Biking

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Biking: an old eco-innovation still facing major development barriersBiking can take you everywhere....almost!

While conserving energy has never been as high in the global political and R&D agenda, there are good reasons to believe one the most energy-efficient transport devices was conceived about two centuries ago.

In a 1997 experiment, engineers at The John's Hopkins University showed the bicycle chain drive to utilize between 81 to 98.6% of the energy delivered to the pedals. This utilization was measured in terms of energy (heat) lost by the friction of tires on the road. The wide range of results was affected by 2 factors: higher chain tension and larger sprocket (circular plate with teeth) size.

Biking is considered the most efficient form of human transport - being 3 times as efficient than walking for an equal amount of effort, and 3-4 times as fast. Recent multi-criteria analyses of transportation systems in the Netherlands confirm the superior efficiency of cycling and railway (Bouwman and Moll 2002).

Bike Pooling

This information is vitally important considering the increasing movement of the World's population. In 2000, world citizens moved a total of 23 billion km per day; by 2050 that figure could quadruple to 105 billion (Schafer and Victor 2000).

Biking appears a major, global eco-innovation, enjoying a wide economic, environmental and social acceptance. However, poorly designed transportation infrastructures play against its adoption: many could-be cyclists refrain to use a bike even for short rides, unwilling to chance their life in street or road automobile traffic.

EI welcomes expressions of interest or suggestions for conceiving R&D projects in this area.


Sources:

 

Biking East

By transmitting to his bike a record proportion of the energy contained in his muesli - and thanks to a little ride on the Transsiberian - Eco Innovation's webmaster Stéphane Corlosquet managed to reach Mongolia at the end of July 2006. Read more about his biking trip to Asia in Biking East!

Biking East!

Back to Galway, End of the trip (September 13th 2006)

I flew with my bike from Ulaan Baatar to Berlin (with MIAT) and from Berlin to Dublin (with Ryanair). I took the bus from Dublin and I arrived in Galway on wednesday evening, still exhausted by the trip, and very happy to be back home! I haven't been used to so much comfort for 3 months! Water in the house, hot water, shower, varied food, even a table and a chair is luxury!

Gobi Desert (August 31st 2006)

At the end of the workcamp, I still had more than a week before my flight back to Europe. I decided to head south to the northern part of the Gobi desert. It took me 4 days and 220km to reach Dundgov aimag. On my way I met many locals, no tourist at all. No paved road. Only tracks made by jeeps. Mostly dusty, dry and flat. I went through many different types of land : hard, sandy, rocky, dryed salt lakes, grassy valleys. Water was not too difficult to find even though half of the wells I found were dry. I also asked very often the locals to show me where the nearest well was. Many of them invited me for mongolian tea and more... airag, dryed yoghourt, soup... one of them even invited me to stay for the night in his ger. On the 3rd day I got sick, maybe with the water even though I was using a bactericide before drinking it. A very severe diarrhea which drained out all my energy after 5 days.... At the same time the weather got really worse. Very windy, below 0° at night, and not more than 5° in the morning until noon. I was wearing all the warm clothes I had and I was still cold (5 layers), being sick was not helping. I gave up on the 7th day when I was in the Baga Gazrin Chuluu mountains. The only way I had to go back to UB was to go back to the main track (35km) and hitch hike. It took me 1 day and a half to find this track, I could barely cycle/walk against the wind. My fingers in my winter gloves were frozen, my back and knees sore, my whole body used up. I sat by the track for an hour trying to keep myself warm in the wind. 6°C. No cars. It started to snow. A horseman came along and I explained to him the situation. He invited me to his ger a little bit further of the track. He did well as the snow got really worse and it was soon all white around. In the ger, his wife was preparing mongolian pastries. I relaxed there and got warmer for 2 hours, waiting for the weather to get better. Then I went back to the road. 2h later the first jeep accepted to take my bike and drive me back to UB. I was still sick, but relieved!

I am now taking it easy and recovering in UB. I will fly with my bike to Berlin on the 11th, and to Ireland on the 13th.

 

Workcamp with the kids of the Orphanage (August 23rd 2006)

It's a long time I didn't update this blog. So first some quick news about last weeks. I didn't go to Khentii. I changed the plans at the last minute. I managed to organise a trip with my mongolian teacher to Hovsgol Lake in the north west of Mongolia. Amazing place for hiking, and learning basic mongolian! It's the biggest fresh water lake of Mongolia. The area is very green. Lost of forests around the lake.

The workcamp has now started. It takes place in a farm 45km west of UB in the countryside amoung the moutains. The contact with the kids is very easy. They are used to meet volunteers every summer. I get the chance to practise my mongolian with them and have fun. We help them to weed the fields of the Farm. We also organise sport competitions with them and all sorts of games. These kids are between 13 and 20 years old. There is another camp in Khandgait for the younger kids (with no work in the fields). We are 25 volunteers from Japan, Korea, USA, Canada, England, France, Italy, Germany, Austria, Belgium and Switzerland! Biological toilets, no electricity, no running water. We get water from a spring 3km away with a tank and a tractor. The water is then brought to the kitchen in plastic buckets. Lots of flies. 3 gers are shared between the volunteers, 8 volunteers per ger. During the cold nights, we have to deal with all sorts of spiders and bugs. Mosquitoes here are not as bad as they are in some other areas of Mongolia. The first day I got a dust or insect in my eye. Luckily one of the volunteer, an italian doctor, took care of me and I got recovered within 3 days. He said it looked like Herpes. He used "malva" leaves from the field to prepare a medicine that I used to watch my eye twice a day. He just boiled them during 10 min. We are out in the countryside without shops and pharmacies but we managed to make our natural medicine ourselves! A family visited us in the farm. They had a baby with a mouthache. They asked a horseman passing nearby to come and they made the baby suck the bit of the horse. He seemed to like it. Apparently it's a shaman tradition. Almost everynight we have the chance to see a nice sunset behind the mountains, with a different sky color and cloud shape every time. Mongolia is great to look at the stars as there is not light pollution. Some people sleep outside on a stage in the middle of the yard. I might try it too next week when it gets colder.

No pictures this time!

 

Ulaan Baatar (August 4th 2006)

It took me 9 days and 765km from Ulan Ude to reach Ulaan Baatar. When I arrived in UB, the firView from the Guest housest thing I noticed was pollution. As soon as I entered the city, I got a severe headache. I guess the sun was also one of the reasons. My nose was sore. Many people are wearing a white mask or a tissue as a mask. Cycling in the traffic is quite hard and unpleasant, especially when you get stuck behind a minivan, breathing its grey fumes. Pollution is quite obvious here. It reminds me Irkutsk. Everybody is very good at using their horn also. That makes of UB a real chaos. The main streets are bumpy but not too bad compared to some secondary streets that are not even paved and full of rubbishes and waste water. I am staying in Gana's Guest house. 5US$ per night including breakfast. Life is pretty cheap here. You can get a good meal in a restaurtant for 2euros. Misery is also obvious. Homeless people, including kids, are everywhere, amoung the fancy flashy cars and big 4x4.
I am planning to stay a few days in UB, and to get out for a week, probably toward the east. There is not many tourists going there, and it is said to be 'one of the last great unspoiled grazing ecosystems in the world' (George Schaller). The best way to explore this region is not the jeep, but the horseback... we will see how it goes... I will have to be back in UB on the 18th to start the workcamp.

More pictures here.

Shortcut through the mountains (August 2nd 2006)

From the remote monastery, to road to UB involves to go back up north to Darkhan, and then take the Darkhan-Bayangol-UB main road going south. In a nutshell the road is like a up side down 'U', going north and then south. According to the map I had there was no direct road going east to reach the main Darkhan-Bayangol road. I ask many people before, locals and tourists, and they all said to me I should go to Darkhan, and that I should not cross this remote area which has no roads. But I decided to give it a try. So I went to Khotol, on the way to Darkhan. Khotol would be the bottom left of the up side down 'U'. And I asked in a shop if they knew about a direct road going to Bayangol (the other end of the up side down 'U'). They didn't seem to recommend it, but one of them took his bike and showed me the way. There was actually no road, but a track. First, I had to cross a few valleys. 2 youngs guys in aCamping in the middle of nowhere - 45km shortcut ger invited me for tea. It was at the right moment as I was pushing my bike to climb a hill. They also filled my flasques with the water they had. They warned me that there would be no water further.
After that, the track was pretty flat. In some areas, the bush beside the track was so high that the birds which were flying very low were following the track like me and flying just in front of me. I was cycling quite fast at this stage, 35km/h, and could easily follow them. I lost control of the bike in a sandy section, but I managed to jump off and I ended in the bush on the side of the track. No damage. On my way I only saw one ger, with a nasty dog which tried to catch me. The only option I had was to cycle faster.
I camped after 28km. 17km were remaining to Bayangol according to the GPS. The spot was really in the middle of nowhere (N49°00,049 - E105°53,333).
Crossing the river by horseThe next day I passed some gers on my way to Bayangol. One of them invited me to come over. I got offered tea. They showed me their horse. They were quite proud of it because it won many medals at several horse shows. Before I leave, they offerd a blue mongolian fabric. I offered them the rest of my emergency food (cereal bars), that is all I had to offer. I arrived to Bayangol at about noon. But I could cross the river as I could find any bridge. The river was too deep to be crossed on foot. I asked in a ger for advice, they were milking their horses. They first offered me some airag, it's fermented horse milk, very good! And then they offered me to cross the river by horse!

This 45km shortcut was quite an adventure! If I would have taken the regular road, I would have had to cycle almost 100km around these mountains!


Once in Bayangol, I bought some food and stopped on the side of the road, 200m away from the traffic. As I was starting to unpack my bags to have food, 2 strong guys of my age came along and shaked my hand. The way they were looking at me and the way they shaked my hand made me realise they didn't have good intentions. One of them was asking for money and started to push me. He grabbed an empty notebook that I was planning to use to write my diary. While they were going through it, I managed to pack all my stuff and cycle away. Out of anger, one of them kicked the back of the bike, but it didn't fall. They didn't run after me and I managed to escape safely.

More pictures are in the album here.

Amarbayasgalant Khiid (July 31th 2006)

TCamping monasteryhis is a famous buddhist monastery in northern Mongolia. I could not go through this area without going there! This monastery is famous for

being in a remote location, at 35km from the nearest road. From Darkhan, I took the road to Edernet. 90km from Darkhan, there is a track whick goes to the monastery. I left the main road at about 7pm, hoping I could reach the monastery before the night. The track was not too bad at the beginning, except the annoyance of the mosquitoes! But after 20km, it started to be very bumpy and up hill. I entered the location of the monastery in my GPS to check from time to time the distance remaining. At about 10pm, I was still on my way, and the dark was becoming a problem as I could barely see the track. 15km were remaining. More and more up hills. More and more mosquitoes. The most difficult hill was in front of me. I had to get off the bike and push it. On the way down, I did not notice the big rocks which were in the middle of the way. The front wheel hit one of them and literally exploded! No way to fix it in the darkness. I decided to camp by the track, and I fixed the puncture the next morning. The tyre was not too damaged.


TDown the river with the nomadshen while I was packing my tent and getting ready to head to the monastery, 2 nomads came along. They were interested in my bike and my tent. I let both of them try my bike in the bush, without the bags. They were so delighted! Then they invited me to follow them to the river, in order to let the horse drink some water. One of their friend came along and offered me a bottle of tea, and some local cheese, made with cow milk. They showed me the way to the monastery.

I spent the night in the village, in a ger of some other locals. Interesting contact with the locals. There were no other tourist, except an emglish women and me. We all had dinner together and went to visit another village a few km further with the locals.

More pictures in the album section here

Darkhan (July 30th 2006)

On the second day, I got to cycle with an eagle flying a few meters over my head for a km. He was then waiting for me some km further. I stopped and he started

his show, flying around, looping without moving his wings and just using the warm air streams. I went through a police checkpoint. The cars were paying a fee to go further. The guy wanted to try my bike. He cycled a few meters and was happy. He did not charge me.

I was looking for a spot to have my lunch, but I could not find any shadowed spot... no trees at all. Finally I found a bunch of trees close to a bridge. Needless to say the river was dry. I met 2 cyclists from Ulan Baatar. They were cycling the opposite way to Sukhbaatar, and then going back to UB.

I arrive in Darkhan. It's quite big. There is the old town, and the new town, behind a hill. While I was unlocking my bike after having spent an hour in an internet cafe, a woman came to me and warned me that the kids around my bike might steal my stuff. Her name is Zulla. I was impressed by her english as it's not very common to run into an english speaker in the countryside. I was planning to camp outside the town, but she invited me to spend the night at her apartment, on the other side of the street. She cooked some traditionnal mongolian meal based on rice and beef, and also the famous mongolian tea! Very tasty Smile

Entered in Mongolia (July 29th 2006)

I arrived to Kyarta, the last russian town before the border, on the 28th of July. 265km from Ulan Ude. I spent the night at a Typical steppelady's I met a few days before in a market 60km away from Ulan Ude. She has been very kind. She offered me dinner, breakfast, and veggies, eggs and a delicious homemade raspberry jam! Passing the border was not too long, even if the russian checkpoint agent stayed a few minutes comparing the picture of my passport with my face. As soon as I entered Mongolia, I could see a huge difference in the lanscape. Whereas the last 2 days in russia, there were lots of dry mountains, the landscape in Mongolia was quite flat and green. I could see mountains but there were far away in the south.

On my way I met 2 nomads looking after their sheep :

First horsemen

I arrived to the first town, 24km away from the border : Sukhbaatar.

Sukhbaatar

I stopped 200m from the road, close to the railway. I was sitting on a wall. I didn't have to wait longer than a minute to be surrounded by 3 nice elders. I was trying to figure out how to pronounce properly the mongolian 'Hi', but I didn't have the time to say it, one of the guy said 'sainbainuu' before me. Very good, I just had to repeat it! We all stayed half an hour practising the pronunciation of the basic mongolian words !

I visited the local market, with only local fresh veggies and the usual imported items from China like clothes and the like... I also got the chance to enter in a huge stinky hall with lots of meat laying around on tables, with lots of flyes flying everywhere! I didn't stay inside very long... The locals were very interested in my bike, touching everything, changing the gears, looking at the compass and the computer... My concern was that the bike does not fall on them!



I spent the first night in Mongolia at 60km from the border, where I could see the first moutains. I found a nice spot 90m up the road.

First mountains

Camping spot of the first night in Mongolia

Ulan Ude (July 25th 2006)

Last week was spent on Olkhon Island, on lake Baikal. The island is something like 70km long and 20km wide. It a great place for hiking and camping. Beaches and taiga mountains. It's quite remote, with not too many tourist. There is a ferry service running all the time to bring cars and autobus to the island. Roads to get there from Irkutsk are really really bad, but it's worth going there. The lanscapes are rewarding! I spent the week in a WOOF farm, thanks to Simona who provided my the address! I have been sick the whole week and I didn't do as much hiking/cycling on the island as I would have liked, but the location of the farm alone was enough to make me content!

I arrived to Ulan Ude this morning. Yesterday I got my visa for Mongolia by 4pm in Irkutsk, and I managed to get a train to Ulan Ude at 9pm! I got in trouble with the Police in the train, they said that I should have registered my passport more recently. Last registration was from the 8th of July. The policeman said that I would have to go to the police station the next day to pay a 1500 ruble fine. So they kept my passport during the night and dragged me to the to the Police station of Ulan Ude this morning. The cell behind me, and the cuffs on the desk! They finally let me go after 1h... without paying...!

I am spending the day in Ulan Ude, and going to start the last bit of road to the mongolian border tomorrow. 250km. I have 4 days left on my russian visa. I should be fine! I still haven't heard from the others. All I know is that they should still be on Olkhon island, but we didn't manage to find each others there, it's too big. They have a train ticket to Ulan Baatar for thursday 27th. We should finally meet there.

Transiberian to Irkutsk (July 13th 2006)

I am now in Irkutsk. I arrived yesterday after 4 days in the train from Moscow (5186km). The last day in the train passed very quickly as I met for the third time in the trip these 2 irish girls from Dublin : Marjorie and Majella. I met them for the first time in St Petersburg, and then we run into each other in the hostel of Moscow - they were checking out when we were checking in, and finally we ended up taking the same train to Irkutsk!

Irkutsk is nice and I found a cheap hostel (homestay) hidden on the top of a building right in the city center (500 rub per night). Andrea and Joa Marc wanted to stop 3 or 4 times between Moscow and Irkutsk. I didn't want to be bother by taking apart the bike every few days to put it in the train, so I decided to do the trip in one go directly to Irkutsk. They should arrive here this weekend. In the meantime I will spend some days on Olkhon Island, on the Baikal lake, 300km from Irkutsk.

I have also just been accepted to do a workcamp in Ulaanbaatar, during the last 2 weeks of august! It will be with kids of an orphanage in a farm out in the countryside, Buhug river, 40km away from UB. So we should leave Irkustk next week, and cycle all the way to UB.

St Petersburg : First stage completed (July 3rd 2006)

The first part of our trip is done! We arrived in St Petersburg yesterday afternoon.

St Petersburg

St Petersburg in magnificent, and really really huge! Not to be compared to Dublin. It took us more than 3h from the entrance of the city to reach the hostel which is in the city center.

It is very tricky to find our way through Russia as the alphabet is different, especially if the map is in Roman alphabet and the signs in Cyrillic alphabet. If the map and the signs are both in cyrillic, it is like comparing two images! And when we want to ask someone we have to show them the place on the map, as we cannot prononce properly the name of the places. I finally got a russian phrasebook in Tartu thanks to Jenni, but it takes time to get used to it.

The stories of the last days include an extra 50km ride in the evening due to a russian Police checkpoint that we were not allowed to pass as tourists. The thing is that this road which follow the west cost just before St Petersburg was lost in a forest of the countryside, and the only option was to cycle back and do a loop around the forest. No other road or path through the forest. (From Narva to St Petersburg, more than half of the land is forest, and less flat than Estonia!). After this extra ride, we stopped in a pub of a village in order to watch the football match. By the end of the match, some drunk people tended to be very sticky. A bunch of sober women dragged us out of the pub and started to talk in russian. We didn't have a clue about what they were talking about, but they seemed to be concerned about us. The only thing they were able to say in english was something like "you go now, good bye", pointing the way to St Petersburg and meaning they didn't want to see us in there village anymore, and that we should never come back. We tried to find out why, and apparently the people of the pub were bad people. We assumed these women were concerned about us, non russian speaker, being possibly robbed by those locals of the pub. Anyway, we left the place, amused by the reaction of these locals. We found a place to camp a few km further, set the tents by a lake with the help of nasty mosquitoes and midges. Andrea and Joa Marc dared to go back the pub and watched the second matched. I stay in my tent and literally fell asleep.

We are staying 3 days in St Petersburg. We will take the night train to Moscow on wednesday evening. The ticket is cheaper than a night at the hotel! (600 roubles, 17euros). We were told we shopuld be able to stick our bikes in the train with us in the luggage area under the beds. We can also give some money to the driver if he is not happy with that (usually about 50 roubles).

The adventure continues...
Steph.

PS : I added some pictures to the previous posts.

In Russia tomorrow (June 29th 2006)

Tere!

Updating my blog from Jõhvi, north east Estonia. Yesterday we followed the Peipsi lake from Mustvee. It is a big lake separating Estonia and Russia, so big that it looks like the sea. We went through some very nice forests with beaches. 10 km of the road were under construction, very bumpy as a result.
Last night we camped in Jõhvi city, we found a bushy area close to the railway. Not the best place to be honest, as we later found some syringes and needles. But we managed to cook some rice and sausages and have a decent dinner. Joa Marc is having a hard time with his bike as it keeps breaking the spokes - 4 broken spokes so far from the rear wheel. Some of them were on the gear cassette side so he had to fix it in a shop this morning. Andrea started to be unlucky as well as he broke his first spoke yesterday. I am lucky so far - knock on wood - but I bought some more spokes for my bike just in case.
My leg is feeling better after the last 2 days of cycling, but I have to take it easy. We are heading to Narva tonight where we will spend the night in a kind of hostel (thanks to Kaarel!). He also recommended us some pasta carbonara (prononce with the russian accent on the r) in a hidden underground place called Modern. We should enter Russia tomorrow morning, which is the first day of our russian visa.
ciao!

Steph.

Canoe in Soomaa National Park, Estonia (June 25th 2006)

Hello!

You may wonder what I am doing there ??? This was not included in the initial plan. Well, the story started some days ago. Last monday I could feel a serious muscular pain in my left leg. As a consequence my pace was reduced and it was getting hard to keep up with the others. I thought it would be better the next day while visiting Vilnius, but it was not. So considering this pain and the general tireness, I decided to take some days off to recover while Andrea and Joa Marc would keep cycling toward Latvia and Estonia. We decided that we would catch up around Tartu in Estonia in 4 or 5 days. I stayed another day in Vilnius, and I took the bus with my bike on Thursday 22nd to go to Tartu, including 4h waiting in Riga. As opposed to the first one, the second bus driver in Riga was not ok with having my bike in the boot of the bus. I tried to explain to him the situation in english, but he could not understand anything! Fortunately, Jenni, an estonian speaking finish woman managed to sort the situation out! I have been lucky. She invited me to stay at her place after I told her about my plans. Her boyfriend Kaarel studies history in Tartu, and we went for a late visit of Tartu by night. The next day was the estonian national day, which is the main event in Estonia during the year, with bonfires everywhere in the country. I was invited to one of his friends' party close to the Soomaa National Park. After a great and tasty estonian dinner, we spent sometime around the fire after 1pm.
Soomaa national park estoniaYesterday we got the chance to go hiking in the national park with some guides, it is all flat, but the type of terrain changes all the time, from the boggy forest with all sort of high weeds and annoying insects, to the toundra-like tree less areas... Today we did some canoe along the Halliste and Navesti river. We are still very lucky with weather!

My leg is feeling better now, I am hoping that the pain will not come back when I start to cycle again. I have not heard from the others since they left Vilnius, they should get back to me very soon to decide where we will meet. I am also learning some basic Estonian.

Mina lähen.
Nägemist!
Steph.

Lithuania (June 22nd 2006)

After cycling 930km through Poland, we entered in Lithuania last sunday morning (18th). Sejny was the last town we crossed in Poland. Our first day in Lithuania was also our first day of rain! What a nice welcome! During the lunch break in Seiriji, a local offered us some lituanian coffee : he could not say it, so he acted in that way! The road are not great here. Some of the primary roads are good, most of the secondary roads are graveled, with loads of bumps! Lots of forest to go through. Not too much traffic.

Break in Gizycko (June 16th 2006)

Quick stop in Gizycho (North east Poland). Lunch by the canal separing the 2 lakes. The weather is still very nice and we have not experienced the rain yet! The landscape is different from the south west. It was flat around Wroclaw, but now there more forests, and the road are much more up and down! The legs are sore and streching is required. I broke my front carrier on my way out of Torun, I have to look for a new one. Joan Marc also broke a spoke coming out from a forest where we camped 2 days ago, but we found spare ones. Tonight should be our last night in Poland. We going to miss the tasty polish food and the delicious pastries !!!
Soon.
Steph.

Great welcome in Poland! (June 10th 2006)

So many things to relate in only 2 days spent in Poland! Everything went well so far. Fixed the bikes at the airport and started the trip on thu afternoon.
airport airport2

Spent the first night hidden in a field, on the north side of Wroclaw (prononce rotzoav!) A bit cold during the night but we woke up with the sun! Andrea broke down the night before (back carrier), so we went to look for a garage in order to fix his bike. Pretty tough to explain the situation in polish, but they understood... they were 4 people looking at the problem. Finally they found a polish who knew english, and helped us. Had a great day after that. Cycled 90km through countryside and ended in a petrol station to fill our cooker in Jutrosin (between Wroclaw and Poznan). We asked for a campsite, but it was very hard to understand the woman. Obviously there was no campsite around. We have been lucky to run into a french speaking polish who invited us to set our tent in her garden! Young people of JutrosinWhile we were setting our tents, 2 polish girls came from the neighbourhood, and then 2 other ones. They showed us the village, and the only pub. We sleeped very well and they caught us this morning and dragged us into their house for a huge breakfast with all the family... we got really stuffed. We love polish food. They told us that guests are like god in their house! We talk a lot as the young people usually know english and can translate to the parents. Everybody is wondering why we are travelling by bike... many things to explain...

Well, I'd better go now... heading to Poznan now..

Finishing the last tasks (June 6th 2006)

Finishing the last tasks at work. All my bags are almost packed, but I still have to double check if I didn't forget anything...

Break in Gizycko (June 16th 2006)

Quick stop in Gizycho (North east Poland). Lunch by the canal separing the 2 lakes. The weather is still very nice and we have not experienced the rain yet! The landscape is different from the south west. It was flat around Wroclaw, but now there more forests, and the road are much more up and down! The legs are sore and streching is required. I broke my front carrier on my way out of Torun, I have to look for a new one. Joan Marc also broke a spoke coming out from a forest where we camped 2 days ago, but we found spare ones. Tonight should be our last night in Poland. We going to miss the tasty polish food and the delicious pastries !!!
Soon.
Steph.

Canoe in Soomaa National Park, Estonia (June 25th 2006)

Hello!

You may wonder what I am doing there ??? This was not included in the initial plan. Well, the story started some days ago. Last monday I could feel a serious muscular pain in my left leg. As a consequence my pace was reduced and it was getting hard to keep up with the others. I thought it would be better the next day while visiting Vilnius, but it was not. So considering this pain and the general tireness, I decided to take some days off to recover while Andrea and Joa Marc would keep cycling toward Latvia and Estonia. We decided that we would catch up around Tartu in Estonia in 4 or 5 days. I stayed another day in Vilnius, and I took the bus with my bike on Thursday 22nd to go to Tartu, including 4h waiting in Riga. As opposed to the first one, the second bus driver in Riga was not ok with having my bike in the boot of the bus. I tried to explain to him the situation in english, but he could not understand anything! Fortunately, Jenni, an estonian speaking finish woman managed to sort the situation out! I have been lucky. She invited me to stay at her place after I told her about my plans. Her boyfriend Kaarel studies history in Tartu, and we went for a late visit of Tartu by night. The next day was the estonian national day, which is the main event in Estonia during the year, with bonfires everywhere in the country. I was invited to one of his friends' party close to the Soomaa National Park. After a great and tasty estonian dinner, we spent sometime around the fire after 1pm.
Soomaa national park estoniaYesterday we got the chance to go hiking in the national park with some guides, it is all flat, but the type of terrain changes all the time, from the boggy forest with all sort of high weeds and annoying insects, to the toundra-like tree less areas... Today we did some canoe along the Halliste and Navesti river. We are still very lucky with weather!

My leg is feeling better now, I am hoping that the pain will not come back when I start to cycle again. I have not heard from the others since they left Vilnius, they should get back to me very soon to decide where we will meet. I am also learning some basic Estonian.

Mina lähen.
Nägemist!
Steph.


Finishing the last tasks (June 6th 2006)

Finishing the last tasks at work. All my bags are almost packed, but I still have to double check if I didn't forget anything...

Great welcome in Poland! (June 10th 2006)

So many things to relate in only 2 days spent in Poland! Everything went well so far. Fixed the bikes at the airport and started the trip on thu afternoon.
airport airport2

Spent the first night hidden in a field, on the north side of Wroclaw (prononce rotzoav!) A bit cold during the night but we woke up with the sun! Andrea broke down the night before (back carrier), so we went to look for a garage in order to fix his bike. Pretty tough to explain the situation in polish, but they understood... they were 4 people looking at the problem. Finally they found a polish who knew english, and helped us. Had a great day after that. Cycled 90km through countryside and ended in a petrol station to fill our cooker in Jutrosin (between Wroclaw and Poznan). We asked for a campsite, but it was very hard to understand the woman. Obviously there was no campsite around. We have been lucky to run into a french speaking polish who invited us to set our tent in her garden! Young people of JutrosinWhile we were setting our tents, 2 polish girls came from the neighbourhood, and then 2 other ones. They showed us the village, and the only pub. We sleeped very well and they caught us this morning and dragged us into their house for a huge breakfast with all the family... we got really stuffed. We love polish food. They told us that guests are like god in their house! We talk a lot as the young people usually know english and can translate to the parents. Everybody is wondering why we are travelling by bike... many things to explain...

Well, I'd better go now... heading to Poznan now..

In Russia tomorrow (June 29th 2006)

Tere!

Updating my blog from Jõhvi, north east Estonia. Yesterday we followed the Peipsi lake from Mustvee. It is a big lake separating Estonia and Russia, so big that it looks like the sea. We went through some very nice forests with beaches. 10 km of the road were under construction, very bumpy as a result.
Last night we camped in Jõhvi city, we found a bushy area close to the railway. Not the best place to be honest, as we later found some syringes and needles. But we managed to cook some rice and sausages and have a decent dinner. Joa Marc is having a hard time with his bike as it keeps breaking the spokes - 4 broken spokes so far from the rear wheel. Some of them were on the gear cassette side so he had to fix it in a shop this morning. Andrea started to be unlucky as well as he broke his first spoke yesterday. I am lucky so far - knock on wood - but I bought some more spokes for my bike just in case.
My leg is feeling better after the last 2 days of cycling, but I have to take it easy. We are heading to Narva tonight where we will spend the night in a kind of hostel (thanks to Kaarel!). He also recommended us some pasta carbonara (prononce with the russian accent on the r) in a hidden underground place called Modern. We should enter Russia tomorrow morning, which is the first day of our russian visa.
ciao!

Steph.

Lithuania (June 22nd 2006)

After cycling 930km through Poland, we entered in Lithuania last sunday morning (18th). Sejny was the last town we crossed in Poland. Our first day in Lithuania was also our first day of rain! What a nice welcome! During the lunch break in Seiriji, a local offered us some lituanian coffee : he could not say it, so he acted in that way! The road are not great here. Some of the primary roads are good, most of the secondary roads are graveled, with loads of bumps! Lots of forest to go through. Not too much traffic.

St Petersburg : First stage completed (July 3rd 2006)

The first part of our trip is done! We arrived in St Petersburg yesterday afternoon.

St Petersburg

St Petersburg in magnificent, and really really huge! Not to be compared to Dublin. It took us more than 3h from the entrance of the city to reach the hostel which is in the city center.

It is very tricky to find our way through Russia as the alphabet is different, especially if the map is in Roman alphabet and the signs in Cyrillic alphabet. If the map and the signs are both in cyrillic, it is like comparing two images! And when we want to ask someone we have to show them the place on the map, as we cannot prononce properly the name of the places. I finally got a russian phrasebook in Tartu thanks to Jenni, but it takes time to get used to it.

The stories of the last days include an extra 50km ride in the evening due to a russian Police checkpoint that we were not allowed to pass as tourists. The thing is that this road which follow the west cost just before St Petersburg was lost in a forest of the countryside, and the only option was to cycle back and do a loop around the forest. No other road or path through the forest. (From Narva to St Petersburg, more than half of the land is forest, and less flat than Estonia!). After this extra ride, we stopped in a pub of a village in order to watch the football match. By the end of the match, some drunk people tended to be very sticky. A bunch of sober women dragged us out of the pub and started to talk in russian. We didn't have a clue about what they were talking about, but they seemed to be concerned about us. The only thing they were able to say in english was something like "you go now, good bye", pointing the way to St Petersburg and meaning they didn't want to see us in there village anymore, and that we should never come back. We tried to find out why, and apparently the people of the pub were bad people. We assumed these women were concerned about us, non russian speaker, being possibly robbed by those locals of the pub. Anyway, we left the place, amused by the reaction of these locals. We found a place to camp a few km further, set the tents by a lake with the help of nasty mosquitoes and midges. Andrea and Joa Marc dared to go back the pub and watched the second matched. I stay in my tent and literally fell asleep.

We are staying 3 days in St Petersburg. We will take the night train to Moscow on wednesday evening. The ticket is cheaper than a night at the hotel! (600 roubles, 17euros). We were told we shopuld be able to stick our bikes in the train with us in the luggage area under the beds. We can also give some money to the driver if he is not happy with that (usually about 50 roubles).

The adventure continues...
Steph.

PS : I added some pictures to the previous posts.

Transiberian to Irkutsk (July 13th 2006)

I am now in Irkutsk. I arrived yesterday after 4 days in the train from Moscow (5186km). The last day in the train passed very quickly as I met for the third time in the trip these 2 irish girls from Dublin : Marjorie and Majella. I met them for the first time in St Petersburg, and then we run into each other in the hostel of Moscow - they were checking out when we were checking in, and finally we ended up taking the same train to Irkutsk!

Irkutsk is nice and I found a cheap hostel (homestay) hidden on the top of a building right in the city center (500 rub per night). Andrea and Joa Marc wanted to stop 3 or 4 times between Moscow and Irkutsk. I didn't want to be bother by taking apart the bike every few days to put it in the train, so I decided to do the trip in one go directly to Irkutsk. They should arrive here this weekend. In the meantime I will spend some days on Olkhon Island, on the Baikal lake, 300km from Irkutsk.

I have also just been accepted to do a workcamp in Ulaanbaatar, during the last 2 weeks of august! It will be with kids of an orphanage in a farm out in the countryside, Buhug river, 40km away from UB. So we should leave Irkustk next week, and cycle all the way to UB.

Ulan Ude (July 25th 2006)

Last week was spent on Olkhon Island, on lake Baikal. The island is something like 70km long and 20km wide. It a great place for hiking and camping. Beaches and taiga mountains. It's quite remote, with not too many tourist. There is a ferry service running all the time to bring cars and autobus to the island. Roads to get there from Irkutsk are really really bad, but it's worth going there. The lanscapes are rewarding! I spent the week in a WOOF farm, thanks to Simona who provided my the address! I have been sick the whole week and I didn't do as much hiking/cycling on the island as I would have liked, but the location of the farm alone was enough to make me content!

I arrived to Ulan Ude this morning. Yesterday I got my visa for Mongolia by 4pm in Irkutsk, and I managed to get a train to Ulan Ude at 9pm! I got in trouble with the Police in the train, they said that I should have registered my passport more recently. Last registration was from the 8th of July. The policeman said that I would have to go to the police station the next day to pay a 1500 ruble fine. So they kept my passport during the night and dragged me to the to the Police station of Ulan Ude this morning. The cell behind me, and the cuffs on the desk! They finally let me go after 1h... without paying...!

I am spending the day in Ulan Ude, and going to start the last bit of road to the mongolian border tomorrow. 250km. I have 4 days left on my russian visa. I should be fine! I still haven't heard from the others. All I know is that they should still be on Olkhon island, but we didn't manage to find each others there, it's too big. They have a train ticket to Ulan Baatar for thursday 27th. We should finally meet there.