That's right, 2992km. Just arrived in Oskamen, or Ust-Kamenogorsk, depending on which map you look at, and if it uses the Kazakh names or Soviet names. On the approach to the city, the houses somehow started looking different. They are small wooden houses with steep pitched roofs and shutters of varying colors. There are still potatoes growing in the yard and cows roaming about, but it just looks very different than the earth and mud houses we have been seeing throughout the rest of our trip. It definitely feels much more Russian.
Ok- so that posting failed because all six of the staff at the internet cafe had to go on break for half an hour and none of them could give us more time on the computer. Really.
Now, we are in Shaminaikha, a town only 23 km from the Russian border! Foreigners are not allowed to use this crossing though, so we have to go down the road another 150 km or so to enter at a different border point. It feels pretty wild that we are about to enter a new country, and even more incredible that a whole month has gone by and we are now half way through our trip! Kazakhstan has gone by even faster than Kyrgyzstan.
Similarly to Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan has sort of divided itself in two parts, in terms of our trip. Steppe/desert and taiga/rainforest. Since writing from the "apple people's" house, we got into a stretch of country that is "The Vast and Endless Steppe". On the map this area had a bunch of funny little symbols, that I now realize mean desert! A Czech couple had warned us about this area of "nothing". No people, no water, not even a tree for shade. I have walked and biked across a few stretches of desert, and we were sort of girding up for some harsh conditions. Perhaps because of this, it wasn't that bad. It did look vast and endless, with far away hills shimmering in the distance, hovering above the horizon, and only the train rumbling by to separate time and space.
We got ourselves into a program of waking up at five, so we could bike when it was still cool, and carrying four gallons of water at a time. There did end up being a few shrubs to hide under for shade, and there were enough towns or random cafes to get water at, that it was tolerable. I adopted a new mantra during this stretch, 'tailwinds', only focusing on what I want.
This was the program up until the town of Georgievka, which we reached ten days ago. From that day until today, there have been thunderstorms and it has poured rain, at least once a day. It has gotten greener, lusher, and more Russian feeling the farther north we go. We are now in the land of mushrooms and strawberries! There are people everywhere harvesting these coveted items. More than once, while setting up the tent by the side of some field, a rough looking man has wandered through the woods by the tent. At first it was a bit unnerving. Are these the drunks people warned us about?
The rain has put us on its program. Sleep later if it pours first thing in the morning, take a long lunch and hide until it stops, make camp before it storms again. So, this morning when we awoke to red skies, I took warning. The rain held off long enough to pack up, but then it kept on till noon, when we reached town and a gazebo to eat our lunch under. I think we fit right in at the park, amongst the kids driving mini-cars around the playground with blaring music, and the girls learning to rollerblade.
This town is pretty much blessed in my book. It is always the towns you expect nothing in that are the best. Our bikes got a shower, we got a hot shower, and the kind manager of the hotel is letting us use her computer.
I like to think that by biking we are making everyone happy. When they see us out their car windows in the pouring rain they think, 'at least that's not me'.
Hope you are all feeling blessed as well. Peace out, Adrianne and Tyler