Monday, July 5, 2010

Tyred of Russian for the border

From Biysk to the Border

(This tattered diary was found near a remote border crossing between Russia and Kazakhstan. Its authorship remains uncertain.)

After being spoilt for scenery in Mongolia and the Altai republic the prospect of cycling through 450km of Russian farmland to get to the Kazakh border was a little unexciting. However, when we discovered we would be sharing the trip with daily storms and hordes of mosquitoes we decided to just get ourselves over that border and start soaking up some of Kazakhstan.

Day One: 56km
A bridge provides some shelter from passing rain. As soon as the storm leaves the revived mosquitoes chase us from our hiding place. There is nowhere to hide out here. The flat paddocks of crops are no place for a tent and the ground is drenched. As the sky clears, the deep green fields actually look quite nice. We luckily stumble across a field of grass and call it a day as campstove borscht boils away.

From Biysk to the Border

Day Two: 50km
We wake to rain. The greyness in the sky is unyielding. It won’t relent today. We fold up the tent with a carpet of mosquitoes still remaining in the fly. 5km into our day an empty truck pulls along beside us and soon we and the Surlies are sharing a ride with Anatoly for the next 20km. Shoes squelch. Fingers wrinkle. The headwind doesn’t help. Drab Petropavloski looks glorious after 50 further kilometers of cycling. The local hotel owner approaches our lack of Russian by repeating her questions with gradually increasing decibels. The local café owner is however charming and ever-so patient. Light fades, as our gear lays out in all its soggy glory.

Day Three: 70km
A second breakfast of strange Russian pastries in our favourite Petropavloskian café helps counteract the threatening clouds. We taste the Russian off-road for 45km today. The compacted dirt roads would be shamed by anything Mongolian. Small 300-400m climbs are the flavor of the day and they actually taste quite good. We push off the road to camp in a more Mongolian setting, atop a small pass in the heathland, after crushing numerous pretty shrubs to get there, with a manageable density of mosquitoes.

Day Four: 77km
Clear sky for breakfast. Tastes foreign. Legs are getting used to the climbs. Fist pumps from numerous passing comrades elevates our spirits. Neat little farming villages sit in the valleys complete with rusty tractors and huge deserted factories from a previous Soviet era. After indulging in more mystery Russian café goodies a waitress agrees to fill our water bottles. Unbeknown to her, these floppy black bags with a 10L capacity become quite heavy when full. She only got a little wet. As the sky returned to its standard angry dress we got more than a little wet. Hopes of a 100km were finally thwarted by a tyre blow-out. Repairs were carried out in the rain and shelter sort at the town of Krasnoshokovo. We call it a day in a Russian lounge room in a kitsch house owned by a quirky lady with a brilliant green thumb and knack for strange sculpture. Home made vodka wiles away the night.

From Biysk to the Border

Day Five: 33km
Innocent fluffy clouds. Gentle cross winds. Cooling breezes. Mechanical issues.
Tyre issues:
Three tyres now have blow-outs. One was replaced with our spare. One was repaired in Mongolia and now the third is allowing a 5cm bulge to herniated (despite heavy reinforcement).
Tube issues:
Three tubes are housing repaired punctures. One spare was used in the Altai Republic. Second spare was used yesterday as the blow-out puncture was deemed unrepairable. A newly purchased backup tube has a valve too large to fit through the rim, leaving it unusable.
The new issue:
We need replacement parts and cannot risk the unsealed section. We agree to ride to the nearest town to try to arrange transport to the border city of Rubstovsk. The tube herniating from the blow-out punctures…although in a position unrelated to the hernia (coincidental?). After three fumbling attempts to patch up the puncture, someone (who shall remain nameless) carelessly fails to check that the tyre is inside rim on both sides. Apparently she wasn’t satisfied with the size of yesterday’s blow-out and proceeded to blast an even larger hole in this tube. The seemingly unrepariable puncture from yesterday is repaired and we walk the bikes (cargo too heavy to wheel on flat tyre, as will damage rims). We manage to flag down some amazingly helpful motorists who drive us to the nearby town of Kruya and help us locate two new brightly coloured tyres. The Surlies shall march on.

From Biysk to the Border

Day six: 135km
Tailwinds and blue skies. It is a recipe for a big cycling day. A 20km patch of the worst Russian off-load we’ve encountered thus far does little to halt our progress. The cycling is great. Going fast with a cooling wind on your back is glorious. Our legs take take us 120km to Rubstovsk, the border town.
It seems they have something against foreigners in these parts. Two hotels gruffly refused us as we didn’t hold a Russian passport. They instead, independently, gave us an address on a scrap of paper directing us to another ‘hotel’.
In both cases we were taken to two separate establishments that we concluded were brothels. This was based on the security guard, sparsely clad receptionist, hourly rates and tacky blue lights and plastic palm trees (no Ali, they don’t have a pool).
The surliness of the hotel owners was countered by the two sets of strangers in cars who led us to our mystery addresses and a Madame of the bordello who called around until she found a hotel on the town outskirts happy to accept us. A further 15km and 2.5hours after arriving at Rubstovsk we were sheltered and showered…after carrying our bags up 5 flights of stairs.

Day 7:
Today we head for the border. Dasvadanya Russia. Your roads have been smooth, your people friendly and your hills green.

Biysk to the Border


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