Riding Full Circle: faux husband and wife fight their way around the world

Discussion in 'Ride Reports - Epic Rides' started by ridingfullcircle, Mar 27, 2016.

  1. ridingfullcircle

    ridingfullcircle Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Sep 14, 2013
    Oddometer:
    113
    Welcome to Russia!

    Posting July 31, 2017—After it took four months to get our Russian visas sorted out back home last winter (reasons why will be in a what not to do post after we’re back), it was with no small amount of excitement Dave and I crossed into the world’s largest country on July 3.

    Our border crossing from Ukraine into Russia took 2.5 hours and other than language barriers, it all went smoothly. This was a big relief for many reasons. We’d heard stories about Russian border patrol being especially strict and wondered how much explaining we’d need to do about our reasons for coming to Russia on a business travel visa, which was the only visa we could get allowing us multiple entries (we wanted to ride through Kazakhstan and Mongolia as well, each time entering back into Russia) and give us more than 30 days in the country. Also of concern was the water damage to Dave’s passport. He had been carrying it in a ‘waterproof’ pocket in his Klim riding suit one especially wet day, and discovered the pocket had leaked. His ID photo was very faded and some of the stamps were smeared. But I guess what was important to the officials was only that we had a Russian visa in the passport and in fact, they all seemed pretty happy to see two travellers on bikes from Canada.

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    What a Russian visa looks like in your passport.

    In Kaluga, about 180 km (110 mi) to the south-west of Moscow, we found a hotel and contacted our friend Al Sova. We had never actually met Al in person. She and I had become friends on Facebook when I was searching for help from Russia for our visas. Al is also a rider and said she’d come to the outskirts of the city to guide us into the chaos that only 17 million people trying to get from A to B can create.

    But the morning woke us up with torrential rain on the roof and we messaged Al to say we would wait out the storm for another hour or two and that if she could give us GPS coordinates to her storage unit where she wanted to meet, we would be fine getting ourselves there. We didn’t want her to have to ride in the rain, although after meeting this super cute little dreadlocked and tattooed firecracker, I don’t think riding her S1000RR BMW sport bike on wet pavement is something that fazes her.

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    The dreadlocked, tattooed little fireball, Al Sova, and her S1000RR BMW.[/caption]
    The rain stopped in Kaluga around 11:00 a.m. so Dave and I set off for the short ride into Moscow, but it seemed we’d caught up to the storm and most of the ride was seen only through the soggy, foggy visors of our helmets—a somewhat terrifying experience, like driving a car without wipers.

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    Like driving without wipers? Ride a motorcycle!

    We made our way to find Al at the garage. She was a welcome sight, standing no higher than 5' tall, waving for us to follow her car up three floors to the storage unit she shared with her husband, Eugene. Dave tucked our bikes into their space and we unloaded our gear into her car, as instructed.

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    Al's husband, Eugene, swapping bikes around in their garage to fit ours inside.

    Still breathing heavy from hauling our bags around, Al said, “Let’s go,” and whisked us, soaking wet, off to the hotel where she had very generously paid for two nights already. She’d spent a considerable amount of time sourcing out a place for us to stay that was close to her garage (so we could work on the bikes), was nice, clean and, as she said, “not run by the mafia.”

    Al stayed with us as we checked in, which was fortunate because not only could she translate everything for us (she speaks English very well), she was invaluable when a problem arose. Apparently, when we crossed the border the day before, they forgot to give us immigration cards. The hotel was adamant we had the cards and just weren’t looking hard enough but after 39 countries, the majority of which required crossing borders, Dave and I weren’t prone to losing track of important documents.

    Our afternoon of rest now kiboshed, Al said, “Let’s go,” and again we were whisked off in her car, now with the hotel manager in tow, to a nearby immigration office. Dave and I were not looking forward to this at all, if immigration offices at home were any indication as to wait times. But Al said firmly, “Don’t worry,” and drove with determination somewhere down the block. She explained there were many immigration places spread throughout the monstrous city. Russians are required to have their passports on them at all times, and a trip to the immigration office could be more frequent than dentist visits.

    Once inside, the hotel manager, Igor, (that was seriously his name, I didn’t just choose the most Russian-sounding name I could think of), cut through random groups of people, who didn’t seem to be forming any kind of line or care that he had just breezed past them, and disappeared behind a door with no sign or indication it was any more special than all the other blank doors in the office.

    Dave, Al and I sat leisurely talking about travelling for about 15 minutes letting Igor do our dirty work, when he suddenly emerged from a completely different door, leaving us to wonder if there was a secret underground tunnel as we didn’t see him pass us. Igor was sweating profusely about the face and upper lip. Panting, he said, “passports, passports” making a motion with his hand for us to give them over quick. We did and Igor ran—no, sprinted—back behind the blank door.

    He was released only moments later, handing Dave and I our passports back with a completely different disposition. There wasn’t a sign of sweat or heavy breathing now and his chest was broad and puffed out, in the way of a proud man who’s just done something of considerable importance.

    He said something to Al and they started walking out the exit from the immigration office. Dave and I tripped along behind them asking what was next and they ignored us until we were out on the street and Igor clamped a hand much bigger than his size would suggest, on Dave’s shoulder, saying, “Everything good. Everything taken care of.”

    In the car Al explained Igor knew some girls at the office who expedited some paperwork for us that no longer necessitated the need for the immigration cards. At least not at the hotel where Igor worked. Dave and I said, “Okaaaay…” in the way only circumstantial confusion forces you to trust what goes on for you behind the scenes.

    We wondered what might happen at other hotels down the road when we still didn’t have either the immigration cards or Al. But there wasn’t time to worry for long as Al announced we were going for lunch and drove us to a mall where she recommended we eat baked potatoes with an assortment of fillings on top. The potatoes were huge and filling and we all left half of them on our plates. When Dave wanted to order a beer for lunch, Al turned her head quickly to him and said, “What about tonight when we must ride to go see my guys?” She had arranged for us to meet some of her riding friends whom, she said, were very keen to meet us and hear about our travels. Dave asked wasn’t that in a few hours? She explained Russia has a zero-tolerance law for drinking and driving. If you have even one beer, you can be fined some preposterous amount equivalent to, like, $3,000 CAN or jail time. If you’re found driving drunk, your license is revoked for life. It was serious stuff and Al became even more valuable to us now that she’d saved us from a Russian prison, which is more than we can say for the waitress at a restaurant in Slovakia who, although raised an eyebrow when we each asked for a beer at one of our lunch stops, didn’t tell us her country also had a zero-tolerance rule.

    After our late, liquor-free lunch, Al drove Dave and I back to our hotel where I looked very much forward to a few hours of rest before Al would come and pick us up again at 7:00 p.m. and bring us back to the garage to jump on our bikes and go meet her guys.

    At 6:45 p.m., Al sent me a message on Facebook saying, “I’m leaving in 15 mins. Be ready.” I wasn’t sure whether to love or feel intimidated by the incredible efficiency and assertiveness of someone 15 years younger but so far, I, and I believe Dave too, felt happy to have someone else take the reins for a while.

    Our first evening in Moscow was spent with our new friend Al and her fun, happy group of guys, (plus one other female, an adorable look-alike to Al and her dreadlocks, whom they call the Green Chipmunk). At first, we were both far too tired to think about getting on our bikes and riding around a huge city. We tend to avoid cities unless we absolutely need them for parts, and we have rarely parked our bikes after a day’s ride only to take them out again in the evening, but Al was excited to introduce us and she had been so helpful, kind and generous, we couldn’t say no. And I’m glad we didn’t.

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    Some of Al's Guys.
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    Al, the Green Chipmunk (Anna) and her boyfriend, Dima.
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    Part of Moscow as seen from The Hill, a famous motorcycle gathering spot in the city.
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    Dave admires bikes lined up at The Hill.
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    Al and Dave lined up for some fuel.
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    Dima and his bike.
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    Maybe not the best use for an exhaust pipe and luggage rack.
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    This is Moscow's University. What an impressive building.
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    The most interesting observation about this photo is what the two scheming Russians are up to in the background.

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    And then out of nowhere, a gang of stick-walkers descended on the crowd, scaring the bikers.
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    Dames and bikers. Just your typical evening life at The Hill.
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    And more typical evening life.
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    Happy guys in a crowd of wedding celebrators at The Hill.
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    Happy GIRLS in a crowd of wedding celebrators at The Hill.
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    Bored lovers? Selfie set-up? Who knows... it's Russia!

    Moscow’s downtown area, Red Square in particular, makes it one of the most beautiful cities I’ve been to. Maybe it was the perfect dark blue sky that caused the city lights to stand out even more intensely against the night. Or the fact that we were still high from zipping at a good clip around the city with six other bikes, giving us a gang-like authority. Or that I was still laughing inside at the guy who came over to me while we were parked at The Hill along with a hundred other bikers, and said, “Is this your bike? Isn’t it too big for you?” (Yeah. I can’t seem to get the hang of it, even after 85,000 km!), the night with Al and her friends was fantastic fun and we didn’t get back to our hotel until after midnight.

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    Our gang included a variety of rides. From sport bikes to adventure bikes to cruising bikes, we had it dialled lane-splitting (except the Gold Wing, which showed up later.)
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    I think this is the Moskva River.

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    So nice to ride around without 100 extra pounds of luggage!
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    In the background under the green roof sits Lenin's Mausoleum, the resting place of Soviet leader Vladimir Lenin. [​IMG]
    Moscow's Red Square.

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    Saint Basil's cathedral was built for Ivan the Great (Terrible), whom, we were told, blinded the architect after its completion so he could never again recreate anything similar.

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    I don’t think Dave and I have stayed out so boozelessly late on our whole trip!

    Next post: how Dave and I end up in the clubhouse of Russia’s notorious motorcycle gang, the Night Wolves.
    #81
    roadcapDen likes this.
  2. ridingfullcircle

    ridingfullcircle Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Sep 14, 2013
    Oddometer:
    113
    Posting Aug. 6, 2017—According to an article published in Rollingstone Magazine online, the Night Wolves are the largest, most infamous motorcycle gang in Russia. Lead by The Surgeon, a former dentist (ouch), the gang is backed by the Kremlin and "hell bent on restoring the empire.” The Night Wolves are also classified as Putin’s Angels, as he is often seen at their events and also rides.

    Over the past decade, the NW have gone from an underground biker gang to 5,000 patriotic holy warriors. The Surgeon is often quoted in the media outing Russia’s enemies: “America, Europe, homosexuals, liberals and traitorous fifth columnists.” The Surgeon, a religious man, also speaks strongly of global Satanism and how the rush to consumerism is crushing spirituality.

    "All the values were lost,” he says in the Rollingstone's article. “Everybody started kicking their history, spitting on their own granddads,"

    But the Night Wolves are also cited as being Robin Hoods, protectors, fighters for the Russian people, patriotic stars. They also have a penchant for Russia’s youth, funding educational programmes and events.

    Yet some Russians feel the Night Wolves are the enemy, have far too much power and are like a mafia. I wouldn’t expect anything less from a motorcycle gang.

    Last winter, while searching for ways to get our visas for Russia, a Russian consulate employee, of all people, suggested I contact the Night Wolves for our invitation letter. I sent the club an e-mail, then decided to do a Google search. By the time I reached the article above, my palms were sweating and I had stomach pains. I thought of the e-mail I’d just sent: (Hi! We’re Heather and Dave from Canada and here’s our website! We hope to ride across Russia and are wondering if you can help!).

    I read more information, however accurate, on how many people the Night Wolves have ‘conflicted’ with, journalists and writers included, and clutched my stomach in a sort of what have I done way. Then an e-mail dinged in my Inbox. It said Message Failed. The Night Wolves never got my ridiculous e-mail requesting help with an invite to Russia. And so, I breathed a sigh of relief.

    So it’s ‘interesting’ how, only two nights after arriving in Moscow, Dave and I along with our friend Al Sova and her husband Eugene, were seated at a giant wooden table in Sexton, the Night Wolves’ clubhouse located behind a discrete wooden wall along a busy street in the city. The ever-resourceful Al knew Dave and I were searching for information about riding two certain roads in Russia—the BAM and the Road of Bones—and so she tapped into her network and found two guys who had previously ridden these roads and could give us information. And, well, they wanted to meet in Sexton, so that’s where we went.

    I took some photos of the area with my iPhone, which means the quality sucks but hopefully you’ll get some idea of how cool this place is.


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    Getting some information on the BAM and Road of Bones from the Night Wolves.

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    We got our information, had some dinner and beer, and exited the gates of the clubhouse back onto the boring streets where nothing really cool seemed to be happening. I liked thinking we had some sort of special time with the Night Wolves. Even if only one of the guys we met with was an actual member, he was an adventure bike rider and gave us two contacts in Yakutsk.

    My only additional wish was if the clubhouse was having a raging party where Dave and I could wander around at will with some sort of gang immunity, taking photos of neck tattoos lit by a nearby barrel fire, and maybe receiving a few fist bumps from Putin decked out in his leathers. Think of a friendly Son’s of Anarchy meets The Long Way Round.

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    Bare-chested bear riding, Putin style. Who doesn't want this t-shirt?

    It was hard to top the excitement of that evening but a few days later, on July 8, Al, Anna, (the Green Chipmunk), Dima (Anna's boyfriend) Dave and I rode about 200 km (125 mi) east of Moscow to visit Al’s mom in Tanka Vijay, a cute village where Al’s mom and her pop-star musician husband live on an interesting piece of property comprised of many outbuildings. For example, the bath house is just that—a small house with a shower, make-up area and place to hang things like clothes, towels, etc…There is another small house for the gardener, a house where we all stayed that was separate from the newer house her mom lives in and a pit toilet house, for bathroom activities.

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    Al's mom's house consists of many out buildings. This is the summer kitchen.
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    The main house, centre, is new, built within the last year. To its left is the bathhouse and at right is the gardener's house.
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    The pit toilet is to the right, not sure what's in the rest of the building.
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    This was the old main house and was where Dave and I stayed with Al, Dima and Anna.

    We spent a very fun evening talking about world politics, hilarious Russian translations (see below) and Al wrote out the Cyrillic alphabet for us, which can be pretty mind-bending for English speakers! For example, the letter B is pronounced as a V, a small r is a G, an E is a Y, a 3 is a Z, a P is an R, a small n is a P and an H is an N. There are 16 Cyrillic letters that are not in the English alphabet but have the same pronunciation. A ф is an F, a д is a D, and a Лis an L. Got it? Neither do we! Try ordering at a restaurant. One night I had to endure liver as I thought I’d ordered beef!

    The Russian letters хизер spell my name on my Russian visa but it’s actually ‘hyser’ in Russian and that’s how they say my name. I could never have anticipated the name Heather was so difficult for so many non-English speakers to pronounce. I’ve been called everything from Eder to Heeher and now Hyser!

    Dave's name is spelled дэвид and translates exactly as David, a much easier name to travel the world with ;)

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    Al trying to teach us the Russian alphabet.
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    A particularly hilarious lost-in-translation piece. In Russian, the letter 'C' is pronounced as an 'S', so it makes more sense to call this juice, "100% Sok", instead of what Dave and I thought it was, which was. "100% Cock."

    We went for a long walk that evening for over three hours with Al's mom and met her uncle as well in a nearby village. I loved walking around people's homes getting a good, close-up look of the detail that went into building homes back then and how homeowners have preserved this detail over the years.

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    Left to right: Al's mom, Anna, Dima, Al and Dave.
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    A lady in the village doing some gardening.

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    Village life :)
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    This is still how some people from the village transport water.

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    We were told this is a functioning pay phone.
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    Water well.
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    Russian window frames are classic, delicate and so unique.

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    When I looked up images for the Russian flag, I saw a few different versions, one of which had this symbol. Not sure why the differences.

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    Al, me, Dave, Anna, and Dima.

    On July 9, we said goodbye to Al, Dima and Anna and rode on east while they returned west to Moscow. We are forever grateful for all the help and fun we had with Al and her friends.

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    Dima, Anna, Dave and I with the gardener on Al's bike.
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    All five of us back on the road on a typical Russian summer day! Dima and Anna at left, dave and the gardener (he did stay at Al's mom's but I think he wanted to hop on the back of Dave's bike), Al and I.

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    Goodbye to our great Moscow friends! Until next time.

    Next post: Kazakhstan!
    #82
    roadcapDen likes this.
  3. ridingfullcircle

    ridingfullcircle Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Sep 14, 2013
    Oddometer:
    113
    Horsemeat and Kazakhstan Weddings

    Posting Aug. 13, 2017—I guess we can’t travel around the world for two years and not have a fun story like this. On July 13, Dave and I crossed from Russia into Kazakhstan. The border crossing went well and we were enjoying less chaotic roads through peaceful farmland.

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    The first travellers we've seen since getting into Russia. These guys were from Germany. We love seeing these huge unimogs as we ride, they're so cool and getting to be quite trendy (converting big trucks into travel vehicles). This is about 70 km (45 mi) before the border from Kazakhstan back into Russia.

    It was getting on in the evening so we pulled into a small village, stopping at what looked like a hotel. Dave went inside and they informed him it wasn’t a hotel but they pointed next door so Dave walked over there. He was gone for several minutes so I thought maybe he was looking at a room but he came back and said we were to follow a white car.

    Hoping the white car was going to lead us to a hotel and not to our demise, we stayed on its tail until it stopped in front of a three-storey building. A man got out while we rolled to a stop behind him.

    Immediately, a small crowd formed and before we could get near the building, which may or may not be our hotel for the night, several people started fishing cell phones out of pockets to get photos with us and the bikes. They were speaking Kazakh to us and all Dave and I could do was stand there and laugh through the gritted teeth that only photo after photo will freeze on your face.

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    Some nice Kazak guys posing with Dave the day we crossed into the country.
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    The three guys who tried to help us find a hotel.

    Finally, everyone wandered off with their digital memories of strangers on motorcycles. The driver of the white car stayed with us as did two other guys. They were friendly, young guys and they wanted to do everything they could to help us get settled for the night. For some reason, Dave and I, the three guys and two old ladies, who I guess worked at the hotel, stood outside for a long time discussing the price of the hotel, before we could even go in and look. In fact, we nearly handed over money but I wanted to see the room first.

    I followed one of the old ladies up a set of creaking, wooden stairs. She seemed wary of me clobbering around behind her with motorcycle boots on. She opened a door that creaked so exhaustingly on its hinges, I started to wonder if the last guest to have stayed here was around the time my 103 year-old grandfather was a hundred years younger.

    I looked at the beds; two single metal skeletons on which the mattresses taco’d in on themselves. What I really wanted to do was turn on my boot-heel and walk out before I breathed in any more ancient dust from this place, but I pretended to be interested in where the bathroom was. She walked me down the hall and opened another door that actually popped before revealing a hole in the floor. Dave and I were getting well-accustomed to hole-in-the-floor toilets all through Russia and now Kazakhstan but there was no way I wanted to stay here. I had a feeling we could do better. When you’ve been on the road a certain amount of time, you get a little more choosey about your rest haven.

    Outside, I shook my head no to Dave and we played charades again to communicate we’d like to find another hotel. The guys said the next hotel was 100 km (60 mi) down the road. It was 7:30 p.m. and we were pretty tired but we decided to go for it. Kostanay was a big city with more options. After a few more photos, the guys gestured for us to follow the white car again so it could lead us out of town. This was such a cute gesture as the village was small enough to see the highway off in the distance. Back on the highway, we waved to the white car and rode off.

    Around 8:30 p.m., now starving and needing a shower badly, we pulled up to a hotel that had shown up on Dave’s GPS. There were many cars out front and a crowd of well-dressed people outside smoking and laughing. When we pulled up, some of the crowd moved over to us. We were instant celebrities again as people whipped out cell phones and took photos of us. We didn’t even have time to compose for the shot. In one photo someone has on their phone, I’m in the middle of removing my helmet surrounded by some beautifully dressed women with their arms around me.

    There was a lot of chatter in Kazakh but then a voice above it all said, “Where are you from?”

    We looked over to see a young guy in white pants and a navy button-up shirt coming through the crowd to us. We answered Canada. There were some ahhs from the crowd.

    “We want you at our party,” he said

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    Darkhan (white pants) and others from the wedding party we were spontaneously invited to.

    Darkhan took us immediately under his wing.

    “Are you hungry?”

    “Hell yes!”

    “Do you eat horse?”

    Ummm…

    “We do now!”

    Darkhan told us to leave everything on the bikes, they were safe for the moment, and he ushered us inside into a huge hall area where the loudest Kazakh techno music ever was playing. It was a great beat and I was surprised to see it was live—a woman on-stage belting her lungs out.

    Darkhan led us over to one of the circular tables where some more really good-looking people were seated. I felt about as unattractive as possible in my road-stained riding pants, sweaty t-shirt and dishevelled ponytail. Dave had dirt smeared on his cheeks and a good streak of back sweat going on. I really wanted to get a room in the hotel upstairs, shower and change into my one and only dress that was getting a little faded but was at least more flattering than my riding pants. But Darkhan had plans for us and it didn’t include hygiene anytime soon.

    Darkhan kicked some guys out of their chairs at the table and sat us there, front and centre facing the bride and groom table at the end of the room. Hands appeared from either side of us, delivering plates piled high with food and someone kept pouring us different kinds of liquid until we had no less than five drinks of various colours stacked in front of us. Darkhan ordered us to pick up the small shot glass filled with what we assumed was vodka. He yelled out a toast over the music to the table’s 10 or so patrons, who then cheered loudly and jammed their glasses together with ours.

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    All this white and nicely dressed people and there we were: bug-splattered riding gear, sweat and disheveled-ness tainting the place.

    After two more shots and some experimenting with different cuts of horsemeat, (the pink, sliced deli-style stuff was not my thing but the roasted meat on our plates with noodles was delicious), Darkhan asked if we wanted tea. Figuring that would be a good complement to the vodka and horsemeat we said yes. He stood and asked us to follow. We were confused to be leaving the table, but we followed him past the singer bursting at the seams with her techno band and then into the quieter hallway, which lead to an even more quiet room. Here there were platters stacked with cakes, cookies, chocolates and other delicacies. Darkhan went to fetch us some tea and a handful of young guys stood behind mine and Dave’s chairs, asking us questions in English and taking our photos.

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    I was so excited about all the cakes, I cut off the heads in the photo.
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    The more peaceful tea-room at the wedding.

    Finally, now an hour or so after we’d arrived and feeling a little lightheaded from all the excitement (surely not the booze), Dave and I were allowed to escape upstairs to clean up a bit before heading back down to the party for, as Darkhan insisted, more food (but we were so stuffed already) and more vodka, god help us.

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    A plethora of drinks in front of us and dancing—what more could you want?
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    Beautiful (but bored?) Kazak ladies.

    Now less disgusting, we sat back at our table and talked with various super nice people who came over to introduce themselves and practice some English; the father of the bride, the groom’s brother, Darkhan’s cousin; my cheeks were killing me with all the smiling.

    We were no longer tired and we could not stop laughing. What a contrast to earlier in the evening when Dave and I narrowly escaped being killed in our sleep by a decrepit old hotel that likely would have caved in on us during the night.

    I tried to politely decline dancing with a drunk uncle but he eventually caught me and I wound up on the dance floor. Normally, I would have been all over shaking some life back into my numb rider’s booty with the great music that was playing earlier but as it happened there was now some sort of awkward song playing that I couldn’t quite catch the beat to so I buried myself into the middle of the dancing crowd so as not to stand out and tried to copy with the other women were doing. I'm pretty sure Dave avoided looking anywhere near me for fear of embarrassment.

    Later, there was a somber moment as tradition dictated for “passing off” the bride. The crowd stood on either side of the room while the bride walked down the middle. It was custom to cry. It was the last thing I felt like doing after such an exciting night but I was amazed as I watched some of the ladies crying a lot, as though at a funereal. It was explained this is a sad moment as the girl leaves the family, so I guess it made sense to close family members.

    As the bride walked up the aisle, it appeared the women were all kissing her on the cheek so when she walked by me, I did the same, though I had to sort of reach for her as she was breezing beautifully by. Darkhan later told us everyone was very surprised I’d done that. Horrified, I asked if it was okay or if I’d insulted the tradition. I envisioned newspapers the next day with headlines like, “White Girl Insults Wedding Guests And Scares Bride By Planting Sloppy Kiss,” but Darkhan said it was totally fine and that people were just happy I felt so comfortable. Phew!

    Sometime around one in the morning, Darkhan announced we were all going to a night club. Dave and I politely but firmly declined. We were absolutely shattered. We walked up to our room and fell asleep still laughing about our luck that day.

    Next post: our travels continue with Darkhan.
    #83
  4. ridingfullcircle

    ridingfullcircle Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Sep 14, 2013
    Oddometer:
    113
    The People of Kazakhstan

    Posting Aug. 20, 2017—After meeting him at the wedding in Kazakhstan, Darkhan wanted to show us his village about 200 km (120 mi) east of Kostany. He'd spent two years living in the eastern U.S. but decided to come home, where he feels he has more opportunity to grow in his life.

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    Our friend Darkhan, whom we met at a Kazakhstan wedding.

    At the moment, Darkhan helps run his family’s wheat farm in the village of Timiryazev. He speaks of both the farm and his village with great pride. The farm is the largest employer in the small town and is a major supplier of wheat to the country.

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    When they erected this deer statue in the village where Darkhan lives, they wondered how to position it. Until they realized they could point the deer's ass at the government buildings across the street.

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    If Dave and I travelled around the world with one of these we could bring a lot more stuff!


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    Dave and I spent a night here on the farm, very much enjoying getting to better know Darkhan and those who work on his farm. Dave got to drive one of their big farm trucks and we asked the resident machinist to make us some extra 10 mm bolts that seem to easily vibrate off our bikes. Watching them make the bolts was very impressive as was the dedication these men have to their jobs and to their employer. Darkhan treats them all like friends and spent a lot of time introducing us to everyone. He would make a point of saying something nice about each of them and would ask them to show us their work, which they did with pride and a big smile. It was a very heartwarming experience to stay here.


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    You really begin to understand the scale of Darkhan's family wheat farm when you see all the combines parked up together.

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    View of the farm and village from atop a wheat cyclone.

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    That's us up there.

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    Climbing the ladder to the top of the cyclone. It's pretty high!

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    Dave gets to drive one of the big farm trucks.

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    There he goes.

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    Some of the farm workers, us and John Deer. Canadiana!

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    Interpretive farm art?

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    Darkhan standing with the tractor he and some of his workers built from scratch.

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    Showing Dave the tractor's controls.

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    The workers and friends on Darkhan's farm.

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    The youngest and oldest workers on the farm. Can't remember their ages but there's something like a 45 year gap.

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    Hard at work.

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    Machining some spare bolts for our bikes.

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    A work of art!

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    Or you could look in this pile for the bolt you need...

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    Felt privileged being able to sit with the guys in the Man Cave.

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    This photo is actually from Kostany a few days earlier but I love how they stack the watermelons on a train and they stay whole.

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    The friendly ladies that work on the farm cooking and cleaning.

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    The farm kitchen is mostly outside. Here's the tea urn.

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    The farm's outdoor kitchen.


    One very curious event we saw was when a guy on a horse brings in the cows in the evening. He herds them out to pastures to graze all day then brings them back in, like some sort of equestrian cow-walker. We went out to the road to watch people claiming their cows, who were like a bunch of kindergarten kids streaming from the schoolhouse running to their parents. In our travels in Kazakhstan we saw many men on horses surrounded by cows but we always thought all the cows were his, so this was an enlightening experience. While we were standing on the muddy road watching the cows, a woman came over and asked Darkhan in Kazak who we were. When he told her we were travellers she smiled. Together they discussed more and then, incredibly, Darkhan told us they figured the last time the village saw tourists was 30 years ago!


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    Bringing home the cows!

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    Find yer cow!

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    There's some amount of chaos on the streets in the evenings as people run about claiming their cows after they're brought in from pasture by the local cow-sitter.


    Darkhan then took us to the village store, which his father named after him, and explained that everything people buy there gets put in a booklet on credit. This means they only pay once a month or even at the end of the year! I couldn’t help but think what if the store burned down? How would they collect the money owing? And how do they pay for stuff ahead of time if no one’s paid their bill for a month? Just before we left the store, Darkhan bought us two souvenirs we could keep to remember him by.


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    Darkhan and Dave stand outside the shop Drakhan's father named after him. The word above the door spells, "Darkhan."

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    The souvenirs Darkhan bought for Dave and I :) A yurt and a Kazak girl doll.


    The next day, July 16, Dave and I left Darkhan’s farm and rode to Kotchetal, a decent-sized city where we called one of Darkhan’s friends, Aiza, to meet us at a gas station and give us a hand finding a hotel, which was much appreciated as it was pouring. We had hoped to go about another 100 km (60 mi) to a lake where we could camp for free but that was no longer attractive with the rain. While we waited for Aiza to find us, the woman working inside the station came out with hot tea and cookies for us. A bunch of guys also stopped and came over to ask for a photo with us. Kazakhstan is such a friendly country.


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    Aiza and her friend in Kotchetal.


    Aiza pulled up and asked what we wanted to do. We asked her if she could take us to a hotel. Her English is excellent as she teaches the language at the local university. After we got settled into a hotel, we walked to a nearby pub with Aiza and her friend. The pub was a surprise with its North American-style concept of a large patio serving beer and food. We stayed here for a few hours then walked around the city with Aiza showing us some of the sights.

    Both Darkhan and Aiza urged us to stay longer so they could show us more and it’s always tough to have to decline in order to stay on track for our end goal, which involves completing certain sections before winter sets in. We’re lucky to meet so many awesome folks during our travels and won’t forget any of them.
    #84
    yamalama likes this.
  5. NSFW

    NSFW basecamp4adv

    Joined:
    Feb 20, 2007
    Oddometer:
    19,806
    Location:
    Burbank CA
    i started reading this last night and continued on first thing this morning.
    awesome adventure. great pics and narrations. thanks for sharing your experiences.
    #85
  6. ridingfullcircle

    ridingfullcircle Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Sep 14, 2013
    Oddometer:
    113
    Great to hear! Thanks for reading :)
    #86
  7. ridingfullcircle

    ridingfullcircle Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Sep 14, 2013
    Oddometer:
    113
    Yes We Have No Fuel. Please Come Again!

    Posting Aug. 21, 2017—Running out of gas seemed very unlikely the day we bypassed Kazakhstan’s capital, Astana, and continued on a ring-road around the city. Dave and I had ridden roughly 300 km (185 mi) over the last few hours and had passed gas stations frequently, so it didn’t seem far-fetched to believe there would be many along the main highway stretching north out of the city to the border with Russia.

    This was true. There were many gas stations. Too bad most of them were closed due to construction of a brand new highway.

    My stock tank holds 16 litres and in Switzerland, Dave installed a Camel Tank that had been sent to us from the company in Canada, which added another 7 litres. In total I could now carry 23 litres of fuel and Dave 24. We also each carry fuel bags that compress when empty. Dave has two that can hold a total of 10 litres and I have an 8 litre one. With average speeds of about 100 kmph (60 mph), we can push our fuel consumption to roughly 450-500 km (280-310 mi) on a tank, not using the extra fuel bags and not accounting for what's left in the reserve tank after the low fuel light comes on. This range is dependent on average speeds and head winds.

    When we left in the morning on July 17, we filled our tanks and enjoyed a much-needed ride through a forest leading to the lake we were hoping to get to the night before. The site would’ve been OK but it was the ride through the forest that was the best part. Not since we’d left Austria almost three weeks earlier had we seen anything close to a curve in the road and although it was raining, that only brought the sweet smell of the pine forests to our noses that much more intensely.

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    After almost two years of travelling, we've finally made it to the Holiday Zone!

    This natural area wasn't for long enough though and we soon found ourselves riding a huge freeway heading toward Astana. My fuel reserve light came on earlier than usual—at around 335 km (220 mi)—as we had been riding freeway speeds and it was pretty windy. I told Dave we needed to find the next gas station, which was closed so we continued on. We passed more closed stations along the way and started to get nervous. Dave emptied the 1.5 litres of fuel we carry for our camp stove into my tank and that gave me some wiggle room but not much. I watched the miles add up. As I bought my bike in Alaska, it tells me info in miles and Fahrenheit. The little screen on my dash was telling me I was now 25 miles into reserve. We were riding through far less populated areas passing nothing but small villages and eating tons of dust from the road construction.

    We came to a Y-junction. There was a guy was standing by the road talking on the phone. We pulled over and asked him where the nearest gas station was.

    ”Where you came from, about 3 km (1.8 mi) back.”

    We said that gas station seemed closed when wed passed by but he insisted it was open.

    We were using our translation app to communicate with him, which is already time-consuming and usually inaccurate. Add into the mix the guy's phone kept ringing mid-sentence and he'd stop using the app to answer it. Things were getting confusing.

    It would drink up more fuel but we had to assume the guy was right about the closer station being open. The next station was 35 km (20 mi) down the road in the direction we were going and the guy said it closed at 6 p.m. It was 5:15 p.m. and I was 40 miles into reserve. Dave's fuel gauge still hadn't clicked into reserve. I found it hard to understand the extra one litre capacity he had would give him that much more range but we didn't have time to think about it.

    We turned to go but now the guy was intrigued by us and asked where we were from. I shut off my bike sighing and Dave told him Canada. He grinned and said cannabis? in a low voice, making smoking gestures with his fingers. We shook our heads no and he didn’t waste any more time with us, jumping into a car that had suddenly appeared in the intersection and driving off.

    Dave and I rode back to the gas station we were sure was closed. It was more like 7 km (4.3 mi) back. Things looked more promising this time as there were other cars now at the pumps. As we rode in a guy yelled making gestures to leave as there was no fuel. He was telling everyone that. People were pulling in left, right and centre as they saw others at the pumps and assumed the station was open, but it was just a circus show of about a dozen vehicles. No one was actually fueling up. The man and a lady inside were annoyed so many people were pulling in. But we wondered why they didn’t just lock the doors and go home?

    Now we had burned through an extra 14 km (8.5 mi) of precious fuel and 15 minutes off the 6 p.m. curfew for the next station down the road. If it even had fuel. We could only keep riding down the road. Eventually there had to be a station. I suggested to Dave to ride ahead. If he could make it to the station in time, he could fill his bike then our extra fuel bags and ride back to wherever I was stopped. When he rode off I had a sinking feeling. I’d forgotten to give him my extra fuel bag. What if 10 litres wasn't enough for my bike on his return to get me to the next station? What if he didn’t make the station by 6 p.m. and had to ride farther down the road? What if all the stations were closed or out of fuel and I ran out on the side of the road? I couldn’t spend the night there of course.

    All I could do was roll along watching my dash trying to keep my consumption rate low and in the sweet spot. I was now 62 miles (100 km) into reserve and was amazed I was getting so much out of the fumes my bike was gasping for. Then I crested a hill and saw Dave at a gas station with his back to me. I turned on the intercom and proudly said, “Hey! I’m here! I made it!” He said, “OK, good,” but then got on his bike and rode off. WFT? I got back on the intercom and said as much. He told me that station had no fuel! And that the woman was super grouchy. As Dave was writing out a message on our translation app to ask where the next station was she slammed the door in his face. This wasn’t the Kazakhstan we knew and loved. And why were all these people keeping gas stations open that had no fuel?

    I wondered what we were going to do until I saw down the street, another station. We pulled in and yes! Not only were they open but they had fuel, cold drinks and salty snacks—what a concept!

    With us and the bikes happily satiated now, we rode off in search of a spot to camp. Every time we’d pull over to let cars pass so we could turn off on a dirt road unnoticed, people would pull over too and ask to take our photos. I swear if you Google Kazakhstan, you’ll see a bunch of pictures of Dave and I with the bikes. We were getting some sense of what it must feel like to be famous; you’re just trying to go about your day, but everyone’s stopping to look at you and ask for photos.

    Finally, I noticed a road off the highway that went up and over a hill. There were no cars coming so we went exploring and found a recessed gravel pit. It was a great place to call home for the night. The view was vast and we were completely hidden from the highway.

    It had been a long day that ended well.

    [​IMG]
    Riding into the hills to find our campsite for the night.

    Next post: meeting Adventure Team Latvia at the Kazakhstan/Russia border.
    #87
    NSFW likes this.
  8. Sinnergy

    Sinnergy Mostly Harmless

    Joined:
    Apr 14, 2012
    Oddometer:
    315
    Location:
    Boring, Oregon
    Just wanted to chime in: I'm enjoying your reports a lot.

    I especially like how you seem to be able to say exactly what you are feeling at the time, yet I get the impression you are able to view those feelings with just enough distance to smile about it.

    I know it is old news to you, now, but what? No pictures of the ring? (Is there a ring?).

    Congratulations on all fronts.
    #88
  9. ridingfullcircle

    ridingfullcircle Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Sep 14, 2013
    Oddometer:
    113
    No rings while travelling :) But soon to come, handmade from my best friend who's a jeweller
    #89
  10. ridingfullcircle

    ridingfullcircle Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Sep 14, 2013
    Oddometer:
    113
    Riding Full Circle and Adventure Team Latvia in Russia's Altai Region

    Posting Aug. 27, 2017—On the morning of July 19, Dave and I crossed back into Russia from Kazakhstan. At the border we were excited to see three other overland bikes loaded up with gear like ours, except these guys all had a second set of tires for both their front and rear wheels strapped to their luggage.

    [​IMG]
    Meeting Adventure Team Latvia at the Kazakhstan/Russia border. L to R: Didzis, Oskars, Dave and Sandijs.

    They looked like pretty serious athletes in their matching team jerseys and vinyl wrapped bikes with sponsor logos everywhere. Dave and I walked over to say hi and were happy to find they spoke English. Oskars, Sandijs and Didzis were from Latvia and in their early thirties. A gas company, Neste, had sponsored them for their food and fuel to ride an 18,500 km (11,500 mi) route from Riga, Latvia to Magadan, Russia over a period of two months. They were on two KTM 990s and a KTM 950.

    The Latvians’ route plan included some of the same roads Dave and I wanted to ride through Russia and Mongolia so we exchanged contact info just as the line through the border started moving forward. We all wished each other well until we might meet again someday, which was actually about 15 minutes later inside the customs office, then again on the side of the road after we were through customs and yet again at a gas station down the road. It was awkward our paths kept crossing so we decided to ride the 200 km (125 mi) into Barnaul together—a city Dave and I were going to take a few days off to do some bike maintenance and other chores. From Barnaul the Latvians were going to continue to Biysk another 150 km (95 mi) east but when we arrived in Barnaul there was an aggressive storm going on. After a hefty meal of meat, meat and more meat from a BBQ place on the side of the road, the Latvians decided they’d stay in town as well. We all followed Dave to a hostel he had programmed into the GPS and were soaked by the time we got there. Inside we were told there wasn’t enough room for five people but the hostel owner also rented out an apartment on the other side of town, which suited us better anyway.


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    Men discussing meat.

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    Someone's happy to see grilled flesh.

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    The owner of the hostel, a middle-aged guy surprisingly spry with such a big gut, wedged himself into his car and told us to follow him through the city to the apartment 9 km (5 mi) away. When you’re going 120 kmph (75 mph) on the highway, 9 kms (5 mi) is covered in a matter of minutes. In a city during an epic rain storm and rush hour, it takes considerably longer. It’s even worse when you’re on a motorcycle that can easily lane-split, hop curbs and even use sidewalks to get past a traffic jam, but are at the mercy of following a car that can’t do any of that cool stuff. Not easily anyway. The traffic was so stopped up we had time to get off our bikes, walk to the car, get directions from the owner then get back on our bikes and try to find the place on our own, which, despite some missed turns, we were able to find.

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    Dodging floods in Barnaul as we try and find a hotel.

    The owner showed up a little later having broken through the traffic barrier and kindly took some of my bags and walked us all up to the third floor where we would spend the night. In Russia, we were finding out it wasn’t just hotels where travellers stayed but little apartments rented out for the same purpose. The outsides don’t look so great, sometimes with patchwork paint jobs and rusting window frames, but once inside the apartments are actually quite charming places to stay. The added benefit is they also have amenities that hotels don’t usually, like kitchens and laundry machines.

    We spent this first night together with the Latvians, sharing vodka and stories about anything motorcycle travel related. Dave and I loved their sense of humour, especially Oskars, who spoke fluent English and had a very dry, deadpan way of joking with us. Didzis and Sandijs weren’t as fluent but could speak some English and understand what we were saying. All three also spoke fluent Russian, as well, which was a great asset while trying to arrange a place to stay and order food off a menu.

    In the morning, Sandijs, Oskars and Didzis left to head east to Biysk where they too had some bike maintenance to do. We would try and meet them a few days later to ride through the Altai Region together. When the noise of three rumbling KTM engines finally petered off through the streets of Barnaul, they left a cacophony of car alarms going off in their wake.

    Dave was excited to head to the shop later that day, where he would be installing new dirt tires onto our bikes, and also removing the silencer installed inside his Akrapovik exhaust pipe. The night before the Latvians had informed him he could take this part out and have a louder exhaust. Men…

    Dave and I spent a few more days in Barnaul then did a 400 km (250 mi) ride east to catch up to the Latvians. We didn’t leave Barnaul until after 3:00 p.m. because of some logistics with the bikes and although the road was paved the whole way, didn’t arrive at the lake until after 10:00 p.m. We don’t make it a habit to ride after dark but there are exceptions to every rule. In this case, we had an issue after we’d stopped for food around 5:00 p.m.

    We were riding along a double-lane highway that was getting quite congested coming into Biysk, about 150 km (95 mi) from Barnaul. Dave was in front of me and an SUV separated us. I saw the SUV brake hard then swerve, which revealed Dave on the ground. My heart hammered into my chest. What had just happened in the last two seconds?

    I pulled off to the side and quickly jumped off my bike hurrying over to where Dave was now picking himself up off the ground. Relieved to see him moving fine, I tried to figure out what happened. A pedestrian had stepped out onto the highway from behind a moving semi and although he was using a well-labeled crosswalk, hadn’t appeared to have looked both ways, causing cars in both directions to brake hard. The car in front of Dave jammed on the brakes. Dave also braked but not hard enough and didn’t stop before hitting the guy’s bumper, causing him to fall off his bike. The SUV in front of me swerved to avoid Dave.

    Luckily Dave and the bike were fine but the car had a scuff mark on its bumper from Dave’s tire. The driver asked for $200 but agreed to $60 without too much hesitation and we carried on without any police involvement. Russia’s crosswalks and pedestrians are something to shake your head at. We’ve seen crosswalks in the middle of the freeway where people are going highway speeds. I’m not sure any car going 120 kmph (75 mph) could stop in time for a pedestrian at these crossings, never mind the potential pile up that cars coming to a dead stop on a highway could cause. It was a lesson learned about following too close and keeping a better eye out for pedestrians who seem to just step out into traffic expecting it all to stop.

    The Latvians had rented an apartment on Lake Teleckoe about 100 metres from the ferry dock and, knowing they could push their bikes to the 6:00 a.m. crossing the next morning if needed, were in very good spirits by the time we met up with them at a patio bar. With little delay, Dave and I joined them, feeling deserving of a cold beer. While we sat at the patio restaurant, several locals came to talk to the table, asking where we were from, what kind of bikes we had, etc. One gregarious Russian man arrived at the table carrying a platter of 25 smoked fish; a gift he’d bought for our trip to the Altai Region. It was quite a treat to have for the days to come.

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    The gift of 25 smoked fish given to us from a friendly Russian at Lake Telekcoe.

    The next morning, July 22, came a little too fast but we all rose on time and loaded our bikes onto the small ferry to begin the 7-hour floating journey into the Altai Region. The distance to cover on water was only 70 km (45 mi) but the boat’s top speed was 10 kmph (6 mph).

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    A great bed for the night with a view and very close to the ferry we were catching to cross Lake Telekcoe.
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    This cow was trying to get on the ferry without paying.
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    Loaded onto the ferry for our 7-hour trip along Lake Telekcoe.
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    The only seats and cover for 7 hours. Breakfast time.
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    Lake Telekcoe.
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    Planning a route in the Altai Region.

    Our route over the course of a few days would take us to the Mongolian border, so we didn’t have to come back on the ferry.

    We disembarked to very black clouds, which before we could even get our bearings after getting off the ferry, unleashed buckets of water on us. For about an hour or so we rode in pouring rain and a muddy two-wheeled track into the mountains with other ferry passengers. Then the weather cleared thankfully and we were able to ride a few hundred kilometres on very scenic dirt roads. We rode up and over a 5,250 ft (1,600 m) pass arriving at the top to sunshine and warm temperatures.

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    A different breed of rider on the shores of Lake Telekcoe.
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    A man and his dog. And a smoke.
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    Choose your wheels!
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    This dog must be very proud.
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    Heading into the Altai in pouring rain.

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    Looks like it's clearing.

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    Quite a lot different now with no rain.
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    Russia's Altai Region is a stunning place.

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    Heading up the 5,250 ft (1,600 m) pass.
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    The sky really was that dark with a storm we luckily missed.
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    The 5,250 ft (1,600 m) pass did not disappoint.
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    Looking down at a campground below from the top of the pass.
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    Each of the Latvians has their race number on their bike which corresponds to the year and month they were born.

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    We found a yurt-like cabin that night and squeezed the five of us into beds arranged in a circle around the room with a table in the middle.

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    Blueberries and the yurt-like building we stayed in in the background.

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    Guess which ones are mine.

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    On July 24, we had a gorgeous ride up to the top of a mountain, after turning off the main road and riding about 10 km (6 mi) up some steep, rocky bits to the top. The weather held off long enough for us to stay up there for over an hour. On the way down, I went first to get ahead of the guys so I could get some shots of them riding through the incredible wildflowers. On a corner I dropped my bike. Rather than waiting until the guys started coming down and missing the photo opp, I lifted it myself. Sometimes, I can lift that beast and other times I can’t even budge it. It all depends on how it falls and what angle it lays itself down for a sleep.

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    Riding up to a 9,850 ft (3,000 m) peak in the Altai Region.

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    9,850 ft (3,000 m) accessed by fully loaded, big-ass bikes :)
    [​IMG] The wildflowers were incredible up here.

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    Never would have thought Russia would have scenes like this.

    We made it to the Mongolian border that evening but after waiting over an hour, discovered they were closed so we rode up into some hills and found a camping spot for the night. So far it was very fun but fast-paced riding with three Latvians, who race motorcycles off-road at home, and one boyfriend, who couldn’t be happier to have found his ‘brethren.’

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    Finding a gas station with snacks, especially ice cream and free wifi, is a bike traveller's dream.
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    So is finding a good place for lunch.
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    Lining up at the Russia/Mongolia border before we had to turn around because they closed the border until morning.

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    The waiting game.
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    The 'toilet' at the border was interesting enough for a photo.
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    Turned around at the border, we rode up into the hills to wait for morning when the border would open again. Great chance to enjoy a nice camping spot.

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    Next post: Mongolian 'roads' and their insane drivers...
    #90
    NSFW, roadcapDen and Saso like this.
  11. ridingfullcircle

    ridingfullcircle Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Sep 14, 2013
    Oddometer:
    113
    Camel Teeth and Velcro People in Mongolia

    Posting Sept. 4, 2017—On July 25, Dave and I along with the Latvians entered into Mongolia. This was a significant day as it was the last new country of our trip. We would return once again to Russia after Mongolia but we’d already travelled across its borders.

    Dave and I were looking forward to Mongolia. It seemed like a beautiful country from photos we’d seen. Maybe we'd stay in some yurts, which Mongolians call gers. I wanted to photograph a horseman in the vast Mongolian landscape. Maybe, if I was lucky, I’d get that photo with a camel or swooping super-sized eagle in the background.

    [​IMG]
    Got my Man on a Horse photo, sans eagle or camel.
    [​IMG]
    Here's the eagle who was supposed to fly behind my Man on a Horse. But he didn't cooperate. (You can't tell in this photo but he was HUGE).

    When we arrived back in line after camping in the desert the night before, there were about 20 cars ahead of us. Sandijs got off his bike and went to talk to the Russian border guards. The process is always to exit one country then ride for a little through no-man’s land until you arrive at the entry for the next country, unlike at home crossing the Canada/U.S. border, for example, where there is only an entry process.

    Sandijs came back and said let’s go, mounting his bike and riding to the front of the line. Dave and I have done this before at other borders and no one has complained. In fact, people have even told us to go to the front of the line.

    Today, however, there was a bit of a stir. A group of Mongolians returning to their country in an over-stuffed mini-van started to circle around us slowly like gangs on T.V., minus tire irons slapping palms of hands. They started to talk loudly to us in their language, which we couldn’t understand. The five of us put neutral expressions on our faces and went about our business, avoiding eye-contact. The crowd started to get a little louder and larger.

    Just when I started to wonder if Oskars’ height of double the size of these smaller men might be an asset if we needed it, a Russian border guard yelled at the crowd. They argued and the guard yelled something louder causing the crowd to saunter off reluctantly back to their vehicles.

    As the Latvians could speak Russian, they told us the guard had yelled, get the fuck back in your cars and when they protested, but the motorcycles! the guard said, the motorcycles are a different story!

    We were certainly happy to be at the front of the line but I wondered what might have brewed had the guard been absent or not choosing sides.

    Once inside the customs offices for Russia, the crowd gathering in the line behind us became pushy. One guy walked in front of us all before we could do anything. Another guy tried but Sandijs put up his hand and the guy backed away. It took a long time to exit from the Russian side and then we rode 20 km (12 mi) to begin the process of entering Mongolia. Here a lady with a spray wand and no protection for her eyes or mouth lathered our bikes down with insecticide or some chemical before we could move on. We were first in line for Mongolian immigration as it was about 9:00 a.m. and they’d just opened.

    The Latvians went ahead then it was Dave’s turn to the window. In Africa, Dave’s passport was damaged by water when his pocket leaked on a rainy day. We had since travelled through almost a dozen border crossings without it being an issue, however, today, it was. The female immigration officer called a supervisor into her booth. He looked at the passport then looked at Dave and shook his head no. I was still in line behind Dave and the line behind me was forming, getting longer and more irritated. I stepped up to the window and showed the supervisor my passport, saying we were together and both Canadians. This was a mistake because the supervisor kept pointing out the difference between my non-damaged photo and Dave’s faded one. The crowd was now muttering loudly. An idea ran through my head for Dave to give the supervisor one of the photocopies we carried of our passports. I told Dave, who pulled out the copy and handed it over. The supervisor took it and Dave’s passport to a back room, telling Dave to wait where he was. In the meantime, I was allowed to pass through into customs, which was just another window in the same room. Dave was contending with the travelling locals, who were now weaving their arms around him in and out of the window he stood in front of, bumping and pushing Dave and each other with no concept of personal space.

    In the meantime, the Latvians were in customs with mine and Dave’s documents for importing the bikes, getting the ball rolling despite Dave still being held back at immigration. Sometime later, Sandijs goes outside to get something. When he comes back he has all the Latvians' keys saying a man had been turning the keys in their ignitions.

    Dave had now luckily been allowed to pass through customs and is behind me. He goes outside to get our keys. A man moves right into his place all but pressed up against me. When Dave comes back, he taps the Mongolian man on the shoulder, who moves aside to let Dave in behind me. I went out to my bike to make sure I hadn’t left anything open as it seemed there were some pretty curious folks outside. When I returned the same man was now pressed up against Dave’s back, attached like Velcro, trying to push his documents past Dave under the window. Dave’s expression was of utter exasperation.

    Okay Mongolia, I thought, we’re off to a bad start.

    After four hours between the two border crossings, we were finally ready to ride off now onto Mongolian soil. The ride along the open, peaceful landscape was a great escape from the chaos behind us. We stopped on the side of the road to regroup and a local family of three rode by on a little 125cc bike. They stopped just ahead of us for no apparent reason than just to be part of the bikes parked alongside the road. The husband got off and wandered into the field while the wife stayed back with their infant son. I was able to get a photo of the two of them. I thanked the woman and child for the photo by giving them some candy. Normally I prefer to offer something more nutritious like a banana or bread but I had neither and wanted to give them something.

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    This Mongolian mamma was riding on the back of the motorcycle behind her along with her husband. Two adults and a kid. On a 125cc. With no helmets. (And yes, I believe that is a MacDonald's jumper :( )

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    Even though we were travelling through part of Siberia, it was so hot. We didn't expect to see snow anywhere.
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    Mongolian's use small bikes to get around, sometime stacking 3-4 people on the seat.

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    Later on, we found camels wandering along the desert. This was so cool, we had to stop and get photos.

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    Nice teeth, buddy.

    The Latvian’s kept going. They’d spent a lot of time in the south of Kazakhstan, so another camel wasn’t so thrilling for them. We had all planned to meet up in the next town, Khovd, but as the day went on the riding became more challenging, with over 200 km (120 mi) of loose sand, washboard ruts and incredible bike-launching bumps and dips in the ‘roads’, which went off in many different directions. Drivers of all vehicles liked to blaze a new trail and stay out of the deeper sandy bits, which left strangers to the area wondering which road led where. There was also a lot of construction of a new actual road, one with tarmac. The adventure rider never wants to see too much tarmac, but in places like this, the landscape is destroyed with erosion by people choosing different lines. A well-built road would be a more practical option. Occasionally, the sandy trails would bump up onto the road and we’d have to maneuver around flagger-less obstacles such as bulldozers and a giant pile of dirt dropped onto the road waiting to be dispersed. It made for very slow going but it sure was beautiful.

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    An example of the sandy washboard roads.

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    When we stopped for a snack of sunflower seeds and crackers, an SUV soon pulled in right behind us, blowing dust over our food. We looked at each other. Out of the whole desert, these guys have to park right behind us. A guy got out instantly talking a mile a minute coming over to us. It never failed to amuse us during parts of our trip that we were obviously from far away but locals would always come over and talk a long, fast sentence before we could say we only speak English. Sometimes they’d nod and walk off. Other times, they’d nod and just talk faster and louder, thinking that would help.

    In this case, the guy who’d stopped walked back over to his car, still talking excitedly, then pulled something out coming over to us. He offered us a leg of lamb. Hoof and all! We thanked him profusely, touched by the gesture but wondering if the blue veins were cooked the whole way through. When he drove off, we ventured a taste and found it quite good!

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    Gnawing on a leg o'lamb in the Mongolian desert—as you do.

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    After our little feast, we continued on, spending many kilometers wondering which dusty track to take. Dave’s GPS was doing a good job of keeping us in the general direction we needed to go. One section of the new road they were working on was thankfully short but deeply rutted mud that had hardened into little dirt stalactites and stalagmites. At no other point did the road do this so I’m not sure how this was accomplished except that maybe the road crew was out working this area on a wet day, then only got so far before agreeing it was futile. There was, of course, nothing done about making it easy for drivers afterward and it was particularly difficult to ride a motorcycle over. Fend for yourself!

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    Which way to where we're going?
    [​IMG] Pick a road, any road. Watch the camels!

    We got into Khvod around 7:00 p.m. desperate for a shower and food. Dave looked on his phone for a message from the Latvians. We’d had high hopes they’d found a hotel we could also get a room in, but there was no message and no one picked up when we called. Maybe we were getting the brush off!

    We found a hotel and after a considerable lengthy conversation, were able to convince the front desk girl to let us roll our bikes into the lobby. Mongolia was proving to be a very touchy-feely place and at gas stations, etc., the bikes were often approached and fondled in ways we wanted to protect them from. Outside the hotel was a plaza and we didn’t feel comfortable leaving them in the ungated parking lot. It wasn’t so much we thought they’d be stolen or tampered with; we also had to think about people climbing on them and falling off or tipping the bikes over.

    We found a delicious Chinese restaurant that night, which was a huge surprise as we'd been eating pretty disgusting meals lately—language barriers and all. We ate a whole lot of food here, stocking up.

    Before we left the next morning, July 26, we’d gotten a message from the Latvians. When they’d arrived into Khvod the evening before, they’d decided to keep riding another 100 km (60 mi) to find camping. They’d had no cell service for the night, which was why we couldn’t contact each other. We told them we’d cried ourselves to sleep but that all was right again in the world now we’d heard from them.

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    The drab, dusty towns in Mongolia make up for it with colourful roof tops.

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    Mongolian yurts, or ghers.

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    Next post: isn’t Siberia supposed to be cold?
    #91
    NSFW, roadcapDen and Saso like this.
  12. ridingfullcircle

    ridingfullcircle Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Sep 14, 2013
    Oddometer:
    113
    Nothing Warm Beer and a Yurt Can't Fix

    Posting Sept 8, 2017—On the morning of July 27, Dave and I left Khvod around 8:00 a.m. for our day of riding. We hoped leaving earlier would give us more time in cooler temperatures. But Siberia, a vast 13.1 million sq km (5,100,000 sq mi) region of land mass encompassing southward from the Arctic Ocean to north-central Kazakhstan to the borders between Mongolia and China, was already 36°C (91°F). Wasn’t Siberia renown for being cold?

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    Yaks in the yonder.

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    [​IMG]

    The dirt roads were fun for a while but then turned into sand again, which we both found tricky but I especially disliked. We had sets of Shinko tires on both our front and rear rims and as they had no recess down the middle, it just felt like I was sliding left to right or vice versa in every corner. There also happened to be a lot of traffic, this being the main “highway” to Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia’s capital, over 1,000 km (600 mi) away.

    With the sand, traffic and type of road conditions, this was the closest I would ever get to feeling like a rally racer in the Baja 1000. I almost ate it a few times when a sandy bit would catch me by surprise and my back tire would lose traction, causing me to skip off-road into the dusty desert, eyeballs rolling around in my head unable to focus on anything but sky, sand and the lovely smelling sage, whose scent would drift up to my nostrils after my bike’s tires had savagely assaulted a bushel or two.

    After about 160 km (100 mi), we saw a river and pulled off the road and down to its banks, taking off our shirts to soak them in the water and splashing our faces to cool off and remove dust and sand. We sat for a while enjoying the calm.

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    Wetting shirts really helps keep us cool on hot days.

    It was hard to think compatibly at times; Dave was loving the rally-racing style ingrained in him with a mountain biking background whereas I wasn’t comfortable drifting into corners out of control on a fully-loaded adventure bike.

    Before we left, Dave had invested in top-of-the-line suspension. I had done so too on my first bike, but when it broke down and I had to replace it, I couldn’t justify spending the money to upgrade the stock rear shock and forks on the new bike. I didn’t need beefy suspension—that was for 200 lb guys riding their F800s or GSAs fully-loaded and aggressively. I was a conservative rider, who weighed less than 150 lbs even in all my gear. But I was sure feeling it now, in my knees and lower back, which took the hits the bike couldn’t absorb. It was only the afternoon and I was already exhausted. Worry was finding its way in, no matter how hard I fought it—what was the next 5,000 km (3,100 mi) to the end of our trip going to be like? There wasn’t much pavement between here and Magadan, Russia. We’d also planned to ride the BAM and the Road of Bones; the most challenging part of our trip was going to coincide with the end of our trip and we were getting more and more travel-weary by the day.

    We got back on the road after our stop at the river. I felt the tension easing out of my shoulders. Life was good. The scenery was gorgeous: wide open sage-smelling fields and valleys speckled with white yurts. Brown faces of cute little kids popping up on the side of the road to wave at us riding by. The day ended pleasantly with us camping up a side road in the grass.

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    Home for the night.
    [​IMG]
    Any guesses what this is?

    The next day, however, was not going to let us keep our peaceful mind frame for long. I woke up with a knot the size of a hardboiled egg in my right shoulder, which made it harder to negotiate the sandy roads. In one section, Dave was ahead and I saw him disappear into a cloud of dust then emerge zig-zagging around in the deep sand. I took a different line to avoid that and ended up plowing into something even deeper, flying off my bike and managing to break the zipper on my riding jacket in the process. I used my kidney belt to keep the jacket closed and got back on the bike. Although it was hot and I’d rather not ride with a jacket at all, I had just crashed unscathed, so its protection was obvious.

    Soon after, we arrived in a town with paved roads. Many towns we’d passed over the last 1,000 km (600 mi), paved their roads to avoid dust in their living space but after leaving these towns you’d be right back into the Off-road Sandy Washboard Challenge, so we weren’t expecting it to last long. But in this case, the pavement was still with us an hour after leaving town. I knew Dave had enjoyed the off-roading but I think even he was glad for the Tarmac Reprieve. I was certainly grateful to give my aching shoulders a rest and sit back down in my seat after hundreds of kilometres standing on the pegs.

    Just when I was in full-on Tarmac Groove, the road abruptly changed from pavement to dirt after about 100 km (60 mi). This was a very rough section of hard-packed dirt with decent sized embedded rocks. It was like the road crew had poured concrete then someone had followed behind implanting rocks like molars into gums, pointy side up. I felt some good blows to the rims and was certain one of us would have a flat but we got away with just a few good surface holes that didn’t penetrate enough for punctures.

    After fueling up in a small village, we were again on pavement, though it was broken up and had some pretty big potholes. I was following Dave out of the village and we were approaching a bridge, about half a kilometre away. I can’t honestly remember why—maybe I was passing a slow car or maybe I was avoiding a pothole—but I pulled left to go around something.

    I didn’t notice until too late there was a massive pothole right before the bridge deck with a vertical wall of concrete rising out of it about a foot high. I had a nano-second to stand on the pegs, lean my body weight back and grab the throttle to unweight the forks before I smoked into it. I wasn’t going fast, maybe about 60 kmph (37 mph), but it was fast enough. I felt an alarming jolt through my shoulders, elbows and wrists and knew my bike had taken a big hit. I needed to pull over immediately.

    I pressed the button on my Sena to tell Dave I was stopping then hopped off. The damage looked pretty bad and I was convinced my bike would be going no further that day. The metal rim of my front wheel had two significant dents in both sides. Amazingly the tire had held the bead and didn’t appear to be losing air. There was fluid everywhere. I’d completely blown my forks, forcing the fork oil out all over my boots, pant legs, tire and front of my bike. My horse was bleeding and had two broken legs.

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    Removing the front tire to get it fixed.
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    Fork oil all over brake pads. Awesome.
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    Fork oil explosion.
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    Two identical dents, one on each side, after hitting the pothole.
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    Dent from pothole.
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    Happy the bead didn't pop.
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    Forks covered in oil after hitting pothole.

    A healthy dose of Trucker’s Profanity spewed from my lips. Ulaanbaatar was likely the only place we could get something like this fixed and it was still three days away. We were going to have to flag down a truck and I’d have to spend three days in it bumping along the rough dirt roads watching my bike getting trashed even worse strapped down in the back.

    Dave pulled up and came over to assess the damage while asking me what had happened. I explained and he said I was lucky I wasn’t flung over the handlebars. I realized how much of a hit my trusty steed had taken on my behalf, keeping me whole and uninjured. I truly believe my motorcycles to be living beings. This bike loved and protected me, unlike my 650, which had tried to kill me regularly.

    We put the bike on its centre stand and Dave removed the front wheel with the intention of taking it back to the village to see if someone there could pound the rim back into a better position to hold the tire’s bead. He cleaned as much oil off the bike as he could with a rag and informed me I no longer had front brakes as the oil explosion had saturated them. After strapping my wheel to his bike, Dave rode back into the village while I sat on the side of the road watching people watch me.

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    Waiting for my rim to be fixed.
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    Luckily we weren't too far from a village that had a tire repair shop. The bridge is in the background. I regret not going back for a photo of the pothole.

    Many vehicles drove past. Some slowed only to wonder at the foreign motorcycle propped up with a missing wheel and a girl sitting beside it with a sarong wrapped around her head trying to find shade. Only one truck stopped and I sighed, bracing myself for a conversation neither of us would understand. A man came over and yelled some words at me. I shrugged saying, “sorry I only speak English.” He nodded and stared at my bike. The passenger door opened and a woman came out. She handed me a plastic bottle of pop. It was a small gesture but it warmed my heart and I thanked her with a smile I hadn’t been able to muster at first. They left and I nursed my pop, taking a photo of a cute kid who was watching me from across the road.

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    Cute kid wondering WTF I'm doing on the side of the road.

    Dave returned within an hour. He brought over the wheel, which looked much better. He’d found a tire repair shop and they’d basically just taken a sledgehammer to it. I’d have to replace the rim at some point in the future but it would do the trick for now. As he put the wheel back on he told me he’d looked at the hole in the road I’d hit. He told me again, this time more gravely, how lucky I was to have stayed on the bike. I wondered if something like this had happened early in my riding life, which was basically the start of this trip, if I’d had known what to do to avoid a much worse outcome. Would I have grabbed the brakes, forcing the weight of me and my bike to auger into the hole? If so, that was a definite over-the-handlebars ending. I never want things like this to happen but was grateful I had a skill set now to deal with it better.

    With the wheel back on and the forks cleaned up, the bike looked better. Although I was nervous to get back in the saddle, I was very happy and surprised I was riding out of there. I’m always so thankful Dave is mechanically handy. And how lucky was it to find a tire repair shop in the middle of nowhere?

    I had to be ultra-cautious riding now, though. The forks were definitely shot, so they couldn’t absorb anything. I couldn’t hit any dips or rises in the road without a terrible metal-on-metal sound and a jolt through my arms and neck. I also had no front brakes, which was perhaps the sketchiest part. If I had to stop quickly, well, I just wouldn’t. But I couldn’t worry about any of that, I could only ride and eat up some distance between where we were now and Ulaanbaatar where Dave was confident we could repair my forks and get new brake pads.

    After a few hours of riding, we called it a day after finding some yurts to camp in on White Lake. We immediately booked two nights thinking we needed a break. The beautiful setting was a welcome relief to our frazzling day.

    When we arrived, we met a tour guide who spoke English. He saw a sticker on my bike that was from the BMW dealer in Fairbanks, Alaska, where I’d bought my bike, and said, “Do you know Justin Kleiter?” Surprised I said yes. He was the person I’d bought my bike from. Justin had been to Mongolia the year before touring around on a motorcycle as well and had been with this guide. I loved these small world moments.

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    Meeting a Mongolian guide who knows the guy I bought my bike from in Fairbanks, Alaska.

    We got settled in and very happily tucked into a pair of warm beers in front of our yurt, looking out over White Lake as the sun set.

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    Warm beer and a yurt.
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    Our yurt and White Lake.
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    Mongolian girl who worked at the campground going to get water from the lake.
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    LOVE the doors.
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    We both had to duck to get into the yurt but once inside it's spacious and bright.

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    The yurt's interior. All handmade, carved and painted spindles in the ceiling. Loved the woodstove as it would get cool at night.

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    It had been a tough day but the evening was shaping up to be relaxing. That was until I said, “Oh, yeah, I meant to tell you, my clutch seems weird…”

    Next post… We find more issues with my bike.
    #92
  13. ridingfullcircle

    ridingfullcircle Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Sep 14, 2013
    Oddometer:
    113
    Torn Fork Seals, A Grocery Store Clutch Fix And Finally Ulaanbaatar

    Posting Sept. 19, 2017—After my pothole incident the day before, I remembered that when I was gearing down to come into the campground, my clutch felt weird. I had to stomp on it to get into gear. I mentioned this to Dave and he got up from the little handmade table outside our yurt where we were having a warm beer, trying to relax. He walked over to my bike and I heard a big sigh.

    “Your bike is unrideable,” he said.

    “You’re kidding? What?”

    I walked over to have a look. Clutch oil had leaked out because of erosion of the seals causing everything to gak up and stop working, either from lack of maintenance or from the accident. My poor steed was continuing to bleed out. I couldn’t ride my bike any further unless we could somehow find a replacement clutch cable.

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    The hydraulic clutch on my bike that needed to be replaced.

    Looking around at our surroundings it seemed impossible. There was nothing around us but lakes, hills and the odd village here and there. However, there was a small town about 10 km (6 mi) down the road. I figured it completely unlikely we’d find a replacement clutch for a BWM motorcycle even in all of Mongolia, but Dave rode off to see what he could find after asking vacationers in a yurt beside us if the town nearby had a hardware shop. They offered for Dave to follow them as they were heading out.

    Less than an hour later he was back and pulled a clutch lever and cable out of his bag.

    “You’re kidding!” I said again, laughing. “How the heck did you find that out here in the middle of nowhere?”

    “What’s even more funny is I found it in a grocery store,” he said. “And it was only $5 and that was including the mineral oil.”

    This was fantastic. It’s totally anxiety-inducing riding a motorcycle with compromised brakes, blown forks and a bent front wheel. A broken clutch was an addition to the malfunction I just didn’t need.

    There were more sighs and cursing coming from Dave as he worked to install the cable. It was too long for one, but he managed to engineer something and within the hour was taking it for a test ride out in the fields, scaring the yaks.

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    Dave finds a cheap Chinese clutch cable and lever at a local village grocery store, of all places.
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    Some yaks around our yurt. This one's hungry, watch out.
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    Wait, that's not Dave...

    “It works,” he said when he came back.

    Great. Now we were able to enjoy the rest of our day off, having this problem solved. I decided to go for a hike up one of the hills above the campground and take some photos.

    Stress caused by mechanical breakdowns that needed to be jerry-rigged on the side of the road and/or with minimal resources at hand, left Dave and I edgy, both with each other and life around us. I found myself incredibly angry one day when I stepped out of the yurt and found a guy climbing onto my poor, broken bike to have a photo taken. Not much in Mongolia is considered private space.

    I snapped off a few photos of our yurt from up high and reasoned that the sheer nature of the trip we were on demanded a lot from us and our bikes. We couldn’t really expect not to have issues.

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    View of White Lake, where we're camped in a yurt below.
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    White Lake.
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    You can tell our yurt by the wee little bikes parked out front.
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    Sunset on White Lake.

    Back at our yurt, Dave and I ‘enjoyed’ another warm beer by the lake. Earlier, we’d had good news. Not only was my bike rideable again but the road was also paved the rest of the way to Ulaanbaatar, which was, in fact, only 700 km (435 mi) away. We could get there easily in two days and there was less chance of damaging my forks further if there weren’t rocks and potholes to worry about.

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    My side of the yurt compared to Dave's (below), but you MIGHT notice a lot of DAVE'S stuff is piled onto my side...

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    A few days earlier, Dave had asked me if I really wanted to do the BAM road. He did but didn’t want me to feel forced into it. The BAM consists of about 1,300 km (800 mi) of sometimes dangerous river crossings, old, broken bridges and, in a wet year, a lot of mud. I’d always assumed I’d do it, or at least try, as long as we had others to join us for help in the river crossings. There was a strong temptation to be one of few females on her own bike to ride this section of road. But the thought was starting to lose its appeal. Not only did my bike need some major repairs, my drive and motivation for this type of exertion was waning.

    It was OK with me if Dave went with the Latvians to ride the BAM and we all met up in Tynda. While I didn’t particularly want to travel alone in Siberia for over 2,000 km (1,240 mi), I didn’t want him to miss out on the chance to ride the BAM. And the more I thought about it, the better the idea became. Here was my chance to go at my own pace and tap back into my independence. I’d have to navigate myself to Tynda and although it would be along mostly paved roads, there was some allure to the challenge of what might lay ahead; maybe I'd get a flat tire or not find a place to sleep for the night...

    On July 30, Dave and I rode into Ulaanbaatar (UB) in blistering heat.

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    A short break on the way to Ulaanbaatar.

    It was no surprise the city should be chaotic and that we’d be completely exhausted once arriving at our hostel in the late evening. We’d been riding over eight hours with only pit stops at gas stations that didn’t have anything fun to eat. Our stomachs were long since emptied of the oatmeal we’d eaten for breakfast and the ice cream, Coke and dry crackers we’d had for lunch.

    A huge storm was bruising the sky with dark clouds when we finally pulled into our hostel around 8:00 p.m. I sank into the warmth of familiarity as we rode off the dirty, potholed streets of UB into the driveway of The Oasis. It was a great scene: a large, covered area held half a dozen parked adventure motorcycles, all in various stages of repair. The lot was home to another half dozen overland 4x4 trucks, some vinyl wrapped with cool world maps showing their intended routes.

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    Taking photos the next day out of our hostel window at The Oasis in Ulaanbaatar, which was really as the name suggests.
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    Happy to find a collection of other travellers like us, all needing a break from the Mongolian roads.

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    Leave a tire, take a tire. Accumulated rubber from past adventure riders sits between the Oasis Hostel and the repair shop next door.
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    I hear ya, girlfriend.

    Riders and other travellers were on the patio drinking cold beer, laughing about various travel mishaps that seemed worse at the time. It appeared everyone was there with some kind of mechanical issues caused by the unrelenting beatings of Mongolian roads. We saw an opportunity to decompress and have a much-needed laugh with our brethren about our own experiences over the past few weeks.

    After getting settled into a room, we went down to discover the kitchen was closed, save for some bread and tea. We ate six pieces of toast each with butter and sat nursing a beer. Although the road to UB had been paved for 700 km (435 mi), there were plenty of surprise potholes and dips available to give my broken forks some crunches they didn’t need. I was sure I’d now also trashed the bushings and other innards not visible until Dave could remove them and do a little exploratory surgery.

    In the kitchen of our hostel now, Dave looked weary from a day of travelling slowly between 80-100 kmph (50-60 mph) because of my broken bike. I swallowed feelings of guilt. It was time for another rest and so we spent the next three days talking with other travellers and trying unsuccessfully to fix my forks in the mechanics shop next to the hostel.

    One day, Dave spent four hours in a car driving around the city with the mechanic’s assistant, who had offered to take him to a KTM dealer. Some KTMs use the same sized fork seals as our bikes so it was worth a try. Although he didn’t find the correct seals, he did find a set of front brake pads that would replace the oil saturated ones I had now. When they got back to the hostel, the mechanic’s assistant asked Dave to cough over $10/hr, for “chauffer and translation services,” even though it had just seemed like a nice gesture at the time. Dave could have easily gotten a taxi there for about $4.

    Also, when Dave went back to the KTM dealer on his own the next day to look at tires, the guy working at the counter, whom Dave had a long conversation with because interestingly he’d lived in Bellingham, WA (where Dave lives) for a few years, told Dave that the mechanic’s assistant had told him to charge an additional 10 per cent onto the bill. When Dave and this greedy dude got back in the car, the dude said, hold on a minute, and left Dave in the car while he went back in to collect his “commission.”

    [​IMG] $9,140 Mongolian Tugrik, which equals $4.55 CAD ($3.70 USD).

    Once Dave could take the forks apart, he found the bushings were not damaged, which was fantastic, but the force of the Bridge Deck Mother-of-all Potholes hit had caused the fork seals to twist and fold up on themselves, which tore them. Dave was able to carefully remove the seals to clean them up and re-insert them right side up.

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    Taking my forks apart to sess out the extent of damage and what's needed for repairs.
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    Letting the rest of the fork oil drip out.
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    Checking the bushings for further damage.
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    One of the fork seals completely out of place.
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    Pointing out the torn fork seal.
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    Forks back in place on my bike after Dave took them apart to clean and repair what he could.

    The tears in both rubber seals meant the forks couldn’t hold oil for long but nevertheless, on the (bad) advice of the mechanic Dave put the forks back together with transmission fluid, so the forks would at least have some lubrication. How long it would stay inside, we didn’t know. We just hoped they’d get me to Irkutsk, back in Russia, where we’d luckily had some parts shipped of things we figured we’d need after travelling through Mongolia.

    Irkutsk was also the last major stop before the beginning of the BAM road. As luck would have it, among those parts included blessed fork seals and wipers. If all else failed, (which it did), all I had to do was coax the bike 1,027 km (638 mi) to Irkutsk.

    Even knowing the parts I needed for my forks were within reach, (if another country and 1,000 km was that), I still spent my days off in UB scribing pleas to the online motorcycle community on the very, very off chance riders or travellers from Europe, North America or anywhere else there were BMW dealers, might be coming to UB and could bring me the parts. This yielded no results but plenty of helpful tips and opinions on riding with blown forks, which was what I did in the end.

    Next post: an uncomfortable but hopeful dash to Irkutsk, Russia, where we had pre-ordered new wipers and seals for my forks. But they sent the wrong size…


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    #93
    NSFW, Plebz and roadcapDen like this.
  14. ridingfullcircle

    ridingfullcircle Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Sep 14, 2013
    Oddometer:
    113
    A Close Call in Ulaanbaatar And Still No Fork Seals in Irkutsk

    On Aug. 2, 2017, Dave and I left Ulaanbaatar (UB), Mongolia’s capital. My forks were still shot and we had over 1,000 km (600 mi) to go before we could find the replacement parts needed in Irkutsk, Russia.

    Our morning started out with this exciting near miss:

    As you can see, it’s everyone for themselves in Mongolia. Our righteous first-world ideas that the cops might do something, especially after I showed them the video, was actually kind of dumb thinking. Even a few minutes later, after we cleared out of the intersection, there was another accident. The road signs say don't enter for those looking to turn left but there're no signs stopping people from cutting across four lanes of traffic from the other side. Not even a yield sign. In the video you can see the guy didn't even look to his right, he was just following the car in front. He would have been hurt pretty bad if Dave hadn't been going slow enough to stop. Luckily, no one was hurt and there was no damage to the bike or SUV.

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    While we were there, another accident happened just minutes later. The sign says don't enter for those looking to turn left but there're no signs stopping people from cutting across four lanes of traffic from the other side. Not even a yield sign.

    We eventually rode off, wanting nothing more than to just get out of UB. We were also hoping that by entering back into Russia, 300 km (215 mi) away, we might remove the wee jinx that seemed to be following us around Mongolia, starting with Dave’s problems at the border, my blown forks and clutch problems and now this near T-bone incident.

    We were looking forward to riding along Lake Baikal on the way to Irkutsk. Baikal is the world’s deepest, clearest, oldest and largest (by volume) lake, accounting for 23 per cent of earth’s surface fresh water. This sacred body of water is 3,615.39 km3 (5,670 cu mi) and has a maximum depth of 1,642 m (5,387 ft). It is located in southern Siberia and what’s amazing is, although it was super hot while we were there, this region of Siberia can drop to -60°C (-76°F) in the winter and the mammoth lake will actually freeze over.

    Dave had a place in mind for where we could sleep near its shores that night. As we rode, I noticed the temperature gauge on my instrument panel read 35°C (95°F), so I was hoping for a swim for sure.

    [​IMG]
    Beautiful Lake Baikal is the world’s deepest, clearest, oldest and largest (by volume) lake, accounting for 23 per cent of earth’s surface fresh water.
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    Interesting scenes around Lake Baikal.

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    Unfortunately, when we arrived at the cabins Dave had in mind, they were not only run-down and over-priced but also full. They did offer that we could set up a tent across the road, which looked like an even better plan at first as it was on the lakeshore. There was a beautiful sunset happening and I was still overly warm and looking forward to plunging into such an iconic body of water, but as soon as we’d ridden our bikes through an old chain-link gate and begun positioning the bikes in their resting place for the night, a guy sauntered over carrying a super-sized can of pre-mixed bourbon and coke. He slobbered all over us wanting to make fast friends. We didn’t think we’d enjoy a night here, so rode off begrudgingly, the sun now set.

    [​IMG]
    Sun setting on Lake Baikal.

    [​IMG]

    Back on the main highway, it was dark. I thought I’d noticed places where we could ride into the forest and set up a tent but it was getting increasingly hard to see those dirt roads. Dave found one and started riding up but his rear tire was spinning out right off the bat in the ditch. Although he powered through and rode to the top of the roughly cut-in road, I certainly didn’t want my bike with its busted forks to have anything to do with that. We ‘discussed’ back and forth for a bit but finally Dave couldn’t argue with, “It’s my bike,” so he came down and we set off trying to find another road.

    It was a precarious mission as we had to ride slowly enough along the highway not to miss any roads off into the trees but fast enough not to get rear-ended by a semi. Somewhere along the line, Dave had turned off on another road to check it out. I stayed parked on the side of the road with my flashers going, hoping I was over enough on the shoulder not to get run over. This created an impatience that only your impending doom can instill.

    I missed something Dave said or didn’t say on our headsets and thought I was supposed to turn around and head back to a nearby town. Meanwhile, Dave went off exploring another road he’d seen. When I didn’t see his lights in my mirrors, I again pulled over hoping I was far enough off the road not to get smoked by passing cars. When it was safe to pull a U-turn I went back looking for Dave. By some twist of fate, I saw him walking down a dirt track toward the highway in the dark. Only his white helmet was visible. I circled back. He’d found a place for our tent and after parking his bike, he came back to get mine as he thought I might have trouble accessing the site with my forks. We were a little exasperated by each other:

    “I thought you meant go back to town!”

    “I thought you heard me say I was turning off the road!”

    A lot of people advocate travelling without digital stuff, but I don't see how that's possible unless you're a true lone wolf. Our Sena headsets gave us a lot of trouble throughout our trip and some days I cursed them for the relationship troubles they caused. The fact that I almost missed Dave completely and would have kept riding up and down the highway in the dark wondering where the eff he was was beside the point now. All I cared about was pitching the tent and going to sleep.

    On Aug. 4, Dave and I arrived in Irkutsk. I’d ridden over 2,000 km (1,200 mi) since blowing my forks over a week ago and was getting tired of having to ride so delicately. I wanted to be able to ride over speed bumps and dips in the road without hearing the terrible metal thunking sounds from my bike’s shot suspension.

    On the road, we’d picked up Roland, a German man in his late 50s. We’d met him previously at The Oasis hostel in Ulaanbaatar. He rode up to a roadside café where Dave and I were having lunch before continuing to Irkutsk, and we all decided to ride on together.

    Now in Irkutsk, we were on a mission to find the hostel we’d heard about where we could safely park our bikes off the street in the yard next door.

    [​IMG]
    Irkutsk city entry sign with Dave and Roland, from Germany. Everyone carries an extra set of tires in this part of Russia.
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    Some happy little cheese monger by our hostel.

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    We can't beat finding secure parking for the bikes. This was a gated yard beside our hostel that actually belonged to a new hostel in its final stages of construction. Luckily they were OK with sharing their space.

    We got settled into rooms then the three of us went out for dinner, starving. We found a nice Mongolian restaurant and ordered. None of us could understand the language, of course, so we ended up pointing to photos in the menu. I’d thought I ordered a stir-fried beef number but it turned out to be liver sautéed in onions. I hate liver but my stomach dictated and I ended up eating as much as I could. At least it was a good source of iron.

    The next day, Dave and I walked around Irkutsk’s market while Roland went off to find a dentist. He’d popped a cap off his front tooth eating hard bread that morning. I was looking for a seamstress who could fix the zipper on my riding jacket, that I’d broken over a week ago.

    We couldn’t find a sewing place so instead walked into a hair salon where a couple of older ladies sat gossiping. I figured these lovely Russians would know someone who sewed. I showed them my phone, which had my question about a seamstress pre-loaded and translated into Russian. One of the ladies took Dave and I outside and walked us seven blocks down, then into a back alley, then in through a back door of a building, down a flight of stairs, into a basement and through another door that opened into a room piled high with fabric and sewing machines. I said thank you in Russian to the lady and she left, smiling and waving. It never failed in Russia that we found a friendly stranger with all the time in the world to help us get what we needed. This would prove itself over and over again for the following month of our travels. I loved Russia.

    My jacket would be ready in a few days, the seamstress told us, so Dave and I walked back to our hostel. We were eager to get in touch with a man named Pavel, who had the parts we pre-ordered for our bikes back in Barnaul several weeks ago, before entering Mongolia. I was very excited to get my seals. Pavel met us at our hostel and asked Dave to make sure everything was there. Dave checked inside: brake pads, chain and fork oil, seals, wipers and a few other odds and ends. He agreed with Pavel the order was good to go. Pavel left and Dave and I went back to our room. I had a shower and when I came out, Dave looked pissed.

    “What?” I asked.

    “The fork seals are the wrong size,” he growled.

    “Oh for shit’s sake, you’re kidding.”

    The only reason we’d pre-ordered this stuff to be delivered so far was because everyone we talked to said we wouldn’t find any parts or maintenance items for our bikes in eastern Russia.

    Dave called Pavel to see if he could help us locate seals anywhere in Irkutsk. We also e-mailed Denis, the guy who’d been helping us immensely since Moscow, shipping parts into the wilds of Siberia for us. The farther east we got, the more valuable Denis became. He was always true to his word and never overcharged us.

    Today, however, we had to explain there’d been a mistake. Dave thought he’d asked for 43 mm fork seals but Denis had looked up the product number for F800s and sent 45 mm, not realizing BMW made different sized forks on the newer bikes. Either way, neither Denis nor Dave had discussed the year of my bike so the only thing to do was try and get a new set sent. Denis located some 43 mm seals in Moscow and e-mailed to tell us he’d send them express delivery. There was a difference of cost but he agreed to absorb most of it.

    The problem was it would still take over five days for the seals to be delivered to Irkutsk and Dave was set to leave for the BAM road with the Latvians in two. He was starting to get anxious he might miss his much-anticipated guy’s trip. If he couldn’t fix my bike before he left, I’d be riding alone for over 2,000 km (1,200 mi) on the Trans-Siberian Highway with a malfunctioning bike until we’d meet again a week later in Tynda.

    We discussed what to do the next day. I figured I’d already ridden over 2,000 km on the blown forks, so what was another 2,000? It was all pavement (or so we were told) to Tynda so I would just take it easy. There was another recent development making this decision easier: Roland was riding east to Vladivostok and Brian, a 52-year-old Australian we’d also met in Ulaanbaatar, had shown up in Irkutsk with his friend Cathrin. She was leaving on a train to head back west but Brian wanted to ride to Tynda then continue on to Magadan. He was keen to join us riding east.

    Although I was looking forward to some solo-time, it would be safer to have a couple of handy guys with me.

    It was decided we’d ask Denis if he could have the correct seals delivered to Tynda instead. We wouldn’t be there for at least a week, so they had time to arrive. Dave was now free to leave for the BAM road with the Latvians, due to arrive in Irkutsk that day, and I’d carry on east with Brian and Roland after Dave left.

    It was all coming together and Dave was extremely excited to ride a road he’d been dreaming about for over two years.

    Next post… Roland changes his plan but Brian and I venture east.
    #94
    NSFW likes this.
  15. ridingfullcircle

    ridingfullcircle Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Sep 14, 2013
    Oddometer:
    113
    Two Different Directions: Dave Rides The BAM Road And Heather the Trans-Siberian Highway

    On Aug. 8, 2017, Dave and our Latvian friends—Oskars, Didzis and Sandijis (a.k.a Adventure Team Latvia)—left Irkutsk in pursuit of the BAM road.

    When overlanders refer to the BAM, they’re talking about a service road that follows the Baikal-Amur Mainline, a railway first conceived of in the late 1800s but not fully completed until Sept. 1984 when the last “golden spike” was hammered into place, connecting eastern and western Siberia.

    It’s not a road that is used much now the train has become the more common thoroughfare. Thus, the BAM is considered by many overlanders to be one of the toughest off-roads left on the planet. Travellers are often miles from civilization at any given time and are forced to endure extreme weather and unrelenting bogs full of mosquitoes. There are also a number of waist-deep river crossings, where bridges are either non-existent or rotted out.

    If you're on a bike, an option for getting across some of the many, many river crossings is to use the railway bridges. But some riders can get caught on the tracks with oncoming trains. There are little ‘balconies’ where one can pull over, but I can’t imagine how heart-stopping that would be on a fully-loaded motorcycle with panniers sticking out the sides.

    Despite all this, Dave still salivated thinking about riding this road. He’d thought about it for more than two years since before we left to ride around the world. The fact he now had some of the best riders as a team, a wide-open weather window with unseasonably low precipitation and, well, he was finally right there, made it all the more alluring.

    Although the BAM road runs for approximately 4,300 km (2,700 mi), Dave and the Latvians planned to ride a section about 1,300 km (800 mi) long. This was still expected to take 5-7 days so I planned to meet up with them all again in Tynda, just over 2,000 km (1,200 mi) to the north-east, if riding along the Trans-Siberian from Irkutsk.

    From the hostel, I waved Dave and Adventure Team Latvia off into the distance, happy that Dave would get to ride a road of his dreams and that we’d have some time apart to explore on our own. It’s far too easy to become dependent on someone always doing certain things. I was used to Dave handling the route navigation and taking care of the bikes and Dave depended on me for food and water. I swear left to his own devices he would have died somewhere along the trip of dehydration and/or starvation.

    [​IMG]
    While parked at a hostel, Dave's bike tipped over and broke his $400 windscreen. Pretty sweet glue fix, though, and what's a round-the-world bike without a few scars?
    [​IMG]
    Dave and Roland working on the bikes in the shop of a blacksmith friend in Irkutsk.
    [​IMG]
    As this was the shop of a blacksmith, there were very fine fragments of metal covering everything, including the floor. We had to be super diligent not to pick up any bits when changing tires and replacing other parts on the bikes.
    [​IMG] I don't think these guys are going to have any fun.
    [​IMG]
    Adventure Team Latvia's bike logo.
    [​IMG]
    Didzis and Sandijis ride out from our hostel in Irkutsk on their way to the BAM.
    [​IMG]
    See you in a week! Hope all four of you come back!

    With the first night to myself in six months, I went back into the hostel we’d been staying in for five nights now, and poured a glass of very cheap beer (about $1.10 for 1.5 litres). While writing a blog post later, I received a message from Roland. He and Brian were to be my travel companions for the next week riding east but Roland had decided he’d like to spend more time in the Baikal area, driving north-west instead to visit an island located at the northern end of the lake. I didn’t blame him as the lake was a beautiful destination drawing thousands of visitors each year. In fact, Dave and the Latvians were heading to the same island that night and planned to spend two nights camping there before officially starting the BAM.

    [​IMG]
    Dave's bike wedged onto the ferry he and the Latvians took to an island on Lake Baikal before starting the BAM.
    [​IMG]
    A relaxing scene along Lake Baikal.
    [​IMG]
    Once on the island, the guys were able to ride up to a gorgeous viewpoint overlooking Lake Baikal.
    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]
    [​IMG]
    [​IMG]

    I was envious of everyone getting to see the island but it would have meant me riding almost 800 km (500 mi) in the wrong direction with my bike in its current state of disrepair. We had to get to Tynda before I'd have parts for my forks.

    I messaged Brian to see if he was still planning to ride east and received a reply he, too, was thinking of staying to visit Baikal’s island. He would let me know in the morning, he said. I’d gotten used to the idea of having guys to ride with and now I had no guys. Although I wanted to ride solo at first, it now seemed a little daunting, given what one could expect in Russia’s Far East; super shitty roadside trucker hotels and restaurants, bike breakdowns and crazy Trans-Siberian drivers. I may have been more excited if the BAM happened to be located in Europe or somewhere with all kinds of fun things to do around every corner, but this was Russia’s remote regions. Aside from Lake Baikal, this part of the country wasn’t exactly known for its tourist attractions and off-bike excursions. I’d be riding this part of the Trans-Siberian, arguably the world's longest highway, in a monotonous state of alertness, watching out for drunk drivers and food poisoning.

    But the next morning, Aug. 9, there was a message from Brian saying he’d decided not to go to the island and would ride with me. He arrived at my hostel around 9:00 a.m. and we left shortly after. Seeing as we both wanted to explore more of the southern end of Lake Baikal, we decided to ride about 150 km (90 mi) along the main highway then turn off north about 30 km (18 mi) to the lakeshore where we found a very basic room behind a house to stay for the night. It cost about $7 and had an alright view from the porch to the lake about 500 metres away.

    [​IMG]
    A view of the southern shores of Lake Baikal. (I know a better photographer would have removed those power lines.)

    After only sharing hotel rooms or a tent with Dave for the last two years, it took some getting used to having another man in such intimate quarters. Brian had just spent four months travelling with a platonic female friend so seemed quite at ease with the arrangement, but this first night was something different for me, especially since our beds were no more than three feet apart in our tiny room.

    I had, however, spent many nights in tents with platonic male friends while climbing or skiing in the mountains in past years, so felt I'd soon get used to Brian.

    Before leaving the next morning, Brian and I rode down to the lake’s shore. Had it been a nice day, I would have loved to have just sat for hours with a book—it was so serene and peaceful. Sadly, the weather wasn’t as serene and peaceful and we soon rode off to get some miles under us before the rain started.
    [​IMG]
    My bike at the southern shoreline of Lake Baikal. I was carrying Dave's rear tire now as a back-up to my own. He'd traded this one in for a more aggressive rear tire for doing the BAM and I was pretty sure I'd wear my rubber down on 2,000 km of pavement.
    [​IMG]
    Brain's steed. Most riders by this point are carrying extra rubber for eastern Russia's long, service-less roads.
    [​IMG]
    Brian explores. Would have loved to hang out here on a sunny day, reading a book.
    [​IMG]
    Everywhere you go in Russia, the poor trees seem to be littered with scraps of material, but this is a good omen gesture left from other people. I couldn't find much about it online, though.
    [​IMG]
    Birds over Lake Baikal.
    [​IMG]
    A cool green boat needing a paint touch-up.

    Riding with Brian was also a very different experience to riding with Dave. As we weren’t in any hurry and were sure to cover the 2,000 km (1,200 mi) stretch to Tynda well before Dave and the Latvians arrived, Brian and I had a lot of time to kill. He liked to stop a lot and took considerable time putting on his rain gear, which required fishing out a pair of waterproof pants and pulling them on, then taking off his riding jacket and layering a rain coat underneath, then swapping out a different pair of gloves and covering his backpack with a rainproof bag.

    It's not easy to find the perfect riding suit that will keep you cool when it's hot yet also cover you from head to toe when it pours. When that happened, I'd pull out a rain jacket tucked into a small bag on the side of my panniers and wear it overtop of my riding jacket. My pants had three layers, two of which were removable: quilted for very cold days and waterproof for wet days. If the day looked dark when we started out, I'd just keep my rain layer on underneath. Sometimes this would catch me by surprise when it turned hot and sunny but I'd rather be hauling off a layer on the side of the road in the sun than pulling one on in the rain.

    Another difference riding now with Brian was we never really rode over 100 kmph (60 mph) on the pavement. This took some getting used to as Dave and I normally ride an average speed of 120 kmph (70 mph) on well-paved roads. I used the slower pace to take more photos and we stopped more often for pee breaks, fuel and food. The days were relaxing and uneventful as there wasn’t much to see along this stretch of road, but Brian and I had the usual follies Dave and I'd have when trying to find a place to stay at night.

    One evening we arrived in Ulan Ude to a hostel Roland had told us about. Brian stayed with the bikes while I walked up three flights of stairs in my motorcycle boots following signs for the hostel. When I found the office, I asked to look at some private rooms in an apartment they rented out and a young girl grabbed a key and motioned for me to follow. We walked back down the stairs, out onto the street, up a block to a traffic light, across the street, down the other side (exactly across from the bikes), into an apartment building, up five flights (this time there was an elevator), through two large steel doors and into the apartment. It was bright, large and empty and I said we’d take it.

    The girl and I reversed our steps and I followed her past Brian, giving him a thumbs up, then up the three flights of stairs back to the hostel's office. I was sweating pretty good now and looking forward to a shower but a man behind the counter now told me nothing was available. I asked why I’d just been walked around the streets to see an empty apartment just to be told there was no longer any vacancy but he just shrugged and said in the 15 mins we were gone, the whole apartment got booked.

    Back on the street, Brain found another hostel on his GPS just around the corner. I walked to this one and asked for a room there. The man opened the door to four sets of bunk beds. On the top of two separate bunks were a couple of large Russian men in their underwear staring at their phones. One was scratching his big, naked belly.

    The hostel owner understood the shake of my head and volunteered to call a friend, who had an apartment for rent. I said go ahead and in the meantime, walked back to Brain to retrieve my bike. He and I rode back to the second hostel and I went inside to ask about the friend with the apartment. The man said it was fine to stay there but it needed to be cleaned first and could we wait an hour. Brian volunteered to ride to another hotel he’d found while I stayed at the hostel. If we could find something else, we wanted to just get sorted without having to wait as it was already food and shower time.

    Brian returned about 20 mins later.

    “It’s expensive,” which meant over $60 per night, “but it’s really nice.”

    Done! Let’s go.

    We pulled into a gated hotel parking lot where the receptionist, a nicely-dressed, dark-haired girl, stood outside waiting for us. She motioned where we could park the bikes and got us sorted. I felt bad because my bike’s forks were dripping oil onto the nice bricks. I ran inside to ask for some cardboard but all they could find was a yogurt container. For what it was worth, I stuck it under the fork leaning to the side that would likely drip more.

    Spending $60 per night in a North American hotel means you might wake up with bed bug bites, but in Russia, it’s pretty posh. Although we couldn’t afford to do it every night, it was nice to splurge every now and again.

    While laying in my comfy hotel room, I wondered what sort of torture Dave had endured on the BAM that day; did he have to do any waist-deep river crossings? Were the mosquitoes driving him crazy? I was immensely curious what they'd all be riding through and couldn't wait to hear all about it.

    [​IMG]
    A photo of Dave's GPS routing him along the BAM, considered one of the world's most dangerous roads.
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    Dave (now becoming known as 'Yeti') looking pretty excited to finally be able to ride a road he's dreamed about for years.
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    What would be considered a very good bridge along the BAM road.
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    Still, some of the heavier vehicles choose to cross the water instead.
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    No sign yet of this being one of the world's most dangerous roads.
    [​IMG]
    Plenty of beautiful scenery along the BAM.

    Next post: Dave has some bad luck on the BAM road.
    #95
    LittleEagle likes this.
  16. Phoenix101

    Phoenix101 Long timer

    Joined:
    Nov 24, 2008
    Oddometer:
    1,628
    Location:
    Right Side of WA
    this ride report is awesome!! My wife and I have ridden some of the milder roads you have travelled (Dempster and parts of the Idaho back country) but can only dream of your travels in Africa and Russia..
    #96
    ridingfullcircle likes this.
  17. NSFW

    NSFW basecamp4adv

    Joined:
    Feb 20, 2007
    Oddometer:
    19,806
    Location:
    Burbank CA
    great to hear you didn't go over the bar after hitting the pothole.

    safe travels.

    thanks for the update.
    #97
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  18. ridingfullcircle

    ridingfullcircle Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Sep 14, 2013
    Oddometer:
    113
    That's great, as long as you're getting out riding and with your wife! Who knows, maybe one adventure will lead to the next and before you know it you're in Russia ;) How did you like the Dempster?
    #98
  19. ridingfullcircle

    ridingfullcircle Been here awhile

    Joined:
    Sep 14, 2013
    Oddometer:
    113

    Yes thanks, I was glad also not to have gone over the bars :)
    #99
  20. Phoenix101

    Phoenix101 Long timer

    Joined:
    Nov 24, 2008
    Oddometer:
    1,628
    Location:
    Right Side of WA
    The first year we tried it was a mud highway and we learned the road was closed in four places due to mud slides so we bailed... the next year we got a three day clear weather run and other than going through the constant construction, hurricane winds, and missed the McKenzie Ferry (it closed due to wind and late day) and had to camp on the beach along with a zillion mosquitos. Next day made it to Inuvik and then stayed an extra day to avoid a storm... coming back it was 75 miles of mud then back on to dry roads... no hassles on the way out other than a bear getting too friendly, our version of "meals on wheels" (love that reference you made in Africa). Janet was awesome and never dumped her low frame G650GS (sound familiar?).

    We are planning a trip back to the Dempster in 2018 assuming the highway is finished all the way to the ocean.