Chernychevsk - July 12, 2015
In Magdagachi - July 10
Greetings All... This was one of those days that make this trip a difficult one. Weather was good, as was the road. But it is now getting quite remote and I'm starting to feel quite isolated. I think I must have ridden for close to an hour today without seeing anyone. Maybe stretches of Nevada were like that, but I didn't notice so much. Here, my head starts playing tricks on me and I start to get hypersensitized to every little sound or behavior that is different in the bike. Just greater consequences here. Most gas stations are locked up now and you pay only through a pass-through drawer. The one station that I could go into today only had some snacks inside, but they were watched over by an armed guard. Things are quickly changing.
Anyway, I pulled into my destination for the day, a newish truck stop with a hotel, cafe and even a campground of all things. I would have enjoyed staying there I am sure, but it really was too early in the day. So I went to the next known hotel location in this town of Magdagachi. I'm finding these places with the help of a user-contributed file of gas stations, cafes and hotels pulled together by someone in the Horizons Unlimited group. I installed the file in my GPS and find the locations that way. So this town had a hotel listed. Also, in my GPS, I have installed the maps of the OpenStreetMap group and don't use the normal Garmin maps. This town has actually been very well mapped by someone. Unfortunately the part where I had about 10 km of gravel roads just to get to this hell hole was not shown as such so that was a bit of a surprise. It's interesting, however, that when you look this place on Google Maps, they have almost nothing mapped in this town at all, and the satellite photos are very poor resolution for here. You can almost not make out the town at all from the imagery. It's as if this town has a dark secret to hide.
Anyway, the GPS had two hotels shown, which is good because the HU-listed hotel doesn't seem to be here anymore. So I came to this one... just a couple of rooms on the third floor of a converted Soviet-era building.
This has got to be near the very top of my list of the worst dumps I have ever stayed in. No shower... anywhere. No power. (P.S. Power came on at 5 PM). Cold water tap only. No TP. The beds look like vermin nests and feel worse. Also, this is staffed by some grumpy lady who can't answer any question simply... like how much does it cost? After listening to her diatribe and being unable to pick out the important part, a young kid I had met outside and who had followed me into the hotel typed into his phone, 900 rubles. OK. Gads. Really lady? You couldn't just say that? Anyway, I asked her where I could park and again blah-blah. But I did hear "I don't know" and I assume all the rest had something to do with "and do I really look like I care?".
So I went out to get my bags and a couple of guys were looking at the bike. We struck up a "conversation" but as I was quite tired and my Russian requires such high cognitive activity, it is one of the first things to go. No English on their part though. Anyway, I asked them where I might park or is it safe where it was. But they said that it definitely was not safe. The wife or friend of one of them showed up. She spoke no English at all either, but her Russian was a little more sympathetic to my ear. Anyway, I did understand one of the guys telling her that I should go next door to the store and ask the manager if I can park my bike overnight in his locked storage area. She told him that he should go ask for me since I wasn't doing to be able to deal with all that in Russian... and she was right. But the guy was reluctant to get involved, so she took me over and did all the asking. Anyway, it all worked out, but only for another $20. Anyway, by the time I got the bike in and shut down, the lady was gone. I really did want to thank her for her help.
So I got up to the room and was sorting things out when I heard a knock on the door. It was this girl again asking is everything was OK. Yes, fine. What's your name? She said that it didn't matter and left. It's a funny town. What's their secret? I'm anxious to leave, although I think that things will only get worse for a while and then these things too shall pass. But it's going to be a long night.
It IS a long night. I've only slept an hour. I've given up on the bed and have laid my camp mattress on the floor. Waiting for the room to cool down a bit before trying to sleep again. It's rather stifling in here, but I'll take it over opening the window and getting the bugs. I'd break out the Vodka but it's locked up in the tailbox of the bike. Nuts.
So I had a chat with Diane on the phone and she had some very good advice. It goes like this:
Three boxes need to be checked off every day. 1) Am I staying in a safe place, 2) Is the bike in a safe place, and 3) do I have something to eat. I can do without 3 if need be (my edit). Putting on lots of mileage each day is not on the list. And that's a good point. I should just go until I find a place that meets all three requirements and stop. Then do the same the next day, and the next. Doing it that Way, I'll eventually make it safely across. As I look at the map, good riding days, with lots of mileage do make me wind up in some places that I know I don't want to be. So this may be one sloooowwww trip at least for the next while. I knew this would be the most difficult stretch for many reasons, and doing it early in the trip is one of the reasons I started from the east. I can deal with this before I am physically and emotionally spent. Good advice Dear... thank you.
So my next known good spot, unfortunately, is only 130 kms away as the crow flies, at Skovorodino. I'm sorry I didn't push on to there today instead of staying here, but then you never know these things at the time. Then there might be a place another 130 kms more after that... then I'll just have to see. I should be in Chita after a few days of hopscotching and from then on, I think the number of good stops really increases... Ulan Ude, Irkutsk, etc. Mongolia again will be a different story, but the same rules would apply. So I think this should be the worst and most difficult week in Russia. But at least the weather is holding for now.
Skovorodino - July 11
In sticking with the plan, I've only come 170-some kms but have settled in a much nicer place, same price. Better feeling in this town as well, although not the friendliest place in the world. I find that for the most part, Russians are quite cold on first meeting, but then some really warm up quite quickly... some in the first sentence or two. Some really cut me some slack as a visitor. But most never do. Like the lady at the front desk here. She's just frustrated and loves to show it. Oh well. Hard to see how anyone falls in love here. Everyone is so crabby. It's not very attractive. Giant screaming match today at the gas station on my way out of Magdagachi between some customer and the cashier. Good thing she was behind bullet-proof glass. I think it had to do with the fact that the guy had put too much on his credit card and she couldn't refund the difference for some reason so he was putting fuel into water bottles. I think this whole thing was over 50 rubles, 1 dollar. A bunch of customers then began to scream at her. She had the advantage though as she had a microphone and a loudspeaker. So the whole town could hear only her side of the argument. It just went on and on and on. Started before I got there and continued until after I left. I could hear her in the loud speaker as I was driving away.
So the plan is to creep down the road until I am within 1-day's striking distance of Chita, then drive a long day to there. Ulan-Ude is another long day beyond Chita, but I'll spend some time there as that is the turn off point for Mongolia. I may stay a few days in UU to do a little research on the border crossing and perhaps visit Lake Baikal. The weather will dictate the schedule a bit. I think I enter Siberia proper tomorrow... although Siberia is more of a finger waggle over the map as opposed to a specific line. At least in the east. In the west, I read that there is a marker somewhere along the old road over the Urals. When you were sentenced to Siberia, you were sent to the other side of the marker... sometimes WAY on the other side. No marker on this side saying that you've gone too far, however.
Anyway, slowly getting there. Bike is running well, although it's caked with bugs and dirt. Have to remind myself at times that the journey is the thing, but the jouney IS the thing. Take care. Sorry for the long post.
Sunday - July 12
In Chernyshevsk, almost to Chita. Was going to make it to Chita tonight in one big ride but am going to stay here a day and get my side-case and and tail box brackets welded. Both broke today from the abuse in places. Stumbled on a beautiful hotel though. Shouldn't mind the stay too much. Will write tomorrow. 6-700 km day to here I think...