Back in the (former) U.S.S.R
After three spectacular weeks in Mongolia, it was time for the Silk Route tour to cross into country number three – the sprawling mass of Russia. Whilst many from the West are familiar with Moscow and St. Petersburg at the European end of this continent spanning behemoth, not many will have heard of the region we are now cycling through. Sandwiched between Mongolia, Kazakhstan and China, the Altai Republic is a small but stunning part the vast expanse of Russia. Nestled within the Altai mountains, it is one of the furthest places on earth from the sea. Despite its remote location the Altai Republic is certainly not short on amazing scenery and vibrant rural communities. It seems to be hot spot for young Russians to come and explore the mighty mountains and ferocious rivers that sprawl through the landscape. Everyone on the tour has been taken aback by the unexpected beauty of both the scenery and the riding. After weeks on Mongolia washboard and sand, the return of tarmac has reinvigorated everyone’s morale for riding. The senses are overwhelmed by the quantity of forest and plant life that now flanks the road, and it is hard to imagine that we are only a few hundred kilometres from the barren Mongolian steppe.
Leaving Mongolia was a bittersweet feeling, as we said goodbye to our amazing local support team, as well as leaving behind the hospitality of the local people. The final challenge we faced in was actually leaving the country itself which took 6 hours just to get an exit stamp! The change of landscape between Russia and Mongolia was night and day. Gone are the vast rolling landscapes of vast empty grassland. Replaced by mountain valleys and more modern infrastructure. Riders and staff returning from previous TDA have all agreed the ‘Mongol Empire’ section has been one of the most stunning stretches on any of the tours. With not a single dull day on the road. Challenging, for sure, but never boring!
In Gorno Altaisk, the small but bustling capital of the region, we say goodbye to Sandy, Joost, Per, Dan, Liz and Peter, many who have been with the Silk Route since Beijing. The penultimate night before the rest day was a time for a goodbye party, with vodka and caviar consumed in great quantities in camp. Continuing riders will be happy for rest after a very tough but rewarding stretch, before we turn our sights to the Kazakh city of Almaty. Gorno Altaisk is the most northern point on the tour, and a brief respite before the ‘-stan’ – meaning ‘land of sand’ – suffixed countries begin!