Shelter from the Storm ...
The weather gods had decided to let loose with the rain today. It was raining when Lyn and Alan packed up their bikes, and while Lyn and I walked to the supermarket and back. The obligatory photos taken, they set sail for Mongolia, having come through Russia and the some of the 'Stans to get to Ulan Ude. Great meeting you, Lyn and Alan. We'll catch up again one day, I'm sure.
Finally I was packed and ready to leave. It was seriously raining, now. Remember how I said I'd set the GPS to Pedestrian mode, when we went walking yesterday? Well, I DIDN'T remember, did I?
Off I went, following the GPS, in the now teeming rain, and the roads got narrower, becoming barely paths, then they became muddy rutted, potholed, tracks through all the back alleys of Ulan Ude! I couldn't do much about it, as street signage is basically non-existant in Mongolia. I had no clue as to where I was, so all I could do was grit my teeth and keep going, following the GPS, hoping I didn't drop it in the slippery mud. At last, with a sigh of relief, I could see, some distance ahead, the main paved road!
I followed the GPS, watching the "farewell to Ulan Ude" board go past. I kept following the GPS for quite some way, about 30km or so. I was getting a bit worried now, as the rain pelted down, as I'd not seen any signage to Irkutsk where I was headed. It is a MAJOR site along the Trans Siberian Highway. There should have been something to show the way. Suddenly, on the GPS, a waypoint shows up - NUCLEAR MISSILE BASE. Oops! I don't think I should be anywhere near here, somehow.
A rest stop conveniently appeared out of the rain and fog, although unfortunately, I parked near the toilets. Nothing more need be said! Yuk! I put on a couple more layers, as it was getting considerably colder, and wetter, and foggier. I rechecked the GPS, and found my mistake - I hadn't reset it to AUTOMOTIVE DRIVING, had I? Aahaaa, now we'll see what happens. Check the required waypoint again, and away we go, back towards Ulan Ude. Things were looking up, although I'd wasted all that time and fuel, as it was 12.30 when I got back to UU and through the city and out the other side, all in the rain, slipping and sliding on the tram tracks. I saw a sign to Irkutsk. I was on my way west at last.
But the rain kept falling, heavier and heavier; there were intermittent roadworks, sloppy, slippery, muddy, potholed areas where traffic veered all over, trying to avoid the holes, often into my "lane", not that there were any lanes. I survived, by riding very carefully and slowly, keeping out of the way of the trucks and traffic when I could. Eventually, I stopped to refuel, as I was getting a bit low, and needed a break from riding in the rain.
Time was passing, but I kept heading west, into worse and worse weather, heading for the night's planned stop of Slyudyanka Hotel.. The rain was so heavy it was only just possible to see through it. There were potholes along the road, some of which I didn't miss. There were short sections of muddy, gravel construction roadwork. Then there were trees blowing down across the road. The wind was howling at me from the west, head on. It was difficult to hold the bike up straight. Cars were stopping on the road verges. It was getting rather NASTY, to say the least. But it was stupid to think of stopping out in the open with no shelter. The only thing was to keep going, into the storm.
A waypoint showed up on the GPS, for Babushkin Cafe. That's where I'd stop and wait out the storm. Finally, I managed to get there, drenched to the bone, all my waterproof gear leaking like a sieve, my waterproof boots no longer waterproof. As I rode in off the road, I saw it was a "gostinitza" or hotel as well as a cafe. This is even better, I thought. I'll get a room and sleep it off. Ha! So I thought ....
There was no electricity, was there? Everything was in darkness, although the doors were open. I asked about getting a room. They couldn't take my debit card, of course - no power to the machine. I had very few Russian roubles on me, as I'd forgotten to get some before leaving UU. I turned to the ATM machine beside me. Oops! No power = no money! So I just hung around in the cafe for a while, hoping the power would come back on soon. Yeah, riiiiight!
After quite some time, about 7pm, having managed to scounge up some roubles in my bumbag, I went back to the hotel side of the building, via the exterior walkway in the rain, of course! They must have decided that there were too many people needing beds and the storm was not abating, so they opened up the rooms at last. They offered me a room for 12 hours for 600 R, although I didn't at that stage realise it was for 12 hours. I was able to pay the 600R in cash. It was all good - I had a bed for the night. The bike was ridden around the back into the secure parking area, and the cover thrown on and tied down tight against the ferocious winds. Slowly, other travellers arrived and the carpark filled up with cars.
Switching off my torch about 8pm, I crashed out, and had the best sleep of the trip so far!
THURSDAY MORNING - it was still teeming, everything was flooding out in the carpark, the rain continaully slashing against the triple glazed window panes. It looked very dismal outside through the rain. I braved the rain and ran to the cafe, where I had my usual coffee, and borsch (soup). It was lovely, but can get a bit, well, boring, after several serves of it.
Of course, with no power, I was unable to charge anything. No laptop, no phone, no ipod, and the Kindle died eventually, too. Unable to charge anything! I finished the paperback book I'd been carrying since UB. It does get a little boring doing absolutely nothing, believe me! I sat and twiddled my thumbs.
I braved the rain again at lunch time, and had the borsch again. While eating, I watched a smaller 250cc bike roll in. The rider looked utterly drenched and miserable. He came in and stripped off his wet gear, and started to order lunch, with water pooling all around him. His Russian was slightly hesitant, so I guessed he wasn't Russian. Fearing nothing, I approached and asked if he spoke English. "A little" he said, so I introduced myself and joined him, and we chatted about the appalling weather, and the lack of power etc. He also was heading for Slyudyanka, where his Russian wife's family live. He mentioned that there was no power anywhere between UU and at least to Slyudyanka, a distance of 350kms. Also, trains on the Trans Siberian Railway, which runs parallel to the highway, had been halted, due to too much debris across the tracks. Some storm, hey?
Out of the blue, he says, "You were at Ulaabaatar, at the Oasis?". "Yes", I replied, stunned. Then realised who he was. He had been the tour guide for a small group of riders who had arrived shortly after I had, but I had had little to do with them, for some reason.
Moritz, who is actually from Germany, then spontaneously did something for which I will be forever grateful. He said I couldn't stay there with no money for food etc, so he loaned me 5000R/A$100 !! What an amazing gesture. The man didn't know me at all. I promised faithfully to call in to Slyudyanka and repay him, once the electricity was back on, and the ATMs working again, and took his phone numbers..
Moritz had to leave, as he was due in Slyudyanka, 170kms away, that day. He said he'd be there for only three days. He rode away, into the eye of the still raging storm.
I went back to being bored.
But at least I could now afford to eat, as I'd been down to my last 10R in cash, about A.20c.
Did I mention that the storm was still raging? And the teeming rain was continual, with no let up? And so it went, all day long ...
I looked out the window some time later that evening, and my bike had company! Another traveller, judging by the drybag luggage, although I couldn't see the licence plate, to see where it was from. I couldn't hear vehicles arriving, as the generator supplying power to the kitchen was located directly below my window, constantly purring and rumbling away, as if my cat was sleeping against my ear.
Taken from my room upstairs on the Thursday, through the pouring rain. Poor little bikes, getting so wet!
FRIDAY MORNING - it was still raining, of course. This was an amazing, terrible storm. I had now been holed up here for well over 42 hours. There was no end in sight. There was still no power. There was nothing to do but wait, and wait
.The Kindle died this afternoon, while reading by torchlight. Well, I've gotta do SOMETHING, haven't I? I was getting rather frustrated, and began worrying that I wouldn't get to Slyudyanka to repay Moritz before he left there.
I got through the day, somehow, and paid for another night's accommodation. I went downstairs about 6pm with the laptop and charger, trying to encourage the lady to let me charge it in the kitchen. Niet! She indicated that the power would be back on in two hours! Bewdy! At long last! Back upstairs I went, hopeful of getting out of there in the morning.
The lights flickered on at 7pm. I rushed to plug everything in to recharge them. One minute later, off it went again. Bugger! Waiting, waiting, again. But it came back on - and stayed on - at 7.20pm. Over 54 hours without power. I was happy again! Spent some time catching up on emails and FB, and Olympics news.
I went downstairs as soon as the power was back, and extracted a large stack of notes from the ATM, before everyone else had the same idea and it ran out of money. Win!
I slept, peacefully.
SATURDAY MORNING - I looked out the window first thing, as usual, to check on the bike, that it hadn't been blown away, and now there were three bikes there. They were multiplying!
Down for brekky, then upstairs to pack. Down the back stairs to load the bike, to find the second rider there loading his bike. Andre is Russian, and had done the tour from Moscow through the 'Stans to Mongolia, to Ulan Ude and was on his way back home to Moscow when caught in the storm. Both the other bikes were Africa Twins, the older model ones, a very popular travellers' bike choice.
With Andre at the bikes, with the other Africa Twin, from China, beside Andre's.
It was a much more pleasant day on the Saturday, without the rain, and the sun trying to break through the still fairly low cloud base. It wasn't particularly cold, either, which suited me.
Andre departed. I finished packing and loading the Wee, then left. It was a good run to Slyudyanka. No rain, and little wind. I rode into town, and stopped to ring Moritz, and right there was Andre's parked up bike! He spoke to Moritz on my phone, and told him where we were. Moritz said he'd see me in 10 minutes. Little did I expect to see him and his very young son ride up on bicycles! I was very happy to repay the money, and gave his little son a koala to put on his cycle. It is gestures, and trust, like this that make travelling worth it. We are a family, we bikers.
I wanted a coffee, so Andre led off and stopped at a cafe, where we had coffees and a bite to eat. We then refuelled and rode along together the remaining distance (120km) to the highway junction - I was going into Irkutsk, and Andre was continuing on towards Novosibirsk. It was, well, "different" riding with someone else, even for such a short distance. When I ride with someone else, which is a rare occurrence, I find I tend to drift off and gaze around, rather than watching what's happening on the road, sort of expecting the other person to take responsibility for the ride and directions. This is a very bad habit, I know, and is basically the reason I tend to almost always ride alone. Then I MUST remain alert and spatially aware - it is MY responsibility to look after myself at all times. But it surely doesn't hurt to have this reinforced, occasionally, does it?
I rolled into Irkutsk and made my way to the hotel I'd booked, through winding little streets. But I got there safely, parked, and set up the computer.
I wandered "downstairs" as the receptionist put it, to the shopping mall. This meant I walked downhill along an alley, sometimes with steps, past the cathedral, to the black glass, very new shopping centre two blocks away, where I found on the third floor "fast food" centre, a SUBWAY, the first I'd seen on this trip. I couldn't resist. I pointed to a picture of a nice multi-meat sub. What eventuated was actually a seafood one. Not quite sure how that happened! But it was tasty, and better than the greasy fatty burgers etc on offer.
A quick duck into the supermarket for some fruit and yoghurt, and I headed back uphill to the hotel. Dinner, and to bed.
I had a website to update, yet again!
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