Day 14: Irkutsk to Goryachy Klyuch , Into the wild

My tent pitched on an angle amongst the trees.
Off-camber camping.

I slowly pack the Troll, my every move watched closely by Simon and Polina.

Dressed in my battle gear, I look the part, but I’m not feeling it. I’m embarrassed to be taking so long and I feel like I’m giving real bicycle tourists a bad name. Walking the walk is apparently harder than boasting about it.

Wobbling out on to the road, I lock the airport into my GPS and wave goodbye to civilisation.

Exiting the city, things quickly become more suburban and less touristy. I ride quickly past snarling, angry guard dogs, and down long roads of cracked asphalt, home to new housing developments. Above them, puffy clouds and intermittent airliners ply the cold blue sky.

Green fields eventually give way to heavy forest.

Bus stops and signposted side roads suggest small enclaves. They remind me of American horror movies and I reluctantly pass them by.

My toes ache in my new Specialized 2F0 sneakers, the cold breeze easily penetrating the heavily ventilated exterior. I assume that they’re designed for rainy spring days, rather than fine autumnal ones.

On a hill, an oncoming SUV pulls over, and the driver crosses the road to talk to me. He is friendly and asks me where I am going. When I tell him that I am going to Olkhon Island, he says that I am going in the wrong direction.

In response, I show him the vague route that I’ve plotted into, following GPS data that I found online. He nods and tells me that it’s a nice route to take, but it becomes dangerous due to the local bear population. Apparently he is a bear keeper!

I wonder whether I should have done due diligence on my route before heading off. But the bear keeper says not to worry, it will be alright. He says that he’s travelled widely and is an adventurer, like me. The man and his wife wave goodbye and I hope that my new mojo will protect me from the wild things here.

As the light starts to fail, I start looking for a place to camp.

The Russian forest seems edgy, but wild camping is top of my TODO list.

I pass a clearing, but it is gravelly and public, rather than soft and stealthy. Instead, I dismount and roll my heavy steed through the roadside ditch and straight into the steep, dense forest.

My goal is to get far enough away from the road that I will be hidden from prying eyes, and the police, for that matter.

Bush bashing up the slope, I make slow progress. I’m worried about being spotted prematurely, so I drop my bike, grab a couple of panniers and wander into the forest, trying to find a small flat clearing.

The forest floor is covered with shrubs, making it difficult to find a suitable spot to set up. When I turn to judge my distance from the road, I realise that I can’t see my bike anymore! Panicking in the rapidly fading light, I eventually locate the Troll and decide that progressing deeper into the forest requires shorter forays from my bike and gear.

Eventually I find a site that is sufficiently far from the road. The ground is neither flat nor clear, but thankfully I can manage the numbered pole system in the twilight and soon my tent is up.

Too afraid to make noise with my portable stove, I make a meal of Russian snacks and my last sweets, before settling in for the night.