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Armenia, Georgia, Russia

Armenia has some proper history and it’s a shame we can’t see it.  It’s one of the oldest countries on the planet.  I’ll come back here again, I’ll leave it for next time.  The country runs away to the south but we want to exit to the north tomorrow so we ask our host for some recommendations and head south to Khor Virap monastery overlooking Mt Ararat where Noah supposedly disembarked.

Getting out of Yerevan we go to get fuel.  Little place by the side of a main road.  More like a kiosk than a petrol station.  This bloke put the hose in the bike, pulled the handle, lit a fag.  Amazing..

Out at Khor Virap its a beautiful place but a bitch of a climb up in leathers and 40 odd degrees.  By the time I get to the top I can just about see a blurry Ararat through my sweaty eyeballs.  Can’t see any lamas though.. or hippos.. or push-me-pull-yous.  Its a bloody long walk to Africa from here.. especially with those little hippo legs …

Nothing gets wasted out here.  If horses could be powered by natural gas they would go round with LPG canisters strapped to their backs too.

From Khor Virap we ride round to Noravank. Another monastery hidden in the mountains.  The roads are surprisingly good and pretty empty too.  Loads of trucks pushing out smoke like they’re vaping with liquorice.  Greta Thunberg would have a shit fit out here ..

Tonight’s bed is at a ‘resort’ on the lake at Sevan.  We find the place and ride along the beach.  I think it’s a weight watchers retreat .. no food and a fucking long walk to anywhere .. we eventually track down a cafe with a very short menu .. bread … cheese ..

We’re heading north and out towards Tbilisi, passing through little towns.  Taking it really slowly to avoid being pulled.  If you stop for a few minutes you’ll see the same policeman go up… down.. up… down

I spot an open door out the corner of my eye so I turn around… see the same policeman ..again.. and see an old bloke sitting in a chair in a small room,  just looking out watching the world go by.  I go up and ask if I can take his picture.. he doesn’t move .. I think he’s dead ..a display model .. but he slowly raises his hand in assent and I take a few pics.  Go to shake his hand.. very carefully.  It’s like holding a piece of balsa wood, it’s almost weightless.  I think somebody just opens his door in the morning and he sits there all day.. he’s probably still there.  I hope so anyway.

We have 2 borders to choose from, so we choose the one with the wiggly line.  Get to the border and we’re the only ones here again, what are the odds?  Get through the border and we see why we’re the only ones there.  The road is an award winning shitter of a road, all under dark trees, big deep muddy puddles, rocks and holes, sand and gravel.. all good practice.

Get to Tblisi in good time and go for a wander.  Nice place.  Stupid hot though and I have to rest the Bitch for a while before launching an assault up the hills to the hotel.

Our hotel is in the old town.  All stupid narrow and stupid steep streets. Even with the lungs of the Bitch she can’t do a hill start here, the road is too steep and too slippery.  I’m following a Grade A twat up the hill and he’s doing 1mph.  I’m shouting and screaming expletives and blowing my horn but he’s oblivious, unlike the surrounding people who are listening to my swearathon in stunned silence – a couple of them hold up 10s… Scooter riders have to get off half way up this hill and push it’s that steep.  There are as many cars going backwards as forwards, lining up for another go.

I go for a walk round the slightly less steep streets, I’m looking about at the buildings .. WTF?  All the buildings are slowly loosing a fight against gravity and falling down the hill towards the river.  The windows and doors are all to cock and have they have huge cracks running all through them.  They look close to collapse to me and I’m fucked if I’d go inside one but there are people living in them.

 

 

Turkey, Georgia and Armenia

Turkey.  I’ve not spent much time here.. I’m searching for pastures new … I’ve still got the mojo no-go feeling .. I need a kick in the eyeballs .. a stiff new scent up the nose .. something to grab my attention.. but right now I just need to stay alive.  We get to Istanbul and head for the old city.  This place seems to be about 300% over populated .. the thermometer has gone into the comedy zone and my bladder is on lockdown to stop me loosing any more fluid.  The Bitch is unhappy again and I don’t blame her.. tiny tight streets that it’s impossible to filter through.. creeping and crawling … sweating and swearing through the maze.  I don’t stall it this time but it’s feeling nasty .. like it’s running on 3 cylinders .. yes .. I know … thanks

The Hotel is right next to the Blue Mosque and the calls to prayer are going out as we arrive… drawing the faithful out from the cool sanctuary of the shadows.  We follow the crowd .. follow the call .. follow the sunset ..

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We walk down to the water and look across the Bosporus .. look at Asia.. look at our future..

“Shit loads of history round here” .. I’m sure that’s how they start all the bus tours.. everyone and his wife has been through here and left something to be remembered by.  A nice atmosphere and a real melting pot of people.  The only downside is the constant pestering.. the length of my temper is directly opposite to the air temperature. I just give up at the first hurdle .. the first restaurant .. the first place I can find cold liquid and try to replace the 50% of my bodyweight I lost on the way in.   The 50% that is currently dipping out of my leathers and making the hotel room smell like a gym changing room..

This trip is a lot earlier in the year than I would normally go as I need to get back in time for my baby girl’s wedding.  Consequently its a LOT hotter than usual.  I’m happy with the cold.  I’m never happier than when I’m covered in goose pimples, my tummy banana has run away and hidden in its cave and my nipples could pierce armour plating.  The heat is different, especially as its now pushing 40 degrees.   I’d much rather sweat than bleed though so I’ll just have to get used to it.  I’ve done it before but it takes a while to get used to it.  Milk is the secret.  Milk is the secret to everything..  and I can still find it here.. on the black market .. I just have to check it’s not camels .. or horse.

We have a rest day here but the next day is a long one so my buddy buggers off to Ankara to split it in two.  I haven’t shaved in a week and my whiskers are in danger of getting tangled in the wheels.  I’ve promised myself a shave at a proper Turkish barbers so I hunt one down, dragging my beard along the pavement behind me.  These blokes know what they’re doing .. I think the average Turk’s face is like the Forth Road Bridge .. they have to shave them in teams .. one barber at a time is not enough and they just end up chasing bristles across their face..only to find another wave of stubble where they shaved 2 minutes ago.  I’m a one man job though .. an easy job .. he could probably do it with his eyes shut .. perhaps not though .. not this time .. I’m not quite ready to die..

He spends more time rubbing cream into my face than I usually spend on the whole deal .. this would cost a fortune back at home, I’d have had to sign a dozen wavers, he would be wearing high vis and safely goggles and the walls would be covered in small signs from B&Q with pictures of decapitated bodies and blood .. but out here he just puts in a blade and goes straight for the jugular.  My face is super smooth.. it feels like cling film .. almost slippery smooth .. but he’s not happy so back out with the cream for round 2 .. and then the wax.  I don’t think he’ll be happy until he sees my skull.  Wax all over my ears and under my eyes… then he gets 2 ear buds dips them in the bowl and sticks them up my nose .. JEEEEEEEEESSUS …

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For years now my hair follicles have been emigrating from my head and relocating in my nostrils .. so pulling them out involved him putting his feet on my cheeks and yanking with all his strength.. the result.. well I won’t scare you by showing you what they looked like .. he just took them into the kitchen and put them in a cup of hot water and gave me this .. maybe they’re all made this way ..

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These 2 were clean shaven when I came in 20 minutes ago ..

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Next day I go for a walk round the city.  A lot of the pleasure of these trips comes from taking pictures.  Today it’s not working.. you can’t force it .. I get really frustrated .. and lost.  I like getting lost though. I don’t get lost enough.. even though lots of people tell me I should ..

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Out of Istanbul.. across the bridge .. and into Asia ..

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and… and  nothing .. I’m really surprised how sparsely populated Turkey is .. and blank .. get out the city and just you and the tarmac.. and nothing..  except the wind. Turkey likes it’s flags.. the bigger the better.. and the wind enjoys playing with them.

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No matter how hard I think I cannot remember anything about the ride that day .. nothing .. my mind obviously didn’t see anything worth wasting memory on .. not until the sun stated falling and the landscape was brushed with soft yellow light ..

I was really low on fuel, out on an A road and there was just nothing and nobody about anywhere.  I hoped the GPS was lying to me.. or I was going to be walking.. I’m going over a new bridge and I see what looks like an abandoned fuel station off the road with no obvious path to it.   I’m not in a position to pass up any opportunity so I get off the road, ride through a small abandoned village and under the bridge .. just follow my nose.  Get to the station and there is a light on.  Someone appears and looks at me like he hasn’t seen a human for weeks.  The pump is working though .. the fuel is probably 40 years old .. and leaded .. but who cares..   I go to put my helmet back on but he gestures to me .. would I like a drink?  Why not .. I follow him out through a derelict shop to a small kitchen where he makes me some tea..  we go back to the sofas and just sit in silence for 20 minutes watching a film on a grainy TV set.. I think he just wants company.. I think he’s the only person for miles around .. its times like this that makes trips for me.  Nice tea too ..

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We shake hands and nod .. smile and wave .. and off into towards the setting sun

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I’m meeting my mate in Cappadocia, the place with the caves and the balloons.  It’s well hidden though and you don’t see it until you’re right on top of it.

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Looks like a bad case of rock worm to me… Cappadocia though is tourist central as you can imagine.  I meet up with my mate and he drags me to his cave .. I like what he’s done with the place ..

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We’re taking a day off here to have a ride around the different locations. I’ve been on the bike 1 minute.. I get to the bottom of the road and turn right.. something felt weird .. something isn’t right .. so I stop.  I see shit and happens .. or the Fuckall brothers .. running away and falling over themselves laughing .. Oh… brilliant… IMG_2361 IMG_2360

The day the Ktm designer decided where to put the ignition switch he obviously left his brain in a bin.  The switch is in the yolk in front of the bars.. so when you move the bars .. if you’ve got anything other than a single key in the ignition.. like a keyring for example (what WAS I thinking) with another key on .. then .. if you’re luckily enough to be carrying the Fuckall brothers .. things can get wedged like a shove penny machine and just snap the top of the key off .. which is nice.  Fuck I’ve only been away a bloody week ..  I CAN start the bike with the stub and some pliers as long as I hold the fob close to the ignition .. I really fancy doing that for the next 6/7 weeks .. out with the spare… when I get hold of shit and happens ..

So .. off we go .. again .. there are houses built into the rocks, there are houses built right on the tops of rocks, and someone recently discovered a set of underground caves 6 storeys deep too.  I went to level 1 and freaked out .. it was like running about in someones bowel.. all dark and tight and smelly.. impressive though

We wanted to go up in a balloon but the wind is still blowing hard and looks like it will be for the next few days so we take a Turkish bath instead.  You have a quick sauna then you’re taken into a big room where a health and safety inspector would run out of ink in 10 seconds flat.  The room is about 200 degrees for a start, full of fat blokes in skirts .. singing.  That’s a health and safety issue right there.  In the centre is a raised square area where soap is liberally applied by aforementioned fat hairy singing blokes.  The whole place is tiled, it’s all sharp square edges, and the it’s awash with soap bubbles.  It takes all my concentration to walk 2 meters to my allocated fat bloke without my legs going all ‘baby giraffe’ on me…  once you reach the safety of the table you can just relax .. listen to the singing .. look up at the amazing tiled ceiling with the suns rays casting tunnels of bright light through the steam .. and get liberally soaped by a fat bloke .. go on .. you know you want too.. then into a big communal bubbling bath for a while where you can fart with impunity.  Lastly you can be beaten and stretched and tortured for an hour by very angry man who has sharpened his elbows on an angle grinder and just loves making people scream.  I’d recommend it.

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Get up and out.. into the blankness.  The camera isn’t interested.. it’s just not worth trying when it’s in this mood.. We’re heading north to the black sea coast and we’ve a way to go.  Going to take a while.  What we really need is a delay.. seems shit and happens are riding with my mate today .. fuck they’ve been busy ..

We get stopped by the police at a checkpoint.  We’re all legal and stuff .. insured .. international licences .. should be absolutely no problem.  I’m first .. I’m through .. I look round and the policeman is on the phone .. that’s not a good sign.  Problem 1 .. someone has entered his plate as a O not a 0.  This happens all the time.  I have a 1.. and it’s often an I on the documents.. Problem 2 is they have his number plate down as a car.  Maybe they only saw it from behind .. it’s an easy mistake to make .. anyway, this causes mucho problemo..

About an hour and 50 phone calls to various official offices later, the details have been updated and we’re on our way again.  Time to get some squiggles on my helmet ..

IMG_2437 IMG_2429 IMG-19Fuck this is dull… sooo soo soooo dull .. I’m riding with one eye open to save the other from the pain of looking at it .. we get stopped for speeding .. just to relieve the boredom ..

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You have to have these null days .. you have to have the yin and the yang.  I’m a spoiled twat right?  Yes I am.. I know I am .. but it doesn’t help. We get to a petrol station.. running late.  There are a load of old men sitting having a chat and a fag. One of them speaks really good English.  He’s a dentist and specialises in teeth tourists.  We’ve been looking at the map and decided we have time to skip into Armenia but there are no border crossings from Turkey.  I ask him why … he talks a big intake of breath and off he goes .. full rant .. I wish I’d taken more notice in history lessons .. then I’d have kept my mouth shut.  10 minutes later .. I wish I’d never asked … 30 minutes later .. I really really really wish I had been born without any ears ..

By the time we get to the coast its getting dark.  The town we’re at is built on a 60% angle.. I think it was originally built on the level then tilted .. all the roads are at hideous lean angles, regardless of their direction.  Come to a turning and the left peg is nearly touching the road, but put your right foot down and you’ll be lucky to touch tarmac.  Scares the shit out of me.

I’m feeling really restless and I don’t know what I want.  I get like this sometimes on these trips .. just passing the days .. head in a spin .. like an addict looking for a fix .. and Turkey isn’t doing it for me.   IMG-8 IMG-9
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Follow the coast road east.  I’ve no doubt I’ve not seen the best of Turkey but I’ll really not miss it.   Just time for a few more squiggles and we’re out

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Get into Georgia and it’s immediately a different world.. and a much better one.  The second we’re through we’re set on by the hawkers.. insurance .. yes .. you .. random bloke .. yep .. I’ll just hand you my passport and V5 and some dollars and you can disappear into a random hole somewhere round the corner and sort it out for me while I sit in the shade and drink.  You .. you look trustworthy .. change this funny money into your funny money will you .. I should really check it .. but my bothered-ometer just isn’t working in this heat.  Luckily my documents come back to me 15 minutes later together with some pink paper covered in writing I don’t understand.  Perfect.

We get up the coast a bit and stop at the first beach for lunch.

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And I take a quick dip in the Black Sea to cool off .. ahhhhhhhhhhhhh .that’s better..

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One of my riding buddies mates has recommended a route across the south of Georgia towards Armenia so we head into the mountains to Khulo looking for some relief from the heat.  Take the a nice twisty road up to Khulo and look for a bed.  The place is dead but we’re still told the hotels are full.  It has quite an unfriendly atmosphere about it.. strange stares and quiet when we walk past .. but I like that.  Gives some of my 6th, 7th and 8th senses some exercise.. we end up down the road out of town in hostel perched on the mountainside.

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Take a wander about and look for something to eat.  Go into a shop that looks like the last delivery was sometime in 1940.

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The only place we could find with stuff not past it’s sell by date was the off licence

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We’re off to Armenia.. the road up to Khulo was as good as advertised .. I’m looking forward to more. The second we leave the town the road turns to proper shit and stays that way for the next 2 hours.  Very steep and very loose .. like my bowels.  It’s Georgia FFS, what did I expect.  Still, nice views when I can take my eyes off the road.

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By the time we get to tarmac the bikes are really tired .. time for a little lie down ..

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Get into town and go for breakfast and the feeling is the same as in Khulo.. but if you persist long enough you’ll get a smile .. sort of ..IMG_2598 IMG_2602

We’re heading for the Armenia border.  Looks like there are 3 to choose from, but we go for the closest.  The road is up. We perch on a thin strip of tarmac as we try to go against the trucks.. the BMW gets its bum fondled by a trailer and nearly goes over the edge …

IMG_2630Get up to the Armenia border.  Is it open?  We were prepared for queues but we’re the only ones here.  Not another bugger in sight.  Go in and bang on a window.. wake up the guard.. get a sleepy stamp in my passport then go for some insurance.  They’re all sat around eating their dinner.  I rub my stomach .. 2 hands pop out through the glass .. one has my insurance .. the other has a sandwich.. that’s a first:)

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We’re headed down to Yerevan, one of the worlds continuously inhabited cities .. bet you didn’t know that.. I didn’t ..  We’re only just a few minutes inside, always the most dangerous time, and we’re pulled for speeding.  The locals are living in poverty with fences made from crashed cars but the police can still afford radar and video.  It’s a nice clip to be fair .. some good fast overtaking .. I wonder if I could buy it off him for my blog .. he starts by showing us the chart of the fines and we’re at the top.  This is where he would usually smile and get his buddy to sit in the back so I could put the money in the slot and we could be on our way .. usually..

This bloke is different.. he really wants the money.  I wasn’t expecting that.  He’s getting quite wound up about it .. and me offering him £20 hasn’t helped.  We haven’t got any more cash so he phones up someone at headquarters and get an earful.  We’re threatened with the removal of our driving licences until we pay .. we need to respect the law .. even though there are locals driving past us with their feet to the floor and smoke pouring out the back like a challenger tank.  We go to plan B,  just go quiet.  He’s really pissed though and starts shouting down the phone and getting all red in the face.  His little mate has to take over before he explodes.  We explain that this is all the money we have, and we’re leaving tomorrow, and eventually they take the £20 I offered him in the first place .. and get no ticket .. WTF was that all about .. proper good cop bad cop ..

First big town and it’s been proper pissing down. The roads are awash.  There are huge 6ft x 4ft open metal grills in the road taking the floodwater, and bikes if you’re not careful or you approach them at the wrong angle.  Where is that health and safety bloke .. .  I’m pulling away from some lights and a huge dog comes running out from the side of the road.  It’s times like this that can finish the trip in an instant.  It’s not just playing, it wants a piece of me.  I brake hard and hit the back of it and it lets out a big yelp and stumbles straight into the path of a oncoming car .. game over ..

Get to Yerevan and into the city centre.  Nice city, and a complete contrast to the countryside.  We’re staying in an old ground floor apartment block.  The landlord tells us not to leave things within reach of open windows as they’re likely to go missing.  No chance of bringing the bikes inside so they have to take their chances chained up outside. It doesn’t feel at all threatening and the locals are really friendly. We take a wander round the square in the evening amongst all the locals.  Feels a lot like Russia, everyone out for a walk and a chat.  I like the feeling round here.

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I’m up early, just in case I have to start filling in a stolen bike police report but they’re still there.  Stretching and yawning in the early morning sun.

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The end of the line

Turn the page.  Vladivostok.  The final chapter. The end of the line for both the Trans Siberian road… and the Trans Siberian railway.  Although, as Vladivostok has the mile 0 marker, then it’s actually the beginning..

I’ve had a word with Yuri the agent in Vladivostok and he says if we can get there before midnight then we can get the bikes on the train back to Moscow tomorrow.  They’ll take 9/10 days where the passenger train will only take 6/7 so we want to get them on ASAP.  It’s a long slog.  We’re nearly there, you can smell the sea on the air.  Vladivostok.  This place was closed to everyone for a long time, and even in the 90s you couldn’t come here.  We descend into the city and ride along the water with the sun setting on the day and our long journey east.  The city traffic is a bitch as usual, but with the added feature of the biggest fuck-off pot holes I’ve ever seen in city roads.  We’re filtering through very slow traffic and it’s really fucking dangerous.  Imagine you’re walking down a packed pavement at Christmas and you’re trying to work your way through the lines of people.  Imagine a selection of these people are members of the  ‘avoid the cracks’ society.  You’re coming up behind one and they’ll just suddenly lurch to the left right in front of you to avoid the joins.  That’s what it’s like in Vladivostok.  Without any warning cars will just suddenly just pull into the middle of the road then just as quickly go back on their side.  Like the driver has just done a meganormous sneeze or something.  They’re all at it.  It’s weird to watch and it’s bloody scary.

Get to the hotel.  We’re all here.  We’re all in one piece.  We’ve made it…

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Get to the hotel and the agent comes round to meet me and my old mate and take us down to the station.  We ride into a small warehouse right on the platform, strip the mirrors and screens off, take most the fuel out and get measured to crate and freight.   It’s 6000 miles back to Moscow.  They will build a crate for the bike and essentially post it on the postal trains.  So… 6000 miles… 9 days .. plus crating .. how much?  15000 rubles + $50 to the agent.  So that’s about £200 to post a motorbike to Moscow – fuck – I’d have trouble getting to Manchester and back for that!  Amazing.  Say bye to the bikes and bugger off back for dinner and drinks.  Well… the bitch has made it this far at least.. now I just need to get it 8000 miles home..

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We’re in Vladivostok for a few days – we want to give the bikes a good head start on the train, and my Aussie mates need to organise their bike through customs ready  for the ferry to Japan a day or two ahead.

But first we need to celebrate… Now I don’t drink, usually.  But my Aussie mates have introduced me to their friend ‘Honey Jack’ and things have changed.  Jack Daniels and honey, one of the most delicious liquids known to man. I’m thinking of putting it in the bitch at the next oil change.  We ask one of the waiters to recommend a club and take a taxi down late Saturday night.  I’m easily the oldest in the place, at least 100% too old to be in here really but Jack is telling me its fine… Jack is telling me to just let go … jack is telling me to close my eyes .. listen to the music .. smile .. dance and sweat…. I always listen to Jack.  Fuck what a night that was.  My body had forgotten 4am even existed.  Bleeding ears, an empty wallet and clothes wet with perspiration.  The perfect ending.

We spend the next few days just knocking about avoiding the subject of time… we’ll be splitting up soon and going our separate ways.  The Aussies are really good friends of mine and we don’t see each other often enough.  I’m going to miss them.

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Go to the station to buy the tickets back.  This is mile 0 on the Trans Siberian railway.  Another lovely ornate place.  We’re wanting to go 2nd class as it has separate double bunked rooms but all the trains are booked for about a week ahead.. so we go for 3rd class … this should be interesting … still… 6 days/7 nights/6000 miles = 10000 rubles, that’s about £120. That’s further than London to New York and it costs the same as a peak time return ticket from Southampton to London.  We’re so used to getting royally arse raped for everything we do in Europe that we don’t even think about it any more.

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There is a bugger-off typhoon coming in and it’s proper twatting down.  Someone turns the saturation down and the whole world goes grey …

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Good old Russian ingenuity :)

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But you can always find a reason to smile …

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Smiles are very hard to find when you’re saying goodbye to close friends.  I look really hard but I can’t find one as I wave goodbye to my Aussie mates and watch their ferry leave. One minute we’re 6ft apart, in a couple of weeks we’ll be 9000 miles.

Our train leaves at 1:30am.  It’s 12pm and we’re in the station waiiiiiiiiiiiiitttttttttttttttting room.   13 hours to wait just watching the world go by.  In the evening we go up to the canteen for our last supper.  We get chatting to a bloke with an American accent, who is in fact Swiss, living in San Diego, but with a Russian wife.  He’s taking the train as far as Irkutsk then flying to Switzerland via Moscow.  He’s telling us we need to be on the lowest number train, and make sure we have bottom bunks.  He’s on train number 1.  We’re not on train number 1… we’re on train number 99 .. and we have top bunks.  We knew that when we booked though.  We’re not expecting much for £120…  We’re rough and ready .. and we’re ready for rough.

1am comes eventually and we make our way down to the Mile 0 marker, find our home for the next week, carriage 6.

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There are 2 ‘nanas’ [a generic Australian term for any woman over the age of 18] on each coach.  They work like slaves believe me.  The duty nana takes my ticket, gives me some sheets to make up my bed plus a small towel to wash and on I get.  I’m such a dog I just don’t care about sheets or who has slept on this mattress before or who has used this pillow .. I just climb up onto the bed and fall into a coma…

Wake up and I’m hungry .. errr .. “Can you direct me to the restaurant car please? Perhaps you could phone ahead and ask them to get the kippers on?”  No restaurant car on train 99!  That’s right – no catering at all except for a samavar with hot water.  No showers either.  Just a cold tap in the toilet, and a hole in the floor so you can wash as much as you want .. or piss on the floor .. whatever takes your fancy ..  There is however a ‘trolley service’

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The trolley has been nicked from a nursery I think.. it has a cardboard box on which contains whatever they could find at the last station.  Yummmmmmy.  To be fair, everyone on the train knows this and they all bring big bags of food with them.  Loads of tea bags and coffee and cakes and biscuits, pot noodles and bread, cold meats and cooked rice.  All sorts of stuff.  To be fair we knew this too, so we bought a couple of bottles of yogurt that goes sour 15 seconds after leaving the fridge, a bar of chocolate (big), and a bag of apples …

Anyway… that’s breakfast sorted .. .what about the next 6 days … looks like we’re going on a Trans Siberian diet ..

So .. .each coach has 2 nanas that keep order and handle the people getting on and off, cleaning the floors and the toilets, giving out bedclothes, and standing guard whenever the train stops.  They really work hard these girls.. they never stop.  If they do, then they have to answer to MegaNana

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I think they have a couple of these on each train to push start the train if it breaks down ..

So, these carriages have 54 bunks in each and these are constantly being rotated as people get on and off.  Sometimes they’re all full and sometimes some are free.  It’s all a learning experience.  Take a look at the timetable ..

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The train stops for 15-20 minutes at least 3/4 times a day and you can get off and snag some food.  Most the stations have little shabby kiosks and shops selling the basics, and a lot have other nanas selling food they have made.  See these red pots… they’re full of caviar.. not the Beluga stuff but caviar none the less.  All for about a quid.  Pity I don’t like it!

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I don’t think I’ve ever spent more than 2/3 hours on a train before so 7 nights .. 7 nights feels like a prison sentence.  My old mate has always wanted to do this ever since he was a kid, back in the 1750’s, but even he can see this is going to be a mission ..

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The novelty soon wears off but surprisingly it’s not as bad as I thought.  Everyone is friendly, everybody shares with us and invites us to sit with them when there is no room.  Don’t believe what people say about the Russians, they’re not a bad bunch.  The travellers are from all over though.  Kazakstan , Kyrgyzstan,  Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, all over.  They’re not stupid these people either.  Lots of the kids speak 2/3 languages including English and they know what’s going on in the world.  I think the Russian education system is pretty good, probably better than ours nowadays. The train is full of families too but all the kids are well behaved (otherwise they have to visit MEGANANA) and come 9pm it’s lights out and everyone beds down.  You quickly get into a routine… just counting down to the next stop where you can get a lovely cold potato pasty .. or some battered fruit .. or anything to fill the hole in your stomach ..

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When it comes to the food situation we quickly discover we’re complete amateurs.  We stop at one place in the middle of nowhere… no shops .. nothing .. and all these people are over at the fences looking like they’re buying drugs or something .. they’re all furtively handing packages through the fences and running back to the train .. WTF?  Get back on the train .. and everyone is stuffing their faces with boiled potatoes!  Jesus.. what I wouldn’t give for something hot .. It seems at some of the stations this trading is not allowed so it has do be done quick and dirty like a drugs deal over the fences.  Next time ….  knowing my luck I’ll probably be handed a big bag of hash or something … “but … I only wanted potatoes?”

More stations come … more stations go .. more hours go by .. still a bloody long way to go ..

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At some points the carriage is 100% full and you just have to stand up in the aisles, and we have to make our tea on a tiny platform by the samovar.

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Days and days go by .. are we there yet .. no mate .. not even half way .. JEEEEEESUSSSSS this country is big.  The train though.. runs to the minute.. amazing.  Every time you get off the nanas all stand guard and gather their flocks back on the train in time for departure.

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Half way in and we feel like lifers … I go into a little shop and I think I’m so hungry that I’m having apparitions.  I’m sure I see a HUGE packet of pistachio nuts .. OMG .. Ohh my actual GOD … so I buy it and run back to the train, salivating like Pavlov’s dog … get to the train and I’ve been fooled ..

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Fucky fuck McFuck .. they’re fucking sunflower seeds!!  Now anyone who has eaten sunflower seeds will see the problem with the picture on the front here.  The fucking seed is too big to fit in the fucking shell for a start.  If I had advertised the contents of my underpants in such a manner,  then there would have been a few women even more disappointed than they actually were … FUCK!

What is the deal with sunflower seeds anyway?  Why do we eat parrot food?  Do parrots eat our food?  Do parrots tuck into bacon and eggs for breakfast?  No they fucking don’t.  By the time you open a bloody shell the prize inside is so microscopic it’s just not worth the bleeding effort.  Have you ever wondered why parrots live to be 300 years old?  It’s because it takes them 3 years to eat a decent breakfast… sunflower seeds .. what a fucking stupid idea…

So… on with the diet… after what seems like a lifetime we get to Novosibirsk and get out in the cold morning sunlight.  I can see our hotel from here… ahh my lovely bed  .. I wonder if they’ve fixed the lifts yet ..

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There are loads of people on the platform, kids running about, smokers head down in the cold .. and there is a small snowplough driving down the platform  through the people.. and , true to form … he’s on his phone ..

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We’ve made a big dent in the journey now.. we’re counting down the days.  Leave the big cities though and it’s still lots of little isolated communities.  Piles of wood everywhere… chimney’s smoking .. fires that won’t go out for months..

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We’re on a random station somewhere .. no shops .. I’m proper hungry .. my nose has come so sensitive I can smell someone opening a hot oven door 500 miles away and tell you what is cooking .. when suddenly my stomach lurches and my nostrils flair right out like an angry horse .. there is something in the air … it’s .. it’s   … it’s that nana over there with the bag .. quick .. grab her!  Turns out we’re right and she’s a dealer .. she’s dealing in warm chicken and potatoes.  HOOOORAHHHHHH … “How Much?  Here take it all .. I don’t care .. JUST GIVE ME CHICKEN”  £1 later and we’re sat in the train like 2 dogs that have just raided the christmas dinner table .. Oh yea… hot chicken.    “Why didn’t we get more?”  “Fuck… what a pair of idots!”
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I’m convinced I’m a fully trained nana spotter now… we’re approaching another station later in the day and I’m proper excited.  What can I get this time?  Hot borsht with fresh warm rolls.. stew… dumplings .. christ this time I’m going to by the whole bag .. here we go..

WTF is this?  I’m bloody starving!!!!! No food?  What am I going to eat?  I guess I’ll have to make do with a small teddy bear, an A4 pad of paper and a ball of pink wool .. that should keep me going … NOT!  Bollocks..

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We’re getting close now .. only a couple more days .. I’m getting seriously hungry and I even get up at the 2am stops to hunt but with no luck..

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Just as I’m about to expire .. the trains slows down .. the signs start to slide ever more slowly past the windows .. Moscow .. we’ve made it .. truth be told I quite enjoyed it..
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Priority No 1… feeeeeeeeeeeeed meeeeeeeeeee… As usual there is a cafe at the exit of the station overcharging massively for soggy luke warm meals that were prepared about 2 weeks ago and taste disgusting … I eat 4

When we dropped the bike at the freighters in Vladivostok he scribbled an address on a piece of paper and said it was somewhere near the station.  There are 4 major stations here all very close together – it could be anywhere.  I knew this would be a bastard but I’ve been putting it to the back of my mind.  We ask someone .. who asks someone else who calls someone else who then arrives in his Porsche like Mr Big Potatoes and tells us he knows exactly where it is.  He gives us some instructions and off we plod in our gear, carrying our luggage.  After an hour we’ve gone in a big square and ended up where we started.. and nobody knows where it is.  So I ask a taxi.  He’s not interested .. so I raise his interest my waving a big bank note under his nose .. we get in and he  just goes for google just like we did… and takes us to a hotel down a series of back alleys … fuckwit!  So he asks someone else and they direct him to another road and somewhere that looks like a depot… we’re definitely getting warmer.. go in the front door and they direct us to another back entrance a few minutes walk away… so we get to that entrance and there is a grubby little bloke at a turnstyle.  Show him the paper we have and it doesn’t register on his bovvered-ometer.  Nothing.  Not a twitch.. He’s going to have twitch in a minute for sure .. I can feel my sense of humor packing up and getting ready to leave .. I can feel the dummy being loaded .. ready to fire ..

I call Yuri and ask him to speak to the fuckwit in front of me but he won’t even take the phone .. so I embed the dummy in his frontal lobe and go outside in search of someone with more than one brain cell that he shares with he stupid mate, and that he forgot to bring to work this morning …. anyway… just as my sense of humour is about to open the door and  leave, a young woman grabs the phone, has a chat, and directs me to a door.  The door is 3 ft away from the fuckwit wearing a dummy in his forehead ..

In we go.  Show them our paperwork.  They have a look at the computer, then through a scrappy box of paper … “NIET”.  Ahhh, my favourite word… Looks like we beat the bikes back, that’s a shit.  “Ring in the morning”. Russia2018-896

No choice then.  Find a nearby hotel, with a Thai massage.  7 days without a shower has left a serious crust and showering is like pealing a hard boiled egg … skin that hasn’t seen hot water for over a week .. simple pleasures …  So.. another evening in Moscow it is ..

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We’re at the depot early the next day… they’re on the computer.. it’s not looking good .. they go for the box .. last chance .. I see them single out a sheet and look at me .. result.  Thank God for that.  One of them walks us round to the other end of the depot and has a chat and we wait… until they appear, like magic..

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All nicely wrapped and crated.  Excellent.

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Excelent… if you have a breaker bar handy.  “Anyone got a breaker bar?”  I get the same response as if I’d asked if anyone fancied sticking their dick in a bottle of beach .. everyone just turns away and ignores me… Right…. RIGHT…. I’m rapidly approaching the point when I’m going to “Do a Basil”.  Anyone that watched Faulty Towers will remember the sketch when he looses his marbles, grabs a branch off a branch and beats seven bells of shit out of his car … well I’m getting close … very close ..  until I spot this ..

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Perfect:))  I go and disassemble a postal cage and remove the pulling handle, then use it to smash and lever my way into the crate and free my metal mate!

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Perfect:)) As they’d all been so helpful I just leave the crates in the middle of the room and we fuckoff-ski towards home.

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We’re on a mission.  Its about midday now and we’ve got about 300 miles to the border.  We want to get out of Russia tonight so off we go.  All is going well.  The weather is bright, the traffic is light, we’re going to be alright .. until I get to a corner and the angle of steering isn’t consistent with the amount of turn .. and my arse clamps like a submarine door.  I’ve got a puncture – fuck!  It’s a big one too.  A big split.  I bung a fix in, pump it up and we head for the border.

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We get to the final filling station and the repair is clearly not working.  It’s going down pretty quick, and the bike is refusing to start again until I threaten to just park it horizontally in the middle of the road and film it getting reduced to it’s component form by a big truck.  I’m really NOT in the mood for this ..  We get to the border and I’m down to about 15psi again already.

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We get to the border about 8:30 .. this should be quick.  The cars are all moving through.. we get to the front and … and … and nothing.  Everything just stops for 90 minutes .. get through to the Latvian border .. just fill in these 9000000000 questions please… we really appreciate your patience … and could I see your insurance please?  I dunno … can you?  How good is your eyesight?

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My insurance has had a big bath at some point and looks more like a bar code.  I’m expecting a ‘delay’ at this point but the bloke just takes pity and makes something up.  Pump the tyre up and give it my best shot the 70 miles to Rezekne and a nice hotel I’ve stayed at before.  I’m not stopping … just taking it easy … we arrive at about 11:30 and I’m reading 10psi.

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That lasts about 50 miles – can someone tell me what exactly is the point of these cans of completely false promises?  Anyway – the tyre goes down really quick and I think I pull an arse muscle in the wiggle down to low speed.  Crawl into a petrol station.  Glue is the answer.. lots and lots of glue….

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That works for another 50 miles and spits the whole lot out leaving me with no option .. see a professional!  We’re in a small town and we’re directed into an industrial area where there is an off-road shop.  Leave it in his capable hands and go and stuff our faces to try and catch up with our appetites ..

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Get back .. the bloke has put a mushroom in and it’s still not sealing.  Fuck.  I the more observant of you will have spotted that I’ve got a spare tyre on the back.. but I’m such a tight bastard that I’d much rather risk my life riding 1000 miles at high speed on a dangerous punture repair than waste a new knobbly on the tarmac.. you know it makes sense.. but in this case I’ve got no choice so on it goes… and off we go… badly behind schedule and running into the dark..

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We make it as far as Bialystock in Poland and head for a cookie cutter IBIS for the night.  We book in, go to move the bikes… and my fucker is really taking the piss now… we’re both convinced this is the time… it’s not going to start .. I can almost hear it laughing … “Only joking …. ” as it catches on the 5th or 6th attempt.  Yep … very funny.. very funny indeed …

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This is planned to be our last day together and we’re heading for Germany where my mate can split and go to the Hook to catch a ferry to Harwich when I go to Calais.  It’s a bloody long day.. we get about 500 miles in and we look for somewhere to stay but everywhere is full or 600 euros.  Fuck that, so we head off into the night towards Dortmund.  Dive into a motorway hotel after about 800 miles. Pay about £1/ml for a coffee and £5/gram for whatever they have at 11pm and hit the sack.

This is it then.. this is goodbye.  Always a sad time.  I’ve ridden a lot of miles with my old mate.  He’s always there in  my mirrors, all day and night without fail.  Never late, always happy, doesn’t snore, the perfect travel companion.  Goodbye old friend .. until the next time ..  and I’m alone again.  Just me and the bitch.  I point her west just let the wheels turn … to Calais

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Tunnel… tarmac … home … back to the beginning… back where I started.  Only a hole in my bank balance, a broken bitch and load of new memories to show for it … but what else is there in life .. what is there apart from memories.. when I just think … or see a stone trapped in the bike .. or find something I picked up along the way …or feel a scar on my hand ..  hear a train .. see a sunset  .. smell warm chicken .. get in a lift … off I go to some place far far away .. to me that’s worth every bloody penny …

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Are we there yet

The target for today is Chita about 400 miles away.  The sat navs plot a route looping to the south but my Aussie mate’s google maps is bouncing about trying to put it’s hand up .. “please sir caplease sir … I’ve got a much better idea sir … come this way … follow me… follow me”  Unfortunately I wasn’t close enough to the screen to see that it had it’s tongue in its cheek… even Google likes a laugh sometimes ..

Get out of the city and it all looks good.  A lovely road through some rolling hills.  Not another fecker anywhere to be seen.  Just complete isolation for miles and miles and miles.  We come to a small village and a petrol station.  The ground starts to shake and one of these all trucks pulls in.  I love these old things.  You see loads of them out here and I think they are the worlds first indestructible vehicle.  Christ knows how old it is .. it’s a dinosaur for sure though.  Belching and farting, chewing the ground and spitting it out.  The bloke gets a big starting handle to it and off it goes again up the road.  I want one of these.  I want to drive it though the middle of London.  This thing demands respect.  Fuck your Maybachs and G wagons, these things have a lot more style.

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As we leave the village the tarmac disappears and turns to a good rough road.  A tractor pulls up and ‘encourages’ us to turn around and go back but we ignore him.  What the fuck does he know?  He only lives here.  Google knows best ..Russia2018-600

The road gets rougher and rougher as we go, heavily corrugated and loose.  Speed is the answer… My Aussie mate can’t go as quick and has to take a lot more care with his priceless blonde cargo.  It’s all going well.  Lovely scenery, lovely sunny day, a change from the relentless straights ..

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We’re maybe 50 miles into the rough and it’s got to the point where I’m riding along just thinking of something else completely, just riding on auto-pilot.  I’m in 5th doing about 60-70mph.. all good .. then for some unknown my consciousness decides to interrupt my  thoughts … ‘excuse me… you know this is deep sand don’t you’. I’m on a big section of half graded road with lines of deep sand down the sides and the middle. I hate deep sand.   The second I actually think rather than just ride then my ‘off’ is ‘on’.  Away goes the tail, dancing left and right, swinging it’s bootie and heading for the deepest section it can find.  I’m just about getting it under control again when the weight comes down on the front wheel and it all goes straight through my skill threshold… time to leave..  I know it’s going down and the last place I want to be is underneath it so I just push the bike away with hands and feet and let it skid along the sand in front of me.  Fucky tits!

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The bike skids to a halt really quickly in the sand and it’s fine.. apart from one of the panniers.  I think I may have spilt the caviar in that one.. it’s bent the frame and pulled the inside of the pannier out of line.  15 stone of fucked off motorcyclist jumping on it straightens the pannier, and the frames are attended to with a big pair of Hyper-Pro tyre levers to get them back to something I can strap the pannier to.

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My Aussie mates arrive and tell me they’ve been tracking the accident for the last 200m through the lines in the sand!  Off we all go again… for another 90 miles of shitter and shitter roads that take hours and hours and leave google laughing it’s tits off.  Get to the main road and get a groove on.Russia2018-614

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It’s getting late, we’ve crossed another time zone and it’s getting cold too. The perfect time for my bike to start fucking about again.  The bitch has not been starting on the first press at all today and it’s getting worse.  I’m doing everything I can to keep the number of starts to a minimum so I have a thought.  I’ve ridden in Alaska when it’s cold and I’ve seen vehicles keeping their engines running at fuel stops.  Siberia is a LOT colder than Canada and so they MUST do the same… so … I come into a petrol station, keep the engine running, open the fuel cap with the spare key and stick the pump in.  I haven’t taken my helmet off yet but I can hear a barking and shouting coming from somewhere.. somewhere close …  I take my helmet off and it’s getting louder and louder ..  it’s coming from the kiosk… I think someone has trapped a wild animal, possibly 2,  and put them in there… whatever it is .. it’s going properly MENTAL..  I know what the problem is… but I choose to ignore it… until the door flies open and a wild woman with eyes on stalks and spit flying off her forked tongue comes stamping over with her hands on her hips and makes it extra extra extra clear.. as if she hadn’t done already .. that I MUST turn my bike off.  Cow…  So I fill the bike and push it off the forecourt.  Get my prayer mat out.. light some scented candles, get my tongue ready to try and get the bitch going … when this pulls up to the pumps ..

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Bloody thing is shaking and shivering like all the bolts were only torqued to about 2Nm.  It’s ‘ticking’ over at about 3k and sounding like a loud metal riot.  The bloke jumps out and sticks the pump in… hang on mate .. shouldn’t you switch that off first?  Did the bear/bitch come out and berate him?  Did she reach out and stamp the big  red ‘Strop ON’ button?  Did she shout and thrash about and get her tits in a tangle?  Did she FUCK!!

It’s another late run into another dilapidated city and again we arrive after closing time.  I wander up and down the streets looking for something quick to eat but there’s nothing … so I go to my room, dismantle the pannier and put some cable ties behind the mounts so I can just zip it on in the morning.

Up an out… another anonymous town .. Russia2018-628

then 10 minutes later .. nothing out here.. absolutely nothing… sky…road… air.. trees…all good with me..
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We’re at the stage in the journey now when we’re trying to pace our days to get to Vladivostok at a particular date.  My Aussie mate’s are catching the ferry to Japan and need a few days there to clear the bike and prepare it.  Out here there really is sweet FA except run down service stations and a few little towns.  Nowhere booked tonight but we aim for Yerofey Pavlovich where there are some truck stops.   It’s taken a shit load of time to get out here but days like this make it worth it for me.  It’s not that there is anything particular to see .. it’s not beautiful … it’s not outstanding in any way .. it’s nothing … and that’s it’s attraction.  It just feels like you could walk 100yards off the road and you would be the first man on earth to tread on that spot … like humanity has just passed through on a 30ft strip of tarmac and that’s it… I wonder if places like this will ever be populated..  no matter how overrun the rest of the world will ever become I suspect this place will always be just the same.

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I like the truck stops.  I like all these people magnets.  Pretty good too.  Good honest cheap food and accommodation .. on tap ‘company’ if required .. red hot showers in a separate building  – 200 Rubles for 20 minutes in shower big enough for ‘company’ … I got 100 off because I was only in there for 5 minutes .. best nights sleep on the trip so far…

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Russia2018-649When you’re this far into a journey and you’re chatting, you tend to quickly get involved in a race to the bottom … Australians.  Australian men seem to stop maturing at about 12..  so what do they chat about at work?  The usual… how you wipe your arse… I think one bloke in an unguarded moment admitted that he wiped his arse from the top to the bottom,  the back to the front if you like.. and that quickly turned into a questionnaire/spreadsheet for the rest of the office to fill in..  yes really ..  As well as the usual ‘fold or bunch’ question, and the new ‘direction of travel’ question, there was also ‘number of wipes’ and various other intimate details involved.  Unbelievable! This got me thinking… always on the lookout for an opportunity to make a few quid … I thought I’d introduce a ‘Shitmus’ scale and I could sell Shitmus paper.  It would be like the litmus test.  A scale of 1 (very light tan) through 5 (dark pine) to 10 (dark coffee – possibly with lumps) could work well I think.  I reckon I’d go for somewhere around a 3 (light pine) before the pants came up. I’ve definitely sat in stalls where I’ve heard people going for a completely unattainable zero, scrubbing away, turning their arsehole to a red burning ring of fire, and I’ve met people who are ‘off the scale’ and for whom even a 10 would be a wipe too far. As for the quiz, it turns out the back to front bloke was still alone, and one person even used a ‘3 wipe max’ rule no matter what their Shitmus score…  Anyway, something to think about for a few hours when the wheels just go round and round and round…

Get out the truck stop and out again into the proper wilderness.  What an achingly beautiful ride.  Cool and fresh and bright.  Lovely curvy roads through the rolling hills and not another bastard in sight all day.  Fuck… another place I’d be happy to just hit the big OFF switch and leave the world.  Places like this just make the hairs on my arms stand up on end and bring tears to my eyes.  Fuck I love this place.

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You know you’re properly out in the middle of nowhere when you come to Never where the summer road meets the Trans Siberian.  I expected a big dusty junction with trucks crawling out of it but the tarmac monsters have found their way up here and they’re busy making their way north to Yakutsk… that’s a shame.  Best get back here quick then.. .another excuse to come back .. Magadan is still over 3000km though .. just another indication of just how MASSIVE this place is.

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Russia2018-659 Russia2018-660 My Aussie mate wants to visit Blagoveshchenk which is a city just across the border with China.  It’s not on our route directly but it would be foolish to just ride past it so we take a 90 mile diversion off the main road so we end up chasing the sunset through the rain and get there quite late.  We get stopped by the police on the way in.  I’ve got my helmet on and I can barely see the copper through the swarms of mozzies.  They’re coming right up to my visor and smiling at me… showing me their teeth .. laughing … they know… they just know I’m going to have to take my helmet off to talk to the copper.. they know they’re just about to parrrrrrrrttttteeeeeeeeee….

Off comes the helmet and I’m deafened as the swarm descends and dives into my hair to play.  Fuckers… Put the helmet back on and I can feel the party is in full swing… everyone is gorging themselves on my scalp and some have also got inside my VIP area .. that’s not going to end well…

We’ve nowhere booked so we wander about at the mercy of the sat nav, riding past a few ‘is that open/occupied/derelict’ places before choosing a random place that last got decorated in 1850.  Turns out a lot better than expected though as these places often do.

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We take a quick trip to the riverside to stare at the Chinese…

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And get back on with it… east east and more east ..

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Vladivostok isn’t that far now… maybe less than 1000 miles.  Maybe the bitch has decided that going home on a train is better than going to hell in a ball of flames in the middle of Siberia and she’s not given me any trouble at all today.  It just fucks with my head..   beware of these orange bastards … and remember to read the small print before you buy one .. it says ‘do not mix Ktm ownership with any kind of anti-depressant drugs .. and if you are currently taking any kind of therapy then please seek the advice of a medical professional before purchase..’

We’re heading for Khabarovsk, the last big city before Vladivostok.  Criss crossing the Trans Siberian railway all the time .. coming out the wilderness and fading back into concrete..
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Get to Khabarovsk and my dreams of making a ‘shitload’ out of my Shitmus paper all go to … you guessed  .. shit..  I hadn’t considered this.  A toilet that will wash, wipe, blow dry and I think this one even had a button for a ‘prostate test’  … I wasn’t brave enough to press that one, but I did get a nice perm :)

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We take a day off to just wander about in the rain.  A nice town with a friendly atmosphere.  Bloody steep hills with old trams struggling up and down.  People trapped at the arse end of a massive country but just getting on with life..

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My old mate has managed to get to the grand old age of 74 without ever having a massage… that’s like still being a virgin … so we decide it’s time to pop his cherry/neck/back/knuckles and we ask the receptionist.  We’re told there is one 10 minutes walk away in a big pink building just down the road so off we go.  We get to the street … a street comprised soley of … yep .. big pink buildings.. fantastic.  So we wander about for a while until we find a little door leading down a dark corridor to a travel agent… come sex shop… brochure .. dildo . brochure .. double dildo .. brochure … gimp suit … everything for your travel/pleasure needs all in one place.  A really good idea I think.  I’m going to go into my local Thompsons travel agent when I get home with a big box of anal intruders and nipple clamps… I think I may be able to find a few kicking about in my garage … and see if they’d put them on the shelves amongst all the SAGA brochures. Anyway… it takes us 30 minutes to get directions to three doors down where the massage place is..

In we go then.  It’s a Chinese massage, these are always hard core, my favourites.  My old mate is led away to a little stall and I get taken to another one at the other end of the room.. I’m a long way from him .. but I can still hear his screams.  It sounds like he’s being slapped with a rolled up travel brochure then roughly ‘intruded’ … I knew I shouldn’t have left him alone in that shop… still, £10 later and we’re both happy.  He can turn his neck more than 10 degrees for the first time in 20 years and he can do massive shits without anything touching the sides.. result…

We’re all together and having a laugh.  We’re all happy in each others company.  We all know what’s coming… Vladivostok .. the last chapter.. but nobody wants to turn the page.

Next – The end of the line

 

And on and on..

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.

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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.

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You ride for miles and miles and miles of absolutely feck all then just come over a hill and into the next concrete oasisRussia2018-507

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 …

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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.

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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 …

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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 ..

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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:)

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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.

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“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.

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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 … Russia2018-542

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.

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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.

Russia2018-558Russia2018-557Russia2018-559 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

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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.

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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…

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Next – Are we there yet?

On and on and on

Out towards Yekaterinburg.  Trying to make peace with the bike.  Already calculating how many times I might have to start the bitch over the rest of the trip.  Giving up or turning round isn’t an option.  Death or glory…shit or bust.  I’ll keep it running as much as possible and just see what happens.  It’s nothing I can fix easily out here anyway.  If it’s the starter then it’s a fuck of a job involving wiggling the engine within the frame to get access .. yes really .. I was quoted £1200 by a dealer … and if it’s something else then I’m going to need some specialist tools, some fairy dust and three wishes from a KTM genie.  I tried bump starting it out of a petrol station but the slipper clutch wont let the rear wheel lock.  I’m not going to able to bump it myself for sure.

I take to the fields for a moment to distract myself and look for a suitable ditch to burn the bitch in..


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I decide she can live just a little bit longer, as long as she can get me to a nice truck stop for a random assortment of culinary delights… so she does .. proper food at last.  A sea of beige .. just the way I like it …

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I’m scooting along on my own and get to Yekaterinburg early.  Arrive at the hotel… and … eh … you can almost smell the turd polish .. Some creepy bloke you wouldn’t let in the same county as your daughter, with swarms of flies under each armpit comes running out and tells me the parking out here in this quiet and secluded dead end road by the building site is perfectly safe as there is a security camera about 500m up the road that is turned on between 10-11pm almost every evening.  He then directs me through some blast proof intruder doors, down some steps that have obviously been donated from a number of separate buildings into a corridor of rooms that will at some point appear feature on  the Discovery Channel’s ‘Worlds worse serial killer’ episodes.  The place stinks for a start, and the rooms look like people have screamed a lot in them, and probably lost a lot of blood… and teeth .. and other body parts used for going to the toilet .. It just looks and feels like the Grim Reaper is a regular here.  He’s obviously purchased a fuck off tin of Turd Polish and used it on his Booking.com entry as this place bears little resemblance .   Always be wary when a listing shows a lot of the local area and not much else…   I know… I  just know for an absolute fact that my buddies will  not get within sniffing distance of the creepy fuckwit before turning round and buggering off up the road so I go and hunt for a replacement.  I just need some fuel first.  So I go to the nearest station … its a bloody automatic one .. it’s going to be a nightmare … but for some reason I park and just wait … something seems to be interfering with my ‘bovvered-ometer’…

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After about 10 minutes the interference clears and my ‘bovvered-ometer’ suddenly registers 100% and I have to leave before I put an Alpinestar sized hole in the screen .. Go and find more fuel and a hotel then get back to the hotel just as my mates arrive.   “Novotel anyone?”

Yekaterinburg is a big place and has the highest building between Moscow and Vladivostok.  55 floors so up we go for a gander.
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We head out early towards Tyumen. The Ural motorcycle museum is at Irbit and we were going to try and take a look.  Internet says ‘closed on Monday’ .. guess what today is .. bollocks .. we’ll go and take a look anyway and see what gives.

Not so busy today… getting less and less as we go further and further east..

Russia2018-379 Russia2018-373 Russia2018-376 Russia2018-391Dive into any little village .. people just getting on with it ..

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Get to Irbit but can’t find the museum.. probably because it’s closed .. Google maps apparently thinks it’s inside a stationery shop.. or possibly right next to a prison … so ask a taxi driver and follow him out of town to a little courtyard.. down a little alley .. through a little door .. and it’s closed.  Bugger.  I give the door a good rattle but it’s locked.  I turn around to leave and the door suddenly opens and a little bearded bloke starts chatting away.  I think he’s been asleep for the last 2 months and has been awakened by the KTM bouncing it’s booms in the alley. After a bit of a chat he invites us in.  Result!  I’m not really into old bikes but it’s quite an interesting little place none the less.  This little bloke is the museum director Alexander Bulanov.  He’s a bit of a hero!  He’s a decorated Ural motorcycle champion and also has some Guinness world records including covering 25506 kilometers in 440 hours (with his mate Konstantin Matveev) without stopping the bike.  He had a big sidecar accident and now walks with a limp and a stick.  Nice bloke, gave us free rein and let us just wander about sitting on the bikes and taking pictures.

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Then a few hours of this ..

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into Tyumen and .. officially .. Siberia.  Siberia is BIG.  In fact it’s fucking HUUUUGE  The UK would fit into Siberia 62 times.  It’s 1.3 times the size of the USA.  And that’s just Siberia, not the whole of Russia.    Tyumen is just another big city.  Another spot on the dot to dot line across this truly massive country.

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Go out for dinner and happen upon a club so in we go..   Walk in and we’re confronted by a clutch of young women that have been carefully poured into very tight, very low cut dresses.  They’ve been filled right up to the very brim …  one false move and they’re going to spill something … something pink probably … best be careful then…  I do like pink though ..

Looks like the club can cater for about 500 but I think they’ve had a few cancellations… like maybe 495 .. There is a live band playing and they’re really good.  Playing to an empty dance floor for an hour can’t be much fun but they do a good job.

Get out the city towards Omsk and it’s really starting to thin out.. nothing wrong with that.  Lots of miles between fuel… never ending fields of wheat sunbathing in 30 degrees… welcome to Siberia..

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The road follows the Trans Siberian railway, sometimes loosely and sometimes, like today, runs alongside for long periods.   We crisscross it regularly and often just run alongside the trains as they lumber their way back and forth.  We plan to be on that train in a few weeks, retracing all these miles back to Moscow.

Not so bad eh?  Beautiful weather and miles and miles and miles of nothing but fields and trees.  A song in my head, the KTM just purring towards the horizon.  Friends… food … fun… The minute I leave on these trips someone goes round in my head and shuts all the doors to my life at home.  Work … shut…. bills … shut … that leaking gutter … shut … now is all that matters.

More roadworks.. more pissed up Russians on their phones.  These ones were out their car with a permanent marker defacing the bitch before I knew what was happening.  I let them get on with it… fucking bike is getting on my tits … sometimes going a day without a problem, then squealing like a horse that’s been kicked in the knackers all day long.  Bitch!Russia2018-420

Russia2018-423Riders .. make your pillions dismount … obviously!
Russia2018-422Get to Omsk and a creepy hotel I’m convinced from the moment I walk in is haunted.  My Aussie mate’s wife feels it too. She has a quiet word and convinces it to move on so I can get some sleep..Russia2018-426Russia2018-425Next morning, breakfast is bought to us by the colour green.. Truth be told I much prefer these ‘what the fuck is this?’ places to the cookie-cutter ‘where the fuck am I’ hotels.   
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Next dot on the map is Novosibirsk where we’re going to hole up for a couple of days and fettle the bikes… or use mine for RPG target practice… It’s been OK last couple of days… not a squeak ..bastard!

Russia2018-436 Russia2018-430 Russia2018-432Siberia… flat…. flat and more flat .. the scale of the place is almost frightening though.  Russia2018-434Russia2018-435

But it’s another beautiful day, and it’s another great ride on the Trans Siberian highway …

In all the big cities we get to the traffic is obviously growing faster than the road systems.  It’s a crawl if you’re lucky, and it’s gridlock if you’re not.  The crawling starts miles of the city and gets tighter and tighter.  It’s hot.. we’re hot .. the bikes are hot… tempers are hot.. we get to the big bridge over the river and there are 4 … yes count them … 4 separate accidents within 1km or so.  One involves a motorbike that’s laying horizontal across the road. Others are just rear-enders.  Novosibirsk traffic is a prize fucking bitch and by the time we get to the hotel in the centre my balls are glowing red and my legs are cooked ready to carve.. Nice view though, right overlooking the station and our friends the Trans Siberian trains.  I’ll be back here soon enough ..
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Novosibirsk is a major city along this route and has a lot of the big dealers.  We ride past Honda, Triumph,  and Suzuki dealers on the way in … no KTM though ..  and the Aussies have had tyres sent to the BMW dealer so we head off up to see they will allow a KTM to darken their workshop.  Big and shiny showroom just like anywhere else on the planet, with the bikes tucked in a corner.  He reckons they sell about 30 bikes a year.  Not many, but as he says, in a month’s time it will be -30 degrees out here .. OK then.. Russia2018-451 The BMW oil doesn’t specify the necessary MA2 tag so rather than take the risk, my Honda mate and I spend an hour in the metal melee working our way across town to the Honda/Triumph dealer.  Really nice bloke, Alex, and speaks good English.  He’s got room so we get the oil changed, drink coffee, and look at the view..

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I don’t think they do pipes LOUD enough for me …

I’m sitting drinking coffee … I hear a long loud squeal… has someone trapped a young stallion in the workshop?  My heart sinks… then I hear the bike start.  Fucky tits shit bugger and bollocky wank.. The bike has been squealing but starting up to now… this time it just span and didn’t start… KTM really should offer psychiatric care packages  the way these fucking bikes mess with your head… I go and boil the bitch in 10 miles of hot, shit, slow and smelly traffic as punishment…

Back to the hotel.  I press a button for a lift .. a light comes on … the door opens and a man in a hard hat steps out .. of the top of a lift ..

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I think the Russian state hackers have been practicing on these lifts.  The fucking things have gone into meltdown.  Press to go down.. it goes up … press to go down again … it goes down a bit .. then it goes back up .. press to go up … it goes down.  We’re on the high floors so we can’t use the stairs all the time .. just trying to go up to your room to get something can mean a 10 minute up..down..down..up…down.. up.. BINGO .. to get to your floor… then back to the lift to fight your way down.  Something that should take 5 minutes easily takes 20.  I missed breakfast this morning so tonight I’m going to drag my mattress in and camp out in the lift to make sure I get fed.

We take a wander across the square to the station for a look.  They’re really ornate places, just like the underground.Russia2018-472 Russia2018-474Russia2018-475

I really enjoy being in Russia and I really like this place.  Lots of really good memories and a feeling of being properly immersed.  I could spend a few days here .. wandering about … riding the lifts ..

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Russia .. the only country where the green-cross-men are hung like horses…

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I threw the thigh chaff-ometer away … I’ve switched to visual  …

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And … see my theory about aliens … they’re really integrating into society out here … this bloke even married one .. or maybe she did … it’s difficult to tell..

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Go to start….start …. START … START YOU FUCKING BITCH OR I AM GOING TO GET THE GREEN CROSS CODE MAN TO STICK HIS MASSIVE DICK RIGHT UP YOUR CHUFF ….. That does it…

The bike only starts on the 4th try.  That’s a bit worrying… in the same way that finding a huge stinking oozing  green pussy lump on your cock would be worrying … BITCH.  I’m properly in the middle of nowhere now this could be an enormous pain in the backside .. in the same way that having the green-cross man … you get the picture..

Fuck it… let’s just go…

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Get out of the city and the main road is closed for a cycle race.  The diversions aren’t obvious and a kind bloke toots and stops me when he sees I’m going in the wrong direction.  Either that or he is directing me towards Austria as he can see I’m on a KTM and just assumes, quite rightly, that it’s in the middle of a breakdown…

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For all my bravado .. my ‘shit or bust, death or glory’  attitude… I can’t stop worrying about this starting problem.  Riding out of Novosibirsk feels like we’re leaving the last chance saloon.  The last really big city.  The last place I might possibly get this diagnosed and/or fixed.  I’m so lost in thought … that I don’t see the police car following me … overtaking on solid while lines … their absolute favorite reason for …. here we go .. lights on .. pull over … wallet to emergency.  I’ll just put my sunglasses on the ground here so I forget to pick them up and they get driven over by the policeman as he leaves .. that would make this day a lot better.

Here we go.  I know what I’ve done.  He knows I know what I’ve done.  It’s just a matter of time and money.  He sits there repeating himself and drawing pictures.  I sit there working out my starting bid.  I open my wallet… offer him 1000 rubles.  He just starts laughing.  Wrong move Ivan.. so I slowly just put the note back in the wallet.  Put the wallet in my jacket.  Zip up my jacket.  Zip up my coat. Put my hands in my lap, and wait.  After a surprisingly short pause, he blinks first and tells me to put the note under the dash out the way of the camera as usual and I’m on my way…

Get to the next petrol station and the bike is fucking about again.  I look at the road.  Left out into the wilderness.  Right ..  90 minutes back into Novosibirsk.  I don’t know exactly what the problem is.  There is a 0.00001% chance it’s the battery, and a 99.9999% chance it’s the starter/sprag clutch.  I just need to do something.  Just to get some confirmation from a mechanic.  Right it is then, 90 minutes … 2 and a half hours back into Novosibirsk to the Honda dealers to have a word with Alex.  I get there, fucked and hot after fighting the traffic across the city.  Alex has a replacement battery, but he gets the mechanic out and I think he knows what I’m going to ask before I even press the button.  ‘Starter’ he says.  Fuck… I was really really really hoping it was the battery ..  So that’s that.  Decision made.  I’m going to ride into the wilderness on a wing and a prayer.  What will be will be.  Next decision… BAM.. that’s looking like it would be a very stupid decision indeed ..

Next – And on and on

 

 

 

Siberia

Out of Kiev in the low morning light we go.  Heading east into the rising sun.  Riding towards Russia.  I’ve been here a few times now and I must admit to having a bit of a soft spot for it.  I like the Russian attitude.  I like their spirit.  I like they way they wave their middle finger in the air at the world and go their own way.  Fuck you! And they probably would too given half a chance.  While we’re checking all our paperwork and making sure there is a yellow warning triangle over that 2 inch coffee spill, and that French policeman is checking I’m carrying a hi-vis vest that can be seen from space, and that I’ve got my breath tester and warning triangle and safety pants on, the Russians will just jump start some 20 year old planes covered in dust and bird shit, strap some random ordinance on, take off from some derelict airstrip and fuck the lot of us.

Anyway, stop for petrol and randomly run into the main KTM dealer in Ukraine.  He looks very surprised to see an Adventure more than 10 miles from a mother ship nipple.

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You can see the surprised look on his face.  He waves goodbye and roars off up the road before the bike can brake down on the forecourt.

We stop at some random spot selling 10ft Teddy bears and I go to order some lunch.  My Russian/Menu reading abilities are not quite there yet .. and I wonder why the bill is so high … before we’re served with enough food for a party ..

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I’ve only ever travelled into Russia on tourist visas before .. or more exactly ‘auto-tourist’ visas.  These are restricted to max 30 days though so no good for us this time.  We’re going in on business visas this time but we were warned they might question why we’re on bikes.  Turns out they couldn’t care less.  Fill out the customs forms (2 copies, and put in exactly what it says on the V5) and you’re away.  2 hours is a new record and we’re through.  2 hours, HORAH.  We can get to the hotel and look around.  Time for a sauna.. or a massage.. or a swim .. or … or… we could spend 4 hours looking for insurance.. I hate saunas anyway .. let’s go and try to get a piece of useless paper from a sweaty old nana in a roadside shed… that’s a much better idea.  We go to shed/nana No1.  She’s got the prime spot just inside the border post.  She’s bound to know what she’s doing.  I’ll be in and out before she knows it .. a situation I’m sadly very familiar with … I’ve done this before, but not at this border, it’s always been easy enough.. until now.

We’re going to be here about 60 days but she seems to be incapable of counting beyond a month so we go for that instead.  Or we try to.  She tells us to wait outside and she starts wrestling with the computer and making phone calls.  It’s late on a Saturday afternoon which probably isn’t helping.  After about 90 minutes she gives up and tells us she can’t do it.  Fuck.  She gives me some random instructions to some place 20km up the road, possibly in a cafe, possibly in a underground graveyard .. or maybe in a tree house.. yep, that’s probably it.. a tree house.. about 15-20km away … should be obvious.  So, that’s 2 hours done, we still need to waste another 2 before we can feel we have had the full experience.

First place we try is some sort of asylum with scary drug fucked people wandering about in wife-beaters.  Then after a few more km we see a tree house … only it’s not in a tree.  It’s just a wooden shed perched on top of a bus stop.  There is a big buxom nana leaning out of the window looking down at us.  If she leans out just a little bit more the whole lot is going to land in the road at our feet.  We consider that for a moment.  My mate thinks being crushed under a big Russian nana isn’t such a bad way to go .. We run up the back stairs and into her lair, give her our documents… and wait..  for about an hour … before being told it’s impossible… again.  Apparently a squirrel has chewed through the soggy piece of string the computer system is connected to.  “Are there any more nana’s we can try please?”  She points out the window just down the road to a shed where another dribbling little  bloke in another wife-beater is standing, putting 50% of his drink in his mouth and the other 50% down the front of his vest. Perfect.

So off we go to Nana No3.  By this stage we don’t care what we get, as long as it says insurance on the top of it.  This nana/pop combo don’t have a fucking clue.  I think it’s their first day on the job. In fact it might not be their job at all.  Perhaps they just came in to steal the beer.  We sit in front of the computer and play a game of insurance scrabble.  This involves coming up with any random names, numbers and dates that fit in the spaces on the screen and let you move through to the next page of questions.  At the end of the process we’ve got a piece of paper that bears as much resemblance to reality as a Donald Trump tweet but who cares.  We’ve reached our 4 hour threshold and we’ve got ‘something’.  We celebrate with handshakes and cake.

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before chasing the sunset to Bryansk.   Travelling by road through Russia frequently has a very low ‘wow’ factor!Russia2018-212

Another sprawling city with shit traffic and a million traffic lights.  I decide to test the sensitivity of the local police by dodging round some cars at some lights.  Turns out they’re quite sensitive..  I get pulled over and I’m wondering how my brand new Harry Potter insurance document is going to stand up to scrutiny.  He’s got a job to do after all.  Getting stopped doesn’t fill me with dread the way it does at home.  All it does is send my wallet running for the hills for fear of being gang raped and left open and bleeding in a ditch.   My advice, for what it’s worth, is show them respect.  Take you helmet off ..  take your plugs out .. shake their hand .. say hello.. smile .. listen .. be polite.   Works this time anyway.  Quick look at the passport and we’re on our way up some bombed out streets to our hotel.  I booked the wrong hotel… that turns out to be the right hotel… I should have booked the hotel down the road where my Aussie mates are staying.  Theirs doubles as a knocking shop, has rooms with huge round beds, mirrors on the ceiling and a receptionist that implies their bike might not still be outside where they left it in the morning.

IMG_1342I booked the one up the road by mistake, with secure parking and mattresses with an almost 0% seamen content. My bad.

Wake to the sound of bells and wander down to the church next door in the sunshine.  Stick my head in the door, go inside… feel the change in atmosphere .. listen to the chanting… smell the air… step into someone else’s world.

Russia2018-213 Russia2018-214 Russia2018-215Get on the road to the capital, easy riding for a few hours, then get anywhere near the city and the traffic just turns to shit.  Russia2018-222 Russia2018-224We filter for about 50km  and stop at an ‘Express’ pre-bland just to let ourself blink.  Russians are pretty good at letting you filter to be fair.  Especially the ones with the big flashy shiny machines that they don’t want a pannier scratch down the side of..Russia2018-225Then out into more and more tightly packed and random traffic.  You have to be aggressive in this stuff,  anything else is a sign of weakness and will be punished mercilessly.  I especially like the 8 lane sections with entries and exits on both sides.  It’s like someone is trying to plait the traffic, everyone moving left and right and fighting their way to one side or the other.  Get to Moscow late afternoon and play dare with all the traffic for an hour before getting to the hotel.  Moscow traffic is total shit.  White lines are just there to imply a general direction of traffic, not to separate it at all.  Still, all safe..  just another lovely day on the road

All day I’ve been wondering what I should do if I hear about an impending terrorist incident, or think I’m about to get taken hostage, or if there is a big off-site explosion… luckily the hotel has all that covered… phew… that’s a relief …

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Go and visit Lenin who has aged remarkably since I last visited him 20 years ago then go for a wander

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moscow

and do a self guided tour of the most ornate stations on the network .. amazing places

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I think I spot an alien from one of the crashed spaceships… she’s got her disguise almost… perfectly … right .. almost 100% .. there is just … one .. small ..  thing ..

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Moscow is fecking HUGE .. some really good views from the  330m TV tower though..

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We get back to the hotel late and I can hear a slow, low growling noise .. angry and mean … where the fuck is that coming from?  I wander about in the dark and walk towards the noise… Ohhhhhhhhh … OK then ….. What’s the problem? Its my bike.  It’s staring at me and it does not look happy. It’s had enough waiting about l … it’s fucked off, bored,  and wants some proper exercise … it’s time to go ..

Next stop is Nizhniy Novgorod, location of one of England’s recent world cup games I think.  This is the thick end of the trans Siberian road and it’s chock a block with traffic and accidents all the way.  Russian driving really is ridiculous.  I’m going down a dual carriageway behind a van and suddenly I see bits and pieces flying in the air and clouds of blue smoke.  The van I’m following doesn’t see it however and decides to take the number of vehicles involved to a nice round 5.   A few seconds later two babushkas get out their cars and start facing up for a fight.  Time to leave ..

Stop for fuel and you could be anywhere… anywhere they sell pop up deer that is …

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Get to Nizhniy Novgorod  and it’s a big old city.  It has the 2nd biggest Kremlin in Russia I think and we’re in a hotel just outside the walls.  Perched on the hill with a beautiful view across the river.

Russia2018-278 Russia2018-279 Russia2018-280 Russia2018-281 Russia2018-284 Russia2018-283 Russia2018-290It’s a beautiful sunny evening and it’s a beautiful view.  I get the bike out and ride it round to take some pictures in the setting sunlight.  I walk away, turn around  to take the shot and I get photobombed .. by a Russian bride … every girl loves a growling KTM … she doesn’t seem put off about getting her lovely white dress covered in chain oil either… the bike takes on a deep purrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr…….. at least it’s happy for a change … Russia2018-288Anyway, despite the wind .. it’s time to fly …

We came out the hotel last night and headed across the river towards the stadium because I had to get some new pants.  I bought some before I left but never test road tested them.  They seem to have a knack of … well … you know when you carefully  pack your panniers in the morning .. then ride for a few miles over bumpy roads .. then open the lid .. and nothing seems to be where you packed it … and you have to get everything out and repack it .. yes .. exactly ..  so I needed new pants…

Anyway, we should have gone in the other direction and into the Kremlin as the town inside looks old and interesting.  Next time..

Out of Nizhniy Novgorod towards Kazan, another world cup venue.  Fight the traffic and the loons all day.  Russia’s rep for dangerous driving is well known and well deserved.  I like to ride at the front as it means I don’t have to witness my fellow motorcyclists being pushed and bullied and jostled by some bloke on the phone to his mate whilst also looking at his girlfriends phone in her lap and his mums phone in the back seat. You leave the smallest opportunity for someone to fill a space in and around yourself and it’s taken immediately.  You just move over to the left of your lane to look to overtake and someone will immediately come alongside you in the right of your lane and fill that gap.. or worse still .. they’ll use that gap to brake into when they’ve spent too long looking at funny pictures of Russian accidents on Instagram and haven’t realised the traffic has stopped in front of them.   They’ll just come skidding past your knee and stop within a mm of a crash … still with their phones in their hands.  All lorry drivers do it.. all bus drivers .. I reckon if you look at Russia cosmoneaughts at take off, they do it too. It’s fucking madness.

Lots of roadworks today.  Usually bridges reduced to one-way traffic.  Miles and miles and miles of queues so we’re filtering both sides, down the middle and frequently down  the inside on the verge… which means you don’t always see the police.. who take exception and pull us over.  This time.. not even a word was said.. he looked at us… we looked at him … he waved us on .. and off we filtered …

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What’s this about?  Do I have to try and put air back into the machine?

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The roads are pretty flat and dull out here.  Fucking windy again and raining.. stop at any random cafe … you wont care what the food tastes like ..

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Then go for a ride in their front garden …


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Go out for dinner in the evening and see yet more evidence of crashed space ships.  This looks quite a bad one … he was probably on the phone ..

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Get up early for a tattoo’d sausage, a cake and a cube of wobbly flem then we’re off..

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We’re off to Izhevsk, home of the AK-47.  The rifle’s designer, Mikhail Kalashnikov lived here until his death in 2013.  There is a museum here that lets you get hand’s on with them, so why not..

And while we’re here, why don’t we stay in a big log cabin?   There is quite an industry building these out in Russia and you see a lot of cabin assembly lines alongside the road.  There is something about staying in a building that moves and wobbles and creaks when you walk through it and that could go up in flames any minute.  I like it:)  There is a big wedding going on when we arrive, kids everywhere, pissed as farts… climbing about on the balcony’s … playing with matches … the usual ..

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Take a walk up to the museum in the afternoon sun.  Old trams patrol the roads and the whole place is looking a bit 2nd hand but it all functions.  The trams have got to be 30 years old at least but they still climb up and down the hills and try to run over tourists looking in completely the wrong direction…  It would take us 20 years, 100 petitions and 1000 public enquiries just to put a tram from one end of the high street to the other but all the Russian towns have them.  The towns also all have their own power stations to ensure they’re independent.

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Get to the museum and have a look what’s on the menu…

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OK… I’ll have one of these please

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Buy a ticket – about £3.50 for 5 shots ..

Russia2018-328Go through the little green doorRussia2018-329Collect your weapon of choice.. and get a safety briefing… in Russian.  Basically this is the bullety end, this is the shouldery end, and this is the kill switch .. You’re led into a firing range with a loaded weapon .. stand .. point .. click .. click .. Russia2018-332No age limit:)
Russia2018-331and this is my score … don’t fuck with me people, else I’ll shoot your balls off.. well one of them maybe .. both if your wearing a pair of my scrambling pants … Russia2018-334Then go through to the gift shop.  AK-105 anyone?  About £300 I think.

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Getting into routine now .. get up .. say bye to the cat ..

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Wave goodbye to the panda

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Then bugger off against towards the flat,  featureless horizon.  It’s like driving through one of those old cartoons where the background just repeats itself ever few seconds… Russia is just a massive country and there is going to be lots and lots and lots and lots of this … we’ve only just started ..

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until you get to this…

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Then one of these …

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Despite the lack of hills/corners/colour I do enjoy the riding out here. We’re still going through a relatively populated area of the country and the traffic is still heavy.  The KTM just slices through it though and I find myself taking bigger and bigger risks..  I’ll just over take these 2… 5…10… 20 lorries… TRUUUUCKKK … I suddenly find myself riding down a two way tunnel of trucks at about 80mph after a road I thought was flat has traffic suddenly appearing out of a dip.. FUUUUUUUCK this … I dive into a gap with my eyes about 20 times their normal size and my ears suffering from the pressure wave.  Fuckwit…

Then next morning the bike decides it’s all going way too smoothly…  it wants to speak to it’s mummy ..

You can moan all you like out here girl.. but the KTM mother ship isn’t going to hear you scream…  now just shut the fuck up and get on with it..

Next – On and on and on

Vladivostok … or Bust

Hey you, yes YOU.  You over there with the KTM.  You’re not thinking about taking that Adventure on an actual adventure are you?  You know that on an 1190, even getting to the end of the driveway without braking down qualifies as an adventure.  KTM.  What does that stand for anyway?  Keeps Taking Money seems to be a common description.  But I prefer Kum To Mummy.  If you take your Adventure beyond screaming distance of the mother ship then good luck.  You’re going to need it.

I’ve done 3 big trips on 2 different 1190 Adventures, and so far its scoring 100%.  100% failure rate that is.  2016 the immobiliser transponder failed in no mans land just outside the Laos border.  Truck..ship…dealer…£1000 thanks very much.  2017 the chrome on the forks decided it was no longer necessary, wore through a couple of days before reaching Everest base camp and spent the next 5000 miles pissing oil out all over the brakes.  £500 hard re-chrome and rebuild … first ride .. some bastards nick the bike out of a pub car park.  I’ve had better days..  So, another 1190 is bought, an R this time.  18k and a full service history.  Replace the bits the scum nicked with the old bike, fit the panniers, get some visas and fuck off east.  What could possibly go wrong… it’s a KTM after all … so virtually anything really.  Still, it’s not a holiday is it.  It’s an ADVENTURE!

The plan.  The plan was the BAM.  Lets go ride out to Irkutsk then up and along the BAM to Tynda, then down to Vladivostok and back from there.  Easy peasy.  Look how quickly I can get there on Google Earth.  A quick flick on the mouse and I’m there. No problem at all.  I asked for company.  There is definitely safety in numbers on these sorts of trips.  I’m not a big off-roader and I’m going to need help for sure.  A couple of people were interested but for various reasons dropped out along the way.  Only two people committed. My old mate, the 74 year old ex truck driver that’s ridden London Bangkok twice with me, and an Australian mate that again rode London Bangkok with me in 2016.  He’d be riding 2 up with his perfect pillion wife, planning to avoid the BAM and meet us in Never where the summer road meets the main east-west highway.  Plans should always be simple, even the big ones.  Ride out, train back.  Simple.

We all had a quick chat and decided on a route. Minsk, Kiev, Moscow, Vladivostok, and wherever in-between.  Spending more than 30 days in Russia you’re going to need a business visa.  Pretty straight forward nowadays – £100 for an LOI from an agent then apply as normal online.  I got a 60 day single entry for about £100.  Same for Belarus – pay $30 plus accommodation in advance to get a voucher then apply to London – 60 Euros I think. Anybody needs any help just ask.  It’s simples:)

My old mate decides to drop his bike in Bosnia about a month before we leave, just to make things difficult for himself, it was always going to be too simple otherwise.   He just dropped his brand new AT and something twisted. The radiator started leaking badly and it was overheating.   Surely that shouldn’t happen.  Only KTMs do things like that don’t they?  Anyway, his bike is couriered back on a three legged horse with 2 limps and only makes it to the dealer a week before I leave.  I’m convinced it’s going to decend into an insurance super nightmare but by some miracle it’s all assessed, estimated, cleared and fixed in a couple of days.  One of the radiator fans had moved slightly when it fell, and then chaffed through the rad when it kicked in.  Rufty tufty these ATs eh! Anyway, he was delayed a few days and would meet up with us in Kiev.  My Ausie mates flew their bike over late June and spent a month zig-zagging all across Europe.  We planned to meet in Lublin, close to the Belarus border.

Feels weird to be leaving alone this time.  Just kiss my wife goodbye.  “See you sometime mid September”  … Dover and out…

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Quick skip up to Made in Holland to see my sister-in-law, then a 900km slog across the increasingly broken roads of Europe to Lezno in Poland.  Just another pretty little town keeping itself to itself…. just minding its own business..
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Found a cashpoint to get some money out… and a suggestion of just where I might like to put it…  I am a cat lover after all.

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Before heading to the square for a sunset dinner

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Breakfast… checkout.  I asked the young lady to sign my helmet.  I’d cleaned some of it off before I started.. and I asked her if she wouldn’t mind filling it up for me again… took forever and ever … I’m nothing if not a patient man… “no don’t worry … just take as much time as you like”

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Then back to the square to have a play with my new drone… and see an early indication of the standard of driving when some fuckwit doesn’t register a screaming drone flying just by his left ear!

Only a few 100 miles to Lublin so take the roads less travelled for a change.  Photo mojo is in hiding again.  I know I’ll regret it later but I just cannot be arsed.  It’s all pretty flat and dull out this way and it also really bastard windy.  Still, my reputation seems to proceed me wherever I go.  I can’t step foot into a coffee shop nowadays without a young woman reaching for my helmet..

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This fucking wind is absolutely doing my fucking nut.  I’ve tried so many screens on this bike and they’re all varying degrees of fecking useless.  I think they were tested by having an elf sit on the bike and having someone else bend over and fart 100m in front of it.  “Can you feel that?”  “No mate – not a trace, just a slight smell of cabbage”  Job done.  Bloody useless.  Maybe on a perfectly calm day it might work but add in trucks, trees and a flat naked wind obsessed landscape and it feels like my eyeballs have come loose.  I ride into a big electrical storm and decide the best medicine is coffee and cake.  I sit down and wait.  It suddenly gets really dark.  Someone has just walked in.  A regular by the looks of it.   She’s dressed very inappropriately and bending over to look at the cakes.  I whip out my ‘thigh-chaffometer’ and take a quick measurement.  She scores %100 – the perfect score.  Complete contact from thighs to ankles.  Good job I ordered my cake before she arrived as she’s bulk buying..

Anyway, WTF am I going to do about this screen?  It’s only day 2.  I’ve only done a few 100 miles and I’m already thinking of just taking it off and throwing it in front of a train.  Fecking useless.  I look out the window into the rain.  This screen is from the 1290 – fits fine if you just fit some of these and some shorter screen screws – just in case your’re interested ..  anyway, the screen has a big vent in it.  I reckon that’s what screwing up the airflow.  So I step outside and as luck would have it there is a decorating shop next door.  Loads of paint, and by shear luck, some special Polish motorcycle screen vent repair …

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Which I go and administer to the bike.  Fits in perfectly.  You’d never notice it was there.  This will be a KTM power part in the very near future.

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I’d have paid at least £1000 for that to be done at a dealer.  Anyway.. time for a road test so into the rain and west towards Lublin.

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The tape makes a huge difference thank God.  Feels like someone has glued my eyeballs back in.  Fuck that’s a relief at least.   Saves me securing them with nails.   I look at my bike in pictures like this.. and it’s like looking at pictures of my wife when she was 25 … I get all excited … until I look in the kitchen  and see it now.. that’s right .. I keep my bike in the kitchen ..still, they’re made for riding, not for looking at eh .. uh um.. perhaps I should stop there… otherwise I might be looking for a solicitor ..

Get to Lublin late afternoon and my Aussie mate’s bike is already there safe and sound.  Part 1 done.  Go and celebrate with a meal at the Sexy Duck.  Who the fuck has ever seen a sexy duck?  Anyway, one duck burger later and I waddle back to the hotel and have a strange urge to dive for soggy bread in the bottom of the swimming pool.

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It’s the night of the blood moon so we sit out on the veranda sipping coffee and staring at the sky.  A group of Israel kids is here and we have a  chat with their teacher.  I’m embarrassed to say my war history knowledge is very poor but it turns out that one of the biggest death camps was just up the road at Majdanek.  The kids are bought to see it as a reminder.

Off towards Belarus. I wonder what this will be like.  Every border is different but we’ve seen reports of 7 hour crossings so I overdose on patience pills and off we go.  It’s not a busy border… just as well .. getting out of Poland is simples.  Nomansland is a narrow road across the river border so the Polish only release a few vehicles at a time.  The majority of travellers are Russians and Belorussians obviously.  There is a land border between Belarus and Russia but it’s currently closed to Europeans so we will exit into Ukraine.

Russia2018-31At the end of the bridge there is a young girl in a tight uniform , sporting a long thick auburn pony tail, wearing a big smile and carrying a big gun.  That alone is reason to visit Belarus… she flatly refuses to sign my helmet though.  She just ushers us on into the beginning of the usual paperwork trail these borders entail.  We join the queue amongst all the scrap 20 year old Peugeots and VWs being pushed through the border.  We get pulled forward as a group and wander about trying to work out what to do.  I loose my mate and I see a guard waving me over to a small hut.  I go in and my Aussie mate thinks he’s hit pay dirt.  In front of us is a real killer in a little Thunderbirds outfit, complete with small red hat and fingernails that look like they’ve recently been dipped in somebody’s blood.   She’s wearing a smile but I suspect that she could easily tear apart a rare steak, made out of my leg, and swallow it in an instant if provoked.  Still, she asks a few polite questions and orders the shuddering fat guard to go and fill our forms in for us, which is nice.  Go into the main building and this is where it goes all old soviet on you.  Window 1 gives you a faded printout on old yellowing paper that you take to window 2.. or is that 3 .. that punches some keys .. puts a stamp on it and sends you to window 3 or is that back to window 1 .. I definitely went back to window 1 at some point in the game .. anyway… you just keep going until there is no more room for any more stamps.   Then you get a fanfare and you can go to window 4 to get some insurance… unless you’re a car.. when you’ll have to go to window 5 to pay the toll for the roads..before going back to window 4

So… 4 hours later and we’re off, just as someone sticks a big pin in the jet black clouds and sets off a massive storm.

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Go to fill up the bikes.  FYI, almost all petrol stations in Belarus/Russia are pay in advance, and most don’t let you just fill the bike up.  “сколько?” [skolka – how many] Pick a big number, pay, fill, then go back and give them your card to credit the remainder.  Best done with cash as the B[W]ankers will charge you on both transactions.  And not everyone trusts the Russians with their credit cards either do they..  Works fine though.

We’re running late and arrive in Minsk after dark.  Big place, looks more modern than I thought it would.  Some weird architecture too.  Lots of money about.  Lots of big expensive cars and bikes about.  Mostly the ones where the dealers has to take you into a special little room and measure your cock to make sure it’s small enough before you can buy them .. and lots and lots and lots and lots and lots and lots and lots of very beautiful young women.  I had the thigh-chaffometer out for 3 days and it registered 0% every single time..

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Get to the Hotel and pass through the usual time portal to 1970.  It’s all good though, comfy and quiet and safe parking.  I’m quite surprised so far.  Good roads too, new and shiny to the capital at least.  A nice atmosphere to the place as well.  Get up for breakfast, Russian style.  Breakfast is last nights cold leftovers.  Who cares.  Who doesn’t like fried eggs and beetroot?

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Welcome to Minsk. I was expecting lots of old architecture and big brutal soviet building everywhere but it’s not like that at all at first glance.

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We go to the war museum just up the road and it soon becomes clear why.   Looks like Belarus (White Russia) was in the wrong place at the wrong time and was just destroyed.  Lots of harrowing details of all sorts of atrocities. Pictures of people hanging in the streets and battles being fought among the rubble of the city.  It’s got a complicated and very unpleasant war history.

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No police about… drive up on the pavement and get the drone out …

We’re here for a couple of days so we  head out into the countryside to Nesvizh Castle.  Just to show how fluid the borders have been around this region, the castle has been in Poland… Lithuania .. and now Belarus.   Still, it’s an target ..  a destination .. a distraction.. that’s all the excuse I ever need.

Even out in the countryside the roads are all good and there is lots of new in among all the old.  I like the old though.  Europe is loosing all it’s character fast.  It’s turning into a bland meh soup and it’s a shame.  You’d often be hard pressed to know just where the hell you were if you were dropped in randomly on the main arteries.  All these prefab, pre-drab buildings… Germany… same … Poland ..same … same same same.  I juts hate it. Belarus is a relief for now, but I’m sure it will succumb to the inevitable eventually.  So, out into the little wooden villages.  Tiny one room houses built to keep everyone warm in the winter.  Real communities.  Stop here for a minute and people appear out of houses and wander down the road for a chat.  Chewing the fat and passing the time.  Laughing at my pigeon Russian, handing me dirty apples from a filthy bucket, leaning out the windows and laughing.  Really friendly people.  We’re all the same underneath..

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Get out to the castle for a look about.  Nice place on a big lake.  Busy too… I think I saw at least 5 other people there..

Russia2018-61Russia2018-63Russia2018-66Russia2018-60Russia2018-62Blowing a bloody gale but these little drones are amazing…

Then out for a lovely warm evening among the beautiful people of Minsk

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Pity I didn’t bring my dog… they do his favorite …Russia2018-53

Next stop Kiev.. Fill my stomach with cold vegetables and cream, meatballs and cheese, cucumber and custard … all the things you see on Masterchef .. then get on the road.  Pretty flat and empty.  New roads.. falling prey to the pre-drab epidemic..

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Cross into Ukraine and down into the chaos of Kiev.  Big, tight, noisy city with the biggest fuck-off cobblestones I’ve ever seen.  Rough as arseholes but stop you going too fast and last 2 million years.  I’ve seen three Maybachs here in about 10 minutes too, one of them wearing a matte paint job and wheels from a MiG  – must be a hoods convention going on somewhere.

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Find the hotel, cleverly disguised as a  drugs den..

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With a deliverscrew franchise right on the doorstep..

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According to the internet.. not experience you understand … the standard of such services in Kiev is described as ‘Premier’…

My mate is into all things big and explosive so we do a day trip 300km south to Pervomaysk to visit the ICBM Museum.  After the big treaty was signed one was allowed to be kept open as a museum in Arizona and one here in Ukraine.  300km of sunflower fields and shit roads later and we go down a dusty track to what looks like a rocket scrapyard in a field, through a rusty gate and park by a big helicopter that crash landed back in 1995.

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A little Maldovan guide turns up in a short dress totally unsuited to the windy conditions and takes us round.  With a big smile on her face and a happy sing song voice she spends ages explaining just how fucking scary and close to complete destruction the world was back in the days when I was happily riding round on a Chopper buying 8 chews for a penny.  She told stories of how during the Cuban Missile Crisis, one senior soviet commander averted world annihilation by refusing an order issued due to a case of mistaken identity.  He was never acknowledged but instead sent away somewhere ‘nice and quiet’ .. and very very cold probably.

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Then underground we go… into the belly of the beast.  First into the air and water processing plant

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Then down  a tunnel into the actual control structure.  These places are designed to withstand a direct hit and still be able to operate for up to 45 days in total isolation, completely cut off from the world.  The statistics are ridiculous and I can’t remember them other than they were in the ‘fucking hell’ bracket of weights, sizes, and dimensions categories.  Basically, the control unit is a very very very very very thick, very very very very heavy metal tube about 40m by 3m inside a massive huge meganormous concrete sleeve.  The whole thing is independently suspended in the void to help resist shock.  Difficult to photograph.

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There are 12 stories in the tube, and it’s the one at the bottom that houses the big scary fireworks buttons.  You get in a tiny lift/coffin and descend into the cold and dark and appear in a little tiny room with 2 seats, 2 screens and lots of buttons.  The soldiers/moles used to sit here for days on end with absolutely no entertainment allowed.  The Yanks apparently had TV and all sorts but the Ukrainians just had to do with staring competition … I Spy .. and “could you please avert your eyes for a minute please Vladamir.. and maybe stick your fingers in your ears… and pass me a tissue”.  Must have driven them insane.  Two of you can play at earth destruction by sitting in two chairs, typing a code at a terminal and both pressing a button within a few seconds of each other.  Boom.  Thanks and goodnight.  Two fingers.. two yellow buttons… the end of the world.

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Its quite a relief to get back outside where a whole load of big boys toys are slowly rotting and turning to rust.  Moving the ICBMs about and maneuvering them into the silos needed all sorts of specialist vehicles.  There are big FUCK OFF Tonka toys everywhere

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And of course the silos themselves.  The American silos were designed to be used more than once I think but the Russians took their usual ‘functional’ approach.  Why build a re-usable silo when the whole world was about to be blown to shit? Their rockets just had a monster fuck off explosive charge strapped to the bottom of them to launch them out the silo while simultaneously turning the whole place to rubble and dust.  Fuck I’d like to see (an unarmed) one of those being launched.  That would be a sight to see.

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We wander back to the bikes and I ask if we can ride the bikes past all the missiles, over the bunker complex, past the trains and out to  to the silo for a picture… I’m not hopeful .. “Da.. no problem” so off we go:)

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Then back between the endless sunflower fields to Kiev.  Ukraine is the world’s top producer of sunflower seeds.  I’ve yet to see a single parrot yet though.  Pick a field.. any field… and ride

Next day .. the deliverscrew ladies are still wandering about outside so in an effort to dampen the attraction to such services we decide to go and get ourselves radiated.  Chernobyl is only about 80 miles away.  You can book tours from here but my friends have organised a personal tour and will meet a guide up at the outer checkpoint.  We turn the sat navs on and follow the line north to the pulsing yellow dot..

It’s at times like these I think what a stupidly lucky sod I am.  Riding round the planet ..  chasing my dreams .. visiting nuclear disaster sites …

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My Aussie mates have ordered a special personal tour that includes taking X-Rays of each other right up against the wall of Reactor 3 where the very large piece of radioactive shit hit a truly massive fan.   Their guide arrives and I’m tagging along for the ride.  Get in the car, open the barrier and here we go.. The area is pretty big and it takes a while to arrive at … Chernobyl ..

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Chernobyl isn’t where the shit went down though it seems.  Chernobyl is a small town just up the road from the shit+fan site It’s still a living breathing town..  It has all the usual stuff.  Shops, offices, restaurants,  hotel, a post office .. police station.  Looks completely normal and undamaged.  It does have special rules like nighttime curfews and people only work here for short periods I think though.  It’s not what I expected though, not at all.  There are some reminders here, like a display of some of the remote control equipment used to clean up the site.

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You have to go through lots of checkpoints and have lots of paperwork to get inside the area, and you’re constantly checked for radiation levels.  Walk up to the machine… assume the position… hands on the sensors .. and if you’re OK the barrier will open and let you through .. hopefully

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So in we go.. I remember Chernobyl.  I remember seeing it on the news.  I remember hearing about it, seeing all the scare stories and pictures of two headed animals etc.  But the reality, as explained by the guide, is not what I remember at all.  Who to believe is anyone’s guess but it’s interesting none the less.

From memory.. so don’t have a go because my memory isn’t what it was .. my memory isn’t what it was .. my memory .. anyway… There were 4 reactors here and there were plans to gradually build that number up to 12.  At the point when reactor 4 went up, reactor 5 was already 85% complete and reactor 6 was underway too.  The first 4 were built like semi-detached houses, right next to each other.  I think the story goes that the auto systems were turned off to do some manual tests .. that were not entirely successful.  They just lost control and it all went Pete Tong. They obviously shut down the other 3 immediately but the remarkable thing is, they bought them all back up and had them working online again just a few days later.   Belarus caught the brunt of the cloud.  Everyone was evacuated from Pripyat (the ghost town) but it wasn’t hit badly by the cloud and could have been repopulated but the decision was made not to.   They ‘say’ nobody died as a direct consequence of the accident.  One fire-fighter died of a heart attack I think.  Obviously they do acknowledge the bravery and sacrifice made by a lot of extraordinary people involved in fighting the fire and the subsequent containment operations.  You see pictures of helicopters just hovering just over the pit dropping stuff into it and checking conditions.  Just normal uniforms on, no lead suits or protective stuff.  Seriously brave individuals every one of them.  “Fuck that shit” as my Aussie mate would say.  Who knows how many died as a result of that.  Reactor 4 is now enveloped in a big concrete sarcophagus, but you can go into reactor 3 next door and stand next to the wall to reactor 4,  take X-Ray selfies and maybe cook some marsh mellows..  That’s what my mates are off to do…

I’ve only paid for the cheap seats and I’m expecting to bum around for a few hours in the sunshine…  maybe soak up some rays … or maybe not … So I go back to the car with the guide and prepare to read.  “OK… what can we do..  do you fancy going to reactor 5?”  Ummmm… OK then …

The guide has been coming here regularly for 10 years and he’s only been to reactor 5 a few times he tells me, it’s definitely NOT on the usual itinerary.   It was 85% complete at the time of the accident but they decided to stop, not surprisingly…  They stripped it out and then clad it in some red panels for some reason to do with the radioactivity… just to be on the safe side .. yea right ..  anyway, we get out the car and take a path through the undergrowth towards the cooling tower.  Let’s just check the radioactivity levels here shall we..

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that’s millisieverts I think… I dunno .. that’s measured just off the path anyway .. and we’re sticking to the path .. I’m sure that’s fine..  and I am wearing long sleeves as instructed ..  it’s all good..

So we wander through the undergrowth towards the cooling tower.  Please note all the health and safety warning signs and daily signed inspection notes to confirm that the walkway is safe and complies to article 22234234B of the ‘you’re a fucking idiot’ guidelines …

Russia2018-117Russia2018-124These cooling towers are MASSIVE.  Amazing acoustics too.  The guide throws a big rock against a metal panel and it echo’s about the place like a ghost trying to fight it’s way out.  Quite poignantly, a quite well known Australian artist came here and painted a mural of a doctor working at the local hospital after the event..

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We get back into the car and ride the tracks round to the cooling lake and the old labs they used after to try and detect changes in the fish and animals.  Apparently they never found any abnormalities but they put it down to the fact that the first thing to go in infected creatures is the reproductive system… mother nature’s fail safe mechanism kicks in..

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And then round to the reactor itself.  It’s just a big sod off derelict nuclear power station.  Safe as houses.

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We climb under a monster lump of metal that’s just fallen off the side and leans against a hole in the wall.  I take time to inspect the safety certificate.. just to be sure .. before climbing up a load of incomplete concrete stairs in 90% darkness to emerge towards the roof.  Nice… I like what you’ve done with the place.  very ‘now’ .. very ‘in’

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The guide takes me through another door into 100% darkness and we navigate through to the huge void in the middle where the reactor would have been.  Luckily he’s got a torch… on his phone.. and as long as I keep within 10 centimeters of him I can avoid the 5 story drops between the platforms we step across.  You can here the scale of the place as your voice/screams/farts echo around in the darkness.  Why the fuck didn’t I use my torch too?  It’s funny how fear can mess with your head:)

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Out into the light we go, up loads of 99% corroded 89 degree ladders, dodge round more fallen tonnage and we can get a really good view across to Reactor 4.

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You’re not supposed to take pictures of Reactor 4, so the guide didn’t take me round there when nobody was about. Here is an artists impression of what I saw ..

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Not a place I ever expected to be for sure.. We go and collect my mates from their tour through reactor 3 and go for lunch.  Looks nice enough … bit of a fizzy aftertaste though…

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The guide is with us for a couple more hours so he decides to just take us for a walk round Pripyat.  This place is weird.. .and BIG.  It was a really big place… maybe 50000 predominately young people lived here.  The school had to run 2 shifts to accommodate all the children.  I thought it was going to be a tiny place but no.  It had a big stadium with running tracks and big grandstands,  a swimming complex, lots of high rises .. hotels .. everything a normal town would have.  We start with the usual… the wheel.. where there is a radioactive hotspot scoring somewhere over 300 on the ‘DIY sterilizations done here’ scale.

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Then we just wander about through the undergrowth, through the old stadium and into the swimming pool..

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Russia2018-162And the gym.. with its parquet flooring .. as supplied by people on extended holidays in Siberia with nothing better to do apparently .. Russia2018-151

And up one of the derelict and stripped out 17 story tower blocks for a view. 

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Cool… “Do you want to go through the red forest to see the woodpecker?”  WTF are you on about mate?  What is this bollocks of which you speak?  Well, just in case we’ve not received more than 1000 times our daily allowed dose of radiation, the Red Forest is area that caught some of the cloud and killed all the trees, turning them … yep .. you guessed it .. .  “It still has high levels of radiation so … keep the car windows shut… ”  Understood ..that’ll work .. I’m sure this little Toyota has been heavily modified to resist all the nasties in the air round here .. so off we go … quickly .. to see The Woodpecker, otherwise known as the Duga Radar.  This is some HOOOOOOOGE engineering, old soviet style.  I think it was basically an over the horizon radar to detect ballistic missiles going through part of the atmosphere, sending shortwave bursts through the air, fucking up everyone’s communications and disrupting broadcasts all over the world whilst consuming vast amounts of electricity… hence it’s location .. Its MASSIVE… I think 500m by 100m.  It would make a good washing line…

Russia2018-163 Russia2018-165 Russia2018-166Then back to Kiev for a day of wandering and people watching.  There is a nice old Metro system here, looks a lot like the one in Moscow, not surprisingly…. from when they used to be besties..

The girl at the ICBM museum told us you can get 10-12 years in prison just for displaying a communist symbol here nowadays…

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And we came across the Ukraine branch of the Putin fan club..

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We’ve not had much exercise for the last few days so we get on a random metro train to the end of the line and walk back

Russia2018-191 Russia2018-195 Russia2018-198Seems they have a problem with flying saucers round here, crash landing into the buildings.  Russia2018-196

We’ve got a long long way to go… so we’d better get on with it.. we pack up and head east .. to the Motherland.. it’s time to get on with it.

Next – Siberia

Down and Out

Out of China and meet the Laos guide with a pickup.  We manhandle the stricken bike in and tie it down tighter than an epileptic tiger.

web--547 web--548Then down to the border to sweat it out.  I’ve been through here a few times and it just gets longer and longer every time.  I think they must all be out polishing that bloody gold paint.   web--549Two hours  and a couple of pints sweat later and we’re released onto the  jungle mountain road. It’s definitely worth the wait.  web--550To spend the night deep in the forest at a facility where they test rainbows…web--551And moonshine..web--552and clouds…web--553I mark them a 10/10 on everything.

Leave the gates and navigate the huge new brown elephant shit roundabout that appeared overnight, then get out onto the red mud to clamp my arse shut for the day.web--554Laos is such a beautiful country and I’d love to spend longer here but we had to move some dates about to avoid some border closures in Kyrgyzstan so we’re just passing through quickly this year.  That and the fact that it’s costing upwards of $200 a day per rider for all the permits and shit.  It’s such a shame.  Blame the Chinese…
web--557 web--556 web--555I stop for lunch next to a hairdresser.  What did I stop for?  I can’t remember…  I’m not hungry any more … I need a haircut … and a shaveweb--558Get on the road out to towards the border and initially it’s not very promising but it soon turns into an amazing deserted curvefest, the likes of which I’ve rarely seen.   The Bitch is not stopping for anything.. including photos.  Go there yourself.  Fuck what a road.web--559Up to the border and yet another beautiful hotel looking out at Thailand across the Mekong river.  web--565 web--566web--563 web--564 web--567web--560 web--561The injured rider is still with us.  Getting the bike into Thailand without him could be a real bastard  and he’s really helping by smiling through the pain.  The bloke is made of steel or something.  I’m sure he cries into his sheets and bites down on towels all night though…. according to the additional cleaning bill anyway…

Get to the Thai border and transfer the bike to another pickup.web--568And get our permits stamped by a women that looks like something out the X Files.web--569Those stupid contact lenses just spook me out every time!

Get to Chiang Mai and we all go out to say goodbye to our broken mate.  It’s really sad to see him go, and it signals the end of the trip is getting horribly close.

We’re only in Thailand for 6 days and our mission is to cram as many corners as possible into the shorted possible distance.  Enter the Mae Hong Son Loop.  1864 corners in 400 miles.  Jesus H Christ.

Ever since I was a kid, when ever I eat my dinner, or sweets, or … well .. anything really .. I always leave the best till last.

This is the last. This is the best.  This is total tarmac insanity.web--570web--571web--572I have a theory about the design of this road.   I think they dipped a randy dog’s tail in paint and stood him in front of a big piece of paper.  Then they got a running machine and placed it right in front of him, put the doggy winner of ‘on heat rear of the year’  on it and turned the dial to ‘wiggle’.  The trace he painted with his tail was dropped directly onto the Mae Hong Song loop.

In places the road is like a tarmac spiral staircase and it’s so steep that I can’t work out how the fuck they even tarmac’d it in the first place.  I think they just held hot strips of tarmac under helicopters then dropped then on the mountains.  I can’t see how else they could do it.  The corners can get so tight and steep that it’s first gear even for the Bitch, and there isn’t a truck on the whole road as it’s simply not traversable for them.

I’m following a couple of the others and you can see their crash helmets bulging with their massive smiles.  This is absolutely ridiculous.  It’s just non stop.  1864 corners.  1864!   The only downside is my forks.   My forks are now for decorative purposes only.  They’ve got to the ‘tits on a trampoline’ stage.  The slightest touch of the front brakes has the front wheel shoved up between my balls and the headlight pointing at the ground so I’m trying not to use it.  That’s fine going up… Going down is a problem:)  I’m dragging the back which is fine right up until the moment it boils, fails, and trys to wipe me like leather spread down the side of a jagged cliff.

Ever since my mate twatted his Transalp in China on the same jagged road I did, his bike has been dragging it’s arse like a dog with an itch. As I follow him I watch sparks fly off his panniers in the corners.  But when we stop for a moment just to breath in and blink we notice it’s not his panniers that hitting the ground, it’s his aluminium fuel can full of petrol.. Ummmmmmm …

We all get to Mae Hong Song with our tyres rubbed raw and our throttle wrists aching like single adolescents, then hole up for the night in huts on stilts and listen to the rain pound down around us.

web--576 web--577After breakfast we take a quick diversion to a beautiful bamboo bridge across a sea of glistening green to a Monastery.web--578 web--581 web--580 web--579Unfortunately I only counted about 700 bends yesterday… WTF are the rest?  Oh… OK… here they are… phew…web--584

web--583 web--585And I even found a Ktm bush…
web--582Get back to Chaing Mai amid a huge thunder storm and take the bike for a well deserved scrub down.  That’s not going to be a 5 minute job…web--587I’m just wandering about and I come across the secret of why the Thais are so attractive…
web--586All good things come to an end… and some things come to a good end.. down to the outskirts of Bangkok.web--588web--590web--589And time to reflect on an amazing journey halfway around the planet….web--591This is it… we adopt the swarm formation and buzz into the hornets nest that is Bangkok rush hour traffic.. web--592 What a laugh that is.. oh how we laughed… FUUUUUUUCKKKKKKKKKKKKK.  Eventually we find our way to the freighters and turn off the bikes.  They all just sit there ticking to themselves.  Congratulating each other on a job well done.  Comparing scars and swapping stories…. or is that us… web--593 web--594 web--595We put the beasts in the container.. shut the door.. walk away…

Now the sad part starts …. until the next time:)routemap UK to BKK profile

 

 

Back from the brink

I feel like the Terminator at the end of T1.  I feel totally crushed.  The light in my eyes is dying.. dimming..  disappearing towards the darkness.  My brain has gone black.  The screen has been turned off and now there is just the white dot in the middle.  It’s flat lining.

Just as the light is about to fade to black, in it’s final death throws, my brain flashes one last image and I grasp it with both hands and follow the delicate thread. It’s an image of the leader of the Swiss tour group we hooked up with early in Tibet.  I remember sitting and talking with him in a police station somewhere.  Just him and me, having our photos done.  I remember his guide was with him, and that he was a mate of our guide.  I’ve not seen him since we left Lhasa days ago.  I remember him saying he was going to drive the G318 to recce it for a later trip…. and I remember seeing the guide somewhere recently.  I remember seeing him about an hour ago in reception.  We’re in a tiny town.  Really just a mile long strip of buildings along the road.  There aren’t many options out here.  I… wonder…

I stand up, turn around,  look round the car park and 20 yards away I see the Swiss bloke standing next to this…

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Did I actually die?  Is this a dream?  “Hi… you don’t happen to have any tyres in the back of that do you?”  “Sure…. I have 2 or 3”  As I wander over I look through all my pockets and see if I’ve got any lucky stars left, or lucky heather, or four leaf clover.. Nope… I’m all out.. I know the Swiss group was 90%  700 Teneres plus a couple of F800s, all those wear 21 inch fronts so that’s probably what he has.  He only had a single 1200 and I can’t remember how new that was either. It’s not likely he can help but at least it keeps me from looking up the least painful suicide methods on the internet for another 30 seconds.

As I walk towards the back of the truck I see some apparitions appearing in the air just above it.  When I rode past Mt Kailash I think I picked up a few passengers.  I think a few of the Gods hitched a ride to get away from all the pilgrims constantly begging and asking for forgiveness.  I can imagine that gets a bit wearing… after 1000 years … They’re hovering above the van, but they’re all looking very enigmatic.. Are they smiling down on me?  Time to find out.

He lifts the flap and I’m immediately hit by a deafening wave of noise.  WTF is that?  I think … Is that the the sound of angels singing?… I look in and there, just within my reach is some rubber rocking horse shit.. A Heidenau K60, brand spanking new, exactly my size.   Very probably the only one in China.  So, I’ve just this moment discovered my tyre is fucked, and there is brand new replacement 20 yards away.  What the fuck are the odds of that?

I just fall to my knees and start sucking at the front of his trousers.  “Can I have that pleeeeeeeeease?  I’ve a hardly used 24 year old daughter I can give you, or a son.. your choice .. or a house in Southampton .. or my anal virginity .. anything you like .. just name it”.  All he wants are some dry trousers .. and 5 pieces of rectangular paper, each with a 20 stamped on them.   The guide thinks I’ve been arse raped.  I think I’ve just experienced a miracle.

I get back on the emotional roller coaster, AKA The Bitch, and ride 100 yards down the road where there is a big pile of lorry tyres. I Grab a greasy mechanic and get it changed.  The fucked tyre tears some more as it comes off the rim.. plan Z was to ride it anyway .. straight into the scenery probably .. The new tyre just pops on and The Bitch is  back in the game …. HELL YEA!

web--427Ride back round to the hotel and things are looking up already..web--424and up..web--426and up…web--425

With my luck running high I run around the town looking to lay a bet on the the leader of the catholic church declaring he is in fact a woman and that he from now on he wants to be known as “Pope Britney” but everyone has heard of the tyre miracle and they won’t take my money..

Wake up in the morning and the Gods are still smiling..web--429web--431web--432 web--430We take the bikes for breakfast and even the time wasting petrol voucher signing bloke looks happy for a change.web--433 web--434Then it’s Canyon O’Clock.  I’m keen not to be late… and so are the others.  We all disappear into the tight canyon maize and turn up the noise.   I have to take it easy to bed in the new tyre… I let it rotate once .. twice… that’ll do… web--435Then it gets all gorgeous..
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web--437and bendy.. 99 of them .. up to 5000m …web--438Now I’m sure I’ve seen that sign done on a smaller scale with one hand.  I wonder if it’s an invitation, or maybe she’s got double jointed thighs… web--439web--440The Chinese don’t respect personal space, or personal anything really.  When we leave the bikes unattended, we turn round and they’re are people all over them, playing with the buttons, even sitting on them.  I go up to someone sitting on one of the bikes, push him and tell him in no uncertain terms to get the fuck off it.  Note to self.. in future .. check the twat hasn’t put the stand up .. that would end up with a Chinaman buried under a Ktm … that wouldn’t be good … I’m sure the ambulance will be here in good time… maybe sometime in 2019 … web--441Bugger off quick style to avoid the lynch mob, go about 500m round the corner and … here we go again…web--442Hanging on to a bolting Ktm is hungry work so we stop for lunch and confirm that stupid vain twats in hats aren’t just the preserve of the west. web--446We deliberately choose the cafe with the worst hygiene rating we can find.  I’m completely indestructible today – bring it on..web--447 web--449 web--448Then race the roving river through the warm afternoon sunshine.web--450To another lovely tiny mountain town
web--452web--453Two of us see a small neon sign, go down a dark passage, climb into a tiny lift and pop out in a hidden burger bar half way up a building.  Everyone just stares but we’re used to this by now.  As luck would have it … and I seem to be carrying a sack of it on my back .. there are not 1 by 2 English teachers in the crowd and they fall over themselves to help us avoid ordering the picked spider tits by mistake. web--454After what we’re ridden so far, after everything that we’ve seen,  telling people there is something special for tomorrow sounds just plain stupid… but it’s true.

Get to the police check/starting gate on the edge of town and take a look at the menu for today.  Look tasty… very very tasty

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The light turns green, the curtain goes up and we’re off.   Off into the most ridiculous piece of road I know anywhere.  If there is another road on the planet that can give you this much variety on a single riding day then I’ll eat my own helmet… if I can still bend over far enough..web--456web--457web--458web--459web--461web--460web--462web--463web--466web--468web--469To end up at a grubby little hotel with a horrible view from both the foyerweb--473and my bedroom windowweb--474So we go and drown our sorrows in beer and cake..web--471web--472We’re at another holy mountain that I’ve never heard of.  Get up next morning, open the curtains … it’s probably raining.  Yep.. can’t see a thing.. web--475Go up on the roof for a better look in the cold morning air.  Oh yea.  Much better view from up here..web--476web--478We left Tibet yesterday.  We’re all excited.. we’re going for petrol .. and they’re going to let us fill up ourselves .. at the pump… just like the grown ups do… I wonder if I can remember how to do it.. web--479Before enjoying a final scream down and out of the mountains to Shangri-La.web--480 web--481web--482It’s a really fast road, and we’re going really fast.  Too fast. I come up behind a big 4×4 on a long sweeping left hand bend and I can see right round the corner.  I’m going to overtake, plenty of time, plenty of space, plenty of speed.  Open the throttle and off we go.  I’m probably doing somewhere between 70-80mph. I’m looking into the distance when I see something enter my peripheral vision  on the right.  It looks suspiciously like a big 4×4.. It’s decided to straight line the corner and it’s cutting me off, fast, and I’m going to hit it.  I am definitely going to hit it.  Don’t bother reading ahead and seeing if I really do.  I do. I’m leaning quite hard over and it’s quickly coming in on me and cutting me off.   This is very very likely going to hurt quite a bit.  At the last second I look at the car and just choose my spot.  I reckon I’m going into the drivers door.  Here we go.  It was nice speaking to you all …

Maybe the driver does something, maybe I do, it was all so quick I just don’t know exactly what happened.  My lent over front tyre touches the car’s front wheel.  I think the rest of the bike is going to come up vertical and slap into the side  but instead I just get a massive slide and wiggle on and the bike shakes like a wet dog.  By some miracle, nothing else touches the car and the driver pulls back onto his side of the road.  The bike sorts itself out and quickly gets itself back in shape.  The big bag of luck I’m carrying on my back suddenly feels a whole lot lighter.  Shiiiiittttt…  best slow down a bit…

By the time we get to Shangr-la I’m still shaking and I’m glad to just step off the bike.  I think I’ll have some lunch.  Lovely hotel, go the restaurant, right I’m going to treat myself to a hearty meal and celebrate being alive.  So what’s on the menu..
web--486“Errrrr…got any Snickers?”

As I was riding at 2mph with my feet on the ground coming into town I started thinking about my missus.  She’s often said I got a stone cold heart so I thought I’d prove her right.  She’d really like that…

When I was at base camp I took a few stones out the stream as I waited for the sun to rise and I put them in my pocket.  I also picked up a handful of colourful tattered prayer flags that were frozen to the ground.  I’ve got an idea so I grab the guide and we head off into the old town looking for someone that can work stone.  The guide tells me it’s unlikely we’ll find someone here.  We ask in loads of different shops.  Jewelry shops.  Handicrafts.  Hairdressers.. But no luck.  So I reach into my luck bag, grab a handful,  throw it into the air and follow it as it gets blown down a narrow back alley.   There’s a shop with some rough rocks outside, and a woman asleep on a bed behind the counter.   I pick up one of the rocks and throw it at the bed.  It’s a direct hit and she’s up and at us like a rabid dog..

We seemed to have stumbled upon the only jade cutter in the whole of Shangri-la.  From the dust covering everything in sight I think her sleep to work ratio is about 20 to 1.  I draw some shapes on the stone and we tell her what I would like like to do.  She says the stone is soft and fractured but she’ll try and see if she can remember how all these strange machines work and have a go..

web--488web--489web--487And the result.  Cold hard stone hearts.. from Everest.  Orders now being taken for 2019:)web--491 web--490All the fucking about early on in Tibet has given us a spare day so I spend it here taking the camera out for a walk.web--483 web--484Errr excuse me.  Shouldn’t that be on a lead?web--492web--497 web--496Go for a haircut and a shave.  I try never to go manual when I’m away. Being shaved is a pleasure you can’t get at home without booking an appointment,  signing a health and safety waver on 15 sheets of paper,  paying £30, then sticking your head in a clear plastic box and being shaved by someone using long rubber gloves through holes like somebody handling the Ebola virus.   Out here it’s £3, a 2nd hand blade and a young maiden breathing in your ear.    I had 5 shaves… just to be sure…web--494Whoops… my bad .. sorry .. it just went off in my handweb--495Last night we were wandering about and I saw a HUGE prayer wheel spinning round on the hill.  Go up for a look and it’s MASSIVE.  And it’s manual… Every few minutes enough people get enough energy together to push it round and chant their way around a few revolutions.  You don’t get that in Southampton.web--499Then wander home through the dark…wandering what duck body parts I’m going to eat for breakfast…web--500 web--501Breakfast is predictably unidentifiable/uninviting/possibly still alive and is best avoided, especially if you’re expecting to be down a million steps and with no toilet within squirting distance.

On the road we go, into the pouring rain, chasing the Tiger.  It’s difficult ride on a road through the clouds but by the time we reach the gorge it’s sorted itself out.  Grab a ticket and take a ride on the edge, up to Ann’s cafe where you can get bacon sandwiches, coffee, and an amazing view of one of the deepest gorges in the world.web--502 web--505 web--504 web--503Get back to the visitors centre an get down to see the rock that gives the gorge it’s name.  The legend says that the big rock in the middle of the raging torrent was used by the tiger to leap the gorge.  I bet it still got it’s paw’s wet though.web--507web--506 web--508 web--509 web--510Before returning to our admirers.. web--511web--515And another ride on the edge
web--512 web--513Down to Lijiang web--516 web--517And down to Dali via the lake.  Such a very beautiful place, but because it’s so beautiful it’s also bride central, all being photographed.  They’re bloody everywhere.   You can’t bloody move for flippin brides.  Not that I particularly want to move… not just at this particular moment… web--519 web--520 web--521 web--522Get to Dali, go out for a walk, and guess what…web--523 web--532We’ve nearing the end of our time in China and we’re all quite sad.  So to make ourselves feel better, and reinforce just how shit travelling in China really is, we all go out for a night at the Bad Monkey to stare at ugly women, drink shit beer, and listen to the worst band I’ve ever heard… all night
web--525 web--527web--530web--529web--528web--526Dali has a big ex-pat community and I can see why.  I think I could spend a lot of my time here.  Our guide says it’s his ambition to live here.   Perhaps with one of these…  I can’t see the attraction myself.. mind you I have my eyes closed and I’m facing the other way …web--533Dali traffic is a right bitch but we’re soon out and back in the wilderness.  Tonight we’re going to Zhenyuan,  way up into the mountains.    As I  got onto the bike this morning,  I picked up my Lucksack and was very dismayed to find it completely empty.  I’ve been fucking robbed and I suspect I know exactly who was behind it… bastards..
web--534web--535We’re having a great day.  It’s lovely and warm.. the roads are delicious.. the food is .. recognizable .. Perhaps I just mislayed my luck.  Perhaps I put it in another pocket.. perhaps I packed it somewhere really really safe.. that’ll be it…

Me and one other rider are running late.  Just enjoying the ride, the countryside, just the sights and sounds.  The sun is loosing it’s grip on the day and it’s slowly giving way to the night.    Dusk is coming down and we’re scooting along in formation, dealing with all the farm machinery returning to their beds.

We’re coming up behind a small truck, chugging and bumping it’s way along past a field with a big concrete culvert running alongside it.  There is a big tree ahead and a concrete bridge over the culvert into the field.  My mate goes to overtake, and I sudden;y hear the unmistakable chilling cackle of the  Shit and Happens crew.  The little bastards seems to have hitched a ride in the cab of the truck.  Just as the driver goes to indicate, I see Shit and Happens grab the indicator and hang on tight.  The instant my mate gets his head past the back of the truck they let go and I see the indicator begin to flash.  Shit and Happens jump into the back of the truck and start counting down in time with the taunting yellow flashes… 5..4…3…2… as the truck starts to fade across the road towards the turn.

My mate doesn’t have a chance.  By the time he realises what’s happening he can’t accelerate past, and he can’t brake hard enough as he’s pushed onto the gravel.

1… the truck makes contact and the bike is knocked hard.  It’s going down and the rider is thrown off, just missing the tree and landing on the small bridge.  All the traffic stops.  The truck stops.  I stop.  I run over to the little cloud of dust.  The rider hasn’t got up yet… that’s bad.  When he does get vertical, he looks like he’s been photo shopped into black and white.  And he does’t look … right.  He looks like he’s been carrying a 200kg handbag for 12 hours in his left hand.

He knows he’s hurt.  He shows me his right shoulder.  Fine.  Shows me his right… His right isn’t right.  It looks to me like he has broken his clavicle in 5 places and will need an operation to put the bone jigsaw back together and secure it with a titanium plate and also repair some damaged ligaments…. but I don’t tell him that… he’ll find out soon enough..

web--536 web--538 web--537We wait for the van, put the bike in the back and head off. We were told this road was closed close to the town tonight and that we’d probably have to wait for it to open. Right now that’s music to my rider’s ears…. Rap music… He absolutely hates rap music…

The road gets worse and worse as the it gets darker and darker. I ride behind the truck and watch the bike bounce about. Probably dancing to the rap… Get 10k from the town, it’s pitch black, and we’re into the road works. 30 minutes at 20kph on steep lose bumpy gravel behind 2 dozen lorries. Just what the doctor ordered…

Get to the town and he’s straight to the hospital. Looks like my roadside diagnosis was right. Poor bugger! He’s come back to the hotel wearing a contraption not unlike the harness I put on my pug when I take her out for a walk. He must be in absolute agony but he refuses to acknowledge it. He’s rock hard this boy. He says he’s going to stay with the group until we get the bike out. He get’s himself separate room in the basement where he can scream his heart out without keeping us awake.

The mood is understandably sombe the next day as we make our way down the expressway to Jinghong. We use the expressway for a change. Shit and Happens hate the expressways…web--539 web--542 web--541 web--540A quick squirt down to Mohan, unload the crashed bike and out we go. web--545

web--544 web--546I’ve said it before.  I’ll say it again.  I’ll be back.

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