Day 22: Yelantsy to Granitsa , The damp day

The dry patch I left behind.
The dry patch I left behind.

It rained last night. When I pull my tent down, it leaves a round dry patch on the grass.

Perhaps it is delayed guilt, but after yesterday’s 35km van ride I feel really dirty. Plus it’s gloomy and raining steadily. I hope I feel better once I’m back on the road and making progress towards Irkutsk.

At a nearby cafe, I stock up on groceries and grab a much needed lighter.

Several ladies are working there, but the younger one really catches my eye. Like the others, she wears a blue apron, but her short haircut, petite, flat features and knee-high heeled boots really set her apart.

I read somewhere that Russian women like to dress well, because they are aware of the passage of time and want to look their best while they ‘can’.

The lady smiles and I feel sunshine and good vibes radiating out of her. She really brightens my day and I forget all about the rain.

Back on the bike, my route passes through heavy forest with little to distract me.

A brief respite comes in the form of a huge truck, emblazoned with the name Asia expedition and the logo of a petroleum company. I fantasize that the truck is the modern day equivalent of ARK II, a mobile storehouse of scientific knowledge, manned by a highly trained crew of young people. But, they’re probably just prospecting for oil.

The steady rain makes it hard to see and squinting through rain-smeared glass is exhausting. Eventually I ditch my spectacles, trading the reduced visibility for my own short-sightedness.

The rain’s clammy wetness has also stolen my warmth, so I put on my Outdoor Research balaclava for the first time. I’m happy to find that it’s really effective at sealing the warmth into my head and face.

But the toastiness comes at a price. The warmth dulls my senses and makes me feel sleepy. I munch on a steady stream of biscuits and chocolate, hoping for a sugar-high. But my metabolism fails to spark and my ankles and feet become progressively colder. They ignore my cries of engagement and my enthusiasm dive-bombs.

Eventually I decide that it’s more important to get warm than to push on in this unhappy state. The road ahead looks like more of the same, anyway.

Taking the first turn off, I ride past several warning signs bearing exclamation marks and illustrations of the Baikal region, and head into the thick forest. The camping conditions aren’t ideal, but I have an urgent need to defrost.

Inside my tent, I feel grateful. Grateful, because otherwise I’m quite sure that I would be quite hypothermic by now.

In my quest to get warm, I’ve rugged up in everything.

My merino and technical thermals, my outrageous $50 Icebreaker socks, my merino beanie, my blue hoody, my red puffer jacket, my Alpaca slippers, my thermal liner, my sleeping bag, and a survival blanket to top it all off.

But my feet are still blocks of ice. Not since last being in the forest have they been this cold. They ache uncomfortably and I half-heartedly hope that they will defrost, if not tonight, then on the road tomorrow.

Some hot food is just what I need. All day, I’ve been fantasising about using my new lighter to start my burner or make a fire.

But tonight the persistent rain has me under house arrest. So it’s biscuits and cold soup for dinner, washed down with the last of the nice vodka. The Troll languishes outside. She is not locked up, but I’ll suffer paranoia rather than leave my cocoon of dryness.

I put up an internal washing line up and light a candle in my Russian train mug, finally giving it a purpose. The small candle warms my damp hands, and bolsters my flagging morale. I relax by the calm, flickering light and save my precious phone battery for the recording of rainy reflections.