DAY 36 / GODLESS
3.8.2014 / Zarb’ – Kansk / 564 km / 11 914 km total.
I woke up after just over two hours of sleep and had a chocolate bar for breakfast. The mozzies were back with a vengeance so I broke camp quickly and took off. On the road I wasn’t in a hurry though as I knew Juha was almost 300 km behind me. I refuelled in Tulun and made my way west, sending Juha updates of my progress. I stopped at a road side cafe for some coffee and received word that he was 100 km behind me. I sent him my coordinates and enjoyed the sunny weather while waiting for him. I was looking forward to having the team back together.
Sitting there, enjoying my coffee, a guy approached me. I had noticed him earlier smoking cigarettes on a bench next to me, and deemed him harmless. He walked up to me and handed me a small picture of Jesus in Russian Orthodox iconographic style. He must have noticed my confusion as he just pointed at his heart and told me to pocket it close. I thanked him and he walked back to his bench, leaving me staring at the picture.
They say the Nordic countries are the most godless places on the planet. Religion plays a smaller role in society than for example in Southern Europe or Northern Africa. For the man it was clearly an important part of life, and he had gone out of his way to give the protection of his deity to a stranger. In his view, I was probably involved in something risky and could use a little looking after. I was deeply moved by his compassion and placed the picture into the transparent map pocket of my tank bag.
Juha rolled up and we had some lunch before taking off to the the road. We ended up riding quite a bit and it was getting about the time to find a campsite. It had clearly been raining and the ground looked muddy and wet. I told Juha that I would actually rather enjoy the comforts of hotel accommodation. From an enduro riders perspective all the good stuff had been stripped form the ride. We had endless days of tarmac ahead of us. At the very least we could be comfortable and skip camping. We agreed to find a place to stay in Kansk.
We first had a look at Medved Hotel, which looked a little suspicious. Then the Sibir, which was on the HUBB waypoints. It looked as if it hadn’t been in use for a while. We doubled back to the Yug, which ended up being the pick of the litter. A nice hotel, with guarded parking two blocks away and a very Sovietesque stolovaya. We were pretty late getting into the hotel and just managed to get some food before the stolovaya closed. I was really tired from the nightly ride and after the meal and a beer I was ready to call it a night.
DAY 37 / ENDLESS YET FINITE
4.8.2014 / Kansk – Mariinsk / 657 km / 12 571 km total.
The hotel room reeked of the familiar blend of dirty riding gear, sweaty boots and generally well traveled humans. I was glad to get out and have a bite of breakfast at the hotel’s stolovaya. Sitting there, I enjoyed watching people as much as my coffee. Some business travellers hastily getting on with their breakfast, while glancing at the news on the blaring TV-set in the corner of the room, or flipping through a newspaper. A family joined the crowd and ordered a huge spread of the local fare. They ate meat, stew, potatoes and soup among other things. A pretty hearty breakfast I thought. I usually did not have an appetite in the morning and preferred to have breakfast later, after a bit of riding, Either way, coffee was something that could not be skipped or the day would not begin.
Leaving a hotel always took its time and this time was no exception. We collected our bikes from the guarded parking lot and started packing up. It was going to be a warm day and I was happy to get moving again. Riding in just jerseys and in-the-boot pants, the warm breeze quickly dried off the sweat. A long day of tarmac had begun.
I was bored out of my mind, riding on tarmac all day. If you’re lucky, the mind starts to drift and you lose the sense of time. The downside is that you will also lose focus and will not be able to react in time to any sudden threats. So it’s a balance between the two.
The scenery had changed during our five weeks of riding. The endless green fields we had seen on our way east had now turned golden yellow and orange. Grain had ripened and was being harvested. It was a reminder of the ever ticking time. Everything would eventually end.
We passed Mariinsk late in the evening as the sun was getting low. We found a nice place to camp next to a field, but as we were setting up it became clear that we had to move. A swarm of flying ants dropped in and we hastily packed up our stuff and headed back to Mariinsk. There was an HUBB waypoint for a hotel, but it seemed more like a brothel so we kept looking. We ended up staying in Hotel Agypt, which had a locking garage for the bikes. A nice hotel with a friendly staff.
DAY 38 / THE LEG
5.8.2014 / Mariinsk – Novosibirsk / 467 km / 13 037 km total.
The bikes were safe and sound in the hotel garage, and we soon started another day of riding through endless farmland on tarmac. We stopped briefly for a strange breakfast consisting of various salads, pancakes and tons of coffee. It seemed as if the highlights of the days were now the stops instead of the monotonous riding. A definitely remarkable incident took place during our lunch break at a huge roadside gas station and stolovaya.
The lunch itself was nothing to write home about, but among the crowd of travellers was a family originating most likely somewhere from the Caucasus. They had several children and one of them looked like trouble from a mile away. Sure enough, as we were getting ready to leave, he came over to my bike. He couldn’t have been older than ten, but already looked pretty unsavoury, with spit running down his dirty chin and with a huge scar across his shirtless upper body. He looked generally mischievous and tried to spit at my bike. I told him to get going, to which he just laughed and ran in closer to try to kick my bike. Unfortunately for him I was just taking my bike off the side stand and was turning my handlebars straight. His unlucky timing and excellent aim resulted his tibia connecting with my knobby front tyre. His foul grin was quickly replaced by a grimace of pain as he backed off. I figured the whole episode was over until I saw his father rushing out of the stolovaya. I assumed he would have a problem with me so I kicked out the side stand, not to have to deal with him and an unsupported bike. I was wearing a helmet and MX armour, so I wasn’t too worried about the outcome. Apparently he had seen the whole incident though, and instead of rushing at me, he ran towards the kid. He in turn took off and fled across the parking lot with his father in pursuit. It looked utterly ridiculous, and all that was missing was the Benny Hill Show music. We decided to take off.
The ride across the flat countryside continued amid endless roadwork and hundreds and hundreds of trucks. Eventually I got so bored, that I ended up shooting selfies. The good thing was, that we were most likely going to make it to Novosibirsk that night. We had our final service break planned there and two hotel nights in the third largest city in Russia seemed pretty welcome. We were worn out, as were the bikes. My Mitas C-17 front was wearing funnily, which didn’t matter any more though as we would change fresh tyres during the service break. As a final insult, my left hand side front fuel tank had sprung a leak. It didn’t really matter, as I didn’t need the extra capacity any more and could ride with it empty.
As we pulled into the parking lot of the Congress Hotel in Novosibirsk, the five day ride from Novi Uoyan was finally over. After getting all the gear sorted and ourselves presentable, we had some dinner at the hotel restaurant. Juha called it a night soon after, but I picked up my laptop from the room and had a look at my diary notes over a cold beer in the hotel bar. The third leg from Ulan Ude to Novosibirsk was completed. It had taken us only eight days as opposed to the two weeks we had spent on each of the first two legs. It felt strange that the three days after leaving Ulan Ude had been so full of action and adventure compared to the mind numbing monotony of the last few days.
We were already far from where the dark corners of the map and on our way home. Siberia would end soon and we would be entering Europe. I sat there for a while, thinking about the last leg and the ending of the adventure. I found myself enjoying the solitude in the hotel bar, and a plan started to take shape. I knew what I had to do. The last leg of the adventure would begin in another two days, and I wasn’t ready to to head home just yet.
DAY 39 / NO POLITICS!
6.8.2014 / Novosibirsk / 33 km / 13 070 km total.
It seemed as if life on the road had taken a turn to a more civilised existence. Not in the sense of hot showers, breakfast buffets and internet, but the adventure part of it seemed like a distant memory. We were in the third largest city of Russia so tricky river crossings or boulder fields were behind us. Funnily enough, another kind of adventure presented itself in the form of a message from Eduard, the President of Wildriver MC, one of the local motorcycle clubs. I have no idea how he had found me, but he welcomed us to Novosibirsk and asked if we would like to join them for beers at their club house later. I of course accepted and we agreed to hook up later.
In the meant time we had a meeting set up with Konstantin, the President of 99 percent MC. He had our tyres and had arranged for us to work at NBS Motor, a local motorcycle shop with a very nice service workshop. The service work went as planned and the bikes got fresh oil and filters, new sprockets and chains and a fresh Unifilters. As our business with the soft stuff was done, we changed from our Mitas C-02’s to Heidenau K60’s, which left the 690’s looking like touristy supermoto bikes. It was a sad sight, but the added traction on tarmac was a welcome change and we made a somewhat spirited return to the hotel through the busy streets of Novosibirsk.
The afternoon passed quickly at the hotel and before too long Eduard dropped me a note stating that he was outside, waiting in his car. We met him in the hotel car park and after the introductions he just said “Let’s go drink some beer!” and we took off in his car. The club house was maybe a twenty minute drive away, in the outskirts of the city. It was a nice house, with both bikes and bikers sprawled around the yard. Some were tinkering on their bikes, others smoking and drinking. They all gave us a warm welcome. I was ecstatic to finally be able to get a glimpse of the local biker culture. For the most part it had been in short supply due to our remote trails.
The evening progressed as they normally do when likeminded people gather around copious amounts of alcoholic beverages and snacks. The mood was good and the conversation continued into the night. A big topic was of course our ride and if we had been to Russia before. I was met with laughter when I told them I had been to Moscow and St Petersburg a couple of times before. They told me that the west was not real Russia and one guy opened his arms and shouted “This is Russia!” to the sky. I could understand his sentiment.
Another issue was of course the Ukraine, but I never engage in discussions about politics of the countries I’m visiting. I’m just a neutral observer. The Ukrainian question was very close their hearts though, and one of the guys was making a passionate speech about his views, until Eduard, the President, stepped in with a curt “No politics!”. I think Eduard had seen these conversations escalate before and made the smart decision of snipping it in the bud. There was no protests from anyone and the discussion quickly turned back to motorcycles and riding.
Eduard told us we could stay at the clubhouse, as they had guest rooms. It was a tempting offer, but would have meant drinking into the wee hours, which would have made riding out during the next day impossible. I was anxious to get back to the road, so after fond farewells, we took a taxi back to the city at around 0100.
DAY 40 / FAREWELL MY FRIEND
7.8.2014 / Novosibirsk – Krasnii Yar / 714 km / 13 784 km total.
Despite the sensible decision of not staying up drinking all night with the Russian bikers, I woke up with a hangover. Judging by his face, The Walrus wasn’t doing any better. Either way, we hobbled down to the breakfast buffet. It was filled with beautiful people, enjoying the live performance pianist. I felt very conscious and out of place in my Pantera t-shirt and haggard face.
Back in the safe solitude of the hotel room, Juha seemed restless and was hastily packing up his gear. He was clearly anxious to get back on the road. I had vaguely told him about my plans to ride a different route earlier, but the plans had not been solidified. I had decided to try to find some trouble further south in the Urals, instead of the direct route to Finland. Juha had no qualms with parting ways at this point, as he was anxious to get back home. It would be all tarmac anyway, so having a buddy was not essential.
That was the end of our alliance during Eastern Dirt 14. We had been in tight contact since November 2013, when I had told him about the details of the ride during a Moroccan adventure. All the planning and preparation had required a ton of e-mails, phone calls, paperwork and days in the garage. We had ridden the test ride together and tweaked and prepped the bikes after it. Almost six weeks had passed during our journey from Finland through Russia to Mongolia and back to Novosibirsk. Many things had happened along the way. We had shared both good times and bad. We had survived and the team was still intact and strong. I couldn’t have asked for a better riding partner for Eastern Dirt 14 and I will always cherish his companionship during the adventure.
I was sad to see Juha go, but also looking forward to solitary days in the seat. Still, I lingered in the quiet room until checkout time before making a move. I was happy to find my bike still parked outside the hotel and didn’t waste time rolling out.
It felt good to be back on the road, even though it was tarmac. I noticed myself glancing periodically at the mirror, looking for the familiar headlight of Juha’s 690. It would not be there any more.
The first hundred kilometres felt long and I stopped briefly for some lunch at a road side stolovaya. I guess I was in need of some energy, as the pace quickened considerably after the break. I reckoned I had at least two days of tarmac ahead of me before getting back on dirt. The route was plagued with roadwork and taking the dirt shoulder, I noticed the Heidenau K 60’s had no grip whatsoever. They were doing fine on tarmac though, if that was any consolation.
Stopping to refuel for the first time, the station attendant asked me whether I was Finnish. I was surprised at first but he told me he had refuelled an identical bike not two hours ago. It made sense as we had more or less identical fuel consumption and fuel loads.
As the day was drawing to a close, I reached the city of Omsk. I decided to ride on and camp somewhere, to be on the road earlier in the morning. Passing through Omsk, I got caught under a dark rain cloud and got absolutely drenched. By the time I stopped to refuel I was shivering, but luckily the petrol station had coffee which soon warmed me up.
I didn’t ride much further before, turning off the main road to a small agricultural road. I found a decent campsite next to a field. It was swarming with mosquitoes so I didn’t waste any time pitching my tent and crawling into its safety. I was tired and soon drifted off.
DAY 41 / AT LEAST THE WEATHER WAS GOOD
8.8.2014 / Krasnii Yar – Chelyabinsk / 860 km / 14 644 km total.
The night was bitterly cold and I slept very little. I was happy to see the first light of dawn and quickly got geared up and out of the tent. The outside world was still and quiet, desperately waiting for the first rays of the sun to bring heat. I stomped around, trying to warm up while breaking camp. The tent poles felt like ice, but luckily the mozzies were enjoying the temperature even less. As I peeled off the top layer of the tent, the black swarm under it simply fell onto the ground like pepper onto a plate of pasta. It was a very satisfying sight after weeks of torment from the pesky little creatures.
I didn’t linger long enough for the mozzies to warm up and have their revenge. Instead I packed up hastily and headed back onto the long monotony of the westbound tarmac road. My gear was still pretty wet from the rainfall the previous night and I quickly started shivering on the bike. I knew that the sun would warm me up soon enough so I only stopped to put on my long gloves but no extra mid layers.
The ride was monotonous as expected, and I soon pulled over for some breakfast. I always enjoyed the mood of the roadside truck stops in Russia. There was a strange feeling of unhurried haste and people on the move. I didn’t stay long as I was determined to make good progress to hit the good stuff in the Ural mountains as soon as possible.
The day warmed up and I tucked into the monotony of eating the kilometres, with the only break in the form of a refuelling and a lunch break. There was nothing to see and nothing to experience. I was just anxious to find new terrain. The road crept west hour after hour and I eventually realized that I was in fact exactly on the same section of deteriorated road, that we had ridden into the opposite direction three weeks earlier. How different the road had seemed on Day 11! Everything had still been ahead and now I was on my way back, with the fourth set of tyres under the bike and the final service done. I had seen and experienced so much and felt much more confident on the bike.
My daydream of reliving our adventure was abruptly shattered as two bikes in Russian plates flew past me into oncoming traffic. I was on a very busy section of the road with endless columns of trucks rolling in both directions. To my amazement, the bikes were on the center line, rolling ahead at fast speed between the trucks. The scene was almost biblical as the columns of trucks swerved to create a small passage ahead. The bikes were silhouetted against the setting sun with heavy dust in the air. I decided to follow suit, but quickly decided it was a bad idea. It felt very dangerous and I figured it was best left for the Russians.
As shadows grew long, I finally made it to the eastern edge of the ring road around Chelyabinsk. It was where my route would finally turn south and head into new adventures. But before pushing into the Urals, I would need to park for the night. I scouted a truck stop motel, but didn’t like the vibe and rode south. Soon I found a small and quiet motel that I liked and decided to spend the night there.
DAY 42 / IS THIS EUROPE?
9.8.2014 / Kopeysk – Mrakovo / 586 km / 15 230 km total.
Why was it so hard to leave early in the morning, after spending the night indoors? I lazed in my bed, making a new route for the next days and chatting with my wife on Skype. She had been training for a mountain marathon and today was race day. After wishing her good luck, I finally packed up and hauled my gear downstairs. I was happy to find the bike where I left it.
The morning passed slowly as I rolled towards Magnitogorsk, stopping for lunch on the way. Food and sightseeing had become the highlights of the monotonous days on tarmac. I absolutely loved the small stolovayas and cafes by the road. They were great places to strike a short conversation with other travellers. Human contact had been in equally short supply as enduro riding, so I found all conversations stimulating. Luckily I knew that there should soon be relief in the riding at least.
The terrain became completely flat with very few trees and I wondered if I was on the northernmost tip of the Kazakh steppe. The riding would have been fantastic, were it not for the tarmac. The Kazakh steppe had been alluring me for a long time and my mind soon driften into to future adventures.
After refuelling in Magnitogorsk I finally made it to the foothills of the Urals. The riding became more interesting with the road snaking between endless sunflower fields. It was a welcome change to the pace and the ride felt exciting again for the first time in days.
After stocking up on water and food, I pushed into the Ural Mountains. They were not high as I was pretty far south, but the scenery was beautiful. Riding through the lovely scenery I could not miss the tell tale signs of a summer soon coming to an end. Winter was still far off, but grass had turned from green to gold, animals behaved differently and nights had grown longer. It was all bitter sweet.
Riding on the gravel roads over the Urals, I kept looking for the Europe/Asia border sign I had missed a few weeks earlier on the way east. So far I had no luck and I had no idea which continent I was on. My attention soon turned back to routing as the road ended abruptly on the bank of a wide river. According to the map there was supposed to be a bridge, but it was not there. Instead there was a summer camp of sorts and I made a quick exit. Luckily the backtrack was no more than a few kilometres and I found another route around and made it over the river in the village of Kutanovo. The scenery was spectacular.
As the shadows grew longer, the western edge of the Urals drew near. I must have been looking at my navigator as I found myself approaching a turn much too fast. Locking the rear brake the tail skidded out and once I let go of the brake, all hell broke loose. The frictional grip on the DS tyre was excellent but very unforgiving so the bike violently lurched back onto it’s track and I was very close to experiencing a highsider. By pure dumb luck I stayed on the bike as it lurched from side to side, and I even managed to clear the corner in one piece. After my pulse got back to normal I figured it was time to start looking for a campsite for the night.
I found a potential hill right next to the road and rode uphill though knee high vegetation. The top of the hill was in full cover from the road and had sweeping views to the southern hills. It was a beautiful spot with enough of a breeze to keep the insects at a bearable level. I enjoyed the sunset over a beer and some cucumber and cheese sandwiches. I had a sneaky feeling that the days of adventures were coming to an end. Even though it was great to ride the gravel roads, it paled in comparison to the incredible days in the east. Still, I was very happy for the outcome of the day, especially after receiving an SMS from my much better half, telling that she had done well in the race. Lying in the tent, under my sleeping bag, I figured that I was back in Europe.
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.