White Nights Ride 2005
Vladivostok - S.-Petersburg
Traveling Through Russia
Just a couple of words on the prince: he's much akin to Nicholas II — the consanguinity of the Stuarts and the Romanoffs must show itself. He's very calm, speaks Russian rather fairly, yet he doesn't venture to talk to the press without an interpreter, being careful of misunderstanding something and getting into an awkward position. Such an accident occurred on a square in Vladivostok. Where the prince, without answering any questions, was standing and waiting patiently for the interpreter. He's drinking, but very modestly, though once he and Prince Nicholas von Preussen have drunk the spirit presented on account of Nicholas' birthday just for fanfaronade…
We left Khabarovsk, and as soon as we passed Birobidzhan, the capital of the Jewish Autonomy, the road had no asphalt any more. There began a road made of gravel, broken rock, clay and sand. And all that road must have been some 1,500 km long, ending just 130 km before Chita . The road is called a Federal one and is being repaired in may places, it's being backfilled and widened (in many places, its width is comparable to that of the Moscow Belt Highway).
Having made some 200 km from Birobidzhan, we got into a real offroad, which—as it turned out later—was the most critical in our way. It was a road part just a couple of kilometers long, consisting of a pretty deep “comb”—a road with deep transversal holes, abundantly damped with water and fattened with clay. We got through that road part almost always on foot. Lady Rose Cecil has even laid open “USHI” to the world, which I tried to put back alone, but—as it turned out—it's impossible to do it without having some special lifting technique. You know that an RGS with the ammunition weighs over 300 kg, and the centre of gravity of that monster is on height remarkable even for endurics. Bulldozer drivers who were working not far away told us that we started to fall much to early, thus putting us into a negative mood: we were just in the very beginning of our road.
As we made it to the town of Obluchye, where we stayed in Beryozka (“Little Birch”) hotel, right opposite to the mountain, a local showplace (the mountain's name is Love Mountain, and its top is laid out with rubbles bearing names of beloved ones brought from the bottom). Without a minute delay, the oldest among the motorcycle riders—Victor Emery, 72,—climbed the mountain. Born in Canada, being the 1964 Olympic champion in bobsleigh, he's been living in England for many years, has four grandchildren, the eldest of whom is now 17, he is currently married to a Norwegian woman who is a world champion in ski mountaineering, and her son is a 19fold world champion in ski mountaineering. Victor (they call him simply Vic) is probably the most active team member: when we stay at a lake, he's running onto the ice, when we're in a village, he's in hurry to converse with local older men (using finger language, of course). Running somewhat ahead, I'd say that when we were celebrating the Victory Day in taiga, it was him who burst forth into song among the English singing team, he even performed solo the Canadian anthem, and most exact and lambent toasts at every table were his; once, a Russian folk song orchestra, Zabava , played to us—so he managed to give them a lesson of guitar playing. He's fascinated with motorcycles for the latest 17 years.
So I was speaking of Obluchye: having parked our bikes before the hotel, we gathered a whole crowd of boys. Immediately, there came an UAZ with the head of the local police department therein, who insisted that we should put away the bikes into a garage situated in the inner yard of the local police. That's because he believed that he would better render us a service like that, than he would file our claims on broken and stolen motorcycles the day after. He wasn't even inspired by the fact that our team had two security guards who were in charge to see after the bikes day and night.
In the beginning, I'd like to tell you a couple of words on our team in general and on every participant in particular. Thus, our team consists of 17 persons, 9 of which are riding bikes, and the remaining 4 ride on the escort cars (BMW H3, Land Cruiser 100, Nissan Safari, Toyota Regius—all of them are all-wheeled), loaded up to the ceiling. Just an example: a brand-new BMW H3 had several times its shock-absorbers thrown off on a country road due to overloading.
Lord Nicholas Fairfax is the leader and the mastermind of the team, it was him who came to an idea to cross Russian diagonally from Vladivostok to St. Petersburg . He's the owner of HART company that is in the business of insuring and guarding Soviet, now Russian merchant ships abroad for over 20 years. He's distinguished by a calm temper, and he holds press conferences and business lunches in all major cities. His motorcycle experience isn't long, and it shows when driving through a city; yet I've never heard any complaints from him. Though there were lots of occasions for them.
Lady Rose Cecil, daughter of Marquis Salisbury, is the only woman riding a bike. Being an artist, she takes a sheet of paper on every encampment and draws sketches of people, houses, etc. She's an experienced motorcycle traveler, 49 years old. She has knocked about all over Africa, South America, China and Tibet. She's driving motorcycle for 27 years. An experienced motorcyclist, she's riding perfectly in a convoy and in a check order. She's excellent in camps: she sets up a tent in a minute, cooks something (once, she has even baked bread for us) and washes up, and she is really tough when lining up the lords telling them who's turn is now to cook and to wash dishes. Sometimes it was clear that she feels difficult to spend the whole day in the saddle, she might be hardly standing up in the evenings, yet she was always companionable and kind. As for me, I've never met such a strong woman in my life.
Prince Nicholas von Preussen is the grandson of the Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany. He was born in England , since his parents emigrated to that country from Germany after Hitler came to power. He's a former tank trooper of the British army. He's tall, well-built, with apparent noblesse. Without a subtle trace of snobbery. Modest and communicative. At the press conferences, he tries to keep back, he doesn't like publicity. He was the first who learned the Russian phrase Realny chuvak , and he didn't fail to use the phrase at the press conference in Ulan-Ude after the speech of Kevin Sanders: he tapped him on the shoulder in a friendly way and pronounced that phrase.
Kevin Sanders is a man invited by BMW, by its English representative office. He's the owner of GLOBEBUSTERS , a company organizing bike tours to Latin America on BMW R 1150 GS motorcycles. Kevin knows that model thoroughly. And what's the most important thing, Kevin is a double Guinness Record Book champion (he made a round-the-world trip on the said motorcycle in 19 days, that is making 1700 km a day, and he was the first man who traversed America from its northernmost point to the southernmost one). He's 40. A cheerful and unpretentious chap.
Ron Pape is a Dutchman. He's been living in England since 23 years. He's the manager of NEDLOID maritime company which brought the bikes and the BMW car, the supplies consisting of 2 boxes full of snickers, 2 bags of rice, 3 bags of dried milk from Britain to Vladivostok .
I'll say words about the others later in my story…
We've driven some 1500 km from Vladivostok. We're driving a road dumped with gravel. The road is two-way but the traffic is only in one direction, from Vladivostok to the west: there are car ferry drivers who drive mostly small trucks dragging a passenger car on them and some car behind.
Thus, one driver drives three cars, all of which will be sold. The cars are all covered with the scotch tapes and cardboard to prevent damage from stones. The only cars driving in the opposite direction are KAMAZes, Urals and BelAZes engaged in construction works.
I was in the lead of the convoy and signaled to noblemen following me on any holes and other surprises on the road. The noblemen swallowed dust from under my wheels, but endured it. They understood the necessity of my presence in the lead of the convoy.
Today I stranded seriously. The convoy drove in two rows, using both our lane and the empty opposite one. The road is made of gravel. There comes an opposing car, I come back to my lane and at the speed of 90 km/h I get onto a heap of gravel, the handlebar turns and we both — the bike and me — fall head over heals. Results: the bike has rear suspension torn away, the valve cover is broken, sides and windshield are crashed, etc., my helmet is broken, clothes are torn, muscle strain in the neck, in short, I got off lightly.
I stranded 100 km westwards from Belogorsk, 30 km before Svobodny. The whole team camped at Zeya river, while I was sent to Svobodny on a passing car. Since the bike has the duralumin console broken which holds the rear wheel and contains the cardan, Kevin Sanders said that such breakage cannot be fixed—this is cured only by replacing the unit, because all bearings are squashed, and the console itself is a holding component.
Thus, having caught a car—it was a Toyota lorry—I went to Svobodny. I'd like to say some good words about the lorry driver, his name is Igor, not only he drove my broken horse and me through the city looking for argon welding, but finally let me stay overnight in his home and dined me. And all that quite selflessly.
Strong was my disappointment as it turned out that the only person who repaired motorcycles in that city and the only welder who mastered argon, was in Yakutia by that time. I managed to contact him by phone and, according to our conversation, I left the motorcycle in his workshop. His name is Serguei Antonov, and it turned out that it was not the first time when he helped motorcycle travelers who got into a technical crisis. An almost completely repaired motorcycle (only ABS was defunct, but that does not affect the speed, as you know) was handed over to me 24 days later in Ekaterinburg.
I continued the travel on the next day heavy-hearted, for falling and losing your bike almost at the very start of the rally is a ruin for any biker. But the team encouraged me: all team members were unanimous in opinion that spare hands in washing dishes and installing tents wouldn't be excessive…
Finally I drove one day in the car with Svetlana Luzan and the other day on the bike replacing Boris Zimin.
We drove to the West. The farther from Primorye, the more and more ascetic the culture became. It's hard to forget the overnight stop 13 km from Sivaki village. It was a sort of a motel and a cafe, three houses and a bath house. Houses were cold, we slept on the floor in sleeping bags, 6 to 7 persons in a room. As for the bath: it was the first time in my life when sitting in the steam room I could see the stars through the holes in the ceiling.
On the span between Sivaki and Skovorodino we're driving constantly along the railroad. The locomotive drivers are saluting us with horn signals every time they see our caravan. No doubt, they're amusing themselves and putting the Englishmen into shock: they assure us that in England, it's forbidden for locomotive drivers to make sound signals in such circumstances.
We celebrated May 9 in the taiga. We went off the federal road and made a camp in about 20 kilometers from the main road. First, of course, we drank with the allies and then we had a singing contest among the Russian speaking and English speaking parts of the team. Sure, finally won “friendship” represented by the Russian part of the team who could sing on chorus such songs as Victory Day , Katyusha and the like easily and unconstrainedly. English songs were meant for polyphony and were thus difficult to reproduce. And Vic Emery, the main animator, still tried to strike up the Canadian anthem who wasn't familiar to anybody. After the “banquet”, we arranged such a firework that, I believe, it could be seen from the space among the really endless taiga (especially if you take into account that the nearest village was 300 km away from us).
In Amur region, the road was made of a mixture of sand, clay and crushed stone. There are clouds of dust in dry weather, and it's still worse in the wet weather: just too much greasy, especially on clay “spots”. After such spots, a first mini-club came into existence in the bike team, the club of slip lovers. It was headed by the 72 years old Vic Emery, who, in fact, was first to declare the existence of it.
On May 12, the territory of Chita Region began. The road here is very insidious: it must be an order of tire fitters that it should be backfilled with very sharp and slippery crushed rock. It made no problems to the bikes, but the cars had their tires cut every one or two hours. The tire fitting workshops are along the road every 10 km, and the lines of customers eager to use their simple services stood at every one of them. They must be the kings of this area, for their never descend to removing the wheels and being sober. They're all drunk without exception! Maybe it's a prerequisite of their work, maybe a sober one won't have any customers?!
The landscape changed with the road. The famous Trans-Baikal steppes began, with no less famous Dauria Cossack villages.
100 km before Chita, the long-awaited asphalt began. It was especially welcome to our little BMW X3, which, according to Tim Van Hallen, is designed just to take kids to the school, and for nothing else.
Chita turned out to be an amazingly clean and beautiful city, and very calm above all things. Yet Kevin Sanders said (to do the justice to him for the last time) that a visit to a nightclub in Chita must be much too dangerous for a foreigner. In Chita , we visited a children's home where we left our presents, and a child clinic.
Since we tried to overnight in tents between the cities, we have spent a sufficient number of nights outdoors. And, despite the night chill ( 2 ? 3 of the team members were sneezing and coughing), it was the common work (installing and dismantling tents, cooking, dishing up, etc.) that increased the team spirit and the communication got more complete. There were jests and laughter in the evenings, pantomimes and practical jokes.
On the border to Buryatia, we met the aunts from the Baikal Amazons bus who were preaching feminist ideas and dreaming of a round-the-world car tour. In the previous year, they drove on ice throughout Baikal. Buryatia amazed us with its tremendous views: mountains, valleys, rivers with vast flood plains. Some 30 km before Ulan-Ude , there was a rock over the river, it has a romantic name Sleeping Lion . If you come to that region, try going there, me and Boris Zimin managed to do so on two bikes, despite the 45 î slope. After that clime, the Englishmen used to call us “crazy guys” for a long time. Ulan-Ude welcomed us as kings on the central square of the city, where the world's largest Lenin's head is installed. We were greeted by a concert of Buryatian amateur artists, both national Buryat and those of Cossacks (the population of Buryatia consists of two major groups: firstly, there are Buryats properly, and secondly, there are old believers who have been settling there from times immemorial as they migrated from prosecution of the new church). After the concert, there was a press conference in the Republic's administration building and delivery of a money grant to a child clinic.
Also remarkable was the trip to the local Ivolgino Datsan (Buddhist monastery), where we were shown (as an exception) the incorruptible body of Lama Tegilov, who died in 1927 and was buried until recently in a square box sitting in the so-called padamasana posture. Currently, the incorruptible body of Lama Tegilov is one of the greatest mysteries of the humankind and an object of worship for Buddhists of the whole world. He was born in 1852 in a family of Buryat Cossacks, that is a family of a military who guarded the borders of the Russian empire. In the early 20 th century, when he was already a lama, he blessed some 300 Buryat Cossacks who went to the Russo-Japanese war. The war was very bloody and a no-win for our army, yet no one of Buryats was killed and wasn't even injured. There are many legends like this of Lama Tegilov in Buryatia.
When driving along the southern end of Baikal that was covered with ice, we got into a very harsh mess in a village called Kutum. It was a railroad crossing. As it turned out later, it was very famous among the bikers. The road crosses it not at right but rather at an acute angle, so if you don't cross it at a right angle on your bike but follow the road path, the front wheel of your bike will fall into a deep furrow between the rail and a rubber pad, and you happily fall on the very crossing.