22 June 2008

The Volga Region

On 16 June, we left Ufa for Samara, about 550k away. I had bought a road atlas, and we picked some small roads to go there instead of the main highways that the rest of the group were on. We went south of the main highway, through Burgoruslan (or something like that) along some cool small roads through some beautiful countryside. No traffic, no cops, it was great. However, no road signs either, so we had to stop pretty often to ask for directions. I had to race ahead of this guy on his scooter, wave him down, and ask for directions. He was very helpful and could not have been more surprised or pleased to encounter American motorcyclists:
Here are more pix:
For lunch we stopped in an excellent restaurant in Burgoruslan, which seems to be some kind of resort town, although not sure what the attraction is, maybe some kind of dacha settlement for Samara? Here is our waitress:
Later, we got a bit lost pulling into Samara and bumped into one of the members of the Samara motorcycle club, who insisted that we accompany him back to their clubhouse, which was nearby:
The president of the motorcycle club and his wife wanted to show us around Samara, so we had a pretty drawn out tour, even though we were all already exhausted:
The next day we rode to Saratov (570K) via Marevka-Pugachev-Lipovka-Dukhovnitskoye-Balakovo-Saratov. This was a great day of riding. We started out with about 30k on the highway, and then broke south toward Pugachev and points beyond. In Pugachev, there was a squadron of Hind helicopters doing some kind of maneuvers in a large field, it was pretty cool (didn't take pix, didn't want to be arrested for spying...). I made the mistake of asking some guys at the gas station for directions, and they gave me a bum steer. After following their instructions, we ended up heading NW instead of SW. There were some dirt roads that would take us in the direction we wanted to go, but I couldn't find them. Asked this shepard for directions:
While looking for one of these roads, we rode into the tiny town of Lipovka, where we found another ruined church next to a schoolyard and a WWII monument. We pulled in for a little break and were soon surrounded by schoolchildren (some kind of summer school was going on):
Pretty soon more of the teachers came out and started chatting, and they invited us in for a tour of the school. It was actually a very nice facility, and the teachers were obviously proud of it. They even had a little museum of local history in one of the school rooms:
Apparently the fortunes of the town had been ebbing since WWII for a variety of reasons, but the teachers thought things were getting better. I noted that even this small town (OK, it used to be bigger) suffered dozens of casualties in WWII (noted on the monument). Really makes you realize how much Russia suffered during the war.
After the school, we continued riding NW until Dukhovnitskoye, were we hit the Volga River. We spent a few minutes looking around before heading south along the Volga towards Saratov. Here's the scene:
The next day, June 18, we rode to Volgograd (420K) via Gagarin landing site-Krasny Yar-Ferry-Volzhski-Volgograd. Well, we asked several people in Saratov if there were any interesting sites along the road to Volgograd. Everyone said "no", and in fact they denied the fact that there was a road to Volgograd on the eastern bank of the Volga, even though such a road was clearly indicated on our maps. I chalked it up to Russians wanting to stay on the more direct road on the Western bank. So we set off across the Volga and then hung a right in a generally southerly direction. We had gone about 20k when I saw a sign for "Yuri Gagarin's landing site"--while this might have been an interest stop, we had just started, it was a nice road, I didn't want to stop, so we kept on going...kind of regretted the decision a bit later, but oh, well. Was looking for something to take a picture of, could only find this cemetary...

For a little the road along the river was dirt, but later it turned into one of the best roads we'd been on--flat, straight, very new, and completely devoid of traffic. Here's the road at the beginning:
I promptly set a personal speed record of about 110 mph and marked the spot in my GPS as the "Volga Speedway".Most of the road on the east bank runs some distance from the river, and to get to the river you need to turn right onto one of the dirt roads leading to the little villages on the banks of the Volga. We decided to visit a little town called Krasny Yar, which was on the Volga about ten kilometers down a dirt road. The road was fun, even if I almost wiped out in some sand, and the town was nice--we pulled into a clearing on a cliff above the river and took some photos:
We had lunch, but had to leave in a hurry when some huge thunderclouds began approaching rapidly--we were afraid that the dirt road would be virtually impassable on our big bikes after a heavy rain, so we skedaddled as quickly as possible before the downpour. Somehow Mike Jones lost his camera during all of this and went back down the road to look for it, while we turned south again toward Volgograd.

Very light traffic, and a good road, so all was good, until the road just ended at a large inlet of the Volga with no bridge...there were a few people hanging about, and it turns out we had to wait two hours for a ferry! Oops! So we waited, but no sign of Mike Jones...tried to text him, never heard back. Finally the ferry arrived, we got on, and we headed over to the opposite shore--still no sign of Mike! Mike finally showed up late that night, with no camera, and had gotten caught in the thunderstorm which we had avoided, and had found no ferry and had to ride around the inlet, which took him a few hours...rough day!

Volgograd is a great city, fantastic monument to the battle of Volgograd, and a slightly disappointing museum for the battle (although lots of cool tanks and weapons parked out front).

We stayed right in the center of town again, near the park on the river, where there was some kind of beauty pageant going on...
We had quite a few beers in the cafe outside of our hotel.
On Friday, June 20, we left Volgograd for Rostov, on the Don River. Tom was having some kind of trouble with his bike again, I think something with the sprocket. We waited a bit while he fussed around with it.
After getting back on the road again, another great day of riding on small roads via Surovkino-Nizhni Chir-Tsimlyansk. We once again got off the main highways and cut south to a little town on a lake, I think it was called Surovkino. This was Don Cossack country, and there were signs about such and such detachment of the Don Cossacks defending the area--pretty cool! We had lunch in a little cafe where at first we (a group of 5-6 bikers) seemed to attract a fair bit of suspicion, but they soon warmed to us, with kids and young men wondering up to check out the bikes.

Anyway, after lunch we set off again, looking for a dirt road on the map, and promptly found a dirt road, although we had no idea if it was the right one, or where it led. The road got smaller and smaller and turned into a rutted track...
There were numerous forks in the dirt path, so I had to stop and ask directions quite a bit:
After about 15 kilometers, the road ended at the side of a little river, with no apparent way to cross. We sent out TJ and Radar to look for ways to cross the river. Turns out there was a village a couple of kilometers away across a field, with a road to it if we backtracked a bit.. So off we went, but somehow we all got seperated in the village and spent about half an hour trying to find each other. Here's me about where we turned around:
Anyway, nice riding, lots of wildflowers along the roads, and after leaving the village we found some more dirt roads and got some pix of riding by a Russian wheat field:
We were hamming it up a little bit for the camera and Mike found a ditch when he pulled over to take some pictures:
Bumped into this kid on an old Russian bike at a gas station:
Rostov was a nice town, but we were all kind of tired by the time we got to the hotel and just had dinner at the hotel and hit the rack.

Next day, Saturday, June 21, off to Anapa, our final city in Russia
via Timashovsk-Slavyansk na Kubani-Anapa Tom was having some kind of problems with his bike (I think it was overheating because the improper motor oil was added in Ekaterinburg, maybe a chain/sprocket problem again) so we stopped by the new BMW dealer in Rostov in the way out of town. Had to wait around for a couple of hours, kind of a pain, but that's how dealers are. They finally got Tom fixed up, and off we went. Kind of a grimy road for a while out of Rostov, and then I couldn't find the turn-off I wanted, so we went further down the main highway than I intended, here's a church we found while we were a bit lost:
Lots of bikes on the road heading to a nearby bike show, more bikes than we'd seen on the whole trip I think. This was the Kuban, and it seemed very prosperous in general, very pretty.

Anapa is a cool beach resort town, here are shots from our hotel and of the beach:

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