I've been quick to point out the delights of sleeping under roads but I have to say that I slept awfully last night. I decided that because I was under the cover of the tunnel that I wouldn't bother with the tent and choose instead to simply lay the sleeping bag on the mat and sleep like that.
Taking you inside the pleasure of tunnel sleeping!
With everything in its correct place I lay down on the sleeping bag to listen to one of the numerous podcasts I've still got left. As darkness settled around me I jumped up in a flash nearly smashing my head on the top of the tunnel. I felt something rustle past the side of my sleeping bag. A couple of days previously I'd seen my first snake and due to the fact that I'm absolutely terrified of them I retreated quickly out of the tunnel. I'd also heard a story recently of a Dutch traveller who'd been bitten by a rat and had to return immediately to Holland to receive treatment.
I took my small head torch and tried to shine it into the tunnel however the battery is failing fast and it failed to offer any serious illumination. Ordinarily this doesn't happen as I'm inside the tent and I began to rue my decision, based partly on laziness to not put it up.
I ventured back into the tunnel and pulled the sleeping bag quickly to one side, immediately a shadow shot off back down the tunnel and out of sight. It was clear that it wasn't a snake and instead a mouse or possibly a rat? Whatever it was it was pretty clear that my sleeping bag and me were blocking its way through the tunnel. I pulled the mat and sleeping bag out the other side and into the now night sky and we waited. The torch came back to life and after a few minutes I carefully made my way back in. It was all very Indiana Jones ad at last I was able to see make out the movement of my nemesis ahead of me, with a flick of the switch the beam from the torch hit the spot where it was standing and lit up its eyes. What in my mind had become a foot long rat with sharp fangs in turn was actually the smallest of small field mouse shivering nervously as I stood prepared for battle. I felt a bit of an idiot and many of you may laugh at my comical misfortune but when you're out in the open and something tries to get in your sleeping bag one lets see if you don't act a little jumpy. Not wishing to be disturbed further by my small fury friend I decided it might be best to actually put the tent up.
With my adrenaline levels up after my encounter I now found it almost impossible to get to sleep. By rights I should have fallen asleep the minute my head hit the pillow but now I lay restless, tossing and turning the tent feeling even smaller than it usually doesn't. Eventually I managed to nod off but it was the worst sleep I've had in a long while.
It was actually a relief when 5:00 o'clock came around and I could get up. I'd deliberately set up camp here for the night as it meant I was only 10km away from the next wonderfully named town of 'Borisoglebsk' I had planned to wake up around 7 and roll into town for breakfast. Most cafes don't seem to open until 7 so I was way to early to be getting out on the road. Thankfully I still had enough medicinal alcohol for the stove to boil up a cup of coffee.
As I was brewing up my small friend returned once again obviously coming back from his night of partying and wanting to go back through the tunnel and home. I moved my stuff to one side and waved him through. He took a little coaxing but I feel we have a level of trust now and he eventually tiptoed his way back into the tunnel and before disappearing like a shot.
I hit the road myself around 6:30 and was glad to see a gas station just a few kilometres down the way. Voronezh was 215km away so out of my range for today. I figured that if I covered at least 110km today then I'd have a short ride to my final destination tomorrow.
I've been buoyed recently by the news that my best mate Tom is coming out to meet me in Prague on the 5th of September to ride the final leg of the trip together. I'm really excited about it and it's going to be great to have a companion at long last. It's meant thought that I've needed to really start thinking about times, distances and plans for the next month.
It's hard to believe that the trip is nearing its end. I know that must sound a little premature as I still have to cross the Ukraine, Poland, Czech Republic, Germany and France; I can though feel things getting easier. I'm out of the vastness of China and Kazakhstan now and in contrast Russia feels like a walk in the park.
I plan to spend this month in Ukraine and Poland, a country that one fellow rider described as 'one long village' I'm not sure if that is a good thing or not.
Initially I'd set a date for the 22nd of September to return a day before my birthday but now I'm thinking that an extra week might be better in order to really take in the final part of this trip.
Factoring in another person to this trip will be interesting but Tom is a fit lad and I'm sure after a couple of long days in the saddle he'll be used to churning out 100km per day. His imminent arrival has got me thinking about how close I am to home now.
People have contacted me and asked when I think I'll be back and I've always maintained it would be around the late September early October time. There are requests to arrive on this day and that day and inquiries of whether people can come and ride some part of the final day with me.
In setting a date to return it feels to a certain extent that the clock is ticking. If it was up to me I'd probably just roll up one day at home and not tell anybody about it but that's just me. I know however that there are people who want to be part of my return. I'm flattered if I'm being honest but also slightly perplexed still at the interest levels my trip has raised. It's been amazing to get so much encouragement from so many different people while on this trip and I've drawn so much from that. I guess it hasn't really sunk it for me the distance that I've covered. My life for the past five months has been anything but normal but it's been amazing. I've experienced new levels of freedom, met wonderful people and seen amazing things; it sometimes feels that it's all a little too much for my mind to take in.
Now though some nagging thoughts are returning and I suppose it's only natural. I've talked to and listened to a lot of people who've returned from long trips especially on a bike and the feelings they have when they return.
I will not only be returning from nearly 7 months on a bike but also 7 years in China. I've no doubt there will be some reverse culture shock. I'm trying to keep my mind focused on what is ahead in the coming two months and simply enjoying and more importantly making the most of that. Who knows when I might get a chance to do something like this again?
If I had a pound for each time someone asks me the question 'What are you going to do when you get back?' then this trip would have self financed itself. I suppose it's only natural to wonder but the honest answer is I haven't thought about it, okay perhaps a little but I've been so focused on what I'm doing now and haven't really had the time to spend worrying about this. This trip has changed some of my perspectives on life and it's made me realise many things about myself that I previously didn't know.
Things will be a little strange at first I'm sure when I return but that's life and it's about adapting and embracing changes in our lives and moving on. I feel I have so much energy these days and my mind is channeled to spreading positivity and happiness around me I hope I can take that back with me more than anything.
The more I ride in Russia the more it reminds me of home and today was no different. I passed through a beautiful section of tall pine tress and could so easily have been back home.
I decided very early on today that if a hotel presented itself along the way then I'd stay there for the night, not because I'm tried of sleeping in the tent but partly down to the fact that I can get on my computer and update this blog before I get to Voronezh.
I'm always very conscious when I go and stay at someones house that I need time to get online and update my blog. It's a fact of modern day traveling that we need to get online. I hate arriving in someones house and immediately asking them for the wireless password. So I decided it would best to find a hotel for the night and spend the evening writing my blogs before I arrive thus giving me more time to spend with my hosts. And who says I don't give you anything?
I arrived in Anna this afternoon and found what appears to be the only hotel in town. It looks a nice place, small with the usual assortment of cafes and shops and also some impressive Soviet architecture. The man at the hotel sensing a payday informed me that the room was 1500 Rubles, a whopping thirty pounds! There was no way I was paying that and I was eventually shown to a tiny little room with two beds and told I could have it for 750 for the night.
It's not uncommon in some hotels to find no hot water but that wasn't a problem here and despite the fact that I've only been on the road for three days since leaving Saratov I'm always amazed by the dirt my body manages to pick up. I often wonder am I tanned or just plain dirty?
Well that is all for now and with the time just gone 8 o'clock it means I still have the chance to watch a movie perhaps, a rare luxury these days.
Tomorrow, Voronezh where I will probably spend the weekend before riding the final two days out of Russia and into Ukraine.
Dobry vecher.......Budem zdorovy!