Banya To Banya

posted by: Justin

Leaving Kirov our cycling aches and pains have been eased after enjoying a Russian banya (sauna) at Hotel Sputnik, however as we failed to locate any bike mechanics during our stay the niggles and noises from our bikes are still in the fronts of our minds. We had calculated a rough 400km distance to our next major city Perm so were surprised when the first road sign we see reads 520km to Perm. With another steamy banya and a friendly host waiting for us in Perm we figure that a string of 100km days is required to arrive on or near our agreed dates.

20110522-IMG_3011.jpg Wetlands

The next day, as we cycle around the outskirts of Omutninsk on a road with pot holes big enough to swallow many of the passing long haul trucks I feel like I am in a Mad Max movie with dust swirling and engines roaring around me. I turn to check on Emma and see she is way behind stopped at the side of the road. Her front wheel has made a strange metallic thump and suddenly developed a serious wobble. After some closer examination we can’t see anything visibly wrong and after test riding the bike seems OK so we carefully resume cycling.

A few hours later after locating a camp spot we are visited by a group of camouflage-clad boys on bikes with fishing rods strapped to the frames. After a basic introduction one boy asks us if we are tourists? Thinking of how different our journey is to a normal “tourist” we laughingly answered “I guess so”. As they cycle off into the sunset shaking their heads, I’m not sure they understood the joke.

Bicycles outside cafe

Although Emma’s bike continues to feel a little unusual, there is nothing visibly wrong and lacking tools to inspect the hub more closely, the next day we decide to press on towards Perm. As a break from our normal top of the lungs song singing (well chorus singing anyways – we don’t actually know any complete songs) we decide that today will be “Pretend you are a Pirate day” with our respective names being Justin “Shiver-Me” Timberlake and Emma Offshore. Much hilarity ensues and the day ends with us both having to literally walk the plank as we construct a make shift bridge across a small stream to access a camp spot.

Wanting to take a break from our regular evening recipes, Emma remembers reading a post from the Going Slowly guys where they mention eating Russian dumplings. After enjoying Manti in Turkey and Kinkale in Georgia we figure it is our duty to try some for the sake of comparison. Frozen Russian dumplings are normally boiled and are available in even the smallest market. On one occasion an accidental purchase of locally made butter (we thought it was cheese) provided the necessary reason (if one was needed) to fry some delicious dumplings as part of our Russian day of food and top them with oodles of sour cream.

Day of food - Dinner Dandelion field

With daylight hours stretching well past 10pm we need to force ourselves to have shorter days but we are easily averaging 100km each day. The combination of lack of water and suitable camping spots sees one day of 125km over eight hours of cycling.

The same day we receive 1lt of petrol for free direct from the underground tank as the pumps dispense a minimum of 2lt and then discover something is wrong with the time as our GPS tells us sunset is at 23:30 while our watches tell us it is 21:30. Quickly checking our pocket atlas we discover we have crossed a time zone in the last few days which explains a few of the strange looks we have received. Touring cyclists strange enough but, touring cyclists on the road at 23:00 at night, very strange. Waking up the next day with sore legs our tent is surrounded by an ocean of yellow dandelions and we pretend for a while our tent is a small boat bobbing amongst the rolling yellow hills. 

White nights sunset

On our final day riding to Perm to meet our host Dmitriy we need to cover around 90km and the road takes no pity on our tired legs with continuous hills and pot holes sapping our strength. Although we seem to always be in sight of cell-phone towers our phone signal is weak and communicating with Dmitriy is difficult. While eating at the most popular roadside cafe we have seen yet we hope he has received our SMS message with the time we plan to arrive and will be able to meet us.

We reach the GPS coordinates that Dmitriy had emailed us but after searching through small roads that twist between hundreds of tiny dacha’s we cant seem to locate the exact place and call Dmitriy who arrives a few minutes later and leads us through the maze to his family dacha and waiting grandmother. The dacha was built 40 years ago by his architect grandparents and is filled with character and history.

Emma cycling Olga + Dmitriy cooking

In addition to the dacha there is a traditional banya which we are invited to share with Dmitriy who explains the traditions and workings of to us. Dmitriy has prepared a venik (a bunch of birch branches) that he uses to “massage” us with. The hot temperatures and soothing smell of birch combine to quickly relax us, while the sweat oozing from us washes the last week of road grime off our bodies before we retire inside to dinner and vodka toasts with Dmitriy and his wife Olga.

The next day our bike problems seem to be in hand as Dmitriy has found an excellent bike shop in Perm, Extreme Service who quickly fix the problems with our hubs – loose cones and very dirty bearings especially on Emma’s bike. We spend a good few hours talking to the mechanics and their friends and after all the work is done they refuse payment. We are really overwhelmed by this kindness and besides our undying gratitude try to offer biscuits or beer but they will have none of it.

Russian dacha Extreme Service mechanics

Our remaining day in Perm is spent buying train tickets, locating bike boxes, checking out the local cinema (which Dmitriy helped design the interior of as part of his architecture studies) and visiting a local gallery before enjoying yet more delicious food prepared by Olga.

The day of our train to Novosibirsk Dmitriy accompanies us to the station and helps us dismantle the bikes and load them onto the train. Everything goes much more smoothly than on our train from Sochi. We jokingly offer that him and Olga should accompany us through Mongolia as a support team as they have provided us such an amazing time in Perm and been the perfect hosts.

pano1.jpg

On the train pulling out of Perm I say to Emma that I would love to gather all the wonderful people that have helped us with our journey together one day to somehow say thank you. I think maybe I need to win the lottery first though, I add.

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4 responses to “Banya To Banya”

  • I walked from Kilburn to Harrow today.

    7 miles.

    You don’t feel so accomplished now, do you, eh?

    Eh?

    Yeah, that’s right.

    7 miles.

  • Andy on June 1st, 2011 at 6:52 pm
  • 7 whole bloody miles. Our cycling helmets are off to you sir!

    Although I have to ask did you forget your oyster card or were you out on an inner city ramble?

    Your comment has lit up our grimy soviet era hotel room with fridge that sounds like the death rattle of a pack a day smoker and shared bathroom with a toilet so low we arent sure if we squat on it or around it :)

  • Justin on June 1st, 2011 at 7:16 pm
  • Na, I’m skint.

    So it was £2.50 to Harrow on the tube or a seven mile walk through Willesden.

    And Harlesden.

    And Neasden.

    And Wembley.

    Imagine…

  • Andy on June 3rd, 2011 at 9:54 pm
  • come to apple crumble :)

  • Aleksandar and Milica on June 7th, 2011 at 11:12 pm

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