After "bailing" at Dalnerechensk yesterday, I spent some time squinting at the map. It would be doable - just barely doable - to make it to Khabarovsk Thursday (tomorrow) night, keeping me on my intended schedule. But it would mean two 175-km days, and so I would have to be up and out early. This would mean no time for blogging until I got there; in either English or Russian.
So I got up reasonably early today, packed up and armed with my new toothbrush, headed out to see what I could do with the bike. I essentially took as much apart as I could with the tools I had, cleaned as best I could with the toothbrush and a bucket of water, re-oiled and put it back together.
The procedure took me longer than I had planned, almost 2 hours. But better that than a non-working bike.
I got back to the highway and made a quick stop at a "Бистро24" for breakfast. These places are amazing. They are found along the highway in every town and are little drive-up kiosks where you can get pretty much anything. Chinese (wontons, fried rice)? Yep. "Traditional" Russian (borshch, pirozhkiy)? Sure. Western (hamburgers, pizza, caesar salad)? You bet. Cappuccino? No problem. There are several different chains that I've seen so far, some are 24h and some not. But basically like a take-out version of a greasy spoon diner. For me, on the bike, this is about as perfect as you can possibly get, because it means I don't have to worry about locking the bike up somewhere, and then worrying about all the stuff on it. And with the number of calories I'm burning through, I'm not worried about a little extra grease.
So anyway, a couple of pirozhkiy and a chocobar from the Бистро24, and I'm on the road, making pretty excellent time. The bike feels easier to push than before. I don't know if I was perhaps riding on a (slightly) deflating tyre for longer than I'd realized? Or maybe the brakes were adjusted a bit too tightly? Either way, it seems easier. Every time I look down at my speedometer, I find I'm doing about 2-3 km/h faster than I was previously, for roughly the same amount of effort. With the extra couple hours cleaning the bike, I'm still not sure about 175km, but I can probably come close.
In the fairly early afternoon, I pass by a "serious" cycler going the other way. We talk for a few minutes: he's on his way from Khabarovsk down to Vladivostok. He says he's been doing a little over 200km a day! Молодец! ("Good job!") But he's also travelling pretty light - just a small backpack - and is on a road bike, like mine in Canada. *Sigh*
He tells me about a good hotel he stayed at the previous night, in Bikin. Take the turnoff into the town, and it'll be on your left, he says. Bikin is a few km short of where I want to be tonight, but we'll see.
As we part ways, it occurs to me that I didn't think to ask how well he knew the highway. Did he know about the upcoming 10km of mud? I'm not sure how he's planning to handle that on a road bike. Maybe, as I was thinking yesterday, he'll just pick it up and carry it.
Some time later, I reach the town of Luchegorsk, which had been my intended destination for the previous night. I begin to think that - yet again - there may have been a blessing in disguise related to the place in Dalnerechensk. Luchegorsk is an extremely industrial town. There's a massive factory beside it with three huge smokestacks towering over the town emitting a thick smelly smoke into the air. The entire place smells questionable.
On the map the town is at the side of a lake, and there are hotels with the evocative names of "Astoria" and "Azure." It sounded rather pretty.
In reality, both hotels were industrial-looking buildings surrounded by junkyards and mechanic shops. The place in Dalnerechensk, with all of its downsides, seemed like a much better deal.
I was pretty happy to get out of town and put Luchegorsk behind me as soon as I could.
Almost immediately on leaving Luchegorsk, the scenery changes. One last valley, and then I'm into thicker forests as I climb the range of hills that marks the border between Primorskiy and Khabarovskiy Krais (provinces, roughly). They're not mountains, per sé, but definitely I am soon climbing the first proper hill since I left Vladivostok, surrounded by aspen forests that go forever. There's a sense of welcome familiarity about this.
At one point, I'm passed by a trio of motorbikes, laden down with more baggage than mine. Clearly doing a cross-country trip! They are festooned with Republic of Korea (South) flags and decals. Lots of horn tooting, thumbs-up and peace signs. The girl on the back of the rear bike has her camera out, taking as many pictures of me as she can in the few seconds while they pass by.
2km from the top of the hill I notice my pedals being a bit wobbly. Hmm. The bolt is definitely coming loose. I tighten it up again, and half-forget about it as I go over the top of the hills. Khabarovskiy Krai! One province down! (22 to go)
I coast down the hill, making good time. 8km from the top, I notice my pedal is again wobbling. I tighten it up again, significantly more concerned. The bikers among you will know exactly why at this point: the aluminum around the square bolt feeding into the bottom bracket is most likely shot. This was the one part that we weren't able to find to our liking in Vladivostok, and had to settle for our second choice. It probably worked itself a bit loose in the previous day's mud run without me noticing. And I forgot to double check it in Dalnerechensk.
So it's been getting duller and duller all day, and now is almost certainly gone. I'll have to get a new one for sure in Khabarovsk. My only question is whether I'll make it that far. It may be a long, long walk.
I tighten the crank again, get on the bike, and whoa. Something is very not right. I look down: my second flat tyre.
As I'm fixing the flat tyre and being eaten alive by mosquitoes, I notice that one of the bolts holding the rack on to the bike has fallen out. When did this happen?? It was definitely fine in Dalnerechensk this morning! I look through all the spare bits and pieces that I brought with me from Yegor's workshop, but no spare rack bolts. However I do have a lifetime supply of Yegor's favourite tool: zip ties!
I use two zip ties to fasten the rack on, fix the tyre as fast as I can (darkness is coming, mosquitos are having the dinner of their life, and I don't really want to be doing this on the highwayside for longer than I have to). Get back on the bike, make it two more km, and feel yet another odd wobbling in the wheel. I'm about ready to cry.
I look down, and realize that I'd just done a crappy and rushed job of putting the tyre back on. This one was my fault! And easily fixable, at least. Except for the part where I had to - once again - take all the saddle bags and panniers off the bike so that I could remove the wheel and fix the tyre. Have I mentioned that I don't like panniers? Every one of these operations takes a good 10 minutes longer when I have to take them off every time.
ANY way. Enough grumbling. The tyre re-re-repaired, I'm back on my way again. 5km to Bikin, and almost dusk. Looks like I will stop at the hotel the other biker had mentioned, after all.
At Bikin, I take the turnoff and head into town, looking for a hotel on the left side. Nothing, nothing. I get to the center of town and haven't seen anything. I look up hotels on my iPhone. (With about 5% battery power remaining - I have a battery backup but it's buried at the bottom of my packs and - sigh. I hadn't planned this well.)
It comes up with one, with a name (the Lotus) that was definitely not what the guy had said. But whatever. I find the Lotus and it is definitely not what I'm looking for. I'm pretty sure it's not even open, and I most certainly don't want to leave the bike outside in this neighbourhood while I go in to investigate.
I'm not sure what to do. The best choice seems to be to go back to the highway, press on for a couple km then find a place to set up the tent in the forest. Not a fan of this plan for a couple of reasons: 1. It's now definitely dark. I'd rather do such a thing while it's still light so I have some clue about my surroundings, and 2. the forecast is for thunder and lightning over night. Indeed the thunderstorm is already closing in with lightning just over the hill.
But I don't seem to have any other options. Reluctantly I make my way back toward the highway, when I see it. There's the hotel, "hidden" behind a gas station, maybe 50m from the highway! I realized that I hadn't noticed it because at the time there was a car closing in behind me, and I was more concerned about getting out of its way.
One car, and maybe a 40 minute detour. Whatever. It's a hotel. It has a 24h restaurant. It's welcoming, and it has a place to store the bike. I'll worry about the pedal tomorrow.
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