Day 21: Bay to Yelantsy , The hitchhiker

The highway to Irkutsk.
Here we go again.

I awake to sunshine and decide to take a dip in my private pool.

Holy ****! The famous Baikal ice floes might be absent, but the water is absolutely frigid. I quickly exit and beat a hasty retreat to the shore and my tent, returning briefly to rinse my laundry and fill up the large collapsible water bladder which I bought in Irkutsk.

Unfortunately, my reluctance to go in too deeply means that a lot of gravel washes into the bladder’s empty chamber and, try as I might, I can’t wash it out. What a noob.

On the upside, the thin walls of my nylon tent amplify the sun’s rays and soon my body temperature is restored to a safe level.

Snuggling in my sleeping bag, my feet are exposed to the sympathetic sun. Snacking on raw oats and the sweet nectar of boutique honey brands, it’s tempting to laze the morning away, and perhaps attempt another swim later.

But the hill is beckoning. Which is to say – there was one way in and there is only one way out.

Goodbye bay.

As expected, the exit is a total mission.

The surface of the steep path is mostly sand, with the odd stretch of rocky traction. Pushing the loaded bike by the handlebars is exhausting and I can only manage short bursts. Then, I have to stop and rest, while staring wistfully at the slowly receding view. Pulling the bike with a reverse grip is slightly easier, but a heavy dose of patience is still required.

I toy with the idea of unloading the bike and ferrying my heavy baggage separately, but stubbornness wins the day, and finally I reach the top and collapse in a heap on the familiar grass. I’m hot, sweaty and exhausted, but I only have myself to blame, crazy bastard.

A small beetle scurries past, putting things into perspective. Tracking its path, I’m slightly annoyed to see last night’s bushy waypoint close by. I could have saved myself some time on the descent, if I had scouted the surrounding area a bit more thoroughly.

Thankfully I only have to ride to the port and cruise back to the mainland, before continuing my ride back to Irkutsk. And that all seems far enough away, to be of little concern right now.

The ride back to the ferry terminal is up and down, but mostly down.

After so much uphill, I’m tempted to speed down the downhills, but the speed wobbles catch me unawares and provide a timely reminder that I’m not riding my trusty mountain bike anymore.

At the ferry terminal, the boarding area is roped off. A woman sets up a souvenir stand with seal trinkets, shamanic poles and knit wear. I’m actually in the market for some groceries, but the grocery store is closed, leaving several cafes as dining options.

The door to the first cafe is open, but the staff appear to be absent and a man on a laptop ignores me until I leave.

Luckily the second cafe is more welcoming. A friendly lady sells me some bready snacks, ice cream and fancy bottled beer, while I enjoy the detached company of the two resident cats.

However, after drinking only half of my beer, the lady indicates that my ferry is ready to depart, so i grab my food and wheel the Troll on board.

On the metal deck, a slim younger woman and a fatter, older, man eye me up from the comfort of their SUV.

They point at various things on my bike, but choose to remain ignorant in their metal bubble.

It doesn’t take long to reach the other side, whereupon I update Facebook, before setting off for Irkutsk.

The wind is cold and the road is the same one which I pedalled only a few days earlier.

I’m ready for an unhealthy dose of boredom, but, shortly after passing the BYO pub, I am greeted by two Buyarat looking men in a beaten up Toyota van.

They point repeatedly in the direction in which I am going, and I wonder if they need directions.

They’re so desperate that they even try to translate their wishes using their phone, but there’s no reception. Finally I see through their desperation and realise that they are in fact offering me a lift, which I sheepishly accept. They open up the back of the van and the Troll fits perfectly.

I sit on the back seat, somewhat unsure of where we’re going. But they don’t look dangerous and I figure that I can use my GPS to orientate myself, when we get there.

The younger man looks about 30 years old. He’s wearing a dark hoody and doing the driving. With his spare hand he fiddles with the stereo, trying several stations before settling on the ubiquitous euro rap-trance.

The older man rides shotgun and intermittently asks the driver something. Why are we giving him a free lift?, or How do we know where he wants to go?

The alternate dirt roads which I had found slower and bumpier than the tar seal are no barrier to the men or their old van. They tear over the corrugations, the van’s loud rattling competing competitively with the pop music from the stereo.

These roads also seem to offer better access to the mini shrines, which seem to come in pairs. At the first one, the driver raises his hood, beeps his horn several times and throws something out the window. After a short distance he passes another, lowers his hood, and we carry on.

The older man doesn’t do anything special, although at one point he slips on a branded beanie, perhaps because he’s cold.

I wonder if the younger man is into shamanic rituals, and whether giving me a free ride is part of his religious duty.

The two men drop me off on the side of the road, at Yelantsy, the town which I camped outside of the previous Friday.

I shake the younger man’s hand and thank him profusely. The drive took about 40 minutes and probably saved as many kilometres, perhaps a full day of boring backtracking. Getting out of the wind has also warmed me up considerably and I feel quite positive about making up the extra time spent at the bay.

The friendly local grocery store is beckoning, but when I ride past I find that it’s closed for the day. I only make it a few kilometres up the road before deciding to call it quits, making my way through a carpark lined with large boulders before setting up camp in the forest.