Sunday, 12 July 2015

when the going get tough...

The following morning we got up relatively early and had a big breakfast. It had been raining heavily.

Irbis was going to guide us, in his 4 wheel drive van,  into the mountains,  with his brother-in-law and his uncle.

Vladimir decided that I should go on the truck as the tracks would be extremely muddy and treacherous for my skills. Alistair was also confined to the truck but then at the last minute was included in the ride. 

Anton, once again, had to babysit me. And once again I told him he should ride, I did not mind to be on the van with Irbis and his family, but Anton didn’t seem to mind, taking his “babysitting” role seriously and being his usual sweet and thoughtful self.

The rest of the gang got ready on the bikes, while Irbis loaded an electric chain saw, food, water and a lot of stuff, at the back of the van. 

I queried about the chain saw and found out that this would be used to cut fallen trees that may block our way to the mountains. This was going to be an interesting expedition! 

We had a radio on the van and each of the other riders a radio in case of problem.

So we set off. The drive in the van was “interesting”. On several occasions, holding to a handle and screaming,  I really thought either the van was going to end up upside down or lying on its side.

The tracks and whatever it is we followed, were very muddy from the overnight storms and tough going.

After a while, in a very deep muddy track, the van got sucked and stuck in the deep gravel and water. We could not get it out on our own and radioed the bikers for help. 

Vladimir and Alistair soon joined us. 

Andrey, as usual, had thrown himself into this adventure with great enthusiasm, at top speed, and vanished somewhere into the forest. We just hoped the many wolves and bears that lived in the woods would not find and eat him!

 After a lot of pulling and pushing and shovelling (we also had a shovel in the truck!) we managed to get the van out of its predicament.

We resumed our drive and Irbis took us to various viewpoints and spots of interest. “Andrey the Fearless” reappeared from nowhere, still alive and visibly happy and pleased with himself, not having found any bear to wrestle with, and totally unfazed by his various crashes in the mud. 

Irbis took us to a deep vertical cave of about 200 or 300 meters deep. We even saw the carcass of a small deer inside. If you don’t know where those caves are, it would be easy to fall inside. There are few of those vertical caves in those hills!

At one of our frequent stops, Anton asked me: 

- “Vladimir vs Chuck Norris, what 'you think? “ We stared at Vladimir lifting one of the bikes as if it were a plastic toy, as the side stand was sinking into the mud. … 

- “ Vladimir would eat Chuck Norris for breakfast and use his bones as toothpicks! “ I said. 
- “Come on! We need to find something more interesting… like Vladimir vs Predator, now, that would be worth watching? “ 

As we started laughing and watching “Action Man” Vladimir, we explained to him… “Why? Why?” he asked laughing. I think he was a little bit puzzled.

We continued climbing  until the top of a mountain. We had an amazing view from there. We were told we were the first foreigners to come there.

On the way, we found the carcass of a cow that had been recently killed and eaten by wolves, according to Irbis.

Back in the move again, by early afternoon, we reached a spot in the forest where we could not possibly drive or ride any further into the forest without serious use of the chainsaw! So we stopped for lunch.

Irbis and his family produced food, foldable chairs, cooking pot and started a fire for cooking our lunch. 

While they cooked, we walked to the top of the hill with Anton and Alistair, while Andrey, tired of disappearing into the woods with his bike, decided, instead, to give some business advice to Vladimir. 

After lunch, Andrey once again took off at the speed of light and disappeared into the forest, Vladimir rode fast behind us and Alistair tried to follow him. They soon disappeared in the forest. 

By radio they managed to find each other and their way to the van, thanks to Irbis’ instructions. Navigation in those hills was very difficult, all seems the same and it is very easy to get lost.

At some point Alistair’s bike got stuck so deep into the mud that all the guys in the van had to help to lift the bike. 

By about 4 or 5pm we were back to the farm. The "small" excursion had taken most of the day!

We had an early dinner at Irbis’ house and it was then time to make our goodbye. His family had been very welcoming and it had been amazing to spend time with them and learn a bit more about the Altai culture. 

We then loaded the bikes with our luggage and made our way back to the main gravel road. Luckily, that day, we had not much mileage to do. 

Joining the M52, we stopped in a hotel by the side of the road. 
Our communal shower there was… interesting. As soon as I stepped inside the cubicle, the whole shower nearly fell off. It was not bolted to the wall! I managed to shower quickly in the very precarious cubicle and warned the guys about this.

We then had few beers on the terrace and it was time to go to bed.

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