21 June 2011

Irkutsk to Yakutsk, Part 2

I pulled into Ulan Ude in the early evening; I had been there before, so knew a good hotel (the Baikal Plaza) and followed the GPS right to there. I checked in, got unpacked, and started walking around town. Ulan Ude is actually pretty nice, with a pedestrian zone and some decent stores, restaurants, etc. Here are some shots of downtown Ulan Ude, including its main claim to fame, the "Giant Lenin Head":

Anyway, I walked around town, had dinner, and went to bed, was exhausted because I had hardly slept the previous night…

JUNE 13, 2011

It took me a while to get going in the morning, I woke up kind of late, had breakfast, and then spent more time than usual getting packed up, I was not really used to me load plan/baggage yet. Met a nice guy in the hotel parking lot, chatted for a while. Then of course went for the obligatory picture of the bike with the Giant Lenin Head:

I finally hit the road, got gas, and started out, following the GPS' directions. I got about a hundred kilometers before I realized that something was terribly wrong—I was headed the wrong way! Since there is only one road between Ulan Ude and Chita, I didn't think I needed to babysit the GPS, but I was wrong—it had directed me down a road from which I would have to take about 100km of dirt track to get back to the main highway. Since I was alone, and since I had just repaired the bike, and since I had no idea about the condition of the track, I didn't want to risk it, and decided I had better turn around. So this little detour cost me 200 km (100 km there, and 100 back). A major waste of time!

Once I got back on the main road, it was a nice ride, a nice road. The scenery to the east of Ulan Ude is very pretty:

The weather was not particularly good, but it only rained for a little while, so I kept going. I finally pulled into Chita about 20:30 or so, and went back to the Panama City Motel, where I'd stayed last time. This time the little motel cabins were all closed due to "fire code violations", so I had to stay in the main building, which was more boring. Went to the restaurant next door for a rather mediocre dinner. When I asked for some butter for my baked potato, they really went to town:

After dinner had a beer in the adjacent bowling alley, but in general everything was pretty quiet and boring, so I went to bed early.

JUNE 14, 2011

The next day was into terra incognito—unlike the Irkutsk-Chita stretch, I had never been here before. My goal was to make it to Skovorodino, which is where the main highway intersects the road to Yakutsk. The ride was pretty uneventful, but the road east of Chita seems much more desolate than the road further to the west—most of the towns are a couple of kilometers off of the main road, so you just don't see many buildings at all. Anyway, I stopped for lunch (a coke, a water, and some chips) a couple hundred kilometers from Chita at this garden spot. The weather ahead did not look very promising…

This stretch of road is one of the few areas where I did not have good waypoints from Walter Colebatch and others—basically I was flying blind and didn't know where to expect fuel, hotels, etc. At one point during the day I decided to check my GPS for hotels near my destination—this is a useful feature I use all the time in European Russia as well as Western Europe. This time I was in for a surprise; here are the places it listed:

For those of you who don't read Russian, it says "Winter shack", "Hunter's shack", "Winter shack" and "Barn", all of which were more than 200 km from Skovorodino. Not an encouraging sign at all!

Anyway, I kept going, this stretch of road is brand new and in excellent condition, so I made great time. By the time I was approaching Skovorodino, it was getting dark and I was really hoping to find a place to stay. Finally, a couple of kilometers past the crossroads to Yakutsk, in a town with the great name of Never, I found a normal-looking hotel with a cafe, right next to a gas station—perfect! But when I walked into the reception area, there was a big crowd of people waiting, and the manageress was saying "I'm sorry everyone, but there are no more rooms…" The disappointment on my face must have been visible, because just then the manageress pointed to me and said "Except for you, we have a room for you." And she basically kicked out one of her workers and I got to stay in his room.

The cafe was pretty good, and I was able to have few beers before going to bed. In the morning I met another biker who had also stayed at the hotel—a Russian guy from Ufa who was riding to Vladivostok and back. He was a nice guy, told me the story about a couple of years ago, a biker from Nizhni Novgorod was riding out this way and had stopped to camp near a cafe on the road. I heard a couple of different stories (generally involving a girl/waitress and her brother/boyfriend, etc.), but the bottom line was that the biker was minding his own business and was shot in the back and killed by some local lowlife, who in an attempt to hide the crime threw his body into a pile of burning old tires. A couple of days later some of the biker's friends came looking for him, figured out what happened, and found his charred bones in the still-burning pile of tires. Shortly thereafter the cafe and all of the surrounding buildings were burned down by vengeful bikers. Its a tough place! Apparently the murderer was arrested and is doing big time.

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