Day 16: Maloye Goloustnoye to Bugul’deyka , Too easy?

A red sign with white writing in capital letters.

A wake to a sunny morning and am pleased to find that I still have all of my limbs.

My tent has not been eaten, and, when I reclaim my panniers from the tree, they are free of claw marks.

Sensing that the danger has passed, I lie down in the grass next to my tent, defrosting and enjoying the peaceful feeling of Nature on a good day.

After a late start, I’m happy to find that the boggy trails of yesterday are a thing of the past.

Deep gouges in the roads play havoc with low hanging panniers, but the scored earth is dry and I wonder if all the hardcoreness is behind me.

I ride up tree-lined climbs, dappled in shadow. The autumn colour scheme is relaxingly lovely, and I find that I mostly have the road to myself.

When I do see a vehicle, it is a long orange truck-trailer rolling on a dozen large wheels. At least it’s not more hunters.

After a long uphill grind, the track becomes damp again.

I stop for another of my morale-boosting fruit toffees, the ones packed full of flavour. They last well beyond the last chew, and this one lasts well into the sweet downhill that follows.

At the bottom of the hill there is a river, spanned by something akin to a bridge. It appears to be constructed from nothing more than a random assembly of wooden logs. It reminds me of images I saw on motorcycling blogs, artefacts from people who’d foolishly tried to cross the Siberian expanse in the depths of winter.

As I gaze upon the bridge and wonder how anyone could successfully cross it, a truck pulls up and proceeds to do just that. The driver takes things slowly and carefully, following the guidance of a man on the other side.

Then a group of motorcycle/trike riders turn up, and decide not to cross it, electing to ford the river instead. They wave to me and then power their toys noisily through the tranquil waters. Dressed in camo, they presumably think that they are tough and impressive with their petrol-powered fun. Not tough enough to cross the bridge though, eh.

Enjoying my dry clothing, I decide not to try and impress them back, walking my ride through the river instead. It’s pretty deep and I cringe as my hubs are submerged, and my pedals.

On the far side, I linger to fill up my water reservoir, sterilizing the river water with my CamelBak All Clear USB-chargeable UV purifier. It’s empowering to be able to use my adventure travel toys in the context for which they were designed, and no chore at all to do it in the sunny, forested setting.

As I approach the small town of Kurtun, I pass a rubbish dump, which seems to have haphazardly accumulated in the middle of a field.

It’s a shame that someone didn’t think it through any better than this. It’s a stain on an otherwise wonderful landscape. Well, if you ignore the mud, the coal trucks, the bullet holes, and the rickety bridges.

Kurtun feels like an outpost, a formerly thriving town, which perhaps formerly thrived under the Russia formerly known as the USSR.

Rickety old wooden fences line the streets, their cross beams lying on the ground. Behind them, ancient log houses almost face-plant into the surrounding fields.

I pass an old man, seated on a bench. He wears what looks like an old ship captain’s uniform. Perhaps he laments the rise and fall in the fortunes of this place, but it’s a beautiful spot. And with the sun shining down on Kurtun, there is no better place to be right now.

I give him a wave and a hello. I’d love to chat more, but he looks at me strangely, as if I don’t fit in with his memories of this place.

There are other, newer signs of life here. Many properties feature a plastic playground and some even boast fresh paint and a satellite dish or two. A compound on the edge of town looks like an active timber yard, perhaps signalling a lumbering comeback.

I’m only just over half way to Bugul’deyka, but the second half of the ride is even more lovely than the first.

The rolling green countryside is punctuated by majestic, rocky hills, and stark, eroding slopes. Then there is another dodgy bridge crossing, followed by a disappointingly safe one.

I’m a bit sentimental about the last couple of days, and it all seems just a bit too easy now. But I’m only at the beginning of a very long trip, and I should enjoy this for what it is.

At a junction I come across a collection of coloured ties, hanging between two wooden posts.

Blue, white, yellow, red and green, they look a little like Buddhist prayer flags. I wonder if they’re linked to the Shamanism on Olkhon Island, my destination.

It’s nothing like the ornate churches of Chita and Maloye Goloustnoye, just a ramshackle collection of fluttering cloth. But it feels integrated into the surrounding nature, unpretentious, easy.

A little way down the road, there is a stone memorial to a man named Kamina. He poses for a photo, holding a tree branch to his bosom, while standing beneath its canopy. Sadly, he died at the tender age of 45. I hope that they buried him here, surrounded by the nature that he loved.

When I finally reach the lakeside town of Bugul’deyka, it is late in the afternoon and the light is fading.

Passing a lonely city sign and a derelict bunker, I approach the township. I can see different people walking in and out of the same houses, and I assume that these are the shops. But in the absence of big shop windows and open doors, I have no way to tell if this is true, and which one sells what.

I have several pressing needs: somewhere to camp, more water, and ideally some hot food. But, with my limited Russian, I’m worried about giving these people the wrong impression about my needs, and more importantly, the wrong expectations about my means to pay for them.

I’m becoming accustomed to the free camping and I don’t want to find out that this is illegal, that I have to upgrade to an expensive hotel room. On the other hand, if I keep riding, I may not find another shop before I run out of supplies.

As I watch, wait and debate, I notice that it is getting darker, windier, and I am starting to notice a lot of angry barking. After my easy day on the trails, everything suddenly feels very scary and hard.

I feel a bit silly for thinking this, and decide that I just need to find a place to camp, get some food inside me, and have a good night’s sleep.

I decide to skip the shopping expedition and press on towards a secluded campsite.

Angry barks follow me as I ride away from the people and towards the beach.

I pass a memorial commemorating the long and brutal war between Germany and Russia. A dehumanised soldier stares back at me, his sunken eyes sending chills through my already tepid torso.

I head to the northern end of the waterfront. It’s challenging to ride, this technical Hobbiton style lawn, with clumpy springy grass on top of rocks.

At the lake edge, there is a beautiful sunset and a great camping spot. But a parked motorcycle and a lack of shelter fail two of my criteria for stealth camping.

A terrifying red sign warns against taking the coastal route. Capital letters yell a translation of DANGEROUS TO PROCEED FURTHER WHEN ICY. I am very thankful for my 3G connection, which facilitates Google Translate via OCR. It would be a much slower process to type these foreign characters in, one-at-a-time.

My GPS shows a river dividing the town in half. I make my way to the bridge which accesses the southern end of the beach, and the port. When I get there, I find that the wind has grown colder and taken on a life of its own. I decide to follow my ex’s recent advice to get warm ASAP.

A small cluster of trees is the only possible protection from this wretched wind. I throw out the twigs and pine cones and cram my tent in between the tree trunks and branches, tying my guy lines on to whatever I can.

While I am doing this it starts to rain. As I finish setting up in the darkness, some young people ride past on a motorcycle and look at me strangely. I’d hoped that I was far enough away from town that I wouldn’t have any unsolicited guests, but maybe not.

I hear confused voices and then laughter, presumably at my poor choice of campsite. I crawl into my tent where it is at least sheltered. Snacking on a not very nice cold dinner of Chinese packet ham and dried fish, I allow the scary gale to lull me to sleep.