25 August 2011

Road of Bones, Getting Started

Ok, so on August 12th (arriving on morning of 13th), I finally flew back to Yakutsk to get my bike and continue the journey from Yakutsk to Magadan. I'd agreed to ride with RTWDoug, he was trying to be the first person to ride a (highly-modified) Harley to Magadan.

Here is a wikipedia entry on the Road of Bones, otherwise known as the Kolyma Highway: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/M56_Kolyma_highway_(Russia)

I met the guy who had received my new tires at the airport, he took me to the hotel, and then I contacted the guy who had stored the bike. He took me out to the garage and dropped me off, and I had to hook up the battery and try to start it. But it wouldn't start… There was some kind of issue with the fuel tank, so after a little monkeying around with it, the bike fired up and I went back to the hotel.

First, it is not a real trip without a sticker, so I had made these up the previous winter:

Also, here is a map of the route: about two thousand kilometers of dirt/gravel road, through some pretty seriously remote country:

I had agreed to ride with Doug of RTWDoug fame, but I arrived a couple of days before he did (he was riding to Yakutsk from Germany via Turkmenistan, etc., so had a pretty good excuse for being late!). So I hung out for a couple of days, did a few things with the bike. Went out to some kind of lodge place where they had lots of dead animals, as well as some really cool carved mammoth tusks:

AUGUST 15, 2011

After a couple of days, I got some texts from Doug that he was on his way in to Yakutsk, but he didn't get in until really late, so we didn't meet up until the morning. He was with two other guys, Hans-Joerg, from Vienna, and Max from Tynda, a Russian city well south of Yakutsk. Met up with them the next morning, as well as another group of Russian riders who were on their way to Magadan. This group was Pate, Big Andrei, Che, Nikolai, and Mishulka, you'll see some pix of them soon enough; they were staying in the garage of the local theater (the theater's director is also a biker), so we all headed over there to change tires and do some other maintenance. These guys had ridden the BAM, and they lost one of their members on the road between Tynda and Yakutsk; it is not clear exactly what happened, but apparently he was riding in a dust cloud behind a truck and he grabbed too much brake at one point and wiped out, breaking his collarbone and collapsing a lung. Luckily one of his buddies was not far behind, and he as evacced to Yakutsk and then straight back to Moscow, where he made a full recovery.

That evening, we met up with several of the local bikers for dinner; it was quite a big group—5 or 6 locals, the Moscow guys, and Doug's group. We went to Chicago, a US-style restaurant right behind the theater. Lots of food and drink!

After dinner, I joined the Moscow guys back in the garage for a couple of vodkas:

After dinner and the vodkas, went to bed fairly early and made plans to meet Doug, Hans, and Max at my hotel in the morning.

AUGUST 16, 2011

They showed up a bit late, because it turned out that Doug had a slow leak and they had to pump up his tire a bit, so I gave them my pump. Here are the bikes at the hotel; from left to right, Hans-Joerg's 650 Dakar, Max's DRZ400, and last but not least, Doug's Dirtster Harley:

Doug had taken the precaution of summoning a Russian priest to bless the Harley, which as far as Doug knows was going to be the first Harley ever to ride the Road of Bones:

Here is a closer look, it was a very cool bike:

One of the local bikers had offered to lead us to the ferry across the Lena River, so off we went. The ferry landing was sandy as hell and I hoped like hell the whole road was not going to be that bad; we had to wait quite a while before the ferry was loaded and finally left, we probably did not leave shore until noon or so. Everyone was obviously excited about finally getting under way:

Doug hamming it up:

Hans-Joerg getting his camera dialed-in:

So the ferry reached the other side and we hit the road. Shortly after leaving the ferry landing, Hans-Joerg rode on ahead. We hoped to see him again at the next ferry, over the Aldan River near Khandyga, but that was not to be, and in fact we did not seem him again at all, although we were in SMS contact over the next several days, and he sent us some useful info from the road ahead of us.

The road between the Lena ferry and the Aldan ferry is gravelly and sandy, and not particularly pleasant to ride. The countryside is pretty enough (see pix below), but riding on the sand/gravel was exhausting.

After riding a couple of hours, we came across a very cool outdoor museum/gallery full of various wooden statues and other carvings. Here are a few shots:

Our destination for the night had been Khandyga, but first we had to catch the ferry across the Aldan. We weren't sure what time the last ferry left, but we wanted to get there by 19:30 or so. Unfortunately, due to the state of the road and stopping, etc., we were nowhere near the ferry landing by then. Eventually it started to rain, which did not improve the riding conditions. Everyone was pretty tired, but Doug in particular was exhausted (not surprising after his weeks of travel and his heavier bike). About 30 km from the ferry landing, he fell behind Max and I, so we waited. This happened a couple of more times, and finally when we were about 15 km from the ferry landing I rode ahead, thinking that Doug and Max would come up behind me. I absolutely hate riding at night, especially in the rain, especially on muddy/sandy roads, but since I was almost there I figured it wouldn't be too bad.

Finally I saw some parked trucks and realized that I'd reached the ferry landing. I'd hoped that there'd be a cafe or something there, but that was a little optimistic to say the least. No buildings there at all, just some trucks (ten or so?) parked waiting for the ferry in the morning. I guess this was about 21:30, and it was pitch dark and raining pretty hard. I found a spot where I could pitch my tent with relatively little fear of getting run over by one of the trucks, and unpacked my tent. This was a new tent that I had bought a couple of years ago, and actually had never used it before, so was not very clear on how to set it up. As I was fumbling around in the dark in the rain setting up the tent, a Russian guy came up and asked something like "Who is this nutcase riding around on a motorcycle at night in the rain?". Turns out it was Yuri, a guy who had grown up in Khandyga but now lives in Moscow, and he had come back to Khandyga for the first time in many years with another friend to do a fishing trip with some childhood friends. He helped set up the tent and then offered a roast chicken and some vodka that they had brought with them from Yakutsk (they had hired a UAZ van/taxi to go from Yakutsk to Khandyga). Here is a picture of Yuri and Igor, his friend, with the remnants of the roast chicken on the back of my bike:

As I was chatting with Yuri and Igor, we heard engines approaching and soon saw two more motorcycles approaching in the darkness. I figured it was Doug and Max, who I'd been waiting for, but it turned out to be Big Andrei and Nikolai, two of the Moscow group. They had cell phone contact with the rest of the group, who had stopped with Doug and Max in an abandoned shack along the road about 10 km from the ferry landing. They would all stay there for the night and meet up with us in the morning. We told them that there was a ferry at 07:00, which we planned to catch, and another ferry at 09:00, and after that probably nothing until evening. After hanging out a bit more, we all went to bed…

No comments: