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Discussion in 'Ride Reports - Epic Rides' started by mrwwwhite, Jul 27, 2011.
It looks like it should!
Outstanding detailed pictures.
Even if I've read all the previous RRs on the BAM several times, I really enjoyed how you managed to convey the lay of the road with your set of photos.
Looking forward to the rest of your updates. (And Anna's)
Well Done on the BAM and the Photos/writing are great.
This is awesome! Great report!
Was hoping against this for you, but expected. It is the BAM. But you are quite resourceful awaiting what's next.
John, how many days did the BAM take you? interested to see your archive tracks if you could send me the file to compare with the one i have routed with information from others...i will be there this summer, possibly solo too
keep it coming great stuff as always
"I am easily consoled in quiet contemplation of a landscape often too grandiose to bother with description"
GREAT , Bravo
Thanks everybody for the kind words and heads-up!!! Working on the update - should be up in a couple of days.
It was a lucky thing but I'm sure that even without the train the crossing there is doable as the guard is at the end of the bridge, so there's little he can do :)
Well, since the butcher/welder in Tynda mended my frame, by biggest fear was that something like what did would happen.
It took me 4 days (3 full days and two half-days) from Tynda to Severobaikalsk. The road is really doable at this pace with a well suspended light adv motorbike. Unfortunately I discovered the hard way that the 690 OEM suspension is not ideal. The map on OSM basically contains Sibirsky Extreme track which is dead on accurate. Also the constantly updated waypoints from HUBB are a valuable knowledge base and we should thank Walter 4 that. I will PM with mine.
@Redkrouge --> cheers, Siberia is one of those places that makes you think this way.
Epic. Absolutely epic.
Thou Shalt Not Ride
I decide to crawl back to Severobaikalsk, driving as gingerly as I can, so the ride back takes me twice as much as it did in the morning. On the way I have plenty of time to ponder my options. Time and money have become an issue. It's Sunday afternoon; an attempt to find in Severobaikalsk another welder that could patch up things and to try to ride the remaining ~800 kilometres up to Irkutsk would simply mean fooling myself. So I head directly to the train station.
The first thing I do at the ticket counter is to ask for all trains leaving for Irkutsk and Moscow. There's one today to Baikal, and another that departs for the capital tomorrow. If I buy now my ticket for Irkutsk will I be able to sort out transportation for my bike in due time, I ask the ticket lady. Go to 'bagajnaia adilenia' she says, but I misinterpret the information, and instead of searching for the cargo department in the building no. 2, I end up at the second floor of the main building, right in the command centre of the train station. Liubea, a tall blonde reaching 40 years of age, takes immediate interest in my quest. What are you looking for, she asks, and soon she is walking with me back to the information desk where I am told that it is indeed possible to put my 690 on the train to Moscow, on the condition that I exchange my ticket for the same destination. While snacking in the train station cafeteria I text Ana: Houston we have a problem.
After 2 pm I'm back at the shipping counter. A bored lady with a communist attitude makes it clear that she is in no mood to deal with my very sketchy Russian. We cannot get your bike onboard, she says, because there's nobody to load it on the train. I think of my friend Tanea from Tynda and I call to ask her to help me explain that I'm prepared to pay extra for the loading. But it's the first day of school in Russia, and I find Tanea busy with the festivities. Realising that it's not the right moment to push it, I send her my love and I return to Liuba. She welcomes me like one would an old friend. Sit down, she says, and a tray of cakes appear in front of me. Would you like a cup of tea? As soon as Liuba can take a break, we go negotiate my case to the unfriendly lady from earlier. 15 minutes and a couple of phone calls later, Liuba has good news. There's a wagon departing for Moscow right now, she says, and I've got the people who can load your bike on the train. We don't usually deal with these things, so you'll have to settle a price for yourself; here's their number. The dudes show up: they are beefy Azeri people, with wide hands hardened from tedious work. We put my bike inside their van, then they drive to the cargo station where the four of us plus two men from the train company barely manage to lift the 690 on the platform sitting well above our shoulders!
On the way back to the main train station I chat with my Azeri mates. I learn that they run one of the numerous small businesses that survive on the back of the gigantic state-owned corporations. We have agreed on 1500 rubbles for their services (including small bribes to various people), but the driver tells me: you've worked side by side with my men, I'll only charge you 1000. As I have not wasted my time in Central Asia, I remember that I should thank him in Turkish. The driver is so happy, that for fear he should return all the money I immediately have to say good-bye and leave. During all this time there has been no word of any documents
I was only given a paper with a phone number. 5 days from now you should call here, I was told, so naturally I'm paranoid enough to check this information with Liuba. Everything will be fine, she says, and I'm comforted to return to my shabby guesthouse and to enjoy a sundowner beer on the hill that allows a lovely panorama of Lake Baykal.
The next day I start my bikeless Trans-Siberian journey to Moscow.
In third class the wagons contain cells with 4 bunk beds each; the corridor is lined with more folding beds, and I end up in the one on top. The mood is relaxed: a drunken lady invites me to meatballs and vodka. We get chatty. Where you from, she asks; Romania, I say, which prompts my neighbour from below to explain to a fellow traveller that I am a gipsy. That ends our potential friendship, so I will contend to spending the rest of my time with Tolea, another vodka champion. He manages enough English to entertain me with stories from the swathes of the taiga where he is a forest engineer.
The rest of the long hours are spent with the two ladies that attend for our wagon. As the journey progresses they become more friendly; their job is to distribute beddings, to scold the passengers, to care for the steaming samovar, to sell unfashionable souvenirs and instant soup, and of course to wash the floors. Tolea takes of in Kranoiarsk and three black guys get onboard. While they are being interrogated by the train attendant I try to peek at their passports. An amateur singer, the 22 years old Michael is the friendlier of the group. We become buddies. I learn that Michael and his mates come from wealthy families from Accra and that they are returning after a stint in an international summer camp, that may help them collect the necessary extracurricular point to apply for the dream school: MIT. Im impressed to meet Africans volunteering in Russia and I share some of my own biking adventures. Before wed part ways, the Ghanians borrow me the African universal charger that I last used in Mozambique!
Days pass excruciatingly slow. Prisoners of our metal box on wheels, we take advantage of every stop, to stretch our limbs. The train stations are all alike, greyish assemblies of parallel lines converging into nothingness, with the odd shack from which emerge even stranger apparitions: uniformed beauties who start walking on the rails in their sky-high stilettos.
At 4 in the morning Im collected from Moscows station by Vlad. The Romanian is a superb host: delicious meals and restful nights in his comfy apartment alternate with a drive around Moscow with his buddy Max, a beer with Walter @Sibirsky Extreme and a Cuban music concert with Tom and Tony. After week in the taiga and with the fractured Trelis on my mind I find it hard to unwind. But some of the best people Russia has and Russia lures. Its not just the caviar, or the oil, its also the meltingpot of tribes and beliefs, the massive ambitions mixed with a disarmingly melodramatic spirit, the outstanding land features au par with the immense wilderness stretching beyond imagination. Churchill was spot on when he said that Russia is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma. To experience the humbling and unassuming Russian camaraderie or to serendipitously meet its rather brilliant expats is nothing but joy.
A few days back from all this, about the time when I was crossing some river on the West BAM, Ana was leaving Ulaanbaatar, together with Baptiste. The sun was missing as usual and the air was poisoned with emissions. Inch by inch, the DRZ and the TTR cross for the final time the yurt favelas which show that in Mongolia one need not be a nomad to have to live in a tent. This city is something else - an anomaly in the heart of the steppe, a town that has imprisoned its people under the promise of a future filled with unnecessary objects. Or it could be just the depressing weather. It's raining cats and dogs. By evening the two motorcyclists decide to end their agony in a shabby hotel.For 30 bucks their room offer no handles at doors, the plugs sparkle and the view couldn't be more 'charming.'
Up to Ulan-Ude the road is impeccable. Ana keeps wondering why so many bikers were arriving in the Oasis infuriated with the quality of the roads from Russia, only to forfeit any ride further into Mongolia for a hasty return the same way they had come. Could there be a connection with their 800-1200 cc engines and immense rigs? Just like I did two weeks ago, Ana and Baptiste enjoy the splendid Siberia. The trick is admirable: the mongols were left with the barren steppe and the storms, the russians scored a sky blue as hope and a brilliant sky as guardian of an endless taiga. On top of such beauty, the first lunch is delicious, and Ana cant stop giggling that soldiers and hefty ladies approach her under firm conviction that she is one of their own.
My girlfriend and her companion park in front of Ulan-Udes bronze landmark: a 10 meters hight Lenin head, the largest of the soviet world and one of the few still standing. The locals have kept it as it give character to the square: lovers kiss in front, tourists pose next to it. It takes a couple of second for the boggy knobblies and the foreign plates of the two bikes to stir the curiosity of a local. A tall guy walks hastily in their direction. Stas, he says putting out a freshly wounded arm. I took a razor, he says, meaning he rolled on the tarmac and shaved his elbow after falling of his bike. After he finds out whats the deal with them, he starts talking energetically in this mobile. Shouldnt we go? asks Baptiste, but Ana tells him to chill and allow the Russian magic to unfold. Indeed, Sas returns to us gleaming, to inform that tonight we shall sleep at the headquarters of the local bike club. Refusing is out of the question. Two guys arrive on a chopper to take us to the place where a consistent gathering has formed. Ana and the French guy park their bikes inside, where there are musical instruments, motorcycling paraphernalia and plenty of sleeping space for any unexpected guests who are always most welcome. The party will not end before dawn.
In the morning actually about 10 oclock, Andrei arrives on his CBR 1000 RR to take as to the buddhist monastery, as planned. Its way too late, says Baptiste, but Ana realises how disappointed Andrei will be if he is not able to do something nice for the guests. So they agree to go. Heres the farewell pic. Next theres Sasha aka Real men ride choppers
Ulan-Ude is the capital of the Buryat Republic. The Buryat are a conservative branch of the Mongol family, where shamanism is still prevalent alongside buddhist traditions. The forest behind the monastery is a poetic reminder of that.
Near Irkutsk, Ana, who is rolling one hour behind Baptiste, sees this Siberian sea, the Baykal lake for the first time. On the other side of this lake I am riding under a sun just as glorious, but on completely different roads and in crippling cold.
Irkutsk is one of the most picturesque in Russia: tsarist architecture aligns the river promenade. On the bottom of the river there are countless keys from the lockers attached to the bridge by lovers of all ages, in oder to preserve their love binds intact.
At night, Ana, the french guy, their CS host Marina and Roman, the Argentinian who is their temp housemate, all go out for a drink. Baptiste cannot leave town before a chain change; in the warehouse of the moto-shop Ana finds the frenchies fav vehicle: a monocycle, which he takes for a ride
The next sunset finds the two riders comfortably installed at the bivouac. My text message where I ask her to send me her future island coordinates feeds Ana false hopes.
300 km of asphalt across the taiga and a free ferry ride later, the DRZ and the TTR are rolling on a island that look right out of fairytales: Olkhon.
Its the 1st of September, the first day of school in Russia, and all tourists and weekenders have left the island. Deserted, surrounded by the calm blue of the lake, Olkhon has a unique vive. The trails and the landscape remind of Genghis Hans homeland; actually its nickname is little Mongolia.
In the village, Ana and Baptiste pull over at Sergheys, a character not one bit less fabulous than the place where hes been living together with his family. Polyglot, handsome, initiated, Ana cannot decide if hes a surfer and a spiritual man, a shaman or a mystic artist. Every morning and sometimes at noon, the russian, who tends for the only orthodox church on the island, shoots another sublime song, by pulling a few strings and bells. The travellers have settled in Sergheys cabin, and while hes out foraging for winter berries, they do a bit of housework and care for the vegetable garden.
Their bikes relieved of all extra burden, Ana and Baptiste go to explore the 75 by 15 kilometres of dry land surrounded by worlds deepest lake.
Baykal lake is the one truly astonishing feature that interrupts Siberia. 1/5 of the planets fresh water sits in one of the most ancient geographical scars, a 25-30 mil. years old trench that is destined to become worlds sixth ocean. Somewhere along this coastline the bottom only ends 1637 meters below the surface! On the other side of the lake, the legendary Lena starts its 4472 km journey. Theres a non-stop show of cloud and fog, with sun its masterful director.
Olkhon is not just a geomorphic anomaly (the climate is the driest in Siberia); many endemic species have managed to survive in isolation, suffering almost Australasian mutations
The sand on the beach could very well exist in the Caribbean. On the contrary, the pines rising off the desert remind that the closest line of reference is not the Equator, but the Polar Circle.
The place is a miniature motorcycling playground: steep hills, a labyrinth of winding trails interrupted by hops and tree roots sprouting out, forests of trees with bark that appears ingeniously carved by a master, their branches lifted in prayer to the sky. The forrest spanning the northern half of the island end in another glorious promontory.
Clues scatter everywhere on the island. With an exceptional natural environment and wildlife, the locals are to match. Olkhon is a sacred place to the shamanist Buryats; almost every rock, hill, cave and cape has an ancient legend attached to it; there are countless totems (ovoos) and cairns in places Buryat believe to be inhabited by spirits: cattle hooves amputated above the ankle, teeth, horn fragments.
At night, Ana devours from the amazing collection of books gathered at Sergheys, the book of Jeremiah Curtin who took at the dawn of the past century a journey into a world our generation has already missed. In our times the complexity of such cultures and places is mummifying in history books.
Contrary to the mysterious vibe of the inhabited bits, Olkhons main village lingers in its romantic juices. Wooden izbas with blue shatters, dusty alleys where blond kids on squeaking bicycles are the only things that move. In the port there are a few ships abandoned to rust, and some warehouses scatter, their empty carcasses gleaming in the golden hues of rotting wood.
On the coast shaped by relentless wave work, a graffiti makes for a fitting symbol of the places nostalgia.
Only in the third day will Ana and the french guy realise that theyve been living on the edge of Olkhons most stunning promontory. The cape connects to the mainland through a narrow stretch that separates a beach with golden sand that could very well exist in Thailand, from a beach where crystal water washes a layer of white pebbles, pretty much like what youd see on the Dalmatian coast.
The last sunset on the island. Ana and Baptiste, who are yet to learn of my new technical troubles, start gearing up for our supposed meeting in Irkutsk.
thanks john, thats the maps i was basing the ride on, nice to know they are accurate...my suspension upgrade is in process as we speak...
This should help tie a few loose ends and marvel at how small our worlds really is.
There's a report from a couple of russian bikers on big bikes riding across Russia to Vladivostok and back through Mongolia.
On their way out of Mongolia and into Altai, they come across Baptiste about to enter Mongolia solo.
A few days later, they come across a group of legendary Russian endurists, on their way down Chuiskiy trakt and across Tuva (remember Colebatch's earlier report? )
(here's full post with more pics - http://africatwin.ru/forum/index.php?topic=5637.msg103875#msg103875)
Those guys have some incredible video, search youtube for Mongolian cosmonauts.
Additionally, they are translating their RR here!
<iframe src="//player.vimeo.com/video/83012009" width="500" height="281" frameborder="0" webkitallowfullscreen mozallowfullscreen allowfullscreen></iframe> <p></p>
PS. Going to go and post on africatwin forum that the guys have bumped not into some random French guy, but into him who shall soon cross paths with a crazy Romanian couple and he who will accompany his girlfriend between Russia and Mongolia whilst her man goes to break a trellis frame on the BAM!
... thanks for sharing
Thanks for linking that up. Will shoot the info to Baptiste, he'll appreciate.
Thou Shalt Not Ride II
The news of my moto troubles catches with Ana and Baptiste in a Siberian stalov. Theyve stopped to borsch and stretch their legs. A client overhears their conversation in French and bursts into a French ballad. These Russians love the French, and as harsh their life is out here, they arent hopeless. To help with their mood, the Russians take their dose of 100 grams at any time of the day this is not conducing to revolution which history taught is is not lead by drunks, but by Stalin, immolation and blood. Here vodka is the governments best ally, the lid on the bubbling pot of kasha.
Ana and Baptiste resign to sorting out their own train journey to Moscow. Logistics take the better half of the day by the end of which both bikes have been fitted with wooden braces, and motorcyclists have metamorphosed into backpackers. For a while they feel inadequate. But as the Trans-Sib swallows them into its gut, they relax and enjoy the experience. 30 minutes since departure, passengers change into train gear: baggy sweatpants and shirts, flip-flops, overalls. Bags of food are being consumed in gargantuesque feasts, vodka bottles are open, tongues unravel their wit. Social abilities return, after being lost in the weeks of limited dialogue with rarely russophile/ anglophil mongols. By the first evening Ana is juggling a sketchy translation from French to Russian and viceversa; to deepen the confusion, neighbour turns out to be Armenian, and he insists that Ana learns a few words in his language, while asking for the equivalent in Romanian or in English.
The night ends in a vodka orgy: two Siberian youngsters from Krasnoiarsk are so smitten with the idea that a French citizen is on their train, that they basically kidnap Baptiste and Ana to the restaurant, where all four enjoy a lavish dinner with way too much alcohol. Ana is careful, but Baptiste is not used to such craziness and he falls victim to the two bottles of premium vodka. On his way back he will have to pay visit to each and every toilet from the train, and he will eventually miss the 5 language good-night exchange between his train fellows.
The romanticism of a Trans-Siberian journey is surely exaggerated; after 24 hours of marinating in their own juices, bodies demand a shower; the smell of instant soup and sodium nitrate sausages is ever more nauseating. Out of the window, Siberia unravels indifferent, monotonous, deceivingly virgin.
But every 4-bunk-bed cell in the wagon and the narrow passage lined with more foldable beds is a beehive of just as many funny scenes. A comedian, an anthropologist or a writer could find plenty material: a 17 years old gypsy is burning her one year old son, a sweaty man eats sunflower seeds directly from the flower that serves for packaging and plate, two former marines in their knickers and stripes are playing poker while eyeing each other with lust. The mother of the Armenian dude caters with mute adoration every ring of here son, who is on a quest to seduce every female should on the train, whenever he wakes up from alcoholic come. The last arrived refuses to join the conviviality: a slim lesbian, who after a final kiss leaves her muscular lover standing, and hoists her bags up, confining herself to her bunk bed for the rest of the journey. Next a father is setting up lunch for his 9 years old son who is sleeping in running stance while gripping his plastic machine gun. The mother is sporting a stark shade of mauve on her toenails and leopard-skin leggings, with a concerned rictus between the eyebrows. A napping passenger is moaning on his upper berth, his feet hanging over the narrow corridor that Aliona, the attendant, has started sweeping. She is young, perhaps not yet 25, yet her features have already frozen into the grimes of her future old self. Twice a day she puts on her blue nylon overall with embroidered collar, the kind of stark object that makes Ana feel like shes not just traveling along Russia, but across time. Aliona grabs her dirty little broom and a bucket and starts cleaning the floors, while scolding the passengers like a severe kindergarden teacher. She gets upset when people dont lift their feet up for her broom, when too much time is spent in the toilet, when chatty passengers dont shut up with the official lights-off. The Russians, contrary to the nations who had to adopt their ways, appear unfazed and go on with their journey as jovially as ever.
Every now and then a smart man decreed that stops should take longer, so that the passengers can stretch their legs.
Finally, on the third day before dawn, I am waiting together with Vlad for the train 69 that will reunite me with my girlfriend. Even if the adventures weve been through in the meantime have not all ben jolly and fine, we are all ecstatic to see each other. We plant Baptiste in a youth hostel until the next day, when another train brings the DRZ and the TTR home.
In this 15 million strong megacity we bump into none other than Tom whom we met over a month ago in Ulaanbaatar; Tom is also glad to see us, and takes us to lunch.
The two bikes freed from their cages, the frenchie goes on his way, while I and Ana stay to fall a little bit in love with Moscow. Vlad offers us the family bicycles, allowing us an early feel of whats to come on our next adventure, that is to start in less than 10 days on the other end of Asia.
When we are not exploring the surface, we wander the underworld: Moscows tube is world renowned for its stunning train stops that double for veritable art galleries: a display of cubism, mosaic, art nouveau; some statues are even believed to retain magic powers, and are constantly rubbed by believers hands.
We'd love to linger, but we soon must start cycling across China. That means that in a few days we should park our bikes back in Bucharest. So Im in urgent need of a good welder. Heavily bearded, massive, gourmand, poet, drunken, generous, Kostya meets me in his welding shop at the fringes of Moscow. But hes no welder, he is a metal artist; a fabricator.
My 690 restored once more, we're ready to say good bye to Vlad.
Once Moscow melts in the distance, we only stop for brief cupppas the bikes are in good shape and we feel rejuvenated after the stint at Vlads. Sadly, the end of the expedition is doomed to be pathetic. This is the last restful bivouac
Then troubles start
In Kiev Ana has the first flat; Im next, and after changing the tube in relentless rain we have to camp in the most disgusting bog, on the side of the noisy highway.
Before Odessa the damn 15W50 kills my rocker arm bearing. Its not the final blow yet, and it takes us over an hour to persuade somebody to help us carry the bike to town.
At the HQ of the shipping company we find a good samaritan: Dimitri helps us to hire for a reasonable price a driver; the man will tow the 690 on a shabby platform attached to a disintegrating car, while Ill be riding Anas DRZ.
Through freezing rain we finally arrive at the border to Moldova, where we push our bikes across. Anas sister has arrived with a friend to tow the bike to Galati, but for some mysterious reason the Ukrainean border control find his car suspicious, and impounds it for the night. They are eventually released with no further explanations at the wee hours of dawn, but by then I and Ana have long pitched our tent on the most immediate spot out of the restricted border area. In the morning we make the last 15 km to Romania by rented van.
Our joy to have finished a short but quite intense trip that saw us achieving our targets and reinventing ourselves, is slightly tarnished by the non-heroic arrival. Rich in events from drama to extreme happiness, from snow, visions of the Himalaya and remote Siberia, nomads and bureaucrats, resplendent cities, desert storms and so much more, our motorcycling adventure Into Asia is over.
During the following week we are regretfully retiring our bikes for the winter and get ready for a few months on bicycles. As we did many extra thousands of km and a seizable part of the BAM additionally to our original itinerary, we consider to have more than compensated for the missing link from Ulaanbaatar to China. Therefore, we start in Beijing.
To follow on that journey tho', you need to visit our website at: http://intotheworld.eu/en/ as it's a cycling trip and we don't want to clog a pure biking adv forum. We may take the freedom to post 1 or 2 stories at some point.
Warning! Those yet unsure of why should they follow a cycling adventure on a website about adventures on motorbikes may note that the ride reports coming up may contain: a city of the future versus a forbidden city
discipline and relaxation
food that makes your mouth water like worlds best pho and caterpillars pricier than gold
urban chaos versus village zen
snow in Tibetan 5000m high mountain passes and tropical storms in Yunnan
track action that requires loading on carbs
a story of life in the midst of worlds most photogenic rice paddies
Tibetan cowboys and a fussy little fellow who resembles a younger me
humbling open-hearted people
a China or harmonies
and one of contrasts
a jade dragon hiding in the Yangtze
...but, hold on now, cause the adventure is still not over.
You guys are some traveling mofos Crazy work pedaling those push bikes, too bad China is such a bitch to get a bike into cheaply
Good on that tough gf you have, she is a real trooper.
Sorry to see your moto ride come to a finish. Great report! Will follow the cycling part on the other site. Are you going to return home after cycling and repair the bike and set off again in a new direction?
Hello the friends
Some of your photos, has Moscow, reminds me a lot remembering...
I came has Moscow, with my wife, to put a padlock on "trees to the lovers"
Thank you again for these magnificent photos
See you soon...