Biking begins... the hard way!

Sludyanka Travel Blog

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Meeting up with Zack in Irkutsk

As my train pulled into Irkutsk station early Wednesday morning, everyone was busy preparing themselves for arrival. I sat back and waited until the car was empty before approaching the provodnika (the lady who is resposible for the carriage) and miming that I would like to leave through the locked, but much closer, back exit. Fortunately she understood my request. Unfortunately she made me do all the hard work, and I fell on my ass while trying to pry open the stuck metal lever. I poked my head out the now open door and sighted my colleague Zack waiting on the platform. Zack helped me unload and assemble my bike and before I knew it, we were biking through the busy streets of Irkutsk!

We stayed in Irkutsk only long enough for me to secure a Mongolian visa, which ended up taking about 3 days.

The required Lenin statue in Irkutsk
Just to make things tricky for us, we could not pay for the visa at the embassy, and we had instead to go down the street to a bank and fill out stacks of paperwork, all in incomprehensible Russian. Thankfully Zack had picked up enough Russian to get our point across and the lady at the bank knew what to do. I think I signed the exact same paper about 6 times before the transaction was complete. While waiting for the visa, we strolled around the town, but there wasn't really much to see. The main thing I noticed was that unlike Moscow, there were a lot more people here with an "asian" appearance. Zack and I bought some Soviet-era pins from a vendor on the street and stocked up on provisions for our bike trip.

Our goal was to bike from Irkutsk to the Mongolian border, about 600 km away.

Ready to roll
There would be three of us: myself and Zack from Canada, and Sally, a girl from England, who Zack had met while in Irkutsk. Sally's Russian visa was due to expire by September 30th, which forced us to push ahead, even during tough times. And that is exactly what we had. The first night upon leaving Irkutsk was pleasant enough, barring the Russian rush-hour traffic. After a modest 25 km evening ride, we found a nice spot in an open field to set up camp for the night. We could see the clouds on the horizon, and sure enough, by the next morning, it was raining.

We biked about 30-40 km and the rain never let up, even turning into hail at one point! We were soaked, but I was glad I brought new rain gear, even though it wasn't a complete set. In addition to the bad weather, we had many hills to climb up.

Our first view of Lake Baikal
It was tough going and we didn't get nearly as far as we wanted to by the time the sun began to set. The best campsite we could find for the nightwas up on a hill and there was snow covering the ground. Needless to say, it was cold, wet and miserable. I had to spend half an hour in the bacta tank (i.e. the sleeping bag) warming up before I could function properly. We quickly ate dinner and hopped into our tents for the night.

We started late the next day, but the weather was behaving itself in the early afternoon, so we could make some real progress up the hills. After a couple hours toiling away, we reached the top of the hills and began the thrilling descent to the town of Sludyanka, on the shores of Lake Baikal. It was a fun ride down, but I had to be careful of the cars.

Zack tries to wash our the pots in the waves
 They pass each other at the most dangerous times, and if a chump cyclist happens to be coming the other way, he better watch out. At the viewpoint over the town, local vendors were selling dried fish from the lake, and I must admit that I sampled some.

We pedalled a dozen kilometres or so past Sludyanka before setting up camp for the night. By passing under the Trans-Siberian railway tracks and fording a foot-deep stream on our bikes, we were able to locate a beautiful campsite within steps of the lake. The trains passed constantly, but I didn't mind because it was fun to wave to the people inside and coerce the engineers to blow the whistle. One train was even treated to some public nudity, which they all seemed to appreciate. Zack and I found stones on the nearby beach and skipped them across the waves of the icy cold Lake Baikal as darkness approached.

casey says:
Public nudity! Were you a culprit???
Posted on: Oct 05, 2007
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Meeting up with Zack in Irkutsk
Meeting up with Zack in Irkutsk
The required Lenin statue in Irkut…
The required Lenin statue in Irku…
Ready to roll
Ready to roll
Our first view of Lake Baikal
Our first view of Lake Baikal
Zack tries to wash our the pots in…
Zack tries to wash our the pots i…
Sun sets over Lake Baikal
Sun sets over Lake Baikal
Sludyanka
photo by: coolguy