June - July, 1999
Summer is the season of travel. It is the time when sunsets above a broken line of city horizon call you loudly and clearly every evening (unless you spend the time socializing at some place lacking windows - a restaurant in a basement for example, a very popular location for a restaurant in Moscow). My weekday routine includes simultaneous answering e-mail, discussion with several clients and partners on ICQ, checking Web-sites - all that while talking on the phone. A headset and tiled windows on a large monitor present a nice modern office environment, but somehow by Friday night I start dreaming about something not necessarily low-tech, but definitely less wired and talkative. Something like a bicycle.
Once upon a time when I was working in a research lab, every summer we left Moscow for a good wilderness trip. A few stories of those old times you may find on my pages - a report on adventures in Ural mountains, another one featuring northern Russian land of Karelia.
But it is 1999 today, and the life has changed; I work for a private company, and my position offers less freedom for summer adventures. Time to adapt.
And, as always in my stories here, you can zoom in on any picture. Just click an image, and a larger and better quality photo will open. Many of the photos are worth looking at in postcard size.
It is a strange one - if you know its history and fate. Otherwise it looks almost normal, a gray narrow concrete and asphalt strip gently winding through the virgin forests and fragrant meadows, between narrow marshes with cattails swinging in the wind, by occasional villages. Some houses in them are already abandoned, owners died or gave up and moved to a nearby town. Others look neat and homey. I do not know why this scenery reminds me of the road somewhere in Tennessee that I took a year and a half ago, in January that was looking like Russian April, between broken barns and lonely farms...
The cold war successfully stimulated a lot of construction work in both US and USSR. Some Americans believe that the entire highway system they are so proud of is a child of that monstrous competition of military ambitions of the two nations. In the USSR, strategic transportation backbone was a railway system, not highways. But in some locations, around Moscow in particular, we were building highways too. A107 (then it was not known under that name and even not present on any public Soviet maps) became one of the two rings around Moscow connecting the sites of huge and powerful Moscow defense system, now mostly defunct.
Then you realize that all curves the road makes are too wide and slow for such a narrow road. Local small highways make sharp turns pretty often, A107, never. Moreover, now and then you pass junctions that are simply too good for such a road. They are wide and obviously designed with a very long vehicles in mind. Old signs meaning "Do not enter! Wrong way!" (Russian motorists call this sign "the brick") decorate every such road, hanging above the paths made of impressive thick concrete.
Yes, those launchers of the 1960s were really long and heavy beasts! If you are lucky, after one of the turns you would see what once was a garage for five of them... A huge hill, with a few feet of concrete between the grass roots on the top and the air-tight metal case. Now almost all the doors are missing, and most of the equipment vanished. But something strange and weird still seems to be lurking in the damp and cold darkness stinking of oil and fire...
Huge networks of deserted forest roads where once missile launchers were cruising following a deadly random pattern protecting them from a possible offense do definitely look weird. And at some point you all of a sudden come to the rusted but still carefully locked gate of a checkpoint or to a multi-level barbed wire fence. The land still belongs to the military, something still happens behind the fence - or maybe it is all an illusion and fear strong from the past.
Okay, that was an educational detour, but we may return to A107 and ride on. Riding a bike is better than driving a car (if your only goal is to relax, not to get somewhere in time) - you enjoy the scenery deeper. It does not fly by meaninglessly, it rolls out lazily and penetrates your memory to remain there until the next time. In a year, or when? Well, we're riding on, past the meadows and the lakes, small ponds and slow rivers -and actually there is no order telling us to stay on A107 all the time. It is a great route, but there are others also not bad, and curiosity suggests us to explore at least some of other highways that occasionally cross our way.
Drought and hot weather are great friends with flush floods - desert dwellers know that perfectly. For Muscovites it was a surprise - but we learned the lesson quickly. A heavy shower falling on too dry a soil could make a lake nearby advance to a road. The road that runs literally through the lake - a place for real fun rides.
But the road - any road - takes its grim toll of drivers' lives even when it is as toll-free as any Russian highway. There is a tradition in Russia to mark the spot of a fatal accident with a monument of some sort. Sometimes, just a small plaque on a killer tree... Sometimes, more elaborate construction like the one in the photo.
There are many, too many of these humble memorials even along a small road, lots of them line up mayor highways near Moscow. Drink and drive is a local tradition and it shows.
It is time to ride back home, to cross the only freeway near Moscow, its belt road that also serves as a city border. Jammed with cars and trucks on a weekday, it is now empty, Muscovites relaxing elsewhere. Or maybe we are tired enough to take a train again and again read the newspapers...
...And when we are almost at home, the shower hits the streets, the warm water starts washing the sidewalks and all of a sudden a hail adds a special flavor to this free street fun...
Okay, we are home at last, and it is the time to check e-mail before the mailbox grows too heavy. The weekend is over, time to start waiting for the next one.
Andrey - firstname.lastname@example.org
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