Wednesday, August 10, 2011

The great adventure

After a morning of such boring views that even a road torn up for construction felt like a welcome change we dove straight into an adventure and ended up 50 kilometers further North than planned.

Laura and Taina, who enjoy riding at a slightly faster pace than Leka, Kaisa and Lina, had been sent ahead to Ruhtinanlahti (Zelenoborskij) to see if we could get more cash and liquid gas before the shops closed. After a tedious stretch of pushing our bikes through muddy sand and deep holes we were quite surprised to see Laura and Taina stading by the road, with Taina's bike turned upside down.

Disaster had struck on the uneven surface, with Taina's gears acting out and finally refusing to work altogether. The metal piece holding the back derailleur in place had been badly bent and left the chain stuck and the derailleur at an odd angle.

Decisions had to be made fast, as heavy rain was pouring on us and everyone was getting soaked. Add to this the fact that the closest house was probably 30 kilometers away. The traffic was momentarily stopped because of the workers blowing off some rock to widen the road, and when we arrived Laura had already established contact with a truck driver whose job was to keep the traffic from entering the explosion site. Lina took over and after a short discussion a deal was made: the driver would take Lina and the broken bike to Kantalahti, the next major city where one could expect to find a bike mechanic. The others would follow on their bikes, as there was only space for two persons in the truck cabin.

The plan only had one glitch: the fact that we had already done 71 kilometers but Kantalahti was still 82 kilometers away. Leka, Laura and Taina all felt they were up to the task, while Kaisa had been secretly hoping for a break from pedaling, having developed a small abrasion on her left knee. So Kaisa gave her bike to Taina, and the trailers were all loaded on the truck together with Lina's and Taina's bikes to make the Herculean effort a bit lighter.

The three cyclists were on their way, with Kaisa and Lina left standing in the rain. The driver had warned us it could take up to an hour and a half before he could take off, so Lina timidly asked if we could go sit in the truck cabin to get out of the rain. The driver happily invited us in, and our icy fingers started slowly thawing in the warmth of the heater.

We were able to leave earlier than planned, and as we started rolling towards Kantalahti we were quite comfortable in the cabin, but still worried to death about the poor bikes bumping in the back on the bad road. Lina had done her best to cushion them with the trailer bags, but we had no way of knowing what we'd find out there when arriving in Kantalahti.

The driver was a kind, talkative man, who told Lina about his background and his work, and steered us ahead at a comfortably low speed. Many of our readers might never have seen a classic Kamaz truck, but we can assure them that it's no light vehicle. The brakes and gears let out roaring sounds, and after being turned off the motor still continues to purr for a while. The driver informed us that the great beast guzzles a breath-taking 40 liters of "solarka" fuel to 100 kilometers.

We were starting to wonder what had happened to Leka, Laura and Taina, when we finally spotted them enjoying coffee and 7up at a small roadside cafe in Ruhtinanlahti. The driver was quite impressed by the speed they had been traveling, and after a short exchange of words we continued.

Kaisa and Lina were painfully aware of the fact that this was exactly what Mother had warned them about: hitching a ride with an unknown Russian truck driver in an unknown area. But the driver seemed like such a nice guy, spending his whole evening on the 160-kilometer roundtrip (which he of course was quite well compensated for).

Finally we saw the road sign "Kantalahti" show up, and were prepared to get into the city to hunt for a hotel that would accept 2 + 3 muddy cyclists together with their gear. But the crossroads came and went, with the truck continuing straight ahead, and our fears were all back. Where would he take us? What would he do? Could we bribe him with our bikes, cameras and laptop to at least spare our lives?

The driver turned to look at us and said: "See, there are two roads into Kantalahti, and this truck is so big that I can't really take the first one, so we'll just use the second." Whew! Soon we were in the city and unloading the bikes and trailers in front of a delightfully run-down and equally peculiar Soviet-style hotel. We waved the driver goodbye and started carrying in the bikes, and as soon as we had entered the hall and locked them we saw the others roll down the hill. When entering the town they had bumped into the truck driver, who had as his last helpful act for us written down the address to the hotel on a piece of paper. We were overjoyed to be united, but it would take until morning to find out if the bike could be fixed.

To be continued...

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