15 June 2011

Irkustk to Yakutsk, Part 1

JUNE 11, 2011

The xChallenge arrived in Irkutsk a few days before I was supposed to fly there, so that worked out well.  I got a taxi at the airport and went straight to the freight company's warehouse.  In no time at all they were uncrating the bike:

It took me a while to hook the battery back up, because I've got to remove the tank, but by noon I had filled the tank and was ready to go:

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So off I went, out of Irkutsk and then along the southern shore of Lake Baikal.  Nice ride, here is a view:

After I'd ridden a few hundred kilometers, the bike started acting up:  the control panel would blank out, and the engine would run rough, and then it would be normal, and then the same would happen again.  After a few minutes of this, the bike died altogether, and I pulled over on the side of the road.  Shit!  This wasn't part of the plan!  I tried several times to start it, and it would start and run fine until I put it into gear and started to move, then it would die.   Over and over again.  I tried to figure out the problem—side stand switch?  Fuse?  a bunch of other things, but no luck.  Finally I called Tony P on my cell, described the symptoms to him and asked that he post them on ADVRider to get some advice.  While Tony did that, I kept making futile efforts to fix the bike.

By now it was getting towards dusk, and I had to decide what to do.  Right in front of me there was a sign for a "tour base" two kilometers down a dirt road running to the left off the highway.  It was not an appealing prospect to push the heavily loaded bike two kilometers, but I figured I didn't have very many attractive options.  So I started pushing.  Unluckily for me, the dirt road ran through a swamp and was swarming with mosquitos.  Also, storm clouds were heading my way, so things didn't look very good.  I kept pushing and had reached some kind of village when someone stopped to ask if I needed help (quite a few people had ridden by). 

This was Zorig, who would be incredibly helpful in the next 24 hours.  He started, however, by almost killing me by offering to tow me to his tour base a couple kilometers further down the road.  It was only a couple of kilometers, but getting towed down a gravelly road on a motorcycle was pretty terrifying, thought I was going down several times.  Finally we pulled to a stop in front of his place, and I push the bike into the courtyard.  Unfortunately his place is full, but he kicks out one of his workers, and I get to stay in his tiny room (not sure where he went).  The tour base was pretty small, and I guess there were about a dozen people there.  They were all very friendly; I bought some beers, and they grilled up some Olmul, the delicious fish from Lake Baikal.  In the meantime, I fired up my laptop, plugged in my wireless modem, and was very happy to see that I had wireless internet access.  The guys on ADVRider recommended that I check several things, with a leading candidate being the wiring to the ignition block.  Zorig had locked the bike in his shack for the night for security, so I would have to wait until morning to check things out further.  Here is a shot of the tour base:


Everyone was very interested in my trip, but they no one seemed to know what lay out that way.  I guess you know you're on an adventure when you tell people where you are going, they respond by saying either:

  • "You know there's no road there, right?" and
  • "I will pray for you."


JUNE 12, 2011

In the morning I took off the ignition block, and sure enough, that was the problem:

Even though the bike only had about 7000 city kilometers on it, the soldering on the ignition block had broken on the bumpy road from Irkutsk.  The good news was that all I need to fix it was some solder!  The bad news was that I was on a tour base in the middle of no where on a Sunday morning—where was I going to find some solder?   Zorig was gone, but I talked to one of this helpers, who said that Zorig might have a soldering iron in the storeroom; the storeroom looked like Mr Magoo's closet, full of all kinds of junk, but after about half an hour, he found the soldering iron….but no solder.  Zorig was gone for a couple of hours, and when he returned he started looking for solder in the storeroom, and about two hours later he finally found some.  Then he spent another couple of hours soldering the ignition block, did quite a good job.  Here he is at work:

By now it was mid-afternoon and time for me to go, because I wanted to get as far as possible after losing a day for repairs.  During the morning several cars of Chinese tourists showed up at the tour base.  It was pretty weird, this group seemed pretty organized and well-off, and they were driving from various points in China to various points in Russia (Moscow, St Pete, Murmansk).   was very curious how they ended up at this rather out-of-the-way and rustic tour base.  Here is a shot of the group, and one of the cars showing one of their routes:

Just as I was getting ready to leave, a fancy SUV roared up into the courtyard, and some local bandits got out looking for a place to stay. The bike attracted their attention, and they soon invited me to lunch.  Spending any time with these clowns was about the last thing I wanted to do, so I politely declined, several times, explaining that I had a lot of miles to cover.  Finally they accepted, and one of them slipped a 100 ruble note into my hand so that I could buy myself something to drink later…how touching!  

Anyway, finally I was off, although I hadn't decided yet you far to go that day, it was already after 15:00.  Ulan Ude was only a couple of hours away, but I was hoping to make more progress, although past Ulan Ude there are not any real cities until Chita, and I was looking forward to a decent hotel and dinner after my recent trials and tribulations.  By the time I got to Ulan Ude I decided I'd stay there.

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