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.
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 ..
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.
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.
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.
Get 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. We 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..Then 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 …
Go and visit Lenin who has aged remarkably since I last visited him 20 years ago then go for a wander
and do a self guided tour of the most ornate stations on the network .. amazing places
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 ..
Moscow is fecking HUGE .. some really good views from the 330m TV tower though..
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 …
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.
It’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 … Anyway, 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 …
What’s this about? Do I have to try and put air back into the machine?
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 ..
Then go for a ride in their front garden …
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 ..
Get up early for a tattoo’d sausage, a cake and a cube of wobbly flem then we’re off..
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 ..
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.
Get to the museum and have a look what’s on the menu…
OK… I’ll have one of these please
Buy a ticket – about £3.50 for 5 shots ..
Go through the little green doorCollect 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 .. No age limit:)
and 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 … Then go through to the gift shop. AK-105 anyone? About £300 I think.
Getting into routine now .. get up .. say bye to the cat ..
Wave goodbye to the panda
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 ..
until you get to this…
Then one of these …
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