Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan by Ural

Discussion in 'Ride Reports - Epic Rides' started by Suqsuda, Jan 25, 2010.

  1. Suqsuda

    Suqsuda Secret Sharer

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    In August-September 2001 I rode a Ural 650 sidecar combination from the Caspian Sea to the Mediterranean along the planned Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil and gas pipeline route.

    The pipeline has since been built; it's the green line.

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    The trip was the brainchild of my great good friend Tom Goltz, who dubbed it the 'Oil Odyssey.'

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    Tom spent much of the '90s based in Baku as a foreign correspondent for the likes of the New York Times and the Washington Post, covering the wars in Chechnya and Georgia and between Armenia and Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Kharabakh.

    But in 2001 the story was oil and I think Tom wanted to be part of the story, not just report it. In 2000, he and a group of fellow Ural riders delivered the first barrel of Caspian crude down the planned pipeline route, carried in a sidecar. He conceived it as a charitable ride and publicity stunt; he arm-twisted the oil and pipeline companies and other benefactors to pay to sponsor bikes and riders, then contributed a big part of that money to NGOs helping the internally displaced Azeri refugees from the Nagorno-Kharabakh conflict, who lived in camps along parts of the pipeline route in Azerbaijan. He also held press conferences along the way to draw attention to the refugees' plight and espouse his position was that oil companies and governments that stood to profit from the pipeline should pass some prosperity to the refugees and villagers who lived along the route.

    This is really his story -- I just rode along.

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    Tom's brother Vince from Oregon was his right-hand man:

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    Carl, originally from the U.K. but living in Baku, owned an occupational health and safety company catering to the oil industry; he rode his own Ural on the trip and also contributed use on of his company's SUVs as a support vehicle.


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    Sasha was a motorcycle stunt performer and raced Urals professionally in the former Soviet Union -- also a master motorcycle mechanic -- he was basically the head motorcycle wrangler on the trip and also effectively the Azeri diplomat when in Turkey and Georgia.

    Here driving his daughter around our test track:

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    Sasha demonstrating his (not infallible) riding skills:


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    Roma was an Azeri mechanic who came on the trip and kept the Urals running:

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    Some of the bikes lined up in their livery:

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    #1
  2. uraldog

    uraldog vagabond

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    you ARE going to continue this ---I hope -- looks to be very enlightening
    #2
  3. Tarka

    Tarka Doesn't wave back.

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    WOW !!! This is going to be GOOD !! More...more.....:evil
    #3
  4. Suqsuda

    Suqsuda Secret Sharer

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    More of Sasha and his daughter:

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    Other riders: that's me riding the robin's egg blue bike with Roma in the sidecar. Turkish gas stations usually gave us tea when we gassed up.

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    Our staging point was a semi-deserted taxi terminus on the outskirts of Baku where we had a couple of garage bays where the mechanics got the bikes in shape, and we could practice riding:

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    Some local press photographers stopped by:

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    #4
  5. Suqsuda

    Suqsuda Secret Sharer

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    In 2000, Oil Odyssey had carried the first barrel of crude down the BTC line -- so in OO 2001, we brought the first natural gas down the line; the State Oil Company of Azerbaijan -- SOCAR -- prepared the canister for us. Here Vince takes delivery:

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    We mounted the canister in a sidecar -- we had real some concern that it would explode in a crash. It had a working valve that could be ignited. Here Tom breathes fire -- I just have a thumbnail of this pic:

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    Also new for 00 in 2001: Tom brought along an Azeri TV crew and, in a last-minute addition, a bus load of Azeri musicians and dancing girls.

    Tom's adopted daughter Milena dances in Baku for the renowned Rashid Bedudov dance troupe and they agreed to accompany us:

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    Dancers Aytan (left) and Aynura (right) also came along:

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    Dancer Zalika sits astride a Ural to demonstrate rideability. When these girls got tired of riding in the bus they could be enticed into a sidecar.

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    And the we had Azeri singer Bilal Aliyev, a star in Azerbaijan and the Turkic world. So we put on shown of music, dance and song in the small villages along the way:

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    #5
  6. Klay

    Klay dreaming adventurer

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    #6
  7. Thorne

    Thorne Sherpa-ing around

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    :lurk.............
    #7
  8. Tarka

    Tarka Doesn't wave back.

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    I`m liking this. :deal

    Wow..those girls are BEAUTIFUL !!
    #8
  9. Suqsuda

    Suqsuda Secret Sharer

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    I spent a couple weeks in Baku before launch date, riding daily on one or the other of the Urals. Tom had a stable of about a dozen of them and it was astonishing to me how differently each one rode from the other.

    As the other team members arrived, Tom began to organize team rides, like this one of the old oilfields in the environs of Baku:

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    And this press conference and party at which the musicians and dancers performed:

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    I think this woman helped put together the pre-launch party:

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    Then came a final send-off at the HQ of the Azeri state oil company:

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    And we were underway:

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    #9
  10. Tarka

    Tarka Doesn't wave back.

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    Super thread...please keep it coming.

    I really like that sidecar flying over the camera photo.


    Oh...and did I say...those women are beautiful....:raabia
    #10
  11. strommer

    strommer Ride for balance

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    Glad to see you writing this report.

    Here is what I had to say in another thread:

    Excellent ride ! Thank you for sharing.

    I rode from Ankara to Baku through Georgia in summer 2000 and thought then that Georgia deserves much more than just a ride through.

    At the Turkish border we ran into each other with the first expedition of the Ural bikers riding to Ceyhan in Turkey that Suqsuda is talking about.

    Photos from Thomas Goltz's relevant web site http://www.thomasgoltz.com/Gallery_index.html

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    There were about 20 - 25 Ural's, many with sidecars. I remember them saying that they had constant breakdowns.
    #11
  12. GB

    GB . Administrator

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    Now here's a part of the old USSR we don't see much of on here.. thanks for taking us along :thumb
    #12
  13. Suqsuda

    Suqsuda Secret Sharer

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    Thanks, Strommer, it was you and ByleNaKaukaz that inspired me to write this report. BTW Strommer I think you ran into the first Oil Odyssey in 2000 and mine was the second, in 2001.

    And GadetBoy, thank you for reading.

    I realized as soon as I starting writing this report that I couldn't really do justice to all who came along -- there were a dozen riders plus a retinue that included a film crew, dancers, musicians, and others -- maybe 40 people -- and I can't introduce all of those people much less tell their stories. This is just my own perspective.

    Lest I give the impression that the operation ran like clockwork, here is what one of the riders, Ian from the U.K., later wrote to some friends:

    "Thomas (the self-styled TripZip) is a freelance journalist by profession, and very much concepts man. He is an incredibly intellectual and gifted
    individual and is clearly the driving force behind Oil Odyssey. However,all that being said if you are the type of person that likes a well organised event, to know what is going to happen next or focusses on personal safety above all then in its present form this may not be the event for you"

    Ian went on to say:

    "Departing Baku for the South-West we were soon travelling across the hot, hot Mugam salt-flats. After an initial stop at the previous years first night stop a mere 20 kilometres outside of the city (at the “Blue Wave Hotel”) a combination of a post-Soviet Caspian Sea holiday resort crossed with a brothel ! We soon settled into our frustrating routine. The bikes would travel all of 30 minutes before someone would break-down, need petrol or simply get tired. The result was that combined with a maximum effective speed of 80 kph due to our police escort we made progress at the speed of a drunken snail. The further we went, the more behind schedule we became. No lunch and intense heat did little to make people any more
    tolerant !"

    As Ian said, we were moving at a sail's pace -- including a stop at a Caspian Sea beach where Zhalika and Aynura were moved to splash around in the water:

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    Some enterprising farmer was selling melons from the back of a tractor in the Mugam flats, and we stopped to partake:

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    Another pit stop on day one:

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    This was typical of the delays -- the Azeri flag flown from Sasha's bike got caught in the chain or real wheel and ripped and shredded -- our police escort was scandalized and borrowed thread and needle from the dancing girls to sew it up.

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    On the outskirts of Baku was we passed a lone Western biker on a Ural side car rig heading into Baku. We stopped and he did a U turn and caught up with us. Turns out his name is Fabrice, from France, and was in the early stages of planned round-the-world on his customized, WWII-era Ural. Maybe he will recognize himself on this forum? He decided to ride with us back the way he came, two days to Tbilsisi -- just for the company and camaraderie.

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    Fabrice and his bike:

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    #13
  14. Suqsuda

    Suqsuda Secret Sharer

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    More stops along the way on day one.

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    Tom does an impromptu 'man in the street' interview:

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    At dusk we arrived at Barda refugee camp where internally displaced Azeri refugees from the Nagorno-Kharabakh war lived in shipping containers. Tom raised money with the Oil Odyssey for three years in a row, which he provided to the NGOs running the camp. The refugee kids piled onto the sidecars and we drove them around the camp. And although we didn't have time -- or a place -- for the musicians and dancers to perform, Bilal sang unaccompanied and without microphone and was received like a rock star.

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    Refugee kids in Barda:

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    We drove on to the town of Terter, where our troupe did put on a full show:

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    We saddled up again after the show -- it was now around 11:00 pm, a long day on the road -- even if a lot of it was spent standing around and not riding. In the chaos of the day, we had had no lunch and no dinner.

    We rode on toward our night's destination, a Soviet-era sanatorium and resort called Naftalan, where people come to bathe in naturally occurring petroleum-rich mud that wells up from underground vents.

    On the way out of Terter in the pitch dark streets one of the riders, an American named Mark, cut a corner too sharply on a right-hand turn and
    hit the curb with his sidecar wheel, which pitched the sidecar up at a steep angle and nearly capsized the whole rig. It would have been a bad accident and it left him shaken.

    We continued to Naftalan amidst spectacular thunder and lightening, but no rain, and arrived after midnight, famished and exhausted.

    We set up tents in gardens in front of the building -- the resort is so dilapidated that it does not rent rooms -- and were told we had arrive too late for dinner. But after some peremptory demands from Tom -- who speaks fluent Azeri -- a lamb was slaughtered and cut into kebabs, a roaring fire was built. We roasted the kebabs over the coals. Soon after we retired to our tents, the rain came and stayed all night.

    Naftalan (the next morning). While it looks fine from the outside, the interior was dilapidated -- the building did not have electricity above the first floor. We explored it -- there were operating rooms, laboratories, a ballroom with a grand piano, all in a state of dilapidation, not used for many years, the ceilings falling down, water leaks, wind blowing through broken windows. But the oil baths in the basement were still operating.

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    Matt from Alaska in Naftalan:

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    Sasha chased down electrical gremlins in the morning:

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    Day two -- pictured here are Vasily from Georgia who rode the green bike, which was sponsored by Georgia's state oil company. And Kazim -- who ran a motorcycle touring company in Turkey -- who rode the white bike with Craig, an American, as his sidecar passenger. He wore a hockey helmet -- reminds me of the Jack Nicholson character in East Rider who wore a football helmet. I think he picked up the habit in the Army, if you know what mean.

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    Like I said, sometimes the dancing girls would get off the bus and pick someone's sidecar to ride in. Here Anyura models her snakeskin pants. (is that a toe ring?):

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    We rode in intermittent drizzle and past interminable graveyards from the war, toward the Georgia border.

    We stopped in the provincial capital of Ganja -- parked the bikes in the central square.

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    Kinds in Ganja; Vince took this pic:

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    Turns out that one of our police escort had lost his police badge many kilometers back while high-fiving one of the passing bikers, so we all had to wait while the police drove back to find it along the side of the road. But this gave us time to eat more kebabs for lunch and then put on an unscheduled show in the town square:

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    Aynura dancing in Ganja:

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    We rode on, again in on-again, off-again light rain to the Azerbaijan-Georgia border:

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    Crossed the border into Georgia -- my sidecar passenger is Vagif, a professional motorcycle mechanic and skilled rider.

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    It would be getting dark shortly and we were eager to get to Tbilisi.
    #14
  15. waveydavey

    waveydavey happy times!!

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    Thanks! :thumb
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  16. Watercat

    Watercat . . . gravity sucks

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    . . . . . accompanied by dancing girls even. Brilliant !

    :clap
    #16
  17. Dieselboy

    Dieselboy Journey not Destination

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    #17
  18. Chanderjeet

    Chanderjeet IndiYeah !!

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    This is going to be one of the best we've ever experienced.

    Thanks for the opportunity to view a part of the world we seldom see.
    #18
  19. Evilstare

    Evilstare Adventurer

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    I didn't check who thy thread was by and just started to read, until I cam across a picture of somebody who looked like Bob - he even had the same helmet.

    Excellent! As you told us some of the funny bits of this trip in laos, I'm really looking forward to reading this RR!

    Thanks for taking the time!
    #19
  20. Suqsuda

    Suqsuda Secret Sharer

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    By the time we cleared all the bikes and the bus through the border, it was getting late in the afternoon. The road and riding conditions deteriorated markedly once in Georgia -- bathtub-sized potholes, a lot of livestock on the road. The road from the border into Tbilisi is mostly a long, sweeping, sometimes pitched descent along the flank of a steep mountainside to the valley below, where Tbilisi is bisected by the Kura River.

    I ended up out front with Vagif in my sidecar and was running fast. Following close on my heels was the support vehicle towing the trailer carrying the disabled Dnieper bike. (It had burst into flames earlier in the day, leading sidecar passenger Mark, who found himself in the midst of the fire, to bail out while it was still moving -- he was fortunately spared injury).

    Then -- I came flying around a corner to find a jagged crack where the road dropped away in front of me. Beyond the ragged edge, the ground had settled -- so the pavement had dropped about a half-foot on the left lane, and one or two feet in the right lane -- my lane. I went completely airborne. The pavement where I landed was canted or slanted so the bike toughed down first, then the side car. It was the inherent stability of the sidecar rig that saved me -- on a two-wheeled bike I would have gone down for sure and maybe over the cliff edge that dropped away to my right.

    After getting the bike under control, I pulled over and turned around to see the support vehicle fly off the ledge too, getting airborne and then slamming down hard -- first the SUV, then the trailer. This was to destroy the trailer although that wasn't clear at the time. The Azeris driving the SUV got out and ran back up the road to flag down the oncoming bikes and warn them to slow down.

    After that we regrouped and proceeded more sedately into Tbilisi, as it grew dark and we dodged some crazy traffic a lot of cars driving with no lights.

    We stayed at the 5-star Sheraton Metechi Palace -- Tom had gotten them to put us all up as an in-kind contribution.

    The next day was a free day and the riders went their separate ways to explore the city. Tom asked me to kind of chaperon some of the dancing girls and musicians, some of whom had never been out of Baku before.

    In the morning we visited a ruined fortress high above the Kura River with commanding views of the city.

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    This house was missing its living room wall -- the room and furniture exposed like in a a doll house:

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    Close-up of the house without a wall:

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    I put the girls in a taxi, then went to explore Tbilisi on my own for a while. I'll spare you the tourist snapshots, except for the balcony with hanging rug (below).

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    You might wonder how the guitar player cut his nose -- say you were already drunk and had finished a bottle and couldn't wait to screw the cap off a fresh bottle of vodka, so you smashed it off instead, then shoved the cut glass edge in the general direction of you mouth but missed and hit your nose...

    Here we are eating xinxale, which are soup dumplings -- you bite into the dumpling and then sip out the soup inside of it.

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    Back on the bikes the next day. By the way, they burned a lot of oil:

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    Departed the following morning on dirt roads along the proposed BTC, heading for the ski resort town of Bakuriani. The roads would be impassible to the bus, so the bus (with all our gear and luggage) took the main, paved roads and would rendezvous with us there that evening -- anyway, that was the plan.

    A beautiful day on dirt roads in beautiful countryside:

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    Wild blackberries:

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    Carl and his fiancee Natasha:

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    This hay truck was one of the few vehicles we saw all day:

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    We detoured along the way to a small village where, strangely, the people spoke Greek. There are a lot of these small, exotic minority communities in the mountains of Georgia. Jason and the Argonauts came as Greeks to Georgia in ancient times, seeking the golden fleece -- which was not a mythological treasure but a real thing -- sheepskins placed in streams to capture alluvial gold flakes.

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    Yola, a photojournalist who rode in Vince's sidecar, in the bell tower of the Greek village church. amazingly, she did this trip while still recuperating from a near fatal gunshot wound incurred while covering a conflict in a Middle Eastern country.

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    Craig relaxing:

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    Gassing up outside Tsalke:

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    Vince must have liberated the ice bucket from the Sheraton. (Keeping things cold was soon to be the least of our problems):

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    #20