The mossies show no sympathy for my plight as I try to make repairs. I use a spanner to splint one of the broken frame spars, lashing it together with cable ties. I use a tie down strap to support the pannier rail, but as I tighten it I notice a crack in the rail, which I’ve probably just made worse. This isn’t going to last long. I contemplate fashioning a harness from burst inner tubes and bungies to support the frame with my shoulders, but decide it’s not quite that bad yet. I go through all my kit, ditching anything I don’t absolutely need, to minimise weight. Pasta sauce? Goodbye.
Then back on the road. It’s raining, hard, again, but inside my cocoon I’m warm and dry. The road is stunning in the early morning mist, reminding me of the Eiffel region near the Nurburgring, and the tarmac is as good as German tarmac too. I stop for a photo but park on a slight slope and when I get back on I lean just a little to far and over it goes. Idiot! You’ve probably just finished that broken frame off for good, just getting on the bike! Stupid! I take a look and it seems no worse. Now I have to pick it up. It’s almost upside down on a slope, the bars low, the wheels in the air. I summon all my strength, and some anger, but I can barely get the wheels back on the ground. I wait, and think. There’s hardly any traffic, it’s early, I’m miles from anywhere. Then a truck appears and I wave it to stop. It sails past, but then slows, and backs up. Two men jump out, and it takes all 3 of us to lift the bike. I get the usual “where are you from”, but it doesn’t seem to impress these guys. They do this road all the time.
I anxiously wonder how long the smooth tarmac will last before it turns to dirt again. On this smooth tarmac I think things will hold together, but on the rough it won’t. In blind hope I ride on. Eventually I find a cafe and it’s a pretty decent one. There was nothing yesterday, and I survived on Snickers bars, so with relief and gusto I tuck into a couple of sausages wrapped in doughnut (really), two cups of steaming hot coffee, and a chicken leg. Superb!
A little drier, a little warmer, a little fatter (seriously, sausages wrapped in doughnut: Is it any wonder the life expectancy of a Russian male is only 50 something?), I head off into the rain. Which quickly turns to sunshine. Bright, warm sunshine like I haven’t seen in days. I’m racing for Khabarovsk, believing it’s my best chance of making repairs. Trying to control my speed, knowing that going fast will mean hitting more bumps, bigger impacts. Going fast to get somewhere I can get repairs will be like going fast to get to a petrol station before you run out, or like eating fast so you can finish before you lose your appetite. But it’s hard not to let the speed creep up. I’m in my own tarmac playground, there’s no-one else here, it’s all mine.
Flying. The miles tick by, watching the kilometre marker posts and mentally converting. More crash sites, evidence of an impact that will have cost some young Russian his life, transporting a Japanese car from Vlad. This road is hard, even in warm sun. It should have it’s own program on channel 5 in the style of “ice road truckers”, and I’m starting to compare the hard ride I’ve had for the last few days to the epic survival stories on Ray Mears’ program. Then the tarmac runs out again. I’m acutely aware that every mile on the rough dirt is delaying my arrival in Khabarovsk, every bump reducing my chances of getting there at all. I proceed very, very carefully. Periodically I stop and check things over. Hanging in there, just, cable tie stretching but holding. I pass more road workers, and instead of a wave this time I get a fist raised triumphantly. They know. They know where we are. They know where this road goes, where it comes from, what I’m doing. They know. Yeah. Yeah! Khabarovsk! Just 200 miles now. I’m nearly there! If I can just make it to the big K I’ll be alright. One big problem to solve then on to Vladivostok. Lord of the east. The end of the line. So close. So close! Please don’t break! Please don’t burst! Just 200 miles! So close!
It’s been hard, really really hard, the hardest part of the trip. The weather, the environment, the remoteness, the solitude, the lack of facilities, the mechanical problems and the sheer distance. I have enormous respect for the people that crossed this way before the road was here. It’s almost impossible to believe they did it. It’s almost impossible to believe I will now.
Once again I’m alongside the Trans-Siberian railroad, a passenger train this time. I see that the road ahead turns left and crosses the tracks over a bridge, and I allow myself to risk blowing my dodgy innertube by going flat out, racing for the bridge. I tuck behind the screen and try to watch both road and train at the same time as I pick up speed and turn for the bridge. Too late, the train wins and I crest the bridge as the second carriage passes under. I can see people hanging out of windows, but it’s too far to tell if they’re watching, if they can tell I’m not a local. It’s getting dark and my speed is creeping up. I force myself to slow down, and roll into town in the dark, spend an age looking for a hotel as the rain comes down, and eventually find one with the help of a local who approaches and asks if he can help, once again demonstrating that riding sound the world on your own makes you dependent on the kindness of total strangers.
At long last I settle down with a cold can of Asahi, 2 hours later than I thought because I’ve gone so far east so quickly that I’ve crossed two time zones without realising. 1800 miles across Siberia in three and a half days through torrential rain on a bike held together by the strength of a plastic cable tie. Epic.