Do Svidaniya Russia

Do svidaniya - good bye Russia!  After nearly three months exploring Eastern Russia we’re now a days ride to Mongolia.  Spending two weeks off the bike in Kamchatka where a bear literally ate our tent, cycling the intrepid ‘Road of Bones’, passing through the coldest year-round inhabitant region on earth, revelling in the natural landscapes of the east, and now riding another 2000 kilometres south from Yakutsk, we’re headed into the land of big open skies - Mongolia!  


It's crazy to think we have been traveling through Russia longer than we’ve been away from Calgary all together. Moving slowly through the country has helped me come to appreciate and learn of Russia on my own terms instead of basing my opinions of a place upon one side of the news we hear in North America and even some of the locals thoughts on the lesser established and sought out places of the east.  While we rode through abandoned places home to decrepit and rotting buildings, experienced the most pristine landscapes littered with garbage and traveled through the least 'touristy' places in the country, I would be lying if I said I didn’t come to love and cherish our time in Russia.  My memories will remain in the incredible landscapes we explored, the beauty and history in the crumbling remnants of villages, the lessons within the different cultures, and the incredible warmth, hospitality and geniality of the Russian people.  


Leaving Yakutsk the first week of September, it was our first time heading south on the trip.  With fall quickly approaching and no sooner passing by we knew we had to make quick time.  That being said, we truly revelled in the spectacular golden larches and fall foliage following along the Lena Highway.   Of course, we were also met with many frosty, fog filled mornings, a 48 hour torrential downpour spent entirely in the tent, nights well below 0°C and the realization that we had truly left summer behind.  Along with the temperamental weather and changing of seasons, we also rode into smaller villages off the beaten path where we were so warmly welcomed by the locals curiosity, kindness and big toothy grins.  While it seems nearly impossible to speak of all our experiences on the road, there are a few moments and individuals that really left a mark. 

Photo by Brandon Hartwig

Photo by Brandon Hartwig


Misha is one man in particular whose hospitality and friendship left us in complete awe.  We met him near the village of Tynda one sunny afternoon while taking a break for tea.  He approached us from his truck to say hello and ask about our journey.  After simple conversation with our limited Russian and his English, he gifted us some canned food before going on his way.  Thinking it was a one time encounter we couldn’t be more surprised to hear a man yelling from a small farm along the road over 800 kilometres later.  No sooner had we realized who was calling to us, were we invited into his home for hot chai, borscht and a couple shots of his homemade schnapps.  After escaping the cold for a hot meal, touring his farm, meeting his sister, and getting a little glimpse into his simple and spectacular life, we were on our way feeling so full of gratitude. 

Photo by Brandon Hartwig

Photo by Brandon Hartwig

We had a similar experience only days later in the town of Nerchinsk.  While stocking up for the next few days worth of food, a young couple approached us.  Curious and kind, Alexi and Olga asked us to follow them to their little home on the hill.  Needing to reach the next town by dawn, we were unsure if we would have time, however, not wanting to pass up the opportunity we graciously accepted.  Like Misha, their hospitality was overflowing and we left hours later completely captivated by their warm, enthusiasm and a new found friendship.


Continuing south we've also witnessed more drastic shifts in the landscape.  Riding from Canada to Alaska, then throughout the north eastern part of Russia, we have been cycling through boreal forest for thousands of kilometres.  While we will miss the familiarity of home the pine trees and mountains bring, we have really enjoyed the change in scenery and perspective.  


Moving closer to the Mongolian border has meant a change in the cultures as well.  Most of the Russia we have experienced has had a heavy European influence, while coming deeper south it has been wonderful to dive into a deeper understanding of new people and their culture.  For both Brandon and I, one of our biggest highlights has been riding into the tiny village of Tsugol.  Tsugol is home to arguably the most beautiful and prominent Buddhist Datsun in all of Russia.  Having both studied Buddhism and meditation in university, we have a large interest in the practice and culture and knew we could not pass up the opportunity to see the temple for ourselves. 


Riding into the village, we were completely taken back as soon as the monastery was in view.  The large temple and surrounding gates, beaming with bright colours and flags was magnificent.  As we walked into the temple grounds we were soon greeted by a local Buryat man.  He invited us to join him in a walking meditation circling the grounds, ringing the chimes, bowing our heads in prayer and witnessing the splendour of the Datsun.  The inside of the temple was fully adorned with colourful curtains, various elaborate statues of the Buddha, hundreds of pillows, towering beams and spectacular art.  Completely entranced by this experience we were then brought into a small building and invited to have lunch with a large group of the local Buryats.  Completely unexpectedly and absolutely wonderful, we joined in on a massive feast cooked by local volunteering women.  We spent the latter part of our time at the temple deep in conversation and laughter around a delicious meal.  We left the temple so full of gratitude and amazement of the entire experience.  


From Tsugol we have now reached Borzya, our last town before heading into Mongolia.  With plans for arriving in Beijing part way through November we will remain on the eastern part of Mongolia.  As far as we know, we are traveling to one of the least visited regions within the already nomadic and sparsely populated country.  We are so incredibly excited for the unknown and adventure that will come with entering a new country.