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Discussion in 'Ride Reports - Epic Rides' started by Colebatch, Jul 21, 2010.
Great so far!
This was Stage 1 or our plan ... to get down the Road of Bones to Khandyga and on to Yakutsk ... our first rest stop ... over 2000 km (1250 miles) away.
This is a breakdown of the various Road of Bones and Kolyma Highway sections.
(1) All sections on this map between Khandyga and Magadan are whats known in the west as the "Road of Bones".
(2) The Kolyma Highway is the official Federal Road between Yakutsk and Magadan and consists of sections 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6
(3) Section 1, the 400 km between Yakutsk and Khandyga, has recently (5 - 10 yrs ago) been upgraded. Previously, the last 150km of that section was a winter road only. Early rides on the Road of Bones (like Mondo Enduro) had to take a 3 day barge ride from Yakutsk to Khandyga.
(4) Section 2, the 320 km between Khandyga and Kyubeme is probably the most scenic stage of all, and the road climbs into the mountains just 90km out of Khandyga and stays in mountains all the way. Its very narrow for a "Federal Road". [Edit: as of 2012, it is being heavily worked on - dozens of new concrete bridges, hundreds of kilometres through the mountains are being widened.]
(5) Section 3, Kyubeme to Kadykchan via Ust Nera has recently been upgraded and is one of the fastest sections of the road now. The bit between Kyubeme and Ust Nera was perviously a winter road only and until 2008, this road was only possible in winter. Now it is the main route to Magadan.
(6) Section 4 and Section 6, Short bits ... Kadykchan to Bolshevik ... and Palatka to Magadan ... common sections of all routes between Yakutsk and Magadan
(7) Section 5 ... between Bolshevik and Palatka ... the bulk of this road is quite busy ... its the main trunk route serving the towns of Magadan Region ... its fast wide graded gravel, but lots of trucks, and very dusty!
(8) Section 7 ... The traditional route of the Road of Bones between Kyubeme and Kadykchan via Tomtor. The Eastern 2/3 of this road is completely unmaintained. For many years it was the only summer route between Yakutsk and Magadan, but with the upgrading of Section 3, Section 7, known as the "Old Summer Road" (or also sometimes just "The Old Road") has been left to rot. There is only 1 population centre along the 420 km route, Tomtor, population 1000. Tomtor and its neighbouring sister village Oimyakon, are known as the coldest inhabited settlements on earth ... the 'Pole of Cold'. In many ways, the "Old Summer Road" is the classic stage of the Road of Bones. [Edit: in 2013 work began on restoring the connection to Tomtor. A new concrete bridge is being built over the Kyubeme River, due for completion late 2014, and the road from Kyubeme to Tomtor will be improved. East of Tomtor, however, is likely to remain abandoned and unmaintained]
(9) Section 8 ... The Tenkin Track (Tenkinskaya Trassa) ... a secondary but maintained road between Bolshevik and Palatka, built to serve the mining Gulags located off to the sides of the road. When combined with Section 5, its known as the "Kolyma Ring" and was the heart and soul of Solzhenitsyn's 'Gulag Archipelago'. These days there are only 2 population centres along the road, Omchak and Ust Omchug ... the latter having fuel and food.
I had been on the Road via Sections 1, 2, 3, 4, 8 and 6 ...
This year I wanted to do the other bits ... and the other way round ... so we were going to go 6, 5, 4, 7, 2, 1
We reached Atka, our first refuelling stop and filled up.
A landcruiser pulled up and an Aussie geologist and his entourage stepped out.
He warned us about bears. Apparently it's a big year for bears this year. We took that on board and went down the road to the café for some dinner. We had left Magadan at 4 in the afternoon. Daylight would last till 11pm. It was 9:15pm by the time we finished dinner and hit the road north. 11pm should take us to an abandoned town called Myakit. There was nothing before Myakit, nothing after it for another 150km and there were no hotels where we were in Atka ; camping was dodgy, considering we had just been warned about bears.
So why were we heading for Myakit?, Sherri Jo wondered. Well it wasn't completely abandoned. About 10 people still lived there. And I had a contact in Magadan who knew them all.
We rode through the diminishing light and just before 10:30 pm we arrived. The town must have been something once. Apparently 5000 people once lived there. It was hard to see any signs of life, but eventually we spotted them and rode over. After introducing them and bringing personal greetings from our contact in Magadan, we were welcomed with open arms. Everyone was sitting around a table eating their evening meal, having a few vodkas and chatting. We were immediately made some fish soup, tea and made to feel at home.
One guy gave us his home for the night and said he would sleep in one of the other homes. It was a nice welcome to rural Russian hospitality. We eventually went to sleep about 1am.
My birthday for 2010 therefore began in the tiny cabin in Myakit. Sherri Jo presented me with a card and present. I had taken a tub of red caviar (salmon roe) with me from Magadan. So on the communal bench at Myakit my birthday breakfast was caviar on bread. I piled it on thick and ploughed in! The other residents cracked open the breakfast beers.
The main mission for my birthday was getting to a Gulag. Gulags were set up under Stalin's regime to use political prisoners to mine the abundant gold and uranium deposits that had been discovered in the Kolyma region. The prisoners were treated appalingly, had to labour through winters of -50 C, slept in the most primitive of conditions, and not surprisingly, many died. When the needs of the state required more labour for the Gulags, the rate of political arrests was stepped up. A huge department was set up to administer the Kolyma Gulag system - Dalstroi. Magadan itself was built only in 1939 to serve as the port and logistics centre for the Dalstroi project. Into Magadan's harbour went captive prisoners, and out came gold and uranium - effectively bought with the lives of the prisoners.
The whole Dalstroi project was incredibly inhumane and estimates are that an incredible 700,000 people died. When Stalin himself died in 1953, his successors, most of whom were appalled at Stalin's barbarity, began closing down the Gulags. Most were closed in the 1950s, a few lingered on till the early 60s. Ultimately, any surviving mine sites were converted to towns, with paid labour doing the mining, under normal Soviet working conditions (actually they were paid up to 3 times what people made in Moscow, to encourage reluctant miners to move to such a remote region).
Our friends in Magadan had given us the GPS co-ordinates of a Gulag not too far from the main road. Generally information about Gulags in the region only comes by word of mouth. The local government in Magadan Region wants to move on from Dalstroi and the Gulag histories. A few locals who had set up tour businesses specialising in trips to Gulags have been shut down by local authorities. Its a bit of a taboo subject. The handful of westerners who do make it to Magadan are usually either mad motorcyclists or geologists. Almost none take the time to seek out a Gulag. It was something that I had wanted to do last year, but had no location information. I didnt know where to find a Gulag. They dont have signs pointing to them. Most are down tracks that have hardly been used in 50 years. And now we had information about a Gulag and the condition of the track leading to it. The track was challenging in bits, but do-able by a loaded bike.
Sherri Jo knew the track to the Gulag would be tough for her, but for her as well as for me, a visit to a Gulag, the very reason everything exists in the Kolyma, was too much of a rarity too much of a highlight to pass up. There were plenty of water crossings ... it would be good practice for the days ahead ...
you,ll never know how much i wish i was riding with you mate.
Funny you should say that Terry ... I was just thinking earlier today how much you would have loved the ride so far ... got some great fotos to come in the coming days mate.
Two hours down the Gulag track and we got there. Dneprovski. A tin and uranium mining Gulag, that had shut down in 1955.
Wild blueberries grew everywhere and made for a nice lunch.
Photos like this are what keep me itching for the road.
I dont subscribe to much. SUBSCRIBED.
Colebatch, though you might like this while you rest up in Yakutsk. A bit of fairly serious riding....
Good to see you both are enjoying yourselves.
As with Terry - I wish we were there, but you seem to be coping OK without us!
You boys missed a good ride this year ... lots of familiar faces, plenty of new ones, and some fun new roads !
Awesome! Just loving this trip with you by your fantastic pictures and narration. The lady looks like she's doing a fine job and makes that bike look GUD! Thanks for all the work of sharing.
Breathtaking story about the gulags. It must be impressive to visit those areas where so many lives were sacrificed in the past.
Thanks for taking the time out to answer my Q.
The pictures are as stunning as ever and the more I see the more I'd like to tackle the famous road and meet the local friendly people.
Ride safe and thanks again.
The ride back was quicker. Sherri was picking up the art of riding a loaded bike over this kind of terrain, and she listened to advice.
On the way in I helped her out maybe 5 or 6 times ... There were just two places where I helped on the way out ...
Back on the main road and heading North, we were stopped by a big 4WD van from Magadan. It was a bunch of guys from the local 4WD club Nord Trophy. A few of the guys recognised me. We had all eaten sushi together in Magadan last year with Tony. It is a small world sometimes.
Dinner time came in Orotukan. Sherri Jo treated me, since it was my birthday.
The next town with a hotel was still 140 km down the road
Yagodnoye. We had little choice by to press on. I bought a birthday beer, tucked it into my riding jacket, and we headed off into the evening light.
Sherri crossing the Kolyma River: The river whose name is associated throughout Russia with two things, death and gold.
Just as it was getting dark (around 11pm) we pulled into Yagodnoye, found the local hotel and I cracked open my birthday beer. It was an unusual birthday (as mine usually are) it had started with caviar in an abandoned town, ended with a beer 350 km down the road, and in between I had made it to a Gulag. I was chuffed!
Great report and photos as usual ...and, happy belated birthday
Beats me ... I had 5, which was the number I wanted ... and 4 pulled out in the last 6 weeks and wanted their money back. So this year ends up costing me a load ... but you live and learn. I didnt want to cancel and pull out on Sherri Jo - it wouldnt have been fair on her ... so I just decided to go ahead and have a fun ride anyway. It gives me a chance to do some things I havent done before ... like the Gulag thing.
With Sherri Jo, I also have enough time to ride ahead and take a lot of fotos - particularly of other bikes in action ... so there will probably be a lot more fotos this year compared to last year.
Temperature in Northern Siberia is fluctuating wildly this year ... a week ago on the Road of Bones it was 37C (about 100F). Some parts we did that I will post about in the coming days were just +12C (about 50F) and raining ... so its all over the place.