3 am wake up. Sherri Jo looks up at the sky and says “but it’s pitch black.” I was not impressed … If she was a man I would have replied “a man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do” … In much harsher language … but that wouldn’t have worked in this case in any form. Igor drove us down to the bikes. Big Igor turned up too to send us off.
And then we hit the dirt road to Lensk. Despite upgrading her lights from the piddly stock KTM item, SJs lights still were not worthy. There was no other option, I slowed and rode beside her to share my HID50s. When she fell 10 yards behind, she fell 100 yards behind. As soon as she fell out of the big pool of light in front of my bike, she was blind and slowed from 60 km/h to 30 km/h. There is simply no substitute for first class lighting, and bolt on additional lighting is always subject to breakage in falls. The only acceptable solution I have found is to replace any stock lighting with top quality high power bi-xenon units. This year I am running more powerful 50 watt ballasts and bulbs from HID50, usually reserved for modern light aircraft landing lights, in the Audi A6 projectors I used last year. I had a plan to replace those projectors with newer, better Infinity bi-xenon projectors but time ran out on me. But the A6 projectors are still something to behold. I rode alongside SJ, supplying the light, until the dawn began to break around 6am.
As dawn broke, we were about halfway to Lensk … and both very cold. It wasn’t the temperature, which was about +7C (44F) it was the humidity which was around 100%. We were in and out of fog the whole ride.
We finally made Lensk just before 8am … our required arrival time. A few phone calls were made and we had to report to the barge waiting area. About 9am the dispatcher turned up, looked at the waiting trucks and said “no barge today …. Not enough trucks … we go tomorrow now.”
We made our way to Lensk’s very overpriced hotel, probably used to waiting barge traffic, paid US$100 for a twin room and went back to sleep.
In the evening, as we strolled around looking for dinner, an Uzbek lady selling fruit struck up a conversation in English with Sherri Jo. She was keen for some practice and invited us back to her place for dinner – Uzbek plov. Naturally, we were spoiled … chocolate, fruit, plov, and more fruit for the barge tomorrow. We finally left after midnight. Sherri Jo said its becoming normal that we get spoiled every day. I thought about it … yes we had been spoiled every day in Mirny by Igor and the boys, and by Andrei the electrical handyman. We had been spoiled in Suntar, in VerkhneVilyuisk, and in Vilyuisk. It had been a long time since a stranger had not spoiled us. We have been very lucky indeed to meet such good people on a daily basis.
- – -
21.08.10 – 25.08.10
And so it begins … the 4 day barge ride upriver to Ust Kut. We rode the bikes onto the barge about 9am.
The guy in charge of loading opened up an empty shipping container and offered it for our gear and bikes. They asked where we would sleep, and after a brief conversation in which it became clear that they had a cabin free in the barge tower but it would cost 5000 rubles each (about 125 EUR each) for the ride to Irkutsk, we declined, and said we would sleep in the container, with the bikes.
The barge pulled out of Lensk and we settled into life on board, preparing our steel box for 4 days of eating, sleeping and blogging. Sherri Jo entertained the truck drivers who were already well on the way to being very drunk. Within an hour or two, we were out of mobile phone range of Lensk and the wilderness of the taiga forest and the Lena River was all there was to see.
The crew hosed off the desks and we wheeled the bikes out and scored a free wash.
Around dinner time, Denis, the first mate on the barge, approached us and said the captain had taken pity on us and offered us a cabin free of charge. Yet again we had been spoiled! It was about the 12th day in a row. Must be the luck of the English!
We were taken up to the bridge and given a tour. This was the best kept barge I had seen. It was my fourth boat trip between Lensk and Ust Kut. This barge was immaculate inside the living quarters and up on the bridge.
Overnight, the barge made its only stop – Peledui – and the barge filled up. The acres of space we had previously enjoyed for bike washing was now taken up.
I had enquired about the possibility of getting let off the barge at Kirensk or even Chechuisk. I had the idea that SJ can cruise on the boat to Ust Kut, but perhaps I can get off early and ride down and meet her, from Kirensk or slightly further downstream, but the barge only makes the one stop at Peledui. Almost nothing stops at Kirensk any more. At one time Kirensk was the main and only stop. But now Kirensk is a shadow of its former self. The boat I took twice last year still stops in Kirensk, but the barges don’t. In fact the smaller boat seemed to be flexible enough to stop anywhere. I think next time I am here, I will prearrange with the boat to get let on or off at Chechuisk.
The journey upriver from Lensk to Ust Kut is 1000km long … 1 million metres, at the rate of just under 3 metres per second. We had climbed 130 metres, from 160m amsl at Lensk to 290m amsl at Ust Kut. That’s 13cm every kilometre.
Evening on the barge:
Occasional villages along the Lena:
Morning Mist, River Lena:
Typical view … in 3 parts … the River, the Taiga forest and the blue sky … Its pretty much all we saw for 4 days: