(see also the expanded text, no pictures version)
130 km. time 6:00
1237 to date
Frustration in Kerch waiting for Oleg to telephone Astrakhan. "It is impossible." Baby faced Ukranian border guards check our bags while we scarf down bread and honey. They stare at our passports in wonder. Hammer away down perfectly paved highway with howling tailwind. Lose Nathan at Temriuk turnoff, 13 km after city limits monument. Camp near reservoir, mosquitos munch us while we cook potatos in the dark.
First busstop in Russia. Nice tilework, but where are the bench tops? Stolen for lumber. A consistent theme throughout Russia.
Bread still requires special bread coupons, or if you're stubborn and pay double you can get it anyhow.
168 km. time 8:15
1405 to date
Starkorsunskoye, Russia (not quite)
Begin day with bread truck roadside, loaded with usual Soviet bread and "sweet" rolls. Something different, anyway. Lunch in Slavinsk na Kubani. Alex and I wait for others against magasin, chugging actually tasty raspberry pops. Big market behind bus station. "Piva" tanks, 45 gallon drums with a tap stuck in the bottom hot and thirsty afternoon. Waiting in Krasnodar for Nathan, who forgot to eat. Old Russian uses dictionary to describe his country: "poverty" Oleg proposes to cook, leaves the pack at sunset in the wrong direction. We weave through town, looking for our camp village. Checkpoint guards fill our water bottles, chased out of the field by the motorcycle guy, despite Nathan's mime. Sleep in apple orchard. No Oleg.
140 km. time 7:30
1545 km to date
Find Oleg in bus graveyard. Rest and breakfast next to reservoir in Starkor. Oleg takes shortcut without telling us, ends up ahead of us despite leaving town after. Lunch in Ladzhskoye. Autograph signing with children. Restaurant worker wants Brandt's foamie. I take wrong turn before town, take 1 hour longer to find group at dusk. Train station in Kropotkin. Soldiers embark for Baku.
Everyone traveled on these 1950's motorcycles with sidecars. World War II aviator helmet optional.
96 km. time 5:00
1641 km to date
Six km today on "the worst dirt road I have ever seen" we study large billboard map at end, Oleg rides by, ignoring us. Alex and I draft sand truck, l pull out, Alex runs over a dead dog at 53 km/in. Lunch in Novoalexandra. No sign of Nathan. Sidecar family race ahead to deliver note to Nathan. Camp by deserted church. Shotgun a beer with Brandt, his birthday. Meeting with Oleg to lay down the law.
The church seemed pretty much abandoned.
92 km time 4:39
1737 km to date
Very tough headwinds. Oleg can't lead a paceline, but informs us not to turn right down the farmer's dirt road. Oleg gets his shoe fixed in town. Fill up with gas before facing winds. Oleg's duty is to find eggs, door to door. Stop beside river and swim with young Russians. Last 30 km tailwind. Into town, checkpoint guy asks me about NHL hockey. Down a jar of dill pickles. Denise has a crush on Alex. Camp in front of run down schoolhouse. Local kids bring vodka. Jane gives me a kiss and demands a postcard from Vancouver.
186 km. time: 8:33
1922 km to date
25 km before Elista.
Wake to find man cutting grass with a sickle. Ipotova for lunch. Women dressed in very formal clothing. Leaving town a wedding party on the same day as Scott Little's wedding. We're invited for drinks.
168 km. time: 7:27
2090 km to date
170 km from Astrakhan
Elista this morning I buy pasta and am given free box of chocolates by Asian looking woman. Before lunch at comer turnoff before small village. Offered shashlik and mineral water by officer and his wife and Russian looking guy, Ivan. Lunch stop swim, Oleg, bare assed freaks out at the sight of a snake. Catch wicked draft off bus and cruise into town. Marijuana smoking locals. Oleg says they're KGB officers following us. Roadside camp, Nathan cooks, bums out our fuckin' mouths
193 km. time: 9:28
2283 km to date
At 35 km low on water, stop at Great Patriotic War monument and break into well. Cruising morning, stop in shadeless desert and set up tent for shelter in sweltering sun. highway asphalt seems to melt in the heat, heaving and slow under our tires. Oleg (totally bonked): "Alex, l must stop and have a glass of milk." The last I ever see of Oleg. Riding four abreast towards town in the failing light and hungry mosquitos. Legendary day. Road warriors, into the city pitch black, find Grecia, directions to only hotel accepting foreigners. 50,000 rubles each per night.
Brandt fires Oleg. Modes of transport out of Russia explored. Dinner with Grecia. Sniper bullet. All staring at the beautiful girl. Grecia opens vodka with film container. Ice cream in high brow bar. Climb in van with two guys to dacha party. Drunk drivers. Out of gas. Taxi home. Telephone calls home. Empty department stores and deserted parks. Andre Maloshkin and the caviar hunt. News reporter with southern U.S. accent. Hotel cheaper second night. Sunday Emenka buys plane tickets.
(Nathan) I've got to jump in here - this is an insane story. So we're in this bar, eating ice cream (hey, you take it where you can get it.) Since we look completely out of place, random people feel free to join us at our table and start talking. Two of these guys, already staggering drunk, invite us to their dacha where there will be a party (read - more alchohol, and supposedly a river and some women.) It's about 1 a.m., but we're gonna be here for a few days so Doug and I figure what the hell (we normally go to sleep at dark and up at dawn.) It's drizzling rain outside so we take taxis to where these guys have parked their van. The one guy goes off to get the van, which more or less looks like a VW bus but with no seats except in front, screeches to a stop in front of us, and we pile in. His friend takes the other front seat, slams the door, and the window completely shatters. We start tearing down the road, and find at the first pothole we come to that there's some big hole in the bottom of the van, where a huge geyser of rainwater shoots through. We stuff the hole with some random pants we find in the back. After about 2 blocks, the cops pull us over. We're scared shitless because the driver is drunk, the other guy is drunk, we're two Americans wearing bike shorts in the back of a windowless van at 1am in Russia without our passports. The driver stumbles out and starts talking to them, and we're nervous enough about these guys anyhow that we're thinking it might be better to risk the police. We get out, and the cops just look at us and laugh, then walk away. No choice but to get back in, and the driver careens off again toward the fabled dacha. About 2 miles out of town, the driver pulls over to take a leak. When he gets back in, the van doesn't start - we're out of gas, in the middle of some fields, nobody on the road of course. We wait for awhile hoping someone will come by, but of course not. It's starting to get pretty cold in the back of the van now. The driver brags about being a manly Russian and gives us his short-sleeve cotton shirt to keep us warm, leaving him bare-skinned (you can't argue with a drunk Russian), then gets out and starts walking to find gas. Like that'll be easy at 2 a.m. on the outskirts of town for a drunk guy without a shirt. We wait for about half an hour, then figure screw it, it can't be any more dangerous outside than hanging out with these guys, and start to jog back toward town...