Sunday, July 11, 2010

Russian wrap-up

Total distance: 986km
Distance on unsealed roads: ~80km
Nights spent camping: 7
Days spent cycling: 15
Rest days on the road: 4
Average distance per day: 66km
Longest day: 135km
Maximum speed: 50.9kph
Most difficult section: The swampland between Gorno-Altaisk and Biysk where we hoped to camp, owing to the dense mosquitoes rather than the road
Longest downhill: Although it included some small climbs, overall the 300km from Kosh Agach to the base of Seminsky Pass
Longest uphill: 30km, up Seminsky Pass

Best coffee: The 11am filtered coffee we prepared amongst poplars along the Russian backroads, having thought we had lost the filter (and therefore all future filtered morning coffees) earlier that day. Rubtsovsk’s ‘Art Coffee’ also do a fine long black with a side of wifi.

Favourite convenience store snack: Pryaniki, the clear winner. Halfway between cake and biscuit, a little like a giant glazed pfeffernusse, these dense wads of carbohydrates can be found in the smallest village stores to the largest supermarkets. They cost about 40 roubles (or $1.50) per kilogram. Variations include the caramel filled pryaniki, the marble pryaniki and the chocolate and nut pryaniki. We like to imagine that the pryaniki are baked by an army of babushkas in each village, coordinated by a Central Committee of Cookers of Pyraniki or CCCP.

Kilograms of pryaniki consumed: 1.2kg per day (Ali and Andrew combined)

Number of days a loaf of Russian bread retains structural integrity: One

Ratio of puncture/tyre repairs in Russia to Mongolia: 7:3

Number of ticks Ali removed from Andrew’s torso in one sitting: 2

Bouts of tick-born encephalitis suffered: 0

Percentage of cafes at the top of a summit: 100% (2 out of 2)

Favourite Russian traditional food: Galuptsy (cabbage rolls stuffed with meat)

Favourite alcoholic beverage: Number 11. The Russian version of the ‘bottle-o’ is a shack with a few taps. They supply a large plastic bottle and a bar-tender of sorts. In Biysk there is a store with 20 numbered taps, each with a different brew. 1.5L of number 11 in a clear plastic bottle which we swigged amongst other revelers at a strange outdoor Sunday concert in the main square comes in at number 1.

Most enjoyable section: The 100km downhill day from Aktash. Easy riding on brilliant roads with steep river gorges and lush surrounds. This was our smoothest day of riding thus far. It was unashamedly fun.

Most unique sun-tan: Over base of 1st metacarpal bone, corresponding to a gap in her cycling gloves. Scalp spots corresponding to vents in his helmet.

Lifespan of expensive SPF40+ South Korean sunscreen purchased in Olgii: 1.5 hours

The cycle tourist verdict:
The Altai Republic is a cyclists’ playground. The lovely smooth roads, gorgeous campsites, glacial rivers (no need to carry large water volumes) and descent from 2000m to 250m, almost makes it a little too good to be true. Of course you do have to get to top of the uphill which means coming through Mongolia and therein lies part of the bliss.
The Altai Krai section was more a means to getting to Kazakhstan, but it was by no means difficult riding. The remote roads through kitsch rural villages have their distinct charms.
The people of Western Siberia have far exceeded our unfair preconceived impressions of being gruff, surly Russians. Respectful, friendly and often unnecessarily helpful, they were part of the reason our Russian leg has been a very pleasant, well-received surprise.


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