A Travellerspoint blog

Matyevka – Past Pugachev 123km

The BIG 10

semi-overcast

Today was a day I'd been looking forward to for a while now. Coming from England we are obviously brought up using miles as a way of measuring distance but my mindset has changed somewhat since living in China and I now more often than not think in terms of kilometers. From a cycling point of view it's a simple numbers thing, 123 kilometers sounds better than 76 miles.

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It was today that I passed the magical figure of 10,000 kilometers. When I did so I remembered back to the day in China when I passed my first 1,000 and thought at the time 'that was easy enough, just another nine more of those'

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Keep going, just one more.....
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Get in!

In many respects I'm now almost unable to comprehend distance. When I set out from Xiamen on that rainy March morning and after my experience of numerous punctures on the very first day I think if you'd have asked me at the end of that day I'd have been happy just to have made 100 kilometers let alone 10,000.

When I passed the 'big ten' I had thought about how to celebrate this moment, I always mean to prepare some small 'treat' to pull out at this time but always forget to do so. It was simply a case of pulling over to the side of the road, taking a quick snap of the cycle computer, giving myself a quick pat on the back and of course giving thanks for having safely got this far.

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My small milestone came near the end of the day, it was a day of little else to report to be honest. When I write I often feel the need to give updates on the state of the roads in much the same way as a weather forecaster. I suppose you could say this is my 'road reporter' segment.

The road, bike and I are intrinsically linked and therefore it's only natural I suppose for me to offer up my opinion. I'm sorry to say that the surface took a turn for the worse today, plenty of cracks and bumps to contend with and very little room to manoeuvre thrown in for good measure.

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Campsite for the night.

We continue onwards though, checking off the kilometres as we go, we are very much Westward bound now.

Posted by Ontheroadagain 06:44 Archived in Russia Comments (0)

Samara – Matyevka 130km

semi-overcast

It was goodbye to Sara and Shenja this morning and once again a glowing endorsement from me for couch surfing. I was extremely skeptical about taking part in this relatively new phenomenon and certainly had reservations about just going to stay in a total strangers house but this is now my third experience of using it and once again it's been really amazing.

Like summer and holiday, afternoon and tea, red wine and cheese, Shenja and Sara go together perfectly. I couldn't have asked for more welcoming and helpful guests. I'm always totally blown away by the levels of hospitality shown to me. Our common love of the great outdoors meant that we had lots to talk about and they may well have convinced me that I should buy a kayak for my next trip. I very much hope they also make it to England as I know they would appreciate its stunning countryside and I'd be more than happy to show them around.

I left Samara pretty early with Sara packing me on my way with a colossal breakfast. This didn't however stop me from popping into McDonalds one last time before leaving, not because I was hungry but to take advantage of their free WI-FI.

The traffic out of Samara was as one might expect heavy and always a touch difficult to negotiate especially when you throw the early morning traffic into the equation.

I was particularly worried about what the road would be like. I was now venturing off the M32 and onto what appeared, according to my map at least to be a smaller road. The P226 out of the city actually turned out to be really very good. A nice smooth surface and pretty wide at times.

Russia really is a country of sunflowers, they are everywhere and they make the perfect backdrop for a days ride.

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In the same way as riding in China Russia has a huge amount of petrol stations. This is good news for any traveler but especially so for cyclists who constantly need to top up their energy levels with all sorts of sugary snacks. I couldn't believe it when I pulled into one petrol station and instead of my usual Snickers and Coke and I found this......... it was like stepping back into the eighties. I guess these are still sold in England but I certainly didn't expect to find this kind of stuff in Russia. Russians obviously share us Brits fine palate for such delicacies.

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Shenja had set me up with a Russian SIM card for my phone which also meant I was able to get online on while out on the road. I was able to pick up the good news that I would have a couch to sleep on in Satatov. It was also interesting to note that Derek, the motorcyclist I'd met and stayed with in Uralsk was currently staying with this lady. I'm following his tire tracks, albeit at a much slower pace!

It was back in the tent tonight as I found a nice spot next to a huge field of sunflowers and nestled in amongst some trees.

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Today was a good day on the bike, I felt really good riding. The weather was absolutely perfect for riding and it was a massive relief to have gotten my bottom bracket replaced and I could now banish the thought of this putting a stop to my progress.

Posted by Ontheroadagain 03:36 Archived in Russia Comments (0)

Samara

This blog is brought to you courtesy of McDonalds free Wi-Fi.

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I was up really early in the morning largely due to the fact that I knew I needed to make the most of my limited Internet time and of course to update this blog. There was also enough time to take advantage of the shower for another one of those extended long washes.

The checkout time at the hotel was as is the norm 12:00 and I think I checked out at around 11:59. I still had the piece of paper from yesterday with the directions to the bike shop but I knew it would be relatively easy to find due to the fact that it's located very close to a huge space shuttle.

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Me and Mr. Yuri Alekseyevich Gagarin

Samara looks like a city of cyclists, they are everywhere mostly mountain bikes but I've seen the odd sleek carbon race frame around. I was so pleased to finally find a really decent bike shop and could at last carry out a repair job on the bike that has been bothering me for some time.

My bike has been amazing, a real sturdy tourer which dealt with the nightmarish roads of Kazakhstan with graceful ease. However I've been experiencing problems with one of the components that of the bottom bracket. I noticed probably about 1500km ago some slight movement, or 'play' in the cranks. This is obviously not good. Like most cycle tourists I've met we're not all mechanically adept in fixing problems beyond those everyday difficulties.

When I left I had to assess what replacement parts I'd need and what tools. It's impossible to obviously take a whole workshops worth so I was naturally selective. I hadn't anticipated having a problem with the bottom bracket so thus hadn't thought that tool necessary. In the end it turns out that simply having the tool wouldn't have been enough because the bracket itself needed replacing.

The guys in the shop didn't speak any English but replaced the bracket within five minutes and I could rest easy once again that this problem had now been resolved. I would have replaced it earlier but in Kazakhstan there simply wasn't the option to do so. It wasn't ideal to ride such a long distance with this little movement in the cranks but I had little other choice. I just prayed everyday that it would hold out until it could be fixed. There was no point in worrying about it on a daily basis, it would either make it or it wouldn't and thankfully it did.

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For bike devotees this shop was heaven, it had been a long time since I'd been in such a well stocked shop so I also took the opportunity to purchase some new grips for my handlebars. The ones that I'd put on originally had only been intended as a temporary measure and then it had slipped my mind to change them before I set out but now they had become so worn that they were offering very little in terms of comfort to the palms of my hands.

I'm really pleased with the way things are working out in Samara. I got my visa registered at the hotel and now also had the bike fixed. My next task was to meet up with my couch surfing hosts Sara and Shenja. The had gone away for the weekend but informed me that they would be back around 6. That meant that I had the whole afternoon to keep myself amused.

With the bike now fixed I decided to take a little tour of the city. One nice thing about Samara is that it still uses trams, I'm a huge fan of them but for cyclists they can be a little problematic as I now have to deal with crossing the tram tracks on the road.

As I was cycling along one of the main streets I saw a lot of cars pulled over to the side of the road each adorned with a variety of ribbons and flags of varying sizes. As I got closer it was clear that they were in fact football fans of the local team FC Krylia Sovetov Samara. I pulled up alongside them and introduced myself. Thankfully one of the females in the group spoke good English and she acted as a translator for the other supporters. Many of them were in high spirits and were engaging in the customary pre-match drink. I was offered a swig on a bottle of vodka but politely declined. It was a shame that I had my bike with me as I would have loved to have gone and sampled the game with them. I was presented with a small flag to attach to the back of my bike and waved off by the hoard of fans. It's official I suppose now FC Krylia Sovetov Samara are my adopted Russian team.

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I took the bike down to the Volga river which I had seen from my hotel room the day before. It was a real haven for sun worshipers and there were also plenty of the local rich playing around on their speed boats and jet skis.

I didn't stay long as I wanted to make sure I could find Sara and Shenja's apartment and be there in time for when they got back. I tried to buy a Russian SIM card for my phone today but it's impossible to purchase one without a Russian passport. Eventually I did manage to contact Sara and thanks once again to my GPS I'd managed to put myself in the general vicinity of their apartment.

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Sara is from Germany and is studying here while Shenja is a local guy working as an Engineer. He wasn't at home when I arrived as he was at the football game but Sara was most welcoming and spoke near perfect English. Shenja came back around an hour later, he can speak English but is obviously a little shy in doing so. They are a thoroughly nice couple and once again it was so kind of them to just welcome me into their apartment. I couldn't believe that they also just gave up their bed for me and and when I protested that I'd be fine on the floor they replied that this was the Russian way.

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We took a short walk around the park near their apartment which is known as 'Voroneshskaja Ozera' or the 'Lakes of Voronesh' It was full of people of all ages all enjoying the late evening sun. Sara explained to me that this is how most Russians like to spend their weekends, drinking some beer and eating barbecue. I was quite surprised to see even middle aged women walking around drinking beer but when in Rome so we went off to a small cafe and sat down for a nice refreshing pint ourselves.

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Down at the Volga

When we got back to their apartment it was already getting a little bit late but they insisted once again on fixing me some supper and we sat down to eat a delicious salad with chicken and potatoes.

What with it being a Sunday Shenja had to be up early obviously for work the next day and they also informed me that they go running at 5:30 every morning, naturally I told them I wouldn't be joining them!

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My great hosts Shenja and Sara on the left and their friend Katrina on the right

Posted by Ontheroadagain 22:39 Archived in Russia Comments (1)

Ride into Samara (Russia)

all seasons in one day

I woke up early in the morning to find that my decision to bed down inside the tunnel had been the right one as outside during the night it had obviously rained. Waking up inside a tunnel at one time would have been slightly disconcerting but now there is something very normal about it and it’s even possible to have a lie in.

The rain hung around for most of the morning and after half an hour of riding it was coming down pretty hard. I didn’t mind at all, I’ve been cycling for the past two, possibly three months in some really really hot weather so the cooling nature of the rain actually felt pretty good.

There are villages everywhere which is great news for me, it means that I no longer have to carry a small reservoir of water on the bike and can simply stop and pick up water as and when I need it.

Samara is by far and away the biggest city that I’ve been in for some time and even as I approached it from the south I could see the sheer size of it. I made the short distance of 70km in no time and was once again suddenly thrust into the traffic of a major city.

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For those of you that have read my earlier blogs you will also know of my fondness for the occasional McDonalds. One of my questions to the journalists I met on the street in Uralsk about Samara was ‘does it have McDonalds?’ Well Russia unlike neighbouring Kazakhstan has opened its arms to the West and yes that does mean it has McDonalds. Many of you reading this will no doubt shudder at the thought of a nice big juicy Big Mac but for me seeing the old golden arches once again after over three months was pure paradise. I still had a couple of hours before I could check into my hotel so I spent a good hour in McDonalds feasting on my long awaited burger and fries. My stomach felt like it had been reunited with a long lost old friend!

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Hello my old friend.....it's been a while

I have accepted a couch surfing invite from a young couple here in Samara but they have gone away for the weekend and won’t be back until Sunday evening. The other reason for checking into a hotel here is that in doing so they are legally required to register your visa for you thus saving you the considerable hassle of doing it yourself.

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I choose the chain Hotel Ibis and having locked in the coordinates on my GPS (where would I be without this in cities!) I rolled up there just after two. It costs about thirty pounds for the night which is way and above anything I’ve paid since being on the trip and I was determined to savour every minute of it. For those of you who travel a lot especially for business such a run of the mill hotel as this will seem completely normal but for me it was pure luxury. A double bed! A shower (with hot water)! Free Wi-Fi!, a TV! It was all too much, I needed a lie down.

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Yet more Russian Orthodox churches

I didn’t really want to leave the comfort of my room but unfortunately I didn’t have anything to eat so a trip out to the nearby supermarket was necessary. I managed to find the massive German supermarket Auchan which was great for the huge variety of food that they had but on a Saturday afternoon not so good as it seemed the whole of Samara had decided to come out and shop too.

My bedroom has an amazing view of the river and countryside beyond and later that evening I was able to watch as the sun went down. Anyone who reads this blog will know it was one of my favourite times of the day out in the desert/steppe but now I could enjoy it from the comfort of my air-conditioned room fresh from a nice hot shower.

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A room with a view

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Tomorrow I shall have to leave here as the daily budget doesn’t quite stretch to this and spend the afternoon riding around Samara and waiting hopefully for my hosts to return from their weekend away. I also have to find a bike shop of which I know Samara has many and get a couple of things looked at on the bike but nothing serious.

So Until tomorrow…………. До свидания! [dah svee-dah-nee-yah] Goodbye.

Oh and today was also the day I passed 6000 miles! 9656km

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Posted by Ontheroadagain 22:58 Archived in Russia Comments (0)

Kazakhstan border - somewhere near Bol'shaya Glushitsa 130km

Back in the USSR

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I woke up incredibly excited this morning at around 5:30 so eager was I to cross the border into Russia. My previous day’s conversation with the guard at the first gate of the border left me knowing that it wasn’t going to be a simple case of just wheeling the bike through. The good news was though that the guard on the gate now was a different guard and therefore it gave me the opportunity to simply play dumb.

There was once again lots of smiling on my behalf and shrugging of the shoulders. A couple of phone calls were made and I was eventually taken to a large administrative building and told to wait there. After about five minutes a soldier came back and told me to go and collect a piece of paper and my bike and head down to the next check point. I’d obviously been granted permission to cross with my bike.

Like with all borders I’m guessing it’s very much a question of who you know as a number of expensive vehicles seemed to jump the line and those in the cars subsequently then made their way to the front of each queue. Nobody seemed to bat an eyelid.

I joked with the man behind me that he’d picked the wrong queue as waiting behind me would inevitably lead to a longer wait as customs officials scrutinized my ‘foreign’ passport, he didn’t understand me and I wasn’t wrong. Waiting patiently at borders though is essential and once again I’m a firm believer of just smiling at everyone whenever they look or ask a question to you.

In no time at all I was eventually through the Kazak side of things and riding my way downhill the half kilometre to the Russian side. Once again I was straight to the front of the queue and handed two slips of paper which thankfully were also written in English. As the trucks waited the young Russian soldier at the gate waved me through and it was off to the final booth for the final check. The whole process took less than half and hour and was in stark contrast to the border with Uzbekistan and just like that, I was in Russia.

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Russian side of the border

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So long my good friend Kazakhstan

It’s always strange when you cross over a border, in some ways I feel like there should be some small celebration, someone letting off some party poppers and presenting you with a small glass of bubbly but this is never the case. For me it was simply a case of removing my slightly tattered Kazakhstan flag on the side of my handlebar bag and replacing it with a nice new pristine Russian flag.

I looked back, waved farewell to Kazakhstan, turned around, clipped in and started my new ride in Russia which incidentally started with a ride uphill!

I’m not sure what to expect from Russia naturally I’m hoping the roads will be better. I suppose the biggest difference will be seeing more people and more life. The last three weeks I guess saw me cover some very remote places and it will make a nice change to be around civilization once again.

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First Russian village......spot the tourist!

My first impressions of Russia are more trees and a huge amount of sunflowers. I rode about fifty kilometres before stopping at a roadside café. I’m not sure what is good to eat here so when it doubt it’s always best to go with the option of Borsch.

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Borsch time

The roads aren’t too bad but are also far from perfect. They are very narrow and I’ve noticed that the density of traffic has increased considerably. I’ve been used to the luxury of almost having entire roads to myself but now I find I have traffic passing on both sides at the same time. I need to keep my wits about me for sure.

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Samara 127km

I can’t really judge Russians so early into the trip but in Kazakhstan I could always be sure of a toot on the horn or a wave, in contrast people here seem totally nonplussed at my presence.

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I rode for about 130 kilometres before tiredness finally got the better of me. I stopped at one bus shelter for a short break and knew it was time for me to find a place to camp as I was doing that thing you so often see people on the subway do, they sit there and their body slowly sags from one side to another as the start to nod off. Well this is exactly what happened with me. A further ten kilometres down the road I managed to push the bike down a grassy embankment and find myself a nice tunnel for the night. It was clean and big enough for me to also wheel my bike in. I was so tired in fact that I didn’t even bother to put my tent up correctly and just choose to use the tent as a kind of sleeping bag. I had to do this because at least then I still had the protection of the fly net. I think I dozed off to sleep at just gone seven.

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A single or double tunnel sir?

I’m happy to be in Russia and looking forward to arriving in Samara tomorrow not least because I know I have a ‘proper’ hotel booked there. The adventure continues!

Posted by Ontheroadagain 22:08 Archived in Russia Comments (0)

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