Day 23: Granitsa to Oloy , Reindeer weather

A proud white reindeer stands on a stone plinth.
Reindeer shrine.

I wake to find that it is still, unfortunately, raining.

Groping around inside my tent, I find that everything is wet to the touch. Thankfully my sleeping bag is still warm and everything inside of that is dry.

But as I pull down my tent, it starts snowing. My hands ache in my still wet neoprene rainGloves, and so, because I’m low on food anyway, I decide to make a beeline for lower altitudes.

Sleet stings my eyes as I descend the hill, but I leave my ski goggles packed away, fearing that they’d look out of place on this tar seal road.

Thankfully, the bottom of the hill reveals a cafe, guarded by a protective husky.

At first glance, it appears that no one is around. But as I loudly curse my bad luck, the door opens and a lady asks me if I’d like some chai (tea).

Yes please!

Soon I am sitting next to a lovely warm radiator, sipping on hot tea and tucking into a hearty breakfast of buuze, delicious saucy pancakes, and a meaty bun.

It’s a real struggle to extract myself from the warm, dry cafe, afterwards. But as my altitude drops, the day improves, and, when I reach Bayanday, I can finally remove my balaclava for good.

Compared to previous towns, баяндай (Bayanday) is a metropolis!

The place is peppered with electioneering hoardings and I enjoy comparing the mayoral candidates to their doppelgängers from New Zealand television.

The local superette also accepts VISA. So I go crazy and spend NZD 37.50 restocking my supplies of honey, fish, bananas, biscuits, vodka and chocolate (times eight!). With over 100km to go to Irkutsk, I don’t want to be caught short in this foul weather again.

Outside the superette, someone surprises me with an English hello, but when I turn around, a bunch of people scramble behind a car and titter. However, as I’m leaving town, a group of young kids come out of hiding to greet me with Zdrask (Zdravstvujtye) and farewell me with Dos (Do svidaniya), their shortened forms creating the cool secret language that kids love.

I’m buoyed by human contact and my haul of goodies, but the following stretch of road is a busy highway through farmland.

The steady stream of cars are allocated the lion’s share of the road and I have to make do with a narrow shoulder, beyond which the slower, bumpier path lies.

A couple of drivers cheer me up with their friendly toots, but never the tall white vans, rudely shuttling their tourist cargo between Irtutsk and Olkhon.

I pass a shrine and several monuments to reindeer, but the fields are devoid of life, wild or otherwise, and after a while my early start catches up with me, uncomfortably compounded by the general dreariness of the surrounds.

Enough! I hoe into the chocolate biscuits and bananas, but the energy rush that follows is clearly the work of the latter. I’d forgotten how amazing natural highs were.

My blood-sugar levels stabilised, things seem better and more balanced. Back on the highway, I’m entertained by a careering posse of wild horses, which stops traffic several times. Led by their enigmatic leader, the rest of the herd sprint to keep up. But when they run up a hill a second time, the horse at the back loses the pace and then just stands there looking dejected. Naw 🙁

As the day grows long, I long for a thick clump of trees to call my home, but the only clumps are several kilometres away.

Eventually I decide to camp in a small forest up a lengthy dirt road. It’s not a very stealth move, as the road takes ages to climb and local farmers stop me twice to ask why I am cycling up their road.

It’s annoying to be caught in the act, but luckily both of them accept my explanation that I just want to camp overnight in the trees. Plus, as neither farmer warns me of bears or wolves, I feel that our unplanned conversations have a somewhat positive, reassuring effect.

After setting up camp, I join my friendly horse and cow neighbours in watching a beautiful dark orange sunset, through the spindly trunks of many oddly albino trees.

Then I have another go at lighting my Primus, this time using the lighter. But, pumping still doesn’t transfer the pressure in the fuel bottle to the burner, and so, once again, I dine on chocolate biscuits and vodka, write my diary and go to sleep.