Leg 3 Summary: across Russia
From Day 26 (July 9th) to Day 34 (July 17th)
Leg 3 totals: 727.1 miles, 16,505ft and 59:00 hours riding
Accumulated totals: 2927.4 miles, 71,085ft and 219.36 hours riding
Day 26: Tuesday July 9th: Across the Border
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.
We had a bit of a lunch break in the border cafe, and then 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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
Day 29: Friday July 12th: Anna, but not Karenina
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
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.
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.