31st August to 13th September 2003
The first 120km from Irkutsk was surprisingly hilly. The road cut across the grain of the land on its way to circumvent the western end of Lake Baikal, and seemed to go over every possible hill. Despite the leaves falling from the trees it was almost as hot as ever, and the extra clothing we'd bought in Irkutsk seemed to drag the bikes back. After three days our reward was a view of the lake and fresh lake fish in a cafe.
The road was much flatter after that as it followed the lake shore, usually a kilometer or so inland so good views were fairly rare. The days got cooler and autumn was very much in the air. People were out collecting berries and mushrooms, which they sold by the roadside, making an interesting supplement to our diet. We were also able to buy fish from the lake, both fresh and smoked, which made a very pleasant change from tins. This man was gathering in hay for the winter.
We were eating our lunch by the roadside one day when we heard a screech saw a yellow Lada tumbling sideways down the road. The car came to a stop on its wheels and the three people in emerged from the wreckage. Inside of sitting in bemused shock they immediately began trying to push it back onto the road. With the help of a tow from another car (and a shove from a couple of western cyclist tourists) they were soon back on the road although one side of the car was badly smashed in and the windscreen had to be removed and put in the boot. None-the-less within twenty minutes of the accident they were on their way again - Russians are tough!
We spent two nights in a visitor centre in the village of Tanoi while I tapped away on my computer, writing some software for the company I worked for in my previous life. It was a good excuse for a break and luckily coincided with a day of wet windy weather. Next day was fine and that evening we camped right on the lakeside, cooking our food on a driftwood fire and watching fishermen rowing out in small boats to catch the "omoules". As soon as we were tucked up in the tent (pitched rather casually on the shingle) a storm blew in and everything changed. Waves came crashing up the beach and the tent flapped and bowed before the wind. Rain came lashing down and the sorry state of the tent pegs meant it was blown under the flysheet. I had to get up at 4am to replace the pegs with buried sticks, the wind reduced after that and we slept until 10am.
Before the storm
In the morning
Our next stop was a "Turbaza" or tourist resort. Essentially this is Butlin's for Russians, but as it was no longer summer the Russians were all back at work and we had the place to ourselves. $5 each bought us a night in a four room wooden cabin with heater and cooker. Again we stayed a day for me to work and again the weather obliged with rain and strong winds. In the evening the weather cleared up and we walked out onto a pier into the lake to admire the sunset.
A few more days pedalling with another day off for work and we were at Ulan Ude. We hadn't planned to actually go into the city because it is a few kilometers off the main road, but unfortunately the extra nights in hotels en route meant we needed more cash so we had to go in search of a cash machine. We found one in the lobby of what the Lonely Planet guide said was the cheapest hotel in town. But it was more than the three times the price Lonely Planet quoted ($50 instead of $16) so we headed back out of town to find somewhere to camp.
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