10 August 2009

Lake Seliger and Back, Barely

I finally decided to make my long-delayed trip to Lake Seliger, which I have heard is very beautiful and wild. It isn't that close to Moscow (some 400 km or so, depending on how you go), but its not too far either, so I decided to leave Saturday morning, spend the night at the lake, and come back on Sunday. So far so good!

I wasn't that keen on going by myself, because it would be kind of boring, but at least I could just wing it and not worry about planning anything.

The trip out of Moscow was pretty brutal, lots of traffic for a long way. Really makes it hard to get psyched to leave town. Followed the Petersburg highway for quite a ways, to past Tver, and then veered onto small smaller roads, which were much nicer. Finally got to Ostashkov, the main city near Seliger around 15:30 or so, so about 5 hours on the road. Not really much in the way of scenery, here is a shot from the town of Torzhok, just past Tver:

Once I got to the lake the challenge was to find a place to stay. This area reminded me of Northern Michigan, without all of the motels and B&Bs to stay in. There were a few signs for "tour bases", which I figured sounded like what I wanted. I rode past the first signs to see what else I could find. A little further and I saw a sign for some "palace hotel" on the lake, so I decided to check that out. The place had a big iron gate out front, but the guards were kind enough to let me park there and walk the 100 meters to the hotel to enquire about rooms. The place seemed pretty fancy, and I got some strange and not particular friendly looks from the clientele as I walked around in my moto gear. Anyway, there was a two night minimum, and I was only staying one night, so I decided to move on, although the not terribly helpful person at the front desk told me that everywhere had a two night minimum, which seemed kind of doubtful.

So I went back to one of the tourbases I saw, "Khatin Grove" or something. Had to sweettalk the administrator into taking me for one night despite their two-night minimum as long as I promised to leave first thing in the morning. It was a nice enough place with little wooden cabins and a cafeteria for dinner, and located on a small inlet to the lake:
The cafeteria dinner was nothing special--buckwheat, meat product, cabbage-stuffed pastries, and some unidentified cottage-cheese like product. Luckily I had potatoe chips, some beers, and a cigar back at the cabin...
Went to bed early, got up around 7 and headed out. The cafeteria wasn't open when I left (around 0830, so I thought I'd grab breakfast on the road), but the only cafe I found only had candy bars, frozen pizza, and Russian versions of moonpies, so no omelette this morning. I had a few moonpies and some instant coffee and kept going.
I planned to take a different road back, first because the Leningrad highway had terrible traffic, and second because it looked like there were lots of interesting small roads if I headed south from Seliger towards Rzhev, and then east towards Moscow.
After riding maybe 100 kilometers south of Ostashkov on the main highway to Rzhev, I turned off onto a gravel road which I hoped would eventually lead me to Staritsa, which looked like the "biggest small town" in the area. Nice day, nice road, here are some pics:Lots of wildflowers along the way, even in August...
Then the road got a little narrower, but paved, so all was good...

Then I came to a T-intersection in front of this little house:

The GPS told me to go left, but after a couple of hundred meters this road turned into a rough dirt road, while the GPS was telling to turn onto some road that did not exist. Not good! So I turned around and went back to the little house, where I asked a couple of locals how to get to town x. They directed me to follow the dirt road it was "10 or 20 kilometers" to the next town.

So off I went. As mentioned, the road turned into a rough dirt road, but not too bad:

But it got worse, because while everywhere else in the area was dry, this road was muddy as hell, with very deceptive mud--it didn't look that deep or slippery, but anywhere there was standing water there was 6-8 inches of very soft slippery mud underneath. Even the "dry" mud was very soft and slippery. Of course having street tires did not help much, as the grooves on the Tourances I use fill up with mud quickly and I ended up with slicks. Here's the scene: It wasn't long before the R1200 was stuck in the mud about halfway to the axle, and it would not move for anything. There was no shortage of sticks, logs, branches and wood of every type and description at hand, so I thought it would be a simple matter of sticking a few large sticks under the back tire and moving on. Boy was I wrong...nothing seemed to work--partially deflated the tires, took the luggage off, etc. Finally I had to push the bike down on its right side in the mud to get the tires all the way out of the mud, and then basically build a road of logs under the tires, and then...I couldn't get the bike back upright, it was stuck fast in the mud. This is where leverage came into play, and I was able to take a thick limb and pry the bike up out of the mud, at which point I was finally able to get it out of the mud hole after about an hour and a half of effort. Here is a self-portrait right after this dubious success:
At this point I was exhausted and rather worried about road conditions up ahead--if it got worse, I was screwed! So now I was very careful to ride around all puddles, where the worst mud was, which led to the next disaster--I was pushing the bike through a particularly bad stretch, right on the edge of the road, when I let the clutch out a little too much and the bike shot right off the side of the road into a small ditch. Not good!
The good news: the bike wasn't in the mud. The bad news: it was on its side, facing into the woods, away from the road, and was about 18 inches lower than the road. I was pretty tired now, so couldn't pick the bike up without a handy log to use as a lever, and then it came right up. Riding it forward into the woods would only make things worse, but I couldn't push it backwards up the edge of the ditch onto the road.

At this point I had to think for awhile about how to proceed. If I had another person or two, it would be fairly simple to push/drag the bike back onto the road. But there wasn't anybody coming down this road anytime soon...in fact the whole time I was on this road (3-4 hours?) not one person or vehicle came by. Or I could leave the bike and my stuff and walk to the nearest village, which my GPS showed was about 6 km away. The thought of leaving my stuff and talking the village drunk to help push my bike out did not appeal. Another option was just to set up my tent and wait for someone to come by, later that day, in the morning, whatever...that didn't appeal much either, so the only way to proceed was to get the bike out some how, some way.
Have I mentioned the swarming horseflies and mosquitoes yet? Yes, I was having fun!

Refreshed after my think-break, I was able to turn the bike around by heaving it backwards and forwards into the woods, and the partially up the hill to the road, repeat. After 20 minutes of this the bike was pointing toward the road, and I was hopeful that I would soon be on my way. Alas, it was not to be, because the bike got stuck when I tried to ride up the incline to the road. After several attempts to push it back up to the road, I decided that it was futile, and that the only way out was to dig a ramp, so that's what I did.
Luckily, that was most of the excitement...got stuck once more but surprisingly was able to simply push it out without much trouble. Then the road gradually got better--here are some "good" parts of the road where they had laid logs across it. The riding was pretty bumpy, but at least I wasn't going to get stuck!
I finally made it back to a normal dirt road, and then a gravel road, and then, at long last, a paved road. Shortly I got back on pavement I came across this little town whose name I forget, and had a passerby take a picture of me, I was pretty grungy:

Next to where I had my picture taken was this memorial to the "Great Patriotic War" (WWII), even the smallest towns have them, and every wedding party stops by to leave flowers. I have other pictures of wedding parties stopping for pictures at tanks, artillery pieces, etc. A little weird by our standards, but actually a very touching gesture to honor those lost in the war:
After this I rode a bit further to Staritsa. I'd never heard of the place before this weekend, but it was a pretty nice town, chock full of churches and old buildings. I was dying of thirst after the workout, so pulled up to a little store. As I was coming out a couple other bikers from Moscow pulled up and we chatted a bit. I spoke with 5-6 people while drinking my coke, everyone seemed interested in the bike (and why it was so dirty). Here are some pix of the town:

After leaving Staritsa the ride back to Moscow was pretty uneventful, although the fault light kept coming on for my rear brake, I figured I had gotten some mud in there somewhere during the mud bath. Got home OK and had a couple of beers!

No comments: