Thursday, August 6, 2009

July 28 to Aug 1 - Biysk to Ondorhangai

So, after alot of time on trains, buses and more trains, we finally got back on the bikes again. In spite of the big build-up, the biking still managed to exceed expectations. Our first day, we cycled a beautiful 100km or so out of Biysk on amazing roads, amidst beautiful scenery with little traffic. It's quite a touristy area of Russia, we passed the hometown of Shushkin (a famous Russian writer, for whom there are special celebrations this year that we had just missed by a week). That afternoon and evening we crossed over into the Altai Republic and stayed at a hotel in Gorno-Altaisk, the republic's rather ugly capital city surrounded by absolutely beautiful scenery in every direction.

There are cows on the road EVERYWHERE here... this one was passed by two cars in either direction several times but did not budge an inch....

The next morning we experienced some frustrations getting our visa registered. Fellow travelers who will be going this way might want to check out this post for some info that should make it MUCH faster and easier.

We ended up leaving only around 2:30 from Gorno Altaisk once our registration was finally complete, but made it about 45km before we stopped at this campsite, worried that it would be the last one this beautiful (it definitely wasn't, though!)

Where we ate dessert, two steps away from our campsite....

... the river was so close and so big that the sound of it actually woke us up a couple times.

At the camp, we met a fellow traveller from Germany who was travelling a loop from Germany through a few of the "stans" including Kazakhstan, Russia and Mongolia in his very formidable vehicle (that has also made it through several amazing journeys through the Sahara.)

The next morning, we washed dishes with a Russian engineer that very generously donated his topographic maps of the region and discussed his most recent telecommunications challenge with Mike. (Now that we're out of Russia, if there is anyone planning a bike or other trip through the Russian Altay, let us know and we'll be happy to send them your way for planning purposes... they are not very widely available outside the Altay Republic, we've only been able to find them in Biysk, not even the Kazakh Altay region.)

On our third day, we spent the morning following the huge and beautiful Katun river, then crossed a bridge after which the frequency of resorts, roadside cafes and traffic in general decreased dramatically.

At one of our lunch stops (our long biking days include multiple lunches and suppers, averaging about a zillion calories) we stopped at a shashlik stand and met up with a bunch of motorcyclists from the UK who are biking around the world from London to New York.

We also were able to directly observe the supply chain from whence our delicious shashlik came....

We also met up with two cyclists (on recumbent bikes) from France on their way out of Mongolia. This made both of our days, capping it off with a visit in the only remaining language we knew that we hadn't spoken yet that day (which gave me an extra spurt of energy for the last few hills), talking logistics about the route through Mongolia, benchmarking our equipment and amount of water storage capacity, etc. (which gave Mike a little extra jolt too!)

That night we camped at a site on a smaller river, but an equally lovely spot. We also hung out with two sisters from Novosibirsk and their father who were camping there enroute to the Mongolian border (we later saw them on their way back, unfortunately not able to cross the border without visas.)

(We had just got out of our "bath" in the river, so you'll have to excuse my horrible hairdo!!)

Our lovely little campsite in the pasture...

Mike practicing some new photography tricks he's been reading about...

The next day was a tough one, with a slow climb all morning to our first major pass, the Semalinsky pass. After spending all morning climbing the 30 km to the top (only about 10 km very steep), we had some shashlik at the peak and watched two different couples have their wedding pictures taken, before a very speedy descent all the way to Ongudai, where we would spend a day resting up and doing some laundry.

Jen ascending the pass....

Mike at the top of the pass... (notice the wedding party in the background)

The afternoon took significantly less time to cover the remaining 55km as it did the first 30km, but they were incredibly fun kilometers... a slight tailwind, all downhill, beautiful scenery and sunshine, no traffic other than a few cows and the odd herd of sheep and beautifully smooth tar and asphalt the whole way. I drafted behind Mike as we sped through the small hills and valleys in what must have been some of the most ideal surroundings for bike touring ever.

We arrived that night in Ongudai and found a charming little hotel with a tiny little sign on the front door with lots of space to ourselves for cooking and doing some laundry. (If you're following the same path and looking for it, go right at the first alley after crossing the bridge to the town's main street instead of left, where the bigger and more obvious but less clean and friendly hotel in the area is found.)

Jen descending into Ongudai...

We were very glad to have a kitchen of our own, and ended up using it to bastardize the local Russian "Pelmennie" (kind of like tortellini but with filling simliar to wontons) by covering it in an italian tomato sauce we put together- a bit of a clash of cultures, but delicious nonetheless!

All and all, this first stint back on the bike confirmed that we had picked the right kind of trip for us. The biking was amazing, and though we don't expect it to continue at this pace (our planned kms in Mongolia are dramatically less than we covered each day here), it was fun and exactly the kind of "slow travel" we were looking for. We have got to talk to tonnes of people... We've discussed our trip with local shopkeepers (so far one of the most common questions is still, "How did you get all that time off work???".... same as Canada. So thanks again to our bosses/deans!!!) and we've asked them loads of questions about the area, and all the little details of their lives that must seem like stupid questions to them but are very different to us.... Since we've arrived in Russia, we've also talked "shop" with the first fellow travellers we've met, some like us, some much more experienced with pretty crazy tales to tell...

So far, we're very happy with our choice of honeymoon!


No comments: