Sunday, June 27, 2010

Siberian Summer Days (16/6/10 - 26/6/10)

From Kosh Agach to Biysk

Before we launch into our usual blog pieces that combine faux wit with flowery prose, here lies an overview of what we’ve been doing over the last 10 days….in Siberia.

We entered Russia in the back of a grey soviet styled van that took us from Olgii to Kosh-Agach. Our awesome driver also acted as a chaperone, guiding us through the multiple steps of Russian Border Control. With the exception of some stern, smile-free glances and a token glance through our panniers we got through without much fuss.

Kosh Agach gave us a taste of Russian red tape. Within 72hours of entered the country, a foreigner needs their visa ‘registered’. The Visa Registration process dates back to USSR days and is designed to ensure we’re not going to ‘occupy the valuable Russian soil without authorities' permission’ as one source put it. Using our 8 photocopied and now tattered Russian Language pages and half a day of what would have been good cycling we walked from Government building to copy centre to bank to guesthouse getting all sorts of documents signed and stamped. Everyone was incredibly reluctant to give us this document, which they are legally obliged to provide. Eventually we escaped the government building with our passports returned and a piece of paper that we think just gives us an extension on the registration! Upon returning to a very helpful English speaking bank manager to interpret our paper, he set to handwriting some new forms for us. He implied this is our registration for our entire trip. The red tape noose gets a little looser.

From Kosh Agach we commenced our much anticipated 300km of downhill on asphalt through the semi-autonomous Altai Republic. Towering 4000m snow-capped mountains still lined our path and as roaring rivers fed the lush green hills we knew we were no longer in Mongolia. The Altai Republic is a beautiful piece of Siberia home to both Kazakhs and ethnic Russians. We soon realized that we weren’t the only tourists capitalising on this incredible landscape. Every day, without fail we passed a couple of motorcycle tourists – attempting to emulate Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman - heading into Mongolia. Also, as we got closer to the bigger towns the traffic got heavier with Russians wanting a piece of the outdoors. There is something soothing about seeing locals camping, rafting and holidaying.
Most nights we would wander off the tarmac towards a stream or river bank to park our bikes. There were however some exceptions. In Aktash we opted for an additional rest day to wait out the 36deg temperatures that literally caused the road to melt to our tires. Upon the freezing night when we reached the top of Seminisky Pass (1715m) we happened to stumble across a Russian Summer Camp complete with friendly Russian families on holiday. Lastly, not nearly as friendly, but probably feeling like they were now on holiday, we happened across vast swarms of enthusiastic mosquitoes while trying in vain to find a campsite along 50km of low altitude (300m) marsh. The hungry bugs pushed us away from the Altai Republic and into the neighbouring Altai Krai region. During this stretch we looked on jealously as the lines of Friday night motorists drove in the opposite direction towards ‘a weekend in the Altai’.

Our 10 days in the Altai Republic have complemented Mongolia perfectly. During some of our downhill days we spent less than 3 hours on the saddle. We’ve used our largest chain ring extensively. We maintained daily averages of over 18 kph, and could freewheel at well over 20. Our water and food supplies don’t weigh 30kg and both forks are intact. Although all of this does make us look back very fondly on Mongolia we’ve been very happy being Altai tourists.

Cycling Summary (16/6/10 – 26/6/10)

  • Kosh Agach to Mosquito Stealth Camp - 32km
  • Mosquito Stealth Camp to Aktash - 75km
  • Aktash – Rest Day
  • Aktash to Scree-Ride Stealth Camp - 103km
  • Scree-Ride Stealth Camp to ‘Invisible and Superb’ Stealth over Chike-Taman Pass Camp - 45km
  • ‘Invisible and Superb’ Stealth Camp to Russian Summer Camp at top of Seminsky Pass - 73km
  • Russian Summer Camp to Myshenko River Stealth Camp - 52km
  • Myshenko River Stealth Camp to Kalina Krasnaya Hotel - 108km
  • Kalina Krasnaya Hotel to Bisyk - 37km

Total Russian Kilometres – 525km

Kosh Agach to Biysk


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