My first solo trip: Helsinki - Iran - Helsinki

Discussion in 'Ride Reports - Epic Rides' started by niklasbackman, Mar 11, 2009.

  1. niklasbackman

    niklasbackman Helsinki-Istanbul-Tehran

    Joined:
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    Hi forum,
    I'd like to share some pictures and stories from my last autumns trip from Finland to Iran, and back. This was my 2nd motorcycle trip (first being Route 66 with 3 buddies in 2007), and first trip solo on my own bike (BMW R1100GS).

    Short background: I'm a Finnish visual designer, 31, live in Helsinki. I've always traveled a lot, mainly backpacking in South-East Asia and some in Northern Africa. I enjoy traveling on my own and heading to lesser visited areas, where I feel I can still meet the "true" people. Might sound a bit silly, but I try to avoid western world and culture on my journeys. I find it uninteresting and too ..familiar.

    [​IMG]
    [​IMG]I have a blog too, but it's in Finnish.. :) Www.chef.fi/iran


    No driver's license:
    For some reason, I got my (car and motorcycle) license just before I turned 30(!). The next weekend I bought my first bike, had never driven a motorcycle before. I knew exactly which bike I wanted, so it was an easy deal. The same summer I drove the classical Route 66 on Harleys with 3 friends of mine. Next time, I knew I'd travel on my own. Had a note on my diary "Next trip solo to Morocco or Norther Libanon".

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    I dropped the bike in front of the shop.. it was heavy! But boy I was a happy owner!

    Learning the mechanics: I had no experience with cars or motors, so I had to learn to fix and service my bike, too. Thanks to active motorcycle communities, I got help and learned the basics fast. It turned out to be a simple bike to service.

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    My girlfriends brother welded a wider foot, and I did some (pretty ugly, but functioning) electrics for GPS and battery recharger + extra lights.


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    Before and after :) Not that big difference for the driver, but I guess I was much more visible for others (mainly on the crazy roads of Russia..).


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    I practiced tire change with just the basic tools I would have on the road too. Also got myself a pair of used, plastic cases too (and in red color, oh boy!). Plastic turned out to be a good choise, since I did drop the bike a few times in the mountains and rocky roads.. They are flexible :)


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    I practiced a few hours driving on loose(r) sand. It was short, but I think I learned something. At least I got jammed in the sand..


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    On the same trip I test slept my tent, checked my Trangia gas-cooker and learned to use my gps. Also, had just bought new boots from Alpinestars. The boots were way too hot and awkward to walk in. Not recommended for hot climates.


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    KTM Finland organized a 1 day motocross day. Of course I was there too! It was fun, and scary too. I never though I could jump that high, drive so fast in mud and not break any bones during that day. I fell countless times.


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    I also tried to read much, Chris Scotts' Adventure Motorcycling Handbook I had bough some years before.


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    For information, maps, software, fantastic stories, these were some of the most useful websites I crawled. For maps of Turkey and Iran (for garmin 60csx), Cloudmade.com was perfect. I had searched and searched for months, but this found a few weeks before the trip. They have free maps of *all* countries and they are good quality.


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    This was my rough route plan. I never reached Tehran, and on my way back I had to take the faster European (through Germany) route (and not Ukraine).


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    And here I was, a few minutes before I left for Iran. My leather pants and jacket were great for the hot climate.


    To be continued tomorrow..


    Thanks for reading!
    Niklas
    #1
  2. Dave-in-Turkey

    Dave-in-Turkey Mild Mannered Adventurer

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    Hi Niklas...looks like the start of a great adventure :lurk


    Cheers

    Dave..
    #2
  3. JackL

    JackL T plus 16 months

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    This looks like it will be good. Keep it coming.
    #3
  4. GB

    GB . Administrator Super Moderator Super Supporter

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    Fantastic adventure!! :clap Thanks for the intro.. looking forward to all the details :thumb

    :lurk
    #4
  5. picoda

    picoda Dalmatia

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    I fell it will be good RR :thumb Iran is beautiful. :lurk :lurk :lurk
    #5
  6. FRANKtheMACHINE

    FRANKtheMACHINE Been here awhile

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    near the Green Monsta
    :lurk looking forward to reading this one. do we have riders in Iran? we need them on tent space.
    #6
  7. KrazyKooter

    KrazyKooter Been here awhile

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    Subscribed. :lurk
    #7
  8. LoneTiger

    LoneTiger Adventurer

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    :lurk:clap
    #8
  9. DRglidarn

    DRglidarn Panzer pilot

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    Perkele, now I'm hooked to this one too:lurk
    A good intro Niklas, keep up the writing!:clap


    Let's see if it's goin to be the finn style...:freaky

    /Mattias
    #9
  10. Fabi.

    Fabi. n00b

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    Subscribed! :lurk
    #10
  11. longwaybackhome

    longwaybackhome --------------

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    Hej Niklas,

    Great start. I look forward to the "riding" part of your report.
    #11
  12. tsbnoise

    tsbnoise The silent voyeur

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    Subscribed:thumb
    #12
  13. strommer

    strommer Ride for balance

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    A promising start
    #13
  14. niklasbackman

    niklasbackman Helsinki-Istanbul-Tehran

    Joined:
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    Location:
    Helsinki, Finland
    (Are the images loading slowly? Let me know, I just changed them from Google's Picasa to my own domain www.chef.fi. Picasa seemed to be missing an image or two occasionally). PS. You guys really love those animated smilies ;)

    Clothing, gear, and all that:
    Like many others, I was really wondering what sort of clothing I should wear. It was going to be hot and sunny in Turkey and Iran, but I also needed protection, mainly from wind and dehydrating sun. I've ridden the first year in a so-so cordura jacket, but it's horrible when the weather gets hot. One day I noticed a stopped motorcycle police and asked him for a good hot weather clothing, and the answer was "Leather! Nothing but leather! These gore-tex clothes just suck!".

    So, I chose leather. I had bought a biker style leather jacket some years back but never really used it. I felt it fit a bit strangely, long arms and short waist line.. But hey, it was perfect for riding a motorcycle! After talking to the police, I drove back home and found the jacket in the attic. Quickly changed, and the leather just felt wonderful! It was cool, even in the sunshine, the sweat was gone, I didn't feel like in a plastic bag anymore.

    I would be a leather biker! Forever :)
    :clap

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    - For the legs I chose jeans style Dainese Panama Pelle, which were very good on the trip.
    - Helmet was Schuberth C2, silver colored
    . I was very pissed at first with it, since my beemer has an awful windscreen. I got very strong turbulence and noise with the original windscreen (I'm 195, 6'4"). I had to replace it with a new one (will add name later).
    - And for the seat I stole mom's 30 year old sheepskin :) Well, changed it to an IKEA version.. which, by the way, was too.. washed and cleaned, so it was too smooth and flat. The old one was much better.
    - The GPS, Garmin 60CSX, was a good buy. I had to wire a plug for it on the bike, but it was functioning quite nicely. And finally I also found (free!) maps from www.cloudmade.com. Excellent service!
    - For water, I bought a small Katadyn ceramic water filter, which was also a very good buy. I used it mainly in Russia and when drinking from rivers in Iran. Recommended!

    :poser
    Those boots.. from outer space!:
    I have big feet (eu 49, us 14), so shoes are always hard to find. I wanted good protection, but to be able to see the sights and walk somehow normally. My mistake was to buy Alpinestars Vector 2007 (though they look okay..). They were probably better than many other off-road boots (in terms of walking), but walking in those monsters was not fun. And the least I could think of was waterproof, but no, the water came in just above 15cm height. I was so disappointed to the shoes. Maybe ok for a weekend off-road trip, but not for a long journey. Although, you can't imagine the expression on old Iranian old ladies' faces, when I walked into a bazaar.. They just couldn't imagine in a million years that someone was walking in that kind of shoes.. crazy western fashion!
    :eek1:eek1:eek1

    Update: two days ago I received my new, all leather trial boots from Gaerne (Balance Oiled). I've walked a bit in those, and yes, they are much, much more comfortable (and less protecting) than my "old" ones. And these look very, very nice! :) Quality materials, quality work, like many italian shoes.
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    These Gaerne Balance Oiled (2007 version, without the waterproof lining = better in hot climate) are for my next trip.. :) Just don't know yet where I'm heading.


    To be continued tomorrow..


    Thanks for reading the second part :) I will get to the point too..:norton
    Niklas

    #14
  15. LoneTiger

    LoneTiger Adventurer

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    Subscribed:lurk:super
    #15
  16. easyman05

    easyman05 Been here awhile

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    same :clap
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  17. obsidian

    obsidian Scared of the dark..

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    Subscribed as well :lurk
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  18. zavi

    zavi tra curve e tornanti

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    And so... :lurk
    #18
  19. Damir

    Damir AKA Pudla

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    :lurk :lurk
    #19
  20. niklasbackman

    niklasbackman Helsinki-Istanbul-Tehran

    Joined:
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    Oddometer:
    24
    Location:
    Helsinki, Finland
    Here we go again.

    Leg 1: Helsinki - St. Petersburg - Moscow - Sochi (Black Sea coast): Crossing the border to Russia was easy. The cues were long but I didn't have to wait long before I was asked to drive past all cars to the actual border and immigration post. Filling a few forms, buying insurance, and everything was done in maybe an hour. No hassle, no problems. Or so I thought..

    I found out a few days later, that I was practically illegally in Russia. I was missing an Immigration form - which I should have got from a lady at the border post. Now I was not able to register my staying in Russia. Which also meant that I could not stay in a hotel, since they have to report all foreigners.. And the idea of dealing with Russian officials just made me feel sick. Language problem? Yes! Bribes? You bet!

    Driving in Russia: I'm quite sure that the first 4 days of my six week trip were the most dangerous. Mainly because Russians drive like maniacs, everybody is speeding, motorcycles are passed way too close, every 5th vehicle is a huge truck driving equally fast as cars do, the road quality is totally unpredictable, etc.. And I was freshman trying to catch up with the other maniacs. I was stressed, speeding and taking risky passes. It took me 3 days to learn to relax and let the crappy Ladas, new Lexus', BMW's and Mercedes' just hurry past me.

    The first night I spend at a friends (Katja) place in St. Petersburg. Katja had helped me a great deal by fixing train connections from St. Petersburg to Sochi (though it never worked, since that train just didn't have a compartment for bigger luggage and bikes..), so I was very happy to meet her family, too. I was welcomed with fresh seafood and a little vodka :) We ate well and had a nice evening.

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    Katja and her father Leonid (St. Petersburg, Russia)

    Moscow: The road to Moscow was busy and hectic, and I still hadn't learned to relax. I was driving all day and it was very exhausting. In the evenings I tried to write my diary, but I didn't have much to write. I noticed for the first time, that driving was so exhausting and stressing, that I wasn't able to day-dream and think the way I could do when backpacking and traveling by bus or train. All my brain capacity seemed to be wasted in keeping me alive on the roads! I knew I'd need to switch to a different way of driving.

    Arriving to Moscow was a bit of a win. People had been warning me of the traffic, crime and all that tv news stuff, but it wasn't that bad. I wrote to my diary "Traffic in Moscow is very exciting. Like driving rally all the time, but just more fun! Splitting lanes is fine, the roads a wide and the drivers are alerted and able to adjust to changes in traffic. I encounter a lot of (possibly) risky situations, but somehow I see them differently."

    I headed straight to the center of Moscow, to The Red Square. I parked and walked into the fanciest looking hotel. I knew they would speak good English, have free maps of the city and could also help me find cheaper hotels. After a few hours of criss-crossing small streets of Moscow I found a huge hotel complex. Again some trouble with the non-existent immigration paper, but not too bad. Beer, saslik, no to a protitute and off to bed.

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    The Red Square (Moscow, Russia)


    Death: Reckless driving and bad roads were also taking their toll. During the few days in Russia, I saw several fresh accidents on the road (mainly trucks in the ditch) but also one dead person. I saw two cars in the middle of the road, one man yelling in his mobile phone and one man lying beside the car with a small white cloth on his head. The white cloth was all red from blood. The moment didn't last long, but it was well preserved in my mind. I had planned of driving a bit further but suddenly didn't feel like it. So I searched for a motel and called the day.

    Dogs: I like dogs, but not the aggressive ones living on the street. I would have several encounters with them, all mainly negative or sad. One of the ugliest moment was on my way home, in Romania, outside Bucarest, on the ring road. There were just two lanes and a lot of traffic, mainly trucks. Everybody was driving not faster than walking. There were stray dogs everywhere, rushing between the lanes. Two dogs were lying right in the middle of the lane and the truck before them had stopped. When the traffic moved again the dogs were still lying on the road. The truck slowly moved forward and the front tyres rolled over one dogs feet. I can still hear the screm from the dog, like saying "Ouch!! What are you doing! Hurts!". A few seconds later the back tyres reached the lying dog, rolled over it's body and left a very nasty looking red, wet lump of organs and stuff on the road. The driver had expected - like everybody else I guess - that the dogs would move. People from passing cars and trucks seemed to be equally disgusted and sad by the sight as I were.

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    Truck stop and motel. A typical, uninteresting and ugly sight.

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    Motel room. Cheap and pretty nasty.

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    Breakfast at a cheap roadside cafe.

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    Cardboard police :) They did have some effect. At least they amused me.


    Militsiya, the Russian police: Right after St. Petersburg I was pulled over by a Russian traffic cop, GAI. I had 94 at 60 km/h zone, I think. Anyways, back in Finland I would have got a pretty hefty fine + maybe lost my driver's license for a while. But here I was only fined a tiny 500 rubles / 10 euro fine. Funny thing was that, when the officer handed the ticket to me, I was offering the money him directly. But he shouted at me that he doesn't have a cash register so I would have to pay at a bank. I was positively surprised how legal the procedure was. No bribes, no pocket money.

    The second time I was pulled over was a day after Moscow. Again it was clearly my own fault, the traffic was crawling and I passed a truck in a no-passing zone. But this time it was a real, corrupted, nasty cop. I sat in his office, next to his desk. He had a 1960's model computer and a massive journal/logbook in front of him. I had given him my passport + other documents and he was just shouting at me, pointing at age-old copies of traffic signs and other props for the coming scene. By the sign-language and yelling I could understand he was saying that I could say goodbye to my passport. I knew what was coming. But still it was a very awkward situation. I've learned from other backpacking journeys, that passport is the last one I want to part with. The 2nd scene took place and the officer proceeded to the money part. He was starting to type numbers to the computer, and I could see he was thinking "umm, how much could I ask from this guy..". He typed 8000 rubles (180 eur) which was about 5 days budget for me and a weeks salary for him, meaning WAY too much. So.. we started the whining, crying and no-have scene :) The price for my passport dropped to 3000 rubles, and I ended paying him 1500 rubles, which was a day's budget, and everything in my day-wallet. I always have my money in at least two places, the money belt and the day-wallet. My mistake here was to have much more than usually in the day-wallet. But the plot here was to part me with all my money (1500r), so I had to give the asshole everything I had in there.

    But the last scene was the best: when I was handing him the 1500r he dramatically refused the dirty money saying "Excuse me, *I* do not take any bribes" and nonchalantly opened the massive journal and pointed me to slip the money between the pages. So, even the corrupted ones have their pride?


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    After one week from home I finally reached Sochi, Black Sea coast.


    But to get out of Russia.. that's again another story starring embassy of finland, forged documents, border posts and a solo traveller.

    Thanks for reading the #3 post :)
    Niklas




    #20