A little fun

A couple of days ago I had the idea that I wanted to have “路平” printed on my bicycle frame.  It’s a popular idiom in China.  A lot of cars have license plate frames that say “一路平安”.  Basically it means “safe travels”.
It took a few minutes of trying to explain, but after I got my point across, one of the very pretty receptionists at my hotel laughed, went with me to buy some red fingernail polish, then eagerly did her best to write it on my bicycle.  I hope it lasts.
I also managed to meet someone else from Michigan.  An English teacher from Holland, Mi.  He warned me that the crossing to Russia might take some time.  I might not get very far tomorrow, either.
I also managed to find the right widget to charge my Droid X.  It’s CDMA, so no phone calls, but at least I’ll have some functionality back.  Droids are very picky about charging cables.  I brought a good car charger but none of the MicroUSB cables I brought can make it happy. Oops.  I managed to find a wall plug to car accessory outlet adapter.  It’s finally charging again.  Whew!  Unfortunately my Nexus croaked.  Won’t boot.  It’s now a very expensive paperweight.

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Приветствую от Сиберии

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Greetings from Siberia!  It’s taken a lot longer than I thought it would.  The terrain has been difficult and it’s been storming almost every day.  At least a couple of days ago I passed from grasslands to Alpine-like forests, which should take the edge off of the winds.  I’m just proud of passing through the 52nd parallel!
I think I was having nutritional problems in China.  A couple of days of Russian home cooking at the numerous roadside cafes on A166 has been like a light switch.  The roads in China are consistently smoother and wider, though. 
Having passed this point, I can start west.  I’ve gone about 1500 miles so far, which by my calculations gives me about 4000 miles to St. Petersburg, and 6000 miles to the Atlantic.  Kind of like crossing the United States, with no 10,000′ climbs, but there are some lower mountain ranges.  Hoping it takes the same amount of time, two months.  Another month to cross Europe, and I’ll be right on schedule.  I’ll be fine here, but I’m going to get tired of technopop.  I think I want a Volga sedan, too.
The people here are fine, some very impressed and curious that I’ve ridden from Beijing.  Today I got stopped at a “дпс” checkpoint, where they checked my visa/passport and a half a dozen of them joked around, asking questions and poked at my bicycle for ten minutes.  Who is the DPC?  I don’t know, but one of them had a side folding Kalashnikov on a sling.  Then one looked at me, smiled, nodded his head towards the road, and told me to have a good day.  I don’t have to be told twice to disappear :) .

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Language and culture

It was kind of funny crossing the border.  There was one other passenger, a Russian named Ivan.  We got along swimmingly for the hour or so it took to cross.  The funny thing is that our common language was mostly Mandarin.  He even introduced me to the Russian version of “一路平安”:  счастлового пути.  Which is good because almost everyone says it to me.
I’ve been getting along okay with the amount of Russian I know.  I’m already at the point where sometimes I appear to be completely ignorant because my buffer is full.
It was really interesting to be dropped off in a completely different country I had never been in.  At least it was in front of a market where I immediately bought some things more familiar to my Western tongue.
Then a few dozen miles down the road where I stopped in a cafe, and had to figure out how things are done here: pay and order at the counter, then let them bring the food to your table.
Just enough Russian.  Give me a few weeks to get my ear dialed in.

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Where’s de plane, boss?

Funny thing I’ve noticed.  In the US there are airplanes big and small, high and low, everywhere.  I’ve barely seen or heard a one since I left Beijing.

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Irkutsk!

I’m now 2200 miles in.  From Chita the road gets quiet for a lomg time.  The horse flies and mosquitos here could carry off small pets.  Slapping them off of my bike has become a sport for me.
So, how is the road here?  Well, the first thing most Russians ask me is “The roads suck, don’t they?”  Well, yeah.  At least it keeps highway speeds down.  That and Siberia is open range.  Hitting a cow would really ruin someone’s day.
So, riding here isn’t too bad.  Plus it’s great if you like camping.  Hotels can be a long way apart.
I’ve met a few riders in Russia and one group of four wheeled rallyers. One from the Ukraine was even riding a single speed townie. I also met a pair of Polish motorcyclists who had been through the ‘Stans and were coming back from Vladivostok.
There’s only one city between Chita and Irkutsk – Ulan Ude.  It didn’t look too bad to me, but I’ve been told it’s a rough town.  I stopped overnight and had four pork chops for dinner.  I also let a few locals soak me for a couple bottles of Vodka.  So it goes.
The highway around Lake Baikal is challenging for cyclists.  At least the local smoked fish is delicious. The first time I stopped for it, it was a good thing because the closest cafe was hours away. Yes, I do keep the Ciprofloxacin close by. But it hasn’t been necessary in Russia. Anyway, lots of ups and downs.  Plus there were some small flies getting into my face and generally tormenting me for the last 60 miles.
In Irkutsk I found a burger chain which supplied me with an American level of calories and free WiFi.  There I met a couple out bicycling who led me to a nearby hotel.  They were also nice enough to take me to Listvyanka the next day.  I promised to sign off on an invitation if they ever want to visit the US.  Their English is better than my Russian.
So now it’s about 1,200 miles to Novosibirsk and almost 3,000 to Yekaturinburg.  China took me too long.  I’ve gone about 60 miles since getting to Russia.  The terrain flattens out from here.  Hoping I can do some 100 mile days now to raise my average.
In Irkutsk I’ve been able to pick up a few parts.  There’s much better availability here for just about everything than China.

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Trans-Siberian passage

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The highway parallels the TransSiberian Railway for most of the way.  I guess routing around Lake Baikal was a major challenge, and many tunnels had to be built.
But it would be an exquisite ride.  One thing that really interests me is that all of the engines appear to be electric, getting power from lines overhead.
Anyway, something that’s been fun for me is carrying a lighter.  I’ve met a number of people standing or walking along the highway.  They usually ask me for a light and they’re entertaining to talk to.  One road worker camped out in his trailer asked me to light his campfire.
Latest song I’ve been singing: The Motorcycle Song by Arlo Guthrie.  At least I know more of it than Bitchin’ Camaro.
I keep getting better at speaking and comprehending Russian.
Great thing about riding at 52 north latitude in the summer?  It doesn’t get dark until almost eleven.  I can get out of bed by the crack of 10:30, or whenever my sleeping bag gets too warmed by the Sun, then be on the road at noon or maybe even 1:30.  At my average speed I’ve usually done as many miles as is reasonable well before dark.

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Back to the stone age

There’s a bit of a feral dog problem in this part of the world.  Even seen some apparent cases of Rabies in China.  Fortunately I’ve found that a good shout usually sends them away.  If not, some good stones will.  It’s fun and great exercise.  I’ve even gotten some direct hits.  Hitting them on the run is a real challenge.

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Off again

Riding back from the tourist town of Listvyanka with the dive master.  Lots of interesting things living in the lake.  Plus just a few dozen yards offshore it drops into a kilofoot abyss.  But it’s frigidly cold – only 40 degrees.  It’s an interesting little tourist town, too.
Still hoping to make some miles today.

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Halfway to Moscow

So I’ve been told. A little more, actually. My speedo says I’m almost 3,000 miles (about 5,000km) from Beijing. People tell me it’s 4,000km (2,400 miles) to Moscow. I got to Krasnoyarsk Wednesday evening. East of Krasnoyarsk is a nice section of road, presumably an old section of M53, that has perfectly fine asphalt and little to no traffic. It’s a good thing, too. The road has been getting progressively busier and the country more “civilized” since I reached Lake Baikal. I even went to a mall today. My front panniers are getting old and the front rack made them too low. Especially considering they’re supposed to be rear panniers. I’ve been dumped off the bike a few times because they’ve gotten caught on things. So, the front bags are going in the garbage and I bought a spiffy new backpack. A few other things are going to be sent home.

I also gave up on Google Maps. It’s pretty much worthless in this country. MapDroyd, primitive as it can be, has gotten me in and out of a few Russian cities. I found an Android App called Yandex which is making me much happier. I also paid too much for an HTC Android phone. My Brunton 14W foldup solar panel has actually managed to charge up my Droid while on the bike. Only niggle is that the car charger outlet tends to come loose. Otherwise, it actually works.

I also broke down and paid a few bucks for a Russian/English dictionary. I guess I should have dropped my Oxford in the bag when I was packing at home.

I’m still fighting a worn cassette (rear gear set). Eventually I’ll change it with the one I bought in Irkutsk. I’m impressed that my Schwalbe Marathon Supreme tires haven’t had a single flat. The rear tire is completely bald but only showing a bit of the inner layer. I might manage to get to the Atlantic with the three spare tires I brought.

Basically Krasnoyarsk has been an opportunity to reorganize a bit. I’ve even had a chance to get all of my clothes and my sleeping bag run through a washer, imagine that!

Sorry, not much humor. Lots of running around and it’s very late. Zzzzzz…..

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Woohoo, Novosibirsk!

It’s been storming on and off for weeks.  Today was no different.  Novosibirsk welcomed me with a flood.  At least I got to relax at a cafe on the way in before getting drenched.  First time in Russia I’ve had a cup of coffee not made with Nescafe.  Plus Yandex Maps on my Android phone guided me in to the very nice River Park Hotel.  In a downpour.  My sleeping bag is drying.  At least I don’t have to go to bed in it tonight, as I did leaving Kemerovo.  It’s okay.  Synthetic sleeping bags dry quickly and the nights aren’t too bad here.

What’s it like camping out in Russia?  Quite nice.  It seems to be pretty common.  I even happened upon a family and shared their site while chatting over their campfire.  In North America there’s all sorts of wildlife.  I haven’t seen much of anything, although the birds I hear are various and new to my ears.  One morning I was woken up by, I believe, a fox on the other side of the field.  One other time another critter came to check out my bags.  I think most of the big stuff stays away from people.

I was concerned about the ability of my Ortlieb Backroller panniers to keep out water.  However, they’re working well.  As long as I don’t drop my bicycle into a river, I guess they will be fine.

I’m going to stay a couple of days.  I think this is the first major city in Russia.  At least it’s the first one going west that’s displayed by Google Maps at the “200 mile” level.  Its Wikipedia entry says it’s the third largest city in Russia.  And this is the first time I haven’t been disappointed in Russia by the hotel.  The WiFi even works.

I saw a sign on the way in for Chita, 2933km.  It was almost 1200 miles (~2,000km) from Beijing to Manzhouli, and 488km from Manzhouli/Zabaikalsk to Chita.  As displayed by the road signs.  Or, about 5,400km.  Which is pretty close to what my speedo from my bike is telling me after I fudge factor the approximate error I’ve measured.  If my numbers are right, then Omsk is the halfway point.  Supposedly somewhere around 600km to the west.  And Moscow is supposedly about 3,000km.  Minor pet peeve about Russia.  I’ve been paying pretty close attention to the distance signs.  Sometimes they can very by tens of miles even if they’re within stone throwing distance of each other.  How far is it really from Irkutsk to Novosibirsk on M53?  Apparently even the Russians aren’t too sure about that.

Yeah, I’m staying here a couple of days.  Time to go walk around.  I just learned there is a highly regarded zoo and I need to go to a SportMaster sporting goods store too.  My Sunday is shot.

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