The Road of
Part 1 written by the Mule, part 2 written by The
“guys guys get up, GET UP NOW,. WE HAVE TO GET MOVING, IT’S SNOWING,
IT’S FUCKING SNOWING WE NEED TO GET OUT OF HERE NOW!!!”
It was day 3 on the old road of bones, the previous day we had
achieved 2.5km of forward progress and now it was snowing.
This was serious. Owing to ongoing delays
we were still in the mountains of Siberia in the beginning of October – far too late. 10cm of snow in this
terrain would mean abandoning the bikes and hiking out of there. It was the
Mountain-man’s nightmare becoming reality and his demeanor that morning put the fear of god into Paul and
Day 1 - The Old
Road of Bones, Snow and Mixed Success.
We left Tomtor (the coldest inhabited place on earth) 2 days prior,
with 3 slightly broken motorcycles, joking that between all three we might be able to make one good
one. It wasn’t really that funny.
On the up side, the ride out of Tomtor was a real bit of
fun. It had some great old wooden bridges…
a few broken down bridges,
hence some small water crossings,
some mud, and… some snow.
Yes SNOW, SNOW ON THE ROAD - ON A MOTORCYCLE!
Paul and I tried to take it all in our stride, Barton-the-mountain-man
seemed to be ok with it, so we just followed blindly in the expectation that it would all be
So we climbed to dizzying heights in the Siberian wilderness riding on
the snow, we crossed some washed out drains in the road, we fell off a few times, we got bogged running off
the road and we looked around and tried to appreciate the beauty without being freaked out by it all, and in
that much at least I think we were successful.
Then Paul took a
slight detour while negotiating a washed out old drain and ended up bogged just off the roads
We pushed and pulled to no avail, and scratched our heads wondering
why it wouldn’t budge. Undeterred we decided the best thing to do would be to throw it on its side and drag it out
one end at a time.
It was incredibly difficult to move it and then things got a little
tense when it finally gave way - we heard a load metallic crack and then noticed the side stand pointing in
the wrong direction! On the 950 the side stand bolts onto the crankcase, and as we all know, having the
crankcase in one piece is very important!
With brown liquid
dripping from the bash plate we got it back onto the road and all started looking at it presuming the
“this could be a show stopper” said a worried
“oh thank god, it’s broken the bolt, it’s just water draining!” said
Phew, Paul zip tied the bent stand to the pannier rack and we moved on
again across the mountain pass. Eventually we dropped
some altitude so the snow thinned a little but then we arrived at one of what was to be a series of bogs in
The car and truck tracks leading up to the bog, reversing around and
going back gave told us that this was where the travelled road ended and the real road of bones
We poked and prodded our way in to the enormous hole of ice that the
‘road’ descended into, then Paul put on the waders and went in for a look but eventually decided that the 3
orange motorcycles, no matter how enormous, would not be able to plough their way through that
Given this we
started to look for a way around, and a very long way around it was. We walked back about
100m and then went to the right – all bog, then we went to the left, mostly bog.
“well at least it’s not ALL bog!!” said the
In desperation we turned back and returned to the rim of the valley
and tried to find a path through the trees that surrounded the swamp the road descended into, but the terrain
was just too bumpy and the trees too close together to consider it a reasonable
So back to the bog.
We walked around it and found a path that was less waterlogged than
the rest, set some sticks as markers for where to turn and where to stop, and then decided to go for
First through was
the Pig, he bumped and thrashed his way about 100m across the marsh and incredibly arrived at the other side
of it without falling. We were speechless.
“how the fuck did he do that?”
“I have no idea, I’ll have a crack too tho”
It went like this…
Line up for the exit from the track
steel your resolve, open the throttle and release the
Roll onto the tundra and HOLD ON!”
BUMP, BANG, SMASH! SOFT LANDING, HARSH HIT, INVOLUNTARY CHANGE OF
Repeat x 20
See deep unexpected rut
Gas it up to try to get through
Crash to a stop in the bottom of the rut and smash your chest into the
Spend the next 15mins getting bike 36 (Betsy) out of the
It was a bit of pot luck in not hitting any really soft spots through
the marsh, I almost went over the handlebars traversing no more than 4m from where Barton had rolled through,
from a few metres away it all looked the same…
Paul went last of all, and owing to an ongoing problem with the clutch
it was all or nothing, the 950 roared into the marsh, it bounced, it bucked and it threw Paul off like a
Undeterred he remounted and negotiated the rest without any problems,
until about 3m from reentering the track where he hit a really soft patch and buried the front wheel
Another 15 mins passed as we pulled and pushed the 950 out of the hole
it had buried itself in, then we walked back to the other side of the bog to collect our luggage which we had
removed to make the crossing a little easier.
That was at about 3pm and the daylight was only just starting to fade
a little, so we chatted about where to camp for the night and decided to push on for another couple of
The snow persevered for a little longer on the road but the last 30km
wound down from the height we were at and the gravel resumed. We could tell that this road was totally unused
as there was grass growing through the gravel in the wheel tracks and small trees starting to poke onto the
road here and there too.
There were a few more frozen bogs, or more accurately, low spots in
the road where water had drained into and they had a frozen skin over the top of them. Some were only a few
metres long/wide, but others maybe 30m long, and as the day progressed we got a little better at picking a
way through the forest in the soft mossy undergrowth to avoid them, leaving markers and even standing in the
scrub to direct whoever’s turn it was to run the gauntlet.
We had been quite concerned about getting the bikes running the next
morning so as it started to get dark we were looking for a bit of straight roadway in a last resort case that
one would need tow-starting. This presented itself just after a set of 3 frozen puddles, one of which had ice
about 2in thick covering it.
Riding on the soft mossy undergrowth that was everywhere off the old
track was really difficult and time consuming, and as the crossing didn’t look too deep Paul decided to have
a go at it.
I walked through first breaking up the surface and throwing big chunks
of ice out of the way, concerned that he would slip on one and go over…
Which was exactly what happened, in the deepest part of the
crossing. He went off balance and as he fell, put down an arm on the ice to try to prop the
bike back up straight. The ice held for a second before cracking and dropping both Paul and the bike into
the freezing cold water.
Barton and I ran over to help, worried about getting water into the
motor, and as we arrived I could see Paul struggling to hold the entire contents of his tank bag which had
spilled open and into the water.
Phone, Passport, GPS, Wallet etc.
In the panic to get the bike out of the water I couldn’t decide
whether to help with the tank bag problem, or try to get the bike out of the water. In the end we were
unsuccessful on both counts. We went in a little over our knees in the freezing water, and the boots we had been
trying so hard to keep dry filled to the brim with water.
2 telephones and a video camera went into the water along with the
last inverter we had, and the charger for the now lost video camera. Unfortunately we only
realized some was missing part way through the next day and it was too late, too cold and too far away to
consider going back for it.
The bike now back on its feet, Paul hit the starter and water started
squirting out of the mufflers.
The bike that hadn’t wanted to start for about a week now, was also
full of water, this was really bad news. So we pushed it out of the water, and through the next one, parked
it and both Barton and I decided to ride around the bog instead of risking another drowned
Ironically the crossing through the scrub was easy enough, so we soon
had all 3 bikes parked and went about the task of building a fire to try to get warm again in the fading
daylight and increasingly cold night.
The old road of bones is no longer used (and also the only bit of flat
ground around) so we decided to camp on the road. Barton fetched
most of the wood while I started the fire in an old pothole, Paul took some bungs out of the exhaust to drain
overnight and then we all sat by the now roaring fire to get warm again. With the feeling
restored in our hands and feet, empty stomachs and a rapidly diminishing wood pile there were 3 things left
to do for the night, cook dinner, dry some clothes and fetch more wood.
So Paul and Barton went in search
of timber while I started cooking dinner and drying clothes by the fire. I must say that being alone by the
fire with cooking smells being swept about by the light wind that was blowing had me wondering about whether
Bears like chicken risotto or not, fortunately for me, either they don’t like white meat or there were none
around. :-)Either way, when the guys got back
with mountains of dead wood, we ate a nice dinner and reflected on the day we’d
It took all night but we eventually got the boots dry, the suits dry
and even our socks dry, albeit with some being a little too dry, and consequently the pair of riding socks I
have been predominantly using since leaving Australia is now no longer a pair.
Paul’s headlamp was missing (presumed dead in the icy pond) and the
batteries in Barton’s were flat so we were reduced to putting up tents (in the middle of the road) one at a
time, while using a mobile phone’s light to cook with, and a lighter with led light to see when clothes were
In the boy scouts tradition we also had 3 small bottles of vodka with
us, and so to help warm our bellies we toasted our success for the day, (several times), and went to bed
Having survived the -30 deg night by the river a week prior nothing
will ever feel cold again, so we slept reasonably well, and only needed to exercise a few times through the
night to stay warm. The next morning we woke to another beautiful albeit freezing morning, but the sun
was still shining so we were happy.
We restarted the fire from the embers, ate some yogurt for breakfast,
drank hot coffee and packed up our gear. While that was happening, Paul went to work on bike 38 to try to
convince it that starting would be a nice idea, but it was having nothing of it.
Barton got the 640 (now named “Trusty”) to fire using both his and my
battery, and we repeated the procedure to get Betsy to run. Then we hooked all
three together and tried to get bike 38 (“Patsy”) to fire.
We tried without
spark plugs to clear the cylinders but the batteries were so drained it wouldn’t crank fast enough to do the
job, and the regulators in both my bike and Barton’s were on their last legs so were barely able to keep
charge in our own batteries, let alone keep Patsy (bike 38) cranking over to clear the
So we tried with both sparkplugs in, with one spark plug in the front
cylinder and then one in the rear cylinder, but it didn’t want to play.
We chained the 2 950’s together on their centre stands so that the
rear wheel of Betsy would drive the rear wheel of Patsy, and ran Betsy up to speed in
5th gear to get
Patsy to turn over but still nothing.
In desperation we decided to try to tow Patsy to clear the
cylinders. I was quite worried about having the bikes tethered together, if someone fell or
something went wrong it could be really dangerous, but in the end it was surprisingly easy to
do. Easy to do but without a result - after 4 or 5 runs up and down the 200m stretch of
straight roadway there was still no life at all in the 950. We were really starting
to get worried that something electronic may have fried so we went back to basics.
Compression – seems ok.
Timing – shouldn’t have changed.
Fuel – yes.
Spark – let’s see…
With the front plug out and earthed on the engine, Paul hit the
starter and by some act of god the crazy motorcycle which had refused to even pretend to fire all morning,
not only fired, it not only gave Paul a zap but the frikkin thing started and ran quite happily on one
(It was about at this point that Paul went from rejecting the nickname
Patsy for bike 38, to begrudgingly embracing it)
We were somewhere in between a state of disbelief, raucous laughter
(at the zap Paul got), and relief that it was now running.
“Quick get that other plug back in it and let’s get the fuck out of
“how the hell did that happen?! That thing hasn’t
started on its own for a week!”
“This road is haunted”
We mounted up,
kicked the fire out and moved off for the day, but it was now 2pm.
We had made some really good progress the previous day and were half
expecting to see the end of the old road by that evening, but the now abandoned old road of bones had
I came up with the theory that the lost souls haunting the area
weren’t happy about our rather carefree attempt on the old road, and had decided to mess with things just
enough to scare us a little. As a response to this we decided to toast the lost spirits in the silent way we had
been shown by the Siberian truck drivers while on the ferry on the Lena river.
Each in turn, we first poured some vodka into the earth, and then
drank a little, passing the bottle to the next. We thought of those who
died in the construction of the road some 75 years ago and we remained silent for a few
Then we got the hell out of there.
Day 2 – The Old
Road of Bones. Bog Slog Repeat.
Getting the hell out of there was not quite so simple though, we only
travelled about 300m before we had to stop and negotiate another frozen water
This was to be the story of day 2. Ride about 100m, stop,
get off, poke into the water that had collected in a low spot on the road and decide it was too deep or muddy
to risk drowning a bike. Then poke into the bog off the side, and eventually decide on a path through the
The bog off the
side of the road was very soft underfoot, it felt like walking on a sponge, and every now and then without
much warning your foot would sink in 30cm, they were the parts we tried to avoid! Other parts were
completely underwater but even that was difficult to see as the low vegetation and moss masked the
water. So we’d walk back and forwards until we settled on a route, sometimes they were only
30m long, but others were over 100m.
It was a collaborative effort where we would all try walking different
directions on both sides of the road, usually we agreed on the best route but not always, and we took it in
turns to go through first.
Once we were on the
bike and moving in the bog it was all very disorienting, the bike would buck and twist over the bumpy terrain
and force changes of direction that we didn’t intend so it was hard to remember, let alone follow the route
To help this we’d
scrape a line into the old road at the point where we should leave it, pointing into the bog in the direction
we wanted to travel. Then one of us would stand at the point where we needed to turn to run parallel with
the track again, and one would stand where we needed to turn again to regain the track.
As the person riding entered the
bog, we’d wave our arms in the air to be seen, and then frantically motion the desired direction of travel,
while trying to get some pictures or video, and helping to pick up a bike when one of us fell, (and trying
not to laugh at the same time ). Often there were many turns
needed so we’d try to lay sticks across the bog, or logs pointing in the desired direction of
Reading this it all sounds quite elaborate just to get a motorcycle to
move 50m, but the problem was that when we got off line we’d plough into a really soft bit of the bog where
the bikes would sink in as deep as the mudguards and then it would take a very long time and lots of lifting
and swearing to get the bike back out of it. The trees were also
quite thick and most of the time we could only find one way across so it was important to stay on
The other reason to follow the planned route was that when we didn’t,
we usually fell off.
I remember one of
the last ones quite well. Paul was standing about 40m off the road in between a couple of trees, and there was
a line scraped into the right side of the track to tell me where to head into the bog. Barton was another 50m
away further down the track in a tricky left right where there was a deep dip to
Having agreed on
the direction of travel I walk back from the bog, pull on helmet and gloves, check everything is closed on
the luggage and start the bike.
Select first gear and ride up to the scratch in the track and line the
bike up with the scratch. Take some deep breaths, focus, trying to remember all the turns needed to get
The bog drops away immediately from the road quite steeply into a
divot about a metre deep and only 3m wide, and there is a wet muddy section at the bottom to make things
interesting. So I exit the road a little slower than usual and sit as far back as possible to keep
the front tyre light and let it roll back up out of the divot instead of sinking in and sending me over the
There are some branches and logs sitting in the bottom of the divot
too, but luckily the front wheel doesn’t tramline in them and Betsy pops out the other side quite neatly, if
a little faster than I wanted.
I spot another mark we have left on the moss about 20m away and also
see Paul in the distance who has his camera out filming. The bike has come out
of the divot too fast so hitting the marker is not going to happen, but I’m still relatively under control so
things are peachey at this point.
I’m riding feet up and shifting my weight left and right to keep the
bike somewhere close to where Paul is pointing, and as I get closer the bog in that part looks a little more
familiar. I ride up onto some relatively solid moss, slow down a little and make a slight left
turn, Paul is yelling “LEFT LEFT!” and I see the log we have laid further down to mark another left
I make the turn and then remember the next bit is quite
tricky. We couldn’t find a solid path through the bog so the next 20m are muddy with some
frozen spots where the water has collected. These soft spots need
some momentum to get through, so I open the throttle and the bike darts forward and into the
water. As it hits, the mud drags at the tyres and consequently it slows, in reaction I open
the throttle a little more and thankfully the bike reacts, stays straight and ploughs its way through and out
of the soft section.
Now I see Barton standing at the other side, but there’s a stump
protruding from the bog in between him and I. He’s motioning to the
left, so I set up to turn and roll through the next bit of water, getting totally out of shape as I approach
the spot he’s standing.
At this point I’m
not looking for directions anymore, I’m just trying not to fall, so when Barton starts saying “RIGHT RIGHT!!”
I don’t react. The old track is a little ahead of me, and there is a clear space in the bog leading
to it, which I mistake for the path I should be travelling.
The exit from the
bog is usually the opposite of the entry, a muddy divot to ride through, but this time it’s uphill so I
accelerate bracing myself a little. As I approach the old
road comes into focus, but it looks shiny…
“why would it be shiny??” I’m wondering and then
realize it’s still covered in ice at that point.
SHIT! I missed that last
turn! If the bog was difficult before, now it’s almost impossible, I hit a stump with a
pannier and break it clean off, then I dodge a few trees and get the bike turned away from the ice again, but
there’s no time to relax, and I can’t stop, the bottom is so soft that stopping will mean getting
In these situations
the best defence is sometimes an offence, so now I accelerate a little more trying to stand light on the pegs
and absorb as many of the impacts as I can to let the suspension roll over and through the impossible
Another 30m through the bog and I see the ice has cleared to my left
so I make a bee line for the old track, popping out still a long way behind where I should
have. I stop and take a few breaths. The ride across has
probably only taken about 30seconds, the whole way was in first gear, sometimes with the clutch in to slow
even more, but I’m panting and sweating from the exertion even though it’s freezing
“Wow you really messed that up hey!”
“Yeah I missed the left right where you were
“You almost went into the water”
“That was awesome!”
It was fun and really challenging riding through the bog all day, and
surprisingly it was possible without falling too often, but the going was really slow. So slow that by the
evening when it started to get a little too dark to continue, I checked my trip meter and couldn’t believe my
The previous day we had clocked 175km. The meter now read
177.5km. I couldn’t believe it, even given the late start I was expecting to see at least 30
or 50km travelled, but 2.5km! At this rate we’d be
here all month.
A constant theme in our conversations leading to this point had been
the weather. We were running really late, and right on the cusp of getting snowed in, so it was a
serious concern. To make things worse the locals in Tomtor told us there was knee deep snow in Magadan
and then laughed when we told them we intended to ride the old road. We were really
We’d been blessed with clear skies up to this point but it was
bitterly cold, and the mountain pass we traversed that was snow covered really brought home the eminent
danger. Then there was fuel. We can travel about
300km on a tank of fuel in really bad going, but we’d never been reduced to 2.5km in one day before so
weren’t sure what impact this would have. It was 270km from
Tomtor to the more common route to Magadan used by all but the most stupid adventurers, then another 100km to
the next fuel station. So we knew we were going to run out, but we expected to get to the main road and wave
down a car for help when we did. We were now not even
sure we’d even get to the main road.
We made camp on the road again, and repeated the previous nights
ritual of building a roaring fire, cooking dinner and drying wet boots and clothes. I found Paul’s headlamp
in my tank bag, and Barton found some batteries for his so we had all the tents up without any problems, and
sat by the fire talking some more about this amazing experience we were having.
“we really need to get moving faster in the
“yeah I know, ok so tomorrow let’s not leave anything to chance, we
connect all 3 batteries in parallel, start Trusty then Betsy, and then we tow start Patsy. If we don’t screw
around it shouldn’t take more than 15mins”
“yeah good call”
“now pass the vodka”
Barton cooked dinner that night,
which was quite brave given that he was cooking pasta for Italians, but he took the constant instructions
Then knocked the
pot and tipped most of the water out but somehow kept the pasta in the pot.
“Nice one, how did you do that?”
“have we got any more water?”
“yeah I have some in my pack”
“can we filter some more from that last
“I tried but the filter froze solid after a minute of using
He got the water boiling again but promptly knocked it over completely
- the pasta landed on the ground. He looked up at Paul
and I who were trying not to laugh, and then silently started eating the partly cooked pasta off the
I was really hungry too so fished
out a few strands while we got another lot on the boil… Partly cooked gritty pasta has never tasted so
As we sat there looking into the fire that night, Barton still
flustered from the cooking incident was pacing back and forwards looking at the sky muttering things about it
being a little warmer (still freezing!) and there being more cloud cover and therefore a possibility of snow,
but we were too tired to care at that point.
“it’s warmer – Great! I might get some frikkin
And sleep we did, for the first time in the tents in Siberia it was
only a few degrees below zero and I was snug and warm in the tent. Lovely. Then it
“guys guys get up, GET UP NOW,. WE HAVE TO GET MOVING, IT’S SNOWING,
IT’S FUCKING SNOWING WE NEED TO GET OUT OF HERE NOW!!!”
“it is not snowing Barton, the ground is
“It’s fucking snowing, get up now we need to get out of
By the tone in his voice I could tell Barton was scared, and when
you’re in the mountains and the mountain man is afraid, you should be afraid too.
I got back into my riding suit, put the sleeping bag back into the
compression sack, rolled the mattress and put the various bibs and bobs back into their sacks and threw them
out of the tent before getting out myself.
“yep it’s snowing alright”
“yeah this is serious, we need to move now, we need to get out of here
In record time we had everything packed and all the bike batteries
connected together to give Trusty the best chance of starting.
Trusty got her nickname because after a period of poor reliability,
(and a new battery) she has been the only bike to fire every morning.
But once again the ghosts on the old road of bones were having some
fun with us, and she wouldn’t go. She cranked until we
could hear all the batteries starting to die and still wouldn’t go.
It was still
snowing and there was now a thin layer of it on the gravel road making it hard to see the surface, we were
all thinking the same thing.
“Yesterday we only managed 2.5km, what the hell are we going to do
today if we can’t even see the surface!?”
We were manic and running out of ideas. In desperation we
stoked the fire and rolled the 640 close to it to warm the motor. It sounds ridiculous
now but we also took out the freezing cold batteries and sat them next to the fire to warm them a little
While that was happening Barton took out the spark plug and swapped it
(for another old one), and then we put the batteries back onto Trusty using the shortest fattest leads we
could make up.
It turned a few times but there still wasn’t enough battery power to
get it running.
The 640 has a kick starter but having watched some guys in Mirnyy kick
it until they were blue in the face we didn’t hold high hopes.
“have you ever been able to kick start it
“what about push starting”
Paul and I sat by the fire for 20 mins while Barton kicked and kicked
but there was no sign at all the Trusty was going to start. We even removed a
footpeg to make it easier but there was no life in the 640.
“do you want to take a rest?”
“yeah ok, you have a try”
So Paul swapped with Barton and took over the seemingly hopeless task
of kickstarting the un-kickstartable bike.
I was sitting on the ground feeling a little
dejected. What a sad state of affairs, we were in the middle of a totally abandoned road, 100km
from the nearest people, it was snowing and not one of the bikes would go. I started thinking
about how many days it would take to hike out, and whether we could convince a big Kamaz to come get the
put put put put put…
“don’t touch the throttle!”
“shit it started, it fucking started!!”
“you can’t touch the throttle when she’s cold, just let it idle for a
It had started and then stopped, we were all on our feet jumping up
and down as Paul kicked it again
put put put put put
Barton looked proud as punch, the 640 had fired and was now running,
charging the 3 batteries that were connected to it.
“WE’RE BACK IN THE RACE!!”
We let it warm up and then put the batteries back in their respective
bikes. Betsy took some time to fire but eventually we had 2 running, it was only Patsy
now. Paul tried on the starter briefly but it wasn’t going to play so we went straight to
This was a little harder than the previous time as we were now riding
on a thin sheet of snow so it was quite slippery, and the road wasn’t really long enough to tow it for any
reasonable length of time. So we went up and back, and then up again, and back again, and up again and back
On the 4th run it fired and on the
6th it ran and
didn’t stop. We unhooked the bikes and rode them back to load up the rest of the
gear. As we were doing so we realised that Barton had been gone a while and then saw him
pushing the bike back to the camp.
“shit, what now?”
“my starter has fried”
But Trusty eventually kick started again, so with snow blowing into
our helmets and the feeling that we were now trying to escape the place, we finally set off for day 3 of the
road of bones.
Day 3 : The Old
Road of Bones :
My first lucid
memory of day three, of the ‘old road’ was,
I’m not hung over” as I opened one eye, hoping the faint noise of a frantic Mountain Man, heavily masked by
well inserted earplugs the night prior, was merely a dream. Unfortunately not. This was cemented when Mule
your fucking earplugs out, we gotta go!”
This time I
understood, as my brother’s usually calm voice had a certain manic undertone.
At this point,
still half asleep but becoming increasingly aware of the pending urgency, I started to gather my things.
Hearing words like “snowing, go and NOW!” interspersed with various expletives, usually reserved for the
evenings campfire and a bottle of Botka, confirmed that all was not well with the spirits of the road; they
had one last hoorah in store for the boys and their bikes.
As I started
packing down my tent, I remember thinking,
“It’s just a
couple of snow flakes, doesn’t look that serious to me, the ground is only just white”
have to go some time; now is as good a time as any.
you sure it’s gonna snow mate, doesn’t look that bad to me…” I dared query.
Bar-ton took a
deep breath; the kind of breath I take when someone asks me if I’m sure about something, and in his usual
calm, almost mono-tone voice (he speaks like this when he’s worried) he
“No, I’m not
sure, you can never be sure, that’s the problem. But if it does, even a few inches, we’re walkin’ out of
here. You see that big hole in the road, covered with an inch of ice?” as he points back to the obstacles in
the track that we’d negotiated the night prior.
inches of snow, it would look the same as the rest of the road and we’d ride right into it; if it snows, we
gotta park the bikes and walk, let’s go.
The reality of
the situation hit home with these calmly spoken words. Mountain Man gets really fired up when he does
something great on his bike or pulls off a near impossible scrub crossing; he sometimes even “WoooHooo’s.
When he speaks calmly and with only a few carefully chosen words, you know it’s time to
touched on the fiasco that was getting all three bikes running, so I won’t revisit; other than to say that 3
stricken Orange motorcycles, should not reflect poorly on the brand. This trip had seen the bikes
collectively amass over 150,000 HARD kilometers. And, it was colder than cold.
That was our
So, with three
bikes running, and snow gently falling from the sky, we tentatively engaged first gear and headed back to the
bog. I can only speak for myself, however I suspect we we’re all in a similar mental condition. It is a
feeling difficult to recreate with words; suffice to say a plethora of conflicting emotions were at play. I
remember thinking, in my nervous ‘I could vomit any second’ mental dialogue,
“This could be
pit gate at Phillip Island, I feel sick, I want my Mum”
Enough of that,
toughen up, let’s get the fuck out of here. There was a short straight run out of our campsite, then
unsurprisingly a big wash out followed by more big holes on the road, covered with ice and thin layer of
snow. Yes, it was still snowing, albeit lightly, just enough to keep us on our toes and maintain that
nervous, sickly feeling in the helmet.
We’d spent all
of day one aiming for a big river crossing before making camp. The logic there was that if we got wet fording
the river, at least we could dry up by the fire that night and start fresh the next morning. That was the
plan until I drowned my bike and nearly my person late in the day, so we made camp then and there, aware of
the relationship that wet bodies and hypothermia have in sub zero conditions.
We then spent
most of day two trying to get Patsy running, still conscious that the big river was neigh, and then managed a
sum total of 2.5 kilometers for the afternoon, most of which was spent off track and out of control. Still no
procession we rode, always close enough to help each other if needed, despite my diminished capacity since
having lost my side stand. (Without the side stand it’s almost impossible to get on or off the bike alone, as
the 950 SE is so tall.) Every time we’d stop to evaluate a crossing or ice puddle, I would have to wait for
help to get the bike on the centre stand then again, to get it off the centre stand to get moving. Pain in
As we made our
way along the abandoned road, dodging ice and bogs and washouts and broken bridges, we came upon the river
crossing we’d been trying to reach for three days. The usual procedure is to stop the bikes and take a walk
around to see where best to enter the water. The Pig no long starts, so it burbles away in the back ground as
the three of us comb the river, scratching our heads, trying to work it out.
It’s usually at
the widest point that the river is at its shallowest, however sometimes this attack is not practical, as the
exit on the other side is either iced up or so badly eroded that a Kamaz might even struggle with it. So Dean
dons the waders and starts waking around in the river to try to establish the best route for a successful
crossing. At this stage, ‘successful’ meant only NOT getting a motor full of water… After some time we all
agree on an entry and exit point, and as Dean already has the waders on (plastic boots that go up to your
crutch) he’s the first to try.
I guess I need
to qualify this slightly, before the boys back home start thinking we’re wearing a pink ‘g-banger’ each.
Usually water is no big deal, and indeed one of the recurring motto’s of this trip is ‘Balls First’. When the
weather wasn’t so cold, we’d usually take a quick look, without dismounting, then hit it, balls first.
Sometimes it paid off, sometimes it didn’t; but it was always fun. However, when in Siberia at the dumbest
time of year with three ailing motorcycles, erring on the side of caution make you no less a man. It proves
only, that deep down, self preservation is king for the day. To rescue ourselves from potential doom (I love
saying that) we need three motorcycles with nothing but oil in their sumps. Hence, we proceed with some
So Dean’s in,
feet down for a bit, then he hits it and launches out the other side, pausing briefly to position himself for
the second section and steep exit. Deep breath, click, and he’s in again, a little deeper this time and as he
approaches the exit the 950 makes beautiful music as it surges up the other side and onto the relative safety
of the old road.
“Good job Bro,
Woohooo! I’m yelling.
I’m in next and
I can see Dean take strategic position between the two rivers, where I may fall. Again, deep breath, click;
off we go.
In a second I’m
in and up on the pegs all is going well; until that is, a large rock under the water’s surface spears me to
nearly 90 degrees off my planned trajectory. I’m now riding up the river, and it’s deep. One thing I’ve
learned about these big bikes is that hesitation will cause failure, EVERY TIME. So instinctively, I open the
throttle, shift my weight to the right and pull hard on the bars. The SE responds (I’m sure I can hear it
cheering “’atta boy, give it everything” its saying) and in a second, almost impossibly I’m out. I can see in
my peripheral, Dean with his head in his hands, for he too was surely thinking it was going
As the bike
roars out of the first stream, there’s no time to pause and gather myself for the second, as my exit was so
fast, I’m into the next one before I know it. Ball First then I guess. A second later I’m facing the exit;
more gas, more roost, more cheering from Patsy and we’re out. My heart is pounding and I’m breathing hard;
it’s one of the best feelings involved with this kind of riding, the close calls, the near misses and the
euphoria that comes with success.
one Bro, a little straighter next time…”
I find a divot
in the ground and with all that I have, wrestle the bike onto the centre stand, as I want to get back to the
river as Bar-ton is next; he’s always fun to watch, for various different
By the time I
arrive things have gone a little pear; for Dean was standing in the island between the two streams and has
convinced the American to swap his boots for the waders.
To add some
weight to this scenario, Bar-ton has been trying to get his boots dry for three days now, and after a
diligent effort at the previous night’s fire, his boots are dry. So, reluctantly he agrees and Dean launches
the waders to Bar-tons side of the river. Bar-tons attempt at reciprocating this feat falls a little short of
the mark, and he’s lucky not to lose them.
So, Bar-ton has
wet boots again and I arrive to the bank to witness the tail end of it.
“Throw me back
my fucking boots, they’re fucking wet now anyway. I told you I couldn’t throw them that far,
After some more
discourse made up mainly of expletives, the American has had enough and marches back to his bike, clearly
angry at a nights work wasted.
He mounts the
640, wearing the Gumby green waders, and he’s not playing around anymore. Click, right hand responds and he’s
in, fast. I’m on the other side of the bank, with the camera, cheering “Woohooo, Balls First
the first, water pouring out of his helmet and beard, steadies for the second and hits it, hard. In the
process of exiting the bank, he runs over his own boots, nearly takes me out and I think ‘The Pig’ may have
even got some air.
on the other side to empty boots, slap backs and pretend not to be mad… By this stage we’re feeling pretty
good, as the big crossing is behind us, the snow has stopped and we have three running motorcycles. It’s
funny how the goal posts continually shift.
We continue our
journey down the haunted road which seems to be becoming more travelled as each kilometer passes. This I’m
sure, sets our minds to rest a little and the experience starts feeling more like adventure than escape. The
road consists mostly of puddles and washouts presenting varying degrees of challenge. Some are small and iced
over and eventually, as our confidence grows, we crash through them rather than avoiding them, sending shards
of broken ice flying in all directions. There are still many that are too big to ford with confidence, so we
wade through or do reconnaissance at the water’s edge with a big stick to gauge the waters
the road improves to what you might call a semi-maintained piste, and we even spot some tracks left by light
vehicles. That’s good, really good. Hell, if a Lada can get through…I cast a glance at the GPS which has been
steadily counting down to the next turn, 30 k’s it reads; that’s a good enough reason to smile in the
“He he he” I’m
thinking, back in the race for sure!!!
There’s still a
lot of water on the road, but it’s no longer ice for a couple of reasons. Firstly the random cars that
frequent this road have broken most of it up and secondly, we have dropped altitude significantly, meaning
that ambient low’s are not what they were a couple of days ago. The bigger holes in the road mostly have hard
edges and if they’re exposed you can sometimes skirt around them using the exposed 4 inches of road base as a
kind of berm; I hate to say it, but I think we were starting to have fun.
“We’re going to
Magadan” I whisper in the helmet, then louder, “we’re going to Magadan”, until finally I’m shouting “WE’RE
GOING TO FUCKING MAGADAN!! WOOOOOOHOOOOO!!!”
Each time we
stop assess a crossing I can feel the mood of the group lifting. We’re in hurry now; we’re about to pull off
the great escape of all time. I’m riding ‘shotgun’ at the moment, as thirsty bike 38 is the one most likely
to run out of fuel first. We find ourselves getting into a bit of a groove, as though we each have role in
this sprint for the line. It becomes a real ‘no mess, no fuss’ approach. As we say back home “Lets f*#k this
Getting me up
on the centre stand is taking too long, so I pull up first and sit. Dean and Bar-ton jump off their bikes;
Barton wades in as his boots are already wet, and Dean pokes around with a stick at the water’s edge. Then
I’m directed which path to take and were off, gaining momentum, gaining spirits and eventually we’re only
stopping for the really big ones. I was later informed that the American was caught out by a smallish puddle
that turned out to be about a metre and a half deep, momentum and a quick right hand his saving
One after the
other we crash through the water as steadily, the GPS counts down the miles to the turnoff, and the new
“We’re going to
for an hour or so, and road starts to open up. We’re following the path of a river to our right and as I zoom
out on the GPS I can see we need to cross it in about 8 k’s; it’s not huge so I don’t worry too much about
it. What I am worrying about is fuel, or rather a lack thereof. The road is ok so I’m trying to accelerate
gently to 60 or 70 kph and hold it there, using the brakes as seldom as possible. The ‘new road’ is 10 or 15
k’s away, and we’ve all conceded that if we can get there without running out, at least there will be some
traffic around that may have some on board. That’s the plan anyway…
meet the broken bridge with the river beneath it and to one side is the customary crossing. We pause briefly;
it’s longish but pretty shallow. Barton accelerates hard along its bank in search of a spot and pretty
quickly he’s in, cutting a path through the running water. My heart and soul are full of bravado at this
point; we are after all 5k’s from ‘heaven’, nothing can stop us, right? So in I plunge in at a spot that’s a
little deeper than where The Pig is, feet on the pegs parting water like a King; King of the river, that’s
journey ended as all overconfident attempts do; that is, in comprehensive failure. Three quarters of the way
across the American and I were close, albeit on different trajectories and it was starting to feel more like
a race than a crossing. Then, as always, scripted to perfection, only metres from shore and just below the
water lay patiently waiting, a big slippery rock. I could not have lined it up better and as my front wheel
kissed it, my potentially dry end to the day vaporized. I think that to this day it was the most ungracious
exit of my career, predominately because the bike lurched to the left a little then stopped, ejecting me from
the chair for a perfectly executed, hands first face plant into a freezing river. My head was completely
under water for a moment, but by the time I’d lifted myself up, Dean was there,
“Get the bike
up, get the bike up!”
Ah, okay, I’m
fine by the way…
water was probably not deep enough to drown the bike, nobody was in the mood for taking chances at this
point. So we righted Patsy and she roared back into life, and steadily we made our way for the shore. Dean
waded back across the river to mount his assault on what would be our last crossing in Siberia, and made it
with ease. Prick!
briefly on the other side, water still dripping from the inside of my lid, still cussing a
“Did you guys
laugh at me when I face planted?”
“Fuck yes! As
if we wouldn’t laugh, that’s the funniest crash of the whole trip!!”
So we’re all
laughing, it matters naught that I’m wet and its sub zero at 4 o’clock in the afternoon, we’re nearly there;
this spooked out old road is nearly ours.
“Five k’s to
go, let’s get outta here, it’ll be dark soon”
over and says,
“Hey Paul, we
can stop when we get to the junction, right?”
reading my mind mate, let’s HIT IT!”
Half way down
this last 5 k stretch of mostly graded road, a vehicle approached and we both slowed; I wanted some info on
man and his Wife leap from the vehicle and shook our hands in a way that meant he wished he could hug
probed, knowing for sure that our reply would be a belter.
extreme!!!” He exclaimed, nearly at bursting point. (Malladess means great job, and extreme is for anything
more dangerous than they would attempt themselves. Russians are Crazy, so these two words are a real
something?” He continued, which we took to mean which way have you come to get
replied, and that’s when this guy really flipped out, chanting extreme over and over again, saying “Niet
Daroga” which means “No Road” and we were saying “Da! Da! Daroga Nie Harashow, Sneg, Chollogne, Regica
Balshoi, Neit Daroga!” Roughly translates into, “Yes, Yes, The road is terrible, there was snow, there was ice,
there were big rivers, sometimes there was no road!”
By this stage
this guy’s face is red, he’s laughing and squinting through tiny slits in his eyes that his big smiling
cheeks have created, I think he may have eventually hugged one of us. Great moment, I will never
established that there is no fuel for 100 or so k’s , but who gives a flying fuck, the junction is only two
k’s that way, and we point, and select first gear and we go for it!!!
“We’re goin’ to
Magadan, fuck it, we really are!”
Well, the next
bit is a trip highlight for me…
We pulled up,
we paused, we smiled.
I looked at
Barton and he had that “I wanna cry, but I’m not gonna” look in his eye..
I motioned to
Dean to help me off my bike, whilst taking off my lid, and as he walks towards me I can see that he’s got the
same look as the American. Not me though, tough as nails.
We got the bike
on the centre stand and it was around then that the spirits of the old road collectively considered us worthy
of their work, and set our emotions free.
clean into my arms, whacking me on the back, HARD.
“We did it! We
fucking did it! We did it, we made it, we’re nearly there we’re going to Magadan! Wooohoooo, wooooo,
We run to
Bar-ton, and the three of us are holding each other with everything we have.
“We made it, we
fucking made it, Wooooohooooo!”
As we separate
and start to withdraw from the state of being more euphoric than ‘absolutely euphoric’, we’re still jumping
around like little kids, on our knees, arms stretched for the sky, still breathing hard from all the emotion.
This Russian bus trundles by at about 50kph, with about 30 window seat passengers, all looking in
bewilderment, at three grown men, with three orange motorcycles, carrying on like they’d just found nirvana.
It was priceless…
It was an
amazing moment that I will cherish forever. It was as though all the tension and stress of the few days
prior, when it really was an escape, had seamlessly morphed into something so positive and strong. As always
I’m struggling with the words that might do it a hint of justice, alas the words I have
IT WAS ONE OF THE GREATEST MOMENTS OF MY
LIFE. Nuff Said.
If you could
create a men’s fragrance from that moment it would be called, “Toughen the fuck up and you’ll make
Day 3 : The
Old Road of Bones : Part 2
As we calmed
down a little we began to discuss our options in lieu of low fuel reserves and daylight that was fading fast.
In the days prior, we’d discussed camping one night in an abandoned city, not far from the junction, so
agreed to head there for a look. It was 5 k’s down the road, then left onto a track for a while longer then
there it was. A city that once housed 30,000 people, abandoned; seemingly
So the story
goes…. The Russian government gave the residents 2 weeks’ notice, that the electricity and heat would be
turned off and in Siberia, without these two basic commodities, survival would be virtually impossible. Much
more than this, I know not, but will indeed research it more thoroughly when I get home. The story does
however, seem plausible, as the town appears to have been fully functional, with large construction projects
in process, functional fabrication plants and evidence of heavy industry everywhere. Now, it’s empty, looted
We’d planned to
find an abandoned house to stay in but after a quick scout around a couple of things we’d overlooked became
obvious. The apartments were looted to a point that all of the windows and frames had been removed and there
was broken glass everywhere. All the floorboards had been pulled out and there where nails poking at random.
Unsafe in so many ways. The second thing we realised is that lighting a fire indoors would be both
uncomfortable and unsafe, and that not lighting a fire was not an option even worthy of consideration. So we
were faced with a choice.
Either we found
a pile of timber in a grotty abandoned town and camped amongst the wreckage, or we take a punt on the fuel
issue and head for the next hotel, 60 kilometers up the road at Susuman. It had to be well below
zero at that moment as my jacket front had frozen solid from my last fall and the front of my neck warmer,
affected by the moisture in my breath was starting to freeze. In hindsight, we agreed that we chose poorly
and that the allure of a hot shower, 45mins down the road swayed our usually rational decision making
process. So with empty tanks we hit the road, and prayed that we’d get there…
Ten minutes or
so into the run, we all started to feel the cold, cold like never before. We started to climb a mountain pass
where the snow met the edge of the road and I looked at the altitude on the GPS; 854 Metres above Sea
“Is that high
enough for there to be ice on the road?” I mused. This thought didn’t really have a chance for further mental
attention as Patsy started running on One cylinder, then a half and then
pulls up alongside,
the dumbest decision we EVER made. I knew 5 minutes after we left Kadykchan that we wouldn’t make it. Fuck
it, I’m freezing, this is suicide!”
“Get some fuel
out of Deans bike, quick, we gotta get off this mountain, we’ll make camp on the other
disconnecting fuel pipes from bike 38; our hands are numb which makes this really
Fuel pipe off,
open tap, dribble, dribble, nothing. Fuck!
Try the other
side; this time there’s some fuel, half a litre will get us over this pass I think. Dean is struggling with
the fuel, the container is melting and the fuel evaporating from his already numb fingers must be hell. We’re
collectively starting to panic.
Only one bike
has a headlight.
We have no
everywhere, so finding timber is virtually impossible.
Regulator is down to two phases, he has enough power for a headlight or heated grips. Not
there’s a car, it’s a ‘breadbox’, are they petrol or diesel?” I yell…
“Petrol, all of
them, flag him down, make him stop!”
priviet, spaciba” every polite Russian word I know followed by “Benzine?”
He nods, and
moves to the rear of the vehicle.
queries, to which I reply “Avstralia” to which he replies “Malladess!” whilst shaking his head and
He then writes
on the side of his van ’92, 82, 76?’ trying to establish what octane rating the bikes will run on.
I draw a ‘tick’
next to each of the numbers then try to explain, that even if he only has 60 octane, tonight that will be
fine. He understands and says “Chologne da!?” becoming aware of our desperation. I respond with “Mate, it’s
He starts to
laugh and mimics me, ‘Meet, sa fukeeng frizzing” We both laugh a little….
He opens the
rear door of his van, and lights a match to see where the plastic fuel can is. Oh, it seems to be under the
seat right next to that burning match he’s holding. I take two steps back and he chuckles a little as though
he’s done it a thousand times. He fishes around a little and then presents the best looking container of fuel
that I have ever laid eyes on, brilliant.
I grab the
container and run towards the bikes, shouting “We got fuel, 10 litres, that will do it!” And for the second
time that day, albeit through chattering teeth, the boys were cheering. As the Russian guy approached us Dean
ran towards his him and gave him a heavy duty man hug, to express our appreciation. The guy laughed, but
couldn’t really understand what all the fuss was about.
As we rationed
out the petrol, he went back to his van to get some water and cleaned the mud from our headlights,
We gave him
back his empty container along with 500 rubles for the fuel. He was happy with this and went on to explain
that we were all heading for the same place, so if we had more trouble he’d be behind us to help. Russian
people, don’t get me started…We fired up the bikes, put the headlight fuses back in (we’d removed them to
help with the cold start issues we were having) and headed down an almost pitch black dirt
It’s hard to
explain how cold you can get when all your riding gear is wet, ambient is well below zero, and you’re
travelling at around 80kph. It just rips through you and no matter how much you try to excersise and flex
your muscles, you stay cold; that’s it. I remember being about half way there, and had resigned myself to the
fact that my hands and toes would be numb until I could find some warm water, or at very least get out of
these boots. Every now and again Bar-ton would pull up and ask,
“Are you ok,
how are your hands and toes, do you want to stop for a bit to get something
just, just want to be there, Bro, you ok?” He’s hunched over the petrol tank trying to get his hands as close
to the motor as possible.
go, come on, let’s go get a beer”
By the time we
arrived, I was struggling to walk; it felt as though flesh was tearing every time I took a
“Have they got
a room?” I asked as the Mountain Man put a bottle of Botka in my hand, looking obviously concerned at our
“Yeah, they got
a room, no hot water but it’s warm inside. Get up there now, get your stuff off, come back for the rest
later. Come on let’s go!”
complied and slowly made our way up to the room, where we were met by a lady with a kettle and a bucket. Our
savior. She’s obviously observed this level of blind stupidity attempted by Westerners more than once. It
took at least half an hour of gentle massage and warm water to restore some feeling to our feet, and still
I’m not convinced that we haven’t done some permanent damage.
Woweee! Did all of this happen in
one day, Holy Cow!
We must’ve boiled that kettle
twenty times that night, to make enough hot water for a couple of hot bucket showers. We finished the Botka
and slept like babies.
It’s comforting to know at times
like these, that you have good people around you. That level of mental security cannot be
Day 4 : The Old Road of Bones : The Pig
woke that morning, like nearly every morning, with "where the fuck am I?"
Soon I was
aware something had happened... no wait a lot of things have happened... I'm not on the ground... I don’t care if it snows... where are the Donkey and the
Mule... are Betsy, Patsy, and Trusty safe?
here, Paul’s here, nobody’s toes turned black overnight- and no shit, the best maintained unpaved dirt road
in the world complete with traffic is right outside. I also feel somewhat disappointed; the challenges must all
be behind us now.
coffee ready. He always has coffee
ready. He makes it a little thinner for
Dean, and one extra sugar for me. There is a
small lake with mud, grass and floating bits.
We apparently created one last bog on the hotel room floor last night. Nobody is moving too fast, no alpine start
today. We slowly gather our damp dank boots and
sweat stiff socks from the radiators. The smell
of wood smoke, bog, and the three of us not having showered or changed clothes for five days had condensed on
the windows and wafts down the hall. I wonder
if this hotel lets another motorcyclist stay again.
small crowd is hovering around our motorcycles, posing for cell phone pictures and pointing at the radiators
in disbelief. This is a good thing because some
have cars and cars have good batteries for jumping bikes. We look at each other and laugh "How many bikes will start
on their own this morning?" (This being one of
our favorite jokes that grow funnier every day.) First up is Paul. He's cranking, we're thinking “Yah right, as if, who
cares”; when it fires. WTF. The bike hasn’t started on its own in weeks. I turn mine over and it makes the usual crank, crack,
wheee of its busted starter. The crowd looks
pained and instinctively backs away from the motorcycle about to blow hunks of metal. Crank, crack, wheeee, crank, put put put put. Those old Bones are a bunch of fucking
at us as if to say "I can do it too!" Paul and I look back thinking “No way”. That of course is true, so he commandeers a car and the
bike starts on the second crank. Just when we
all think life is unbelievable but easy we hear Patsy make an awful clack clack clack while idling and
clackclackclackclack with some throttle.
Shit. Paul looks freaked out, Dean looks really
worried, I adopted a fatalistic attitude toward our motorcycles weeks ago.
met two people, let alone two brothers who can work together so determinedly, efficiently, and always
effectively when the proverbial shit hits the fan. It doesn't matter if it's a folding paper fan, a 2MW wind
turbine, or in this case an oil filter whose pleat had swollen from water immersion and stopped
flowing. Who would think of that? But there they are, hardly speaking, one anticipating what
next needs done and immediately starting in. They leapfrog through series of mechanical tasks
seamlessly. Often parts litter the ground,
little is spoken between them, what is is concise and direct. With dogged determination no matter how cold, how muddy,
or how late they work together until the bike is running. Today I just try to keep myself and the morning drunks out
of the way.
Near Susuman the Road of Bones splits
again. We decide to take the smaller of the two
roads and backtrack 20 km to the turn off. It
is a beautiful, clear sunny day. We finally
leave the hotel at 2:00. It is 180 km to the
next town, no problem on the perfectly graded Road of Bones. 10 km out of town I am following Paul on the said
perfectly graded road and see his tire kick out a small rock. He pulls over because the tire is now flat. Everyone pulls out his stash of tubes. No one has one without multiple patches. Paul takes his pick and we move on. Nope, we’re not getting there before dark.
We ride towards snow covered peaks. Beautiful. We make the turnoff which is also
graded. The road becomes a cut in the side of
the mountain, winding and soon climbing. Snow
appears beside the road then a bit of ice and slush in shaded areas. We round a bend, the road gets steeper and we head into a
stretch of north aspect roadway that doesn’t see sun. Between ridges of gravel is gravel frozen with compact
snow, ice, then just ice. Paul is ahead
standing on the pegs and going really slow. He
stops, we all stop. We look over the road edge,
“look at that it’s a long way down”.
Riding on snow that is untracked on a gravel
road is not too big of a deal. It is easier
than sand, easier than most mud. Riding on
compact snow and ice isn’t easy. Getting moving
and staying upright is the first step. Little
bitty short fingernails of throttle. Short
shift to second gear. Don’t turn, don’t close
the throttle, never ever touch the brakes. Let
the bike follow any camber, balance on the pegs with the balls of your feet and extend a big toe to initiate
a change of direction. Start
breathing. We have 140km to the next
“What do you think Bart?”
“ Donno, what you think Paul? “
“ What do you think Dean?”
“What’s the problem?” Dean is always up for anything.
“This is ice” I say, pointing out the
“The grip isn’t that bad, couldn’t tell until we
stopped” says Dean.
Paul’s looking over the edge. I’m looking at the map and see six passes and a lot of
nothing between here and Magadan.
“Are you feeling it?”
“I don’t know. Are you feeling it?”
“ I could go either way.”
“I don’t know. Whatever you guys think. You?”
“Whatever you guys want to do is fine with
Team decision making at its best.
“We could go back to the hotel, be warm, go to
the disco, get an early start. This isn’t the
Old Road of Bones. If something said it was the
Old Road of Bones I’d want to do it. It’s
graded, who cares.”
“Yah, it’s graded, who cares let’s go back.”
On the way down Patsy and Betsy scream
ahead. Trusty gives all 8,000 rpm trying to
join in. It’d been a long time since we could
open up the bikes so we decide to play let’s destroy the Heidenau’s. The light is low at our backs and the colors and landscape
ahead are beginning to glow. Dean and Paul stop
and set up cameras in the road for a moving photo shoot. We line up and ride off in formation.
After one last drag we race back to the main
road to battle trucks through the dust.
I am hauling after Dean when he pulls over after
twenty minutes or so. Where is
Paul? Shit. We head back. Paul is pulled over, his bike sounds different, quite good
in fact. Patsy is running on one
cylinder. “Welcome to my world, lets
race” I say from a safe distance. Paul dejectedly gets back on the bike and limps to the
“They are full.”
“I don’t see any cars in the parking lot, they can’t be
“Maybe they don’t like motorcyclists
In any case this was our only known hotel in
this small town and it’s getting dark. After
asking numerous people Dean finds another. We
haul it all up four flights of stairs, drink and eat, no disco, go to bed early.
Day 5 : The Old Road of Bones :
The first thing I thought this morning was “is
someone banging on the door?”. The second being
“why are they still banging on the door?” And
then “I hope one of those guys gets up to deal with it”. No such luck. I walk to the door in my underwear and look out.
Four people are there “bla bla bla blab la
bla.” One tries to come in.
“No, you can’t come in.”
“bla bla bla bla”
He’s looking around me.
” Adeen, Dva”
“No you still can’t come in.”
“blab la bla American bla bla”.
I think he wants to see if there is a third
person in the room.
“Dean lean forward so he can see
This satisfies everyone and they leave.
“WTF was that?”
“Donno, Don’t care.”
I know it was the KGB again and they’ve been
following us all along. I’ve been trying to
point out this fact to Paul and Dean for some time but they don’t get it. Australians.
We load, start, jump, and jump the bikes before
heading to a café for breakfast. Soon we are on
the road. We are going to Magadan! The air is cold, the sun is shining, and we are
cruising fast on the best road in Siberia. I
think the Donkey and the Mule want Trusty to make it because they are keeping it below 125. I know she’ll make it so when I get a chance to ride out
front I bolt right up to redline in fifth and hold it there. Bitchin! After a few km it feels like there is a cross
A strong cross wind. Hmm better slow down.
Wow, bike really wants to lean over
Shit maybe it’s the Lada bearings...
I stop and the steering has bound. Shit shit shit. We notice a bolt has come out of my headset, jamming
against the frame. Nice. “Ok you go first this time.”
We stop for fuel before a 300km stretch of
nothing. We’re trying to work out where we can
find the next hotel. We have waypoints for many
by Siberia moto guru Walter Colebatch and there is one here but not another until Magadan nearly 500km
away. It’s early, a beautiful day, and no one
wants to stop now. “We’ll find
something” “Yah.” “Yah.” We ride off. We are all enjoying riding for over an hour
at a time without stopping, something we hadn’t done in over a week. The landscape is beautiful along winding rivers, forests,
and open plain. The trees have lost their
needles and leaves, meaning we experienced most of fall in Siberia. There are more snow capped mountains in the distance, yes
The aesthetic experience of riding in Siberia is
quickly tempered by the realization that we are headed straight for those snow capped mountains. We pass lots of cars and trucks, nothing passes
us. We pass a police car, wave (always
wave). Hoping to follow a canyon or valley
through the mountains we fly right along. Then
things start changing; a patch of slush here, a frozen puddle there, some compacted snow on the uphill shaded
part of the road. Then more, then muddy slush,
then hard compacted snow. We still manage to
keep the trucks behind us, and the traction is reasonable. At the top of the pass the views are
We cruise easily down the east side of the pass
because the sun had melted the snow. We soon
stop to eat a late lunch beside the road.
“According to the map it looks like another pass just ahead”. When we start gaining altitude again the sun is getting
low. There is a village we are trying to get to 100km away. The temperature is dropping with the sun and our finger
tips are starting to sting. Again patches of
slush, some mud, and snow appear.
Finally we round a bend and all we can see is
compact snow and Ice.
Wooohooo! The Road of Bones has something left for us! 100 km of ice! This is it. Someone or all of us are going down. Wiggle Wiggle still going, still going. The temperature drops quickly. 5, 0, -5, -8, -15 . Our riding suits freeze. The sun is setting and the ice and mountains behind us
glow. Shit. Not this again.
At dusk we see the village in front of
us. The problem is none of the buildings appear
to have windows, let alone lights in them.
We pull into a truckers’ diner. It is almost dark. We are too cold to go any further and camping seems rather
“Maybe we can sleep in the diner.” Offers
“We could use our cable locks to chain ourselves
to a table if they close.” Suggests Paul.
Then the cops we’d passed earlier pull
up. One can speak some English. No hotel here,
“Is there anyone that might let us sleep on the
floor? We don’t need much
“Not much space at all”
With that the cops leave. 30 minutes later they return.
“Yes, we have someplace you can
stay. One come now.”
“Why do I have to go off alone with the police,
I’m the American?” asked the pig.
With that I reluctantly get in the patrol
car. It turns out they are Magadan police,
young guys and members of the Magadan bikers club. House music bumping we head into town. I can’t wait to get to Magadan.
They lead us to a road maintenance
facility. I follow one up to the gate
tower. Inside are three expressionless old
Soviet looking women with fur lined hoods and a scruffy guy in full camo. I give it my best “zdrasvicha” and they all burst out
laughing. Ok, I think, because when a Russian laughs at you you’re in. One of the women leads me out and to a giant door of a
garage. Inside are huge Kamaz trucks and earth
moving equipment. Best of all there is central
Back at the truck stop Trusty is idling (hasn’t
been shut down all day), and the Donkey and the Mule are still eating. We hoist a beer and cheer the fact that none of us had
fallen off our bikes today. First time
in… “Anyone remember?” Neither Patsy nor Betsy
have headlights so they make their way through the snow and frozen puddles in the dark. After treating the bikes to the heated garage we make our
way up to the road maintenance dorm.
Tomorrow we ride to Magadan.
Day 4 : The Road of Bones -
I’m sitting in an airplane as I write
this, flying from Magadan to Vladivostok, it’s a really strange feeling to be back in a situation that
resembles ordinary life in Australia. The past 10 days in
Magadan have been a bit of a rollercoaster, from the euphoria of arriving to the sadness of dividing up some
of our gear, and the realization that this trip has reached its final destination.
I’m thinking about this because as I
start to write this post, to try to recapture the sentiment of the final day on the Road of Bones, that
strange feeling has settled back in. This will be my last
ride report for the Donkey and the Mule website, that idea makes me feel sad, but also excited in that we
have reached the goal we set out to achieve.
That was the emotion I felt on waking up
in Atka 11 days ago, this was to be the last time. The last time we would
wake up together and have somewhere to go for the day. The last time we’d talk
about the previous days ride, speculate about the road ahead, wonder if the bikes would start and where we’d
find fuel next. Of course there will be other trips, but for this one, this was
We spent the night in the quarters of
the road maintenance workers who keep the main road into Magadan in good order. In that we were
blessed, as there are no hotels or guest houses in Atka and if we’d not found that place we would have been
camping in freezing cold conditions again with no prospect for a fire because the place was covered in
Instead we woke up in a warm room, put
on the same clothes we had been wearing for the past few weeks (i.e. everything we have), and walked
outside. The mood was bipolar. We were grinning like
little kids, and bouncing between euphoria and nostalgia all at the same time.
The bikes were parked about 100m from
the front door, inside the building where the maintenance vehicles are stored overnight to keep them
warm. We squeezed them in between the wall heaters and the trucks so they’d stay warm
too. This probably sounds a little silly but the temperatures in Atka at night were 20 or
30 deg below zero, so keeping things warm is important.
We walked into the compound and were
greeted in Russian by the little old lady who worked there around the clock as the gate
keeper. She opened the pedestrian door so we could get in and then the main doors
too. As we loaded the tankbags and sleeping bags back onto the bikes, a small crowd of
people congregated to watch and ask questions about where we were from, where we were going, and why on earth
were we in Atka.
Because of the ongoing problems we were
having getting the bikes started we asked straight away if they would have a jump battery, which of course
they did, somewhere… and someone ran off to find it. In the mean time, just
for kicks Paul hit the starter on Patsy and for the first time in days she fired and idled happily straight
away. I couldn’t believe it! I figured if Patsy
would go then Betsy was a good chance too and lo and behold we had 2 running motorcycles. Barton was having a bit
of a hard time with Trusty since the starter clutch had given out, but every now and then it grabbed and
cranked the 640 into life so he tried too.
It might have been the spirits messing
with things again, now satiated at having scared the crap out of us, frozen us half to death, and made us
truly earn destination Magadan, but I think they must have intervened. Paul and I were
hollering encouragement “c’mon C’MON!! GO YOU GOOD THING!!” and Trusty fired too, so all three bikes were
warming up in the maintenance garage while we were cheering and hugging each other at the irony of it
all. I really wonder what the maintenance guys must have made of it
“well that’s fitting, it’s the last day
and they all start, I can’t believe it”
We saddled up, looked one another in the
eyes smiling, went through the regular checklists, gave the thumbs up and rolled out of the garage onto the
ice and snow that led to the main road again.
It was our last day on the
The previous night we’d ridden on solid
ice for the last 60km, which gave way just as we arrived in the little village, so we weren’t sure about what
to expect from the road for that day, in fact we weren’t even sure how far it was to Magadan, but almost
immediately there was a sign saying MAGADAN 194km.
“I guess that’s it” I remember thinking,
“unless the road is total snot we should get there today”
We rode a little way before stopping to
put a few litres of fuel in the bikes, and as Paul and Barton pulled up the mood was so obviously different
to anything we have shared before, the road was good, we were making good time, the bikes were running
We were going to
It’s been an ongoing battle in Russia
for us to buy fuel, starting from the tiny little windows in an otherwise blank wall you need to yell
through, to the pumps all being so ancient they need resetting manually before you pump. But the real killer is
trying to explain to a Russian that we want to fill all three bikes and pay for them all
The petrol stations usually have a hand
written piece of paper near the hole in the wall, it has 2 columns for each grade of fuel, showing litres vs
cost, and they always want to know how many litres we want. It seems we can say
“pulniy” (full) until we are blue in the face but they don’t get the idea that we want to fill
completely. Usually we just push 2000 rubles into the little sliding box you put the money in,
and walk away while they are still yelling at us, then sort it out later.
“hey how much fuel do you think you’ll
need to get to Magadan?”
“holy cow, we’re actually going to
“shit… we are too. Wow”
“give me 6 or 7
We knew the bikes would need to be empty
of fuel for the boat ride to Vladivostok so we needed just enough to get there. For the first time in Siberia I told the lady 15lt, and she took my money and gave me
change. We ate the rest of the food snacks we had been carrying and
loaded up again.
From about 150km to go, the road was
sealed in parts, and within 100km of Magadan we were on good quality tar, it was the first time in 7000km
that we had ridden on a sealed road.
It was painfully cold
though. So cold that with the warmers on max I found myself continually checking that they
were on at all! We stopped again and the conversation revolved around the magical feeling we were
experiencing at completing our journeys.
“hey I’d like to stop at the
sign when we get into town”
“yeah me too”
“there’s also a monument just near there
that’s dedicated to the people who died building the road, I think it would be neat if we went in there
“lets hit it!”
As we approached the city, the villages
we rode past became more frequent, and we started to see more and more cars on the road where previously it
was just Kamaz trucks and us. The signs counted down
the miles for us too.
Inside the last 40km I had this wave of
realization that we really were going to get there, on our own steam, on the same bikes we set off on, we
were a little later than planned, but nothing was going to stop us now.
All the stress of the past few weeks
fell away, the worry about the snow, the ice on the roads, bikes that had flat batteries and wouldn’t start
in the mornings, it all washed away leaving this empty space in my mind where I could soak up every single
moment of what was happening.
The reassuring rumble of the 950
underneath me beating away that same rhythm that it had for 45,000km to get me there, the freezing cold wind
on my face, so cold that it froze my nose and lips with the visor up, but I didn’t care, I wanted to feel it
“man isn’t this just
“I’m really just trying to process it
We’d taken it in turns to lead all day
swapping every now and then so we would all share the feeling of leading the ride in, and over the last 20km
the rotations became more frequent. As the road opened up
to dual carriageway I rode up next to Paul and we rode two abreast and then Barton came up too and for a
while we rode 3 abreast on the highway.
We were trying to keep an eye on the
road, but looking at each other too, I must confess that I had a few tears in my eyes, it just felt so good
to be riding in like that. The sun was shining and we were riding as 3 close friends into Magadan having
survived some pretty harsh terrain to get there - that’s about as good as motorcycling
There were so many things going through
my mind, many faces and landscapes, like a collage of all the pictures we have taken during the trip. I
thought back to day 1 when we rode out of the warehouse in Cape Town, that feeling that anything could
happen, and how green we were to travel back then. I remembered the chaos
of crossing the Congo, the sands of the Sahara and the mountains of central Asia. All the obstacles we
had overcome to arrive at that point, the laughs and the hard times too. I thought about the day
that Paul and I sat in the beer garden of the Ed Castle hotel having just test ridden a pair of GS’s and
first spoke about doing a trip together, and I thought about the turning point in life that led us to make
such a crazy trip.
The Russians have a saying that was taught to me by the truck drivers on the barge on
the Lena river, it’s written in my journal as
“zaye biss”, or in Russian it’s “Заебись”. They don’t use it in
normal speech as it’s considered far too rude, and as far as I can work out it doesn’t have a literal
translation at all, but the sense is that it’s used to express something that is absolutely awesome, in the
strongest imaginable language.
Riding into Magadan – ZAYE
We pulled up at the road sign
that said MAGADAN and parked all three bikes in front of it, took off helmets and gloves, and just sat still
for a moment looking at the sign and back at each other in dull comprehension of where we were and what we had achieved. Then in a moment it
crystalysed, and it felt like fireworks had been set off, we were off the bikes and bear hugging each other
saying over and over again.
“We’re in Magadan!! We made it, we MADE
IT!! FUCK ME WE’RE HERE!!”
We were jumping around like crazy
people, choking back tears, taking pictures and climbing up on the sign. It was really a moment
to savour, we lingered there a long time just soaking it up before leaving almost reluctantly to finish the
last few km into town.
The memorial to the prisoners
of the Gulag is called the Mask of Sorrow, it stands on a hillside overlooking the city, in the form of a
face with many smaller faces overlaid on the overall form. All the faces have
tears running down them.
On the way there we stopped and bought a
small bottle of vodka so we could toast the lost souls of the Gulag in the traditional
way. This may seem disrespectful to anyone who has never travelled in Siberia, but they
really do embrace vodka as an integral part of life. People welcome you with
vodka, they become your friend with a shot, and given half a chance they will toast you goodbye with one
It was blowing a gale when we arrived so
we were the only people there, we parked the bikes and walked up to the top of the monument, pondered the
juxtaposition of riding the Road of Bones for enjoyment in the knowledge it was created from sorrow, and then
stood silently and toasted the dead.
Then we toasted ourselves – ZAYE