18 November, 2008

More random thoughts now I'm home again.

Whilst I was riding on those long stretches of open road in Russia and Kazakhstan I had plenty of time to consider what I wanted to say about various aspects of my travel. Unfortunately as one approaches one's mid-fifties, one's memory is not what it used to be and given that I neglected to write them down those thoughts disappeared.

However, all is not lost, as one's mind also has that strange ability to retrieve random thoughts at the most unlikely moments and as each one pops back into a part of my brain that I can retrieve it from, I now have the opportunity to put pen to paper (metaphorically speaking).

The first of these thoughts is what I call avoiding "big ouchies".
A Big Ouchie is what my son Julien used to call a physically painful experience when he was a young boy. I can recall the times when as a 5 year old he would fall off the swings in the playground, or from his bicycle, and graze his knee and tell me it was a big ouchie.

Whilst I was riding the gravel road sections between Khabarovsk and Chita I was acutely conscious of avoiding my own big ouchie.

I was very fortunate that I never had a single incident during my riding where I physically fell off the Burgie. There were certainly moments of trepidation when it was very easy to lock up the wheels under braking or when the gravel was so loose and deep that you effectively lost steering control, or when the convoys of cars driven by the professional drivers from Vladivostok to Western Siberia would speed past at twice my speed, in groups of half a dozen or more, flicking up rocks and creating a cloud of dust that made the route ahead all but invisible. These cars were a big challenge for me as I often had to travel down the centre of the road to find the smoothest surface and to avoid loose gravel. In these instances I had vehicles passing me on both right and left and was blind to whether there were any oncoming vehicles or whether there was another patch of deep loose gravel directly ahead which I needed to avoid.
So during these times I would tell myself to avoid "big ouchies" and this helped me put things into perspective - i.e. I would slow down or take a slightly less risky path through the dirt.

After reaching Krasnoyarsk there was minimal gravel and dirt roads apart from Kazakhstan. I'd like to retell my experiences there when travelling South from Qustanay to Khromtau. This particular road was also under construction and there were long stretches where the old road had been torn up and the new road was being built over the top of it. The state of the road was such that the road under construction could not be ridden on and instead there was just a dirt track. Now a dirt track is not to difficult to travel on at slow speed in the dry, but when the heavens open up in the forceful manner they do in Kazakhstan then it quickly becomes a quagmire. Simply holding the Burgie up in these conditions was almost impossible and I knew I had met my match when the front wheel locked up with mud between the wheel and mudguard. This was more than exacerbated by the fact that I was trying to ride on a road tyre which had minimal tread left - very difficult going and extremely trying. I came so close to losing the Burgie on that day, that it wasn't funny. Having said that, perseverance, focusing on avoiding a big ouchie, and taking it relatively easy meant I could ride till 2am - having said this, I had little choice, however, as there was no where to stop and camp until I reached my first truck stop - see below. If I had I had tried to stop at the side of the road the Burgie and I would have sunk into the mud, and I would have had to pitch my tent in the mud too.

Just a quick note to let you all know that I haven't been able to add further posts to this blog because the Blogger SPAM robots have apparently identified me as a SPAMMER extraordinaire. Hopefully this will be resolved soon and I will again be free to add to the myriad of trivia available to us via the word wide weasel.