Saturday, June 21, 2003  

Shipping the Bikes

Magadan airways operates a weekly flight from Anchorage to Magadan during the summer months. The three of us flew over on June 21, 2003 with our three F650 Dakars starting a trip across Russia to Europe.

Initial contacts were made with the airline and the shipper about three months prior to our estimated departure date. We were told that the flights were always empty and that their was no need to worry about reservations at that point . Follow up calls were made and the shipper assured us that he would set aside room for the bikes in his load for that flight. About a month before the flight Air Magadan also indicated that we were in their computer with a reservation. However when we showed up 4 days prior we were told that there was no record of us in the system. This seems to be typical of the way Air Magadan operates (and the rest of Russia ;-) and the next four days proved to be very frustrating for all three of us. Fortunately we had e-mails with confirmation codes.

We had to submit our bikes to customs three days beforehand to allow them to check the ownership information and the bikes and whatever else they do. VIN and Engine numbers of the bikes were checked against our registrations and titles and then we needed to prepare the bikes for shipping. As the cost to ship the bikes is calculated to be $4.10/ kilogram or by volume which ever is greater, it was in our best interested to make the bikes smaller and lighter, as much as possible.

After initially weighing and measuring the bikes, the cost was quickly estimated to be somewhat in the range of $1600 per bike - something that gave us added desire to work on them as much as possible.

Pre-requisites for shipment are removing all the fuel but you can keep the oil in the bikes, also removing the batteries which were shipped in a separate box together costing about $50 for the three. We carried our panniers with us on the flight which we were charged an extra $100 each for which saved some space.

Removing the windscreens and mirrors made the bikes a bit shorter (remember that the measurements are from highest to lowest and the total length and width) and these were carried with us on the plane. We also had to let the air out of our tires which makes the bikes slightly shorter and ensures the tires don't blow in the hold. The final modification came by just un-bolting the handlebars and taping them to the top, saving on the total width.

Re-measuring and weighing the bikes, we were happy to find out the cost of shipping the bikes was only around the $700 mark each. Henning, who has Touratech tanks on his bike, paid about $70 more because of the extra weight.

I am sure that with the measurements that were given or the weight - the calculations still should have come out as more, so I think we were given somewhat of a break. As always, it is important to be nice to people who can save you money on these trips (and the police).

Bikes all prepared and ready, the next hurdle we were told about, was that the plane was going to be full on our trip over due to a tour group stopping off at Kamchatka for a cruise. This meant the hold could be full and they would not have room for our bikes. We would only find out if our bikes would join us for the flight over when we checked in, otherwise we would have to wait in Magadan for a week until the next flight and our lovlies arrived.

We arrived around 12pm on the Friday of the flight, and paid cash for the flights which cost us $870 each including the various taxes. To our disappointment, we were also told that our bikes would not be accompanying us on the flight and would arrive the following week. This however turned out to be a good thing as it gave us time to settle down and acclimatize to the new language and culture before we got stuck in the bureaucracy of Russian customs. The tour group flights occur approximately every four weeks and leave later in the day. If you want to ensure that you travel with your bike, insist that the airline tells you which flight there on, otherwise they will simply say that there's plenty of room.

The flight was an interesting affair due to the cruise ship passengers which were mostly Bird watchers interested in seeing the rare Russian yellow polka-dotted sparrowski and a fellow New Zealander. Taking around 5 hours to Kamtchatka, where the plane was unloaded of the birdwatchers who had all already taken out their binoculars even before the plane had landed, we were left with only 5 people on board for the continued trip to Magadan.

Landing in Magadan, and proceeding through immigration was surprisingly effortless, with the only rigmarole involved in detailing pretty much every article in our bags on a customs form which we were told would be checked when we left the country (it wasn't) Finally we were left outside with the airport closed, mosquitoes attacking our exposed skin, and us totally confused as what to do next.

Fortunately we were offered a ride into Magadan (about 50km) for the princely sum of $50 dollars - which we reluctantly agreed to being the only option by a couple of the customs officers. Our driver turned out to be an ex-fighter pilot and his friend - who we made friends with, proved to be very helpful over the coming week.

Staying in Hotel Magadan for the next 7 days, cost us about $300 rubles (10USD) each night and was adequately comfortable (the other hotel we could find, cost $100 / night per person)

The week passed quickly with us getting glimpses of the famed Russian girl and doing our own bird watching, before our bikes arrived on the next flight the following Friday.

Releasing the bikes took two days and involved acquiring a Russian registration certificate from the local 'AAA' located downtown in Magadan using our US bike registrations and Title (which we only found out about after returning to the airport) which cost us 0.1% of the bikes value - $5 dollars (declaring bikes below their actual cost).

Presenting this certificate to the customs back at the airport we were charged a storage fee for the bikes (roughly 1,400 rubles ($40)) and taken to the bikes in a broken down shed on the other side of the airport where the VIN numbers of the bikes were checked against our US registration documents. Alex- one of the Customs officer in the car that initially took us to Magadan, who had befriended us as well, was instrumental in greasing the way for us as well as offering us continual shots of vodka in his office while toasting to international friendship. No money was expected or requested in return

Surveying the bikes we saw they had (predictably) been transported on their sides. This resulted in scratches from the bikes being dragged on their sides. Hindsight told us the bikes should have been wrapped in blankets before shipping to prevent damage. (I tried duct tape which helped somewhat but not totally successful)

The next 3 hours consisted of putting the bikes back together with the help of a small crowd of onlookers which assisted with various tasks like finding fuel for the bikes and oil for me (my oil tank having mysteriously drained itself)

The time came and one by one we all started our bikes triumphantly, and with our documentation, passports and other equipment headed north off into Siberia.

$700 approx for the bike shipment
$870 airline ticket
$5 for Russian Bike Registration
$40 for Bike Storage at Russian Customs (based on weight)
$50 for Taxi from Magadan airport to hotel

Passports, Visas (pretty much every country needs a Russian Visa - check on the internet for companies that will help with the invitation), Bike Registrations and Title documents (important! these will be checked in minute detail), no drivers licenses were asked for but of course we had them

Bribes / Gratuities:
At no time were we asked for additional money outside of the due process. Any exchange of money was returned with multiple receipts which were all stamped and signed by multiple authorities. Arduous at best but very above board. A sign at the airport in English details that under no circumstances should gifts or money be exchanged (apart from vodka which is always the Russian exception)

Make as small and light as you can - an extra mirror sticking out 5 cm may cost you $200. Remove fuel and the battery must be packed separately. Wrapping a blanket around the easily damaged parts may save your bike in scratches or other harm. No need to say, but pack tools to dismantle and assemble the parts in these out of the way places. Our chain lube was confiscated at the airport and is not available in this part of Russia. This required us putting oil on the bike everyday which did not save our chains from the wear experienced from the dust and water you encounter in Siberia. Suggestion would be to try to pack with your bike or forgetting to tell security when checking in.

Goes without saying. Keep your cool, always smile and just be plain friendly. Respect that Russia is different and even if it is frustrating - be patient - it always works out in the end and will work faster if people like you. Being a biker, you will attract a lot of attention and even though this can be a pain, works in your favor by meeting the right people who can make things easy for you. Above all - enjoy yourself and remember you're not behind a desk.

Magadan Airlines: (907) 248-2994
Penalpena Shipping Agent: Brian - (907) 245-8008
Shaun Munro:
More info on our trip:

More Photos

posted by Shaun; | 3:00 AM

Friday, June 20, 2003  

Images to be Shared

Slideshow of the first two legs with images (and experiences) that we have enjoyed till now. We hope you enjoy them as well.

Leg one and two montage

posted by Shaun; | 1:31 PM


Anchorage hosts and activities

We have been in Anchorage for the last week. Thanks to Pat and Dwayne, two Vermonters from Winooski that opened their home to us and have been generally taking care of us, it has been a brilliant experience. They have been wonderful, helping us with everything from late night welding sessions, to a fishing trip in Prince William Sound. The experience has been absolutely magnificent and we have enjoyed their hospitality while recharging our batteries. Thanks again for allowing us to take over your home.  

P.S. Pat, I hope spending a few days with funky German Bikes did not offend your Harley to much.

Pat took us to Wittier on Prince William Sound and we spent the day and much of the well lit night catching Salmon, Red Snapper and Sea Cod as well as an as of yet unidentified fish. We also saw several sea Otters, Bald Eagles, a Harbor Seal, a Sea Lion and came within 20 feet of a killer whale. What an experience…..we enjoyed it so much we stayed a little late. As a result of our enthusiasm  the tunnel back to Anchorage was closed by the time we where ready to leave…..ergo we got to spend a night at the Wittier Inn. If you ever go there you will find some of our thoughts for the evening taped on napkins above the bar.

We have also spent a good bit of time working on the bikes.  Thanks to Pat’s ingenuity, Matt and I now have some new storage devices made of PVC pipe that takes up the free room left by swapping the stock BMW exhaust for a Staintune exhaust. On Wednesday we brought our bikes to the shipper and got them ready for shipping by stripping of fragile bits and pieces, draining fuel and generally getting the bike as compact as possible (Air Madgadan charges by the greater of volume or weight). This was Shaun’s first experience with siphoning fuel in a long time…….he now understands why you blow before you suck…..he spend much of the afternoon spitting and being in a generally volatile mood 8-)

Some of our remaining time was spent examining the local cultural sites by balancing a visit to the Alaskan Bush Company with a visit to the Alaska museum….both where fun and taught us much about local culture.

Yesterday we stopped at the Airbase for some final shopping. Shaun was quite tempted by the F15’s and was wondering how to best steal one….fortunately Matt and myself convinced him that the idea might cut the trip a bit short. So, after taking a look at the Alaskan Command we left the base without incident and proceeded to take Pat and Dwayne out for dinner and drinks

Today, we will be taking off for Siberia. Unfortunately, it is still unsure if our bikes will be going with us or arriving a week later. Guess this is a good challenge and will prepare us for our negotiation with Russian Customs. All else failing we can spend the waiting time in Siberia learning some Russian and exploring the local area.

posted by Henning; | 1:30 PM


On to Russia - 3740 Miles

Today we leave the hallowed shores of the US and head on to the new Russia. For the past week we have been clearing up loose ends and admittedly having a whale of the time as Matt describes below.

Anchorage is a somewhat peaceful town inhabited by a strong folk that have all gathered here for a reason that most like to keep to themselves. We have been fortunate in making a number of friends and allies as it may be that have joined us in our journey even before we have started.

We have finally got our bikes serviced and sent them on their way even though we may arrive earlier than they, in Magadan. Today was the final signing of the papers that parted us with our trusty steeds ;-) I talk about them like they are part of us, and indeed in many ways they are; a final testament of material possessions that we carry forward with us to a place where most articles may be inhibitors but these machines will in fact lead us onwards to the goals which we have all individually set ourselves however undecided.

It’s a strange feeling to leave all this behind. Some of us are leaving to return and not so at the same time. I am leaving a country which has helped me progress not only professionally but personally as well. I am also leaving people behind that have helped me do the same, a number who have helped me become the person whom I may soon leave behind. For what unknown.

So long and thanks for all the fish – until . . . soon.

posted by Shaun; | 1:25 PM


Fishing in the Fjords

On Sunday, Pat (that's him on the left in the photo below) took us out fishing on his boat out in Prince William Sound. Fishing is more than a hobby with Pat, its a passion and one of the main reasons he moved to Alaska. He had recently bought an 18 foot fishing boat and he's been out on it nearly every weekend in May and June (unless the salmon were running at one of his secret fishing holes). So we loaded half a dozen different poles, a huge tackle box and a bunch of herring, hooked the boat up to the truck and set off for Whittier. The weather was a little rainy and cold, but we figured the fish wouldn't mind.

Whittier is a small fishing village at the end of Prince William Sound, about an hour's drive from Anchorage. The only road access is through a 2. 5 mile long single lane tunnel. There apparently used to be an army base there, and theabandoned barracks are involved in some dispute between the state, which wants to use them as prisons, and a developer, who wants to make them into condos. Personally, I don't see the market potential. Its a lovely fjord, but there's very little there except a small fishery, boat docking and the potential for the Princess Cruises to dock there.

We launched the boat from the public docks and set out into the Sound. The ride was choppy, but Pat's little boat is well made for these waters. He's taken her into some 7-9 foot seas before. About 20-25 miles down the sound we approached some islands where fish were known to congregate. Along the way we were treated to sea otters in the surf and a variety of salmon and smaller fish jumping out of the water. The weather also started to improve. By the time we were out to the islands, it was calm and though overcast, pleasant.

We set our hooks with the herring bait and lowered them down to see what we could attract. It didn't take long before I caught a Pacific Cod. Pat also caught a flounder. Then the Chum salmon started coming in. I'm pretty sure Henning caught the same fish twice. Folks in Alaska are so spoiled that they can throw back perfectly good salmon. The Chum are also called dogfish up here, because they would be fed to the dogs, while people would only eat Red, Silver and King Salmon. I guess there's no reason to eat a T-bone when you can get filet mignon for free. If you look very closely at the photo on the right, you'll see a young sea otter crawling up the log.

Pat decided to move us away from the Chum and we soon found a promising drop off a couple of hundred feet offshore of a stream coming out of a little island. We reset our hooks, hoping for halibut. What came up was the strangest looking fish I had ever seen. Not quite 2 feet long, bright orange, bug eyes and spines all over its body. Unfortunately, I didn't get a pic of it, it was a local rockfish that is misnamed Red Snapper. And then the Chum got wind of our herring bait. Pat quickly fileted the fish we were keeping and threw the remainder overboard to feed the bald eagles. While we were fishing, one of the big Princess Cruise liners sailed by on the other side of the passage. Guess we were part of their scenery.

We set off for another inlet to see if the reds were running yet. There were a few flipping out of the water, but not enough to be able to catch. They don't feed much as there making there way in, so most people use an Alaskan Fly to catch them. That is, you throw a big hook out in the water and snag the fish and reel it in. So we slowly made our way back, keeping an eye on the fishfinder for any likely spots. We did find a few but with only 250 feet of anchor, we couldn't take advantage of the huge dropoffs directly offshore. We did catch a few more rockfish, mostly Quillbacks.

The return trip turned out to be even more exciting. Pat noticed a killer whale off to starboard on the other side of the sound, so we headed out in his direction to get a little closer. With a 115 hp engine, we made pretty good time over there, but the whale still seemed a ways off. He must have turned under water and towards us, because suddenly, not more than 15 yards from the bow, he surfaced. What an amazing sight. I think he just wanted to see what was going on, because he was gone before we knew it.

We returned to port after that,exhausted from a long days fishing. But the surprises didn't end there. It turns out that the one lane tunnel from Whittier closes at 11 p. m. and it was 11:12. Pat's spirit never flagged, even though he had to be at work at 7 the next morning. Oh well, guess we'll learn a little bit more about Whittier. We all squeezed into a room at the only hotel in town, had a few drinks at the bar (on the third floor, up a steep and narrow staircase, seems like a perfect town to set up a law office). Up at 5:45 and first in line for the tunnel when it opened at 6:00. Just an average day in Alaska.

More Pictures

posted by Shaun; | 12:35 PM

Sunday, June 15, 2003  

Matt's Solo Trip to the Top of the World (Highway)

A quick picture of a glacier near Hyder, AK, before the update

After Dease Lake, BC we proceeded to Whitehorse, in the Yukon Territory where I was able to get a cracked weld on my Happy-Trails pannier frames fixed. Nothing major, it wasn't a load bearing piece. On the left is a picture of Shaun coming across a bridge along the AlCan highway in Teslin, YT.

At Whitehorse, we decided to split up for a a day. We had heard conflicting reports about the state of the roads, but I've always wanted to see the Yukon and Dawson City. Too much Jack London and Robert Service as a youth. So I made my way on a hot June day, along the Dawson Trail. I made a quick stop at Lake LeBarge, but strangely there wasn't any obvious reference to "The Cremation of Sam McGee" maybe there was something nearer to Whitehorse, but I didn't have time to ask around. The Klondike Highway to Dawson City is an amazing drive. At the time I thought it was an incredibly empty place.I'm not a good enough photographer or writer to truly capture the majesty and emptiness of this place. Suffice it too say that it was very much as I had imagined it.

Rolling hills of dense evergreen forest, with some sections of birch, interspersed with small lakes and swampland with towering mountains in the distance. I crossed the Yukon river at Carmacks. There's something surreal about finally seeing a region I had dreamt about since I was a kid. I would have to remind myself from time to time that I was actually doing this.On the left are the five fingers rapids on the Yukon River. A 100 years ago paddlewheel steamers used to bring the gold miners up that river to Dawson. In modern times I would frequently go 10-15 miles without seeing any sign of human activity other than the highway.

Dawson City had over 30,000 people during the gold rush with many more moiling for gold along the Klondike River. It now has under 2,000 people, mostly in the tourist trade. The city has been largely preserved in its historic condition.

On the left is the cabin that Robert Service lived in during the gold rush days. It's on the edge of town at the base of the mountain. On the right is the main street of town, fronting the Klondike. There's no bridge across the Klondike River, but a ferry. The river is amazingly swift and the little ferry had quite the struggle to avoid being swept downstream. It operates 24 hours a day and this photo was taken at about 9:30 p.m.

After Dawson I rode up a fairly steep hill to get on the "roof of the world" highway. Talk about solitude. Since the border is only open from 9:00 to 9:00 there was very little traffic. But I don't think there's much traffic even during peak times. Along the 65 mile stretch between Dawson and the U.S. border the only sign of human activity was the road and two rest stops.I pulled off the snow lined road and went up an old jeep trail.I don't know this, but I suspect from the position and way it's laid out that it's the original trail. I'd wager that there were no people within 15 miles of my campsite.I've never heard such quiet.

The next morning I made my way to the border. I was a little early so had to wait along with a couple of RVers and eventually also a bus load of tourists. Then it was a 45 mile dirt road to Chicken, AK. I had been told that it was a 4 hour drive to Tok, AK from the border, so I didn't get a chance to really look around.Beautiful scenery and a pleasant road.

All in all it was a great detour and I'm glad I've finally been able to see that region. Comparing notes about the roads, it seems that the one I took was in better condition, which is what the motorcyclists had told us.

More Pictures

posted by matt; | 9:04 PM








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