and the bottles of warm lemonade, then back to the bike. Leaving the cafe, there was a family on holiday getting back into their car, with Mongolian license plates. They had overheard me asking for water, and after a few minutes of "the usual" conversation (where am I from? Where am I going? etc.) indicated I could fill my empty water bottle from the tap.</p> <p>Ummmm... not so sure about that one.</p> <p>No, no! "&#x42D;&#x442;&#x43E; &#x43D;&#x43E;&#x440;&#x43C;&#x430;&#x43B;&#x44C;&#x43D;&#x43E;!" they insisted. "It's fine!"</p> <p>Yes, well. &#x41D;&#x43E;&#x440;&#x43C;&#x430;&#x43B;&#x44C;&#x43D;&#x43E; or otherwise, I'm not taking any chances. Maybe a function of having traveled so much in countries with sketchy water supplies, but I am <i>super</i> careful about where I get my water. The prospect of being sick on the bike sounds really really awful.</p> <p>I have made it so far without having had the slightest problem with illness whatsoever, and I intend to keep it that way. That includes not drinking any tap water. At least not until western Europe.</p> <p>I thanked them for the advice but insisted I'd be fine. They looked at my empty water bottle dubiously.</p> <p>My map showed a gas station only 5-10 km ahead anyway, I'd try there. I mentioned as much and got on my way.</p> <p>Reaching the gas station after an increasingly hot half-hour, I realized this is where I should have stopped to begin with. There was an attached cafe and a couple of inter-city buses parked out front, with passengers scattered all over the parking lot and using the opportunity to stock up on food. There was plenty to drink here!</p> <p>Onward!</p> <p>To... possibly the worst single stretch of road I have encountered thus far.</p> <p>It was paved.</p> <p>If you stretch your definition of "paved" to utterly mind-bending lengths.</p> <p>Let's be more accurate: it had a spiderweb of asphalt barely holding together an amorphous collection of cobbles, boulders, potholes, caverns and fox-holes. Probably the body of Jimmy Hoffa. Maybe Stalin.</p> <p>Luckily, it was only about 2km long, up a big hill.</p> <p>The road itself was hopeless. Utterly hopeless. I headed for the very far edge of the shoulder, knocked it down into the lowest gear, and ground my way up the hill. I was going not much better than walking speed, but still probably doing almost the same pace as most of the motorized traffic trying to laboriously pick a route through the obstacle course that wouldn't leave them hung up somewhere.</p> <p>I did make it to the top, though. And all under pedal power! It left me feeling rather triumphant, in a perverse kind of way. "If I can make my way past <i>that</i>," I thought to myself, "I can make it through anything."</p> <p>Margaret, the biker from Tasmania that I encountered in Ulyoti a couple of days ago, is also keeping a blog, and I think her description of the road must be referring, in part, to this stretch, in her entry <i>The Day from Hell!</i> where she writes about <a href="!.htm">"some of the worst frost heaving, pot holed road one could ever ride."</a></p> <p>Another hour or so past this particularly awful stretch, I started to go up another hill. It was starting to become time to stop for the night, so I figured I'd make it to the top of the hill, then check my map to see what there might be by way of hotels in the near future. Or at least cafes; I wasn't entirely opposed to camping tonight, but wanted to at least grab some dinner first (the posies were delicious enough, but I was getting pretty hungry again).</p> <p>So I started climbing the hill.</p> <p>And kept climbing.</p> <p>And kept climbing.</p> <p>And: wut?</p> <p>Halfway up, I gave in and stopped anyway to check my topo map. I didn't <i>remember</i> a departure from the river valley for another 50km or so, at least?</p> <p>Well, no. It wasn't, particularly. The road was just doing it's thing; wandering up, away from the river for a dozen km or so, then turning around, and coming all the way back down into the valley, not far from where it had left.</p> <p>I mean, I could understand it, perhaps, if this made the road straighter, or saved some distance, but no. If anything, it <i>adds</i> distance. And again, it's not like the river valley is particularly narrow or canyon-like?</p> <p>So instead, there was this huge 15km long (with 650m elevation gain) uphill detour, only to come back down to where it started.</p> <p>I... do not understand Soviet road planners.</p> <p>At any rate, the next town was just past the road's return to the river valley. Which would at least be downhill (once I passed the top). And there was a collection of gas stations and cafes at one point. No hotel showing on the map, but perhaps there would be one anyway?</p> <p>By the time I finally made it to the top, it was already a little past sunset. A tour bus was parked at the top with folks clambering back on (presumably having been out taking photos). If I'd been half an hour earlier, I would have had some great views. Ah well.</p> <p>At least: thankfully <i>thankfully</i> the descent had been recently rebuilt and was fresh pavement. Oh thank lord! Coming 15km down through potholes, in the dark, would have been excruciating (and borderline suicidal).</p> <p>I again considered whether I wanted to just camp there, but decided I was hungry, so: on to town!</p> <p>After finally arriving at said town, I got to the jumble of cafes, and no obvious hotel. However one of the cafes had a big sign out front with a "hotel" logo on it, so maybe I could ask?</p> <p>Indeed, they had rooms. Not hotel rooms, per se, but more like cabins out back. For &#x20BD;550 a night: sure, why not?</p> <p>Except: no running water. There was an outhouse, and a shower house in a separate cabin. Sure, that would be fine. So I wanted to take a shower? Yes!</p> <p>However I had a dilemma: the cafe closed at 11:00 PM. I looked at my phone - 10:42. I'd just have some dinner first, and then have a shower.</p> <p>Um, no. See, the shower building had to be operated by that guy over there, and he also goes home at 11:00. So if I wait, no shower.</p> <p>Well, dang. After today's dust and heat and sweat, the shower was really a necessity. Well, maybe I could take my stuff into the cabin <i>real fast</i>, have a super-quick shower, and return to get some food before the cafe closed.</p> <p>I tried.</p> <p>And got back at 11:01, just as she was turning off the lights.</p> <p>Wrong order.</p> <p>After some pleading I convinced her to quickly sell me a chocolate bar from the display and a bottle of lemonade from the fridge. At least it was something.</p> <p>I returned to my cabin and pulled out my phone to check emails and messages, only to discover: no cell phone signal. My proximity to the town of &#x41D;&#x43E;&#x432;&#x43E;&#x43F;&#x430;&#x432;&#x43B;&#x43E;&#x432;&#x43A;&#x430; notwithstanding.</p> <p><i>SIGH.</i></p> <BR /><BR /> <IMG SRC="/bikejournal/categories/lodging.png" ALIGN="bottom" HEIGHT="32" WIDTH="32" /> <EM><SMALL>Today&#x2019;s lodging: <SPAN CLASS="blag_underline">Hotel Viola, Khilok</SPAN>. B&B style. A bit hard to find, but pleasant enough. Nice proprietor. Good restaurant (Agidel) 2 blocks away. &#x20BD;2000</SMALL></EM><BR /> <IMG SRC="/bikejournal/categories/road.png" ALIGN="bottom" HEIGHT="32" WIDTH="32" /> <EM><SMALL>Today&#x2019;s road: <SPAN CLASS="blag_underline">R258 (Fmr: M55) - &#x423;&#x43B;. &#x41C;&#x430;&#x43A;&#x441;&#x438;&#x43C;&#x430; &#x413;&#x43E;&#x440;&#x43A;&#x43E;&#x433;&#x43E;</SPAN>. 95.9 km, 5h44. One very big hill a little before Khilok (highest point on Russian portion of trip). Pretty crappy road starts 20km from Arei.</SMALL></EM><BR /> <IMG SRC="/bikejournal/categories/lodging.png" ALIGN="bottom" HEIGHT="32" WIDTH="32" /> <EM><SMALL>Today&#x2019;s lodging: <SPAN CLASS="blag_underline">"Region 75" Cafe and cabins, Novopavlovka</SPAN>. Decent enough, and cheap. No cell signal with Beeline. Cafe and showers close at 11PM; be sure you arrive well in advance of that! &#x20BD;550 + &#x20BD;120 for shower.</SMALL></EM><BR /> <IMG SRC="/bikejournal/categories/road.png" ALIGN="bottom" HEIGHT="32" WIDTH="32" /> <EM><SMALL>Today&#x2019;s road: <SPAN CLASS="blag_underline">R258 (Fmr: M55)</SPAN>. 118.8 km, 6h58. Awful, awful road almost all day - narrow, bumpy, disintegrating; especially horrible just past the hairpin turn a little west of Khokhotui.</SMALL></EM><BR /> Jul. 03, 2016: Arei, Zabaikalskiy Krai, Russia Thu, 21 Jul 2016 01:01:31 -0500 20160703 <p>The first thing to do in Chita was make a quick break for the Trial&#xB7;Sport (the bike store that had been closed the previous day) to get some parts and (hopefully) a quick tune-up. It was only a few blocks away from the hotel so easy enough to make a quick dash over before breakfast.</p> <p>And... closed again. With (again) no power. And the construction next door going full swing.</p> <p>So now what? So far as I could tell, it was the only actual bike store in town, other than the shops in the market selling off-brand parts.</p> <p>I stood there, considering, for a few minutes, then decided that the bike wasn't in all <i>that</i> bad shape. The repair that I had made on the way to Skovorodino a week earlier seemed to be holding, and really that was the worst of it. I should be able to make it to Ulan-Ude, only about 600km away. My tyres were maybe getting a little bit thin, but I could stop at the market on the way out of town and get replacements for those.</p> <p>So I went back to the hotel to grab breakfast and pack up.</p> <p>I exited the hotel again and looked at my map. I had decided, after all, to take the main road (R258) to Ulan-Ude, mostly based on the regular availability of a cell phone signal along that road (at least compared to its near-complete absence on the alternative).</p> <p>So looking at the map, I realized that I could save maybe 5-10km by heading out of town on a side road, the Moskovskiy Trakt (trakt: highway -- this is probably the old road), that cut south of lake Kenon, and joined up with the main, new, highway about 40km out of town.</p> <p>I set out along this route. The traffic out of downtown Chita was the heaviest I had yet biked in in Russia. (I'd seen some heavier in Vladivostok, but thankfully had not had to bike in it). Bumper-to-bumper and absolutely crawling. I'd spent the better part of an hour in this traffic, and had gone maybe 5km, when it suddenly occurred to me that by taking this route I wouldn't be going past the market and so wouldn't be able to get new tyres. Which I had somehow completely forgotten about.</p> <p>But I didn't really want to navigate the traffic back into town, twice over, and so figured I could make it to Ulan-Ude. Where there would be another Trial&#xB7;Sport anyway. So I kept on going.</p> <p>The road pretty quickly started climbing into the hills south of the city, and before long I came to a point marked on my map as "&#x421;&#x442;&#x430;&#x440;&#x44B;&#x439; &#x417;&#x430;&#x43C;&#x43E;&#x43A;" ("High Castle") where the hillside jutted out over the valley in a promontory, with a parking lot and viewpoint of the city.</p> <p>I turned in to take some photos, and as I was doing so, a procession of cars and limousines pulled into the parking lot behind me, full of revelers and honking horns. At the side of the parking lot was a small chapel, and this was a wedding party and they were here to perform (part of) the service and take photos!</p> <p>I was finishing up with my own photos, when one of the guys in the party, a bottle of champagne in each hand, wandered over to ask me the usual questions: Where was I going? Where was I from? Etc.</p> <p>My responses amused him greatly and he hurried back to the wedding party to excitedly tell them all about this Canadian biker guy.</p> <p>Well. Everyone decides they want to get a load of this, so all come over and ask questions and try to feed me champagne and take hundreds of pictures. Anna, the bride, is very curious about the bicycle, and is peering all over it, sitting on it sideways and trying out the handlebars.</p> <p>I am clearly a fascinating part of the day's festivities!</p> <p>Among the questions, I am somewhat incredulously asked (as I always am) if I'm traveling by myself?!? Yes, I am. Do I have a wife back in Canada? No, no wife.</p> <p>"Ahhhhh," responds one of the guys knowingly. "<i>That's</i> why you're able to do this!"</p> <p>Suddenly everyone's attention turns to one of the bridesmaids standing beside me: "She's single too!" This observation is cause for delight among most of those present.</p> <p>Yes, well. "I'm afraid I have to finish my trip first. Then maybe I can come back to Chita and we'll see..."</p> <p>After 20 minutes of this, they finally let me leave, and I am back on the road, leaving the revelry and honking behind me.<br><br></p> <p>The road out of town starts pretty good, but gradually gets worse and worse as I go along. There isn't much of a shoulder, and the pretty massive cracks in the pavement are bone-jarring, to say the least. There is also a strong headwind coming up the Ingoda valley. And it is hot. Hot and hazy; visibility isn't much more than 5km due to the thick haze. It's slow going and not exactly a pleasant ride.</p> <p>I'm counting down the kilometers until I rejoin the main highway. The heat and headwind might be still present, but hopefully the road will be better.</p> <p>It is somewhat strange to be back on an old, well-established road. Following the Amur highway, where I would see one truck stop maybe every 100-150km with not much in between. All along that highway, I would have to pay close attention to the map, and ration water and food carefully so I didn't accidentally run out while I was still in the middle of nowhere, dozens of miles from the next supply point. Here there are now villages and shops every 5-10km, and it's just not something I need to worry about at all. It's an odd mental adjustment to make.</p> <p>Anyway, sure enough after a little over 40km, I round a bend and there's the Baikal highway.</p> <p>(Highways in Russia, though numbered and signposted with those numbers, are also more commonly referred to by name -- much as e.g.: highways in Alaska. The road from Vladivostok to Khabarovsk was the "Ussuri" highway; from there to Chita the "Amur". From here to Irkutsk it will be the "Baikal".)</p> <p>So approaching the highway there is a cluster of orange "construction" signs. I reach the T junction, and the road to the right -- back toward Chita -- has been all ripped up, and is just ugly, jagged gravel. A sign heading in that direction speaks of "Capital Repairs" for 8km. Apparently I made the right choice by coming along the side road after all!</p> <p>I turn left, toward Ulan-Ude, on a smooth road.</p> <p>Well, maybe "smooth" is over-stating the case. It's still pretty old and the pavement is worn. It's not gravel, at least, and it's better than the side road was, but not by a whole heck of a lot.</p> <p>It is also still hot and hazy and the headwind is blowing and when I come across a cafe after a couple of km, I am only too ready to stop to get a late lunch. It's been pretty slow going all day; nearly 5PM and I've only gone 45km. And it doesn't look to get much easier.</p> <p>Leaving the cafe, I get back on the bike and notice it feels a bit "squishy." I check the tyre. It's not yet flat, but definitely on its way. Seems to be a slow leak as opposed to a full on puncture. I wonder if this is perhaps a factor in the afternoon's seemingly slow and difficult ride?</p> <p>Anyway. I chose to simply pump it back up - it seemed to hold - and continue on my way.</p> <p>I made it about 10 - 15 km before realizing I was definitely riding on a now-flat tyre.</p> <p>Took it off, found and repaired the puncture, got back on the road...</p> <p>...and made it maybe another 5km. Another flat tyre.</p> <p>Repaired that one too.</p> <p>My third repair job -- a very frustrating few km later -- and after I remounted the wheel, I figured that I would definitely be well-served by rotating the tyres at the next opportunity. Between me and the saddlebags, almost all the weight is over the rear wheel, and it's taking the brunt of it. The front tyre was in significantly better shape.</p> <p>As it happened, the third patch was the last of the day. But between the flat tyres and everything else, I was definitely well behind schedule. I had originally planned for Doroninskoye, about 145km away; that had been revised downward to Ulyoti, about 115, and even the latter distance was looking dubious.</p> <p>Indeed by sunset I was still only 85 or so from Chita. The next hotel that I knew about was at Ulyoti, although I'd be happy enough to camp out.</p> <p>Unfortunately this Ingoda River valley through which I'd been riding all day is very grassy and open, and there was no forest in sight. Grasslands don't make for good camping - I can't really get out of sight and am way too visible to passing traffic and other questionable folk.</p> <p>At least the road was generally a bit better. A lot of the highway along here had been rebuilt recently, meaning repaved and also widened (an issue of no small importance!). So much alternation between new sections of good road and older sections of awful, narrow, crumbling pavement with no shoulders.</p> <p>I kept looking for a place to camp, or a hotel, but didn't see anything.</p> <p>Finally, about 4km from the hotel in Ulyoti, I passed by a cafe on the left with a sign out front reading "Hotel."</p> <p>Ha!</p> <p>But with only 4km to go, I figured that it would be easy enough at this point to press on - my tyre seemingly holding fast - and get those few extra km in tonight. This one didn't look like it had particularly anything to recommend it over anyplace else.</p> <p>Immediately after passing the hotel, at the other end of the parking lot, I saw a first in all my time in Russia: someone else camping out! There was a van parked at the end of the parking lot, and a rather large tent on the grassy verge wedged between it and the river.</p> <p>This was perhaps not the greatest sign ever. Were they camping here because there was no room at the hotel? Was there to be any room at the next one? Oh well; I figured that in the worst case I could always return here and camp near them, finding security in numbers? Or something.</p> <p>But no need. 4km later, I came to the cafe and motel "Transit" and they definitely had room. It was a bit late, but we were all good! I settled in, then went to the cafe for a much-anticipated dinner.</p> <p>Had some borshch and plov - the usual - and saw on the menu some "Pechen po-Sibirskiy." Which is to say, Siberian-style pechen.</p> <p>Now, I was familiar with the word "pecheney," which means "baked" or "baked goods." So I figured this would be some kind of Siberian baked specialty.</p> <p><small>(Any Russian speakers reading this are giggling at this point.)</small></p> <p>I was, thus, a little surprised when they brought out a small dish of meat covered in sauce.</p> <p>Well fair enough. "Pecheney" means baked because it comes from the root word "pech," meaning oven. So maybe this was just meat that had been cooked in the oven? I dug in.</p> <p>... and shortly turned to my dictionary, to discover that "pechen" means "liver."</p> <p>Now I know!</p> <p>(I mean, fair enough. I don't have a particularly <i>strong</i> dislike for liver, and was happy enough to eat it. But it's not something I would normally go out of my way to get, and it was definitely not what I had in mind when I made my order!)</p> <p>Dinner over with, I went back to the room and fell asleep. Hard.</p> <UL> <LI>Chita through the hazy heat.<BR /> <A HREF=""><IMG SRC="" BORDER="1" /></A></LI> <LI>Then there was that time I crashed a wedding party...! (Just noticed: everyone put down the champagne for the photo. Ha.)<BR /> <A HREF=""><IMG SRC="" BORDER="1" /></A></LI> <LI>Anna (on the right) was *very* interested in the bike...<BR /> <A HREF=""><IMG SRC="" BORDER="1" /></A></LI> <LI>A thousand km to Irkutsk! One of the few short sections of good road. Not many places to camp out of view...<BR /> <A HREF=""><IMG SRC="" BORDER="1" /></A></LI> <LI>Borshch, plov, bread, coffee, "Three Bears" beer... and pechen.<BR /> <A HREF=""><IMG SRC="" BORDER="1" /></A></LI> <LI>Gothic door at the motel "Transit."<BR /> <A HREF=""><IMG SRC="" BORDER="1" /></A></LI> <LI>Victory Day ribbon someone tied to my bike at breakfast.<BR /> <A HREF=""><IMG SRC="" BORDER="1" /></A></LI> <LI>Still in the Ingoda River valley, though slowly climbing out.<BR /> <A HREF=""><IMG SRC="" BORDER="1" /></A></LI> <LI>But mostly very grassy.<BR /> <A HREF=""><IMG SRC="" BORDER="1" /></A></LI> <LI>The Flaming Dragon motel in Arei...<BR /> <A HREF=""><IMG SRC="" BORDER="1" /></A></LI> <LI>...which features appropriate-enough artwork on the walls.<BR /> <A HREF=""><IMG SRC="" BORDER="1" /></A></LI> <LI>Government-required informational poster. The cafe - motel "Flaming Dragon".<BR /> <A HREF=""><IMG SRC="" BORDER="1" /></A></LI> </UL> <p>This morning, got up and the first order of business was to rotate my tyres. No better place for it than on the porch in front of the motel room, I suppose? So I set about doing so. In front of one of the most gothic-looking motel doors ever. A blood-red door with gothic lettering, a gargoyle door-knocker and everything. Not sure why? Otherwise the "Transit" Motel seemed ordinary enough. But all the doors were like something out of a Dracula movie. As a friend commented on Instagram: "looks like the door to Hell!"</p> <p>So anyway, finished rotating the tyres, oiling the chain, and performing other various maintenance tasks that I should have done before leaving Chita, then wheeled next door to have some breakfast (no pechen today!) before setting out.</p> <p>And saw a woman in the parking lot working on a laden-down motorbike bedecked with stickers from Australia, various countries in Europe, South America, Africa -- all over the world. The various African ones especially looked interesting.</p> <p>There was something about the woman (to say nothing of the bike) that definitely did not seem Russian. I took a glance over the bike, and saw the license plate was from Tasmania. Aha!</p> <p>Not surprising it would be an Australian!</p> <p>I went up and said "hi."</p> <p>Margaret -- <a href="">Beemerbird</a> -- is (mostly) retired and spending her time riding, as was evident, all over the world. She is currently going across Russia, with a several-week detour into Mongolia, and will then spend some time tootling around Europe.</p> <p>She was just fixing her GPS tether after the rough road out of Chita, and then came into the cafe where we talked a bit over breakfast and shared "war stories." She had lots of interesting stories about her times on the road, and mentioned something else that sounded rather interesting to me:</p> <p>Apparently there is a public ("roll-on-roll-off") ferry that you can catch in Belgium, and for a couple thousand $US (food and everything included) runs down the coast to Dakar in Senegal, then across the ocean to Buenos Aires, Argentina. (!!!)</p> <p>I'm not <i>particularly</i> enamoured with the ocean, and that's not necessarily something I want to do on this trip. But it definitely sounds intriguing! Might be worth investigating some time...</p> <p>Soon enough, though, breakfast came to an end. I had some distance to make, and Margaret wanted to get to Ulan-Ude by tonight, where she had reservations at a hotel that is apparently famous/popular among the international biker community.</p> <p>One last check on Margaret's part to make sure her GPS was tethered securely. "How did you deal with that rough road?" she asked. "Well," I shrugged, "I have no choice but to ride through them."</p> <p>"The one just back there?" She asked, incredulously. "You rode your bike through <i>that</i>?"</p> <p>I realized that she was referring to the section that I had, by sheer luck, managed to avoid by taking the side road out of Chita. This was the section that had caused the damage to Margaret's bike, and indeed caused her video camera to come flying right off. My happenstance choice of road was seeming better all the time. I mentioned as much and Margaret just nodded in agreement.</p> <p>Anyway: time to go.</p> <p>I came out of the cafe to see that someone had tied a Russian "Victory Day" ribbon on to the front of my bike. I will have to come back to this.<br><br></p> <p>After a last check of the tyres, I pulled onto the highway, following Margaret toward the West.</p> <p>The headwind was still with me, perhaps a little lighter than yesterday, although still strong. The road started fairly new, but quickly gave way to a crappy old communist-era road with lanes never intended to carry modern trucks, and so much narrower than they need to be.</p> <p>The pavement was cracked, rough and full of potholes, making progress slow and painful. As with yesterday, I ended up having to downgrade my target because I wasn't making anywhere near good enough time to get where I wanted to. Eventually I settled on Arei, where my map indicated there was a hotel, and which seemed to be close enough I was very likely to make it. Indeed: only about 100km from Ulyoti.</p> <p>I stopped at one point to take a photo, and as I went to upload it to social media, realized I had no cell phone connection.</p> <p>Oops!</p> <p>I had entered what was, according to the Beeline (my cell phone provider) map the longest stretch on the road without coverage: a little short of 100km. I had known it was coming up, of course, but hadn't been paying attention to it and now it was too late.</p> <p>Oh well. From the map it looked like Arei was just back in the coverage area on the other side of the gap, if barely.</p> <p>I passed through a couple of towns; now further apart than they were yesterday, closer to Chita. The pavement is generally significantly better through the towns and I can (ironically) speed up and make better time there, but inevitably it kept degrading again once I was past.</p> <p>Finally, when passing the town of Novosaliya, about 15km from Arei, the road got good and actually stayed good. Where was this all day? I also started passing, for pretty much the first time today, significant forested areas, which would make a decent place to set up a tent if the hotel turned out to be a bust and I needed to camp. As I approached, I kept an eye out for promising camping spots, but eventually abandoned the enterprise as I passed so many the point was moot.</p> <p>I wasn't terribly worried, though. Even if the hotel was full, or otherwise unacceptable, there was a lake just a kilometre or two off the other side of the highway, and at least on my map, was ringed by "resort" icons, including a couple of marked campsites. This would also be a first for Russia!</p> <p>But sure enough, as I approached Arei, I started seeing along the highway signs for "Camping" at Areiskoe Lake. Huh!</p> <p>I was of half a mind to check out the lake and ignore the hotel altogether, when I suddenly came to a clearing in the forest and there it was. The "Flaming Dragon" motel! <img src="" align="absmiddle"></p> <p>"Oh well," I figured, "If I'm here anyway, I might as well investigate the hotel."</p> <p>Plus it had a great name.</p> <p>(And a friendly hotel kitty. That's always half-enough reason to cause me to check a place out.)</p> <p>I went in, they had a room, it seemed to be reasonably enough priced (if not exactly cheap) and would at least have a power outlet where I could charge. Plus would save me the extra side trip to the lake and back. I hesitated but decided to take it.</p> <p>I came back downstairs to retrieve my bags and lock up my bike, and there in the lobby was a girl, late 20s or so, looking around searchingly. As she saw me coming down the steps, she came up and asked if it was my bike out front?</p> <p>A pretty safe bet, seeing as how I was wearing my "<img src="/bikejournal/bicycle_icon_basic.png" align="absmiddle" width="20" height="20"> : &#x221E; MPH" shirt and had chain grease all over my hands...!</p> <p>So I obliged her, said yes, and followed her beckoning out onto the front porch. Where there was a group of 7 or 8 similarly-aged kids all hanging out on some pretty shiny bikes of their own, scrutinizing mine, and looking expectantly at me with no small amount of interest!</p> <p>I was, as I often seem to be in this country, a source of great curiosity and some amusement. The gang were all out from Chita (they drove out) and spending the weekend at the lake. Questions, as usual, about my trip. It was a pretty fun, if chaotic, conversation.</p> <p>They asked if I had anywhere to spend the night, inviting me to come out and camp at the lake with them. I had to sadly inform them that I had <i>just</i> got a room at the hotel, so: thanks but no thanks.</p> <p>Too bad; it could have been an interesting evening.</p> <p>Instead I locked everything up, had a shower, grabbed some dinner, and went back to my room.</p> <p>I tried getting online so I could post photos and so forth, but nothing doing. No connection. I was apparently not quite yet back in the coverage area after all.</p> <p>So perhaps doubly a shame that I hadn't tried to camp out at the lake. Oh well - too late for that now.</p> <p>Instead, I went to bed early. As I did so, I thought about that Victory Day ribbon that had been tied to the bike this morning.</p> <p>The ribbon is partly red-white-and-blue (the colours of the Russian flag), and partly the orange-and-black of <A HREF=""><IMG SRC="" BORDER="0" ALIGN="absmiddle" WIDTH="16" HEIGHT="16" ALT="" /></A> <A HREF="">May 0</A> (Victory Day).</p> <p>This all... requires some explanation.</p> <p style="margin-left: 30px;">I mentioned <A HREF=""><IMG SRC="" BORDER="0" ALIGN="absmiddle" WIDTH="16" HEIGHT="16" ALT="" /></A> <A HREF="">early in my journal</A> that this country is unusually chock-full of flower shops. It is. Incredibly so. I have more than once come to a town where there were almost no commercial establishments except for a couple of flower shops, usually open 24h/day.</p> <p style="margin-left: 30px;">At the time that I wrote the above, I posited that it might "have something to do with a cultural expectation on Russian men to regularly shower women with gifts" but allowed that there could be more to it.</p> <p style="margin-left: 30px;">Well. Yes.</p> <p style="margin-left: 30px;">The flowers here are (also) used to honour the dead.</p> <p style="margin-left: 30px;">Russia is not, shall we say, the <i>best-maintained</i> country in the world (more on this in a future entry). Indeed many things are not maintained very well at all -- they are jury-rigged to keep them functional, but little more.</p> <p style="margin-left: 30px;">The shining, prominent exceptions are the monuments to the dead.</p> <p style="margin-left: 30px;">In every town, every village, every inhabited nook, the WWII memorial takes pride of place. It is a splash of vibrant colour and an island of immaculate tidiness in an otherwise oft-crumbling landscape.</p> <p style="margin-left: 30px;">All along the highways, where someone has met their end on the road, there is a monument to the fallen. Usually no simple cross as we would erect in Canada, but a monolith, often set in a patch of neatly mowed grass, with picnic tables, sometimes a shelter.</p> <p style="margin-left: 30px;">And the flowers. A riot of colour around every such memorial. Flowers by the dozens or hundreds.</p> <p style="margin-left: 30px;"><b>This is a country that has lost a lot.</b> And there is no way to be better reminded of this fact than to travel its roads and towns. Whether through the staggering toll taken by World War 2, or the dictatorial purges that followed (and preceded)... or the tyranny of the modern killer: the automobile. Everywhere is a constant reminder of this loss.</p> <p style="margin-left: 30px;">I am, yet again, completely unqualified to assess the affect this would have on the national psyche. But it is clearly a matter of no small consequence. It would be unfair to characterize Russia as a country <i>obsessed</i>, per s&eacute;, with this history of loss. But it is ever-present.</p> <p style="margin-left: 30px;">And so we come to Victory Day. The Russian response to this nationally-shared loss is to meet it head-on, by emphatically honouring, and conspicuously appreciating the sacrifice. Victory Day is quite possibly the most important event of the Russian calendar. Even though it was in May, there are Victory Day banners, billboards; ads on TV. They are absolutely everywhere.</p> <p style="margin-left: 30px;">When I first arrived in Vladivostok I found it a bit strange; mentally categorizing this display with houses allowing their Christmas lights to linger into late January of early February.</p> <p style="margin-left: 30px;">Not so. These displays are -- very deliberately -- year round. They are the omnipresent celebration of life, of <i>Russia itself</i>, that prior sacrifices have allowed to exist.</p> <p style="margin-left: 30px;">I cannot emphasize this point enough.</p> <p>Again, when I arrived in Vladivostok, I was talking with a couple of the people I was hanging out with at the time, and one of the girls mentioned how she believed that Victory Day was the only holiday worth celebrating; that things like birthdays and Christmas and whatnot were "imposter" holidays. I couldn't, at the time, entirely understand her point. It has taken me a month in this country to properly understand how fully Russian a claim like that could be, and to appreciate how earnestly she must have meant it.</p> <p>I feel like I'm belabouring the point. It has taken me no small amount of time to figure out how to write this, and I still feel like I'm failing. But it will have to do. It may be it's one of those things that you have to spend time here to "get."</p> <p>At any rate, there is a point to all of this:</p> <p>The little Victory Day ribbon tied to my bicycle is not, in fact a thing I take lightly.</p> <p>I'm not much of an aficionado of ribbons and charms and whatnot. But this one is somehow different. The ribbon tied to the front of the bike manages to sum up my travels and experiences in this country to date that I can't imagine much else being able to do.</p> <p>I can't think of any better, or more meaningful, souvenir of Russia, than this small piece of an ethic that clearly means so much to its people.<br><br></p> <BR /><BR /> <IMG SRC="/bikejournal/categories/lodging.png" ALIGN="bottom" HEIGHT="32" WIDTH="32" /> <EM><SMALL>Today&#x2019;s lodging: <SPAN CLASS="blag_underline">Hotel Transit, Ulyoti.</SPAN>. Simple, cheap, gets the job done. 24h cafe is decent. &#x20BD;800.</SMALL></EM><BR /> <IMG SRC="/bikejournal/categories/road.png" ALIGN="bottom" HEIGHT="32" WIDTH="32" /> <EM><SMALL>Today&#x2019;s road: <SPAN CLASS="blag_underline">&#x41C;&#x43E;&#x441;&#x43A;&#x43E;&#x432;&#x441;&#x43A;&#x438;&#x439; &#x422;&#x440;&#x430;&#x43A;&#x442; - R258 (Fmr: M55)</SPAN>. 113.3 km, 6h42. Now on the "Baikal" highway! Road is decent to the edge of town, then it all goes to Hell. No better on the main highway: okay on the occasional rebuil sections but most of it is old, narrow, rough and crumbling.</SMALL></EM><BR /> <IMG SRC="/bikejournal/categories/lodging.png" ALIGN="bottom" HEIGHT="32" WIDTH="32" /> <EM><SMALL>Today&#x2019;s lodging: <SPAN CLASS="blag_underline">Flaming Dragon Motel, Arei.</SPAN>. Okay and comfortable enough, but nothing special. No cell coverage (at least with Beeline). &#x20BD;1800.</SMALL></EM><BR /> <IMG SRC="/bikejournal/categories/road.png" ALIGN="bottom" HEIGHT="32" WIDTH="32" /> <EM><SMALL>Today&#x2019;s road: <SPAN CLASS="blag_underline">R258 (Fmr: M55)</SPAN>. 106.5 km, 6h23. Road just as bad as yesterday, if not worse. Mostly only decent through the towns, although it does get a lot better after Novosaliya.</SMALL></EM><BR /> Jul. 01, 2016: Chita, Zabaikalskiy Krai, Russia Sat, 16 Jul 2016 22:52:27 -0500 20160701 <p>Having thought that I'd managed to find a campsite somewhere near the top of the hill the previous day, it was slightly discouraging to start out on Thursday with yet more seemingly-endless uphill.</p> <p>Nearly 20km of it, all told. Looking at the map, it's a nearly 500m elevation gain from Bogomyagkovo, at the bottom of the previous valley, to the top of Thursday's first hill.</p> <p>But then, finally, a 10km descent before the next uphill, another long slog.</p> <p>This was really the tone for the day. Four or five major ranges of hills, each 10-20km on a side.</p> <p>I remembered back to my meeting with Alexei, the guy cycling to Crimea that I'd run into a day out of Birobidzhan. He had asked me if I was finding the hills difficult, and I'd mentioned how the part of Canada I was from had sizable mountains, so I was used to highway riding over elevation, and the ones we were going over at that point weren't causing me any trouble.</p> <p>Ah, he predicted: wait until you get closer to Lake Baikal: that's where the big hills start!</p> <p>Yup.</p> <p>The road has also become noticeably worse since Chernyshevsk. Clearly that's where the brand-new Amur highway ends, and I am back on a road that has been around for much longer. The surface is mostly okay, albeit with some short rougher sections, but the nice wide shoulders, with me almost since Birobidzhan, largely disappeared sometime Thursday morning, around Naryn-Talacha.</p> <p>My destination was definitely Chita (325,000), and the end of the Amur highway. A good 170km, but I didn't mind getting in a bit late; the last little bit closer to the city should be lit up.</p> <p>I was also planning to stay in town for a day: laundry and bike parts being priorities -- laundromats aren't really a thing in Russia, so I have to get it done at a hotel. Cheap enough, but takes a full day.</p> <p>So anyway, with a rest day ahead, I didn't mind pushing for a little extra distance. But definitely hilly!</p> <p>In every valley, there was more and more development along the highway. First one: a cafe. The next one: two cafes. Then: two cafes and a gas station.</p> <p>Some on-and-off rain through the early afternoon. Just on and off enough to be annoying, causing me to regularly stop to either don or doff my rain jacket. At one point there was an ugly-looking cloud brewing just off to the side, and I thought for sure I was going to get hit with a thunderstorm. But no! It passed maybe a few km in front of me, and I only had the barest of drizzles for a minute, while those few km later, the road and trees were most definitely soaked with water. The weather here -- like around Calgary -- can be incredibly localized.</p> <p>Finally, at a brief stop to grab some snacks and drinks. I consulted my map: 40km to go and about 2 hours until sunset. This was going to happen!</p> <p>...only to run into the biggest hill of the day (other than the first one, which got divided in two by camping halfway up). A 13km, 400m climb. Again, with no shoulders to speak of.</p> <p>And some pretty aggressive trucks. I find that the hour or two before sunset is one of the most annoying times to be on the road. All of the truck drivers get noticeably more aggressive, presumably because they are trying to make it to some particular destination before it gets dark?</p> <p>But for whatever reason... while most of the day, the trucks are generally courteous, try and give me as wide a berth as they can, and slow down while passing, all of this goes out the window as sunset draws near. The trucks increasingly start passing at full speed, a few inches away from me. (I've even had my mirror knocked off once!) It can be a little terrifying.</p> <p>So this last uphill took me a couple hours, nearly until sunset. But then, once at the top, only a quick downhill and I'd be almost there!</p> <p>The downhill was indeed fast. About 8km straight down to the Nikishikha River, which went by at 50km/h... 60...</p> <p>I had to deliberately slow myself down a few times and proceed super-carefully. A long, fast downhill at the end of a day with my mind on the anticipated destination and not on the road: this is exactly the kind of situation where I am most likely to run into trouble and crash (See: England 2013, New York, 1997).</p> <p>So forced myself to be extra careful on the downhill and made it without incident. And a few km after the bottom: the end of the highway! Right at sunset, almost to the minute.</p> <p>Then a left turn and 20km or so through suburbs into Chita.</p> <p>It was an interesting and fun highway. A bit boring near the beginning, perhaps, but more scenic as I went along. And very good condition pretty much the whole way. In short a super-enjoyable ride.</p> <p>The suburbs were surprisingly slow-going: fast at first along a newly-rebuilt access road, but when I got to the built-up area, much slower. It was almost midnight by the time I got downtown, to the Hotel Zabaikalie. &#x423;&#x43B;. &#x41B;&#x435;&#x43D;&#x438;&#x43D;&#x430; (Lenin St.) - the main street through town - was being used at this time of night by kids as a drag-racing strip. Sigh.</p> <p>On the way in, I was surrounded by American/western chain-store restaurants: Subway, Carl's Jr... it was very strange.</p> <p>It always is, being suddenly plunged into "civilization" after a long period of time out.</p> <p>The hotel was right on the main square on the centre of town, and the nice thing about arriving at midnight is I was only charged a half-night's rate for the first night. (This is a thing here. I've encountered it a few times so far.) <p>The restaurant was closed, although there was a mini-cafe (basically amounted to a bunch of vending machines and a microwave). The hotel receptionist claimed there wouldn't be anything open this late in the centre of the city, but I <i>totally</i> knew better: the train station was only a few blocks away.</p> <p>Were there cafes open at the train station? Of course there were! Dinnertime!</p> <UL> <LI>Nearly 20km in and my first downhill - finally!<BR /> <A HREF=""><IMG SRC="" BORDER="1" /></A></LI> <LI>2000km from Khabarovsk...<BR /> <A HREF=""><IMG SRC="" BORDER="1" /></A></LI> <LI> time for another one of these! :-P<BR /> <A HREF=""><IMG SRC="" BORDER="1" /></A></LI> <LI>Storm clouds. Ick. Luckily passed by a few km in front of me and I didn't get hit. So localized!<BR /> <A HREF=""><IMG SRC="" BORDER="1" /></A></LI> <LI>The end of the Amur highway, just outside of Chita. You've been a good solid road!<BR /> <A HREF=""><IMG SRC="" BORDER="1" /></A></LI> <LI>Downtown Chita; &#x423;&#x43B;. &#x41B;&#x435;&#x43D;&#x438;&#x43D;&#x430; - night.<BR /> <A HREF=""><IMG SRC="" BORDER="1" /></A></LI> <LI>Downtown Chita; &#x423;&#x43B;. &#x41B;&#x435;&#x43D;&#x438;&#x43D;&#x430; - day.<BR /> <A HREF=""><IMG SRC="" BORDER="1" /></A></LI> <LI>Lenin Square (of course).<BR /> <A HREF=""><IMG SRC="" BORDER="1" /></A></LI> <LI>Following Mary Poppins' advice, and feeding the birds.<BR /> <A HREF=""><IMG SRC="" BORDER="1" /></A></LI> <LI>Hostel Da! (Not the one I'm staying at, but cute.)<BR /> <A HREF=""><IMG SRC="" BORDER="1" /></A></LI> <LI>Chita market.<BR /> <A HREF=""><IMG SRC="" BORDER="1" /></A></LI> <LI>"Fighters for the Soviet Power in Zabaikal."<BR /> <A HREF=""><IMG SRC="" BORDER="1" /></A></LI> <LI>Old house in Chita.<BR /> <A HREF=""><IMG SRC="" BORDER="1" /></A></LI> <LI>"Fish beer." It... seems to be a thing here? Actually makes some amount of sense, the more I think about it!<BR /> <A HREF=""><IMG SRC="" BORDER="1" /></A></LI> <LI>Our Lady of Kazan Cathedral.<BR /> <A HREF=""><IMG SRC="" BORDER="1" /></A></LI> <LI>Sushi City. Sushi is extremely popular in Russia. I was going to go in for dinner, but opted for Italian instead. Now I know better!<BR /> <A HREF=""><IMG SRC="" BORDER="1" /></A></LI> <LI>Dramatic sky / Dramatic theatre.<BR /> <A HREF=""><IMG SRC="" BORDER="1" /></A></LI> <LI>Peter Ivanovich Beketov: early Siberian pioneer & settler.<BR /> <A HREF=""><IMG SRC="" BORDER="1" /></A></LI> <LI>That is definitely one way to get around town!<BR /> <A HREF=""><IMG SRC="" BORDER="1" /></A></LI> </UL> <p>The hotel room came with a free buffet breakfast (and, uh, a coupon for a free game at the billiards/gaming hall next door?), so I took them up on the first offer at least. Breakfast was good: a nice stack of fresh blini! And with that taken care of, and with my bag of laundry turned over to the hotel service, it was time to go on to other things.</p> <p>I had some quick banking tasks I had to take care of in Canada, so I logged into my bank website, which seemed to be down. O well: later.</p> <p>In the meantime: bike parts!</p> <p>Chita is on the smaller side for a city, so I always knew bike shops would be a bit harder to come by here. I spent an hour or two trawling the internet, and came up with 4 possibilities. One of which was a long way out of the city, deep in the suburbs, so I mostly crossed it off the list and settled on the other 3.</p> <p>The first and most promising was <A HREF=""><IMG SRC="" BORDER="0" ALIGN="absmiddle" WIDTH="16" HEIGHT="16" ALT="Trial&#xB7;Sport" /></A> <A HREF="">Trial&#xB7;Sport</A>, which I knew to be a national chain of sporting goods stores, with a strong emphasis on bikes. And it was pretty close to the hotel. Seemed to be the best bet.</p> <p>I got to the Trial&#xB7;Sport, and it was closed. With no indication why, mind. The hours posted on the door indicated it should be open. There were a couple of people standing around out front with bent wheels or other bike parts that they were obviously looking to get replaced. I peered through the windows: with the power off I couldn't see much, although the bike advertisements on the wall were a good sign. While I was waiting, a few people came along, tugged on the door, found it locked, shrugged and went away. I asked one of the guys standing there but he knew nothing.</p> <p>Well, I'd try the other places on my list; I could always loop past the Trial&#xB7;Sport on my way back to the hotel and try again.</p> <p>The second place sold pretty much every imaginable outdoor or sporting good on the planet, <i>except</i> bicycles. Next!</p> <p>The third place didn't seem to exist. It was in the middle of an industrial area, with shops all over selling car parts, but definitely not bike parts. I asked at one of the other shops in the same building as the one where the bike store was listed, but they'd never heard of it.</p> <p>Hmmm.</p> <p>I remembered how in Birobidzhan there were stalls in the central market that sold bicycles, so I headed over to a district that seemed promising along that dimension. Sure enough, there were lots of stalls in the hardware area that sold bikes and bike parts.</p> <p>Not exactly top of the line bike parts, mind. Definitely no Shimano to be found here (although there mighta' been a Shimono or two? <img src="" align="absmiddle">). Mostly Chinese non-name-brand parts for a couple hundred rubles a pop.</p> <p>I kept it in mind, figuring that in the worst case, I could buy some and throw them into my pack as an emergency backup if my primary parts failed.</p> <p>I also looked around for an "I <img src="" align="absmiddle"> Chita" (or somesuch) t-shirt. Or some kind of souvenir to get. ("I conquered the Amur Highway and all I got was..." etc?) However all I could find was "I <img src="" align="absmiddle"> NY". Every kind of souvenir I could find in the market was from somewhere else. <i>O well.</i></p> <p>I wandered back to the Trial&#xB7;Sport: still closed. But I could at least get some sightseeing in, on a warm and very sunny afternoon.</p> <p>There was a nice square in the centre of town and I recalled there being an interesting cathedral down by the train station.</p> <p>As dinnertime approached, I went back to the Trial&#xB7;Sport, and it was finally open! Apparently the construction next door had unexpectedly killed the power to the building, and so they'd had no option but to close. Or something like that.</p> <p>Whatever. In the meantime, though, it was only a half-hour to close, and they didn't have time today to look at my bike. But I can bring it by first thing tomorrow morning before breakfast, and they can look at it before I leave town. Sounds like a plan!</p> <p>So dinnertime. A block or two from the hotel is the Italian restaurant "Mama Roma," so why not?</p> <p>I often say that "I'll try anything twice; once if it kills me the first time."</p> <p>Having now tried Russian pizza twice, I can confirm that it is not for me. I figured the issue in Khabarovsk might have been that I got it from a roadside kiosk, but the pizza at the restaurant here wasn't much different. Basically very doughy bread smothered in tomato sauce, with other toppings in scant evidence. Well, the bread and (especially) tomato sauce are basically my least favourite parts of a pizza. So yeah.</p> <p>O well, now I know.</p> <p>I returned to the hotel to get my delayed banking done, and logged in only to find that the bank's website was still down.</p> <p>Oh? That's <i>really</i> odd... oh... wait a minu...</p> <p>Yep. A quick visit to <a href=""></a> confirmed that the bank site was running <i>just fine</i>.</p> <p>But in not-entirely-unsurprising move for an Alberta bank, they'd blocked Russian visitors. Or at least ones with a source IP in the pool handed out by my cell provider. Again, not that I can really blame them!</p> <p>I tried connecting both via cell phone and via the hotel wifi. Same result.</p> <p>iOS app? Can't log in.</p> <p>Ok, let's try the tech support phone line. I got a message informing me that my cell plan was not authorized to make international calls. Sigh. <i>Fine.</i> I switched my Canadian SIM card back in and tried again. By now it was 6AM or somesuch on Saturday morning in Alberta, and this message said the tech support line was closed for the Canada Day long weekend and would re-open Tuesday morning.</p> <p>Oh for...!</p> <p>Luckily I have a friend in Canada whom I completely trust, and who I strongly suspected would be awake at this time, so sent him a message and... yup! With some manoeuvering, he was able to complete the task on my behalf. Thank you again, you-know-who-you-are!</p> <p>Of all the banking issues I expected I might run into, <i>this</i> wasn't really one of them! Ah well, now I know...<br><br></p> <p>So finally, here we are. A slightly frustrating day, but eh.</p> <p>I now have a decision to make: for the first time, I have a choice of two highways for the ~600km between here and Ulan-Ude. The main road (R258) or an alternative to the north (R436). Considerations:</p> <ul> <li>R258 is about 75km longer</li> <li>R436 reaches a higher elevation, and seems to be hillier</li> <li>R258 is a "known quantity" - it is covered by Google Street View, and I can see it is paved all the way; R436 is not covered and so is partly ???</li> <li>R258 has cell phone coverage for most of the way (although the couple biggest gaps are in this section); R436 has almost no coverage.</li> </ul> <p>I think I'm leaning toward the main road (R258), mostly because of the cell coverage. But we'll see.</p> <p>Tomorrow!</p> <BR /><BR /> <IMG SRC="/bikejournal/categories/lodging.png" ALIGN="bottom" HEIGHT="32" WIDTH="32" /> <EM><SMALL>Today&#x2019;s lodging: <SPAN CLASS="blag_underline">Hotel Zabaikalie, Chita</SPAN>. Right downtown, so a bit noisy outside but that doesn't bother me. Good breakfast buffet; free wi-fi. &#x20BD;3100 (but half price if you arrive after midnight!)</SMALL></EM><BR /> <IMG SRC="/bikejournal/categories/meal.png" ALIGN="bottom" HEIGHT="32" WIDTH="32" /> <EM><SMALL>Today&#x2019;s meal: <SPAN CLASS="blag_underline">"Mama Roma" pizza</SPAN>. I have concluded that Russian pizza is not for me.</SMALL></EM><BR /> <IMG SRC="/bikejournal/categories/road.png" ALIGN="bottom" HEIGHT="32" WIDTH="32" /> <EM><SMALL>Today&#x2019;s road: <SPAN CLASS="blag_underline">R297 (Fmr: M58) - A350 - &#x423;&#x43B;. &#x41A;&#x438;&#x440;&#x43E;&#x432;&#x430;</SPAN>. Very hilly from Bogomyagkovo onwards. Lots of elevation gain and loss. Also shoulders mostly gone (or at least very narrow) after Naryn-Talacha. Road surface still decent. A350 access road is of surprisingly excellent quality!</SMALL></EM><BR /> Jun. 29, 2016: Srednyaya Kiya, Zabaikalskiy Krai, Russia Sun, 10 Jul 2016 23:48:55 -0500 20160629 <p>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.</p> <p>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.</p> <p>For those of you who don't know, this broken wrist is nothing new, or particularly alarming, as such.</p> <p>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...</p> <p>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.</p> <p>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.</p> <p>In the meantime, I had a &#x433;&#x43E;&#x441;&#x442;&#x438;&#x43D;&#x438;&#x446;&#x430; waiting for me in Chernyshevsk, so up-and-at-'em!</p> <p>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.</p> <p>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.</p> <p>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.</p> <p>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).</p> <p>I got there, and... no. There was a cafe just off the side of the road. It <i>might</i> have been open, but looked more questionable than not, and I decided I just didn't care. Chernyshevsk was close enough.</p> <p>Another 15-20km of ups and downs, and then, I was out of the forest.</p> <p>No, I don't think you understand. When I say I was out of the forest, I mean that I was <i>out</i>.</p> <p>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.</p> <p>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.</p> <p>As Emeril might say: "BAM!"</p> <p><small>(now there's a reference that is in danger of becoming dated!)</small><br><br></p> <p>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.</p> <p>The road flattened out some (no more ups and downs) but was still going slightly downhill, so I was making good time.</p> <p>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.</p> <p>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.</p> <p>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 <i>Easy Rider</i>.)</p> <p>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.</p> <p>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!</p> <p>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 fran&ccedil;ais?"</p> <p>So! Philippe Delaporte and his son Thibault are from Paris, and are <a href="">driving around the world in their Porsche 928</a>. They're pretty cool guys, and we chatted a while about our respective adventures.</p> <p>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!<br><br></p> <p>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 <i>lot</i> of Korean motorbikers here; it's obviously a common thing. Since encountering my first convoy <A HREF=""><IMG SRC="" BORDER="0" ALIGN="absmiddle" WIDTH="16" HEIGHT="16" ALT="" /></A> <A HREF="">just outside of Luchegorsk</A>, I've come across at least 5 or 6 others. So this wasn't that unusual.</p> <p>Anyhow, after I passed them, they passed me while I was with the Porshche.</p> <p>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.</p> <p>Sure enough, the two guys were finishing off their lunch, and just making their way out as I went in.</p> <p>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.</p> <p>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).</p> <p>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.</p> <p>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.</p> <p>With -- you guessed it -- a couple of by-now very familiar motorbikes out front.</p> <p>I went inside to check in, and there were the Koreans in the middle of a bit of a discussion with the receptionist.</p> <p>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?)</p> <p>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!</p> <p>Light bulb.</p> <p>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).</p> <p>Anyway, easily enough sorted out. But interesting.</p> <p>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.</p> <UL> <LI>Downhill into the valley towards Zhiriken: A few clouds, lots of conifers; road still great.<BR /> <A HREF=""><IMG SRC="" BORDER="1" /></A></LI> <LI>Out of the forest! Giving way to grasslands.<BR /> <A HREF=""><IMG SRC="" BORDER="1" /></A></LI> <LI>Philippe (l) and Thibault (r).<BR /> <A HREF=""><IMG SRC="" BORDER="1" /></A></LI> <LI>Entering Chernyshevsk.<BR /> <A HREF=""><IMG SRC="" BORDER="1" /></A></LI> <LI>The Karina hotel. Very good place - clean, modern, free (and halfway speedy!) wi-fi.<BR /> <A HREF=""><IMG SRC="" BORDER="1" /></A></LI> <LI>Fence kitty keeps an eye on the world going by.<BR /> <A HREF=""><IMG SRC="" BORDER="1" /></A></LI> <LI>WWII memorial in Chernyshevsk.<BR /> <A HREF=""><IMG SRC="" BORDER="1" /></A></LI> <LI>Chernyshevsk rail yard (north).<BR /> <A HREF=""><IMG SRC="" BORDER="1" /></A></LI> <LI>Chernyshevsk rail yard (south).<BR /> <A HREF=""><IMG SRC="" BORDER="1" /></A></LI> <LI>Blini and condensed milk. Tasty. And dangerous.<BR /> <A HREF=""><IMG SRC="" BORDER="1" /></A></LI> <LI>The Aleur River through town.<BR /> <A HREF=""><IMG SRC="" BORDER="1" /></A></LI> <LI>Heading west with a strong tailwind.<BR /> <A HREF=""><IMG SRC="" BORDER="1" /></A></LI> <LI>Looking back towards Chernyshevsk.<BR /> <A HREF=""><IMG SRC="" BORDER="1" /></A></LI> <LI>Herding sheep.<BR /> <A HREF=""><IMG SRC="" BORDER="1" /></A></LI> <LI>Afternoon.<BR /> <A HREF=""><IMG SRC="" BORDER="1" /></A></LI> <LI>Big grassy valley.<BR /> <A HREF=""><IMG SRC="" BORDER="1" /></A></LI> </UL> <p>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.</p> <p>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.</p> <p>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.</p> <p>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.</p> <p>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.</p> <p>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.</p> <p>So. A few hours of this later, and I was finally on the way, somewhere in midafternoon.</p> <p>Which is really too bad because there was a terrific tailwind blowing. Despite not leaving the hotel until almost 3PM, I <i>still</i> 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!</p> <p>Oh well. No use crying over condensed milk. As it, uh, were.</p> <p>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.</p> <p>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.</p> <p>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!</p> <p>Tomorrow: Chita.</p> <BR /><BR /> <IMG SRC="/bikejournal/categories/lodging.png" ALIGN="bottom" HEIGHT="32" WIDTH="32" /> <EM><SMALL>Today&#x2019;s lodging: <SPAN CLASS="blag_underline">Hotel Karina, Chernyshevsk.</SPAN>. Really good rooms, clean, decent cafe, good storage options, free wifi. &#x20BD;1650</SMALL></EM><BR /> <IMG SRC="/bikejournal/categories/road.png" ALIGN="bottom" HEIGHT="32" WIDTH="32" /> <EM><SMALL>Today&#x2019;s road: <SPAN CLASS="blag_underline">R297 (Fmr: M58)</SPAN>. 73.9 km, 3h36. Mostly downhill on excellent roads. Incredible transition from forest to grasslands halfway between Zhireken and Chernyshevsk.</SMALL></EM><BR /> <IMG SRC="/bikejournal/categories/road.png" ALIGN="bottom" HEIGHT="32" WIDTH="32" /> <EM><SMALL>Today&#x2019;s road: <SPAN CLASS="blag_underline">R297 (Fmr: M58)</SPAN>. 141.9 km, 6h58. Fairly flat, a couple of major river valleys. Hillier later in the day; major uphill after Bogomyagkovo.</SMALL></EM><BR /> Jun. 27, 2016: Aksyonovo-Zilovskoe, Zabaikalskiy Krai, Russia Fri, 08 Jul 2016 22:32:35 -0500 20160627 <p>One of the big problems with doing a long big-distance day, is the recovery afterward.</p> <p>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.</p> <p>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.</p> <p>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.</p> <p>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.</p> <p>I thanked him for the warning and headed on. Not much I could do about it anyway.</p> <p>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.</p> <p>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.)</p> <p>80km from Mogocha, I got my comeuppance.</p> <p>I suddenly noticed (how did that happen??) that the sky to my left was very dark indeed.</p> <p>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.</p> <p>The clouds were racing from left to right.</p> <p>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.</p> <p>It wasn't just rain, but again thunder and fork lightning, and I was clearly right in its path.</p> <p>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 <i>possibly</i> encounter another one before the storm arrived.</p> <p>I biked as fast as I could: I figured I had about 5, <i>maybe</i> 10 minutes. The storm was moving in fast. And oh god was it ever black.</p> <p>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.</p> <p>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.</p> <p>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.</p> <p>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.</p> <p>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.</p> <p>Indeed there was lightning. The forked stuff, all around. A few times I heard a deafening crack as something nearby was rent.</p> <p>Luckily, not me.</p> <p>I stood shivering in the pelting hail, which gradually turned into rain, hammering my back.</p> <p>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!</p> <p>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.</p> <p>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.</p> <p>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.</p> <p>The sky was unmistakably lighter, and it was clearly not as hot or stifling as previously.</p> <p>I encountered many trees along the highway, felled by lightning. Again: glad that wasn't me.</p> <p>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.</p> <p>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.</p> <p>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.</p> <p>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!</p> <p>Arrived at said cafe/hotel, and grabbed a room for &#x20BD;500. The cheapest room I've yet found and, well... all I can say is that sometimes you get what you pay for.</p> <p>The first thing the hostess warned me about was: there's no shower.</p> <p>Didn't particularly bother me. I was already soaked. I was more interested in drying out than I was about getting further wet.</p> <p>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.</p> <p>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.</p> <p>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.</p> <p>You know what? Whatever. It was still a roof over my head, and out of the (now having most assuredly returned) rain.</p> <p>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").</p> <p>After dinner I went back up to the room, and discovered I was wrong. There <i>was</i> running water: specifically it was coming in from the storm outside and running across the floor.</p> <p>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.)</p> <p>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.</p> <p>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.</p> <p>Nothing of any interest on, but at least half the channels were coming from Turkmenistan. Go figure...</p> <p>Turned off the TV, laid wet things out so as to try to dry them, and nothing better to do than get some sleep.<br><br></p> <p>Drip.</p> <p>Drip.</p> <p>Drip drip.</p> <p>Drip drip drip.</p> <p>Drip drip drip drip drip drip...</p> <p>It was raining. <i>Inside</i> the room.</p> <p>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.</p> <p>"Facepalm." To use the vernacular.</p> <p>Oh well. At least the room had 2 beds. If it started raining <i>on</i> me, I could just move to the other one. I figured my odds were <strike>good</strike> reasonable.</p> <p>And with that, I fell asleep to the continuing sound of thunder outside and raindrops inside.</p> <UL> <LI>The main street through the centre of Mogocha.<BR /> <A HREF=""><IMG SRC="" BORDER="1" /></A></LI> <LI>Hotel kitty lounges on the front step.<BR /> <A HREF=""><IMG SRC="" BORDER="1" /></A></LI> <LI>An extremely hazy and muggy day out of Mogocha.<BR /> <A HREF=""><IMG SRC="" BORDER="1" /></A></LI> <LI>After the lightning and hailstorm: lots of downed trees all along the highway.<BR /> <A HREF=""><IMG SRC="" BORDER="1" /></A></LI> <LI>The cafe (and hotel, after a fashion) "&#x411;&#x430;&#x433;&#x443;&#x43B;&#x44C;&#x43D;&#x438;&#x43A;" near Sbega. (Google Translate says "Labrador Tea"? *shrug*)<BR /> <A HREF=""><IMG SRC="" BORDER="1" /></A></LI> <LI>The food was at least decent, if simple.<BR /> <A HREF=""><IMG SRC="" BORDER="1" /></A></LI> <LI>On the road again.<BR /> <A HREF=""><IMG SRC="" BORDER="1" /></A></LI> <LI>A pretty standard front counter in any cafe or truck stop along the highway. This one, the cafe "Mayak."<BR /> <A HREF=""><IMG SRC="" BORDER="1" /></A></LI> <LI>Second flat tyre of the day. Dunno if it's better or worse when they come in the middle of a downhill.<BR /> <A HREF=""><IMG SRC="" BORDER="1" /></A></LI> <LI>Those clouds look questionable...<BR /> <A HREF=""><IMG SRC="" BORDER="1" /></A></LI> <LI>A little golden-domed chapel on a random hillside a few km short of Aksyonovo-Zilovskoe.<BR /> <A HREF=""><IMG SRC="" BORDER="1" /></A></LI> <LI>Campsite. Nice view! All set up and waiting for the rain to arrive.<BR /> <A HREF=""><IMG SRC="" BORDER="1" /></A></LI> </UL> <p>After an otherwise uneventful night, I woke up this morning to a once-again sunny day. The rain seemed to have finally passed.</p> <p>I spent a bit of time ensuring everything was dried out, then had some breakfast and retrieved the bike.</p> <p>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.</p> <p>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.</p> <p>I noticed right around the time of my first flat tyre, basically while pulling out of the hotel parking lot.</p> <p>Great. Perfect timing. All I really wanted was to be gone from this place and on my way.</p> <p>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!</p> <p>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 &#x20BD;55 short of what he needed. He asked me if I had any money.</p> <p>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.</p> <p>I gave him the &#x20BD;55, and he ran back into the cafe with it, emerging triumphantly with a bottle of vodka brandished high.</p> <p>Ha. Of course.</p> <p>I was suddenly apparently his friend for life, as he grabbed my hand and held it next to his heart, declaring his affinity.</p> <p>"Come on!" He invited me: "Let's go drink!"</p> <p>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!"</p> <p>Several declarations of friendship later, the two guys roared off to enjoy their treasure.</p> <p>Ok, back on the road. Sans internet connection.</p> <p>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.</p> <p>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.</p> <p>Over one hill, then another, and another, and still no connection.</p> <p>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.</p> <p>Then suddenly, somewhere in the middle of the day, I stopped to drink some water and noticed that I had a connection again!</p> <p>Cue: massive relief.</p> <p>And a few km later, another flat tyre.</p> <p>If it's not one thing, it's another, it seems.</p> <p>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...</p> <p>...already? That's early...</p> <p>...oh. No, It's just more rainclouds.</p> <p>What. Ever.</p> <p>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.</p> <p>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.</p> <p>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.</p> <p>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.</p> <p>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.</p> <p>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.</p> <p>Only a couple more days to Chita, and the end of the Amur highway!</p> <BR /><BR /> <IMG SRC="/bikejournal/categories/lodging.png" ALIGN="bottom" HEIGHT="32" WIDTH="32" /> <EM><SMALL>Today&#x2019;s lodging: <SPAN CLASS="blag_underline">Cafe and hotel "&#x411;&#x430;&#x433;&#x443;&#x43B;&#x44C;&#x43D;&#x438;&#x43A;", Sbega.</SPAN>. Avoid. Avoid avoid avoid. &#x20BD;500, but just: no.</SMALL></EM><BR /> <IMG SRC="/bikejournal/categories/road.png" ALIGN="bottom" HEIGHT="32" WIDTH="32" /> <EM><SMALL>Today&#x2019;s road: <SPAN CLASS="blag_underline">R297 (Fmr: M58)</SPAN>. 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.</SMALL></EM><BR /> <IMG SRC="/bikejournal/categories/road.png" ALIGN="bottom" HEIGHT="32" WIDTH="32" /> <EM><SMALL>Today&#x2019;s road: <SPAN CLASS="blag_underline">R297 (Fmr: M58)</SPAN>. 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.</SMALL></EM><BR /> Jun. 25, 2016: Mogocha, Zabaikalskiy Krai, Russia Fri, 08 Jul 2016 22:11:23 -0500 20160625 <p>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.</p> <p>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.</p> <p>Not this morning.</p> <p>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.</p> <p>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.</p> <p>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.</p> <p>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.</p> <p>The cafe was a kilometer or two along, at the bottom of the hill.</p> <p>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.</p> <p>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?</p> <p>I decided that 62 km to the hotel was doable, and continued, deciding to ration the half-litre of water I had remaining.</p> <p>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.</p> <p>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...</p> <p>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?</p> <p>25 hours now since I'd eaten anything; I might as well have chosen to observe Ramadhan that day!</p> <p>Finally, finally, with maybe 2 km to go, it started descending. Just a short tiny hill, and there was the hotel on the right!</p> <p>Apparently most of the expected downhill would come after the hotel; between it and the river.</p> <p>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!</p> <p>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.</p> <p>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).</p> <p>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!</p> <p>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.</p> <p>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.</p> <p>Could I get anything from the restaurant? I was starving! No, the restaurant was closed without power.</p> <p><i>*groan*</i></p> <p>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.)</p> <p>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 <i>something</i> from the store.</p> <p>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.</p> <p>I got a bottle of warm juice, some cold blini (crepes) and a bowl of cold borshch. It would do for now.</p> <p>Went back in my room and the power came back on almost the same instant I walked through the door. <i>Sigh.</i></p> <p>At least I could finally have a shower!</p> <p>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...!</p> <UL> <LI>More "GeoGuessr" scenery. The view hasn't really changed much at all since Belogorsk. More hilly, perhaps.<BR /> <A HREF=""><IMG SRC="" BORDER="1" /></A></LI> <LI>One of the few downhills, earlier in the morning.<BR /> <A HREF=""><IMG SRC="" BORDER="1" /></A></LI> <LI>Hotel Complex "Yerofey", Yerofey Pavlovich.<BR /> <A HREF=""><IMG SRC="" BORDER="1" /></A></LI> <LI>Entering Zabaikalskiy Krai! 5th province! Siberia!!<BR /> <A HREF=""><IMG SRC="" BORDER="1" /></A></LI> <LI>Zabaikalskiy Krai is the first province where I've seen them flying the provincial flag to any extent. They seem to identify with it rather strongly. Reminds me a bit of some African flags.<BR /> <A HREF=""><IMG SRC="" BORDER="1" /></A></LI> <LI>The R297 through Zabaikalskiy Krai is also signposted as the AH30. ("AH": <a href="">Asian Highway</a>)<BR /> <A HREF=""><IMG SRC="" BORDER="1" /></A></LI> <LI>Amazar River. Followed this valley for a little over half the distance to Mogocha.<BR /> <A HREF=""><IMG SRC="" BORDER="1" /></A></LI> <LI>Billboard for the Hotel "Tourist"<BR /> <A HREF=""><IMG SRC="" BORDER="1" /></A></LI> <LI>Hotel Tourist, Mogocha<BR /> <A HREF=""><IMG SRC="" BORDER="1" /></A></LI> </UL> <p>I got up this morning with one plan on my mind: to make it to Mogocha.</p> <p>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.</p> <p>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.</p> <p>So I decided to try. By 8:30 I was up, out of the room, and downstairs in the cafe for a quick breakfast.</p> <p>Which is when I got my first true lesson on the drinking culture in Russia.</p> <p>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.</p> <p>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.</p> <p>So anyway, this morning, I got an education, and learned that my precautions were sadly na&iuml;ve.</p> <p>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.</p> <p>Nobody batted an eye or gave any indication that this was in the least bit strange.</p> <p>See, it's not just that Russians drink a lot. Rather it's that they drink a lot <i>all day long</i>.</p> <p>I think I need to reassess how careful of drunk drivers I need to be; at any time of day.<br><br></p> <p>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.</p> <p>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).</p> <p>But neither really did anything go particularly <i>right</i>. It was, basically, just an overall-decent day. The kind that I always expect to come frequently, but only ever seem to rarely do.</p> <p>Anyway. An hour or two out of Yerofey Pavlovich, a significant milestone: I crossed into Zabaikalskiy Krai: my 5th province. And now <A HREF=""><IMG SRC="" BORDER="0" ALIGN="absmiddle" WIDTH="16" HEIGHT="16" ALT="Wikipedia" /></A> <A HREF="">officially in Siberia</A>!</p> <p>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.</p> <p>Then I heard a rumble of thunder, and saw some lightning over the hills and changed my mind in a hurry.</p> <p>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.</p> <p>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.</p> <p>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.</p> <p>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 "&#x43E;&#x431;&#x449;&#x435;&#x436;&#x438;&#x442;&#x438;&#x435;" (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.</p> <p>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."</p> <p>No lights on, or any indication it was open. But that's one of the main lessons of Russia (which I've mentioned <A HREF=""><IMG SRC="" BORDER="0" ALIGN="absmiddle" WIDTH="16" HEIGHT="16" ALT="" /></A> <A HREF="">previously</A>): don't let outward appearances deceive. So I decided to try the door anyway.</p> <p>Sure enough, it opened, and there was a desk inside with a friendly enough receptionist that was happy to book me a room. &#x20BD;800 or so. No ensuite, but that's fine. Perfectly clean and comfortable. Shower down the hall, power outlets; no complaints.</p> <p>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.</p> <p>And more than adequate after a 195km day. Hurrah!</p> <BR /><BR /> <IMG SRC="/bikejournal/categories/lodging.png" ALIGN="bottom" HEIGHT="32" WIDTH="32" /> <EM><SMALL>Today&#x2019;s lodging: <SPAN CLASS="blag_underline">Hotel Complex Yerofey, Yerofey Pavlovich</SPAN>. Other than the power outage, nice, clean, comfortable. Good restaurant. Ensuite toilet; shower downstairs for extra &#x20BD;100. About &#x20BD;1200 total.</SMALL></EM><BR /> <IMG SRC="/bikejournal/categories/road.png" ALIGN="bottom" HEIGHT="32" WIDTH="32" /> <EM><SMALL>Today&#x2019;s road: <SPAN CLASS="blag_underline">R297 (Fmr: M58)</SPAN>. 95 km, ~7h. A surprising amount of uphill. Good roads, boring scenery, no cafes or any retail of consequence until YP.</SMALL></EM><BR /> <IMG SRC="/bikejournal/categories/lodging.png" ALIGN="bottom" HEIGHT="32" WIDTH="32" /> <EM><SMALL>Today&#x2019;s lodging: <SPAN CLASS="blag_underline">Hotel Tourist, Mogocha</SPAN>. Simple but adequate hotel. Simple but adequate cafe. &#x20BD;800.</SMALL></EM><BR /> <IMG SRC="/bikejournal/categories/road.png" ALIGN="bottom" HEIGHT="32" WIDTH="32" /> <EM><SMALL>Today&#x2019;s road: <SPAN CLASS="blag_underline">R297 (Fmr: M58)</SPAN>. 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.</SMALL></EM><BR /> Jun. 23, 2016: Ulyagir Station, Amurskaya Oblast, Russia Mon, 04 Jul 2016 21:35:18 -0500 20160623 <p>I never did find out what kind of animal had made those nighttime shrieks in the meadow near Krasnaya Pad Station.</p> <p>Sorry to all the curious readers, but at the end of the day, anything I could say would just be made up. And this isn't that kind of blog.</p> <p>I got up the next morning, packed up the tent and took a gander around, but didn't see anything. No tracks, no disturbed bushes, nothing. My best guess is that it was an owl, but it's just that: a guess.</p> <p>Once I was up, I was up. I packed up my tent in a beautiful morning, and got on the road, headed for the the truck stop near Magdagachi, 25 or 30 km up the road, where my map said there was a cafe and I could have breakfast.</p> <p>After little more than a hot dog for dinner the previous day (and a couple of &#x43F;&#x438;&#x440;&#x43E;&#x436;&#x43A;&#x438; for breakfast), I was pretty hungry so it was a big meal. Borshch (<i>always</i> borshch!) with bread, coffee, plov (i.e.: pilaf), a couple pieces of chicken, and a mushroom-stuffed chicken roll.</p> <p>Eating at my table, I overheard a couple of the ladies behind the counter giggling and saying something about "the American" but ehh... let 'em think what they want, etc. I had 100 miles to bike.</p> <p>That was indeed my target: actually a hair over 100 miles; 167km to be accurate. 167km would get me to the town of Skovorodino (or more accurately, the outlying village of Never), where the A360/M56 "Lena" highway to Yakutsk and Magadan, and the <A HREF=""><IMG SRC="" BORDER="0" ALIGN="absmiddle" WIDTH="16" HEIGHT="16" ALT="Wikipedia" /></A> <A HREF="">Highway of Bones</A> splits off.</p> <p>So at Never, one of the major crossroads of the Russian far east, I knew there was a hotel (an actual "tourist" hotel, rather than just a truck stop) that would presumably be able to do the government checkin. It was the only one that I was at all confident about until Chernyshevsk, almost another week away.</p> <p>So I kind-of had to stay there. It would have been a much easier haul had I made the intended distance the previous day, but the headwind put an end to that. So now I was faced with a 100-mile slog to get to Skovorodino.</p> <p>With the headwind still coming at me. Of course.</p> <p>So a necessarily early start, and a big breakfast.</p> <p>Breakfast dispensed with, I was back on the road. I also had a slightly secondary motive for making the hotel in Never that night: I was running low on battery power for my iPhone. The breakfast truck stop didn't offer a place to plug in and charge; nor did the attached store have another backup battery, to supplement the one I had bought in Bikin, back before my big battery blew up in the Birobidzhan hotel room.</p> <p>So: into the wind!</p> <p>And the wind notwithstanding, I made reliable, if slow, progress. Skovorodino looked to be within sight.</p> <p>I spent almost the entire day riding through what I can only describe as the "butterfly republic." I don't know if it's the latitude or the time of year, but suddenly, there are butterflies <i>everywhere</i>. Hundreds, thousands; tens of thousands; <i>hundreds</i> of thousands of little pale yellow butterflies filling the air and all along the ground. I was riding through literal clouds of butterflies all day long. A little surreal.</p> <p>In mid-afternoon I began to grow increasingly worried about my drive train. It was beginning to squeak something fierce. A few days prior everything had been running so smoothly - I had been looking forward to the 1000km mark and the ability to make a Social Media post to wit: "1000km from Khabarovsk and the bike is purring like a kitten!"</p> <p>Because it was.</p> <p>Until... it wasn't.</p> <p>I never got to <i>quite</i> make that post the way I had envisioned. The squeaking had started the previous evening, a few hours before the 1000km milestone. And had only grown worse over the following day.</p> <p>I thought it might be the strain of constantly pushing into the wind, but I wasn't sure. Either way, in mid-afternoon, I pulled into a highwayside rest stop, and took the time to thoroughly clean, WD-40, and re-oil the chain and everything.</p> <p>It seemed to help, so I was still confident of making Skovorodino.</p> <p>This feeling only increased when, about 80km short of my destination, I discovered that the suspicion I'd been having for the last couple of days, that I was slowly climbing in elevation, was true. A little short of Taldan, I went over a clear pass and started descending. The road changed direction and the headwind was no longer quite so bad.</p> <p>(Indeed I had seen on my map that the road took a big zigzag at this point and half suspected that it might represent a pass of some sort. But I wasn't sure how much this was wishful thinking, and in the interests of not raising my hopes only to have them dashed, had not thought about this particularly hard.)</p> <p>But nevermind that now. I was descending, and not quite so into-the-wind as during the first half of the day. And I still had a little over 4 hours until sunset! I briefly stopped at the gas station near Taldan to buy some new water bottles, and full of expectations, pressed on.</p> <p>Until 45 km from Never, when the squeaking came back, and suddenly a big sproing on my bike went "<i>Sproing!</i>"</p> <p>Worried that I might have just lost a spoke (I have backups; I can fix that... but it's a pain), I looked down and saw that my tyre had completely blown out, bringing me to a swift halt.</p> <p>I changed the tyre, and checked all the spokes. They all seemed to be fine. Was that just a particularly loud blowout that I'd heard? I was suspicious, but I didn't see anything else immediately wrong. Until I was about to load everything back on the bike and saw that the front derailleur had twisted itself all around, causing a kink in the chain and at low gear, poking into the tyre. Hence the blowout.</p> <p>Sigh. Well, whatever got twisted could be untwisted. I did so, and tightened the bolts, praying that that was all that had caused the problem in the first place; bolts that had come loose, as opposed to something more serious. And then replaced the chain, and got back on the road. An hour and a half down.</p> <p>It was now only an hour to sunset and with 45 km to go, I obviously wasn't going to make that, but with any luck it wouldn't be too much later.</p> <p>The wind was pretty much gone and I was making decent time again. Sunset with a little under 30 km to go, and then 23km from the hotel, an uphill.</p> <p>Not the slight, very gradual net increase of the previous couple of days, but now suddenly the first real uphill since Zavitinsk: 5km of 6% (or so?) grade.</p> <p>(Hill grades here are hard to tell. The signs lie. I am entirely convinced that the highway crews have a stock of signs with various grades written on them, and they just pull one out at random. I've seen numbers anywhere from 3% to 12% and they seem to bear no. correlation. whatsoever. to how steep the hill actually is. Some of the steepest hills have been posted as 4% or 5%. Some of the 10%+ hills have turned out to be nearly nothing.)</p> <p>So I'm not sure exactly how steep it was, but 6% seems as good an estimation as anything. And the 5km was definitely right.</p> <p>So that took over half an hour to climb.</p> <p>At least there was a downhill on the other side... until halfway down things started feeling soft. I checked the tyre, and found I was riding nearly on the rims.</p> <p>One fixed tyre later, it was starting to get definitively dark, and I made it another 5 km. The dark made it hard to see what was on the road, and I went over a big pointy rock. There went another tyre - the third of the day.</p> <p>13km to go; it was past 11:30. I could still make this by midnight? Maybe? I started passing places along the side of the highway that looked like they would make promising campsites. But no. No, at this point I was going to get to that hotel, even out of just stubbornness alone.</p> <p>I needed the hotel to check me in, I needed to get power for my phone, and...</p> <p>...and...</p> <p>...and I was riding on a flat tyre. Again.</p> <p>Really?</p> <p><i>REALLY???</i></p> <p>Part of the problem with riding at night, of course: you can't see all the little bits and pieces on the highway that you'd normally want to avoid. Whether rocks, or other detritus. There are a lot of (truck) tyre parts strewn over the shoulders, and those are the worst. Because they come with little slivers of metal ribbing that easily poke into a bike tyre and cause a puncture. But in the black of night, with the black of the tyre against the black of the road...</p> <p>I began to think I might never make it to Never. (The jokes, they write themselves...)</p> <p>But no: I was 4km from the hotel. I was so close! I could even see the lights just ahead in the distance. I felt like I could walk it. I almost was about to walk it, except that with all the weight on the bike, even doing that would have caused problems for my wheel.</p> <p>So at past midnight, there I was, unloading all my saddlebags and panniers, so I could turn the bike over and fix the FOURTH flat tyre of the evening. To say I was "grumpy" would have been an understatement.</p> <p>But also more stubborn and determined to make it than ever.</p> <p>Small blessings: the butterflies aside, it had not been a particularly bug-filled day. The mosquitoes and black flies, for whatever reason, had been almost entirely absent. I just realized as I was fixing the flat. I was almost entirely unbothered by insects!</p> <p>Finally fixed, finally back on the road, finally almost there, and I once again felt a telltale squishiness...</p> <p>No, no, no, no, NO.</p> <p>I got off. And walked. The last 750m, pushing my bike up the last little hill, past the police station, and to the Hotel "Uyut."</p> <p>Where they had room available, and were able to check me in with the government.</p> <p>It was 1:30 AM, and the restaurant had closed at midnight: a good thing I'd had that big breakfast at the truck stop!</p> <p>I had a much-needed shower and went downstairs to see if I could find anything else to eat. Connected to the hotel was a big greenhouse-like building (indeed that's what I initially thought it was) called the "&#x417;&#x438;&#x43C;&#x43D;&#x438;&#x439; &#x421;&#x430;&#x434;" (Winter Garden). But the hotel lobby looked out into it and I could see it was actually an (African-themed) tiki bar! In a greenhouse, to be sure.</p> <p>You know what? I could probably do with a drink, now that I thought about it. I went in, just as a couple of patrons were spilling out of the doors: 2AM and the bar was closing.</p> <p>Oh well. I went to see if the gas station next door would have any snacks or anything. I woke up the sleeping kiosk attendant and managed to get a chocolate bar and bottle of orange pop. Breakfast of champions, as it were!</p> <p>But it would have to do. I went back to the room to eat "dinner" and see if there was anything of interest on TV. A dubbed version of <A HREF=""><IMG SRC="" BORDER="0" ALIGN="absmiddle" WIDTH="16" HEIGHT="16" ALT="IMDb" /></A> <A HREF="">Two for the Road</A>.</p> <p>Audrey Hepburn, a handful of snacks, and then I was <i>more</i> than ready for bed.</p> <UL> <LI>The meadow with the lake. Animals disappeared.<BR /> <A HREF=""><IMG SRC="" BORDER="1" /></A></LI> <LI>A big breakfast for a long day.<BR /> <A HREF=""><IMG SRC="" BORDER="1" /></A></LI> <LI>The truck stop at Magdagachi: toilet, cafe and motel.<BR /> <A HREF=""><IMG SRC="" BORDER="1" /></A></LI> <LI>Halfway from Khabarovsk to Chita!<BR /> <A HREF=""><IMG SRC="" BORDER="1" /></A></LI> <LI>Biking through butterflies.<BR /> <A HREF=""><IMG SRC="" BORDER="1" /></A></LI> <LI>The turnoff to Yakutsk and Madagan.<BR /> <A HREF=""><IMG SRC="" BORDER="1" /></A></LI> <LI>Hilly highway.<BR /> <A HREF=""><IMG SRC="" BORDER="1" /></A></LI> <LI>Cafe kitty has finished her chicken and looks expectantly for more.<BR /> <A HREF=""><IMG SRC="" BORDER="1" /></A></LI> </UL> <p>Compared to yesterday's shenanigans, today was relatively uneventful.</p> <p>I've been having issues with the code on this website (technical details: it 403s on me when certain combinations of Cyrillic letters are passed in as a POST variable -- but it took me a while to narrow this down, and for a long time, it seemed "random"). So I spent some time trying to narrow down the problem and debug.</p> <p>I also needed to take a long look at the bike tyre and make sure I'd removed every possible pointy bit that could cause further punctures.</p> <p>So it was a bit of a late start from the hotel.</p> <p>I also needed to get some cash. Was starting to run a little bit low, and Skovorodino was the last major town for many days, so seemed to be the best opportunity to find an ATM.</p> <p>The town itself was about 6 or 7 km off the highway. Luckily the access road was A+. The Google Earth coverage of this area is several years old, and squinting at the satellite view, it looked like it might be gravel. But nope - great newly-paved road with wide shoulders.</p> <p>My map showed 2 banks in Skovorodino.</p> <p>The first bank was a lie. There was nothing there but an old rundown shack.</p> <p>The second was better: there was at least a supermarket on the corner, but no ATM in evidence.</p> <p>Not sure what to do, I started aimlessly wandering the town, when I remembered the lesson of Belogorsk and headed for the train station.</p> <p>There was a little plaza in front of the train station, a bunch of cafes and food kiosks, a taxi stand, and a couple of shops, but no bank, as such.</p> <p>On a hunch, I parked the bike out front and went into the station.</p> <p>There was a metal detector at the entrance, and I had my backpack on with my computer in it, so naturally, the thing started squawking when I went through. I made a split-second decision and did what I guessed would be the norm: I completely ignored it and strode confidently into the station.</p> <p>Correct: nobody else cared about the alarm, either!</p> <p>And there, in the main concourse, a row of ATMs. Success!</p> <p>The cardinal rule of Russian towns: if you don't know where to find something -- first try the train station.</p> <p>Cash in hand, I came out, grabbed a late lunch / early dinner from one of the cafes, fed a few pieces of chicken to the cat who came out to make friends, back to the highway, and pressed on.</p> <p>With all the of the day's prior activities, I didn't make it too much further, but I also didn't want to press things, and made sure to end the day well before nightfall.</p> <p>Yesterday's big hill shortly before Never turned out to the beginning of a significantly hilly region: it's been a lot of up and down big hills all day.</p> <p>Nevertheless, I made it 82km (minus about 13km into town and back). No hotel or truck stop or anything anywhere near here, so I just found a campsite buried in the forest. All right, except very full of horseflies.</p> <p>I did pass one cafe not too long before the campsite, but it not having been that long since Skovorodino, I wasn't particularly hungry, so didn't stop.</p> <p>The tyre has so far held out. The weather has been really good the last couple of days. Sunny but not hot. Not a drop of rain in evidence.</p> <BR /><BR /> <IMG SRC="/bikejournal/categories/road.png" ALIGN="bottom" HEIGHT="32" WIDTH="32" /> <EM><SMALL>Today&#x2019;s road: <SPAN CLASS="blag_underline">R297 (Fmr: M58)</SPAN>. 167.6 km, 9h31. Road was good as always, first half slightly uphill, second half mostly downhill or flat. Big hill ~20km short of Never.</SMALL></EM><BR /> <IMG SRC="/bikejournal/categories/road.png" ALIGN="bottom" HEIGHT="32" WIDTH="32" /> <EM><SMALL>Today&#x2019;s road: <SPAN CLASS="blag_underline">R297 (Fmr: M58)</SPAN>. 81.6 km, 4h57. Lots of up and down. Into the hills now!</SMALL></EM><BR /> Jun. 21, 2016: Krasnaya Pad Station, Amurskaya Oblast, Russia Mon, 04 Jul 2016 11:29:17 -0500 20160621 <p>In the hotel cafe in Tsiolkovskiy the other night, while having dinner under the watchful eyes of the Rt. Hon. Vladimir Putin, I had the first chance since my arrival to watch some Russian TV.</p> <p>Well, no, that needs clarification. It was far from my first chance - I'd had plenty of previous opportunities; every hotel room I've been in has had a TV. But not being one to watch much TV at the best of times, the prospect of spending my time here holed up in a bedroom watching Russian TV was pretty far down my list, so I'd never bothered.</p> <p>But in the cafe, there was a wall-mounted TV tuned in to &#1056;&#1086;&#1089;&#1089;&#1080;&#1103;24, the 24h news channel, and for the first time, I was grabbed by the impulse to actually pay attention.</p> <p>A lot of the usual stuff - weather, sports reports. Some chatter about Brexit (this probably being what inspired me to watch in the first place). Some human-interest story about a festival of sorts -- looked kind-of medieval; "ren faire"-like -- somewhere down south of Rostov.</p> <p>And a story about NATO provoking Russia by performing military exercises in the Baltic sea just off the coast of St. Petersburg.</p> <p>Could it really be? How much of this was truth, and how much embellishment? I checked in online with a friend outside the country, who confirmed that yes, NATO was performing military exercises, but no, they weren't right off the coast of St. Petersburg; rather were in western Poland.</p> <p>Interesting. So some kernel of truth, but things definitely being misrepresented. Although, as I rationalized, it was entirely possible that the bit about St. Petersburg was just me and my questionable Russian misunderstanding the story.</p> <p>"Or," as my friend pointed out: "that may be the subliminal message intended."</p> <p>Indeed. Always interesting to watch media in a country that doesn't do much more than pretend it's in any way distinct from the state.</p> <p>At any rate, it was an uneventful sleep, and the following morning, post "hearty" breakfast of more meat-filled fried bread, I was back on the highway.</p> <p>There... isn't much to say about this stretch of highway. For either yesterday or today. New road, so continued to be in very good condition, but also nothing on it. Indeed, the forest cranes of Tsiolkovskiy were the last signs of human development that I've seen in the last 2 days, other than the (very occasional) truck stop or gas station. Just endless, endless aspen forest. And the highway.</p> <p>I mean, it's pretty enough. And I've been enjoying the scenery. But hardly what you'd call exciting.</p> <p>I took a photo today and posted it to Social Media, whereupon a friend wisecracked that it "Looked like every single time (she'd) fired up <A HREF=""><IMG SRC="" BORDER="0" ALIGN="absmiddle" WIDTH="16" HEIGHT="16" ALT="GeoGuessr" /></A> <A HREF="">GeoGuessr</A>."</p> <p>I had to laugh hard at this. Because it is so, so true. And it's been kinda like that, all two days. Not much variation; just endless "GeoGuessr scenery."</p> <p>It's not even particularly hilly -- just a few very slight-grade hills. So the road doesn't curve, really, at all. It's not quite "Saskatchewan-straight" but not far off. A mostly-straight road through endless forests.</p> <p>Extremely similar (no big surprise!) to highways in northern BC or Alberta. Or probably northern Saskatchewan for that matter, though I've never been there. I mean: boreal forest is boreal forest, I suppose.</p> <p>Through to about Belogorsk, I had been surprised (and slightly impressed) at how every bridge over single little tiny stream or creek had a sign bearing the name of the stream. They were all named; however many countless thousands of them. Well, yeah. Not so much any more. Now the sign beside pretty much every bridge just says "&#1088;&#1091;&#1095;&#1077;&#1081;" ("creek").</p> <p>Leaving Tsiolkovskiy, the weather was a little bit cooler and cloudier than the previous day, although still plenty warm enough for the most part. Leading on into evening I noticed the clouds gathering and growing darker. It was pretty clear there was a rain storm coming.</p> <p>I wasn't really sure what to do. I hadn't seen a shelter (or any building of any description) in at least 50km. I knew from my map that there was a gas station 25-ish km away. Indeed it was my intended target for the day - the plan was to grab something to eat there, then find a place to camp. Could I try to race the storm?</p> <p>This was beginning to feel a bit like that first day out of Khabarovsk; the one that ended in the swamp. Although mercifully the ground was a good deal more solid this time.</p> <p>I quickly realized that racing the storm would be futile. It was moving much too fast.</p> <p>I rather did want to make the gas station, though; I hadn't had anything to eat since breakfast. Oh well, nothing for it then but to brace myself.</p> <p>Except... the storm never came. I saw it sweeping across the sky maybe 5km ahead of me, in a great shadowy path from left-to-right. But where I was stayed mercifully dry! The roads, to be sure, were completely wet from the storm that had been there not 15 minutes prior, but in the air: not a drop.</p> <p>I had been berating myself earlier for making slower progress than I'd have liked, but some things may turn out to be blessings in disguise.</p> <p>Speaking of blessings, when I finally did get to the gas station, it turned out to be a full-on truck stop with a cafe, general store and hotel!</p> <p>An unexpected surprise, but a welcome one. I wasn't about to complain about a hotel almost exactly where I'd been planning to end the day. Especially since not 30 seconds after I arrived, the second wave of the storm hit, and the heavens began to open up.</p> <p>Some things... couldn't go better if I'd tried.</p> <UL> <LI>Aspen.<BR /> <A HREF=""><IMG SRC="" BORDER="1" /></A></LI> <LI>Entering Magdagachinskiy Region.<BR /> <A HREF=""><IMG SRC="" BORDER="1" /></A></LI> <LI>"Khutorok" truck stop and cafe.<BR /> <A HREF=""><IMG SRC="" BORDER="1" /></A></LI> <LI>Dvorik hotel.<BR /> <A HREF=""><IMG SRC="" BORDER="1" /></A></LI> <LI>The garden behind the hotel.<BR /> <A HREF=""><IMG SRC="" BORDER="1" /></A></LI> <LI>Endless forests and "GeoGuessr" scenery.<BR /> <A HREF=""><IMG SRC="" BORDER="1" /></A></LI> <LI>1,001 km from Khabarovsk.<BR /> <A HREF=""><IMG SRC="" BORDER="1" /></A></LI> <LI>Selfie! :-P<BR /> <A HREF=""><IMG SRC="" BORDER="1" /></A></LI> <LI>Sunset.<BR /> <A HREF=""><IMG SRC="" BORDER="1" /></A></LI> </UL> <p>The room at the Hotel "&#1044;&#1074;&#1086;&#1088;&#1080;&#1082;" ("courtyard") was cozy and comfortable, and I awoke the following morning again well-rested.</p> <p>After breakfast ("Putin Was Here" too, with the requisite framed photo. The man gets around!) I got on the highway to discover a decent headwind blowing down the road. Oh well.</p> <p>So much for any daily targets where I had hoped to make up for time lost due to stopping earlier than planned at Tsiolkovskiy.</p> <p>The road was almost exactly the same as the previous day. A few slight ups-and-downs, but mostly endless straight highway through endless aspen forests. And not a single house or sign of human habitation in sight.</p> <p>With the wind it was fairly tough going all day, despite the good road. I was wondering if there was a slight general elevation gain, or whether it was just the wind making me think so. I rather missed the altimeter on my bike computer in Canada.</p> <p>In the late afternoon I passed a gas station where I grabbed a pocket dog (here they call them "French dogs") and some various snack things (packets of almonds, etc.) for dinner (such as it was). I knew from my map it was the only building I would see all day.</p> <p>There was in fact another cafe about 140km from the truck stop, but with the headwind I wasn't quite going to make it, so it would have to serve as the following day's breakfast instead.</p> <p>Rather, I made as my target a random point along the road, a little over 105 km from the truck stop. Random except for the fact that it happened to be 1000km from Khabarovsk.</p> <p>There are numbered kilometer markers along all along every highway, and eh, I wanted a photo.</p> <p>So I pushed through the wind until I reached the marker and took my photo. An Instagram commenter had earlier in the day asked for a selfie, so sure: why not? A 1000km selfie!</p> <p>Except not <i>quite</i>. I got to the 1000km marker, only to find the sign gone. Had someone removed it as a souvenir? Who knows! It was, however, pretty much the first missing marker I've seen so far.</p> <p>Oh well. A 1001km selfie would have to do. Close enough!</p> <p>I took the photo almost exactly at sunset. &#1058;&#1072;&#1082;. Time to find a campsite!</p> <p>A few km later I found a promising candidate: a dirt road leading off into the forest. With the previous night's rain it was easy to tell that nobody had been along it that day, which seemed like a good sign. I decided to explore.</p> <p>I turned off onto the road which led about 500m into the forest then ended at a large clearing with a depression in the centre and a small lake at the bottom of the depression. Again, no recent vehicle or human tracks in sight; also no garbage, firepits or other signs of recent use.</p> <p>Just to be sure, I wandered along the edge of the meadow for a hundred metres or so until I was out of sight of the road, and set up camp.</p> <p>At these latitudes, darkness comes slowly. So even though it was a good hour and a half past sunset by the time I set up the tent and crawled inside, it was still fairly light out.</p> <p>Which was all fine. I got in a spot of internet-messaging, plugged my phone into the little backup battery to charge it, and slowly drifted off to sleep...<br><br></p> <p>...only to be startled back into wakefulness by a loud scream.</p> <p>Loud and very close.</p> <p>I had no idea what kind of animal made that noise. What kind of animal was...</p> <p>Another scream and rustling of bushes. Whatever it was, was maybe a couple of metres away.</p> <p>I mentally went through my options. What did I have to fight with, if it became necessary? Not much. I had broken the very first rule of bear spray, and had left the can in my bag. The bag that was still attached to the bike, outside the tent.</p> <p><i>Stupid.</i></p> <p>Inside the tent, I had... my shoes? My bike helmet?</p> <p>The first two screams had come about 15 seconds apart.</p> <p>A third scream came maybe 90 seconds after the second.</p> <p>Was it an owl? Was that maybe the shrieking of an owl?</p> <p>Either way, my best option seemed to be to do nothing. If it could smell me, it already knew I was there, and had not attacked yet. If not, then not moving would seem to give it no reason to attack the tent.</p> <p>In any case, the tent was probably big enough that it would give most animals pause, except for maybe a bear. And I know what bears sound like: this was definitely <i>not</i> a bear.</p> <p>Then silence; there was no further sound in the darkening twilight but the rustling of the wind.</p> <p>My mind still wondering about the possibilities, I fell asleep.</p> <p>*shrug*</p> <p>I can sleep through anything.</p> <BR /><BR /> <IMG SRC="/bikejournal/categories/road.png" ALIGN="bottom" HEIGHT="32" WIDTH="32" /> <EM><SMALL>Today&#x2019;s road: <SPAN CLASS="blag_underline">R297 (Fmr: M58)</SPAN>. 141.6 km, 6h29. Slight ups and downs, mostly straight, endless forests. Good road, not very exciting.</SMALL></EM><BR /> <IMG SRC="/bikejournal/categories/road.png" ALIGN="bottom" HEIGHT="32" WIDTH="32" /> <EM><SMALL>Today&#x2019;s road: <SPAN CLASS="blag_underline">R297 (Fmr: M58)</SPAN>. 120.3 km, 7h05. Same commentary as previous day, above.</SMALL></EM><BR /> Jun. 19, 2016: Tsiolkovskiy, Amurskaya Oblast, Russia Fri, 01 Jul 2016 21:11:26 -0500 20160619 <p>On Saturday, I had about 140km to go from Zavitinsk to Belogorsk. An almost perfect distance, especially since I particularly wanted to make a stop in Belogorsk anyway.</p> <p>At about 70,000 people, Belogorsk is the last major town until Chita, and indeed one of the last settlements of any real significance until Skovorodino, 550km away. So it made sense to stop there so I could check in with the government and give myself the maximum possible flexibility on my 7-day sliding window.</p> <p>I made it out of the hotel reasonably well rested (as expected, slept just fine through the commotion from the railway station), went down for some most excellent ham-and-cheese-stuffed blini (crepes) from the two friendly (and slightly giggly) girls at the kiosk on the plaza, and headed out of town.</p> <p>The road from Zavitinsk was pretty flat and uninteresting; a lot of agricultural and ranchlands, but not much else. At least it made for fast travelling. The road surface on the main highway continued to be impeccable.</p> <p>It threatened to rain as I was leaving Zavitinsk, so once I made it past the section of old crumbly concrete slabs and back onto the highway, I pulled out the rain cover and wrapped it over my pack.</p> <p>Sure enough it did rain, but never particularly heavily; rather just a lot of on-and-off drizzling that abated for good about halfway to Belogorsk.</p> <p>55km from Belogorsk, near the turnoff for Pozdeyevka, there was a minor (1km) uphill, and this marked pretty much the only hill of note for the entire day.</p> <p>Finally, 15km from town, I had to make the turnoff from the "Amur" mainline highway onto the spur to the provincial capital of Blagoveshchensk, about 125km distant. 8 or 9 km along the spur, I would again turn off, this time entering Belogorsk.</p> <p>The spur highway turned out to be in just as good condition as the main highway. Indeed, a few km along I spotted ahead of me a small figure making strange slumping motions along the side of the highway.</p> <p>I couldn't figure out what it could be until I closed in on it and discovered it to be a roller-blader zipping along, making pretty good time on the highway shoulder. (Just to give an idea of how good the road surface was!)</p> <p>By and by I closed in on the town centre. Belogorsk is a not big, but fairly attractive town. It reminded me a lot of Paarl in South Africa, or (what I remember of) Malacca in Malaysia, the latter of course circa 1986. There's a river with one main road running parallel, and a bunch of side roads extending a few short blocks on either side. The town is maybe 5-10km long, and little more than 1km wide. A lot of the architecture, especially closer to the town centre, is very faintly colonial in style. It was one of the most "un-Russian" Russian towns I have yet encountered.</p> <p>The Internet recommended to me the Hotel Malina, which turned out to be - as promised - reasonably priced, and a block or two off the main central square. Indeed the room was more than excellent, and one of the most "western-styled" I have come across in the country.</p> <p>Unfortunately, when I checked in, I discovered they had no storage space or garage or any place to put my bike. I wasn't sure what to do about this -- I had been cautioned at length by Yegor not to leave it outside a hotel; even locked up. A lock means little in this country. (Indeed, he was skeptical of my desire to purchase one, asking me: "What's the point?")</p> <p>Not to worry, however; the super-eager security guard set to phoning friends and contacts around the city, and in short order came up with a place with a garage only a few blocks away that would be happy to store my bike for &#x20BD;100.</p> <p>He insisted on walking me over to the garage so I wouldn't get lost, asking me questions along the way. Very curious, like most Russians seem to be!</p> <p>(Or maybe he just wanted a tip. Fair enough; I had no issues providing him with one.)</p> <p>Back to the hotel, had a shower and came down to round up some dinner. The hotel's restaurant turned out to be booked solid for a wedding (or some other party), but the receptionist said I could order room service. She pushed a menu at me and started to dial the telephone.</p> <p>No, I'm really not interested in room service. I indicated as much and asked if there was a good cafe or restaurant anywhere in the area. The receptionist and security guard looked at each other skeptically before turning back to me and suggesting there wouldn't be anything at this hour. The receptionist again pushed the room service menu at me, insisting it would be no problem.</p> <p>Nope. Not doing room service.</p> <p>"I'll just go out for a walk!" I announced to their dubious faces and headed out the door.</p> <p>I pulled up my iPhone map, which showed a bunch of cafes in the downtown area. It was already past dark, getting late, so I knew many wouldn't be open, but surely there'd be something.</p> <p>I should pause here to note that when I write "cafe" some are probably getting the wrong impression, thinking of something like Starbucks or whatnot; a coffee shop. Not at all. A "cafe" in Russia is just a restaurant, albeit a generally informal one. Ordering is usually done at the till, then one sits down and has food brought to the table; other than that it is a restaurant. A "restaurant" (quote-unquote) is a term generally reserved for a much higher-class establishment, and would only ever be found in larger cities than Belogorsk. To date, I have yet to eat in a place branded as a "restaurant."</p> <p>So anyway, I started wandering around looking for cafes. As expected, many were closed, but a few were open. However every single place that was open seemed to have large parties going on, loud music blaring out into the street, wedding partiers and other dressed-up folks hanging around the doors... not really what I was looking for, if even they were open to the public.</p> <p>It reminded me a bit of my first night in Khabarovsk when the hotel cafe was reserved, and I had to resort to a kiosk. About a week ago.</p> <p>In fact... and it suddenly clicked, and I understood why the receptionist at the hotel had been so skeptical.</p> <p>It was exactly a week ago. Saturday, and... Saturday.</p> <p>So Saturday Nights <strike>alright for fighting</strike> are the party nights, and people use them to book cafes for special events!</p> <p>I will have to keep this in mind, and make a point of eating early on Saturday.</p> <p>In the meantime, I was getting hungry. I hadn't had anything to eat since the blini in Zavitinsk - good as they were - and had biked 140km in the meantime. There were kiosks around, but in the city centre, none of them seemed to be 24h, or open at all this late.</p> <p>I decided to head down to a supermarket (I'd seen a bunch on my way into town) for some bread, cheese and kolbasa, when I remembered the previous night in Zavitinsk, and how the railway station plaza was busy all night long.</p> <p>I checked my iPhone, and the Belogorsk station was about 6 or 7 blocks away. I wandered over and sure enough, there were a bunch of 24h kiosks there, as well as a couple of non-partier-filled cafes, including one in the station proper.</p> <p>I picked a cafe at random, had a decent enough meal (more borshch, bread, plov, cutlet, and beer), and wandered back to the hotel.</p> <UL> <LI>Flat road through farmland. Fast but unexciting. The bright yellow is the rain cover.<BR /> <A HREF=""><IMG SRC="" BORDER="1" /></A></LI> <LI>Roadside church, graveyard, monument to fallen WWII soldiers. That last: very common here.<BR /> <A HREF=""><IMG SRC="" BORDER="1" /></A></LI> <LI>Belogorsk!<BR /> <A HREF=""><IMG SRC="" BORDER="1" /></A></LI> <LI>Belogorsk town centre.<BR /> <A HREF=""><IMG SRC="" BORDER="1" /></A></LI> <LI>Finally back on the smooth main highway.<BR /> <A HREF=""><IMG SRC="" BORDER="1" /></A></LI> <LI>Looked like a great place for lunch! Turned out to be closed... :-/<BR /> <A HREF=""><IMG SRC="" BORDER="1" /></A></LI> <LI>But I got dinner (borshch, bread, plov, pelmeni, beer) in Tsiolkovskiy. A Russian commenter on my Instagram post was right: don't bother with this beer.<BR /> <A HREF=""><IMG SRC="" BORDER="1" /></A></LI> <LI>Putin Was Here!<BR /> <A HREF=""><IMG SRC="" BORDER="1" /></A></LI> <LI>Literally: "Place for a smack on the head."<BR /> <A HREF=""><IMG SRC="" BORDER="1" /></A></LI> </UL> <p>This morning I got up to hit the road relatively early. With 550km to then next known hotel in Skovorodino, I hope to cover that distance in 4 days. Which would be about 138km a day, or almost right on my overall target of 135/day across Russia.</p> <p>I went to check out of the hotel and ran into a slight problem: they didn't actually know how to check me in with the government. Last night when checking in, I had used the magic word "&#x434;&#x43E;&#x43A;&#x443;&#x43C;&#x435;&#x43D;&#x442;&#x44B;" and all seemed fine, but while they gave me some papers and receipts at checkout, the papers conspicuously did not include the piece of paper I receive to prove I have been checked in (and which I potentially have to show if stopped by a police officer, etc.).</p> <p>I asked about the paper, and showed examples from the previous hotels I had stayed at. Blank faces.</p> <p>With the confused lady in Zavitinsk the other day, I hadn't had a proper check-in since Birobidzhan, and that wouldn't last me until Skovorodino. I wasn't sure how to proceed, but the receptionist was already on it; she had called her manager in, and they were both looking it up online, trying to figure out what the requirements were, what they needed to do, and so forth.</p> <p>A few telephone calls ensued. Slowly, they seemed to be getting the hang of it. Printed off the correct form to give me, filled it out and stamped it all over with the official hotel stamp. So at least my paperwork was in order. It seemed that they made the correct phone call at some point? Either way, they printed stuff off for themselves as well, so I assumed that everything was in as much order as I could expect it to be.</p> <p>Hopefully they are better prepared when the next "difficult" foreign visitor passes their way!</p> <p>So as always, a slightly later start than I had intended, but I was on my way.</p> <p>I could take the route back onto the highway the same way I came into town, but that would require 10-15km of backtracking. The alternative was an access road leading away on the west side of town (i.e.: the direction I was headed) that would save some distance. The only catch being that I didn't know what the quality would be like.</p> <p>I decided to chance it, and discovered the quality to be... not great.</p> <p>It was 35km back to the main highway on what at one time might have been a main road. Back during the Soviet era, for sure.</p> <p>At least it was paved... sort of. The pavement was marginal along the better sections. At other times it was patchwork over patchwork over patchwork going back many many decades. The entire road surface a patchwork quilt of different styles, ages, and materials. If ever there were a definition of "smooth," this road would be - as the quote goes - the farthest thing from it.</p> <p>It was rough, slow going, but I survived, and so - amazingly - did the bike! Without so much as a flat tyre!</p> <p>But man oh man oh man did it ever make me appreciate the smoothness of the main highway once I got back on the latter.</p> <p>After that point, it was pretty fast going. The farmlands gave way to forests pretty quickly after I got back on the highway and it was relatively uninteresting through the latter part of the day: just mile after mile after mile of aspen forest.</p> <p>In the early evening, as I still had 30km I hoped to go, I suddenly noticed the most interesting thing off in the forests to my right: huge construction cranes! Brand new apartment towers and other buildings, all arising from the middle of the forest like an urban mirage! Out in the middle of near-nowhere!</p> <p>I suddenly recalled something I had read several days earlier: there was a closed town somewhere in this region: <A HREF=",_Amur_Oblast"><IMG SRC="" BORDER="0" ALIGN="absmiddle" WIDTH="16" HEIGHT="16" ALT="Wikipedia" /></A> <A HREF=",_Amur_Oblast">Tsiolkovskiy</A>. It contains a spaceport that the Russians are building out here to replace/reduce their dependence on Baikonur, now in Kazakhstan. That must be it!</p> <p>A few unmarked, but very well-made roads leading off into the forest. And a bunch of red-and-orange warning signs posted along the side of the highway. I didn't feel the need to stop and read them too closely. Or photograph anything. Or spend too much time looking at / looking things up on my phone.</p> <p>Probably best to err on the side of caution.</p> <p>Although I did pretty quickly come across a road that was actually marked to Uglegorsk (the previous name for Tsiolkovsky: the above Wikipedia article has details). Complete with a police station and guard post on the side of said road, checking cars as they went by. Yup, must be it.</p> <p>And almost right beside the guard post, a truck stop with a gas station and hotel.</p> <p>You know: why not? It was unexpected, and somewhere about 20km short of my intended target, but ehh... an unexpected hotel is something I'll take.</p> <p>I pulled in, asked about a room, and sure! So there we go: had expected to camp tonight, but I'll take this.</p> <p>The hotel cafe had a big framed photo of Vladimir Putin visiting. Obviously a point of some pride.</p> <p>I had dinner under the watchful eye of his patronage, then went to retire to my room. Along the way, I spotted one of the many standalone pay stations that dot commercial establishments all over the country. You can use them to pay... electrical and utility bills? Maybe? I'm not sure. But you can definitely use them to pay mobile phone bills! I'd seen a few people feeding banknotes into them before, and they have various company logos on them, including Beeline, my mobile carrier.</p> <p>I remembered the text message I'd gotten a number of days ago, indicating I had to pay up in the next week or two. I'm not sure where I'll be during that time, but there may not be many more opportunities to pay. And I'll have to figure out how to use these things sooner or later, right?</p> <p>So I looked at it, pressed the "Beeline" logo on the touch screen, and when asked, entered my mobile phone number. The payment slot opened up, and I recalled that my message said I owed R70. So I fed it a R100 bill, and a message came up saying it would take a 10% cut, so the amount paid was R90.</p> <p>I tapped the Ok button.</p> <p>It whirred away and a minute later I got a text message thanking me for my payment of R90.</p> <p>Well that was easy.</p> <p>I mean, of course it was.</p> <p>Why wouldn't it be?</p> <BR /><BR /> <IMG SRC="/bikejournal/categories/road.png" ALIGN="bottom" HEIGHT="32" WIDTH="32" /> <EM><SMALL>Today&#x2019;s road: <SPAN CLASS="blag_underline">R297 (Fmr: M58)</SPAN>. 139.9 km, 6h38. Good road but flat and boring. Tiny uphill 55km from Belogorsk, but that's it.</SMALL></EM><BR /> <IMG SRC="/bikejournal/categories/road.png" ALIGN="bottom" HEIGHT="32" WIDTH="32" /> <EM><SMALL>Today&#x2019;s road: <SPAN CLASS="blag_underline">R297 (Fmr: M58)</SPAN>. 117.5 km, 5h38. Access road from Belogorsk via Seryshevo is paved but atrocious. Main highway continues to be excellent. Mostly flat, a few tiny hills. Back into forests 40-50 km from Belogorsk.</SMALL></EM><BR /> Jun. 17, 2016: Zavitinsk, Amurskaya Oblast, Russia Wed, 29 Jun 2016 00:07:49 -0500 20160617 <p>List of creatures I have so far found crawling on my tent in the morning (and had to knock off):</p> <ul> <li>Mosquitoes</li> <li>Flies</li> <li>Horseflies</li> <li>Bees</li> <li>Ants</li> <li>Ladybugs</li> <li>Beetles</li> <li>Snails</li> <li>Spiders, black</li> <li>Spiders, white</li> <li>Caterpillers, fuzzy</li> <li>Caterpillers, non-fuzzy</li> <li>Little bugs that I don't know the name of</li> <li>Big bugs that I don't know the name of</li> <li><strike>Bears</strike></li> </ul> <p>Okay, maybe not bears.</p> <p>So I awoke this morning, to the incredibly loud whine of mosquitoes, droning in my ear.</p> <p>"Oh, great," I thought. "They've found a way into the tent."</p> <p>But no. As it turned out, they were all on the outside of the tent - there were just so many of them that their collective whine sounded like it was inside. I started counting, but gave up when I reached 200 and had only scanned maybe a third of the tent. The hazards of sleeping in the forest... :-/</p> <p>Actually, with the exception of the ants, the tent has so far done an admirable job of keeping all of the above creatures on the outside. Good job, tent!</p> <p>But it didn't make it easy to get up and confront the world, knowing that I would have to run that gauntlet first thing.</p> <p>Having an increasing need to go to the bathroom, however, put an end to that dilemma, albeit slightly later than might otherwise have been the case.</p> <p>It had rained, very briefly, during the night, and the forest was still damp -- hence the mosquitoes, I suppose. But the sun was definitely out by now. Indeed, day comes very early to this part of Russia. At least: in mid-June, of course! Somewhere around 4AM. So it was only in the middle of the trees where the sun couldn't easily reach, that it was still wet. I dragged everything out to the little side road that I had wandered along, and that was dry enough to make packing easy.</p> <p>Back on the highway, and not too far (mostly) downhill into Novobureyskiy, and the start of the "new" Chita-to-Khabarovsk Amur Highway.</p> <p>Which perhaps requires to explanation (apologies for the repetition if you've heard me talk about this before).</p> <p>Until only a few years ago, there was no highway across Russia. There was a road from Chita (closer to lake Baikal) west to Europe, and the road from Novobureyskiy (actually Blagovshchensk) east to Vladivostok. But the gap in between (part of which was sometimes referred to as the <A HREF=""><IMG SRC="" BORDER="0" ALIGN="absmiddle" WIDTH="16" HEIGHT="16" ALT="Wikipedia" /></A> <A HREF="">Zilov Gap</A>) was just a tangle of roadless wilderness.</p> <p>Then around 5-10 years ago, Putin (or rather, his government) built the ~1650km of road in between, connecting east to west, and closing the gap.</p> <p>(It was actually officially declared open in 2004, but only actually completed and navigable as a fully paved road somewhere around 2010-2011.)</p> <p>Reports vary as to how possible it was to drive this section previously. Some accounts say "no road," others just say "very bad" road. In any case, the going was definitely unpaved, definitely not well-travelled, and definitely included several significant river crossings with no bridges or official ferries. ("Go talk to Pyotr over there; he owns a boat and can maybe take you across.")</p> <p>The recent completion of this highway has led to a minor surge in cross-country bikers. (Such as Yevgeniy, whom I never got to meet in Vladivostok, or Alexei, who I ran into yesterday. Or of course, me.) Many people have previously crossed the country on bike, but the two options at this point would be either to cut through Manchuria, or to take the train.</p> <p>My original plan, when I first started contemplating this trip in the 90s, was to do the latter. But when the road was completed that solved that problem. (I had downloaded various <A HREF=""><IMG SRC="" BORDER="0" ALIGN="absmiddle" WIDTH="16" HEIGHT="16" ALT="" /></A> <A HREF="">maps of the construction plans</A> and was keeping an eye on the progress as it was happening.)</p> <p>So in practice, this means a couple of things:</p> <ol> <li>The road surface and quality should be very good from here to Chita! Since the road is new and all. (As it has been since Blagoveshchensk. Which if you look at the above map, is actually part of the construction. The road was rebuilt from Chita pretty much all the way to Khabarovsk; it is only here at Novobureyskiy that there was no road previously and so I am now on "new" as opposed to "rebuilt" road.)</li> <li>However, there is almost nothing on this section. There are a few (mostly small) towns along the railway line. However the new highway almost entirely bypasses those, and there is basically nothing on the highway itself. I understand that when the road was built they also added gas stations every hundred or so km (gas stations: kind of a necessity over a 1500+ km route!). I also understand that these generally have hotels of some description attached. However I don't know what this will look like in practice. Will I occasionally come to what I expect to be a hotel, only to find it all closed and boarded up? I may want to stock up on various food and other supplies, just to be sure. I'm expecting to be camping a lot over the next week or two. (Again, this was the section for which I had really wanted the backup laptop battery, sigh!)</li> </ol> <p>So in one sense this is the easy part where I hope to make up some time. In another sense it may be the hard part. We will see!</p> <p>At least there promises to be <A HREF=""><IMG SRC="" BORDER="0" ALIGN="absmiddle" WIDTH="16" HEIGHT="16" ALT="Beeline" /></A> <A HREF="">cell phone coverage</A> for pretty much the whole way. The question marks surrounding whether my phone would work outside Vladivostok have so far been answered in the affirmative, which is good! Although I've received an SMS indicating I have to pay some more money by the end of the month (not unexpected) and will have to figure out how that works.</p> <UL> <LI>Not the greatest alarm clock ever...<BR /> <A HREF=""><IMG SRC="" BORDER="1" /></A></LI> <LI>Monument marking the start of the new Amur Highway in Novobureyskiy.<BR /> <A HREF=""><IMG SRC="" BORDER="1" /></A></LI> <LI>Hotel Luxe, Zavitinsk.<BR /> <A HREF=""><IMG SRC="" BORDER="1" /></A></LI> <LI>Zavitinsk sunset.<BR /> <A HREF=""><IMG SRC="" BORDER="1" /></A></LI> </UL> <p>I grabbed some lunch at a truck stop in Novobureyskiy, and continued along the new road, which true to expectations, continued to have an excellent surface.</p> <p>The road was very similar to that of the previous few days: a lot of up-and-down hills, surrounded by forests.</p> <p>The hills did seem to be getting smaller as the day progressed, and around late afternoon after having made some excellent progress, they petered out altogether as I approached the town of Zavitinsk, and my intended destination. I was mostly back in flatter farmlands again.</p> <p>Google had indicated a hotel in Zavitinsk, but because that town was on the railway (again, bypassed by the highway), it would mean a 20+ km detour to get there and back (about 11km each way). I was hoping there might be something on the highway as well, as there had been in some previous towns, but the Internet didn't know about anything.</p> <p>But as I approached the turnoff for Zavitinsk, I saw a billboard ad for the "Maxim" cafe and hotel, with a photo that looked relatively attractive. Emblazoned with a banner: "New!"</p> <p>But: no location indicated! Indeed no phone number or contact information of any kind. Hmmmm...!</p> <p>I checked my iPhone map: there was indeed a cafe Maxim on the highway, not 1km past the turnoff. I decided to scope it out.</p> <p>Approaching the Maxim, it looked roughly similar to the photo, but it also looked rather like it was still under construction. Ominously, there was a poster for the "Hotel Luxe" (the one in the town of Zavitinsk that I already knew about) stuck up on a signboard right in front of the building.</p> <p>The cafe seemed to be open, though, so nothing ventured, nothing gained: I went in.</p> <p>It was devoid of customers, but definitely functioning - the stereo system blasting out a Russian dance-techno remix of "Smells like Teen Spirit."</p> <p>Suppressing a smirk, I went up to the counter and asked about the hotel. Got the disappointing answer: "&#x41D;&#x435; &#x440;&#x430;&#x431;&#x43E;&#x442;&#x430;&#x435;&#x442;." ("Not working.")</p> <p>Right.</p> <p>Not terribly surprised. Oh well, back to the turnoff. I took another look at the billboard for the Maxim and noticed that the "photo" was actually a fairly well-done artist's rendering. Ha. "New," indeed!</p> <p>So into town: I just hoped that the road would be paved. Many of the side roads, especially to smaller towns, aren't. Zavitinsk is a little over 10,000 so I expected it would be, but you never know...</p> <p>No worries, it seemed to be paved! Well, sort of. Paved with crumbling concrete slabs that seemed to have been installed during one of Stalin's 5-year plans. (Actually, probably during the 70s or 80s or something, but the winters out here take their toll...).</p> <p>In the end, I found it easier and smoother to ride on the dirt shoulder. It might as well not have been paved at all. 11km of this, each way?</p> <p>Actually, no, only about 3 or 4 km; after which the road had been resurfaced, and was of fine quality all the way into town. Go figure!</p> <p>On arriving at the town centre, I found the Hotel Luxe right on the main central plaza, opposite the railway station. The plaza was a hive of activity, with trains coming and going, taxis also coming and going, various kiosks and people milling about.</p> <p>A loudspeaker system regularly blasted the plaza with this message or that, all fuzzy, staticky and completely indecipherable, at least to me; perhaps a native speaker would have more luck? It sounded for all the world like the loudspeaker sound effect in the game <A href="">Papers, Please</a> -- art imitating life, indeed!</p> <p>I went into the hotel and talked to the receptionist. With any luck, an advantage of this place over the semi-existent Cafe Maxim would be that they could do a government checkin for me...</p> <p>Asking if they had any room available, I got an apologetic-seeming response of which I only understood a little bit, including the words "other." Fearing that she was telling me to go to the "other" hotel, I confirmed: "So you have no room free?"</p> <p>No, she clarified. She had rooms, but nothing cheap; only the other more expensive suites. She showed me the price list: R3000.</p> <p>After 2 nights in a tent, I really needed a shower (and some power to charge my phone!). And after 2 nights in a tent, this extravagant price averaged out to all of $20 a day. I nodded: "That's fine."</p> <p>"Really?" She seemed dubious.</p> <p>"Yes, really!" What were my options anyway?</p> <p>"Do you have a Russian passport?" She asked?</p> <p>Seemed an odd question to me; the answer to that one should have been pretty clear by now!</p> <p>"No" - I handed her my evil foreign passport, and as her face fell, the reason for her earlier responses clarified. She clearly didn't know how to deal with this, and wasn't eager for now to be a learning experience.</p> <p>Crestfallen, she told me I'd have to wait, picked up the phone and began phoning first one person, then another, then another, trying to find out what she was supposed to do.</p> <p>After no small amount of theatrical sighing, and pauses to roll her eyes at the heavens ("Lord, why me?") she made it through the process, photocopied every document I could give her, stamped and gave me a couple of forms of dubious utility, and I was checked in!</p> <p>The... government can wait until Belogorsk tomorrow.</p> <p>The room is certainly a deluxe suite, at least in the sense that it has two bedrooms, and a dining area complete with a full set of cutlery, tableware and the like. Also a decent-sized ensuite bathroom (hotels here seem to be 50-50 on whether it will be ensuite, or shared down the hall. I'm frankly mostly fine with either.</p> <p>Although I arrived in Zavitinsk fairly early, by the time I got all the rigamarole dealt with, and had a shower, it was around sunset. The hotel doesn't have a restaurant, but with all the kiosks and whatnot lining the plaza, there is no shortage of food options.</p> <p>So I wandered down, got a couple plates of food "&#x441; &#x441;&#x43E;&#x431;&#x43E;&#x439;" ("to go") from the very friendly girls at the kiosk, and came back to the suite.</p> <p>One of the plates was a "caesar" salad. I don't generally go for the salads here, because "salad" in Russia often means a bowl of mayonnaise with some bits of vegetables and greenery swimming in it somewhere. But, eh. Tonight I was feeling it.</p> <p>My caesar salad, much like the previous one I tried a few days ago, is iceberg lettuce, tomato, shredded cheese, mayonnaise, pepper, dill chicken, and shredded ham. I realize that I'm not even 100% sure any more which of those ingredients belongs on a caesar salad in Canada? I'm pretty sure the dill and the ham not. But tomato...? I can no longer be positive...</p> <p>The food is all pretty good though. I am eating it as I bang away at some blog entries, late into the evening. My room windows open out onto the plaza, and I am serenaded by the sounds of trains and the barking of the loudspeaker.</p> <p>It's neat. And I'm not bothered by it; I can sleep through anything!</p> <BR /><BR /> <IMG SRC="/bikejournal/categories/weather.png" ALIGN="bottom" HEIGHT="32" WIDTH="32" /> <EM><SMALL>Today&#x2019;s weather: <SPAN CLASS="blag_underline">Quite warm and sunny.</SPAN>. Again! I'll take it after the rain from earlier in the week!</SMALL></EM><BR /> <IMG SRC="/bikejournal/categories/meal.png" ALIGN="bottom" HEIGHT="32" WIDTH="32" /> <EM><SMALL>Today&#x2019;s meal: <SPAN CLASS="blag_underline">Chicken kiev, mashed potato, "caesar" salad, random beer.</SPAN>. Takeout from the kiosk in the plaza. Surprisingly good - even the salad!</SMALL></EM><BR /> <IMG SRC="/bikejournal/categories/road.png" ALIGN="bottom" HEIGHT="32" WIDTH="32" /> <EM><SMALL>Today&#x2019;s road: <SPAN CLASS="blag_underline">R297 (Fmr: M58)</SPAN>. 105.0 km, 5h14. Road conditions continue to be excellent. Hills and forests earlier on, decreasing to flatter farmlands later. Broadly downhill. Access road to Zavitinsk has a couple km of almost unridable concrete slabs, then gets a lot better.</SMALL></EM><BR /> Jun. 16, 2016: Arkhara, Amurskaya Oblast, Russia Fri, 24 Jun 2016 10:52:05 -0500 20160616 Jun. 15, 2016: Izvestkoviy, Jewish Autonomous Oblast, Russia Wed, 22 Jun 2016 23:35:04 -0500 20160615 <p>Let me not mince words: today was a great day.</p> <p>Today was an <i>awesome</i> day.</p> <p>Today was the first truly excellent day on the road that I've yet had on this trip. One of those days when nothing (of significance) goes wrong, and you just want it to last forever.</p> <p>The road was great, the weather was great, the winds were at my back, I made great time... all in all, everything went right.</p> <p>I started, of course, in Birobidzhan. I woke up relatively early (for once) and made it downstairs in time to have the breakfast for which I'd already paid a few dollars extra.</p> <p>The hotel's restaurant was closed for renovation, but they had a tea room which was set up for breakfast.</p> <p>It wasn't a buffet; rather I was presented with a menu from which I could choose options. It wasn't clear to me how many things I could order, but I just selected a bunch of them, and they were brought out with no comment, so fair enough.</p> <p>The breakfast was ehh... decent enough, and filling, but nothing to write home about. Coffee was surprisingly good for a country which is normally all about instant coffee.</p> <p>There was one other, older, couple in the tea-room having breakfast. They were seated a couple of tables away, and I wasn't, at first, listening super-intently to their conversation, it was pretty clear that they weren't speaking Russian. I think I first noticed when they called the server over to order some more tea, and their level of Russian was about on par with mine. Serviceable, but basic and slow.</p> <p>At times, the cadence of their speech with each other sounded almost English-like, but no, they definitely weren't speaking English.</p> <p>There was the occasional word that sounded half-German. At first I wondered if, given the location, it might possibly be Yiddish? When suddenly I realized: they were speaking Dutch!</p> <p>Huh.</p> <p>Breakfast over, I had a couple of hours before I needed to check out of the hotel, so I wandered out into the street to get some supplies for the road. And who knows: I might find an electronics shop that would have a replacement backup battery?</p> <p>Well, no luck on the battery. But I did spend some time wandering through the Birobidzhan central market, which was a truly great experience.</p> <p>The market was fascinating. At its centre, a big fruit-and-vegetable market truly overflowing with produce. The thing about the low-lying surroundings is that they are clearly great for agriculture.</p> <p>And opening off the central produce market, in all directions, a maze of little twisty passages, all alike.</p> <p>Er, by which I mean, a veritable rabbits' warren of alleys and passages, all covered with tarps and lined with scads upon scads of tiny shops and stalls. The maze was divided into sections: this section for hardware, that section for clothes, the other for watches and jewellery.</p> <p>I spent some time wandering through the maze of alleys, just looking around and being a general tourist.</p> <p>I imagine that other Russian cities probably have rather similar markets, and this just happened to be the first one I came across. But either way, very cool. Birobidzhan is hands-down my favourite town so far. I would have liked to stay an extra day to explore, but after spending an extra day in Khabarovsk and Bikin (the former planned, the latter not), the time on my visa is ticking away, so I needed to get going. Also, while today is sunny, the next couple of days are predicted not to be. So I should take advantage of the weather while I can.</p> <p>I picked up a pair of pliers (for extracting pointy bits of metal from my tyre after repairing a puncture). And... there was... something else...</p> <p>No, not the battery (well, that too, but the electronics stalls I found had nothing suitable). But no, there was something else that I knew I wanted to pick up, and just couldn't for the life of me remember. I pondered it for a while, regretting my failure to enter it into my iPhone, then finally gave up and returned to the hotel to pack, grabbing some juice and some more stuffed bagels to pack for the road.</p> <UL> <LI>Music hall and arts centre in Birobidzhan.<BR /> <A HREF=""><IMG SRC="" BORDER="1" /></A></LI> <LI>Birobidzhan railway station and menorah.<BR /> <A HREF=""><IMG SRC="" BORDER="1" /></A></LI> <LI>Central market.<BR /> <A HREF=""><IMG SRC="" BORDER="1" /></A></LI> <LI>Fruit and vegetable stands.<BR /> <A HREF=""><IMG SRC="" BORDER="1" /></A></LI> <LI>I don't actually need bike parts right now, but now I know...<BR /> <A HREF=""><IMG SRC="" BORDER="1" /></A></LI> <LI>Holiday and camping gear. There are hundreds of these alleys.<BR /> <A HREF=""><IMG SRC="" BORDER="1" /></A></LI> <LI>Central plaza / pedestrian mall.<BR /> <A HREF=""><IMG SRC="" BORDER="1" /></A></LI> <LI>Goats.<BR /> <A HREF=""><IMG SRC="" BORDER="1" /></A></LI> <LI>The open road.<BR /> <A HREF=""><IMG SRC="" BORDER="1" /></A></LI> <LI>Great weather!<BR /> <A HREF=""><IMG SRC="" BORDER="1" /></A></LI> </UL> <p>After returning to the hotel and collecting my bike I was on my way. Another sunny and intensely warm day, like the first couple out of Vladivostok!</p> <p>But once moving it was cool enough.</p> <p>A few km out of town, my odometer ticked over: 1,000 km down!</p> <p>It was 10km or so along a reasonably-okay access road to get back to the highway. Then once on the highway, the road condition was excellent. And it stayed excellent pretty much all day. There was one short section near Londoko, about 85km from Birobidzan, that hadn't yet been upgraded. It had narrow shoulders and 4 or 5 gravel stretches, mostly under 100m in length. But aside from that, it was a brand-new road all the way, new pavement, wide shoulders to ride on, good signage and lane marking; everything one could hope for.</p> <p>I also picked up a tailwind a few km out of town, and it stayed with me all day, helping me achieve, for one of the first times on the trip, the kind of mileage I was hoping for: 134km!</p> <p>The general trend of the road was uphill, which I really don't mind! I'm a BC boy at heart, I guess, and we have, y'know, mountains. So I really don't mind biking over hills. And besides, it got me up and out of the swampy lowlands, and into more suitable camping territory. Since there would be no more major towns for a while; not until Belogorsk, a couple of days away.</p> <p>There may be some hotels somewhere in that stretch, but my map isn't showing them. Also: roadside motels are spaced fairly far apart, and may not always be conveniently-located related to where I want to end a day. That was okay during the first stretch between Vladivostok and Khabarovsk, but now I really want to make some time, and not so keen on stopping early to accommodate hotel locations.</p> <p>So anyway. I expect to be camping for a while, and it's better to do so in the hills.</p> <p>None of the hills were particularly large, in themselves. A lot of up and down, with the ups slightly longer and steeper than the downs, leading to an overall general increase in elevation. Road-wise, it actually reminded me a lot of the Trans-Canada in Northern Ontario, between Kenora and Thunder Bay.</p> <p>There were actually a few towns along the route, on the railway, but for the most part the road gave these a wide berth, and bypassed them further uphill, with the occasional access road down into the towns. Suited me well enough, but it did mean that I passed next to nothing in the way of retail opportunities. Which is, after all, why I had packed food in Birobidzhan.</p> <p>After bypassing Bira, shortly out of Birobidzhan, there was a sign on the highway: next gas - 130km.</p> <p>Truly entering the wilderness now! And with a good road and tailwind, I was A-Ok with that!</p> <p>Spent all afternoon humming along, until about 5km short of the town of Izvestkoviy. It was an hour or so until sunset, and I was beginning to look for a place to camp, when I suddenly realized what I couldn't remember to buy in Birobidzhan: toilet paper!!</p> <p>Don't get me wrong, I didn't experience a sudden need. But rather, I figured it might be several days until I was next in a place with a toilet, and... y'know.</p> <p>Izvestkoviy was only a couple of km off the highway, so I decided to take a quick detour into the village in the hopes that there might be a place there where I could buy some.</p> <p>Which is about when a car pulled parallel and slowed down so the driver could chat with me.</p> <p>Many of the cars here are right-hand drive, brought over on the cheap from Japan. (60% or so? And most of the remainder are commercial or government vehicles.) So if a driver pulls adjacent and slows down a bit, he can easily hang out the window and talk to me, only 2 or 3 feet away. And since I am a somewhat curious sight, this happens relatively often; probably about 4 or 5 times a day.</p> <p>So anyway, this happened again, the driver curious about me and asking questions. He mentioned that about 5km up, I could turn right and there would be a hotel in the village. Really? Yes, he assured me. Well, ok, that seemed convenient. And he was almost certainly talking about Izvestkoviy.</p> <p>The conversation over, he went on ahead, I ran over a pointy piece of metal something, and got flat tyre #4.</p> <p>35 minutes and several hundred mosquitoes later, the tyre was fixed and it was definitely approaching dark. I neared the Izvestkoviy turnoff, and right there was a gas station! A new one, not marked on my map, or indicated by the earlier road signs (it was not yet 130km from Bira).</p> <p>I purchased some toilet paper, a chocolate bar and some lemonade, and asked the cashier about the hotel in town. (I hadn't seen a sign, and the town's access road was unpaved, so I was decidedly of two minds about the detour.)</p> <p>The cashier and security guard consulted with each other and agreed: No. There's no hotel here.</p> <p>Ah well. I wasn't terribly surprised. But the evening was a sunny and dry enough, so I had no qualms about camping.</p> <p>Back on the road, and about 2 or 3 km later, with the sun just setting, I spotted a promising looking spot... yes... there!</p> <p>A really good camping spot. Solid, dry, flat. Not far from the road, but invisible to it, immediately on the other side of an embankment.</p> <p>The perfect end to a great day.</p> <BR /><BR /> <IMG SRC="/bikejournal/categories/weather.png" ALIGN="bottom" HEIGHT="32" WIDTH="32" /> <EM><SMALL>Today&#x2019;s weather: <SPAN CLASS="blag_underline">A few cloudy periods, but otherwise sunny.</SPAN>. Mostly warm, but not hot except right around midday. Tailwind day!</SMALL></EM><BR /> <IMG SRC="/bikejournal/categories/road.png" ALIGN="bottom" HEIGHT="32" WIDTH="32" /> <EM><SMALL>Today&#x2019;s road: <SPAN CLASS="blag_underline">Ul. Sholom-Aleikhema - R297 (Fmr: M58)</SPAN>. 133.6 km, 6h31. Really good roads all day, lots of small ups and downs; net increase of about 300m elev.</SMALL></EM><BR /> Jun. 14, 2016: Birobidzhan, Jewish Autonomous Oblast, Russia Sun, 19 Jun 2016 22:47:44 -0500 20160614 <p>The rain let up sometime during the night, and I woke up to a quiet, pitter-patter-less tent, albeit one covered in hundreds of mosquitoes.</p> <p>The prospect of dealing with the mosquitoes made me hesitant to get up, so I lay there for a while, only to hear the telltale sound of water hitting nylon: it was raining again.</p> <p>I fell back asleep.</p> <p>And woke up several hours later -- closer to noon -- to a once-again rainless sky. Determined not to let the opportunity slip away again, I set to packing up my goods, doing my best to ignore the whine of the mosquitoes buzzing around the outside of the tent.</p> <p>Exiting the tent, the sky was cloudy and grey, but otherwise dry. The road was very muddy, but at least no longer submerged, beyond a number of large puddles that could at least be skirted. There were fish flopping around in the drying, exposed mud, including a few only a couple of feet from the tent. They were of a decent size: at least 6-8 inches long, and an inch or so in diameter.</p> <p>I walked the bike back to the highway and set out again on the road to Birobidzhan.</p> <p>There were signs for roadworks most of the day, but most had a starting date of mud-June or July, and very little construction work was yet in evidence. Instead it consisted mostly of successive 5-10km stretches of new, very good road alternating with older to-be-upgraded road that was of middling quality, as with yesterday.</p> <p>But still very flat, and still very marshy.</p> <p>The highway ran immediately parallel to the Trans-Siberian railroad pretty much all day long. Said railway is... nothing like what I expected it to be before I came. I was imagining a single-track job through the forest with a couple trains a day, much like the CN or CP rail lines that cross Canada.</p> <p>No.</p> <p>No, not at all.</p> <p>The line is fully electrified, at least double-tracked all the way, and 4-tracked along much of the length, allowing for a local-vs-express service dichotomy. It carries a staggering amount of traffic. <i>Staggering</i>.</p> <p>I have been counting, on average, a train about every 15 minutes, all day long.</p> <p>Most of these are freight (about &frac13; to &frac12; the length of the average freight train in western Canada? 50 to 75 or so cars) with a shorter passenger train every couple of hours.</p> <p>The passenger trains generally have 2 engines, the freight trains either 3 or 4. It takes about 7 days to get across the country. This means that there are somewhere in the neighbourhood of 2500 engines actually on the tracks, in service, at any given time. <i>Just on just this one line.</i></p> <p>Russian Railways is... a non-trivial enterprise.</p> <p>About 50km on I reached the turnoff to Birobidzhan and the first retail outlet of any kind since Belgorodskoye, where I spent the night. There's a gas station, cafe and motel. 50km... I probably would have made it in less time than it took me to find and set up a camping spot. But in the rain, at night, with no tail light? It was a painful decision not to press on, but probably the right one.</p> <p>(Also, I didn't know there would be a motel here.)</p> <p>Outside the cafe is a giant menorah... made out of empty energy drink cans. I had no idea how to react to this, other than take a picture.</p> <p>Was contemplating getting lunch at the cafe, but it was only another 15 km into Birobidzhan, and I wasn't starving, so chose to continue. Also, the clouds had given way to mostly sunny skies, drying out my clothes, an opportunity I didn't want to squander, as I didn't know how long the sun would last.</p> <UL> <LI>Last night's campsite.<BR /> <A HREF=""><IMG SRC="" BORDER="1" /></A></LI> <LI>Fish flopping on road.<BR /> <A HREF=""><IMG SRC="" BORDER="1" /></A></LI> <LI>Energy drink menorah.<BR /> <A HREF=""><IMG SRC="" BORDER="1" /></A></LI> <LI>Birobidzhan, when the sun came out.<BR /> <A HREF=""><IMG SRC="" BORDER="1" /></A></LI> <LI>Pirate ship hotel. Awesome! But no.<BR /> <A HREF=""><IMG SRC="" BORDER="1" /></A></LI> </UL> <p>Birobidzhan has by some measure the most well-developed tourism infrastructure I've yet seen in Russia. Most towns, if they have hotels at all, may have a single billboard somewhere at the edge of town with a phone number, or may have a government-issue "<hotel logo> 500m" roadside sign, but that's it. Mostly, I'm relying on the Internet to tell me what's available.</p> <p>Entering Birobidzhan, I encountered signboard after signboard advertising the various hotels. One with a list of hotels, including a map. The main drag through town, &#1059;&#1083;&#1080;&#1094;&#1072; &#1064;&#1086;&#1083;&#1086;&#1084;-&#1040;&#1083;&#1077;&#1081;&#1093;&#1077;&#1084;&#1072; (Sholom Aleichem St., named after one of the founders of the Jewish Autonomous Oblast), and it along with the various parks, squares, and public spaces, is full of tourist information displays, with placards and QR-codes that can be scanned to get more information and maps -- the whole works. Much as one would expect to find in European (or otherwise) cities.</p> <p>Indeed the town centre is quite attractive, if not particularly large. The relative prosperity of the JAO is definitely more in evidence here.</p> <p>There is Hebrew (or perhaps Yiddish? I read somewhere that Yiddish is actually one of the official languages of the place, but I don't know how much that is reflected on a practical basis) on signs everywhere. The city is quite clearly promoting its Jewish heritage - whether for the tourist trade or otherwise.</p> <p>The JAO is also an economic free zone (think Hong Kong, or -- for UAE peeps -- obviously Jebel Ali). That may have a lot to do with things as well. I am unsure how much business-related foreign visitation the city gets.</p> <p>Anyway, I'm getting ahead of myself.</p> <p>At the edge of town, the first hotel I pass is... a pirate ship. I passed it, did a double-take, then had to return to confirm I saw what I saw. Yep! Jolly Roger and everything!</p> <p>I was tempted, but no. Quite aside from drying out my wet belongings, I had a more important reason for wanting to stay in Birobidzhan tonight, even though it's not quite 70km from last night.<p> <p>It's one of the last good opportunities to check in with the government for a while.</p> <p>So, I have to check in periodically with the Russian government. At least once every 7 days, and in theory no more than 3 days after entering a new Region (those county-level things). Although this latter is somewhat moot, since I'm basically never in one for more than 3 days anyway.</p> <p>There are a couple of ways of checking in. I can do so at a police station (or so I understand), at a post office, or at a hotel.</p> <p>The latter is <i>by far</i> the easiest way of doing it. The other methods involve standing in a line to get forms to stand in another line to pay to stand in another line to submit forms to...</p> <p>Or I can just stay at a hotel, get them to fill in a standard sheet of paper, photocopy my passport & visa, give me a stamped form, and I'm done. Takes about 3 minutes at registration, and 60% of it is something they have to do anyway.<p> <p>But the catch is that not every hotel is set up to actually do this. The smaller roadside motels and guesthouses I've been staying at have often not been.</p> <p>But the bigger tourist hotels in the cities? Definitely.</p> <p>And after Birobidzhan... there are no more cities for quite a while. A small handful of "big towns" scattered between Birobidzhan and Chita, but not much else. I don't know how easy it will be to find a hotel there that can check me in with the government.</p> <p>So I really needed to get this done in Birobidzhan to give me that full 7 days' flexibility. And the Pirate Ship Hotel... did not really look like the kind of place that would offer this service.</p> <p>So I pegged the Hotel Vostoc in the centre of town. Big, central, touristy, reasonably-priced.</p> <p>I got to the Vostoc and check in. No problems with anything there. Headed up to the room and started drying out my things. Pulled my belongings out of my saddlebags to let them dry a bit. Luckily the Ziploc bags mostly kept the clothes and computer and so forth dry.</p> <p>Mostly.</p> <p>Partway through this procedure I took a break and sat on the bed for a minute to check something on my iPhone when I noticed a sudden acrid, burning-plasticky smell. Snapping my head up, I saw a curl of thick white smoke rising from the open saddlebag.</p> <p>!!!!!!!!!</p> <p>The smell and smoke getting worse by the second, I yanked on my gloves, and plunged my hand into the bag, retrieving the culprit, a melting Ziploc bag containing a very charred and smouldering backup Lithium battery for my computer.</p> <p>I quickly threw open the window, ran outside in my bare feet, removed the battery from the bag and laid the thing down in the middle of the concrete plaza, where there was nothing that could catch fire.</p> <p>I stood sentinel over it for several minutes until I was convinced it was inert, then reluctantly wandered over to a concrete garbage can and tossed it in.</p> <p>I returned to a hotel room heavy with the smell of burning plastic and electrical bits, and sat for a few minutes, shaking my head at what so easily could have been -- what almost WAS -- had I not been right there and looking almost right at the thing when it combusted.</p> <p>My guess is that there must have been a small hole in the Ziploc bag somewhere. Just enough for the smallest amount of water or condensation to form, and once that reached the battery, it was game over.</p> <p>But I lucked out. (All things considered.)</p> <p>The emergency was over. Mostly at this point, I'm annoyed. I paid several hundred dollars, and only ever got to use the battery once! Not only that, but this next section from here to Chita, with towns few and far between, is <i>precisely</i> the section for which I'd originally bought it!</p> <p>Ah well, what's done is done. I might be able to find a replacement in Irkutsk or something, but likely not in Birobidzan. Though I suppose it doesn't hurt to look tomorrow.</p> <p>In the meantime, I went down to the lobby to shamefaced-ly mention what had happened and explain the smell (they saw me rushing out with the remains of the battery, so caught on pretty quick). One guy just regarded me with an annoyed expression, but didn't say anything. The other just shrugged her shoulders: well, these things happen.</p> <p>I went out and bought a can of air freshener, came back to the room and did my best to wave the smell out of the window. By later in the evening it was no longer terribly noticeable, so I don't think there's any lasting issue.</p> <p>It was (as always seems to be the case) fairly late by the time I dealt with all of this, so I just had time to wander around, take a few photos of interesting-looking things, and grab dinner from a kiosk. The ever-present &#1087;&#1080;&#1088;&#1086;&#1078;&#1082;&#1080; are of course here too. But Birobidzhan has its own twist on the fried-bread stuffed with things: they have bagels stuffed with things!</p> <p>Pretty much exactly what you'd expect: a bagel -- slightly larger than a New York-style -- which when you bite into it, is stuffed with meat, chicken, onions, mashed potatoes, you name it.</p> <p>An appropriate enough dinner.</p> <BR /><BR /> <IMG SRC="/bikejournal/categories/weather.png" ALIGN="bottom" HEIGHT="32" WIDTH="32" /> <EM><SMALL>Today&#x2019;s weather: <SPAN CLASS="blag_underline">Cloudy in the day giving way to mostly sunny afternoon and evening</SPAN>. Reasonably warm: upper teens.</SMALL></EM><BR /> <IMG SRC="/bikejournal/categories/lodging.png" ALIGN="bottom" HEIGHT="32" WIDTH="32" /> <EM><SMALL>Today&#x2019;s lodging: <SPAN CLASS="blag_underline">Hotel Vostoc, Birobidzhan</SPAN>. Nice hotel, especially given the price. Am embarrassed about the trouble I caused with the battery. Restaurant closed for renovations.</SMALL></EM><BR /> <IMG SRC="/bikejournal/categories/meal.png" ALIGN="bottom" HEIGHT="32" WIDTH="32" /> <EM><SMALL>Today&#x2019;s meal: <SPAN CLASS="blag_underline">Bagels stuffed with chicken and other goodies</SPAN>. Yum!</SMALL></EM><BR /> <IMG SRC="/bikejournal/categories/road.png" ALIGN="bottom" HEIGHT="32" WIDTH="32" /> <EM><SMALL>Today&#x2019;s road: <SPAN CLASS="blag_underline">R297 (Fmr: M58) - &#1059;&#1083;. &#1057;&#1086;&#1074;&#1077;&#1090;&#1089;&#1082;&#1072;&#1103;</SPAN>. 72.0 km, 3h46. Good-and-okay alternating sections until the turnoff to Birobidzhan at Ikura. Birobidzhan access road really good for a side road, but not as good as most highways. Very flat, still marshy terrain.</SMALL></EM><BR /> Jun. 13, 2016: Belgorodskoye, Jewish Autonomous Oblast, Russia Sat, 18 Jun 2016 20:55:40 -0500 20160613 <p>When checking into the hotel in Khabarovsk, I asked about the restaurant. It was already well after 11PM and I still had a much-needed shower to take, etc; so how late was it open?</p> <p>2:00, came the answer, which seemed good to me. So I went upstairs, got cleaned up, came back down and headed to the restaurant to find a karaoke party in full swing and a "closed for private function" sign on the door. Couldn't you have mentioned that to me earlier...?</p> <p>Went back to the reception and asked, was told that well, I could still get room service until 2.</p> <p>Yeah... no. Not in a country with so many 24h options. So I wandered out into the midnight evening to see what there was.</p> <p>The Kabarovsk city center encompasses two main parallel streets, &#1059;&#1083;. &#1051;&#1077;&#1085;&#1080;&#1085;&#1072; (Lenin St.) and &#1059;&#1083;. &#1050;&#1072;&#1088;&#1083;&#1072; &#1052;&#1072;&#1088;&#1082;&#1089;&#1072; (Karl Marx St.), separated by a big park and river valley, both running away from the water up to the railway line, about 3km away. My hotel was at the top end of the former, right beside a couple of big shopping malls. I had seen a bit of the top end of &#1059;&#1083;. &#1051;&#1077;&#1085;&#1080;&#1085;&#1072; when biking in, so knew there were a bunch of restaurants and streetside kiosks and the like.</p> <p>I came across a cluster of kiosks pretty much immediately. One in particular had a cluster of people buying stuff, so I figured that was as good a sign as any that it was probably decent, and went up to get something. Like my lunch stop, this one had shawarmas (which is what many of the people seemed to be getting) and also... cheezurmas? Pretty much exactly what it sounds like.</p> <p>Sure, why not. I grabbed one of them. Decent enough, but they're pretty big, and after the shawarma I already had at lunch, I realized my daily tolerance for them was probably somewhere around one. Also: need to figure out how to ask them to hold the ketchup. If that's what it is.</p> <p>Maybe partly the relief at making it to Khabarovsk, some nervous energy, but I didn't feel quite ready to return to the hotel. Also, I wanted to scope out what there was in terms of shopping options. So instead I set off on a late night mini-sightseeing tour, heading down &#1059;&#1083;. &#1051;&#1077;&#1085;&#1080;&#1085;&#1072; towards the water.</p> <p>In the end I made it all the way to the end of the street, crossed over to &#1059;&#1083;. &#1050;&#1072;&#1088;&#1083;&#1072; &#1052;&#1072;&#1088;&#1082;&#1089;&#1072; and came all the way back up. The rain started again about &frac13; the way through this adventure, so by the time I made it back, it was quite late and I was once again soaked. Added to the shopping list: an... umbrella? For evenings when I'm not on the bike.</p> <p>However I didn't see much in the way of general shopping that looked particularly more useful than the malls near the hotel. I would have to make a list of bike shops while referencing the internet. And in the meantime, it was already well past 3AM, so no time for blogging (despite my original intention); instead I just went straight to bed. I could figure all this out the following day.</p> <p>Yesterday, Sunday, turned out (once I got online) to <i>also</i> be <A HREF=""><IMG SRC="" BORDER="0" ALIGN="absmiddle" WIDTH="16" HEIGHT="16" ALT="Wikipedia" /></A> <A HREF="">Russia Day</A>.</p> <p>Um, right. This... was not a thing I had counted on. What would that mean for store hours?</p> <p>I made a short list of bike shops in Khabarovsk that seemed to at least be open on Sunday (notwithstanding any Russia Day shenanigans), that were a reasonable distance away, and that had at least one or two decent reviews online.</p> <p>Two were fairly close to downtown, one was a little bit farther away, and the last two were some distance (10km), but right across the street from one another, and also right on a tram line, which I decided I could probably figure out how to use if it came to it.</p> <p>But first: to the shopping mall across the street to get more general-purpose supplies: a towel, an umbrella, some sunscreen, some scissors, maybe a monkey wrench...</p> <p>The shopping mall held a &#1057;&#1072;&#1084;&#1073;&#1077;&#1088;&#1080;, which I'd seen a few times already, and turned out to be a Superstore-like hypermarket. Perfect, in other words, for what I was looking for. Back to the hotel to drop stuff off, then wielding the umbrella, back out into the continuing rain to find a bike shop.</p> <p>The first stop on my short list was disappointing. It was open enough (both Sunday and Russia Day turned out to be complete non-issues; such a change from Argentina where <i>everything</i> is closed on the weekend!) but not really what I was looking for. It was more a general sports store, and despite a large-ish bike section, their selection was definitely more geared to the casual rider, not the high-end stuff. I could get tubes and the like, but I didn't trust the look of their no-name (or at least: unrecognizable-to-me branded) parts.</p> <p>A little ways away was a place marked on my map as <A HREF=""><IMG SRC="" BORDER="0" ALIGN="absmiddle" WIDTH="16" HEIGHT="16" ALT="Google" /></A> <A HREF="">Bike Police</A> - when I arrived it instead had a sign <i>&#1060;&#1072;&#1073;&#1088;&#1080;&#1082;&#1072; &#1057;&#1087;&#1086;&#1088;&#1090;&#1072;</i>. But definitely this was the place! Bikes and bike parts everywhere. And just inside the door, a display with a couple of road bikes that made me swoon. Much nicer than what was available in Vladivostok.</p> <p>Vladivostok and Khabarovsk are very similar in size - almost exactly the same, in fact. About 700,000 people, slightly smaller than Winnipeg. But they have very different characters. The latter definitely feels way "bigger" - more urban, seems to have a wider availability of goods. (Vladivostok is still the prettier city, though. <img src="">)</p> <p>This I suspect to have a lot to do with Vladivostok's status as a Closed City during Soviet times, and until not all that long ago. For many years, foreigners were not allowed into Vladivostok, and so the "business" and investment capital of the far east was Khabarovsk. For foreign tourists wanting to take the Trans-Siberian railroad, this was the end of the line. So this is where all the hotels and amenities sprang up.</p> <p>Vladivostok is growing as a destination, but that's been a much more recent phenomenon, and in the meantime, Khabarovsk has a longer tradition of goods availability.</p> <p>So anyway, &#1060;&#1072;&#1073;&#1088;&#1080;&#1082;&#1072; &#1057;&#1087;&#1086;&#1088;&#1090;&#1072; looked better-stocked than most of what I saw in Vladivostok. I wandered in and was perusing the shelves, looking at the various parts they had for sale, when I was approached by one of the guys working there. I briefly explained my situation, and he asked if I wanted to bring my bike in for them to take a look at.</p> <p>Sure! But I mentioned my 90-day visa, and the fact that I was on a tight schedule so wanted to leave town the following morning - I only really had that afternoon.</p> <p>No problem, just bring it in.</p> <p>Wow. That was pretty awesome. (Turnaround times in Calgary, at this time of year, can be upwards of a week...)</p> <p>Went back to the hotel, retrieved my bike, brought it back to the store, and they looked it over. They confirmed with me that there seemed to be nothing wrong with the pedal crank (it has been just fine since Bikin) but they gave everything a good cleaning, cranked it down better than I was able to, looked the chain and everything else over just to be sure. I bought a bunch of spare parts and tools, including a spare saddle (the one that came with the bike it starting to show the slightest bit of wear in the supports - I give it about a 50% chance of making it to Irkutsk) and was back out the door in a couple of hours.</p> <p>The owner(?) and two employees that were there were all excited about my trip, took a couple of photos, exchanged Instagram accounts and the like, and that was that.</p> <p>Excellent service: as I said, this was the place!</p> <p>I went back to the hotel, dropped my bike off, then went out for dinner. Had been half-intending to go to a restaurant, but ended up buying some pizza from yet another roadside kiosk. It was... very doughy. Not great pizza. (Admittedly, I am pretty intolerant of mediocre pizza: great pizza is great. Less-than-great pizza is bleh.) I may try Russian pizza again, but next time it will be at a proper restaurant, not from a kiosk.</p> <p>By now it was surprisingly late. Night fell quickly for being so far from the tropics - perhaps it was just the cloudy and rainy sky.</p> <p>On my way back to the hotel, a random slightly-belligerent drunk got in my face, demanding: "Are you from Finland?"</p> <p>What was I going to say? "Yes."</p> <p>Satisfied, he wandered off again without a word.</p> <p>*shrug*</p> <UL> <LI>Flaming heart outside "Stars" restaurant in Khabarovsk.<BR /> <A HREF=""><IMG SRC="" BORDER="1" /></A></LI> <LI>Cathedral of the Assumption, night.<BR /> <A HREF=""><IMG SRC="" BORDER="1" /></A></LI> <LI>Pushkin.<BR /> <A HREF=""><IMG SRC="" BORDER="1" /></A></LI> <LI>Central park in Khabarovsk.<BR /> <A HREF=""><IMG SRC="" BORDER="1" /></A></LI> <LI>&#1071; <3 Khabarovsk.<BR /> <A HREF=""><IMG SRC="" BORDER="1" /></A></LI> <LI>The guys at &#1060;&#1072;&#1073;&#1088;&#1080;&#1082;&#1072; &#1057;&#1087;&#1086;&#1088;&#1090;&#1072; working on the bike. :-D<BR /> <A HREF=""><IMG SRC="" BORDER="1" /></A></LI> <LI>Happy Russia Day!<BR /> <A HREF=""><IMG SRC="" BORDER="1" /></A></LI> <LI>Lenin Square. Pigeons.<BR /> <A HREF=""><IMG SRC="" BORDER="1" /></A></LI> <LI>Lenin. (And YotaPhone.)<BR /> <A HREF=""><IMG SRC="" BORDER="1" /></A></LI> <LI>Cathedral of the Assumption, day.<BR /> <A HREF=""><IMG SRC="" BORDER="1" /></A></LI> <LI>The delta at the joining of the Amur and Ussuriy Rivers.<BR /> <A HREF=""><IMG SRC="" BORDER="1" /></A></LI> <LI>Goodbye, Khabarovsk!<BR /> <A HREF=""><IMG SRC="" BORDER="1" /></A></LI> <LI>Training wheels are off! 2143km to the next city, Chita.<BR /> <A HREF=""><IMG SRC="" BORDER="1" /></A></LI> </UL> <p>This morning, much as I didn't want to leave in the continuing rain, it was time.</p> <p>Time to head west! And on to Europe!</p> <p>Exiting Khabarovsk was relatively quick and easy. A few miles to the highway, and then onto the bridge over the Amur river.</p> <p>This <A HREF=""><IMG SRC="" BORDER="0" ALIGN="absmiddle" WIDTH="16" HEIGHT="16" ALT="Wikipedia" /></A> <A HREF="">4km-long bridge</A> was built in 1999, replacing an older bridge built in 1916. It is featured on the &#8381;5000 note and is one of only a small handful of crossings of the Amur, one of Asia's major rivers, and the 10th longest in the world.</p> <p>It's a pretty impressive bridge (although not "spectacular" in the way that cable-stayed or suspension bridges can be). I wanted on several occasions to take a photo, but the heavy military presence dissuaded me.</p> <p>Bridges are a Big Deal (TM) here. Pretty much any bridge of a length much over 100m has a guard post, usually one at each end. And a police station in the vicinity. And CCtv cameras, the whole works. I haven't actually ever noticed a "no photography" sign, but my experience is that in parts of the world where there are restrictions on what one can photograph (Russia definitely falls into this category), major infrastructure installations are one of the first things to be banned.</p> <p>So anyway. The Khabarovsk bridge has not only guard posts at either end, but also all along the bridge, every 500m or so. I passed several patrols out on tour. I was never far from somebody's watchful eye. I decided not to press my luck, and refrained from photographing: <A HREF=""><IMG SRC="" BORDER="0" ALIGN="absmiddle" WIDTH="16" HEIGHT="16" ALT="Google" /></A> <A HREF="">A Google image search</A> can sate your curiosity.</p> <p>Leaving the bridge at the far end, I was immediately out of the Khabarovsk metro area as I entered my third Federal Subject (i.e.: Province) of Russia: the <i>Jewish Autonomous Oblast</i>!</p> <p>The Jewish Autonomous Oblast, as was mentioned in a <A HREF=""><IMG SRC="" BORDER="0" ALIGN="absmiddle" WIDTH="16" HEIGHT="16" ALT="Twitter" /></A> <A HREF="">tweet from the UPenn Slavic Department</A>, is "a curious region, indeed."</p> <p>I have neither the time nor space to delve into an <A HREF=""><IMG SRC="" BORDER="0" ALIGN="absmiddle" WIDTH="16" HEIGHT="16" ALT="Wikipedia" /></A> <A HREF="">exhaustive history lesson</A>, but briefly (and simplified):</p> <p style="margin-left: 30px;">The Jewish Autonomous Oblast, or JAO, is the only (remaining) Autonomous Oblast in Russia. It was originally established in the mid-1930s by the Stalin government as a "homeland" for the Soviet Union's Jewish population. At the time it was a remote and undeveloped (but at least accessible via the Trans-Siberian Railway) territory with no real settlements or infrastructure other than the aforementioned railway. During the aftermath of WWII it was even proposed as an alternate site to Palestine as an international Jewish homeland.</p> <p style="margin-left: 30px;">Needless to say, this idea didn't fly particularly far. Nevertheless many Jews (mostly from the USSR, but a handful of foreigners as well) did migrate here, encouraged in part by the government's promise of free land to all settlers. There is no doubt that this influx did kick-start the oblast's development.</p> <p style="margin-left: 30px;">At the same time, Stalinist purges limited the number of Jews that settled in the area, and even during its height in the late 1940s postwar period, the Jewish population of the JAO was always a strict minority, albeit a sizable one.</p> <p style="margin-left: 30px;">Since that time, the Jewish population has declined to the point of almost negligibility today. However the cultural and economic heritage that this history bestowed on the JAO is considerable. So far as I can tell, the JAO holds on very tightly to its identity (far more so than I was expecting before I arrived). And artifacts of Jewish culture have permeated much of the local life, even if 99% of the population has no genetic Jewish heritage.</p> <p style="margin-left: 30px;">(More on this tomorrow, when I get to the capital, Birobidzhan.)</p> <p>For now, I will note that (for various reasons) the oblast is more economically prosperous than its neighbours.</p> <p>For most of today, however, I didn't notice much of that last. The road away from Khabarovsk was middling, by Russian standards. After exiting the bridge, it skirted by the town of Priamurskaya, and then plunged directly into the countryside, paralleling the railway.</p> <p>The country was flat and marshy all day. A few small villages here and there, but nothing of any significance.</p> <p>Indeed, as I intimated yesterday, "the training wheels are off." By Eastern Russian standards, the stretch between Vladivostok and Khabarovsk is quite densely populated, with a higher-than-average frequency of towns and settlements. I had the (fully premeditated) opportunity to use last week as a training period to help me get the lay of the land and figure out how to get by.</p> <p>But now I'm past the prologue, and into the Russian Wilderness proper. The only settlement worthy of the name "city" is the aforementioned Birobidzhan (75,000), about 180km from Khabarovsk. And after that, only a few towns, large-ish at first but quickly decreasing in size, and spaced far apart. After Birobidzhan, the next city is Chita (325,000), 2150km away. The next <i>large</i> city is Irkutsk, 3200km away. (Hence yesterday's shopping in Khabarovsk.)</p> <p>And between Khabarovsk and Birobidzhan, so far as I could figure, there would be only one actual town, Smidovich, at about the halfway point.</p> <p>Leaving Khabarovsk, I checked my iPhone. It said nothing about any hotels in Smidovich. Nor did it say anything about hotels anywhere else along the route.</p> <p>Having said that, even with the relatively painless exit from Khabarovsk, I didn't think Birobidzhan was quite in the cards. Close, maybe, but not quite. Also, I had already encountered several hotels along the way that the internet didn't seem to know anything about. For example, the Eldorado in Bikin. Or the Magnolia in Spassk. Or a few others. It seemed to have a bead on about 75% of them.</p> <p>So I crossed my fingers and hoped that Smidovich would prove to have an "unlisted" hotel. At any rate, halfway to Birobidzhan, it seemed to be a reasonable distance. I made it my goal.</p> <p>As I said, flat and marshy all day. I have clearly been following a river valley; at first I thought it was the Amur, but double checking the map, no. Some random tributary whose name isn't indicated. Either way, very wet ground. Numerous farms, but they all seemed rather waterlogged, almost as one might expect rice paddies to be.</p> <p>Mosquitoes have been about as thick as one would expect given the conditions.</p> <p>However, it has been mostly dry above ground level. The rain cleared up as I started across the bridge, and with the exception of a few brief squalls it was dry and partly cloudy for most of the afternoon.</p> <p>I went over a very low ridge of hills about 40km from Khabarovsk. Nothing of any consequence, and I was afterward back in the marshes.</p> <p>As the early evening set in, and I was about 20km from Smidovich, I noticed it had suddenly gotten rather cold. And dark. I mused that the onset of nightfall brought with it a surprisingly swift drop in temperatures. Almost like being in the mountains. Or at upper latitudes? But that wouldn't explain the sudden darkness...?</p> <p>Which is when I noticed that the sky behind me was still rather bright. The dark and the cold were brought about by a massive, massive black raincloud covering pretty much the entire sky ahead.</p> <p>I poured on the energy and pumped the pedals as fast as I could: maybe I could reach Smidovich before that ugly raincloud brought forth its payload!</p> <p>18km left... I raced the cloud.</p> <p>17km...</p> <p>15...</p> <p>11...</p> <p>...</p> <p>At 9km to go I lost the battle, and the first pitter-patter started to arrive. At least so far, it was just a light rain.</p> <p>Finally, finally, I made it to smidovich, and there was nothing on the highway. Absolutely nothing. Just a side road of questionable quality leading to the town a few km to the side.</p> <p>My experience so far has been that the most worthy hotels are to be found along the highway; unless you are in a bigger town or city, it is not worth going off the highway to explore said town. There is rarely anything there (see: Bikin).</p> <p>And in this case, there wasn't a single sign or indication that there was a hotel in town. As I said, the internet knew nothing about a hotel here. I was out of luck. The racing, for naught.</p> <p>Well, I have a tent for a reason. There had never been the slightest chance that I could get across Russia without ever having to camp (not that I would have wanted to anyway). Gonna have to put it to use some time!</p> <p>Except: the terrain seemed awfully swampy. And trying to find a place to camp in the marshy ground, after dark, in the rain, hardly seemed like the best way to kick its tyres. I had really hoped to be up in higher ground the first time I pulled out the tent.</p> <p>I checked the iPhone again. Belgorodskoye. A village about 8km away. My map at least listed a gas station there (the first one in 70km, and the last one until Birobidzhan). Maybe there would be a hotel <i>there?</i> Or at least the gas station would have an awning where I could be out of the rain while I pondered my options.</p> <p>I set out to Belgorodskoye. About 2km later, I felt a tell-tale squishiness. No... no... no!</p> <p>Yes. Flat tyre number 4. In the middle of absolutely nowhere, with no shelter in sight, and under what had become an extremely heavy downpour.</p> <p>Now the thing about saddlebags is: to fix a flat tyre, I have to take off the wheel. And to take off the wheel, I have to turn the bike upside down. And to do <i>that</i>, I have to remove the saddlebags. Rendering the rain cover, and any water protection it might offer, useless.</p> <p><small>(Have I mentioned I don't like saddlebags yet?)</small></p> <p>Half an hour later, my tyre was fixed (thank you, newly-purchased pump!). But it was dark. Thoroughly and completely dark. And bucketing down. And everything I own, strewn across the shoulder, was soaked through-and-through. Most of my goods are at least safely stashed in Ziploc bags (of which I brought a whole bunch from Canada, then supplemented with purchases in both Vladivostok and at the &#1057;&#1072;&#1084;&#1073;&#1077;&#1088;&#1080; in Khabarovsk).</p> <p>But *I* was certainly drenched.</p> <p>I reassembled everything, put on the rain cover (for what good it would do now) and turned on the lights. My tail light refused to work. I... what?</p> <p>Then I remembered that I had it on all through my ride into Khabarovsk, and I completely forgot to recharge it afterward.</p> <p>So... no tail light. In the dark and the rain. At least there was basically zero traffic, and my rain cover is a bright fluorescent yellow, with reflective strips. It would have to do. But it also meant that Belgorodskoye was to be my last stand. It would be lunacy to try to go any farther.</p> <p>Into Belgorodskoye, and as I reached the gas station, I saw ahead what looked to be a suspiciously well-appointed building (by Russian standards)... much as I would expect a roadside &#1043;&#1086;&#1089;&#1090;&#1080;&#1085;&#1080;&#1094;&#1072; to look. Could it possibly be...?</p> <p>Well, no. Pressing on, I saw that it was "just" a house. A particularly nice-looking house, surrounded by several other rather nice-looking houses making up the village. Curious... until I saw one of the omnipresent 24h roadside cafes. The cafe had a Star of David in the window, and the menu was duplicated in Hebrew. Belgorodskoye must be a Jewish counterpart community to the town of Smidovich!</p> <p>I pulled up to the cafe, and tentatively asked the proprietor if there was a hotel anywhere around?</p> <p>The answer was as disappointing as it was expected.</p> <p>So.</p> <p>It's camping time.</p> <p>I consulted the map one more time. It showed me surrounded by lakes, sloughs, and swamps. This pretty much matched what I'd been seeing all afternoon. The highway itself, the railroad, and the few side roads are on raised berms that rise above the surrounding fields, which are more or less all submerged, a few trees here and there sticking up out of the water. Much as I would expect a Louisiana Bayou to be (never having actually, uh, been there...).</p> <p>It's basically a swamp. I couldn't possibly camp anywhere but on one of the berms, or I would be literally underwater. The few "islands" of any size are sized on for building houses or villages, like Belgorodskoye.</p> <p>One of those side roads led away from Belgorodskoye. My only hope was to travel along it a bit to see if it might get wide enough to let me camp along the edge somewhere and not obstruct the roadway.</p> <p>The road was dirt, turned completely into mud by the rain. After my experience in Dalnerechensk, I wasn't riding through that mud, so I got off and pushed the bike along. I couldn't see a thing and was constantly stepping into potholes and getting into water and mud above my ankles.</p> <p>Vainly peering around with the aid of the bicycle headlight, I realized it didn't make much difference. The entire roadway was mostly covered in water anyway.</p> <p>I trudged on, after a couple hundred agonizing metres finally arriving at a junction in the road. There was maybe maybe a bit of space in the "Y" made by the junction, with a clump of bushes at one side. I would be an inch or two underwater, but mostly above it. For what it was worth, with the rain continuing to bucket. And mostly out of the way of whatever traffic there might be.</p> <p>I didn't care. I set up the tent as close to the edge as I possibly could without falling off and into the swamp itself. Feeling like I'd just swum the English Channel, if the English Channel were mad of a solution of 50% water and 50% mosquitos, I crawled into the wet tent, pulled the sleeping bag out of its protective Ziploc, peeled off my clothes, got into the sleeping bag, and lay there, shivering, in the rainy swampy night.</p> <BR /><BR /> <IMG SRC="/bikejournal/categories/weather.png" ALIGN="bottom" HEIGHT="32" WIDTH="32" /> <EM><SMALL>Today&#x2019;s weather: <SPAN CLASS="blag_underline">Rain in morning, dry through the day with occasional squalls, heavy rain in evening</SPAN>. </SMALL></EM><BR /> <IMG SRC="/bikejournal/categories/road.png" ALIGN="bottom" HEIGHT="32" WIDTH="32" /> <EM><SMALL>Today&#x2019;s road: <SPAN CLASS="blag_underline">R297 (Fmr: M58)</SPAN>. 120.6 km, 6h39. Middling quality: some better than average, some worse. Low ridge of hills 60km from Khabarovsk, otherwise flat, through swamplands.</SMALL></EM><BR /> Jun. 11, 2016: Khabarovsk, Khabarovskiy Krai, Russia Fri, 17 Jun 2016 11:35:59 -0500 20160610 <p>Got on the road - yet again - at around noon today.</p> <p>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.</p> <p>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).</p> <p>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.</p> <p>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 Bistro24 in Dalnerechensk, although this chain was called the &#1040;&#1074;&#1090;&#1086; &#1050;&#1072;&#1092;&#1077; ("Auto Cafe"). This one had shawarmas!</p> <p>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.</p> <p>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.</p> <p>Famous. Last. Words.</p> <p>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.</p> <p>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.</p> <p>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.</p> <p>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.</p> <p>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.</p> <p>I just stared at it, dumbfounded, for a few seconds. Wha...?</p> <p>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 <i>that</i> brand again.</p> <p>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.</p> <p>The closest ones were either 10km behind me in Pereyaslavka, or 20km ahead of me.</p> <p>Decision time.</p> <p>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 <i>knew</i> however that I had passed nothing since Pereyaslavka except forest and crappy road.</p> <p>Crossing my fingers, I gingerly trundled the bike onward, hoping that I wasn't in for a 20km walk.</p> <UL> <LI>73 km to go!<BR /> <A HREF=""><IMG SRC="" BORDER="1" /></A></LI> <LI>The brand of bicycle pump? NEVER BUY.<BR /> <A HREF=""><IMG SRC="" BORDER="1" /></A></LI> <LI>Oh please oh please don't let this be a required detour.<BR /> <A HREF=""><IMG SRC="" BORDER="1" /></A></LI> <LI>Khabarovsk.<BR /> <A HREF=""><IMG SRC="" BORDER="1" /></A></LI> </UL> <p>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.</p> <p>I was in luck!</p> <p>About 4km on, I came across one of the omnipresent &#1064;&#1080;&#1085;&#1086;&#1084;&#1086;&#1085;&#1090;&#1072;&#1078;-es (Mechanic / tyre repair shops), as I suspected, not marked on my map!</p> <p>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.</p> <p>And lounging in said contraption, a grimy, wizened old gnome of a man. I approached and hesitantly asked if he had an air pump.</p> <p>I got a stream of language in return. I assume the language to have been Russian, but it didn't contain a word a I recognized.</p> <p>I tried again. "I have no pump" - I pointed to the flat tyre for illustration, then showed him the broken pump.</p> <p>In return, more words.</p> <p>Finally I understood: "Chas!" (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.</p> <p>*Whew*</p> <p>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.</p> <p>I thanked him, shoved &#8381;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.</p> <p>So I was back on the road. But down one air pump. Khabarovsk is a major shopping point, indeed the <i>last</i> 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.</p> <p>No. <i>TWO</i> air pumps.</p> <p>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.</p> <p>So anyway, with 45km to go, I <i>should</i> make it to Khabarovsk, but I'm not taking anything for granted.</p> <p>36km to go: I come across a big detour sign. Emphasis on the word "big." The distance has just gone from 36km to 104km.</p> <p>WAT.</p> <p>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.</p> <p>I'm in no mood to push my luck.</p> <p>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.</p> <p>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!</p> <p>I take the requisite photo.</p> <p>The previous 15km since the detour have been quite hilly. Lots of up and down. Crappy road continued to be generally crappy. (Not <i>bad</i>... 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.</p> <p>But I still have 20km to go to reach the city centre.</p> <p>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 <i>those</i> on Russian roads.</p> <p>(Actually, the highways aren't too bad in that respect. The city streets, on the other hand...)</p> <p>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 (the site through which I got in touch with Yegor in Vladivostok) but at this short notice... ehhh.</p> <p>So last night in Vyazemskiy I scoped out a hotel reasonably close to downtown and shopping, and also reasonably priced.</p> <p>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 <i>absolutely</i> make an exception.)</p> <p>I also noticed that it has stopped raining, for the time being.</p> <p>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.</p> <p>In Khabarovsk for two nights (one full day). Tomorrow: shopping!</p> <p>(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?</p> <BR /><BR /> <IMG SRC="/bikejournal/categories/lodging.png" ALIGN="bottom" HEIGHT="32" WIDTH="32" /> <EM><SMALL>Today&#x2019;s lodging: <SPAN CLASS="blag_underline">Avrora Hotel, Khabarovsk</SPAN>. Great location, decent price (considering it's a tourist hotel in the middle of a big city), nice room. A-</SMALL></EM><BR /> <IMG SRC="/bikejournal/categories/weather.png" ALIGN="bottom" HEIGHT="32" WIDTH="32" /> <EM><SMALL>Today&#x2019;s weather: <SPAN CLASS="blag_underline">Overcast, sprinkly, drizzly, rainy</SPAN>. </SMALL></EM><BR /> <IMG SRC="/bikejournal/categories/road.png" ALIGN="bottom" HEIGHT="32" WIDTH="32" /> <EM><SMALL>Today&#x2019;s road: <SPAN CLASS="blag_underline">A370 (Fmr: M60) - &#1059;&#1083;. &#1050;&#1088;&#1072;&#1089;&#1085;&#1086;&#1088;&#1077;&#1095;&#1077;&#1085;&#1089;&#1082;&#1072;&#1103;</SPAN>. 127.1 km, 7h15. Road started good but got worse and worse as approached Khabarovsk. Hilly just outside city. &#1059;&#1083;. &#1050;&#1088;&#1072;&#1089;&#1085;&#1086;&#1088;&#1077;&#1095;&#1077;&#1085;&#1089;&#1082;&#1072;&#1103; is a mess until you get ~5km from downtown.</SMALL></EM><BR /> Jun. 10, 2016: Vyazemskiy, Khabarovskiy Krai, Russia Fri, 17 Jun 2016 09:08:32 -0500 20160609 <p>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.</p> <p>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).</p> <p>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.)</p> <p>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 &#8381;1100 ($CA 22) a night instead of &#8381;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.</p> <p>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.</p> <p>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 &#1056;&#1086;&#1089;&#1085;&#1077;&#1092;&#1090; 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.</p> <p>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.</p> <UL> <LI>Welcome to the Hotel Eldorado...<BR /> <A HREF=""><IMG SRC="" BORDER="1" /></A></LI> <LI>Appropriately-themed art at the Eldorado<BR /> <A HREF=""><IMG SRC="" BORDER="1" /></A></LI> <LI>An old trail<BR /> <A HREF=""><IMG SRC="" BORDER="1" /></A></LI> <LI>Vyazemskiy Region<BR /> <A HREF=""><IMG SRC="" BORDER="1" /></A></LI> <LI>The Fountain Motel<BR /> <A HREF=""><IMG SRC="" BORDER="1" /></A></LI> <LI>Seoul Silver Biker<BR /> <A HREF=""><IMG SRC="" BORDER="1" /></A></LI> <LI>Rooftop kitty surveys his domain<BR /> <A HREF=""><IMG SRC="" BORDER="1" /></A></LI> <LI>Pelmeni (somewhere between wonton and tortellini) and black beer<BR /> <A HREF=""><IMG SRC="" BORDER="1" /></A></LI> </UL> <p>I woke up to mostly overcast skies, and a forecast that called for afternoon showers.<p> <p>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.</p> <p>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 <i>what's</i> wrong with it. And that perhaps worries me more.</p> <p>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.</p> <p>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.</p> <p>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.</p> <p>I went back across the parking lot to the &#1056;&#1086;&#1089;&#1085;&#1077;&#1092;&#1090; 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.</p> <p>"I know, but not until afternoon, I think. So hopefully I will be far away and can maybe escape it."</p> <p>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.</p> <p>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.</p> <p>Back on the bike, 4 km later, I stop and re-check. Still solid. Tighten and resume.</p> <p>7 km later, another check. Still A-Ok.</p> <p>10 km later? All systems go.</p> <p>I slowly, slowly allowed myself to feel some relief. Maybe it did just need a good cleaning.</p> <p>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 <i>on average</i>, I've so far found the ones in Khabarovskiy Krai to be better.</p> <p>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.</p> <p>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."</p> <p>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!</p> <p>On the other hand: 1. The motel <i>is</i> 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.</p> <p>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. <i>Sigh.</i></p> <p>There's a sticker on the bar fridge in the motel room: "<i>Across Urasia 2015 - Seoul Silver Biker</i>." I'm apparently following in someone's illustrious <strike>foot</strike>tyre-steps? I'm assuming this is a motorbiker, like the ones I encountered the other afternoon near the provincial border. But maybe not?</p> <p>*shrug*</p> <p>It's a sometimes strange hobby these few of us have taken up.</p> <BR /><BR /> <IMG SRC="/bikejournal/categories/lodging.png" ALIGN="bottom" HEIGHT="32" WIDTH="32" /> <EM><SMALL>Today&#x2019;s lodging: <SPAN CLASS="blag_underline">Fountain Motel, Vyazemskiy</SPAN>. Friendly staff (as has been the case at most hotels)</SMALL></EM><BR /> <IMG SRC="/bikejournal/categories/weather.png" ALIGN="bottom" HEIGHT="32" WIDTH="32" /> <EM><SMALL>Today&#x2019;s weather: <SPAN CLASS="blag_underline">Mostly overcast</SPAN>. Threatening rain but not quite getting there until evening. Good biking weather!</SMALL></EM><BR /> <IMG SRC="/bikejournal/categories/road.png" ALIGN="bottom" HEIGHT="32" WIDTH="32" /> <EM><SMALL>Today&#x2019;s road: <SPAN CLASS="blag_underline">A370 (Fmr: M60)</SPAN>. 101.0 km, 5h42. Slight ups and downs in the morning, leading to flatter afternoon. Generally good road quality.</SMALL></EM><BR /> Jun. 08, 2016: Bikin, Khabarovskiy Krai, Russia Thu, 09 Jun 2016 09:54:04 -0500 20160608 <p>After "bailing" at Dalnerechensk yesterday, I spent some time squinting at the map. It would be doable - just <i>barely</i> doable - to make it to Khabarovsk Thursday (tomorrow) night, keeping me on my intended schedule. But it would mean two 175-km days, and so I would have to be up and out early. This would mean no time for blogging until I got there; in either English or Russian.</p> <p>So I got up reasonably early today, packed up and armed with my new toothbrush, headed out to see what I could do with the bike. I essentially took as much apart as I could with the tools I had, cleaned as best I could with the toothbrush and a bucket of water, re-oiled and put it back together.</p> <p>The procedure took me longer than I had planned, almost 2 hours. But better that than a non-working bike.</p> <p>I got back to the highway and made a quick stop at a "&#1041;&#1080;&#1089;&#1090;&#1088;&#1086;24" for breakfast. These places are amazing. They are found along the highway in every town and are little drive-up kiosks where you can get pretty much anything. Chinese (wontons, fried rice)? Yep. "Traditional" Russian (borshch, pirozhkiy)? Sure. Western (hamburgers, pizza, caesar salad)? You bet. Cappuccino? No problem. There are several different chains that I've seen so far, some are 24h and some not. But basically like a take-out version of a greasy spoon diner. For me, on the bike, this is about as perfect as you can possibly get, because it means I don't have to worry about locking the bike up somewhere, and then worrying about all the stuff on it. And with the number of calories I'm burning through, I'm not worried about a little extra grease.</p> <p>So anyway, a couple of pirozhkiy and a chocobar from the &#1041;&#1080;&#1089;&#1090;&#1088;&#1086;24, and I'm on the road, making pretty excellent time. The bike feels easier to push than before. I don't know if I was perhaps riding on a (slightly) deflating tyre for longer than I'd realized? Or maybe the brakes were adjusted a bit too tightly? Either way, it seems easier. Every time I look down at my speedometer, I find I'm doing about 2-3 km/h faster than I was previously, for roughly the same amount of effort. With the extra couple hours cleaning the bike, I'm still not sure about 175km, but I can probably come close.</p> <p>In the fairly early afternoon, I pass by a "serious" cycler going the other way. We talk for a few minutes: he's on his way from Khabarovsk down to Vladivostok. He says he's been doing a little over 200km a day! &#1052;&#1086;&#1083;&#1086;&#1076;&#1077;&#1094;! ("Good job!") But he's also travelling pretty light - just a small backpack - and is on a road bike, like mine in Canada. <i>*Sigh*</i></p> <p>He tells me about a good hotel he stayed at the previous night, in Bikin. Take the turnoff into the town, and it'll be on your left, he says. Bikin is a few km short of where I want to be tonight, but we'll see.</p> <p>As we part ways, it occurs to me that I didn't think to ask how well he knew the highway. Did he know about the upcoming 10km of mud? I'm not sure how he's planning to handle that on a road bike. Maybe, as I was thinking yesterday, he'll just pick it up and carry it.</p> <p>Some time later, I reach the town of Luchegorsk, which had been my intended destination for the previous night. I begin to think that - yet again - there may have been a blessing in disguise related to the place in Dalnerechensk. Luchegorsk is an extremely industrial town. There's a massive factory beside it with three huge smokestacks towering over the town emitting a thick smelly smoke into the air. The entire place smells questionable.</p> <p>On the map the town is at the side of a lake, and there are hotels with the evocative names of "Astoria" and "Azure." It sounded rather pretty.</p> <p>In reality, both hotels were industrial-looking buildings surrounded by junkyards and mechanic shops. The place in Dalnerechensk, with all of its downsides, seemed like a much better deal.</p> <p>I was pretty happy to get out of town and put Luchegorsk behind me as soon as I could.</p> <UL> <LI>Leaving Dalnerechensk.<BR /> <A HREF=""><IMG SRC="" BORDER="1" /></A></LI> <LI>The &#1041;&#1080;&#1089;&#1090;&#1088;&#1086;24 where I had breakfast. These things are awesome.<BR /> <A HREF=""><IMG SRC="" BORDER="1" /></A></LI> <LI>"Operating system desktop photography," per Fran&ccedil;ois. :-)<BR /> <A HREF=""><IMG SRC="" BORDER="1" /></A></LI> <LI>Across the valley to China<BR /> <A HREF=""><IMG SRC="" BORDER="1" /></A></LI> <LI>Just me and the road<BR /> <A HREF=""><IMG SRC="" BORDER="1" /></A></LI> <LI>Luchegorsk and its smokestacks.<BR /> <A HREF=""><IMG SRC="" BORDER="1" /></A></LI> <LI>The hills at the provincial border.<BR /> <A HREF=""><IMG SRC="" BORDER="1" /></A></LI> <LI>Finally: an uphill! And lots of aspen forests.<BR /> <A HREF=""><IMG SRC="" BORDER="1" /></A></LI> <LI>Entering Khabarovskiy Krai.<BR /> <A HREF=""><IMG SRC="" BORDER="1" /></A></LI> </UL> <p>Almost immediately on leaving Luchegorsk, the scenery changes. One last valley, and then I'm into thicker forests as I climb the range of hills that marks the border between Primorskiy and Khabarovskiy Krais (provinces, roughly). They're not mountains, per s&eacute;, but definitely I am soon climbing the first proper <i>hill</i> since I left Vladivostok, surrounded by aspen forests that go forever. There's a sense of welcome familiarity about this.</p> <p>At one point, I'm passed by a trio of motorbikes, laden down with more baggage than mine. Clearly doing a cross-country trip! They are festooned with Republic of Korea (South) flags and decals. Lots of horn tooting, thumbs-up and peace signs. The girl on the back of the rear bike has her camera out, taking as many pictures of me as she can in the few seconds while they pass by.</p> <p>2km from the top of the hill I notice my pedals being a bit wobbly. Hmm. The bolt is definitely coming loose. I tighten it up again, and half-forget about it as I go over the top of the hills. Khabarovskiy Krai! One province down! (22 to go)</p> <p>I coast down the hill, making good time. 8km from the top, I notice my pedal is again wobbling. I tighten it up again, significantly more concerned. The bikers among you will know exactly why at this point: the aluminum around the square bolt feeding into the bottom bracket is most likely shot. This was the one part that we weren't able to find to our liking in Vladivostok, and had to settle for our second choice. It probably worked itself a bit loose in the previous day's mud run without me noticing. And I forgot to double check it in Dalnerechensk.</p> <p>So it's been getting duller and duller all day, and now is almost certainly gone. I'll have to get a new one for sure in Khabarovsk. My only question is whether I'll make it that far. It may be a long, long walk.</p> <p>I tighten the crank again, get on the bike, and <i>whoa.</i> Something is very not right. I look down: my second flat tyre.</p> <p>As I'm fixing the flat tyre and being eaten alive by mosquitoes, I notice that one of the bolts holding the rack on to the bike has fallen out. When did <i>this</i> happen?? It was definitely fine in Dalnerechensk this morning! I look through all the spare bits and pieces that I brought with me from Yegor's workshop, but no spare rack bolts. However I do have a lifetime supply of Yegor's favourite tool: zip ties!</p> <p>I use two zip ties to fasten the rack on, fix the tyre as fast as I can (darkness is coming, mosquitos are having the dinner of their life, and I don't really want to be doing this on the highwayside for longer than I have to). Get back on the bike, make it two more km, and feel yet another odd wobbling in the wheel. I'm about ready to cry.</p> <p>I look down, and realize that I'd just done a crappy and rushed job of putting the tyre back on. This one was my fault! And easily fixable, at least. Except for the part where I had to - once again - take all the saddle bags and panniers off the bike so that I could remove the wheel and fix the tyre. Have I mentioned that I don't like panniers? Every one of these operations takes a good 10 minutes longer when I have to take them off every time.</p> <p>ANY way. Enough grumbling. The tyre re-re-repaired, I'm back on my way again. 5km to Bikin, and almost dusk. Looks like I will stop at the hotel the other biker had mentioned, after all.</p> <p>At Bikin, I take the turnoff and head into town, looking for a hotel on the left side. Nothing, nothing. I get to the center of town and haven't seen anything. I look up hotels on my iPhone. (With about 5% battery power remaining - I have a battery backup but it's buried at the bottom of my packs and - sigh. I hadn't planned this well.)</p> <p>It comes up with one, with a name (the Lotus) that was definitely not what the guy had said. But whatever. I find the Lotus and it is definitely not what I'm looking for. I'm pretty sure it's not even open, and I most certainly don't want to leave the bike outside in this neighbourhood while I go in to investigate.</p> <p>I'm not sure what to do. The best choice seems to be to go back to the highway, press on for a couple km then find a place to set up the tent in the forest. Not a fan of this plan for a couple of reasons: 1. It's now definitely dark. I'd rather do such a thing while it's still light so I have <i>some</i> clue about my surroundings, and 2. the forecast is for thunder and lightning over night. Indeed the thunderstorm is already closing in with lightning just over the hill.</p> <p>But I don't seem to have any other options. Reluctantly I make my way back toward the highway, when I see it. There's the hotel, "hidden" behind a gas station, maybe 50m from the highway! I realized that I hadn't noticed it because at the time there was a car closing in behind me, and I was more concerned about getting out of its way.</p> <p>One car, and maybe a 40 minute detour. Whatever. It's a hotel. It has a 24h restaurant. It's welcoming, and it has a place to store the bike. I'll worry about the pedal tomorrow.</p> <BR /><BR /> <IMG SRC="/bikejournal/categories/lodging.png" ALIGN="bottom" HEIGHT="32" WIDTH="32" /> <EM><SMALL>Today&#x2019;s lodging: <SPAN CLASS="blag_underline">Hotel Eldorado, Bikin</SPAN>. Western-themed, as the name suggests. Cute! Fairly cheap, good 24h restaurant attached.</SMALL></EM><BR /> <IMG SRC="/bikejournal/categories/meal.png" ALIGN="bottom" HEIGHT="32" WIDTH="32" /> <EM><SMALL>Today&#x2019;s meal: <SPAN CLASS="blag_underline">Borshch, steak & potatoes, bread, some forgettable beer</SPAN>. The borshch is the "Chinese style" borshch, with meat but no beets. Leanne mentioned it to me once. It's good!</SMALL></EM><BR /> <IMG SRC="/bikejournal/categories/weather.png" ALIGN="bottom" HEIGHT="32" WIDTH="32" /> <EM><SMALL>Today&#x2019;s weather: <SPAN CLASS="blag_underline">Partly cloudy - warm but not hot like previous days</SPAN>. Basically near-perfect riding weather.</SMALL></EM><BR /> <IMG SRC="/bikejournal/categories/road.png" ALIGN="bottom" HEIGHT="32" WIDTH="32" /> <EM><SMALL>Today&#x2019;s road: <SPAN CLASS="blag_underline">A370 (Fmr: M60)</SPAN>. A mix of almost every condition (except mud). Mostly really good though. A good riding day. Notable hills at the border.</SMALL></EM><BR /> Jun. 07, 2016: Dalnerechensk, Primorskiy Krai, Russia Thu, 09 Jun 2016 07:53:31 -0500 20160607 <p>Let's not bury the lede. Today was a very trying day.</p> <p>I woke up early, as I had been underachieving my targets by a little bit (enough to make the difference between making it across the country before my visa expires, and... not) and wanted to get an early start to make up some time. So. I woke up early, to a grey sky. At first I thought it was just the haze from yesterday, but on further inspection, it turned out to be cloudy and overcast.</p> <p>I checked the weather forecast, and said forecast was for rain through most of the afternoon, clearing up by the early evening.</p> <p>Okay, that might not be so bad, anyway. Some respite from the sunburniness!</p> <p>Yegor was rightfully pressuring me to to some updating to do on the Russian &#1042;&#1050;&#1086;&#1085;&#1090;&#1072;&#1082;&#1090;&#1077; blog, so I "quickly" wrote out an update and got on my way. ("Quickly" is relative. I write much less there than I do here, but of course writing in Russian is necessarily a slow process for me, so it still takes me almost as long - it was probably a good 2 hours before I could get going.)</p> <p>My goal was Luchegorsk - about 165km away. Easily done in Canada, on my road bike with lighter weight. More of a challenge here, but definitely still doable. But if I could make Luchegorsk, that would put me into Khabarovsk Thursday evening - right on schedule. I was a little concerned about my later-than-intended departure, but oh well.</p> <p>I was probably only 10 minutes out of Gornye Klyuchi when the rain started. For the most part it was a constant light drizzle, with occasional heavier bursts. Not particularly miserable, but nor was it pleasant. A welcome enough change from the hot sun, but mostly "meh." Not good photography weather.</p> <p>Trundling along, I was watching the kilometer posts with increasing eagerness. On either side is marked the (ascending) distance from that direction's respective starting point, and the two numbers are inexorably converging on each other...</p> <p>Finally I make it! At km.384, the two numbers match and I am halfway from Vladivostok to Khabarovsk! A nice little milestone. ((Almost) literally.)</p> <p>I stop, take a photo, gulp down a chocolate bar, swat 941 mosquitos, get back on the bike and push off.</p> <p>And notice that now the excitement of the half-way point has passed, I am suddenly rather tired. Pushing the bike through the rain is hard work and I just don't seem to have the... oh. I look down and realize I'm riding on my first flat tyre.</p> <p>Wonderful. I pull off to the side of the road, do my best to duck into some bushes, and set about making repairs. I notice that I'm right across from the next km marker. I went a full kilometer on a flat tyre. (!!!)</p> <p>Roadside repairs in the rain and a cloud of mosquitos are never going to be a particularly pleasant experience. I got it over with as fast as I could, put it all back together and prayed that I hadn't missed anything in my haste.</p> <p>But all seemed much better. After another 5km or so of held breath, everything seemed to be holding fine, and I could exhale.</p> <p>After some time in the continuing drizzle, I was a closing in on Dalnerechensk (the first town after Gornye Klyuchi). It wasn't quite yet 4:00 and Luchegorsk was about 95km away. By focusing so intently on the halfway point, I hadn't even realized that the rain and flat tyre notwithstanding, I was making quite good time! The rain was due to stop in a little while, and with some mental calculation, I figured that if all went well, I could make it to Luchegorsk in a little over 5 hours, or about 9:00 PM. Slightly after sunset, but it wouldn't be the end of the world. I could still make my schedule! I got a bit of a speed burst out of this thought, and barreled down the highway rocking out to some nice energetic music. :-p</p> <UL> <LI>Town plaza in Gornye Klyuchi<BR /> <A HREF=""><IMG SRC="" BORDER="1" /></A></LI> <LI>Halfway to Khabarovsk!<BR /> <A HREF=""><IMG SRC="" BORDER="1" /></A></LI> <LI>Russian highways: not so grate akshully.<BR /> <A HREF=""><IMG SRC="" BORDER="1" /></A></LI> <LI>Survived the mud. Barely.<BR /> <A HREF=""><IMG SRC="" BORDER="1" /></A></LI> <LI>Hotel kitty comes out to say hello.<BR /> <A HREF=""><IMG SRC="" BORDER="1" /></A></LI> <LI>Infrastructure in Dalnerechensk.<BR /> <A HREF=""><IMG SRC="" BORDER="1" /></A></LI> </UL> <p>Remember that lede I said I didn't want to bury?</p> <p>The terrain was similar to yesterday: wide flat valleys, small hilly ridges separating them.</p> <p>About 15km short of Dalnerechensk I came over a ridge on a nice new smooth highway. Looking ahead, I saw the highway go down and across the valley. Then the pavement stopped, and up the other side, a tangle of traffic making its way up and down what seemed to be nothing more than a slimy, slippery, muddy slope.</p> <p>Russian highways.</p> <p>Well, it's not like there's any alternative. So I make it to the edge and then start picking my way up the slope. The mud is slimy, thick and clumpy and gets <i>everywhere</i>. Into everything. With a lighter bike, I probably would have picked it up and carried it. But this one is way too heavy, and weighted down with the saddlebags. There's no such option. I bump and jostle over every rock, mud clinging increasingly to the bike. I wince in agony with every grind of the chain, thinking of all the hours that Yegor and I put into the bike.</p> <p>For a while I am hopeful that this may only be a short section, and the pavement will resume at the crest of the hill. But my heart sinks about three feet when I get to the top and see the mud stretching away, off to the horizon.</p> <p>The going is slow, painfully slow. It might not have actually been that bad the previous day, with the sun having baked everything solid. A little bumpy, but no big deal. Not like I've never ridden on dirt roads before, with my road bike, even. But the day's rain has made it a mess.</p> <p>I jostle my way along. The entire section is a little under 10km. It's actually just a section under (re-) construction, according to the sign at the other end, the significance of which I now appreciate. But there are no crews or equipment anywhere in sight, so uh? Maybe they decided not to work in the rain? But you'd think there would be machinery around...</p> <p>The one saving grace is that the rain stops and the sun does finally come out, about halfway along.</p> <p>You know what? Macadam is fine. Give me back my macadam!!!</p> <p>Finally, finally, after over an hour, I get to the other end and back onto the pavement. The bike is a disaster - half the gears don't work at all, and there is mud inside everything. I have half a bottle of water with which I do my best at rinsing things off, but it's only a stopgap measure. I'm only 3-4km from Dalnerechensk, so I put it into one of the working gears and limp into town where at the first gas station I buy some rags and oil, set up camp in the parking lot behind the gas station and set about doing my best to clean everything in what is at least some evening sun.</p> <p>It takes me a couple of hours, and things are still not perfect, but it's at least ridable, and I don't <i>think</i> I'm doing any more damage by doing so.</p> <p>Clearly any hopes of making it to Luchegorsk are completely gone, so this is where it will be. What does Google say about hotels in Dalnerechensk?</p> <p>I ask, and am momentarily flummoxed when it gives me a pile of hits for hotels in China. Oh, of course! The town is on the east bank of the river that forms the border! Right across the river is Hutouzhen, only a few km away.</p> <p>Well, on this side of the river, there seem to be three. One appears (as best I can tell) to be more like serviced apartments. One has a single review: one star. The third has a couple of 4-5 star reviews and is quite close to where I'm sitting. So I decide to try that one.</p> <p>I head over, and am a little disappointed. The hotel is rather drab, uninspiring. I'm not seeing any lights in the windows, many of which are boarded up. Through one I see what appears to be a room under renovation. I'm considering whether to head into town proper to try the other hotels when Hotel Kitty wanders out to say hello.</p> <p>Hotel kitty is the <i>friendliest</i> cat I have ever met. A bit scraggly, but purring loudly. I can't even take a good photo because every time I try to focus, she runs up and rubs between my legs. Well. If Hotel kitty likes the place, it can't be <i>all</i> bad. I try the door.</p> <p>It opens and the lobby is decent enough. A proprietor appears and I ask if there is a room available. She quotes me a price that is more than twice what I have paid anywhere else so far. At the same time, I see the board with the room tariffs, and note that she is quoting me the price for the "deluxe" room - the most expensive on the board. I point to some of the others and ask about them - they're not available, apparently.</p> <p>I rather suspect that I'm being taken for a ride. But you know what? It's been a long day, it's late, I'm tired, I'm muddy, I'm unsure about the state of my bike, and at this point, I'd rather be taken for a ride than do any more riding myself. (Also, the super-expensive rate is still less than $50 Canadian. All things in perspective.)</p> <p>So I agree. There's also a sign saying the hotel has wi-fi, so that seems a good plan. Another sign indicates that the restaurant closes in about an hour, so I hastily arrange to have the bike stowed and run in to have a shower.</p> <p>It amazes me that when I went across Canada I would go days - even weeks - without a shower. (Hey, I was a teenager: don't judge!) Now, they're one of the best parts at the end of a long day. Up there with dinner!</p> <p>So I have a shower, come out, head to the restaurant and see a "closed" sign on the door. I ask the proprietor. "&#1053;&#1077; &#1088;&#1072;&#1073;&#1086;&#1090;&#1072;&#1077;&#1090;." ("Not working.")</p> <p><img src="/images/msn/frown.gif"></p> <p>I also discover that while the wi-fi signal is strong enough, it doesn't connect to anything much. I can get to the router just fine, but past that to the internet at large is slow, flaky and cuts out regularly for long periods of time. Likewise my mobile phone has the weakest data connection ever. Probably using the same service.</p> <p>What. EVER.</p> <p>I head out to find the nearest 24h supermarket, and along the way, take a mini-tour of the town. (My phone can pick up a decent enough signal once I make it about 3 or 4 blocks from the hotel. Sigh.) I notice a number of people around with an Asian appearance (in contrast to my time up until now when I have seen extremely few). Obviously there is some cross-border migration here. I rather suspect that Chinese businessmen probably make up a large amount of the clientele for the hotel as well. Wikipedia tells me that Dalnerechensk was a site of skirmishes in the Sino-Soviet wars during the 20th century. Interesting!</p> <p>The main drag through town is the &#1091;&#1083;&#1080;&#1094;&#1072; "50 &#1051;&#1077;&#1090; &#1054;&#1082;&#1090;&#1103;&#1073;&#1088;&#1080;&#1103;" (50 Years of October). Revolutionary sites in abundance, although it is already getting dark, so I don't linger. At the supermarket I buy some buns, sausage and cheese for dinner. Come back to the room and make some dinner, at which point I discover the buns are filled with apricot jam. Delicious! But not the best-ever accompaniment to the cheese and sausage. Eh, I'm flexible.</p> <p>The hotel room has two saving graces. First: it has a little traveller's pack with soap, shampoo, etc... and a spare toothbrush! This is actually <i>exactly</i> what I've been looking for as it is the perfect tool to clean the last of the mud out of the chain and gears and wheel hubs and whatnot.</p> <p>The second is that it has a kettle to boil water and packets of instant coffee. (This sort of thing - while usual in some parts of the world - is decidedly less so here.) The coffee packets are "3-in-1" ... including coffee, sugar and creamer. Or rather, reading the ingredient list, a (vegan) creamer substitute. Huh. They're tasty enough anyway, so there's that.</p> <p>My dinner finished, I decide that the lack of internet may be a blessing in disguise, as it will aid the process of making it out early the next morning to try to make up time. I climb into bed, and once again, crash hard.</p> <BR /><BR /> <IMG SRC="/bikejournal/categories/meal.png" ALIGN="bottom" HEIGHT="32" WIDTH="32" /> <EM><SMALL>Today&#x2019;s meal: <SPAN CLASS="blag_underline">Supermarket food</SPAN>. Apricot jam buns, kolbasa, "Russkiy" cheese, instant coffee</SMALL></EM><BR /> <IMG SRC="/bikejournal/categories/weather.png" ALIGN="bottom" HEIGHT="32" WIDTH="32" /> <EM><SMALL>Today&#x2019;s weather: <SPAN CLASS="blag_underline">Rainy; mostly drizzly, occasionally harder</SPAN>. </SMALL></EM><BR /> <IMG SRC="/bikejournal/categories/road.png" ALIGN="bottom" HEIGHT="32" WIDTH="32" /> <EM><SMALL>Today&#x2019;s road: <SPAN CLASS="blag_underline">A370 (Fmr: M60)</SPAN>. 90.1 km, 5h12. Mostly flat, occasional small hills. 10KM OF MUD.</SMALL></EM><BR /> Jun. 06, 2016: Gornye Klyuchi, Primorskiy Krai, Russia Thu, 09 Jun 2016 04:39:16 -0500 20160606 <p>There's not much elevation difference between Spassk and Gornye Klyuchi, so a mostly flat day today; only minimal amounts of up and down.</p> <p>Basically, long stretches of mostly-flat semi-cultivated grasslands interrupted by the occasional ridge of small forested hills, spaced between 5-10km apart.<p> <p>The road - while in decent enough condition - has been mostly macadam. I've ridden on all kinds of surfaces in all kinds of countries, and if there's one thing I can say with certainty, it's that I <i>hate</i> riding on macadam. Especially when biking along the edge where the macadam gives way to the underlying pavement, it is bumpy and uncomfortable as all get out.</p> <p>I mentioned <a href="../20160604/#comments">in a comment</a> to Ryan a few days ago that I don't much like panniers because it makes it hard to balance the bike, which in turn makes it almost impossible to ride hands-free. This, as I mentioned, is important on a long trip like this because it means that instead, I am spending 8 hours a day hunched over my handlebars bearing my weight down along my arms - bad on my back and near murder on my wrists. The bumpiness of the macadam edge exacerbates this problem, and I'm already - after only a few days - starting to feel a slight telltale tingle. Not so good!</p> <p>As I was saying, mostly flat today. And in the unrelenting daytime heat, the sections, with the occasional scraggly tree remind me of nothing so much as (greener areas of) African savannah! Long flat straight road, flat grassy surroundings, hazy shimmery heat.</p> <p>Has definitely been very hazy all day long. It started last night when I approached Spassk. At first I thought it might have been local industry in Spassk causing the haze. (There's a huge cement factory in the town, and it seemed rather industry-heavy.) But the haze continued and has been with me all day today. I wonder now if it's coming over the border from China? I'm riding along only 20-30 or so km from the Chinese border, to my west. If you look at this region on Google Earth, the difference between Russia and China in the border area is quite striking. The latter country sports a significantly more industrialized, more altered landscape.</p> <p>Haze aside, it's also been cloudless and hot; my arm has developed its first blister or two. My original plan was to spend some time in Spassk doing a tour of the supermarkets and pharmacies, to see if I could dig up some sunscreen (and scissors, and electrical tape, and a few other things I've realized I'm lacking).</p> <p>But Spassk is a few km off the highway, and when I found the Magnolia guest house right <i>on</i> said highway, I decided to forgo the detour, at the expense of a shopping trip.</p> <p>And Spassk is also the last "large" town, really until Khabarovsk. I'm now properly entering the countryside, and away from anything resembling an urban area. So while grocery stores are still in abundance, they tend to be smaller, and less likely (so far as I've been able to tell) to have the variety of products I'm looking for.</p> <UL> <LI>Flower, fruit and vegetable vendors along the side of the road<BR /> <A HREF=""><IMG SRC="" BORDER="1" /></A></LI> <LI>Medvezhya Mountain in the haze<BR /> <A HREF=""><IMG SRC="" BORDER="1" /></A></LI> <LI>Guest-house in Gornye Klyuchi<BR /> <A HREF=""><IMG SRC="" BORDER="1" /></A></LI> <LI>Barbequeue pit outside the guest-house<BR /> <A HREF=""><IMG SRC="" BORDER="1" /></A></LI> <LI>But I had shchi. And... Zolotaya Bochka<BR /> <A HREF=""><IMG SRC="" BORDER="1" /></A></LI> </UL> <p>So I'm making do in the heat. Sunburn has been less of an issue with the haze, just been drinking lots. At one point, just after having surmounted a particularly warm ridge of low hills, I was stopped by a couple of young folks in a car, curious - as are many people - to see someone out on an obviously long bike trip. Arina, Olga and Ivan. They were asking me about my trip, and on learning that I as from Canada, Arina excitedly asks if I speak French? Because so does she and really wants a chance to practice.</p> <p>Ok, sure. Why not? Her French may be better than my Russian anyway. So we switch and it immediately becomes apparent that I... can't... speak French right now. It lives in the same place in my brain as Russian, and try as I might, I get the two languages hopelessly confused. I can understand it well enough, but whenever I try to say something in French, a strange m&eacute;lange of half-French-half-Russian falls out of my mouth. Oh well. We bumble along, and they notice me obviously overheating, make a point of directing me to a set of springs a little way up the road where I can fill up my (by now rather empty) water bottle. "Look for a blue shelter on the right side of the road," Ivan indicates, tenting his hands to emphasize the point.</p> <p>When I get to the springs, it's pretty obvious what they are anyway. There are big signs everywhere for water, several restaurants and cafes advertising natural mineral water, and a big gaggle of cars and semis strewn along the side of the highway. I fill up my bottle from the big row of taps, hop back on the bike and continue towards the town of Gornye Klyuchi ("Mountain Springs" - dead giveaway?) another 10 km up the road where I am planning to stay the night. Google has ideas about a hotel there.</p> <p>I'm a km short of Gornye Klyuchi, when a DPS (police) van pulls me over to the side of the road. This may be interesting?</p> <p>No issues. The officer is really friendly. Glances at my passport for a second, hands it back, asks where I'm going. "Umm... v Goryachye Klyuchi," I respond, pointing. ("Goryachye Klyuchi" - "Hot Springs")</p> <p>He looks at me for a second, then clarifies: "Gornye Klyuchi?" Oh, right. That's the one. "Da! <i>Gornye</i> Klyuchi!" I agree. Oops.</p> <p>He smiles, waves me on, and that's that. It's starting to get close to dark, and I think he just wants to make sure I'm not trying to ride at night (next town is a ways off).</p> <p>The hotel Google found is down a side road and off the side of the side road, and as I wander into the remoter parts of the town where most of the roads are dirt, I'm starting to wonder. Google has only said anything about the one hotel here.</p> <p>But soon enough I see a sign. Following it around the corner I come across a guesthouse even more charming than the one in Spassk, with a restaurant attached and an outside terrace with barbequeues and disco balls (seriously!) and kids playing and speakers blaring pop music. I am definitely down with this!</p> <p>By the time I check in, stow the bike, have a shower and make it down to the restaurant, the outside barbequeue is pretty much done for the night. Looking at the menu, I try ordering the BBQ chicken, but the server says it's all gone. Ah well. I have some chicken cutlet that turns out to be salmon when it arrives. Not complaining! Very delicious! But I think I may have gotten over-confident about my abilities the previous night.</p> <p>I also have some shchi. I have heard much about this soup in my Russian classes in Canada, as well as elsewhere. Wikipedia calls it a cabbage soup, although I had learned of it as being fish based. Either way, this one has chicken and hard-boiled eggs. So, uh? Maybe it's a regional thing. It's pretty good, but I think I prefer borshch.</p> <BR /><BR /> <IMG SRC="/bikejournal/categories/lodging.png" ALIGN="bottom" HEIGHT="32" WIDTH="32" /> <EM><SMALL>Today&#x2019;s lodging: <SPAN CLASS="blag_underline">Roza Vertrov Guesthouse, Gornye Klyuchi</SPAN>. Super charming, friendly staff.</SMALL></EM><BR /> <IMG SRC="/bikejournal/categories/beer.png" ALIGN="bottom" HEIGHT="32" WIDTH="32" /> <EM><SMALL>Today&#x2019;s beer: <SPAN CLASS="blag_underline">Zolotaya Bochka</SPAN>. The bottle fooled me into thinking it was dark. I should have read the label (zolotaya - "golden"). Duh</SMALL></EM><BR /> <IMG SRC="/bikejournal/categories/weather.png" ALIGN="bottom" HEIGHT="32" WIDTH="32" /> <EM><SMALL>Today&#x2019;s weather: <SPAN CLASS="blag_underline">Very hazy, although otherwise cloudless. Temperature low 20s.</SPAN>. </SMALL></EM><BR /> <IMG SRC="/bikejournal/categories/road.png" ALIGN="bottom" HEIGHT="32" WIDTH="32" /> <EM><SMALL>Today&#x2019;s road: <SPAN CLASS="blag_underline">A370 (Fmr: M60)</SPAN>. 103.2 km, 5h23. Mostly flat, some minor ridges of hills. Lots of macadam. Bleh.</SMALL></EM><BR /> Jun. 05, 2016: Spassk, Primorskiy Krai, Russia Sun, 05 Jun 2016 21:44:22 -0500 20160605 <p>Today was the first full (in the sense of distance) day. Ussuriysk to Spassk: 130-ish km, so close enough to my hoped-for average of 135/day.</p> <p>It feels good!</p> <p>The weather, roads and hills were much like the previous day to Ussuriysk. Long stretches of low-grade uphill punctuated by flatter stretches, and the very occasional short downhill. Sunny, warm, and mostly cloudless and shadeless.</p> <p>There was a strong tailwind out of Ussuriysk and I made good progress at first. I woke up late, made a very quick post to the Russian blog for Yegor, and got on the road. Stopped almost instantly by another fellow on a bike, Ivan, who was very surprised (and excited) to see me laden down with all my gear for the journey. We chatted for a bit while he asked me what I was doing, and took some photos.</p> <p>Actually, I've found the people here, despite the reputation Russia sometimes has in the west, to be quite friendly. At least towards such a sight as me. I'm constantly getting thumbs-up out of the windows of cars as they pass by, and several people have now pulled over to ask about my journey. Everyone asks if I have a blog, so I think the thing to do may be to make up some slips of paper with the address of my Russian blog on it: <a href="">VKontakte (Russian social media; blog in Russian, obviously, but lots of photos)</a>. <p>25km from Ussuriysk, the road made a 90 degree turn and the mostly-tailwind turned into a slight-headwind for most of the afternoon. Ah well.</p> <p>A pretty uneventful day, for the most part. With my late (post-noon) start from Ussuriysk, I was pushing pretty hard to make it the 130km to Spassk (the next town of consequence) before nightfall at about 8:30.</p> <p>A couple of mandatory stops at gas stations for water and &#1055;&#1080;&#1088;&#1086;&#1078;&#1086;&#1082; (fried bread stuffed with yummy things) along the way, but that was about it. The tailwind came back about 55km short of Spassk: that was super helpful!</p> <p>After some mental arguing with myself I have decided, finally, against attempting Ramadhan on the road. Between the sun and the distance, I absolutely need water along the way. I might be able to make it without, but I think I'd be taking an indefensible risk. So with a heavy heart, I have decided to defer. I will make up the month after I return to Canada. (When the days are shorter, which sucks, but what're you gonna do?) So happy first of (non-) Ramadhan, world!</p> <p>Because the sun stayed out in full force. I looked around for sunscreen at a supermarket in Ussuriysk, but couldn't find any. I suspect this is the sort of thing one maybe buys at a pharmacy or something, not a supermarket? I will try. Because I really <i>really</i> need some now!</p> <p>(Ow.)</p> <p>I posit that elements of a culture are often reflected in the nature of the shops that are most prevalent. So far in Russia I have seen a usual-ish assortment of shops, but three types stick out to me as being far more common than anywhere else I have been: <ul> <li>Tire shops. Ha!</li> <li>Flower shops. This is worthy of a longer discussion. And I am eminently <i>not</i> qualified to discuss, so I may be completely misrepresenting, but it seems to me it may have something to do with a cultural expectation on Russian men to regularly shower women with gifts? There may be more to this.</li> <li>Supermarkets. Again I may be out of line, but I'm wondering if it's a reaction to the relative paucity of goods availability during Soviet times. Because there are supermarkets <i>everywhere</i>. Hypermarkets, supermarkets, groceries, grocery stores. They line every street, standing many in a row. Many are 24h/day. My mind just boggles at how this market is possibly sustainable? Anyway.</li> </ul></p> <UL> <LI>A good road, a tailwind, and a cloudless sky<BR /> <A HREF=""><IMG SRC="" BORDER="1" /></A></LI> <LI>Gas station kitty: very friendly! (Okay, maybe very interested in my &#1087;&#1080;&#1088;&#1086;&#1078;&#1086;&#1082; stuffed with meat.)<BR /> <A HREF=""><IMG SRC="" BORDER="1" /></A></LI> <LI>Spassk city limit, &agrave; la USSR<BR /> <A HREF=""><IMG SRC="" BORDER="1" /></A></LI> <LI>YES.<BR /> <A HREF=""><IMG SRC="" BORDER="1" /></A></LI> <LI>Guest-house in Spassk<BR /> <A HREF=""><IMG SRC="" BORDER="1" /></A></LI> </UL> <p>I got into Spassk right at dusk. Phew! And almost immediately saw a cute &#1043;&#1086;&#1089;&#1090;&#1080;&#1085;&#1080;&#1094;&#1072; (guest house) on the side of the road: perfect!</p> <p>The innkeeper was a bit flummoxed at how to deal with my Canadian passport, and had to phone-a-friend for instructions. She peered at it a bit, confirming with me: is this your visa here?</p> <p>Yes. Yes it is. After all I had to go through to get it, it definitely is!</p> <p>Went to my room, had a shower, then came back down to the cafe. Had a meal with Borshch, chicken cutlet, mashed potatoes, black beer, vodka and black rye bread with nose-searing mustard. This is... a proper Russian meal, all right! Indeed, the whole evening has been very Russian. Moreso than at any time until now. Vladivostok is a rather cosmopolitan city, and plenty is available that is not readily identifiable as traditionally Russian. Ussuriysk, too, is pretty big and relatively worldly. Spassk is... not so much.</p> <p>After finishing my dinner and coming back upstairs to my room, I realized that I had conducted the entire meal transaction with the proprietor almost effortlessly. Ordering (there was no menu, so it was done verbally), paying (there was some back-and-forth over the amount because I didn't have exact change and so we tried to figure out the best denominations to use)... and it was <i>so easy</i>. I never even had to think about what she or I were saying; it just happened.</p> <p>I got back to my room, closed the door and did a little happy dance.</p> <BR /><BR /> <IMG SRC="/bikejournal/categories/lodging.png" ALIGN="bottom" HEIGHT="32" WIDTH="32" /> <EM><SMALL>Today&#x2019;s lodging: <SPAN CLASS="blag_underline">Magnolia Guesthouse, Spassk</SPAN>. Eminently reasonable. Good food!</SMALL></EM><BR /> <IMG SRC="/bikejournal/categories/meal.png" ALIGN="bottom" HEIGHT="32" WIDTH="32" /> <EM><SMALL>Today&#x2019;s meal: <SPAN CLASS="blag_underline">Borshch, chicken cutlet, mashed potatoes, rye bread, vodka...</SPAN>. All the Russian necessities!</SMALL></EM><BR /> <IMG SRC="/bikejournal/categories/beer.png" ALIGN="bottom" HEIGHT="32" WIDTH="32" /> <EM><SMALL>Today&#x2019;s beer: <SPAN CLASS="blag_underline">Zatecky Gus.</SPAN>. The Russians like their dark beer. I approve!!</SMALL></EM><BR /> <IMG SRC="/bikejournal/categories/road.png" ALIGN="bottom" HEIGHT="32" WIDTH="32" /> <EM><SMALL>Today&#x2019;s road: <SPAN CLASS="blag_underline">A370 (Fmr: M60)</SPAN>. 131.0 km, ~8h15. Again mostly a slow uphill all day. Conditions variable.</SMALL></EM><BR /> Jun. 04, 2016: Ussuriysk, Primorskiy Krai, Russia Sun, 05 Jun 2016 21:19:45 -0500 20160604 <p>It took me two more days of hanging around Vladivostok before I was able to hit the road.</p> <p>I divided the time between doing some sightseeing etc. while Yegor (I think he prefers this English spelling to Egor &mdash; my mistake!) did work in his workshop for other clients, and putting the finishing touches on my own bike.</p> <p>On Thursday (June 2), I wandered out downtown for a while in the morning, visited the shopping centre to pick up some supplies and figure out how to navigate Russian shopping transactions on my own. Then Yegor fixed me up with a couple of his friends and we did a proper daytime tour of the city. I was able to pick up a SIM card and take care of the necessary documentation for registering myself in the country with the government. (There was some discussion as to whether the SIM card would work across the country, and which provider would be best, etc. All in all, not that different from the kind of conversation one would likely have in Canada. <img src=""> There wasn't 100% consensus but in the end I think it will work everywhere? If I need to pick another one up in Khabarovsk, so be it. It was not what you'd call expensive - a couple of bucks for more airtime and data than I'm likely to need in my entire time in the country.)</p> <p>Yegor's friends were really cool and one of them seemed to be making a half-decent attempt at fulfilling the wishes expressed by Eva, my Russian teacher back in Canada... <small><i>(this will mean something to some of you)</i></small></p> <p>It was a fun afternoon: we mostly did sightseeing: drove around a bit, spent some time on the beach, chatted about Vladivostok and Canada, went up to the top of a couple of the bigger hills in the city to take photos, etc. and then it was time for Yegor to fetch me to take me back to the workshop.</p> <p>Because Yegor is trying to continue his regular work, my bike had to wait until the evening to fit into his schedule - fair enough! I'm immensely grateful for the time he has been able to spare, so I can't possibly complain. But meant that we didn't start work until after 9PM or so, and worked well past midnight. Good thing I'm a night owl!</p> <p>Got back to the apartment late, crashed, on Friday then had mostly a structural repeat of the previous day, <i>sans</i> group of friends. So I walked around a bit. It was a mostly overcast, windy and slightly rainy day and I didn't go far. Bought some delicious smoked salmon and cream cheese for dinner to share with Yegor (his refrigerator is a bit spare) - again cost me a couple of dollars. (After the bike and initial supplies were taken care of, pretty much everything has cost "a couple of dollars" here - I don't think a single bill, including hotel, has exceeded &#x20BD;1,500 (or about $CA30) and in total have spent maybe &#x20BD;5,000 ($CA100) in the last 3 days. Most supermarket tabs, meal bills and so on have been under &#x20BD;500.)</p> <p>Yegor did find a journalist who was interesting in running a story about me, so at about 6:30PM we were back in his workshop when the journalist came around to interview me. Mostly standard questions: Where are you going? Why? How long will it take? What are you taking with you? What do you think about Russia and Vladivostok so far? Etc. Rather more nerve-wracking than doing a media interview about Grizzly bears in French!! But I think it came out ok. Yegor said I did a good job afterward. <img src=""></p> <p>The <a href="" title="Article about me on">story is on - a Vladivostok-based news website</a>. (In Russian, of course, but with a bunch of pictures of me working on the bike in Yegor's workshop.</p> <p>Then we get started on putting the final touches on the bike, adding the panniers and so forth. Yegor has convinced me to put panniers on the bike. I'm really (<i>really</i>) not a fan of the things - as many of you probably know - but sigh. A couple of years back he rode with his girlfriend from Singapore to Vladivostok, and he is giving me the racks and panniers he took on that trip. How can I possibly say no to that???</p> <p>(Also, my left shoulder is not 100% the way it was following my crash a couple years back, and the potential strain of the backpack has been on my mind. I know that it aches a bit at the end of a long hike where I'm carrying several dozen pounds of gear for a couple of days.)</p> <p>As it gets close to midnight, a thunderstorm sets in, the rain is absolutely bucketing down, lightning in full force &mdash; a questionable omen for the following morning's departure. I check the forecast; if there are to be thunderstorms into the next day, maybe I should stay an extra day in Vladivostok? But no: the forecast is for them to taper off then stop by 10:00, so for now, all systems are go.</p> <p>At 1:00 I have all my gear loaded into the panniers and we're doing the very last planned check before I leave, when we encounter an unexpected problem: the hydraulics on the front fork are sticking. Some tinkering around later and we discover that we'd accidentally crimped the tube when fastening the pannier, deforming the inside. We proceed to unload everything and set about fixing the dent. Not a huge detail, but rather distressing for it to be 3AM the morning before I leave, with everything re-disassembled and strewn around the workshop, filing away at the inside of the hydraulic tube.</p> <p>We do finally fix it and get back to the apartment by about 4:00. We'll do some more tests the following morning before I leave. Yegor sets his alarm to 6:30 (departure was originally to be at 9, plus-or-minus rain) and I groan. I am really not sure about this.</p> <p>But at 6:30 neither of us are in a state to wake up, so it's more like 8:30 by the time we head out to the workshop. The rain has stopped and it's mostly overcast. We're done with the tests by 10:30, and it's time to hit the road. I get on the bike to take it for a test spin, and life is instantly 1000% better.</p> <p>No. <b>It really, really, really is</b>.</p> <p>I hadn't realized how much I missed being on a bike. It's been a month since I put my bike in storage in Calgary and I haven't been on one since, and this has affected me more than I realized. I've been anxious and nervous and stressed, and at times wondering if I wanted to even go on the trip at all. I thought for a while it was just the ordeal with getting the visa and related stresses. But then I got to Vladivostok and the arrival went smoothly and it got a bit better but not a whole lot. And I thought it was just the anticipation of the trip, which I was still not entirely sure I wanted to... do? For some strange reason?</p> <p>But the second I got on the bike and took it up and down the block a few times, everything instantly changed. I was ready. I couldn't wait. I was feeling really good. About everything. Life was great.</p> <p>I missed being on the bike, so so much. It was a lot like the feeling when I got back on after a 6-month hiatus following my crash in England. What can I say? It's where I belong.</p> <p>So anyway. Konstantin (the bike's previous owner) was excited too and came by for the send-off. At 11:00 we walked the two blocks down to the beach so I could symbolically dip the wheel into the Pacific Ocean.</p> <p><i>Only 14,500 km to the Atlantic!</i></p> <UL> <LI>New friends in Vladivostok<BR /> <A HREF=""><IMG SRC="" BORDER="1" /></A></LI> <LI>Far Eastern Federal University: Nice campus!<BR /> <A HREF=""><IMG SRC="" BORDER="1" /></A></LI> <LI>Peninsula<BR /> <A HREF=""><IMG SRC="" BORDER="1" /></A></LI> <LI>Port City (again)<BR /> <A HREF=""><IMG SRC="" BORDER="1" /></A></LI> <LI>Beach<BR /> <A HREF=""><IMG SRC="" BORDER="1" /></A></LI> <LI>Last Supper before leaving: rye bread, smoked salmon, cream cheese<BR /> <A HREF=""><IMG SRC="" BORDER="1" /></A></LI> <LI>The bike's previous owner takes one last ride<BR /> <A HREF=""><IMG SRC="" BORDER="1" /></A></LI> <LI>One foot in the Pacific...<BR /> <A HREF=""><IMG SRC="" BORDER="1" /></A></LI> <LI>Leaving Vladivostok<BR /> <A HREF=""><IMG SRC="" BORDER="1" /></A></LI> <LI>Only 66km to Ussuriysk<BR /> <A HREF=""><IMG SRC="" BORDER="1" /></A></LI> <LI>Some roads were excellent<BR /> <A HREF=""><IMG SRC="" BORDER="1" /></A></LI> <LI>And some were so-so<BR /> <A HREF=""><IMG SRC="" BORDER="1" /></A></LI> <LI>Ice cream!!<BR /> <A HREF=""><IMG SRC="" BORDER="1" /></A></LI> <LI>Surprisingly faithful to what it says on the tin. The first two bites were "<i>What??</i>" and the rest was rather good.<BR /> <A HREF=""><IMG SRC="" BORDER="1" /></A></LI> </UL> <p>Left Vladivostok under pretty much perfect weather. Cloudy skies, neither cold nor hot.</p> <p>It didn't last. By 1PM the clouds had burned off and it was a bright sunny sky. The internet never said it rose much above 20 degrees, but without clouds and without shade it was increasingly hot and sunburny. I was definitely a bit crispy by the end of the day. On the shopping list: sunscreen!</p> <p>Especially so going up the hills. The region is not particularly mountainous like roads in BC or to the west of Calgary. But it was a very steady rising incline the whole day long. A lot of 4% uphills. Makes sense: Vladivostok is on the coast, and I'm heading inland. In fact until I get to Western Europe, most of the hills and mountains will be over the next 3,000 or so km; between here and Lake Baikal. The rest of Russia is pretty flat.</p> <p>So a lot of slow and steady and hot uphill.</p> <p>The destination was Ussuriysk, about 90km from Vladivostok. I wanted to go farther, but Yegor suggested otherwise, pointing out that it was the first day and so forth, and cautioning me about the hills, also noting that there wouldn't be any more hotels after Ussuriysk for a while. Fair enough, although most of this would apply to most of Russia. To get across the country before my visa expires, I want to average 135km/day. The occasional short day is not a problem, but I can't afford to make a habit of it.</p> <p>But making it to Ussuriysk was definitely not a problem at all.</p> <p>The roads are variable. Extremely variable. Some of the newer stretches that have been recently rebuilt are absolutely excellent - easily as good as the very best roads one would find in Canada, Germany, or wherever else. Probably 35km was like this.</p> <p>Some stretches are... not so great. But even then, they're rarely *bad*. Mostly so-so. As I expected, they're probably worse for cars (owing to the wear and tear causing potholes and so forth in the driving lanes) than for bikes (where the shoulder and edges are mostly fine). And even at the worst times, there's almost always at least a hard gravel shoulder along the edge (unlike <i>some</i> countries I could mention, *cough*Argentina*cough*) where I can bail if traffic, potholes, or other obstacles present. In fact, riding on the gravel shoulder is not too significantly worse than riding on the pavement, for short stretches.</p> <p>The worst was probably the last 5km stretch downhill into the valley where Ussuriysk lies. Sacrificing the downhill to the gravel is a little frustrating.</p> <p>But made it to Ussuriysk well before nightfall, and found a cute little ice cream stand on the side of the road where I rewarded myself for a first good, full day.</p> <p>Had some dinner at a nice (and again, cheap) restaurant, got back to my room and again fell asleep fast, with the computer still open to the window where I was composing this post.</p> <BR /><BR /> <IMG SRC="/bikejournal/categories/weather.png" ALIGN="bottom" HEIGHT="32" WIDTH="32" /> <EM><SMALL>Today&#x2019;s weather: <SPAN CLASS="blag_underline">Sunny, mostly cloudless, high 21</SPAN>. </SMALL></EM><BR /> <IMG SRC="/bikejournal/categories/road.png" ALIGN="bottom" HEIGHT="32" WIDTH="32" /> <EM><SMALL>Today&#x2019;s road: <SPAN CLASS="blag_underline">A370 (Fmr: M60)</SPAN>. 92.7km, ~8h15. Generally uphill, some flatter sections. A lot of up and down near Vladivostok.</SMALL></EM><BR /> Jun. 01, 2016: Vladivostok, Primorskiy Krai, Russia Thu, 02 Jun 2016 20:45:28 -0500 20160601