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Hey Pete ,nice work man ,hey my name is carlos ,Im also planning a trip for next year on Drz400 ,but just around Africa,2009 to 2012 me and my wife done a trip from Alaska to Ushuaia,we done around 115.000kms in 27 months on road,now we are planing for africa ,we leave 2 min from ace cafe just oposite stonebridge park station ,and i would like to know when u guys gonna leave ,and I would like to see your bike if is posssible?
if is let me know I come to your place my number is 07779587810 Carlos,would like to take some Ids about the bike coz im planning to use same bike next trip.
many tnx ,and good luck hv a safe trip
Carlos.... I'm so sorry. I just read this message now. I'm already in Ukraine. I guess that may be a little far for you to pop round? :-)
When do you leave? Perhaps you can check out the bikes on our return home to the UK. We should be back by January of net year if that helps?
Thanks again for all your advice and good wishes. We Finally managed to hit the road after a stressful final week of last minute to do's. I'm writing this now from Ukraine after really great few days in Romania.
Leaving the UK was not really the enjoyable experience I originally hoped for. Although the bike was pretty much good to go, working on it until the very last minute meant that I hadn't left myself any time to really consider what I was going to pack. Inevitably, I ended up shoving all sorts in at the last minute making the load on the back a ridiculous size. I felt more like I was mounting a horse not a dirt bike. We're using Wolfman soft luggage on the sides with a lifeventure dry bag on the top.Nevertheless, we set sail on the Dover to Calais ferry at which point we both realised there really was no turning back now.
We made it as far as Arras, France before getting our head down for the night. The roads were spot on. It was as if they had been designed with a sports bike in mind. We immediately wanted more power but reminded ourselves of the reason for choosing the Drz. We were and still are confident it will come in to it's own the further east we make it. We both already knew that we will be back in the Alps region on bigger bikes at some point in the near future so for now, the main focus was to get in the thick of it all in Russia and Mongolia. For that reason we powered on through the next day stopping for the night in Stuttgart before setting up camp in Prague. From Prague, we continued through to Bratislava and found a campsite just outside of the city. The campsite wasn't yet open for the season so there was no other guests or running water but the hotel next door was hosting a Miss Slovakia beauty contest so we could hardly complain.
It was here where we both decided we were sick of carrying so much luggage. There and then we both had a massive de-bulk session. I was impressed with just how ruthless we both were. Pretty much everything went other than a few pairs of boxers, socks and a couple of t-shirts. We also revisited the spares we were carrying and worked out what we could lose and what we could strap to the bike so we didn't need to cart it in and out of the tent or hostels each night and morning. In the Wolfman sides we have clothes and spares, on the top we have tents and cooking gear only. The tools have been strategically placed throughout the bikes and mainly in a lockable tool kit on the back of one bike and the big chain lock on other bike. The weight seems to be fairly distributed between the two bikes. I'm also now happy with the amount of weight we are carrying and no doubt the sub-frame is in for a better chance of survival. The following morning the bike felt like a completely different ride. It was a huge relief.
We took a quick detour to Vienna then on to Budapest and to Cluj Napoca, Romania. Yesterday we pushed on to here, Brasov.
I know there is already a million and one ride reports on this part of Europe so I'm conscious I shouldn't bore you with ride reports just yet until we hit the slightly more extreme areas but I wanted to write about our time in Romania as this was a real highlight.
The hospitable offers we have received from people on the on-line forums have been amazing. Our ride through Romania was the perfect example of this. A few days ago we rode with a guy called Mike in Brasov. As he lives there he knows the area and the Transfagarason road like the back of his hand. He saw a post I had put up on Thumper Talk and being a DRz owner himself immediately contacted me to see if we would be passing through Romania.
We met this morning and headed out for a days ride. It's a fairly long straight boring ride from Brasov to the beginning of the Transfagarason but definitely well worth it. Upon reaching the bottom of the road, we started climbing but quickly hit a concrete blockade preventing traffic from going any further. Mike explained that due to snow fall, the road does not open until later next month. I was questioning whether it was worth us riding all the way out there but when I asked him if we could go any further he responded with "Do you see any snow here?"
He just snuck through the barrier and popped a big wheelie on the other side. We followed, but conscious of damaging the bikes, without the big wheelie. This of course didn't have anything to do with our wheeling capability. :-)
We climbed and climbed, hairpin after hairpin and as the road was fully closed there was not a car in sight. There had been multiple landslides over the winter which were yet to be cleared but avoiding them didn't seem like too much of an issue for Romanian Mike so we just stuck with him. The views were incredible and it was excellent to get to grips with the bikes on such a road. We were eventually prevented from going any further as there was thick snow covering the entire road.
Mike had a little chuckle everytime we discussed the rest of our route around the world. When we questioned if he would ever want to do it, his reply was "On a DRz? ha, no chance."
He later took us on some dirt trails. The bike felt right at home. It will be interesting to see how the bike holds up.
For me, Romania was a real highlight and I would highly recommend it. A massive thanks to Mike. I'm sure he would be happy to show anyone else visiting this area around so contact me if you want to track him down.
All in all, the trip is going exactly as we hoped and the bikes feel superb. Choosing road tyres has been the best call yet. The bikes are handling so well on the good surfaces on Europe but we are looking forward to donning the knobblies in Moscow and finally getting the bikes on the dirt. We have a load of video footage which we will be editing and posting up soon.
We will shortly be in Moscow where we hope to change tyres to something a little more knobbly. If anyone has any advice or contacts we can use to acquire some new sets please do let me know. Any advice would be massively appreciated.
The person used in Moscow by many travellers, includin me, is:
Best regards, Denis Panferov. email@example.com ICQ:645-2793
Tel: +7-495-507-9530 +7-495-507-9530 ; Cell: +7-925-507-9530 +7-925-507-9530 http://www.motorezina.ru - Tyres for motorcycles
Моторезина в наличии, консультации, доставка по Москве, отправка в регионы.
Denis can also arrange to ship tyres east across Russia so you can pick them up elsewhere. Shipping charges were a reasonable 250 rbl (about $10) a tyre last year.
I don't know what your exact route is but if you are staying on the highway in west Russia before entering Mongolia at the western end I would suggest (if your current tyres are holding out) talking to Denis about shipping tyres to Novisibersk (theres at least one good bike shop there). That way you'll save your dirt tyres until you need them.
Excellent. Thanks so much. I'll get in touch with him now.
We don't know the best route to take yet. We're keen to go through Mongolia and then perhaps on the Road of Bones if it is not too early in the year but your suggestion of using the highway to get to Novisibersk then switching tyres at that point sounds like it could be ideal. We're always open to route suggestions so let me know if you have any good advice.
We're on full blown road tyres at the moment but they have plenty of life in them. If it's tarmac as far as Novisibersk then they will be fine.
Right, so I left you in Romania after our excellent experience with Mike in mountains. I am writing this now from Ulanbattar, Mongolia. It's been one hell of an adventure but more on that later. So much interesting stuff has happened over the last few weeks here in Mongolia and Russia that I want to share with this community that in order to bring this blog up to date, please excuse my brevity for the time spent between Romania and Moscow.
On the 9th May we crossed into Ukraine and rode to the captial, Kiev. Immediately after crossing the border we were waved down by the fed, a big stern looking and very determined copper. He waived his arms and shouted at us for a while, but without speaking any English we had no idea what he was saying, I’m guessing we were going too fast, standard. He began filling out a form, and I chuckled as he noted down the details from an old India visa in my passport. When I pointed out he was using the wrong page he screwed up the form, gave me back my passport and sent us on our way. A lucky escape considering we didnt have any currency at that point!
We decided to give ourselves a day off in Kiev, and Jon managed to convince me to give any site-seeing a miss and to head straight for the boozer. It had been a long few days and we desereved a Kiev pub crawl! Spitting feathers the following morning made the pack up harder than normal, and the ride was long and straight E101 to Russia, as straight as an arrow! I haver never seen such a long straight road with no changes in scenery. It may sound silly but it was only at that point that it dawned on me that my life for the next 8 months is sat on a motorcycle, often without music and attempting to sing to myself for entertainment.
As we approached the Russian border we were hassled to buy motorcycle insurance before entering. This appeared to be a 3 man job as they ushered us into a small hot cabin to convince us this was legit. At first they wanted €100 each for 3 months cover. We only had €100 between us so we offered them €50 each, which they quickly accepted. Inevitabely we feel like we have been mugged off and that we should have bartered harder!
The rest of the border crossing was fairly straight forward. None of the officials spoke any English, so we just noded and said yes to all of their questions, then if they started shaking their heads we would switch to saying no, this seemed to work. Even the decleration form was all in Russian with no English translation, so we gave it our best shot by copying an example form. We have no idea what we declared, but it seemed to be ok and we entered Russia on our business visas, happy days! They had a good look at our bikes, prodded a view parts, but we didnt have to open any of our luggage. With almost a smile, and a small snigger the guard spoke one line of English to me, “Welcome to beautiful Russia”
Our first night in Russia was spent in Bryansk, 200km from the border and 400km from Moscow. The town felt like a rough council estate, and we struggled to find a hotel. We finally managed to find one by 10.30pm, and I drew the short straw for the check-in process whilst Jon waited outside with the bikes. With a complete language barrier the check in process took 45minutes, we were very tired and it was a stressful process with the grumpy lady scanning 6 pages of each passport. To top it off, Jon had to entertain a complete waster who would not leave him alone, banging on at him in Russian and trying to wear his crash helmet.
Feelings of apprehension were building at this stage as we both knew the real tough miles were about to commence when we entered the wild of Siberia and Mongolia.
As most people embarking on a trip of this nature would, we spent hours upon hours trawling through the various blogs and posts here on ADV Rider and other on-line forums. There was one thread that really caught my attention which I revisited over and over again. It was this one here by Walter Colbatch about his ride over the infamous BAM road. I was in awe of the achievement of that 3 strong team and envied every day they spent out there in the field.
After contacting them through the forum, Tony P, Colbatch's riding partner for that trip, promptly responded to the long list of questions I put forward to him regarding riding Russia and in particular Siberia. When we realised that Tony is actually based in Moscow we jumped at the opportunity to buy him a and here his tales. And what an honour that was.
I can't describe Tony as anything other than a legendary motorcycle adventurer with vast experience riding the notorious roads of Siberia. Sinking a few of the good ones with Tony was a real pleasure and hearing his stories of his experience on the BAM road was sufficient to send the shivers up me. Despite this, we have decided to take on the western part of the BAM after we dip down in to Mongolia. To say I'm nervous at this point would be a huge understatement. For those of you familiar with the region, with Tony's assistance we have planned a route which will take us from the top of lake Baikal over to Tynda before dropping down to join the main highway over to Vladivostock. I have no idea what it is that I have actually agreed to here but we're going for it nevertheless. More of that to follow when we make it that far.
The amount of mosquitoes on the Trans-Siberian highway is unreal, We were eaten alive eaten alive and it was time to camp along the side the highway.
We left Moscow Thursday 17th May, to begin our 6 day journey towards Novosibersk, Russia’s 3rd largest city in Western Siberia. After a full day of easy riding we decided to venture off the road and find a suitable spot for our first night camping in the wild, the moment I was slightly in fear of. After an hour spent riding around fields, mud tracks and gravel roads we still didn’t feel comfortable pitching up. Not wanting to admit defeat we headed down yet another country road and found a small village 2km from the main road. It was very quiet, almost desolate except an old lady doing some gardening. We stopped, removed our crash helmets and approached the lady with our book to show her a picture of a tent. Without being able to speak any English she just smiled and pointed at a patch of grass in front of her house. As we stood there laughing at the prospect of setting up camp millions of mosquitoes surrounded us, and some of the neighbours wandered out to see what was going on. A group of immigrants from Uzbekistan emerged from the shack opposite and told us to come in and sleep inside to avoid the mosquitoes. This situation felt pretty crazy but we accepted their kind offer and rode our bikes through a narrow gate into the backyard, almost pulling down the fence as we squeezed by with the luggage.
We followed them into the run down farm house, where they invited us into a small kitchen for a cup of tea. It was very quiet, and due to the langauge barrier we often sat in silence, but it never felt awkward, just peaceful. The silence was soon broken by another two residents arriving home, this time it was two loud Russians, a tough looking builder and a very drunk fisherman dressed in full camo. They didn’t seem surprised by our presence and were both very welcoming, with the fisherman insisting we got up at 5am for a morning fishing session the following day. Before long we found some common ground knocking back straight vodka and tequila, proper Russian stylee. Dinner was fish in a can, and we brought some Heinz baked beans to the table, which we all shared out of the tin and they seemed to go down a treat. They also gave us some weird potion made with various herbs to stop the police smelling alcohol on your breath the next day.
As the sun was setting they said “let’s go” and we all walked down a gravel path to see where they are building a huge house over-looking a beautiful lake. The drunk fisherman seemed like a bit of crazy Nutter, he stuffed a handful of dried fish into my pocket and then stood at the edge of the lake screaming out something in Russian, trying to make us do the same! I thought to myself, if I was camping nearby and saw him I would have been petrified! After watching the sunset and having a look around the building site we ventured back to the farm-house to prepare for bed. We shared the floor space in their large bedroom, where they provided us with an inflatable mattress and an old sofa. It was a hot sweaty night, and due to the mosquitoes we decided to sleep in our motorbike trousers and hoodies. I found it hard to sleep using my dirty motorbike jacket as a pillow, and hearing the mosquitoes doing laps of the room. I also needed the toilet in the middle of the night, but I didn’t want to disturb the rest of the room, and the toilet was a hole in the ground at the end of the garden.
The following morning we were grateful not to have had a 5am wake up call by the fisherman, and as we packed up I got covered in dust folding up the inflatable mattress. Despite the incredible hospitality and unique experience we had been given they wouldn’t accept any money for our stay, so we just tucked a 500rubs (£10) note under an old tin in the bedroom as we left. We didn’t bother putting on all our gear, and decided to it would be easier to ride out of the garden in just a t-shirt and stop down the road to re-group.
- The Russians claim that vodka produced in the mountainous region of Altai, Siberia is so pure that it will never give you a hangover. It’s had me in bed for two days at a time crying for my mother on multiple occasions.
- The cleanest your three t-shirts will ever look on a round the world motorcycle trip is under the UV light of a dance-floor. Upon arrival in a new city in which you believe you may stand half a chance of chatting up the local girls, immediately aim for the nearest evening hot-spot before anyone has a chance to see various carcasses of mosquitoes and other flying insects killed at high-speed during your most recent tough miles. It’s crucial to remember you’re a very dirty biker and have nothing on the Hugo Boss shirts and leather loafers of your Russian competitors.
- The biggest tune here in Siberia is a cheesy house mix of Tom Jones’ Sex Bomb. Seriously. It’s what you will be working with so keep your chin high, think of England and go and get yourself in the mixer.
- Russian roads inevitably endure some extreme winters but if some of those pot holes were created by anything other than a meteorite shower I will eat my hat. Never feel like you are getting to grips with the terrain. Always be ready for the next 50 meters to present holes the size of a Suzuki DRz plus it’s rider.
- The Trans-Siberian Highway is longer and straighter than you can ever comprehend before riding it. Don’t expect any thanks from your 400cc dirt bike but gently remind yourself and the bike that if all goes to plan, it’s a matter of days before you will be donning the dirt tyres and entering the wild.
Well… things didn’t quite go to plan. Here is a brief overview of the latest situation:
We arrived in Novosibersk after 6 relentless days on the Trans-Siberian Highway. I think Jon’s previous update captured the first nights stay well and the other 5 evenings followed in similar suit involving copious amounts of vodka and bluury mornings. One night was even spent pitching up next to what we, at time, believed to be a disused sand quarry in an attempt to get out of sight of the road. Little did we know that the diggers would be in at first light the following morning. Jon still had his best effort at a Siberian beard at the time so I can only presume when they saw him that morning they thought he was a previously undiscovered Siberian wild beast.
Back in Slovakia rightly or wrongly, in fact, definitely wrongly, in an attempt to de-bulk we attached numerous spares and tools directly to the bikes so we wouldn’t need to carry them in and out of hostels every morning. The 12v pump was waterproofed in a sealed bag and strapped to the underside of my rear mud guard. It felt solid and we were confident it wouldn’t go anywhere. Our guess is that the repeated stress from the multiple pot holes was too much for the straps holding it in position and it broke loose and lodged itself between my rear wheel and the swing arm. It brought me to a sudden halt from high-speed. We couldn’t’ believe it didn’t throw me off. It just melted and disintegrated within seconds.
We always knew that the Trans-sibe would be a gruelling leg of the journey but I didn’t quite realise I would only be changing gear to get the bike going in the morning and then to slow it down again in the evening. With of course, the occasional break in between. It was a tough, monotonous stint that I am pleased is over.
Some funny things get discussed over the intercom on the long boring riding days like those on the Trans-Siberian Highway. When we are not discussing the girls, who we failed miserably to chat up in the previous city, we always dedicate a couple of hours each day to try to teach each other something new. I often wonder what the drivers of passing vehicles think when they see us trying to illustrate things by drawing diagrams in the air with our left hands. I’ll now happily receive any questions you may have on Formula 1 suspension and handling fine tuning.
3339 very straight kilometers later, we finally made it to Novisibersk where the biker ‘brotherhood’ that so many people had previously told us about was quickly evident. We pulled over in an attempt to locate the hostel we were aiming for and moments later a car slammed on, pulled up next to us and a big scary looking guy lifting his t-shirt to expose some biker tattoos. “Me… Biker too!!” The language barrier unfortunately prevented us from extracting any information other than the name of a motorcycle store where we could purchase some consumables for the bikes. There is only so far that a ‘Point it’ picture book can assist despite the willingness of the local people to help.
We’d not washed for days. We desperately needed to get in to a hostel to take a shower but by this stage my bike was not feeling good at all. Handling the bike at low speeds was proving difficult as it refused to sit comfortably in a straight line. Navigating the heavy traffic of a new city centre with a horribly complex one way system in 35 degree heat is tough enough at the best of times, without the added pressure of being thrown between lanes by the bike. We pulled up outside the hostel we were aiming for and started checking out the issue. We both knew straight away it was a steering head bearing problem. The minimal tool kit we were carrying was never going to suffice in removing the bearing races from the frame and the lower bearing from the forks. I suddenly felt a very long way from home.
As we sat there contemplating how on earth we were going to communicate our problem with any local mechanics. or ask if we could use their equipment, an English speaking local, named Anatoly, approached us to enquire what the problem was. We later discovered that Anatoly was an ex-Russian speedway champion and had vast experience racing throughout Russia and parts of Europe. He was all too familiar with the difficulties of acquiring parts and tools in foreign environments and after explaining the mission we are undertaking, he seemed genuinely pleased when he realised he could help and be a part of this trip. He invited us to his holiday home the following morning, located 30km from the city centre in a place called Berdsk.
What followed next is worthy of a blog entry in itself, but in brief, with his assistance over the course of the next 10 days we got the bike back up and running, enjoyed Siberian saunas and even had an interesting session with regional Siberian news channels. There is a chance we’re about to be Siberian superstars. Keep an eye out for ‘The Anotoly Experience’ blog I’ll have up in the next few days.
In amongst those 10 days spent with Anatoly, we managed to spend some decent time in and around Novosibersk itself. Albeit out of our control, it was really nice to have no option but to sit and enjoy a Russian city for such a duration. We managed to get to countless parties and to meet some good local people. When we did stumble across an English speaker the default question was typically ”Seriously guys… what the f*** are you doing here?” When they translated our route to their friends we couldn’t escape the attention.
Street racing is completely legal here in Novosibersk. Well, by that I mean the police do not bat an eye lid. There is a main drag strip which sits right in the heart of the city, where after sunset its not uncommon to see turbo charged motors racing off the lights and bikers (on all styles of bikes) pulling huge wheelies. Fuel is less than 50p per litre. Why wouldn’t you spend all evening red lining a turbo charged monster? The moonlit backdrop of a menacing Stalin statue really makes for an awesome street racing environment. It’s a superb evenings entertainment, and as with hitting up the clubs, an equally excellent opportunity to speak to the locals.
The Trans-Sibe stint was sufficient to suitably square off the road tyres but today we picked up the knobblies from Staas, a contact well known amongst the adventure biker world. A change is in sight. If all goes to plan, we will ride as far as we can through Mongolia on the road tyres in an attempt to have fresh knobbles when we venture back up to Lake Baikal, Russia, to begin the infamous BAM road. After some of the stories local bikers have told us over the last few days, to say I’m nervous would be a huge understatement. It was great to experience Russian life like that, but for now I’m excited about getting back on the bike and getting some more of those Tough Miles under-way. Next stop is Mongolia.
Thanks to Jon for writing this next post on my behalf:
Anatoly is an ex Russian speedway champion living in Novosibirsk, Western Siberia. At the age of 20 he had a severe accident and broke his back, leaving him in a coma for over 6 months. Whilst in hospital his friends gave him some radio equipment to follow the teams progress. During this time he developed a love for radio communication, which in turn led to a very successful career in telecommunications. However, owning a collection of companies in Siberia, and becoming a figure-head in this sector of industry had many downsides. The corrupt political situation in Russia during this time led to his daughter being kid-knapped by the KGB, at which point Anatoly decided enough was enough, and he sold his empire to concentrate on family life.
As mentioned in our last blog, during the ride into Novosibirsk Pete had been complaining of a strange steering sensation, which felt as if he had a problem with his front tyre. This issue continued to get worse, and upon arriving at Zokol hostel he said the bike was becoming difficult to ride. We spent a few minutes investigating the problem, and the steering felt notchy with load on the front end. With the front wheel in the air the notchy feeling was almost negligible, but still present, so we concluded it must be a damaged lower headset bearing. Whilst discussing what to do next, a friendly Russian chap named Anatoly, who fortunately could speak fluent English, began looking at our bikes. Like many others he was amazed we had ridden this far on these motorbikes, and found it hard to believe the rest of our plan for the next 7 months. He enquired about our problem, and immediately started to form a plan to help us. Without hesitating he began telling us he had a large empty garage with lots of tools at his holiday home 30km outside of the city in Berdsk, which we could use as we liked! His wife, Olgar, then arrived on the scene and said we couldn’t possibly leave our bikes outside the hostel overnight as they wouldn’t be safe, so the couple led us to a guarded compound 100m down the road where we could park for 100rubs per day. The following morning we met Olgar outside the hostel and followed her to their holiday home. She said she hadn’t slept the previous night thinking about how she could drive fast enough with bikers following her, and that she had phoned her staff to explain the situation, instructing them to learn English overnight! She also expressed her concern, that due to guests arriving at the weekend we could only use the staff accommodation, and they felt terrible we couldn’t have more luxury during our time there! Olgar is so friendly and lovely, what a legend!
As we arrived at their holiday home the guards opened the gates, and we rode down a gravel path surrounded by large houses with a beautiful view of a huge lake. Olgar introduced us to the various staff and showed us to our room. She explained that we could stay as long as we needed, and that we would be given breakfast, lunch and dinner at the cafe each day, all free of charge! After the introductions and a tour of the site we were left to it. We gathered various pieces of wood from the surrounding land to use as a centre stand, and set about stripping the front end down on Petes bike. We feared the worst, and as we expected the lower bearing race was badly damaged.
Removing this from the frame is a tricky job, as there is barely any lip exposed to locate a drift. After various failed attempts and many frustrating hours researching proven methods on the internet, I stumbled across an old piece of metal tube with a flange on the end. By grinding a small flat on the flange to provide clearance to the steering lock, I was able to manoeuver the pole down the stem and get a reasonable location on the minimal lip. With a couple of firm whacks we were celebrating our success in removing both the upper and lower race. The next job was to remove the lower bearing from the forks, which is a press fit onto the steerer tube. The only dremmel we had available was a huge power tool, and it was a nerve-racking experience as I began very carefully cutting through the bearing whilst keeping a steady hand so to not damage the forks. Without cutting all the way through, I was able to make a large enough groove to chisel the bearing off, and we breathed a sigh of relief that the hard work was done. The following day we carried out a straight forward service on my bike, oil change and spark plugs etc.
Our time in Berdsk was a very interesting experience which we will never forget. One evening Anatoly invited us to a large wooden building, with huge windows covered in blue fairy lights. Little did we know we would encounter our first experience of a traditional Russian Sauna. Our thoughts of a relaxing detox steam session soon turned to fear as Anatoly stripped but-naked, donned an authentic cowboy style hat and picked up a bamboo broom stick! Pete and I decided to keep our private areas covered, and sheepishly entered the sauna. Much to our surprise, this ‘event’ would consist of 4 stages. In turn we were made to lie down, first on our fronts, and then on our backs, whilst Anatoly beat us profusely with his broom! The air was suffocatingly hot, and with each stage the beating became increasingly aggressive, to the point where we could barely take the pain! In between stages we drank and prayed the experience was almost over. Watching Pete squirm during the process was hilarious, but knowing I was up next made it less of a joke. By the end we had been beaten to a pulp, our skin was red raw and we both felt dizzy. Later that evening Anatoly and Olgar laid on a delicious BBQ, where we all drank straight Altai Vodka and laughed about the Russian tradition we had just been through. Much to their surprise we both passed on the offer of repeating the experience during our stay.
Anatoly has an unusual hobby; he is extremely interested in Ham Radio, which he uses to communicate with people around the world. Ham Radio users have a very strong community spirit, and they are always willing to help one another wherever possible. We spent many nights on the airwaves, reaching people in various places around the world, gathering useful contacts and information for the next steps of our adventure. In order to transmit from Siberia (the middle of nowhere), Anatoly has a huge Radio-ranch, with a vast collection of ex-military masts and power generators. The largest is 80m high, towering above the tallest tree on the horizon.
He has entered many competitions, and one day hopes to be part of the Russian team in the World Radiosport Team Championship. You can find him on RC9O.
After fixing the bikes, Anatoly had one more surprise for us before we departed. He had been contacted by the local and regional news channels in Siberia, who were interested in using our adventure for a feature. It was funny to have film crews interviewing us and asking questions about the bikes.
We look forward to seeing what they make of us and our trip! After this we packed up and once again hit the road.
The help and hospitality from Anatoly, his wife Olgar, and their staff was exceptional. We will always be grateful, and we won’t forget them
The only time we've had the shower gel out in the last 8 days is to lubricate the tyres for a set change or puncture repair. I've never felt as filthy as I did on that last night before we made it to Ulaanbaatar, the capital of Mongolia. Everything was covered in sand and mud from numerous falls and my hair was nearly long enough for the comb over so many of you requested I grow before I left the UK. Ladies, please steady yourselves. I've shaved it now. Everything was showing signs of wear and arriving in Ulaanbaatar with half of my ass exposed proved an interesting experience.
Mongolia provided an intense 7 day off-road experience which pushed us and the bikes to the extreme. A number of visa problems when leaving Russia cost us an additional day at Tsagaannuur, a dusty border town with little more on offer than the home brew available from what they call a supermarket. 'Tinned Fish Store' seemed a more appropriate name. Apparently we didn't fill out the correct visa registration form upon arrival at the first hotel in Russia over a month ago so the officials had us over a barrel. After plucking the final price from the air, once they were satisfied they had treated themselves to the remainder of our Russian Rubles, we successfully crossed the border into Mongolia. At this stage we were still on the Bridgestone road tyres which had made it all the way from the UK. The plan was to stick with the original tyres for as long as possible to ensure that the dirt tyres we had strapped to the back of the bikes made it back up to Russia and be in relatively good shape for the BAM road.
Well... that plan quickly turned to shit. As did the road. The tarmac turns in to a dusty trail immediately after crossing the border which then continues to climb to an altitude of around 2500 meters. The landscape was immediately different to the Altai mountain range we had just left in Russia and completely different to anything I'd ever seen before. It felt like we had just been dropped on the moon. It was late afternoon by the time we had covered the first 30 or so Mongolian miles after the border issues and some seriously heavy black clouds opened up above us. The road turned to a massive mud bath and we were stuck on the top of a mountain pass with no shelter from the elements and absolutely no grip from the tyres. It was our first real 'We're really in trouble here' moment and we'd been in Mongolia for less than an hour.
We struggled as far down the pass as we could to a group of rocks which not only offered some shelter from the wind but later, once the storm had passed, acted as the perfect bike stand to change the tyres. The following day the bikes were re-born and ready for whatever off-road action Mongolia had in store for them.
On the advice of two Russian bikers we met coming in the opposite direction at the border, we opted for what turned out to be a desert route through the southern region of Mongolia. Our lack of exposure to riding in sand meant we had a lot to learn in a very short space of time. Short of a few low-speed crashes and some clumsy drops, we made it through the entire Mongolia experience with little more than a few bruises and a couple of scratches on the bikes.
All land in Mongolia is public land which means that we could camp wherever we saw fit. There are very few roads on in the Western side and it's nothing more than dirt trails connecting very small villages. Riding through it you encounter all sorts of surfaces and terrains. It's an off-road enthusiasts dream and would make the perfect setting for the Dakar race. There are simply no road rules. Of a morning we'd set the GPS compass to the direction of Ulaanbaatar, start riding and just see what river crossings and other obstacles are thrown up at you. If there is no trail then you have to make your own. It wasn't uncommon for us not to encounter any other vehicles for an entire day unless we ventured towards one of the villages in search of supplies.
Every night in Mongolia was spent camping quite literally in the middle of nowhere. The night prior to reaching Ulaanbaatar, we were both sat in the entrances to each of our tents facing each other, cooking up the daily default dish of noodles. Seen as we had made it that far we decided to really push the boat out and opted for the chicken flavour. I saw Jon looking behind me when he announced that there is a cowboy next to my tent. It was following the exact script of the Long Way Round. An absolutely text-book Mongolia experience. I jumped up to greet him and noticed he was dressed in full Mongolian attire and stepped down from his well-groomed horse. We shook hands. I looked at him, he looked at me. I don't know who was more surprised and fascinated but either way we just continued to stare at each other. We both made an effort to communicate but it seemed it was only a funny sheep noise he would respond to. We think we established that his herd of sheep was just over the next valley.
The altitude of Mongolia means some really cold nights camping. the big de-bulk session we had all the way back in Slovakia meant we are ill-equipped for such camping. Both of us struggled to sleep properly but for different reasons. Brookbanks' primary concern is the wildlife roaming the area. We are all too aware that wolves, scorpions and other nasty creatures have a big presence around here and any rustle of a plastic bag we leave outside the tents is sufficient to have Jon up, head torch on and conducting a thorough search of a 50 meter radius.It tickles me every time.
For me however, all to often a good nights sleep is disturbed by the thought of one of us having a serious fall when we are hours from help. As I mentioned, depending on the route you take through Mongolia, it really is possible to have no human contact for days on end. Often we had no idea what was ahead of us. The thought of Jon having a serious fall, which given the terrains we are riding is really quite possible, having to make the decision of whether to turn back and ride for hours or push forward, not knowing what lies ahead, in the hope that I can raise the alarm for help scares me a lot. I tell myself night after night, "Look after the bikes and look after the tyres. You really can't afford to have a bad fall out here."At that point I promise myself that tomorrow will be different and we will stop taking so many unnecessary risks during the days ride.
It's amazing how a nice sunrise can change your mentality. When the sun comes up in the morning, it takes no more than 5 minutes of being back on the bike before I find myself lighting the back tyre up and doing everything I said I wouldn't whilst laying in my tent the previous night. It's a strange cycle of emotion that by now seems unlikely to change. It's only when we manage to source a night-cap that we both mange to sleep a little more comfortably.
One day outside of Ulaanbaatar we stumbled across the first other adventure rider that we have met on this trip. Enrico was a classic Italian equally as inspired by Austin Vince's Mondo Enduro and I was. His bike was a 650 Suzuki DR which from the stickers on his panniers had obviously seen a bit. The guy was a true legend. He lost his side stand some time back so he was only able to stop where he could rest his bike up against something and he didn't go anywhere without a massive Italian flag waiving from the back of his bike. We later spent some decent time with Enrico when we arrived in a hostel in Ulaanbaatar which turned out to be an adventure biker hub for this region of the world. Kicking his bike over always had him struggling in the mornings but he would never let spirits drop and would start singing the them tune to Mondo Enduro whenever anything went wrong. A very inspirational character who I really hope to meet again.
Besides a set of turntables in a mates basement in London, the bike is one of my only possessions in life right now. I guess it's a unique position for someone of my age to be in. The bike means everything to me and I'm permanently aware that its smooth running is paramount to me completing this mission. It's a great conversation starter with the locals and attracts a lot of attention which is really great. Typically within 5 minutes of arriving in a Mongolian village, the bikes are swarming with guys wanting to have a sit on. The Mongolians are a very hands on bunch and really are not afraid to touch things which sometimes makes me a little nervous. I don't want the fact that I value the bike so much to prevent me from having a good chat with the guys who show interest but the Mongolians tend to be quite small and as with most dirt bikes, the bike sits really very high. With the weight of the luggage on the back it's easy to lose balance and drop it especially for those guys as they can't touch the floor. I don't want to have to stop them. I know it can't be often they see a bike of this style but the fear of them knocking it over and damaging something makes me feel uncomfortable. Leaving the bike unattended is always a concern which is a shame.
I've learnt a lot about my riding ability and handling the DRz off-road. I feel like the recent exposure to should now hopefully put me in a good position to tackle the next major off-road challenge, the BAM road. After the off-road experience we had in Mongolia, the sensible thing to do is probably head for Vladivostok, hang up the off-road boots for a while and arrange the flights over to Alaska to begin leg two of the mission but I'm in awe of the achievements of Tony P and his 3 man team who completed the entire length of the BAM road. I have to at least attempt it now we have come all this way. In the words of Walter Colbatch, one of Tony's riding companions on that BAM expedition, it's a real test of man and machine. Apprehension is equally as high as it has ever been but the bike has now proved itself as a solid workhorse capable of handling days upon days of off-road riding. Let's just hope the rider is in an equally strong position.
Home is now on the BAM road. We'll be off the radar for however long it's going to take us. Wish us luck.
Hope you are ready to cover the other half of Mongolia and surely the rest of the Journey. I am hoping to go through Mongolia soon, but from Peking to Paris.
Keep those great photos and stories coming.
Wishing you all the best from us here in Egypt
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