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8

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Last night, at the gates of the Forbidden City in Beijing, Sorouche and Damien completed their trip.

It's been an adventure of some 9200 km jam-packed with adventure, awesome people, fantastic scenery and loads of learning of all sorts.

For Sorouche, this is mission accomplished: Moscow to Beijing. For Damien, this was the final leg of his world cycling circumnavigation.

Many thanks are needed but in particular, to Sasha, Nathan and Zack for participating in various segments of the trip. Thanks also to all others who contributed in various ways to both the planning and the delivery of this most wonderful of adventures.

It's now time to rest a little until the next big adventure begins!

Damien & Sorouche, Beijing

2

Well, it's now cycled… that is, the Gobi desert is now covered on our itinerary. We considered it to be our last real challenge but never thought it would turn out to be as challenging as it ended up being. Imagine: one giant land (the most sparsely populated state in the world), an incredibly dry climate (it is - well - a desert), awfully rare opportunities for provisions and absolutely no roads (at best, jeep tracks in the desert). Granted, we took some high risks: no GPS, no maps, lots of bike punishment, etc but we managed successfully to cover the full 430 km of corrugated, sandy, bumpy terrain and, thankfully, our touring bikes survived (partially) the experience.

Ah yes… and what an experience it was. There were camels, herdsmen with their horses, nomads scattered throughout nearby their Gers (Mongolian traditional houses), some occasional vehicle traffic (good safety net), lotsa sun, frosty mornings (that's below zero), many flat tires, a seemingly ever-changing vegetation, a guiding line of electricity posts, a never-ending series of small rolling hills, etc but eventually a little border town, adjacent to the Chinese border, appeared as an oasis would in the middle of the desert. Clearly, one much better appreciates the availability of anything, even the most simplest and typically most available of goods after a few days alone in the desert. The fragility of life and our vulnerability to the elements becomes dangerously evident.

That said, we did have to face some serious challenges. About 120 km to the end (a day, a day and a half of cycling in the desert), a new highway under development splits from our guiding line of telephone post and railway line. We followed it, reasoning that it would reach every, albeit rare, village along the way. Well, we were wrong and ran out of provisions. Meals were skipped and liquids became quite scarce but thankfully, we magically bumped into Cynthia and Dominique who, filled with provisions, generously offered to help us for the next little while until the border. To them, we will remain forever grateful and we wish them the best of luck on their cycling adventure (cnouskonpedale.wordpress.com). But eh, drama aside, a little adventure in the desert makes for lovely story-telling afterwards 😉 All is very well now and we are incredibly excited to finish in Beijing in a matter of days now.

China, here we come.

Damien, Mongolia / China Border

4

(Goodbye Russia, Hello Mongolia)

We are now officially out of Russia.

A lot has happened, and it would take a lot of time to make a linear story, so I am going to summarize.

Past couples of weeks were quite movemented. Bike breakdowns, weather, roads...

It was all fun in the end (But I suppose it depends on the definition of fun 🙂 )

We managed to make it to Irkutsk as per Damien's post. But shortly after we had some police issues of the street coming out of the Internet Cafe. Our first paperwork examination with the police lead us to their office in an armored jeep. No money lost, just a little cultural exchange 🙂

What can I say about Russians... ?

Maybe they don't care about their environment as much as in Canada. Lots of plastic bottles and garbage on the side of the road, black smokes coming out of various places... The good side is that the train goes across the whole country...and bus stops are everywhere. Even the most remote places there is a bus shelter.

Throughout Siberia, a lot of people were selling vegetables and products they were directly getting from their environment. It is important to note that these people, already modest, depend a lot on their environment. A degradation of it would only increase their poverty. Truck drivers have been very courteous when passing us. The car drivers a bit less. We received a lot of honks... It is now just a reflex for me to wave a "hello/thank you" with my left hand. It is a well intentioned honk 90% of the time, but it is not the greatest thing to someone on a bike.

Along the road we met a lot of people... Very often we had the same questions (where are you going, where are you from, how many kms per day, how many speed your bike has, how much does it cost...)

Again this is a well intentioned gesture, but after 7000 kilometers, getting the same question day after day can take a toll on an individual. Russians have been very helpful to us. Very often people would come on their own to help. Sometimes not realizing how serious of a breakdown is a broken rack... people would still ask questions and try to chat while we were working hard to fix the issue.... But everything was out of good heart and without people's help everything would have been harder.

Russians were also very generous. We were offered from coffee to Vodka passing by bottles of beers (even started ones... !) Apples, grapes watermelons (hehe carrying it on a bike is interesting 🙂 )

So lots of help and lots of bike shops as well. There are many people we should thank (and we will do it once back in Canada) but I have to thank the people at Alpindustria.ru, Kemerovo.

A very special thank you to Den, Ilya, Nastya, Artim, Ksuna, Alex, Ivan...
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Long to explain, but from the bike shop we ended having dinner together, drinks, sleeping at Ilya's place, getting a canadian kalxon, a t-shirt... I am looking forward to see them in the future for some ski/bike adventures 🙂

I had also the chance to meet people from Azerbaidjan, Tadjekistan, Uzbekistan... and talking Farsi (Persian) in Russia was really strange. Being able to communicate... freely. Russians have lots of various cultural aspect that can be found in persian culture (language, food,...) so I was not so lost anyways...

 

Some of the memorable words/cities with various significance ...
Moscow, Kazan, Omsk, Krasnoyarsk, Irkutsk
you and I we good
khrow manyyy days ?
pajesta, spaseeba
macaroni, voda/water
clean

We went from Irkutsk passed by lake Baikal (majestic lake surrounded by mountains)
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After quite a few hills we made it to to Ulan Ude, where the landscape changed dramatically.

We crossed the Russian/Mongolian border a couple of days ago and "made" it to Ulan Bator (thirsty and hungry... a little bit 😉 )
(And my bike in a bad state... wheels like F1 wheels..., ...broken spokes, broken rack ... just the usual as Damien would say. We don't really care about these minor problems ! 🙂 We let them be.)

You know that there is only one road in Mongolia to Ulan Bator, when after biking for so long in Siberia and seeing no biker, you see three bikers in one day. (Two guys from Australia and one from France).

Ulan Bator is also small (the downtown).... I ran again into a french traveller we had met in Irkutsk. Monsieur Trepied Xavier (tiens... je te connais toi ??? 🙂 ) ... it was funny the way we met in Irkutsk.

There are a lot lot less cars on the road in Mongolia... but honking has increased by 80%. 1km behind us we hear the honkings...

A few pictures in Mongolia
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We were trying to "hide" a bit 🙂

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Horesman

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Yes it's a dry place... 😛

We managed to meet Zack, Sally and Nathan. They decided to choose another itinerary so Damien & myself will be heading to the Gobi desert in a couple of days.

Ulan bator is a cold city. It did snow yesterday and there is ice on the walkway during the day. The nights in the Gobi desert will be cold 🙂 I may have to go back to Russia where I have a job... 😉 I am going to open a screw/bolts shop somewhere along the siberian road. There are so many of them on the road...

ps: mad biker, from Chelybinsk, the email you left is not working... I tried to reply to you but it bounced back. If you can send the proper email. I will contact you. Thanks.

2

It was most definately a very tortuous and eventful last 32 days. Indeed, a full month of everyday riding, a few mountain ranges, solid coldness, scarcity alongside complete isolation, 70 km of muddy unpaved Siberian roads, bike breakdowns and then bike breakdowns again, physical attacks involving minor theft and punches by drunken Russians and so much more - but we've made it! It took some effort, patience, determination and every bike shop between Omsk and Irkutsk but it's quite something to have rolled 7,000,000 consecutive meters on Russian territory!

At last, it's now time to treat ourselves to a quasi-rest day (might I say - well-deserved!) as we anchor down here in Irkutsk to acquire our Mongolian visas. Then, we'll be off toward Ulan Ude, along the shores of the World's deepest & oldest lake as we try to catch our other 2 team mates currently rolling ahead towards the Mongolian border.

'till next time,

Damien, Irkutsk

6

-> I had not finished this post... so some updates 🙂

Since Moscow we got to the city of Kazan. Beautifull city, with a mix of culture. (Pic below).

City of Kazan

Maybe I should describe the roads... it will be faster than explaining what has been happening...

From Moscow... Imagine it's 11.30PM... the Sun is starting to be at its highest... and you can feel the heat from top but also from the asphalte.

You are going uphill... and there is no shoulder, there is not even a line on the sides of the road.

Out of nowhere a truck is behind you, and behind this truck a mix of trucks, cars... Considering that on the other side there is also traffic, you have to get on the gravels on the side. It makes your climbing very slow and tough... you turn your head toward the right, to avoid the big thick smoke from trucks. Since they have a hard time going up because of their weight, they use a lot of gas. You have a nice taste of smoke in your mouth even though you look on the right of the road... but when you look on the side road... you usually see driver's tombs... with their picture, birthdate... Of course you have to know Cyrillic to understand (only Zack).

You finally make it to the top of the hill... to see othershills lined up for you 🙂 In french the expression for rollercoaster is "Montagnes Russes" (translated Russian mountains). Now I know why 🙂

This was around Moscow... Afterwards we had much better roads, with nice shoulders. Some parts are terribly bad (there are at some places 50cm bumps or holes because of the traffic of trucks).

We have now been having very nice flat roads (altough sometimes they do have some very serious potholes...)

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Sunsets have been quite amazing ... I can grasp them on my mirror ... if we are ridding late. Otherwise we can admire them.... if there are no mosquitoes or rain 🙂

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We met some interesting hills.... the one below was the mother of god hill 🙂 Zack fearless is heading the way

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and we even got escorted by the young locals (below)
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We passed a series of bumps... I think they were the Urals... We kept asking the locals "Urals" and the pointed in our back... not sure if they understood what we meant 😉

We did have time to share a few drinks with the locals 🙂

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We are also now in Asia.

Zack has been our Russian interpreter, Damien the three star cook, and I the tourist / photographer.

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Giving a temporary goodbye to Zack in Omsk in front of his hotel.

This is our next challenge:
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We planning to cross Russia with this on our racks.

And maybe I just had too much weight.... In two days I had 6 flats, the next day one of the screw holding an essential part of my rack broke.... and got stuck. Damien and I fixed using our engineering skills in the middle of the Siberian forest (with a hunter on our side, who kept asking random question and not understanding how serious the breakdown was for us).

The next day, again in the middle of the Siberian forest, with no bike shops around, four of my spokes broke... Flat tires we had the tools to replace; broken spokes, no.

It got to the point where with one more breakdown Damien would have to pull me just like for cars.

We made it magically to town.... (the last 50km were full of suspense and drama). After going around and asking "Velocipid magazin" we finally found our candy store and are ready to go again.

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sorouche

Where to begin.

Perhaps by noting that the halfway point is now passed: we have crossed the 4500 km mark. 41 days of daily unpredictable adventure, 1 mountain chain, thousands of kilometers of swamp land, countless liters of juice, water and other booster liquids, etc... it's been quite a ride! Even if pages would be written using the most descriptive of terms, it would remain impossible for anyone to convey the fullness of the experience to anyone not living it first hand.

There have already been so many beautiful moments: pure untouched Siberian fields, dark skies rich in stars, friendly bike store staff, amazingly kind Russian new friends and some courteous drivers. But, as expected on a trip of this magnitude and difficulty, the trip also presented many physical and psychological challenges: bike breakdowns of all sorts and for all team members as well as the difficulties that often accompany a far too well rehearsed daily routine in the wildness of nature!

The road ahead is bright.

Ciao for now,

Damien, Novobirisk

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

5

Little short story about these last few days...
I left Ottawa airport, the 5th august at 22.50
The fact that I had a bike did not seem to pose a problem. The baggage handler did not even ask me to take off the wheels or the pedals. I did not have to pay an extra fee.
Arrival at London, Gatwick airport. I did not feel the urge to visit London... I saw it in the past, and not particularly attracted to the city. I decided to spend a bit of time in Gatwick airport.
It was my first time actually in Gatwick airport. It is a cahotic and disorganized airport.
The waiting line for security was extremely long. Forcing people to take ONE bag in the plane is also once again a trademark of the british trying to be "different" with their special rules.
One bag meant for example that if you were a lady and had a purse and a cabin baggage you were only authorized to take one of the items inside...
For myself it was a hassle, considering that I had two side bags on my bag with my main belongings in them. Even though they were very small... I had to choose one.

Giving the bike as a baggage was not very easy either. The airport staff don't seem to know the rules, and it changed from one person to another. From taking of the pedals, to wrapping it in plastic or cardboad... I really got everything.
On top of that they made me pay an extra 20 pounds for the bike.
When I called air Baltic they told me I could take it in wihtout having to do anything to the bike... but at Gatwick it was a whole different story.
Therefore a lot of hassle and going around with a bike and all my bags in the airport.
The staff is not friendly, the airport is a mess and their english is not clear. 🙂
I am glad I did not stop in London even though I had plenty of time.

I arrived in Riga (capital of Latvia) at night. I received my bike with flat tires. Good luck finding a pump at 11pm.
English did not seem to be the second language... and it was quite hard to find a gas station... So I did a lot of walking before an Armenian guy told me where to pump my tires.
Sunset in Riga

I visited Riga the tomorrow (Sunset in Riga)

Tallinn, Estonia

Next day was visit of Tallinn, capital of Estonia (picture of the old town in Tallinn)

St Petersburg, Russia

The day after, I was in St Petersburg, visited various places such as The Church of Our Savior on Spilled Blood for example (picture above).

Going from Tallinn to St Petersburg was quite of a shock... while in Estonia (Tallinn) they knew ~some~ english, in Russia (St Petersburg) virtually no one was talking English... the charachters are cyrillic and you don't see any roman charachters .... other than brand names.

Sunset in St Petersburg

I managed to get around and visit St Ptersburg quite well before deciding to take the night train to Tver (~200km from Moscow) to meet Zack and Damien. Picture abvoe is just before taking the train to Tver.

Thanks !

Thanks for these guys ! Otherwise I think I would have spent the night trying to find the correct train and correct ticket. The three on the left (Ivan, Najeeb, Ivan) helped me all along, and Vladimir (left) joined after. They helped me with tickets, where to go... and they even help me put my bike in the train (a lot harder than what you can imagine).

The train was going St Petersburg -> Tver -> Moscow. In my wagon there were four beds. Two girls were going to Moscow... but they once again helped me a lot, because one of the girl put her alarm to wake me for Tver, she also helped me take out my bike and bags from top... so many thanks to her.

On the road

Once in Tver, meeting with Zack and Damien was quite smooth (as my previous post) and we started to head to Moscow (picture above, with Zack heading to Moscow).

We stopped at about 30km, at one of Zack's dad friends (Sergei). Thanks to him for hosting us for a few days.

Visited Moscow (pics to be uploaded in the future).

At the time I am writing this we are way past Moscow.... but it's a bit hard to write, upload pictures... Not enough time, but not always full admin access with the computers.

But I do write on my notebook what is happening every day(interesting things 🙂

So maybe in the future in Canada...