June 18, 2008 GMT
A Bad Start

10 to 12 June 08

We bolted out of Moscow on 10 June having calculated that this was the last day to leave to make a comfortable run to the Mongolian border 6000 km away if we intended to stay on our schedule. We navigated out of the Moscow megopolis with relative ease and headed east towards the industrial town of Nizhniy Novgorod 450 km away. This was to be our first overnight.

We were on one of the major commercial highways in Russia, the traffic was heavy and the road conditions varied from motorway to goat-track. On the good sections of road we made the best of it and ran hard. On the bad sections we ground out the kilometres using the Elephant's acceleration to blow past other traffic at every chance. We made the 450 km out to Nizhniy Novgorod by 1600 and started looking for a hotel.

And that's when the wheels fell off. We tried 5 hotels and none would accept us as guests. They all claimed we had visa irregularities. We were sure of our ground and Jo (who is responsible for organising accommodation) pointed out that we were complying with the new, 2007 regulations. She was told at one hotel that the new rules were fine for Moscow, but in Nizhniy Novgorod they were not applying the new rules and we would have to comply with the old ones.

If there is one thing we can do it is take a hint. They clearly didn't want us in this town. With the daylight starting to fade we got out of town in a hurry looking for some place to stay. In a small village 25 km away we rocketed past a café that looked like it might have rooms and had U-turned and stopped out the front in a few seconds. Jo was already off the back of the bike and looking for the way-in when I noticed that the place had a staff of about 8 girls, all dressed for “work”. A couple of the girls came over to talk to Elephant.

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All seemed to be going well when Jo returned with a room key and the barman to open a storage shed for Elephant. We unpacked and carried our gear in past the disco room complete with mirror ball and the bar. We had a room in the quiet corner of the accommodation floor and with the madam positioned behind her disk and ledger at the top of the stairs, we were confident of not being disturbed. Although, after 12 hours on the bike, the thought of a back rub did cross my mind.

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We were sure to get a sound night's sleep with sheets like these!

Whatever the activities of the Helping Hands' Motel, we had a quiet night and slept soundly. In the cold light of the next day we assessed our situation and decided that whatever the “legal” position, we needed to sort out our visa problem before we continued. There was nothing else for it but to return to Moscow. I pointed Elephant back down the highway and, with rain clouds forming, got down to the business.

Six hours later we were back in Moscow, just a little wet, and two hours after that we had the “unnecessary” paperwork in our possession. Pizza, beer and a good night's sleep helped us to reconcile the two days and 1000 km we had just burned.

With an early start and the benefit of having done it before, we were out of the city in under 40 minutes on the morning of 12 June so we stopped for a breakfast of pancakes and coffee. With a full belly to set us up for a long ride we rolled Elephant into the river of traffic and let it carry us along. I looked down at the GPS to check our navigation. The message on the screen was simple enough. “Go East” it said, and so we did.

Posted by Mike Hannan at June 18, 2008 04:34 AM GMT

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