Crossing from Mongolia back into Russia was quick and painless, as border crossings go. The first laugh of the day was the Mongolian “road tax” of about US$3. Err…and for which roads am I being taxed, exactly? Done with Mongolia, it’s a 10-mile ride across no-man’s land to the Russian border. A customs declaration form is filled (twice, actually, so they save money by not making a copy), a quick peek into my topcase and I’m back on paved roads again, loving every minute of it. Is this what 4th gear feels like? Dare I try top? The wind blast is new (I’d chucked the mangled windshield in Mongolia), but the increased velocity of travel is welcome. At the first town of size I find an automat and successfully extract rubles, then pop into a grocery store for my camping standards: apples, dried fruit (dates are my new favorite), fresh bread, jam, pasta and jarred tomato sauce, instant noodles, and sweet snacks.

A few dozen miles down the road and the scenery takes on a welcome change:

The 200 miles of the M-52 from Tashanta at the Russian border look like this — non-stop eye-popping color, towering mountains and curving roads, distant glaciers and green, twisting rivers carrying their mineral-laden meltwater.  At one of these photo stops I met these three fellows on a weekend jaunt from Barnaul:

They offered me a small glass of wine…and a bottle to take on my way! Thick slices of salami were passed around, and we chatted about the beauty of the area, and the usual “where are you from?/where are you going?” string of questions. Their joviality and kindness, coupled with the stunning scenery were a real mood lifter for me, and the bitter taste of my last days in Mongolia were melting away.

As the sun dropped closer to the horizon I found a nice place to camp by the river, all to myself.

It’s good to be back in Russia!

The next day the landscape flattened out and agriculture took over, and at Biysk I found a gostinitsa for a much-needed shower and a non-camping meal. Outside of Rubsovsk I stopped at a gas station for a stretch, and the attendant brought me a cup of hot tea. We chatted about the bike (usual questions: Max speed, cost, max RPMs, no Harley?), and about him (he’s also a farmer, has a wife and two children), and eventually he asked if I’d like to stay at his house with his family. I accepted, and at around dark his shift ended and we made our way to his home in a nearby village.

We watched Russin-dubbed western television programs and had a pleasant dinner of soup, bread, kielbasa, honey, tea and small cakes. He cleared a bed for me — I think it was the main bed, and he and his wife slept in the children’s room — and their cat curled up at my feet and stayed there all night. Well before sunrise I was treated to the farmer’s alarm clock (rooster’s call), and in the wan light Andrei started his morning chores of tending to the chickens, ducks, sheep and cows. We had breakfast (same filling menu as dinner), and his children went off to school. When it was time for me to leave, he led the way in his car to the main road to make sure I could find it, and we said our goodbyes. I palmed him a few hundred rubles for his troubles, which he refused at first but finally accepted. It was a heartwarming farewell to Russia. A few hours later I would cross into Kazakhstan.