It was three years ago today that Vladimir Putin formally inaugurated the new road across Siberia. He was visiting the city of Khabarovsk about two and a half weeks before his re-election when he announced the new road was open and by 2008 it might even be paved! The announcement made international news and sparked the idea that if there was a road, I might be able bicycle all the way across Russia.
Prior to 2004, of course there were cyclists who had crossed Russia including Mark Jenkins account Off the Map in 1989 and Sovietrek in 1990 but those seemed like more extreme adventures than I was looking for. Since exploring possibilities of cycling across Russia, I’ve found a number of other accounts that I’ve added to the links page. If I’m missing significant ones, let me know.
I’ve watched the web for more recent accounts of travels along this route. One of the better ones I found came from Richard Lindley on his motorcycle trip across Russia including the link I’ve highlighted showing travels and photos from the road between Chita and Khabarovsk.
I’ve also looked through guide books for the trans-Siberian railroad since I expect the road to go past some of the same small towns. One guide book listed places where the railroad stops and I’m surprised at how many very small places there are between Chita and Khabarovsk. Probably not possible to get much more than some food or get on the train to somewhere else, but this area seems less remote than parts of outback Australia I’ve cycled. Here is the table of stops:
Today a last ride with the PEDAL cycling club. During the year, I normally do many weekend rides with PEDAL. Since I was going to be gone for the regular cycling season (May to October), I suggested one last ride for PEDAL this weekend. It was cold and windy though fortunately the forecast of snow didn’t come to pass. Seven of us arrived including Ed and Joe and myself who set up for the ride. It was nice to see everyone and have a bit of a send-off from the cycling club. Thanks!
We cycled five miles round trip to the “triangle” statue in Loveland. This statue has gotten notoriety because some in Loveland raised a fuss since the statue had nude figures. Heaven forbid!, I hope these Loveland folks don’t travel to Europe.
I’ve been slowly getting everything wrapped up at work as well as getting my equipment lists finalized. I’ve also been getting airline tickets for some segments and discovering the joy of having limits on my debit cards.
I’ve heard my Chinese visa was approved and passport mailed back to my parents. That was nice and fast as I was concerned about having things held up during closures with the Chinese New Year. In addition to the visa going to my parents, I’ve also been changing addresses on my other bills as well. I’ll get other mail sent along but where I can I’m also changing addresses on accounts.
This morning started with another trip to Larimer County Health department, this time to get a second round of Hepatitis B vaccine.
The other effort has been working through my packing lists. Nothing is packed yet, but I’m taking careful looks at everything I might bring and trying to decide if I want to carry it on the bicycle. Some things are pretty obvious like panniers themselves or the sleeping bag I’ll take. I’ve had more of dilemma with tents. My old tent was fine, except was getting small holes in the floor. For getting a new tent, I was looking for something that could fit two tightly and one spaciously. I got a nice “Hubba Hubba” model at REI. I also recently noticed that SAMs club had a very inexpensive “hiker tent” from Swiss Gear. Actually looked pretty good from dimensions, so bought one and now I’ll have to see which tent I bring. There is quite a bit of gear to pack and I’m starting to see how much it might all weigh. Out comes the postage scale. I’m not yet to the point of weighing individual socks to see which ones to take, but getting close.
I updated this web site to latest version of WordPress this pass weekend. Looking good so far and I enjoy WordPress as a publishing platform. One change they provided was having a different main page from blog page. I am trying that and seeing how it works.
Hooray, today my Russian visa arrived! Now I’ll turn around and submit my passport for a Chinese visa. The Chinese visa looks easier to apply for than the Russian one, particularly via the visa expediter. The consulate is closed for a few days with the Chinese New Year, so hopefully all arrives before I depart.
My Russian visa application was sent by mail this morning. The last pieces came together as I got the invitation last Thursday and the HIV certificate from Larimer County this morning. In my cover letter, I wrote of my intent to cycle across Russia and that I didn’t expect to stay in any city other than St. Petersburg for long. Hopefully this all goes in and gets approved.
I did some more looking at my medical insurance online to understand coverage procedures overseas. I didn’t find much and the only contact number as a 1-877 number. So, I called the provider to at least learn what number to use with international access. Six voicemail prompts and two entries of my account later, I finally got to a live person who put me on hold to let me know ten minutes later of a 1-866 number to dial from overseas. Perhaps that might work, though I am skeptical of being able to properly register a claim from wilds of Russia let alone on a 1-800 number. I’ve since browsed online and found some companies offering travel insurance policies including medical overseas and will likely to get such a policy just in case – and because it covers some things like trip interruption or medical evacuation as well. I was interested to find that their extreme sport exclusion adds things like hang gliding and motorcycle racing but doesn’t have bicycling across Russia as an extreme sport.
It is going to be nice to get some of this stuff behind me and finally be on the road. My three largest worries at this point are (1) visa and registration (2) mechanical issues in wilds of Siberia and (3) getting by with enough language. It will be nice to just get some riding behind me and work with these sorts of things as they come up.
Last Friday word went out to my groups at work on my pending leave. So now trying to see what I can do to get everything transitioned as best as possible.
If all goes according to plan, after cycling across Russia, I will have three months of additional leave for other cycling. One possibility I’ve seriously considered was flying to Urumqi in western China and joining the Tour D’Afrique Silk Road Expedition for a month or so. I’ve now sent in a registration fee and am getting an application together there as well.
My visa invitation arrived today. Now time to get other paperwork together and submit the visa application.
One area of potential confusion is that Russia adopted a new set of new Visa Registration Rules that took effect on January 15th. In principle, some parts become easier because registration itself is paperwork that is submitted by the organization you are visiting, rather than a stamp in your passport/migration card. Where the confusion seems to come in, is exactly which company does what and what are their new obligations. For example:
- In St. Petersburg, I am signed up for three weeks of language classes. Do I get my visa registered with the language school or at the company that issued the visa?
- While bicycling across Russia, when and where should I register the visa? I will not likely have a continuous registration because I’ll be traveling by bicycle.
Something tells me this paperwork is going to get fun to make sure I stay legal through my trip.
It is exciting for the date to keep getting closer, though also a bunch more arrangements to be done on three fronts (a) wrapping up work (b) being able to leave my household for 10 months and (c) trip preparations. This week we got an official approval from the HP benefits center for my leave. In order to keep COBRA health coverage there are some things I’ll need to do from an internet cafe from Siberia, however other paperwork is hopefully in place. I am still waiting for my visa invitation to come back which I’ll need to turn around and apply for the Russia visa itself. I’ve talked with my tennants and worked an arrangement where they provide additional “house sitting” set up. I’ve been getting money in the right accounts for the trip, and this month will start changing my address on the official bills to my parents so they can pay things for me. A lot of other little things to get done.
What happens in one month? Well, that is the first official day of leave. I’ve reserved a mini-van so I can run a few last minute errands before saying goodbye to my residence for almost 10 months. Plan is to drive to Dallas and then bicycle from there to Texas Hell Week. I’ll fly from Dallas to Amsterdam on the 24th of March. As that gets closer, I’ll likely change the countdown clock to start counting to March 24th.
This past week, my invitation was officially submitted. I’ve gotten a notice to expect processing to be complete on February 8th. After that I can submit the official visa request. One thing required for the visa is an “HIV certificate”. After calling around, it seems the Larimer County Health Department was place to get such a test. I dropped in at start of the week and was pleasantly surprised to find the Health Department also does travel medicine. So, I sat down for a consultation of what I might need and left with two shots. One was hepatitus B and I’ll stop in for a second in the series in a month. Better safe than sorry.
This evening I gave a talk at the Fort Collins cycle club. I showed my slides from the 2006 trip. It was fun and nice to present. I’ve scheduled a “last weekend in February” ride from the Loveland Public Library at 10am and used the talk as an opportunity to invite others to join me in a short ride on February 24th.