The Day from Hell!
Where should I begin? Perhaps with the ride map, which is the easy part of this report.
I'll work through it chronologically:
I woke up in the early hours with a mozzie buzzing around, so swung out of bed to close the mesh curtain - and trod on my glasses on the floor beside the bed (due to no table beside it), breaking an arm off. Into the bin they went. Back to sleep.
Some time later, about 2.45am I think, I was woken by yelling and screaming in the alley at ground level beneath my room on the 5th floor. This great example of Russian domestic violence went on at varying pitches for some time, then the main (read: loudest) woman began screaming even more loudly in terror/agony/pain/whatever as I heard the slaps hitting her, together with what I guessed were punches as well, going by the moans and oooomps. No one came, surprise, surprise! It went on for quite a while, then tapered off, possibly gone to "make up". Who knows, or cares!
I couldn't sleep, thinking it may possibly have involved the young guys in the car who were checking out the bike, so, being worried about the bike, got up and dressed, at 3.15am and went downstairs, where I indicated to the night receptionist that I needed to go out to check the bike. Fortunately it was fine, so it got a pat and I went back to bed.
Breakfast was not included at this hotel, and there was no open cafe close by, so I went without and set off for Ulan Ude, 650km away to the west.
I needed fuel, so stopped about 20km out of town, at a truck stop, to fill the bike and I. A trucker came over and "chatted" about the bike and where I was going, neither of us speaking the other's language, of course. Then I had my usual brekky of fried eggs, bread and coffee, and hit the road for UU, as it's known.
Agriculture had become more prevalent over the past day or so, with herds of cattle oftern straying onto the road, as there are no fences. The previous evening, I had seen a gigantic intermingled mob of cattle, sheep and horses, being driven by drovers mounted on horses. No new fangled motorbikes for these guys!
About 50km west for Chita, I happened across a very sad sight. A car was straddling the centre line, with a cow sitting down on the road just to the left of the car. Apparently the car had hit the cow, judging by the bits and pieces all over the road, and I guess the poor cow was severly injured and unable to stand up and move off the road, although she wasn't showing any outward signs of being injured that I could see, in passing. Difficult to imagine how this could happen, as the cows are generally quite placid and not prone to race out onto the road at all.
At this stage, it is about 600km to Ulan Ude.
Then began the roadworks, the almost never ending roadworks along this 600km stretch. I definitely HATE the roadworks here in Russia. The first time I almost needed a knicker change: half the road had been sealed, with the other still gravel/roadbase. We were trundling along on the gravel, me following a semi truck (18 wheeler). I was watching where the truck's wheels were going to try and get a decent solid path to follow. He pulled back onto the paved correct side of the road, and I didn't realise just how high the layer of new pavement was, did I? Yaaark! It was almost 4" - 5" high! I thought I was going over sideways as the Wee slipped on the edge and slid around, but the Wee somehow found traction and righted itself, with not a lot of help from me, coz I was still in shock at the enormous wiggle/wobble it had just done.
On a relatively smooth section I'd picked up a bit of speed when I saw movement to the left - my barkbuster/handlebar mounted video camera was flying down the road behind me. Did a u-ey and retrieved it, but the mounting housing had broken off completely (before its departure), so it found a new home in the topcase. I was becoming more and more concerned now, that the Montana GPS would try to emulate the camera and go walkabouts, as it was wobbling around all the time from the vibrations, so pulled in to a cafe to attach a tether.
While doing this, a male voice spoke to me, in English!! A Canadian bicycle rider was checking out the stickers on the panniers. How good is Sean, riding from Vladivostok right across Russia, in just 3 months??? OK, so it's only 9500kms! Easy, right? Wrong! We had lunch and chatted, as it was good to speak English again with someone, although Sean spoke fluent Russian, having spent 18 months learning it before his adventure started. I left him doing some wifi work on his laptop, and again headed west..
Lots more roadworks of varying types. Then came the second almost knicker change : With no warning, just over the crest of a hill, deep, deep large, loose roadbase! The Wee started to think about tank-slapping and did the rear end wobbling thing. I thought I was a goner, for sure. How embarrassing it would be, in front of all the "workers". But from somewhere deep in my tiny brain, a voice said: "Be calm, power on. Power on!" I did just that, and things righted themselves, fortunately.
Little did I know ....
Interspersed between the construction areas was some of the worst frost heaving, pot holed road one could ever ride. It was never ending, constantly throwing me around all over the road. Cars and trucks were frequently on the wrong side, searching for paths to avoid the enormous holes. It was a nightmare. Even though I was just crawling along at 30-40kph, being passed by everything, I still managed to hit one large hole far too hard, and the bike hit the hole and bounced around badly. I was concerned that I might have dented the rear rim, out here in the middle of nowhere, would be just lovely. But it kept going okay with just enough strange movement to keep me worried.
A couple km down the road, things really started to get out of hand, and I was sure the tyre was flat. On a relatively straight stretch of road, I managed to stop, and got off to check the tyre. That's when I found that one corner of my topcase had been dragging along the ground and thumping against the tyre since the pothole, tethered only by its power cord! Damn! I pulled off all the luggage, and reinstalled the topcase successfully, luckily, then repacked everything else. A car came along, and the driver stopped and asked if I was OK , or I guess it went something like that in Russian, and I nodded and said OK, with a thumbs up.
So now I was crawling along even slower, trying to avoid EVERY pothole for fear of the topcase coming off again, and realising it takes such a looooong time to cover 25km to the next fuel stop at only 40kph. Darkness was definitely gonna catch me tonight, I thought.
During all this distance, there had been repeated construction zones, as the road was of the most appalling standard. I kept thinking if it had been in Australia, the local council involved would have been summararily sacked!
From about 150 to 130 kms out of UU was the horror stretch from hell! Continual roadworks, with loose, deep roadbase everywhere! I cringed, wondering if I'd make it through without killing myself. Following on from the "Be calm, power on" mantra, contrary to usual I found it better to stand on the pegs, so that I could better see a path through the roadbase (and dust) ahead. A couple more times the Wee did the tankslap/rear end wobble thing, but it stayed up each time when I thought it was going over. It was HORRENDOUS! The problem was, that standing on the pegs so much meant I had to lean forward and down to reach the handlebars. So then my back started aching quite badly at this abuse. What to do? The pegs won, even if it hurt me to ride like that.
The roadworks slackened off a little, with mainly just detours around bridgeworks breaking the monotony of pot holes. then it started getting a little bit better, about 65km out from UU. So I'm toddling along at 88kph, frounding a hilly curve, to find a policeman walking out onto the road to stop me. Fortunately I wasn't speeding, as the limit is 90kph on all roads unless signed otherwise. He walked around thefront of the bike to my right side and looked at me with a grin on his face. I immediately said "No Russian" with my poor language skills and shook my head. He laughed and looked across me at his partner in the car. "No Russian" he said, and I presume the other one basically said let me go, as he then just waved me away, grinning stupidly all the time.
I was by now really pushing the boundaries of getting there before dark (9.02pm), with the GPS estimating arrival as 9.06pm, and I as trying to go as fast as possible where possible. All was good until 38km out of UU when the road started to follow the course of the river. It being Sunday evening, every man and his dog had been out into the countryside that day, and they'd all decided to go home along the river road, hadn't they? Three semi trucks followed by a stream of cars then me followed by a stream of cars. Not good, as so many Russian drivers do insanely silly things to gain just a couple of seconds.
The time dragged on, but eventually, at 9.35pm, I arrived at the prebooked Hotel Odon. I checked in, sorted the bike, went to my room, spread a few things where I wanted them, and collapsed on the bed, completely and utterly STUFFED!!! Two hours later, I woke up, got undessed and went back to bed.
It had taken me 12.5 hours to ride a measly 650km, but it was the stress and strain of the constant required alertness and physically manhandling the bike through the construction areas that killed me. I had ridden 950km in less than 12 hours the day before.
There's still a long, long way to go ...
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