Deserts and Camels

whatsapp-image-2019-07-21-at-17.27.51.jpg
Dale plays a dombyra (a long-necked Kazakh lute)

How Far Have They Got?

Map of progress so far.

Charity Update

Many thanks to those that have donated.

20190726_CharityDonations

Week 6 Summary: Ural River & Caspian Sea

This map shows this weeks ride.

20190727_BRJ_Odometer

This week: 448miles, 3,224ft and 39:32 hours riding

Accumulated totals: 3667 miles, 76,238ft and 278:52 hours riding

Day 38: Sunday July 21st: First Camels

20190721_ridewithgpsmap
Route Day 38 – July 21st

Fly-through Map of Day 38.

After we found a little hotel/hostel in the town we were unsure if the deal included any food but sure enough the lady knocked on the door with a couple of trays of food. Excellent! It was quite good rice and chicken with salad, Keith and Linney were pleased as I could just lift my chicken off the bowl.

Then we thought we had ordered a couple of beers each, though it turnedout to be tea!

We did manage to find some beers later.

In the morning it was a gamble again as we ordered breakfast at 07:00. Nothing turned up so we dug into our supplies, and then hit the road just before 08:00.

On the first section we had to retrace our route back over the river,where we stopped for water and then hit the road proper. Linney had done his research: a breakfast stop at 16 miles, then a 34 mile section and then a 24 mile section to finish with one possible place to stay. But we were not very hopeful of this.

Keith picks up the skull of a cow. Dale is not amused.
Keith picks up the skull of a cow. Dale is not amused.

We cruised the first section and stopped for breakfast. After this the road had started to get a little bit rough. Linney spotted a rotten cow carcass in the ditch by the side of the road and Keith went down and salvaged the skull and horns for some pictures. Not for me!

They have Camel Crossings in Kazakhstan!
They have Camel Crossings in Kazakhstan!

As we put on the miles Keith spotted the first camels by the side of the road, I had noticed two on our side of the road but thought they were horses! We stopped for some pictures and then pushed on. Further on we saw a shepherd with his herd of goats driving them across the road.

There really is not much on this road, so we carried on nearly to the end point. We stopped at a petrol station for an ice cream – Kazazh petrol stations do not do ice creams, much to Keith disgust! He settled for a chocolate bar, then was dismayed when the girl behind the counter tipped herself with a chocolate bar rather than giving him the change. A bit of a mistake on her part, she soon relented and gave him is change, or we would still be there.

With around 2 miles to go we pulled over and chatted to some local young lads. They said there was an hotel about 3 miles down the main road, but also made a few laughs and giggles, hence we decided to stock up on supplies in the village supermarket first.

As we came out of the shop a shady guy approached us, asked us where were heading and staying, we told him what we were doing, then he said come back to his house, we could camp there. So we followed him home. It later transpired that it was his parents house. We arrived at the house all hot and sweaty and then we were ushered into a large shed with seats and a basic kitchen.

Within minutes they were serving us with a bowl of yogurt drink “kumys” not ideal but we all tried it, then homemade bread, jam and sugar. Keith politely ask the guy how to eat it. He just picked up a lump of bread stuck it in the jam then put it straight in his mouth – pretty easy really. The came the tea “char” which was really good.

We then started to ask were we could put up our tents and went out into the garden and decided on two pitches. Linney & Keith started to get the tents ready while I tried to look busy. I did strike a little bit lucky as I was talking to the older guy and he said why not sleep in the big shed were we had just eaten. Result all around – so the tents were put away for another day.

Now it’s shower time! It was a wooden shack at the bottom of next doors garden with an 80 gallon plastic drum on the top. Though I must say it did work and we did feel a lot cleaner afterwards. We asked the guy where the local ATM was and he offered to walk down with us. Unfortunately it did not work so he flagged a passing car down and they gave us a lift to the next one. It seems to be a local thing that you can flag cars down and ask for a lift. We also got some beers for our host and us and then made are way back, via another flagged down car.

Beers and salted Perch
Beers and salted Perch
Salted Perch for dinner
Salted Perch for dinner
Keith tastes the salted Perch.
Keith tastes the salted Perch

We later found out it was an anniversary party for the guys parents over the weekend, we sat outside on an old hay cart chatted and shared the beers. Then the old guy got some dried salted perch out to go with the beers. I quickly reverted back to vegetarian and offered Keith up to taste it. Later I saw him throw it in the long grass!

Family dinner - crossed-legs on carpet.
Family dinner – crossed-legs on carpet.
Family dinner - crossed-legs on carpet.
Family dinner – crossed-legs on carpet.
WhatsApp Image 2019-07-21 at 17.27.51
Dale plays a dombyra (a long-necked Kazakh lute)

The party just kept on going with all the men sitting on the old hay cart, guys playing the guitar and dombyra (a long-necked Kazakh lute) and singing partisan songs all very lively. More food was served: meat soup with fresh bread, fruits and more char, all served up by the ladies but they did not join in. We eventually was able to go to bed around midnight, a really long, but great day.

Day 39: Monday July 22nd: Home Cooking

20190722_ridewithgpsmap
Route Day 39 – July 22nd

Fly-through Map of Day 39.

We woke up pretty early considering how late we got to bed last night and had to go through the none European ablutions test again in the morning, well I did! I walked around the shed three times, then went for it, really scared I would fall in and then that would be that last they heard from me! Linney & Keith decided to wait.

We slept on the kitchen floor here!
We slept on the kitchen floor here!
Breakfast at home
Breakfast at home

As we were getting our kit ready breakfast was prepared: porridge, bread and jam and char. Very nice! We had to drag Linney away. The older guy explained the best route to Atyrau was out of the village then over the river, not what we had in mind, but he assured us the road was better that way, he even hand drew us a map. I wrote a thank you note to them with a gift of English money. We did not want to offend them but really wanted to show our gratitude. After the customary photo shoot and handshakes the older guy escorted us out of the village to the new bridge a distance of about 5 miles in his 4 wheel drive Lada. We said are final farewell to him as we carried on.

Dale saying farewell
Dale saying farewell

We have planned a relatively steady day in the saddle around 55 miles with a plan of getting to a bike shop in Atyrau. With no real urgency we just ghosted through the miles and stopped at a little truck stop for a coffee. The proprietor and her family were really nice so we went through the photo shoot routine again, the lovely lady came out with bottles of water and coke for us, we took on the water but thanked her for the coke and said we had no room.

Then Linney said he needed to clean his teeth, never seen it before but he managed to open his front pannier bag, get his wash bag out locate his tooth brush and paste and clean his teeth all on the go. Keith and I can barely manage a wave!.

The Ural River
The Ural River

As we go closer to Atyrau the traffic built up. The waving and horn blowing stopped as a good will gesture, now it just meant ‘get out of the way’. We tried to find a bike shop. Found one but it did not have the gear we wanted so we made our way to the hotel that Linney had booked. We booked in no problem and I went to the bar to order a beer – no alcohol, he has only booked a dry hotel!

We went out later to locate the last cycling shop on our list. The Hotel receptionist ordered us a taxi and told us how much to pay. She even gave us her number in case we got into trouble. We went nt to the shop and managed to get some inner tubes but not pannier brackets. We got a taxi back into town where, as anticipated, the driver tried to rip us off. We phoned the lady from the hotel who managed to sort it out. The taxi driver was not happy.

We had a meal then went back to the hotel to rest up and start to plan the next few days.

Day 40: Tuesday July 23rd: Salt Pans and Snakes

20190723_ridewithgpsmap
Route Day 40 – July 23rd

Fly-through Map of Day 40.

Linney and Keith went down for a coffee in the hotel around 21:00. I was busy catching up on the blog stuff, then the hotel dished out another meal for them chicken and rice, still no beer so I was OK with that.

Dale. Bear and Gnome
Dale. Bear and Gnome

We were up at the normal time just after 06:00.  After getting ready we went down for our fried egg breakfast. It had a little twist today: fried bread not fresh.

We were just about to hit the road when we noticed Linney’s back tyre was a little flat, which is a little concerning as his spare is very dodgy too. We gave it a bit of air and we’ll see how we go.

Linney expertly got us out of the city in under 20 mins, mainly because we were on the dry side of the city! Then on the road to Dossor against a bit of a head wind which looked like it would stay with us all day. Hey ho!, just have to pedal a little harder.

Keith with a dried up salt-pan behind
Keith with a dried up salt-pan behind

We stopped at little truck stop for a coffee and cake. Well I had the last bit of cake and pulled the vegetarian card again. Keith and Linney had a potato fritter (it’s a gamble what is inside them), then went next door to the garage to see if we could get an ice cream – no luck. We filled up with water and took on some extra water, as the next stop, looked like it was just a picnic stop, in around 24 miles time.

Smooth Snake (Coronella austriaca), beside the road
Smooth Snake (Coronella austriaca), beside the road
Smooth Snake (Coronella austriaca), beside the road
Smooth Snake (Coronella austriaca), beside the road
Salt-Pans
Salt-Pans

Still pushing against an ever increasing head wind we pedalled on, looking at the dried out salt lakes. Then Linney made a little bit of a girlie dance on his bike – only he can do that. Then he shouted snake! Keith was on its trail like a flash, jumping off his bike and handing it to me. All I could see was bloody desert but then finally a spotted it. Keith chased it down the bank, then dangerously back up the bank towards me, clicking madly on his camera. I was ready to ditch his bike if it came any closer to me, luckily it went down a hole about a metre before it reached us. When it all calmed down Linney identified the snake as a fast slow worm or “tardum velox vermis” we will have to wait for the editor (Dale’s gone all Boris with his Latin: Ed) to confirm this exciting discovery.

European mantis (Mantis religiosa) - probably
European mantis (Mantis religiosa) – probably

Before we knew it we were approaching the second stop: not the picnic site we thoughtbut  a little café, with some very pleasant girls serving. We had coffee and the normal fare: a meat goulash thing for Linney and Keith and rice for me – all very good. We all had a really good rest as the head wind was taking its toll a little. Keith made the effort to say come on “lets go” (the only phrase the Kazakhi’s know) so Linney and I followed, though Linney stalled at the entrance spotting a Praying mantis or “Orantes mantis” once again the ED will confirm the species (Dales got the hang of Google Translate: Ed).

Dale and Linford, with Eagle
Dale and Linford, with Eagle
Keith and Dale and a boundary marker. The Eagle has landed!
Keith and Dale and a boundary marker. The Eagle has landed!

Just as Keith and I were pulling out onto the road we heard a shout from Linney ‘I have a flat!’ Back we turned. His tyre is worn out. Keith cut up a plastic bottle to cover the two worst wear patches on the tyre, fitted a new inner tube and off we set again. Within a mile, another puncture.The plastic had rubbed on the inner tube. We tried Linneys spare tyre that does not sit correctly on the wheel, still no good, so went with the worm tyre at a lower pressure hopefully that will work. On we went for the last 18 mile. Thankfully it lasted!

On the way to Dossor both Linney and Keith cut up some old truck inner tubes to patch up the tyre when we get to our unknown hotel/camp tonight. We stopped just outside Dossor. Keith ordered a coffee, I quickly done the maths we were less than 5 miles from the town, so I had a beer. In the end we all had a beer.

We rolled into the town with Linney at the helm guiding us to the hotel/hostel which we duly found with ease. We managed to book in easily: the guy and his wife were very helpful and gave us a bucket and sponge to clean our bikes down. Linney had a plan to line his tyre with the old truck inner tube so he started on that. I cleaned and serviced my bike as best I could. Keith did the same to Linneys and then went down to the supermarket and bank with the hostel owner.

I cleaned Keiths bike and then when he returned told him he had loose spokes on the back wheel and a broken spoke on the front wheel – not good, but repairable, which Keith easily managed.

Kazakh food. Delicious.
Kazakh food. Delicious.

The place didn’t have a shower but I manged a bucket wash before the water ran out, so we just went out as we were. Eventually we found a place that was open athough it was only traditional Kazazh food which was good for us.

Then it was back to the hostel for some well-earned rest.

Day 41: Wednesday July 24th: Flats and Markets

20190724_ridewithgpsmap
Route Day 41 – July 24th

Fly-through Map of Day 41.

Happy 60th Birthday to Ray Skelton: a true athlete and a valuable member of many of our Tours. We were all stirring in our beds, Ray would have been doing star jumps or some yoga pose, but as laid back athletes, we just laid about knackered!

Breakfast in style
Breakfast in style

The owner knocked on the door to say breakfast was ready. We had to go over to the annex and Linney was impressed with the ceiling detail: he is getting right into his architecture. We were more impressed with the breakfast: three fried eggs, home-made bread and biscuits and char – all good.

Linford, ready to leave
Linford, ready to leave

We set off about 08:15 with cloudy skies, and as it is Ray’s birthday Keith did the weather report: sorry Ray not raining, but overcast until the afternoon. We soon made our way out of the small town into a bit of a head-wind, with the knowledge that there is not a lot going on this road today, just a matter of riding through the head-wind. Easy – really better than working for a living.

After a couple of hours of riding we did spot a small truck stop where we managed to get a coffee and replenish our water supply. There was another stop about an hours ride away and that’s were we planned to have our lunch stop. On we went into the head-wind again. We are getting used to these Kazazh stops. I had the fried rice, with Keith and Linney having the pasta and dumplings.

Lunch in style
Lunch in style – lie down and have tea

After lunch we knew we had about a 40 mile ride with nothing between. Allegedly the wind was going to die down, according to Keith’s weather App. Just after this stop Linney had the first of his back tyre incidents, with a really worn out back tyre, in which he had glued strips of an old truck inner tube onto the inside to try and protect it. Well this did not work: the patches rubbed on the tube causing punctures. We tried Linney’s spare tyre again, with no luck as very soon half of it had come off the rim again. So back to the old tyre, with less pressure than normal. We still had around 20 miles to go before we hit Kulsary, even then we did not know if we could get a replacement tyre there.

Railway tracks. Soviet Gauge 5' or 1520mm
Railway tracks. Soviet Gauge 5′ or 1520mm
Triumphal Arch arrival for Dale
Triumphal Arch arrival for Dale

With a bit of luck we were soon at another truck stop 10 miles from the town. Keiths app was correct, the sun was out and the wind had died down so we made good progress. We had the normal coffee, soft drinks and photographs with the locals before we headed to Kulsary.

The local market
The local market
Keith buying tyres and inner tubes at the local market
Keith buying tyres and inner tubes at the local market

As we entered the town it was the normal chaos: cars and buses everywhere. Linney was leading the way and then he stopped and said he’d just spotted some cycle tyres in a market over the road about 50m away. I could just about see the entrance to the market stalls, never mind the tyres. Sure enough there were a couple of stores selling tyres and such. I looked after the bikes while Linney and Keith investigated further. They came back with two tyres, quality unknown but 100% better that what we currently have, another great result.

Dinner in style. I think that's tea in the long tube.
Dinner in style. I think that’s tea in the long tube.

With still no hotel booked we carried on into the town chatting with the locals via their open car windows – all good fun – then found the hotel. Within 20 minutes we were all sorted. With a plan to find a place to eat, and sort the tyres out in the morning. After a quick shower we set of for the restaurant, for some well-earned food.

All in all a pretty frustrating day in the saddle, but all’s well that ends well.

Day 42: Thursday July 25th: Fellow Cyclist

20190725_ridewithgpsmap

Fly-though Map for Day 42.

Breakfast at the hotel was not until 08.00, so it was up at the normal time, then sort the bikes out and replace Linney’s tyre. With that done and all the bags loaded we went for breakfast: cottage cheese, fried eggs, yoghurt, bread and char tea.

Ready for departure
Ready for departure

We were on our bikes rolling just after 9. This was not a problem as we only had 60 odd miles to do today (easy!). We stopped just of town to stock up on water and the normal photo shoot. We soon made it out of town on a long road with a little head wind.

Once again we get pulled over by some security guys who want the customary photos and a telephone conversation with their friend who spoke English. Off we went again, with both the temperature and wind rising. Next the familiar shout went up Linneys rear tyre had disintergrated – it only lasted 12 miles. Obviously it was made in the same place and same quality as the cleats Dave Austen once brought on a previous tour.

We swapped the rear tyre for his spare, thinking and hoping this one is better. Off we went again at a slow pace into the ever increasing headwind. We were following a railway line and after 2 1/2 hours riding we had only covered 24 miles.

Keith and Dale meet a fellow cycle-tourist from Belarus
Keith and Dale meet a fellow cycle-tourist from Belarus
LInford and Dale meet a fellow cycle-tourist from Belarus
LInford and Dale meet a fellow cycle-tourist from Belarus

Linney spotted a railway halt and tried to knock on the door to get more water to no answer, so we had 10 minutes in the shade. We then heard a train come, we all had the same thought let’s jump on it, unfortunately it was going the wrong way! Though the guy did come out with his flags, shooed the camels of the track and then waved the train through.

We asked if he had any water and he just pointed over the track and gave us a bucket with a rope on. We found the well and lifted the cover and lowered the bucket. The water was cold and looked OK but we ran it through our water purifier and drank it no problem. After filling all our water bottles up we set off again. The temperature was rising now,  and this coupled with the head wind made for extremely difficult cycling.

The temperature soars to 42 degrees
The temperature soars to 42 degrees

We limped along to the next truck stop. Had lunch and I had a power nap: Linney obviously captured it on his phone. When we came out the heat was unbelievable – 40 plus degrees so we decided to lay in the shade for a while. About 45 mins later we set off with the knowledge that we had around 30 miles to go. On we went pushing against the head wind in soaring temperatures. We thought there might be a truck stop in 12 miles and this took us over an hour and half.

Oil Country
Oil Country

Here we filled up on soft drinks and snacks and rested up with the final 18miles left to go. We also stocked up to camp if required. It was still tough going but we pulled through. A car stopped and offered Keith and I water, which we thankfully received and he ended up giving us the 5 Litre bottle.

As we pulled into the stop pictures of kebabs, chicken and pizza were on the wall. Linney said I don’t think this is the stop but Keith and I just looked and said ‘we are eating’. The only other people in the place are a load of mums, grandparents and children having some sort of party with really loud music. I was too knackered to join in.

After we finished eating we cycled down the road about a mile and came to the hostel that Linney had pin-dropped earlier. They had a room, so it was literally a cup of tea (no beer), shower and bed.

We had arranged for an early breakfast at 5 in the morning in an attempt to beat the heat.

Day 43: Friday July 26th: Plains and Trains

20190726_ridewithgpsmap
Route Day 42 – July 26th

Keith set his alarm for 04:45 and it was a bit of a shock to the system when it went off, but we all knew it would be a lot cooler riding in the morning. When we went around to the eating area you could tell we were all thinking the same thing: that wind seems worse than yesterday.

After breakfast we packed up all the gear and set off and sure enough the wind was worse and we were struggling to ride above 6 mph. We just toiled along using every bit of energy we had. Linney and I stopped and waited for Kieth and he explained that his crank was making a horrible noise. He stopped and tightened it up but the noise was still there.

Great Gerbil (Rhombomys opimus), possibly
Great Gerbil (Rhombomys opimus), possibly

We finally made it to our first stop at 36 miles and had lunch and took on loads of fluids. When we were ready to we realised that Keith’s crank needed to be stripped down and cleaned out. We tried to carry on but to no avail. Linney checked the mapand it looked like there was a train station further on, so we limped to the station and found out there was a train to Beyneu in 3 1/2 hours time.

Dale and Slide Away Bear waiting for a train at Korkol Railway Station
Dale and Slide Away Bear waiting for a train at Korkol Railway Station
Linford at Korkol Railway Station
Linford at Korkol Railway Station
The Slide Away Bear at  Korkol Railway Station
The Slide Away Bear at Korkol Railway Station
Loading the train at Korkol Railway Station
Loading the train at Korkol Railway Station

We all sat down and took stock and finally decided to take the train for the last 20 miles and use the time to service the bikes etc. Obviously getting three fully laden bikes onto an already over crowed train was a bit of a nightmare but we managed it. Tt was the same at Beyneu station – but all part of the journey.

We eventually got out of the station and found an hotel in the city chao. We settled down with a beer and this always seems to make thing right.

Day 44: Saturday July 27th:

[No word from the team for a couple of days. Assuming wifi issues. Ed] [we heard from them on the Monday: so I’ve updated below: Ed]

20190727_ridewithgpsmap
Route Day 44 – July 27th

Fly-through Map of Day 44.

We met up with some interesting guys last night they were from Portugal driving a beat up Renault from China back to Portugal. The car broke down 3 yrs ago and they had only just picked it up! Then we also met some Italian guys on motorbikes riding the Silk Road: they were in the same restaurant as us. Hence we are not the only crazy souls, just a little bit madder than them for doing it on a bicycle.

We had a border crossing today so we were all in out clean kit. Breakfast was at 08:00 so we had a bit of a lie in. It was a bit convoluted getting out of the town: we went all  out of the town the wrong way then over the railway line and then back the way we came!

Our a road was still being laid so the first ten miles was like swimming through treacle. when we came to the finished section it was music to our ears. The forty miles flew past at speeds we had not achieved for a good four days. We had a little stop just before the border to stock up on supplies.

We got through the Kazakhstan side with ease though coming out of a country is always easier. Then it was on to the Uzbekistan side. To be perfectly honest we sailed through there too. We also met two USA travellers on motorbikes, one of them got stopped for some reason.

We had a little bowl of soup and a beer in the border cafe, though we were pestered by the guys wanting to change currency. We changed what we had of Kazakhstan money about a tenner: bit of a mistake as we should have changed more. We were soon on our way on a quite good road and with only 14 miles to go so we were there in less than an hour.

The town was nothing more than a village with a garrison and custom centre. We had a cup of tea just before the village and had to be careful with our cash. We rode into the village and out of the desert came this guy on a beat up old bike with a flat tyre. He wanted it pumped up. I could see Keith wanting to say get lost, but we needed the karma so we duly obliged.

There was a bank but it was closed. We tried the little shop but they did not take a card. We then met up with an Army guy and some Customs guys who arranged for us to exchange Euros to Uzbek things [Uzbekistan Som: Ed]. We celebrated with an ice cream from the shop and decided to ride on a little bit more and camp.

Just before we rejoined the main road we stocked up on water and bought 2 beers each for the night. I had the bright idea to drink the beers in the shade while they were cold, rather than carrying them and having warm beers. If I say so myself: one of my better ideas. After we drunk the beers in the shade of a bus shelter we rode on another 12 miles until Linney decided on the camp site. On his head be it!

Overland To India

See how Ben and Jess are getting on as they take a more southern route across Asia to India.

Actually we’ve had no update from them this week. It’s possible they stayed the whole week in Istanbul.

But here’s an excerpt from a previous blog.

20190727_JessBen

Into Kazakhstan

Dale, Linford and Keith arrive in Kazakhstan
Dale, Linford and Keith arrive in Kazakhstan

How Far Have They Got?

Map of progress so far.

Charity Update

Many thanks to those that have donated.

 

20190720_CharityDonations

Week 5 Summary: Towards the Deserts

This map shows this weeks ride.

This week: 645miles, 8,161ft and 51:45 hours riding

20190720_BRJ_Odometer
Percentage of the 8200 miles completed

Accumulated totals: 3284miles, 76,689ft and 239:36 hours riding

Day 31: Sunday July 14th: East is East

20190714_relivemap
Route Day 31 – July 14th

Fly-through video and Map of Day 31.

After a really nice meal in the Tokyo restaurant in town we all felt pretty good that we had sorted out our route: Option 2 carry on east to Oral [Uralsk: Ed], then drop down to Tashkent to pick up our original route (very close anyway) [this was Option 3: Option 2 was riding down the Ural river valley: Ed].

We had breakfast in out room from stuff purchased from the local supermarket: yoghurt, muesli, fruit and coffee – pretty good and all ready to roll at 7am. But Linney had a flat rear tyre. We had no inner-tubes left (Linney rides 26 inch wheels), so Keith and & I patched one each: all done in less the 15 min and we hit the road.

We only had a vague idea of where we where staying tonight: either a truck stop thing at around 85 miles or push on through and investigate a possible place at 110 mile, or we could camp. We are prepared for the camping as I am even carry a tin of sweet corn!

The roads are still very good. I have been very impressed with the Russian roads and more importantly how clean and tidy they are kept. The road we are on today (A38) had very few towns, villages or even petrol stations, though we managed to find a little shop open at around 40 mile mark and had a coffee. Linney and Keith had some sort of pie, both said it was nice. I was still ok from our breakfast.

Linney checked the map and said we had another place in 24 miles or so. We carried on in light traffic and on really good roads. Though the weather started to break up we were just in front of the rain until just before our designated stop, when it started to rain egg cups full. Somehow missing us: very strange.

We pulled into the petrol station and had a coffee, soft drink and cheese & ham toastie. I am still pursuing with the vegetarian diet as much as I can, so Keith & Linny share the extra ham. We set of again with about 20 miles to the first possible stay at 85 miles. The weather had improved and the road, though never ending, rolled in our favour and before we knew it Linney shouted out that there is the road-side café. The hostel should be around 2 miles away: and it was.

We pulled in feeling a bit apprehensive about the place, however it all seem clean so we had a coffee and beer in the adjoining café, while they sorted out the dormitory. The guy was really helpful and thanks to google translate gave us the downstairs dormitory with room to store our bikes: excellent result.

Linny volunteered to cook our supper, although I had to go out in the pouring rain (good job we where not camping) to get the water & beers. He made a great job of the starter, not sure if we are going to get the main and pudding though!

We have no WIFI so we will have to talk to each other tonight, with no updates to friends and family. [this was the first night that we’d had no contact – felt a bit strange – assumed they were camping: Ed]

Day 32: Monday July 15th: To the Volga

20190715_relivemap
Route Day 32 – July 15th

Fly-through video and Map of Day 32.

As we were staying in a truckers hostel on the ground floor it was fairly likely that we would get disturbed in the night, sure enough, so Linney and Keith say, a guy did come and made a bit of noise. I slept through it all. Also we had a bit of confusion on what time zone we where in, the phones had jumped forward an hour during yesterdays ride, but the garmins stayed as they were. We finally sorted it out, the clocks had gone forward.

A bit of bad planning or lack of planning meant we only had dried cereal for breakfast, hence we set of quite early around 7am, with nothing on the route until the 30ish mile mark. We headed for that and it turned out to be some sort of bus terminus. Anyway we had a coffee and bite to eat.

 

Keith takes a roadside break
Keith takes a roadside break

We then carried on to Stavotol along the same road that was getting a bit bumpy in places: very little along the way. We stopped again at a little petrol station for water and refreshments and then pushed on until we came to a restaurant. We went in ordered the food and then realised we did not have much cash: however we managed to get together just enough to cover the bill.

I also had a slow puncture on my front wheel, so I just put some air in it and off we went. I had to stop around 8 mile from Stavotol to put a bit more air in my tyre for the final push to the hotel. We’d booked it in one of the petrol stations. I also found out we had won the cricket world cup by the most slender of margins – but still a great result.

When we got to the hotel, Keith and Linney booked us as I changed and then repaired my front inner ready for the morning.

 

We then showered and were ready to eat and plan the next day.

Day 33: Tuesday July 16th: Heading East

Once again Linney came up trumps with the restaurant choice, though the waitress must wonder what has hit them when we come in, ordering things all over the place and having no idea in which order the food will come out. One thing for sure though everything is eaten!

We went to the supermarket before making our way back to the hotel, but only got some pasta and fruit. We therefore decided to wait until the morning to get what we needed for camping.

Around 6am in the morning there was a little knock on our door. Obviously Keith & I are up like a shot as breakfast is ready directly outside our room: porridge the food for cyclists, a fried egg and a plastic frankfurter, followed by pancakes and condensed milk. All quite nice.

Off we set around 7am with no particular end. We have planned a double days riding 180 ish miles, with possible stops at 85 miles (doubtful), 106 mile (even less doubtful) , then 112 mile as a possible or camp!

Linford crossing the mighty Volga river in Saratov, Russia
Linford crossing the mighty Volga river in Saratov, Russia
Steam Train, Russia
П 1578 Soviet Locomotive, Saratov, Russia

Linney navigated through the city of Saratov with ease, though it still took as an hour to get out of the city limits, after crossing the huge Volga river. Then we turned into a head wind. It was brutal with no respite, just head down and pedal which we are all pretty good at. I noticed my front tyre was going down again, but pushed through to the next stop. I took the tyre off again – it was a new inner tube, and Keith & I once again checked the tyre but could not find anything.

A lonely road in Russia
A lonely road in Russia

After we set off again within 20 mins the tyre was going down again. On these rough roads you cannot ride like that, so I swapped the tyre for the spare and away we went again. It was still a fierce head wind. All we had to do was carry on pedalling: nothing can go wrong.

Linney was at the front by about a mile (perfaps further) he does not get to much involved in the mechanical issues, he is more for the map reading and restaurant and hotel finding jobs. He waited for us at the next petrol station with the good news that there is another petrol station in 24 miles, then nothing for 28 miles until a small café and then a possible hotel in another 6 miles.

That’s what it is then, so we pushed on into the head wind with clouds building up behind us. On we went, then we turned a bit more eastly, thankfully the head wind turned with us, what a result! Then the road got really bumpy for the next 20 odd miles, making us wonder what was worse – we are all not sure!

We stopped at the petrol station, filled up the water bottles and carried on to the next place on our map a very little “café”. All it takes is will-power. On we went through some of the worst roads we have met. Before we knew it you could see a few little houses and farms in the foreground but still it was 2 hours riding to get there!

Dale and Linford
Dale and Linford

Linney led us into a little shack, the lady came out to greet us told us where to park our bikes and seemed really welcoming. I was last in and Keith had already ordered a coffee, and asked me if I wanted one, I looked at him with a smile and said I am having a beer!

Normally we have not had a single beer when we have been riding: my excuse was we either have 6 mile to go or we are camping-  good enough for me! They had fresh bread baked in an outside oven and some great rustic food. We later found out they were originally from Uzbekistan. The hospitably was excellent as was the food: rice with vegetables. Noodle soup and kebab, with fresh baked bread.

They told us there will be an hotel down the road in 10 km, with a friendly farewell we set off for the last 6 mile. Rolled into the hotel and the girl on the desk could tell from my eyes that I need a room, she duly obliged.

It had been a really tough day up there with the Pyrenees, the rocket launcher and Dumbledore forest rides to name a few from our past rides.

Day 34: Wednesday July 17th: To Another Border

20190717_relivemap
Route of Day 34 – July 17th

Fly-through and map of Day 34.

Hotel for the night, Russia
Hotel for the night, Russia

After yesterdays epic ride, we had a little lie in as breakfast was not until 07:30. We used the time to do a little bike maintenance. Breakfast was the standard Russian fare fried eggs , plastic frankfurter, tomatoes and bread.

Linford on the road
Linford on the road

We set off around 8am, a little bit apprehensive, not knowing what the roads and wind would be like. As it soon transpired: not very good with a massive head wind and really bumpy torn up roads. We carried on like this for 30 odd miles at a really slow pace.

Alternative travel on the road to Kazakhstan, Russia
Alternative travel on the road to Kazakhstan, Russia
A friendly herdsman and dog
A friendly herdsman and dog

We had a drink and left – we all knew we just had to grind this ride out. Just before we were due to stop we met this cowboy guy herding his cattle, he seemed very contented. Keith took a photograph. We then stopped again at a rustic transport café where Linney and I had some cold soup with bread – it was ok – Keith had a meat soup.

A strange monument, Russia
A strange monument, Russia

We worked out that we had another stop in 18 miles, then another with 28 miles to go. Another thing we were running out of Russian rubles although we all had cards etc. We stopped at a little village with the most moody shop keepers in the world and even told me off for putting my plastic bottle into her waste bin. We could only afford two bottles of water and dry biscuits. Living the high life again.

With 28 miles to go we all got going, the first 10 miles was not to bad, the wind had dropped a little and the road was bearable. Then it all went a little pear shaped, they were rebuilding the road, we just had to ride along beside the tippers, dumpers and transport lorries, it was pretty hectic stuff. This went on for around 12 miles of difficult riding to say the least.

Linford gets a ride to the shops
Linford gets a ride to the shops

When the road works finished we were just glad to get back on to the bumpy road for the final 6 miles, with no hotel booked the plan was to ride into the own, get to a café/ bar use their WIFI and find a place to stay. The first part was OK, found a shop had a beer and ice cream – but no WIFI. We rode on a little and then met some kids and asked them if they knew where a hotel was (we use google translate). The next thing we knew we were in their house! It was a bed and breakfast place, the kids took Linney to the nearest ATM and we all got sorted.

Showered and ready to find an eating place.

Day 35: Thursday July 18th: Into Kazakhstan

All the best and Happy Birthday to our sister Joanne and good luck with all the wedding shenanigans in Italy coming up. Have a great day and a fabulous holiday.

20190718_relivemap
Route of Day 35 – Jul 18th

Fly-through and Map of Day 35.

We nearly had a disco experience at last nights restaurant! We were the only other people in the restaurant with two Russian ladies who wanted a dance. Obviously I was up for it but the other two only wanted an ice cream – so I went for an ice cream too and the opportunity passed.

All set for the border crossing to Kazakhstan
All set for the border crossing to Kazakhstan

With the supermarket shop still open we added some pot noddle stuff to our camping store as we were all still not sure what we had to eat.

We had breakfast in the room: fruit, muesli, fruit and coffee – all good. Then we all had the normal ablutions in the eastern fashion which is hard on the legs – Keith then pointed out that the next door lavatory was in the European style!

We were on the road around 07:30 with a view to going to the local supermarket to pick up some water but it did not open till 08:00 so we moved on to the local garage.

Then we started the ride to the border on rough un-made roads. With 80 miles and a border crossing this could be a long day. We were soon passed by the guys who stayed at the same place as us – they waved and tooted us ‘good luck’.

Dale and LInford find the 4 hour border crossing tedious
Dale and LInford find the 4 hour border crossing tedious

Before we knew it we were at the Russian border. All went well and we then passed on to the Kazakhstan border control with a mile ride between. We queued up behind about 20 cars and then a nice girl came up and said in perfect English ‘have you got a problem?’. Keith said ‘are we in the right queue?’, she said ‘go to the front’, so we did and they let us through. On we went through an open gate when the shout went up ‘stop!’ Linney and I turned around and the guard just said ‘wait here’.

So we had to wait there. We showed are passports to the guy, and then waited and waited for around 3 hours. The border control guys were all quite nice and had a chat and a laugh with us. One even had a go on Linney`s bike, it was just so slow. Then they waved us through, and after another little wait we went through the passport control procedure. All done in around 3 ½ hours – not too bad.

We had a little snack and then set off on clear flat rolling roads. The best we had seen since Germany which seems long ago. The quality of the road and the tail wind made our minds up to head for Oral [Oral (Kazakh: Орал, romanized: Oral), Ural’sk (Russian: Уральск) in Russian, formerly known as Yaitsk (Russian: Яицк, until 1775): Ed].

Grass Snake (Natrix natrix) in Kazakhstan
Grass Snake (Natrix natrix) in Kazakhstan

After another 60 ish miles, with a decent speed and a few little breaks we were soon on the outskirts of the city. With Linney in full map reading mode we made our way to a hotel. The guy was really helpful, but they had no rooms. He made a few calls, but the hotel was too far away. The next plan was to find a bar with WIFI, have a beer and find a place to stay, the plan worked and the beer was excellent (a bit like the end of the film “Ice cold in Alex”.

Linney booked an apartment and we spent the extra £1, we tried to phone the guy but got into some language issues, but thought we had to meet him in 10 mins at the apartment just around the block. Keith went to the ATM as this place will break the bank!

Linford chose his own room for his last night in Russia
Linford chose his own room for his last night in Russia (or was it the first night in Kazakhstan?)

As Linney and I were waiting this guy came out of a bar and with a smile introduced himself as an English language teacher – result – we got him to talk to the apartment owner and it was all sorted in 10 mins. We arranged to meet the guy in the bar after we had all showered and cleaned up. It took Keith & I about 5 mins but Linney, naturally, a bit longer. The teacher guy (Kanat) was really keen to chat with us and then invited us to his school the next day. We arranged to meet him at 10:30 the next day, all quite convenient as we had arranged to check out of the apartment at 10:00. The guy then walked with us past his School (Number 7) on to a fancy restaurant, we really are living the high life today. We all had a great meal washed down with a few beers, then went back to our apartment.

Dale, Linford and Keith arrive in Kazakhstan
Dale, Linford and Keith arrive in Kazakhstan

The last few days in Russia have been really tough. Long days on shitty tracks, with no sign of improvement. But we made it into Kazakhstan after a 4 hour wait at the border and what a difference it has been already. Lovely smooth roads, and the people have been so friendly, beeping their horns, waving and stopping us for photos. Even pulling over in their cars/lorries for a selfie with us. I can only hope it continues. Looking forward to a more relaxing morning tomorrow and then possibly our first night under the stars as we go go further into the wilderness. [Linford]

Day 36: Friday July 19th: South with the Oral River

20190719_relivemap
Route of Day 36 – July 19th

Fly through and Map of Day 36.

We all thought we had a little lie in this morning, though we were still confused with the time zone! Anyway Keith and Linney went out to the supermarket and bike shop to get some breakfast things and get more inner tubes at 26″. I stayed behind and repaired my two inner tubes. They were back in 20 mins as it was still too early for the bike shop, but they had the breakfast stuff. After breakfast they tried the bike shop again to no avail.

We checked out of the apartment with no problems and then made are way to Oral school number 7 to meet Kanat and his pupils. As we arrived at the school gates and walked in we where all a bit nervous – not sure what to expect. Linney phoned Kanat and he duly came out with a big smile on his face and walked us into the school and the classroom.

Our first surprise was that they were all adults! It transpired they were trainee English Teachers. We sat down in front of the class and introduced ourselves, me first, then Linney and Keith. At first is was all a bit weird with the two lecturers asking most of the questions and me with my speech impediment getting all the countries mixed up! Then it all opened up with questions flying everywhere. We were like celebrities and then the selfies started. Obviously Keith & I were not in the same demand as Linney. He was signing autographs like a really big cheese. We finished off with a couple of group shots and even the class next door got involved.

We finally got on our bikes around 11:30, with a rough plan of doing around 80 miles then trying our luck at a truckers hostel or camping. We soon hit the road out of the city and started to roll. At around 20 mile mark Linney got a bit scared that I may sail past a truckers café so he pulled out all the stops and made sure we stopped. The locals were again very hospitable and we had a salad, soup and coffee before setting off again. We were making really good time.

Even a Police vehicle waved at us and Linney gave the driver a ‘high five’ as we rode past. Also all the fruit sellers and drivers were honking their horns and waving at us. I must admit it does spur us on. Before we knew it we were closing in on the truckers hostel.

Well when we got there it was the polar opposite of last nights apartment: four in a room on bunk beds and we had a guest in our room. Then had to pay extra for a shower! This is not what us celebrities are used to.

We had a few beers in the café and then showered as best we could. The water smelt like it came from the ditch outside. Anyway the guests all seemed very friendly and we sat and had a chat and a beer with them before we made our way to the other café.

After a slow start the owner started to open up and said she had a friend who worked in London. Before we knew it we had a video conference with her via WhatsApp and then a photograph with the owner to send to her friend. We are still living the big ‘I am’ life style.

Then it was off to our prison bunks. I felt sorry for the guy sharing with Keith and I: well he should have spent the extra £1.

Day 37: Saturday July 20th: From Europe to Asia

20190720_relivemap
Route of Day 37 – July 20th

Fly through and Map of Day 37.

We all got up really early, Linney’s alarm went off at 05:30 – he must have really wanted to get going, but I think he did not have a clue on the time-zone. Anyway up we got, breakfast in the café (not the good café, it wasn’t open): custard roll two meat and potato fritters for Keith & Linney and a couple of mugs of coffee.

We set off at around 07:15 and it was getting hot already. The plan, stan, was just to ride until we couldn’t ride anymore. We had suppliers for camping and just needed to make sure we had enough water. Linney had looked at the route: stops were few and far between but we had potential places at 45 miles, 90 miles then a town on the river at 126 miles – which seemed too much!

Off we set keeping a steady pace and with the Steppe marmots in abundance, jumping around the side of the road and keeping us occupied. Before we knew it we were at the first stop where we had a coffee and soft drink. We then moved next door as it seemed better. Keith was a bit late as he got involved with some locals with selfies.

Keith commandeered a table and ordered for me as I was trying to sort out a solar panel charger. My spare tyre is getting in the way and I need to rearrange it. Anyway, I come in to three fried eggs & bread: it seems pretty standard fare in these parts. They they have meat pasta and it’s all very friendly with a few photographs

Linney gave us the good news – the next stop in 46 miles, so off we set, the road was still pretty good but not as smooth as yesterday although we were still getting the horns blowing and people waving at us, which really boosts our morale. As the stops are few and far between we have started to carry extra water and break the sections up with a little rest every now and again.

As we had one of these little breaks, we noticed a Police car go past. About 10 miles down the road they pulled us over: for speeding? They just wanted to know want we were up to and we had a little chat and a few photographs. We were soon back on are way.

We hit the 90 mile mark in good time, stopped for some drinks and then pushed on to Inderbor town with the bridge across the Oral (Ural) river – the bridge that crosses from Europe to Asia.

We all felt smashed especially as Keith had had a mad hour coming from the last stop, pushing hard at high speeds. I for one was glad when he pulled up and said ‘carry on I need to tighten my front pannier’. The speed came down to a more reasonable pace.

With 10 miles to we all started to feel the strain and then we had a head wind for a couple of miles it was like riding in treacle! But as you do we pushed through and sailed into Inderbor and Asia.

We found the only hotel in town and settled in for the night after a few beers and food.

Worryingly though the beers are becoming a little bit more difficult to source.

Overland To India

See how Ben and Jess are getting on as they take a more southern route across Asia to India.

They are currently crossing from Europe to Asia as they arrive in Istanbul, Turkey.

You can follow them here: https://jezzlejournal.tumblr.com/ and here is a taster …

20190720_JessBen
Ben and Jess arrive in Istanbul

Into Russia

Charity Update

Many thanks to those that have donated.

 

20190713_CharityDonations

Week 4 Summary: To Russia With Love

This map shows this weeks ride and the route options for continuation.

This week: 529 miles, 15,148ft and 39:58 hours riding

20190713_BRJ_Odometer
Percentage of the 8200 miles completed

Accumulated totals: 2639 miles, 68,528ft and 192.07 hours riding

Day 24: Sunday July 7th: Heading North

20190707b_relivemap
Route Day 24 afternoon – July 7th

20190707a_relivemap

Video, Map & Photos from Day 24: here and here.

Breakfast in the hotel room this morning, as Linney and Bingo went on a shopping spree last night: bananas, fruit bread, coffee and juice. All pretty good. We nare all in a pretty upbeat mood considering yesterdays adventures.

Dale and his bee stung eye
Dale and his bee stung eye

My eye has completely swollen up, and I’ve taken the first pills of the tour for me so far, anti-histamines. We are all ready to go until Linney decided to put some air in his rear wheel and loses the swivel seal pin: so we replace the inner tube no problem. Still left before 8am.

Once we got out of town the roads where surprisingly good for the first 20 or so miles. Then we hit some pretty rough roads, which we where expecting. We pushed on through to a little shop for our first ice cream of the day. We then carried on as the road improved for a 10 mile section. It makes all the difference to our moral and speed, though the surface soon returned to normal.

We stopped at Krematorsk for a picnic lunch, then picked up the original route. Linney is very good at re-routing on the go. The last 40 miles were big rolling hills into a little head wind: all good training. We then went through another check point Linney thinking we were we still in the the war zone, but the police controlled this one, so hopefully not.

The wheat fields of the Ukraine steppe
The wheat fields of the Ukraine steppe

Then we stopped at a little shop with the normal characters who loved our adventure and seemed really interested in our ride: we were chatting using google translate. Once again the final 15 miles was very hilly with big long drags. The touring bikes seem to cope with these with remarkable ease.

As we arrived at the hotel with a grain lorry overturned on the steep hill into town. As usual we were welcomed by a shouting hotel owner. Getting very used to this.

Day 25: Monday July 8th: Up to Kharkiv

20190708_relivemap
Route Day 25 – July 8th

Video and Map of Day 25.

Getting used to all three in the same room now. Unfortunately my eye had got worse overnightand  the swelling is all over the left side of my face. We located a local pharmacy that was around 400m away and opened at 7am so off we all went.

A very stern chemist admired my John Merrick face [Joseph Carey Merrick, usually and erroneously called John was the ‘Elephant Man’] and gave me a little package and said a lot in Ukrainian. It was a syringe and vial? Keith asked her if she would inject it. ‘No’ came the stern reply, then Keith asked her where should it go. ‘Bottom’ she said even sterner.

 

Back we went to the digs, Linney and Keith in front me behind thinking how is this going to work. We watched a Youtube video. Obviously “nothing can go wrong“. It’s all about getting it in the right quadrant. With Linney on camera, Keith on syringe and me with my pants down, in it went.

We then got on with breakfast and were on the bikes just after 8am. We rode through the town then onto a decent road with me thinking and hoping that the injection works!

After around 30 miles we stop at a little petrol station for coffees and snacks. I felt that the pain and swelling was easing although I did not get any good vibes from the other two: just weird looks and quips.

On we pressed until we came to a truck stop for lunch: Linney and I had the soup (full of meat) – my vegetarian diet is struggling. Keith went for the hamburger probably the best option.

Hotel in Ukraine
Hotel in Ukraine

At 18 miles form our destination on we pushed as the rain was getting heavier. As we entered the city the roads deteriorated again and we had to ride the last 5 miles in flood waters covering the pot holes. Good fun and we made it.

Also my eye is getting better: a little better anyway.

Day 26: Tuesday July 9th: Across the Border

20190709_relivemap
Route Day 26 – July 9th

https://ridewithgps.com/trips/37011807

Video and Map of Day 26.

Here we go again: another attempt to cross into Russia.

We are all up fairly early with breakfast in the apartment: dark bread, cheese spread, salami slices and coffee. We have about a 30 mile ride to the border, so the plan was to get there as soon as we could. The first 10 miles where through the city, though Linney did guide us well. The roads were good going towards the border, though it was very busy. The traffic got lighter the closer we got to the border, which was a bit concerning.

Within 400m of the border you could see a couple of cars queuing, so we joined them at first but then took the pedestrian route. We passed the first guard with no problem, and got through the Ukrain side in about 10 mins. Then it was onto the Russian side. We kept the same strategy by going in with the pedestrians, got to the first guard, he told us to stop, then came over to us, checked our passports and gave us a immigration form and made a little joke about needing money to cross! We filled in the form and joined the queue, which had only around half a dozen people, nothing like the other day, it all seemed a bit relaxed.

Keith went through first and handed in his passport and documen. The border guard asked in perfect English could he speak Russian, Keith answered ‘English only’, she never said another word, made a phone call and then let him pass. It only took 5 minutes.

Linney & I followed with no problem, just a quick look in some of the panniers and we where in. Retrospectively we all thought we should have routed this way in the first place, however trying to reduce the mileage made us choose the other route: lesson learnt.

On the road in Russia
On the road in Russia

We had a bit of a lunch break in the border cafe, andthen pushed on to Belgorod about 24 miles away. The roads where good, even through the road works, and we soon hit the city limits and cruised in, with Linney leading the way. We found the location of the apartment, had a coffee and cake, while waiting for the owner to turn up with the keys.

Keith and Linford. First day in Russia
Keith and Linford. First day in Russia

Our first impression of Russia is really good, and a few people stopped us to ask where we are from and what are we up to.

All in all a good day.

Day 27: Wednesday July 10th: Heading NE

20190710_relivemap
Route Day 27 – July 10th

Fly through video and map.

We really do need to research these digs better: bikes up and down threes flights of stairs again! We still had a good breakfast in the room: rye bread, cheese , ham, fruit and coffee, living the high life. On the road just before 08:00, through the city then on to the open road. The roads where very good with a nice wide cycle lane, and as we had had a reasonably good breakfast we pushed on for a few hours, before Linny said shall we have a coffee.

We went past the best place, ended up stopping at a petrol station for an ice cream and soft drink. The weather had clouded over making it very comfortable to cycle in. We were soon up in the 60 mile mark, and we stopped again for chocolate, not warm enough for ice cream. The weather was cool and the landscape turned very industrial rather than the farmland we had before.

 

We rode through a town with numerous chimneys, open cast mine workings and pit head gear. As we got nearer our destination the weather changed. It was the first time I had had wet weather gear on since the first day of the Krakow section. It really belted it down for about 10 minutes.

Linford and Dale doing bike maintenance
Linford and Dale doing bike maintenance

We arrived at the destination town – Stary Oskol, only to find we had booked into the the second worst hotel in living memory: the Lemon Hotel in Belgium still rates as the worst.

Day 28: Thursday July 11th: Crossing the Quiet Don

20190711_relivemap
Route Day 28 – July 11th

Fly through video and map.

Breakfast in the hammer house of horror hotel. No hot water in Linney’s room. Keith & I had hot water in the grumpy old ladies room across the dingy corridor: all a bit weird. Hence on the road about 07:30.

 

Our first call was a photo-shoot under the statue for Armed forces and workers collaboration. When we set off we realised we had definitely stayed in the wrong part of town: it was bigger than we thought!

We all soon got into the stride and pushed on through quite decent roads, until about the 30 mile mark, then we hit some road works. Not too bad and nothing like as bad as the Ukrain roads, but I did lose  a retaining bolt from my front pannier. I need to source some longer 6mm bolts, but made do with a long 5mm one with washers.

'And Quietly Flows the Don'. Crossing the Don river at Volonezh
‘And Quietly Flows the Don’. Crossing the Don river at Volonezh

After that we had a quick stop at a petrol station, and then moved on. We are seeing a little bit more wild life now, though not as much as I would have thought, a few buzzards and kites, virtually nothing else. Had another little stop. Keith wanted some food, but the lady from Mrs Brown (or the Russian shot put team) said ‘no!’ So we made do with a coffee then moved on, stopped about 6 miles later and Keith got his toastie then.

Russia aircraft near Volonezh, Russia
Russia aircraft near Volonezh, Russia

We only had about 16 miles to go so we just rolled into a busy city. Linney had booked the hotel and therefore we have gone a bit up-market tonight. A very helpful lady on reception let us clean our bikes. This was just as well as Keith noticed he had two more broken spokes! Fortunately he had bought half a dozen spokes last time. He replaced the spokes, but the wheel will be ditched if the spokes keep breaking as we have been on reasonably good roads, Keith is 5 kg lighter and they should not be breaking.

WW2 Tank near Voronezh, Russia
WW2 Tank near Voronezh, Russia

Day 29: Friday July 12th: Anna, but not Karenina

20190712_relivemap
Route Day 29 – July 12th

Fly through video and map of Day 29.

We spent last night in the city of Voronezh. Our first job was to visit a couple of bike shops to find a new back wheel for Keith. The first shop were very helpful but did not have the correct wheel, however they made a phone call to another shop about 10 mins walk away who did have the correct wheel. When we arrived the wheel was waiting for us, however the guy who had the tools to swap the cassette and brake rotor over had left. But they called the guy back who duly done the business, Keith was quite happy to do the swap himself, but we did not have a cassette removal tool.

By this time we where all starving. Linney found a restaurant close by on the 4th floor of a shopping mall. Our first impressions where very good, but the service was appalling and the food mediocre at best and we where all glad to get back to the posh hotel.

At breakfast the next morningwe a great spread, to Linney’s deligth, with boiled eggs and rice pudding. After a good feed we were soon on our way. As today was a relatively short day (65 miles) we were all relaxed.

This didn’t last for long as we made a little mistake. Linney, our expert map reader, said ‘no problem go down this road it will join up’. The road was downhill like Slip Lane!, then across another road and uphill like another Slip Lane! That’s all you need to start the day. [Slip Lane is a steep road out of Alkham towards Lydden, near Dover, Kent]

We soon got onto the correct route heading out of the busy city. Once again the roads are really good. We soon hit the 30 mile marker for a little rest and some ice cream from a miserable women who did not want to open the ice cream freezer. We needed the fuel so we held our ground and eventually she relented and we had our ice cream.

We got on our way again through a tree lined road, all very nice, but still a lack of wildlife to be seen. Soon we arrived at our hotel in Anna: a very small town – it was only 13:15. We had plenty of time for cleaning the bikes and researching a new route into Kazakhstan – we are a lot further north of our original route due to our peregrinations in Ukraine.

Day 30: Saturday July 13th: Which Way To Go

20190713a_relivemap
Route Day 30 part 1 – July 13th
20190713b_relivemap
Route Day 30 Part 2 – July 13th

Fly-through and Map for Day 30 part 1.

Fly-through and Map for Day 30 Part 2.

After yesterdays relatively easy ride we had an meal in a rustic restaurant and an evening trying to sort out our route options.

Basically we have three options:

  • Option 1 follow the Vulva [he means the Volga river: Ed] means turning south east on Sunday and following the Volga river down to Volgograd and Astrakhan.
  • Option 2 carry on East to Oral [Uralsk: Ed], then down the Ural river valley to Atyrau and drop onto our original route.
  • Option 3 continue after Oral [Uralsk] into Tashkent on a road through the desert.

Currently it looks like we will be going with option 2 for the moment, mainly due to the sexual connotations of the names!

We had breakfast at the hotel: poached egg on toast with beans, very English, tasted ok though! It was really easy to get out of the town and soon we were on decent roads.

Linney had a blow out on his rear tyre around the 30 mile mark, it was new tyre he fitted yesterday, so we put the old one back in, but the inner tubes he has are too big. Need to go to a bike shop and get the right size!

Soon we were back on the road, and had a picnic lunch outside a supermarket in Listopadovka. The locals seemed to enjoy our company and two young lads sat with us for a while. After deciding to defer our ice cream we rode onto a stop about 16 miles away for our ice cream treat.

Keith seemed to up the pace as we left Listopadovka, and Linney & I thought it was an ice cream deficiency, any as we came to the designated stop Keith was nowhere to be seen. Linney and I carried on up a hill, and waiting at the top was Keith. Linney said ‘whats going on? I want my Ice Cream!’. Keith just said there was no way I was stopping just before that hill and anyway I needed a call of nature (sh** [too much information: Ed]), so that was the end of our ice cream hunt for the day. May be he is trying to wean us off them.

We carried on to our destination of Borissoglebsk. The lady at the hotel was quite pleasant and let us store the bikes in the garage. So it was a quick shower and then out for something to eat,

I find a discotheque as it is Saturday night.

Overland To India

See how Ben and Jess are getting on as they take a more southern route across Asia to India.

You can follow them here: https://jezzlejournal.tumblr.com/ and here is a taster …

20190713_OverlandIndia
Jess & John: Overland to India

A little correspondence with Ben and Jess …

20190710_JessBen20190713_JessBenRace to RWC

RaceToRWC
Ron Rutland and James Owens

Ron Rutland and James Owens are embarking on a remarkable quest: cycling 20,093 km across Europe and Asia – from London to Tokyo – and arriving just in time for Rugby World Cup 2019™. This extreme expedition will take them through 27 countries over 231 days. Details at the website. And a newspaper article.

Ukraine Part 2

whatsapp-image-2019-07-05-at-14.29.41.jpeg
Keith and Linford with the son of the workshop owner

Charity Update

Many thanks to those that have donated.

20190704_CharityDonations

Week 3 Summary: Across Ukraine

This week: 529.8 miles, 12,083ft and 41:26 hours riding

20190707_BRJ_Odometer
Percentage of the 8200 miles completed

Accumulated totals: 2105 miles, 53380ft and 152.49 hours riding

Day 17: Sunday June 30th: Nearly Forced to Camp!

20190630_relivemap
Route Day 17 – June 30th

Video, map and photos from Day 17

 

After a long hot day in the saddle we arrived at a one hotel town whose name translated as New Archangel. Naturally the hotel was full. The barmaid knew someone who ran a campsite in the forest, back across the river. It looked like the future was a hot night with mosquitoes. Or it was full until, after a few beers, Dale worked his charm and miraculously a room became available. Naturally a few more beers were required to celebrate putting off any thoughts of camping for another night.

 

Keith had been riding on a temporary spoke and it was beginning look like the pot-holed Ukraine roads had taken a toll. We’d have to look for a bike-shop of some description tomorrow. We tinkered with the bike, had dinner, a couple more beers and then bed.

Meanwhile the disco in the hotel had cranked up and serenaded us to sleep.

Day 18: Monday July 1st: Bicycle Repair Man

20190701_relivemap
Route Day 18 – July 1st

Video, map and photos from Day 18

The party was still going in the Villa Maria when we woke up. Not sure what sort of hotel it was, but it was clean and very modern. The guy from the bar came out to see us off just after 07: 15.

We were straight onto bumpy road, though the traffic was pretty light, and we pushed on for around an hour then stopped at a little shop for a bit of breakfast: loaf of bread cheese and cheese spread and an espresso coffee set us up for the day.

The road never really improved all day: it was rough, exposed road through arable farm land and it made for really hard work in temperatures around 38 degrees. Keith’s wheel was holding up, however the plan was to get to Kropyvnytskyi as soon as possible to get Keith’s wheel fixed. Stopped at the CO-OP in a very small village for the customary ice cream and soft drink. We sat under a corrugated tin shelter and Linney was scared as he thought there was something on the roof (cat)!

Off we went again into the heat and really another rough road. About 20 miles out we stopped in a garage: more for the shade than anything else then pushed on to Kropyvnytskyi. Linney had pin dropped a cycle shop, and we found that no problem, they where really helpful but could not fix the wheel, though they did make a phone call and arranged for us to go to another shop, just about a mile away.

At this shop they undertook the repair with no problem, Keith will update the info later as they where really helpful and very enthusiastic about our trip. Linney & I sourced an hotel fairly local to the shop, Keith arrived within half an hour all sorted. A really hard day in the saddle in extreme heat and rough exposed roads, something we will need to get used to.

Day 19: Tuesday July 2nd: Melting Tarmac and a Downpour

20190702_relivemap
Route Day 19 – July 2nd

Video, Map and photos from Day 19

 

We had a packed breakfast organised by the hotel, which we ate in the hotel drive way as we set off around 07:15. It was a really hot morning and very soon the road deteriorated.

 

On we pushed on exposed rough roads with no respite from the heat, just rolling through arable farm land with either wheat or sunflowers: no shade at all. The only thing on our minds was concentrating on the ever worsening road surfac. It’s only going to get worse was Keith’s thought and Linneys was to turn up his music. I just carried on with my Tourettes: powered by swearing.

We soon came to the usual truckers cafe, Linney had a salad, Keith and I went for the Borscht soup & beetroot respectively though I think they were the same. My veggie diet broken, if you count a bit of gristle as meat, but hey ho I need to eat.

Off we pressed again into the searing heat with tarmac melting (you could see our tracks in it) on to our destination, via another little stop. One of the hardest rides I have ever done, on roads that needed 100% concentration in temperatures reaching 42 degrees C.

 

And then a downpour.,

Day 20: Wednesday July 3rd: Reaching the Dneiper River

20190703_relivemap
Route Day 20 – July 3rd

Video, map and photos from Day 20

 

After last night storm we woke up to a lovely morning. A little knock on our door around 06:50 and they brought breakfast into the room, Keith had already gone looking for it, by the time he came back, Linny and I where tucking into Ukrainian porridge with butter (tasted OK mixed in with banana) white bread, cheese slices, frankfurter things and six boiled eggs, all in all pretty good.

 

Pretty difficult start to the ride in the city, but the roads seemed pretty good, will they last? We soon got out of the city on quite good road and after about 15 mile called into a petrol station. Keith was having a bit of trouble with his front panniers and had to replace the fixings. We also adjusted Linney’s saddle.

Off we went again to no particular destination either Svitlohirskev which had one possible hotel at around 65 miles or Dnipro with loads of hotels but at 94 miles.

The road soon deteriorated to the usual patch-work of repairs and pot holes, but we are all getting used to riding through them now. Pushed on to a little village with two old ladies gossiping, rather than serving us. Disaster struck! No ice creams, so we quickly moved on and left them chatting. We then stopped at a petrol station a few miles down the road: still no ice creams. We were all suffering from withdrawal symptoms.

However we were all still in good frame of mind, mainly due to the hearty breakfas.t Porridge rules! We soon ended up at Svitlohirskev in a pretty bland hotel with no lunch menu and so we made our mind up to head for Dnipro. Linney did the calcs around 30 miles to go. Keith did the ice cream search, possible place 16 miles. So off we set after a soft drink, Keith pushing the pace (ice cream deficiency kicking in) Linney and I taking it all in our stride. We were soon flagged down by Keith with a big smile and a Magnum.

Normal service resumed we had a coffee, some ice cream and nuts and crisps: still full up from breakfast. The had the last 12 miles or so to go and we where soon into the city limits with trolley buses, trams and the usual rush hour traffic. Not sure how we all stayed together but made it to the Maba hotel. We really need.do more research on the hotels: this time we had to manhandle the touring bikes down two sets of steps! But we had a nice room: all three of us in the same room, always fun.

Once again a great day riding.

Day 21: Thursday July 4th: Buses, Trams and Trolleys

20190704_relivemap
Route Day 21 – July 4th

Video, map and photos from Day 21.

A short ride is planned for today: 45 miles or so to the small town of Pavlohrad. It meant we could have a little lie in and undertake some essential bike maintenance in the afternoon.

Breakfast arrived in our rooms at 07:0:0 pancakes with cream cheese, pancakes with meat, and the usual cumber and tomatoes, also a nice pot of tea that went down well. We left the hotel around 08:30, right in the middle of the morning rush hour, pretty hectic with the trams and trolley buses all over the place. We soon crossed the famous Dneiper river on a bumpy track along the side the road.

 

Once we got out of the the city the traffic calmed down, and as we knew we only had a short distance to go, everyone just took it easy. We stopped at a truckers cafe for water and a coffee, then pushed on before we knew we were only 15 miles from our destination, another little break, then within the hour we where at the hotel in Pavlohrad. After a spot of lunch next door all of us gave the bikes the once over, and then started the planning for crossing the Russian border in a few days time.

Day 22: Friday July 5th: More Repairs

20190705_relivemap
Route Day 22 – July 5th

Video, map and photos from Day 22.

We made an early start as no breakfast at the digs, though they where very nice, set off just before 7 in the morning, with a plan to stop at a Wogs (best service stations in Ukraine) for breakfast, however Bingo soon dropped off, Linny and & I waited until we could see him, then carried on to the Wogs! for breakfast.

WhatsApp Image 2019-07-05 at 08.31.21
Keith admiring the pithead gear

Bingo informed us the the reason for his delay was another pannier problem, the welds had broke on his front off-side pannier, we looked at doing a temporary but Bingo decided on lashing his front pannier to his rear panniers.

WhatsApp Image 2019-07-05 at 16.06.05
This is that part of Ukraine

After a nice coffee, and rolls minus the chicken for me and pastries off we set again. The road did deteriorate for about 10 miles, but then we hit some nice smooth roads, though we where climbing all the way. We managed to keep a good pace, with around 6 miles from our destination Linny gave the shout out for more food, Low and behold another Wogs – he has their app. After soft drinks and the obligatory ice cream we rolled into town, at 13:30.

WhatsApp Image 2019-07-05 at 14.29.48(1)
In the workshop repairing the front pannier bracket
WhatsApp Image 2019-07-05 at 14.29.45
Repairing the front pannier bracket
WhatsApp Image 2019-07-05 at 14.29.44
Repainting after the front pannier bracket repair

Our first mission was to find the cycle shop we had located on google. Though they where very attentive to us they could not repair the pannier or supplier us with a new set, but after a few phone calls we followed a guy up a few side streets, then he shouted a few things knocked on a few doors with no success. Then a guy came out from across the street, looked at the pannier bracket nodded his head and said he could fix it.

WhatsApp Image 2019-07-05 at 14.29.41
Keith and Linford with the son of the workshop owner

What a great result he took it into his shed, and within an hour it was all sorted and even painted. He did not even want to take any money, but after a little discussion he relented and let Bingo give 200 Ukrainian things to his son, who was brilliant thoughout the repair.

Day 23: Saturday July 6th: There and Back Again

TodaysRide3
BRJ Day 23 July 6th – Blocked at the gates of Donetsk

Once again the hotel did not serve breakfast so we did what we normally do, crack on and see what we can find. Guess what we found a petrol station and had porridge, cake and coffee. We then set off proper and passed the first check point on reasonably good roads, we then came to a turning, which said bear right, Linney our map reader specialist reckoned we should carry on on the good road (Not are first mistake of the day). On we went, only for one of us to comment that the road was very quite, with mainly army vehicles going in both directions.

On we travelled, passed another check point. Then even the villages seemed deserted and bombed out. We then noticed two 4 wheel drive vehicles with the logo OSCE (Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe). They gave us the thumbs up as they passed, and around 3 miles further on we spotted a little shop open: just had to have the normal ice cream and an instant coffee! We were just minding our own business when a local drunk turned up smiling and going on about stuff: we paid little attention to him.

The OSCE vehicles returned, and a fellow came over for a chat which was appreciated by all of us. Julian the lead guy seemed really nice and very interested in what we were doing, however he then went on to say that in his opinion we should not go through the next check point, which was around 500m away. He also said they probably would not let us through anyway.

He then suggested another check point. Linney checked it out and in meant putting another 20 miles on the day. We all agreed this was the best option mainly due to Julian advice.

He then he went on to warn us about land mines: do not wander off the road (landmines), do not use roadside toilets (booby-trapped) and do not take photographs. Be very careful!

Off we set backtracking on our route for 6 miles (not the last time this will happen today). Then off on a rough road for the next check point, which also went pear shaped as I did not hear the call to turn left, so added a few more miles on. These roads were even more deserted: dozens of abandoned mines and mine towns – it all looked deserted.

On we pressed with very little on the road. Eventually we came to the check point. All the cars were stationary, so we went down the outside of them, to the front. Then a soldier told us to join the pedestrians: no proper queueing here – everyone for their own. A nice Ukrainian guy explained to the guard what we were doing, and the guard led us through to the front (so we thought), but just into another queue. We waited here for around 45 minutes, and then they let us through the first check.

A guy made us wait, and then called me outside with him to explain what we where doing in the area. I showed him our hotel booking and Russian visa, he seem quite responsive and got the other two to join us. I thought great we are through, but to no avail, the boss seemed adamant that we could not cross. It seemed to be that if the other republic (not sure of the name [Malorossiya: ed]) stamped our passports then we would not be allowed back in to the Ukraine. Me (the diplomat) wanted to say we would never be coming back here again anyway – but I  just could not say it!

After three reiterations of the same argument, the boss guy said ‘NO!’. So we had no alternative but to go back. Our first plan was to ride to the nearest town for an internet connection and food. It was only 5 miles away and we soon arrived. We got the food, but found no internet connection. The town was deserted. Bombed out factories and empty mines and houses all over the place.

We then went to the next town which was even worse. We could see the machine gun fire on the building. We did however find a cafe with wifi. It then sunk into us that we had to go back to our original start point about 35 miles away. This was a pretty difficult decision but our only option: a tough decision for tough guys.

So on we pressed back to the same town we started from this morning. We chose a different hotel. None of us could face the walk of shame through the foyer!

 

The final straw was getting stung in the eye by a bee with 20 miles to go. It has now swollen up. Naturally sympathy is in short supply and they are all taking the piss.

Overland To India

See how Ben and Jess are getting on as they take a more southern route across Asia to India.

You can follow them here: https://jezzlejournal.tumblr.com/ and here is a taster …

20190706_OverlandIndia