DAY 8 / THE CONCRETE SLABS
6.7.2014 / Kirov – Starie Zyattsi / 331 km / 3235 km total.
Breakfast at the hotel didn’t start until 0830 on Sundays and it was nice to sleep late. I got up at 0800 and went through the morning routines before going for breakfast. We had agreed that this day also to be a semi-off so there was plenty of time. After breakfast, sporting a very clean base layer, it was time to pack up and haul the luggage down to the parking lot. Juha had already done the sherpa operation and was tinkering with his bike when I eventually got there with all my stuff.
We had agreed to check the airboxes and I was very interested to see how the Unifilter had performed. Thus far, with the OEM paper filter, I’d always had dust in the airbox, despite going through all the usual tricks to get the filter to seal. The Unifilter had performed perfectly. Instead of the thin coat of dust looking back at my disappointed face, staring at me was squeaky clean black plastic. Not a speck of dust. I was very happy and continued with my pre ride checks, refilling my OSCO and adjusted chain tension. Securing the luggage to the racks, I managed to break one of the quick locks on my Magadans. They have two prongs on the male clips and one snapped off while I tightened it. I love the Magadans but I think the plastic clips are a weak point. Not to mention the pocket straps which are impossible to tighten or loosen when dirty. Come to think of it they’re near impossible to operate even when clean.
We took off at around 1220 and rode through town to refuel. As we were about to leave the petrol station a dark cloud decided to dump its contents exactly on top of us. Instead of changing into rain gear, waiting it out seemed like a better option. After hanging around for about ten minutes under the roof of the filling area, the rain started to give up. Riding out of town, we still managed to get pretty wet anyway before getting back into sunlight and dry roads. Luckily the Dakar ITB pants dried quickly in the breeze.
We rode for 150 km to the beginning of the dirt track I had prepared in Garmin BaseCamp. I had been studying Russian for this trip and was listening to a language course for two hours on the ride in. The monotonous barrage of words, first in english, then in russian, had started to feel like propaganda and I was happy to get the earphones off when we stopped. After a short break our route turned on to a dirt road that would take us further into less densely inhabited areas. According to my notes, there would also be a river crossing ahead. Satellite imagery had shown that there should be a small bridge across it. It remained to be seen.
As the track record of laying new routes had been grim bad thus far, I was feeling a little uneasy. The riding was superb though. Even though there was still evidence of lots of water, around the puddles the mud was dry hardpack and easy to ride. The scenery had changed and the ground was a lot flatter with a lot of farmland. The impassable forests further north were long gone and we could see around us for miles.
The road kept getting smaller and smaller and gradually deteriorated. Tractors and other rural vehicles had left deep ruts into road and it was now semi dry and wouldn’t give if trying to power out of them. I took care not to drop into them. There was plenty of mud and water and we didn’t want to get our radiators clogged again so we swerved back and forth on the road, avoiding the deep muddy sections where we could. Luckily the trail didn’t disappear altogether but instead lead us into a tiny village, from which we took the smaller linking trail. Fortunately the satellite imagery was fresh and there was indeed a bridge made of concrete slabs still in place. We crossed it with ease and I was super stoked to had made it through. It would be cruising from here on out.
The trail continued through a muddy forest section before finishing at an spectacular old church. The area was dotted with them. Most of the churches were in disrepair, having seen the previous maintenance before the communist era most likely. This was no exception and was in desperate need of some TLC. Luckily the locals were now repairing these and all over we saw churches under construction. It would have been a shame to see such old and beautiful architecture go to ruin. I stopped to take some photos and was amazed to find a shabby old farm right behind the church. There were two Ladas parked out front but nobody around. It would have been interesting to have a chat and ask how life next to the impressive old building was.
The dirt track gradually turned into a dirt road, which widened before connecting with a tarmac road. We rode on it for a while before refueling and having a very late lunch in the form of bars made of nuts, honey and sugar. Perfect riding food. Sitting at that petrol station, basking in the sun and reliving the route was somehow special. The route wasn’t really all that magical or long, but the fact that we had finally managed to push through gave hope. Putting on my gear, I felt very optimistic and content.
Further down the route, I had mapped another trail which branched off before too long. The ride started off as a concrete road, which was fast going before turning into a dirt road. Mostly used by tractors no doubt. The route was very similar to what we had ridden back at the river. Ruts in semidry clay and mud. I did not want to get my front tyre caught in them and took care with my lines. Our route took us to a small overgrown trail branching off the main trail. Juha found it questionable but I was so stoked about or small victory with the previous route, that I suggested we should give it a go.
We took to the trail and it was pretty deeply rutted here and there, but nothing too technical. As the trail climbed up a hill, it eased off considerably. Suddenly we were riding on a plateau of sorts in short grass, scarred by a dual track. It was all hardpack and awesome riding. It was getting late in the day so the sun was low with a sky dotted with small clouds. It created a magical world of shadow and light on the hills, fields and small forests. This was what I had dreamed of, poring over maps and satellite imagery for hours in the winter. Riding up sunny slopes of green grass, reaching the airy crest and dropping down gentle slopes into the shadowy valleys below. I was trying to slow down my mind and savour every second of it. I can still remember Oisin Hughes advising, in his thick Irish accent, to enjoy the good moments as they are rare and most of it is really baaaawring.
Riding over the final hill I spotted the end of our trail. In the valley below us was a farming community, connected to the world by a wide dirt road. It was in pretty bad shape with very deep ruts, churned out by tractors. Now it was hard and covered with deep puddles. Dropping the front tyre off the center bank and into a rut would have been disastrous in high speed. There would have been no way out of it. I rode carefully, risking a brief glimpse here and there to enjoy the scenery. Incredible sweeping views over farmland with a turbulent sky ahead.
All good things must come to an end, and the road led us into a village. The locals were stunned to see us riding in, out of the backcountry. I guess they didn’t get many foreign visitors. Especially on dirt bikes. A little later we stopped at another village to buy food for the night before riding the last section of our route for the day. The road descended to lower ground and immediately the terrain got wetter. We were now on sand, so the moisture was good as it packed the sand a little and our tyres could pass over without sinking.
At 2020 we started looking for a camp site. It was considerably easier here, compared to the hostile forests of the north. This was gentle farmland, so we just rode up a hill to a pasture and set up camp. There was a clap of thunder and a shower as a dark cloud passed over us. Otherwise it was peaceful and the view was good. A gentle breeze kept the insects in check. The evening passed quickly with a pasta and a beer for dinner, before calling it a night. I fell asleep with my headphones blasting.
DAY 9 / TARMACOMA
7.7.2014 / Starie Zyattsi – Telyak river / 590 km / 3825 km total.
I shut my alarm at 0700 but drifted in and out of consciousness for half an hour before getting up and kitting up. The morning routines were taking shape and there was less messing about and a lot less stuff to pack up. After our pre-ride checks we also checked tyre pressures, which were a little low. I started off with 1.3 bar and 1.5 bar and was now down to 1.1 and 1.3. I didn’t bother getting out the mini compressor, instead using my trusty mountain bike pump. 30 pumps in the front and 50 in the back brought the pressures up to 1.5 bar and 1.6. bar. Our route would be on tarmac for long stretches so hence the higher pressure.
We took off from our lovely campsite and headed east on the dirt road, connecting with tarmac later. The ride was uneventful, as tarmac usually is. Especially the beginning was pretty depressing with plenty of traffic and slow going. A nightmare in my book, as riding tarmac is bad enough. However, the good thing with monotonous tarmac is that there is a lot more time to contemplate on whatever the mind sees fit to pop into your head. Then again, I was doing my best to keep alert. Getting lost too deep in thought would have most likely resulted in making very painful contact with the back of a truck.
The wild forests of the NE were long gone and we were riding through the vast agricultural areas of Southern Russia. The landscape was spacious and open. Huge mellow hills, with hilltops showing views over the valleys and beyond. A scenery of a gigantic ocean of fertile soil in shades of green and brown. The area was clearly more prosperous than the logging country of the NE. Houses were made of painted wood and bricks, instead of shabby planks.
Prosperity seems to be a double edged sword in Russia. I was overtaken by an Audi S5, doing probably around 150 on the open road. It was swerving back and forth on the lanes, overtaking anything in its path without a care for safety. Further down our route we were met by road maintenance with only one lane in use. There was a long queue, managed by a traffic controller. Riding bikes have their perks so we took the shoulder and headed to the front. We wouldn’t be hindering anyone, as we were riding the side of the road when anyone wanted to overtake. I was surprised to find the same S5 having made the same decision to overtake everyone else by the shoulder. It was us and the S5 in the front, next to a truck on the road. Waiting for the controller to let us pass I drifted into mulling over inequalities, wealth and civility. The class war between people driving Ladas and the well-to-dos in western cars was blatantly obvious. I think neither party thought too well of each other.
Our AC-10 fronts had worn down considerably on the tarmac but the C-02 rears were doing good. Juha is heavier than me so his tyres were more worn down than mine. I suggested we change tyres in camp to make sure he’d make it to our first tyre change in one piece. He was convinced his tyres would make it but we’d keep an eye out.
After refueling twice we rolled into Ufa. Riding in, I could see the smoke stacks rise from behind the hills. The industrial area was huge and the thick stench of petrochem enveloped us. It was a forest of chimneys spewing their contents over a dark sky, lit by gas flares. It was truly a humbling sight. I’ve never seen in industry in that scale. Not only was it huge but also ominous. Everything was rusty and clearly beaten by weather. The Ufans looked happy though, waving to us while we rode through downtown.
The fires of industry faded behind us and we connected with the infamous M5 for about 20 km. It was not pleasant and I was happy to get off it, turning back to smaller roads and hopefully dirt later on. We had managed to make good speed in the last couple of days and could now risk a dead end or two before Omsk. Being eastbound, time was against us. Leaving Moscow time cost us two hours and it was getting late so. It was time to start scouting for a campsite. Taking smaller trails found us riding fantastic hardpack trails between fields. It all ended soon enough though as we pushed into a dark, damp forest. The hardpack transformed into mud and clay with deep ruts. They were so deep in fact that our soft luggage kept making contact with the top side. Exiting the forest to more open ground, I noticed a dark shadow from the corner of my eye maybe ten meters in front, It was a female moose, startled by our engines. It crossed out track and disappeared to the forest. I was glad we had been scouting and not cruising.
We eventually found a suitable spot for camping. It was not comfortable or nice, but it would be our home for the night. I was exhausted from the technical finish and we both agreed on skipping dinner and hitting the hay immediately. There was a huge population of mosquitoes which facilitated the decision considerably.
DAY 10 / THE SOUTHERN URALS
8.7.2014 / Telyak river – Chumovo / 469 km / 4294 km total.
I woke up to my alarm at 0700 and remembered that we had agreed to get up at 0800, so I reset the alarm and went back to sleep. At some point I woke up to the sound of a tractor going right beside my tent and dozed back off. My alarm went off at 0800 and I lazed around for a while. Juha called out from outside and asked if we could get going. I was surprised as it was only around 0815. When I crawled out of my tent he was standing next to his fully packed bike, ready to go, helmet on and clearly irritated. I asked him why he was all kitted up to which he replied that he awoke to my alarm in his tent. When I asked him why he didn’t check his watch, he replied that both his cell phone and dash clock were in the wrong time zone. I found his logic rather absurd and the situation comical, so I didn’t say anything. Instead, I went about my morning routines, while Juha rode of to the beginning of the track I had laid out during the night. I figured he was probably tired or something.
At 0845 I was ready to roll and we took off. Without the satellite imagery, laying tracks involved a lot of guess work but I was willing to risk a few dead ends. The terrain was considerably easier going than the wild forests and rivers of the NE. We rode off towards a nearby village and I stopped to take some photos of an old soviet flag caught in the morning breeze. It was on a flagpole, above a viewing stand. I assumed this was where the locals held horse auctions, as the stand had a roofed seating area with a large grassy area in front of it. A large herd of horses grazed peacefully on the grass. There must have been a hundred of them at least, enjoying the sunny morning. I was shooting the flag, when suddenly they sprung to action. I have no idea what triggered it, but the whole herd crossed the dirt road, just in front of us. It was an awesome display of grace, beauty and power in motion. Magnificent animals. The herd grazed for a while before a young cowboy showed up and drove the herd towards where we had camped.
We were close to the town and, due to skipping dinner, were hungry for some breakfast. The scenery and especially the people had changed. There was a big mosque in the town and the people seemed a little wary of us strangers. We were now at the beginning of the Southern Urals and apparently these were the Mari people, a distant relative people of the Finns. Obviously Juha had been awake in school, as he knew this. Suddenly, I remembered chatting with a Russian officer at a truck stop the previous day. He had told me that he was not Russian, but Mari and that they were somehow connected with us Finns. I had just smiled and shrugged it off as a misunderstanding due to my mediocre Russian, but now it all clicked. What a coincidence to ride all this way from home and meet very distant relatives.
Walking into the shop and saying good morning I was met with contempt. The grand old lady manning the counter clearly did not appreciate long lost relatives from the west, clad in MX gear entering her store. I kept my most charming smile on while shopping, but she had none of it. She was in a hurry to get me out. I did get breakfast sorted though. It consisted of the usual bread, cheese and pastry, spread over the seats of our bikes. As we were eating and chatting, a car rolled in and delivered some fresh bread into the shop. Among their baked goods was also fresh pizza. I bought one for 30 RUB, as we needed the energy. It finally put a smile on Juha’s face too.
Finishing up with breakfast, I had a chat with one of the locals who gave excellent advise on which routes to take. Quite by chance, my guesswork had been pretty accurate and we were headed in the right direction. We left the village in our dust and took off to small tracks. Our route took us east on a dirt track, carved over huge meadows, every now and then ducking into the shade of trees between long rolling hills. It was beautiful riding in the sun without a care in the world.
On the outskirts of Asha we found the first obstacle of the day, a river. Juha scouted it and found it to be shallow and easy to cross. He went in first and I followed. It was nice to be in proper action again. From Asha we continued east, linking sections of track after track. There was very little resistance, except for a few soft, wet places where we had to power walk our bikes over soft mud.
We had some short sections on the M5 here and there. I must say that had to be one of the most unpleasant roads I’ve ever ridden. The road was severely dented due to the constant flow of trucks in both directions. Everyone was anxious to get on with it and people did crazy things with their cars. Trucks too, as they seemed to ride up right to your rear fender, apparently in an attempt to intimidate us into submission and giving way.
Stopping at a road side cafe we parked next to a serious looking off road 4×4. It was in Romanian plates and fully loaded with tyres and parts. The friendly Romanians told us they were also on their way to Mongolia and from there to Vladivostok. They had the luxury of spending six months for the trip. I was very happy with the two months I had but with all that time, we could probably have ridden our original trail. Next time…
Getting off the M5, the land started to rise. The Southern Urals were a welcome change in the scenery. We hadn’t gone over 300 m once in the last nine days, and now we had the mountains to cross. The terrain got wilder with beautiful scenery. Steep cliffs and wide rivers carved into the valleys. This was still horse country and we stumbled upon a herd cooling off and drinking in a river. Or maybe there was less mosquitoes there.
Further down the route, we stopped at a road side shop to buy water. The lovely shopkeeper, in a very short dress looked me up and down and asked me right out if I was an extreme guy. I just laughed and told her no, that I was an enduro guy. I don’t think se knew about enduro but smiled anyway. While we were packing up another local approached us for a chat. He lived right next door in a small farm house, and was surprised to see bikers. I asked if if there normally wasn’t many moto tourists and he said no. According to him riders favor Kazakhstan and Ukraine due to easier routing. He thought that it was tricky here to which I agreed.
All our tracks across the Urals connected and the going was good as long as it lasted. Before connecting with the M5 again we rode through a chain of towns. It felt like a long stretch through an industrial area that went on forever. I was happy to finally get out and continue down our route towards Chelyabinsk. A dark cloud front of us had loomed in the horizon for some hours and now we were under it in Chelyabinsk. The skies opened up and drenched the city. Streets turned into rivers and visibility was bad. It was pretty dark too due to the cloud cover. Trying not to get hit by cars and simultaneously navigate out was tedious work and we were happy to get out in one piece.
Soon after passing through Chelyabinsk we headed north, off the main road. We took to the small roads and started scouting for a camp site, eventually finding a nice spot. It was a clearing surrounded by birches from all sides, just off a small track. It had been a good day, and even the insects seemed to be more docile, as we made dinner. We both crawled into our tents and before too long I could Juha snoring, while I laid tracks for the next day. Just before falling asleep, I heard rain drops hitting my tent.
DAY 11 / FRICTION
9.7.2014 / Chumovo – Stepanovo Lake / 541 km / 4835 km total.
I woke up at 0800 to a sunny morning and a clear blue sky. Unfortunately the mozzies were back and I was pretty quick about getting my gear packed. It was funny though as I could feel the cumulative fatigue of the previous days bearing down on me. I felt burdened and slow. Weak with cobwebs in my head. There was no time to rest though, so I added some engine oil after the pre-ride checks and then we were off. On the trail I started to wake up. The riding was pretty good. Nice and flowing, and we kept connecting trails with roads. After forty or fifty kilometers we hit a river we just couldn’t find a way around. We tried three different tracks before bailing and getting back to the R254. We wanted to be in Omsk the following day so we decided to hustle. With my headphones blasting an 80’s metal playlist, I slipped into a road coma. The road felt like it went on forever. Probably because…well…it did go on forever.
Europe was behind us and we were now in Asia. I had been spotting for a sign for two days as the border should have been somewhere in the Urals. Unfortunately we must have been on a very small trail when leaving Europe and pushing into Asia. I was dying to get a photo of one of the signs. For me it symbolized the scale of this adventure. Riding from one continent to another and back. I would have to try to find a sign on the way back.
We stopped for our first proper roadside meal thus far. Until now we had only had pastries, sandwiches and whatever that we could consume by the bikes. The restaurant had outside seating, where we could keep an eye on our bikes while having lunch. They also had a large barbecue outside so I ordered some delicious Kazakh kebabs, bread, soda and coffee. It felt so civilized and relaxing to sit there that I could have stayed there for the rest of the day. The staff was very friendly and even the cook came and asked if the meal was satisfactory. Pulling out of the parking lot the whole staff of the restaurant waved at us. Russian hospitality.
The shortest route to Omsk was via the M51, but it passes through Kazakhstan, for which we didn’t have visas. The Russians can apparently come and go as they please, but we would have to make a detour from the north. Leaving the M51 was luxurious. I had some trails laid out, but we were late after the route finding problems in the morning so we stuck on bigger roads. We had entered a flat lake area, which seemed to go on for ever. The scenery was monotonous, void of all stimuli. My mind had nothing to process as there was nothing to connect to. It felt extremely tranquil.
We stopped to buy some beers for the night at an intersection and got off the big road. The state of the branching road was unbelievable. It was like a river of tarmac that had been liquified, mangled and solidified again in the mutilated form. A real roller coaster, but no potholes. There was heavy truck traffic, crawling along at maybe 10 km/h. The air was thick with dust and visibility was poor. I heard Juha’s horn and pulled over to see what was up. He told me his front tyre was flat, and asked me for my compressor to try to inflate the tyre. Heavy trucks were passing close and the air was thick with dust so it was a very dodgy place to be caught out in. I got out the compressor and gave it to Juha. His bike didn’t have a 12V outlet, so I moved my bike around to be able to power the compressor. He inflated the tyre and it leaked, obviously. He gave me back the compressor and told me that we should go back to the intersection where we had just bought the water. He took off and sorted out the compressor and packed my bike before pulling a U-turn and heading back.
Juha was parked on a concrete slab and I pulled up next to him. There were some problems with supporting his bike while the tyre was off. In the end Juha found a big tyre onto which we rested the fork and he could get to work. The whole process had been somehow uncomfortable. I could feel some kind of tension building. After an hour the job was done and the mood improved. There had been a small hole in the center of tube and Juha put a patch on it. Punctured by a nail most likely. We rode back onto the monstrous road.
It was pretty fun though as all the other traffic was so slow. I was going fast, overtaking trucks and cars from left and right as they swerved from side to side, navigating a route of least resistance through the maze of dips and bumps. It was very dusty though and rolling up to a truck in front needed caution. You would only see dust bellowing for a while before the tail of the truck materialized through the dust. Careless riding would have most likely resulted in being plastered across on the rear doors of a Russian truck.
I finally made it to the turn off and waited for Juha. When he arrived we took a smaller road which was in good shape and had not traffic. I suggested we would ride down it for a while before looking for a campsite. Juha just nodded and said nothing. I knew he was pissed off about something but I just couldn’t be bothered with it. I was tired, and if there’s no talking, there’s no fixing.
We rode along for a while before taking a small dirt road where we should find a campsite. It looked good. WIde open spaces where you could ride off-road without tracks. Juha likes to get completely out of view, including satellites most likely. So he prefers places that are in or close to forests. They are usually infested with mozzies and that’s why I prefer wide open spaces, preferably high up with a breeze going. There was some more debate about where to camp and after some back and forth Juha agreed to camp at an open space I had suggested. It was a several hundred meters away from the nearest track and in a bit of a dip. It was invisible unless somebody happened to stumble upon it through the pasture.
I parked my bike and whatever Juha had bottled up came out. As he is not here to tell his side of the story, it would be unfair to go into details. Suffice it to say we are opposite personalities, and that will inevitably create friction. Fortunately Juha is no fool, and although I may not agree with many of his views, I do respect them.
I think one of the key challenges in any long adventure is team dynamics. Or rather how conflicts are handled. It’s a balance of resolving issues before they snowball into monsters, but on the other hand not whining about every minor irritation. It is important to get the negativity out quickly and move on. That didn’t happen though and the issue was not resolved. I had a feeling that there would be a second round down the road.
DAY 12 / MUD ON TOAST
10.7.2014 / Stepanovo Lake – Omsk / 428 km / 5263 km total.
It rained through the night. I’ve always loved sleeping in a tent when it rains. It feels like being safely cocooned in a microcosmos, sheltered from the harsh elements outside. This night was harsh though, with the rain coming in waves and a gale buffeting the tent. In the morning the rains had subsided into a drizzle and we packed our stuff in peace. The mood was little awkward after the day before but I was sure it would pass. Either that or we’d part ways. Donning full rain gear felt like defeat after the wonderful sunny days of riding in jerseys. Well we were moving east so I was optimistic that we would escape the weather front later down the route.
We took off towards the road, riding on high grass. Juha was ahead of me and I noticed him attacking the ditch between the road and the pasture. It looked solid and I returned my attention to my line. Looking up I noticed Juha’s bike was facing 180 degrees the wrong direction and on its side. The first thought I had was why he had put his bike down. He would never have gotten it wrong on something as easy as this. He waved me down to stop before the ditch, and told me that the road was extremely slippery. He had pulled a 180 before losing the tail and landed on the road. I got my bike on the road and went to help him get pick up his bike. It was hard as the road was slippery as a greased eel and finding purchase for the boots was tricky. It was worse than ice.
We got the bike up and rode out toward the bigger road. The road was extremely slippery, and progress was slow. It was considerably easier going on the shoulder, which was mostly firm grass. I hate to say it but I was happy to be off the dirt road and back on the tarmac. It was truly evil terrain. I guess it would have worked better if carrying speed, but with our luggage and worn down tyres it would have been too big of a risk. We still had over six weeks to go and couldn’t risk an injury.
Once we were off the dirt road, we continued east on the tarmac. It was cold and miserable going. We hadn’t had breakfast so energy was low. We kept our eye out for a cafeteria or a shop but it never came. It was raining on and off and the bite of cold was getting through. There are situations where staying dry doesn’t matter. It’s the cumulative effect of getting cold day after day. This was the twelfth consecutive day of riding, and I was feeling the consequences. I kept doing some gymnastic moves on the bike to warm up. It must have looked idiotic.
We ran into a dead end of sorts in the village of Chagalovo, before finding a good bridge over the raging torrent of a river, amplified by the heavy rain. It was easy going from there on good tarmac. A shadow grew in my mind, as I knew that we would have to link two roads via small trails to make the connection to the east. In the village of Sladkovwere we were stopped by an unmarked police car. The guys were mostly just interested in our route and told us that there were no proper eastbound roads. I just told them that’s the way we liked it, and they looked at us in disbelief. They did check our passports, but probably just because we ran out of conversation. They were very nice guys, and the first police check in Russia left me a very good vibe. We refueled before continuing to our connecting trail, twenty kilometers east.
Our trail east started in Nikulino, where the road ended. If we couldn’t make it through it would mean a 60 km extra loop. Riding on the trail was pretty grim from the start. Similar slippery stuff as the morning. It was still mostly rideable and according to my maps it would be only be for 3-4 km before connecting with a bigger gravel road. Slippery tractor tracks took us through large fields, and despite the sloppy road, the going was okay. We were averaging about 12 km/h including breaks for photography.
I was expecting to find a good gravel road at the connection, but instead things took a turn for the worse. There was no gravel, but more clay and mud. The mud was extremely sticky. I had never seen anything like it. The top layer of soil kept peeling off and sticking on to our tyres. It was like a snowball, with clay being added on clay on the tyre. It got everywhere, in the end just balling up behind the forks. Our front tyres wouldn’t spin anymore and we would need to stop and clean them. Usually after a fall. The biggest issue was that I was getting exhausted. I was having a hard time staying loose on the bike and my shoulders were rigid and cramping. It was hard to get enough speed to shed the mud from the tyres and they would just ball up all over again. The front would just seize and then you would go down. It got to the point that I ran out of water and was too exhausted to pick up the bike after a fall. I felt truly desperate. Not being able to pick up your bike must be one of the most crippling feelings of an enduro rider. Juha was experiencing similar trouble too. It was a combination of the extra weight of the mud on the bike, the slippery road and exhaustion I think.
After spending over an hour on nine kilometers, we made it to the village of Bol’shepestsanka, where a bigger road should have connected. There was no sight of it though and we made the disastrous decision of venturing into town. The road became much worse and if the previous was sticky and bad, this was something much worse. We decided to turn back and push through to the main road and see what happens. Juha took off and after the U turn my front seized and I was over. I felt utterly helpless, looking at the bike on its side. Slipping and sliding while trying get it on its feet without success. Luckily one of the locals realized my situation and came out to give me a hand. He gave me some advice on riding in Siberia in a fatherly but friendly manner and wished me luck.
I rode back to the intersection and knew something was wrong. I was revving to keep the bike going but the rear wheel wasn’t spinning. I was fearing the worst. Juha had doubled back to see where I was and probably knew straight away what was up. My clutch had fried in the mud. I had had to get on the throttle to get moving with all the mud weighing me down on the tyres and chain. When ever the front started to seize up there would have been more clutch work. I was sure the clutch was toast. Juha, being the engineer asked me check my master cylinder first, but fluid level was okay so it was the clutch plates for sure.
There was no two ways about it. Either replace the clutch or don’t ride. So I pushed the bike over to its left side and went to work. It must have been one of the worst possible spots for opening up the casing and replacing the plates. Mud everywhere with sporadic drizzle. Well I guess a windy desert would be worse as I had no debris flying into the engine. I also had the locals to keep me company and give advice. A very nice bunch to be around and spirits were high during the operation. Especially after Juha found a can of strong beer stashed in his luggage. Juha is an experienced mechanic and gave me step by step instructions while I was working on the bike.
The casing was really hot and the clutch plates were pretty dark. There was absolutely no question about what had happened. I was really happy that I had decided to ride in with my old clutch instead of throwing in a new one before the trip. We were both carrying a set of clutch plates, and I was happy to now have it in the engine instead of the pannier.
After changing the clutch we got off the main track and rode the grassy shoulder. It was much better and the mud shed off our tyres. I was just stoked to have a working clutch. The tarmac road was clearly visible ahead of us, but it was desperately slow going. For the last 200 m we had to get back on the muddy road. I really had to concentrate not to look at the tarmac ahead but instead focus on the muddy road, meter by meter. I think I had also grown paranoid of slipping the clutch, which made the riding extra exciting. I managed to make it without falling, but Juha went down twice. The second fall was pretty entertaining as he rolled into a puddle of cow piss in spectacular fashion. I decided it was probably not a good idea to relish on the irony of the mishap, instead helping him with his bike. Finally we were out of the woods and on tarmac. I never expected to be so happy to see tarmac, ever.
We rode south to connect with the R254. Juha waved me down and told me his front tyre was empty. Apparently the patch wasn’t holding. This was a common problem with Michelin UHD’s. The material isn’t soft enough and the patch doesn’t vulcanize to the tube properly. We fixed the tube at a petrol station, north of Isilkul and had celebratory ice creams. Weather had completely changed and it was hot. I was riding in my jersey.
The rest of the ride was uneventful, just monotonous riding through flat farmland. The highlight of the last leg was the second patch giving the ghost five kilometers before the hotel. We stopped at an Ikea parking lot to replaced the tube in good humour. Our first leg was successfully coming to an end and something as simple as a flat tube wasn’t about to take that from us. We were done in fifteen minutes and rode into downtown Omsk. Among the HUBB waypoints was Tourist hotel, so it was the logical place where start looking for a place to crash. We were in luck and got a room on the umpteenth floor with a nice view over the river.
It was great to be in Omsk. We would have a complete day off before servicing the bikes. It felt like a holiday within the holiday. It was getting late, but after unpacking and showering we had a few beers and food before calling it a night. It had been pretty big day. Covering 400 km in over 14 hours with two flats and a toasted clutch.
DAY 13 / THE ROOM WITH A VIEW
11.7.2014 / Omsk / 0 km / 5263 km total.
Our first complete day off. I didn’t even touch my bike. Our hotel room looks like a bomb exploded in it. Tents, sleeping bags, spare parts, tools and clothes. Everything hung out to dry. The scenery form the room was very nice. The locals were enjoying the warm weather and sunbathing by the banks of the river Irtysh. I worked on my photos and correspondence for most of the day, before heading out for some beers and food in the evening. It was a friday night so the town was in party mode.
DAY 14 / MAINTENANCE
12.7.2014 / Omsk / 14 km / 5277 km total.
Mishutka had sent me a contact in Omsk, who would have our tyres. His name was Sergey and I had been in contact with him earlier to set up a meet in front of our hotel. We met at 0920 and took off after the normal civilities. We were going to service the bikes and were carrying only the essentials. Tyre irons, compressor, filters etc. The garage wasn’t far and we quickly made our way there through the city. It was a walled compound with several garages with some bikes and 4×4:s. Rolling in, we said hi to the owner and Sergei brought out our tyres. Everything seemed to work out in Russia. A guy I’d never met organized very hard to come by parts to half way around the world and even supplies a base to work at. Gotta love it. Huge thanks to Mishutka, Sergei and his crew!
I replaced my tyres with a fresh Mitas C02 and C05. The engine got a fresh set of filters and oil. My dusty Unifilter was replaced with a freshly oiled new one. I needed to wash the old one at some point, but didn’t want to get into the messy business here. It would have to wait and I’d wash them both in one go. When we were done, the locals started getting their stuff together. They were headed for some motocross action and asked if we wanted to go along. We kindly declined and wished the good luck. it would have been fun but getting hurt would have been a serious problem. We made plans to meet up with the guys later that night, and headed back to the hotel.
Parking outside the hotel, Juha noticed that his left for was leaking. It was a minor leak but a leak nonetheless. There would be a bigger problem if it wasn’t fixed right away. Thanks to Hande with KTM Nordic, we were carrying a Risk Racing Seal Doctor. It worked like a charm, scooping out the dirt from under the dust seal, which in turn was back in business. No more leaking fork. Juha added some oil in before we locked up the bikes.
The rest of the day was mostly spent doing laundry, photo post production, correspondence, routing and taking naps. Unfortunately Sergei the guys had had a longer MX session than expected and wouldn’t be back before very late. We would have to correct the situation next time. We owe the guys, and will not forget. Being Finns, we did pop out for a few beers and a bite before calling it a night. From the bar I had a clear view to the entrance to our hotel. I was happy to see an adventure bike being escorted to the hotel by a local sports bike. It turned out to be a KTM 990 Adventure, in French plates. I hoped to meet the rider the next day to have a chat.