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Old 11-27-2011, 08:31 AM   #1
Red King OP
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Swirish invasion of Russia - Pics and Video

Ok, so this report is 4 months overdue and I owe Jocke a big apology for the tardiness! Me and Jocke started to plan this trip earlier in the year and did this trip at the end of July this Summer and were not disappointed. I have had the good fortune to ride in several other countries (US, South Africa, Ireland, Sweden, Norway etc etc) but Russia was something different and a real adventure.

For those of you interested in taking such a trip, I have included a small starting section on the planning parts.

The People:
My name is Rory a.k.a. Red King, I am an Irish guy who lives in Sweden. I have done several trips before but am generally quite lazy about making ride reports.
http://advrider.com/forums/showthread.php?t=658334


My partner in crime is Jocke a.k.a. Jochen, a rather dashing Swedish guy. Jocke is relatively new to biking and I guess was riding about 18 months before we did our trip to Russia.


I have got to say that initially I was a little concerned if Jocke would be capable for the trip due to inexperience, however, after a quick meet up a month before the trip and nice bike ride up the High Coast in Sweden any fears I had were quickly put to bed. He has put up a few rides on his own so I knew that he had the ability:

http://advrider.com/forums/showthread.php?t=605542

The guy rides with great skill and competence that does not reflect his lack of years on the saddle. Also, he is enormously knowledgeable about his bike, so much so that he performed an engine swap on his own a few days before our trip.. Fun guy, great attitude and an insatiable appetite for adventure. Basically, as a trip partner I am glad to say that I lucked out big time!

Paperwork, paperwork, paperwork! Basically, you need at least 4 to 6 weeks to get all the paperwork sorted out. The hardest thing to get is the visa for entry into Russia. It is possible to go via the embassy directly however in practice we learned that this is just too much hassle. I would suspect that there is some *agreement* between the visa agent and the embassy staff as we had to pay 1600 swedish kronor each for ours. The application form was extensive and we also needed a letter of invitation from a hotel in Murmansk.





Other paperwork included:
  • Health insurance
  • Bike Insurance
  • Bike registration papers (green card)
  • International Driving license
At the border crossing, there was also substantial documents to fill out too for customs and also security etc..

For security reasons and also for practical reasons we decided to use a two way radio system that could fit into the helmets and fitted a coms button to the bikes. This way if we got separated we could keep in contact.

The Route
We also needed to get our hands on GPS maps for the region. I managed to find some free Open Source Maps for my Garmin and with quite a bit of effort converted these and uploaded same along with routes for the whole journey. This was a big advantage as it meant that we knew exactly what mileage we had to cover each day. I have to say that the OSM data was very accurate and as a legally free resource was fantastic! The process of converting these into a format that Garmin understands was a bit of a chore but one very much worth learning …. Did I mention that it is free and legal!

The route we discussed for a long time. Due to family commitments (young kids and house renovations) I had a max of 1 week. We had discussed going from my home town in Örnsköldsvik to Murmansk and then onto Nordkapp in Norway and down the West of Norway. However I just didn’t have enough time. Eventually we figured that we would do the following:

Örnsköldsvik – Pajala – Ivalo – Murmansk - Salla– Luleå – Örnsköldsvik

Even though I had plotted the route in detail, we left enough room in there to explore and take other routes if we got the whim to do so. I also got my greasy little mitts on GPS points for gas stations, campsites etc… along the whole route so felt pretty confident that we would have no issues.

Day -1 Jocke’s arrival
Jocke lives about 150 kms further south than I do in a city called Sundsvall. So the night before we set off we figured that he would ride up to me and spend the night at my home. That was one of the wettest nights I can remember. It was pissing from the heavens so bad. Jocke had only just changed the engine on his Yamaha Super Ten from a 750 to an 850 (from a TDM) and so earlier that day had the bike tested. When he arrived he was saturated and cold…… not a good start. We threw his gear into the sauna to dry overnight, fed him, and set him off to the sofa bed (after a few beers).

Day 1 – The start, Örnsköldsvik to Pajala 590kms
Next morning after a massive breakfast we went about setting up the bikes. Jocke had a great set up with 3 massive panniers. He is also damn good at packing light. I on the other hand couldn’t find space for the kitchen sink so decided to leave that behind.


Our route took us from Örnsköldsvik to Pajala in Northern Sweden, about 590kms. Most of this is on the relatively boring E4 road, however the weather was pleasant and the riding was enjoyable.


We stopped midway in a town called Luleå to look for a few bits of gear such as bungy chords and batteries.

The weather was quite good the whole way up. Not long after that we crossed the Arctic Circle:


We arrived at Pajala in Swedish Lapland (right on the Swedish and Finnish border) early in the evening. We found a campsite and set up for the night. Being so far North, the sun didn’t set and the place was full of mosquitos. Lucky for Jocke, they did not affect him at all (he works as a project manager for a lumber company so is used to the mozzies), I on the other hand was a delicacy to these little buggers.


We cooked up some grub and headed off to bed nice and early.
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Trip Reports:
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Red King screwed with this post 11-27-2011 at 12:31 PM
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Old 11-27-2011, 08:44 AM   #2
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Day 2 – Pajala (Sweden) to Ivalo (Finland) 350-500 kms (not sure)



We woke up to great weather and made short work of packing our gear and heading off. A short jaunt brought us to the bridge to cross over the Swedish Finnish border. Once across we stopped at a Finnish shop to pick up some beer and fill up the tanks with cheaper Finnish gas. The roads were great, the weather was fantastic and generally we were in the zone. It was a great trip until that is, my great GPS route planning ended up with us taking a road that turned into gravel, and then turned into a forest track! We carried on regardless as we had loads of time and not much mileage to cover that day. The road was getting smaller and smaller and we must have covered about 120kms on this route when we both started to get a little nervous about our gas. We had both covered about 275kms since our last fill up and my R12GS was saying empty, and Jockes Super Ten was pretty much the same. I should note that we did not pass a single house or car for the last 100kms and were in the middle of no where with trees and big ass black bears for company. We stopped to ponder our situation and figured that since I had brought a reserve of 5 liters (a gallon and a bit) that I could head off on my todd and find a house or something to buy petrol. Then we figured that we may as well keep going until the gas fully ran out and see what happens.


By now is was insatiably hot and a little too sticky for gravel riding in full gear, however a few km’s after that stop we came across a café/gas station/hostel in the middle of no where. It was a little place called Pokka.




This crazy Finnish guy ran this place and was ecstatic about seeing us. I don’t think he had a customer all Summer. He made his living from Swedes who cross the border in Winter to use the snow mobile tracks and get shit faced on Finnish schnapps. He sold us some grossly overpriced illegal Russian petrol (you know by the smell of shit off it), sold me an icecream and a bottle of water and off we went armed with some ‘good advice’ about how to avoid getting shot by the Russian mafia.
What was supposed to be an easy trip from Pajala to Ivalo turned into a great adventure and good fun. I have no idea exactly how many km’s we covered that day exactly but we were on the saddle from 7,30 am to about 14.30pm with only a few short breaks. A good day with good fun J
We arrived into Ivalo and tried to find a campsite, however the few we saw had a smell of death emanating from them and were also quite far from the village. We came across a small place that had stugas (Nordic terms for a little cabin with a bunk bed you can rent). It was only €30 for the night so we figured it was a steal and they had showers too.

We dumped our gear, had a quick lunch and decided to go exploring. The lunch by the way was served by another crazy Finnish guy who also had advice on how to pick up prostitutes, buy illegal booze, import illegal gas and generally do crazy stuff in Russia….. a strange guy but one who knew how to cook a burger.



We saw some nice routes heading into the village and figured we may as well hit a few dirt tracks. Most of these tracks ended in dead ends but we did have some fun sliding about in some wet mud and generally getting dirty. It was so damn hot though that after an hour of this we decided that some beer would be a better choice. So we headed back into the village and put our gear out to dry and relaxed outside out stuga and got a little bit hammered in the Finnish sun.

We ended up going to a pub next door where Jocke was ‘befriended’ by yet another crazy Finnish dude who spoke no English or Swedish. That communication was fun especially since he was off his ass drunk. He just kept blathering on in Finnish and would not let poor Jocke leave. He basically told us his life story (in Finnish) and the amazing this is that the more we drank the more we actually understood some of what he told us…… something about how a bald flying monkey lives in his basement and how he used to work for the CIA I believe. I eventually grabbed Jocke, said good bye to the crazy dude and we found a quiet corner in the pub to continue our drinks.
The tally was increasing, “Crazy Finnish Guys” 3 – “Me and Jocke” 0
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Old 11-27-2011, 08:58 AM   #3
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Day 3 – Ivalo to Murmansk 300kms

We set off early at about 06:30, it was a short hop to the border (about 20 minutes) but we had to dodge several herds of reindeer on the roads. They are quite possible the thickest animal on the planet when it comes to road sense and the problem is that if you see one on the road there is another 20 you cannot see.





The Finnish border station was quick and easy.


We were in and out in 10 minutes, then there was about 100 meters to the Russian station, and this is where the fun started. I think we were in there for about 2 hours in total and we had to fill out 3 different forms that were in Russian. I filled in 2 of those forms 3 different times as they kept giving them back to me and told me I had made a mistake. I had a little difficulty as my bike was originally bought in Germany, registered in Ireland and then imported into Sweden so my bike registration was a little hard for them to understand. I think they thought I wanted to sell my bike in Russia. We got through anyway and were anxious to eat some road.
We hopped on our bikes, and I recall looking through the barrier on the Russian side and seeing the most beautiful black-top surface. The road swept beautifully around a sweeping bend about 500 meters down the road. We were in the middle of nowhere deep in the Russian/Finnish wilderness… Life couldn’t be better….. that is until we came around that damn bend and the road disappeared. ….. literally. It changed into a coarse gravel forest track with sharp stones no smaller than golf balls and very loosely packed.





In the video above, (helmet camera), you see for yourself how the surface changes at approx 2 minutes in.





It was pegs-up riding. My preferred riding method in such surfaces is to stand-up, hug the tank with my knees and basically gun it. My GS eats this sort of terrain for breakfast and I have to say I LOVE it!! Jocke was a little nervous at first as the Super Ten has long suspension travel on the forks and fully loaded can be handful. Whilst I was fishtailing and blasting along at 120kms he chose a steady pace. In hindsight I should have followed his lead as my rear tyre took a hammering, however it was worth it J
The road was a mix between broken hardtop, compact pea-gravel, sand, coal, rocks, concrete and in some cases just bare earth. The scenery (took no damn pics but Jocke took plenty of video!) was amazing as it was in the bog-arse of nowhere and just wild unmanaged forest. It was patchy from forest fires, but absolutely beautiful. The weather was a perfect 25 Celcius and I have to say it was just mindblowingly awesome. We stopped at one point to have something to eat and take a quick rest. We were a little nervous of stopping on the road so found a sandy trail that led to a quarry off the road. We ate a little, pissed a lot and took off again. The road surfaces just kept on changing so even though it is only 250kms to Murmansk we took our time and enjoyed the surroundings.
We encountered several road works where they were laying (badly) new tarmac. As we approached Murmansk and things started to look more urbanized, the roads actually took a turn for the worse. It was tarmac of sorts however there were craters, holes, cracks, boulders, gravel, sand and plenty of oil all over the road. This was bad enough, however as the traffic picked up we got our first experience of Russian drivers…… Oh…. My… God……



It was indescribable just how dangerous they were. Old smoke spewing Ladas and Lorrys over taking us on the inside hard shoulder, people driving on the wrong side of the road and in general… just chaos. I have ridden in Africa and Russia just does not compare. However, we took our time, pulled no stupid moves and relaxed.
The roads eventually improved somewhat and my OSM GPS maps worked a treat! They have every detail and took us to the door of the hotel with relative ease. We arrived at about 15:00 as I recall and boy was it hot. The hotel had secure parking and we unloaded and check-in. After a quick shower we met down in the bar and started sinking some pintage and ahem… enjoyed the scenery (did I mention it was a very warm day?)
That evening we took dinner in the hotel and then hit the town. We ended up in a rather seedy club/bar/disco. We tucked into some of the local vodka and Jocke pulled some moves on the dancefloor whilst I had conversations in broken English with some of the local guys. I have to say that they were some of the friendliest people I have met! Even with a severe language barrier they were good fun. We headed back to the hotel about 1 am or so and I just hit the sack exhausted.
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Trip Reports:
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Red King screwed with this post 11-27-2011 at 12:35 PM
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Old 11-27-2011, 10:01 AM   #4
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excellent, subscribed
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Old 11-27-2011, 10:05 AM   #5
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yeah cheers mate. I have it all written up, just waiting for videos to upload to YouTube and the rst of the trip will be up shortly
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Old 11-27-2011, 11:38 AM   #6
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Old 11-27-2011, 12:07 PM   #7
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Day 4 – Murmansk

We got up late-ish at about 9am, had breakfast and decided to take a walk around the city. We were ready to soak it all in and experience life in Russia. I got to say we were a little disappointed. The people are nice and friendly but the city kind of… stinks. Literally, it smells bad, open sewers and coal dust. Also, badly maintained sidewalks, no tourism facilities and generally quite dull. However it was no big deal as we were not on the trip to actually ‘see’ Murmansk, rather it was the journey we were after and so far it was excellent.
We did however spend maybe 4 hours walking around and taking it all in. We also saw the Nuclear Icebreaker (the Lenin), however it was shut… go figure, The one tourist attraction in the city was closed.




We took a quick rest back at the hotel and then my wife rang to inform me she was pregnant J. That put me in an even better mood so I called Jocke and suggested we take a quick ride outside the city and see what we can find. We hopped on the bikes and headed for a huge old WWII statue (Aloysha) we could see in the distance. We had no luck finding the entrance up to the monument (it was perched up on a cliff overlooking the city. By chance we saw a little gravel trail heading in the right general direction so made a management decision to follow this route. It was FUN!! It turned out to be a real off road experience J. Steep muddy trails, granite surfaces etc.. We took what was an unofficial walking trail up to the monument.




And what an impressive monument it was too. The Russians are one patriotic bunch. That evening we headed out for a quiet dinner and few beers as we had an early start the next morning.
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Old 11-27-2011, 12:16 PM   #8
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Day 5 – Murmansk to Luleå 1000km +

I found this map on the web that pretty much accurately charts our route home through Russia.


We started at 07:00am. We did not know exactly how far we would get as we did not know anything about the terrain or condition of the roads for the route we intended to take. The Kola Highway is famously dangerous so we just wanted to take our time and get at least as far as the Finnish border by nightfall.
This day actually turned out to be the highlight of the trip for me.,




We just kept riding South on the highway until we nearly ran out of gas (again). We had some difficulty finding any petrol stations so we headed off the highway (running on fumes) and ended up in some small little town. To be honest I did not feel comfortable there at all. We were getting strange looks and they place just didn’t feel safe. We found a petrol station, fuelled up and took the chance to eat a little. I sat down on a bench eating a hotdog and the place suddenly filled up with birds…. I kid you not. There were dozens of seagulls, finches, robins and albatrosses all begging for food. Feeling sorry for the little buggers I threw some bread on the ground and a cute little finch caught it, there was a huge ass albatross beside him who got annoyed at the fact that he wasn’t fast enough so he proceeded to swallow the finch… (no exaggeration), that was one tough Russian bastard.
We passed a security check on the highway where our passports, visas and paperwork was checked. We had some difficulty finding the turn off for the Salla border crossing but got it in the end. This is where the adventure started. It was maybe 150kms from this point to the border, of which the last 100kms was deemed to be a military zone. This meant we were not supposed to stop at any time for any reason. The road was fairly good for the first 50kms or so and saw a cool WWII memorial. This was the area of the famous Winter wars between Germany and Russia and the place is steeped in history……. And trash L





We were warned NOT to go into the woods for fear of unexploded mines and morters etc.. I have been told that you can still see helmets guns and other war relics strewn around the forest floor. I have no idea how many people died here but believe it runs into the hundreds of thousands. I have to say both me and Jocke ‘felt’ something there. You can’t help feel a little emotional when you see the reality of war via bullet holes in helmets and bits of morters etc… people died here, lots of them.
By this stage the road turned into gravel, actually a mix of sand, gravel, coal, red lime, mud etc… It was very challenging riding as the gravel was deep and unpredictable. We passed another security check in this military zone. The guards seemed kind of drunk to be honest and one of them came over to me and pointed at my speedo asking if the bike could do the full 230kms. I said yes and then he asked me if I could do a wheelie, again I said yes. He lifted the barrier and so I took him at his word and sauntered past the barrier on one wheel to a great applause.

We came across what looked like a deserted town as we came closer to the border. Ignoring the instructions not to stop we figured there would be no harm in having a look, the place is called Alakurtti (no 14 on the map).There are two WWII tanks on permanent open-air display. When entering Alakurtti from the west you can hardly miss the T-34 monument, and from it you will see, looking north, a much more rare T-27 tankette (tankette = very small tank).




The next security check however was different. These guys were serious and had nasty dogs. They meant business and one asked me to open my cases and he also looked under my seat. When he was satisfied that I was no threat to the motherland they let us go.
Then about 1 km from the border we could see the old town of Salla in the distance (no 14 on map). This ghost town, south-east of the border crossing point, was once the Finnish town Salla. After it had been finally lost to the Soviet Union in 1944 its name was transferred to Märkäjärvi, which thus became the new Salla!
Just before the border station there was a gas station so we filled up on cheap low octane Russian plonk and checked in for a few hours of paperwork. Our bikes were searched yet again and we had more forms to fill out. We made our way eventually to the Finnish side where we were in and out in 10 minutes.
I think that it was about 15:00 or so in the afternoon so we decided that we would continue as far as the weather held up. I will never forget the road from the border check. It was amazing curves and a great surface. After a few days of shitty roads and gravel this was heaven. I took off like bat out of hell and rode that 40kms like it was the last day of my life. We then came across another WWII memorial, it was dedicated to Finnish and Swedish freedom fighters who died there. Swedish fighters fought for Finland during the occupation and Sweden made and donated many anti aircraft guns to the cause.












We stopped at some small shop, had a sandwich, coffee and a can of red bull and filled up the tanks and decided to keep on going. We reckoned that we might reach the Swedish border and find a campsite before it got too late.
In actual fact we just kept on going and going and going. The roads were great, we were in great form and the riding was excellent through the Finnish countryside. I called an Irish buddy of mine who lives in Luleå in Northern Sweden and he invited us to crash at his summer house. We made to Luleå at about 21:00 after 16 hours of some of the most enjoyable riding of my life. Even though we were tired, my buddy Neil has the BBQ on, beers and the sauna on J… we were in heaven!
We sank countless beers, sauna’ed to within an inch of lives and chatted away for the night. Neil has one of the nicest damn saunas I have ever been so a big thanks to Neil. We then partook of a little midnight swim in the Baltic to cool off and sober up a little J


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Red King screwed with this post 11-28-2011 at 02:28 AM Reason: spelling
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Old 11-27-2011, 12:38 PM   #9
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Day 6 – The journey home

Nothing much to report on this day as it was just eating miles on some back roads.
The next morning the clouds were brewing something nasty. We decided to head off reasonably early (11am). Once we hit the E4 road the heavens opened and it pissed and pissed and pissed. It was so bad that the normally free flowing traffic came to a stand still due to flooding and low visibility. We decided to take a back road home.
On the way I found a hidden gem of a road to my Summer house. It was about 50kms of curves and I got my lean on big time
We eventually arrived to my Summer house where my family was staying. After a good meal and a rest Jocke continued on his merry way and I had another sauna and crap load of whiskey with my father in law J

FIN!
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Old 11-27-2011, 02:21 PM   #10
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Excellent report. Nice to read about your adventures.

Be careful in the bastu with Finns! They tend to really crank up the heat!!

Ha det så bra,
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Old 11-27-2011, 03:01 PM   #11
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Seems like the last video doesn't work Rory.

My apologies to everyone for the poor angle of the video camera... I had just bought the thing and thought "I don't have to test it before I leave, I mean how wrong can it get." Well, thats how wrong, stupid.
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Old 11-27-2011, 03:25 PM   #12
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Nice, I'm in
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Old 11-27-2011, 03:31 PM   #13
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Damn. I lost a bit. It's already finished.
Well, great job. I liked it
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Old 11-27-2011, 04:36 PM   #14
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Hoping to do a similar route up to the Kola peninsula and Murmansk next summer but your report scared me a little haha! Crazy drivers, lack of gasstations, all the security checks along the roads, long and problematic bordercrossings etc. I hope we won't experience too much problems and negative stuff, looking forward to experiencing a bit of Russia!
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Old 11-27-2011, 10:26 PM   #15
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Actually nothing negative to report at all :)
It all adds up to the Russian experience. The Salla to Murmansk route is very popular with bikers. We past a very large group of GS'rs on our way back thru the border.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Howe View Post
Hoping to do a similar route up to the Kola peninsula and Murmansk next summer but your report scared me a little haha! Crazy drivers, lack of gasstations, all the security checks along the roads, long and problematic bordercrossings etc. I hope we won't experience too much problems and negative stuff, looking forward to experiencing a bit of Russia!
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