The trip – days 11 to 20

Organic vegetable salads and beehives

Day 11 – Friday 5th of July – Kiev to Rus’ka Lozova (517km)

Today was a quiet and pleasant day. I had a lot less trouble than I expected to get out of Kiev, as the traffic was not bad and I did not have to cross the center again. The only slight problem to report is that I have lost one of the Touratech straps that attach the rack pack to the top of the spare tires, probably when I had already dropped my stuff at Sofia’s apartment and her friend lead me to his car park. Well, I have spare ones, so no big deal.

The road was quite passable and despite being a rather long distance, it felt very short, the only problem was the heat. I had removed the waterproof layers and opened all ventilation on the suit, but it was still hot. The water on my plastic bottles was undrinkable, and when I stopped for petrol I bought cold water and poured it into the bottles, but in an hour it was hot again, despite getting air.

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I made it to the small town near Kharkhov were I was staying by six in the afternoon and called my host, who was still at work. He got there in half an hour, while I took the chance to sit down at the church’s entrance and enjoy a bit of reading for the first time in the journey.

Denys arrived and lead me to his house, which was up a narrow dirt track in the village, a bit challenging after a long day’s ride and with the bike fully loaded, but I thought it was good off-road practice. He let me ride the bike into his garden and I had time to clean and grease the chain and check the oil leak – which had not got worse – while he prepared a salad from the vegetables he grew in his enormous back garden.

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He also had three beehives where he was producing honey. He was a really nice guy, and after dinner he took me for walk in the forest around the village and told me about the plants and animals that live there.

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Back in the house, he showed me some pictures of his holidays in the Altai mountains, in Russia. I will ride through that region before crossing the border into Mongolia, but unfortunately will not have time to visit it properly, and it is a real shame, as the pictures showed a place of the most outstanding natural beauty. We talked about it in Spanish, which felt a bit strange after almost two weeks of using only English everywhere, and I have to say that his language skills were excellent. He had only studied for six months in preparation of a one-month holiday in South America, and his Spanish was perfect.

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Luhansk MC

Day 12 – Saturday 6th of July – Rus’ka Lozova to Luhansk (362km)

Well, another day that was supposed to be short and rather uneventful has turned out to be great. I left Rus’ka Lozova early to try and have some time to visit Luhansk, as Anna, my host, had told me that there were tours of the old industrial parks of the city and I really fancied seeing that.

I got to the city quite early and as I was riding in the outskirts, I overtook an MC convoy. They were the first proper motorbikes I had seen in the country, and I was quite surprised to see them. When I stopped at the first traffic lights before entering the city, one of them, who apparently had left the other behind to catch up with me, pulled alongside and asked me where I was coming from. I started to tell him about the trip, but the lights changed and we rode on. Shortly after the rest of them appeared and they made gestures for me to stop by the roadside. Vladimir, their president, spoke English, and they were very interested to see where I was coming from. They told me they had been to a biking event about 100km from the city and asked where I was staying. I showed them the small notebook where I had written the address and phone number of my host, and then the president took out his mobile phone, gave it to one of the club members and told him to call her. They spoke in Russian and then he introduced me to one of his guys, the “Veterinar” , and told me to follow him, because he would show me the way to the center and take me to a place where I could meet Anna.

So I rode into the city escorted by the local MC, and once in the center, most of them went their separate ways back home. My guide and another guy, with their respective old ladies, took me to the center, and in about 20 minutes Anna was there. The bikers wished me good luck with the rest of my trip and went home, and I told my host that I needed to drop all my stuff and park the bike securely before visiting the city. It turned out that she lived almost 8km from there, and if she took the bus, she would get to her place later than me on the bike, so this being Ukraine, I sat her on top of the bag and the spare tires and rode through the center like that, no helmet.

Once we had parked the bike and I had a chance to have a shower, she took me to visit an important train factory in the city. It is not normally possible to visit, but they were celebrating the city’s industrial day, and a lot of places like that were open to the public. Not an opportunity to miss. The visit was great, we were taken around an enormous soviet-style factory in the late afternoon, the red sun shinning through the warehouses tall windows and making for some very good pictures.

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After that we went to eat something and then to a bar that served the local beer, which was excellent. It got late, and after such a long I was absolutely exhausted. The prospect of getting up at about 6 in the morning to ride to the border, deal with the crossing into Russia and then ride 400km more to Volgograd looked like the least appealing thing on Earth. On top of that, there was a museum that I really wanted to visit, an old military pilot school that had been turned into an air museum and had a collection of Soviet planes, so I decided to stay an extra day in the city.

 

Soviet heavy metal

Day 13 – Sunday 7th of July – Luhansk (0km)

For an airplane geek like me, today was absolute heaven. The place we went to was apparently one of the three best military pilot schools in the old USSR, and the enourmous complex where it was located, on the outskirts of Luhansk, is today partly abandoned, partly inhabited by locals, partly used by the army, partly an air museum. The bus dropped at the main entrance, where an old soviet reactor stood proud to remind people of what the place had been in other times.

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We went through the gate and I noticed that what must have been the entrance checkpoint had been turned into small shops and kiosks. The blocks of flats that flanked the main avenue were today inhabited by local people who had bought them cheap because they had been built long ago. Further into the complex, the trees and vegetation had grown wilder and from time to time I caught a glimpse of old buildings and warehouses that were part of the pilot school.

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We were soon walking through overgrowth and half collapsed buildings, and it seemed rather strange that there was a museum somewhere in there, but you need to take into account that Ukraine has not developed a tourist infrastructure in most places. After a while we had got lost, and there was no one to ask. In the end we found some kind of old car park near another block of apartments and Anna asked a guy who was coming out the way to the museum. He sent us along a narrow footpath across a small forest that then turned into fields and we kept walking until I realized that we were on the schools runway. Far to our right we could see the tails of the planes in the museum. I asked Anna what use people made of the runway today, and she told me that a lot of people took their kids there with the family car to teach them how to drive, and there was also people who raced but that from time to time small private planes landed there. I was quite shocked that people were allowed to enter a runway that was sometimes active, and I asked her whether there was some kind of ATC or authority responsible for the place, but she didn’t know. I took a couple of pictures – it is not often that you can simply walk into an active runway – and went to the museum.

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We had apparently come to the back door, and there was an old guy that took a lot of convincing to let us in through that gate. After assuring him that we were going to go straight to the main entrance and pay, he let us in. Anna asked him about the runway, and he said that they were responsible for the museum, and the military for the radio station next to it, if somebody decided to land their plane on the old runway, it was their responsibility to make sure they didn’t land on anybody. What a crazy country!

Once into the museum, I had a wonderful time despite the tremendous heat. There were lots of planes I loved, like an Ilyushin Il-76, a Tupolev Tu-95, a Mig 29, a Sukhoi Su-27, a Beriev Be-12 and many others. The guy from the back gate came back, apparently having decided to make up for his earlier reception, and gave us a thorough explanation of the planes and helicopters there, although it was in Russian… Anna did her best to translate it for me.

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We came back to the flat to get some food and a badly needed shower, and I finally found a moment to write for the blog. In the evening we went back to the center to see the sunset from a park that overlooked the old part of the city. It was a wonderful last view of Luhansk.

Tomorrow I’ll cross into Russia, and I am already nervous again about having to face the fearsome old soviet bureaucracy.

 

Three adventure bikers in Volgograd

Day 14 – Monday 8th of July – Luhansk to Volgograd (506km)

No problems at the border crossing today. The Russian bureaucracy at the border was easy, it just took time to fill in all the immigration papers for me and the bike and then I was welcomed into Russia, border guards much nicer than in Ukraine. I rode on decent roads for most of the morning and then stopped at a lay by to eat some fruit for lunch before riding into Volgograd. As I was there, a lorry driver passed by, stopped the truck and reversed back to where I was. In Russian he asked where I was coming from, and when I explained the best I could that I had come from Barcelona and I was going to Mongolia, he was very surprised and wished me luck. A few minutes later, an old man and his son stopped their old Lada, got off, and said something pointing at the bike. From lots of gestures I understood that he also had a bike in the nearby village he was from, and then he took my address notebook, which I had taken out to call my host in Volgograd, and wrote his name and address there, making gestures indicating that I could sleep at his place if I needed to. I had only been in Russia for a few hours, but the people here were the most helpful and welcoming I had seen!

A couple of hours later I rode into Volgograd and into a traffic jam, and when I looked down to my GPS I could not believe my eyes – I was already in the city and the thing said that I still had to ride more than 30km to get to my host’s home. After about an hour of more crazy Russian traffic, I got there and discovered that Volgograd is a massive city – it extends for about 80km along both sides of the river Volga, despite only having 1.5 million inhabitants.

I stopped the bike in front of my host’s door and waited for someone to come, and I was more than surprised when his girlfriend turned up accompanied by two other couch surfers that were also staying at the flat… and who were also bikers!

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One of them, Lex, was from Holland and was riding an old Transalp down south into Georgia and then Turkey, and Martin was from the Czech Republic and was riding his GSA more or less along the same route I was doing, the only difference being that he was doing all the Stans, while I was only doing Kazakhstan. Our host’s girlfriend told me to drop my things and have a shower, and then took us for a walk. I did not take my phone or anything else, thinking that we would only be away for a while, but we went on a night tour of the city of Volgograd and were not back in the apartment until well past 2 am. I was shattered, but it had been more than worth it, we visited the city’s memorials of the battle of Stalingrad, and they were a magnificent sight at that time of the night, no heat and no other tourists around. Amazing experience.

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Russian mechanics

Day 15 – Tuesday 9th of July –Volgograd (0km)

I got up today and sent a message to my contact in the city, Vitali, from the Ferrum MC, who I had found on the HUBB before leaving Barcelona. He told me the address of a bike shop where I could have my bike serviced and the oil leak checked, so I put the address in the GPS and went off, no riding suit on, as it was tremendously hot in the city and I did not fancy negotiating the traffic jams on full riding armour. Lex, the Dutch guy, had left an hour earlier, heading for Astrakhan, where he had already arranged a Couch Surf.

Maybe the traffic was better, or maybe I was just getting used to it, but I found the 30km ride to the workshop quite easy. When I got there, I rolled the bike into the forecourt and an enormous Russian guy came out. I told him about Vitali, but he did not seem to know what I was talking about, and he shouted for a girl to come out from inside the workshop. She was Kate, the secretary, and she spoke some English. I told her that I had been told to go there by Vitali, but she did not seem to know who he was either. I got him on the phone and they talked in Russian for a while, then they told me to roll the bike into the shop, and asked me what I needed. I told Kate that I wanted to have the tires I was carrying fitted, replace the spark plugs, the oil, to have the air filter cleaned and the oil leak checked. They told me that there was no problem, and they got started on the regular service while the “master” mechanic, as they called him, was coming. Used to Spanish waiting times at workshops, I thought it would take all day, so I was thinking about getting a bus back to the apartment and come back on the following day to get the bike when the big guy pointed at a comfy leather sofa in the air conditioned back office and said “sit”. I sat there and took out a book. After five minutes of reading I was already bored, so I walked into the office and started talking to Kate. In ten minutes we were sitting at the office’s computer, and she wanted to see all the pictures I had on Facebook from back home. She was really, really nice, and made me feel at home all the time I was there. We talked a lot, she got me some tea, and at lunchtime she even ordered some food we ate together in the office.

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Shortly before four o’clock, the bike was ready, oil leak repaired and all. It turned out it was a broken chain tensioner seal, and the “master” had just cut a new one and replaced it. All the mechanics and Kate took pictures with me and the bike and wished me good luck, they were all really nice and helpful people.

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Back at the apartment, me and Martin went for a swim in the river Volga in the late afternoon, and then had a beer sitting by the river and watching the sunset. It was an amazing moment and it made me think how little I could have imagined I would be here doing this a year ago.

Martin is a programmer, and he is working on his laptop while he is travelling. His intention was to stay in the city until Friday, but today he was able to advance some work and he will be joining me on the ride to Astrakhan tomorrow, it will be nice to have some company on the road for a change.

At night, Andrey, our host, took us for a traditional Russian version of the Shish Kebab, and I made a new friend.

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End of part one

Day 16 – Wednesday 10th of July – Volgograd to Astrakhan (425km)

The book I took with me on the trip is ‘The Grapes of Wrath’, by Steinbeck, and riding thorough the barren, almost desert landscape between Volgograd and Astrakhan and seeing the small villages and their wooden houses covered in dust, with haystacks that almost looked as piles of dried mud melting into the landscape, I could not help but think of that story.

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Seeing such a dry and dusty place and baking in the almost 40ºC heat on the motorbike, it is hard to imagine that temperatures reach -20ºC in winter and snow covers everything. Life here must be very hard.

I rode with Martin all the way to Astrakhan, and it was a very nice day. I finally got some pictures and videos of myself and the bike for a change and I also recorded him.

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The road was very good and we made it to Astrakhan by four o’clock in the afternoon. The night before I had sent a Couch request to a couple who live in the city, and it turned out that it is the same Couch Lex, the Dutch guy is staying at, so we have met again. Valentin, the guy who is hosting us, had to work today, but there is a very active community of Couch Surfers in the city and they were very excited to know that we were here, so he organized a meeting in the center. He gave us the mobile numbers of a couple of people and told us to go and meet them.

We took a 20-minute walk to the center and waited for them at the park. We were about eight people, and other people joined us as we walked across the center and to the river Volga to see the sunset.

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It seems that every time I think that a city is going to be boring or uninteresting and I am just going to sleep there and move on, it turns out to be a great place that I regret leaving so quick. Astrakhan is much smaller than Volgograd, and it is the most beautiful city I have seen so far in Russia and Ukraine. Unlike most other cities, it is well taken care of and looks beautiful, the center still has lots of old buildings and traditional wooden houses, and the Kremlin was amazing, even though we could only see the outer walls as it was closed for renovation.

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After a long walk we went back to the park where we had met and Martina, a German girl who works for charity and has been living in the city for 10 months, set up a slackline between two trees and we all had a go at it. Quite difficult!

Tomorrow Martin and I are heading into Kazahkstan, which means that the easy part of the trip is over. No more beds, no more showers, no more internet. We will ride for about 400km and then camp for the night. After that, we will go our separate ways, me to the North and then the Aral sea, and him into Uzbekistan. I will keep writing, but I do not know when I will have connection to publish posts, probably not before Almaty.

These first two weeks have been amazing, I have experiences so many things and met so many people it will still take some time for it all to sink in. Now the difficult part starts. See you soon.

 

Camels and oil wells

Day 17 – Thursday 11th of July – Astrakhan to Dossor (455km)

Martin and I set off early this time, and by 8 am we were already on the road, after having stopped to get some juice and pastries for breakfast. We rode out of the city and shortly after came to a big river crossing. I had read on the HUBB that there was no bridge and we would need to keep some rubles before crossing into Kazakhstan to pay for the ferry to cross it. It turned out that there was a bridge, it was one of these pontoon bridges floating on the river and we had to pay 50 rubles to cross it. The surface of the bridge was made of big planks of metal, bent and dented, so it was unbelievably slippery, but we made it to the other side without dropping the bike.

From there, it was a short ride to the border, which was surprisingly easy to cross. There was a queue, but we just cut to the front and the guard let us through. We cleared the Russian side without any problem, even though we had not registered with the authorities in the country, and we were not asked for the temporary import papers for the bikes that we had been given when we entered the country from Ukraine. On the Kazak side the borders were friendly and very curious about our trip, it was a shame that we could not take pictures. Using some hand sign language, they told me we could exchange money right there at the customs building, and just across the border there were lots of people also offering to exchange money and sell vehicle insurance. Since my European insurance only covered up until the European part of Russia, I got one which covered me for 20 days for about 27€.

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The road turned immediately nasty, with lots of potholes that made us ride on the footpegs and we had to be careful not to hit them, as they were deep and with rough edges. An hour or so into the country we stopped for petrol at a small village and from then on the road turned quite better, allowing us to travel at about 80km/h, but still being careful to avoid the occasional deep pothole. We were planning to make it to a town called Dossor, which was about 100km further than I had originally planned to go, but the day had been good and the road was not as bad as we had feared, so we thought we could make it. Shortly before Atyrau we stopped for petrol one last time, as that would be enough to get us there.

The landscape in Kazakhstan was quite boring, miles and miles of nothing, just desert, camels and horses and from time to time a village or oil wells.

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The road after Atyrau was surprisingly good, and we were able to ride fast all the way to Dossor. We stopped for one last time to buy some water and Martin also got a pair of sunglasses he could wear under his goggles, as it was very sunny. As we were getting ready to get back on the bikes, a Belgian guy on a weird bicycle pulled into the petrol station. He was taking part on a race that were riding solar powered bikes from France to Astana, and at that moment he was the leader.

 

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He was into the solar energy business and had designed the bike himself, the told us two of his prototypes were taking part in the race. We wished him luck and warned him about the roads, but he seemed to be confident that the bad roads would not be a problem on his bike.

We got to Dossor at about 7 in the evening, and stopped for petrol at a station at the crossroads where we would part ways the following morning, Martin going south to Uzbekistan and me north to Aktobe. We asked the guy at the petrol station where we could camp, and he told us that it would be better to do it behind the building, saying that it would not be safe to camp further outside the town.

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Putting up the tents in the wind was quite difficult, and it was unbelievably dusty. In only half an hour the tents were full of desert dust on the inside, and our stuff covered in it. I cooked some risotto on my stove and sat down against the petrol station building to eat it watching the sun set on the desert.

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Trouble in the desert

Day 18 – Friday  12th of July – Dossor to somewhere in the desert to Astrakhan (655km)

We woke up at sunrise, shortly after 5 in the morning, and by the time we had got the dust off all our stuff and packed the tents, it was already hot. As we were getting ready to leave, we asked the guy at the petrol station about the state of the roads, and he pointed at my route and said “problem, problem”. It seems that the road was in very bad condition, and people went around for 1,500km to avoid the 600km to Aktobe. I had talked to some bikers on the HUBB who had ridden it, and I thought I would take two days and try to make it.

I felt quite sad saying goodbye to Martin, it had been three great days riding together, and I would have liked to continue having company. Maybe I should have taken the same route as him through the Stans, I would have had the chance to do the Pamir Highway and the landscape would definitely have been more varied than in Kazakhstan. In any case, it was too late now, I had no visas, so Kazakh desert it was.

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The road was still good for about 10km north of Dossor, and then it went back to the kind of very potholed asphalt I had found after the border. The bike was shaking so much that I could not see anything on the GPS, so I reached to hold with my left hand for a second to be able to check the distance, when to my horror the whole assembly, GPS and mount came loose and fell. I stopped to see what had happened and after removing the windscreen I discovered the problem. The windscreen is held in place by four screws, and I had replaced the two at the top for longer ones because that was where the GPS mount attached. It seemed that the vibration had made the weight of the whole assembly act as a lever and the screws had loosened and fallen. I put everything back in place, held it with some electrical wire and hoped it would hold.

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I rode on and after a while the road became the nightmare I had been warned about. It is relatively easy to ride on dirt or gravel roads, but the problem here is that there had been an asphalted road at some point and now it was gone, leaving just some patches here and there, then disappearing, then reappearing, and it was very hard to try and avoid hitting the rough edges. I made very slow progress, and at one point took one of the paths that trucks had made on the side of the road to avoid it. It was soft sand and in ten minutes, the bike slid at the front and I fell.

I was OK, so I removed the tank bag and tried to lift it without removing the rest of luggage. It turned out it is easier on the sand than on asphalt, and I was able to do it on my own. Good thing, because there was nobody else around. I went on, on and off the main road, and about 100km from Dossor I thought I was making decent progress and I would make it to my destination for the day in decent time despite the bad road, when suddenly the bike started handling funny and I had to stop, thinking that I had got a flat tire.

I checked, and I was right, the back tire was flat, so I got the compressor out, plugged it and inflated it. Once it was done I started turning it, checking for damage, but I could not see anything despite turning the tire several times. I was starting to wonder how it had gone flat when I saw it – the rim was dented.

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I had changed the springs on the bike in preparation for the trip, trying to make it a bit more usable off road, but this was still mostly an asphalt and dirt road bike, not a true hardcore endure machine, and the suspension lacked travel compared to a KTM or a BMW and it had bottomed out several times on the harder sections, the rim must have got damaged on one of those occasions. The tire seemed to hold the air, so I weighted my options. I could try and go on to Aktobe, but that was a two day trip on the same kind of roads or worse, and the rim clearly needed repairing or replacing, and that might be hard in Kazakhstan. It seemed that the best option was to head back to Russia, where I had a place to stay and access the internet to arrange for a replacement to be found. I thought about it under the sun for a good while, as that would mean that I could not go back and try this route again, since my Kazak visa only allowed one entry.

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In the end, I decided to turn back. I started making my way back slowly and carefully, and after ten minutes riding I felt that the tire was flat again. I had not panicked yet, since I had been able to inflate the tire and I thought I could make it back to Russia without much trouble, but when I got the compressor out, plugged it in, flicked the switched and realized to my horror that the thing would not start, I felt panic starting to build up. I was in the middle of nowhere, a hundred kilometers away from the closest city, and I had no way to inflate that tire again. Things were starting to get bad.

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I thought that I needed to arrange some kind of transport to get the bike to a repair shop, so I stopped a passing van to try and get some help. They were workers from an oil rig, and one of them spoke a little English. He told me that there was no recovery truck anywhere nearby, so there was nothing they could do. He then draw a rudimentary map on my notebook indicating that there was an oil rig or refinery or something like that five or six kilometers down the road and that I should try to make it there and ask for help. I got on the bike and slowly rode in first gear, trying to avoid the roughest parts of the road, but it was impossible not to hit some bad patches from time to time, event riding in first gear. Sweaty and miserable, I made it to the gates of the plant almost an hour later. I called the security guy at the door and tried to explain my problem. We spent at least half an hour with me trying to explain that I needed to get back to Astrakhan and him trying to make me understand that there was no transport to be arranged. The only thing travelling on those roads were oil tankers coming and going from the wells, and it was not possible to put the bike on one of them. Then he asked me if I had dollars, and seemed to indicate that he could fix the wheel. He made some phone calls and then gestured me to take the wheel off the bike, so I took out the tools and got down to it in the scorching heat at the entrance of the plant.

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Another guy came, apparently a mechanic who worked there, and took the wheel into the plant. He came half an hour later, with the tire inflated but some chunks of lip missing where he had tried to bang it back into shape. I checked it and it seemed to hold the air, so I put it back on the bike, paid them and got back on the road as soon as possible.

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I thought that the botch job would not hold for long, and I was already regretting having paid them when I saw a bike approaching o the road. We stopped and it turned out to be a guy called Wesley, from the UK, who was following the same route as me before I broke the rim. He complained about the state of the road (and he was riding a better bike than mine for that kind of stuff) we discovered that we both knew Stephen Stallebrass  and we exchanged details. He wished me luck and we parted ways.

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The botch job got me all the way back to Dossor, where I got some petrol and checked the pressure. I asked several people again, but I got the same answer, no recovery truck, no way to take the bike back into Russia. Seeing that the tire was holding, I decided to try and make it there myself, especially because it was getting darker and the wind was blowing very strong, there was a sandstorm forming. I zigzagged my way out of the petrol station through the queue of huge tankers that were waiting to fill up with diesel in the last town before heading into the desert and into the storm, and started making my way back. The tire held the air well all the way to Atyrau, where I stopped to check the air pressure. It was still OK, so I pushed to the border, hoping to make it to Astrakhan before nighttime.

I had avoided the sand storm in Dossor, but the sky was getting dark and there seemed to be heavy rain to my right. It was still very hot, and I did not want to waste time stopping and taking out the waterproof layer for the suit, so I decided to take the risk. About half an hour later the rain started, big drops that soaked me up quickly. Fortunately, it did not last very long, and before getting close to the border I was starting to dry up. I was starting to feel confident that I was going to make it, but then I got to the bad section before the border and hit a couple of potholes; sure enough, the tire went flat again instantly. I limped to a small group of huts by the side of the road, but they did not have a pump. Back on the road, I stopped a couple of Ukrainian tractor heads who connected a hose to the truck’s air system and pumped my tire. I made it to about 10km from the border before it went flat again, and things were getting bad. The sun had set, I was exhausted and the tire did not seem to hold for more than 10km at a time. I limped the last 10 km to the border with a flat tire, and while waiting for the passport and bike papers to be checked, talked to another truck driver who pumped my tire. I was only about 30km from my host’s apartment in Astrakhan, but the tire let go again when I arrived at the pontoon bridge on the river. Crossing it with the bike in perfect conditions was scary, doing it again with a flat tire was absolutely terrifiying. The bike slid all over the place, and more than once I was very close to losing it. Sweaty and shaking, I made it to the other side. I had only 20km to go, and I tried to stop a car to try and plug my compressor into their 12V socket, maybe it was only the socket on my bike that was not working and the compressor itself was ok, but nobody stopped. After a while I saw a petrol station and a girl who had stopped there for petrol let me try in her car. It worked, and that last charge was enough to get me to the apartment, where Lex and and Valentin were waiting for me. It was almost midnight, and never in my life had I been so happy to see somebody. They gave me some dinner, I had a quick shower and just crashed into bed.

 

Insurance and SIM cards

Day 19 – Saturday  13th of July –Astrakhan (0km)

Today I spent most of the morning on the phone to my insurer back in Spain, trying to see what options I had and what would be the cheapest solution. In the end they said they could either arrange for the bike to be taken back to Spain or repaired here, but if I chose the second option, I would have to find a place and a replacement part myself.

I had been studying my options, and decided that I could not risk another big breakdown like this, but I did not want to cancel the trip, it would be such a pity. I happen to have another rear rim in Barcelona, and the insurance company said they would reimburse the expense of having it shipped to Astrakhan, so I decided to go for that option. After a lot more phone calls and whatsapss, I arranged for my parents to send the rim via UPS or DHL, as both companies have offices in Astrakhan. The problem is that it was Saturday, so everything was closed. We have to wait until Monday get an estimate time of shipping. In the meantime I found a couple of workshops that will replace the rim and when it arrives I just have to call my insurer and they will transport the bike to the workshop I tell them.

So I am stuck in Astrakhan, but at least there are very nice CouchSurfers here who will make my time in the city more enjoyable. Once the rim is here, I will be able to see how much time and money I have left and decide how to continue the trip.

While I wait, I am trying to find a place to unlock my phone to accept other SIM cards and get a Russian one, since I am now going to be spending most of the reminder of the trip in this country, and roaming calls have cost a fortune so far, but there is nothing to be done until Monday again.

In the meantime, I went for a walk and a few beers near the river, and tomorrow I will go for a swim.

 

Another swim in the Volga and a tattoo

Day 20 – Sunday  14th of July –Astrakán (0km)

Today I spent the morning updating the blog, counting days and kilometers to see what I can do once the bike is fixed, and I sent an email to Stephen Stallebrass, who did the same route as I am now considering.

In the afternoon, Dasha, one of the CouchSurfers from the city took me for a swim in the Volga. We had arranged to meet at a bus stop by the big bridge that crosses the river through an island, which is where the beaches are, and I walked more than 6km in 40ºC heat to get there because I wanted to walk through the center rather than take a bus.

2013-07-14 17.24.45

The river beach would have been a nice place if it had not been for the fact that there were empty bottles and plastic wrappings everywhere, the Russians can not seem to be able to keep a place other than their own home clean, which is a pity, as it was quite a beautiful place. I went for a swim and then Dasha took out a henna pen and started to practice drawing a tattoo on her leg. She told me that she wanted to make some extra money that summer painting tattoos on people on the beach, and when she was done she asked if she could practice on my arm too, so I got a nice souvenir from Astrakhan.

2013-07-14 18.54.44

Back at the apartment I checked my mail and saw that Stephen had replied, with some advice about the route he took. I also tried to find information online to see if I can unlock my phone myself, which might be easier than trying to get some Russians at a phone shop to understand what I need. More news on that tomorrow.

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