Kazakhstan, wonderful country, wonderful people. But it seemed to be determined to kill my bike.
After Almaty we headed south west, flanked to our left by the foothills of the Himalayas and the borders of Kyrgyzstan. The roads here are good, and at times the scenery is spectacular as the green lower slopes are split from the blue sky by the white peaks.
Finding camp spots became harder with more agricultural activity in the fertile strip of land between Almaty and Symkent. One night we found a perfect spot, only to be moved on because we had pitched the tents on the Kazakhstan/China gas pipeline. “maybe she go boom!” we were told, “please move 300 metres”, so we dragged the tents into a freshly ploughed field.
The following morning we had our 1st puncture, Mike's rear, before bimbling straight into three hours of heavy rain, thunder and lightening. The greenness has to come from somewhere.
From Symkent we turned west to Aral'sk, a change to our planned route. We had been given far too many warnings of the high temperatures in Uzbekistan. The most recent from a group of Czechoslovakian bikers who had passed through a week earlier, 45C+. Added to that the need for water and the lack of petrol, you need to seek a man on a street corner with a tube and a barrel, we chose not to go. It will still be there in another year, at a cooler time.
The only problem was that the road to Aral'sk is full of road works.
And the old road is more dust that tarmac, with occasional herds of camels.
The Kazakhstan method of road repair is to build a temporary road surface parallel to the current road, sometimes up to 30 kilometres long. Divert all cars and trucks down it up while they rip out the old road and place a new surface. Meanwhile all the road building lorries use the temporary road as well, cutting deep ruts into it. So they spread sand over the ruts. Oh how we laugh when we hit those bits, or maybe we scream ? What we cannot understand is, they have so much space, why not build a new road and leave the old one intact until it is finished ?
Following a night in a disused roadwork quarry (we know how to live the high life), the only stopping place we could find in the surrounding marshes and paddy fields, we had an early start. Two hours later, after managing only 70kms we met Baptiste, a French lad riding to Mongolia on an XT250. We wasted an hour chatting, as you do, exchanging road information and tales. Then as we parted company my bike fired, and then died.
The engine was turning, but not starting. There was power from the battery, the ignition circuit was on and we could see a spark when I took the plug out. There are 3 curses attached to the Pegasos. !
1) The dodgy wires in the ignition barrel
2) The small fuel tank capacity (that was yet to bite us)
3) The cheap fuel pump.
Listening carefully, there was no activation sound from the pump. We removed the fuel line and checked to see if any fuel was pumped out when the engine was turned over. Nothing, not even a drip.
Normally this would be a very bad thing, but back in 2010, as I knew the pump is a weak spot, I bought a spare one. And have carried it ever since. Possibly the best £200 I have ever spent.
We set about stripping the bike, and it was not long before Mike had grabbed the spanners and was beavering away. The only man I know who smiles when he has a bike to fix.
Meanwhile, Baptiste hung around watching, enjoying the entertainment as two mad English men pull a bike apart and replace a main item in the middle of a desert.
90 minutes later I lapped my bike cheering, and performing a happy dance she fired up again.
As we progressed, into a sand storm, to see (or not) the Aral sea. My thoughts turned to route planning, it was currently a draw Kazakhstan 3 – 3 My bike (hey, a fix is a draw). I'm was running out of spare parts, and there was a lot more heat and rough road ahead.
For most of the trip we haven't known where we were, where we were going and very often where we had been.
After leaving Kazakhstan, and its wild and unpredictable roads, we followed the Volga down to Volgograd. For those of higher age, it was formally known as Stalingrad and flattened during the war as Hitler tried gain it as a prize, and access to the oil fields of the Caucuses. However the Germans never had their way and gave up in 1943. They continue to honour the defiance to this day.
Mike and I reviewed our route options, we thought we would have arrived here about 2 weeks later. Unfortunately our personal route preferences differed, Mike still had time left before he needed to return to work and favoured a more southern route back to Europe then into France. I was more for heading north, for me the trip was about finishing the RTW and getting home, or more importantly back to Jean.
Over dinner of “suicide menu”, when we let the staff choose because we cannot decipher it, we decided it was best to go our separate ways. We had done the “boys own” stuff crossing Eastern Siberia and Kazakhstan. Now we were back in the European continent having crossed the River Ural in Kazakhstan a few days earlier.
The wild east was behind us and the tame west ahead.
At least I would not have to contemplate avoiding the use of one of these again.
The next morning we both woke early, packed and left the motel. I turned right, up the M6, north and west seemed fitting as that would be the route when I got back to England. Mike took the next junction, the M21, south and west.
Don't assume the “M” means motorway, “Main” would be a better word. Single carriage way outside cities. But in this part of Russia good smooth tarmac. Head down, throttle open, Calais was in my sights. Only 3500 kilometres, I was ending the trip as we started it. A headlong dash across a continent.
All I needed to worry about was who would fix my bike if it broke again ?
As I left the Ukraine 2 days later, approaching my final 'proper' border crossing I was stopped for speeding. I had missed seeing the town sign and was still doing 90 KMH, even though it was a motorway, it passed through towns and villages. I chose to play dumb as he tried to explain I needed to go to a bank and pay the fine.
Every time he said bank, I pointed towards the border and said “border”. Eventually he gave up, screwed the paper work up and said “go”. I grabbed my documents from his dashboard, stuffed them in my pocket and high tailed it before he changed his mind.
Five days from Volgograd to Calais, 3500 kilometres (2200 miles), then a short hop across the channel to stay with a friend (well his wife as he had gone Morris Dancing) before the final leg home.
74 days to ride around the world, I won't change the blog title as Mike isn't home yet.
I even managed to arrive home in time for Jean's birthday.
(Yes, I do have a new T-shirt on)
My last few days on the were not without mishap, the bike broke down again in Holland (and people wonder why I call her the "Bastard" ).
Ignition failure struck again just as I was accelerating from a fuel stop onto the motorway, which was an interesting moment. Fortunately I was able to push the bike back to the services to work on her. The failure initially appeared to be similar to the one in Almaty. However when I stripped the front end of the bike and ignition I could see the wires were intact. Following some head scratching I realised the ignition barrel was worn and a small amount of pressure was needed to force a connection in the lower section. The insertion of a small piece of plastic did the trick and I was up and running again within an hour.
A plastic powered Peg !
Apart from having to fix my own bike this time, the major thing I noted was that despite me having the bike and tools spread all over a services forecourt no one stopped to help, not even passing bikers. At that point I knew I was definitely back in Europe.
I tested the P&O flexible-plus ticket by arriving 24 hours before my booked ferry was due to leave. Then in the boarding queue I met the P&O chairman who thought I should have got the ferry for free. I agreed, but as I did not know him until a few minutes earlier I didn't see how we could have arranged that.
A couple of things I never got around to blogging about that I feel conveys the friendliness and helpfulness of the Russians.
In Russia they don't believe in putting signs up to show where hotels are, so it is often just by chance we were able to find anything.
In the city of Kemorovo, western Siberia, we were searching for a cheap hotel. As usual there were no signs so I asked a passer by for directions. He was a bit on the drunk side,and it took a few attempts for me to get him to understand what I was asking for. The directions were not straight forward, so he climbed on the back of my bike, helmet-less, and directed us around town while he chain smoked all the way. We searched for about an hour before we found one in our price range (the Russians always start visitors off at the most expensive) or that was not a house of ill repute.
A few days later we were in the city of Barnaul, our last major town before Kazakhstan. The bikes were in need of an oil change and we needed, once again, accommodation. Using our Russian bike club contacts we were directed to a bike club and bar that could help.
We amused ourselves for a while waiting for Andre.
Unfortunately he never showed up, however the bar staff were very helpful and one of them led us to a garage for the service.
There we saw the ultimate hole in the floor toilet.
It had to be a "piss take".
Later back in the bar, still trying to locate Andre who was meant to be arranging a bed, the garage mechanic, Alexander ( a very common name) who had done the oil change turned up. He took pity on us and insisted we go back to his place. He lived in a proper soviet style apartment block, with big steel doors and slow clunking lift.
Due to his lack of English and our Russian, we used Google Translate to communicate. The next day he fed us and then rang the Russian visa services to confirm that we did not need to register our visas due to not having stopped anywhere for more than seven days.
We never ceased to be amazed by how much people wanted to help us, from Vladivostok to Almaty and beyond. They help make the trip.
Some trip stats (I'll add Mike's when he gets home)
Miles - 15041 (24065 kilometres), the world now seems smaller than ever before.
Breakdowns - 4
Punctures - 0
That's 2 major trips, totalling 40,000 miles that I have completed on this bike, puncture free.
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