The first stop was made in Orekhovo-Zuevo, located 97 kilometres from Moscow. The team had decided to cover 100 kilometres per day, a reasonable distance that wouldn’t be too exhausting.
“One day we got caught in the pouring rain. We had nowhere to go – no cafes, no hotels – so we just kept rolling,” Alexander recalled. “Suddenly a truck pulled up. The window rolled down and two men started yelling, ‘Are you mad? Get in quickly!’”
Their bicycles were thrown into the back of the truck and the guys were pushed inside, receiving alcohol in order to warm up. Impressed by the deed, the travellers would only be further reassured along the way by the hospitality of country folk.
The team was later toasted in Chuvashia, the birthplace of Russian beer. “Beer is a drink for everyone, regardless of their age and social status,” said Tuyara, Nikolay’s sister. “For example, one of our new friends in Cheboksary recalled tasting beer at his grandmother’s in his childhood.”
In Kazan, they were taken under the patronage of local boxers, who in the future would help the bikers find a place to stay and connect with other people.
In Bashkiria, the travellers were invited to a party where the host tried to persuade Andrew to drink vodka, only to find out two hours later that a Canadian can drink like a Russian, much to the delight of the locals. They bade him an unforgettable farewell with folk songs afterwards.
It wasn’t until almost 2,000 kilometres had already passed that, given all the stops and hold-ups, the adventurers realised the scope of their mission. “Moving ahead was exciting and equally scary,” Nikolay said. “After all, we had 8,000 kilometres of unknown territory awaiting us.”
In the village of Oktyabrsky in the Kamyshlovsky district, the expedition stayed in a local sports school. “The authorities built a modern ski base nearby. Every year they organise a competition in which the winners receive a pig as the main prize,” Alexander said.
Next in line was the Tyumen region. In the Tugulumsky district, mosquitoes annoyed the cyclists, a reminder of their native Yakutia. Andrew was seriously concerned that the bloodsuckers would chase them throughout Siberia.
In Tyumen, the guys were invited to a sporting event and treated to local fish. The next point en route was Tobolsk, a place of exile for the Russian writers Chernyshevsky and Dostoevsky. The most impressive sight was the prison that had remained open until 1994. “In the ‘hot’ part of solitary confinement, prisoners would sit next to the oven; in the ‘cold’ part, they’d stay for a few hours, sometimes days, in low-temperature conditions; in the ‘humpbacked’ cell they had to curl up,” Nikolay said.
Next came the Irkutsk region and Baikal, where the travellers planned to stay for some time. The splendour of the lake was striking but the complete lack of infrastructure was a revelation: no souvenir shops, no cafes and only a single ad that offered kebab.
Despite the inconveniences, Baikal touched everyone’s heart, especially Andrew’s, who wouldn’t stop posting images on social networks.
A week later, the cyclists were approaching Bratsk. The road’s condition was abominable but the stunning landscape compensated for it. Finally, they arrived in Ust-Kut, the last stop in the Irkutsk region. From there, the journey continued by boat along the Lena River to the city of Lensk in Yakutia, located just 280 kilometres from Mirny.
The Last Gasp
However, the local water transport does not run on a tight schedule in these areas. “It’s impossible to estimate when the ferry arrives and how long the trip takes,” Nikolay said. “It could be that the river is shallow or the speed is slow due to overload. They say you can spend five days on average during a boat trip, or you can wait for a week, depending on your luck.”
It took nine days for the boat to arrive and five more to get to Lensk. After resting for another day, the team moved on.
On Aug. 29, Mirny greeted the homecoming heroes. Not only had they proven their resilience but the small corgi Pastushok had also shown that not only men and women can cross Russia in three months.
Next summer, the team plans to embark on a new expedition from Moscow to Berlin. Perhaps they will conquer the Russian Arctic in 2018.
Author: Timur Yusupov