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Old 08-26-2012, 10:28 PM   #1
Guy Jinbaiquerre OP
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3 GS riders hit Sakhalin Island in Russia

Earlier this month, two buddies and I took our GS bikes (two 1200 ADVs and an 800) north from Tokyo, Japan, to Sakhalin Island in Russia. Although we only spent 6 days on Sakhalin, the whole trip from leaving home until we got back took 9 days. So I think it squeaks past the week-or-longer requirement for the Ride Reports subforum.

Here's our route:




I'll be posting an actual ride report in installments, but for now, here's a video I edited together from the Sakhalin bits:



More to come...
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Guy Jinbaiquerre screwed with this post 09-12-2012 at 08:28 AM
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Old 08-27-2012, 10:42 PM   #2
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This is a trip that I would like to do myself some day and so searching for some info on Sakhalin Island, I stumbled on your extensive checklist on Gaijin Riders about your "Sakhalin Island Touring - August 2012" preparation, which I studied with great interest.

Checking the schedule, I was just about thinking that you guys must be back already -> and you are!

So I'll be very happy to read/see your report.
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Old 08-27-2012, 11:04 PM   #3
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Quote:
Originally Posted by A-Wind View Post
This is a trip that I would like to do myself some day and so searching for some info on Sakhalin Island, I stumbled on your extensive checklist on Gaijin Riders about your "Sakhalin Island Touring - August 2012" preparation, which I studied with great interest.

Checking the schedule, I was just about thinking that you guys must be back already -> and you are!

So I'll be very happy to read/see your report.
Thanks... will start posting the report ASAP, although I am getting crunched at work now, having come back after a 2-week bike vacation...

About that checklist, we've found that while the information in it is all good, it could be condensed and simplified into a "Sakhalin for Dummies" version. As it stands, it's so detailed that it probably scares away some people who think it all looks like too much work to do all the adminstrative paperwork stuff and whatnot.

Another thing we learned is that, in our experience, Russian officials (at least on Sakhalin) are more laid-back than you might expect. The customs officials wore their everyday casual clothes, not uniforms, and going through customs was not really any more difficult than entering any other country I've been to. We needed to buy Russian accident insurance for our bikes, but I've never brought my bike into any other countries, so I can't say if that's unusual. We did NOT need any "carnets du passage" to bring our bikes into Russia.

I mean sure, you need to have your passport, visa, and bike import paperwork in order. But once you're in the country, anything goes. We were supposed to put international license plates on our bikes, but we never did, and no one said one word to us about it. Cops drove right past us and just didn't care. And despite what Wikitravel says, we encountered no sinister "checkpoints" in leaving Korsakov or Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk.

Ride report coming soon(ish)...
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Old 09-01-2012, 07:16 AM   #4
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Okay, so here's my Sakhalin ride report. I'll be posting it in installments because I haven't written the whole thing out yet.

DAY 1: Tuesday, 14 August
MILEAGE: 136km
(not including ferry)




After months of planning that began this past January, I was finally ready to hit Sakhalin with my buddies Jav and Chozzer. But if you're in Japan like we are, then before you can ride Sakhalin, you have to get to Wakkanai. That's a small town all the way up at the northern tip of Japan's northern island, Hokkaido. So the first thing we had to decide was whether to ride all the way up there -- about 1300km -- or take a ferry to Tomakomai in southern Hokkaido, which would save us about 800km of dull expressway and city riding. With the cost of gas and tolls roughly equivalent to the cost of the ferry, and with fresh knobblies we were all eager to save for Russian dirt as much as possible, we decided to go by boat. That meant today's ride would be a short one, to the ferry terminal in Oarai, about 140km outside of central Tokyo.

Since we were all on BMWs, (R1200GS ADVs for me and Jav, and a F800GS for Chozzer), we naturally decided to meet up at a Starbucks. I pulled up first:



If you think that's a lot of gear on my bike, you're right. I really over-packed for this trip, and one of the things I learned on it was what I need and what I don't. Next time, I'll pack much more conservatively and efficiently. But at this point, the bike was so heavy I could only lift it off the sidestand if I parked it at a favorable angle. Even though I set the GSA's electronically-adjustable suspension and preload to their stiffest settings, the bike's handling was definitely worse than normal. (This would come back to haunt me later on, and I would eventually have to do something about it. Stay tuned...)

Later on, after fighting misleading Zumo directions and brutal central-Tokyo traffic, the other two musketeers rolled in:




You may be wondering, "Hey, Guy, how did you get such a well-composed shot of the three of you?" Well, it was no problem because people kept coming up to us like we were celebrities or something and asking us about the bikes and where we were going. I guess they thought we were Charlie and Ewan with our cameraman. One of the gawkers turned out to a professional photographer, and he had the "eye" to take a good shot like this, with no heads or feet cut off and the subjects filling the frame. It's my fault, not his, that my pocket camera was set to overexpose everything by two stops, but I fixed it as much as I could in Lightroom.

Anyway, we had a ferry to catch, so we hit the road before anybody started asking us to sign autographs. About 120 uneventful km later, we reached the ferry terminal at Oarai:




Now, we had planned this trip months in advance, and we had all our paperwork sorted. Or so we thought. At the Oarai ferry terminal, I got a call from the Heartland Ferry manager up in Wakkanai. He needed a faxed copy of Jav's international driver's license. Unless he got it right now, Jav wouldn't be able to take the ferry to Sakhalin.

This call came as a surprise because Jav had previously asked the manager if it was okay for him not to fax a copy of the license (which he hadn't received yet) along with copies of all his other paperwork (passport, Russian visa, temporary bike import certificate, bike registration, personal information questionnaire, trip agenda, and probably some other stuff I'm forgetting now) and the manager said sure, no problem. But apparently now it was a problem. And it had to be solved in the five minutes before the ferry to Tomakomai started boarding. Luckily, we were able to get one of the ferry terminal staff to fax Jav's license to the Heartland manager, and we were good to go.

Next stop, Hokkaido!




To be continued...
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Old 09-02-2012, 03:24 AM   #5
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DAY 2: Wednesday, 15 August
MILEAGE: 394km
(not including ferry)




The sun was shining as our ferry pulled into Tomakomai:




Down below decks, our bikes were ready to go:




We got there at about 1:30pm, which we thought would leave us plenty of time to ride the roughly 400km to Wakkanai before dark, and set up our tents in a nearby campsite. Somehow, though, it ended up taking us about 8 hours to get there. I can't explain it. I guess it was a combination of poorly-handling, overloaded bikes (at least for me and maybe Jav, too), a missed turn, some rain, stopping for gas, hanging around a convenience store for dinner, and stuff like that. Still took way longer than I expected, though.

And then there was my first-ever (and I hope last-ever) tankslapper. Jav and Chozzer were up a bit ahead of me on one of the expressways along the southern part of the day's route. I was riding somewhat vigorously to catch up, when suddenly the handlebars on the GS started to swing from side to side. They were oscillating, swinging back and forth like a metronome, except instead of keeping time they seemed to be swinging faster and faster. I had never experienced anything like this on the GS in almost 3 years and 40,000+ km of riding, but then again, I had never loaded (overloaded?) the bike like this. The weight in my panniers -- from things like a metal shovel, a full toolkit, and much more -- was bad enough, but I had compounded that with a camp chair and a full-size tripod (for my full-size DSLR!) strapped on top of the panniers. When I tipped the bike into turns, it felt like it wanted to keep tipping, and I had to pull it back. Now, it seemed like that weight on the sides of the bike was pulling it back and forth, back and forth, beyond my control.

I remember having plenty of time to think, "Well, this is it. I am going to crash on an expressway at speed. My trip will be over before I even get to Russia, and maybe I will have a nice long stay in the hospital if I'm lucky. Crap."

The only thing I could think to do was to slow down, which I did, but the handlebars kept swinging back and forth and the bike kept doing its crazy dance, albeit at a lower speed. Then for some reason I accelerated gradually, and the wobbles smoothed out. I was safe, but it felt like I would need a crowbar to unpucker my sphincter. I kept a nice, steady pace after that. And at the next stop, I cranked up the stiffness on my Hyperpro steering damper by 3 clicks, from 4 to 7. It seemed to help.

By the time we got to Wakkanai, it was dark and rain started to fall. We ditched the camping plans, met up with our buddies Twinrider and JamesK (in the middle of their own, separate Hokkaido touring) at a cheap hotel in town, and then headed out to a nearby chain restaurant for dinner. I checked my phone and there was a message from my buddy Chris; he's not a biker, but a bicyclist, and he just happened to be riding around Wakkanai with his friend Ben. He was pretty surprised to hear I was there too, so he and Ben popped over and joined us for some dinner:




Later, we went outside and admired his ride:




Now that's a lightweight bike!

Back at the hotel, Jav and I decided to see whose is bigger:




Jav won. But I say it's not the size of the knife, it's what you do with it that counts.

By now it was late, and tomorrow was S-day: The ferry to Sakhalin awaited us at 10:00am, but we planned to get there much earlier to sort out paperwork and stuff like that. So we headed to our rooms and sacked out for the night.
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Old 09-03-2012, 07:16 AM   #6
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DAY 3: Thursday, 16 August
MILEAGE: 50km
(not including ferry)




This was it: The day we would set foot (and tire) on Russian soil. The Wakkanai biz hotel manager had warned us that last night's rain was going to explode into a full-bore thunderstorm today. Suddenly, the warnings in Wikitravel about how August is Sakhalin's rainiest month, and in the Lonely Planet Russia guidebook about how Sakhalin's weather is "despicable" didn't seem so easy to dismiss. We woke up imagining that we'd see pouring rain outside our hotel windows, stretching all the way to Russia and never letting up for our whole time there.

But the view outside my window this morning showed the rain had stopped. The streets were wet, yes -- but it was all from the night before. Nothing new was falling. I flipped on the TV and the weather report called for clearing skies over Wakkanai. We had gotten lucky and dodged a bullet. I just hoped we could keep dodging them on Sakhalin.

With the weather now on our side, we focused on lightening our bikes. Jav and I realized our GS's were loaded down with way too much stuff. We stripped off some heavy items we could do without, and arranged to have the hotel mail them back to our homes:




Some of the stuff I ditched included my camera tripod and ball head (but not the DSLR itself, which in hindsight I could have sent back, too), my metal folding shovel, and most of my tools. Eh, I probably wasn't going to need to change spark plugs over there anyway. Getting rid of all this stuff cleared off the tops of my panniers and lightened the bike noticeably. No more tank-slappers for me, thanks.

After gulping down some hotel coffee, we were ready to go:




We peeled out of the hotel parking lot, heading for the Wakkanai ferry terminal. Wakkanai is not a big town, and it was very close by. Outside the terminal, we met Kato-san, a Japanese Super Tenere rider who said he was going back to ride Sakhalin for the sixth time! We made plans to hit him up for touring advice on the ferry ride over:




The terminal manager had us park our bikes near the ferry, before sending us into the terminal to buy our tickets and go through immigration:




Back outside, it was time for more paperwork; namely, checking the VINs and engine numbers on our bikes against the info on our temporary import forms:




At some point in this process, Jav realized he left his electrified anti-bear fence back at the hotel by mistake. No, I'm not kidding, it's a fence that goes around your tents and shocks the bejeezus out of bears that touch it. I think this is the model he had:




He called our buddy Twinrider, still back at the hotel, who came through in the clutch and brought it over to the terminal for us. No bears were going to breach our perimeter defense, dammit!

Finally, we were cleared for departure:




We loaded our bikes on board the ferry:




I think this is when the reality of the trip started to hit me: After about seven months of endless preparations, posting, and paperwork, we were finally going to Russia. Like Hannibal on the A-Team, I loved that our plan had come together.

We bid farewell to Japan as the ferry pulled out of the harbor:




On board, I noticed a significantly higher incidence of blond people:




Kato-san found us on board and showed us lots of maps and info about good places to go on Sakhalin:




He recommended one road in particular as "hard dirt" that would be good for big adventure touring bikes like his and ours. We resolved to find it and ride it when we got there.

The weather had really cleared up, and the skies as we got closer to Sakhalin were dry as a bone and brilliant blue:




The ferry flew the Russian flag, but also the Japanese flag, too. I'm not sure how that works:




Before long, we could see the coast of Sakhalin on the horizon. We would have to sail quite a bit further north up the coast to get to the harbor at Korsakov, though:




These Russian dudes kept coming around and asking about our trip, despite them not speaking more than two or three words of English and us speaking about the same amount of Russian (I had a Russian phrasebook, but I had cleverly left it home in Tokyo):




Later on we met this fellow, Aleksey, with his wife and kids. He spoke pretty good English and gave us a lot of tips about Sakhalin. In particular, he warned us that the forests were swarming with ticks that carry Lyme disease. Great.




As the ferry drew close to Korsakov, we could see oil refineries on the coast:




There were also seemingly old-fashioned sailing ships in the coastal waters:




We switched the yen out of our wallets for roubles we picked up at Travelex shops back in Tokyo:




The ferry arrived pretty much right on time, after 5 and a half hours at sea:




Once we docked on Korsakov, the actual immigration process was both charmingly low-key and crazily complex. Most of the immigrations staff (except for a few security officers) wore casual everyday clothes, not uniforms. We even thought they were ordinary people waiting in line like us until they started guiding us through the process. For example, here's the nice lady who helped us buy our mandatory Russian bike insurance (a scam, IMHO, at the equivalent of about 375 US dollars for six days' worth of insurance coverage):




She spoke no English, but somehow we figured out what information she needed from us and everything went smoothly. Anyway, we had to sign a bunch of papers on the ferry, leave our bikes on board, take a bus to a building for a passport check, take a minivan to a separate building with Kato-san and the other bikers to get insurance for our bikes, and then take the van back to the ferry to get our bikes. At least I think that's the whole process; by this point, I might have forgotten some of it. Here's the minivan driver on the left, and a security person on the right:




Back at the ferry, we were finally cleared to go get our bikes and start riding:




I should note that while we were supposedly required to put special international license plates on our bikes instead of the Japanese ones, we never did, and absolutely no one ever hassled us about it or apparently even noticed. That's kind of what I mean about things being low-key.

Anyway, we rode off the ferry into Korsakov. The roads seemed a bit less well-maintained than we were used to in Japan, but decent enough. Getting used to driving on the right took a moment. Getting used to cars and trucks overtaking whenever and however they felt like it took a bit longer.

In hindsight, it would have been a good night to head for a scenic bit of coastline and camp out for the night. But we were clueless Sakhalin n00bs, so we decided to play it safe and follow Kato-san about 45km north to Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk, the main city on Sakhalin, where he said he knew a good, cheap hotel. We got there, and it definitely looked cheap. (I should have taken some pictures...) Unfortunately, it was also fully booked. Kato-san had a reservation, but there was no room for me, Chozzer, or Jav. So Kato-san very nicely agreed to lead us to another hotel in town, the Gagarin. By then, it was dark:




So, it was not exactly an epic day of riding, but still, we had made it to Russia! Time to celebrate with beers in the hotel bar...




... which just happened to be a karaoke bar:




Some Russian dudes in the bar actually chose this song:




I preferred to bust out some classic rhymez from the Beastie Boys:




This was the local brew, a bit too sweet for my taste:




We were having fun in the bar, but we knew that we had a big day ahead of us: After three days of just getting ourselves here, we were finally going to do some actual riding! We headed upstairs to our rooms. After watching a bit of "The Road Warrior" dubbed in Russian, I fell asleep.

TO BE CONTINUED...
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Old 09-03-2012, 08:55 AM   #7
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Old 09-03-2012, 09:45 AM   #8
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Very interesting start to the ride. I am tuned in for the real action...
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Old 09-03-2012, 11:28 AM   #9
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Jealous.

I studied Russain in College. Never got that good with it and never really used it in life. I'd love to ride through any part of Russia. I think there's a lot of Natural Gas and refineries there? Subscribed. Have a great ride!
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Old 09-04-2012, 10:23 AM   #10
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DAY 4: Friday, 17 August
MILEAGE: 91km





Finally, a day where I don't have to write "(not including ferry)" after the mileage figure! We woke up in Russia and ready to ride, ride, RIDE!

Well, not all of us woke up at the same time. I'm a pathologically early riser, and I hit the hotel breakfast nice and early around 7:00. But the two-hour time difference meant that 7am in Sakhalin was only 5am in Japan, and Jav and Chozzer were still asleep. So I had time to go out and walk around the city a bit on my own.

We had been worried about our bikes, but they remained unmolested in the Gagarin's parking lot:




This is the hotel itself, seen from the street out front:




Next door was a bear museum...




...and a go-kart track, which we sadly wouldn't have time to check out:




This is the other side of the street, across from our hotel. It's a pretty good representation of an average street and apartment building in town:




I went to a shop nearby that Kato-san told us about and bought an atlas of the island showing all the roads:




Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk, the town we were in, is that orange area on the right-hand page:




It wasn't quite as user-friendly as we could have hoped for, though:




Eventually, Jav and Chozzer got up and we were on the road by about 11:00. Not exactly an early start, but we were ready to pack in as much riding in the rest of the day as possible. We decided to find the "hard dirt" road that Kato-san had told us about. It was pretty easy to find in the atlas, but we still managed to take the wrong road out of Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk, and ended up heading southwest of it onto a paved road instead. It was a nice, scenic road, though, and we realized we could just follow it around to the west end of Kato-san's "hard dirt" road. If he was doing it from the east end, we thought, we might even meet him somewhere in the middle.

Along the way, we filled up at this gas station:




Well, we tried to fill up. Unless we were doing something wrong (which is quite possible), you can't just fill up your tank in Russia and pay for as much gas as it takes. Rather, you have to guess how much gas you need, and prepay that amount to a cashier lady (it was always a woman at every gas stand we went to, never a man) behind a plexiglass window through a little sliding drawer. Because we had only a rough idea how much gas we needed, and no idea how much that amount would cost us in roubles, this proved to be a real challenge. Eventually, we got a decent amount of gas in our tanks and rolled out of there.

Despite not knowing the Cyrllic (Russian) alphabet at all, I was starting to recognize place names on the signs. We were heading west, toward the port of Kholmsk (the town 89km away, on this sign):




On our way west, we stopped at the small town (village?) of Pyatirech'ye, where we could pick up Kato-san's "hard dirt" road at its west end:




We were pretty hungry by now, so we were glad to find the Russian equivalent of a 7-11 right there:




We got some cheese, sausage, and other stuff for lunch, plus plenty of water for the ride:




I have to say, Russian cheese is delicious. We were all wolfing it down, amazed at how good it tasted. I also got some kind of kimchee salad from these ladies of Korean ancestry who had a little food stand set up next to the main store:




If Wikipedia can be trusted, their families probably emigrated to the island when its southern half was under Japanese control in the 1930s and 40s, and then ended up stuck there with no way to leave once the Russians took over after WWII. (See, my ride reports aren't just fun, they're educational, too! )

The bike in this next photo belonged to the old dude standing behind it. He admired our rides, and we returned the sentiment. Bikers of the world, unite!




Bellies full, we headed out of Pyatirech'ye and onto the "hard dirt" road. It started out uneventfully, with a nice, wide, flat dirt surface. But little by little, things started to get more interesting:




Eventually, we got to a river crossing where we decided to get off the bikes and check things out before proceeding. Jav determined the river was passable, and he and Chozzer rode across. Chozzer's relatively lightweight 800GS really excelled in this kind of situation, but I remember seeing Jav fighting to keep his big 1200GS pointed straight ahead as the slippery, bumpy riverbed rocks deflected his front wheel right and left. But he had enough speed and made it across.

I didn't:




(That photo is a video frame grab, so please excuse the fuzziness.) The way the riverbed stones tossed the bike around made me want to slow down, but unless you're going fast enough, you're not going to have enough momentum to ride out that jostling and make it across. You'll either slip and drop the bike, or end up stuck in place. Anyway, this trip sure gave me a lot of practice crossing rivers, and I would do a better job of it the next day. But not today, and I dropped the bike once more for good measure on my way out of the river.

The great thing about the 1200GS, especially kitted out with crash bars and metal panniers, is that you can drop it without doing any real damage to it. Jav and Chozzer helped me right the beast, and we were (eventually) on our way.

Up next was a sandy, sloping path along a short drop-off. You can see how the ground just drops away to the left of Jav's foot:




We knew we'd have to keep enough momentum to ride over the sandy surface -- but without losing traction or balance and going over the edge, like this guy:




Jav rode across uneventfully, but Chozzer got hung up on a sloping bit of sand. It really looked to me like if he put his foot down, he ran a risk of it sliding out from under him, sending him and his bike over the edge. But Jav came back and guided him out safely:




I was up next. Having somewhat adjusted to the bouncy, unpredictable nature of the terrain by now, I finally managed to turn off the part of my brain that makes me slow down when doing these sorts of things. I was Neo in the Matrix, and there was no spoon. I rode across smoothly and successfully, without sending myself and my nice big bike tumbling off the cliff.

Every time we crossed an obstacle like the river or the cliff road, we told ourselves it would surely be the last one, and the road (trail?) would get easier after that. But it didn't. It got worse. Eventually, even Jav dropped his bike while blasting out of a river up a muddy embankment, and his left mirror was swinging freely from the impact. Thankfully, duct tape fixes everything:




It was almost 4pm, and we we hadn't even reached the halfway point of the road. It was only about 40km long, but we were making slow progress, often stopping to size up an obstacle before riding across it, and we weren't going to reach the end before nightfall. We realized we would have to camp out somewhere alongside the trail, so we started looking for flat, roomy areas where we could pitch our tents. Eventually we found one:




After fighting our way down this road today, I decided that the next time I do this kind of riding, I'll go as light as possible. I'd pick a bike like the 800GS or maybe even a single, and with the absolute least amount of gear I could pack, instead of hauling around this:




Yikes. Even with its full load of luggage, Chozzer's 800 looked compact and trim by comparison:




Before long, our tents were standing. That's Chozzer's smaller REI model in between Jav's and my Redverz tents:




This was my first time using the Redverz, and I'd say it's like the GS Adventure of tents: Great comfort and features, but not the best option if you want to travel light. Still, it was nice to have all my gear sheltered inside the tent's cavernous vestibule:




Unfortunately, Jav realized he'd brought the wrong size batteries for his electric anti-bear shock fence, but it was just as well, as the fence was way too short to encircle our huge tents anyway. Jav did have the right batteries for his iPod and speakers, though, and it turned out that Bruce Springsteen's greatest hits seemed to do a pretty good job of keeping any bears away from our camp. Still, we remained on full bear alert, with our super-strength anti-bear pepper spray and survival knives at the ready:




I tested the bear spray about 50 meters away from our campsite, and the canister shot out an orange-colored pepper cloud about 15 feet long. Although there was no noticeable wind and I had only fired a split-second blast, a tiny bit of the spray ended up drifiting back to our campsite, and in a few minutes we were all trying to spit the burning pepper sensation out of our mouths. That stuff is STRONG.

In a sense, setting up our tents here represented our accomplishment of the true goal of this trip: Bike camping on Sakhalin. So I decided it was time for a celebratory cigar while Chozzer sat in his invisible camp chair:




Just kidding, here's his chair; it was hidden by his body in the previous photo:




We carried our food (mainly meat we bought at the store back in Pyatirech'ye) about 100 meters away from our campsite and cooked and ate it there, so the smell of food would not attract bears to our tents. Later on, back at the campsite, the small hatchet I brought along proved to be very useful in chopping up fallen logs for firewood. But although we did get a fire going, the wood was so damp that it never really burned well:




That circle of rocks we used as a fire pit was already there when we set up camp, so I guess some previous traveler agreed with us that this was a good spot for camping.

With the trail now sunk into total darkness, we settled into our tents and let the isolation and silence of the wilderness envelop us. Although the day had been blazingly hot, the night brought a penetrating chill, and I was glad I had a reasonably warm sleeping bag to crawl into. Despite our lingering fears that a bear might sniff us out and come around for a look, our exhaustion soon saw us fall fast asleep.

TO BE CONTINUED...
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Guy Jinbaiquerre screwed with this post 09-04-2012 at 06:21 PM
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Old 09-04-2012, 01:51 PM   #11
Tom48
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This is a grand report. How did the BMW's operate on local gas?
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Old 09-04-2012, 05:14 PM   #12
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This is a grand report. How did the BMW's operate on local gas?
Thanks! Our bikes ran fine on the local gas. Most gas stations had 95 octane, although sometimes that was sold out and we went with 92. One time the 92 was sold out and we went with regular; it was all good.
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Old 09-04-2012, 05:49 PM   #13
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great report..is there a point at which you can have too much stuff tied to your bike?
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Old 09-04-2012, 06:33 PM   #14
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great report..is there a point at which you can have too much stuff tied to your bike?
There sure is, and we reached that point back in Hokkaido, when we decided to mail some of our stuff back home.

We still could have gone with a much lighter load, though. Next time I do a trip like this, I'll have a better idea of what I really need, and I'll pack much more conservatively.
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Old 09-06-2012, 07:05 AM   #15
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DAY 5: Saturday, 18 August
MILEAGE: 77km





I woke up even earlier than usual for me, probably because it was pretty cold, with just a hint of dawn behind the trees off in the distance. I dug around in my duffel bag and put on a fleece jacket. I couldn't believe that yesterday afternoon I was fine setting up my tent in a T-shirt, but now I needed multiple layers just to stay warm.

I hadn't wheeled my bike into the Redverz tent, but instead relied on a half-cover to keep off any morning dew:




While putting away the cover, I found this little fellow hiding out near the windscreen:




Jav and Chozzer got up soon afterwards, and we made coffee with Chozzer's JetBoil system:




After packing everything back on our bikes, we set off to reach the end of the road we were on, and make our way back to civilization. Right off the bat, we were back to river crossings. I made it though those okay, but then dropped the bike when I didn't have enough momentum to roll over a small tree trunk lying flat across the muddy trail. Even after Chozzer and Jav helped me muscle the beast back on the side stand, I still needed to get the rear wheel over the tree trunk. I didn't have enough room to build up the momentum to clear it, so I figured I would chop the trunk in half with my hatchet and pull the pieces away from my bike.

Sorry I don't have photos of this, but I was busy chopping. Anyway, I chopped through the trunk on the left side of my bike, and I thought that would have done the trick. But the rest of the trunk was rooted into the ground on the right side of my bike, somewhere off in the underbrush alongside the trail. So when I chopped through the trunk, that part of it sprang up, free of the weight that had been holding it down in the mud, and wedged itself firmly against my sump guard. My bike wasn't going anywhere like this. So I chopped through the trunk again on the right side of the bike, and now I was free to go. Another lesson (which I guess I still needed) that more throttle is your friend when crossing off-road obstacles, and hesitation is your enemy.

The logs and rivers and mud had been getting more and more challenging, but we were making gradual progress. Eventually, though, we came to a very steep slope down to a small flat area facing a river with a steep, muddy bank on the other side. Here's a photo; it may not look that bad, but it looks a lot worse when you're sitting on the bike and you know you have to make it across with no screw-ups:




To get through, we'd have to maintain speed across the river, or there would be no getting our big bikes up that steep, slippery bank.

We dismounted and decided to scout out the trail. After the river and the muddy bank, there were more river crossings and more muddy slopes lying ahead. Water had pooled in depressions at the base of steep slopes, creating situations where you had to power your way through treacherous mud with enough momentum to carry the bike up a steep (and still muddy) hill immediately after.

We had a serious discussion about turning back. We didn't know if we'd be able to cross these obstacles. The bikes might end up stuck in a position we couldn't get them out of, and it wasn't as if we could just call a tow truck for help. Or even worse, one of us could get seriously injured. Going back would be depressing and difficult, but at least we knew what we would be facing. If we kept going, we wouldn't know if we would eventually reach an obstacle too hard for us to overcome. If that happened, we would have to turn back even further down the road, and hit all these rivers and slopes again on our way back.

Eventually, we decided to man up and go for it.




And we made it through. It might not have been such a big deal for Jav, with his expert riding skills, or Chozzer, with his lighter-weight bike. But I was really worried that I would screw up, drop the beast in an unrecoverable position, and ruin the trip for everybody. Well, somehow I just got myself "in the zone", and rode through all the tough stuff with decent momentum and balance, so I didn't get stuck, slide out, or fall over.

At around this point, we met a group of about 5 or 6 Russians on bicycles; apparently they had flown over to Sakhalin from the mainland with their bicycles just to try this trail, and to find an abandoned Japanese railroad station located somewhere nearby. They spoke enough English that we were able to compare maps, tell them where we were headed, and confirm that the trail did not turn into an impassable swamp at some point. Much of the trail was not doable by bicycle, and they were carrying or walking their bikes through the tough spots. They also told us they had seen "evidence" of bears. Which I guess was better than seeing actual bears, but still wasn't very reassuring.

I wish I took more pictures of this part of the trip, but I was so focused on what we were doing that I didn't whip out my camera as much as I should have. Anyway, after we said goodbye to the bicycle group and finished that hairy section, ordinary mud pools like this one were actually a relief:




The trail became a mix of mud, dirt, and watery stretches like this:




Eventually we hit a fork in the road and, despite having a road atlas, we weren't sure which way to go. Then the guy below rolled up on an ATV and saw we were lost. He spoke no English, but we managed to explain we wanted to head back to Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk, where the road ended. He actually turned around and guided us in the right direction for a few kilometers before we went our separate ways:




The trail was now a mostly dry and rocky path through some hills, and we thought we had left the worst of it behind us. We even caught up to and passed the bicycle guys, who had been able to just easily walk their bicycles through the tough stuff while we were debating and planning how to ride our beasts across. Yeah, I know the joke about the bicyclist who passes the Harley rider. Save it:




But then we reached the Mother of All River Crossings:




That photo is taken looking back at the trail after we walked across the river to scout it out. We would have to ride our bikes down that slope, across the river, and up the other side.

The slope itself was steep, lumpy, and uneven. I slipped down to the river slowly, using a lot of brake and clutch work (plus some help from Jav and Chozzer to prevent any possible tip-overs). But the trail on the other side of the river turned into an impassable bog. There was no way we could ride through the deep, sticky mud.

We were wondering what to do when the ATV guy showed up again. He had come back to check on us, I guess because he realized this part of the trail was not looking good. And he showed us what we had to do: Ride through the actual river itself, until it touched drier ground about 100 meters downstream:




Jav and Chozzer made it downriver with no drama beyond the normal jostling from the riverbed rocks, but this was not my finest hour. I was tired from two days of challenging riding, and I was going from a standing start after easing my bike down the steep hill. I dropped it twice in the cold, flowing water, but eventually I made it to the exit point and we were back in business.

At this point, we were all very thirsty, as our bottles of water had run out a while ago. We broke out Chozzer's Katadyn water pump and refilled our bottles straight from the river:




I guess the filter worked, since none of us got sick. It was a real lifesaver, since we had a long way to go and it felt like we were getting seriously dehydrated.

After we drank our fill, we met these two Russian riders on lightweight dirt bikes:




They told us the rest of the road back to Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk was pretty flat. That was a real morale booster for us, so we pressed on. They were right about the road being flat, but there was still plenty of mud:




By this point, though, mud and water on the trail were no big deal for us, even when the puddles got this big:




While riding across this huge mud puddle (mud lake?), I kind of splashed the ATV riders you can see next to Jav on the far side, but there was no way to avoid it. (You can also see the water on my POV camera lens from previous splashes.):




After that, the trail finally dried out and hardened up. We were through the tough part! Or so we thought. Lying between us and an easy ride back to Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk was one final challenge: THE BRIDGE OF DOOM:




Yep, those are two skinny little stone and wood bridges over a deep, rocky chasm. Nice. In a car, you would line up your tires so you roll over both bridges, but on our bikes we just needed one of them. We crossed our fingers and hoped that this wouldn't be a case of "in Russia, bridge crosses YOU!" And we all made it safely across. I have never been so glad that a balance beam is part of the Japanese motorcycle license test.

Our two-day journey along Kato-san's "hard dirt" road was complete. We never did see Kato-san on it, though, and we hoped his bike wasn't lying at the bottom of a gorge somewhere along the trail. After an easy ride along some actual hard-packed dirt, we rolled into the outskirts of Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk and feasted on meat and cheese at the nearest convenience store:




This is what my bike looked like after two days of mud:




Lots of the locals came up to check out our bikes. These two kids on a scooter were definitely not believers in ATGATT:




Like the Korean ladies with their kimchee salad stand back in Pyatirech'ye, people were selling food along the sides of the road, or just outside established shops. I'm not sure where this guy got so many watermelons:




After some food and a quick rest, we rolled on, heading northeast towards the town of Dolinsk. We were all beat after two days of "mudventure" riding, and decided that staying at a hotel in Dolinsk that night instead of camping would give us a chance to rest up and do some bike maintenance. For example, both of my mirrors were flopping around freely by now, after six or seven drops.

We reached Dolinsk and tried to figure out where the hotel was. Not easy when everything's in Russian and you don't speak or read it:




This turned out to be it:




We parked the bikes out front, where the hotel guard promised to keep an eye on them for us:




Right next door was a restaurant with outdoor seating, so we grabbed a table and cracked open some well-deserved brews:




The food was pretty good, too:




This cat wanted some of it:




The woman in black here was our waitress. She's carrying a bag of bread, which she ran out and bought for us to eat after she realized the restaurant didn't have any left:




Night began to settle over the town:




We walked across the whole town, which took about eight minutes. It turns out that there is not a whole lot to do in Dolinsk. But all I really needed at this point was a good bed, and my hotel room had that:




TO BE CONTINUED...
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IBA # 42657
96 Honda XR250 Baja
09 BMW R1200GS Adventure ・ 09 KTM 990 SMT (sold) ・ 97 Honda X4 ・ 95 Kawasaki ZZR400 (sold)

Guy Jinbaiquerre screwed with this post 09-06-2012 at 07:20 PM
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