Luckily it was a very smooth ferry crossing. I stayed on deck and preferred to have the wind blowing around my ears, instead of sharing a stuffy cabin with 10 Koreans.

Somehow I had enough of South Koreans. I am also a fresh air lover and I much prefer to sleep outdoor anyway. 
 

The crew were Filipinos. Very friendly people, something I had already experienced many times before. No matter where they are working as Expats, they are always very happy and kind. Most probably a nation I would love to visit one day.  

Vladivostok didn’t look really appealing to me. Soviet buildings, a lot of freighters, army and everything looked really, well, Russian to me.

 

 

Funnily the Russian government makes sure that you know, right from the first step
on Russian soil, that Russia is not a picnic.
 

First they send the travelers, with all their baggage, up a lot of stairs then down and finally back up again to reach the immigration post. Everyone was exhausted.
 

As I entered Russia on a Business Visa I was a bit nervous that they may ask me some questions about the business I was planning on doing in Russia. I wouldn’t have known what to answer. I did not even know who officially invited me to Russia.

Everything was organized by a Russian agency which is based in Germany. But no one asked me a single question. Well, even better. 
 

Afterwards an x-ray scan and dog inspection of all my belongings. 
 

Since no one gave me a welcome greeting – I greeted myself to a new country. “Welcome to Russia, the biggest country on the planet”. Russia, the 28th country of my present bike touring trip.

 

I was excited, even very excited. These are the very special moments while cycling around the planet. A new country, the most thrilling moment while travelling the world. 
 

How are the people?  

Max, an Austrian bike traveler, entered Russia two weeks ahead of me and he already had a scary story. His entire bike was stolen shortly before Khabarovsk. Even though he got it back after a short while, a lot of things were missing and some bike parts were damaged. Therefore I was warned.

Egor, my warmshower host, picked me up at the harbour. A very kind bloke. He helped me a lot while organizing the first things that I needed for the road. I stayed two days at his place, together with his girl-friend and her mother. 
 

The people with their edged Russian faces and their clothes from the 80’s were partly friendly. I was asked a few times where I am from, who I am and what I am doing and to my surprise the questions were asked in good English.  

But sadly to me, a lot of them had the typically serious Russian facial expressions. The mother spoiled me with a super delicious Borscht soup. A lot of cabbage, carrots, beetroot, potatoes and meat is boiled together and is served with a lot of dill on top.

 

 

I was back in Europe. Everything was very similar to back home. It was somehow a familiar and warm feeling. I was looking forward to having a break from all those very strange cultures which I had to face for such a long time. Having a pause from trying to understand such extremely different mentalities, which had been so difficult for me in Korea. 
 

My health problem was sorted as soon as I left the boat. As the doctor mentioned it must have been the smog. Somehow to me this is scary. The Koreans said it all comes over from China.

 

Sadly I had to push off already. I had only 90 days and my planned route to Magadan was very far. Something was for certain, everyone thought I was completely mad to cycle the entire 5000km to the very remote place of Magadan. 
 

They especially mentioned over and over again the bears, the Siberian tiger and all the criminals living in this area.

But I am used to this. I was warned so often about the neighbours or about specific places that I didn’t really get into it that much. I had a stomach ache because of the time pressure. I don’t want to just tick it of the list, I want to be able to enjoy it.

 

Additionally I am a bit tired. I am not as excited as I used to be 6 months ago. My power got lost a little on this long journey and it’s not just the legs who are a bit tired, my mind is also not as fresh anymore.

 

 I left Vladivostok on the third day. It rained only a little bit but immediately turned into pouring

rain and never stopped until I reached 90 km and lots of ups and downs later my next warmshower hosts. Even with my rain gear, I was completely wet down to my panties.
 

Anton and Alena live in an estate of prefabricated houses. Hardly any colour, nearly no friendliness and a lot of grey. 
 

I asked a few people how to find them. The reserved behavior was somehow funny. They shrugged their shoulders and made clear to me that they wouldn’t bother in the slightest to help or they just ignored me. 
 

The people seemed to have little interest who I was. But maybe they are just overwhelmed and are pushing the thought aside. I don’t know. 
 

But the opposite also happened. I met a lady and she gave me one of the most precise descriptions I had received since I left home.

 

You probably can’t imagine, but I am always happy when I meet people who are smart. Where I am able to get an answer, who are educated and where I don’t have to explain the simplest things over and over again. 
 

I hope it doesn’t sound arrogant, but it is simply stressful when people often don’t seem to understand what I am asking them. Sometimes they also even don’t know the answer at all. Therefore those meetings are pure gold and honey for my soul.

 

 

Alena introduced me to her funny friend, who organized signal rockets for me. I should use them if a bear comes to close and he showed me how to activate them. 
 

“Take care of your stuff. Don’t leave your wallet on the table. Be cautious, this is Russia” he said to me, before I left. 
 

He also meant I should rather go to Sakhalin, the biggest Russian island, north of Hokkaido /Japan. It would be the much shorter route, less stress and a really pretty area. From there I could easily take the ferry to Japan and it would be much cheaper and by far less tricky than from Magadan. There is still a lot of adventure awaiting me.

 

On a sunny day I hit the road again.

 

There was much more traffic than I expected. Luckily I had organized a new mirror for my handle bar and so I was able to leave the road when a truck came passed.

Even if I ended up in the gravel because there wasn’t a paved shoulder and the road wasn’t very wide at all. 
 

The many crosses along the road were also a bit spooky to me and when a completely drunken co-driver stepped out of a truck I was double warned. There were also a lot of maniac drivers, which annoyed me a lot.

 

 

 

But the landscape was fascinating. A lot of vastness and everything was beautifully green. Meadows, forest, hills and even mountains in the far distance. Now and then rivers or even swamps.  

No concrete, no urban sprawls, no human remains, only nether land. Camping wasn’t easy. If there was a track away from the road it ended either in high grass or in a little town.

 

 

 

I cycled up and down in a village street and thought about where I should ask. It was getting dark and I needed to make a decision.

 

If I got closer to a house and tried to look over the fence to see if there might be a small lawn where I could pitch my tent I was attacked by huge barking dogs. Nowhere charming to ask.

 

Most of the time they didn’t have a lawn anyway. They use the small areas around their houses to grow vegetable. Behind it was high grass or swamp or the forest.

 

 

 

But I had to start asking and people sent me to the train station. One of the many train stations along the Trans-Siberian Railway. They had small rooms for the night. No toilets, but this didn’t bother me at all. I was so thankful to have a safe place for the night.  

500 Ruble for 12 hours. And exactly 12 hours later they knocked at the door. Interesting, they seem to be really precise with it.

 

 

Sadly a lot of the people are over weight, especially the women. 
 

Magazine is the name for the little grocery stores. Cute, little village meet up, where I was ignored when I entered. I don’t think because of disapproval, more out of shock for who I might be.

 

 

There is nothing fresh available. Hardly ever a banana or an apple. More cheese and ham and a lot of sweets. 
 

Now and then there are farmers sitting along the road selling fresh vegetables. Honey and eggs are available at private houses.

 

 

Botflies and little flies joined me all day over long stretches. These creatures are pretty annoying.
 

I already cycled 120 km one day when two young Russian cyclists passed me.
They had cycled 240km the previous day and knew me through Egor from Vladivostok.  

Well, they had less luggage and were half my age to find an excuse. But to be honest, it would have bothered me 20 years ago, but nowadays it doesn’t bother me at all. No, my race is seeing the world and that is much more interesting and much more intense than racing around. But at their age I also wouldn’t have known any better. Sometimes it is nice to be a bit older and wiser, it makes things a lot easier.

 

 

 

 

The traffic was getting less and somehow I started to get used to Russia. I ate my cereal along the road or ordered mashed potatoes and meatballs in one of those trucker cafes which are found roughly about every 30 km along the road. The food is not the tastiest, but is edible.  

Somehow it seems like every Russian follows one rule: The more mayonnaise the better. Therefore, no matter what I ordered there was a lot of white crème on it.

 

What I noticed right away where the locked fridges in every little store or along the road houses. You can’t get a drink yourself and go to the counter to pay for it, only the staff can open it for you. The goods are all behind the counter, never in front of it.  

In a small town, somewhere in the middle of nowhere I found this quite dubious. It seems like no one trusts each other. No wonder they didn’t trust me and treated me like an invader. 
 

It was already getting dark and I still didn’t have a place to sleep. At a very run down trucker place they charged a ridiculous 900 Rubles for a crappy place. I just dismissed the guy and cycled off.

 

On this evening in this specific area the people and their barking dogs were even more frightening. Poor people, but somehow also primitive. Surely I might have some prejudices, but if at every door a big scary dog jumps at the fence showing its teeth and on top of it a very bad moody face, heartless, cold and denying. Well, then it takes a bit longer to be confident and find trust. 
 

Out of sheer distress I cycled again to the train station in the hope of finding anything there for the night.
 

In a tiny store, they showed me where I had to knock and I was lucky. I would have never found this little accommodation place myself. For 350 ruble (about 6 Euros) I had a bed and a hot shower. Perfect. 
 

There was the smell of cigarette smoke all over and lots of alcohol smell. Without greeting back I was ignored in the kitchen. The men were really noisy. Simple people. But the lady of the house was very nice and gave me a good feeling.

 

 

At around 10 PM a knock at the door. Police. I was already in bed and I was trying to get rid of them. A lady spoke good English and so I could tell her that I was already sleeping.

 

But the next morning at 9 AM they showed up again. It rained, so I wasn’t ready to go anyway yet. I should answer some questions. Weird questions.

 

„How did you find this accommodation? Why are you here? What kind of map are you using? Can you please show me your map? How did you get to Russia? Why are you in Russia?” 
 

“Why are you asking all this”?
 

“Over there is the Chinese border. Everyone who gets close to the border is suspicious.”
I received as an answer. 
 

She was really friendly. Had a lot of gold hanging around her neck. Neat, intelligent,
confident appearance. The men instead dry as very old sandwiches. 
 

They took pictures of me and the 5 people who came just for me left as quickly as they came.

 

 

 

I asked myself every day, what am I doing here? On the one hand it was exciting, the landscape was amazing and nothing is easy and somehow becomes an adventure thrill. But on the other hand I couldn’t get close to the people, something which is so important while being solo on the road.
 

A trucker stopped and asked for sex. I proceeded as fast as I could. He passed me and stopped again. I slowed down and waited to see what would happen. Finally I changed direction and was happy when more trucks came passed. After a while he left. 
 

Another trucker stopped and wanted to give me a lift. Surely it was meant in a nice way, but it irritated me even more.

 

 

 

No matter where I went, I looked into unfriendly and dismissive faces. There were exeptions, but sadly not many. 
 

Another evening after a long day on the road where I asked myself again, where am I sleeping tonight? 
 

In the meantime I was really lucky because I was invited on to a sports ground by a nice old Russian man and therefore I was hoping to find something similar again.

 

 

 

 

I left the main road and the swampy area and headed for a little town. The village was in a terrible condition. A very poor area. Lots of sheds used as houses, only barking dogs and hardly anyone on the street. 
 

The sun had already set, the mozzies were going crazy after me, but this wasn’t a problem. I was nervous. I didn’t like this community at all. But there wasn’t anything else, the next town might have been another 30 km away – so too far for the night.  

Surrounded by wetland it was impossible to camp anywhere wild. I came closer to a house, but before I could ask the old lady shouted at me and made sure I stayed away from her property. At another house the people were at least a bit friendlier, but still I couldn’t pitch my tent there.

 

A young man came along and I showed him my translated letter and he gave me a smile which was so important and nice to receive. He guided me to his mate who didn’t look at me at all and ignored my greetings completely. They spoke and called and I stood nervous next to the muddy road.
 

Luckily a lady left the house so I wasn’t the only woman in this corner of the village. But she also dismissed me completely when I greeted her. 
 

After about 30 minutes I was given a spot for my tent but because I didn’t feel comfortable at all, I found an excuse and said I will go over to the “magazine” for a short time to buy myself some groceries. I used the time to look for another possibility. But on the other side of the village everything was even more scary and there were even more barking dogs.

Somehow this guy was the only and best option and I came back and pitched my tent right next to the crazy barking dogs. The place he chose for me. Luckily the dogs were not aggressive.

 

At the end I was just happy to be able to close the zips behind me.

 

 

The owner left and came back several times. Each time he locked his house as if there were gold nuggets inside. Again I found this really weird. In such a small town where everyone knows each other. Each time the dogs barked madly and I just thought, wow this will be the best night ever. 
 

Shortly afterwards another bloke came close to my tent and asked for vodka. “No thanks” I replied and he left immediately. I am not sure if he asked or if he had offered vodka to me. 
 

I don’t know how often the door was locked and unlocked, how much longer the dogs were barking. I was just tired and so relieved to somehow have a safe place for the night. I fell asleep after a short while. 
 

Eventually this scary night passed. I packed up and everyone again ignored me. When I was ready and wanted to say good bye they walked off and looked the door behind them. 
 

 

 

The traffic increased again and I had thoughts that this wasn’t the wilderness I expected. I started doubting my plans to go all the way to Magadan more and more.

 

 

After 800kms I reached Khabarovsk, the first big city, and I booked myself into a hostel to calm down and rethink what’s next. I used the time to reschedule my route.

 

I contacted Max, the cyclist, who was about 1500km ahead of me in the direction of the Baikal. He confirmed my thoughts about the people and he also wasn’t able to become friends with them, and not only because he got his bike stolen. The landscape wouldn’t change that much and he couldn’t really recommend the route to me. The traffic gets less further north, but it is still not idyllic, he said.

 

I left the weird hostel after a week. Even though I wasn’t keen about going back to the road I had to go somehow. The hostel wasn’t cozy anyway.
 

I had a short stop at the train station and asked for prices to get back home. I wondered if I should use the 90 day visa for a quick visit back home.
 

But in the end I didn’t want to leave with such a bad feeling. The break of my trip would have been at a very bad moment and I didn’t want to take the risk to fail. 
 

I wanted to proceed. I wanted to see Russia. I wanted to see the world.

 

A decision was made and I decided to go to Sakhalin. Even though I still regretted not sticking to my original plan I believed this was the best compromise.

 

Less traffic and more wilderness. Less cycle stress and hopefully nicer people.

 

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