The Cunning Plan has had a gestation period about the same as an elephant's. But at last, here we are in CANADA.
The HU mantra of " do your own research" has been chanted from time to time, but its always felt like coming home to see how others have done it.
So far things have gone well.
Shipping. We wanted to start as far east as practical. I tried various shipping agents,It seemed like we would be paying very high prices to travel to the unwanted destinations.
Having looked at air cargo sites, it seemed that only Air Canada flew the routes we desired. When I phoned the London base, I knew that I had less than a little idea of what we were wanting. I explained that I was making "an idle inquiry". The slightly harassed voice at the other end said "hang on a minute... then came back with...Idle.. one of my favorite words, ..now how can I help?"
That was nearly two years ago.
Air Canada have given us totally superb service.
The bike needed minimal preparation to make it air safe. The tank drained and windscreen lowered a touch. (So it could fit in he X-ray scanner)
Arrival in Halifax has been delightful. The clearing the bike through the customs took about 5 minutes and the whole process of getting the bike from Air Canada Cargo took about half an hour.
We were even driven to and from the Customs department by Ted from Cargo. Everyone was smiling and helpful. Oh and shaking their heads and saying we must be crazy, but that seems part of the deal,
The first thing we did on our first riding day was to go to Halifax just so we can see the Atlantic Ocean from the other side. There we are by the Halifax Harbour:
Our initial impression of Canadian friendship and hospitality continues to be reinforced. We have now journeyed from Moncton through Quebec, and are having a "day off" in Niagara Falls. There are quite a few miles in between.
After we dried out in Moncton, we interrupted Sharon and Tracy on reception to find out how we might be able to get a meal without running the risk of drowning or being washed away in he torrent that was the car park. "We can call you a taxi and he will take you wherever" A fine nourishing fish and chip dinner was enjoyed. I thought how wonderful there is even tomato sauce and vinegar on the table.
Fish,chips and maple syrup wasn't what I planned. So much to learn.
The restaurant manager would not hear of us hiring taxi for the return journey (about a mile and a half) "Hop into my car!" and we were wisked through the downpour back to our roadside hotel approx (£50 B&B).
The next morning was cold at 6.00am.We packed and climbed into dampish gear. Yesterdays downpour was sudden. It was Macho-man who had decided that the inner waterproof layer was for sissy's. Tasha was dry and snug in her outfit. So I flung on my old waterproof trousers, and we headed north towards Quebec. We stopped a couple of times for fuel and numb bum therapy. One of the stops was in a place called Grand Falls.
There we took the time to get a mobile phone that will enable Tasha to stay in touch with her mum in Ukraine. (We have to ensure that she receives a call at a very specific time, and that we an tell her all about the garden and weather in England.)
We met a Dental Nurse in the phone store. She invited us to her practice, and a very fine one it was. We were offered tea etc, but THE SCHEDULE was against that. On heading away I noticed the front pannier was undone, and it appeared, that Natasha's secondary wet gear was not coming with us.
We trundled out of New Brunswick into Quebec. This place is great deal more French than France.Mercifully they seem to have altered their pronunciation of classic French language, so bad French seems to be understood.
Road signage is very mono linguistic, with English not getting a look in. But for all that It is easier than trying to read signs in Welsh.
Its probably us, but we have the feeling that most motorway signs are put up by some bloke who has never driven more than 40km from the site of the sign.They contain information about everything within the next few km's, but nothing like how far to the next fuel, or major town. I am also beginning to wonder if their cars have indicators, but more research is needed.
Our overnight stop was at a roadside cafe, that might have been run by a distant relative of Renee Artois. Very affable. We witnesses a lovely sunset over St Laurence inlet.
We had to respect the schedule, and another early start had us traveling alongside the St Lawrence river. It is impressive, Seeing at last, road signs for Quebec was both a relief, and a bit of a OMG moment. We really are on the way.
Quebec was circumnavigated as we sped towards Montreal. It wasn't the intention, but as there was no information other than highway numbers(which don't correspond to the maps) we kept on straighting on.
Here, we had another bit of luck. The confusion of the road signs and the dense traffic were taking its toll. Ahead I saw a police patrol car on the hard shoulder.Being old enough to have been taught to trust a policeman, it seemed a reasonable thing to do.We explained our challenge, and had a bit of a chat. I gave him a Wiltshire Constabulary pen, and thanked him for his help. Off we went, only to be overtaken by the officer, who indicated for us to follow him. We scythed our way through about 10 km of traffic, before he indicated the road to take and off he went, probably faster than a speeding bullet.
We then had to wend our way through Montreal roadworks until we were back onto the Trans Canada Highway. A half tonne of BMW is a tricky thing in traffic.
It is day 4 and Brendon got us to Niagara Falls. We were the only people to ride into the town wearing a full set of gear - everyone else on a motorbike was wearing just a T-shirt. No wonder - the temperature was + 34. So after getting to a nice hotel we did the same - rode around without heavy jackets and boots - that felt brilliant - a fresh breeze on the skin, sunshine gently caressing arms. I started to enjoy the trip. Niagara Falls was probably the only thing on my list to see in Canada. And what a sight it was - a breathtaking spectacle.
Moday, 9 June. Niagara to Sudbury
A planned early start slipped with the temptation of a Canadian breakfast at the hotel, also the internet connection that had been sporadic the day before was up and running. Chores needed time.
Still, we were on the road and bidding a farewell to the Falls before getting lost in the small streets.
We were given a tip by the hotel waitress who indicated a toll road that circumnavigated the Toronto motorway network. We expect that there will be a bill waiting for us on our return.
The weather forecasts for the area had predictions of hail and tornado storms. The temperature was already in the high 20's C and it was only 7.00 am. Further north, it seemed that the maximum temperature would be about 6 C the same day. Turned out to be a reasonable ride, certainly chilling down a bit as we moved north, but not with the extremes suggested by the weatherman.
We were treated to the sight of a black bear wandering across the road just in front of us. Photos might have been a nice thought, but so was the notion that we might have been an entree.
Our excursion into the center of Sudbury was brief, as it seemed to be home time for many folk and the road quality was quite pot-holed. I ran for cover in a tourist inn. To our delight, it had a laundry room. Hand washing is OK, but really dry clothes are a treat.
Tuesday 10 June. Sudbury to Wawa
So it was with a bit of disappointment that I discovered that the map, continued on the other side, was in a scale half the size of the main side. Bother. It didn't alter the route, just the distance. My,! Ontario is a big province.
In drizzle, we headed out of town looking for elusive signs and nearly being wiped out by a local taking a racing line through the traffic. West the sign said. The rain now coming down steadily. At least riding in England teaches you about rain.
We negotiated about 80 miles, with Natasha getting colder. Are you wearing your heated gloves? Yes. “Are they switched on?” I don't know, “Are they plugged in ?“ I cant remember. “Well it looks like another 50 miles to anywhere that there might be shelter.” There being nowhere to stop other than a not very wide hard shoulder, and with large Kenworth, Petter and Volvo articulated lorries thundering by, well over the posted speed limits it seemed safer to plod on.
The rain eased, and eventually sanctuary found in a Tim Horton's. While Natasha added another layer and attended to her wiring grid, an elderly gent started to ask me about what part of England I was from. “Wiltshire”, I was stationed there in the War he said. .. Blake 's Farm. “ In Cricklade?” Yes that's the one. I was able to tell him that it is now a Nature Reserve, and that there is a memorial to the Canadian regiment stationed there. Small old world.
The rain eased and although we were wearing our waterproofs we kept on. We decided to press on to a place called Wawa. Apparently in Ukrainian it means hurty place.
In bright sunshine, we were tottling along, and wondering what the memorial at the side of the road was about, and were happy that the road was deserted as far as the eye could see. About 100 yards beyond the memorial was a spectacular cataract on a river. Lets get a photo. A U turn was executed,and I thought I would pull onto the hard shoulder.
Oh no it wasn't, it was deep,soft sand and gravel, and over we went. Didn't move forward an inch in that stuff. A newly filled tank meant 30 kg of extra weight toppled us over. I was trapped by my left leg under a lot of BMW. Tasha scrambled out and managed to free my foot. She then took about three steps and fainted,just as two cars pulled over.Thinking they had just missed witnessing an horrendous motorcycle crash, at least three people phoned 911 in various networks.Within moments there were police, fire crews (two,complete with engines) and an ambulance.
Natasha had recovered a little, but wasn't looking too promising.Her left foot was causing some pain, but three handsome paramedics could not find any serious damage. Names, addresses, signatures and a heave up for the bike, and we were back on our way.The one thing Natasha really wanted was a drink of cold water. All that equipment and no cold water!
Oh and what was that memorial? The halfway point of the Trans Canada Higway. So we were over half way! (Just)
I thought we were at the end of our troubles for the day,...But all was not well with the bike. Whenever the brakes were touched, the hazard lights would come on for a while, then they stayed on permanently. After about 20 miles, there was a picnic area that seemed safe enough to stop in.(I don't trust had shoulders any more) I started removing fuses and relays, but they kept on flashing. After a very short while, three other bikers came along. They gallantly decided to escort us into Wawa which was still about 40 miles away.
A motel was located and Natasha was at last able to lie down.I wandered into town to “Canadian Tire” It is not some sort of rest home, but a bit like Halfords, and Kwik Fit combined, Could they help with a BMW motorbike with constantly flashing 4 way indicators. No.So back to the motel, and time to remove all the fuses, one by one. Did that fix it? No.
So it would have to be, remove a battery terminal or endure a dead battery.That meant off with all the tank bag, tank panniers,and the tank itself.Tools ready, seat off, and hey presto. The light show stopped. But I hadn't done anything. A short test ride seems to demonstrate that it has cured itself.
All this on the day I learned that BMW UK have sent a letter to the practice offering their support! Ah well better late than never.
Will we continue? I don't know. Natasha seems to have a great amount of pain and hasn't moved from the bed since we arrived here.The bike hasn't a scratch. I have a bruise or two and a dented pride.
Tomorrow is another day..
11 June Wawa to Thunder Bay
Today things seem a bit better.On the wildlife front, Tasha has seen a set of Moose, one large with a hat-stand on its head, and as we stopped in the Thunder Bay tourist centre, a chipmunk. Very cute!
We are now in a nice hotel with a view of the railway line and the yacht harbour.
So we have survived another day. Oh the 350 mile trip was with the flashers on all the way. Another thing to sort out.
13 June Thunder Bay to Portage La Prairie
Well we reached Portage La Prairie from Thunder Bay. A rather bum aching 862 km.
We stayed on another day in Thunder Bay because we were woken at 5.00am with the wind howling, and rain falling about 5 degrees from the horizontal.
It gave Tasha (we are speaking again) time to tidy the blog, and put a few photos in. And time to buy some wet gear to replace the set the got lost somehow.
The bike has behaved itself since about 20km before Thunder Bay.
Our journey has been through some of the worst weather ever. The forecasters go on about severe weather conditions, and I am beginning to agree. We are presently enjoying evening sun, while our gloves dry. Average temperatures should be 21. They have struggled to make double figures. We are holding up well. Tasha is still hobbling a bit and has a beautiful bruise on her foot.
We are heading to Regina. (Rhymes with China.) There is a family there that Natasha helped with the adoption of an Ukrainian girl, so we hope to see them.
Canada seems to be waterlogged. I get the feeling that if you were to leave the road that you would simply disappear into a bog.The rivers are all bursting their banks, and the amount of weather storms has all the locals telling us that it isn't usually this bad.
We were told by locals in Thunder Bay that we must see Kakabeka Falls - the volume of water in the river is the highest for the last 150 years!
14 June Portage La Prairie to Regina
We have made it through another time zone into the Provence of Saskatchewan.
Yesterday, Friday the 13th turned out to be not too bad for us. At times the going was a bit tricky, especially the bow wave and wake of the lorries. Most of the ride was through forested areas.
We managed over 800km, which meant that we left the forest and are now onto the plains. A bit like the Canterbury plains in NZ, but they are flat in all directions, and today is our second day.
Sometimes, the road has a turn or two but generally its straight for miles. Its not to say that it's boring. There are things that change along the way. Abandoned houses and machinery. And signs of flooding.
People we meet when filling the bike, or ourselves with coffee are genuinely friendly. We have even been spoken to by some blokes on Harley's. "Say that's really a big bike, did you ride it from Ing-ger-land?" Well, what would you say?
We haven't had any further woopsies of the falling over variety, But I really don't enjoy being in town traffic. It was that aversion that led us around Winnipeg and on to a small town Portage La Prairie. We stayed in the only motel in town that even had wireless internet ...every so often. So we could read ,but writing a reply was not so easy . This morning, I was talking to a Japanese gent who said he had tried 5 hotels in Winnipeg, and that the one we were in was the first he had found, so that was lucky.
We also met an elderly Ukrainian /Canadian, he was quite touched to see the Ukraine flag on the bike.
So today has been short, just over 300 miles. Natasha has made contact with some people she helped to adopt a little girl from Cherkassy 10 years ago. We hope to meet them later.
So, all seems well and we will continue toward the mountains.. eventually.
15 June Regina to Medicine Hat
Even the computer says PLAIN text.
So we have ridden another 300 or so miles and its still flat. Mind you, the road did cross the railway. That meant two corners, a bridge and another two corners. There were about six corners, not counting the ones necessary to come off the highway, fill up and get going again.
It has been quite cold, hovering around 12C. The road kill here is huge, like deer and moose.
On the still living front, just outside the hotel there is a colony of gophers. They have quite an establishment with burrows, sentry gophers, guard gophers, and one loopy one leaping about in long grass trying to see where everyone is.
We had a lovely meal last night with Tasha's adoption family. The sweet girl, Katya, was celebrating her 14th birthday, so it was very special. The family is lovely and quite comfortably placed. We enjoyed fillet steak cooked on their barbeque. Loads of it!
We managed to find a Comfort Inn that has guest laundry facilities and internet. So we now smell less like (OK I smell less like the inside of a gumboot.)
The sun has just set over the mall, we have the Canadian phone topped up with credits, ready for the call to Grandma tomorrow. Nerves are being shredded already. (For those who do not know - Natasha's Mum is very disapproving
of our trip and insists on terminating it straight away)
We will head to Calgary, its about 200 miles, and apparently we will have our first sight of the Rockies.
16 June Medicine Hat to Calgary
We have had a gentle day, from Medicine Hat to..... well just the other side of Calgary, then with the sight of the highway stretching into the distance, with absolutely no idea where the next fuel might be available, we turned around . We are in a VERY posh hotel. (Sheraton £75 pn b&b) Perhaps its not that posh, there is a drive thru' Mc Whatsits within walking distance.
We can see the Rockies!!!
They are still a long way off, but after over three days of the plains, indeed, since we have been here, these are the only mountains to speak of. So I hope that will mean that we can have a slap up meal with all the trimmings.Canadian cuisine is not European. It is very filling and there are looks of dismay if you don't want fries with it. No, we are not limiting ourselves to fast food places.
Tasha is having a haircut at the hotel hair salon. The madam of the establishment seems quite intimidating, but tonsorial emporia are not my field of expertise.
More up my line, was the car-wash experience. I treated the bike to a de-grime and insect purge. Considering the cold wet weather, which is supposed to mean no midges etc, the oil-cooler was well choked with skelingtons of a host of yellow and black stripey things.
There were more choices of cleaning options than coffee in a Starbucks. So the bike had the engine clean,shampoo and mocca latte to finish. The other little challenge, was the journey from the hotel, to the carwash and filling station and back. On foot it would have been about 100 yards. It took me about 3km.
The temperatures have been up in the twenties and sunshine all the way.
Tomorrow we will head towards Lake Louise, We have planned to be at the Horizons Unlimited Meeting on Thursday, its not too far away, but there are those hills to negotiate. Natasha is already muttering about perils of mountain passes,trolls and the like.
17 June Calgary to Jasper
Calgary was a relief as we could now see the mountains,
With that came a change in the weather. Perhaps it was just because we could see snow
We joined the throng heading west on highway? The pace seemed more frantic than on the plains. We had decided to travel north to Jasper and had plotted the road changes..., both of them.
The Garmin was staying in the pannier, There seemed little point in having any further distractions, what with the eccentric Canadian road signs. There just aren't that many sizable towns . Navigation does not require the constant attention needed in Britain. There aren't that many choices.
Trying to listen to music just doesn't seem to work for us. Even at slow speeds there is so much to take in that even familiar and welcome tunes get in the way of appreciating the changing scene. On the bike, we have admittedly ,rain and wind to contend with, but we are rewarded by the changing and at times seductive aromas. The wild sage when whipped by a heavy lorry releases a pleasant perfume. Freshly milled timber also tantallises.
We eventually made our way to Lake Louise, after back tracking to retrieve Tasha's glove that flew away as she managed to catch a road sign for yet another tourist lake.
We ended the day up one glove, as we found another one before finding Tasha's. Oh the joy of stopping, turning on such a fast section.
We had just entered the Jasper National Park where we were welcomed by a woman who must have failed the US Immigration Officers School of Charm. Its as easy to get into Poland, but you don't get the feeling you have been ripped off in Poland,
Being a National Park seems to mean that the road signage becomes even more challenging. Firstly they reduce the font size so the letters are about an inch high, then they are yellow on a brown background. That is in places where they bother to put signs.
But once you are in the park - it is worth every bit of inconvenience possible. The scenery is exciting and magnificent - snow capped mountains, lakes and glaciers.
We were treated to more wildlife. At first we thought there was an accident ahead, but we were to figure out that it would be a bunch of motorists crowding around a bear.
Mountain goats didn't seem to warrant interest to our boxed bretheren.
Lake Louise was pleasant and a break from the road. A bit too manicured perhaps.
We arrived in Jasper about 3 pm and headed to the Tourist Information Office. For the first time we came across someone who while very nice and friendly, seemed not to be the possessor of information useful for a tourist. We did discover that the Information Office did seem to exert a magnetic influence as we kept finding it. All we wanted was a room for the night.
Lobstick Lodge was welcoming, reasonably priced and available. None of these points were indicated in the Information Centre. The desk staff seemed to be young Australians who were great fun, and had as much local knowledge as the official sources. There was even a New Zealand wine on the wine-list. (Of course we tried it!).
18 June Jasper to Clearwater.
We had a few difficulties leaving Jasper, as the road signs can only be read as you enter the town.
We followed the route to Yellowhead Pass which led us through Mount Robson National Park. Natasha's concerns about the Rockies had receded, as we seemed to simply follow broad valley floors.
At last, the climb that started at Medicine Hat was over and we headed down. It did wonders for the fuel consumption.
We had decided that as we were not too far from Merritt and the Horizons Unlimited meeting that we would have a short day.
Natasha chose a Lodge in Clearwater. What a great choice. After we had unloaded the luggage, we headed off to explore a road into yet another National Park - Wells Gray - that led to three spectacular waterfalls. Unfortunately we were caught in a downpour. When we wandered to the viewing places, we just plodded along with our crash helmets on as rain hats. We explained to people that gave us inquiring looks that we were afraid of bears. The falls were all spectacular as the amount of rain had raised river levels considerably.
19 June Clearwater to A.P Ranch
The next day we had a comparatively short ride of about 300km to Merritt and beyond to the AP Ranch, the venue for the Horizons Unlimited meeting.
A relief to get there, and an even better surprise to find we had been allocated the best room in the place.
The HU meeting was splendid. there were at least 4 couples on UK bikes. There were also some ex-pat Brits. As usual, a good bunch, and there was plenty to learn.
22 June Penticton in Okanagan Valley
We were a bit sad to say farewells and get back on the road, but just a few miles down the road and we were both happy to feel the miles slipping away.
We have about two weeks before we leave for Japan. We “discovered” Penticton, while stopped in a queue of traffic waiting for emergency vehicles to clear a horrendous accident. The driver of a pick-up truck had failed to notice a stationary car about to turn into a viewing spot. The rear wheels of the car were under the drivers seat.
Penticton is placed between two lakes. The area reminds me very much of Central Otago. And the cherries are just getting ripe. We have decided to have a few days here and do day trips without all the luggage.
We have also shed some of our gear in an effort to lighten the load. It will probably get back to the UK after we do!
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.
Chita to Ulan Ude 692km 30th July
Our stay in Hotel Zabaikalye was recuperative, and gave us a chance to heal bites and bruises.
Also Natasha got this thing posted.
We were on the 4th floor, and because the building is being extensively modernised, we were without the lift, so that was also part of our fitness program. By the time we had washed the dust off ourselves and the bike we had little time to sight see. We did discover an excellent Cafe/ restaurant that was Ukrainian styled. The food was simply brilliant. Everything tasted fresh and wholesome. The staff were also friendly. Even more-so when we returned for an evening meal.
The food was delicious, and the beer clear and cold. ( Not something that is always achieved) Its called Alexandrovskiy Sa:d its about one block up from Lenin Square on Leningradskaya Street on the opposite side of the road to the hotel.
While we were in the hotel, the bike remained in the street. Guarded 24hrs by the bouncers for the Casino next door. No charge, but make us a donation. The bike stayed very safe.
Replete and clean, we attempted an early night. Difficult, when the sun sets around 10pm and dusk continues. We were out and on the road by 7.30, Its as well Natasha can do the language, as its difficult to find street names.
The road to Ulan Ude is paved except for about 5 km of diversions ( Pah! it was beneath our dignity to jump for that distance) I almost enjoyed the dirt.
Traffic is getting busier, and the car delivery boys, riskier.
There are however vast long stretches where its just us and the sky and road.
There are still many wildflowers in pink and purple creating displays along the road. Most of the day we have travelled in a vast wide valley, with fields, marshes and the wildflowers nearby and distant hills either side. There are still villages( some even look fit for people to live in.)
And there are many grazing animals wandering across the road. Strange that the only road-kill we have seen are the shed tyre carcases from lorries.
We stopped at a couple of cafes and both were much more into cleanliness than those further east.
We have entered the Buryat Autonomous Republic. Some of the memorials by the road are in Chinese, and some trees are decorated with Buddhist prayer flags. Certainly the people in the cafes have a very different appearance. Strong Mongol features, and not so much as a flicker of a smile from any we have seem. They make the Russians who are coming up to us for a chat the moment we stop seem positively effusive.
It has taken us 9 hours with stops. The road may be paved, but its still very difficult,
as you could trash wheels, suspension, genitals with just a momentary lapse of concentration. The voids in the surface can be huge, and dodging them is OK for a time, but the pattern of ducking and weaving can put you all over the place. Sometimes, slowing down is the only choice.
We are in a Hotel on the outskirts called Meridian. Its Western standard, with a proper loo, and probably the shiniest chrome taps we've seen. (£22.00pppn) The bike is under the security camera. We are off to sample the local grill. They play music until 3 am which is supposed to be good?
Ulan Ude to Irkutsk 1st - 2nd August 496 km
So I hadn't set my watch back an hour. It seemed very afternoon-ish for 7pm. Still with the choice of sleeping, or wandering around feeling exhausted, sleeping won. Apparently the music did go on until 3 am. I didn't hear a note. However it was something of a bonus to have an extra hour of bed after the far too early alarm.
We were able to enjoy the near empty streets of the center of town, and find our way back to the M55. Did we find the largest bust of Lenin in the World? No! Even with little traffic, tram-lines and crappy road surfaces are just not for me.
The early morning light was magical, with mist rising from the river and sunlight catching the clouds, it was one of those Kodak moments. What a time for the camera to declare its need for more batteries. by the time we had found a safe place to stop, fiddle about, put in fresh batteries, the air had warmed enough to have missed the mist .
The journey to Irkutsk saw the landscape change. The valley floor ended and the road became twistier through some hills. We had noticed in Canada that near some power lines our communicators would hum and crackle a bit. As we rode alongside the Trans Siberian Railway, the noise became deafening. We learned to tell the difference between the sound of the line and the sound created as a train approached. The amount of interference alters considerably.
We cafe'd around 9.30 having put the first 100 miles of the day behind us. Blinchiki and sour cream followed by a sort of dough-nut with minced”meat”. Quite delicious and it also serves as lunch.
Our first glimpse of lake Baikal was uplifting. It is such a vast expanse of water. It was also a moment of realising that we really were travelling along on our motorbike, and seeing something special.
The moments of poetic fulfillment were terminated when the first sights of Russian industrialisation spoiled the landscape. It is very sad that the majestic nature of the area has had so little protection from greed. But hey ho, on with the ride!
The road hugs the southern shore of Baikal. The Trans Siberian Railway was there first, so they have the best views.
Irkutsk is about 70km “inland” from the lake. It is an enormous sprawling rally-cross arena with buses, trams taxis and lorries all vying for the finish line wherever that might be. All our planning for a straightforward route to the center were dashed when roadworks and diversions left us in a five lane road of near stationery traffic. Natasha keeps hailing passing souls with requests for “Town center?” or “Where is a Good Hotel?” fortunately one request paid off and we are in a “not recommended” by Lonely Planet, but at least it was one that had an obvious front door and it has a quaintly named “London Pub” restaurant. Any port in a storm and all that.
We were able to watch an 80% eclipse of the sun which was spectacular.
We are really feeling under the cosh with the thirty day visa. We have travelled about a third of the distance, but the Zilov section was quite hard work for all three of us. (The bike is definitely part of the family by now.) An executive decision has been taken that we are spending an extra day here. We have needed to stock up on money, phone credits and check emails. It has needed a city. There is just nothing in the villages. Having said that, there was a cafe in the middle of the 2000k of gravel with a phone card top-up machine. No toilets mind you.
Tomorrow will be a day of sightseeing by taxi. We will leave town by dawn's early light to avoid the melee that is downtown Irkutsk. Probably once a very beautiful city, but its amazing what can be achieved with 70 years of communism followed by 20 years of rampant uncontrolled greed.
The extra day has meant we could visit Lake Bailkal properly buy Omul (smoked lake fish) and skip stones on the lake that contains 1/5th of the world's fresh water, Or, has more water than all the Great lakes combined plus a bit. We also visited Taltsy Museum. An open air museum of early Russian and Buryat buildings.
Back at the Hotel, and a team of about seven bikes from the Netherlands arrived and checked in. The bikes included a Guzzi and a three wheeler scoot with trailer.
It had taken them three days from Krasnoyarsk. They are part of a much larger group with 4x4's and a bus heading to Beijing for the Olympics. They warned us of difficult roads ahead.
Irkutsk to Alzamay 3rd August 650 km
They day nearly dawned. We were on the way by 6.45. We avoided any worrying traffic. Just before joining the road west, we topped up with fuel. Service! The tank was actually filled by an assistant. Not quite the Japanese pit-stop, but a real first for us in Russia.
The journey was uneventful initially. We were quite cold, the temperature not getting much above 12. Quite a change from the last few weeks. After warming up and putting on the wet gear (the sky had that look) we came across the first unsurfaced road just as the heavens opened. Well at least there wasn't any dust! It was only about 60 km . After we had clocked up 500km we found a hotel and thought we would have an early day. The building turned out to be the shabbiest dirty tip we have seen, with pigeons wandering in and out through broken windows. The manager seemed a bit put out that we declined her hospitality. We got back onto the bike with the sky blackened and wind blowing us about. The road to Krasnoyarsk was a dilapidated maze of puddles, holes and obstacles .
Then the rain came back, but we were onto decent tarmac... for about 30 km. The next 80 were fun as we pressed on. Cars just don't manage at all in that stuff. 4x4's also slow down a lot. We were able to pick our way past all but the most extreme drivers, but even they can't match a GS when it got narrow. We saw an inverted lorry at one point, but thought it better to plod on, rather than play photographers. We don't have a marine housing on the camera.
Today is Natasha's birthday. It hasn't been much for her, but she has borne it well, only threatening me with death by slow mutilation on a dozen occasions.
We found a Motel short of our goal for today.
Its clean and dry we have a room to ourselves and there is a cafe on the site. All is nearly OK. The bike looks as though it has been dipped in wet cement. So do we !
Tomorrow, with a bit of luck Krasnoyarsk, and an end of totally non-existent roads.
Alzamay to Krasnoyask 4th August 501 km.
What a beautiful morning! Clear skies and a Honda Africa twin parked by our bike. It was a Russian biker who told us he was returning from Ulan Baator. They had ridden from Irkutsk the same day as we had.
Funny, I thought. How come our bike looks like a cement-sticle, and you haven't any mud anywhere? The rims were shiny and not even a light dusting on his boots. Maybe its a Russian trick to avoid all the dirt.
They headed away, and we had some breakfast at the cafe.
We started off with clear skies, but soon we were into fog. That cleared quite suddenly and we settled into the ride. Alas the tarmac gave way to diversions that were well porridged up from the previous nights rain. But on we went, avoiding cars and lorries. There were some of the finest clay formations we have seen. Raised into jagged peaks almost a metre high in places. This road is much narrower than the Zilov section.
We eventually came to the large industrial town of Kansk. I think they must fuel their industry with road tar and old tyres. the smell was not too refreshing.
We filled with the first batch of 95 octane we had seen all day. The alternative being 70 and 80. Then followed the signs for Krasnoyarsk. The locals however directed us through the centre of town. “Very bad road if you go around”. Having played with Russian town traffic, the very bad road was preferable.
However it WAS bad, and with the tank filled to overflowing (You cant stop the pump, it delivers the amount of fuel you have paid for.) We trickled along. Lo and behold, we were passed by the Russian bloke and his lady. We stayed together for about 200km, but he must have headed off for fuel.
We continued to Krasnoyarsk. What traffic! Bumper to bumper at a crawl with Russian drivers talking to each other in Morse on their car horns. It was more stressful because the Lonely Planet writers have not really made their maps much cop if you are from out of town.
With much trauma, we found a hotel. Bugger the comments in Lonely Planet. Its one you can see, and it has parking in front of it. Who gives a toss that it is on the number 9 trolley bus route. Don't these people realise that somewhere to leave the bike is more important than the local museum of tapestry and wooden spoons.
We are in a splendid room, with a view of the river Yenisey. Natasha has managed to find an internet cafe (Bomb shelter), car-wash for the bike, and a new supply of Nurofen to stop me wingeing.
We are nearly halfway across Russia, with less than half the time left on our visas.
Krasnoyarsk to Novosibirsk 5th August 873 km (11 hrs)
It was far easier to exit Krasnoyarsk at 7am than our arrival. The day looked as though it wouldn't be a scorcher. So we put on our liners and Natasha dug out her heated gloves. Good move, the temperature didn't get above 14C until after lunch.
The journey was LONG, but comfortable. We caught up with Piotr and Marina, the Russian chap.
We actually had a bit of a chat. It seems that the roads in Mongolia are easier than the last 200km to Krasnoyarsk. They are expecting to be in Samara, his home by Friday. It will take us a bit longer I expect.
We are in one of Novosibirsk's Soviet era overpriced piles. When waiting for the lift, I thought that I was going to faint, as everything went grey, and I thought the floor was sloping wildly.
Turns out that is exactly what was going on. Very few photos today, rain.
Tomorrow, the plan is 600km or so, to Omsk.
Novosibirsk to Omsk 6 August 691km
We were very glad to leave Novosibirsk. The Hotel Central was a hole. Outlandishly priced and while possibly dryer than a tent, certainly not as comfortable. The traffic was deafening. (Thank goodness for ear plugs.) It was just so dirty. The room smelled of urine, but then again after 11 hours on the bike, I probably did too!
We headed out of the city following directions from a taxi driver near the hotel.
“You wont find any signs for Omsk, they don't do signs here.” And he was right, 140km before we found a sign. It was raining gently when we departed, The dawn bright orange behind us and sinister dark clouds ahead. The roads however were becoming a pleasure. We were able to achieve 500km by noon (just,... I had to speed up to 130km/h to make it!) We saw a pair of bikes at a cafe and decided to have some coffee.
Two more riders from Holland.
These chaps had ridden to Vladivostok for a night, turned around and headed straight back. They asked us what bikes we had. Just the one. “What, and you have ridden to Chita with a pillion?” Yes, Without Natasha I wouldn't have made it. “And you sat on the pillion?” Er yes,
We thought that we were crazy, but doing that road with a pillion, Hey, you are crazy too! We all headed away towards Omsk. We were not planning on going much further.
We have been lucky to find a newly built Motel complex. It has given me time to sort out the charging for the camera batteries. and time to do some washing. Its worrying when encountering strong rural smells and wondering about the source.
The people here are influenced by Kazakh culture, Kazakhstan is just a mile or two away.
The site is called Green Field. (Zelonoye Polye ) Its about 15 km the European side of Omsk.
We totally recommend it. The people are friendly and helpful, the bike is behind huge steel doors and there is hot water and everything is clean and fresh. ( And there is a large fridge downstairs with a great quantity of beer!)
Tomorrow we divert north to avoid Kazakhstan . ( It will take about the same amount of time as it would to cross two borders).
Omsk to Kurgan 7th August 698km
The “diversion” is not marked as such, but its easy enough to see a route on the map. Fortunately the towns you need are signposted at the right time. So it's follow the road towards Tyumen for about 260km, then avoid turning into Ishim, and follow signs for Verdjuzhye. There is a good road that takes you around the town of Ishim and soon there are signs for Kurgan.
We were warned of “bad roads” which had caused me a bit of unnecessary worry. These are merely bad roads for normal people. There is a bit of gravel, but only couple of km.
It would appear that since Kazakhstan became independent that very few travellers bother with the hassle of two border crossings in 200km.
The diversion is only 124 km longer, and that has to be better than queuing for hours, twice.
The countryside is big and flat with numerous small lakes. The region seems to be marshland.
Some of the shallow lakes are suffering from the amount of heat the region seems to endure, and are foul smelling tracts. We avoided fuel and cafe stops at what appeared to be quite attractive lakeside places because the stench was quite choking.
There appear to be quite a few motel developments springing up on the western sides of cities. We are in a Truck-Stop about 10 minutes towards Chelabinsk. It is a delight to not have to go into the mayhem that are the cities.
The temperature started around 9.8c and stayed cold until well after two lots of coffee and borcht, but between 12.30 and 1.00 it rose to 34c. We did a roadside strip to shed layers.
With a bit of luck, we will sleep better than the last few nights as the room seems to be quiet although we are close to the Federal Highway.
Oh how wrong could I be. It turned out that the room was above the Sauna. At first we thought that the late afternoon sun was heating things up, but then I noticed that the floor of the loo was scorching. So a very warm night was endured until an almighty thunderstorm erupted.
Kurgan to Ufa 8th August 698 km (but nearly not at all.)
We were glad to escape the truck-stop, and didn't even bother with a cuppa. The first stop was 150 km towards Chelabinsk.
The day was not looking too flash, with grey clouds ahead, and it was getting cold again, but we pressed on.
We knew that there was a road around the city, and found ourselves following signs for Ekaterinburg ( Where Tzar Nicholas and family were murdered), but the road south towards the Urals and Ufa was easy to follow.
Chelyabinsk is large and industrial. The smoke from many distant chimneys drifting for miles.
We were beginning to turn south when some light rain started. We filled with fuel, but didn't bother with wet gear, as it seemed to be easing, and trundled along. The traffic heading towards Ufa seemed to become heavier, with many slow lorries. But the air seemed to be getting thick with fumes as well. We were making progress, passing when there was a good space ahead, like you do, when it happened....
One second I had looked from behind a particularly filthy lorry, the next there was a lurch as the bike went down, and there we were, all three of us, in some sort of bizarre luge event. We seemed to accelerate from 80 to at least 200 km/h .At first the bike was winning, scraping along on its side. Natasha was in third place, then I managed (with no particular skill) to slide past the bike and stop just at the edge of the road. Natasha was up and running and she overtook the bike that was now pointing back the way we came on the wrong side of the road.
As there wasn't a trail of Brendon's knickers across the highway I assumed the pannier was still in one piece. The bike was hauled up and it seems as though the crash bar has done its job.
The plastic base rail of the pannier was somewhat abraded. OK its not there anymore!
Did the traffic stop? Only when Natasha flagged someone down.
The bike started and sounded OK, so we did a U turn and got back on.
The cause? well there hasn't been a full forensic examination, but my guess is that we were unlucky to have been travelling over spilled oil mixed with the light rain.
The road surface was glassy black, and looking at the distance we all slithered and the comparative lack of injury we were lubricated rather than victims of friction, which would have left marks on our clothing.
We rode for a few miles before stopping where there was comparative safety of a souvenir stall.
The left pannier needed a bit of bungee chord to hold in in its frame.
Natasha has a bruise on her elbow and knee, and I have a bruised bum.
We have managed about 400km since the incident.
I had been looking forward to crossing the Urals, and getting into Europe. Sadly there is nothing to indicate the change of status from Asia to the Old Word. The Urals themselves are no snowcapped range of craggy peaks. Just another crappy road going through some hills with bumper to bumper lorries belching away up some of the longer slopes.
We realise that we were very lucky with our excursion down the road. We weren't accelerating to overtake, just thinking about it. The bike won't be winning any concourse prizes. The plastic guard for the rocker cover has gone and the rocker cover itself is very scraped.
Natasha's elbow is the most dramatic bruise, but she is coping much better than with the Trans Canada Highway incident. I don't think Russian firemen can be worth waiting for.
We have crossed the Urals and seen the dozens of tacky souvenir stalls in the lay-bys selling all manner of products, from firearms to inflatable crocodiles.
Then just as the hills were becoming smaller, and the road easier, it started to rain. It seemed to go on forever, so when we saw a Hotel sign we headed for it. A beautiful looking place, just off the road. Sorry, its closed for a private function.
Back onto the road. Into a cafe and thank goodness we find that there is a “hotel” just 100 yards up the road. The staff haven't yet been on the Customer Relations course, but its a room, its not raining inside and it doesn't smell of pee or diesel. The whole building shakes as lorries go by, and we have been told that because its Friday night the cafe might get a bit noisy. Don't care!!
We want to go home.
I have had enough of psychopathic Russian drivers and the shitty roads. Cherkassy, our goal in Ukraine lies halfway between the Urals and the United Kingdom. Its such a bugger to have survived the Vladivostok to Chita road, then to nearly wipe everything out because of dirty filthy lorries on a dirty filthy oily road.
Ufa to Pugachov 9th August 726km
We are in a strange little settlement on the road between Samara and Volgograd.
Our reason is, this is close to the area where Natasha's mum was born. When she was only a baby the family fled the Bolshevics and returned to Ukraine, leaving behind a huge farm with orchards and many horses and cows.
Our journey from Ufa has taken us through Bashkir autonomous Republic.
Last night we were treated to a little hospitality from a couple of local lads. It involved vodka and fruit nectar. I thought that life was beginning to seem a little better after the trials and bruising of the day.
When we were packing our bike, we met with Vassily a Ukrainian biker with an 1150 RT. He assured us that the roads would be getting better all the way to Ukraine. He too had encountered the oil and had had a “moment” but without coming cropper.
The roads did improve, but the drivers seem to becoming more manic. Several times today we have had to brake hard, almost to a standstill because some Russian driver has continued his overtaking manouver directly into our path. ALL the lights are on, including fog and spot. The horn adds a little instrumental diversion.
Once we turned off the M5 and onto this road leading down the eastern side of the Volga,the density of the traffic diminished, although it seems as the density of the drivers has increased.
Tomorrow we go searching for an old farm.
The place here turns out to not be as sleepy as we first thought. There is a huge helicopter base,with aircraft doing a lot of work. South Ossetia and Georgia are only down the road and it seems that there is a bit of a scrap going on. I hope it won't impinge on our journey to Volgograd.
Pugachov to Volgograd 10th August 687 km
We have at last reached somewhere that is comfortable. A big hotel in the middle of Volgograd.
We gave up on the quest for ancestral homelands. We have just had enough of hauling our quite vividly bruised bodies over even crappier roads than the so called main ones.
The drivers seem to be intent on maiming someone. Their overtaking efforts show a total lack of common sense. We did come across an accident involving about five cars. There were women sitting by the side of the road weeping and bits of broken tail lights scattered about. I would imagine that the the insurance bill for the whole lot could well be over a fiver, but not by much.
Still it caused an enormous tailback and gave us a chance to slip by about 50 cars. Then we could enjoy a clear road for a while.
We crossed the Volga at Saratov. A wide and spectacular river. Unfortunately this is another area afflicted by the Canadian Sign-post fairy, and finding a route to Volgograd took some time and quite a few requests from the Militsia (traffic police, aka Sgt. Petrenko)
We did see some more interesting aircraft. military and definitely not transporters! on our way south. We are wondering about the “war” just to the south of us.
There are much fewer fuel stations on this side of the river, and a total lack of distance information (like for 400 km!) and fairly sparse direction info.
Volgograd is BIG. We were very fortunate that the driver of a mini-bus that Natasha asked “Is this the way to the centre of town?” said Just follow me. I would NEVER have found the route, and certainly not at the speed we hurtled along. Somehow, doing 100 km/h in a city seems just a bit dangerous.
By the time we found Hotel Intourist the temperature was up to 35c. A couple of young bikers came and chatted in a bit of English. They were impressed with what we have done, and even escorted us to the secure parking, about 600 m from the hotel.
So, we are safe and are hoping that our bruises will heal .We don't want to get on the bike for a day or two.
We are the first motorcycle riders in the hotel for some time. After changing and cleaning up, we went to explore. Four more motorbikes outside, ridden by a bunch of New Zealanders.!
13 August Volgograd - Donetsk 640 km
We enjoyed our stay in Volgograd and spending a bit of time with Roger, Gareth, Chris and Joanne, The Kiwi bunch. I think the hotel regards New Zealanders a bit like buses.... And then there were five all at once. They left a day earlier than us and we waved them goodbye.
Volgograd is a city with thousands of years of history, from the Moghul Khan's to the attempted German invasion of 1942. In some way, there are similarities with Hiroshima, Both were turning points, and both cities were almost annihilated. The reminder of the tragedy being the flour mill where the German advance was halted.
The museum and Hill called Mamayev Kurgan are quite startling for their portrayal of the destruction and loss of lives.
(750,000 Germans and over 1 million Russians)
(I felt a little disrespectful thinking that I could recognise the face on the soldier at the base of the Memorial, but he really does look like a young Arnold Scwartzineger.)
Volgograd is still a Russian city, with nice central parts
and the dilapidation that goes with lots of things built in the Soviet era. It was explained to us that the people felt that while the Party pretended to pay them wages, they in turn pretended to work.
However, there are some good restaurants and hotels that have been restored in the post communist era to something approaching Western standards. The food always tasted very fresh.
We have discovered that in hotels where breakfast is included, if you are planning an early departure, the hotel will make you up a take-away breakfast with yogurt, bread rolls, fruit juice and water.
We left early on Wednesday morning. I think the bike may have developed a sulk as it simply cut out in the middle of a large square by our Hotel and did not want to join the party. (Tyre skidding cutting out) For no obvious reason it started after being left alone for a while, but I was concerned that it was turning over without the slightest sign of life. Fortunately, its been fine all day.
The ride to the border was 423 km. There was nothing much in the way of a queue and we were dealt with quickly. The immigration people were fine, but we then experienced the most unpleasant Customs and Border guards we have ever encountered.
All our luggage was searched. This being a bit difficult with the maimed pannier needing first aid each time it is opened. We packed things back, were instructed to move forward about 20 yards, and the whole bloody lot was searched again. Why? It seems that the first Officer is looking for goods that you might have to pay tax on. The second (Completely nasty little man) was looking for the rifles and weapons . Natasha explained that we had a problem with the pannier, but no, it had to be opened. Did he look in? Did he buggery. Quite a slanging match developed,(I am not sure about what) but we made it out of Russia. Glad they didn't look through our coats !
Entry to Ukraine was by comparison a delight. It seemed they were impressed with the rather lengthy route we had taken to return to Ukraine. Some Russians who had taken pleasure in our struggle with luggage, (Oh it was 38C in the shade, but there was none) were given an appropriate reception by the Ukrainian officials. We were more or less simply waved through. Passports checked, but the luggage stayed put and unmolested.
We have travelled about another 250 km into Ukraine.
This eastern side is very industrialised, with coal mines all around. There is a place called Anthracite just back a bit.
Houses seem to be fresher than their Russian equivalents. Cottages are painted white with decorated windows. The roads are still poor, but many road signs are in Ukrainian and Latin script, which makes things a bit easier for me. I can usually manage the first two syllables of a Cyrillic name.
It has become very hot, 39 as we ride along and again its cooler to have the visor down as the hot air is very dehydrating. Lots of fields where the crops have been harvested were burning, everything is in a haze.
Drivers still seem to be manic, but so far the loo's have been a whole world better than most Russian bogs.
14 August Donetsk to Cherkassy 569 km
What a difference an early start can make. We were into the shambles that is the route through the outskirts of Dnipropetrovsk, about 240 km from Donestk around 9.30am . Most of the total crap-head drivers are still sorting out their hangovers at this time, so the roads are slightly safer. Slightly.
Eventually we crossed the Dnieper river. One of the widest crossings we have encountered.
Our plan was to ride up the western bank of the Dnieper, which we achieved.
We passed the site in 1943 where soldiers of the Russian army crossed the Dnieper. Their choice was stark. Cross or be shot. The fact that many couldn't swim and they were carrying equipment or that there was a lack of any craft didn't matter. Interestingly, the sign is written in Ukrainian and English.
The roads were variable, but the lack of heavy traffic made it easier. The temperature back up to 38 didn't.
The coastal road is a very pleasant ride. One day there will even be signs at junctions.
We went through Chigirin, the old capital of Ukraine with the monument to famous Ukrainian Getman Bogdan Khmelnitskiy (equivalent of the president in the 16th century).
Cherkassy hasn't changed much . The centre of town has a bit of Flash about it, but away from the main street and its streets are turning into sand with run down housing and a reminder that prosperity hasn't reached far.
It is such a relief to know we have made it this far.
10326 km in Russia in 18 days of travelling. The utterly primitive life led by many Russians is strange. They all seem to have multiple mobile phones, but I still cannot understand their obsession with poetry and ballet without a sound infrastructure of plumbing. Perhaps the Bolshoi Ballet should be sponsored by Armitage Shanks.
We enjoyed a 10 day rest, well, “rest” is probably overdoing it. We caught up with our Doctor friends, while staying in Natasha's flat. We have visited dachas, swum in the Dnieper and been eaten by mosquitoes.
We also endured something of a heatwave, with daytime temperatures climbing to 39C. Dr Kovalenko allowed us to use the Smilemenders Izusu to visit rural central Ukraine. The primitive nature of the villages is sad, yet unlike our experiences in Russia, most homes seem to have indoor flushing toilets.
While Natasha attended to some lady-like pastimes involving salons, I was more being introduced to saloons. Each to their own. I also was a special guest at the Regional Stomatologial Polyclinic with a tour for the local news team.
Our departure from Cherkassy was at 7.30 am with Dr Kovalenko, local TV cameras and Misha from Hope-Now waving us on our way.
The journey around Kiev was planned to traverse the Dnieper across the 8 km causeway from Cherkassy
then back to the western side over the hydro dam at Kaniv.
Unfortunately the route to the west of Kiev is not straightforward, with a significant distance being travelled in an easterly direction. Having spent most of the last three months moving west, it was uncomfortable and counter-intuitive going the “wrong” way.
The weather was still hot, 35c as we rode at 120kph. By early afternoon wind had become quite a challenge and the sky was darkening. Having ridden around the Zhitomir by-pass, we found an “INTER” motel. It is clean fresh and better value than anything in Russia.
As we were unloading the bike, the rain started, buckets of it.
It continued sporadically during the afternoon. We are glad to be watching it from behind double glazing. This was our last sunset in Ukraine.
The roads in Ukraine, well on the E 40 have improved dramatically since my first journey here in 1999. The bypass was an undulating mass of heaving tarmac and potholes. Now it is billiard table smooth, and very few police cars. So far!
25th August Zhitomir to Rezchow 580 km
We know this bit of road quite well as we took aid to Ukraine many times. Each time we look forward to seeing this lovely monument. It is still there.
Last filling of the bike with cheap Ukrainian petrol.
Entry into Poland.
Well, we thought that Russian border personell were difficult. Then we encountered Poland.
Almost 3 hours of waiting once we had left Ukraine.
There we were treated as heroes, and escorted past a long queue of cars and directed to the head of the queue by a Ukrainian soldier.
We thought it was because the Poles seem to regard their role as guardians of the EU very seriously, but it seems that the Polish customs and Immigration are on a work to rule.
However it wasn't the waiting, so much as the attitude of one soldier on the border. Natasha is preparing a letter to the Polish ambassador.
The poor buggers waiting to get into Ukraine! The queue was just under 3 km of stationary lorries.
Poland is not somewhere we want to visit for a while.
When we were in Cherkassy we met a Ukrainian lady who lives in Newcastle, ( I thought was a Geordie on holiday.) She had told us that it took over two hours for a bus to be cleared through.Having crossed many times I doubted her. Ah how things have changed!
But anyway, we are near Rezchow about 80 km from the Ukraine-Polish border. The drivers seem less intimidating than 9 years ago, certainly everyone seems to have shiny new cars.
We are in a small hotel on the side of the E40. Our plan is a slow plod through Poland into Germany where we need to find a new rear tyre.
The Metzler has done 14000 km over some of the worst roads anywhere. It is well scarred and I had hoped to nurse it home but its getting a bit scant in the tread.
Rezchow to Krakow 189 km
So the best laid plans... the E 40 in this part of Poland is a single carriageway. It probably has the greatest density of traffic we have seen for a while. Bumper to bumper and fairly slow. Probably a good thing, because the rear tyre is now thumping away. We spotted a bike shop near Krakow and hauled ourselves in. They were unable to help, but did have a contact in the centre of the town who could.
With an address dialed in to the Zumo, we simply crawled into town. A polish guy on an R1 came alongside, thumbs up etc. We explained we needed a tyre. Follow me.. It was the same place the Zumo was leading us to.
At last, a proper bike shop.
The staff were attentive and helpful.
Not only did they locate something suitable for the bike (Metzler's weren't available for two days, but a Bridgestone could be had for tomorrow.)
Next, they sat us down on their computer and helped us sort out accommodation. I think they would have tucked us in if they had time!
The Old Town of Krakow is delightful. Getting there is not, but we were in a taxi.
We enjoyed a stroll around
and even found a concert to go to in the evening.
There was a lot going on. A place worth another visit.
27 August Krakow to Bautsen 500 km
The next day after phoning after 10 am (That's when most businesses open!!) we were assured that the tyre was being fitted as we spoke.
Another taxi ride and we were re-united with the bike. Complete with new and a bit expensive rear tyre. But the use of the internet had saved us 60 euros on the hotel bill. The bike even seemed to have been waashed, and they stored our gear, so all was ok.
I reecommend the services at Tommarg Motocykle - 012 252-84-80 - phone and ask for Machek (sounds like 'magic') [www.yamaha.krakow.pl]
We headed out of town and back onto the E40. The bike felt significantly better. Not only had the thumping gone, but the annoying sound like an overtightened chain was gone as well.
The Tourance EXP had survived the Zilov section. But its steel chords were visible through the splits in the tread. It did have an annoying noise on tarmac at certain speeds.
Shortly after Krakow the E40 becomes a toll road and proper motorway, with service areas and toilets and everything.
We covered 400 km very quickly. The last 80 km of so before the German border is fairly slow as its back to single carriageway. The border exists in terms of buildings only. Ah I remember the little room where I spend a worrying time 10 years ago when my passport was apparently not in order. Quite fun to whistle by.
We are in the small town of Bautsen. Its quite delightful.
It's also nice to be back to somewhere that has a slight feeling of familiarity.
28 August Bautsen to Siegen and a bit of a bug.(588km)
So we were feeling like we were doing OK. We had a wander around Bautsen and enjoyed a couple of beers. There didn't seem any need to rush in the morning and we enjoyed a hearty breakfast before checking e-mails and sorting out a ferry booking to the UK. Then an hour was wasted as the expensive wireless connection kept trashing any work without sending it. So onto the bike and onto the E 40.
Three months of sub 70 mph must have re-set my brain. The autobahn speeds seem positivey scarey. Why is it always black cars that seem to be driven by b*st*rds?
A short while into the ride and I had a feeling we were no longer looking like a Christmas tree in the lighting department.
It took less than an hour and four minutes to discover the headlight bulb had failed somehow causing a short circuit. It took a couple of fuses, and some fiddling, but we had some lights. There is still an intermittent fault, but it will need a bit of time and something on my bench at home to sort it properly. I am so glad we don't have the 1200GS with its oversensitive fancy wiring. No headlight means no ignition. BMW claim this is progress. Just what is needed on an RTW bike, a bit of technological overkill. NOT.
We have managed only 587 km. We are in Sigen about 380 miles short of Calais.
Colin and Dee are threatening to meet us at the ferry in Dover. It will be brilliant to see them. They at least understand some of the ... forget challenges, think problems, that we have battled our way through.
If we make it to Calais tomorrow, I think that we will be allowed a bottle of something from the fizzy wine section.
29 August Arrival in Calais 554km
So we are here, with neither a bang or a wimper. The GPS did work once it was on home territory. The E40 was navigated without a hitch. Finding a hotel wasn't quite as easy, but we are in another Holiday Inn, the same one that Stuart Arnold of Wesleyan Insurance showed me all that time ago when we went to Saarbrucken to buy a certain BMW 1150 GS Adventure.
It is certainly looking a bit tatty compared to then.
Natasha is busy attempting to suture the tank-bag zip back into place. The whole thing is tearing away. Its only one more journey to make and no more petrol fill-ups.
We are almost too tired to bother with a celebratory meal, but we might force ourselves.
The weather all day has been grey, cloudy and a bit miserable. Lets hope that tomorrow will be brighter.
30 August The run home 320 km.
It was quite foggy for the short ride to the ferry terminal. Once there we met a few other riders. They were a friendly bunch and we were congratulated on making it to there.
The day cleared and the Channel was pond-like. It was fantastic to see white cliffs of Dover!
Our disembarkation was delayed by the P and O deck director who must have been exercising his power by keeping the bikes from leaving until most of the cars had left. We were right at the front as well!
Once onto the street, it was an utter delight to see Colin and Dee Masters waving a Union Jack! We had hugs and kisses, they presented us with a gold star each, and two for the bike. We rode together for the last bit to home.
A very strange bundle of sensations, looking at familiar scenery and road signs. Miles take so much longer than kilometers.
We were lucky to have one of the rare warm days of the British summer for our last journey. Home at last.
Katya has looked after the place well, and there were fresh flowers everywhere. We fired up the barbeque and opened some champagne which we shared with Colin and Dee.
So thats it. We can now return to something like ordinary. It will be a joy to wash clothes in a machine and clean the bike thoroughly.
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