It’s a long treck across Russia to Kazakhstan and it’s vast! You only really appreciate the vastness when you’re here with miles and miles of emptiness in every direction. And so, when a guy I met in a bar last night invited me to have lunch with his family, I gladly accepted. It looked as if it would involve only a slight diversion from my route but in fact Sergies house was quite a bit out of the way. It was really worth it because they pulled out all the stops to make me welcome and I won’t have to eat for several days now! I had to refuse all the many offers of beer and wine and was back pedalling by 2pm. The cycling was tough enough with a fairly strong headwind in undulating countryside. I was mightily relieved to see that the temperature had dropped to about 30 Degrees and I even spotted some rain clouds to the south. I’d really love some rain. I was hoping to get to a nice town with a bar and restaurant to celebrate the weekend and allow me to blog but I ran out of daylight and ended up camping in a Ullage school yard which I’m sharing with a large flock of ducks and hens.Going to get up early and plough on to Volgagrad. I haven’t managed even 150 k any day this week and will have to do so now as the visa clock is ticking away….
Motorway Madness! I broke camp early and really wanted to pack in some distance today. Unfortunately, the headwind which has plagued me since entering Ukraine was still gusting away although the temperature had dropped a lot. I decided to use the paper map I’d bought in Belogorad and ended up in trouble again. The map indicated a good road which crossed the main North/South motorway. But when I got to that point, I was dismayed to find that it didn’t actually cross it. It was a dead end. I could see the road I needed on the far side of the motorway but it would be sudden death to attempt crossing it. My options were to cycle another 50k to the next town and then rejoin my route or I could chance cycling on the motorway to the next junction and do a u turn there. As I’m really concerned about losing more time with my visa expiring in a few days, I decided to chance it. Some truckers told me I’d have no problem and so I zipped along one side for 15k, exited at a town for a break and zipped back on the other side. It actually felt quite safe and I ended up cycling only 30k more than I should. After that fiasco, I made up with Lady Goo Goo and she provided a wonderful afternoon of cycling, mostly off road and along a ridge running parallel to the River Don. This was of course much slower than cycling on the road and I only managed 150k. I did however pick a super camping spot on a beach, on the bank of the Don in a town called Kazankah. I was really looking forward to a restaurant meal and a dink but as there was only the usual magazine shop so I bought what I needed and after a good wash in the river, enjoyed a gorgeous picnic as the sun set over the plain. Later, before retiring to my tent I went for a midnight swim and was surprised when the local branch of the equivalent of the ICA – that’s the Irish Countrywomens Association decided to go midnight swimming too. Fortunately, there is no photographic evidence of the ensuing scene.
Celebrating 50 days of Gogodermo! Yes, I’ve been on the road now for 50 days and have almost 6,000k of the 36,000k I need to cover. My schedule suggests that I should have crossed into Kazakhstan by now but the Ukrainian border fiasco along with the continuous headwinds have put me nearly a week behind schedule. However, I felt that I need to celebrate so promised myself a good restaurant meal at the end of the day. My phone was dead and my paper map had blown away into the river so I relied on memory and instinct to take me towards Volgagrad. The problem with choosing routes in Russia, is that all the main roads run E-W or N-S. These roads are criscrossed by a network of tracks, running through farmland, forest and often along rivers and streams. The surface on these tracks varies from hard packed mud, which isn’t so bad to lose gravel, which is tough to soft sand, which is impossible. I spent the whole morning on these tracks and my fingers are still vibrating. I was using a basic compass and the sun to navigate and although it was really slow, I made good progress. I ran out of water as there are no houses on these tracks and was lucky to find a well in an abandoned farm yard. After hours of bone shaking and sinking into the sand I found myself back on an asphalt road, a good deal further north than I intended and well behind time but at least heading in the right direction. The terrible headwind increases in the afternoon and progress was slow. Once again, I failed to reach the 160k target. More importantly, I failed to reach the town where I knew there would be bars, restaurants and wifi. I had to settle for this one horse town- actually there are cows on the street and flocks of ducks and hens everywhere. I was beyond being dismayed to find out that all the bars and restaurants were closed early on Sunday evening. The only place open was the Stalintzia Hotel. When I got there I was lured into taking a room for the night. It’s amazing how good a really hot shower, a good meal and a clean bed can make you feel after a week of wild camping and washing in rivers. The decor here is very grim and some of the guests look seriously dodgy but the manageress is helpful, the goulash is excellent and there’s plenty of beer.
Magic moments It’s strange how a moment of absolute magic can turn an ordinary day into something which exists on another plane altogether. I left the most salubrious Stalinstzia Hotel well rested after a good nights sleep. There was no wifi available so I ploughed on eastwards. After several days of time and energy lost through poor navigation, I opted to use a combination of Google Maps and intuition to guide me out of Russia. The first quarter was in remarkable but tough against the relentless headwind. After 40k I decided to take the off road route. All was as expected with many kilometres around vast fields and through never ending prarie when I saw an enormous dust cloud ahead. At first, I thought it was a mirage but as I cycled closer I realised that it was a huge herd ohms cattle, many thousands of them, being driven by cowboys across my path. I pedalled like hell towards the cloud but the herd had passed when I got there. I followed the herd for a few minutes but the cowboys weren’t impressed and set their dogs on me so I retreated. It was one of those never to be repeated moments when you wish you had a proper camera but I was there and it was real! -A moment of magic which will be savoured forever! I was in a bit of a daze after the Russian cowboy experience but still had to plough on. It’s strange how an experience like this makes the game pain worthwhile. I cycled on against the motorway headwind for about 30k and pitched camp on the bank of a stream under apple trees. The cow herd has just brought in the cows for milking a few metres from my tent as I doze off to sleep….
My journey through Russia continues and hopefully I make it out on time before my visa expires. Keep following my journey right here more updates to come very soon