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Post 86: The Silk Road to Chita

I spent the morning in Ulan-Ude in a small coffee shop with free WiFi while Alan rested and tended to his sore leg. It was past 12 noon when we eventually left the bustle of Ulan-Ude behind us. The roads were mostly good, … but ‘good’ only in a Siberian sense, and the villages were becoming smaller with greater distances between them.

So far availability of fuel has not been a problem and we have mastered the art of filling the tanks without having estimate the precise quantity required. We pull into a petrol station and park the bikes together at a pump dispensing ‘92Ron’ and I take a 1,000 RR note (£20) to the darkened window of the attendant, …. and smile. ‘Priviet, .. Anglian, niyet Russian. Benzene, dva Motorshikle, … dupulna?. I think this roughly translates to the fact that we’re English and speak no Russian, we require petrol for two motorcycles and wish to fill both tanks to capacity. Once full, .. we’ll come back for the change. It seems to work but the laughter that’s often heard around us suggests that the phrase still needs a little refinement, …. But I’ll learn eventually.

Heading for Chita and the beginning of the Amur Highway, storms were brewing in the distance and it was beginning to get dark at around 9pm. Somewhere on the road today we’d lost another hour and are now possibly seven hours ahead of GMT, maybe even eight. I looked for and found a couple of possible camping grounds, secluded and off-road but along tracks that would be possible for Alan to negotiate even if the expected storms fell on them overnight. Each time I found a suitable site, reading from his ‘SatNav’, Alan informed me that we were over 3,000 feet above sea level and refuses to camp, he’s worried about the cold, …. we ride on.

By 1am it’s pitch black and raining heavily, the sky is thick with dark clouds and lightening strikes the ground all around us. Alan is leading, … riding a little too quickly for the conditions and feeling guilty that his ‘altitude attitude’ had kept us both out on the road long after it was safe to be there. The road abruptly ends and veers sharply left down into a muddy ravine, …. we both make it safely through a temporary and unannounced bypass that is common on this road. We emerge safely through the mud only to encounter a small heard of cows laying down on the road. Again, … we narrowly avoid disaster.

I’d had enough of this foolishness, I move ahead of Alan and turn my bike off-road and down a rough track. I tell Alan to wait while I look for a resting place. It’s difficult, it’s dark and it’s partially flooded but it’s safer than the road above. We get Alan’s bike down and the rain has stopped. It’s not cold yet but the winds are rising and more rain is only minutes away. I quickly brew coffee for us before laying my poncho on the ground, climbing into my ‘Bivi Bag’ and pull the chord tightly above my head, …… and so to sleep.

It wasn’t comfortable, … but I was dry and warm. Unfortunately Alan hadn’t used his ‘Bivi Bag’ or poncho, .. he’d stayed all night in the open and listened for wolves. When I opened my dry and warm cocoon at daybreak he was laying beneath a pillar of the bridge on the only piece of dry ground available, .. cold, wet and shivering. I made coffee and then got us onto the road and towards Chita some 90km further east where we’ve checked into the Hotel Tourist, … cheap and tacky, … but dry and warm.

I’m now beginning to seriously worry about Alan and his ability to continue onto Vladivostok by bike. His spirit seems to have deserted him while mine is still rising, he is missing home and his parents while every kilometer I carry my parents with me on the bike. His confidence is still low and he feels that his decisions are compromising the journey. We’ll talk about it tonight and I hope that he’ll make the decision that is best for him. The roads heading north and then east of Chita, skirting the Chinese border, will not be good and the weather system ‘La Nina’ (El Ninio’s little sister) will ensure plenty of storms along the way. I’m not going to ‘tell’ Alan to take the train to Vladivostok, ….. but if he decides to ride the Amur Highway then he’s got to ride it for ‘himself’ and not just to keep me company. I’m a CitySprint despatch rider, I’m carrying a very important package to Boonvile Ca., …… I’ll be ok.

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