Today we reached the city of Khabarovsk, the endpoint of the 2165km “Amur Highway” from Chita. This is a big city of 600,000+ people and largest city since we left Irkutsk a month and a half ago. It took a bit, but we found a good hotel and expect to spend at least one rest day here. I still need to update the last few days of photos and text as well as locations (our method of sending updates via SMS messages suddenly stopped when we crossed the time zone boundary, not quite sure why).
A few days ago, we completed the last of the gravel roads. Having asphalt all day has been a welcome change. The past two and a half days were also nice and flat. However, we’ve been crossing swampy areas and hence are camping with mosquitoes again, though fortunately not as bad as in June or July. The days are becoming shorter and some of the nights have cool temperatures. Vladivostok is now south of us, and even slightly west. It is nice to be getting closer to all the way across Russia.
Also taking inventory of what has lasted so far and what has gotten worn out in the trip so far:
Bicycle: replaced front and rear rims, replaced front hub, one flat tire, replaced one rear tire, four brake pads, two broken toe straps, front rack broke (twice), rear rack broke (once), handle-bar tape re-wrapped, new cassette/chain
Camping gear: updated “hubba” to “hubba-hubba”, split one tent pole, alcohol stove didn’t work
Other gear: shoes almost worn out, lost cycling mirror, lost “bite valve” on Camelback, stove valve snapped
Everything still needs to keep working until Vladivostok. There I expect to find a bike shop and see if I can get a service done on the bike to get everything in good order for the road ahead. In the mean time, we’ve taken two rest days here. There seems to be a persistent drizzle that we hope clears up on Monday (10 September) for the ride from here to Vladivostok.
40km today, 10968km across Eurasia [Photo: 258, 259, 266]
Lots of flat marshy terrain makes for good cycling, though we also have many more mosquitoes. Today we cycled a majority of the distance to Хабаровск and are camped between the road and the railroad tracks. My cell phone keeps saying “call barred” when I try to send a location update, so these will have to wait until Хабаровск.
It was a little warmer this morning. No need for mittens as I cycled in flat terrain. There were many marshy areas and some trees. The road was narrow but of good quality. Our first stop was at a cafe in 22km. Just a few kilometers later came Смидович. We rode into town and found a small store. People here were both friendly and curious. We were asked if we were Italian! There was a nice central square and an old market. At 30km, we left Смидович and were back on the big road. We stopped briefly at a roadside store at 59km. After this it started to get much warmer and we started passing a few more villages. The people from the villages would have their produce out for sale. We made one last stop at 95km, refilled on water and camped not much further on.
103km today, 10928km across Eurasia [Photo: 250, 252, 254]
We’re done with the gravel roads for this trip! It was nice to reach asphalt and know that except for road construction, they should continue. We left with sunny skies and after 4km we had our first asphalt. This ended between 9km and 17km when we went through a construction zone. After this, asphalt!
While our route followed a river, the road periodically would climb hills along the sides. One of these hills was near Бура at 26km. We had a nice cafe stop at 38km. Motorists were stopped at various places today and were applying tape to their cars to protect them on the roads ahead. Meanwhile we were scraping off the worst grime and applying oil to the chain on reaching asphalt.
After brunch, the hills slowly decreased until we came into Биробиджан at 70km. This town of 80,000 is the largest in the oblast and had many tree-lined streets between five storey apartment blocks. The road made a few turns before we came to a lakeside cafe at 81km. At least a dozen cars were stopped here applying tape. The sun was shining, music was loudly playing and it had a bit of a “beach” effect.
After this the road went through flat swampy areas. We had a nice tailwind though it was getting to be a bit far by the time we reached Аур at 120km. Now we had the task of finding water. A group of seven adolescent boys were busy playing nearby and thought it was a great adventure for them to lead us to the water spigot while asking questions and trying the simple English phases they knew. We found a place not far from here to camp. All in all, a nice ride.
126km today, 10825km across Eurasia [Photo: 241, 245]
I don’t have a map of this oblast, so my location descriptions are rougher. We had a strong storm that came through last night. My tent corners leak, but otherwise everything was dry. I packed up a wet tent this morning. Within a kilometer of starting out, the road returned to gravel. Some tough rocks were embedded in the road in the first 10km. We also had several steep hills to climb over, only to descend on the other side. This theme of hills was repeated itself through the day.
At 17km was a detour sign. Behind the sign, the road sure looked smooth. We hesitated briefly before bypassing the sign and deciding to ride through the detour. One kilometer further, there was a big gravel pile that we climbed over. After this, we had a beautiful new smooth road. Part way through the construction workers were busy putting on another layer of asphalt. Unlike what I would have expected in the US, the workers didn’t chase us off. Instead, they asked the standard curiosity questions and helped us look on the maps. We had more smooth hills after this until finally reaching the end of our private road at 33km.
Another 5km of cycling was on partially constructed roads before eating lunch and then we were back on the gravel. This next section was sometimes rough. I even walked a hill or two. We kept crossing the new road being constructed. At 58km we came to the first cafe for the day in Теплоозерск. There was also a store to refill on groceries. An obnoxious man came over with alcohol on his breath. I tried to shoo him away, but he was persistent. Finally, it was a good excuse to leave. The store keeper referred to him as a “bandit”.
The use of word “bandit” amused me since before cycling the Amur Highway, I had been told and had read, that there could be bandits along this highway. These bandits would hold up and steal automobiles and hence this is why cars traveled in groups. I had also been told that if an auto broke down, that it would be abandoned and burned since there was no way to get it repaired.
On our travels along the Amur Highway, we saw no signs of such bandits nor of any burned up cars. I wonder how much of these tales have really happened and how much are part of the folklore of the road. Each year as the road becomes easier to drive, will these tales persist and people be told to be careful to watch for bandits?
We had another 9km of asphalt here that ended at Лондоко. We crossed a large river and decided to fetch water at 70km. It was now starting to rain so we decided to camp fairly soon. Unfortunately, we had several tries and each place we tried was either too marshy, too close to the road or otherwise unsuitable. Finally we found a spot on top of a large gravel mound. It rained briefly, but then the sun came out and helped dry the tents before sunset.
81km today, 10699km across Eurasia [Photo: 235, 236]
Rain on the rooftop, but dry in the tent. We had fog and mist most of the morning. Today was a hilly ride, but we still made some good distance. We left the hotel early and cycled back up the hill and out of town. At 9km, we stopped again at the cafe on the main road and ate blinis. From here a few kilometers further to the bridge with the infamous dog. The guards had changed, the dog was the same but was now tied up. From here a slow steady climb up and past our campsite.
Riding through the mist was a bit like riding in your own bubble. I could tell by my gears whether I was climbing or dropping but otherwise had no clues of what was coming next. We went across several ranges of hills in the bubble. The mist finally cleared around 56km and the sun came out. At 62km, I caught up with Mickey and we had lunch. From 64km to 72km the asphalt disappeared. Each time I thought asphalt was gone for good, a new section would appear. We crossed two more sets of low hills before reaching the new oblast boundary. This next oblast was set up as a settlement area for Jewish homeland, though few Jewish people remain.
It was flat from here and at 92km, the asphalt returned. At 103km was a turnoff to Облучье. We expected a cafe or store here, but there was nothing. Hence, we rode a little further to find water and then to top of a hill to camp. Not long after that the rain started.
114km today, 10618km across Eurasia [Photo: 232, 233, 234]
Today we made a ride back to town of Архара. Weather forecasts had indicated possible rain (though it is now sunny outside), and we went back to see if the dog that had bitten Mickey was behaving normally. From here, we cycled over a few hills and found a small hotel in Архара. This is a nice small town with central street with tree-lined streets and several small stores nearby. There was even an internet cafe on 2nd floor of the hotel (depending on when this is posted, you’ll see if I’ve been successful in using it to upload photos and text).
19km today, 11504km across Eurasia [Photos courtesy Mickey: 717, 720]
Note from Mike’s dad:
The overall map, with an updated “red line” is shown next. I could not update it on the home page.
Detailed daily travel charts can be seen by going to the “Map” page, dragging and zooming with “+” and selecting either a map display or hybrid display.
Morning rain showers meant we were late leaving. Once on the road, it was gravel for the first 18km. The wet gravel allowed cars to ride and mash the worst gravel into flat tracks. Only once or twice, did we have cars come and splash on the puddles. My map didn’t quite agree with the terrain, and by 22km we were already at Новобуреиский and a cafe. We went into town to buy groceries as well.
From here we found ourselves on the “demonstration road”. On February 26th, 2004, Vladimir Putin had officially opened the road. As best I can tell, this section of road and nearby bridge with street lights were the backdrop for the announcement. (My guess is he came by helicopter instead of overland and certainly not by bicycle). The next 20km were a nice smooth and well done road. However, at 42km, we reached edge of the asphalt.
We had a choice here to take the old road or the new gravel road. We chose the new road and this was a good choice. The road continued to have mostly smooth parts. We stopped every 10km or so, including once to fix a flat in Mickey’s front tire.
At 75km was a turnoff for Архара and pavement again. Another cafe stop here. News was to expect another 50km of asphalt so we set out to camp not far from here. At 78km was a bridge over a large river. There was a guard station at each end where we stopped.. The guards were friendly and offered us some water. The guard dogs were not friendly. One bit Mickey. We treated the wound with iodine. It was a little worrisome, so we climbed a hill somewhat and found a place to camp.
84km today, 11485km across Eurasia [Photo: 220, 222, 223, 224]
Another long ride today. We awoke today to find the wind had shifted and was coming from the south and blowing across the meadow. There were very occasional trees. At 29km was a turnoff to Екатеринославка. No cafe on the corner so we ate some food in a bus shelter out of the wind. Six kilometers later was a turnoff to Романовка where we decided to ride through town to find a store. We ate a little more here. As we returned to the main highway, there was a cafe at 39km at the corner. Not the best spacing, but we had three meals within 10km today.
From here more cycling into the wind on reasonable asphalt. Occasional trees and slight turns in the road helped with the wind. At 67km the road split with a turnoff to Завитинскn straight ahead. We turned left and found a cafe at 69km. We expect the road to return to gravel sometime after that and at 71km we were back on soft gravel. My front rack broke again. It was a slow slog and we walked some as well.
Our plan was to stop at Родионовка at 94km. Mickey was ahead and cycled right past the village (on autopilot, just cycling ahead). So, I followed. When I caught up, I stopped to fix my rack and we had to now figure out where to find water. We decided to keep going until next town (15km?) though it would be close to dark.
Fortunately, just ahead was a road crew paving a side road that went to an electric generating station. They yelled at us, so we went over to investigate. As we helped satisfy their curiosity, they were kind enough to fill our water bottles so we could camp not far away. We set up tents not long before sunset.
Last night was my turn to feel sick. I threw up and my stomach was queasy today. Fortunately, feeling better now. We’ve had some cold nights and warm afternoons so are taking off clothes through the day. I waited for the sun to ride before getting up. From here we started what we expected would be 20km more of gravel. Hence, we were pleasantly surprised to have asphalt at 4km. We cycled from here to Борисрол (this area has many Ukrainian immigrants) and here it was confirmed we would have asphalt for a while. It was slightly hilly as we cycled 24km to our first cafe stop.
From here we crossed a broad river valley and were back in wide open country. At 46km was a turnoff for Бозжаевка where we cycled into town to find a shop. A helpful 13-year old girl had a chance to practice her English and help navigate to a shop. Others were curious as well and she helped translate. She had learned English in this town. After the shop we came to the main road and unfortunately had several obnoxious drunks at the cafe here.
From here more wide open roads before fetching water from a nearby stream and camping not much further. We made a slightly shorter day but also wanted to rest some. It was nice and warm in the tent .
81km today, 11301km across Eurasia [Photo: 215, 216]
Is the Federal Highway paved? That was the key question of the day. We went with a majority opinion and it turned out to be wrong. We had our first answer yesterday. The local channel 12 TV station came to do a story (our third Russian press interview). We think the hotel tipped them off. While they were interviewing us, we asked questions about the roads ahead (answer: gravel). This morning we decided to take the ferry across the Зея river and then either the old road to Белогорск or the new road if it was paved. It was a nice ride through the city, finally reaching the ferry at 12km. The opinion of those on the ferry was definitely that the Federal Highway was paved. We were in luck as the ferry departs on odd numbered hours and we were there just before 9am.
Once off the ferry, we cycled 2km to the critical road junction and asked once more if the Federal Highway as paved. Hence, from here we took a cutoff road, over sometimes rough gravel and through small town of Молчаново at 24km. Here was a small store with several grandmother types on a bench having a social. Across the main street of town strolled a pig with 11 piglets. We cycled from here through Половка and then the last kilometers to reach the Federal Highway junction at 34km. We cycled to the interchange. It was paved northbound and just where we started it turned to a soft gravel. If only we had known, we could have spent the last 22km on the old road.
It was a slow ride on the new gravel. The terrain was flat and we had a tailwind, but there were many loose rocks and lots of dust. It was wide open with few trees. Some cars would slow and ask where we were traveling and in return we would ask how long until asphalt. Each answer seemed to be slightly further. At 68km we reached Укранка. A herd of cows was crossing the road to nearby lake. Cars stopped and we used it as an opportunity to ask again. We must have looked dejected enough at the answer that the driver was kind enough to give us a large 6 liter jug with water along with the answer that it would be a while to asphalt and the next cafe.
73km today, 11220km across Eurasia [Photo: 207, 212, 214]