Kazan - August 26, 2015
Thought I would write after having a good night's sleep, but it's 8:30 in the morning and I have been awake since 2:30. I think the time zone changes are coming a bit too quick for me to adapt. I was in the town of Izhevsk the night before, which seems from the map to be in its own tiny time zone, pinched between a two-hour change. So I am now on Moscow time as well as the same for Saint Petersburg and Estonia apparently. So I've made some progress... crossing all of the Russian timezones. Whew! No wonder I'm bagged and awake at the same time.
Anyway, I have not written as I have just had some long riding days with little sightseeing. Nice rolling farmland, but nothing of any Ural Mountains (ha!) to speak of. No hillier than the US Midwest. I did do a little sightseeing in Ekaterinburg. Very pretty city, with a large church built on the spot where the Czar and his family were shot during the revolution. I don't really understand the Russian love-hate with the Czar, particularly at the official level. They shoot the Czar, his wife and kids, then build a big church. Go figure.
It's just been a frustrating few days however, fighting with the cold, the rain and several issues with the bike. When I left Perm the other morning, it was 2C and raining. The vest and heated grips are lifesavers and they keep me alert enough to avoid the Russian drivers who are all out to kill me. It it really paranoia if it's the truth?
I have to say that I've very happy to have decided to do the trip east to west. While the east certainly had it's own difficulties, the west has it own mix of problems... mostly traffic related but not all. So while it is more frustrating here, there is some relief coming soon in terms of the border. And shipping issues should be simpler than tryoing to arrange from eastern Russia.
So I'm here in the capital of Tartarstan. I'm not real clear as to the history, but it is much more Muslim here, with an interesting mix of churches in the local Kremlin, about a 20 minutes walk. I went down earlier this morning, but the gates weren't opened yet, and so I'll wander back later. (Edit: I did go now. Very nice place. Mosque is gorgeous inside). Guess these were the guys who defeated the Bulgars, of which the Bulgarians still crab about 1200 years later. I guess there is a monument here in town dedicated to those who died in like 1522! when the Tartars were defeated by some Russian group. It's all very complicated... my head... and they all seem to have such long memories.
So getting here was somewhat eventful in that the bike didn't really want to come with me and was in a snit about it. It started with a small power loss at times, but not popping like an ignition problem. More like a fuel supply issue. Anyway, with all the rain I suspected water or crap gas, but usually those problems heal themselves as the water works its way through the system or after the next fill-up. Well this didn't get better and got worse and worse so by the day before yesterday, it was time to do a roadside repair. During a break in the rain, I pulled over and pulled both carbs and took them apart, blowing out all the jets, cleaning the bowls and replacing o-rings. Anyway, while I was at it, I decided to check the ignition wiring under the tank. Just in case. Well in the process of putting the fuel tank back on, I must have leaned on the bike too much and pushed it over. Had to lift it of course, and pulled my back again big time. Painfully put the bike all back together and all the crabbiness ended.. well at least it did from the bike.... mine had only just begun. So yesterday, facing a long day, I was hoping for an early start. Loaded up the bike, ready to go, but it wouldn't start. Ignition problem. No spark. Had to pull all the stuff off the bike again and pull the fuel tank again. Found a filthy wet connector and got it started. Put the tank and everything back on. Once running, I decided to do a "walk around" checking lights and all that. I don't do one every morning but most mornings I do. Had done one the day before in Perm and all was OK. Now, no stoplight. Aaarrrghhh. Can't go without a stoplight. I've got no fighting chance then. Changed the bulb. No change. Must be a wiring issue as I had just had the tank off. Must have accidentally disconnected something under there. Everything comes of the bike again, Tank off. No issues. An hour and a half goes by. Can't find anything. Put the meter on it and see that it's not that the stoplight won't come on, it's already on and won't go off! Ah, well that a much easier problem to diagnose as one of the switches must be gimped. Checked the brake pedal switch and saw that it was misaligned with the pedal... probably as a result of the bike falling over the day before. Easy fix. Got started 2 hours late in the rain. I was looking forward to a nice rest day, but now I can't sleep.
Anyway, I'm at this hotel. What a totally impractical place. They class it as 4-stars but I think they must have done the classification themselves. I don't normally stay at these kind of places but it was $38 including parking and breakfast, just like the last place I stayed which was 2-stars. So why not. Well, this is why not. The hotel is on the third floor of an old building, up a narrow winding stair. The parking consists of a dead end driveway between this building and the one next door and so once in, you're trapped if another guest parks their car behind you. The only usable parking is in the far stalls of an underground garage a block away. The glass-enclosed shower doors have no seal at the bottom and overhang the edge of the stall, which has no lip. All the shower water is directed to the floor outside, where there is no drain. There is a sign in Russian that says to make sure the shower doors are closed. It really doesn't matter if the doors are closed or not. That's not the issue and they were. I spent 20 minutes soaking up at least a centimeter of water off the floor when I was finished. There is a medical clinic on the floor below, that eerily appears to have been decorated by the same person as the hotel. The bed in the room is quite similar to a hospital bed in that it has a side rail, but this one unfortunately cannot be lowered. The bed is placed sideways in a tight alcove and so it is impossible to sit on the edge of the bed and you must crawl over the rail to get in and out (see picture, attached). Aargh.
So I see from Google that I am almost exactly 1000 miles from Saint Petersburg and the technical end of my piecemeal around-the-world. But I am thinking of having the bike flown back to Halifax from London instead of to Vancouver and just riding across Canada. That has a certain appeal. An around-the-world in all one go. The bike is grumbling about it a bit but I think it can be coaxed and cajoled all the way across. Besides, it is an easy trip. Tim Hortons all the way for me, and Canadian Tires all the way across for the bike. What could be simpler? Hey... and what could go wrong? I think it would about a 10-12 day trip and the tires will last (thanks to Herman K. on the list for suggesting the Hydenaus... they've been brilliant!). I might even make it around on one set of tires, no flats! What a coup. So I have the shipper in London looking now at the details. Air Canada flies direct from Heathrow. I can fly on points and the bike can go as cargo. This could work.
So I'm aiming for leaving London around Sept 15 or so, and if all goes well, I should be home by the end of September. A nice tidy package.
Anyway, I think that it is time for me to leave Russia. It's been great, but it is a very, very big country and I have been here for a very, very long time it seems. I'm remembering that western Europe was easier. Maybe that's just fantasy. But it has been an interesting mix here of old and new. Fancy stores and old traditional ways. I'm still surprised to see that even this far west, there are still people sitting by the side of the highway selling produce out of their gardens. Sometimes it's just a single pail of something... tomatoes, squash, a few watermelons. Sometimes the area is quite remote and yet an old lady will be sitting by the road, no car. She must get dropped off by hubby in the morning and picked up in the evening. Anyway, it occurred to me that they might have something there. Just like traveling, they might have found a way to slow time down. I mean if you really want to make time pass slowly, just try sitting for days on end, along a buggy highway, or in the rain, staring into a bucket of potatoes. Yep, that would really make time crawl by. Sure would.
OK... off to Nizhny Novgorod tomorrow, then Moscow the day after... Odometer will roll over tomorrow or the next day. That will be fun.
I'll end with a joke. Ken told me this 6 weeks ago and I still remember it, so it must be good. I can't remember jokes more than a few hours. I still laugh out loud when I think of it.
At a job interview:
Employer: "So, now tell me what you think your worst characteristic is."
Candidate: "Oh that would certainly have to be my extreme honesty."
Employer: "I can't see how being honest could possibly be a bad thing."
Candidate: "Well frankly, I don't really give a s*** what you think."