After returning from Arctic Dirt 13 I started toying with the idea of doing a longer ride the next summer. I had of course read all of Walter Colebatch’s adventures and watched Oisin Hughes’ fantastic video series among other things, which both added fuel to the fire. The BAM road seemed to me the crown jewel of adventure riding at the time, so that was the logical heading to go to. I was pretty sure that the BAM road was not the only bad section of road in Russia and started mapping out other smaller roads and tracks too. I wanted to ride from Helsinki to Baikal, around it and back. Since I was there I thought I’d have a look at Altai and Mongolia too, not forgetting the Ural mountains.
A vague route started to form and I figured I could do it in two months and twenty thousand kilometers. I planned to do normal bike maintenance and service every five thousand kilometers. I split the ride into four sections with service breaks in Omsk, Ulan Ude and Novosibirsk. I originally planned the second service break into Ulan Bataar, but changed it to Ulan Ude so that I wouldn’t have to ship tyres to Mongolia.
I’m used to riding solo but for this trip I thought I’d try to hook up with another rider if possible. If it didn’t work out, I’d ride solo but would have to opt for a safer route. On some of the local rides I had gotten to know a guy with a BMW 650 XChallenge. He had already been on a ride to western Russia and was big on finding new routes. I pitched the idea to him and after some soul searching he was in.
During the Moroccan Black Hole Turkey Tour 13 in November 2013, I mentioned my plans to the other riders in the group. In the last day Juha aka. The Walrus asked a lot of questions concerning the ride. I had met him previously through work and we had ridden in the same enduro camp in Estonia earlier in 2013. I couldn’t say that I knew him well, but what I did know was that he was a very good rider, a good mechanic and generally a relaxed and nice guy to be around. So I was very happy when he asked whether there would be any chance to join the team. Come December he was the owner of a brand new KTM 690 Enduro R K13. In my not so humble opinion the best year, but that’s another story entirely.
Our team of three was not to be as my friend on the XChallenge pulled out in January 2014 due to injury. So Juha and I would be a two man team. Both KTM 690 Enduro R K13’s, which somewhat simplified things. We spent the best part of winter planning and building the bikes, sorting out logistics of spare parts and planning travel gear. The bikes were more or less finished by May so we went on a four day test run to Northern Finland. The legendary Mongolian Cosmonaut, Mishutka, had organized all tyres and oil to the three service break cities. On June 28th we were ready to ride.
THE RIDE JOURNALS
During the ride I kept a ride journal on my laptop. It became a habit to write in my tent before going to sleep every night. I cherished the moments with my earphones on, going through the events of the day. Completely oblivious to the world around me. I used to do the pen and notebook routine, but it just became too tedious to rewrite everything on the laptop from scribbled notes. Besides my shorthand is so bad, even I can’t read it. So here is my story of the ride. It will be published chronologically, as it happened. I’ve split it into separate weeks for easier reading.
Helsinki-Kirov. From endless rain, a border crossing and shattered dreams to sunshine and rekindled faith.
Kirov-Omsk. Pushing further east. First mechanical problems and some seriously beautiful riding.
Uvsin Khar - Ulan Ude. Taking a break and finishing the Mongolian leg. New trails and unexpected difficulties.
The preparation phase is as much fun as the ride itself, and I documented the key areas. Now, after the ride, I find it amusing to read some of the stuff I wrote back then. The enthusiasm, excitement and sheer amount of energy that was poured into the project made up for a lot of the inexperience.
The love of enduro and adventure? A midlife crisis? Overconfidence? A complete lack of self-criticism? It could be all, some or none of those characteristics, but the fact of the matter is that we're going. Here's what we planned.
I love the 690. It's a good bike straight off the production line, but with a little (or a lot of) work it can be truly excellent. After trawling through the forums and 12000 km on the bike, this is what I think it needs to survive Eastern Dirt 14.
Spare parts are tough. You want to ride light to be faster and efficient over technical terrain. Then again waiting for spare parts makes you slow on the long run when something breaks down. It's a game of calculated risk, what you absolutely need to keep going and what is something that can be sorted with steel wire and duct tape. This is what we're carrying.
The logic with what to pack is very similar to planning the list of spare parts. You want to be light and fast, but need a certain level of equipment not to get slow due to bad food, hypothermia or injuries. Also, just to keep the morale up, you need just a pinch of comforts. As a photographer and a writer, the bulk of my luggage consists of a laptop and photographic equipment. Everything else is secondary. Except for instant coffee.
After we finished building the bikes, selecting equipment and choosing spare parts, we packed up the bikes and headed north for a test trip. A full report of how everything worked will follow, but here is the trip in pictures.
THE POST MORTEM
The seven week ride was a great opportunity to thoroughly test our gear from the bikes to riding and camping gear. Here are the articles related to validating or debunking our speculations and conclusions prior to deciding what to take along.
My favourite pair of non-membrane pants reviewed after seven weeks on ED14.
We decided to ride in a modular setup as opposed to integrated membrane suits. Here's how it worked.