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Published: August 29th 2013
Edwin says its heat haze, I say its smog
From Krasnoyarsk to Irkutsk its just over 1000km. This is supposed to take us two days with a night camping in the forest. On 500km ride days the group usually sets off at 6:30. Now 6:30am and Edwin are not natural partners so he usually announces that we will set off at 7:30 and catch them up. So far we have always been able to catch them up - in fact, somehow or other, we usually set off after the group, do 2 or 3 hrs worth of detours for sightseeing and still get to the hotel before the group!!! I think its due to the fact they they like to re-group at petrol stations and all fill up together (it takes much longer to fill 12 bikes than 1 bike!!) and regroup to have lunch together.
So we set off an hour after the group and sure enough pass them all sat in a petrol station 225km down the road at Kansk. A very scenic petrol station it has to be said – its directly opposite a Russian air-force base and 3, very noisy, Mig fighter jets are taking off!! We wave and continue on down the road.
the open road
there's 1000km of it between us and Irkutsk
The landscape is more open today. The taiga forests are still around but are in patches surrounded by vast fields of wheat. So the road doesn't feel so 'crowded in'. There are views of the rolling countryside ahead and the road winding its way through it. There's sweeping curves today as well as the miles and miles of straight road. So all in all Edwin is rather enjoying riding along.
He's enjoying it so much that by 13:00 we have covered our 500km and we're supposed to sit & wait for the group to catch up so we can go and find a camp site together. It will probably be a 3 hr wait – we could go off and explore the local town of Kamyshet or go paddling in the river or go see the Ukovsky waterfall, a popular picnic spot 50km away. Edwin considers the options plus the fact that his next pet hates after 06:30 are riding horses and camping and announces that he will be riding on for another 500km and sleeping in a bed in Irkutsk tonight!!
So off we go through another 500km of open rolling countryside, past gingerbread house villages and
and its not all straight
there's lots of undulating roads and sweeping bends
criss-crossing the Trans-Siberian Railway line. The road is generally very good and there's not much traffic round. There's occasional stretches of dirt road which make the front tyre go down. Apart from stopping to pump up the tyre or let a train go past its a straight run into Irkutsk and we arrive by 21:00. Though it does take us a bit longer to get to the hotel as Edwin seems to have the co-ordinates for the hotels & Mongolian Embassy mixed up!!
When we eventually reach Magadan Edwin declares that this was the best days ride of the whole trip.
Next day after completing a few chores (getting the constantly deflating tyre fixed & obtaining Mongolian visas) we have a day to explore Irkutsk. Wow – how the city has changed in 2 years. Its so much smarter now. There's a new riverside promenade, the churches have really been cleaned up so you can actually clearly see the frescos on the outside now and Lenin has moved home. The parks are full of colourful flowers display and temporary exhibitions on “The exploration of Siberia & Alaska” and “Pre-Soviet Irkutsk”. There's even an audio guide route round the
city with info boards outside important buildings. The parks & promenade are really nice places to stroll in the evenings, they have a great atmosphere and are full of locals – so different to last time.
We catch up on a few sites we didn't see last time: the Icebreaker Angara & Trubetskoy House.
Prince Trubetskoy was one of the leaders of the 1825 Decembrist uprising and as punishment was exiled to Siberia to work in the hard labour camps. His wife followed him into exile and they, eventually ended up in Irkutsk where they busied themselves educating & caring for the local peasants and turning Irkutsk into a centre for intellectual & social life. Their house is a grand wooden mansion, although by their previous St Petersburg living standard it was considered basic. The ladies who showed us round kept on saying how they are still really grateful to the Decembrists as without them Irkutsk would still be a provincial underdeveloped village. The Prince really did do hard labour for 13 years e.g.1 year working down the coal mine extracting 48kg iron ore/day, but somehow he still managed to father 4 children.
The Angara was one
of the icebreakers that shuttled across Lake Baikal twice a day carrying Trans-Siberian passengers – initially the railway line didn't go round the lake so passengers had to go across it. She came all the way from Newcastle, manufactured by Armstrong & Co in 1900. The guy that showed us round could only speak Russia but he made us understand everything with lots of enthusiastic arm waving and pointing at old black & white photos that tell the ship's history. The original engine is still there along with guns fitted during the Civil War. For now she's moored on the Angara river surrounded by local sunning themselves on the concrete dam and paddling round her in brightly coloured pedallos.
Sightseeing & chores finished we join the locals on the promenade and watch the sun setting over the, incredibly fast flowing, Angara River. Its positively whooshing past us – over 300 rivers flow into Lake Baikal but the Angara is the only one to flow out. And Lake Baikal is where we are headed tomorrow.
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