Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Magadan or bust!!

The next day I woke up and looked out the window, raining again. These days I don’t have a lot of liking for riding in the rain and even worse when there is 620km to do. As far as I knew there was a “hotel” about 100km from where I was and then nothing after that until Magadan, and I really wanted to get there and finish the ride. So I was up front tyre checked and ready to go by 07.30.

A wet start

The weather improved but the road didn't

It rained on and off for the first three hours but not bad enough to make the road too slippery so I managed to average about 50kmph. Then once it stopped raining it also reached the point where it hadn’t been raining and the road go better and the speed went up. I stopped for petrol once after about 250km which left 400 to do and the 23 litres would cover that and leave very little in the tank for shipping. The only other time I stopped was to eat a mars bar, but as soon as you stand still for longer than a minute the mosquitoes are on you in force so no time to enjoy your surroundings (or the mars bar)

A stop for petrol and to add my sticker

The rivers kept getting bigger

The last 150km into Magadan is tarmac. This sounds like it should be heaven, but the initial 50km is probably worse than the graded dirt. Lots of dips and potholes from where the ground thaws from the frozen winter and then the trucks do their damage, but the closer you get to town the better it gets. By 16.00 I had reached the sign where I stopped and took a photo with the bike, and then moved on to the Mask of Sorrows monument which I had wanted to see ever since I watch “The Long way Round” video.

At last the town at the end of the road

The mask of sorrows

It quite an emotional monument

The back side with the weeping girl and headless man on the cross

I started to look for a hotel and soon discovered that none of them (or the town) had any hot water!! The flooding that had happened in the previous weeks had done enough damage that they had shut off the water for repair. Like most of the towns in Russia the hot water is supplied by the state. This ensures that during the harsh winter everyone has heating, but the down side is that once off nobody (unless you have an electric water heater) gets a shower. Cups of water boiled each day were enough to enable me to wash well enough that people didn’t recoil when I walked into the room.

The Hotel without hot water (but they had cold beer!!)

A friend of a friend Chris Cowper had already sent an email to a mate of his in Magadan informing him of my imminent arrival and asking if he would look after me. As I was checking into the hotel a man asked me if I was that rider and said (via google translate) that his son Pavel would be along in about 15 minutes. He duly arrived and asked if there was anything he could do? I needed to clean the bike badly as both it and I was covered in muck and if I took the luggage to the room it (and I) would make a hell of a mess. So I followed him to a car wash were everything including me from the thighs down was power washed. In fact the water jet was so powerful that it knocked the bike over at one point!! 

All soaped up

Then some serious cleaning power

Once that was done it was back to the hotel a quick change out of the wet riding gear and off to one of Pavels friends for a BBQ. It was supposed to be for his sons birthday, but there was no sign of his son and he and his mates were already in full swing and upon my arrival found another reason to break out the Vodka. Having said that they were a very friendly and amenable bunch, who fed and watered me until I could take no more. Needless to say I slept very well that night.

They gangs all here and they're ready to party

The next day was Sunday so there would be no contacting anyone. I took a walk around and found a bank to start getting the shipping money. I also found where the MIG fighters used to be and what remained of the two after the floods. It’s a shame that they fell into the river, but I’m sure that someone will manage to find some replacements in the near future.

Google earth still has them standing

What it looks like now

This one got pretty smashed up

The second even worse. No tail.

Monday was slow to start. Getting in contact with the agent in Magadan took some doing, but he eventually arrived at the hotel at 12.00 along with Pavel. They had a good chat for half an hour in Russian and then he got up and left. I asked what was happening and Pavel said “don’t worry, I’ll look after the bike shipping”. In the end the other three lads were going to be there in about four days time so all four bikes would go down to Vladivostok together. All that was left was to get my flights sorted and get me home. I flew out to Moscow the next day with a connecting flight to Vienna and then Paris by 20.30 that night.

Apparently Magadan is the mammoth capital of the world 

The Cathedral of the Holly Trinity in Magadan

A huge thank you to Pavel Popenko, for all his help and time. Hopefully see you in Australia sometime.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

The Road of Bones

More dust the next day was the start of the Road of Bones or the Kolyma Highway, there are two ways you can go, one is to continue on the Federal road (or the M26) and the second is to take the old summer road. This way is the hardest as it is only serviced as far as Tomtor, after that nothing goes anymore. The bridges have all but gone and this makes the river crossings hard or if the water levels are high almost impossible. I chose the federal road for a umber of reasons, 1) I was on my own 2) 10 days before I got there Magadan had three months rain in a day! Causing flooding and prompting the authorities to declare a natural disaster. I don’t think anyone will do the old summer road in 2014.

I don't know what this stature was for but it was impressive

The first part of this road is what they call the wetlands. It soon becomes apparent why, and in days gone by it might have become a problem with the amount of standing water around but these days not so much.

The wetlands

Some of the old bridges are still used

The roads are obviously better than they used to be

The trucks were starting to thin out a bit now. I was doing really well on the way up to Khandyga, until I came to the ferry across the Lena River. I got there at three O’clock and soon found out that the ferry leaves when it is full. At 20.00 there was still room for two more but I guess that was enough and it was getting late. As we got to the other side an hour and a half later, the sun was getting very low and I still had another 30km to get to town. That took me an hour and then I found out I’d lost another hour so by the time I found the only B&B in town I found out they had no room. Now I really was in trouble. Too late to carry on going, and nowhere that I could find to set up the tent. In desperation I knocked on the door of the last supermarket on the way out of town that was just closing and asked if there was anywhere I could sleep or pitch the tent. I must have looked really desperate as they ended up letting me sleep in the building site at the back of the shop. Not great but I was grateful for it and got the sleeping bag out to lie on the dirty mattress they had found. I covered myself in anti mosquito cream and went to sleep straight away.

The new building at the back of the shop

A bedroom of sorts but gratefully received

The heating pipes in town stay above ground because in winter they would freeze

Having had no dinner and no breakfast I was happy after the first 60km to find a café and have some fried rice and pork with some bread to eat. The road then got better as they have completed a lot of the improvements and sitting on speeds of 90kmph is easy. You do have to be careful though as every now and then there are sections that are full of potholes and bumps that make you slow down fairly quickly. It’s 560km which took me a good ten hours to do and when I got to Ust Nera the hotel again is basic. Sometimes you find yourself put in a twin bed room with someone else. I was lucky to be put in with a Russian Geologist who was working there looking for gold. He spoke good English and told me that there was no hot water in the room but if I went to the reception they would let me in room number two which did have some. He also told me there was no café or shop so it looked like dinner was out again. Luckily he had bread and cheese and sausage which he shared with me and even a bottle of whiskey to share a wee dram or two before bed. Sometimes things work out better than you expect.

Plenty of these by the side of the road

This candidate just lost his truck in the fire

This one was a bit stuck but still living in his cab!!

Thursday saw me get an early start for what was going to be a short 380km day from Ust Nera to Susuman. The day before the road had climbed as high as 3000m just before Ust Nera and but today was out over rolling hills and although the road wasn’t in as good shape I made good time until the last 60km when the rain started. The loose black (coal?) that a lot of the road is made from covered everything, the bike and me, and life was pretty miserable. Just as it had started I passed the city of Kadykchan which had been abandoned years back when the coal ran out and they just turned off the heating. It looks strange to see such a big place and know there is nobody there anymore. I stopped at the turn off and once again the risk was too high to go see. The road leading to it is becoming more difficult to ride and there is always the risk that someone (hunters) are living in there in the summer and should anything happen when you are on your own nobody is going to know. So another thing I only saw from afar. 

Snow still up at 3000m

The ghost town of Kadykchan just before Susaman

The hotel in Susuman was a welcome sight and I dripped very dirty water all over the reception area even though I had tried to wash the worst of it off with the water falling from the broken drain pipe outside.

Susaman in the rain is a grey miserable place

Made harder by the hard winters and short period to repair anything

A nice remnant from the old days

An imaginative use for an old airplane

I was going to get a really early start for the last push to Magadan, but when I came out to the bike the next morning the front tyre was flat. It was raining and I was in no mood to rush to maybe fix a puncture and then still have to do 620km so I went back in and took another night. I took the pump down to see what was going on and found that the valve cap was missing?? And it had been there the night before as the valve was clean and no muck inside. I pumped up the tyre and over the course of the day monitored the pressure. No problem. Some bastard had let the air out of the tyre the night before. So I took a walk around Susuman and got eaten alive by the mossies. It’s another town that lives on the mining in the area, so there has been very little building or improvement since the end of the USSR. It’s a pretty dull and grey place, made even worse by the rain and the knowledge that someone had it in for me.  

Some images from the road of bones

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Up to Yakust

The 900 was too much in one hit. I nearly made it but ended up spending the night at a motel/truck stop about 150km short. It’s a shame as the hotel at the turn off looked quiet nice.

The cafe and hotel

The truck parking next door

About 5km after you turn off the main trans Siberian highway the tarmac ends, and pretty much the road works start! It makes it hard going and very slow. Also the road base that they use consists of large and very sharp rocks, so you have to be very vigilant where you place the front wheel as any of them could easily rip the side out of the tyre.

I got into Tynda and eventually found the hotel. It is one of so many other ex soviet looking buildings that are hard to tell apart. Also with so many shops or other businesses the outside shows little of what lies inside. I checked in for two nights and locked the bike up securely at the side.

The hotel in the heart of downtown Tynda

The amusement park, although the Ferris wheel looks a bit suspect


Within 10 minutes of being in my room there was a knock on the door and a member of the local bikers club introduced himself as Vitali and said if there was anything I needed then he could help. It was fortunate as the cush drive rubber in the rear wheel were starting to wear badly causing a bad knocking. I asked if he could get any old inner tube that I could cut up and within ten minutes he was back and helping me fix the problem. After which I bought him lunch. He said that tomorrow (Saturday) his friend was getting married and that the whole biker fraternity of Tynda would be out to ride around the town. That was one of three weddings that day all of which drove round and round with horns blaring for most of the day.

I left Tynda on the Sunday morning headed for Aldan. It was another reasonable day and although cold in the morning by lunch time it was warm enough to take of the rain jacket. I seem to recall I lost another hour and by the time I got there and found the “hotel” there was no café or restaurant nearby and I settled for some cold meat pasties and herring in red pepper washed down with a beer. These country hotels in Siberia give you a room. If you want a toilet there is a shared one down the hall. If you want a shower there is a shared one down the hall. And the all seem to charge around $60 for this. Don’t like it, tough.

Cold misty mornings

Aldan Hotel

Most of the people living around here were involved in building or running of the BAM Railway

I got going early the next morning and it was cold and very misty and damp. At least this kept the dust down in the morning. After that it was full on. There was a lot of trucks heading north and they kick up a hell of a dust storm. Passing them is an act of blind faith. You have to swallow the dust until you can get close enough, then pray there is nothing coming the other way as you pass. Nice feeling once you do pass them and start to kick up dust so they can’t see the potholes!!

I was doing OK and got to the ferry turning for Yakust at about 16.00. I had heard that there are only two ferries a day that go across, one at 09.00 and the other at 21.00. Seeing that I didn't need anything in Yakust I decided to try to find a hotel on this side of the river. I did and it was brand new with a bathroom and everything, except hot water!! Never mind a cold shower never hurt anyone, but no water pressure either!! A cold wash at the end of the day doesn't quiet cut it.

The next day would be the start of the Road of Bones.