The Old War Horse

Seven years ago, my ancient and wrecked bike was stolen.  I loved that bike, but couldn’t ride it more than 10 miles from my uni room because it was just so heavy and old.  It weighed about 30 kilos (60lbs) and I couldn’t lift it off both its wheels at the same time – one was hard enough – but I bought it for £17 in the University bike auction and I stripped it down and resprayed it pink and fixed its brakes and transmission (pull lever gear changer between the handlebars, no Shimano SIS here).  Then one night while I was sitting late in Borders drinking coffee and reading a good novel, some chavvy fucker stole it.  They were kind enough to leave the basket.  I walked around the city until 5am then I turned up at my friend’s house, crying my eyes out, absolutely devastated, and she made me coffee and shared her cigarettes with me.

The next morning, I did what I always want to do when I feel wronged by the universe (and what I’m trying to get out of the habit of):  I threw money at the problem and made it go away.  I walked into Halford’s and bought an icy pale blue, aluminium framed cycle which I’ve always affectionately thought of as my very own pony.

No, it’s definitely more of a horse.

Together, we charted new territory and planned to take on the world.  I rode 30 miles to avoid a house party and caught a train home.  No-one said anything – it was the last train home and there was no-one else on there.  We cycled all over the north of England and parts of Scotland and the midlands.  Over the summer between second and third year of university, I considered the day wasted when I didn’t get up at 3pm and cycle at least 10 miles.

My new bike seemed so unbelievably light and aerodynamic compared to my old one – I could actually lift it (it was heavy, but it was ok) and while it’s always had problems, I never really cared to fix them because I knew most of it was design flaws.  The bike cost £89 in 2008 money.  The cheapest aluminium bike on the market now is at least £130.

I modified it by putting on a luggage rack at the back and a basket on the front, so that I could carry camping equipment on it.

And it was pronounced “probably unsalvageable” on Thursday by the mechanics at my local bike repair place.  In the last 3 months I’ve had to get the brakes fixed twice, the seat needed replacing, all 4 brake pads have been replaced and a new brake cable, the chain and both inner tubes needed replacing, and now, all the spokes on the wheels are rusting and the front wheel rim is dented where I hit a pothole lately.

The front brakes haven’t really worked since I got it, and a quick adjustment always fixed that, but now they don’t fix, so I have to disconnect the front brake because it just gets stuck on, slowing my progress so I’m fighting my brakes to actually move forwards all the time.  On top of that, the gear chain cogs have worn the teeth down so much that on the most useful gears (in both sets of ratios), the chain slips so much that it’s dangerous to stop at traffic lights (but I still stop).

I asked how much new wheels, gears and a brake system would cost.

For lightweight wheels alone, they’re about the same money as it would cost to just get another bike.

It seems that this, too, shall pass.  My bike, my trusty steed, needs to be put out to pasture so a new one can take its place as my workhorse, because I could do these repairs, but what, of my old bike, would actually be left?  The handlebars need replacing really as well because the rubber has flaked away and really that just leaves the metal frame, the aluminium that never corrodes.  What a pity the rest of the components weren’t made to last the same length of time.

I’ve been looking at perhaps getting a folding bike, a lightweight one, but I don’t know right now (my grandma had one of the earliest ones and I used to LOVE it as a concept).  If I buy a new bike, I really should upgrade from the old one, otherwise what’s the point?  My bike gets me from A to B at the moment, it’s just if I want to go to C or D that there’s a problem.  An ultra lightweight folding bike would mean I could use it more, although my knees are protesting right now that the bike should be large with huge gears.

Advantages of folders:

1. They store really small so they’re less likely to rust because you can probably fit them somewhere indoors.

2. They travel on most public transport for free, especially if you put them in a specially made bag.

3. They don’t usually need locking away – normally you can take them inside with you.

Disadvantages:

1. They’re lighter than they used to be but they’re still not light enough.  As a rule, 12% of your weight should be the maximum weight of your bike.  As I weigh 50kg, that gives me a pathetic 6kg limit.  Nowhere sells a bike for that light, which explains why I get so tired cycling.  The lightest folding bike is 8 point something kilograms.  There are many arguments about whether riding a lighter bike makes a difference, with people referring to a comparison someone did between a 13kg and 9.5kg bike, but these are BOTH light bikes, barely any difference in the weights, and the experiment had far too many variables to be a REMOTELY fair test so I don’t think the conclusion is valid (also my experience with my heavy bike before and my less heavy but still heavy bike now both contradict the conclusion).

2. They’re more expensive than non-folding bikes.

3. The wheels are usually tiny, which
a) looks ridiculous,
b) means potholes are a bitch and
c) means you can’t get them to go as fast so easily, also coasting is slower.

3. There’s a much more limited choice of styles, colors etc because there are fewer manufacturers.

More to the point, I don’t know what to do with my old bike.  It seems a shame to scrap it, but it’s virtually useless (and pretty dangerous with the gear and brakes problems) on my 10 minute commute to work let alone further afield.

How to get from Russia to Alaska across the Bering Strait

How to Cross The Bering Strait From Russia to Alaska, detailing everything from Vladivostok onwards for your convenience (last updated February 2016):

This article is going to explain the different options you have to get from the end of the Trans-Siberian Railway at Vladivostok, to Alaska (or vice versa), for those people who have looked at a map and thought, ‘gee, Alaska and Russia are real close, I bet I can go from one to the other.’ My friends, you are in luck, and I’ve done all of the hard work of research for you.

Background:

Why am I sharing this? Recently, I’ve been planning an ambitious if uber-budget (like, as cheap as it can get) round the world trip that will require me to get across the Pacific. My general preference is to fly the shortest distances at all times to the nearest land with an airport if it’s possible to go onwards, because let’s be fair, I could just fly on a plane around the world and it would be very, very boring.

It all started with a Trans-Siberian railway idea. You may already know that the Trans-Siberian railway ends either in Beijing or Vladivostok, depending which of the two you want to go to. Both take 6 days, I believe and they both cost about £450 for a one way trip in 2nd class (see Seat61 for more on train journeys across Russia).

That left me (on my proposed itinerary) stranded in Vladivostok with no onward travel. So I looked into whether it was possible to get from Russia to Alaska across the Bering Strait as one of several options (most of the others being to finish in Beijing and fly somewhere). In this article, I wanted to only talk about how to get from Russia to Alaska, since information on this appears to be very limited with loads of sites saying it can’t be done or being deliberately vague because they didn’t actually know.  When I updated the article in February 2016, I have also included information about how to get from Alaska to Russia which is MUCH easier.

The Specific Details of getting from Russia to Alaska:

Can you get from Russia across the Bering Strait to Alaska? Yes, you can, although the amount of effort or money involved may leave you changing trains and going to Beijing International Airport instead, for a flight to somewhere less undeveloped. The last thousand miles or so of Russia are still remarkably untouched, like a corner of the world that’s still how it was before agriculture caught on, punctuated with the occasional Soviet-era city or town, and many traditional settlements.

Here’s your options, assuming you are starting at Vladivostok, which is fairly accessible having both roads and rails going to it:

1. Fly from Vladivostok (or Khabarovsk) to Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky, then get a flight from Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky to Anchorage, Alaska, with Yakutia (www.yakutia.aero), a Russian airline. It’s about a 3 hour flight and goes every Saturday from 11th July to 29th August as it’s a seasonal flight.  You can also travel from Vladivostok to Khabarovsk (or get off the train early) and fly from there to Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky.  This certainly seems to be the most reliable way to get out of Russia towards North America without going to Beijing or Seoul.  To get to Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky, you can use any of the following airlines from either Vladivostok or Khabarovsk: Aeroflot (operated by Aurora, use the Aurora site to plan this flight), S7 Airlines, then Ural Airlines only goes from Vladivostok and Yakutia Airlines only goes from Khabarovsk.

Why do you need to fly from Vladivostok (or Khabarovsk) to Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky? There are no roads. Literally, the last 800 miles or so of Russia has no roads or railways, not even dirt tracks, literally no thoroughfares at all, connecting places with each other, there are just the occasional towns and villages (which do have roads). Some, like Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky, are on the sea and sometimes get freighter traffic.  Many other settlements in this area are inland and very isolated. These were the frontier towns during communism, and now, they lie abandoned, the new government seems disinterested in building roads to connect them to anywhere, and their concrete buildings are falling down.  There aren’t even any maps aside from Google Earth – literally, this sheet map is the furthest east I could find a paper map for, and it pretty much ends with Vladivostok!

It has been suggested that freighters are another way to get from Vladivostok to Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky, but there are no regular sailings, I don’t speak more than two words of Russian, so I certainly can’t learn enough Russian to get a job or follow technical instructions by the time I travel, and anyway, I am female and therefore not being physically strong enough to do a lot of work on a freighter, even if the captain would allow me to try, which is unlikely, and freighters are unreliable as a mode of transport – your visa could run out while you waited for one to turn up, so I disregarded this option as impractical.

A note on Google: Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky confused it on some of the ‘maps’ searches, Petropavlovsk did not, Kamchatsky did, so the best search term for information on this place is Petropavlovsk. Some people call it Kamchatka but Google struggles with that too.

2. Travel from Vladivostok to Provideniya, the furthest airport towards the Bering Strait, from there, you can charter a plane from Bering Air, an Alaskan company. They fly Nome, Alaska to Provideniya, Russia and may be able to pick you up in Russia if all your visas etc are in order, and if you’ve arranged this with them. They will probably want you to pay the cost of a return flight because they fly out from Alaska for Alaskan tourists to have trips to this isolated part of Russia, but you don’t need to charter a whole plane; you can potentially do it as a “seat fare passenger” when a plane is bringing American tourists over. I would still expect it to cost some money, however. You need to book this at least three weeks in advance of when you wish to travel so they can arrange all the paperwork which needs time to get from Alaska to Moscow. Email them for further enquiries as they don’t have a scheduled service.  This method has the advantage of the shortest flight from Russia to Alaska, but the disadvantage of being complicated and unreliable and potentially expensive.

Getting from Vladivostok to Provideniya:
This is a complicated multi-step trip requiring more than one short-hop flight due to the lack of roadage. Basically, from Vladivostok you need to go back upwards to Khabarovsk (or get off the train early, but then you’d miss out on Vladovostok, which may or may not matter to you), then you can fly from Khabarovsk to Anadyr (Ugolny airport, which is 11km east of Anadyr), then from this airport you can get a flight to Provideniya, from which you may be able to charter across to Nome or Anchorage using the information in the paragraph above.

3. You can walk across the Bering Strait when it is frozen solid, however, it’s about 53 miles of ice, after 800 miles of no roads and wilderness in Russia, and the US immigration office might frown upon your arrival in this manner (but at least they probably won’t arrest you if you have all the correct documentation such as a Visa, not sure where you’d get your exit stamp for Russia, though). There has been one known case of someone doing this in the opposite direction (they described the whole adventure as “brutal”) and they got into a lot of trouble with the Russian authorities because, due to lack of roads, it was impossible for them to register themselves at any police station in Russia within 24 hours of their arrival in the country. Oops. Other alternatives may include horseback or cycling if your off-road biking skills are outstanding, still not sure how you would cross the rivers, however.

Those are all the options I’ve found so far, as there are no direct flights from Vladivostok to anywhere in the U.S or Canada (but you can go on a 35 hour flight changing at Moscow going back all the way around the rest of the world to get to Anchorage or Seattle or anywhere else in North America if you’re set on using a plane and have loads of money). None of them come up on flight comparison services because they are not really comparable with anything.  There is literally one option at every stage.  Pricing information is also a bust so I don’t know how much any of this costs at the present, but I would guess at least a couple of hundred at each new flight.  It’s also worth noting that the NAVTEX stations over that corner of the world don’t appear to be very well maintained so navigational information is often unavailable, which can lead to some scheduled flights being grounded.

Update: Alaska To Russia:
Since I wrote the original article, I have found a company offering charter flight services who may be able to take you from Anchorage to Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky (or to Vladivostok or Provideniya) or (less likely) Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky (or Vladivostok or Provideniya) to Anchorage. This cuts out ALL of the uncertainty and means you will be able to go straight from Alaska to Russia or possibly vice versa with an reputable, accountable company organizing your independent journey by finding you a pilot and a plane.  If you wish to book a chartered flight, you can find one here: Villiers Private Jet Charter. Villiers has lots of private pilots with planes around the world and is most likely to be able to meet your needs. Most charter flight services depend on where the individual pilots are based, but there are a lot of people in Alaska with planes so this is your absolute best option if you want to go from Alaska to Russia rather than the other way around, especially since you can book a flight for a date and time which suits you. There are some private charter jets offering the reverse journey (Russia to Alaska) but these are thin on the ground. To offset the cost, it would be well worth finding several other people willing to accompany you on this journey, and on a private charter flight you should be able to take items such as bicycles as well if you needed to.

Do you have any further information on how to cross the Bering Strait from Russia to Alaska, or in reverse? You can email me at invokedelight@gmail.com if you have managed to do this or if you have found any other ways of getting across, or know of a ship that travels this route and takes passengers (not freighters, as explained above), please do let me know I would love to hear how you have done this journey and can add your perspective to this article. If you have a first-hand account of the journey that you’d like to share with the world, I’d love to put you up as a separate article as a guest post (your name to your article, you keep copyright etc) if you email me. I am particularly interested if you’re female as all the articles I’ve read so far seem to be young men in their 20’s and 30’s who have even considered doing this journey. NOTE: I am not a travel agent, please don’t email me asking for detailed travel advice!

Helpful Map

This map shows an overview of the ways you can get from Russia to Alaska by air. Click to enlarge. Base map: Google maps Additional layers: me.
This map shows an overview of the ways you can get from Russia to Alaska by air.  Click to enlarge.  Base map: Google maps.  Additional layers: Invoke Delight.

Resources:
Bering Air website.
Travel Article on crossing the last part of Russia and the Bering Strait Please note this information is all very old and was last updated in February 2006, after which the author appears to have lost interest in further research into this topic.
Yakutia airport website flights from Petropavlovsk Kamchatsky to Anchorage, Alaska, this is the flight schedule, they only fly on Saturdays in July/August and not at all the rest of the year.
Off the unbeaten track Travel information for Petropavlovsk Kamchatsky.
The Other Side of Russia: A Slice of Life in Siberia and the Russian Far East by Sharon Hudgins: This is the only book written about extended travel in far Eastern Russia although I don’t think she offers much helpful advice for making the journey between the Bering Strait and Alaska, there is a lot of information in this book which gives some eye-opening insights into life in this part of Russia.
Villiers Private Jet Charter the website for the private charter jet services.

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