The Crimson Trail - Ashes of Empires

Discussion in 'Ride Reports - Epic Rides' started by The Rolling Hobo, Mar 3, 2017.

  1. joenuclear

    joenuclear Still here....

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    Nice update! I see the Swedes in your rear view mirror soon.... :muutt
    #81
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  2. The Rolling Hobo

    The Rolling Hobo Been here awhile

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    :lol3:lol3:photog The Swedes were wrecked in the morning as you'll soon find out.

    The Klymit pad looks good. A little heavier than the Sea To Summit UltraLight Mat I currently roll with, but the Static V is thicker and with better insulation.
    #82
  3. The Rolling Hobo

    The Rolling Hobo Been here awhile

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    DAY 6 / THE PARTY’S OVER
    25.7.2015 / Kaunas, Lithuania – Ivoškai, Lithuania / 277 km, 1459 km total

    Sleep deprivation was usually the biggest contributor to feeling hungover. Or so I gathered, waking up at 0800 feeling hungover, after four hours of sleep and not drinking during the previous night. I wondered if a contributing factor could have been sharing the breathing air of two royally smashed mammals. Either way, I knew the Swedes were in for a very bad day, and I opened a window before heading down to breakfast.

    Back in the room, I continued working on my laptop as the signs of life started to appear in my teammates’ bunks. They hobbled out to breakfast in the same manner they had made their entrance the previous night, but without the happy grins. After breakfast, to my amazement, Perra pulled a breathalyser from his luggage, and the Swedes took turns in checking out the damage. First of all, if you need to carry one, you have to admit you have a bit of a drinking problem. Secondly, if you have a blood alcohol of 0.22% in the morning, you clearly roll like a rock star and shouldn’t give a damn about trifle matters such as DUI. Either way, they confirmed my presumption of not being fit to ride in a while.

    Especially after cutting the trail during the previous days, I had no patience for waiting around for the Swedes to clear their heads. So I suggested they’d take a day off, while I doubled back to see what we’d missed. They happily agreed, and I hastily collected my gear, and went to pack up the bike. There were no emotional goodbyes, as we’d made plans to meet in Poland the next morning. They would need to take an early start though to catch up, so if they decided to have another night out, I would not see them for the remainder of the ride. They were good company, and I certainly hoped to ride with them a couple more days. But even if they caught up, our paths would undoubtedly part on the Ukrainian border, as their heavy bikes had no business on the trails I was headed for.

    The big bikes were slow on more challenging terrain, and I was already behind schedule. I had planned to travel an average of 300 km daily, and thus far we had been doing an average of 235 km per day with plenty of detours. So I figured I was around two days behind my rough schedule. Not that it was an issue, as I never planned strict schedules, and having flexibility on both routing and time was necessary on rides like these. Either way, I was happy to roll out and get moving again.

    The day was scorching hot, with beautiful sunshine, and getting out of Kaunas took a good while. I was drenched in sweat, before cruising on the highway offered any relief to the blistering heat. Turning to gravel, from the main road, brought my mind back to the trail, but I felt a little off, most likely due to the short sleep and not having much to eat the previous night. I was looking for the Karmėlava missile base, located just NE of the Kaunas airport.

    The base had two sections, and the western base turned out to being too elusive for me. The main trail was blocked by the airport gate, and another trail ended up in a messy bog. Wrenching my bike around and out of the messy rutted trail took a good while. It was hard work in the heat, and I was going through my hydration pack at an alarming rate. The eastern base was more co-operative, and soon found myself exploring the abandoned home of the 42nd Rocket Regiment of the 58th Rocket Division of the 50th Rocket Army of the Soviet Union.

    The eastern base of Karmėlava had been active from 1964 to 1990. Apparently the 42nd Rocket Regiment was the last one with the notorious R12 Dvina’s. They were the same missiles that caused the Cuban missile crisis in 1962, and which had also been in the Voru missile base, which we explored some days earlier. The base was extensive and fascinating, with four surfaces launch pads, storage bunkers and an adjoining compound for troops. I spent a good while riding around the base, and in and out of the bunkers that housed death just 25 years ago.

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    Everything was in disrepair as expected, but I managed to find some murals and other Soviet artefacts. I suppose it will all be bulldozed one day, as understandably the Lithuanians do not appreciate the memorabilia of occupation with the same fascination as the odd adventure rider. But being there, I sat around in an old garage for heavy vehicles, and imagined how it had all looked in the full swing of the Cold War, and what the daily grind would have been for the Soviet soldiers stationed there. I would have very much liked to see photos of the era, if they existed. And I was sure they did, but would likely never see daylight, instead gathering dust in an archive somewhere in the heart of the Russian motherland.

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    Snapping out of my Cold War fantasies, I realised that I was at a crossroads of sorts. The Crimson Trail swung back to Kaunas, but there was an abandoned airfield just a few kilometres back up the trail. I had no intention of riding through Kaunas again in the blistering heat, and opted to take a look at the airfield instead. Unfortunately it turned out to being far beyond derelict, and in fact in the middle of an artillery range with some fairly serious looking warning signs. Being in contact with derelict nuclear missile bases may carry the odd risk of making you glow in the dark, but a live 105 mm artillery shell will unquestionably ruin your day. Besides, I was low on food and water, and decided to circumvent the remains of the airfield.

    Going around ended up being a good decision, as I soon found myself in a military zone. Apparently the road was open to the public, but it was always better to avoid military installations. Especially if you were clearly a foreigner and sporting three cameras around your neck. Luckily I made it out without incident, but ended up having to do a long stretch of tarmac to go around Kaunas.

    Riding south, I was starting to feel tired. It was expected, with only four hours of sleep, but for some reason I was notoriously bad at eating anything on rides. Although energy consumption was higher than normal, my food intake would remain minimal, and eventually I always ended up feeling depleted. I was cognisant of the issue, as it had plagued me for a long time, and I remember frequently bonking out on the third day on climbing expeditions, before realising that I had eaten way too little. Still, to that day, I had made no adjustments to my food intake for countering the issue.

    I briefly stopped for some lunch and resupplied my water, before finally reconnecting with the Crimson Trail. It was a relief to get off tarmac, and I cruised through beautiful agricultural landscapes, dipping in and out of forests here and there. The route worked very well, except for a short section between two lakes, where it was overgrown and hard to find. After finally finding it, the trail eventually led into a water crossing. After the scorching day, it was lovely to feel the cool water fill my boots as I passed over the flooded peninsula between the lakes.

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    Riding solo was a welcome change to the pace, as there was no need to look into the mirrors, wait for anyone or make compromises. However, as I was drawing close to the Polish border, the forests grew darker at the end of the sunny day. It was probably due to having to camp alone, that I suddenly missed the company of the Swedes, and wondered what they were up to, as I scouted for a campsite. The area seemed dotted with summer houses and holidaymakers, so finding a spot for the night took some time.

    I pitched my tent on the edge of a small clearing, surrounded by pines on a small hill. It was in the middle of a disused track, so I was not expecting anyone to accidentally stumble upon my camp. But the mood was a little eerie, as the forest was still, but I could hear distant conversations from all around me in the fading light. A vivid imagination is both a blessing and a curse, and in moments of solitude and exhaustion most likely the latter. That night though, sensibility prevailed, and I had a can of tuna for dinner, before turning in.

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    #83
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  4. joenuclear

    joenuclear Still here....

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    Well done! Thanks.
    #84
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  5. PoviBike

    PoviBike n00b

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    Your writing style is great. Thank you, and please keep posting :)
    #85
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  6. ricochetrider

    ricochetrider MotoMojo

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    The Crimson Trail is captivating! Thanks for coming back to this very interesting tale.
    And oh BTW still loving your photography.
    The B&W is awesome- clearly you are taking some time to "set up" some of the shots of your riding solo and stuff.
    :thumb
    #86
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  7. Jim K.

    Jim K. Long timer

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    Brilliant.
    #87
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  8. The Rolling Hobo

    The Rolling Hobo Been here awhile

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    DAY 7 / WE DON’T TALK ABOUT IT
    26.7.2015 / Ivoškai, Lithuania – Wólka Biszewska, Poland / 265 km, 1724 km total

    The border between Lithuania and Poland was the last open border for a long while, so I wanted to cross it style. The trail I had mapped was fairly dubious, but I was anxious to get on to it early, and hastily broke camp rode out. The border was in fact a small river, and my means across it was a very dubious looking rickety plank bridge. On the Lithuanian side, the ramp leading to the bridge had partially collapsed in the middle, creating a kind of a plank ditch leading onto the bridge. I figured I could power walk the bike up the steep ramp and onto the bridge. However, half of the bridge itself had also collapsed, leaving only a narrow passage on which to roll the bike over to Poland. As I was assessing the situation, the first drops of rain fell. The wooden planks became slippery, and the risk of the bike sliding off the off-camber bridge increased significantly. But despite the steep, high banks of the river, it looked fairly shallow, so I decided to try to cross the bridge.

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    The first issue was getting the bike onto the bridge itself, which wasn’t exactly simple. I had surprisingly good traction on the ramp for a while, and managed to get the front wheel onto the bridge. But as I proceeded to manoeuvre the the rest of the bike onto the bridge, the rear tyre slid into the middle of the collapsed ramp and went through the planks. I tried yanking the rear tyre out, but it was properly stuck, wedged between the planks.

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    I removed all the luggage, to lighten the bike, before any further attempts of freeing it from the grip of the bridge. I hit the starter button, revved up and dumped the clutch in first gear. With a roar of then engine and the sound of splintering wood, the bike lurched forward, free of the clutches of the planks. Luckily I didn’t overshoot the bike all the way up to the bridge, from where it would likely have ended up in the river. Once the bike was free, I laid it on its chain side to avoid damaging the brake rotor, and dragged it down the slippery ramp. The 690 was back on its feet.

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    It had been hard work, and I was sweating profusely despite the rain. I was very thirsty and drank the rest of the water in my CamelBak. An empty hydration pack was usually a prelude to bigger problems, and I needed to get it refilled soon. Worse yet, there was no hope of crossing the bridge solo, so I had to swallow the bitter pill of defeat and find another way to Poland. Any hopes of finding an adventurous route over the border were gone, and I crossed to Poland on a flat gravel road. It was not quite what I had hoped for. But adventure enduro is not a discipline of certainties, except for the obligation to overcome obstacles and push forward. It was a mission, which I absolutely loved due to it’s simplicity.

    Further south I reconnected with the Crimson Trail, and started looking for a village where I could rendezvous with the Swedes. According to Perra, they had taken it easy the previous night, so it seemed that we would in fact roll again as a trio. I was looking forward to seeing Perra and Johan, but also desperately needed water and food. Luckily the village of Mikaszówka had a shop, which was open despite it being Sunday.

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    I pulled up in front of the shop, and an old man immediately berated me for something. I took my helmet and ear plugs off to get a bearing on what his problem was. I ignored him immediately, once I figured out that his grievance was that I’d left tyre marks on the sand outside of the shop. Checking my phone, the Swedes had checked in twenty minutes earlier and were roughly an hour away from where I was. I sent them the coordinates to my location and sat down for the wait. I was very thirsty, but unfortunately didn’t have any local currency to buy water.

    I heard the distinctive sound of a single cylinder four stroke, and a Honda CRF450 shot out from behind the shop and absolutely tore up the main gravel road in front. The rider had no helmet, was wearing a t-shirt, a pair of shorts and flip flops and did several passes, with a small crowd of locals cheering him on. I turned around to see what the grumpy old gentleman was making of the situation, and he looked back at me sheepishly, shrugging almost undetectably.

    The rider came over for a chat, and it turned out he was a friend of the shop owner. He kindly offered me a drink, and also to exchange Euros into Polish Zlotys. It solved my problem with currency and water. It was great to get to meet some of the locals, and they were rather surprised to see foreigners there, as it was a fairly remote area of Poland, close to the border with Belarus. I handed out some stickers to my new friends, just as my Swedish ones pulled up.

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    It was happy reunion, and everyone agreed that lunch was the priority. Luckily the shop owner also had a restaurant, and we filled up on pierogi Ruskie and Wiener schnitzel. The meal was typical Polish hearty food, and we caught up on the previous day, before hitting the trail energised.

    The trails had gotten increasingly sandy, but it was good riding and the big bikes handled the soft terrain in good style. We mostly rode on agricultural service roads between fields, which made finding a rhythm a little tricky. The trails were straight, with frequent ninety degree turns. So I’d come out of a turn and go up the gear box to fifth or sixth, cruise for a minute and then then brake and drop down to second to navigate another turn. It seemed to go on forever, and finding flow took a while, but when I got the hang of it, the trail was very enjoyable. The terrain was mostly flat, but the occasional hill crest gave sweeping views over the beautiful agricultural landscape.

    The weather improved as the day progressed, and most of my gear was dry. Except for the boots of course, which usually remained wet for most of the expedition, due to water crossings, rain or sweat. The mood was great and it was absolute pleasure to ride with the guys. In fact it was a little unnerving to realise how much I’d missed their company, as my near future held several weeks of solitude, unless I found company on the road.

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    We made camp on the edge of a field in perfect weather, and had tuna and cheese on toast for dinner. Unfortunately we were still out of stove gas, so we had to dine without hot drinks. The mood of the team was really good and I was looking forward to pushing to the Ukrainian border with the Swedes. If the weather held, we were in for another excellent day of riding.

    As the evening progressed, the Swedes told me they had had pretty grim hangovers the previous day, and didn’t go partying in the evening. To make matters worse, they had had to change rooms during the day. I’m sure packing up and hauling nasty gear around the hotel in a monster hangover must not have been pleasant. When I asked about the minibar bill, an awkward silence fell in our camp. I looked inquisitively at both Johan and Perra, while they avoided my gaze, exchanging uncomfortable glances. Eventually Johan looked straight into my eyes, and solemnly stated in his thick Swedish accent “We don’t talk about it.”
    #88
  9. joenuclear

    joenuclear Still here....

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    Eventually Johan looked straight into my eyes, and solemnly stated in his thick Swedish accent “We don’t talk about it.” :photog
    #89
  10. The Rolling Hobo

    The Rolling Hobo Been here awhile

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    Thanks! I've been wondering whether people will get tired of the black and white, but so far it seems to complement the story. Setting up the shots did indeed take some time, and I was carrying waaaay too much gear on this ride. I was using the interval function of the Nikon DSLR's to as a trigger, which was hit and miss on the compositions. I've since slimmed down the kit significantly and currently use Sony mirrorless cameras and radio triggers for getting the shots. Also, the full size aluminium tripod has since been replaced by a small carbon fibre version.
    #90
  11. The Rolling Hobo

    The Rolling Hobo Been here awhile

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    You should have seen their faces... :lol3:photog
    #91
  12. boristhebold

    boristhebold Been here awhile

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    A fantastic read. (I'd love to see some of the scenery in colour)
    #92
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  13. Tewster2

    Tewster2 Long timer Supporter

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    LOVE the black and white....for me, I'm pretty tired of looking at HDR, manipulated color images. Bravo :thumb
    #93
  14. joenuclear

    joenuclear Still here....

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    ^+1
    #94
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  15. boristhebold

    boristhebold Been here awhile

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    I aren't saying I dislike the B and W...just that FOR ME, seeing the scenery shots in colour would be perfect.
    #95
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  16. The Rolling Hobo

    The Rolling Hobo Been here awhile

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    I hear ya, there are definitely some shots that would work nicely in color. But for consistency I thought I'd keep the series in BW. But I'll likely set up a separate portfolio with some selected color images from the Crimson Trail ;)
    #96
  17. levain

    levain STILL Jim Williams Supporter

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    Loving the black & white, and so glad that you're back telling this story. I just bought my first little compact camera and learning to use it. So challenging. If there was one tip you'd tell someone just starting out, what would it be?
    Traveling through this area would be a dream for me. Maybe, next summer, I'll be asking for the tracks.
    #97
  18. Tewster2

    Tewster2 Long timer Supporter

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    IMHO the tip I can pass along is "If someone MIGHT like the photo I don't take it....if I know they WILL like it then I take it". Example....look at most anything on Youtube.....boring boring boring. Also if you're shooting video, don't let the camera run on and on shooting trees going by and miles of footage going down a dirt road. Remember sitting through the neighbor's slide show of their vacation :lol3
    #98
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  19. The Rolling Hobo

    The Rolling Hobo Been here awhile

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    I think the accessibility of the camera is important. I usually carry pocket cameras in a pouch on the straps of my hydration pack for quick access. If the camera is buried somewhere, you'll either miss the shot or won't bother with digging out the camera. In terms of technical stuff, I suggest avoiding "passport composition" i.e. the subject is in the middle of the frame. You might want to look into the rule-of-thirds of composing, if you haven't already.

    I would recommend to shoot a lot in the beginning, with lots of variation in exposure, focal length and composition. But I would follow Tewster2's advice, when publishing the photos in a blog or showing them to friends ;)

    Let me know if you're coming this way, and I'll send you some tracks.
    #99
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  20. ricochetrider

    ricochetrider MotoMojo

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    About the biggest tip, or tips, I can offer to new photographers are
    1: if you see something you want a photo of STOP. GET THE SHOT. Especially on a trip- you'll never be back that way again, and if you are, things will still never be exactly the same.
    2: SLOW down. Breathe, take your time with your composition. Look at things from different angles and choose your shot with deliberation. If there are a bunch of people shooting at the same thing, try to get the shot from a different angle or to present an alternative view. This is really important when trying to photograph famous places or iconic structures, landscapes etc.
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