I’m hours behind the others so I get to Kemerovo as the sun is falling. It’s had another hard day shining bright across the Siberian landscape and it’s keen to get to bed. I’m leaving it as long as possible to fill up with fuel every time to keep the number of starts to a minimum. I stop.. I fuel … I pray .. I press.. This time it’s OK, but that’s the first time today it’s started properly.
Get to the hotel and it’s a lovely old soviet style one. Every landing has a desk for the woman in charge of the floor. Big, brutal and as subtle as a sledgehammer to the groin. Good. We go out to eat outside and watch the beautiful young Russian world go by.
We’ve been going east for weeks… months… years it feels like .. we must be nearly there surely … look at the map .. jeeeeeeeeeus .. we’re only about half way! FUCK this place is BIG! Another lovely sunny day on the Trans Siberian anyone? OK then … if I must …
Maybe if I just tickle the little button really really gently … find exactly the right spot … just stroke it slowly with my index finger .. or maybe the tip of my tongue .. I’ve heard that can work … can’t remember where I heard it though … might not have been on a KTM forum … seems to work this time though and the bike starts first time. It’s fixed then, excellent. Some KTM fairies must have been here in the night. I wondered what that oil on the ground was from … no .. let’s not worry about that oil on the ground just now … lets just ride ..
Lovely scenery today, like Canada++, a tree spotter’s wet dream. Best not go too far into the trees though. There are bear warning signs on one side and some sort of big fuck-off wildcat signs on the other.
The traffic is the usual. We’re doing the usual. Filtering and going to the front of the lights. I ride in front like a tug boat for the QE2/1200GS behind me. Somewhere along the way he clips a wing mirror. He’s sat at the lights when he feels a tap on his shoulder and hears screaming in his ear. He turns around and there is an irate woman .. and a poodle .. berating him and poking him. She’s got out of her car to give him a piece of her mind. Just a little bit I hope… I don’t think she has a lot to spare .. Why she’s bought her poodle along is anyone’s guess. She is WAY more vicious that the dog. Lights on .. we’re gone .. leaving the traffic to weave it’s way around her and the confused mutt.
We’re in Krasyonarsk. Nice place with a huge square next to the river. We’re walking up the road to a restaurant underneath a big night club. Lots of lovelies wandering about, looking forward to a Saturday night out. Lots of nice cars parked up … make that lots minus 1 … We hear horrible scraping crumpling sound coming just from our left … the bloke reversing his heap-of-shit mobile looks up from his phone and realises he’s just driven it into a shiny new SUV .. You can see ‘did anyone see that’ flash across his face .. he waits a fraction of a second too long .. people are already taking pictures on their phones .. he’s screwed.. I hope that text was worth it mate ..
Lots of good music playing, good food and good company. I get a burger and it comes with a pair of black rubber gloves? Never seen that before! Didn’t fit me though.. these are not my very small hands by the way… I’m not Donald Trump …
We’re here for a couple of nights. I get up and my stomach is in a knot .. I’ve got decisions to make… ‘STOP .. BAMmer time’
If I’m doing the BAM then I need to get my tyres changed over here today, then we can fork off at Tulun. I absolutely hate not doing what I set out to do. That’s what’s turning my guts upside down and inside out. Some of it anyway. My mind has been spinning round yes/no/yes/no/yes/no ever since the problem with the starter appeared. That and there are only 2 of us.. and one of us is 74 .. and I’m shit off-road .. and a bit scared maybe if I’m honest . That and the fact that riding out here has driven home just how bloody isolated it is. Add to that all the probable water crossings and the constant starts the bike will have to make .. and that I won’t be able to bump start it either.. it’s quickly going from yes/no to yes/NO. We all sit down and go though the arguments together. If the bike goes tits-up on the main road then I’ve got a good chance of getting it to a town and on to the Trans Siberian back to Moscow and the mother ship’s Russian nipple .. If I’m being pragmatic, there isn’t a decision to make, but I’ve ridden all the way out here with dreams of the BAM and my heart still wants to go. I have to decide… NOW. 3..2..1 fuck it… BAM it’s not. I’ll be back thought…
So I spend the day coming to terms with my decision and untangling my guts.
Riding the Trans Siberian isn’t exactly a chore anyway:)
The distances between the major cities are getting bigger and bigger now and time zone changes are coming thick and fast. We’re heading to Tulun today, a small town in the middle of the middle of nowhere..
The bloody bugs are a menace out here and they’re getting worse. One of the bastards gave me a proper big lump on my head yesterday so I caught one and took a macro shot .. now I can see why they’re all so evil .. they’ve evolved to carry AK-47s …
but who cares? The Russians pay pennies to get on a 1970s bus/tram that costs nothing to run, keeps them warm and dry, and takes them where they want to go. We pay some stupidly expensive price to get on some ECO Friendly hybrid vehicle that has to be replaced every 2 minutes due to not conforming to EU-whatever. We both get off the other end exactly the same … who are the biggest fools ..
I can hear the horizon calling … ‘chase me… chase me..’ Excuse me .. gotta go ..
Get to Tulun and turn off the tarmac into town .. a really shit bumpy dusty road, ride into a random tangle of buildings and find the hotel on the short main street. The mossies are out in force and the fuckers start the minute we stop. A proper low rent hotel with shared bathrooms and rooms with purple and pink and whatever fell off the back of a lorry paint on the walls .. and a reception desk behind a random indoor window to stop you stealing the highly desirable wallpaper .. all good so far .. ‘wi-fi?’ 1MB/24h download speed .. excellent .. perfect.. just exactly the way I like it.
The second we stop we are mobbed by people celebrating a 50th birthday party. The adults are smashed to the max and the birthday ‘girl’ is rolling about barely conscious. Kids are climbing all over the bikes and it’s a struggle to keep them upright. The adults are dribbling and laughing and trying not to be sick when they burp… They’re all super friendly and just want to cuddle us. It’s a really beaten up town. Old buses going to and fro. People wandering up and down avoiding the huge lumps in the pavement. I wander down the road to try and find a supermarket. I eventually find a dark door and walk though.. fall through .. down a 2 ft step and into the arms of a girl sitting behind the till. The place smells of old meat and … something else .. unidentifiable .. but probably previously living and breathing .. who cares:) This is exactly why I like travelling. Wandering about among the locals in the dark. Chatting, pointing, smiling and laughing.
This isn’t a place that supports restaurants. We take a walk around looking for anything but it’s late and the town has gone to bed. We’re just coming back to the hotel and we see a light, follow it down and into a cafe just about to shut. Walk in and it’s a brand new enterprise run by someone very welcoming and keen to improve his English. Really nice bloke. Stays open and feeds us so we make an appointment for breakfast:)
This is where we would have forked off towards the BAM… I’m coming to terms with that but it will be easier once we pass this point. It gives me an excuse to come back anyway. It’s unfinished business.
Next morning … the horizon is calling again … but it seems to be getting further and further away. This place is just ridiculously bloody massive. I’ve given up looking at the map, it never seems to change, we’re just in the middle of the biggest country on earth.
“Has anyone seen a big lake? You can’t bloody miss it, it’s the biggest flippin lake on earth! It’s got to be round here somewhere..” Only in Siberia could you hide a 500 mile long lake. No hills to help you spot it either. Just ride ride ride… to Irkutsk .. and through to Listvyanka, a fledgling tourist town on the south end.
Just outside Irkutsk we stop at a cafe/pole dancing club. “2 coffees and a striper please” “To early for all that, but please feel free to take all your clothes off..” . I make do with cake served by a chunky lady whose ‘chunks’ exactly match the dents in the shiny pole in the middle of the room. Fuck… that’s some serious Russian engineering …
Get out to the lake and a nice guesthouse with wolves on the walls and a fucking great black bear on the couch.. move over mate… there’s a good chap… . There are dead animals everywhere. Later that night we’re eating dinner and I catch a call in the air. Nobody else reacts.. maybe I’m hearing things .. then I hear it again… and so do the others .. The wolves are out and they’re not far away. They’ve got choir practice this evening it seems. Not something I’ve heard before, but a nice sound .. as long as you’re behind closed doors.
Next dot is Ulan Ude, round the bottom of the lake and east. It’s the best road so far by far, all bendy and scenic and beautiful .. when it’s not just falling down with rain. It’s just twatting down and we can barely see where we’re going. Riding through Irkutsk is like riding through one of those abandoned towns they flooded to create a reservoir. The ‘puddles’ are big enough to appear on a map and you can often only tell how deep they are by how short the traffic light poles look. Russian drivers love to make a splash and by the time we’re out the city I am soaked right through to the skin and I’m freezing. They’ve been chucking water right up in the air my collar has been acting as a funnel, pouring it all inside my arms and shoulders. I just about manage to make it to the first cafe an hour out of town before diving for cover. My old mate on the Honda is soaked through too and we just strip down in the cafe and I stick my tits under a hot air dryer to warm up. We snag some big bin bags from the kitchen and cut holes for arms and neck to isolate our wet gear from our skin. Rather than try to use my chattering teeth to try and order in stuttering Russian I just stand by the kitchen door and point at the things coming out for the other guests. Works a treat.
It’s getting proper isolated out here now. Absolutely nothing but the tarmac for miles and miles .. and the roadworks.. This road is really high maintenance and today all their maintenance seems to be just here. Rain .. mud.. and old diesel vehicles doing about 2 gallons per mile .. on the road .. bloody scary TBH and my old winker stinker is working overtime. Get to Ulan Ude in the evening and it’s flooded too. Get to the hotel, and it’s nice place.. all posh and shit. I’m desperate for a shower to warm up. Hang on.. what’s this.. I’ve not even turned the shower on yet .. there is water pouring through the light fitting.. well at least it’s dripping in the shower and not making a mess on the floor, that might be dangerous.. I might slip and hurt myself .. I’m much safer in the shower with all the water, and the electricity…
I really like the feeling of Ulan Ude. It feels like a real frontier town. A bit dodgy and not entirely safe. The Mongol rally is finishing just down the road and the place is full of knackered old shitmobiles… just like every other Russian city.. We got to the top of the hotel for dinner and a drink with a view
Spend the day roaming about the city, looking at tanks, statues, the usual. There must be some big military base round here as there are some serious looking aircraft playing in the sky too. I really do like this place. It’s a bit of a cross-roads too with lots of people coming up from Mongolia.
Then back up the tower for a sunset dinner before we head out into the proper wilderness. Up to here it’s just been practice…Next – Are we there yet?