9 July Saturday, Shemanovsk, speedo reading 28,597 Km
It's really lashing down in the morning and I really have doubts about starting... this is the beginning of the ZILOV GAP - 2000km of unfinished highway from here to Chyta. This is the last stretch of the Trans Siberian Highway to be completed. It is a mix of gravel roads, sand roads, sand and gravel roads, no roads, fields, shale roads (which eat tyres ). Fuel may be a problem in terms of availability too.
Finally the rain eases and I head off, beautiful scenery - saw an Arctic Fox today (actually I nearly ran him over !)
Some of the gas stations are deteriorating in quality too...
and the cafe's in number and quality - this "road" is built through nowhere...
Finally after a real baptism of fire I reach Shemanovsk (partly tarmac at the end which really helped. ) Actually a trucker pulled over when he saw me reading the map at about 21.00 in nowhere gravel zone and guessed I was wondering whether to look for a spot to camp or to go on - "Banditi !!! Go Shemanovsk - all Asphalt after 2km !!! "
The obligary Statue of lenin...
and I find a real over -priced dump - easily the worst room I have ever slept in - there is a cold water shower down the hall, but smelly I fall asleep and smelly I start again in the morning after picking up my bike from a lock-up up the road - $1 with a receipt.
10 July Monday, Gravel pit near Akazar, Speedo reading 29,253 Km
Heard today I have Km 1,400 of gravel and worse to go - not a good thought as my tyres are wearing badly at this stage...I drive from 08.30 to 21.30 and only 3 short breaks. Most bikes take a week or so to do this bad section - I'm determined to make up time and have given myself 4 days
Arrived just after this truck skidded on the dirt and went over - he's unhurt...
The shale is having a bad effect on my rear hugger - it's eating it up, which gives me a good idea what it's doing to my tyres - finally I check it to find it's disintegrated and vibrated off completely
This road eats tyres...
Even the construction vehicles have problems...
Some idea of the road
and the gas stations here
but no matter what the Russians always wash their hands before eating
Later the road narrows again
surface is bad too - this is what bursts and eats tyres, gentle acceleration and no braking
I reach Skovordino
I had expected to reach here from the North, from Magadan, but nobody will be doing that this year due to the Airline problems. It's 3000km from here to Magadan along the Kolyma highway , the so-called "Road of Bones". I'm tempted to wander up as far as Tommot the place with the coldest recorded temperature in the Northern Hemisphere -71 Centigrade, about 750km north of here. The Long Way Round guys took a train for the next 1000km and then a truck for the river crossings (3 in all). Most guys I'be spoken to and read about didn't have that luxury (and they timed it a little better) so they just drove it all themselves... I really wanted to join that group but I don't have the 4 weeks or the servicing/ tyres to spare to drive a 3000km cul de sac... From guys who have done it this year, I understand the swamy section is 80-100km very slow and very hard work, but manageable, and the Rivers ok so far. However, hanging around in Alaska got me to see a huge amount....
I push on and finally give up on a tough day and look for a campsite- I sneak off the road as ever, not wanting to be spotted camping alone, and I wait for dark before unpacking and setting up camp, just to allow me to leave should anyone arrive that I don't want to arrive...
I find a spent bullet casing... can't be good... must have been someone shooting at a bear I rationalize...
Sitting there I spot oil on my final drive caseing...
This is a real low-point - I realize it could be nothing but I'm exhausted and feeling vulnerable where I am and then this... so i have a good cry and (only joking, I get the toolkit out and check to find it, but can't so I'll just have to mind it.
11 July Tuesday, Chyta, speedo reading 30,060 KM
On to Chyta - the end of the gap !!! I can look forward to just plain old-fashioned bad roads after this (Mongolia aside, off course !)
I get up after a good night's sleep (5 hours) despite the worries and check the seal again, looks ok for now, will try for transmission oil if it's ok for a day or 2... I pack in the rain and head off to try to find a cafe - after 3 hours heavy drving I reach one. I'm soaked through and shivering, I change into a fleece near my skin (feels warm even when it's wet). I seriously thought about looking for a room in avillage signposted 10km off the "road" - but decide to push on still cold and wondering am I doing the right thing.
Things get worse. The road disappears, it's deep, deep mud, 45cm ruts, country lanes and still heavy rain. I push on. I drop the bike and hurt my shoulder jumping off. But i manage to lift it myself (which is good because I haven't seen a car or truck for an hour ot 2 - presumably they can't get through this stuff ?
On I go and I drop it again late in the day. A trucker coming the other way lifts me and the bike up. Getting colder and wetter.
the bike suffers...
The bike is damaged from the spills but nothing too bad - a driving lamp is out, some cabling needs fixing, left pannier frame is bent, left box lock broken, top-box hinge broken, hugger broken off, engine cover broken
The road for this 4th day is bad
I get everything today, a meadow, a downhill -deeply rutted meadow, gravel, shale, sand, all combinations of the obove ! I've been standing on the pegs for 50% of the day, going between 5kmh and 40kmh and it's going to be an 18 hour day. Then the skies cleared, temperature rose, I stripped and dried off. Bike's still going, I'm still going and things are ok ! The pictures don't do this stuff justice, for obvious reasons you don't get to picture the worst stuff !!
Then there's a nice easy meadow drive...
and I meet some nice people... Lionel cycling from Switzerland to Vlad (as you do)
and the Norwegians, Tor and Helge going to Vlad - "How bad ? " I smile and point at the bike.. Tor looks a little sceptical...
and the herd of cattle with the local cowboy...
the worst gas I've gotten so far - 80 octane
which you get if you go in here and wake him up...
Who cares I've made it throuth the "Gap" in just 4 days, have caught up and the bike is holding up. Back in a positive mood I get into Chyta, get whistled at from a dark lane by a group of bikers, I stop and after a chat I get an escort to the local hotel with lock-up !! Hats off to every Russian biker I have made - you have set a standard !!! Thanks guys.
12 July Wednesday, Ulan Ude, speedo reading 30,780 KM
Showers all day on and off. Oil leak looks worse. i drive around for 4 hours looking for a mechanic or at least some transmission oil for a top-up should I need it. finally i score, having been led around ups and downs all morning long. A bike shop with transmission oil for front drive on ATV's - should do the trick if i have to use it.
Spot this church on the way out of town...
and I pass a number of villages like this on the way
I leave one of the villages up ahill and turn around to see I've missed this view...
glad to get across this before the greavel goes down !
Fially reach Ulan Ude and find ahotel with a lock-up around the back. Just locking up when in drives Klaus from Hanover on an old BMW 100GS, he's going to Mongolia tomorow too, so we have a beer and decide to go down together after he repairs a broken clutch cable, that is.
13 July Thursday, U.B. Mongolia, speedo reading 31,393
We tank before the border, I overestimate again a little...
They insist on prepaying the babuschka in the little window, you have to estimate what you'll want in litres, she presets the pump to deliver that and if you're full it spills over... nobody seems to care... You can say "polni bag" (full tank) and iverpay and go back for change, but ofen she'll just estimate anyway and you have the same problem.
Just befor the border we stop for a coffee (since the border is only open for 7 hours a day and it's lunchtime) and we meet Werner and Marcus from Switzerland on their way out. They had heard the info re Magadan and had had to change their plans to Valdivostok too, so they're eager to hear about the road
Down to the border
bikes getting a spraying ?
In to see the main man upstairs in customs, we get to see the main horse racing event of the Naadam Festival live !! It's an 800 year festival right now so timing's good !
At the samer time a french guy was going through en route to Beijing... the customs guys just smile
and some Czech bikers on Gs's on their way back out
Welcome to Mongolia and to the last of the tarmac !! This is the toll road to Ulaan Baatar - 300km - that's about it for tarmac...
There are herds of horses, sheep and cows which you have to slow for...
and of course the floods...
But then on a stunning ride through the Mongolian lanscape in the dying sun, we turn a corner to see another herd of horses across the road - nope, they're camels !! I'd promised my little one, Mia, a picture of me on my bike with a camel and an hour over the border and here we are !
Into U.B. after that and find the Hostel I have booked, aroun d the corner for the first pizza and bottle of wine I have drunk in months and off to sleep !
14 July Friday, U.B. Mongolia, Speedo Reading 31,393 KM
Up late for the first time in a long time, but a good night's sleep in the Ger. Laundry gets done for $3, internet access to update for even less ! My GPS is dead so it's off to look for a plan B - a good topographical map which I find. Klaus is up for the West Route through the Gobi and on to the Altai Mountains and then for me back to Russia over a small border which is just open since last year for foreigners.
Klaus will spend some time with me here and then link up with his buddies - Werner & Helmut on their way down from Magadan.
15 July Saturday. U.B. Mongolia, Speedo Reading 31,393 KM
Slept late and brought the bikes from the lock-up to inside the Ger camp. Weather hot. Managed a haircut - a hilarious exercise in the local ladies salon - they all had a great giggle and I got a free head & hand massage - all for 2 Euro !
Fueled and prepped bikes and ourselves for trip tomorrow. Klaus needed to swap out 2 diaphragms in his carbs (he has literally had something every day for the past week! His light has also shaken lose but some rubber and a length of duck tape soon sorts that.
16 July Sunday, Kharkouri, Speedo Reading 31,786 KM
We head west and out of U.B. on a wee detour to the oldest buddhist monastery in Mongolia - we head off late, to try to cover 400km to Erdene Zuu Khid. First issue is which track...
We arrive late but we have enjoyed the ride and the views... spot the odd one out here ??
there are 13 :1 horses for people in Mongolia - and it shows htere are herds of wild horses everywhere...
This is some of the only commercial traffic you'll see - wool to market...
Finally we reach Kharkouri after badly judging how slow the "road" would be and how little distance can be covered - we manage to get some soup, noodles and coffee x 2 for 2 Euro before we find a river to camp at... here's our new pal who shows up and stops over
Klaus is beginning to feel the cold...
This has been the navigation format for today and will be for the remainder of this leg of the trip - compass and map and a lot of self-questioning and guessing !! Two heads help though, just when you're questioning your own sanity, judgement, fuel consumption assumptions etc, the other steps up and gives a little leadership and assertion and on we go...
17 July Monday, Bayankhongor, Speedo Reading 32,188 KM
We head off to visit the monastery before heading south...
It's not what I had imagined, htere isn't a penny invested here... and it has a touristy feel...
These local lads trying on some of their history lighten things up a little...
We head out of town and head for the hills (literally) this is the track out... again which way ?
and as ever plenty to contend with... dropped the bike twice again today. The GS is not happy offroad fully loaded with the weight up high too...
mix of mud, sand and rock...
We take a shortcut towards Khujirt - the second oldest monastery and don't find it... or any of the Eagles the locals promised... but we do get to wander across lonely hills without the smell of a track... the self-doubt is increasing, as are the glances at the fuel guage - when we spot the town - and the kids spot us
We get to eat a soup in the local eatery - this is the cooker... the "earthy" flavour is because everything is cooked over a yak-dung burning stove (not a lot else to burn out here)
Whatever about the rest of it, the landscapes are fantastic
and there are Yak galore
We haven't made much progress - screw it let's camp and worry tomorrow. I call home on the Sat phone and sound more reassured than I feel... plus the bowels aren't the best (to say the least) but on we go !!
18 July Tuesday, 120km east of Delger, Speedo Reading 32,474 KM
This was the hardest day I have ever spent on a bike. Tough, tough, tough. And when you're tired it's tougher. Weather's hot. Gobi pure. The Gobi Laurence of Arabia style is well south of here, if it's pure dunes you want, but there's more than enough sand here for me. It's hot and the progress is painfully slow and there's little reward - are you going the right way ??
We head out of this town into sand...
we stop regulary to question the route, the track, the direction...
Over a hill and we stumble on this Ger camp which seems to be focussed on mining sand ? Are we missing something here ??
and on into the Gobi - sunburn here we come
I remind myself that this is for a good cause !!! Tritobeatcancer.com !!!
We drive over 12 hours today and do maybe 300km, but there are some lifting moments, I get a great kick out of driving my urban motorcycle past these guys every day !!
we need food and don't talk about it until we finally climb a hill and yes !!
The sand is tough, tough, tough when you and your machine weigh over 400kg... did I mention that ??
Most of the drops are harmless and don't hurt - I don't think we got the bikes over 45km/h today - 3rd gear ? maybe once or twice
Off course just when I do get a flat run, the ground leaves me - literally a cleft about 50cm across and the same down, concentration lapse and I hit it - hard. I'm thrown over and clear, but I land on my fist against my chest and I know I've hurt myself (a few days later in Novosibirsk I have it x-rayed - fractured ribs). I'm sore but more concerned about the bike...
Literally not a mark, I was worried about damaging the forks, but she's fine. This machine is phenomenal.
Also my boots have saved my legs twice today as they got caught under the panniers when I fall, panniers are suffering, bit lopsided but replaceable - legs aren't !!
We call it a day and set up camp
19 July Wednesday, 300km south of Chovd, Speedo reading 32,792 KM
3rd day and night without a wash... not even your hands... 30 degrees plus and the auld tummy still isn't performing...
again a hard thankless desert day, slow progress, more camels...
more fuel... 76 octane this time... we try to keep it diluted with better stuff, but the Beemer burns it up fine anyway
Just after we fuel we buy water and unusually both os us walk the 3m into the shop and out - just in time to see a local walk off with Klaus's helmet !! Klaus is almost 2m tall and 110kg... but very calm !! He smilingly takes it back... me - well, likely a different outcome maybe, but we take it as a cheap lesson
great landscapes and vast and empty, hard to get used to
We set up camp... nowhere again
My ribs hurt a lot, my stomach is still not right, I'm sunburnt, smelly and dusty - but I feel great !!
Beautiful lonely sunsets too and then cold nights (very cold nights)
Hoping to make a town tomorrow - Chovd
20 July Thursday, Chovd, Speedo reading 33,133 KM
We make it to Chovd - almost not though. I hada bad spill into a bed of fist-ssize roacks and the bike ends up upside down. I'm thrown clear again and it takes me maybe 20 seconds to get back to the bike and hit the killswitch. We right it and then disaster - blue smoke and a nasty sound from the engine - I figure I must have bust the engine head - sure enough it's badly marked... but no leaks.... anywhere. Still blue smoke. Even the ever-calm Klaus looks worried (me - I'm ready to cry !!). I check the oil - none ?? Off course the engine had been running upside down and not getting any oil. I take out my spare synthetic oil from Russia (you buy when you can !!) and top up. Pico bello - all is right !! Love this bike !!
This is exactly when you want to see a truck on the horizon, we get a lift (I'm not up to much with the ribs...) We are literally passing 6-8 vehicles each direction in a day, so the timing is sweet !
Exactly the same time and Klaus hits a big rock which he couldn't avoid and he slices through his rear brake cable (he's amost exclusively on the back brake in this terrain so it's bad news).
Give up feeling sorry for ourselves, we're flagged down by a local family who have gone through 2 tyre and just punctured a third. They're busy trying to get the old tyre off the rim without real tools, I kitchen knife and A home nmade lever and hammer...
This little lady doesn't look too worried... actually none of them do
I drop a small saw into the pot of tools and there's big smiles, then Klaus produces some tyre levers and there's laughs... then I produce a wee 12v kompressor and they can't believe it !! But needless to say once we get the new tyre on, we don't have the compresssion to get the bead fixed, so they will have to wait for a lift (50km to town... "no problem !"
On we go to the next village
where the fuel is delivered the old-fashioned way ! The boys are munching on chocolate biscuits supplied by ourselves...
as ever the question - which way now ?
it's all a bit much for Klaus - quick breather... nearly there
A sign of the town would be nice it's getting dry out here...
So just when you don't want it... I get my second puncture (an old valve)
I manage to plug it (after a quick cry) and go on 10km before It's flat again... not holding ? Yes, it's just punctures 3 and 4 that are the problem... they get the treatment and off we go
We finally hit Chovd at 21.30, found a hotel and a lock-up for the bikes and checked in ... a little dusty, but happy !
21 July Friday, Olgij, Speedo reading 33,386 Km
Luckily we both got a shock when we looked in the mirror yesterday evening and we showered, because the next mrning the power and the water are out in the town...
We head off for the market to buy some bits to repair Klaus's brake cable. He's scouring the ground all the way and picks up a metal plate and some wire, at the market we hunt around..
This lady is selling phone time...
We find what we need and Klaus produces this repair which works just fine !
This is the first traffic light we have seen in 5 days... just no power to run it
Or any to run a fuel pump, so we can't leave until we find a part of twn with power to allows us to buy fuel, as ever we attract a crowd...
Then the perennial - which way ??
There is 200m of asphalt out of town which runs straight into a 200m wide bed of axle-deep sand... enough not to need a stand to stand up a GS...
beautiful, beautiful landscapes - we are edging out of the Gobi edges into the Altai mountain region...
and even snow in the distance...
we even pick up short stretches of asphalt very now and then...still amazes me how well we're navigating, despite lots of u-turns and rethinks...
a couple of wee river (ok, streams - but they're fun and wet, which is nice with all this sand...)
we pass this completely deserted fuelstop, which is marked on the map... lucky we weren't short...
The first rain in days is welcome
Speaking of which here's our welcoming committee in Olgij ! We swap some sweets for some homemade yogurt...
and here's our lock-up
which is about as good as our hotel... again no water running
22 July Saturday, Altai Region Russia, Speedo Reading 33,705 KM
Myself and Klaus part ways, he's taking a few trips around Mongolia waiting for his buddies and then off to Kazakhstan while I'm breaking for the border !!
I head off early (and carefully since i can't pick up the bike with my ribs and I'm alone)
I climb the Altai pass for the border... 100km to go... the pass is magnificent at 2700m... at the top I meet some Russian truck drivers (these Kamaz trucks can go anywhere)
One of the truck drivers sees my map of mongolia and wants to swap it for a Russian Road Atlas...
I already have one so I decline but am happy for him to have my Mongolian road map. I keep my english version for someone who'll use it better. More Yak... the last of the Yak I figure
I spot the lake which means 20km to go...
I'm at the border ! Through the Mongolian end quickly then I enter no-man's land...20km of it... where I spot some wild Mink
I spend 6 hours getting processed into Russia again but spend the time chatting to some Kazakhs...
an Irish guy - wow !
Going around the world - wow !
Alone - wow !
Just then Rossa arrives from the Russian side. Rossa that I've been chatting to on the web... from west Cork...on his own..... on a 250... WOW ! It blows the kazakhs away... 2 Irish guys and they know each other !!
We chat like old friends and I give him the benfit of my past 6 days and more importantly I give him the topographical.... he would have been fully lost without it, but he's also fully relaxed and well self-sufficient. It's then I get a sense of having got there - I did it. Ribs hurt, bike's limping a little, tyres are shot but it's a result - Kevin (thanks Klaus !!) 1 : Gobi 0
Over the border and it's business as usual for the Russians... these are pointing at the Chinese border...
roads's great (just to have road is great actually !! Never thought I'd look forward to a Russian road !!)
I called this one - "Cow Island"
I get flagged by a couple of kazakh lads who are shy fuel - "no problem !" "a hose - yep, one of those too..."
It's only after I realize they have managed to break off my tank cover in the process... now there's a motivation not to drop the bike.... 10L of fuel on a hot exhaust and my legs... I improvize with a toothbrush under the Tank Jacket to keep it from sloshing and put it on my to-do list... on I go to find a camping spot... well-chuffed with my achievement !!
23 July Sunday, Novosibirsk, Speedo reading 34,505 KM
An early start. A very early start. I'm freezing in the tent. I'm at 2600m and in a valley so although the sun has risen I figure it won't hit the tent for an hour or 2 so I'm up at 5.30.
Then the sun does break through. It's a beautiful morning, brings a smile to my face and I stop and breakfast basking in it before heading off through the Russian Altai mountains
Fantastic driving - right up there with some of the best of the Alaskan roads - Tok to Valdez springs to mind !! first real classic tree I've seen in days...
Cops everywhere but I seem to be immune - no problems all day... always someone else...
Hard to explain this picture, stopped for coffee and this lady was out of her house doing the washing in the morning sun... and singing... it was one of those moments that lift you
I'm flying these roads until I hit heavy rain just as I enter Novosibirsk.. I hide under a bridge and am quickly joined by Sergei and his new (2 hours ago) girlfriend on a scooter. "Hotel Sibir - sure follow !" He sets off in the lashing rain and I follow. In we go and it's beer and champagne and a Horizons T-Shirt as a thank-you ! We swap numbers and Sergei tells me to call if I need anything. he's a mechanic and used to work for yamaha, before setting up his own tuning shop...
beautiful sunset, shame about the horizon...
24 July Monday, Novosibirsk (again), Speedo reading 34,524 KM
I decide to stay a second night, the town is big and there's a BMW dealership and I figure I'll swap out the knobblies which are shot with just over 8000km on them after Siberia and Mongolia and give the bike a service. (and maybe get some Laundry done too !!!)
First I head to the hotel doctor who refers me to a clinic where I get examined and x-rayed - no surprises - 2 fractured ribs. He straps and advises me to rest for 2 weeks - no problem I'm sitting down all day anyway... I alter the strapping for the bike - this has been my morning duck-tape ritual...
I head for BMW. Oil change - no. No bikes, no service for bikes, no oil, no tyre change and no desire to help in any way. Screw them. I've spotted a Yamaha dealership on the way. I head there. tyre change is a problem - don't have the kit... but I do get Synthetic oil !
Then I remember Sergei - I mention his name, someone calls him, he arrives with a colleague in tow and we're like old buddies - things happen quickly !!
I'm off with Pawel to get the tyres done around the corner...
We run into a problem... I notice they'e mounted the tyre the wrong direction... so off it comes and we do it again... then Pawel runs into a problem with the thread on the brakes when he remounts.... I'm getting anxious (I'm not nice when I'm like that ...!!). Pawel is calm, tells me he can fix anything if we have enough time... calms me down and he wanders off on the scooter and returns with a die the clean out the threads - we're in business !
Tyres changed we head for sergei's worksshop
for the oil change which he insists on doing...
then he fixes the sidestand which is loose.... and the centrestand which is hitting the swingarm.... and the drving lights get new bulbs and a tighten and a seal and they work again ! Meanwhile I retighten the pannier frames and de- and re=assemble the whole cockpit set-up which has shaken itself loose
then I happen to mention the petrol tank lid... whixh he thinks about for a few minutes and then in 10 minutes has fixed !! genius stuff - he just calls it Russian tuning ! I can't thank them enough
Another tuning example from a colleague of his... a 1968 Volga
We arrange to meet for food, pool & beer = my first real night out in 2 months !! it's the least I could do for the guys !! Thank you again !!
I'm feeling better,,, the bike is humming.... new tyres to take me home - let's go !
I even got a wee wash !!
25 July Tuesday, Omsk, Speedo reading 35,220 Km
I head away the next day for Omsk. All along the road you see attempts to encourage a better style of driving from the Russians...
None of which seems to work, I've spotted cut-out cars, old abandoned police cars strategically positioned at the roadside.
It's a tough, grey day. Dodging showers all day. A little wet and cold I arrive into rush-hour Omsk. Again I trust to luck and begin to navigate my way blind towards the centre. I make it so far and begin to struggle... a local stops and offers to drive me towards a hotel ... soon another guy signals me to stop, I sign that I'm following someone... he stops him just as I spot a spanish registered GS stopped by the police so I pull over to help. I figure they can't screw him as easily with an audience... the 2 cars pull up too and there's a regular fiasco - turns out that bikes aren't allowed in the centre of Omsk since the local bike club leader decided to give the finger several months earlier to the Head of Police... Kirill (one of the drivers) is a biker and negotiates us out of bother and we're all off to the local Tourist Hotel.
The spanish biker is Carlos en route to Beijing (with guides) and has plenty of experience and stories to relate over an excellent dinner (civilisation beckons !!). Carlos is an ex Chairman of Midland International Bank but has done Paris- DAkar and lots of other bike routes... His nieces and nephews have gifted him a new BMW 1200 GSA !!
I'm planning the rest of my run that evening and look at the Map - I'm as close to Tehran today as I am to Moscow... small world
26 july Wednesday, 200km east of Yekaterinburg, Speedo Reading 36,011 KM
I hook up first thing on the road with 4 polish bikers - Romek and Pawel on 2 Africa twins and Mira and Jacek 2 up on a GSA like my own. I drive with them for the day. Jacek is amongst other things a mechanic - I just love driving with Mechanics !!
Long driving day through 12 degrees and rain and finally a little sunshine beofre we find a wee hostel and a few beers and a bottle of Vodka to celebrate Mir's name- day !!
27 July Thursday, Perm, Speedo Reading 36,650 KM
We set off together before they head off for Yekatarinburg while I want to push on tonight towards Perm where I will take a day's break to catch up on bike troubles, internet and a little laundry...
Rain later in the day makes it slippy, dangerous wet and cold - I take it easy and I make it to Perm on difficult roads. Not a lot of photo opportunities here in central russia... today I cross the Urals.... you hardly notice the transition though... I'm now in Europe - bye bye Asia today, home straight beckons
28 July Friday, Perm (again), 36,650 KM
Happy birthday to me ! No driving today. I pend the day looking for Internet access which is (again) disastrously difficult to find and use, but I succeed. Believe or not (again) no water in the hotel for the next 4 days... seems to be a regular problem for me.... so washing and laundry is out of the question. Instead I work on the bike and buy myself a beer and a t shirt or 2... not a great birthday...
29 July Saturday, 650km from Moscow, west of Kazan, Speedo Reading 37,553 KM
After a day's rest I start early and get good directions out of Perm which is unusual and a great bonus when it happens. I'm glad to leave Perm. Day has started well until I drop the camera... that's the second drop, the first was the the GPS which is dead still... now the camera's gone, will have to buy a new one, maybe in Moscow. it's funny, heart barely skips a beat for this kind of stuff which would ruin your day in another world.... but it's just not a priority so you just don't sweat it.
Weather is dry until later in the afternoon, I'm wet yet again and it's very cold - 8-10 degrees all day but I still manage to put in over 900km. The roads are mostly fine but very very slick when wet... from the oily truck tracks. I worry and it takes a lot of attention and energy as a result.
I still need to negotiate a number of towns during the day... in one I meet a guy who stops - Sasha on his Suzuki bandit, do I want to follow him out of town ? He's going 100km ? Sure. Then we stop outside town and he asks me if I want to eat after the 100km - sure ! We sprint. He's hitting 200kmh and me 180kmh - best fun in days !
Then I realize he's inviting me to his parents house - a traditional small house with a little land with a vegetable garden and some pigs. His mum sits us down to a minor feast... his dad brags about the bacon being one of his ex-pigs and his sister Natasha plays the accordian for us during lunch... it's all a little surreal, but fantastic. Unfortunately no camera to capture any of this. I'm off again after an escort back to the main road and after Sasha's mum presses a packed lunch for tomorrow into my hand... great people, big people
Sasha's sister asks how long we know each other ? - "about an hour !"
Stopped again for speeding, 116kmh in a 60 zone - we negotiate down to $5 and I'm off, big smiles all round... again no camera
After a long tiring day I'm thinking about pressing on through bad weather but decide to play safe> Just a gut feeling again. enough is enough and your tired, roads and weather are'nt good. Finally after 3 attempts I find a reasonable Motel with a good lock-up. This is always an issue and takes a lot of energy at the end of a long day, but it's critical - your personal security and then a very very close second, the bike's security. I've regularly walked away from good accomodation because of a bad feeling about the security, even when well tired.
Later I even get a massage offered by the lady of the house ? "medical massage" off course !! I accept and she does my back and ribs a world of good - all for 4 euro.
30 July Sunday, Moscow, Speedo reading 38,215
A good night's sleep, a good breakfast and I'm up and ready to leave. Weather is beginning to clear. 2 Dutch drivers come up and explain that the evening before (just as I pulled off the road - literally and 2 km up the road) there was a bad accident involving 2 trucks (one carrying cars, the other logs) and 2 vans. 2 drivers are dead. The road is closed and the traffic is diverted through 3 sandy fields.... not good.... I look down at the "sand" - it's that potter's clay stuff, super-slick when it's wet like this. I groan and step up on the bike. Again my Guardian Angel saves the day !! Road is open again !! I pass the accident and am glad not to have a camera, it's clear from the wreckage of the two trucks that people have lost their lives.
Later I see a lada sitting on the centre barrier, an Audi upturned in a field and a Lada lying on its side in a ditch - I decide not to photograph wrecks even if I had a functioning camera and there have been so many accidents and bashed cars around.
Again more and more cops as I move West and more and more greedy and less pleasant. This time I'm caught again. I pay RB 500 for doing 116kmh in another 60kmh zone...
Finally I make it to within 40 km of Moscow and pull off the road as the traffic builds to take off my rain gear. There are 12m people in Moscow and a further 8m in the Moscow region.... 25% of them have cars.... all 5m cars seem to be out today. The road fills. Both lanes. Then the hard shoulder. Then the dusty space ebside the hard shoulder... The driving is the worst I've seen and I've seen bad. You have to fight for your space and the best way to do it is to look for and defend too much space...
I pull over to look at a map and a guy - Vadim - pulls over on a 750 Yamaha sports bike.... "What do you need ?"
- "A hotel, a lock-up, and a beer !!"
- "Follow me !"
Then he stops and after a chat with his wife on the phone insists on me staying with him !! What can I say ? Yes !
Vadim's bike... in the lock-up
We are 20km from the ring road where he lives. 2 lanes are full. Hard shoulder is full. So we drive through the dirt along the edge of the hard shoulder past the traffic... a couple of the more mad drivers even try to follow us...
We lock up the bikes finally in his lock-up and have dinner in his apartment with his wife Tatjana who speaks beautiful english - which is such a relief and a luxury for me ! Closely monitored by their dog...
31 July Monday, Tver (en route to St Petersburg), Speedo reading 38,390 km
Next morning Vadim insists on taking the day off to show me around !! First stop is to buy a camera. Next we take the Mafia car - Vadim's BMW 750i (which off course isn't mafia.... but should be !)- into Moscow and to Red Square.
Of course as ever we're stopped by the police...
Rain all day but I get to see the Kremlin...
Red Square - thanks to Vadim !
Beautiful, beautiful Church...
The main man's (Mr Lenin to you) Mausoleum...
Vadim spots a KGB car for me.... the 00 0 in the reg is the giveaway....
We meet Tatjana for lunch (thanks to both of you for a great Moscow experience !!)
and I finally head away - up the "Road of Death" as they call the 700km road from Moscow to St Petersburg. There is one lane either direction and a "common" centre lane for overtaking.... who dares wins... or dies. The rain is coming down hard and the road and the drving are not good - again I get a sense I shouldn't push it and I don't - I've done just 150km but it's too dangerous to continue. It's funny the way you get sensitive and used to gut decisions on your own - you learn to trust your own judgement and you take decisions quickly and easily.
1 August Tuesday, Talinn, Estonia, Speedo Reading 39,393 km
Next day is perfect weather! I put in a monster 1000 km on this awful road and on out of Russia into the E.U. !! Talinn !! I'm going to head for Vienna on Friday if I can to meet up with my family.
Stopped again for speeding - I pay the - now standard - RB 500 after the - now standard routine - no receipt, standard procedure !!
En route I take in St Petersburg for lunch, the Arches....
But it takes a good hour to find the small road out of town west towards Estonia with no signs, be glad to be able to read road signs that aren't in cyrillic again later today !!
I find the road and find later I'm low on Roubles and low on fuel and the roads are getting smaller and the border is still 160km... then I'm stopped for speeding. I'm doing 83kmh in a 60kmh zone. I'm full. I'm low on fuel and annoyed. I lose it with the cop. He speaks perfect english and is the most polite guy I've dealt with, but I'm full.
He wants all my details etc etc wants me to sit in the car like all his colleagues before. I tell him I'm tired of sitting in Russian police cars and prefer sitting on the road. He can't hve my last 350RB - it's for fuel. He can have $. Don't bother with the ticket, just take the cash I'm bored... He realizes I'm for real and he issues me with a RB100 ($3) ticket to be paid at the next bank... or not !! I should have used this technique before !! I take a photo but they make me delete it.
I hit the border finally and cross after some hassle from the russian side ...
into the E.U. !! There's a beautiful coast road over to Talinn and after some difficulty I find a hotel at a reasonable price. Bike's losing more oil... more work tomorrow...
2 August Wednesday, Near Lithuanian border (still in Latvia) en route to Riga, Speedo reading 39,801 km
Up early. Again a time zone change, almost 1 a day the past week... I get a haircut and an espresso and see to the bike. I try the GPS again - no luck, the screen is dead - a pity, but not tragic. I get a look around Talinn...
and off to Riga for lunch - the road along the coast
and the borders are great !!
I'm heading for Vilnius in the evening but the rain comes down. I know bike securty there will be an issue so I stop at a lovely windmill lodge and wait out the rain... which doesn't happen so I stay overnight. A group of Croatian bikers arrive travelling the other direction and give me their maps ! we share some stories and a few beers.
3 August Thursday, Czestochowa, Poland, Speedo reading 40,664 km
Woke up early and on the road at 07.00. Into Vilnius and out and on to Poland. the "Via Baltica" the road linking Talinn, Riga and Vilnius is full of roadworks and slow... there are "Sponsored by E.U." signs everywhere and it reminds me a lot of Ireland in the 80's.
Everything is getting a little richer (and more expensive) as I drive further west. I've driven a lot of rural Poland maybe 10 years ago and it's changed a lot, the roads have also improved a lot as have the houses. it's a beautiful road and day so I make great distance.
I have an "incident" as I negotiate around Warsaw where a young guy in a BMW car swapping lanes russian-style doesn't see me and side-swipes my right side pannier and sets me up for a major wobble.... but despite a huge adrenaline rush I don't fall !!
I push on and make Czestochowa where Jacek and Mira live (the guys I met in Omsk on the GS). I call home, their daughter tells me they are not yet there... later I get a call to say they're home and the welcome home party is in full swing (they have been travelling 6 weeks) !! Big group of friends there. They live in a 160 year old house near the Jasna Gora monastery... a 750m2 house !!
I meet the whole family - son Cuba and daughters Marta and Magda and son-in-law Macek... these guys are big, Macek is 207cm, Cuba 197cm and Jacek 197cm. I'm 6 foot (183cm) and I feel dwarfed !!
4 August Friday, Vienna, Speedo reading 41,175 KM
I wake up late.... late night last night.... and I set off after 09.00. Rain and plenty of traffic. It doesn't matter. 5 hours and 400km should get me to my girls !!
Rain continues but so do I. I arrive in Vienna, we've lived here for 8 years and our daughters were both born here so it's a home from home. The girls are on holidays here and don't know I'm going to make it so soon so it's a very emotional arrival for me as they turn the corner from the shops and recognize my bike and me...
5 August Saturday - 15 August Tuesday
Vienna, Millstaettersee, Zell am See, Vienna
Holidays at the lakes with the family and friends for a week - fantastic way to catch up with Gervaise and the girls
, a couple of days in Vienna and a fantastic bike service in Spittal with all new parts....
screen, hugger, engine guards, rubber seals etc etc... back to form and ready for the last run home
16 August Wednesday - 18 August Friday
This run all seems so easy now... great roads and familiar territory. I put the kids to bed in Vienna and hit Passau, Germany for bed myself. Next night I stop with friends Deirdre and Niko in Dusseldorf. Niko heals with tunnel reservations and I arrange to meet a friend who was to travel with me originally - John Hartland. John from Birmingham has been chasing around central Europe, Italy and Spain for a month or so toying with the idea of meeting up with me in Russia. He's had some awful bike luck and people luck and has had his stuff stolen - twice !. we arrange to meet at the Tunnel for a ride home for him and an overnight in Birmingham for me.
Next day we meet bang on time at the tunnel and next thing Mick Doherty who owns the Harley Shop in Dublin shows up ! Turns out he's spent the week about 2km from me in Austria and just driven the same route as me over the past 3 days !! The thing is Mick was also considering joining me on the RTW trip but couldn't with business commitments !!
On through the tunnel and together with John up to his place in Birmingham - we meet a couple of his mates for pints and a good slagging for John which is probably just what he needed to help him put his ordeals behind him !
Next morning I head for the ferry in Holyhead and across the Irish Sea and home to Dublin - the girls meet me at the gate along with their cousin Kilian - done deal.
I finally get to smoke the cuban I'd picked up in Whitehorse, Yukon, Canada and hauled through the Gobi & Siberia !!
Done. Complete. What I hoped to achieve I did. Around the world solo on my bike. I had some extraordinary good luck and very little bad luck. I met and was helped by some extraordinary people and was lucky to avoded any potential "bad people" scenarios !!
This has been a great adventure - everything I had hoped for and more. I had intended to go with a couple of like-minded guys which didn't work out in the end, so I travelled solo ... except some time in Canada with Mark and the run through the Gobi with Klaus, which was very fortunate...
So I'm home again - looking back - I've completed :
..... over 30,000 KM in total... of which
9,000 KM in Canada
3,500 KM in Alaska
3,000 KM in Mongolia
10,000 KM in Russia
4,500 KM in Europe
10 weeks travelling plus 1 week holidays in Austria with the girls before arriving home!!
some 10 days of no driving in total due to logistics such as shipping, servicing, customs etc....
3 sets of tyres
2 services, 1 oil change
many accidents.... many new spare parts
2 fractured ribs
many new friends and one fantastic adventure !!!
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