How Far Have They Got?
Many thanks to those that have donated.
Week 5 Summary: Towards the Deserts
This week: 645miles, 8,161ft and 51:45 hours riding
Accumulated totals: 3284miles, 76,689ft and 239:36 hours riding
Day 31: Sunday July 14th: East is East
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
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.
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!
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.
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!
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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’.
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].
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!
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.
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
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
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 …