Author Topic: Vologda-Onega-Ladoga, 1200km audax in Russia part 1  (Read 4523 times)

Vologda-Onega-Ladoga, 1200km audax in Russia part 1
« on: 25 July, 2008, 09:21:23 pm »
Original Thread: Vologda-Onega-Ladoga 1200, a Russian audax

The ride has passed, time to start writing about it (note to mods, when finished I'll repost it in the proper place).

An early morning in july. A few cabloads of bike-less foreigners arrive at an unmarked sportshall near Vologda trainstation. There they meet a few dozen semi-locals who are busy unbagging their bikes. A few minutes later and out of the sportshall the bikeless foreigners re-emerge, now properly equipped with bikes and everything. Frantically everyone starts to check his bike, load the bikes and fill the bottles. Some have a lot to do, others are ready to go in 5 minutes. When most are ready the organiser and his daughter start to distribute brevetcards and framenumbers. More frantic running around as the few happy souls posessing knifes or scissors are raided to facilitate a good mounting of framenumbers. Just as everyone has calmed down again the organiser calls all to cycle to the local Kremlin.

We manage to evade a small rain shower and parade down the centre. Sadly hardly a soul is watching, 6h30 is way too early for the average Russian. At the square in front of the Kremlin we meet other riders. Some have just arrived in town, others had time to do some sightseeing in the previous days. Again the organisers distribute essentials while the rest takes their time talking and admiring the Kremlin. Finally, long past the official start hour Mikhail sends us off with the instructions to ride in small groups to the outskirts of town and wait there for the official start.

The neutralisation is, as usual, quite nervous. I manage to jump a group since the potholed and busy roads slow the not so experienced down. From the first kilometers on I'm glad that I've chosen a sturdy tourer as my steed. Those on mountainbikes are working hard on the asfalt, those on skinny tires have to slam the brakes each time a pothole appears. In betwen the busy sections I have a chance to see the others. The usual selection of international audaxers, sinewy old chaps, nervous youngsters and a wide selection of bikes. Shortly before we reach the assembly point at the outskirts I see a roadsign for the turnaroundpoint, Medvezhegorsk, a mere 650km away.

As Mikhail sends us off a mad dash ensues. On one of the first hills I'm dropped from the first bunch. Together with Avi I manage to keep them into sight for quite some time. As I see that we don't get any closer I decide to ride a bit slower, blowing it in the first section is a bad idea. Avi climbs a lot better than I so I lose contact with him after a while. Not that I'm nervous about that, there should be many riders behind. And indeed, not long therafter I hear a mainly German group approaching. With them I continue, riding at the back on the good sections of asfalt and moving up front when the potholes appear. They seem to be afraid of risking their bikes. I ride quite often in Flanders so I know that bikes can handle a great deal of abuse.

The routesheet mentions a café and a scenic view after 50km. At the bridge I stop and admire the view. Nearly everyone in the group doesn't look around but keeps on pushing it. While admiring the view some others whizz past.

The wind is quite favourable at the moment so I don't mind riding alone. In fact, I enjoy it. More time to see the scenery and no problems with short stops to admire the view. 112km from the start is the first turn, left to the Kirilov Monastry. Nearly immediately after the turn I see the first rider encountering me, the doyen du peloton. Another rider is in hot pursuit, followed by the first organised group. Only one other organised group appears shortly before I enter Kirillov. Most riders are riding on their own. About 100m before the monastry I'm flagged down by one of the organisers. Just behind the stalls selling tourist parafrenalia is the control. The usual Russian style, out in the open but with food and drinks.

A few lonely riders are still heading towards Kirillov when I head out, back to the main road. Wind and heat slow me down. At some parts of the route the asfalt has melted. Sanitary stops have to be performed on the asfalt now, the sandy shoulders are no-go area now, unless you want to spend several minutes scratching the stones from your tires. Luckily I still have a tailwind after I turn back onto the mainroad.
Although the wind aids me the heat reduces my progress. We really enter remote backyards now, hardly any traffic and enormous distances between villages. The few places with facilities are clearly marked on the routesheet though. Notting serious happens untill the 200km control. Next to the servicestation is a small cafe/restaurant. I profit from the opportunity and get myself a decent meal. At the control I see the first rider ready to pack.

The controllers warn me that the next stretch is very remote, no services for most of stretch. Probably the heat has numbed me as I forget to check the contents of my pack. Every few dozen kilometres I see a few farmsteads partly hidden in the forest. The only village of any size is halfway this stretch, about a kilometre from the route. I turn towards it. No shop is directly visible. I aks a few youngsters but they can only say me that the villageshop is allready closed. Back on the mainroad I check my pack and see that I only have a bag of dried apricots, my emergency rations. Since it's only 50km to the next control I stuff the apricots in my pocket. Just as I want to head on a tandem appears. They stop. The riders are from St. Petersburg and started nearly 2 hours after the others. We continue on together. Finally a riding partner. I immediately ride a bit faster, munching some apricots frome time to time.

Slowly it starts getting a bit dark, not really dark though, this is the area of the white nights. It's near midnight when I finally see the control at a small lay-by. A small campfire is alight. The midges have allready found it. As I try to eat I remark that my stomach didn't like the apricots. The early start and ensuing sleep loss in the night before departure combined with the stomach problems make me decide to have a small kip. The controller hands me a sleeping bag and I doze off. An hour or so later I awake again, halfway frozen and luckily not eaten alive by the midges. Now my stomach accepts food.
The controller gives me some info on a diversion about 30km further on. I easily find it and am again glad about my choice of steed. The whole diversion is quite sandy and lany. Dawn allready starts as I pass the small gauge railroadstation. Not much later the sky is aflame and I stop for some pictures.

I head on in search of the first open shop. Luckily the controller handed me some supplies. No more riders to be expected so he doesn't have to budget. The tandem riders were still asleep when I left, just as another rider who is packing.
While passing the canal towards Lake Onega I see a few cruiseships ferrying their guests up north, probably to some monastry island or to the city of Petrozavodsk.
The small town of Vitegra has some open shops, 150km behind the service station. Finally I can restock on food and cola. Not that that helps much. With the full daylight the wind reappears. This time not as a tailwind but as a stiff headwind. Halfway to the control I stop and have a small kip in a sheltered location. I reach the control around closing time, in a fairly bad shape. I take advantage of the tents and have another kip.

Part 2: Vologda-Onega-Ladoga, 1200km audax in Russia, part 2