After being whisked 150 kilometers over sodden, thawing swamplands, our Gazprom helicopter deposited us in a culture-shock inducing city: Sovietsky. We lugged our ski gear through town, feeling hot, crowded and tempted by all the grocery stores and fast food shwarma kiosks. We left our things in a hotel and strolled to a pizza restaurant where I accidentally ordered us four milkshakes, which were downed happily. At this point, we were preparing ourselves for a 1,000 kilometer hike to get to the source of the Ural River, and headed to the post office to ship our ski gear home.
Dmitri, the post officer manager, spoke English and was fascinated by these dirty foreigners sending skis to the UK. He invited us to the local radio station to do an interview. After describing how Charlie and I met, bicycle touring through Central Asia, he asked us if we planned to continue from Sovietsky by bicycle. Something seemed to click, and we looked at each other as if to say, “I can’t believe we didn’t think of that earlier!” Perhaps because we already planned to cycle the last leg of our trip, from the Caspian Sea to Istanbul, the idea of cycling this intermediate section hadn’t crossed our minds. Suddenly, the prospect of walking 1,000 kilometers along busy roads seemed ludicrous. Bikes sounded so fast and wonderful. So, Dmitri made it his mission to help us. He drove us to a bike shop from where, bikes purchased, gear strapped awkwardly on (we hadn’t bothered purchasing panniers for this relatively short ride), we set off down the highway.
We were lucky enough to be welcomed in Chelyabinsk by Andrey and Nata, who we met via the cycle tourist website, Warm Showers. Andrey, a Brompton-folding-bike enthusiast, led us through the streets of Chelyabinsk to a cozy apartment that Charlie and I were to have all to ourselves! Andrey and Nata had us over for meals and tea, and guided us around town.
Many photos kindly supplied by Andrey