Where to start? Four days’ riding since Khabarovsk and one is slowly starting understand the immensity of Siberia and by extension Russia. We have ridden close to three thousand kilometres since our departure from Vladivostok and only seemed to have inched a small portion of the way back towards London. Our request for warmer weather has been answered with 35 degree Celsius days. Like all fickle voters we now want a littler cooler, but no such luck, we will have to live with this for the next couple of months.
The trans Siberian highway, which is the term used for a number of roads linking St Petersburg and Vladivostok, is in surprisingly good condition considering some of what we have read and heard. We have seen little current major road construction so far, we are in Chita, but along the highway we pass many teams working on vegetation clearance, filling in potholes, rebuilding bridges and adding crash barriers. The summer is short and maintenance and upgrades have a small window in which to be completed. I have seen no evidence of the snow clearing machinery so common in North America, maybe it does not snow much, or the road does not get cleared. I will leave someone else to research this.
A significant amount of work has gone into the construction of the road we travelled on. Between some hills, very high embankments carry the road giving unsurpassed views over the treetops. In some areas the road has many undulations , I presume due to subsidence, possibly caused by the materials available as road base being sourced locally in the swampier areas. This has made progress easy for us, in addition traffic, is light. What we have noticed is that the tar finishes pretty abruptly off the main highway. Our one foray into a local town in search of fuel had us driving on gravel, dirt, through water in a tunnel, across a disused runway and through the local rubbish tip all on larger marked roads on the GPS and MapsMe. Many of the turnoffs just end in greenery and judging by the amount of water around in many places probably not too solid either.
The scenery has been surprising in vivid nature of the greens, and not unreasonably given our changing latitudes, quite varied. We started with silver birch forests, moved to more open, possibly cleared land then pine forrest. It does become dryer and farmland starts to predominate.
Larger wildlife is almost in invisible, roadkills and signs of, so familiar in Australia and North America are almost nonexistent, my assumption is the lack of traffic gives quiet passages of time for wildlife to cross safely, unlike more congested roads that force the wildlife to take risks.
Smaller wildlife is much more obvious, early morning will see the polite small mosquitos that wait to be asked to feed off you and their larger more obnoxious cousins who just dive straight in. When they retire after a hearty breakfast they are replaced by the swarm of 50-100 horseflies that appear before engine off regardless of the location. Quick on and off the motorbike is practiced and I will be contacting one glove manufacturer about the pervious nature of their product. Luckily as we have progressed West the magnitude of this problem has diminished although the motorbikes bear the marks of all the unfortunate insects that have met their demise at the windshields of Streak and Storm.
Fairly constant companions in this sparsely populated region have been the steel rails of the Trans Siberian Railway and the transmission towers bringing electricity to the towns en route and supplying the locomotives hauling the myriad of wagons and passenger trains. So many seem to haul what I assume to be empty looking open wagons in both directions, do they do this for fun? The railway runs alongside the road in some places, we cross from time to time and there are many intriguing but rusting sidings leading to long abandoned factories, likely from the Soviet era. We see dormant smokestacks, idle factories and abandoned apartment blocks poking out of the forrest, a testament to the changes that have occurred since centralised planning was abandoned following the collapse of the former Soviet Union.
It would be wonderful to travel at a slower pace and take some of these side-roads and explore more, but we have to remember we only have a limited visa time in Russia, plus we set off to circumnavigate the globe in the Northern Summer of 2017. We will always miss opportunities, such as a motorcycle rally in Blagoveshchensk, but then that decision allowed us to meet the wonderful and generous Tanya at her Cafe. Tanya and Alexander and his family whom we met at lunch one day are the lasting memories we will carry on this trip, always back to the people. Life is choices, and we are happy with those we have made.
Fuel, accommodation and toilets are day to day necessities and the location and quality of each varies. We have mostly be lucky at the end of each day in finding a reasonable place to stay and have included photos of couple of the more quirky fuel and accommodation stops. Internet modesty rules do not allow me to publish any photos of some toilets, that and the fear of dropping the iPhone.