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July 28, 2012 | Amazing days in Omsk

We were happily driving along, when suddenly a strange noise emanated from Felix’s trailer. We promptly braked and pulled over to the emergency lane. One look was enough: The overtaxed side bar of the frame had broken just before and behind the attachment point of the tongue. The front of the trailer had hit the road and ground Felix’s trailer and bike to an abrupt halt.

Really, this was to be expected sooner or later. The Nomad trailers are made for a maximum load of 40 kg, and we taxed them with more than 80 – around 85 on mine, and just over 90 on Felix’s. And with that, we went over hundreds of kilometers of potholed streets with an average speed of around 30 km/h. The whole trailer jumps into the air at each pothole, 10 to 20 cm high, and then comes crashing down.

It’s a testament to their sturdy built that the Burleys will stand up to that kind of punishment even if you load them with twice the rated maximum load – and if you go even higher, like we did, at some point it of course has to brake.

Having had these thoughts before, we had already planned to go to OBI Omsk to buy steel rods to strengthen the aluminium frame. This plan now took on a new urgency, but first we had to fix the present problem with the means we had at hand. Luckily, we carry a drill and a solder with us (those 90 kg have to come from somewhere…), and we can operate them with energy from the solar panel. Of course, an emergency lane is not the best workshop one can wish for, and the whole operation cost us several hours and the steel plate we had been using as headrest.

We drove on, found a place for the night, and continued to drive towards Omsk the next day. At some point, the repair from the day before proved inadequate, and we had to further support our construct with the other steel headrest, again on a roadside impromptu workshop. The whole day was very cloudy, and just after we crossed the big sign demarkating Omsk city, my motor stopped working. There were only six km left to OBI, and we pulled over to check whether the battery was empty (it was) or whether maybe only a cable was loose.

Despite all the problems, we still didn’t feel to bad – it was a very, very satisfying feeling to have reached our first major goal, Omsk, one eighth of the overall way. We were just about to move on to OBI, when suddenly a bicyclist approached us from the front and greeted us, in English, “You’re Rolf and Felix, right? Welcome to Omsk!”

It’s hard to describe our astonishment. How on earth did that guy know our names? How did he know what we were doing? How did he even find us on a random spot on a random road? And, most importantly, who was that guy?

To answer the last question first, “that guy” was Alex, and Alex was the solution to every problem we had, and to several we weren’t even aware of. Meeting him was definitely the best thing that’s ever happened to any of us on any of our trips. Alex had gotten our position from this blog and the link to the blog from someone else – we are not quite sure about the exact connection, maybe from here (Google translate here). We had only given our blog address to two people along the way, but apparently that had been enough to make us famous.

Well, at least famous to people with the right connections, such as Alex. He turned out to be an artist and avid bicyclist who has done his own transcontinental bike tour (Google translation) and who is at the center of the Omsk bicyclist gang. A friend of him, calling himself “Duke Nukem“, had come with a SUV, and after two minutes or so, we heaved Felix’ full trailer, complete with panel, into the back of Duke Nukem’s car, who drove off. Felix, now without trailer, and me, with trailer but without power, followed Alex through Omsk until we reached a central square where several members of the Omsk bicyclist gang were hanging around (direct link to a thread about us with photos).

Apparently everyone seemed to know us or had heard of us, which really is a strange feeling when you don’t expect that at all. We shook hands, let people test drive, made photos, and then continued to follow Alex through Omsk. We now drove to someone Alex introduced as a bicycle “master”, Andrey, whose shop is hidden where no uninitiated acolyte will ever find him.

Duke Nukem had already arrived there with SUV and trailer, and we unloaded the trailer and soon were surrounded by more members of the bicycle gang, obsessing over every detail of our setup. We showed the problem, in detail, to Alex and gang, and told them of our proposed solution – go to OBI, buy metal rods, attach them. This, however, was not met with approval, and instead another master was called, named “VVSkin”. He arrived half an hour later, looked at the trailer frame and at our overload, and after a short discussion between him and Alex, we were assured our problem would be fixed by tommorrow.

We were not to worry about it till then, and instead to accompany Alex to his home. So we did, then parked our bikes on a nearby guarded parking lot, and brought some of our stuff inside for the night. It soon became apparent that we had entered bicyclist heaven: Bed, toilet, shower, even a washing machine, and Alex knew every wish of ours before we could even formulate it. We went shopping, then cleaned ourselves and showered, while Alex wife Xenia prepared an absolutely incredible dinner. Wow!

We chatted until well past midnight, then got up late the next day. After a great breakfast, Alex took us towards Leroy Merlin, apparently a bigger, better and cheaper version of OBI, to buy some spare parts. On the way, we met Billy: An American going by bike from London to Hong Kong who makes his living selling Christmas trees in New York in November and December and is on holidays for the rest of the year. Great life concept! Billy was trying to clear something up with a policeman, and Alex immediately interfered and sorted things out. Not ten minutes after we had left Alex’s home, we were back – with Billy in tow.

A second time we set out to shop at Leroy Merlin, this time succesfully, then ate a wonderful dinner Alex’s wife had prepared. Right after this, a TV interview followed: Alex had notified a local station, and they wanted to make a piece about the crazy Germans – and now, the crazy American and his mandolin, too. Our first TV interview later, we went to the parking lot, where VVSkin had arrived with his big car. And inside were: Two welded steel frames, complete with attachments, incredibly sturdy, to replace the aluminium frames on both bikes. Wow!!!

We were not surprised any more when they fit perfectly. Truly, VVSkin is a master indeed! Our overload problem was solved – and any future overload problems as well! All for 3,000 Rubels (~75 EUR) – back in Germany, this would have bought us less than an hour of a mechanics time, instead of a day, not even speaking of the materials. And of course, we’d have had to find any mechanic who would be both willing and able to fulfill a special requirement like ours at all!

The rest of the day is quickly described: We packed the things we left at Andrey’s workshop, and left with at least twenty members of the bicycle gang to get something to eat and to see Omsk. An hour or two later, we bought Pizza and drove to the shore – rivers in Russia are wide, and the Irtysh is no exception. On its sandy shore, we used our solar panels as picnic tables and had a good time until well after midnight.

We spent another night at Alex’s, and are now preparing to leave for Novosibirsk, the second leg of our tour. All that remains is to give huge, huge thanks to Alex, Andrey, Xenia, VVSkin, and the rest of the gang – you’re all awesome! Thank you for the best days we’ve had!!!

PS. More photos on Alex’s site!