I have enjoyed bicycle touring over the past 25 years and done a variety of tours. Touring is the right mix of pre-planned activity and day to day adventure. Touring is an interesting way to experience a country and meet locals.
In the early 1990s, like some other US bicyclists I had dreams of cycling all the way across the USA. I had an opportunity to bicycle across the USA in 1992. I really enjoyed that trip, and particularly the chance to ride from day to day combined with the accomplishment of making it all the way across a continent. I enjoyed it so much that five years later, in 1997 I took three months off in order to bicycle across Canada. On the Canada trip, I felt like I learned a little more about the variety of the country by seeing the different provinces, reading history and following daily news and events. It was another great trip.
After Canada, I took a many smaller trips but also was hooked enough to start planning the next adventure. In 2001 it was one year by bicycle. Eight months of the ride was a circumnavigation of Australia. Two months was another ride across the USA and the remaining time was split between India and New Zealand. In the epilogue of my journal, I wrote that I expected to “have shorter week or two rides for a while and then perhaps sometime another long adventure.” I knew I wanted to make another longer trip but where?
In 2002, I hadn’t necessarily expected to make that long ride across Eurasia. For one thing, more of my other touring had been in English speaking countries. I’m sure I could learn enough language to get by, but there is also some experience lost by not being able to communicate beyond the basics. Another reason I couldn’t see myself making a Eurasian trip was the political and visa situation. In 2002 there were a number of countries along the classical route that seemed dangerous (e.g. Afghanistan, Pakistan) closed to foreigners (e.g. Mynamar, parts of China) and getting all the logistics settled was daunting. So, I expected to make a longer ride sometime but wasn’t quite sure where.
In February 2004, the news reported that Putin opens major highway across Russia. It would now be possible to take one road all the way across Russia, and by 2008 it might even be paved! Skeptics pointed out that the announcement was in middle of the Russian presidential campaign and also winter, so no one could see for sure the conditions of the road. However, reports from travelers such as motorcyclists in 2004 indicated it was passable. I was intrigued. This simplified a Eurasian crossing to largely going through one country with one language. I had cycled across other historic roads such as Alaska Highway and roads around Australia. I am sure opening of the Amur Highway would change Eurasian travels, and here might be a chance to see it at the early stages before being entirely paved. I started dreaming and scheming about a possible Russian trip.
I also started some informal preparations. I asked around on net forums. I took Russian language classes at Front Range Community College in 2005 and 2006. My brother Bert was interested in parts of the trip as well, and so together we did two preparatory bicycle tours: Dalton Highway in 2005 and Ukraine and Russia in 2006. I’ve been studying others trip reports and otherwise learning about the area, Russian history and culture in preparation for this trip.