After a day of enormous roadworks and riding through more mud and slosh, Gareth pulls out his business card and a Russian shopkeeper goes ballistic!
Also Jo’s got the responsibility of finding somewhere dry for the night but that task is turning into an absolute nightmare.
Back on the road or at least river to resume the journey. Back across the Lena so we can begin the 1,000 km ride south to Tynda and then on to the east-west trans Siberian road. There’s been a lot of conjecture re the state of the road and we’re thinking that surely it can’t be worse than those we’ve already traversed from Magadan. But the locals are adamant that it’s a shocker and give us multiple thumbs down about our intention to ride it.
Jo and Dave make use of the ferry journey to fit the multiple washers to the bolt attaching Jo’s pannier frame to the bike. It feels more secure for sure. More on that later. Once back to the east bank of the Lena we are on tarseal for the first 3 kms anyway and then back on to the hardpack. At least it’s not sand and with the ground still damp there’s no dust so we’re happy. We can motor along at about 70 kph on this without murdering the bikes although there are signs the pannier assemblies are not liking it. Soon we’re into massive roadworks again and heaps of mud to slosh our way through – but it’s still better than sand so despite the fact we’re getting filthy again, we’re happy. A small diversion to a hamlet on the banks of the Lena – Kattsikatsi – is ferry landing further downstream for an alternative ferry. Apart from that the township is another of those derelict Soviet relics with rusting machinery and plant everywhere, a heap of rotting unpainted wooden houses and a few apartment blcoks that have occupants clearly too poor to move on. But the township has a mini-market which we park up beside and Jo sets up our cooker while Dave an I enter to get some supplies for lunch – nectarines, the ubiquitous salami and equally prolific cheese slices will, together with some yoghurt make a nice adjunct to our standard fare of noodles.
The lady behind the counter is friendly enough until she takes it upon herself that I’m trying to pay the bill with one of our worldbybike business cards. She has a “nyet”, “nyet” “nyet” fit which we think is going to be her last, the extent of the pulmonary strain she puts herself under. I produce the rubles which was always the intention, and she calms herself and therafter is all smiles and charm. I think she realised she had been a dick.
Before long Dave has most of the village kids posing for photos on his bike, and even the shopkeeper prone to distemper is partaking fully in the fund surrounding this picnic by the turistas on her front door step. Jo woos the ladies over even more by whipping out some family photos and the oohs and aahs are endless as notes are swapped on respective children and grandchildren. Then in the most touching moment, one of the local ladies, on seeing the photos of Jo and Dave visiting the XXX in Yakutsk, became very reverent indeed and took her earings off – that sported XXx – and offered them to Jo to keep. Clearly anyone who had associated with the XXX was in this lady’s mind, next to diety themselves.
Humbled greatly by the offer Jo kindly refused but offered her XXX in appreciation of the gesture.
After handshakes and kisses all round from the women and the kiddies we emerged from Kattsikatsi back on to the M56 to get buried in serious roadworks for the next 30 kms – much slipping and sliding until we finally emerged on to some hardpack to be met by 3 riders coming towards us. Russians from the Ural it turned out and heading for Magadan although one of the bikes looked like it would be lucky to get up the track to Yakutsk. The riders warned us about terrible road conditions ahead, we told them they had a few roadworks in front of them but nothing too overpowering. The most telling comment from one of them was that having met us he would revise his view that there was no life after age 50.
Getting on 5 pm and we reach Ulu, a cluster of 4 cafes and a fuel stop – these days serving as an overnight rest for the truckdrivers on this long haul between Tynda down south on the east west pan Russian highway, to Yakutsck. We knew there was no accommodation for another 150 kms, out of reach for us tonight so we decided to eat at one of the cafes – Plov and rissole and pasts being the main fare – and then search out a campsite. Ulu is yet another abandoned village – this one once centred it appears around a steel mill of some sort. A few locals reside in one of the deteriorating apartment blocks but all the wooden villas here are pretty well rotted away. A café owner points down to the riverside as a nice place to camp but on inspection the ground is totally sodden and with rain forecast overnight we expect it will get much worse. So we head for higher ground up amongst the wreckage which is a town and factory that were. Finally Jo locates a wooden floor, rotting but at least elevated by a couple of inches above the sodden surface, so this suffices as our tent site.
I head down to the Magazin for the requisite Pivo and chippies and we settle in to watch the dusk gather over the decaying factory walls. Our camp amongst the debris would be a depressing reminder of the failure of State planning but the inquisitive local kiddies that turn up to inspect these Martians that have descended remind us there is life after communism.