Oh boy, what a story to tell - sorry for being out of contact folks but a combination of Russian road conditions, Russian people and limited Internet/phone access have conspired to have me offline for much longer than I anticipated.
This is a memory dump and very brief overview of what I have been up to, I'll try and flesh it out later.
First, 5th June - Day 1. Vladivostok to Khabarovsk (800km).
I left the Hotel Primorye at 9am after an excellent breakfast (best food I have eaten yet in Russia).
A smooth run North up the M60, it took me approx 10 hours to cover the distance. Roads were overall good and smooth with a few rough patches of 5-10km of dirt.
A few incidents on road:
1. Me overtaking a truck coming into town. All Russian towns have police check points where they randomly pull over drivers to check your vehicle and confirm all documents are in order - in most cases this is simply a ruse to find something wrong to alow the police to "supplement their income".
I saw the policeman run out into the road and ducked 1 metre behind a truck in front of me. He just saw me, blew his whistle but it was too late, I was already gone before he could flag me down and lighten my wallet.
2. Shortly after this, I rode through the next town, avoiding the cows and goats on the road, but before I knew it I saw a black and white cat dart from the side of the road right in front of me. I held the bars tightly, bounced and felt the front wheel going side to side, and survived without dropping the bike. The cat alas, was not so lucky.
3. Later in the day, at another checkpoint I was stopped by the police who showed me their radar and alleged I had ben speeding. I feigned ignorance of any Russian and they eventually let me go with out relieving me of my hard earned assets - a close call.
I arrived in Khabarovsk to a most impressive site. It's a beautiful city and far prettier than Vladivostok. It was also a lot warmer being inland. I checked into the Turist hotel to experience my worst example yet of Russian bureacracy. The receptionist (in Russian, Administrator) was not impressed with my lack of visa registration (which I had supposedly had performed at the Hotel Primorye). A number of phone calls, faxes and hours later and I was allowed to check into a room, but told I had to stick around till 1.30pm the following day to have my paperwork properly completed.
6th June - Day 2. Khabarovsk enroute to Chita (500km). 2.00pm and I was on my way after spending the morning looking around Khabarovsk (and the beaches alongisde the HUGE river Amur). Khabarovsk is only 25km from China and a major tourist resort for Japanese tourists of all people (it has the best sushi in Russia!).
I left town, crossing the river on a 2km long bridge and the first 200km were brilliant bitumen. At km 203, the dirt began....., and then stopped 3km later ..... to begin, stop, begin intermittently.
11pm that night, still daylight, I pulled over on the dirt to find a bus shelter. I figured this was an easier option than putting up the tent and simply slept on the ground in my sleeping bag (all other nights I tented, as the Siberian mosquitoes are particularly voracious).
7th June - Day 3. Khabarovsk enroute to Chita (300km).
The dirt roads were getting worse and I had a few problems. First I had tried to "cheat a little" by riding on some of the newly laid road (instead of the dirt). The roadworkers had covered this with rocks and I ended up hitting a number, causing the Burgie underbelly to crack and causing the radiator fan to jam against the radiator. The bike was overheating at the low speeds I was travelling (20-35km per hour mostly) and I had to use the manual gearbox option on the Burgie to lower the revs to stop it boiling. This caused further problems as the dust on the roads was blocking the CVT filter and with manual gear selection the CVT was overheating too!
8-9-10 June. This whole section became a blur of bad corrugated roads, limited fuel and food, camping, no mobile reception and lots of birch trees and dust.
From Vladivstok to Omsk the majority of vehicles on the road are imported Japanese used cars driven by professional drivers planning on selling the vehicles for a profit in their chosen destination. They tape the bodywork of the cars to prevent stone chips, drive fast, stop for no-one and all carry guns. This causes the bad roads to be even worse, as kilometre dust clouds are formed by convoys of cars, passing you on both left and right whilst you are simply struggling to stay upright in the loose corrugated dirt sections - never mind not being able to see where you are going! In a couple of instances, cars couldn't see me either and there were a few near misses.
Memorable events on this section of road include losing a few bits and pieces from the bike (brake lever, handlebar vibration damper, camel back (water container), givi lights and reflector) which were simply shaken off. The corrugations were indescribably bad and I was riding at crawling pace (10-15km) for extended periods).
Whilst the Burgie has survived relatively intact - I haven't dropped it yet! - it's definitely looking a little worse for wear and the cast alloy wheels are a little square in parts.
My daily food intake was limited to one bowl of Borsch (Rusian soup) with bread, two cups of coffee, lots of fresh water and a Mars bar for supper.
Along these roads, fuel is also in short supply and most petrol stations wil only allow you to fil up with 5, or sometimes 10, litres.
On day 4 I was running low on fuel, only to arrive in a town and find the petrol station was empty. I managed to beg a VERY kind local Russian to give me two litres (he refused my offer of payment), which together with the 1/2 litre I had left should get me 50km on the bad roads. I headed off on a wing and a prayer, nursing the throttle whilst all the time realising that my fuel consumption was way up riding on such bad surfaces. At 50km, no petrol station in sight, finally at 53km I saw the sign - fuel 500 metres ahead. I accelerated slightly, thinking I had made it, and pulled in to the service station only for the engine to die on the forecourt 1o metres away from the pumps. I was happy to push the Burgie those final 10 metres and fill up.
During these days I came across a Swede and his father, driving a diesel Skoda round the world on under 800 euros of fuel, and 2 French couples on Ducati outfits (Cagiva elephants) traveling round the world.
I also met Pavel "the Black Russian" bicyclist riding from East of Vladivstok to Moscow.
On what I thought was my last day on the dirt road, I stopped the bike 150km from Chita on a bridge to fill up my water bottle with fresh freezing water (some of these little rivers are still frozen). I walked back to the bike, only to switch on the ignition and watch the gauges go blank as I hit the starter button. I figured I had a recurrence of my ignition switch problem and inwardly cursed Suzuki, but it was not to be. The battery cells had been destroyed from the constant vibration.
Pavel arrived 1/2 an hour later and helped me push the Burgie off the road into the birch tree forest (Siberia is ONE massive birch tree forest) and we set up our tents. Pavel lit a fire, most generously shared his food and we spent a most enjoyable evening on the Taega.
11th June - 150km from Chita.
After a very pleasant night camped with the "Black Russian", we flagged down a couple of vehicles and 6 of us pushed the Burgie back on tthe road. We then had to find a vehicle with jumper leads to start the bike. Two hours later and we found one! I covered the final 50km of dirt in around 2 hours and was 20km along the bitumen when the engine check light came on and the Burgie died - the battery had completely given up the ghost and would not provide sufficient sparks for the FI to operate . I pulled over and 2 hours later was saved by my white knight - Dmitri the "white Russian". Dmitri was piloting a Kia Sorento back to Krasnoyarsk with an FZR 400 in the back. After an hour and a half unsuccesfully trying to resurrect the Burgie battery, we found the FZR battery was a perfect fit and before we knew it the Burgie was back on the road.
Unfortunately this meant I coudl not stay in Chita with the black Russian, as Dmitri wanted his battery back and quite correctly, insisted I travel to Irkhutsk with him. This was overall a good idea as I had no idea whether I coudl find a replacement in Chita or elsewhere.
12th June - Just past Chita to Ulan Ude - 500km.
What started out as a warm day, quickly degenerated as we climbed into the mountains. Temperatures dropped to 2 degrees and the rain fell - I was freezing and riding blind. This area is the home of the Batyar people (Russian Mongolians) and the geography is very much like Northern Mongolia (treeless mountains and grass plains).
13th June - my Birthday!, and Ulan Ude to Irkhutsk (500km).
Warm sunny weather.After visiting the giant bust of Lenin in downtown Ulan ude, the day started with a ride along the bottom of Lake Baikal, absolutely gorgeous scenery (like the Canadian rockies). Mainly good roads made for a very pleasant riding day.
I was very kindly hosted by Dmitri and his friends for the night - lots of vodka and good fun
14th June (Irkhutsk).
Sunny day, riding with the Irkhutsk bikers (Blackbird/Hayabusa) and looking (unsuccessfully) for a battery. Visited Irkhutsk beaches and dam on the Angara river where an old icebreaker (built in Newcastle UK) has been restored.
15th June (Irkutsk to Listvyanka (Lake Baikhal) - 100km.
Dmitri got lost in Irkhutsk and coincidentally whilst asking for directions found a shop that had the correct new battery for me - all is well with the world!
Another rainy day, visited the Nerparium in Listvyanka (Nerpas are freshwater seals which live in Lake Baikhal) and looked around the lakeside with Dmitri and Marina.
16th June Irkhutsk.
Bike serviced, oil changed etc., set to go for the 1,100km ride to Krosynarsk.
17th June Irkhutsk to Krosnyarsk.
Start the 1,100km ride to Krosynarsk.
Garry from Oz.
Garry from Oz - powered by Burgman