Ulan Ude to past Gusinonzersk
Sunday, August 23, 2009
A day of faith…
(small note: the distances indicated for each day are what I rode. The towns are those closest. Given the camping, stop points are semi-random.)
In the Historical Museum at Ulan Ude yesterday, the last room the guided me to was an exhibit of the Catholic Church in Russia. A single, not large room, with pictures of maybe 30 Catholic Churches in various cities, none of them less than 80 years old, and a glass cabinet with a chalice and vestments. Today I touched on the Greek Orthodox and Buddhist faiths, unexpectedly.
The other aspect of faith was the funky new bike. Here’s me and it at 7:30a on the outskirts of town.
The bike has a Mongoose frame, and the SRAM X-5 derailleurs and shifters that came with it, along with the handlebars. The aerobars, seat, wheels, brakes and rack are from the Trek 520. It took a few of us a while to figure out what would work conceptually. I’m off to figure out if it works in reality.
The location of that picture is the intersection of the M-55 and the M-165. This is where I left the M-55 for the first time since I got on a bike in Irkutsk. The scenery really changed a bunch too. Rolling hills.
And for the first time there were too many bugs (mosquitoes, gnats and flies) for me to stop comfortably. Anyway, here’s the Greek Orthodox experience.
I passed this lady maybe 10 miles into the day, standing by the side of the road. I may have smiled and waved, I don’t recall. Then, like a freaky apparition, about 20 miles later, poof! There she is again! This was rather startling on a number of levels. She was in the middle of nowhere. Not a building in sight. And she flagged me down, folding her hands, bowing, holding my hands, and jabbering the whole time.
Thank god Alexsey drove up, I thought. But she wouldn’t speak with him. She handed me a plastic covered holy card which I’m holding up in this photo. I thanked her and tried to put it in my rack bag. Not good enough. It had to go over my heart. No pocket. I showed her my back pocket. Good enough. Then she picked up a number of pebbles from the side of the road, and marched off into the field. I called out a das vidania (sp? – goodbye in Russian). She let off another burst of jabbering and continued to walk on. (But I’m keeping the holy card in my passport from now on.)
Back to reality. The M-165 went over some RR trax, and I thought to take a picture because of the dirt road next to the tracks. I am riding on the only paved road around, but there are occasional villages. At the same time a motor bike with a side car and four occupants went by.
These things would make no sense without pictures. Then we left the Buryat region, and crossed into the Selenginski (sp?) region. Here’s me by the sign.
Around 1pm we got to Gusinonzersk, at the northern edge of an otherwise large and beautiful lake. Time for lunch. Here’s the café, outside and in, and yes, the bathroom. For those of you who have never seen toilets like this, they are all over eastern Asia (including all of China). You won’t find them in the ‘western’ hotels and restaurants though.
The town itself had nothing to offer. It was built in 1939 by the Russians to get the ‘brown coal’ in the region out to where it could be burned. There’s a spur line from the Trans Siberian RR to the town. We were supposed to spend the night here, but it was early and I was only 115k from Mongolia, so I pressed on.
Next religious experience = Buddhist. After leaving town and going over a 800 foot climb into the next valley, I noted billboards way up on the side of the hill, with (I may not have this right) Buddha on them. Then this ‘Sanctuary of Russia’ sign, little prayer stations, and a fenced shrine off to the side of the road, with no access path or road.
If you know what this is, feel free to share in the comment section.
After that I came to a historic town (read the sign for the name, it had a historic symbol on my map, but my keyboard doesn’t have the characters to spell out the Russian name). It was notable because the road branching off to it was much higher quality than the steadily deteriorating M-165.
So I’m cruising along at the dandy pace of about 10mph, and then there’s a row of cars and a makeshift (seemed to me) one-lane bridge across a huge river. I didn’t know what the people were waiting for, and no one spoke English, so I did the Bob thing and started riding across the bridge. No one stopped me, and then I turned and saw Alexsey catching up.
From the other side, here’s the makeshift bridge and the new one they’re building, the likely cause of all the road construction.
By this time it was 4pm, and the bugs were driving me crazy. Here’s a shot of me riding through mosquito-land.
I suggested we drive to the Russian border town (Kyakhta, pop. 18,400), about 40 miles away. The Lonely Planet said there was a ‘surprisingly’ good hotel there. It was clean, if run down. And my room had a real toilet! Here’s the exterior and my room shot of the Hotel Druzhba.
Since this was the day I faith, I close with the Uspenskana Church. The only non-ruin site in Kyakhta. Didn’t look like it was used for services. Here’s the exterior and interior of that.
Tomorrow I go back to the stop point today, 30 miles ahead of schedule, and try to get across the border.