The road from Slavyanka to Vladivostok was good for the most part. This picture above is very typical of all Russian roads west of Ulan Ude. There is obviously going to be a very swank highway one day, as most of these sites were active with workers and heavy machinery but it's at least ten years off.
Passing traffic was easy for motorcycles but as you can see, cars were also using this sizeable dirty hard shoulder.
A couple of hours riding saw us to the Hotel Vladivostok
For about $55.00 a night for both myself and Nikolai, we had a room on the 7th floor overlooking the bay!
No really! this is the view from our hotel.
Well, with such a nice hotel room it was time to tackle a problem that had been gnawing at me ever since clearing customs and it had to do with the f@!!ing russian visa.
The problem was that at Zarubina, where I got off the ferry, they stamped my passport with my visa starting from the ISSUE date, not the DATE OF ENTRY as specified by my Lonely Planet guidebook.
It was due to run out on the 17th of Sept. and what with all the delays and repairs (and good times) had in Slavyanka, it was time to see if we could do the impossible....extend my tourist visa.
Here Nikolai was invaluable. Not only did he speak the lingo, but he also had a very wiley streetwise way about him that allowed him to penetrate Russian red tape.
Of course, red tape wasn't the only thing he was good at penetrating!
After our breakfast of bread, kielbasa and instant coffee (Nikolai knew the best to buy of everything)...
we set off to tackle russian visa extensions.
We met Hawaiian Sean in a local eatery who told us to go to his russian fixer Julia.
Julia ran a 'help the tourist' type business. That was the difference between her and Nikolai. She was doing it to make money, whereas Nikolai was doing it to help me out just because he was enjoying helping me and was my host in his country....he was also better with his people skills.
So, we managed to find the OVIR or the PVU in Vladivostok. Nikolai hit it off with the guy there - Sacha - who told us it was no problem to extend the visa because of our accident. All we needed was a letter from my foreign embassy verifing what we were claiming was true.
Off we go to find the British Embassy.
No-one knows where it is. EVERYONE knows where the American Embassy is because they just built a huge five story building to house all the important goings on.
I make a bad decision at this point. I figure as a Green Card holder, they could help me out with this letter thingamajig.
As soon as we pull up, a heavily armed guard waves us on and tells us - in Russian - not to loiter. When it became clear that we were here on official business the whole "strip down to your shorts and prepare for the cavity search" routine came out. Then, naked and trembling we were brought before a woman who sat superciliously behind bulletproof glass and sniggered at our manhoods.
Ok, I exaggerate a tad...
Upshot of it was, not only could she not help me with the letter, being a lowly Green Card holder, but we suspect she put a call in to the OVIR because the next day Sacha - we were told - was in the hospital and could not be reached.
We left the American Embassy and continued our search for the British Embassy.
Finally above a kindergarten, with no street sign we reach our goal
where we discovered the delightful Lena all too ready to help us.
Lena wrote us exactly what we needed, bless her. Unfortunately, she had a boyfriend, but we still got her champagne and chocolates as a thankyou!
So armed with our letter, we went back to the OVIR where we met a Russian souka!! That's the russian term for 'unhelpful bitch' who told us that Sacha was in the hospital and basically to f@!" off.
Undeterred we tracked down another branch of OVIR across town, sat and waited for an hour and were told by a very nice boss lady, that because of my accident and subsequent time delay in Slavyanka, together with Lena's letter and my pictures of the accident, we were - under russian law - granted an automatic ten day extension.
This is Nikolai and myself outside the second OVIR office.
This whole process took about three days of running around Vladivostok and was a royal pain in the arse. The upshot of it was that if you're planning on coming to Russia, get a visa that's more than double the time you expect to stay. My whole trip was marred by the official bullshit redtape that still is Russia. The ONLY way to stay clear of Russian authorities is to make sure you do all of their ridiculous paperwork, stamps, visas, forms etc...to a Tee.
Another thing that struck me was the difference between the American Embassy and the British Consul.
The American Embassy could not have been more unhelpful. I can't prove that they tried to undermine my attempt at visa extension, but Nikolai was sure that the woman at the embassy called the OVIR which is why Sacha was in the hospital indefinitely.
The British Consul was understated, understaffed (just Lena at the time) and couldn't have been nicer.
Anyway, Vladivostok is the former forbidden city of the Russian Naval fleet
But is now a busy port servicing trading between Japan and Korea.
The streets are full of Japanese and Korean imported cars
And, of course, russian hotties
For our last night in Vladivostok, we arranged to meet Sean and Julia in a club.
We went and were charged 300 roubles a piece at the door (about $12.00) and sat down to very boring strippers doing the usual choreographed stuff.
Sean was propositioned by a hooker....$300.00 of which she claimed that she had to give half to the bar.
The whole thing was sordid, seedy and I couldn't wait to get out of the place feeling as though I was the tourist lamb brought to the slaughter.
We escorted Sean through the streets of Vladivostok hoping Nikolai could introduce him to a more organic type of russian girl. Being so late, the pickings were slim
"she wants to kiss me?"
"Er, yes, by George, I think he's got it!!"
This girl was somewhat intoxicated as was Sean, so we hailed him a cab and called it a night.
We had been in touch with Igor from Slavyanka, who had travelled back to his home in Kharbarovsk with Lena and Ksenya. Igor invited us to stay, and that was to be our next destination....about 800 kms north.
Next morning all packed up and ready to hit the road to Kharbarovsk!!!
Beautiful paved road from Vladivostok to Kharbarovsk.
Weather was beautiful, as was the countryside...this Russian Far Eastern stuff was a breeze!!!
Roadside stands selling locally grown produce. This is the only way for a lot of Russians to make a living. A lot of the stands were selling honey. This shot's for my fellow beekeeper back in Boston....Hi Jayne!!!
Decided to camp halfway after an easy days ride. Found this spot by a lake.
Followed minutes later by a spectacular moonrise!
Oh what a beautiful morning!!!
Having let air out of the tyres to go on the mud, I killed the battery using my cyclepump to re-inflate.
No problem....Just flag down a friendly Russian...
All juiced up!!! thanks very much!!!
Made it to Kharbarovsk by nightfall where we were greeted by Igor and Lena
After a delicious dinner...
....Igor led us to his unfinished apartment. Igor, Lena and Kysenia had been living with Lena's mother for the last three months while their place was being fixed up. It's very common in Russia for many family members to live together. The apartment will be the height of Russian chic when it's finished.
This was my space
Nikolai chose the west wing
Next morning, tour of Kharbarovsk....
Beautiful church. A lot of these churches were recently rebuilt after the destruction of buildings by the nice Mr Stalin.
Illegal photo inside church
Kharbarovsk was my favourite Russian city. It had beautiful architechture.
This building was 150 years old
and the look and feel of what the Russians call 'European'.
with the hustlebustle of an affluent western city
But the stamp of communism is always close at hand with their ugly concrete structures juxtaposed against the newer, more attractive buildings
The river Amur not only provided a beautiful backdrop
But was also a trade highway for light...
and heavy industry which generates the wealth and affluence of Kharbarovsk
Kharbarovsk by night
Street side mobile Chinese cobbler
But he was too expensive for Nikolai so we found another to fix his shoes
This lady is a postal worker
I sent some unwanted stuff back home. In a Russian post office, first you get in line for them to measure your package. Then they take this muslin material and sew a custom fitted package cover with one of these old sewing machines, right there in the Post Office!!! Then, once stitched up, you get in another line to pay for it. Takes about two hours to mail a package.
Russia is as beautiful as it is big. But there is also a brutal life and death element that is more apparent here. Whether it is the Mafia dudes zooming around in expensive cars or these poor cats that were killed by a pack of dogs right by the secure parking for the bike.
Well, the next morning (now Sept. 10th) it was time for the big off towards Chita.
Unfortunately, the bike was electrically dead. I suspected it had something to do with the hardwired radar detector lead shorting out during heavy rain.
But Igor, Nikolai and myself went in search not only for a new battery, but also a Russian battery charger. NB. When travelling through continents that use 240V appliances, make sure your 110 V devices have the capacity for 240v system.
My beautiful (and very heavy) optimate battery tender was useless once I left North America, and I had to buy another charger to boot.
Igor and Nikolai told me to stay in the car because they could get a better price...you know, being Russian an' all.
Here's Igor in the Russian auto part markets.
Finally, juiced up, packed up and ready to say goodbye to Igor, Lena, Kysenia and Lena's Mum.
or so we thought!!!
Igor was showing us the way out of the city in his car when the unexpected happened!!!
Following him closely in the heavy traffic, he suddenly jammed on his brakes with no warning as the car in front of him had braked sharply, with no reason.
Igor was centimetres away from hitting the car infront, Whereas we, two up on the heavily laden Tiger, weren't so lucky; smashing into the back of Igor's Suburu hard for what the Russians call 'a kiss'.
We righted the bike, and found that neither Nikolai nor myself were injured.
Can't say the same about the Tiger.
Front fender smashed clean off.
But worse than that, do you remember the front fender extender I attached in Canada?
Yeah, that one. Well, the bolt at the bottom that's securing it...
It was driven right through my oil cooler in the smash.
The windsheild was broken and cracked into three pieces.
We would have to wait til tomorrow to assess if there was more serious damage to the front end.
Luckily, I had purchased Russian insurance in Vladivostok ($8.00 for 20 days) and the damage to Igor's car was covered....phew!!! (BTW - received an e-mail from Igor...he fixed the car for $250.00 in an illegal Chinese body shop and the insurance company paid $1100.00 to Igor...whoohoo!!!)
But we had to wait, right there in the middle of the road for the insurance assessor to arrive.
Good time for a brew up!!!
you'll notice the stove operating in the pool of split gasoline!!!! Whoopsy!!!!
But see that guy with the phone? He's putting out the biker distress signal to Kharbarovsk bikers.
Enter Vladimir...with his bike trailer and Land Cruiser
Ready to head to Vladimir's workshop. We deliberately looked sad in this picture thinking we can use it for the visa extension questions at the end of the trip.
It was Sunday. Vladimir assured us of the bike's security and said he would start fixing it tommorrow.
Back at the pad...
there's only one thing to do....
oh yes my friends....
It's VODKA time!!!
Here Nikolai informs Igor with bewilderment, the correct English pronunciation of PENUS...its PEEEEEEENUS!!!!
Next morning, Sept 11th!, Got a call from Vladimir saying work had started and they had already welded my oil cooler. Good news!!
Luckily, my insurance company was the same company Igor used.
After a couple of hours paperwork at the insurance company we headed over to
This is the famous 4 wheel drive lada called a Niva. These are still wildly popular not only in Russia but in Europe where they're about half the cost of their fancy SUV cousins.
Nikolai took this picture telling me that for those who speak Russian, this phrase is funny.
The oil cooler was already fixed and re-installed and Vladimir's mechanics were fashioning me another front mudguard...Russian style
Looks good to me!!
Nikolai orchestrated the repair to the windsheild
The sturdiness of the Tiger meant that the forks weren't bent. That could have been a show stopper.
What was discovered was a loosening of the steering head bearings
Tighten those suckers up!!
After a dry run
Turns out the handlebars were bent.
No problem, we'll just straighten them out on Vladimirs pneumatic pressing machine.
Next morning, time to set off again.
We lightened the load. Doesn't she look pretty in the morning sun!
Vladimir leads me back to Igor's place on his 400cc dirt bike
And we make it to the city's outskirts
Vladimir laughed when I offered him any money. He was such a bike enthusiast that he refused any re-imbursement. He wouldn't even let me pay him for the very expensive oil he gave me to refill me bike after the oil cooler ruptured.
Sure, none of us want to get involved in accidents, but really, what people, what a country.
And thanks again Vladimir.
Igor had joined us for the first 20 km from Kharbarovsk.
At this road sign, we said goodbye and headed off west toward home.
Thanks for all your help and hospitality in Khabarovsk Igor and Lena.
Hope to see you again soon.
Good roads for the first hundred miles to Birobidzhan.
Birobidzhan was the last city on the Russian roadsign where we left Igor, if you want to check your ability to read Russian. The funny double sided C creates the sound zjjjjjj as in Birobidzhan.
Russian cities, with the exception of the big ones in the East, have no ring roads. So you go through every city, town and hamlet. Not such a bad thing if you're not in a hurry.
Each town has it's own unique name sculpture. This again is Birobidzhan.
East meets West at a gas station.
Although we didn't know it, this is the last time we would see bitumen for 1800 kms!!!!
Roads were still OK. Just much slower speeds.
We would come across huge piles of sand and gravel, waiting to be spread.
Some were rideable...
and some weren't
Never mind, just take the detour
which brings you back onto the road....glad it wasn't muddy!!
But we make it to the other side...thankyou Mr Putin!!
We met this lady in a cafe....She's from a Russian tribe called Irkut. Notice the mongolian features.
Here's Nikolai sporting a black fox pelt they had for sale.
This is very typical of the gravel roads. They are very well made, but you'll notice the corrugation, which makes for the 'find the best route' game. A few hundred kilometers of this will make your teeth rattle. Speed here 45 m.p.h.
This is our dust trail....shot taken looking backwards at speed.
and speaking of dust
Pretty caked at the day's end. At least I had a helmet visor. Nikolai used his balaclava as a dust mask!
The worst road surface was after they spread this type of gravel seen here on the left...
and before trucks pack it down it's like driving through golf balls...all rear wheel steering...and with two up, a little scary!!!!
We stopped for dinner. Nikolai said a town like this was a product of communism. Since the fall of the wall, people living out here in deep Russia, have not much opportunity so you have a lot of young men drinking and gambling.
After we asked the restaurant to bring us a table so we could watch the bike, Nikolai explained to the crowd of young men that gathered around us that we were in a convoy of motorcyclists, with two back up vehicles driven by some bad ass Brazilian dudes. He said he made up the story to prevent them from following us out of town. The cost of our dinner ($10.00) was monthly wages for some of these folks. And me with $12 K in my pocket!!
The young girl to the right smoked incessantly and had quite the potty mouth according to Nikolai.
A little depressing to see such poverty
The one kid in the middle was a bit odd. Nikolai said he was probably already hooked on sniffing glue. He might graduate to vodka if he doesn't die first.
Doggy was friendly though....or was it the borscht?
We saw a train loaded up with military vehicles on the way in.
Military strength but people with very little...the legacy of communism.
Nikolai, frugal traveller that he is, would always fill up at the town pump. Good clean free water at least!!
Found a good campsite a few miles later. We had ditched Nikolai's tent to lighten the load after our Khabarovsk 'kiss'.
Crouching Nikolai, hidden tiger!
Catching up with my journal waiting for the coffee to brew.
Bread and kielbasa and coffee - breakfast of champions!!!
Came across this abandoned truck...
and it's unsuccessful rescue mission of this bulldozer
We had covered 250 bone and bike rattling miles, but here is the sign for Never, just 15 kms from Skovorodino.
This footbridge coming up...
Saved us a few kms
But on the other side, there's trouble brewing when some vodka soaked locals show up.
Although I didn't know at the time, not speaking Russian, but the guy sporting the camoflage was telling me I wasn't welcome here and he should beat my face in.
Nikolai managed to get everyone smiling again.
Especially this cutie
Who turned out to be the guy's girlfriend. At this point, instead of violence, he hexed us by telling us we were going to have a nasty accident.
Just 10 minutes later and 3 kms outside Skovorodino, his jinx came true.
Thousands of miles from anywhere, with injuries and a broken bike.
Was this the end of the trip???!!!
Here's Nikolai's stemming the flow of blood from his hand. He's also bootless as he had to surrender his boots when he was pinned under the bike.
Close up of some of Nikolai's road rash. It was his index fingernail that took the worst hit.
He was fixed up for free at the clinic. Yes, that's right...free health care...what a concept!
So, how did I come off?
The first reason, without doubt, was pilot error. I had taken to riding very close to the verge constantly seeking the best route through the rough roads. There is often a gravel build up on the edge of the roads as shown in this photo.
It was the end of a gruelling day, sun in my eyes...
Nikolai took this shot seconds before we crashed
When I hit the gravel build up I knew I was in trouble. When you're riding solo, the immediate reaction is to standup on the footpegs. When you're riding two up, manoeverability is impaired by the dead weight of your passenger. I had two choices. I could keep going off the road into a tree, or I could try to manoever back to the road.
I chose the latter of course, which made the front tyre 'snowplough' into the gravel, loosing valuable traction and BAM!!!!! down on the flinty Russian mountain road at 35 m.p.h.
I was fine thanks to my ARAI helmet. Always wear a helmet kids!!!
I was wearing fingerless gloves so I could have easily had my hands mashed if it wasn't for the fine safety design of the Triumph.
This guy couldn't take the bike but Nikolai gets a ride to Skovorodino to try and find a tow truck.
In his absence, I had determined the damage wasn't too bad
Fairing took a nasty hit but she started right up. These folks took our gear and the broken bike bits and we rode in convoy the 3 kms to Skovorodino.
Nikolai had managed to hook up with the local Mafia dude who had a car wash business. Managed to get the bike secured.
We got a cheap hotel room, bought some food and champagne and cheered ourselves up. At this point, there was talk of putting ourselves and the bike back on a train to Khabarovsk and call it a day. There is a shock period that always accompanies an accident. Compound that with being so far from home, the uncertainty of the damage to the bike and being in an unfriendly Russian town. Thank heaven's for Nikolai's good humour and companionship.
Next morning at the car wash, Valerie and Dima offered mechanical assistance. Check out the difference between the handgrip guards. The right hand one saved my throttle hand being mashed.
The fairing brackett had bent again. We bent it back into it's place. I wonder if BMW GS Adventurers have this problem. With the Beemer, the fairing brackett is an extension of the main frame, not a bolt on item like the Triumph.
Thank heavens for the Touratech crash bars. Major engine damage avoided
Also the right hand aluminum pannier took a major hit. Because the box was mounted to a steel frame, made specifically for the Tiger by Motosport, the Triumph was bulletproof and this crash proved it. I used my 'fast steel' two part epoxy to fashion a repair to the damaged corner of the pannier.
Time to call out all the King's horses and men again...
To put my windshield together!!!
This is the bluntest drill bit in Russia
It's alive, IT'S ALIVE!!!!
With some cable ties, re-salvaged bike bits and packing tape...
The 'brave Englishman' is ready to continue his journey
Thanks to Valerie, Dima and the boys at the carwash
They refused money when I offered...true sign of quality.
Was very glad to escape from Skovorodino.
Despite initial doubts, Nikolai decided to continue on our odyssey.
The boys back on the road to Chita.
The sun beat down on gravelled ground
On and on we rode
Through makeshift lenses viewed the land
and cautiously we trod...
After the accident, we were more careful....no more 60 m.p.h on the gravel. Nikolai as the injuried party, was especially nervous.
I was unable to find any visor to replace my scratched one. With the visor up a lot, it meant I was inhaling a lot more dust....what's that song...Dust Gets In My Eyes?...
My rear view vision was impaired by Nikolai so he kept me posted when these cars approached. They passed us at speeds in excess of 70 m.p.h
and travelled in packs
sometimes to their own detriment
these guys were saved from plunging off the road by the armco.
But had been waiting a week for a tow truck...no AAA in Russia.
They were given food and water by passing traffic. We only had coffee and
sugar for them.
But provided some distraction.
Tight parking outside this cafe
was the best food in Russia!
Found a camping spot next to the trans-Siberian railway
Next morning, ominous approach of the Siberian winter!!
After drying out in the sun we go from this....
Another long day in the saddle - only 150 miles today -but we had coffee and kielbasa.
Hey Igor...checkout the 'twisty' thermos...hahaha!!!
Coldest night so far
Time to switch to decaf?
Around lunchtime, a grinding noise warranted investigation
Plastic chain guard snapped in two...must have been a rock kicking up
Couple of cable ties fixed this.
But while down there fixing the chain guard, I noticed something that was much more alarming.
One of the main engine bolts had vibrated out. The photos don't begin to indicate the pounding the bike was taking. This was a serious problem. I didn't know how serious until I got to Chita.
We always drew a crowd...
'Plenty of pussies, but only one dick!!!' observed Nikolai
We knew the last 60 miles to Chita was paved and by now, with the pounding to the bike and ourselves we were ready for any kind of pavement.
Soon after we passed this sign...
We hit this beautiful newly paved stretch of road...ahh, bliss!!!
But it only lasted 10 kms. It gave us a glimpse into a future crossing of Russia.
Alas, back to the grind
With 60 miles to Chita, we finally hit the paved road again. Stopped for a celebratory coffee. This is me 'milking' my camelbak!!!
With just an hour of daylight left, I put the hammer down
The road was bad because it was so uneven. At speed, hitting these undulations with a passenger put serious pressure on the suspension.
But with night falling, we made it to Chita where the Chita bikers magically appeared to welcome us and lead us to the appropriate hotel.
Welcome to Chita. Thanks to Micha and the boys!!
Two up from Vladivostok to Chita? We must be crazy!!!
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