Friday, July 18, 2003
On to Yakutsk (Continued from Shaun's Story Yesterday)
Xandiga...the promised land. The thing we dreamed about during the exhausting days in the swamp. The land of Milk and Honey.....well, we where a bit shocked when we first saw the place. Heaven turned out to be a nondescript small town with one soon to be paved road. The road is still under construction but according to reliable local sources should be paved by the end of the construction season. Thanks to the head of the local police, who spoke some German, we where hooked up with a safe place to park the bikes , and to the best of my memory, one of the most luxurious showers ever. The shower was a section of a green house and operated with a wood stove heating a water tank that then dispersed a trickle of water. The best part was...... there where no Mosquitoes. I am not sure how they deal with this setup in the depth of winter. I was truly amazed and very thankful that our hosts opened their home to take in three sweaty and generally grimy bikers emerging from the deep swamps of Yakutia and Far East Russia.
After we cleaned up, we where treated to a walking tour of the village which, by the way, was the home of Vasilie Saitsef (sp?)(the Soviet Sniper from the movie "Enemy at the Gates"). The tour also included a stop at the local police stations where we got to check out the comforts of the drunk tank and hang out in the commander's office for a show and tell about Yakutian Police and all sorts of other things. True to Russian hospitality standards, the entire event of our arrival, cleansing and touring was accompanied by much excellent Vodka and food. By the time we got to bed we slipped into an instant and deep coma.
The next morning started with Shaun in search of a Ventalin and a breakfast consisting of bulger wheat with Hot Dogs and.....the ever-present Vodka. This was followed by interviews with the local TV and the Regional Pravda Newspaper (our second interview)
Then, after many good bye's from our hosts it was time to once again hit the road to see what challenge Russian Road Engineers had devised for us this day. I truly believe that the road engineers in these part take a special class on how to best make roads challenging for motorcyclists. The days challenge 30 km of deep gravel. Thanks to Shaun's gravel crash two days earlier, we all decided to go slow....the wrong thing to do since going slow makes it more difficult to ride in gravel....yet, fear can be a difficult thing to overcome. Thanks to our cautious travel we ended up missing the ferry that day and spent a night camping on the beach before embarking on a relaxing ten hour ride down the Aldan River to Ustata. While in Ustata, we visited a wonderful Museum about the Sakha People and where shown the Theater and other attractions. From there we rode to Yakutsk with one more quick ferry crossing of the Lena River.
I also want to take a minute to comment on the level of hospitality we have experienced since our arrival in Russia. People from all walks of life have been absolutely amazingly outgoing, helpful and friendly. Sure, there is the occasional exception but 80% of our experiences have been wonderful. Local people have opened their homes to us, shared their food and drink with us and made sure we where safe and had a great time everywhere we went. Given that we are three rough looking bikers that butcher the Russian language horribly, I find peoples acceptance, help and hospitality absolutely wonderful. It is also interesting to Matt and I as former Military people, that we are now meeting the very people we opposed during the cold war. We kind of knew this before the trip but it became very clear to us when a former Spetznas, who's house we where staying in, showed us pictures from his tour in East Germany during the late 80's. Funny how political climates change and people, at the end of the day are just people. Discuss this post
photos . . .
posted by Henning; |
Thursday, July 17, 2003
End of Leg 3.141592654
Writing now from the comfort of Yakutsk . . .
Seems like we are going round in circles with what we see and what we are doing, almost settling into a comfortable pattern. But just when we think that . . . .
After leaving our gracious hosts in Susuman, with a farewell riverside BBQ, compromising of beer, fish stew, and russian pop music, we were eager to once again hit the road. Little did we know that it was going to be nine extraordinary long days
before we would have a warm shower again and a hot meal. Affable hosts and foolish travelers are soon parted.
Our first obstacle was being told the main road ahead of us was soon to end with a town with no outlet. Through considerable communication between Matt (for whose language skills Henning and I are both eternally grateful) and 4 young youths on a Ural (right) we were guided to a small road that ran perpendicular to the main thoroughfare. With barely a blink we accepted this without reservation with little knowledge of the 250km of swampy marshy hell that lay ahead of us.
For the next 3 days we made slow and tedious progress through/over/under/around once of the worst roads that has been my displeasure to encounter on a motorcycle.
Our first indication of what to come what a large river where the bridge was completely out with very few indication that it had indeed ever existed. Before us, in about 5 feet of fast flowing water was a Toyota Land Cruiser which, from the helpless look of the driver standing next to the car had only just become stuck itself.
While a passing truck helped the car and it's resigned owners from that quagmire the three of us explored alternate opportunities further up the river. Another passing truck (Kamaz - the work house of the russian outback) gave us an indication of the correct route to take.
Once satisfied that this would indeed work for us we then undertook the task unloading our bikes (primarily the electronics we are using to communicate with you all) and set up support positions in case somebody dropped a bike. As we were relatively inexperienced in river crossings on bikes we certainly paid a lot of attention to this crossing, something that I now look back on with a humorous grin, considering this was one of the easier ones we have since encountered, but probably the one we put the most preparation into.
While avoiding the constant horrendous clouds of mosquito's and horseflies (which will bite through clothing!) and the passing of 2-3 hours we were all successful in crossing this first Rika with nary a mishap.
As it was now drawing close to 9pm (still wearing sunglasses) we were paying more and more attention to finding ourselves a place to sleep and rest the weary - well everything. Luckily enough the opportunity was short in coming in the guise of another river which provided some hidden spots away from any passing traffic.
As with many points on this trip, the entire setup of camp is still completely covered with our helmets and gloves on. The reason being as previously mentioned is the every present and every unpopular flying armies of mosquitoes and horseflies. Once setup is complete, we all dive into the tents still covered in mud and smelling enough to repulse anything but these creatures. The first 5 minutes after is spent killing all that accompanied us on the 3 second journey while the tent flap was open before relaxing with a mournful sigh into the relatively blissful comfort of a damp sleeping bag and a sleeping mat that is doing it's darndest to battle the stones below determined to make your sleep as uncomfortable as possible.
After a short but indeed restful sleep, briefly broken up by a van full of Russian youths who wanted to get their photo taken with us, we headed on into the swamps.
Someone with whatever wisdom I don't deign to challenge, had decided to build this entire road through a swamp. On either side of the road were marshes, harboring mosquitoes and whatever other creatures which ensures that human habitation of this area is few and far between.
As the road was in very poor shape, having potholes big enough to swallow a bus and "please can I have some more sir" this enabled the swamp to relinquish the path's right of existence. In plain speak this meant that in most parts for the next two days we were faces with a road that was more a swamp than anything else.
When faced with one of these large ponds the stopped us from making much progress at all, we had to stop to get off the bikes to inspect these hurdles. Why didn't we just go through it? Because the water was dark brown unyielding to the potential dangers in depth, boulder, logs or any other motorcycle incompatible objects below the surface.
After finding a route across we would proceed cautiously over said path one at a time with the others providing support in case catastrophe - and heed me well when I say having your bike disappear in 10 feet of mud hundreds of miles from meager civilization - that is a catastrophe!
As each passing would take up to an hour, depending on the difficulty of that particular pit and each cavity as close as 20 meters to each other we were making very very slow process. My estimates on the 10 hours given for the second day, the road surrendered only about 40km to us. That's 4km an hour or 2.5 miles per hour for our metrically challenged friends.
Water Crossing Video
After escaping the clutches of the swamps we crossed the provincial border into Yakutia where the road magically became a hundred times better and our speed increased also just as dramatically. The picture to the right shows a frozen lake and the complete exhaustion of the group. A dearth of mosquitoes also enable us to briefly relax un terrorized. The lake in the middle is frozen ice even in the heat of summer which gives an indication of how cold it gets during winter.
Our next challenge (do they ever stop) only lay ahead another 100km or so in the form of a totally impassible large river which contrary to our efforts still lay as low as 5 feet deep - impossible on our bikes. This meant finding a local Kamaz truck and convincing the owner to take us across. This was indeed a difficult task, due to the state of the local trucks but we were ultimately successful paying 200 roubles (about 7 dollars) each to make the only 10 minute trip from one side to the other. Note from the picture that the bugs had returned hence us being fully covered.
Once on the other side we were treated to an impromptu vodka picnic by some rather drunk but ultimately friendly locals who also sang some local songs for us. After one hour and begging forgiveness we took our leave to go spend another night in the swamps.
The following day started ominously with our first accident of the trip.
What lay ahead was the promised land that never seemed to materialize in form of the next big(gish) town by the name of Xandaga (harn-di-ga). It took another day of biking through what I consider some of the most breathtaking scenery yet this side of the Bering Straight, with towering snow caped mountains reminiscent of a fairy tale setting.
This led thoughts to my mind of Xandaga being a fairy tale (ok ok there is too much time to think out there on the bike - wishful thinking) city high in the clouds. This was not to be however when after one night in the mountains, the road flattened out and introduced us to the self imagined city whose streets were paved with gold.
to be continued tomorrow . . . .
more photos . . .
Discuss this post
posted by Shaun; |
When I was back in the US planning this trip, it was a simple matter of laying out a line on a map with reference to where we wanted to go that matched up to the available roads. Then breaking these down into Legs that would enable us breaks in the places that most interested us, which in turn makes up the entire journey.
It has since become apparent that traveling from each small town on the map has in itself turned out to be a passage of struggles and strengths in themselves. Looking back at the map, two off these small villages may only be maybe 300km from each other, but the printed page before us, does not yield the fact that that distance may encompass many obstacles in between.
Complications and hurdles ranging from a twisted ankle, a punctured tire that take 2 hours to fix in the rain and mud only to have a fractured valve, to a broken strap on your bag - a strap that can't be replaced and forces one to be creative in the solution if you want to maintain possession of said article.
Other impediments such as a washed away bridge may require the three of us dismounting from our heartbroken bikes to survey the river before us that at first glance looks impassable but with a seemingly dispassionate amount of time in searching for points of crossing, yields itself to our traverse.
As these challenges pile themselves one upon another, our energy and maybe moral drops as we still have little idea exactly how far the next town may lay ahead with it's bounties of a plain food, some clean water and maybe if we are blessed a shower of sorts. It's seems, as we have often commented to each other - if it's not one thing, it's another.
So far, of course, we have made it to each little point, to celebrate and let ourselves unwind, trying to avoid the thought of having to once again leave what little luxuries are offered to us, and once more start again with nay a thought of the larger journey, but leaving our thoughts and concerns to just the next 300km. Discuss this post
posted by Shaun; |
A quick note on time. At the moment it seems to shrink and expand like an asthmatic slinky. We try to remember what we did last week with much difficulty when only the day before seems like an eternity from a distant age.
This could be an indication of the amount of things that we are doing each day, it could also be a struggle between expired time and concluded distances. Likewise it may be the endless white nights that we are almost getting used to at these high co-ordinates.
Whatever it is, time seems to melt into itself like ice cream in a soggy cone dripping through the bottom with an irregular consistency.
We are now rarely aware as to what day it is let alone what time of day.
There is a certain satisfaction that I am finding in this myself. It is a soulful relaxation to live from one day to the next concentrating on what immediately lies ahead of oneself, whilst leaving the bigger concerns to work themselves out as they most surely do.
Work which I gave up just 2? months ago, now seems just a blink in time and importance to the whole scheme of things. I vaguely remember worrying about it all the time when I was there. I now wonder to myself why.
It's nice to let time slip past us, like sand through our hands when we were children, not worrying about how much sand was left, but enjoying the feeling of just letting it glide through our fingers. Discuss this post
posted by Shaun; |
If it were not for Mosquitoes and the Horseflies, this part of the trip would have almost been enjoyable (aside from the swamp that consistently threatened the struggling road and our skills as motorcyclists)
The terrain is beautiful, something reminiscent of an image from the local natural history museum, showcasing the environmental habitat of large creatures of the past.
There is an easy quiet to the place and during this part of the trip we encountered (and avoided when we could mostly due to security) only about 4 vehicles in just as many days.
However, this natural beauty was indeed spoiled by the unrelenting storms of bugs determined to make us the final supper of their short lives.
If just the barest patch of skin were available for even the briefest moments you could be assured that at least 10 bugs will land on it regardless of their impending fate when you discover your mistake.
It's difficult to describe and I hope I don't come across as whiney, but this facet of Siberia means that one has to stay covered all the time, sometimes with many layer as one layer is like stepping over a white picket fence for some of our little friends. With the sometimes stifling heat that we encountered, this not only kept us feeling like we were fermenting but also kept us from just enjoying the surroundings.
After many days of this, the ropes of insanity draw ever tighter around ones neck.
Writing from a cafe now in Yakutsk, I still remember this with a shudder, and am ever grateful for my bug free existence now. Well for the moment, unknown of what lies ahead. Discuss this post
posted by Shaun; |
Pride, Prejudice and a Damaged Bike
I don't know what was damaged more - my pride or the motorbike. I suspect my pride, however I hope to atone if I may with the following confession.
After the marshes released us from their clutches, we sprang forward with unrestricted determination to reach Xandaga - our next major stop on the route Following the challenging events of riding and the skills involved, it is with remorse now, I admit that my confidence also sprang forward beyond what could be described as it's natural limitations - namely my experience in riding in deep gravel.
The story goes and I'll stick to it, that I was cruising along the dirt road and an unrestricted clip when it started to rain. Without slowing down, I pulled my visor down to protect my vision. This however had the opposite effect and succeeded in removing my line of sight completely due to the full amount of dirt covering the visor.
Whilst forgetting to slow down to hindrance, I continued forward while desperately trying to clean my visor with my now muddy gloves - a move that did not help matters at all.
It was at this moment that I hit a particularly deep section of gravel, in my estimates maybe up to a foot deep comprising of rather large unbroken river stones. As many of you know - this is not a good thing - especially at speed.
The bike, roared it's defiance to this act of stupidity of mine and just like an irate stallion sick of it's masters mistakes quickly threw me from it saddle.
250kg of bike traveling at about 40-50 miles per hour and one by now very nervous rider with nothing clasp but the empty air around him, tumbled up reaching high only to fall down (damn natural laws) with the rider very politely cushioning the bikes landing.
Luckily my leg, somewhat helped by my boot took most of the impact and after dusting myself off, I with complete anxiety turned of the engine and tried to lift up the bike to no avail.
5 minutes of dread about the damage sustained by the bike lasted before Matt and Henning appeared to help me adjust the earth to it's natural angle with the bike.
The injury's are as follows:
- One swollen and painful leg
- A slightly twisted handlebar
- Two broken turn signals
- Two twisted mirrors
- A bent windscreen
- 1 bent Jesse luggage bag
- One warped luggage frame
- 3 broken luggage straps
As Henning continued to remind me, things could have been worse, and I was most assuredly lucky they weren't. Even so it was a painful spectacle to deal with a damaged bike and the further problems that rise from this damage.
We were able to repair all of the above even though the leg is still swollen, the luggage back still bent and a turn signal still damaged (thanks to Matt for providing a spare). The rest of the bike was fixed with the help of a touch of creativity, then gentle hand of a rubber mallet and a variety of other tools to help.
I now travel a tad slower. . . . until next time. Discuss this post
posted by Shaun; |
Wednesday, July 16, 2003
While out eating Scha-schlick (sp?), a Russian favorite meal of BBQ pork, Henning and I encountered a strange vehicle in the parking lot. Intrigued we both ambled over to get a better fix for our curiosity.
Before us was something straight out of the pages of the National Geographic. A large, armored vehicle that was obviously built for some serious expeditions. On the side of the truck were the words Polar Explorer in English along with the picture of a Polar Bear.
Andrey, who was also with eating us, asked if we wanted to meet the occupants of the vehicle to which we readily accepted. After the echoes of the knocking had died down, the door was opened by your very typical version of a famous explorer. Long straight hair framed a leathery lean face layered with a short salt and pepper beard. Dis-interested eyes quickly took in the sight of both Henning and I before becoming quickly focused on Andrey with the evident look of "This had better not be wasting my time".
Five minutes later after the translation came through that we were like minded travelers interested in hearing more about what he was doing, his demeanor changed and he warmly invited us into his modified military BTR-80 to share, with the help of Andrey, his story.
Born in Novgorod, 53 year old Valintin Efremove is a famous russian explorer who has had a long passion with the arctic. Trained at the Moscow University in Cosmology Engineering with the aim of working in Russia's expanding space industry, Valintin then went to work at the Chicotka nuclear power station between Russia and Alaska.
While only there for only a year, he quickly became enraptured in the Arctic environment with it's pristine beauty, unique animal inhabitants and large open spaces. Quitting his job he followed this thirst to live with the Russian Eskimos for a few years where he spent considerable time traveling the region by dogsled as well as by Reindeers and where his nights were lit up by the Aura Borealis.
His current expedition is centered around the Island of the Stone Giants. At first I thought he was talking about Easter island, but as the conversation continued on, he was in fact describing an island near Novarserbisk and Verchoynsk where the temperatures reach as low as -73 degrees Celsius.
The island is covered with stones which resemble human faces and animals as well as remnants of mammoths and an ancient cultures, which Valintin is spending his time and effort into discovering more about.
After driving us in the gargantuan vehicle of his, which was a true experience in itself to another bar, we proceeded to drink some more and meet his friends before retiring for the evening.
Encountering each other again a few days later we sat on the beach and talked some more via sign language while showering me with beer. After a short sail on his friends 38 foot Polar Circle where I met a charming couple of University students, Valintin invited me to join him next year in February or March when he is selling the BTR-80 to purchase a balloon in which he will continue his exploring. I don't know how serious he was, but it is an interesting proposition to be sure as I don't think I have anything on the calendar at that time ;-)
Being on the bikes, we have stood out somewhat and have met some of the most interesting people that one might not usually meet. I'm looking forward to meeting many more - maybe even from a balloon someday.
more people on the road . . .
Discuss this post
posted by Shaun; |
Tuesday, July 15, 2003
New Position Report
Note that I have changed the format of the Position Report to include photos, videos and other references on the map - Shaun
posted by Shaun; |
Two new videos for you all showcasing some of the conditions that we have encountered from Magadan to Yakusk.
The first is
Dust which gives a brief view of the massive amounts of dust we have encountered everyday. As mentioned previously it coats every inch of us and quickly turns to mud when it rains.
The second video for you is
Water which highlights the water crossings we have made on an extremely bad section of road which was mostly marshes. More on that over the coming days . . . Discuss this post
View more videos . . .
posted by Shaun; |
Shortly before we departed Magadan, at the Automobile Registry Agency we encountered a most interesting character. Approaching us in the parking lot with stumbling but passable English was Adward Spitsin.
Adward is 43 year old extreme sports and adventure junkie who was born in Magadan and has returned after his numerous travels. After leaving school he joined the russian navy as a submarine mechanic and spent a good number of years touring the world from the depths of below, so probably not seeing a whole lot of it.
After leaving the navy, Ad worked as a search and rescue swimmer in various spots in the russian far east as part of a helicopter rescue team. Now far from being anchored he runs a Komatsu dealership that supplies the Japanese construction equipment to the numerous mines that inhabit the region.
After showing us photos of his previous motorcycle trips around the province he then took us in search of some jerry cans we were in need of and then guided the group out to the coast where he paraglides with about 20 other fellow magadanians. He also skydives, powerchutes, kayaks and numerous other sports. Those that know me, can imagine my thrill at finding a like minded character.
To see these types of people over here is refreshing, from the perspective that regardless of the difficulties that they may have faced in the past, they are fulfilling their adrenaline needs without interference from the government. Not only is it interesting that the DRD4 gene is evident everywhere in the world one may be, but it is alive and well here in Russia.
One week after we departed Magadan, Adward was due to leave on a similar trip out to Germany on a much smaller bike. Best of luck to you Ad and it was a pleasure for all of us.
posted by Shaun; |
Sunday, July 13, 2003
Andrey Sultashov and
Yakutsk was home to us for 6 days while we tidied up various inconsistencies with our bikes and Matt attempted to no avail, to find a rear replacement tire due to the ever increasing wound in the current tire.
What can only be described as our hosts during this time were two taxi drivers who had stopped to help during the initial search for a hotel when we first arrived. For the entire week these two young enterprising native Yakutskians provided companionship, entertainment and acted as tour guides as well as assisting us in locating all the things that we were in search of.
Both were born and grew up in Yakutsk and being natives are keenly interested and involved in their indigenous traditions while at the same time listening to hip hop as loud as they can in the car and wearing the latest American fashions.
Incorporating a fascinating energy, Andrey was the personality of the two. He is only 21 years old but is worldly beyond his years. This could be due to the fact that he has been very happily married for 2 years to his beautiful wife Marina.
Russian schools are not named like I am used to, and Andrey attended High School number 14. Andrey now works full time as a taxi driver and his ambition in life is to build his own home - a rare and expensive aim in this part of the world but a worthy one. He likes cars so much that his career aim is to one day open up his own shop - maybe a car dealership. At the moment Andrey makes a small business from buying second hand Japanese cars down in Vladivostok and driving the 3,000km dusty roads back to Yakutsk where he sells them for a small profit.
While a quiet personality, Vladislav (Slava for short) had plenty to contribute to the conversation with always a thoughtful comment or two. He graced high school Number 31, and makes the time outside of his daily taxi job to attend the Yakutsk technical institute where he is in his final year of a automotive engineering course. Of the two, Slava has traveled further and has fine memories of his time in the Black sea - a popular Russian vacation spot. While also dreaming of becoming a rally car driver, he continues his studies with the aim to someday open his own garage where he can work on cars to his hearts desire. Slava is also looking for that special somebody and wants 3 children to help complete his life.
When asked what they enjoyed the most out of their childhoods, both Andrey and Slava quickly replied that the visits to their grandparents in the countryside was the best memories. Keen proponents of nature they would both tell me of the animals and natural beauties they saw, with Andreys grandfather giving him a horse and saying "with a horse you can see the world".
It was a true pleasure, not only two have the assistance of the two, but just to enjoy their remarkable energy, intelligence and good company. I'll continue to be in touch with the both of them and help them where I can, but I'm sure I'll never be able to repay the kindness they showed us during our stay.
more people on the road . . .
Discuss this post
posted by Shaun; |