Into The World - 2Up around Africa, 2 bikes along the Silk Road

Discussion in 'Ride Reports - Epic Rides' started by mrwwwhite, Jul 27, 2011.

  1. mrwwwhite

    mrwwwhite Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Jun 14, 2010
    Oddometer:
    907
    Location:
    Bucharest or RTW
    Cheers man, we've been wondering who has suddenly credited our PayPal!
    Excellent quotes, made our day, and so true! We learned to look back to our misadventures as The seed of adventure and some of the worst days in the trenches have sedimented as some of the best. It just says that for us the amateur adventurers, preparing for years and postponing your big adv until you're ready is not gonna improve your experience.
    Speaking of which, we have been shuffling our pics and thinking how we have transitioned to lighter set-up and I uncovered - exactly 2 years from the very day - proof that my present partner "in motorcycling crime" was in the cards for me. I encountered it in the least probable place of them all. We have been sharing these memories on fb so it may be of interest to share them here as well. Look how we left from Romania in June 2011: over 250kg of bike and bulky luggage, which made my first contact with the Sahara neither easy, nor fun.

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    Next lesson was getting stuck on one of the most difficult stretches of Africa: Cameroon's dreaded Ekok to Mamfe. Again, the huge load and the cotton mud took their toll.

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    In December 2011 I was catching an up-close glimpse of her, but she belonged to another… Crossing back trails of Congo together with Alper made me inevitably dream that one day I'd be riding my own 690.

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    This next souvenir is from the crossing of the DRC, from December 2011 to January 2012. The fact that for the following weeks we teamed up with Jacques & Delphine@aux4vents.eu allowed me to keep stripping the weight off the bike, to experiment and even fully enjoy riding on long stretches of rough terrain.

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    This is another key moment: close to the end of a gruesome but nevertheless exciting 2500 km stretch of DR Congo, we met these Belgian guys. By this time my bike was already lighter (thanks to Jacques & co.) and often I was having great fun riding through deep sand, mud and all the stuff the dark heart of Africa is made of. But these guys were riding on the most advanced adventure motorcycles available, that any connoisseur lusts for.

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    What do we have here? In the middle is the same bike used by Colebatch in his Sibirsky Extreme series. This XChallenge is nowhere near as adventurised as Walter's and is fitted with the bulky Touratech front tank. On the right is the sexy rally-raid-ready 690 Enduro which appears to be 'wearing' an early development of the ORYX Adventure kit by KTM Cape Town (note the differences in the shape of the front tanks between these ones and the production model).

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    After being teased with the sight of the aforementioned bikes, and after roughing it in the trenches of Africa for 55K, by the time we arrived in Sudan's Nubian desert (circa early July 2012) I was a changed man. From then on I was looking to un-load and up-power. Riding those dunes made me empirically realise that on sand a steering damper should make a huge difference.

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    After the journey around Africa eventually ended full circle where we had left from, it was natural that we both put our improved skills to use and evolve. So it was that by the time we hit the salt flats of Russia on our way to Central Asia, Ana was on her own bike and I was rocking this baby.

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    Glad you're following, and thank you for the high five. Next time you're in Romania please consider being our guest in Bucharest or in Doftana Valley. We have been fiddling with a book since long time, it's just that we did not stay put long enough to be able to focus our cauldron of ideas, romanticises memories and bleeding longing for Africa into something cohesive. Last winter spent in Romania was not inducing to inspiration, then in spring we managed to be ready for Central Asia and we could not wait to start. So we drafted a 'teaser' for what could be a book in the future, you can download it for free here (iPad, Kindle and pdf), and any thoughts on it are appreciated. It's been a good idea, since the reviews of readers are both right and useful. We are not pleased with that draft but it's a good reference for what writing a book may do to us. Can we do it, can we cope with the language issues? It's evident that the teaser did not benefit from an editor, which is an absolute must. We are also still debating between us if we should develop it from the blog, or take it to small stories wired into the big story and uncover some characters that never made it online and remained in our notebook.
    On the other hand, I think it's good that we allowed the time to mature our memories. A raw account can be great, but so can be something written on the bigger picture, if we manage not to make it preachy or boring :D
  2. mrwwwhite

    mrwwwhite Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Jun 14, 2010
    Oddometer:
    907
    Location:
    Bucharest or RTW
    The Girl From Jupiter And The Boys From The Land of Houyhnhnms

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    Mongolian summers are short and brutal, like a day at Romaniacs. Since we've came, the road kept pushing us forward, the steppe unrolled its deceiving monotony, until we got lost in the guts of this endless and bottomless Mongolia. When your wheels and thoughts are stuck in mud, both me and Ana have discovered, one easily looses track of time. Similarly, when you sleep night after night with only a thin sheet of rain cover separating you from the universe, the boundaries between what's yours and the living substance from which you separated at birth become blurred. It's not always comfortable: it happens that rain drums all night, you may be cold or sun may turn your tent into a sauna. The pragmatism on which our day to day life depends makes you consider an abandon: after all, what sane person leaves home to sleep under the rain? But the process of resetting your destiny is a mischievous mechanism, that urges you to stay, and to endure. You reading this ride report, regardless if you've been in my skin hundreds of times before or if you are planning and saving towards some adventure, you know. The road between you of this particular moment and the one you aim to be goes through the Caudine Forks of those days when you are taken to your mental and physical limits, which in the end you will somehow remember as the best part of the entire thing. So it happens that the smelly damp socks, the tasteless morning porridge and the pruning bodily parts are counterbalanced by a fragrant field of wild thyme, by the crunchy carrot topping our lunch, and by the mild muscular fever that shots an electric impulse from the arms to the stern.

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    This sunny picnic for instance is exactly what I am talking about: we can forget about the grim morning if we've got an innocent river to pollute with our sconcsy socks mentioned before. Until the next rain, of course :D

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    Every time I'm on the road another question keeps popping into my head: why, when we are truly happy, we find it difficult to be aware of our happiness? Is it to protect our human neurones from an eventual implosion? Or is it to reveal us later, in the aftermath of the climax, when we are browsing our stills and writing our blogs, the scale of the change? Or perhaps it's just to put a satisfied smirk on our faces while people stuck together with us in rush hour traffic start wondering if we have lost it. Those people don't know that we are smirking to the memory of distant moments, when we wrestled the landscape, as one should, because you cannot make love to your motorcycle, can you, only within the hygiene of traffic rules and favourable weather.

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    Of course, to each their own "torture". Even if it looks like it, this is not exclusively a motorcycling report. We share our roads and trails with other travellers, who choose to ride without the aid of engine. Their fuel is food and their time takes different value. Helen Lloyd is one of those people. When we were readying to depart to Africa we followed the Brit's cycling journey across the Western half of the black continent and her Niger adventure. Since then all three of us passed the African test, she wrote her first book about Desert Snow, and we've become classmates on Jupiter. As we were not up to date with her latest adventures, we were not expecting to meet her in the middle of Mongolia!

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    The African route of this brave girl largely resembles our own and includes a good chunk of DRC. What we did in 9 months of riding took her over 2 years of cycling. This time around Helen is journeying our reverse route. She started on the Trans-Siberian, then crossed the scenic Tuva republic on her way to Mongolia, from where she is heading via the Altai towards the Pamir, only to return in January for an incredible winter ride in Siberia. The encounter is extremely meaningful to us. With so much to talk about, Ana forgets to take off her helmet and Helen to get off her bike. The girls encourage each other; Helen confesses that she has been longing to try a different vehicle for her trips and that she has recently passed her motorcycling license, and of course Ana urges her to try on the DRZ. Business cards and promises to keep in touch exchanged, we must go our separate ways.

    Enter one of the most enjoyable stretches of Mongolia, where we all we do is ride, never stopping for photos or for talking, eyes only on the narrow dirt trails curved to vertigo. Two hours later we arrive dusty and happy on the bank of a river, not far from Jargaland. The impassable bridge is an omen. Sometime in the not so distant future, dozens of bare-boned bridges await me. As sketchy as the Jargaland structure may appear, compared to those yet to be uncovered, it's nothing but child's play.

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    The bridge is lit by a rainbow that almost tricks us into believing that the rain has already passed through here. Clouds rapidly advancing from where we've arrived suggest otherwise.

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    While we toy with our camera and lens, the promise of rain is fulfilled. Within minutes the sun dies into a dense blanket of cloud, and even if it's still daytime, it turns dark. the road is mushy, our front wheel groping in the blind, through puddles sometimes half a meter deep. The day is spent, we'll never make it across the river ahead, so I figure we should better start searching for a bivouac. I ask for some sort of direction to the hazy silhouette that I take for a woman busying around her yurt. The silhouette steps forward. Now I can see the smile lighting up her wide face, the slanted eyes and the black braids under a colourful scarf. A siren to guide us voyagers through the storm, I think. I follow her sign, but a few meters away I stop again, and Ana knows why. Have you seen the yaks and the kefir cloth, I say, I think we should go back and ask them to let us camp there. The woman cannot look happier that we've returned, and she is joined by others, waving and clapping. We throw our tent on the floor and step into the yurt to warm ourselves by the fire and socialise with our accidental friends.
    Inside the nomads' home scarves fall, new wood is burnt and dinner is laid. Only now we notice that our host is pregnant. Ertin Jaaral is home alone with her two daughters, while the husband is away to the grasslands.

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    The yurt ceiling is decorated with drying cheese, and on the fire there's a pot with bubbling fatty liquid that Ertin turns daily into kefir, cheese, butter and other manifestations of milk.

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    We sample everything on two thick slices of homemade bread. After a snack of sweetened cheese crackers Ertin pulls the last trick down her sleeve. She takes a yak thigh and chops the aged meat into small pieces that are quickly sautéed; a couple of handfuls of rice, a piece of lard and a ladle of water and the food is ready. It tastes and smells incredible. Meanwhile a stream of rainwater and mud is flowing from our feet to the entrance door.

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    Fed and dry, we sleep like babies. We are awaken by the yaks. A cheeky beast is licking our tent; chased away, the furry creature retreats close to the dripping kefir bag and waits for the commotion to die off, so he can feed on his colleagues' milk. During the night Ertin's husband has returned home, so we are invited again to eat with the family.

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    A second round of yak meat with rice and fatty kefir ensues. To our dismay, Ertin pours milk directly on top of the meat. They do this to milk in Mongolia. In her book “Hearing Birds Fly – A Nomadic Year in Mongolia”, Louisa Waugh gives more insight into this culinary habit. She explains that according to nomad custom, most cattle is sacrificed when summer ends. The animals spared for breeding are taken to the winter cabins, up in the highlands. Milk therefore is only available during the brief Mongolian summer, perhaps less than three months per year. Milk is used to make butter, cheese and alcohol, and the Mongols consider it an almost sacred source of nutrition. Milk is always preferred to drinking water, but water is added to the mixture, for economy. Such concoctions are called tea, but actual brew is seldom included, and drinking black tea is almost frowned upon, as a sign of poverty that must be endured only until the next season of milk begins.
    Ertin's yurt suddenly feels a little too small for the crowd of neighbours and friends gathered to enjoy a breakfast with the strangers. They all wonder why we don't drink more milk.

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    Before we say our good-byes the kids want us to take some photos of them and their horses. Again, we are profoundly touched by how they talk and behave to their animals. Ertin's daughters, Amar Tupsin (9) and Amar Jargal (18) gently clean yak cows. A young boy, Altin-Olzii (9) says that his horse is like family.

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    Semi-nomadic children, brown-skinned from sunny days on the steppe: Altin-Olzii, Altin-Ondrah (15) and Atumbaatar (14). And me, the white man, on top of Altin-Olzii's houyhnhnm.

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    Altin-Olzii accompanies us for a while, then the boy and his horse disappear in the background. Our eyes have become a little wet, but we are surrounded by such beauty that we cannot be sad for too long. Cranes roam the steppe, a bold eagle searches for carrion and there's a whole herd of disoriented sheep by the river we've been anticipating since a day before.

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    I search for the shallowest way across.

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    While we push our motorbikes, on the other bank an eclectic audience has gathered. A man arrived on horse has joined the sheep, and he is savouring the show. After we're done, we try to mitigate the 'situation' as best as we can. Ana has stripped down earlier to spare her boots from getting wet, and now she recovers her dignity by fixing everybody tea and a snack of cheese. Whatever got wet is left to dry in the sun. And the sheep encouraged at their own crossing of the river, to where a couple of thankful lady-herders await.

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    Soon after we get rolling again, we encounter another broken bridge.

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    This time we cross without undressing: Ana climbs the bridge, I take it to the water. D

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    Our days on the moutain are numbered: as soon as we hit stretches of road that are under construction my eyes are on the Garmin, where altitude keeps dropping.

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    As we are in no rush to arrive in the city, we linger for picnics and every time I see a stream I jump on Ana's DRZ and go fetch fresh water. Even if it's severely modified to accommodate an unusually small rider like Ana, this bike is quite fun - a solid option for any off-road adventure. The interesting analysis of Colebatch grants this frisky machine its righteous place among the three bikes that have proven the strongest competitors in the light adventure class. An important and much needed shift in adventure motorcycling is intricately linked to these bikes. Walter puts it better than me: since the pioneering expeditions of the past century, the journey taken by Ewan and Charlie and onward to the Terra Circa/ Mondo Enduro collectives (not to mention Walter's own infamous rides to the depths of Siberia), things have changed quite a bit. Roads were paved, and the "grey" spots on the map are no longer tackled with a compass in hand. Cruise boats have become available for the travellers who can work their tan and snorkel while them and their vehicle are being carried across. Many 2013 adventurers appear more concerned to keep their Touratech gizmos unscratched than to allow themselves to be reshaped by the adventure. This isn't necessary a bad thing, but let's not forget that this is the art of propaganda and marketing, it severs the connection between public policy and the individual consciousness, it cancels the instinct for what's right. The proliferation of mass media and the development of infrastructure brings people closed to what they desire: the poor to the consumer goods (and only later to medical services and information), and the rich to the few places left untapped. We are contemporary with the democratisation of access: anybody to be able to go anywhere they want to go. Consequently adventure motorcycling, already a controversial concept seldom confused to touring, requires a new paradigm. I guess I'll be returning to this in a future rant…

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    For now I'm busy advancing together with my girl to the place where the enduro playground Mongolia is famous for relinquish power to the tarmac. Where a panorama will no longer look like this:

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    or like this:

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    It will pretty much look like this:

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    We are advancing to the kingdom of concrete, where Coca Cola has replaced milk. Speaking of that, I'd mention that the Mongols' passion for dairy adds to their already excessively protein-based regimen, rendering them quite vulnerable to diseases. But of course these people are crazy about yak milk, I cry a day later, if their yaks feed on edelweiss! Indeed, the hills where we bivouac are covered in flowers.

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    It's the first rainless day. The grass is heavy with dew, the field reverberates with yaks hoofing about. Besides frog frogging and mysterious squeezels, well, squeezeling, we also had trucks horning for lullaby. Since yesterday we are on their battleground. An enormous operation is well underway to cover Mongolia's untamed steppe under layers of sand, gravel and asphalt. But because of its seemingly intangible quietness and sheer size, the vulnerability of this mongolian landscape is hard to grasp.

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    The gentle tract of the road hides patches of washboard corrugations. The southern route is predominately this, and riders who choose to follow it end up hating it. In the background mountains rise to barren summits, with the White Lake a silent mirror of the sky. Mongolia's lakes and rivers reveal strange new colours, the kind that seem to exist only here, under this cold light, and if I blink or turn my eyes away, they're gone.
    On the border of Terkhiin Tsagaan lake we stop to watch yak fighting for a partner, or to kill boredom.

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    A few adults are galloping or riding their mopeds in circles to keep the herds compact. They pay no attention to us. On the contrary, their kids run over to feature in my reportage. Here they are: Bolyn-uu (14), her brother Baah-baaatar (13) and Namuu-naah (6).

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    This paradise is only going to last for another day. As we are soon to be repeatedly disappointed: by the outcrops of Taikhar Chuluu, where Neolithic inscriptions have long disappeared under contemporary graffiti and where offerings to ancestors lay alongside piles of discarded packaging.

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    A bizarre sight: the so-called “penis rock”, another omen of a certain breed of Chinese tourists we will meet a few months from now. Taking a bow in front of the penis rock some say equals to a shamanic benediction. We both refrain from following the lead of Mongol tourists, but we at least take some photos. It was not enough for the magic to work. On exiting the trail back to the main hard-packed, Ana takes the first tumble in days, and the fist to end with consequences. She hurts her right thumb tendon.

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    Out of tourist sites we are in search for a place where we could attempt to resuscitate our cooker. As it becomes evident that the gear must be retired, we return to our friendly spats with non-tourist Mongols. We must have gotten accustomed to their irreverence, to their lack of social skill or respect for personal propriety, because we are no longer bothered to be almost kicked off the bikes with vigorous enthusiasm. We are now worried about the citizens of the capital who have been recently our constant 'companions', their opulent cars driven carelessly across the steppe, their beer bellies proudly exposed and their newly acquired consumerist habits leaving behind a changed Mongolia.

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    We see from afar the first group of foreigners dumped by their tour bus in the saddle of the houyhnhnms that carry them to the temple.

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    After Karakorin, the former capital of Mongolia, and all the way to Ulaanbaatar the road is poorly sealed, making us curse between crunched teeth and Ana to sprinkle her right thumb. We bivouac a few kilometres shy off the highway, next to a deserted mountain cabin.

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    The following day is as bleak as they come; we spend it navigating through an ever dense flow of vehicles, stopping only 50 km from Ulaanbaatar, quite pissed that our Mongolian adventure is coming to its inevitable end. In less than 24 hours we will have every reason to congratulate ourselves:

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    We are about to discover in the capital of this extraordinary Mongolia an unexciting place of gluttony and polluting industries, with accidental urbanism and an urbanity very hard to like. But beyond all this we will also find the solution to continue our pursuit to the Far East and an unexpected resolution to a personal challenge that has been haunting me since Uzbekistan.
  3. TwilightZone

    TwilightZone Long timer

    Joined:
    Dec 2, 2008
    Oddometer:
    4,171
    Location:
    Behind the Redwood Curtain
    Awesome thread... continuously amazing photos and narrative.
  4. poolman

    poolman Gnarly Poolside Adv.

    Joined:
    Feb 11, 2010
    Oddometer:
    807
    Location:
    Darnestown, MD
    This, in my opinion, is one of the best ride reports ever posted on Adv. The photography, the storyline, the ride itself... all amazing!

    Thank you both for all of the work you have done to share your journey with the Adv. community.

    Cheers,

    .
  5. mrwwwhite

    mrwwwhite Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Jun 14, 2010
    Oddometer:
    907
    Location:
    Bucharest or RTW
    Thanks a lot guys. We are privileged to have the stories to share, and as reluctant as we were in the beginning to pen something down about the rides (like everybody who starts a new blog I guess, and struggles in front of the blank screen, wondering what to say :loll), RRs help putting thoughts in order. Besides, we enjoy going back in time and reliving the moments. Phew!:freaky:norton
  6. Beks

    Beks n00000000000b

    Joined:
    Jan 19, 2014
    Oddometer:
    8
    <!--[if gte mso 9]><xml> <o:OfficeDocumentSettings> <o:AllowPNG/> </o:OfficeDocumentSettings> </xml><![endif]--> There must be guys out there who have taken longer journeys and tougher rides.
    There are photographs and photographers that really, really blow your mind.
    Surely there are superior writers, authors, reporters…

    Combining the three, you John and you Ana... you simply rock.
    Keep it real


    Respect!
    b.
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  7. mrwwwhite

    mrwwwhite Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Jun 14, 2010
    Oddometer:
    907
    Location:
    Bucharest or RTW
    Cheers man!
  8. mrwwwhite

    mrwwwhite Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Jun 14, 2010
    Oddometer:
    907
    Location:
    Bucharest or RTW
    Ulaanbaatar


    After advancing for 3 months across deserts, mountains and swollen rivers, the first thing we do in Ulaanbataar is to get stuck in traffic. Except for the steady flow of the pedestrian crowd which gives me a nauseating illusion of slowly rolling backwards, nothing on the street really moves. Busses clogged with everyday people occupy every inch left available by cars with their respective solitary drivers laying trapped inside. There are resigned expressions on faces, shirts rolled over sweaty bellies, newspapers spread over steering wheels, music blasting fizzy techno tunes, hands poked out of windows drumming to the beat with the longer nail of the little finger. It&#8217;s definitely not an evident scene one would anticipate to encounter in world&#8217;s least populous country.
    Ulaanbataar looks nothing like the city of yurts glossy magazines romanticise. And no, contrary to what the participants in the Mongol Rally proclaim in their fundraising YouTube clips, before ever stepping foot into the country, camels are not used for ambulances. The only two double lane streets of the capital are clogged with the latest Infinity and Mercedes 4×4 models, and Ulaanbaatar&#8217;s rather un-beautiful answer to a modern downtown is riddled with high-risers.

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    But this is just glitter on the face of what could go down in history as one of the worst cases of mismanagement and disinterest for the ecological footprint of a boomtown. Luxury condominiums are being built before any access road. All laws of sustainable design and liveability (natural lighting, alignment, how more cars will be absorbed by the traffic and where could these cars be parked &#8211; to name a few) are being ignored. The construction sites invade every urban space, up to the gas stations. If anything, chucking more cars into the rudimentary infrastructure of the mongol capital and allowing the urbanism to adapt organically will only make things worse. City planners should gather here from all over the world to solve the mess.
    The limited charm of what tourist ads incorrectly proclaim to be &#8220;more like sophisticated European city than Asian city&#8221; is not enhanced by grey skies and smog, but by its dwellers. In the main square of the capital people gather to pose in front of the national hero. Children and mothers enjoy the only open space in town; brides, grooms and guests strut in elegant deel (silken robes) and gutal (leather boots).

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    Contrasting to the restraint stance of the locals, Chinese tourists do their regular victory signs and quirky poses.

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    The luckiest of these beautifully clad people inhabit decaying apartment buildings from the soviet era, to the north of the city. But most residents of Ulaanbaatar are still living at the fringes of empty neighbourhoods of luxury flats, in fenced yurts, with limited access to running water, no sewage and no garbage disposal system. It&#8217;s a confronting image of caged steppe sitting in its own refuse, the agony of nomadism. After laying dormant for eight centuries, Mongolia is waking from reverie and the economy is expanding at an astonishing rate. Recent finds suggest that one of the largest gold mines could soon open in the Gobi desert. Never in history a discovery of such scale proved just a blessing. There is undeniable danger in taking prosperity for granted. As elsewhere, the poorest strata of this society &#8211; that happens to have been until recently one of the most isolated nations &#8211; is vulnerable to corporate neocolonialism. Few of the promises of jobs, health care and education for local communities will ever materialise and before they can be instigated to mass consumption, people need to be eased into what it means to squeeze your country dry.

    Such is the heresy that torments the thoughts of Romanian motorcyclists navigating Ulaanbataar&#8217;s motorized extravaganza. Clutch pulled, teeth clenched, we ride past the closed gates of the Russian embassy where we had planned to apply for a visa. As Begzuren, our Couchsurfing host is living at the city outskirts and he has no electricity and no running water in his yurt, we have resigned to seeking accommodation in a well known traveller&#8217;s &#8216;oasis&#8217;. It takes us the better half of the day to drive there.

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    The inevitable pit stop of those to overland in Central Asia needs little introduction. Orderly, yet somehow lacking character, well-appointed, yet somehow freedom-restrictive, furnished with yurts and staffed by Mongols, yet somehow disconnected from local realities &#8211; it&#8217;s an universe folded into itself, pretty much like the Mongolian yurt. Many have arrived at its gates for a couple of days only to be swallowed for weeks into its gut. Those whom the experience awaits in the future must have already had their fair share of warnings. What the place masters is also what we came for: it connects travellers and allows them a place for exchange and vehicle rejuvenation. We wonder how this place will change in the future, as the people who have run it for 13 years have just sold it to another couple. We meet many people, each with their own unique story: the spaniard Teo aka Mr. Hicks46 who has been filming his entire journey while addressing his viewers from inside his helmet&#8230;

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    Tom the American, who has been living in Moscow for 10 years&#8230;

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    The Corsicans Jean-Cri, Aure si Emilie who are on their Piu Luntanu RTW by 950 Adventure and who surprise us with the fact that they have been following our blog since Africa&#8230;

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    Many others are crammed into a small yard with communal washing facilities where poor locals come to take their weekly shower. Travellers separate according to vehicle: trucks and cars keep it to their own, so do motorcyclists, with the odd cyclist trying to fit in-between. On the evening of our arrival I hear someone speaking in Romanian into a phone. Emigrated to Germany over two decades ago, Karl has arrived in Ulaanbaatar at the end of a ride across Europe, Kazakhstan, Russia and Mongolia. He is with a rat-pack of four &#8211; his son Daniel (an architect in Vienna), his son in law and his father, all on Super Tenere. As Karl is medic, he takes care of Ana&#8217;s injured thumb with fatherly love.

    Pics below courtesy of Daniel & Karl

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    Ana seeks at breakfast the advice of Dimitri, a real life explorer, a brilliant, funny and larger than life Frenchman who has been on a quest to circumnavigate the world by human power. He is one of the two people to have crossed the Bering on and through ice, on foot, swimming and pushing a sledge.

    Pic below courtesy of Nexus Expeditions

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    If we arrived in the city hyped that we had managed to accomplish what we had set out to do, in Ulaanbaatar we are failing at everything. Leading a rookie rider across challenging tracks was a child&#8217;s play compared to the task of shipping two motorbikes from Mongolia to Romania. Our initial plan was to do Central Asia, then follow the Silk Road by bicycles into China towards South-East Asia. That required sending the bikes by plane back to Bucharest and buying bicycles in Ulaanbaatar. Well, it does not prove straightforward. The black market offers no second hand bicycles, but it beats going to a museum.

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    After Ana returns from an attempt at jogging with the cough of a chain smoker, we decide to take a break from everything and do a museum after all. In Sukhbaatar square there is a pavilion exhibiting Mongolia&#8217;s recently returned son, the T. bataar, that was the object of an unusual smuggling.

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    While we easily find an excellent TREK dealer, ridiculous quotes, erratic client service and dubious conditions render useless all our attempts to contract a forwarder. After a week it becomes evident that riding our motorbikes back is the sanest and most reasonable option. And also the cheapest, even if we include in the alternate costs the price of plane tickets in order to return to Asia and continue our journey as planned. In the meantime travellers keep coming and going. Every bike engine revved on departure stirs our sentiment that we are stuck in UB forever. At night, Ana confesses that Tom&#8217;s exhaust reverberated across the yard like a bass guitar in a empty concert hall. That the sound made her stomach ache. That her DRZ abandoned by a tree in the garden makes her think of a chained beast, a friend condemned to oblivion after they said &#8216;I love you&#8217;.

    We are both struggling with a burning desire to go. Ana has just warmed up to biking and has itchy feet. Me, I am haunted by an idea. The idea of a place almost mythically remote. Magadan. As far away as it is, now I&#8217;ve gotten so much closer that I succumb to the temptation of riding there. I pitch to Ana my plan of doing a solo loop and reunite with her either in UB or in Irkutsk. Coming back from Magadan I would also have the opportunity to tackle the BAM. To me this plan feels a proper resolution to our journey so far, the right step in pushing the envelope a millimetre further. But the feeling is not mutual. I don&#8217;t want to sit on my ass in UB waiting for you to come back, says Ana, and I am not keen to ride alone to Irkutsk. One afternoon, in an attempt to calm after another heated debate, I decide to ride up one hill so steep that I commemorate the 690&#8242;s safe ascent with a lap around a Buddhist cairn. From the top I gaze upon the Urga that once lured mongol hordes and Chinese worriers. Somewhere in the background the coal thermal plant spits poisoned clouds, the clouds of progress.

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    A love relationship put under the pressure of adventure is as competitive as it is loving; as punitive as it is accepting. In the end, Ana transitions to her normal self. I know how hard it was for you to support me through this journey, she says, and I am grateful. She knows that I need to enjoy true freedom, unencumbered by the speed of a rookie. She knows how tormented I was to watch her grow out of her own mistakes, that as she was riding on steep mountain faces and on the edge of the abyss, I was consumed by the fear that a disaster was waiting to happen. Joy was hard to distinct from relief. This is my time and I deserve it; it&#8217;s the chance I must take. And while we reconcile to this decision, the arrival in UB of a French guy on a 250 TTR provides Ana with a companion for the ride up to Russia.
    This brief separation will be getting both our instincts going again. For the past few years we&#8217;ve been spending almost every waking hour together, and for the past few months our limits have been pushed to new extremes. Ana needs this break as much as I do. Without me there for her to give a push and a shoulder to lean on, she will find the resources to push herself and to stop leaning. I know some have and will judge me for &#8216;abandoning&#8217; my girlfriend in UB while I go chase a unicorn. Yeah, but if we are true to ourselves and take into account that Ana has shown great potential to grow from being tested, I think it&#8217;s the right step forward. It&#8217;s been our game to jack in everything in order to evolve, why should we concede to fear of unknown at this very moment? I say nay to the haters, we&#8217;ll do what we need to be doing. This thread could have been called: &#8220;Can a rookie make it to Mongolia via the Wakhan Corridor?&#8221; The answer is clearly yes, with the right support and the right attitude they can. In our case, the rookie loved the ride just as much as the leader, if not more.

    I want to share one more thing on this topic. Two months ago while sipping beers with Phil, Andrew and Jon in Uzbekistan&#8217;s Bukhara, I was asked if I was really not dreaming of the BAM and Magadan. I said no, but realise today that I was. Jon&#8217;s question rolled the snowball into the valley. We each have our own little reasons for braking loose from the logical, the convenient, the reasonable. It may be our biological clock, chocking in its unstopability, or perhaps the taken-for-granted slowly wearing down all that should be passionate, like a cancer. Some of us are simply harbouring something as frail as a longing, a dry hunger for a version of ourselves that was supposed to be, and yet never happened. Thrusting yourself out into the world cannot resolve such agenda. It may however equip you with the courage required to attempt a change within. A long journey allows tapping into dormant resources. Though slow changes and accruing you become aware of the infinite potency of hours and days. As a side bonus, a journey over land simulates demiurgic creation: it gives substance to the imagined, a materiality to the unknown. We depart from our cultural islands to be constantly adrift on a sea of alien and incomprehensible cultures. But even if we cannot find our way, we are not lost.

    I also want to allow a few final notes about how this country impacted us. Coming after 14 months of Africa and 9 months of struggle to get back to &#8216;normal&#8217; life, Mongolia felt like a place where everything exists within the realm of the archetype. If you ride across with that in mind, what you see takes on cosmic significance. The denizens of the lonesome yurts aren&#8217;t poor drunks at the mercy of weather; they are the People of the world they inhabit, ecvestrian Heroes, almighty Mothers, resilient Angels, all masters of their domain.

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    The world outside their foetus of felt is something Mongols don&#8217;t care much about. A sole eye opens from the inside of the home to the stars &#8211; the tunduk, and the smoke that escapes from it is the vertical of a faithfully horizontal landscape. There are rules, but they are never actually spoken because, you see, that would diminish their magical character. Only a handful of people have managed to claim their place in history. The Italians and the Spanish took the 16th century, the French and the Dutch took the 17th, the English are yet to relinquish power to the Chinese. Romanians combed by waves of nomadic, Ottoman or Russian invasions never emerged from mediocrity. In spite of the isolation of their homeland and the extremely testing weather, the Mongols made the 12th century shiver. As tamed as they&#8217;ve grown since then, they are no ordinary people. They have been treating us with affable hospitality, like an aristocrat who cannot let a stranger suffer outside, but who does not take interest in learning about the accidental guest. They have briefly engaged us, usually with the vodka as mediator. Out of all the countries we have visited, Mongolia remains one of the most provocative, that would require at least a second visit to understand.
  9. legasea

    legasea Ape on wheels

    Joined:
    Dec 16, 2010
    Oddometer:
    173
    Location:
    Hanging on in a garden by the sea
    "A siren to guide us voyagers through the storm, I think. I follow her sign."

    Had you a traditional navigators culture and would think differently.

    "...were dangerous and beautiful creatures, portrayed as femme fatales who lured nearby sailors with their enchanting music and voices to shipwreck on the rocky coast of their island."

    Happily, it didn't happen.
    Guess don't need to say why appretiate and read your RR with so much pleasure.
    Seems the laguiolle is perhaps lying in african soil but la Opinel keeps the job.
    Thanks for showing us your world.
  10. AteamNM

    AteamNM Wonna Be ADVrider

    Joined:
    Mar 3, 2010
    Oddometer:
    4,568
    Location:
    Sandia Mountains New Mexico
    Wow!

  11. Vinbowie

    Vinbowie Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Sep 29, 2007
    Oddometer:
    433
    Location:
    Maryland
    I've been catching up with this report for days.
    Just plain awesome!
    Thank you for the time you've spent
    to share this with us.:clap:clap:clap
  12. cristiano

    cristiano Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Dec 30, 2013
    Oddometer:
    307
    Location:
    Italy
    This is really a beautiful report!

    Thank you!
  13. bob66

    bob66 Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Sep 14, 2007
    Oddometer:
    153
    Location:
    Bucharest, Romania
    Oasis Cafe is a good place. When you are there is very hard to do anything.. you only want to lay down and drink beer.

    Regards,
    Cristian / Bob
  14. mrwwwhite

    mrwwwhite Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Jun 14, 2010
    Oddometer:
    907
    Location:
    Bucharest or RTW

    Hehe, glad you ve brought this up; the image of the siren was to convey how inebriated I was with exhaustion cold and yes hunger. But indeed she proved to be a simple mortal like us, who took us in her felt womb and fed us her milk and calmed our spirits.
    The laguiolle is way to precious for us as it was a gift from our French companions- so we left it at home in a box together with a leather necklace covered in the red clay that used to rub against the chest of a beautiful himba. The opinel does the job while providing countless reasons to bring our friends from Lagos (now happily relocated to Togo) into conversation. Cheers for the kind words.
  15. mrwwwhite

    mrwwwhite Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Jun 14, 2010
    Oddometer:
    907
    Location:
    Bucharest or RTW

    Thanks for reading, your feedback makes it worthwhile


    Cheers Cristiano!


    Oasis has the unusual potential of becoming whatever u want it to be; taking on some of the traveler's mindset and feeding it back with increased energy. Cheers Bob!
  16. IVAN38

    IVAN38 Adventurer

    Joined:
    Apr 27, 2013
    Oddometer:
    81
    Location:
    Veyrins , FRANCE
    Total disorientation...
    Your photos are sublime :clap

    What is your camera?

    Thank you again of your sharing
    Continue like that
    I hope that we shall arrive has to drink a beer together one of these in the daytime... :freaky

    see you soon

    Safe journey
  17. johnnybgood8

    johnnybgood8 Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Jun 22, 2013
    Oddometer:
    195
    I just found this RR. Its awesome guys!!! Greetings from Serbia! Also, Im little sad because you split up. :(
  18. mrwwwhite

    mrwwwhite Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Jun 14, 2010
    Oddometer:
    907
    Location:
    Bucharest or RTW
    on this trip I used mostly a 5D mark II with 24 mm, rarely the 70-200 and a GoPro Hero 2

    Don't worry, we did not split, we just enjoyed two separate trips. Tune in to see how that goes :)
  19. mrwwwhite

    mrwwwhite Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Jun 14, 2010
    Oddometer:
    907
    Location:
    Bucharest or RTW
    Thursday 15th of August. In Ulaanbaatar the weather is shit for a walk around town, but as I&#8217;m leaving for Magadan, I couldn&#8217;t care less. I kiss Ana for good-bye, and in the heat of the moment we forget to capture it on a camera. If everything goes well we&#8217;ll reunite in ~ 20 days. We&#8217;re not yet sure how we&#8217;re gonna stay in touch, except for sporadic emails. Ana&#8217;s SIM is out of credit and my phone is locked on the Romanian roaming provider. I guess I&#8217;ll buy in Russia a cheap phone and local SIM. Careful not to slide too much in the mud, I drive out of Oasis, trailed by Matthew and Robert.

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    Matthew arrived from the UK with the plan to hit Magadan on his XR 400. Croatian Robert is working as a bartender in Munchen; he&#8217;s left on a RTW by Honda Transalp. We kicked a word while catering for our respective machines, and one wrench lead to another, until we realised it&#8217;d be a good idea to ride together the stretch of Russia we were all gong to do anyway. Matthew took care obsessively of every detail on his Honda, and so did I.

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    Robert took for a ride the unusual vehicle of a another overland. His own Transalp was tuned with a winch and an Africa Twin fuel tank. The croat&#8217;s chunky rig reminds me of how I left in 2011 for Africa.

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    Instead of playing the tourist in Ulaanbaatar, I&#8217;ve spent all of last week on mechanics. Taking the KTM apart and putting everything back together couldn&#8217;t make me a happier man. An oasis this may be, but it&#8217;s not my grandfather&#8217;s garage, where I got all the bits and bobs that I need. I checked the valve clearance, I fitted the Trailmax tires and I saved the 908s for the hardcore roads.

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    I like to see that the KTM people invested a lot of time and brains in this bike; their ready to race tagline is not just about how the orange machines do under racing circumstances (chassis, engine, suspension); every bolt is designed to render bike service smoother and easier. Before departure I was joking with Pinocchio (probably the best suspension guy in Romania) that this model can be serviced from A to Z with the T handle wrench alone. On the afternoon I got to checking the valves it was getting already dark, and an adventurer came to ask me if I was not taking unnecessary risks with such a delicate procedure so late in the day. I would have finished my job in under one hour had I not realised that the engine had not cooled off since the morning run. The next day after breakfast the whole thing took me less than 45 minutes.

    On the other hand, 4 litres of oil costed me three trips across town to the so-called KTM dealership, where there is no 15W60 300V Offroad on stock. Quite reluctantly, I bought 15W50. I hope that this temperamental LC4 will cope.

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    We have decided all three of us that even if preparations will take us a long time, we should go anyway and not waste another evening in Ulaanbaatar. So as inappropriate as it is, we leave at 6 in the night. With only a few hours of light before deep steppe night settles in, we push a little. Out of Ulaabaatar and back into Mongolia&#8217;s open country, we drive past the last gers and the last roaming herds tended by fresh-faced cowboys in belted robes. The plain is alive with wildflowers and that&#8217;s where we set camp, after we did 100 of the 300km to the Russian border. It&#8217;s the first time when it becomes noticeable how different travellers behave. If Matt is easy about any camping spot, Rob tries to persuade us to stay hidden, out of the sight of an eventual passer-by. Even if we are in the range of a sheep farm and a couple of yurts, I plead that the worst that can happen is that we are invited for tea in a well-heated ger by some lovely people. We pitch our vagabond rooms. I sleep in a one-person Vaude that I have received from a German cyclist. He serendipitously arrived in UB to share our dormitory right when Ana and I were wondering how we were going to distribute the camping gear between us. We made him an offer for his Ortlieb cycling bags, and John suggested that I mend his tent, that he was going to chuck into the bin anyways. So Ana kept our double sleeping bag and the 3-people tent, and I left with the Vaude, plus a Chinese sleeping bag that I bought for 15 dollars from a shop. Going this cheap will be the first thing to regret.
    Before bed Matthew has a surprise for us: 3 beers tucked in his bag, and we enjoy them cheerfully.
    At dawn I&#8217;m the most handsome of the lot, with a napkin shoved into my right nostril and looking like a stand-in for a horror movie. Minutes ago I KO-ed myself with an uppercut while tightening the ROK strap. How funny would have been for Rob and Mat to find me lying with blood trickling down my face and with nobody around for miles? Luckily for me I&#8217;m strong enough to face my own fist. I&#8217;m now at peace that even if I&#8217;ll do the BAM alone, in a battle of me vs. myself, I&#8217;ll be on top of the situation. :) )

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    One last breakfast of fatty buzz followed by one more straight line out of Mongolia.

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    The border checkpoint from Mongolia into Rusia

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    As we enter Russian territory the landscape regains its vertical. The border is brutal, decided by the war of trees: where the steppe concedes victory, the taiga starts its reign. In Central Asia there is virtually no transition between ecosystems; forrest, barren fields and finally rock are delimitated in horizontal ribbons: the taiga, the steppe and the Himalayas. For ages the people that inhabit this massive chunk of Earth have ravelled along it, not across.

    Aproximatively 70km from Ulan Ude, we stop in the town of Gusinaziorsk to refill our food supplies. As we get rolling, we notice that we are only two out of three. Matt is nowhere to be seen. We find him still in front of the shop, abusing Honda&#8217;s kickstarter. People gather like the circus is in town. Many Russian men cannot bear to stay aside and offer their suggestions. The most original are the two drunks in a rotten Lada, who explain that the problem is caused by not heaving enough fuel in the rear brake fluid reservoir!

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    We check the spark and the plug, but the lack of compression in the kickstarter is the big question mark. We resign to the fact that our day is spent; I leave in search of accommodation and I send in the direction of my companions the small pack of dirt bikers met on the way. Robert tows Matt to the pathetic guesthouse I&#8217;ve found for 50 bucks. At least the yard is spacious enough for us to take Honda&#8217;s engine apart for breakfast.

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    We find the automatic decompression pin blocked, and after restoring the puzzle the small Honda returns to life at the first kick.

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    Unfortunately in less than 20km Matt has to stop for a second time.

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    Now things look more dramatic: the kickstarter wont&#8217;t turn the engine which must&#8217;ve seized. Again, it&#8217;s enough that the Russian arrive for everything to precipitate: the first pick-up pulls over at our sign and we load the wounded and its rider back for Gusinaziorsk. Matt looks concerned but remains as calm as ever.

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    On the way Matthew kicks the Russian problem-solving-machine in extraordinary motion: he calls one of the bikers from yesterday, and reveals that we are in trouble. The Russian does what Russians know best: don&#8217;t worry, he says, I&#8217;m sending a man to fix everything, he&#8217;ll be waiting for you by the gas station. 15 minutes later we shake hands with John, a local entrepreneur who has a coal shipping outfit to the thermal plant on the lake. An old man &#8211; John's trusted mechanic &#8211; and a teenager get off the Range Rover. The mechanic takes a look at Matt&#8217;s bike and confirms our worst suspicions. One Honda has to tow again the other Honda to the mechanic&#8217;s compound, where we are catapulted into a set of a Nikita Mikhalkov movie set: a small yard, a garage, a typical izba with superb carving at bays, the wife preparing jars with pickles (as we are already in mid autumn here) and a nephew napping in the back of the house (we are asked to shush, which when you cannot speak Russian makes everything very difficult). A story of bikes and Russia cannot happen without stunning Russian ladies somewhere in the plot, so John&#8217;s girlfriend arrives to successfully fill up the part. She is majoring in foreign languages in China and she will be out interpreter, as John manages some English but the mechanic not at all. Once the engine guts are out, the verdict is clear: a part of the piston is missing and the crankshaft rod bearing has seized. John makes a couple of calls and within a few minutes Matt has quotes for the parts that could be delivered from Moscow. In any case, fixing the bike is going to take at least a week.

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    To soothe our minds John buys us lunch: katlet, kartoshki y piva in a stalov (a sort of a small blue-collar bistro). At the table we make an important decision: me and Robert will only keep Matt&#8217;s company for another night, then we take off. Even if we left Mongolia with the plan to ride together to Magadan, Matt is not going to be able to ride his bike very soon. And while he has a one year multiple entry visa, I have 25 left of my 30 days visa, with dwindling hopes that this will suffice to rejoin Ana on the Russian territory. The second decision is to camp on the Gusin lake. We stock on beer, meat and charcoal, and we pitch camp in a fine spot.

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    John&#8217;s lady in her denim shorts is making a solid plea for the quality of the Russian DNA.

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    While we organise our stuff John appears busy with some phone calls. Then he walks to Matt with the news every kids awaits for Christmas: what&#8217;d you say, he asks, if I sort you out with another XR so you can achieve your journey to Magadan? In the meantime we fix yours, and later we&#8217;ll find a way. Matt is baffled. Narmalnyi, says John, you don&#8217;t have to answer on the spot, take you time to think about this, but please know that I&#8217;d be stoked to help you with this thing. Some hours later John and his girl go home, but John is back only a short while later with the aforementioned XR! Just in case anyone would suspected that a Russian&#8217;s promise is not based on 400% solid facts. Well, 250% in this situation, as the XR is not exactly 400cc as Matthew&#8217;s, but a 250cc.

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    We stay up late with John and many beers, debating routes ahead and kicking ideas, while our steaks sizzle on the fire. Robert is obviously responsible with the entertainment.

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    &#8212;&#8212;&#8212;&#8212;&#8212;&#8212;&#8212;&#8212;&#8212;&#8212;&#8212;&#8212;&#8212;&#8212;&#8212;&#8212;&#8212;&#8212;&#8212;&#8212;&#8212;&#8212;&#8212;&#8212;&#8212;&#8212;&#8212;&#8212;-
    In the morning I email Ana. So far she has not returned any of the SMS I sent to the Frenchman&#8217;s mobile, and her mobile is still dead.

    Date: Sunday, August 18, 2013 7:42:11 AM
    Subject: Raliul UB &#8211; Magadan &#8211; Updates II

    M.&#8217;s engine is done; we opened it yesterday and he must get a new piston and a crankshaft. In the meantime John found a XR250 for him to ride to
    magadan and back while he has parts delivered from the UK. Matt considers shipping parts to oasis and wonders if you can bring the parcel over.
    Me and Robert are leaving now to Yakutsk, to meet with Noah.
    &#8212;&#8212;&#8212;&#8212;&#8212;&#8212;&#8212;&#8212;&#8212;&#8212;&#8212;&#8212;&#8212;&#8212;&#8212;&#8212;&#8212;&#8212;&#8212;&#8212;&#8212;&#8212;&#8212;&#8212;&#8212;&#8212;&#8212;&#8212;-


    Nine-ish in the morning John returns by Landie to pick up Matt and see us out of town. But as we say our goodbyes Robert remembers that he needs some chain lube to resuscitate his old chain until Vladivostok. John needs no more: he grabs his phone again, then makes a u-turn and leads us to the door of a buddy of his, who comes to say hi with a tube in his hand! Of course it&#8217;s a gift of lube for Robert. I did not manage to overhear it, but I can imagine what the friends&#8217; dialogue could have sounded like: Maslo na tsepi iesti? Iesti. Davai!

    With Matt soldiering behind, we&#8217;re finally off. We roll by Ulan Ude without deviating to downtown and we make a turn on the Moscow-Vladivostok highway, in the direction of Chita. At bivouac we dine each in their own tent, as the dreaded Siberian mosquitoes are hunting us without mercy.

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    In Desyatinkovo, a small town of bee farmers, the honey sellers wave us to slow down as we roll into a pack of policemen hidden in the bush and waiting for the unsuspecting drivers to make a mistake. When we pick up some speed, Robert&#8217;s engine stops. His fuel tank is dry, which leads us to believe that the frisky pacing made his Honda suck more fuel that it normally does.

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    With the half of a litter of gas from my burner&#8217;s tank we make it back to town and to the station. While refuelling we grab some food, but at the sight of the next character, we almost choke with zakuski.

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    The identical twin of the bearded stocky man from Buggs Bunny pulls into the parking lot on a IJ Planeta. The kiwi&#8217;s coming on this thing from Magadan and he says that the OSR is flooded and that he has taken the Winter Road.

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    If rain comes, beard-man says, it may take 4 to 5 days before anyone can reach you or the road teams manage to fix the road. Other than that the tracks are easy, with a more challenging stretch after Yakutsk; but with a bit of experience you&#8217;ll pass without a problem. The kiwi&#8217;s just confirming what&#8217;s been circulating since July: 2013 has been a particularly tough year to ride this ride. Catastrophic flooding closed the route to Magadan for days or weeks and made sections the BAM impassable at times. I don&#8217;t know if anybody managed to do the Old Summer Road. And the cold season is advancing relentlessly: frost will fall during the following nights, and in a couple of weeks the endless swathes of taiga will be silenced under early winter sky. But following in the example of Gramsci: &#8220;I&#8217;m a pessimist because of intelligence, but an optimist because of will.&#8221;:freaky

    I am pleased that we pushed on the flat stretch up to here, as the road to Chita starts to become more interesting. The taiga, this boreal jungle, rises into the sun a sculptural filter. The light has a unique consistency, like a magic paint that makes everything appear precious, from the humblest boulder to the most majestic tree; it&#8217;s a stunning decor worthy of a tzar. After refuelling and resting overnight in the woods, the next day we go shopping in Chita.

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    Before lunch picnic we have to make a loop of a few dozen kilometres as a bridge connecting two highways is under construction. The 20-40 km of fast gravel leading back to Moscow-Vlad tar is the best part of the day, and it ends in a bivouac that reminds me of Mongolia. It&#8217;s already the second time to wake up in tents drenched in condensation. The day is short in the taiga and the sun starts melting the morning mist only after 8, so by the time we manage to dry a little bit our stuff it&#8217;s already after 10.

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    To make up for the late start, we kick it all day long, only stopping for gas, tea or to pee. Even if the road is boringly impeccable, the taiga is riddled with proof that we&#8217;ll soon be not so bored anymore. The flooding is no rumour. In many places the road is the only dry stretch across a forested waterland. As the sun sets around 6.30 p.m., at 5 we have to start searching for a campsite, and it happens more than once to wander in dwindling light deeper into mosquito-infested swamps. Luckily there&#8217;s always the odd abandoned quarry, dry enough to ignore how uncomfortable is to pitch on rocks.

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    Meanwhile I learn that after me and the guys left the oasis, Ana and Baptiste, the French rider who decided to accompany her while I&#8217;m in Russia, have also switched plans. Baptiste experienced troubles with his Russian visa, and he got so pissed that he realised he had had enough with the Mongolian washboard of the south; so he persuaded Ana to forfait the idea of going to the Gobi, and pursued a route to the north-east, inside the Gorkhi-Terelj National Park. They were both happy to leave the capital, its depressing streets, the illusion of abundance from the sterile supermarkets, the oily mutton dumplings and the fried foods behind.

    The following pics were taken by the Frenchie or by Ana with Baptiste&#8217;s camera and belong to him.

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    Shortly they were regaining Mongolia: they manifested their joy by pitching camp on the most immediate spot. For the first time in days, Ana was able to sleep all night. Strong downpours were expected region-wide, and indeed during the night the water level kept rising. At dawn Ana wakes up a prisoner on a temporary islet.

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    A place that water has just made inaccessible to weekenders, what could be more tempting to get lost into, both Ana and her friend realised. They crossed the stream not to safe land, but deeper inside. Not that deep though, as they pitched again only 500m from their first campsite. Their tents are visible in the second pic, next to the cluster of trees in the middle.

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    The second night Ana and Baptiste agree that they are both far more tired than they were aware of. Exhaustion has been accumulating since their respective trips began, and this park is the perfect place to take a holiday within the holiday. They will not budge for 4 days. A sole yurt gleams in their vicinity, and to put the owner's worries at ease and to borrow a spoon of salt, Ana pays a visit. The mongol returns the gesture the next day, with an assortment of steaming offal. It's finally Ana's chance to sample the dreaded Mongolian fare: sheep guts boiled along with whatever the victim's stomach and colon contained at the time of death. It was not just the taste, Ana told me later, it was the smell as well that was forbidding. During her second visit to the neighbours, Ana does her usual tour of the household, asking tons of questions and the host can't be happier to explain how he fabricates almost everything under his roof, and all his horse-riding gear.

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    DRZ and TTR parked safely, Ana and Baptiste spent their time hiking up the mountain, experimenting with different ways of grilling meats when you&#8217;ve got no tools around, and fetching firewood.

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    The park is teeming with wildlife: squirrels, marmots, birds, even snakes.

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    It doesn&#8217;t mean that nature has not been generously embellished by people.

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    The next 48 hours are invested in exploring the trails farther to the eastern part of the park, which looks like a giants&#8217; playground.

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    The mongol cattle is not dissimilar to the yaks &#8211; undeterred in their search for better, greener pastures.

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    After a night in a yurt (and a visit to the forest loo), Ana and Baptiste visit the buddhist monastery nestled in a mountain crease. Dozen buddhist verses make the climb feel longer and steeper than it actually is.

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    Seen from uphill, the valley is flooded with light; the small settlement at the bottom reminds of a village from a boreal country.

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    The warnings on the sacred frescoes are grim: look what awaits those who don&#8217;t follow the right path! To ensure that her preference for dirt trails will not lead her directly into the arms of the blue demons, Ana spins the prayer wheels one by one, and overnight pays great attention to the shamanist ritual that happens to take place yards from her tent.

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    Sadly the magic fails, as Ana and Baptiste have to return in the oasis, where the trucks do not appear to have moved an inch.

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    The return to Ulaanbaatar is not joyless: more people came for a second stint, the lovely corsicans among them. The (almost) complete team decides to celebrate the reunion with an Indian dinner. But as Ulaanbaatar is Ulaanbaatar, access to a fancy and quite expensive restaurant requires taking substantial risk.

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    &#8212;&#8212;&#8212;&#8212;&#8212;&#8212;&#8212;&#8212;&#8212;&#8212;&#8212;&#8212;&#8212;&#8212;&#8212;&#8212;
    Ana emails:
    we&#8217;ve decided w. baptiste to leave here on the 27
    don&#8217;t forget that the russian visa expires on the 14th, so we must exit
    before that date
    &#8212;&#8212;&#8212;&#8212;&#8212;&#8212;&#8212;&#8212;&#8212;&#8212;&#8212;&#8212;&#8212;&#8212;&#8212;&#8212;


    In Never, where the road forks to Yakutsk and Vladivostok, we meet Kim and Noah, who have done the BAM and are planning to team up with Matthew and myself for the ride to Magadan. Matt was supposed to bring along a bit that Noah received in UB (the weight of the automatic decompression system for his 690). As Matt is stuck behind, I&#8217;m the courier. But since our last text messages everybody&#8217;s plans have changed. The third guy riding with the other two, someone named Kurt, decided to return to Mongolia; Matthew&#8217;s engine broke down; Noah fell for a Russian biker who may join him on the way to Vladivostok and the rains brought more flooding of serious proportion. So it goes that after a group pic we do indeed switch teams, only differently than initially planned. The American, Kim and the Croat head to Vlad: Kim and Robert are chasing a ferry, and Noah a girl.

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    I stay on my track to Yakutsk, but I&#8217;m already questioning my itinerary. Is Magadan worth the 3000 km return trip, plus another 3000 km from Never to Irkutsk (85% of which I&#8217;ve already done)? If half of the staff they say about Kolyma Highway is true, there&#8217;s indeed a chance I get stuck between two teams of road workers, and waiting for them to mend the road is not an awesome outlook for me.

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    The guys don&#8217;t leave me empty-handed. Discussing the route to Tynda &#8211; roughly the halfway between West and East BAM, Kim and Noah give me a lot of information about the railways red lights, the river crossings and the spots where I&#8217;ll have to take it over the rail bridge. The next 180 km to Tynda are being repaired, with a couple of rough patches.

    Every soul you meet in Russia makes a lasting impression. If the Siberian bear remains timidly reclusive, the Russian is on a mission to engage. 50 km into the road I encounter Alexey from Celiabinsk, who will prove instrumental to my future salvation. Alexey has arrived from Yakutsk on a CB400 (yes, my brothers, a street fighter indeed); after he has traveled from home to Magadan on an Africa Twin, in Yakutsk he decided to sell his bike and buy the CB400 for the ride back.

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    We don&#8217;t part without Alexey providing me with two phone numbers: for a certain Sasha from Tynda and for Alex, the president of Yakutsk bikers&#8217; club. Any problem you have, you call these guys, he says. Finally I am able to enjoy my 690, with a long stretch of wilderness and fine gravel ahead. Just like all Central Asia, Siberia is a place for soul-searching. Indigenous to an intense geography packed into a relatively small space, the European spirit looks up to the truths of scientific discoveries or to esoteric revelations. The spirit of Central Asia finds itself in the nature that offers a mirror for self contemplation. Us travellers cannot achieve the clarity of mind demonstrated by Herzog&#8216;s trappers, or the wisdom of the Buryat people described by Jeremiah Curtin. Nevertheless, no day passes out here without a small change to take place within. These are my first days alone with the the bike, and I welcome the sweet solitude, as it is the messenger of freedom.

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    A few km before Tynda I hit tarmac. As soon as I&#8217;m rolling on smooth surface the bike doesn&#8217;t feel right. On the bridge that takes me into Tynda I am swallowed by traffic, but something is definitely wrong with the front end.

    [​IMG]

    The handling feels weird and sloppy at slow speed, so I start suspecting a front flat, then, like any man arriving in a new place after an adrenaline-packed ride I start going more and more paranoid. Perhaps it&#8217;s the head bearings? Or something with the suspension? I pull over and I check. By compressing the fork a few times I feel there&#8217;s a free play coming from somewhere, most likely from the head bearings. It&#8217;s too late to do anything about it, so I head to the only hotel in Tynda. The prohibitive rates send me back to the street, from where I spot a group of riders, gathered in a small park. I park in clear sight and I start fiddling with the GPS. Moments later a girl comes to ask if I&#8217;m all right. There couldn&#8217;t be a more suitable person to play my saviour angel: after almost being killed by alcohol, Gulya discovered motorcycling and did on her rookie year a 15000 km ride around Russia on a chopper. A journey that took her from the suicidal struggle of her past to her present swagger of a fighter and a survivor. I tell Gulya that I&#8217;m on my way to Magadan and the BAM, that something&#8217;s wrong with my bike and that I need a place to sleep tonight. A certain Max is phoned to smoothen the dialogue, and he translates my story to the audience.

    We ask around for accommodation, but have no luck. The two gastelnitza in town are filled to capacity. Don&#8217;t worry, I tell Gulya, I&#8217;m used to camping, I&#8217;ll drive 30km and pitch there, and I&#8217;ll be back in the morning to look for a mechanic. I have already tried unsuccessfully to get in touch with the man recommended by Alexey, but Sasha did not pick up my calls. As a last resort, I ask anyway: Gulya, do you know a biker named Sasha? The girl calls him immediately. Da, da, says Sasha, bring him over. Sasha who has a Harley to himself, is a train mechanic on the BAM. He is waiting for me in front of his house and is holding his 7 year old son, Kostea. Worry not, everything will work out just fine, he says, while giving me the house tour. Tomorrow we go see Max, at the Kamaz centre. As Sasha&#8217;s wife Natasha shows up, she takes over the operation of sorting out the clueless westerner (well, easterner&#8230;) who got stranded in their little corner of Siberia. Kostea is relocated to his parents&#8217; bedroom, because I&#8217;ll be sleeping in his room for a couple of days. He measures me with suspicion, but he moves his affairs of books and pencils that he was readying for his first day of school. Finally Natasha puts out a gargantuan spread of foods capable to feed an entire caravan of travellers who did not eat for a week.

    By the end of the meal, our table looks like props for a horror movie. We have massacred the chicken, the Russian salad and the mountains of cabbage, and Natasha is delighted. There is a sense that the bond we&#8217;ve made while sharing borsch is a bond that will last.

    &#8212;&#8212;&#8212;&#8212;&#8212;&#8212;&#8212;&#8212;&#8212;&#8212;&#8212;&#8212;&#8212;&#8212;&#8212;&#8212;&#8212;&#8212;&#8212;&#8212;&#8212;&#8212;&#8212;&#8212;&#8212;&#8212;&#8212;&#8212;-
    In the evening I email to Matt

    Wednesday, August 21, 2013 9:07:04 PM
    Re: Spot tracker

    Hey man, my sucky roaming phone won t let me sms. I m in Tynda at the
    moment and the bike feels weird after the pounding of the road to here. If
    all&#8217;s fine (will check it tomorrow) I&#8217;ll head for the BAM. The winter
    road is closed due to massive floods in the area and the OSR is impassable. Care to join me?
    &#8212;&#8212;&#8212;&#8212;&#8212;&#8212;&#8212;&#8212;&#8212;&#8212;&#8212;&#8212;&#8212;&#8212;&#8212;&#8212;&#8212;&#8212;&#8212;&#8212;&#8212;&#8212;&#8212;&#8212;&#8212;&#8212;&#8212;&#8212;-


    The next morning at the Kamaz centre I stumble into a familiar scene: even if the outfit is run by a private company, to the model of all soviet workplaces (in Russia and Romania alike) the working hours are purposely wasted or invested into small individual business ventures. Max turns out to be the manager of the place and a passionate motorcyclist. Every year he takes his DRZ 400 for solitary 10-day runs up into the wilderness, to get away from it all and recharge his batteries. That&#8217;s a damn fine machine, he says upon seeing my KTM, I&#8217;m planning to get a 990 myself. Let&#8217;s see what&#8217;s wrong with it!

    [​IMG]


    We put the 690 on a piece of wood and start pulling the front fork. The free play is consistent. Max starts cursing. Dam these KTMs, he shouts, this fork&#8217;s done with, we gotta strip this thing and see what&#8217;s in there.

    We push the bike into another section of the warehouse and put it up on a stand. In this place the lighting is more uniform, and we are no longer distracted by the mosaic of lights and shadows coming from the skylight. So when we pull the fork again, we recognise that the free play is not coming from there. This is when we see the first fracture in the frame.

    [​IMG]

    I&#8217;m paper white and my pulse has instantly risen to the rate of a bungee jumper. For a moment all sounds die out, then someone breaks the silence in Russian.
  20. legasea

    legasea Ape on wheels

    Joined:
    Dec 16, 2010
    Oddometer:
    173
    Location:
    Hanging on in a garden by the sea
    ....Worry not, everything will work out just fine....
    In russian. More or less like this: &#1053;&#1077; &#1073;&#1077;&#1089;&#1087;&#1086;&#1082;&#1086;&#1081;&#1090;&#1077;&#1089;&#1100;, &#1074;&#1089;&#1077; &#1073;&#1091;&#1076;&#1077;&#1090; &#1088;&#1072;&#1073;&#1086;&#1090;&#1072;&#1090;&#1100; &#1090;&#1086;&#1083;&#1100;&#1082;&#1086; &#1096;&#1090;&#1088;&#1072;&#1092;&#1086;&#1084;...