We almost became entrapped by the charms of the Okenagen valley and in particular that of Penticton with its lovely beaches
and beautiful sunsets.
Vineyards and orchards with cherries, peaches and apricots. It also became so hot that any movement was something that needed consideration. The thermometer in the shade was hitting 40C. We did take a ride up the valley for a couple of hours, to Vernon. a small town, also on a lake shore.
Below is a picture taken by Tasha for those male readers who are disgusted by the pictures of furry creatures and want a picture of the bike. That is the best she could manage.
We were approached by an elderly chap as we were about to get back on the bike. He was interested to know where we had travelled from. He was at first surprised to learn that Tasha was from Ukraine, then continued chatting to her in Ukrainian.
The return journey was uneventful for us. We did stop to see if a bloke on a Harley was stranded. He was simply taking some photographs. He was wearing standard Harley riding gear, trainer, shorts and a tee shirt, topped with a cycling helmet. (Apparently the helmet law in British Columbia states the helmet must be fastened at all times, but does not specify any standard.)
We went off in search of fresh local cherries.
A bit later, we came across him again, but this time the bike was on its side in the middle of an intersection. He had picked it up before we reached him and appeared to be explaining something about dubious parentage to the driver of a pick-up truck. As there was no blood to be seen, and his lungs working fine, we slipped on by.
We enjoyed the community spirit we found in Penticton. We watched the High School end of year celebrations. Graduation/ Prom Night. The whole thing like a teen movie.
There were a lot of Moms and Dads strutting their cash with many of the kids being paraded either in open topped cars, or in dazzling power boats towed by monster pick-up trucks.
We rather enjoyed the kids who used pedal powered tuk tuk bikes.
Another outing was to what was described as a Classic Car Museum. I really think that the place should have been censured under the trades description act. There were 53 gross barge-like vehicles spread between two sheds. For the slow amongst the visitors there seemed to be three or four of each model, some with different coloured paint. By my reckoning there were two manufacturers, Ford and General motors, and about twelve different marques.
The curator asked me to sign the visitors book and write a comment. I thought that “Unique” was the most diplomatic summary . (He didn't even know what a Bugatti was!!!)
We also stayed in Penticton for celebration of Canada day on 1 July which is a big event in Canada with fireworks and a mini air show.
Eventually, we needed to resume the journey.
Penticton to Vancouver is about 420k. We left before 8 am and had nearly empty roads for over an hour. The scenery is spectacular, with lakes and mountains in abundance. The road starts to climb through the remaining section of the Rockies. At time, the corners were becoming tight enough to enjoy, even although our BMW is hardly sporting.
The mountains are stunning. Towards Vancouver, things become flatter and there is a long straight haul into town.
We had taken instructions from folks in Penticton as to the best way to find out hotel. Ramada Downtown Vancouver.
The web pages suggest something central, vibrant, exciting. What is omitted is that it is in an area inhabited by souls who have somewhat lost their way. No not travellers like us, but druggies,tramps and misfits. There was no parking area attached to the hotel, and the parking Valet wasn't interested in delivering the bike to the parking garage a couple of blocks away.
Yet again, the bad signage fairy had done his work. “Just ride around the block to the parkaid” This is apparently code for what you are looking for is an unmarked underground parking building, down an alley between two grand hotels. There on a steep downhill slope you will be expected to pluck an entry ticket from a machine that will disgorge its billet at knee height, if you are still sitting on the bike. This token has to be stowed before you move into the parking area. “Go anywhere on level 2” said a voice. By simply releasing my vice-like grip on the handbrake I think I would have hurtled at least as far as the higher levels of Hell itself.
However, a space was found, and I had to negotiate the unlit stairs to the surface. Oh to have been in the Plaza. They had arrows and signs and lights to show the way.
As our room was not ready, it seemed to make sense to take the bike to John Valk, Vancouver's BMW shop. This, fortunately wasn't too far away from the hotel. Natasha managed to navigate us there, and we were able to hand the bike over for a service and new rear tyre, and “detailing” (a decent cleaning)
We had been advised by Ian of FFI the freight forwarders recommended by Air Canada UK to arrange a document showing the bike had been properly cleaned to placate the Japanese authorities.
The other work needing attention was the dangerous Goods certificate. $50.00, but dealt with by phone, fax and emails.
Transport for the bike to the airport was arranged by John Valke.
“Pirate Enterprise” is a specialized operation run by a very colorful but helpful “pirate”.
Between taking calls on his mobile and telling his menopausal pit bull to settle , the bike was loaded and photographed.
“I have never had a bike like this before. The guys with Harleys won't have seen anything that looks so hard.” Praise I think.
Natasha and I squeezed in with Pitbull grumbling on her masters lap. “Where are we going with this lot”, Well I have the address.. I Know where the airport is, lets go... what can possibly go wrong?”
It was an interesting hurtle in the huge V8 powered truck.
Eventually the freight forwarders located.. I mean what could go wrong at an airport the size of Vancouver International.
We were met by Ian, the bike measured, adjusted, mirrors removed, weighed, re checked and a wadge of cash handed over.
There was some discussion about the gel battery. It was resolved that as the bike was deemed safe in the UK, it would be safe in Canada.
I felt a bit uncomfortable having to leave the bike keys in the ignition, but was assured that it would be secure and that the panniers would not be interfered with.
We were sightseeing for a couple of days - beautiful Stanley park, Aquarium with a 3 week old baby beluga whale, a city tour on an old tram, it was overcast for most of the time but at least it did not rain.
And now we are off to the Land of the Rising Sun....
8 July – 12 july
Arrival in the land of the Rising Sun.
Japan is a country steeped in tradition and tea in similar amounts.
Many of you will be familiar with the Japanese Emblem, and understand that it has symbolic reference to the dawn. Well perhaps, but I think a more accurate depiction is that of the usual colour of Japanese traffic lights. I wonder if Boris Johnson is going to use it for London? Our own particular dawning of this reality didn't strike until we lobbed ourselves onto the highways.
Japan is quite a contrast to dodgy areas of Vancouver. There is graffiti. Not much, I saw one patch on the two hour train journey into central Tokyo, but none since. Manners and hygiene are very obvious. Humbling really.
Clearing the bike through Customs took most of our first day, but the staff in the Narita Customs Office could not have been more helpful. They drew us maps, explained which trains, which stations to change at, and where to find the JAF (Japanese RAC,even down to the colour of the vans!)
They even phoned the JAF and told them to expect us, faxed a copy of the carnet document to give JAF time to check it before our arrival.
While there we were given a huge number of detailed road maps, and membership of JAF as we are AA members in the UK. Unfortunately they don't have maps in Romagi (Roman script)
On our return to Narita, we were guided through the process with courtesy and care. Passing between Customs and Airport requires showing passport and documents explaining your business, then there is the chitty to be filled in. (no clues here, its all in Japanese) However the guards helped us and explained that we needed to get a stamp from the office we were visiting. All was done with grace, dignity and a bit of bowing.
Then it was pointed out that the Customs needed the Original Airway bill to be stamped by the Air Canada cargo depot. And the customs office was about to close in 10 minutes. The cargo building was a 5 minute walk and two lots of guards and stamping. RUN they said!
We did the best we could The Guards smiled and saluted seeing the look of panic on our faces and the sheaf of papers we were both brandishing, and just waved us through.
Forms signed, stamped and a quick look at the container with the bike and back to await the final bit. One further stamp, a smile and “Welcome to Japan, you may collect your motorbike.” So no grueling inspections, no awkward questions just follow the rules.
The following day, Tasha and I were a bit tuckered out. We had made contact with Akiko, a lovely lady and friend of Joyce in Swindon. She drove to our hotel especially.
She explained that it would be a 2 hour journey. How far? Oh about 50 km.
This should have rang a warning bell. It wasn't until the following day that we steeled ourselves for abandoning the shelter, air-conditioning and fine cuisine of the Marroad International ( £70 pn).
We knew that japan was going to be tricky, as we have no language skills. The GPS seemed to have woken up and was showing map with place names, AND roads between them. Could we get it to do more than that, No. It would manage to accept a town name, start searching, then turn itself off.
So back to the maps.
Our first day took 8 hours to cover just over 120 miles. Our riding gear is blackened with exhaust smoke and we were becoming concerned about our rate of progress. Fortunately we managed to find a hotel within an hour of looking.
We had another bit of luck shortly after. We went for a short walk. well we had made it across the street, when I felt a spot of rain.
Japan is a wonderfully lush green colour where it isn't built on, almost jungle in places.
“Lets get under cover” .” Why?” asked Natasha. “You're just being a whoos.” “I don't think so. look how everybody has started running like the blazes, lets go.!”
And a good thing to. We made in into a covered market. Lightening,thunder and rain. Instant deluge.
The market was in full swing, with food stalls abounding. Many families were out, some with tiny tots wearing traditional Japanese kimonos, and playing games with fans. There were also quite a number of giggly teenage girls in packs, wearing the same delightful costumes. Geisha's they were not. And the rain bucketed down. People walked to avoid the puddles and had a good time. We tested some of the food, and that sorted where to eat for the evening.
We attempted an early start, and failed, but we were on the road by 8.30. Traffic was not as dense as the day before. Unfortunately our map and reality seemed to diverge, and we took a detour into housing area. Golly gosh, the streets are narrow, and two way! You couldn't fit two GS's let alone two cars down them. We found our way onto the route we had been following and Lo! about ¼ of a mile further on was the road sign we needed. Off we headed for the “Expressway” Now we were moving. The speed limit is posted as 80 kph. Yeah right!
So we settled down to fit in with our traveling companions at a more sensible 110-120 kph. Lets face it, you could be doing those numbers in mph and still it would seem slow. They are good roads.
We roasted as the temperatures went up to 36c or so. The expressway went north and into the mountains. Photographically it was a bit disappointing as it was very hazy. Then we started to go through tunnels. Every so often we would glimpse the sea, or an industrial complex squeezed into a valley.
I think we were underground for nearly as long as Michelle from the Resistance.The GPS isn't lot of cop either.
Through the mountains and the temperature dropped to a more comfortable 24c.
We spent a long time trying to find a bed for the night. There are plenty of places where you can get a bed for few hours and are very discrete. They also are terribly tacky. I am too old .
We are in a lovely hotel in Toyama. Tasha wants to stay here until we head for Russia, but I still hope to press down to Hiroshima. We aren't covering Canadian distances, but its much harder work. There was a lovely castle just round the corner from our hotel.
Toyama to Hiroshima
Now we are moving.
We stayed in a delightful hotel in Toyama that rescued us from the love hotels.
The staff were very attentive and helpful. We really did manage to be heading down Main Street towards the expressway before 9am. Considering we were both bashing away with emails at 5 am, it wasn't the fastest of getaways. While I was loading the bike, one of the hotel taxi drivers came to have a look. I showed him the “where we've been” map. He was effusive in his amazement, or was explaining we must be mad. He then gave us three cartons of energy drink well I hope thats what it was. He even went and found some mini ice packs to keep them chilled. Later in the morning we were very grateful for his kindness.
By the time we had settled onto the Expressway, having collected the ticket from the correct place,the temperature was already 30c.
With every vent, zip and button undone (that decency permits) We headed south.
The expressways are very well signed. So long as you sort a few place names, the signs are easy to follow, and there are more of them than in Canada.
We came across very few bikers, Some we passed, others whistling past us. None of the camaraderie that we have in Europe, and compared to Canadians, the Japanese bikers seem positively uptight. We have had quite a few friendly waves from people on big scooters. Car drivers seem courteous, but unblinkingly focused on the task of driving.
We found the heat a bit unpleasant as it rose towards the high 30's. While moving it was OK, but fuel and dealing with Major Bumsore stops were not fun.
I discovered a beverage with the appealing title “Pocari Sweat” It is excellent. If you don't need it, it tastes salty. If you do need it, it is pleasant, slightly sweet and seems to help your eyes focus.
We had many tunnels again today, namely around 50 km of them.
After over 400 km we coasted in to Hiroshima. We are probably in one of the fanciest hotels in the City. It was a) open, b) had somewhere obvious to stop, c) had staff that spoke English and d) had a vacancy.
The fact that it is quite stunning, and they found room for the bike in the vegetable store, under lock and key is a bonus.
Tomorrow we will visit the Atom bomb museum and it will be an opportunity for us to Compare and Contrast the different manifestations of nuclear experiments. We already have a bit too much experience with the Chernobyl one.
14 - 16 July
We woke feeling very rested. Probably because I had been too tired to add up the mileage, which was close to 400 Miles, not km
The backs of my hand are burnt, and I had buttered them with factor 30.
We also figured that we needed an ATM with a moderate degree of urgency.
So we went sightseeing.
The Atom Bomb museum is on a large site dedicated as the Peace Park. There are within it many poignant memorials to those who lost their lives. The most dramatic building is the crumbling Prefecture Building.
We took many photos,and while wandering around spotted a boat trip to Miyajima Island. It was a place recommended to us by some of the Japanese passengers on our flight from Canada.
A truly lovely place. We stumbled through the rising heat to visit a shrine, pagoda , Temple and the famous “floating gate”. As the tide was out the illusion was somewhat diminished, but it was still better than Weston Super Mare at low tide.
We also found an ATM in the tiny covered market, that took International cards. (Unlike any in the main Hiroshima railway station.)
The A Bomb museum is.. well Charley Borman would definitely said AWSOME again. It is well explained, and does not disguise that there was a war.
The exhibit has many “pick it up, run your hands over,” items. The power of the blast is still shocking. We don't want too many of them.
We returned to the main station, and spend some time trying to find our way through the maze of plazas and shopping venues in the station. Oh come on, its only a station. Well I have not seen one on seven levels. with trains on three.
What we do want is a shiny set of Bullet Trains.
We haven't travelled in one, but hearing them glide into a station, or better seeing one elegantly flying through the countryside is excitement enough.
This morning we had a newspaper delivered to our room. It seems that on the day we did the journey from Toyama to Hiroshima, 270 people were admitted to hospital will heat related illnesses. So its HOT.
Today we have started the move back to Toyama. The plan has been to do some sightseeing around the most spectacular Japanese Castle in Himeji . We found a hotel, and have turned the Air con on Its 38 again. We did have a bit of an explore, but Natasha has threatened me with a replay of the trans Canada Highway incident. People walking around outside have wet towels on their heads. Well the blokes do. The ladies have dinky little parasols and look un-flustered.
Yet again we hope to get away early, but even at 6am it's 29C, at least it was this morning.
17 - 18 July
Himeji and back to Toyama
We managed to be heading from this historic city at 5am. The cunning plan was to try to avoid some of the unbearable temperatures.That is how the Himeji Castle looks at dawn.
It was 29C while loading the bike, and by the time we had found our way back to an Expressway, it was back over 30. The low sun made sign spotting a bit tricky.
The journey was made with a feeling of sadness partly because we were leaving the polite clean country and about to enter something that would contrast rather starkly, but also because we had lost our good camera, with all the Hiroshima pictures. But the silver lining was that amongst the pictures was one with BB wearing a very fetching Kimono.
We were beyond boiling when we arrived in Toyama. At least we knew where we were heading. It seemed cool in the parking area. It was shaded. While we were faffing about deciding where to park, one of the tiny receptionist came running out, flung some huge laundry bags aside and a couple of bicycles to make room for us.
Reception itself seemed like a fridge.
The next project was to source a replacement camera.
We started in a large mall nearby. Asked a young mad who indicated a bit further down and right. We had gone about 100 yards when he came running up to us and gently steered us in the right direction.
After we returned home with a new camera we got an email from Akiko that our good camera had been handed in at the hotel and it is on its way to Akiko & then to our home in England!!! So in the end all our nice pictures of the Castle & beautiful Japanese gardens might be with us!
The evening was spent with Brendon attending to the laundry, while Natasha endured, or enjoyed the delights of the ladies only bath house.
She said that the mineral bath was very hot. As Natasha's idea of a warm bath is something approaching molten lava, I shudder to think just how hot it was.
Overnight it rained. Deep joy, as it was still tipping it down as we breakfasted and packed. Check the weather. Humidity 98% (Isn't that getting close to breathing water?)
We travelled the few K to Fushiki on a slippery road in sauna.
The RUS was also easy to spot as it was the only vessel to be seen.
We had been advised to arrive at the port by 11am to complete documentation before the expected 18.30 sailing
Customs formalities were conducted with politeness, but also meticulous checks on the frame numbers. It took about 40 minutes to have the Carnet stamped before being lead to the FKK office. Here we met up with some other travellers. Mike, and Simon and Laura.
It seemed as though we were in the “naughty” room, as none of us had any idea as to what was happening.
For us, ticketing had been conducted directly with the Russian company in Vladivostok. FKK failed to reply to any of our emails. Mike had a Japanese girlfriend who had managed to sort things from Japan, and Simon and Laura had been living for several months teaching English. They had at least a working amount of Japanese.
Without help with interpretation in either Russian or Japanese, it might take a bit longer.
After a short time, Mike and us were escorted back to the Customs office where copies of our passports and driving permits were again shown, we were led back outside and asked for the loading and port fees of 10,000 yen (about £50.00) This was pocketed by the gentleman from YKK who then said we could ride our bikes up to the ship. Our passports seemed to be the only documents needed to pass to the loading area.
After some hanging around, Natasha and I decided to board the ship and get out of our riding gear.
At least the Vladivostok emails had worked, and we had a cabin waiting for us. (It is not the worst cabin on the ship, we were assured.)
As it was about 13.30, we decided to stock up with water and have a bit of lunch.
There is a tiny Cafe nearly next door to the Customs office. Excellent Japanese food, brilliant service, and all for about £3.40 each. We waddled back on board only to find that lunch was being served! (Shouldn't have filled up in the cafe.)
By about 15.30 we noticed that some bikes were being loaded.
Fortunately, not by being craned onto the upper decks as the cars, but pushed up a ramp at the side of the ship.
Mike had gone down as he wanted to ride on. After a time he indicated that Natasha's interpreting skills were needed. We met the man from FKK and asked if we could have a refund of the loading fee as we were riding the bikes on. A big smile and a firm NO you should have told me first.
With the bikes tucked away, miraculously the clock indicated Beer O'clock.
The afternoon drifted by and eventually the RUS moved away from the dock.
The journey was not quite the cruise in luxury suggested by the BIS website.
The food was plentiful, the beer, not particularly cheap.
At a blistering 13 kt we ploughed through a moderate swell.
Arrival in Vladivostok 20-22 July
The ship eventually drifted into port. We were advised to establish a bridgehead by bringing our luggage up before breakfast.
(Semolina and sausage!)
Disembarkation was slow and progress made slower because the gangway is narrow, with people trying to race up and down with tyres, front wings for cars and the like. Immigration was painfully slow, about 10 minutes per victim. Then it turned out that the immigration officer's husband was a stomatologist (dentist) and I think we might have ended up being invited for tea!
We dragged ourselves through the first tier of customs officers without so much as a blink.
Information was sparse as to the process for collecting the bike.
We were instructed to be at the port Authority Customs Office at 09.00 next morning. A long-ish but cheap taxi ride in what had become steady rain worked well. It was a torrent by the time we arrived.
Natasha, (fluent, native Russian speaker) thrust herself into the fray. After 30 minutes she came back looking dispirited.
It seems that the panniers and luggage on the bike would need separate Customs clearance. The procedure should have been
1) write an application asking Customs to allow temporary import of the bike & make inspection of the luggage.
2) have the application signed by three different Customs officials in three different offices
3) have the luggage & bike inspected at the port and document the contents of panniers
4) to wait for the documents describing the bike & the luggage to be produced
5) get insurance and a certificate to enable the bike to be used. (1200 RuR for two months compulsory
6) get photo copies of all the documents so far.
7) wait for the inventory prepared by the shipping company to be delivered back to customs (around 16.00)
8) Get in the queue so that your documentation can be compared to that of the ship's manifest.
9) Sign several times on various documents, and collect several more stamps.
10) Receive the certificate of importation.
11) TREASURE IT
12) Get yourself down to the Ferry Station and pay the import charges for storage (approx £70)
13) Find your way to the storage facility.
14) Wait while copies are taken of the certificate of importation.
15) Collect your bike from among all the others
16) ride back to the hotel in pouring rain (optional)
17) have a beer.
So do-able if your wife is a fluent Russian speaker.
But do not despair, Vadim who is an importer himself becomes involved and helps people who are not as lucky.
Natasha helped another couple who had a problem with the Japanese documentation for the bike they are planning on riding back to Europe.
We did receive help from others importing vehicles, including a ride back to the port (3km) with a chap who must have taken pity on our bedraggled appearances and the fact that at least someone spoke Russian.
Presently we are waiting for the rain to abate just a little.
Tomorrow we get booted out of our room anyway so perhaps then next phase will be a bit damp....
We stayed for another day and did a bit of sightseeing
including the former submarine.
North from Vladivostok (554km) 23 July
Although we cleared the bike on the first whole day in Vladivostok, we needed to sort out our mobile phones, it was still raining, and we wanted to have a bit of look at the city. We aren't planning an early return.
Farewells were said to friends we met on the boat, and the alarm set for 5.00. We were fumbling with our cases in pitch dark half an hour later.
At least there wasn't much traffic about.
The signage in Vladivostok is more or less non existent. By asking a few wandering souls, Natasha managed to negotiate a way north.
I simply steered. We were stopped for an inspection of documents, but we managed to avoid spending too much time .
We had been told that the road is “good” to Harbarovsk . The first roadworks, I use the term loosely, as there was no work and the road was almost non-existent. The rain had turned the area into muddy, potholed skid pan, 4km long.
Cars being driven north were picking their way through the quagmire at a painfully slow pace.
Fortunately, the area was very wide and we were able to get around them. We had only one moment of major panic when there was a bit too much sideways and not enough forwards.
The reason that there are so few photos of this sort of road is because it is a bit too challenging for rank amateurs such as ourselves, but this is what we managed.
We diverted off the main road to pay a flying visit to one of Natasha's family.
The bike, which by now showed that it had done some serious work attracted quite a lot of attention. By the time we left, several blokes were wishing us luck.
Oh how we need it.
Around 5 pm we were beginning to start the room for a nigh search.
A black Kawasaki flashed passed us going the other way, I saw him brake hard, and turn, we pulled into a fuel stop and had a brief chat. Natasha asked him if he knew of a nice hotel.”Follow” so we did, down some pot holed streets,
to a perfectly lovely place for the night. £12.00 each
Are we looking forward to tomorrow?? Not a lot.
But they say chaps have been down here on Harleys Respect where its due,
Todays distance 554 km Vlad to Luchegorsk
Luchegorsk to Birobijan 24 July
6am and we were puttering up the road in misty fog.
The road north was a pleasure. Although potholed , it was easy riding by and large and we put another 500 km by early afternoon. We had decided to visit Birobijan, a former Autonomous Jewish State within the Soviet Union.
The town center was prosperous by any standards, with lavishly prepared floral displays, and very clean modern buildings.
We were directed to the Vostok Hotel. Totally splendid. Clean, modern air conditioned, and less than the hotel in Vladivostok.
They said that there was wireless internet.
£4.00 for 2.5 hours. We needed to visit six shops/kiosks/ information desks before locating the necessary card.
Birobijan to Shimanovk 25 July
Its only 648 km, and it has meant that we are over thousand km closer to Chita.
We have now ridden over 400 km of unmade roads.
In places there are tracks, about a car tyre's width where the loose gravel is to the side. We were able to manage about 60-80 km/h in these stretches, and even found 5th gear. However much of the surface was about 2” deep with gravel up to the size of an apple, and most sizes in between. Then there were the pot holes and occasional fissures from the side of the road. These were about a foot to 18” wide, and very deep.
But the real problem for us was the dust. There was no wind, so it just hung over the road. Now, by now you are probably thinking “The big pussy!”
But in mitigation, I feel I should mention our companions, the other Knights of the road.
There are various sized lorries and trucks traveling between 10 and 90 km/h in either direction. Then there are the hunting packs of Japanese imports (they come in threes and fives). These are covered in masking tape and plastic which acts in much the same way as Superman's cape apparently. They travel as fast as they dare, and will overtake on either side. One lorry driver overtook a slower lorry on the “wrong” side, as we were overtaking on the correct side. With all the dust, we were a bit perturbed to get blasted by “The Undertaker”. On a bit of tarmac-ed road we went past the lorry as it struggled up a hill.
Some miles later, we had stopped for much needed fuel and a cuppa, when “The Undertaker” pulled in to the same stop. He got out of his lorry and came straight over to me, shook my hand and apologised. He then went back to his cab and brought a small Orthodox (hand painted) Icon “To keep you safe ahead” We needed it.
We are not looking forward to the ongoing journey. We are told that there is another 400km in one solid piece lying just ahead.
Saturday 26th 6.33 am
On the telly is The Long Way Down, dubbed into Russian. We have not been able to send e-mails for another day. Nothing seems to work in Shimanovsk.
The thought of another 1000 km of the relentless pounding for us and the bike has given us a disturbed night, along with it being 28c in the room.
We will head back to the highway and continue to pray for a miracle. We could do with one of Ewan's back-up vehicles for the next day or two.
We are not looking forward to the next few days one little bit.
We are going to see if Natasha's brother can arrange for us to put the bike onto the back of a lorry.
Shimanovsk to Magdagachi 246 km - 26 July
I was hoping that we could at least get some idea about the expected weather forecast for the next few days. Apparently that doesn't happen in Shimanovsk either. (The weather was on TV, but was dismissed.)
So in the end, we fannied about from 6.00 to 11.00am. trying to sort out a lift for the bike. Natasha's brother went off to buy us some rope to tie the bike down should we find a lorry. He returned with something that would restrain the Queen Mary and a bit of clothes line. We hastily thanked him, then flung it in the top-box, and said farewells.
So we went down the road to the petrol station to find out if anyone knew anything about the road ahead.
It seemed that the consensus was the road was not that much worse than what we had come through, but that the dust would be getting worse.
So off we went.
The first 66k were gravel, but it was older, and compacted. We fairly hurtled the first 500m, then I noticed the mirror trying to unwind itself. Ah well.
Off again, and things seemed a bit easier than yesterday. The surface was much easier, but sandy in patches.
Then we had 66 km of Tarmac. Bliss! I was hoping this was to be pattern, but sadly it isn't.
The bridges from just before Shimanovsk are not finished, so we are diverted around on a sandy bit.
Either the roads are a little easier, or we are loosing our dirt road virginity. Certainly there are long stretches of really loose stones, but there are other places where 100 km/h was comfortable. We did wonder what was ahead creating so much dust it was impossible to see a thing. It turned out to be a Tank on a low loader.
So we are in a regional village with, apparently, an airport. Its 4 km off the main road down a twisty un-signed sandy track, with potholes the size of swimming pools.(well jacuzzis) Natasha found a fine hotel of the Soviet era, but freshly painted. We had a meal at the local cafe. There was a choice, either eat what you were given or go hungry
We won't be in a hurry to leave. Mainly because it has just been bucketing down outside and I don't want to end up in one of those mud holes. Might get eaten by a hippopotamus!
Tomorrow we hope to start a bit earlier and see where we end.
The information we have gleaned from other drivers is variable at best, and probably no better than anybodies guess.
Roads that drivers find shakes their suspension to bits is fine for us (well in places.) On the other hand, they regard the deep gravel as good because they can move quickly. The quality of the surface changes constantly. Light grey is usually good ,dark grey tends to be made of coarse rocks. White is very difficult to see where the holes are. Sandy yellow is also a problem for us as we don't like the very loose texture that can become sandy. All along the way there are sharp boulders just to keep you alert.
In places these are used to keep drivers off newly surfaced sections. Well I guess that they are cheaper than cones, and there are just so many of them.
Across the top of China, Madgagachi to Mogocha 539km - 27 July
Today started with fog. Lots of it. Couldn't see much. We were directed out of town down a disused runway, thus avoiding the big holes. By making early starts, we are able to get a bit of the way down the road before dueling with the car transporters.
We are beginning to get around the corner, and Chita is now 598 km away. 400 more miles of the former Zilov Gap to go.
We seem to have made quite good progress for a couple of beginners. At least we are now treated with a bit of respect by lorry drivers, who give us a bit of room occasionally.
It seems that the gravel that we started on about 1000 km ago was amongst the worst we have encountered. Our forward speed now being determined by the surface, rather than index of fear. The bike has started to join us in our attempts to lighten the load. Today a rear indicator lens has been destroyed, and the rear plastic mudguard fractured at its mount. The bike feels a bit lighter.
Todays 500 km of gravel has had me thinking. If the Esquimo's have seven words for snow, how come we have only one for crap road.
The Quality of bad takes several forms. From boulders embedded in the surface, to loose gravel that is bout 1.5” in diameter. Pot holes and boulders you can at least try to miss. The gravel just acts in much the same way as the kitty litter on GP circuits.
The town we are in is about 11 km down a clay road. Its frightening just how poor people seem to be. The houses all seem to be falling down, the streets are filthy.
I guess they have TV, but if the plumbing I have seen is anything to go by, then sanitation is still some way off. Perhaps its the vodka. Some say that if they drank less, there would be better roads , and plumbing. I think they drink so much BECAUSE of the roads and plumbing.
I guess that I have begun to get used to the riding, but I don't think that either of us will miss the bashing and dust. This is our dust trail.
Todays scary bit was being so enveloped in dust that we could barely see the road at all, The source of the dust being three huge lorries line abreast trying to overtake each other. Once we could see, it was easy to wiggle through a gap.
Something else to tempt you to keep on moving (apart from the thought of getting off this bl**dy road), are the flies.
They come like the potholes and gravel, in all shapes and sizes. The small ones are noisy and sharp. Then there are domestic sized flies, that seem immune to attempts to swat, flick dodge etc. They are ready to share your meal at every opportunity.
The most spectacular are the A380 derivative of the house-style fly, which behaves much like its smaller relative, but due to its long take-off run is quite swat-able. There may be a Ferrel version that dwells in regions of the former Zilov Gap. These manifest as a yellow smear on your helmet and cause a mild concussion. I haven't actually seen one, in one piece, but I've cleaned several off.
Tonight in the room of the only hotel in town, we are listening to a thunderstorm. The madam of the establishment has asked us to unplug the aerial from the telly. Now the rain has started to lubricate the streets ( clay).
Oh happy day, we have survived one more day!
28 July - early morning
So we are staying in the far from pleasant town of Magdagachi for the meantime.
The all night disco in the hanger-like barn that serves as the cafe and dining emporium has at last stopped. The thunderstorm and subsequent power cut may have helped.
We were up and ready ish well before 6.00am, then the lightning started.
Some of the five revellers came to chat with us and ask what we think of their roads. They are impressed that we are on our motorbike, and it seems we are regarded as “cool” in spite of my age.
Yesterday we did meet a Swiss biker just as we were about to pull into a fuel stop.
He had just taken a tumble in the thick gravel and cut his hand slightly. We offered help, but he shrugged it off and was on his way after changing a fuse. He had also had tyre problems some 50 km ahead.
We asked about the road ahead and it was shitty, same in both directions then.
The party boys have driven off. Its a good thing they have their cars, because most of them seemed to be having trouble standing upright, and walking wasn't easy for them
Mind you it isn't for us either as the paths are littered with debris and potholes.
Perhaps there is a big problem with subsidence, as roads, paths and houses are all warped and buckled.
But then the rain stopped!!!
Chita 595 miles, we'll do that....... 28-29 July
Not at 30 kph you won't sunshine.
So by 8.15am the storm had passed, the skies brightened and we started to head off. First do something about the rear tyre it was distinctly squishy. No signs of nails, so get it pumped up. Seemed to be OK and off to find the petrol station. Down yet another street that seemed part of one large junk-yard, avoiding the deeper potholes.
We had learned that the roads to Chita were bad. (So what had the last 1500km or so been?) But it seemed to make sense not to fill the tank to the brim. Down the 11 km of dirt road to the main “Federal Highway” and off to Chita.
About 20 minutes down the road it seemed like the rain was returning, so we stopped and put on our wet gear. A little further and it appeared that the windscreen had developed a distinct lean to the left. another stop, fiddle and adjust.
Then the weather started to deteriorate even faster than the road conditions. There was lightening, thunder and rain of biblical proportions. Cars ahead of us had slowed to a crawl and were spread all over the road trying to negotiate a way through. The surface had become very bad, with potholes about three feet apart. Then there were diversions where bridges hadn't been started.
These were steep sided and a bit slippery, but the bike plodded up them in a reassuring manner. The low octane fuel did elicit a complaint or two if too much torque was needed. ( Sometimes it seems just too much to stay upright and be in the correct gear)
Onward and upwards, we were now overtaking quite a line of cars, and catching up with a crop of 4x4's that were also struggling along.
We came to a fork in the road, with the main ( wide) road going straight ahead, and a small track heading off to the left and up quite steeply. As one of the 4x4s had blasted along the “main” road it seemed reasonable to follow. There were some cars waiting at the bottom to see which was the best route. Remembering that someone had reassured us that “the Trans Siberian Highway is all there, and the Zilov Gap doesn't exist, Off I went after the 4x4. The first puddle was a bit deeper than I had anticipated, as the tops of my boots submerged. But the bike kept running and up we went. Did a couple more of these, before we saw Mr 4X4 turning around. Poor Natasha. there we were in a thunderstorm, going through serious puddles, and the main road blocked. Its a good thing we are on a motorbike and she couldn't see I had a grin almost as wide as a flattened roll of duct tape. But being serious (Oh it WAS fun) We saw that the safe route was up the steep hill. So we joined the queue.
As we looked down onto the workings, it may have been possible to get through if you had bridging equipment. Back on track, and the road surface was just awful. we weren't slipping about, but with the volume of rain, and potholes, we were reduced to a crawl ourselves.
However after a while, the rain eased, the sun came out and the road stayed terrible. We had covered 10 km in just under an hour.
Eventually we were able to get moving again, but we couldn't manage more than 4th gear things were too rough. Either the road improved, or we sped up, it seemed as though we were able to get across the tops of many of the holes. we made quite good progress. After about 250 km we could hardly believe our eyes. New, fresh not even white lined, tarmac!
We have enjoyed almost 20km, but knowing that Chita is still 313 km with another 200k bad road ahead. (When Russians say its a bad road, it is BAD)
We are staying in a “Guest House” dormitory with other travelers (in cars) The building errs on the dilapidated side of quaint. Still its less than £10 for the night and all the cucumbers you can eat.
We are warm and dry. It's raining heavily outside. I have pumped the rear tyre up again and I'm cursing myself for sending the mini compressor home as excess weight.
Oh how we hope to make it to Chita tomorrow!
We are learning that the accuracy of local knowledge can be dubious. Estimates of distances to fuel/food etc vary enough for it to sometimes be a worry.
It seems that knowledge of the road ahead can have little accuracy as the road itself changes from day to day. Weather, traffic and road works mean that places that were a doddle two days ago are now difficult. Today we saw some fresh gravel being laid. All sizes, from sand to rocks the size of two crash helmets. I wouldn't want to be first down that bit.
Although we are about 200 miles from Chita, it is at least 6 hours away if the road hasn't suffered from all the rain.
So... If the rear tyre stays up, if it doesn't rain any more, we MIGHT make it to civilization.
We have been away from internet contact for 5 days. There aren't even internet cafes in the villages we have stayed in.
This place has loo 20 yards down the path past the chicken run and through the veggy patch. There is a light in it with a low energy bulb, but quite frankly I'd rather not see. I have avoided eating any supper, and most certainly any beverage that might encourage diureis.
Chernyshevsk to CHITA!!!!! 29 July
Tuesday the 29th of July.
Probably won't remember it next year, but right now it feels pretty good.
That final 313 km was a bugger. It felt as though the road itself was determined to make itself memorable. We have certainly imagined it with a vitality and independence.
We were lulled by the 20km of new tarmac, but then IT started again. The surface was more difficult than we had encountered, but the experience we have gained at least meant we coped. There was the 2” deep kitty litter for a while, dust then mud. And a bit of tarmac, Just a ½ kilometer or so, followed by more pounding. I find the undulations more difficult to deal with than anything, as their frequency alters and eventually bum and seat collide.
We limited our fuel intake to try to save as much weight as possible. It meant a couple of stops, but was probably one of our better ideas, as the bike seemed to cope better.
Then we saw it, the first sign of approaching civilization, Russian Style . Someone selling produce at the side of the road. 1700km since the last one.
The trans-Siberian Highway will be a true feat when it is completed in about 5 years time. In many places all the signs are in for overtaking lanes on hills, parking areas , armco barriers etc. These days it is also used by cows as a resting place.
The graffiti is already in place as well, which is a bit sad.
The scenery is beautiful and when the camera person on the back is not scared for her life it can be documented.
All the meadows are covered with carpet of pink or blue or yellow and white, really pretty.
We are relieved to have found a hotel.
Natasha has manged to find someone to locate a tyre repair place that can deal with motorcycles. The rear tyre had one small hole, which has been repaired with a vulcanised patch on the inside. In the same small trading estate was a car valeting company. They invited us to bring the bike around once the tyre was sorted. While repairing the tyre, I took the opportunity to check as many fasteners as possible. Then I discovered that one of the crash bar mounts had sheared. As it is made from a non ferrous alloy, there is no-one known who can repair it.
Its not vital to the bike's well being we have silenced it with a strategically mounted piece of rubber. The tyre repair was £4.00 so we gave some extra, and the bike-wash would have been free, but we insisted on paying for a round of beer for the lads.
So the bike is back to sparkling, and Natasha has just finished cleaning the luggage. Now its us and our riding gear that need throwing in a washing machine.
We need to post about the last weeks blogs sorry there is so much.
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