I wake at 4 when the cockadoodles start doing. They do all day long, from daybreak till nightfall, as far as I can tell.
Breakfast is black tea and fried eggs with bread, sausage, cheese, etc etc. Natalya is putting on great spreads and I suspect a lot of it is for my benefit. I have my photo taken at the wheel of Ura’s Kamaz, which is great after seeing so many of these big Russian, go-anywhere, do-anything trucks. Then we all pile into the car and head into town.
Ura spends two hours driving all over town trying all manner of bike and car places to find an inner tube or a tube repairer, with each place resulting in “Nyet”. The man is really going out of his way to help me, and I find it quite extraordinary. There is no reason for him to do any of this, but here he is, trekking all over the shop just to help out some English biker he found at the roadside in pouring rain. Finally, at Chita Moto they have a couple of 18 inch tubes for who knows what sort of bike, and I think there’s a chance one will work, at least for a while.
Back in the garage I install the new tube, with lots of help from Ura. It’s a huge relief to see the wheel re-inflate and stay up. While I’mm re-fitting the wheel, Ura and Sergei repair the tube I took out. I don’t notice them doing it, until they hand me an immaculately repaired tube when I finish with the wheel. I’m feeling reasonable hopeful about being able to cover some distance before running into more tube trouble.
Next is lunch, another fine spread laid on by Natalya. I have a bowl of dumplings, a cup of tea, and even though I’m stuffed, Natalya insists on giving me a bag of food to take with me.
We spend a while doing another computer-based Q&A, before I offer my gratitude and explain that I must get back on the road. I give them the bottle of wine from my pannier as a thank you, we do a few photos, and then I’m off.
Relieved to be back on the road with a working tyre, amazed at the experience I’ve just had, and feeling like I’ll miss them. I really feel like I’ve had a taste of normal Russian life, and apart from small details, it’s much the same as family life back home. Ura and his family made me feel like part of their family, for no reason other than genuine kindness, to a total stranger, and it was incredible.
I refuel and head back onto the M55. Before long I see a road sign and I have to stop for a photo. It says, “Khabarovsk 2055”.
Yep, 2055 km to the next town of any decent size. Two thousand and fifty five. This really is long distance motoring, and it’s quite special to be heading for somewhere as unusual and far away from home as Vladivosotok, knowing that’s the only reason to be on this road.
I hit the first few stretches of unfinished road, and they’re not too bad. Slippery, muddy, wet, full of potholes, but much easier than I feared. And shorter. The road is much more complete than I expected (the worst may be yet to come), and I’m quite please to be doing it at least just before it’s finished. It must have been much more of an adventure for those who came this way years ago, but I’m still enjoying it. It certainly feels adventurous to be so far from anywhere on a road only used by the transporters and truck drivers.
I follow a track off the road to find a camping spot, and there’s a place that will do fine. I’m immediately surrounded by mosquitoes, thousands of them. People weren’t kidding when they talked about this. I keep full bike gear on while I erect the tent.
As I unpack the bike I notice something that explains why it’s been feeling a bit wobbly today. The entire rear sub-frame has snapped off, and is only still there because of the bracing afforded by the pannier rails, and the fact that the pillion grab handles are attached by two bolts, one either side of the break. It’s all very loose and wobbly, but there’s absolutely nothing I can do. It will have to be welded. There’s nowhere I can brace it or strap it up, and it’s hard to do anything when surrounded by mossies like this.
I tighten the pannier rail mounting bolts and hope it will hold. I wonder if yesterday’s impact had anything to do with it, but I suspect the damage was done crossing Mongolia, with two spare road tyres strapped on the back that I should have just ditched but didn’t.
Knowing I can’t do anything, I make pasta and retire to the tent where I can finally get out my bike gear. All I can hear is the buzz of mosquitoes and the occasional whoosh of a transporter passing by on the road. I try to decide whether I should get the welding done ASAP, or just leave it till Vlad or beyond. I should know by now that you don’t get to decide these things, something will happen to decide it for me. I just hope that something turns out to be stumbling across a pristine welding workshop in the next town, not the back end of the bike falling off on the next bump I hit.