Big Mutha Russia

The Russian Steppes

It’s been a week of crazy long riding days and I’ve made it as far as Omsk – a good chunk of the way through Russia. It’s time to take a breather!

It’s been a funny week. I feel like I’ve seen lots of Russia, but also seen none of it at all. Riding-wise, it’s not very inspiring. One tends to find big cities separated by long, straight, dull roads. I caught a glimpse of the Urals, but they passed by in a flash. There were a couple of gentle bends in the road around there though, so that was interesting.

There are big status of former Soviet folk giving around still, so that’s quite cool. Also, lots of monuments with tanks mounted on them, which is less cool.

Paranoia of theft seems to be at endemic levels here too, with almost everything being under lock and key. Corner shops are really kiosks where you speak to someone through a little hatch, one pays for food in a restaurant before they will even prepare it for you. Fuel is paid for before you can touch the fuel pump, and supermarkets (about the only place one is trusted enough to be let near to the products) have lockers that you can use by the entrance. After all that though, this feels like a safe country so far… and cheap.

Truck stops. It’s all about truck stop cafes. Usually, wild/free camping involves riding until twilight, finding a little road, finding a farmer’s track off that road and then bedding down behind some trees/bushes. Nice and secluded. Not so much in Russia though. The M5 ‘motorway’ is a major truck route and there are hundreds of cafes that will serve you goulash and let you pitch a tent in the car park amidst a slew of trucks. It’s all a bit grubby, and the toilets are… Err… I don’t know sufficiently discusting adjectives to describe the toilets. But it’s really cheap (free, apart from the goulash, which works out at about £2) and a great way of putting in the serious distances required here.

If you enjoy caravanning, or have a motorhome, then Russia would be a cheap excursion and worth considering.

I took the distance thing a bit too far though yesterday, with over 600 miles over about 13 hours (no sports bike now). In a bid to get to Omsk last night, I tried to sneak past a bunch of trucks that were struggling with a roadwork section of road. ‘Soft verges’, I say. ‘No problem’, I say, ‘I have an enduro bike!’. In the past, this traffic avoidance technique has worked well for me. In the past, I had knobbly off road tyres on the bike. As of a couple of days ago, I’m sporting Pirelli road tyres. These tyres, plus personal fatigue, plus wet mud equals SPLAT! I could almost hear the truck drivers laughing as they passed me and I was scraping off the beastly mud and oomska. Blurgh. I did meet some Brits through this though… A Red Bull Racing truck stopped to see if I was ok. I said that I was fine and they gave me a couple of cans of Red Bull. It was a surreal little moment.

Anyway I’m in Omsk, I have slightly bent handlebars again ($11 handlebars don’t take a knock very week) and I really need new sprockets. From the money saved over the past week, I’ve treated myself to a hotel for a couple of nights – needless to say I’ve put the bike under lock and key in the secure parking area. Bike-part shopping tomorrow, after beers and journal-updating today. It’s also fun to have Internet access again here. ‘Net access in the countryside is sparse at best.

Final thought… I’m still missing Turkey. I’ve never really ‘missed’ a country before. We shall meet again.

After this bike jolly has been wound-up, do any of my biker mates fancy a ride-out to Turkey???

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