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8

After 14 days of non-stop riding, some 1800km, with daily distances of 140 to 200km, and nearly being robbed on the side of the highway, I've decided I can no longer keep the pace being set by the rest of the team and still meet my personal travel goals for enjoyment, sanity, and safety (not to mention sanitation.)

Therefore, I've decided to remain behind in Omsk for a few days. I'll be taking the train from here to Irkutsk and meeting the team there for the Baikal/Mongolia portion of the trip.

-Zack

5

We've reached the city of Chelyabinsk, and officially crossed in to Asia!

Unfortunately, the only member of the team who bothered to learn to read Russian script also happened to be the slowest climber - thus, by the time I reached the top of the pass and the admittedly ugly monument, the other two were already halfway down the other side. Fortunately I also learned to use the 10-second timer on my camera!

I'll also confess to experiencing some frustration with this Russian OS and this website. Posting pictures just takes time that we really don't have. Trying for at least one, though; a little big, but I guess it works?

Onwards in to Siberia!

-Zack

2

We've reached Kazan! And are currently enjoying a much needed day of rest. This entails a hotel room, extremely long showers, having our laundry done by chambermaids (with some pieces being done in the bathroom sink with handsoap since I forgot to fish them out of my bag before the maid took the load) and sleeping indoors in actual beds. Meals at restaurants, discussions with waitresses greatly amused at our pitiful Russian vocabulary, and, time on the internet!

Tonight we bid farewell to Sasha, who, after an extremely trying week of cycling, is headed back towards Moscow. 90 cent beers and sausages should do quite nicely.

Tomorrow, we hit the road, and head east, where hopefully the Ural mountains will provide a break in the otherwise mundane and repetitve scenery!

-Zack

4

Firstly, we've reached the city of Nizhny Novgorod, some 400km east of Moscow. We're stuck here for the moment dealing with some mechanical problems. Our current goal is to reach the town of Chelyabinsk (the "stereotypical Russian industrial hell," according to an unnamed source!) on the other side of the Ural mountains in the next 9 days or so, so that Sasha can say he officially crossed in to Asia before he has to depart.

In other news, we're delving a little further in to Russian cuisine! Larger towns boast Western-style supermarkets, but the smaller ones have only small shops in which all the goods are behind glass. This means that we somehow have to communicate with the shopkeepers what food we want. Different strategies have arisen to overcome this problem of communication.
I point, say "That" in Russian (Etat? technically there are 3 or 4 ways of saying it depending on masculine/feminine/etc but I only know the one) and will occasionally try to read the label out loud, with horrible pronunciation.
Damien points, gestures and grunts, which is kind of funny to watch. Sorouche merely smiles sweetly and waits for the shopkeeper to get frustrated enough to let him behind the glass so that he can take what he wants ad leave.
Our typical diet consists of oatmeal, pasta, bread and cheese, however we're now exploring local produce (berries, cucumbers, tomatoes, apples and plums) as well as the occasional roadside cafe (the best quarter chicken I've eaten, that I can remember).

Anyway, we continue to inch across the continent and have managed to remain healthy and happy, if not clean! Next we head for the city of Kazan.

-Zack

1

Tonight we pick up Sasha, and tomorrow morning the 4 of us leave Moscow in the dust and head East! Seriously far east. You don't even know.

Sparing any longer commentary on what Moscow is like (my opinion, in short: not as nice as St. Petersburg), I'd instead like to acknowledge two individuals who've helped us immensely:
Firstly, Richard Wright, webmaster of tverangels.com (safe for work, I think?), who found us at a low point outside the post office in Tver. An expat Canadian, Richard provided us with a meal, a shower, and a place to sleep while we waited for Sorouche to arrive, (as well as some much appreciated English-speaking company!) which I consider to be enough of a "sponsorship" for a shameless website plug.
Secondly, Sergei Severinov and his family, for allowing us to stay at his dacha outside Moscow these past few days. To be able to park our bikes and leave our stuff outside the city (and not have to ride in through traffic) has been an incredible boon and quite frankly I don't know how we would have dealt with waiting for Sasha had he not been there for us.

I guess it goes to show, friends find you when you need it most, although I imagine that this saying will be truly tested as we enter the more remote regions of Siberia.

That should be all for a few days at least. Unless my lazy teammates decide to sit down and write something. Roughly 6 or 7 thousand kilometers to go!

-Zack

3

Alternate title: "I cycled the M10 from St. Petersburg to Moscow and all I got was this splitting headache from exhaust fumes and hearing trucks pass me by literally 24 hours a day."

The road from St. P to Moscow has been....rough. For most of its length, it's a 2-lane highway - the pavement is reasonably good, but it's narrow. Highway 7 North of Toronto might be an apt comparison. However, the volume of truck traffic along the road is more akin to what you'd see on the 401.

Trucks, trucks, constantly with the trucks. The only thing more noticeable than the trucks themselves were the countless flowery memorials placed along the roadside to commemorate drivers who weren't fortunate enough to survive the M10 traverse. I'm glad to be off it.

One skinny highway between Russia's two biggest cities - it's a logistical nightmare. Yet it seems in Russia, as in North America, truck transport, despite how dangerous and inefficient it seems, is being encouraged and growing. They have trains here, don't they?

On a brighter note, we've connected with Sorouche and arrived at our base outside Moscow! Here, Toronto could use a serious lesson in public transport - a comfortable 1-hour train ride in from the distant suburbs costs a mere 2 dollars, and the world-class subway system, with over 100 stations, costs about 70 cents for a one-way trip.

Anyway, my point is that there is a better alternative to highways and driving everywhere - and in terms of public transit, we're really not doing very well at all in Canada.

(Check the galleries for pictures, finally!)

-Zack

3

We made it across!

The border crossing (which, as Damien has reminded me, was preceeded by an 8km lineup of trucks) was completely uneventful...a breeze, even.

We rode from Ivangorod, at the border, to St Petersburg in one afternoon. Made for a bit of a late arrival, but all's well.

The Russian countryside is interesting....the first little ways almost reminded me of Sudbury - very remote, wild, northern looking forests and fields - however every now and then, you'd catch a glimpse of a huge factory, crane, train station, or run-down bridge on the horizon.
As we approached St. Petersburg, conditions became more pastoral, with small towns farming towns every 10km or so. Lots of jars of berries, potatoes, and mushrooms for sale on the side of the highway.

The suburbs of St. Petersburg were actually sort of nice - old, elegant apartment buildings, all kind of run down and overgrown, but still lively - big parks, lots of traffic.
We descended a hill (from the top of which the Nazis supposedly directed the siege of Leningrad) into the city proper. Apparently all cities everywhere have a long, straight stretch of ugly highway, flanked by shopping malls and McDonalds (Here spelled out phonetically in Cyrillic).

The city itself is quite stunning - it actually seems to gleam in the sunlight. I've never seen anything like it. We must have arrived on some holiday - sitting in a downtown park, we saw no less than 7 separate wedding parties celebrating outdoors - horns, smashing champagne bottles, releasing doves, taking highly co-ordinated photographs - quite something.
A very stylish place. THe metro, which seems to be 500m underground, is lit with antique fixtures and chandeliers, and is suprisingly easy to navigate. It makes Toronto's look dirty and provincial.

One other notable is that it seems perfectly in order and normal to walk down the street or sit in the park and drink beer. Or stronger.

In any case, we leave for Moscow tomorrow morning, and should arrive within a week or so, at which point more updates will flow?

-Zack

5

Well, Damien and I have made it to Estonia in one piece! The bikes are a little beat up from the air travel, but still functioning adequately.

We're currently in Narva, which is on the Russian border - we're going to attempt the border crossing today and hopefully land in St. Petersburg by tonight.

Our first two days were rainy! And mostly uneventful.
I've learned that in Estonia, instead of saying "Hello" or waving, people treat you to a steely-eyed glare. Apparently the appropriate way to return this greeting is to glare back unflinchingly until they look away. Friendly place.

The riding's been good in Estonia. Smooth pavement, good shoulders, lots of bike paths too if you're off the highway. Tallinn would be a great city to do day rides out of.

Anyway, off to St. Petersburg! And perhaps pictures, if we find an internet place that doesn't run on friggin' windows 95.

-Zack

2

8 hours, 6 minutes...is that countdown starting to freak anyone else out?

The bike's packed up in a box, and everything (hopefully) I'll need for the next 3 months has been stuffed into panniers. My flight leaves for London at 8:15 tonight. I finally arrive in Tallinn, Estonia, on Monday the 30th, where I'll meet up with Damien and the two of us will begin the trek!

This will be the farthest north I've ever been (St. Petersburg is on roughly the same latitude as Whitehorse), my first time visiting continental Europe (not to mention Asia), my first time on my own in a country where I don't know the language, and easily the farthest from home I'll probably ever be.

7 hours, 59 minutes. See what I mean?

Bah. What better goal than to "reach the ultimate shore," as the great Mongol general Batu Khan put it? It sure beats working.

At this point I'll quote Henry J. Tillman (whoever he is) who once said, "The saying "Getting there is half the fun" became obsolete with the advent of commercial airlines."

-Zack

7

Hello, internet!

This is mostly a test post. However, things are rapidly falling in to place as we creep closer to our respective departure dates.

For myself, I leave on the evening of Saturday, July 28th. The other notable news item is that I've finally got my hands on my shiny new Urbanite touring bike! Can I figure out how to upload a picture?

Hmm, looks good so far! More tinkering (and posts) are in order.

-z

Zack’s Bike