Finishing off last week on a high from the wonderful people I had met and the km’s covered on Saturday, we set off on Sunday towards the city of Novosibirsk. To me, this marked the end point of Western Russia, and my expectations were that it would potentially get more challenging from there on before we cross the Mongolian border.
Turns out I was right, but sooner than I thought. After a great day on the road and with only 50km to go, Yogi started to feel unwell. Stuck in another traffic jam due to roadworks he would lose power every minute or so, making it impossible to overtake for fear of not being able to pass before he cut out again.
Not knowing where to start I pulled into the next petrol station and called David. Help! With a few things checked and a new tank of fuel we cautiously pulled out again and limped slowly into the city. As we pulled into our hotel relieved, a group of Russian bikers on BMW 1200’s had also stopped in for the night.
Alex came to introduce himself and offered for me to join them for dinner! The 3 friends, Alex, Garik (Igor) and Denis were on their way to Vladivostok, a right of passage for any Russian motorcyclist. It was a great night of food, good company, a couple of vodkas and laughs. We said goodbye as they headed out the following morning for the town of Krasnoyarsk, and I would stay to take Yogi to the mechanic.
Yogi it appears, is just as fussy as me when it comes to good food and tainted fuel had given him a bad case of fuel poisoning. Explaining my need to keep moving the guys at Honda stopped all other work and took Yogi apart for a good clean and service. It was agreed that the chain would be tightened and should make it to Mongolia, unfortunately that wasn’t to be.
Having worked all day and into the evening I returned to pick him up and have a couple of photos with the crew who were all very impressed with our efforts so far to cross Russia on our own! They were very helpful and it was a great experience.
I had originally planned to break the following leg into two shorter sections however as the rides had been getting progressively longer, I felt confident we could do 800km in the day and make back the lost time.
After a start with numerous road closures from a couple of severe accidents, it had been slow progress and at 4pm we still had another 400km to go. Stopping for a break at a roadside fuel station I waved to another BMW rider as he roared past. Minutes later he came back, it was quickly discovered we were heading the same way and that he was the missing member of the Russian bikers group, Roman!
We rode together for another 6 hours, into the night and in pouring rain to reach Krasnoyarsk and meet the rest of the group. Roman had originally not been able to make the trip but at the last minute he changed his mind and had ridden 4,000km in four days to catch them up. Makes our efforts seem less impressive 😊
Alexey, the instigator of my joining the team. Always there to translate and ensure I could communicate with everyone, re-assure me that everything was ok and just a genuinely kind soul. He went to great lengths to impart as many Russian Traditions and make sure I had a full cultural experience.
Denis/Terminator, although he had the least English, was the kindest gentle giant, always there to give me a thumbs up and tell me not to worry. He has the best ‘evil’ laugh and even though I rarely knew what was being said, once I heard it I couldn’t help but join in laughing.
Roman, the Latvian who lives in Russia, was my saviour out on the road that day and was insistent that I continue as planned with them to see the island, also very good at speaking English he had many funny stories to tell.
Garik/Igor/Sensei and Fixer, definitely the larrikin of the gang. Heading everyone up and setting a fierce pace, he thoroughly enjoyed my screams as we roared down the track on Olkhorn but also took great care to make sure I stayed in one piece.
It was agreed over a belated mini birthday celebration for Roman that night in Krasnoyarsk that I would stay with the gang until we reached Ulan-Ude some 1,500km away. I felt very relieved as I had been dreading the following days of ‘no mans land’ that had limited civilisation and decent accommodation.
We had a late start with a morning trip to BMW mechanics and after 8 hours on the road it was agreed we wouldn’t be making our destination of Irkutsk. Garik the ‘fixer’ made calls and eventually found as an apartment we could all stay in for the night, in the middle of a very typically Siberian town.
Our introduction to this part of Russia began in the restaurant we stopped to have dinner in, with some locals rolling out and into their car incredibly drunk and intent of creating as much dust and smoke on their departure. Very pleased I was not alone at this point!
It was dark as we headed into the town to find the keys for the apartment. A few wrong turns later we found it and the bikes were taken to a secure parking lot for the night. Again, something I was happy about it given the less than safe vibe in the town.
The town, Tulun, reminded me of images that we are more used to seeing on the TV of ‘Russia’. Cold, bleak and run down with little colour or modernity. This image is something that represents a good portion of how people in Russia do live, but as I have discovered it is not the whole picture.
Being perfect gentlemen the guys all bunked down together in our cramped accommodation whilst I had my own room. I did feel guilty, but they wouldn’t hear of any other way.
The following day our mission was to do a loop up to the Island of Olkhorn, situated in Lake Biakal. Unfortunately, after many kms under his belt and chasing after his new friends for two days, who are more than twice his size and engine capacity, Yogi’s chain and sprockets were a bit worse for wear. Garik, now also mechanic, preformed some roadside surgery and made some calls to find parts in Irkutsk.
Stopping to re-group as we came into town, another couple of Russian bikers joined us on the side of the road. They were locals and knew exactly where we needed to go to get Yogi sorted. Leading the way, they took us to the spare parts shop and miraculously they had what we needed.
Parts in hand we ventured around the back of the shop to the mechanic and after much conversation, all of which I had no clue of what was being said, it was organised by Alex that Yogi would be left for the weekend whilst we headed on to the lake.
Being on a long-term trip I have accepted that there will be times when I need to stop, planned or unexpectedly for repairs, so I had resigned myself to missing out on the trip to the island. Once again, the gang would not hear of it and insisted that I put my bag on the back of Roman’s bike and ride passenger with Garik.
Having observed his skills for the previous few days I had in fact nick-named him Sensei, so I knew I was in capable hands for making the journey. Having said that, it is an incredibly unnerving feeling to sit on the back of the bike, no control, when you are a rider.
The sun was shining as we began to wind our way through some small mountains and through a very different landscape of green and gold tundra and grasslands. Wild horses grazing in the fields and cows wandering casually across the road, it was without doubt the most beautiful few hours on the road of all Russia.
I felt a little disappointed that Yogi missed it, but it was also nice to be able to look around and let someone else do the work. That was even more appreciated once we arrived on the island, having crossed the lake by ferry. With zero paved roads on the island we were immediately met with a sandy, rutted road that would last for 40km’s before we made our hotel.
With Yogi not getting his all-terrain shoes until Ulan-Ude, I felt very relieved he was safely tucked up at the mechanics having a well-earned rest. Sitting up high on the bike it was a hair-raising ride as we rode incredibly fast across the slippery track, Sensei having the situation well in hand.
Happy to jump off onto firm ground, our hotel was amazing, and I had a fantastic view from my balcony over-looking the lake.
Lake Biakal is a very significant place. It holds a staggering 20% of all the world’s fresh water and is home to more than 700 unique aqua species. It is so vast it looks as though it is an ocean and with sandy shores it serves the purpose as a ‘beach’ side holiday location for neighbouring China. At 10c though not sure it is the place for a swim!
More ‘Russian Tradition’ (vodka drinking) and dinner at 11pm, I was exhausted and so happy to get to bed, ready for our boat trip the following day.
Turns out the local transport isn’t immune to poor quality fuel and our original boat broke down and we waited for a replacement. Clambering across another vessel to board, we set off into the mist and light rain on the beautiful lake.
Unfortunately, light rain turned into more heavy falls and everyone on board retreated to the covered back deck. Taking on a bit of water, I could see that a fellow passenger, wearing socks and thongs was about to get wet feet. Leaning forward to let her know, the boat rolled on a wave just as I reached out, accidently groping her very inappropriately!
Holly, an American, was a great sport about my indecent behaviour and we were inseparable from that point on. It was so much fun to have someone to joke and laugh with for the day. She is a girl after my own heart, travelling and living abroad alone for work, she is also a very accomplished solo traveller. Holly is on a wonderful journey across Russia on the Trans-Siberian Railway from St Petersburg to Vladivostok.
After an excruciatingly slow 4 hour journey we reached the northern tip of the island, and the start of the real adventure. First, we had to walk the plank, literally, that had been precariously put up on a wet slippery rock, unsecured. If you survived that, you then had to clamber up a steep cliff of granite rocks to the shore!
Making it out alive, we jumped into our ground transport, the affectionately named, bukhunka (because it looks like a brick or a loaf of bread). These Siberian vans are famous for being unbreakable and able to travel across any land, in any weather. Which is good as the rain had turned the dirt roads into a muddy mess.
Some serious off-roading began with everyone hanging on for dear life and hoping we would be lucky enough for the second time that day to make it out in one piece. After a mini breakdown in the unbreakable bukhunka, we stopped into a shack to use the bathroom and wait for it to be repaired.
Rather than wait and be bored we took the opportunity to teach Holly ‘Russian Tradition’ of drinking vodka haha. After a few rounds it was back into the brick and another few hours of hair raising mud drifting across the plains. Made all that more hilarious from our afternoon refreshments.
Stopping late afternoon to take a photo of a bay, the clouds rolling across the surface of the water it was one of the most beautiful sights I have seen on my trip. Groups photos taken to remember the moment, it had been a great day.
I ventured through the mud streets to meet Holly for tea, cake and chats about life. Alex joined us and after a few very serious games (turns out I am a cheater!), of Jenga it was time to say goodbye. Everyone I have been so incredibly lucky to meet on my trip has significantly contributed to my amazing time. Thanks Holly, see you in the motherland 😊
Today, end of the week, and also the last day with my gang. Leaving the island this morning, back across the dirt track to the ferry. Succumbing to too many late nights, early starts and long days, I was the perfect passenger, napping quietly on the back as we drove the two hours back to Irkutsk!
Our group journey ended here as the guys pushed on to Ulan-Ude to ensure they meet their timeline for Vladivostok, I need to wait until Monday morning to get Yogi and head that way to for my Mongolian visa.
I realise I sounds like an absolute broken record, but once again I am completely overwhelmed by the kindness and generosity of the Russian people. From carrying my bag, finding us food and drinks, getting Yogs looked after making sure I didn’t miss the lake, the list of incredible acts of kindness is long.
As expected, I feel very emotional reflecting on this week. I know I would have been able to do it out there on my own. But to have that kind of support and help from total strangers is something I have no real words for.
Not only did they look out for me, they made me feel included and a real part of the group. I am privileged to have shared a part of their journey and hope they know what it has meant to me to share mine with them.
Last few days coming in Russia, for now, as I get ready in Ulan-Ude to cross the border into Mongolia, FINALLY!!!
Let’s hope Yogi has finished being high maintenance and is ready for another big adventure.
Love Kylie and Yogi x