Lake Ladoga 2004

by Ivo Miesen

Table of Contents

  1. St. Petersburg to Vidnitsa (Karelia)
  2. Karelia
  3. Losevo to St. Petersburg
  4. Photos!
  5. Related Links
New: Ivo's 2005 tour through Ukraine
> Hi Adrian, in case you're not on the Audax list, here's the Lake Ladoga report.
> Feel free to forward it to any randonneur list you haven't seen this appearing.
> Ivo

Day One - St. Petersburg to Vidnitsa (Karelia)

"15 Minutes," a few Saturday-evening drinkers shout to us from a small pub as we pass the village of Tuloksa. It's amazing to see and hear how the locals already know about the Lake Ladoga 800. OK, 16 cyclists passing these remote villages is already a traffic jam…

Russia is one of the European countries with an active Audax/Randonneuring scene. One of the main clubs is the Baltic Star Randonneurs of St. Petersburg. Their classic ride is Around Lake Ladoga, an 800k with an option to quit at 600k. (Not that that would be an option for me!) Lake Ladoga is the largest lake in Europe and one of the northernmost of the world's large lakes.

So, on Saturday morning I cycled to the Lenin Monument in front of the Finland railway station, the place where Lenin held his first speech after arriving back from exile. A small group is assembled here, some club members will ride with us to the city limits. Only 16 wanted to do the entire ride. In a good group, we left town. Everyone took a turn at front, a nice tailwind and a well maintained main road. Conversation was a bit limited for me, my Russian is rather basic, and most riders didn't speak anything but Russian. It was a bit strange to see some of the roadsigns, "Murmansk 1300km" is not a strange sign here! That opens completely other perspectives for long Audax rides.

Aided by the tailwind, we arrived at the first control not so long after it opened. We managed to be in just before the real rain started. Luckily, the rain was nearly over when we left the pub. During the first kilometers after the control the bunch took it easy, the slow starters had time to catch up. Again the ride was easy and well organised. The only girl in the group did some good work in organising the bunch. Lana proved to be a former national level racer. I managed to talk with her in a mixture of English and Russian. After a while it started to rain again. I stopped to don my waterproofs, most others went on. Luckily I stopped since the rain rapidly changed into a downpour. Alone I continued for a while. In a village I stopped to buy some supplies. No Muesli bars available at village shops here, but a whole array of very tasty rolls. Most of them are open on Sundays too, some even for 24-hours! Now that's a service for the one randonneur.

While leaving the village I caught up with a rider who had been resupplying at a fuel station. He quickly dashed away, only to be overtaken by me again some 20k further on. He understood that a steady rhythm is better for the long distances, so he stuck with me until we reached the second control in Lodejnoje Polje. I was surprised to see only part of the group here. Most of the others arrived when I was sitting in the pub. The group was completely split up by the rain. We decided to reformat the group. With 10 riders, we set out to the control, which was located just outside of Lodejnoje Polje. A lone Lada was waiting by the roadside with two controllers in it. Our cards were marked and off we went again, the speed being a bit slower as during the first part of the ride.

It was a long haul to the next village. As soon as you leave the towns in Russia the area is really sparsely inhabited. We're about 250km from St. Petersburg and hardly a soul is around. In the small village of Megrega, I stop to buy an ice cream. The others continue, I'll surely catch them later on. When I eat my ice cream in front of the shop, Michaïl, the organiser of the ride arrives. He stops for a moment. When I'm about to leave it starts to rain again. On goes the rain jacket again and I continue my way to the next control. But before I reach it I see the whole group assembled, sheltered in the bus station of Olonets. I rejoin the group, but leaving Olonets I puncture. Lana and Andrej, both from the town of Vladimir, stop and help me. Together we continue for the last bit to the control near Vidnitsa.

This is a typical Russian Audax control. A tent at the lakeside, several controllers, including some kids, and a nice campfire. Hardly have I parked my bike, a mug of tea is offered and a plate of kasha. I try to warm up by the campfire but a fierce wind from the lake is not of a great help. Some riders leave this control and go for a night ride. I decide to take it easy and have a sleep. After all, I've 350k done and the control is still open until the early morning, so time for a real nice long sleep. I manage to convince Lana that an 8-hour sleep is a bit too much for an Audax ride and we decide to leave at 5:00am, an hour before the control closes.

It's a cold night on the shores of the Ladoga Lake. Either I'm constantly bitten by all sorts of insects when I'm sheltered from the wind, or I'm freezing but the insects are blown away. So, I hardly sleep despite being wrapped in two space-blankets. Luckily a space in the tent is liberated when one of the other riders decides to continue. Now I can finally sleep.

Day Two - Karelia

After a few hours I'm woken up. It's Lana. She asks me if I want to continue the ride. No problems, I leave the tent and scramble for the fire. Tea is still available, and some food. We leave at 4:30am, a bit earlier than planned. Dima joins us. Slowly we restart our ride. It still is a lonely road. The few villages we pass are still completely deserted, everyone sleeps after a Saturday night of drinking. Lana and Dima are not riding that well, Andrej, in contrast, is still riding strongly. Whenever he pulls, we run the risk of loosing someone from the back.

After 75km we reach the village of Pjatkjaranta. Here's a 24-hour shop. We stop to buy our breakfast. The sun is already out, the weather is a complete contrast from yesterday. We take it easy and enjoy our breakfast. After an hour of so, I ask them if we should continue. But Lana tells me that she and Dima are going to quit. She is ill. Dima never has been riding well during this ride. Andrej is still undecided. I stay a bit longer. Andrej finally decides to quit also, so I wish them good luck with the train ride back to St. Petersburg and set out, on to the next control.

That control should only be 22k away. But after 22k I see no village of Ljaskelja. I slow down - I don't want to miss the control. After half an hour I see a sign for Impilachti. I stop and check my map. Impilachti is on the map, some 10k south of Ljaskelja. Michaïl must have made an calculation error. I continue on normal speed again, and indeed, not some 10k further on I see the sign for Ljaskelja. I cross the bridge and see a nice scenery.

So, I stop for a picture. When I restart I see two policemen further on the road. They stop me for the Karelian border control. I passed the Karelian border yesterday evening. I hand them my passport which the control very thoroughly. Each and every stamp of any border control is checked. After a while they discover that I'm not yet registered. I pull out my control card and show them that I left St. Petersburg on Saturday, less than 3 days after arriving in town. Now they are more interested in my route. That's a way to steer away the theme of conversation, so I show them the route-sheet in Russian. After they've read it I show them the list of participants. just then two other riders appear - Vitali and Andrej from St. Petersburg. They confirm my story. The policemen ask for a copy of the starters list. No problem with that. After that they show us the control place. It's closed, but they tell us that there's a fuel station right around the corner.

No hot food there, but a control-stamp.Vitali proposes to continue to Sortavala and eat there. That's a good idea and we continue together. Conversation is very limited. Vitali speaks only a few words of German, so we have to do with my limited Russian. Still, we reach Sortavala with no problems, except that I sense that I'm climbing a lot slower than they do. The road on the northern edge of Lake Ladoga is stunning, I take lots of photos here. In Sortavala, we easily find a café.

We're deep into Karelia now, at least 10% of the signs are in Karelian, a parental language to Finnish. Vitali orders the food before I can tell him that I'm a vegetarian. So, they both get my meat. After the meal we continue to Lazdenpokhja. Again they are climbing lots faster so after a few kilometers I tell them that they have to continue and stop waiting for me. They are a bit surprised to hear that I'll continue for the full ride, and won't stop after 600k.

Again I'm riding alone. I take it easy for a while. The route-sheet tells me that there will be 38km of unpaved road ahead. This ordeal starts just before Kurkijoki. This is really unpaved road: washboard, soft sand and various other sorts of nasty bits. In full descent, I have to slam the brakes when the unpaved road begins. It takes me 5km to get used to it. Uphill I ride on the edge, not too soft sand here, but an occasional wheel-eating pothole. Downhill I ride on the washboard. As long as I ride faster as 40kph that's not too bumpy. The hard bits are the speeds in between. In both villages on this stretch, I stop to take a rest. Somewhere near halfway I hear a speeding car ahead. It appears over the top of a hill, rounding the corner in full rally still, fully sideways and with maximum counter-steer, but this guy knows what he's doing so it's a welcome distraction.

Finally the unpaved road ends near the Karelian border. I immediately see Vitali and Andrej. Vitali broke his rear mech, but a bit of metal and some rope did the trick for him. We try to continue but now they are very slow on a potholed road. According to the route-sheet the control-time is not yet over, but the controllers will have left the control at Molodezjnoje Lake. When I see the lake, I see Michaïl and some other riders. All of them stopped at this control to wait for the last riders. Before I put my bike down Vitali and Andrej appear, now everyone has passed this control. Tea is ready, food will be within a few minutes. Only two riders have continued so far from this control. So, including me that will be only 3 finishers for the 800k! All others took the train from here. To my further surprise I see Lana and Andrej from Vladimir. They got a train from Pjatkjaranta to Sortavala, and then to Kuznetsznoje. That's near the control, so they decided to see what's happening here. While I'm eating my dinner they leave to catch the night-train to St. Petersburg.

After a good meal, I don my night gear, switch on my LED-lights and continue for the last 200k. My main light is not needed, even although it's nearing midnight. We're in the area of white nights here, it never gets really dark. After a few kilometers I reach the small town of Priozersk. Time to resupply, no more services until I reach the shores of the Baltic Sea. But again, some 24-hour shops here so I have a good choice of food and drinks. From Priozersk to the Losevo control is quite a lonely ride. Lots of forests, straight roads and no villages - and of course a stiff headwind. My pace drops, but the generous time allowance permits me to take it easy.

Just before three in the morning I reach the village of Losevo. The route-sheet also has a small map about how to reach the Losevo control. Again a tent by the side of a lake. I have to go left on an unpaved path just after crossing the railway bridge, lift my bike over the railway tracks and continue. Indeed, a green tent is there outfitted with LED lights. A controller emerges from the tent. To my surprise there is another tent with two known bikes - the bikes from Lana and Andrej. They are asleep. I immediately go to sleep, the controller has to leave as soon as the control-time ends, he still has to work today, in St. Petersburg. So, it will be a rather short night.

Day Three - Losevo to St. Petersburg

In the early morning it starts to rain again. I need my space-blanket to warm up, sharing it with some other. We eat our breakfast, drink some tea and set out again. Again it's a lonely road. The shortest road is very bad, so the route takes us via a detour to the old Vyborg-St. Petersburg highway. On our way to the highway I puncture. When I'm about to change my tube I see that Andrej is very cold. He has hardly any clothes with him, and all of them are soaked. So, I take a torn space-blanket, cut a hole for his head in it and give it to him. Lana immediately understands the trick and helps him dressing in his new gear. In the meantime I change my tube.

The highway we reach without other delays. But it really is the old highway. Hardly any traffic, all shops are closed and a very bad surface. Only in Peervomajskoje we manage to buy some food. The only café is closed so we have to sit under the café's awning and eat our own food. Again the space-blanket is needed. But from now on it's easy. Soon we reach the new highway and turn right to Zelenogrosk. This is a completely different area. Loads of summerhouses, lots of tourist and lots of restaurants, bars and cafés - quite a lot of posh ones.

Zelenogrosk is easily passed and we continue on the sea-side road to St. Petersburg. Somewhere halfway, in Repino we stop for tea and some food. There are occasional rain showers now. After Repino the traffic gets quite dense. I suffer from a sleep attack. No place here to take a short kip. Lana keeps riding close beside me to wake me up every time I nod off. Only when we're well into St. Petersburg the sleep attack is over. All the time Andrej was hammering at front. He is a tremendously strong rider. Somewhere in the outskirts of St. Petersburg I ask him if he knows how we have to go to the finish. 'No' is the simple answer. So, I tell him that we have to stop at a nearby fuel-station and check the route-sheet. That's the right time to do it.

When we're stopped, we see the statue nearby where we have to turn right. It's very near now. At the end of the side road is a stadium. Within a few minutes, we located the right room of the stadium and are greeted by the finish controllers. Our bikes are stored inside, and the sauna is immediately heated. Within ten minutes we're sitting in the sauna and drinking tea. That's a way to finish a cold and wet ride!

After thoroughly warming up, we raced to the other building to eat and drink tea for at least two hours. I take a short nap before we all set out to our places. But that's not the end of the day yet - in the evening Michaïl invites for a small party at his apartment. I'm even fit enough to cycle there. A nice end of a very good brevet.

-Ivo Miesen
July 2004

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