Monthly Archives: June 2013


Day 43: Kaluga, Russia to Obninsk, Russia

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Start: Kaluga, Russia
End: Obninsk, Russia
Distance: 78.6km
Elevation Gain: 1574ft
Elevation Loss: 1631ft
Time: 5h26m
Reading Material:Ukraine: A History, 4th Edition – Orest Subtelny
Audio Material: Diane Rehm Friday News Roundups; Marketplace; Game Theory podcast (hiatus episode)

Remember about two weeks ago when I sang the praise of my Schwalbe tires? Yeah, as expected, the rear one blew out today.

The beginning of the ride was wonderful. Overcast skies kept temps comfortable; Sunday traffic out of Kaluga was light and the first 40km was on smooth, almost track like surfaces. Then, a loud “pop!” Rear tire suffered a full blow out. On inspection, the treads had starting pulling away from the wire bead. I replaced the tube hoping the tire would hold even though there was a definite bulge. Unfortunately, another 20km up the road (this time on the busy motorway) the tube exploded. Gear guru Sheldon Brown explains that this type of problem can be temporarily fixed by covering the rip but since I’m carrying a folding spare, I just swapped that out (very carefully watching out for large trucks on the small shoulder). Will need to go rubber shopping in Moscow.

Lucky timing as the threatening skies opened up with a big thunderstorm about 10 minutes later. By the time I reached Obninsk there were small rivers running down the motorway and traffic had stopped as the cars slowly navigated the water. I hid under a gas station awning with a large convoy of motorcyclists (evidently, there’s a big bike rally this weekend somewhere near here) trying to get my bearings. Found a place to stay the night where I’ll keep dry until making my final assault to Moscow tomorrow — along the same road which Napoleon made his hasty exit from Moscow if Wikipedia can be believed.

While I probably won’t venture out, Obninsk is famous as the home of the world’s first production-scale nuclear plant, opened in 1954. The city was built to house technical workers for the plant and has evolved into one of the premier Russian science cities.



Day 42: Belyov, Russia to Kaluga, Russia

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Start: Belyov, Russia
End: Kaluga, Russia
Distance: 98.9km
Elevation Gain: 2669ft
Elevation Loss: 2560ft
Time: 7h05m
Reading Material:Ukraine: A History, 4th Edition – Orest Subtelny
Audio Material: Nerdist (Paul Feig interview); Russia – The Wild East – BBC/Martin Sixsmith; Diane Rehm

Bugs! The bugs in Russia are way more intense than anywhere else on the tour. In addition to swarms of flies which encase me in a bubble, I am now getting stung by large horseflies who know exactly which part of your shoulder blade it is impossible to reach while riding. Most pernicious are the suckers who find a way inside my shirt. Due to the heat, I’m usually riding with my shirt mostly unzipped. Twice bugs (a bee and a horsefly) have hit me at high speed and then become stuck in my shirt. They like to sting as they tumble around and I flail wildly. Must look interesting to the passing drivers.

Passed a nature preserve and got some good open landscape views before having to join up with the motorway again. Drank 1.5L of water and nearly 2L of apple juice (heat is not abating). Learned a new trick from Andrew yesterday. Most rural Russia villages have multiple communal water pumps along the road. The water is probably safe to drink (though, often has a slight metallic taste). But, more importantly: it’s cold! Frequent water pump showers are a great way to keep cool while riding.

For lunch I was joined by a pack of hungry and hot dogs looking for handouts. They had such sad faces but I didn’t have nearly enough extra banana to go around so decided to let them fend for themselves.

Kaluga is another medium-sized Russia city (~300,000 pop). Historically, the city served as a choke point for attacking Napoleon troops in retreat. But, more recently, it has become the center of Russia’s automobile industry. And, Kaluga was the home of Konstantin Tsiolkovsky, widely credited as the father of rocket science who published theoretical articles on space propulsion as early as 1881 (also, strange philosophical articles on futurism and eugenics). An eccentric recluse who lived on the outskirts of town, he taught mathematics and generally confused normal people. It is claimed that Tsiolkovsky was the inspiration for the Aeolia Schenberg character on Mobile Suite Gundam.


Day 41: Oryol, Russia to Belyov, Russia

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Start: Oryol, Russia
End: Belyov, Russia
Distance: 114.0km
Elevation Gain: 3160ft
Elevation Loss: 3127ft
Time: 8h51m
Reading Material:Ukraine: A History, 4th Edition – Orest Subtelny
Audio Material: Marketplace; World in Words; WTF podcast

Awesome day. My personal Oryol Bike Gang showed up promptly at 9am. Evidently, they saw a photo on twitter of a touring bike with a Brooks saddle in town and decided they needed to turn out (Oryol has a pretty strong bike community, they held a Critical Mass-like event earlier in the month and had several thousand bicyclists show up). We took some pics, compared some gear and headed out towards P92 and parts north.

It was nice to ride in a pack (and have a chance to draft) for once. As we got further from town, riders had to drop to return to their daily lives. But, Andrew and I rode together for 60km all the way to Bolkhov. I did most of the leading, but the combination of fresh legs and a riding companion helped and we made excellent pace, reaching Bolkhov in time for lunch. We said our goodbyes and Andrew headed back to Oryol (where it appears he or someone on his staff had a chance to file a story on our adventure) while I kept going north. Looks like we both had 120km days! And, thanks Andrew and Oryol bikers for the warm welcome and friendly assistance.

I’m quite happy with my route choice. Avoiding the motorway, I’ve opted to follow the P92 secondary road for several days towards Moscow and today conditions were excellent. First extended, smooth pavement in quite a while and minimal vehicle traffic. A good amount of up and downs but in this heat nothing too horrible (95F today).

Hopefully should be to Moscow after three more days on the road.


Mikhail Bakhtin

Mikhail Bakhtin’s house and lovingly curated museum in Oryol. Bakhtin is a favorite of literary and film theorists and is famous for his books on Dostoevsky and Rabelais. Unfortunately, his ideas on freedom of the individual did not make him a favorite of the Soviets and he faced several exiles and difficulty in publishing (and even getting his dissertation accepted). I received a private tour from a woman who spoke lovingly of her friend Misha.



Bike tour of Oryol

Got a local tour of Oryol by bike today. The “Eagle” city is located at the confluence of the Oka and Orlik Rivers. The Soviets built a promontory park where the river converge, reminded me some of the point in Pittsburgh where the Three Rivers come together. Lots of churches, many under active reconstruction. Visited my first Eastern Orthodox Church with a floor covered in straw, evidently for a recent harvest festival — also made for a very pleasant smell and feel. And, multiple monuments to local writers: Turgenev grew up on an estate about 15km north of the city; Mikhail Bakhtin (favorite of literature and film theorists) was born in Oryol). Found a classic Soviet cinema palace (no sign of the Iron Man, but Gob sighting). And, met a hairy bear who migrates with his family throughout the city.