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Buryat Wheeling

That morning I woke up somewhat groggily and late at the Hotel Buryatya, feeling disoriented and wondering for a moment where I was. I had been dreaming about Indonesia and black magic, and was very perplexed initially to find myself staring up at this soviet light fixture.

It all came back to me then… Buryatiya, Siberia, Beeline, Megafon, Plov, the Ladies of Shymkent, Turklaunch, Samer in Latakia, Hosam in Damascus, Sid in Dubai, Jackson Fu, Haba Xue Shan, Sri Lankan Koththu, Bangkok… AsiaWheeling was immense and it all flooded over me as though it were pouring out of that light fixture in a deluge of memory.

The crisp morning air and the bright sun of Buryatya brought me back into the present, as we climbed on the bikes and wheeled downhill in search of breakfast. We found it not far into the wheel, at this little people’s cafeteria, located conveniently in between a Russian orthodox church and a giant pile of dirt.

The piles of dirt had something to do with some really aggressive construction which was going on in downtown Ulan Ude. They seemed to be putting in a giant new promenade, terminating at a certain giant sickle and hammer topped obelisk in the city’s central round about.

The restaurant was filled with plenty of Russian people eating and drinking, and we scrutinized the menu, quite thrilled to find a few of our favorite Central Asian dishes available.

We ordered some Lakman and some Manty, but ended up getting a small plastic Tupperware container filled with instant chicken noodle soup mix, combined in equal parts with corn oil and some old leathery Pelmini. Things were very cheap, though, so I guess in Buryatiya you get what you pay for.

We continued from there, wheeling up and out of the city past the Hotel Cagaan Morin. We called a waypoint only an hour later, however, feeling that before we execute a savage Buryat wheel, we needed to eat something real.

So we stopped into a pizza place which was themed after old Soviet architecture magazines and home goods (remember, concept first!).

The pizzas took forever to arrive, which gave us plenty of time to look through ancient soviet magazines (which were quite honestly riveting).

When the pizzas finally did arrive, though, they were absolutely scrumptious, laden heavily with meat and cheese, and very light on the sauce.

Now, having actually eaten, we headed out for some more serious wheeling, pedaling towards the outskirts of town, and soon finding ourselves in the midst of a giant grassy freight yard.

And the shot…

On our way out of the freight yard, we also spotted this amazing announcement, warning against the dangers of crossing the rails while trains were passing.

We did our best to follow its instructions, dashing across a few rails just as a train was coming, and heading over to a new road that ran alongside the river.

Now here was some real Siberia! It was overgrown, and full of abandoned houses.

Stray dogs wandered everywhere, and picked through giant piles of garbage, we continued to wheel on, past this long inoperable pipeline suspension bridge, and past a giant power plant belching smoke into the sky.

Eventually, we were siphoned into a road that dead ended at a large swath of pounded sand, where men slept in the back of their Marshriutkas, cigarettes burning in their lips, and waited for passengers to arrive.

We turned around at the packed sand, and headed back to the old pipeline suspension bridge, where we found a pedestrian crossing that we used to get across the river and into a new and somewhat wealthier neighborhood.

Now we were back amidst the gigantic Soviet housing blocks, and courtyard gardens.

We suddenly realized that we were frighteningly, terribly, thirsty. And just as suddenly, the ever ubiquitous Russian water selling kiosks all disappeared or closed for a smoke break simultaneously, and we were sent on a maddening goose chase across the outskirts of Ulan Ude in search of water.

We ran into stationary shops, restaurants that only had beer or soda, and even into an English School. Eventually, in parched desperation, we rode on into the next neighborhood, where we finally found an open kiosk next to a bus stop.

Drinking the whole liter and a half in nearly one barbaric gulp, we headed back onto the road, which siphoned us towards the city center. We spotted an interesting riverside byway made entirely of sand, and decided to give it shot. It turned out to be an exceedingly technical wheel, so thick and mushy was the sand. Who would ever build a rode like this?  So tough was it, in fact, that we eventually gave up and headed back up onto the main road to take a large bridge back into the city.

As we crossed over the bridge, we spotted an under construction set of new residential roads, and decided that since the construction was not taking place that day, we would make like the locals, and just start using them. So we headed into a new part of town, marked by some very interestingly ornate wooden buildings. At the edge of the wooden buildings neighborhood, we spotted a large paved path that ran along a central canal.

We hoisted the Speed TRs up and onto that path and began wheeling it.  The pavement was uneven, cracked and covered with broken glass, but the sights and scenery was fascinatingly degraded and industrial, and our Big Apples seemed up to the task, so we wheeled on.

When the path on which we were riding petered out into a wasteland of twisted rusting hunks of metal, asbestos siding, and broken glass, we moved off the path, cutting across a large construction site.

We wheeled on through more gnarled buildings, half way between being built or falling to pieces. In the midst of it all, we met this young Buryat boy, also on a folding bicycle.

He joined us to wheel for a bit, and we chatted in bits of English and Russian. He did not seem to speak either of the two languages very well, but what we lacked in ability to communicate, we easily made up for in the comradery of the road.

It was not long after we’d made it out of that construction/junk-yard area of Ulan Ude that we realized Scott’s bike had shed some important screws that held the rear rack on. We headed to a market street to look for some replacements. I approached an old Buryat man in a giant cowboy hat and asked him where he thought we might find some screws, showing him an example of what we were looking for. He thought for a moment, and then very clearly and confidently told me that there were no screws of that size in all of Buryatya. Apologizing, he then walked away.

We, of course found plenty of them at bargain basement prices in a hardware store two shops down, and screwed his rack back together using the key from our long lost Indian bike lock.

We then headed up to investigate a giant Soviet-Buryat theatre, with carvings of traditional peoples on the front of it, before wheeling back to the old Hotel Buryatya to do a little Laundry.


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