27 August 2011

Road of Bones, the Real Thing

AUGUST 17, 2011

I woke up early the next morning, all of the trucks were moving around getting ready to board the ferry, and I had to get my tent and moto packed up and ready to go.  Here is a view of the ferry landing in the morning, with my bike in front and Big Andrei's red Honda in back:

By 06:30 or so, Big Andrei, Nikolai and I packed up and boarded the ferry, where we waited for Doug, Max, and the rest of the Moscow guys.  Unfortunately however, they did not arrive by 07:00, and we left on the ferry without them.  Here are a few shots of the ferry:

Big Andrei had a problem with his radiator, so we figured we'd get that fixed in Khandyga while we waited for the other guys.  Khandyga is a pretty scruffy little town, but was the biggest town we'd see until Magadan.  It turns out that the Kolyma Highway, the Road of Bones, did not officially start until leaving the ferry over the Aldan, so yesterday had only been a warm up! 

Anyway, we found a mechanic in Khandyga, and they set to work repairing Andrei's radiator while we waited for the work to be done, and for the other guys to arrive.  Here is a shot of the town, and of Big Andrei's bike under repair:

The other guys finally arive about 11:30 after catching the 09:00 ferry, here they are rolling into town:

There were actually quite a few things we wanted to get done in Khandyga, including having the work finished on Big Andrei's bike, buying some supplies for the days ahead, and visiting the Gulag museum, which supposedly was worth a stop.  All of this stuff took considerable time, and once we had purchased all necessary supplies, the hunt for the Gulag museum began.  We had a GPS waypoint for its location from Colebatch, so set off confidently.  Unfortunately, the waypoint seemed a little bit off, and every time we asked a local about the location, we got a different answer.  Finally, after riding all over and around this very small town, we found the museum, and it was closed, padlocked.  A local recommended that we visit the nearby geological museum instead, so we did that, here are a few shots:

Frankly, the museum was rather boring, as geology museums tend to be, although the bones from the various large extinct mammals (mammoths, etc., shown above) were mildly interesting.

Doug, Max, and I were not ready to leave Khandya until after 15:00, and the Moscow group was not ready yet (I think they were still fixing Big Andrei's bike), so Doug, Max and I set out, knowing that they would catch up soon enough (they ride much faster…); we agreed that we'd camp somewhere together at the end of the day's ride—it was obvious at this point that we would not make it to anywhere with a hotel today.  Yesterday's late start would make a big difference on the pace of the trip, because there are relatively few towns with hotels along the route, and if you don't make Khandyga the first night, it is doubtful that you'll make it to a town with a hotel the second night, etc.  So for those of you who don't like to camp, get a good early start from Yakutsk and then from Khandyga.

Anyway, we had ridden about 70 km when we came to Teply Klyuch, (a small town with a name meaning "Hot Spring"), where Doug and Max decided to stop in a small store to pick up some additional supplies.  I'm not sure what was going on, but this store was absolutely jam-packed with people, and it took Doug and Max probably an hour to wait in line and get their stuff.  I think Max said that the store had just received a delivery of new food and the locals had all lined up to buy it before it was gone.

Finally we set off again, here are a few shots of the road:

Here is Max, with his newly-purchased supplies strapped in back:

We rode a little further and got our first views of the mountains up ahead.  The weather continued to deteriorate as well; it looked like more rain was in our future:

There were also a couple of rainbows, very pretty:

The Moscow guys caught up with us right around here, and we began looking around for a place to spend the night.  Pretty soon we came upon a truck with some contruction workers parked near some kind of holy spring where the water never freezes.  Not sure why water wouldn't freeze way out here, but I certainly was not tempted to taste the water.  Here is the spring:

Some of the Moscow guys spoke with the construction workers, who said that 20-30 kilometers ahead there should be an empty construction camp with some tables, grills, etc., although they were not sure whether it was still there, it might have already been dismantled.  Here is Che, one of the Moscow guys, taking some notes:

So off we rode, looking for this camp, which was supposedly not far past the little permanent construction camp of Razvilka (where as far as I know we did not consider staying, presumably to avoid drunk construction workers).  It started raining right about now; not as hard as the previous evening, but a good steady drizzle. By now we were right in the mountains, it was quite pretty:

At some point we realized that either the empty construction camp had already been moved, or that we were not going to find it, so we started scouting out places for a campsite.  The Moscow guys took the lead in this process, and soon found a rather beautiful spot:


The only problem with this campsite was that it was a little cramped, and down a rather steep embankment to the riverbank.  Moreover, given the fact that it was raining, and in the mountains, I was worried about the possibility of flash flooding.  Nonetheless, it was the best place we'd seen in many kilometers, and it was getting dark, so we decided to stay there.  The ride down the muddy embankment was tricky for me and I ended up falling over toward the bottom.  I going quite slowly, however, and just fell in the mud, so we picked the bike back up and that was that.

Soon everyone had pitched their tents, here is a shot of the campsite itself:

It turns out that the Moscow guys had "done this before" and had their camping down to a system.  Each guy was assigned to carry some part of their camping gear, including stuff for cooking, etc.  They fired up some kind of camp porridge which was quite good, then we had a little vodka before going to bed.  A very nice camping experience, here is a shot of the dinner table:

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