Days 101 Through 110

Day 101

In Georgia the big challenge was dealing with the mountains. Here in Russia, my new obstacle is dealing with isolation. Today I headed out of Grozny and there really won't be too much out there until I get to Astrakhan.

Leaving Grozny I soon realized I had an additional problem to deal with, the wind is back. As a result, my planned trip into the small town of Kizlyar was cut short. Its hard to believe it took me 101 days, but I am finally camping tonight for the first time on the trip. Firmly into the spring season with warmer weather and much less rain, I plan to start doing a lot of camping from here on out. Chechnya, a region which has been part of five wars in my lifetime, is not really the most relaxing place in the world to pitch a camouflage tent and stealth camp in the woods, but it seems to be working out ok. I am also a small bit worried about unexploded mines in the area, but, from what I could gather, I'm probably pretty safe where I am right now.


Awesome cop gave me some tea and bread as I passed through
First camping spot of the trip

Day 102

I woke up today, got everything packed and ready to go, and then I hit the road to the most unpleasant surprise. My campsite in the trees was ok, but out on the open road, the wind was still there, stronger than ever... I grinded my way through it, slowly heading out of the forests of Chechnya and into the wide open Russian tundra. This just made the wind worse... Imagine going to the gym, cranking the elliptical bike up to the highest speed and then pedaling like that all day. Now imagine doing that and not going very fast or very far. That's the way I felt today, but unlike the bike at the gym, I couldn't just get off, I had to keep dealing with it. Not so much fun... I was on a flat, straight road for the foreseeable future, and I had no idea how long this wind would last. I just kept going until it started getting dark and then I pulled off the road a bit to camp.

Camping was great last night, I had a nice little spot hidden away in the forest providing stealth and wind protection. Tonight I had no such luck. It's a huge flat plain out here, with no trees, no hills, and nothing to stop the wind. I searched for a while and set up my tent next to a really small sand dune which I was hoping would offer some protection. Nope, haha, definitely didn't help at all. In fact it really just made things worse, as the sand kept blowing all over me and my tent. The tent kept threatening to blow over and I had to keep going out to redo all the stakes and tighten the ropes to make sure things were going to hold. Inside the tent was incredibly loud, with the wind flapping the walls of the tent around. I don't think I'm going to get much sleep tonight...

Day 103

Day three of the relentless wind. Wow, this is tough, very tough. The worse thing is just having no idea how long it will last. With no internet connection out here there's no way of checking the forecasts... Last night I was constantly awoken by the howling wind and flapping tent. This is up there with the most frustrating spots of the trip...

I got to a fork in the road today. Both maps I have made it pretty clear I should be going to the right. I stopped just to double check, when someone pulled up beside me and told me quite unequivocally that I needed to go left. Hmm ok... There was indeed a sign that indicated that Astrakhan was to the left, but   you could tell that the sign used to say it was to the right, and then they changed it. Well this guy that told me to go left seemed pretty certian, and he was wearing a camo uniform which made me think he was probably some sort of authority on stuff like this (hard to tell though, as everyone seemed to be wearing camo around here). Plus if I went left I'd be going with the wind, although both maps showed I'd be going completely the wrong way... I went left. 70 km with the strong wind, went by quickly. When I got to the next junction, there were no more signs for Astrakhan, and I was farther away than I was when I started the day... Haha that sucks. Not much to do but stop in this small town for the night. At least I found a place to stay indoors where the wind can't blow me away...

The tent was like this for most of the night...

Day 104

My little detour yesterday left me at least one day slower into Astrakhan. I really need to get going here. Last night I mentally prepared myself for just having to deal with the wind as long as it lasts. For all I know, it could be like this every day into China... Ya, really doubt it, but still never know. Its going to be flat forever, nothing to block the wind, forever... Wind is the only thing on my mind, it has seemingly imprsioned my bike trip.

As luck would have it, it was only moderatley windy today, what a great improvement! Still slow going, but much more doable. I was even going the right direction today and everything. Got a flat tire today. Never great to get a flat, but it did cap the end of a great run without one. All the way from Zagreb, Croatia. I made a big U and met back up with the road I was originally planning on taking. I was surprised to see that it was no more than just a dirt track. Looks like that guy was right, maybe I did end up taking the better way. According to Google, that dirt path was supposed to be a national road, even a European highway (not sure exactly what that entails but it seems important...)

I got in to the small town of Lagan after dark, got some food and then started talking to a man who was nice enough to show me to a cheap hotel. While I tried to keep up as I rode behind his car on the bumpy roads of the town, I hit a large pothole and I suddenly heard the sound of metal snapping. I knew that was a really bad sound. At first I thought I broke a spoke, but it was actually much worse. I broke my rear axil. You can't ride without an axil and I don't have a replacement one. I'm stuck in town until I can get this fixed...

Day 105

Still in Lagan, not going to be able to leave until I have an axil. Went down to the one place in town with sporting goods. Mostly full of fishing rods, soccer balls, and lots of other stuff that wasn't bike related.Showed the clerk my broken axil and she immediatly shock her head, nope don't have that. I looked around anyway and saw that they did indeed have bike axils, just not quite the right size for me. I bought one anyway just to see if I could make it work somehow. Was walking back to the bike when a guy flagged me down in his car. He seemed to know exactly who I was. I was confused. He gestured for me to get in his car, so why not. Turns out he was the son of one of the ladies who worked at the hotel. She had called him to see if he could help me. We went back to the bike and had no luck with the new axil. Then he took the old axil and drove off. I didn't know exactly what was going on, but I figured this was better than any ideas I had. If I couldn't find this part, I would need to get on a bus, drive to Astrakhan, try to find the part there, and then come back. That sounded terrible...

When the part broke my initial thought was that this was not good. Reflecting a bit back on it now, I actually got incredibly lucky that the axil broke in a town, 100 feet away from a place to stop for the night. If this had happened out on the road in the middle of nowhere, I would have had a really massive problem on my hands. Here at least I was fortunate enough to have the help of a local. Sure enough this guy came back a couple hours later with the part I needed. No idea where he got it, don't think it was actually intended to be used on a bike, but it was the perfect size. I asked if it was strong, his response, "Russian Strong." Ya ok, not so sure if that's good or bad. Eitherway it was a minor merical that I found the piece.

As you can probably imagine, I've grown a bit protective of my bike. I need to, its my only ride... I really hate it when other people put their hands on it, even just gently touch it or try to help me move it. I suppose its a bit for sentamental reasons as well as the fact that I know how easy it is for my crappy bike to brake. You can imagine how uneasy I felt as people at the hotel tried to "help" get the axil back on the bike. All's well that ends well though, and looks like I'll be able to hit the road tomorrow.

Day 106

Another long day of biking all day. Again with these strange, poorly mapped roads. Made it a couple of hours and then the road turned to dirt. Couple more hours on the crappy dirt roads and then the roads started getting great. Axil held up, that was good. Wind was still persistant but not as bad as a few days again, that was good. Camping tonight on the banks of a river. Nice spot which would be an awesome spot if it wasn't full of trash. Tomorrow, my long delayed arrival to Astrakhan. I hope...

Some of the nice ladies that worked at the hotel in Lagan

The offical road sign to Astrakhan...

Day 107

Easy day today, as I only had about 60 kms to go. The only thing that made that it a small bit difficult was that some birds ate all of my food last night so I had to go with out breakfast this morning... As with Vladikavkaz, it took me forever to find a place to stay. People kept telling me they were "full," despite definitely not looking full at all. Finally found something. Running out of Ruples and don't really want to go to the ATM again, so think I'll head to Kazakhstan tomorrow.

Day 108

Russia, its been fun, but I'm stoked to be heading out. Kazakhstan sounds like a cool place, I really want to go there, and no, that's not just becuase of Borat... Over the river I went, out of Russia. Found a place to stay tonight in a small town 40 km past the border. Nice people, great food, awesome company. Some of them even spoke a bit of English, which is something I never really came across in Russia. This place is shaping up well.

Big pontoon bridge over a river

Kazakhstan border

Day 109

Today was one of those days where you just get going on the bike and don't stop until it starts getting dark. As if I didn't bitch enough about it in Russia, the wind is still here. Not as bad as before, but still slowing me down and killing my vibe on the bike. Nevertheless, the ride was nice. I mean, I'm biking on a small desert highway in Kazakhstan, this is awesome. Camping tonight, lots of stars, good times.

Day 110

It's been forever since I had a real break. Atyrau is the place. List of things to do is piling up, and I need to atleast make a dent in that list before I go any further. Spare parts for the bike, laundry, grad school loose ends, phone plan, update the blog, etc... Ride today went a bit quicker than expected which was a really nice surprise. Into town, checked into a hotel where the receptionist asked me if I minded talking to here about my thoughts on Islam. Sounded like a strange request, but ya why not haha. Wasn't sure how this was going to go since she didn't really speak any English, but ended up turing into an interesting multiple hour converstation. Its amazing how you can actually kind of talk to someone even when you don't speak much of the same language.