Russia: Just a typical day on the road

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With little else to offer distraction while riding, small niggles like forgetting to blow your nose can become all-consuming. Photo / Rob Gray
With little else to offer distraction while riding, small niggles like forgetting to blow your nose can become all-consuming. Photo / Rob Gray

Over the last few weeks we have seen the pale white trunks and shrivelled brown leaves of the Russian Far East forests slowly melt into the solemn evergreen of pines as we have moved from the Far East to Siberia.

Spring in Siberia is a bizarre season.

We have passed frozen lakes while forest fires burn close by. Some days we are freezing, and others we bask in brilliant sun.

Having been on the road a few weeks now, I thought I'd give you an insight into a typical day on the road - how we live while we are travelling...

The team alarm goes at 7am. This would be a painful experience back home, but in Russia there is a fair chance I'm already awake: partly because the sun has already been up for an hour and a half, and partly because the areas of my face not in my sleeping bag feel like they have fallen off from the cold.

A few blurry moments to reflect on the day ahead and mumble some prayers for safe travels, and then I deflate my sleeping mat.

The sensation of cold, lumpy ground digging into my shoulder blades forces me out of bed.

The first task of the day is to pack our gear, dismantle our tents and prepare our bikes (check oil level and bolts, lube chain) for the day ahead. My overly-complex system of straps, ropes and tie-downs can be a struggle so soon after waking up.

Then it's breakfast time. Our two primus cookers can run on anything, and in no time at all we have a pot of porridge bubbling away. Ingredients are slightly different from back home: cooking oats (porridge oats are six times the price), cubes of sugar (we bought a box from a cafe for $2), milk powder (ok, corn thickener, which we thought was milk powder as it had a picture of a cow on it), and water (often from a nearby stream, boiled and then cleansed with a UV-emitting steripen).

On special occasions we treat ourselves to a dollop of jam on top (this is usually not actual jam, as we are still trying to work out how to distinguish between jams and the many other fruit products they have in similar containers). This thick paste is downed in a couple of minutes.

Leaving our campsite, we make our way back to the road and try to cover some good ground before our first major stop (perhaps 100 to 200 kilometres).

Inevitably, I forget some small task: a finger not properly in a glove, sunglasses not on, needing to pee, doing up a zip, cleaning a visor, tightening straps, blowing my nose. If ignored, a tiny oversight can become all-consuming, with little else to offer distraction while riding.

Lunchtime means finding a store ("magazine" in Russian). No matter what the size of a town or village, it will always have at least one magazine. The trick is finding it.

Magazines often look like normal houses or apartments, and it is not until we push open the door that we see the familiar products on display. Even though a magazine may only be the size of a small dairy, there are often two or three counters, at which you must order and purchase different products within the shop.

To make things more complicated, in Russia you must not pick things off the shelves yourself and carry them to the counter - you must point with a "mozhna" ("may I") and wait for the shopkeeper to fetch it for you.

After we thank them with a "spasiba", the inevitable response is "parjulsta", often with a slight smile at our poor attempt to speak Russian.

Lunch consists of cheese, salami and two loaves of bread. All that varies is the type of salami and freshness of the bread. If we are lucky enough to find a shop that sells uncarbonated water (most Russians seem to love carbonated water) we grab 15 litres between us.

Heading outside to enjoy our purchase, we slice up the cheese and salami with a pocketknife, spreading the food over Climo's luggage rack.

While we eat, around half a dozen locals approach us, and we have the same conversation with all of them (in broken Russian).

The first sentence a local says to us is usually in quick, garbled Russian, impossible for us to understand, as they have not yet realised we can't speak Russian.

"We can only speak a tiny bit of Russian."

"Ah. Where you from?

"Nova Zealandee."

"Ah! Nova Zealandee!" they respond, with a twinkle of approval and an appreciative nod of their heads.

"Where you going?" they continue.

"Vladivostokie to Londonie" we reply, with appropriate hand gestures filling the gaps.

"Mongolske, Kazakhstan, Kyrgizhia..."

"Ah, Vladivistokie Londonie!" they exclaim, eyes now wide and full of questions.

Conversation then turns to the bikes, occupations, and our names. Sadly, it dwindles out long before we have really been able to communicate with much depth or meaning.

With lunch over, it is time to get back on the bikes. We discuss where we are expecting to get to tonight, how many kilometres remain, and what sort of campsite we are after.

Earphones in, music on, and it is time to get some more kilometres under the belt. With only little stops for photos, toilet breaks and the occasional rattle or issue with one of the bikes or riders, we cover good ground after lunch.

By four or five o'clock, at least some of us are pretty tired and keen to call it a day. Others are eager to press on.

This is the most difficult part of the day. Tension often arises as we try to decide: do we press on and go as far as we intended, or stop early, find a nice campsite and relax?

Our campsites vary greatly. On one memorable night, we arrived by about 4.30pm, giving us nearly six hours of sunlight to enjoy. We changed the oil in the bikes, did some maintenance, set up our tents and relaxed. The fields were drenched in sun and we were well out of sight from the road. We stayed up to watch the sun set, journalling and talking next to the fire we had made.

On another we were camped on a cliff top overlooking a frozen lake, surrounded by snow-capped peaks.

Other nights are not so enjoyable. Once we slept beside a telecommunications tower down a dirt road near the Chinese border, only able to get in because someone forgot to lock the gate. It was dark, wet and icy. The space next to the tower was the only area we could find to pitch our tents, having searched for several hours.

We huddled together on the sheltered side of a locked building as we prepared dinner by the light of our head-torches and texted our GPS coordinates back to New Zealand, a nightly routine that ensures we can be traced to within 24 hours in case of an emergency.

Eventually, whether we are sheltering from the elements or refreshed from a relaxing evening, we drift off to sleep ... until the team alarm goes at 7am the next morning.

* To help Rob and his mates reach their fundraising target for the Living Hope charitable organisation in Vladivostok and for more information on their journey, click here.

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