I set off early and started cycling towards the Russian border. Thanks to a tailwind I was racing along at an average speed of 30km/h and reached the border in under two hours – early enough that they had yet to open!
While waiting at the border post I chatted with Wulf, an Austrian motorcyclist. He had ridden from Austria to here in just six weeks, following a very similar route to me. From here he plans to ride to Mongolia where he’ll end his trip.
The border finally opened up and we were allowed through and into passport control. While there a Russian woman struck up a conversation with us. She spoke good English and invited us both to stay with her and her husband in their home in Rubtsovsk.. We gratefully accepted and met up with them again after the border.
Marina and her husband, Evgeni (who didn’t speak English), suggested that I put my bike in the back of their vehicle. I declined, being stubborn and wanting to cycle wherever possible. They gave me their address and I agreed to meet them there while Wulf would follow behind their car on his motorbike.
Within a few kilometres, I got a puncture in my front tyre. After replacing the tube, I set off again only to have a problem with the brake. It was simple to fix but first required disassembling the brake to access the problem. Once I’d done that I figured I might as well replace the brake pads too.
Once all that was sorted I set off cycling again, flying along with the tailwind at my back. I reached the city and managed to navigate to their home. They let me in and I headed straight for the shower. When I was done, lunch was ready.
We spent an enjoyable afternoon relaxing at their home. Evgeni is a professional photographer and he showed us many of the photos he’d taken in the Altai mountains to the east. Regretfully I would have to take the main road there due to time constraints from my short ten-day Russian visa. In the evening Marina cooked us a lovely dinner as well.
I was awake quite early the next morning but so were Marina and Evgeni. Marina insisted on making me pancakes for breakfast and, well, I could hardly decline! They have a son who is my age and perhaps I was being treated as a proxy for him! When I set off Marina insisted on giving me some food for the road. Evgeni took some more photos before we said goodbye and I thanked them for their incredible hospitality.
The tailwind was still going strong and after a stretch of bumpy road out of Rubtsovsk I returned to the smooth highway and was flying along. The scenery was gradually changing from steppe to farmland, with lots of fields of sunflowers. The machinery in the fields looked very shiny and modern, a big change from what I’d been seeing in the last few months.
The hours and kilometres flew past on the flat, smooth roads. The number of trees was increasing as I rode north, and as I approached the city of Barnaul I started to pass through villages and towns nestled between rolling hills. Between these settlements there was usually some woodland, and as the sun set I made my way into one of these and set up camp. I’d cycled 284km that day, a new record for the tour!
The next day I cycled on the Barnaul bypass and turned off in the direction of Biysk. The population density decreased again and there were some long stretches of cycling through forest.
I reached Biysk in the late afternoon and set about finding a bike shop. The Trial Sport, which I’d read was a well-regarded Russian chain, was a few kilometres away from the main road and I headed over there. This would be my last chance to visit a decent bike shop until China, so there were some things I wanted to get.
My bike shorts were falling apart and had very little padding left. They only had bib shorts but I very much needed something softer to sit on for the bad roads I was sure to find in Mongolia. I also picked up some chain lube.
There were problems with both of my hubs, too. The front one was quickly fixed but the rear one needed a part they didn’t have. Dimitri, the mechanic, made some phone calls and arranged to have it delivered the next morning. I went and stayed in a cheap hotel for the night.
I returned to the bike shop the next morning where Dimitri sorted out the hub for me, replacing the worn part and adjusting the bearings. He then re-aligned my brake for me. He’d probably spent an hour working on my bike, and refused to accept any money for it.
After thanking him for his work, I left the bike shop and headed to an electronics shop. I’d decided I wanted to buy a camera. It was something I’d been thinking about for a while, and I decided that as Mongolia promised to be such an interesting place I wanted to be able to take some good photographs of it, rather than just using my phone’s camera as I have been doing. And so I bought a camera, wincing at the cost – even this entry level camera was the most expensive thing I’ve bought since… Well, a long time ago.
It took me some time to repack my bags in such a way that the camera would be easily accessible. After trying a few different solutions I settled on moving my water bladder to the frame bag and having the camera in the handlebar bag. It was gone noon by the time I started cycling.
I took some photos to compare between my phone and the camera. The difference was stark and I was very pleased with my new purchase.
As this is a popular tourist region within Russia, there were lots of billboards around. One of them featured Vladimir Putin.
After a few hours cycling I reached the town of Mayma and stopped at a hotel, mostly so that I could charge the camera battery!
There was a modest drizzle going as I set off the next morning so I wore my coat for the first time in about a month. For the next hour or two the weather gradually improved, the rain lessening and the sky clearing.
For most of the day the road climbed very gradually as it followed a river up into the mountains.
At one point I passed a group of ten women making their way up the hill in a rather novel way. Their feet were clipped into what seemed like skis with wheels, and they propelled themselves forwards with sticks in each hand. I was very impressed!
It wasn’t until evening that I reached the final steep section of the climb. I powered my way up until, near the summit, I saw two cars with British number plates. I saw several such vehicles but they tend to drive past without stopping. I stopped to chat for a little while with these guys, enjoying speaking English for a change.
I made my way up the last section of the climb, put on my coat, and descended for an hour or so before finding a spot to put up my tent.
It was cold the next morning, probably a little under five degrees. I wrapped up warm and packed up my things, though I was slowed somewhat by watching a small animal bounding around, seemingly curious about what I was doing.
The day began with a continuation of the descent from yesterday’s pass. With my warm clothes on my fave was the only part of my skin that was exposed. It soon got quite chilly and I resolved to grow a beard to keep myself warm over the next few months.
After a few hours I reached a small pass, a climb of around 500 metres. Two skateboarders passed me on their way down. In both cases, they were preceded by a car with the boot open and a person lying there filming them.
I was passed by a GB-plated motorbike which then stopped at a viewpoint. I pulled in for a chat and to admire the view.
A short distance further was the pass. I pulled off the road to get a picture of the upcoming descent, and saw that all the trees were covered in white ribbons. It’s my understanding that this is a Buddhist ritual.
An initially steep descent turned into a more gradual one as I made my way through a valley. In a small village I saw a bikepacker riding towards me and stopped to chat. Unfortunately the rider spoke about as much English as I do Russian: almost none. He had very new-looking Apidura bags; I gathered he was just travelling for a few days.
For the last few hours of the day the road made its way up and down the sides of a valley with a gradual upward trend. When the sun set I pushed my bike up to a ledge above the road and set up camp.
Riding alongside a beautifully blue river
That night was a cold one; there was a slight frost on the ground in the morning. I was once again wrapped up in my warm clothes when I set off.
After a couple hours cycling on the gradually climbing road, I stopped in a village to pick up a few things from the shop. On the way back to the road there was a large bump in the road so I pulled hard on the brakes. There was a loud noise and my front wheel locked up – thankfully I was going slowly and wasn’t hurt. I took a look and saw that the brake rotor had been completely mangled!
The rare brake is rarely used, so the rear rotor was hardly worn. I swapped it to the front – I’ll just have to live with only one brake for a while.
I didn’t need the brake for now anyway, as the road climbed throughout the day. As I got higher the views improved; I could see snowy peaks in the distance.
As I climbed higher and moved further east the scenery changed. The level of forestation decreased significantly as the landscape turned back to steppe.
The remaining trees were in the process of transitioning to their Autumnal colours
In the evening I passed through Kosh Agach, the last town before the border. From here there looked to be little opportunity for camping, so I decided to sleep in a partially constructed building just outside the town.
I was up and away early the next morning, cycling through the steppe towards the border.
A herd of sheep grazing on the open steppe
I reached the border post shortly before ten o clock. I had to wait outside for a quarter of an hour, quite cold in the light drizzle that had been going since shortly after I began cycling.
When I was let through, the process was quite quick. I took my saddle bag and handle bar bags inside, had them scanned, got my passport stamp, and resumed cycling. The whole process took less than half an hour. By contrast, I spoke to some Belgians taking part in the Mongol rally who had arrived at 3.30 the previous afternoon!
From here there was a 20km climb toward the actual border, still in the rain.
At the actual border I was let through a gate by a Russian official. Here the tarmac ended, and I descended on a dirt road towards Mongolian immigration.
Mongolian immigration was a slow process, but I passed the time chatting to the various westerners who were there taking part on the Mongol rally. While we were inside the weather worsened – I slipped on snow as I left the building. The snow only lasted a short while but then it was raining heavily. I put on my waterproof trousers, which I almost never wear. Of course after that the rain reduced.
The border closed for lunch shortly after I passed, which meant I had the road to myself.
I made my way through the Steppe, often riding on smaller tracks rather than the washboard main road. When I looked back over my shoulder, I was greatly impressed with the view I saw.The road became paved again after an hour or so of riding. I still had one pass to go for the day, a particularly steep climb that was one of the most challenging I’ve ridden in months. After that, though, was a 40km descent down to the town of Olgii – a nice easy end to the day.Olgii is the largest town I’ll be in for some town and, after having ridden hard to make it with two days to spare on my Russian visa, I reckoned I was due a rest. I checked into a hotel and planned to have a couple of days off.
September 1: 285km
September 2: 174km
September 3: 99km
September 4: 164km
September 5: 162km
September 6: 133km
September 7: 167km