Ulan-Ude - July 16, 2015
Trust all is well with you. As you can see from the spot, I'm in Ulan-Ude (again, not quite the right location, but close). It was about a 10-hour ride yesterday from Chita, but I had made arrangements to meet Ken and Carol Duval at the hotel. Another beautiful ride, but over somewhat deteriorating roads. This is an older part, and so I guess that makes sense. Passed a Unesco World Heritage site, although being all in Russian, I couldn't really make out what it's significance was. As there are starting to be stupas on the hilltops and coin offerings on the ground (either that or someone has a serious hole in their pocket) , I suspect it had some religious significance.
The terrain is starting to become significant Mongolian-like. No reason that the wide open, treeless grasslands, so characteristically Mongolian should stop at the political border. It looks like it will be a beautiful place. I'm stoked for that!
So I met Ken and Carol no problems, as well as a lady named Brigid from Ireland who is riding to Ulaanbataar with us. She shipped her bike from Moscow to Irkutsk on the train and came down yesterday from there. She's riding with a barely mended broken leg from a recent crash and walks with a cane right now. Hasn't slowed her down though. So I guess the four of us will head for the border tomorrow morning, probably staying just across on the Mongolian side. The border is about 250 km away, and should take several hours to get through. Probably an hour to exit Russia, then cross no-mans's land, then the entry process for Mongolia. Ken and Carol have arranged for an apartment in UB and they are checking whether there is room enough for me as well. Brigid will be meeting her husband in UB.
So Ken, Carol and I sat up the wee hours this morning talking about all kinds of things, and I mentioned having stayed in Magdagachi, that really creepy place. Ken's jaw dropped and said No! that's the place bikers really have to avoid! They got out their map and scrawled over that town in 1-inch letters, in marker pen, was the word "BAD". Someone had marked it so that they would not stay there. So I did finally get the story. Seems that the town housed a high-security prison during Soviet times. After the breakup and financial collapse, the prison was closed, the doors just opened and the prisoners let out. So the prisoners spread out into the area, but would return to the prison at night as they had no other place to stay. Anyway, I guess a Japanese biker was free-camping in the area and was robbed and murdered. I knew about the murder, but had been mistold as to just what town to avoid. I had been told to avoid Magocha, not Magdagachi. Guess Magocha is fine. I knew there was something different with that town. Spider sense tingling. But at least that place is behind me. No wonder the locals made such a big deal about securing the bike.
When I arrived at this hotel last night, I noticed that my horn was just hanging off the front of the bike by the wires. The hammering that the bike is taking from the roads is unbelievable. So I went with Ken today to a bike maintenance shop where a really nice guy named Sasha welded up the horn bracket and also did a mod to my sidecases to help hold them on the bike better. It seems repairs come with a free lunch, so we had lunch at Sasha's house, attached to the workshop. Hard to sit and have a conversation in Russian, but we had a good time anyway. But Sasha's place is down a dirt and sand laneway, mixed with broken asphalt. Turning out of the shop, the front wheel slid out and down I went. Body slammed right to the ground. Didn't break anything on me, although the windshield is cracked now and needed another hour's repair work, which I did at the hotel. I had some rod stock with me and so fabricated a new windshield support, using the hotel's dumpster as a bending jig and anvil. Should work. Unfortunately when I went down, my hip hit something hard. That's gonna leave a mark. It hurt right away and has be aching and getting stiffer. It will be sore for a few days for sure... but not a show-stopper. It sure was nice to have a second person there to help lift the bike though. But Ken's working with one bad hip himself and so probably shouldn't be doing too much kind of thing. The real goal, is to keep it up on two wheels as much as possible.
So we're not sure what we will do, or even if we will travel together. Ken and Carol I think are keen on just heading west across Mongolia as they have been here so long with their bike's ignition issues, which they think now they have resolved. If I head west with them, I will miss Baikal which everyone I meet tells me is a real Russian highlight. If I cross Mongolia, I would have to double back east, to get to Baikal. On the other hand, going west across Mongolia allows one to enter Russia through the Altai, Russia's most accessible wild mountain area. If I double back here, I can go to Baikal once turning west again, but getting into the Altai would require at least a one-week sidetrip from Novosibirsk. So either way, something is going to be sacrificed... either Baikal or the Altai. Of the two, I think I would rather travel through the Altai. But we'll talk about it and try to get road condition reports from others. Just have to see.
So I think there are some good pictures on my camera. I'll see if I can include them. The smoke is still bad here. Once we leave UU, I don't know if I'll have any internet connection until well back into Russia. The Spots may be my only contact out. So if you don't hear for a while, that'd be why.
OK... well I'll try to send from UB if possible and let you know plans. Otherwise, the spots will be it.
Take care everyone. See you on the other side of someplace.