This morning, we continued our drive through the Altay Mountains, enjoying the scenery of Chuisky Trakt for a second time. After passing the spot where we turned around yesterday, we felt a bit better. Even though we've been behind the wheel for a little over two months now, effortlessly pressing a single pedal to move, backtracking is still firmly entrenched in our cycling minds as a bad thing.
It was a little difficult to make forward progress today, as we constantly found ourselves stopping to take photos. We've really fallen in love with Russia, most especially the countrysides of Siberia. While I am sure it must be a difficult place to inhabit in the winter, it really couldn't be more inviting this time of year.
There were small villages around every twist and turn of the curvy mountain road; we stopped often for ice cream, and took even more photos as we drove.
We had just reached the top of a small pass, which felt unimpressive since we were in a car and there were no switchbacks, when I decided to do some more research about the Altay. There is so much going on these days that we often wind up reading about the areas we're visiting as we drive through them!
Annoyingly, I discovered that there were several large waterfalls and a huge lake in the region – we had missed them. I was then crushed to learn that there were no side-roads available to reach the scenic sights, so if we wanted to do more exploring in the Altay, we'd have to head straight back the way we'd come.
Glancing as the map, I realized the Mongolian border was much closer than either of us had imagined. Though we had been traveling slowly, and even backtracking, I still felt like we were moving too quickly. Soon we would be leaving the quaint, colorful homes of Russia behind, trading them for another adventure, full of iconic round gers in the Mongolian steppe. While I was eager to explore a new country, I wasn't ready to leave Russia just yet, especially with so much left unseen.
But what to do? It was a much harder decision for me than Tara, who said she was fine either way. For me, the prospect of retracing our last two days of driving was horrifying. After much agonizing on my part (one way, we'd be missing out, the other way, we'd be remarkably inefficient), Tara became the enforcer and told me to turn around, saying I would regret leaving something behind more than "wasting" a day of scenic driving.
She was right of course, but that didn't lessen my frustration. While groaning about our wasteful route, I hastily sped back down the mountain we'd just driven up. As I glanced from side to side, something began to untwist the tightly bound knots of angst I felt: everything looked different than it had before. With the sun behind us, instead of blazing in our faces, the mountains, streams, and villages looked remarkably new. It was almost like we'd never made the drive at all.
Much of this trip has been an exercise in learning how see. Sometimes more than anything, I've learned to observe myself and my silly idiosyncrasies. As we drove, it was the obvious realization that there will always be something new to discover, even on a well trodden path, that helped me overcome my irritation about backtracking.
Now in a cheery mood, we rolled through the mountains once again, passing some places for the third and fourth times. "Remember that pretty house?" / "Oh hey, that's where I fixed our idle" / "That place had good ice cream", we'd say to one another with a smile. Eventually, we settled for the night in a new place by the Katun river, eager to make our way to a lake and maybe some waterfalls in the morning.