The Final Stretch
We have just been chatting and decided to take the BAM rd to Yakukst instead of the
It's the track used for rail construction of the BAM many years ago, long since abandoned,
apparently very hard going. Have been looking for a challenge since the Congo, hopefully this is
Lets see what Siberia has to offer
What a day!
Dean crashed twice and nearly broke his ankle, he's in a truck, with Barton's bike, which shit
itself today, on his way back here.
Barton crashed Deans bike on the way back.
All this for a sum total of minus 200 kilometres.
We've had to back track to a major town to repair Barton's bike, I'm cold and wet and in need of a
If i never see mud again, it will be too soon.
Today has been a bit of a mess,
Barton's bike collapsed the front wheel bearings, so is being trucked back to severo
Then i fell in a water crossing and have done some damage to my right ankle, dont think it is broken
but i cant really ride.
So now i'm in the Kamaz truck instead of Barton, and he's riding my bike.
Went for x ray this morning.
Doc gave me a 50% chance of broken ankle but fortunately it's not.
Still in much pain though, will try to ride tomorrow morning, if i can we will try to continue along
the Bam, otherwise will shoot north and rest a few days on the barge.
We limped into Yakutsk this afternoon and were befriended by the local motorcycle club who helped us find
somewhere to stay.
Thank god for them because things were looking grim!
We have been on the road exactly 6 months from the
day we left capetown averaging 200km every day, we are weary and the bikes are tired, but the road of bones
2 days to fix forks, pannier frames and fit new
tyres. Then 2000km to Magadan and the chequered flag.
Its so close we can tase it,
wish us luck.
We are on a barge crossing the Lena.
Its the start of the road of bones.
Sun is shining but still very cold here, excited to
be stating the last leg of the trip!!
On the ride from Yakutsk to Magadan, the Road of
Today the road actually improved a little and aside
from some loose gravel and lots of dust it was easy going.
One of my panniers fell off in the afternoon but
after backtracking 10km we found it on the verge, very relieved as it has all the pics, video and my journals in
Paul got a flat late in the day, pinched tube 'These
heidenau tyres are shithouse!' sums it up, bikes are awful to ride on the new rubber we picked up in Yakutsk, we
just hope they hold together for a couple of weeks.
Staying in an overpriced homestay in Cherkyekh, Paul
cooked a nice pasta for dinner.
Morning of Day 2.
Woke to find bikes covered in ice, have just jump
started Paul's and Mine with Barton's new battery.
Regret not buying one in Yakukst now.
Freezing last night but clear skies today, we have
200km to get to the ferry at Megino Aldan before it crosses at 7pm.
Morning day 3.
We got to the barge yesterday with plenty of time to
spare, crossed and rode another 30km to next village - Khandyga.
Slept in a local family's home last night. We have a
problem with Paul's clutch that needs fixing before we move from here, hope to get it sorted today.
Next few nights will be camping in sub zero temps,
worried about ice on roads and getting snowed in.
Whose great idea was it to come out here anyway!?
Sitting in the kitchen of a little hotel in
Magistralni (probably not the right spelling), this town is close to the north west tip of Lake Baikal, we
took a logging track 300km to get here in the rain today.
Our small room has all our riding gear spread
out across it and the heaters turned on, along with some washing that didn’t dry yesterday vying for fresh
The Great Tyre Debacle of
We arrived in Russia full of optimism that
the rest of the journey was all looking good, the bikes were back in one piece, there were no more visas or
borders to cross, and our last set of tyres was on its way to Irkutsk to meet us… or so we
Shortly before getting there I called the
supplier of the tyres who informed me that the tyres we had ordered were still in customs on the truck, and
they might be in Irkutsk by Wednesday or Thursday… maybe.
Undeterred we pushed on to Irkutsk with the
plan to try to source some secondhand or intermediate tyres, and have the new ones sent to Yakutsk
We found a bike shop, and incredibly found
some off-road tyres in a size that wasn’t perfect, but would do the trick. I called my supplier who confirmed our original sets had cleared
customs and would now be shipped to Yakutsk ready for us to pick up when we arrived. It all seemed too good to be true.
And it was.
The next morning we set off with high hopes,
the sun was shining and the bikes were running sweet… except for a bit of a weave coming from that ‘not for
highway use’ rear Shinko brand tyre. Hmmm.
As we cleared the city limits the slight
weave turned into quite a big weave and so we stayed well within the max speed rating of
130km/hr. An hour later nature called, and when we pulled
up I took a cursory look at the rear tyre and there it was, the Shinko dream had ended in tears. Every single knob in the middle row had torn off the tyre and it was
now running on the carcass.
“I wasn’t expecting that!” said the
“no choice but to turn around” said the
“my tyre isn’t much better” chimed in bar-ton
who unfortunately was using the same tyre we were having delivered to Yakutsk!
So there we were, all three bikes had ripped
their rear tyres to pieces in about 150km of highway use. We ate some wafers, swore a lot, and remounted to return to
Irkutsk. The guys at the tyre place were very confused when
we came in looking for another set of tyres, so I asked one of them to come to the carpark for a
The great Shinko experiment of
He came out, looked at the tyre and then
looked at me, then said something in Russian that I understood to mean
“what the hell have you guys been doing with
I explained that we had only done 300km on
them, and not overly quickly either. The tyres did say ‘not
for highway use’ on them, so we weren’t asking for a refund, but the guy didn’t look impressed as he led us
back into the shop to look at what was left on the shelf.
Bevan already had a spare tyre with him so he
started fitting that as we weighed our options. They was -
One Dunlop a little too narrow but good quality, one Michelin, even narrower and a smaller diameter, (very
expensive), and 2 Intermediate Dunlops that would have been a perfect fit on the chook chaser back
We decided on the off-road Dunlop (D208) and the
intermediate and then flipped a coin to see who got the good one (me
J). We took
these to the cashier who explained that the Shinko’s were a cheaper tyre and that we would have to pay the
Too good! We fitted these in the carpark and checked into a homestay for the
fork service times 3.JPG
Next morning was like groundhog day as we
once again rode out of Irkutsk up the western side of Lake Baikal, we stopped after 50km to check out the
tyres, then again after 150 for fuel and all was well.
However… the third time we stopped Paul
checked Bar-ton’s tyres and lo and behold every other knob had
been torn off the brand new rear. This was really bad
4 new tyres destroyed in the space of
24hours, and 2 of these were the same brand and model as was being delivered to Yakutsk for our run to
We discussed options for a bit and decided
that Paul and I would push on to the next big town where we could reinforce a section on our subframes that
needed attention, while Bar-ton rode back to Irkutsk (slowly!), bought another tyre and then rode back to
where we were, a total run of about 1000km for the day. Sigh.
To Bart’s credit he put in the hard yards and
finally arrived at 1:30am, tired but content to be carrying a replacement tyre for the 640.
So where does this leave us? We have 3 tyres in the air on their way to Yakutsk (2000km from here),
that we know are not suitable for highway use even though they are highway approved, and we don’t know how
they will cope with the extra weight and power of the 950, even though they seemed ok off road on the
Oh and it also leaves us with one bike
running a pizza cutter for the next 2000km until we can pickup the “we hope they will be ok” next set of
Which brings me to the next big decision we
have made, concerning the route.
When we left home we had thought to take the
main road from Ulan Ude east to Cita and then North to the Road of Bones into Magadan. It turns out most of this road is pretty boring and not overly
challenging so we opted to take a logging track north from Irkutsk around the western side of lake Baikal,
where we could take a barge to within 1400km of Yakutsk, and then resume the run through the road of
We caught up with an Aussie Expat called
Walter Colebatch last night who was full of good info about the riding in Siberia, and was able to suggest
another alternative called the BAM road. This is a track
that follows the rail line from Magistralni, east all the way to the sea, it was only built to aid the
construction of the rail line many years ago (1974) and has since been unused, but Walter assured us it would
be passable, and a much better challenge than the barge north, and a comparable ride to the Road of Bones
which he had just come the other way down.
The only problem was the pizza cutter on the
rear of Paul’s bike… more head scratching and we came to
the decision to carry Bar-ton’s old tyre, although it’s missing many knobs, as it should still work ok off
So this morning we set off bound for the BAM
rail line, and it started to rain, and rain it did all day! We didn’t stop getting wet until we got off the
bikes and went inside at 3pm. It’s still raining now, so I
guess the roads tomorrow are going to be a bog.
Which brings me back to where I started this
report, I’m in the kitchen of the hotel, Bar-ton is asleep,
Paul is showering (having just swapped the pizza cutter for the knobless old tyre) and I’m now trying to
communicate with the ladies at reception who want to see every single photo we have taken since leaving
This will take a while.
Today we rode from Magistralni to Novo Ouyen,
along some muddy road full of deep water, it was great to get the bikes dirty again and see some deep water
for the first time since Gabon. When we got into this small
town we rode around for a bit looking for somewhere to stay, and wound up asking some locals if there was a
hotel or guesthouse, one of the men there came up and introduced himself as Sasha and motioned us to follow
We were dirty and wet so I wanted to make
sure this was going to be something reasonable, I asked Sasha if it was a Gustinitza, and he um and ahhed,
and in the few words I understood I got that it was his home, possibly a homestay.
I did the shower mime - right hand over the
head with fingers pointing downward, and running water noise.
He said “no”, but responded with a bath mime
– bucket of water and large ladle pouring water on yourself.
I did the cold bath mime (shivering), Sasha
looked at me like I was an idiot and responded with the pouring hot water on yourself from a bucket mime,
complete with “ooohhhs” and “ahhhs” of satisfaction.
“Ushen i zaftra?” I asked him (dinner and
breakfast), “Da da!!” said Sasha.
“I think they have a homestay, it has hot
water and food” said the mule.
“homestay, I’m in” said
“hot water? really?” said the
“yeah, not a shower but it’s some sort of hot
By this stage Sasha is getting really excited
and doing circles in his lada waiting for us to get moving.
“better ask him how much it costs” said the
“Pachum?” I asked
Sasha smiles and says “Nieta” (nothing)
“it’s free” I tell the guys quite
We followed Sasha’s white lada a few hundred
metres to his home, a big two storey wooden house with several small outhouses around it, there was a big
blue fence with a very loud dog barking behind it.
As Sasha opened the gate we got a look at the
dog, it was enormous and not happy with the new arrivals in his yard. “Cujo” as he immediately became known to us was on a chain, a chain
long enough to almost reach the path we were walking, he would take a running jump at us with teeth bared and
get close enough to smell his breath, it really took some fortitude to walk past him.
sashas crazy dog.JPG
“what do you think he’d do to us if he gets
off that chain?”
“I don’t know but he looks
We were ushered inside and quickly seated at
his kitchen table which was then covered in bread, jams, raw fish, biscuits and… yes of course - homemade
sashas dinner table.jpg
We chatted with Sasha and his lovely wife
Nina for a while in what little common language we had, and we drank his moonshine which was surprisingly
palatable. The raw fish was actually pretty good, if a
Sasha turned out to be an ex wrestling
champion from the USSR times, so it seemed logical for me to tell him that Paul is also a champion wrestler
so they should wrestle…
Sasha’s eyes light up!
Sasha and Paul wrestle in the living
thats no way to treat your
It’s USSR v AUS
This involves much face slapping, grappling
and raucous laughter from Bar-ton and I. It was close for a
moment but the result
AUS 1, USSR 0.
Sasha then wants to armwrestle
AUS 2, USSR 0.
Sasha then wants to armwrestle Bar-ton, who
takes one for the team.
AUS 2, USSR 1, USA 0.
With Soviet dignity restored Sasha then shows
us out to one of the outhouses - his trophy room complete with a bear pelt that he killed
sashas bear pelt.jpg
Sasha does the ‘wrestling with a bear’ mime
and decides to give me the bear pelt to take home with me. The pelt is bigger than all the luggage I’m carrying combined, but I
think this is a great idea at the time!
More vodka drinking.
The bath turns out to be a Banya, (Sauna),
it’s one of the outhouses surrounding the house, inside it’s toasty and warm, there is a metal wooden stove
heating a big water tank.
Sasha gives the demonstration of undressing
in the entry room, walking into the Banya and throwing water onto the side of the stove to make more
Sasha and Bar-ton take a naked sauna together where they
flog each other with birch leaves
“when in Siberia!” says
Paul takes a sauna/wash and returns claiming
it’s the best wash he’s had since leaving home, and possibly ever!
We woke up late in an upstairs bedroom that I
could only just remember staggering up to, and Nina has cooked us pancakes for breakfast. While we sat at the table trying to piece together the events of the
previous night, Paul walked outside and then came back in with a confused look on his face.
“The dog got off the chain… it’s actually
A little while later Nina went out and yelled
at the dog, putting it back on the chain and it went back to being ferocious. I guess no one likes being on a chain.
Sasha came home from work to say goodbye
around lunchtime, as we were leaving I apologised saying I love the bear pelt but it’s enormous and I have no
where to put it, I’m not sure but i think he actually looked a little relieved.
We said a very sad farewell to Sasha, asking
what we could give him for the lodging and food, but he laughed and shook his head, “niet, niet, friends”, he
smiled and drove away.
leaving sashas house was
These people are amazing.
Yesterday afternoon around 5pm while
negotiating one of a hundred water crossings for the day, the front tyre caught up in a wheel track that was
invisible through the mud, it swung the bike around and over it went on the right side.
water on the bam.jpg
I was in first gear so the speed was low but
as I fell I put a foot down to try to walk away from it and avoid face planting in the water, but it caught
on something in the mud and was squashed between the pannier and the ground while the bike was still
moving. I twisted around and fell with my foot still
caught, a shot of pain went up my leg and I knew this time it was something serious.
I got up cursing and could feel something
wrong with the ankle joint, but the bike was on its side with the pannier under water, (the pannier with this
computer in it!) So I limped over, grabbed the bar and the
luggage rack and gave it all I could, thankfully the angle was ok so it came up almost vertical, where it
stayed until Paul arrived. I handed it to him and hopped
out of the water to sit down for a moment.
Having hurt myself many times before I knew
that this was something serious, and sitting there for a moment I almost burst into tears at the thought that
having come 40,000km from Capetown to Siberia, on the cusp of finishing an amazing adventure, I might not be
able to continue.
But as we all know, crying is for sissies, so
I gave myself a large dose of ‘harden the fuck up’, shook out some water from my gloves and helmet, and got
back on before it really started to hurt.
We rode another 30 mins before stopping to
rest, but this time once I got off and sat down for a minute I knew I wasn’t going to be able to ride
again. Paul strapped the ankle to try to keep the swelling
down and we waited for the Kamaz truck carrying Bar-tons 640 to arrive so I could swap places with
riding in the kamaz.JPG
Apparently one large dose of ‘harden the fuck
up’ will get you about 50km on bad roads, and I had none left for the day so that was that.
An hour before all this
The front wheel bearings on Bar-tons bike
collapsed in a big way so he was unable to continue, luckily the second truck that came along the track was
happy to carry him and bike back to Severo Baikal.
The drivers name was Andrea, he was 25 years
old, driving a tri axle, 6 wheel drive Kamaz down the BAM track from Taksimo to Magistralni then south to
Irkutsk, I think it was full of bags of copper and other materials for recycling, but there was plenty of
space in the container for the 640.
We heard him coming from the other side of
the hill, the little V8 bi turbo diesel working hard to haul up the hill, it had no muffler so made an
impressive noise, even if it was travelling quite slowly to negotiate all the water on the
Once over the crest he came barreling down
towards us, ploughing right through the middle of the deepest holes, sending muddy water flying many metres
in the air, window wipers going flat out, He pulled up with
the hiss of air brakes and water still draining from the truck, jumped out with a cheesy grin and introduced
himself. He looked totally pumped to be able to help us out
and carry the broken bike back to the next big town.
andreas truck arrives.jpg
Shortly after I swapped places with Bar-ton,
Andrea pulled up near a river and went to get some water, he then made two big containers of instant noodles,
cut up a salami and some vegetables and set it up on the middle seat of the Kamaz, motioning for me to eat.
Paul and Bar-ton turned back after some time and when they
arrived he boiled some more water and made noodles for them too, this time setting up on the front bar of the
dinner on the Kamaz bumper
The ride to Severo Baikal took about 5 hours
for 150km, about half of which was sealed, but the Kamaz seemed to find bumps in the road that weren’t even
there so it was a harsh run. When we arrived I hobbled
straight to bed and left the three guys to unload the 640, no small feat when it’s 2m in the air! Andrea didn’t want any money for hauling the bike, he was just happy
to help us out, it made me think of when we met Ali in the Congo, now half a world away.
This morning the guys went out in search of
wheel bearings and came back with something that is sort of right, but not great, it will get him moving
again but we don’t have high hopes for a permanent fix as they are the wrong size and not sealed so in this
mud who knows how long they will last. They did get 3 sets
of them just in case though.
lada bearings modified to fit a
I went to hospital later today where the
nurses and docs were fabulous, I have a booking for an xray in the morning at 8am, doc gives me a 50% chance
of a broken bone, I’m not sure if I want to know. Sigh.
I guess we have several choices from here, if
there is a serious break i can’t imagine it getting better fast enough to continue along the BAM road, so I
may get the train forward and let Paul and Bar-ton continue, which will give me a week to rest before the ROB
(road of bones), or otherwise I can ride to the barge as originally planned and rest on that and meet the
guys in a week or so in Yakutsk.
If I can’t ride anything difficult at all, I
will ride slowly back to Irkutsk, then north along the conventional road to Magadan, leaving the BAM and the
road of bones to Paul and Bevan, but this will suck balls royally and will take something very serious to
convince me to take this course of action.
If on the other hand it turns out to nothing
too serious, then I’ll go shopping for more of the aforementioned ‘harden the fuck up’, dose up on Russian
pain killers and get on with the job at hand.
It is pretty sore though.
Still in bed at 2:15pm, I have some ice on
the ankle, and a nice x ray picture of it that didn’t reveal a break. I was pretty happy when they told me, and today I can put a little
weight on it, but the riding situation is still not great.
It’s very swollen, I can sort of walk, more
of a hobble really, but for any sort of twisting movement it hurts too much to use.
At the hospital yesterday a very kind local
couple helped us translate my problem to the nurse at the counter, and then waited around for about 2 hours
for the doctor to see me, they then took me to a pharmacy to get some drugs and even drove me back to the
gustinitza (hotel) afterwards. The Siberian people are
incredibly generous and all very interested and impressed with the motorbikes, you wouldn’t believe how many
people we meet that want us to have a shot of vodka with them on the road.
“Malinki malinki” they protest (small small)
when we say that we don’t drink and ride.
We plan to head off tomorrow morning, but am
still not sure of which direction we will head off in, the choices are now 2. First is to continue along the BAM road, into what we think will be
some really hard going all the way to Tynda (about 1000km), then ride north on a forest track to Yakutsk, and
second is to take the road north to the barge on the Lena river and use the 3 days on the barge to rest up
before riding to Yakutsk from Lensk.
The pictures we have seen of the BAM road
look really amazing with some great old bridges and interesting water crossings so I’d really like to
continue, but it’s a little dependant on how the ankle heals. I guess if I wake up tomorrow and it’s a lot better then I’d like to
try that way.
The BAM track follows the BAM train line and
there are cities every hundred or so km, so I figure if it gets too bad I can always jump on a train to get
to Tynda instead.
My main worry is that I fall on it again and
make things even worse as a result, I guess time will tell.
Sitting in my tent which is pitched on the
bow of a large boat. Yes that’s right folks, we are camped
on a boat.
Setting up camp @ the front of the
The morning we left Severo Baikal my ankle
was a little better but I still couldn’t really walk. We
chatted about it and I suggested we could part ways for a few days so Paul and Bart could do the BAM while I
rested a little, but they made it clear that we were in this together so whatever I decided to do would be
what we all did.
I was really worried about reinjuring the
ankle in one of what would be many inevitable falls on the BAM, so decided to head north to the barge on the
river Lena. We followed a highlighted route on Bar-tons map
to a small town called Kirensk, arriving there at about 4pm having covered about 250km on more logging
The locals we talked to all told us that
there was no barge leaving from there and that we needed to go to a different town called Ust Kust, about
400km back down the road we had just ridden. Crap.
More negotiating and Paul finally found
someone who seemed to think there was a boat arriving the next morning which may be able to take us to
So we checked into an overpriced hotel, and
went out for some dinner. The next morning the boat failed
to materialize so we made the decision to head back to Ust Kust, where it seemed more of a certainty that we
would get a barge.
400km later we arrived, tired and dusty, but
we headed straight to the docks where we found the loading point and sure enough there was a boat the next
morning. Good news!
Hotel, dinner, beers, one celebratory vodka
and an early night.
We went shopping in the morning to buy food
and booze for the 3 day boat ride, and then lined up with the rest of the trucks and a few cars making the
trip north. The fee is supposed to be 4000 rubles per metre
of vehicle but I negotiated a rate for the bikes arguing (as best I could using the 30 words of Russian that
I have learned) that they are small and don’t take up much space, 13700 rubles for all three was a pretty
riding to the boat loaded with food
So we now have 3 ktm’s on the bow of a boat,
the vessel is wide enough for 5 cars or trucks to park side by side, and maybe 80m long. Our tents are pitched right up the front where the anchors and their
motors are located.
We were initially a little worried about the
idea of spending 3 days on a boat with nothing to do, but it turns out that wherever there are Siberians
around there is always something to do, generally involving vodka.
We quite quickly made friends with some of
the more friendly people here, a guy called Maksim and his father in particular have been great, Max speaks
English very well so has virtually been our interpreter since we got on.
Max and his dad have driven here from Moscow,
about 8000km away, they have another 1000km to go before they get home, and we think we have big distances in
barton paul and maksim.JPG
Another few guys came to the bow to say hello with some food
and (of course) vodka on day one, so we made friends with them too, we gave one of them the nickname
Bear. Now the whole boat calls him Bear
the bear gentleman.JPG
On day 2 we woke feeling a little groggy so
Paul made coffee and some instant noodles for breakfast. We
were sitting on the bow contemplating the day when one of the truckies on the boat came to the bow, and said
something in Russian that Max translated as
“your soup is shit, come and eat some of ours
and drink some chai with us”
He wouldn’t take no for an answer, and was
eventually shouting at us
“Pashli, Pashli!!” (lets go)
Paul and I motioned to move but Bar-ton was a
little slower, so he got a dose of
“America, Pashli!” (he was called “America” for the rest of the day
We left the half eaten noodles and walked
half way down the boat to find they had cooked up something like a chicken cacciatore (on the side of a
Kamaz), complete with potato, tomato, onion, garlic and red capsicum. It was heaven!
chicken cacciatore fom the
The chai soon turned into Vodka, apparently
it’s a Russian tradition that you need to drink 3 shots for some reason, so there we were at 9am drinking
shots of vodka, one after the next until a bottle was finished. At which point another bottle was procured from somewhere, and then
When they asked about why we were there, Max
told the guys about the plaque we have stuck on our bikes, and explained the origins of the trip to
them. In an unexpected and very moving moment, the group of
Siberian truck drivers then toasted our father.
Maksim explained that in Siberia, when they
toast someone who has died, they do so in silence. No one
says a word, they raise their vodka, each of them pour a small amount on the ground for the deceased, and
then shot the rest.
As we joined in the toast, both Paul and I
were a little choked up, the guys are tough burly men, you need to be tough to drive a Kamaz thousands of km
in -40 degrees, in that moment they all stood tall, proud and in complete silence. My Dad would have loved them.
In another unexpected turn, after about the
4th bottle of vodka had disappeared someone thought it would be a great idea to get some
firearms out. The next thing I knew I was firing a semi
automatic 12 gauge shot gun at old containers that were being thrown off the side of the boat. I even managed to hit a few of them!
The only advice we were given was - “don’t
drop gun in river!!”
guns and vodda mmm.jpg
I’m not really into guns per se, but with a belly full of
vodka and chicken cacciatore, firing that thing in rapid succession was a whole lot of fun
An hour or so later we retired back to the
bow where Bear and his friends were in another vodka binge. Things get a little blurry after this but fortunately Bar-ton managed
to stay coherent for long enough to understand the worried Russian truck driver who came to the bow
“Australian sleep under car, you
It’s really cold on the boat, imagine the
coldest winter night back home and then make it about 10 degrees colder than that, so the idea that Paul was
asleep on the steel deck was worrying. Bar-ton went to
investigate and true to his word, he found Paul asleep on the deck, albeit under a truck not a
At some point he’d decided that it was just
too cold so of course he went and found something warm. He was asleep on the deck with his legs in the air
above him, both wrapped around the muffler of a Kamaz! – AND he didn’t want to move!
“so nice here, so warm….”
“Dude, you can’t stay here, he’s gonna start
this sucker up any minute and your legs are gonna get fried!”
“no no nice here, want to
He was eventually coaxed out, only to somehow
return shortly after but on the 2nd attempt decided to stay in his tent.
Bar-ton meanwhile was having a crazy night
when Serge (one of Bears friends) who had clearly drunk one too many shots, decided Bar-ton must be an
American spy, and would not be convinced otherwise. Bear
tried to subdue Serge with a full cup of vodka, but to no avail. How someone can drink a full cup of vodka when they are already drunk,
and remain standing I will never understand. In any case
this all ended quite seriously with punch-up between Serge and Bear.
We have a saying back home “don’t poke the
bear, you don’t want to make the bear angry”
This pretty well sums up the way this
Following this altercation, Serge went and
sat in an alcohol haze next to Bar-tons tent on the bow, eventually trying to get into the tent saying
“America, welcome to
paranoid russian visits
This completely freaked the shit out of our
poor American friend who thought he may have come to kill him. Instead he had calmed down and they talked for a while, Serge wanted
to see every single photo Bar-ton had taken on the trip before they both finally went to sleep. Bar-ton kept his knife in close proximity though!
This morning Serge came over to apologise
(complete with a black eye!) but Bar-ton was still sleeping, he left rather sheepishly and soon after Bear
came by to make sure things were ok. We like
As a consequence of last nights festivities
today has been quiet. We made pasta for dinner, I sat out
some rain in Max’s car, and we dried our clothes in the engine room. No vodka thankfully!
We are supposed to arrive in Lensk around 1am, unless there
is fog, in which case the boat will drop anchor until it lifts.
Not really looking forward to packing up the gear in the dark at 1am so am really hoping for a foggy
My ankle is getting better albeit much slower
than I had hoped, I can limp along ok on it now and it doesn’t hurt too much so long as I don’t try to put
too much weight or twist it the wrong way, in which case it hurts like hell.
The next few days on the road to Yakutsk are
supposed to be straightforward so will give me some more time to heal, but am still really worried about
tackling the old road to Magadan, but I have decided to try it in any case. Wish us luck.
“That boat ride was epic” said Bar-ton this
morning, and that sums it up well. The boat anchored at
12am, and started to unload shortly after in freezing cold rain.
We were all asleep until Stass (one of the
deck hands) opened the flap of my tent and rattled off some Russian, I rubbed the sleep from my eyes and
stuck my head out to see the unloading had started. Shit.
I yelled out to try to wake up Paul and
Barton but they couldn’t hear me over all the other noise, so I struggled into my riding suit and hobbled
over to wake them. We packed up our gear in the rain and
then waited an hour for the last truck to exit before starting the bikes.
But… the brakes of the truck locked on the
exit ramp and it couldn’t be moved. What are the chances of
truck stuck on the boat
An hour later the truck was still there
blocking our exit, it was freezing and raining and our tents had been packed away so we didn’t really have
anywhere to shelter. In desperation we went and sat in the
hull next to the engines to try to stay warm.
Stass walked past at one point and took a
peek inside, we must have looked pretty miserable crouched in there soaking wet, because he came back a few
minutes later and motioned for us to follow him. Up a few
flights of stairs and we found ourselves in the Bridge, complete with hot tea, candy and a
heater! We struggled though some introductions with the
Captain, who even asked us all to sign his Captains log! This was a real blessing because we stayed there for about 8 hours
until the truck was finally moved.
In yet another staggering act of kindness,
even though they faced a 1000km drive home that day, Maksim and his Dad had waited for us all that time on
the banks of the river, they wanted to make sure we would get through the police check point without any
problems, and find our way to the next town. Amazing.
As we were about to leave the boat, we
remembered that we had still not paid for the passage, so I limped back up to the bridge to sort it out with
the captain. He just laughed and sent me on my way, saying
something along the lines of “you crazy Australians, get out of here, no money needed!”
That was at 9am, so we saddled up and rode
about 300km to the next town before passing out in a nice warm hotel room last night.
My ankle has improved quite a bit to the
point that I can walk without limping too much, still very sore to twist on, and I’m sure it’s going to hurt
like hell when I fall, but at least the break has had the desired effect.
I think my last entry was when we arrived in Mirnyy the day we finally got off that boat, since then
quite a lot has happened.
Hence, this blog is titled:
The Long Hard Road to Yakutsk.
We left Mirnyy in another scene that has now played out many times, we loaded up the bikes out front
of the hotel we had in the middle of Mirnyy, and as we did so a small crowd of people congregated taking
photos of us, asking for photos together and going through the regular list of questions…
Where are you from?
Where are you going?
How long have you been on the road?
To which they inevitably respond with a shake of the head and the word “Maledes”, which I think
means something like “good young man”
In any case we left Mirnyy with the following problems:
One set of front wheel bearings (actually a thrust bearing from somewhere in a Lada that Paul worked
some magic on to fit Bar-tons 640) in an unknown condition.
One 640 starter motor that worked sometimes, and sometimes it didn’t.
One ankle still very sore.
One pannier frame with several small cracks.
2 bald front tyres on our bikes.
One bald rear tyre on Paul’s bike.
Some cracks in Paul’s subframe, unknown to what extent.
So things were far from perfect.
Bar-ton’s 640 wouldn’t start, he even tried using the kick starter along with the electric start but
still no joy. Some friends of friends who wanted to help
were insisting on push starting it, Barton told them that it wouldn’t push start but they wouldn’t be
convinced, so we sat and watched as they pushed it around the main square in the middle of Mirnyy, getting
more and more tired with each attempt until they finally conceded that it wouldn’t go.
Barton screwed off the seat and I jump started it from my bike. This was to be the routine for the next 5 days.
We rode out of town and filled with fuel at the petrol station we were warned not to use the day
before, and then had to ride back into town to find a “magazine” to buy breakfast (yogurt, biscuits, juice),
water for the day and some chocolate bars.
Barton then lost his sunglasses.
Another half hour passed in the search to no avail, so the sunglasses I bought in Cameroon for $2
were put back into service and we finally got the hell out of there.
We rode for about 30km on ok dirt road, rolled through some now familiar small towns with their
wooden houses and ugly exposed central heating pipes splayed across the streets and arrived at a river
without a bridge.
“are we on the right road?” asked the
“oh I guess this is why the map doesn’t show a bridge or ferry here” said the Pig
“it looks deep…” said a worried Mule still limping around.
Barton rode down to the edge, got off the bike and waded straight into the water as Paul and I
looked on. He went in up to his knees, then his waist and
then mid way up his chest as he fought to remain standing in the strong current.
Full credit to the American though as he pushed on
and found a shallow-ish path across. Then back to the bank
and on the bike,
“I think I’m just gonna paddle my way across, can you guys just keep close in case I get a
And in he went, the first 10m went ok, slowly but surely the 640 crept its way across, but about
half way across the rear dug in and it stopped moving. Then
it dug in some more, and then the exhaust pipe was blowing bubbles.
“guys guys come help, fuck it, come help NOW!”
We ran in and lifted the rear of the bike as he gassed it up, it lifted enough to clear the exhaust
so from there on we walked with it to the other bank.
As he rode it out of the water we heard a cheer
OK One through, 2 to go.
Paul went in next, and in the spirit of going in “balls first” (as compared to head first), he stood
on the pegs and rode into it, trying to ford it feet up. The bravado was spot on but the river was having
nothing of it and 5m in the current grabbed the bike and nearly sent it over, he put a foot down and then
another to steady it, conceding that it was running too fast to ride through.
We walked it across without too many problems, and he rode it the last 20m, water spraying out the
sides of the bike, it looked really impressive!
2 down, one to go.
As I waded back across the river to my bike parked on the shore, I was having some doubts about
riding it myself. Ordinarily I’m pretty gung ho about this
sort of thing, and will usually volunteer to be the dummy pig in this situation, but my ankle was still not
good enough to put much weight on, and remembering how long it took to get the bike working again after I
submerged it in Mongolia I was worried. I think the guys
were too as they asked whether I was going to ride it myself or if I wanted one of them to do it for
“I think I’ll try it” I
replied. I had considered it for a moment and decided that
there’s no honor in riding Siberia if you don’t do it all yourself.
About 10m into it and I was regretting that decision royally though. The current was incredible strong, and the bottom was quite loose, so
along with some rocks here and there it was a challenge. I
went at what felt like snail’s pace with the guys down stream of me to catch me if or when I fell, and very
slowly, step by step we inched across.
Reaching the other bank was more relief than excitement for me, so we sat down next to the bikes for
a moment to regroup and pour some water out of our boots.
As we sat there, a landcruiser approached from the other side and we watched curiously as it was
towed across by a 6wd Kamaz…
“that’s pretty soft… Rob would have been in there balls first”
“hey you have a leaking fork seal”
We rode on from there soaking wet and it’s generally freezing out here so the rest of the day was
not what you would call pleasant. We took a barge across
another much bigger river and then came to another one that needed fording.
There was an old partially
completed bridge built over the river that sat about 10m up in the air, but the on and off ramps hadn’t been
finished so it was unusable. The height of it should have
given us a bit more of an idea about the potential danger but it didn’t click.
Paul went straight in
without too much messing around and the first ¾ of the way he was looking really good but then the bottom
dropped out and the bike went in up to the headlight! The current
was really strong and combined with the depth it pushed bike 38 completely off line and in an instant Paul went
from crossing the river to riding along IN THE DEEPEST PART OF THE RIVER!
It all happened very quickly so I tried to get my bike on its stand to run in and help expecting
that he would go over, but he gassed it up and sent water spraying everywhere and somehow coaxed it towards
the bank, we were totally speechless as he reach the bank with water still draining from the bike, it was an
amazing effort to get out without falling off.
We crossed another couple of rivers on old barges or small ferries before arriving in Suntar that
night. It’s a remote part of the world so we weren’t sure
there would be anywhere to stay, but some friendly local guys came past and took us a little way down the
road to a nice looking building with a hotel banner pinned to the wall, they made some calls on their mobile
phones and indicated that someone was coming to meet us.
It turned out that the nice building was just being used for advertising space and our ‘hotel’ was
actually on the bottom floor of a rundown wooden building across the road. The driveway leading to it was filled with deep mud and water so it
was a challenge just getting to the front door. The
entryway was dirty and dusty so we didn’t hold high hopes for the rest, but when the door was opened it was
clean and warm so we were happy.
The building had long narrow
tunnels made of old wooden planks all around it, about 1m wide and 1m tall. We asked about them and were told they are to protect the central heating
pipes from the cold weather, in winter there it gets to around -50!
Central heating in Australia means you have one heater in your house that heats the whole building,
but in Russia they have a central heating plant for the entire town or small city. The plant heats water that is pumped to every single house in 30cm
water pipes that sit about a metre off the ground. The
water is run thorough radiators on the walls of each room to keep things warm. Usually the pipes are insulated with a cloth covering that’s falling
apart, but in this town they built wooden covers for the pipes and then filled the gap with cow shit to
The next morning we set off (after jump starting Barton’s bike again), and soon arrived at another
large river with a barge, the fee for crossing was 200 rubles per bike ($6) but the barge was stuck on the
bank to it took about an hour of pushing the barge from side to side with the small boat attached to it
before we got across.
It’s autumn here so all the trees are changing colour from green to yellow, and as we’re heading
east we have the sun at our backs in the afternoon, with all the yellow trees lit up by the setting sun, it’s
The day we left Suntar we
managed about 300km including 3 river crossings on small barges, the last one was just on dusk so by the time we
got to the other side it was dark. The track leading to the
town (Verkhnevilyuysk) from the landing site on the river was really deep mud and severely cut op by all the
cars and trucks coming up and down it. Paul’s rear tyre was
really bald by then so he was slip sliding all over the place, to top it off the thermo fans were not working so
he couldn’t even ride it slowly in first gear without boiling the motor.
He almost got to the top with a fall but it was just so greasy that at the last bit of muck he went
off the road and almost put the bike into a pond! We
dragged it out and continued very slowly towards the town, stopping briefly at a petrol station to let Paul’s
bike cool down and ask for directions.
The guys in the car we approached offered to lead us there, in the dark on those awful roads this
was heaven sent as we would have never found the place without them. The Gustinitza was about a kilometer out of the centre down an unlit
muddy track, it was so out of the way that we really were wondering where the hell those guys were leading
us, but at the end we pulled up at a rickety looking house and went inside to find a beautiful wooden cottage
run by a couple of lovely Yakuti ladies. There was nowhere
to buy any food so we broke out the last lot of pasta and premade sauce, and cooked dinner
The next day we got about 10km slowly on bad road and Paul’s bike was overheating again, so we
decided to stop and pull it apart to try to fix the problem. We had the tank off pretty quickly and while Paul diagnosed the
problem Barton and I cleared the mud that had filled the radiator which was making things even
worse. Fortunately it was only the thermo switch on the
radiator and we have 2 spare ones so it an easy fix.
The roads were a bit of a mess because of all the rain they have had here recently so it was slow
going, and by 4pm we had only gotten about 150km for the day. The locals we asked about accommodation further ahead all said there
was none, and with the really low temperatures here at night we were a little worried at the prospect of
We stopped a little later at roadside diner and I went inside to ask about accommodation again, the
girls at the counter said there was nothing at all in the area but that we could sleep on the floor if we
“they said there’s no accommodation for miles but we can sleep on the floor, what do you
“go for it”
“hey look you have another fork seal gone”
“that’s ok, we have 2 spares”
The diner was quiet and warm so we decided to make camp there for the night, but first a quick trip
to the village nearby (Xamla) to buy some beers and supplies. The road to the village was the worse we have seen since we were in
the Congo in Africa, basically it was a bog, a very slippery bog!
Since my fall on the BAM rd I’ve been trying really hard not to fall off again for fear of rehurting
the ankle, and it had been a good 10 days given the terrain we were riding in, but that bog was just so
slippery that in first gear inching along, the rear slid
right, then back to the left and finally it went over on the right side. I landed heavily on the ankle, but not too awkwardly so I was laughing
when I got up, actually a little relieved that I’d been able to put so much weight on it without the pain I
We returned to the diner and
unloaded our camping gear and setup in the back corner of the dining room. Unfortunately it turned out to be a 24hr diner where truckies and mini
bus drivers stopped so we had a continual flow of people in and out of the room, loud music being played all
night and the continual smell of cooking oil, I didn’t get much sleep
L On the up side they cooked us
breakfast in the morning and made us coffee and didn’t want any money for letting us sleep there.
We woke up to find a leaking
tyre on Paul’s bike, but were on the road by 10am anyway so we thought we had a good chance of doing the 500km
to get to Yakutsk. We stopped after about 50km and Paul
noticed another large crack on his pannier bracket that was now only just hanging onto the
motorcycle. A Kamaz stopped to say hi and we asked if we could
have them carry the luggage if it did fall to bits. They were
happy to help so we continued safe in the knowledge that they would be behind us.
An hour later when we stopped briefly for a rest Paul’s front tyre went flat so I prepared some
lunch while Paul swapped the tube. The guys in the Kamaz
pulled up after 20mins and thought we were waiting for them, but we waved them on after using the air in
their brake tanks to refill the tyre.
An hour later Barton slowed down and by the way the bike was weaving from side to side I knew he had
gotten a flat too. While he took out the wheel we fixed the
tube that had come out of Paul’s bike and it went back into service in the 640.
We were joking that we were travelling so slowly that even a Kamaz was going to get to Yakutsk
before us and once again the guys in the Kamaz pulled up as we were finishing, but once again we waved and
sent them forward, and then caught and passed them 10 mins later.
Another hour passed and the pannier frame on Paul’s bike finally let go, so we unloaded the luggage
to put it on the Kamaz for the last few hundred km to Yakutsk. While waiting for the truck to arrive it seemed sensible to try to
brace the frame even though it wasn’t carrying luggage so after a quick think we inserted a piece of
aluminium tube into the break (from an emergency tent pole repair kit).
“hey that’s actually pretty solid”
“yeah it is… are you thinking to load up the luggage again?”
“how long do you think that truck will be?”
“they said Yakutsk by 8pm”
“load it up, if it breaks they’ll still be behind us”
“hey look at all that oil, that’s another seal gone”
“and the other side too, that’s not great, 4 leaking seals and only 2 new ones in the
Once again in a comedic scene, the guys in the Kamaz pulled up as we were preparing to leave and
rolled down their window to see if we needed help, and again we waved them on and passed them 10 minutes
All the stopping was really eating into the day though, so we were still 185km from Yakutsk when the
daylight started to fade. We stopped to top up with fuel
and were debating whether or not to continue when I noticed Paul’s rear tyre was going
“well that decides it then, we stay here tonight”
“here comes that Kamaz again”
“they really are going to beat us there”
There was a really nice Gustinitza in that town but again nowhere to eat, so we went shopping and
bought some chicken and veggies to do a hotpot with. The
place had a couple of wooden paneled showers outside that had a water tank resting on the roof. We were shown to a bucket in the kitchen and a heating element, and
instructed to fill the bucket, then heat the water with the element, carry it outside and up a ladder to the
roof of the shower and pour it into the tank.
So while Paul organized the hot water I cooked the chicken, and we ate dinner had hot showers for
the first time in a few days.
We had new tyres and tubes waiting for us in Yakutsk so Paul wasn’t keen to fix the puncture he had
gotten, instead he bought a can of tyre repair foam and filled it with that, and we set off with only another
185km to get there. As fate would have it, about 30km out
from Yakutsk the rear went flat again, so there was nothing for it but to pull it off and repair it
The tyre itself was destroyed, still the same one Barton took off his bike 2 weeks before (after
half the knobs had torn off it), it was completely bald and had been making life hard for Paul whenever
things got really muddy, so we tossed it and fitted the intermediate pizza cutter that he had been carrying
just in case this one failed.
We eventually arrived in Yakutsk in the afternoon and parked the 3 bikes in the centre of town where
I waited while Paul and Barton went to look at some accommodation. Barton went into a travel agency to ask for some help and Paul got
online to search travel sites to see if anyone recommended something. Paul didn’t find a hotel but he did find an email from a local Yakutsk
guy with contact info saying he’s love to meet us if we came to his town!
It took a little while to get in touch with Bolot, but eventually we met him and Valerie (the VP of
a local motorcycle club) who called in some favours to get us into an apartment style place in the middle of
town for less than we were looking at paying for a dirty run down hotel 10km from the centre of
Those guys have been really
great since we got here, they arranged a workshop for us to use - big thanks to Boatman for letting us use his
tools and not yelling at us when we came by early and he was still asleep after a bender the previous
night. Valerie took me down to the airport to pick up the
tyres, and then He and Boatman took Barton around for an afternoon to look for spare parts to get the bikes
We have spent the last 2 days working on the broken luggage racks, changing tyres, new oil, beating
the panniers back into shape, replacing 2 fork seals (and repairing the other 2), replacing seals in the
slave cylinder, changing front sprockets etc.
I thought I had mine ready when Paul noticed some oil under it this morning, we had some other bits
to do during the day but when we went back in the afternoon my rear tyre was flat… another bloody puncture,
what foul luck! I fixed the puncture while Paul repaired the controller on his heated grips and Barton
changed his battery (to no avail). The oil from mine
is coming from the clutch actuator seal, and it’s coming out quite fast. We’ll try to get the seal dimensions somehow and then see if we can
find one before setting off tomorrow.
So now it’s 1am, I’m sitting in the office of this gustinitza writing this while Paul and Barton
have gone to sleep and I’m pretty weary too so will end this here. My apologies for the lack of updates lately, I wrote an enormous post
(which will be the one before this) but didn’t remember to send it… idiot. Too tired to re read this one too so it might not be the greatest read
ever, but I don’t think we’ll have any internet between here and Magadan so really wanted to get this
finished tonight, but no pics unfortunately, sorry folks.
Mule over and out.
PS thanks to all for the
well wishes on my ankle, it’s getting steadily better and I can now almost walk normally again. Just in time for the Road of Bones
PPS Very big thanks to all the kind souls who are donating to the ACRF, at last check we were
somewhere near $7000! Fabulous.
We left Yakutsk in relatively high spirits, the bikes were in reasonable shape and the weather was
Valerie came to the hotel to say goodbye and then led us out of town to the ferry across the Lena
river. We squeezed the bikes in between some trucks, then
ate some food, slept a little, fended off a drunk Yakuti man and 2 hours later we rode off the other
We knew that about 400km down the road there was to be another barge, and the locals on the first
one told us that it only operated at 7am and at 7pm, so we were hoping to get there in time for the evening
The road was actually really good, possibly the best gravel we have seen yet, but it was dry and
really dusty. So dusty that we couldn’t see the trucks
creating the dust until we had almost run into them! Consequently we were riding with more distance between us than we
normally would, Barton was ahead, I was in the middle and Paul bringing up the rear.
Barton stopped to make sure we were all there, and as I pulled up to him, he pointed to the side of
my bike and I looked down to see an empty space where my right pannier should have been. Having lost one of his on the BAM road a few weeks earlier Barton knew
how important it was to find it, and without a word he took off at a rate to back track to the last place we
had stopped to make sure he would find it before a passing truck or car did.
Paul pulled up at the same time, and we rode on opposite sides of the road very slowly scanning the
verge to try to spot it. In my right pannier I carry the
The computer and charger
Both backup drives which hold all our pics and video from the trip
Both of my journals
The chargers and plugs for all our cameras, phones, intercoms etc
And other less important stuff.
Paul was behind me when it came off so I wasn’t expecting it to be on the road, and having trawled
the BAM road for 3 hours looking for Barton’s and still not found it I was really worried.
We rode for about 10km and
still hadn’t seen it when we saw Barton off in the distance, I was hopeful that he might have it already but no
“stupid stupid stupid” was all I could think as we continued down the road. Both my journals and all the pictures all in one pannier – what an
idiot. For my work data I use 2 backup drives, and one
stays at home while the other stays in the car so just in case something catches fire I’m
covered. But for some reason it hadn’t occurred to me to
split the backup drives for the trip stuff. Stoopid.
We repeated the previous
procedure with Barton back tracking quickly while Paul and I rode on the edges scanning the
verge. It’s hard to describe the sense of panic I was
feeling at having lost all our pictures and my diaries, I think both Paul and I were borderline manic at that
Paul was moving a little faster than me, and ten minutes later I saw him and Barton in the middle of
the road along with my pannier. The relief was palpable, I
rode up and parked too, hugged the guys and sat on the ground for a moment to regroup.
Beating dents out of the panniers has become a regular task, and each time we do it the pannier
seems to take some time to work its way back into shape on the rack, as this happens the attachment pucks
come loose and in this case they came off altogether. It
happened once before in Tajikistan with the same pannier but last time Paul saw it come off so the only
concern that time was whether the computer would still work - somehow it does.
That little excursion had
cost us an hour so the boat at 7pm was now looking tight. I
reattached the pannier, locked the pucks on it extra tight this time and we set off again.
Then another puncture, this time Paul’s front, the paper thin tubes we were supplied with in Yakutsk
combined with the weak sidewalls in the new front tyres conspired against us, so one of the old heavy duty
tubes with many repairs already on it was put back into use, but by then we conceded that we weren’t going to
make the 7pm ferry that day.
We pulled up in a village and asked about some accommodation, to which we were told that there was
no gustinitza, but we understood that there was somewhere else we could sleep. We followed a Yakuti man to a house nearby where a little old lady
came out to greet us. It was starting to get really cold
outside, but Inside it was warm and there were 3 beds – heaven! An expensive heaven though, 700 rubles each!
Next morning there was ice covering the bikes and a bucket of water by the door had actually frozen
over! Barton didn’t seem to think this was such a big deal
as he lives in the mountains in Montana, but for Paul and I this was pretty crazy.
We had to parallel all 3 batteries to get a bike to start, and then one by one we started the other
two. The ride to the ferry was pretty easy and we arrived there with a few hours to spare before the 7pm
run. Luckily for us though, the information we had been
given was incorrect and the ferry arrived half an hour later, loaded up mostly with Kamaz trucks (and 3
orange motorcycles) and left again by 4pm.
On the bank of the river Paul’s clutch started to slip quite badly, then the battery went flat and
then my battery went flat. Great. We push started the bikes
and got them onto the ferry but knew there was going to be some work to do that night.
It was a short trip to the other side, and we rode another 30km to the next town to find somewhere
to sleep. The GPS had a waypoint for accommodation which
led us to a big apartment block where we found a homestay run by a pair of Russian grandparents who were
babysitting a 4 year old little boy.
Paul started work on the clutch while I cooked some dinner, it was dark and freezing cold when I
went outside to see how he was doing, and it wasn’t great. In moments like that it’s nice to get some closure on a
“I’m very upset Dean” he
said in a relatively even tempered tone as he started to pack up tools with the problem unresolved. I made a
soup for dinner, we took hot showers and went to sleep.
The next morning Paul got up early and went back outside to start on it again. The clutch master cylinder wouldn’t bleed, while the previous day it
was building pressure to the point that the clutch was slipping. It turned out that the main pressure seal had worn or swollen to the
point that it was not allowing fluid into the mastercylinder any more. Solution? Remove the
circlip that stops the piston from popping out, and use the adjustment screw on the lever to control the home
position, making sure the piston sits a little further out than it normally would. Problem solved we suited up and took off again.
There are a few different ways to get from Yakutsk to Magadan, essentially there is the highway, a
well maintained gravel road, or the old road which is commonly called the Road of Bones. Either way you choose the first few hundred kilometers are on
the highway, but then there is a turnoff to Tomtor which by passes the highway to the south, running parallel
to it for about 400km. The two roads meet again, but then
there is another bypass to the south, again running parallel to the main road for a similar distance until
just before Magadan. Clear as mud?
We have been asking locals if the term “Road of Bones” is a direct translation from Russian and have
been getting mixed responses, in any case the most sense I have been able to make of it is that all the roads
in this area are referred to with a Russian word (I can’t remember) that means they were constructed using
prison labour, and as such they are all roads of bones.
We planned to take both the old roads, and to get to the turnoff to Tomtor and the collapsed wooden
bridge (made famous by Long Way Round) would take us all day of riding at good speed in the sunny but
freezing Siberian wilderness.
We passed a sign that said “Magadan 1540 km” and it dawned on me that we were really there, really
doing it, riding on the road of bones, and when we stopped at one point we were all a little speechless at
the thought of it.
It was great riding, fast and well maintained road, so even given the late start at 2pm we arrived
at the bridge just on dusk, freezing cold but elated to be there, we had a group hug and all climbed up on
the bridge and took some pictures.
There was nowhere to stay though, so we built a fire on the shore of the river, pitched our tents
and ate pasta for dinner. Barton has a temperature gauge on
his dash, and at regular intervals he updated us on the reading…
“hey guys it’s -4 degrees!” he said as we pulled up.
“getting colder, -10” as we were eating dinner
And then “shit it’s -20!” as we climbed into the tents…
We slept with about 4 layers of thermals on and were still freezing cold.
“how did you sleep Barton?”
“Not well, I had to keep doing sit-ups to try to stay warm”
I guess if you’ve done some mountaineering this wouldn’t seem too crazy, but for Paul and I that was
the coldest temperature we had ever experienced, let alone camped in, and to be sleeping outside in those
conditions was actually a little scary.
We wearily packed up camp in the morning and then took 2 hours to get the bikes started again, the
batteries don’t like the cold at all, and Paul’s had also frozen the coolant so he had to put the camp stove
under it for a while to make sure it was thawed before trying to crank it.
That done we rode to a petrol station a few km down the road to fill up, and were invited in for a
cup of tea and some good advice about the river crossing…
“do you want water this deep or this deep?” asked the Siberian man first motioning a depth of about
a metre and then about half.
“less deep” we said
“ok but it will be much further across”
We followed his directions to a track off the main road and arrived at a part of the river that was
about 200m wide. We parked the bikes and by some stroke of
fate we found a pair of long rubber boots sitting on the shore. They looked small, and as I have the smallest feet it was my job to
wade across to check the depth and hopefully find a path across.
There were about 6 different segments of the river at that point, the deepest one was about 50cm so
it wasn’t too concerning, but what was a worry was the temperature of the water, there were chunks of ice
floating down it, and all the edges were frozen over.
It took me about half an hour to get to the other side and back, and we decided to bring all 3 bikes
across together to try to minimize the exposure to the cold. Paul and Barton took off their riding boots and put on sneakers and I
walked with each of them to the first island of solid ice, steadying the bikes when they got a little off
balance, or lifting the rear when the tyres started to bog in.
Then Barton walked back with me to get my bike, and he steadied me while I rode it to where the
other two were parked. I was still wearing the rubber
boots, and even though my feet were wet anyway, I had it much better than Paul and Barton who were in a bit
of trouble from the cold after just that little part of the crossing,
Barton got to where we were parked and took off his shoes straight away to try and rub some feeling
back into his feet, while Paul then steadied me through the next crossing.
I had a brain fade part way across and instead of following the shallow route I had found earlier, I
went through where the water was quite deep and consequently we both ended up very wet and with a lot of pain
in our feet from the cold.
We hobbled over to some dry ground and took off our shoes and socks, there were 3 yakuti men fishing
from the island nearby and they obviously knew we were in some trouble because when they saw us they dropped
what they were doing and without saying a word, they rushed to get some kindling to stoke their fire, and one
came over to Paul who was shaking a little by then, and poured a bottle of warm tea over his feet to warm
them a little. Grateful for the help, we limped over to the
fire and sat there for 5 minutes to get some feeling back into our feet.
I recovered a little faster because of the rubber boots, so I donned them again and went back to get
Barton. This time we picked the right route and it wasn’t
so bad, but the water was just so cold that even after being in it for just a few minutes Barton needed to
strip off and sit by the fire for a while to get feeling back into his toes.
By that time Paul was feeling better so he put shoes back on and we went to get his bike, repeating
the route Barton used. The 950 is much heavier than the 640
though, so it needed a lot of pushing and I ended up pretty wet by the time we got to the Yakuti guys
Paul went straight to the
fire while Barton put his shoes back on and we started the next half of the river with his bike. It wasn’t as deep as the first part but it was quite long, so rather than
do it in several parts we decided to just get to the other side.
Barton was pumped to get to the bank, and while I went back to the middle to get Paul he started to
build a fire to warm up again. Paul got through without too
many problems, and while he warmed up with the new fire, Barton who was ok again came back to help me through
on my bike.
I’d been in the water for a long time by that stage, and even though I had the rubber boots on, my
feet were wet, freezing and really painful so I just wanted to get it over with. I rode feet up for the last part of the crossing but lost the front on
some ice and fell over near the end, nothing serious but my ankle was taking a bit of a
I got the bike parked and then realized I still had to return the rubber boots (which it turned out
belonged to the Yakuti guys who had helped us earlier), so grabbed my sandals and waded back to the middle of
the river where one of the Yakuti guys was already waiting to get his boots back!
I threw them over the last part, put on my sandals and waded back to where Paul and Barton
were. At that point I really understood how much the boots
had been helping, because my feet went from being painfully cold, to an unbearable aching feeling and I
couldn’t feel any of my toes anymore at all.
I sat on a log that Paul had dragged over and started trying to get the sandals and socks off, Paul
helped with one of them and I sat there for a moment wondering if I’d done any permanent
“how long do you need to be in that before you do some damage?” I asked Barton
“about that long” he replied with a grin.
A little while later we were all starting to warm up again, and pretty soon we had a roaring fire
going on the bank of the river, it had taken about 3 hours to get across and was getting late so we decided
to stay there for the night.
It was a new record, we had made 200m of forward progress for the whole day.
In all the excitement to start on the road of bones we had forgotten to do a proper shop and the
delay getting across the river meant we were almost out of food. A yakuti fisherman came past on his way back
to his camp and left us 3 small fish which we added to the half salami, 3 cheese slices, small can of salmon
and ¼ loaf of bread.
We cooked the fish on a flat river stone, sat and talked about the day we’d had and the road ahead,
and went to sleep still hungry. It must have been the big
fire because we all thought that it felt warmer than the previous night, but after an hour in the tent things
were pretty grim.
The fly had a layer of ice covering it, and the moisture from breathing was condensing inside the
tent and then freezing so even the inside of the tent was covered in ice. Paul and I wound up pulling the top drawstring of the sleeping bag
fully closed and cocooning inside it, but even that wasn’t enough to stay warm. I opened the top of my bag for some fresh air at one point to find the
opening coated in ice!
The night consisted of doing exercises to get some feeling back into feet and legs, and then trying
to sleep a little, and then doing that again in half hour intervals. We were all a little tired in the morning and the 2 hours it
took to get the bikes running didn’t help things at all.
We ate some wafers and biscuits for breakfast and then saddled up for the ride to
Tomtor. We must have looked a little miserable because just
as we were about to leave, the guys we met at the petrol station came past in a jeep and gave us a chocolate
bar, and then another Yakuti man gave us a bag full of fish!
What a treat, I filled the bag with ice from the river and strapped it to my top box hoping we’d get
the chance to cook them before they went bad.
The road to Tomtor was in good condition, graded gravel most of the way, some old wooden bridges to
cross, a few small water crossings and the odd patch of ice to wobble over but it was good going for the most
We arrived in the village to find they have a monument that says it’s the coldest place on earth,
-72.1 degrees. Holy cow, and we thought that -30 had felt
freezing the previous night!
We filled with fuel and then went straight to a magazine to buy some supplies,
2 packets of pasta
2 pasta sauces
1 loaf of bread
1 large salami
3 apples, 3 pears and 6 bananas
6 chocolate bars
A packet of wafers and biscuits
Coffee and sugar
2 lt of Juice
Satisfied that we would be ok for food for the next few nights camping, we then asked about some
accommodation in Tomtor
“gustinitza?” I asked (a hotel or guesthouse)
“nieta, nieta gustinitza” the Yakuti lady replied.
“comnata?” I asked hoping someone would let us sleep in their home…
That was bad news as we were pretty tired and the prospect of spending another night in -30deg
But then like magic I heard “gustinitza yes yes”
Tanya was doing her shopping
at the same time we were in the magazine, and had a second home that she rents to people
sometimes. We followed her and her husband to the house a
little way out of town, it’s warm and cosy in here, and I swear that I will never say a bad word about ugly
Russian central heating pipes ever again.
After spending two nights in the tent I didn’t want to leave this place yesterday, and unfortunately
a KTM that didn’t want to start (the cold combined with old plugs) and another one with a fried voltage
regulator has meant that I got my wish.
Paul got his running again with the old plugs, and has been playing with my reg today and might have
found a way to continue. By unplugging one of the phases from the alternator the regulator will now charge
just enough to run the bike without discharging the battery, so long as all the other loads are
removed. That means no lights and no grip warmers but at
least it runs which is a good outcome given that we are about 1000km from the nearest town.
So tomorrow we will once again try to get all 3 bikes to start in the cold, then head off on the old
road, which people tell us has not been maintained for 10 years! There’s even a city somewhere along it that once housed 20,000 people,
but was abandoned overnight years ago when the Russian government turned off the power and
We also found a pair of full
leg rubber boots in a magazine here in Tomtor so they are now strapped to a top box in anticipation of more
water crossings. My feet are still hurting 3 days later so it
will be good to avoid that situation again
Last night at 6pm we completed the now
abandoned old road of bones. We came through snow, ice, bogs, marshes, rivers and more water crosings than we can
We made 2.5km in one whole day!
The locals at Tomtor told us it was impossible at
this time of year and they were almost right.
Yesterday morning when it started to snow we thought
we were going to have to hike 100km for help, but the 3 orange motorcycles came through.
We hit the main dirt rd again with tears in our eyes
and were jumping up and down like idiots in celebration.
A russian man and his wife stopped to say hi and were
almost more excited than we were when they worked out that we had come via Tomtor!
Arrived at susuman last night with ice covering the
Our riding suits were frozen, numb hands and feet and
fumes in the tanks but we had smiles all around.
Still 400km to Magadan but we are on maintained
tracks now, a rest day today then we hit it again tomorrow.
Today at 2pm we arrived at Magadan.
It's a really strange feeling and I dont think
it has sunk in just yet, but we are here!
Yesterday we left Susuman and rode 450km through 5
mountain passes, the last 60km was on solid ice at -10 degrease!
We stayed in Atka last night where thankfully the
road workers compound let us sleep in a warm room.
Today we descended into Magadan and are now at the
Hotel in the middle of town wondering what to do next.
First a beer and then we will organise shipping to
Surreal to finally get here.
Hi to all back home, thankyou for your support over
the past 7 months.
WE MADE IT!!!
(have started on a post about the road of bones
already, stay tuned it was a belter!)
Click HERE for
the LOG on THE ROAD OF BONES