Siberia is wet (wet like the middle of the Atlantic is wet) and rugged (rugged like Vladimir Putin on a horseback photoshoot). It’s definitely wild, and so is the weather today. The road out to Lake Baikal is pretty rough by Russian standards but I have a great time blasting along it, even in the wet, as it’s so quiet and the scenery is quite pretty. The warmth from the heated grips roasts my hands and percolates through the rest of my body, and tucked behind my screen (gad I went for the extra large size!), I’m warm and dry and in my element. So is the bike, clearly relishing being free of luggage, happily pulling 80 without weaving all over the place like it does at 70 when fully loaded.
Since going solo I seem to be having much more interaction with other people. Maybe it’s because I’m noticing it more, or that I have more time for it, or maybe this is just how people respond when you’re on your own. The very attractive and friendly Irina allows a queue of slightly annoyed customers to build up behind me at the petrol station as she enquires all about me, where I’m from, where I’m going, my family, my bike, and so on. She is very unlike the usual surly Russian petrol station attendants, but I still wish for the Mongolian’s enlightened approach to dispensing petrol (they will fill your tank and then charge you whatever it comes to) instead of having to guess how many litres I need and paying in advance.
The rain is quite bad so I get to the first place where I can see the lake and decide it will do. A quick photo and that’s it. It’s the deepest lake in the world, but that doesn’t really give you much to look at, and even less when the cloud is so low and thick. Still, I came, I saw, I took photos, and I got here all the way from England on a motorbike.
I return to the hotel feeling very relaxed and immensely pleased to be enjoying riding on my own so much, almost certainly more than before. There’s something very satisfying about solving problems on your own in a foreign country where you don’t speak the language, and much more of a feeling of adventure when you’re exploring distant places on your own. It’s a much more immersive experience than when you have constant company in your own language and from your own culture, which makes it too easy to ignore the locals.
So, one more night of comfort (and Wi-Fi!!!) in the Baikal Plaza (probably the best hotel I’ve stayed in since day 1), before heading for Chita. Hopefully the rain will clear soon, otherwise the unfinished section of the Amur highway is going to be a nightmare.