Skovorodine to Chita – a 1,000 km (620 mile) day
The trick about riding long distances on a motorcycle is to get up really early. That way you can have a good chunk of the journey done before most people are even out of bed; not rocket science, but easier said than done (for me at least). I started at 8am, as breakfast started at 7am, which is very good for me.
Unfortunately the weather had taken a turn for the worse, from freezing, wet and windy to blimmin’ freezing, blimmin’ wet and blimmin’ windy. Trust me to choose today to put in a 1,000 km ride. It pee’d it down for almost the whole 12 hours it took me.
It must have been cold as more and more snow started appearing on the sides of the road, and then in the fields, and shortly after my knees started chattering against the side of the tank they were clamped tightly to in an attempt to seal my crotchless trousers.
My fingers and toes also went numb as I sped through the deluge trying to see clearly through my visor.
Other little things didn’t help, such as Russian trucks (in various states of repair) with no rear mud-flaps, which means it’s almost impossible to see anything past them through the barrage of muddy water and stones they fly up in their wake.
The road, in many places, was undulating like the ocean, caused by permafrost, and was like riding along on a carousel at 140 km/h. I completely took-off several times when the dips were larger than I expected and had a couple of close calls, so I slowed down quite a lot after that.
Despite all this, I made good time, even after being stuck at a railway crossing for half an hour waiting for 3 trains to pass. I’m lucky as I find the Tiger’s seat pretty comfortable, and when my bum goes to sleep I just stand on the pegs for a bit (it’s really comfortable to ride in the standing position as well).
Fuel stops were noticeably scarce on this section of road, and one fuel station I went to (in the middle of nowhere) had even run out of fuel. It was a good job I had the extra 10 litres with me, or else I would have been stuck.
I rolled into Chita around 8pm and my Zumo took me straight to Hotel Chita that I’d splashed out on (for 20 quid), as I thought I might need a warm, dry place to sleep. I did.
Without changing I went straight to the hotel restaurant to refuel myself, as I was famished, and then took a walk down to the city centre, as I knew if I showered first I would just fall asleep. The city centre was suspiciously empty; had everyone been abducted by aliens?
On the way back to hotel I bought some snacks, which I hardly ever do as I don’t really like them, but I felt I needed some more energy. Then, back in my room, I put my feet up and watched the world pass by (very slowly) from my window. I felt good – although I hoped it wouldn’t rain again tomorrow.
16 May 14 – Chita to Ulan-Ude
In the morning, for a change, it was raining.
Raining and cold.
There didn’t seem to be much more to hang around for in Chita, so I had decided to ride on to Ulan-Ude, the stopping off point to/from Mongolia, a relatively short 550 km away.
After a great free hotel breakfast of Russian porridge, boiled egg, yoghurt, cheese, ham, bread, pancakes and tea, I wrapped up in everything I had and loaded up the bike. I had to ride through a tree to get out of the carpark because some joker had blocked me in.
It didn’t take long for my hands to freeze, and soon I couldn’t feel my thumb to know if it was actually managing to hit the indicator switch or not. And of course my gaping crotch split let in the rain and my balls froze again. Good job I’m getting used to it.
I was frightened to even look at my rear tyre now as it was getting eaten away very quickly by the rough Siberian roads. I tried not to think about fixing a puncture in the freezing rain, and I slowed down a lot over the rough unsurfaced sections, took it easy on the bends, accelerated gentle and tried not to break if I could help it. It is great testament to the Heidenau rear tyre that not once did it slip or flounder – in fact I would not have even noticed it was on its last legs had I not known.
I pulled into a garage to get some fuel and noticed my chain had suddenly become very loose. I disassembled the luggage to get at my tools (kept under the seat) and tightened it up a bit, but then realised the chain must be wearing unevenly, as parts were very tight and other parts very loose. I got an amazing 36,000 km out of the original chain & sprockets, and so thought the new DID Gold X-Ring Chain I got in Malaysia would last longer. It’s now coming up to 15,000 km, so maybe I was wrong. Or maybe there’s another problem? I’ll have to keep a close eye on it, and hope it lasts Mongolia.
At one point I felt myself starting to nod off at the wheel, and so pulled over for a cuppa. Perhaps I’m not getting enough sleep? I thought I’d slept quite well, but maybe not.
I met a group of bikers at a fuel stop going the other way. The Russian ‘Hells Angels’ were on Yamaha and Honda Cruisers, and grabbed my hand and bashed shoulders like I was one of ‘The Gang’.
“Russian bikes are sh*t” they said.
The weather forecast for Ulan-Ude was sunshine, and as I got closer sure enough the rain eventually stopped and the sun came out to dry me off. Oh sun – how I’ve missed you!
I rounded a hill and came across an amazing view – the Siberian steppe stretched out ahead of me under a backdrop of rolling hills. The landscape had switched instantly from a severely cold, wet, harsh wasteland to one of endearing beauty – what a difference the sun makes!
Further on I came across a lake by a sharp escarpment – easily the best view I’ve had so far in Russia. I couldn’t wait to see more like it when the landscape became more mountainous.
As I rolled into Ulan-Ude around 6.30pm, I could have kissed my tyre, which was now severely ragged.
I rode to the place I’d arranged to meet Denis’ mate Igor and found it to be on a deep, sandy road. With no tread left on my rear, I slipped and skidded across it and almost got stuck, but still the old thing didn’t let me down (yes, I was too lazy to reduce the tyre pressure).
Now in the sandy backstreet suburbs of Ulan-Ude I began to suspect I was in the wrong place. I approached a stern looking man (as they all are) walking past me and asked him if I was in the right place, or at least tried to. He replied with something I couldn’t understand, not surprisingly, so I called Igor and persuaded the man (by sign language) to talk to him to see what would happen. As I had hoped, the man signalled me to stay put, and 5 minutes later Igor rolled up in his jeep with my brand new TKC80 tyre in the back.
Payment was made, which considering where we were must have looked like a very dodgy deal, and the next issue for me was finding somewhere that would change it. I could do it myself if I had to, but I would take much longer than a professional who had all the right tools at hand.
It turned out Igor could actually string enough English words together to be understood, and told me he could change it for me if I followed him to his house. With nothing to lose (ish) I accepted and followed him down the sandy track, slipping and sliding like a beginner on ice skates.
Into Igor’s back yard we went, where I met his wife, 2 kids and family pet mouse. It brought back memories of the pet mice I used to breed and sell to my school mates for 5 pence each, until their mothers made them return them (that all ended unhappily, by the way, when my Dad sold them all to a reptile shop for snake food).
Igor set to work like a pro, and ten minutes later the new tyre was on. Amazing job!
I was then very kindly invited into their house where Igor’s wife had laid out a mini-banquet for me – pastries, cakes, sausages and hot tea – delicious!
Igor had a Honda XR-650 and showed me videos of him riding across frozen Lake Baikal in winter with home-made steel studded tyres – incredible! It made me want to come back in February and do the same thing. I wouldn’t get very far now, as the ice had melted.
I had once again witnessed how the initial stern Russian front could melt as rapidly as winter ice in spring. I got the feeling Russian friends really would do anything for you. I had only known Igor an hour and he would not accept any money for changing the tyre for me. I was very humbled by his (and his wife’s) hospitality and rode away feeling like I was leaving old friends.
I had jumped another Russian time zone without realising it, and although it was late evening, it was an hour earlier than I thought. It’s always a nice surprise to find you’ve won back an hour of your life (as long as you don’t lose it again by travelling back east).
The next job was to find somewhere to sleep. I’d read about a cheap hostel online on ‘wikitravel’ in the city centre, so I found it on Google Maps (what would I do without it?) as it wasn’t on my satnav, and went directly there in about 10 minutes. A friendly Moroccan guy called Osama answered the door and showed me where I could park my bike in the secure lock-up, and within no time at all I was unpacked, showered and ready to hit the town. Actually I hit the nearest fast food joint first to get my weekly fast food fix – ‘Golden Bird’ – it was surprisingly good.
Then I wondered around and watched a musical fountain dancing to Beethoven, saw a giant Lenon’s head, and walked around the town square.
I liked Ulan-Ude; it had been good to me so far, so I thought I’d stick around for a day or 2 to relax and catch up on my blog before heading north to take a look at Lake Baikal – the world’s largest fresh water lake (by volume) and the deepest. I agreed with myself and thought that to be a grand idea. And so it was.