I slept in till almost midday in my Udachny hotel room. I had thoughts of riding back to Mirny today, but it was a Saturday. The few things I needed to do in Mirny needed to wait until Monday anyway, and I was still thinking about a potential ride out with the towns bad boys. As it happens the bad boys didnt contact me until 5pm, and I had just jet washed the bike (thanks to the mining company guys) and refilled it with fuel, thinking they wouldnt call. In any case, the lads didnt actually know what lay beyond the river crossing, and their bikes didn’t look like they stood a good chance of going very far.
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I had packed the night before and decided to leave early. I could have waited round until 11:30 when the cafe opened and had a cup of tea and stocked up on some food, but instead hit the road about 8:45am
It was terribly cold, probably about -3 degrees. Light snow had fallen overnight, the second snow of the season. The previous night had seen the first snow but it hadnt stuck. Even with all the gear on including my heated vest and gloves I was struggling with the cold and reduced speed to 75km/h for the first hour to help deal with it.
After a completely uneventful morning I reached Chernyshevsky 430 km and 5 hours later, stopping there to refuel and to get something to eat and drink. I continued on to Mirny, arriving soon after 3pm. When I turned on my phone, a SMS arrived from Arnaud, saying he was making good progress on the Vilyuisky Trakt and should arrive in Mirny tonight. I called Ilya, the biker I knew in Mirny and he was fixing his Africa Twin with the town’s moto-cross guys. I went round there and did a couple of laps of the moto-cross track myself on the XC, before letting a proper motocross rider have a go on my bike.
About 6pm I got a phone call from Arnaud. He had just arrived in Mirny. I told him to meet Ilya and myself in Lenin Square. Five minutes later and we were all there. Arnaud had a contact in Mirny who had a place where we could stay for free, so we waited for the contact to show up and take to our very humble lodgings, before heading out for a dinner of Shashlik and beer before retiring.
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9am and Arnaud woke me up in my freezing unheated room with news that he had just been told there was a boat leaving Lensk at 12:00. We had been worried about when we might get the next boat so this was a boat we needed to try and take. They would hold the boat until 12:30 for us. It was a 3 hour ride. We had 30 minutes to wake up, pack and leave Mirny.
I didnt so much pack as throw all my gear into my bags. I still had stuff at Andrei’s garage and Andrei doesnt usually start until 10am, but I called him and asked him to rush down and open his garage for me. He did.
Arnaud and I sped full throttle down to Lensk, slowing only for the mud created by recent rain, and roadworks. We headed directly for where the boat had dropped me off 5 days earlier, and the same boat was waiting. Luggage was stripped off and our bikes shoved up the nose of the boat to rest on the front deck.
From here it was a 5 day boat ride upstream to Ust Kut, on a twin engined boat that had only one engine working.
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07, 08, 09, 10, 11.09.09
Arnaud was the French guy who had stopped Tony in the streets of Vladivostok after recognising him as one of the Sibirsky Extreme guys. He had been after road condition information on the Road of Bones, as he was about to board a boat to Magadan. I had kept in touch with Arnaud, and a few weeks later (when he was relaxing in Yakutsk) we chatted about the BAM road and Vilyuisky Trakt, and which would be better to get him back to Irkutsk. As my experience of the BAM road unfolded, and with Arnaud travelling solo, it became clear that the only choice was the Vilyuisky Trakt.
Arnaud took the recommended road and was greeted at every ferry,and almost every cafe and fuel stop with “Guess what?! We had two English guys come thru here a few months ago also on motorcycles”.
Arnaud is fluent in Russian and reported to me when we met in Mirny that not only were the two English guys famous on the Vilyuisky Trakt, but Tony and I had made a positive impression everywhere. That is something that money cant buy, an inner satisfaction. These people had been very good to us (apart from one river crossing truck driver) and it was satisfying to hear we had left a positive impression with the Yakuts of the Vilyui valley, as indeed they had with us.
Arnaud has been in Siberia for 15 years, running his own tour firm on Lake Baikal, organising movie sets in Yakutia etc, even running motorcycle tours around the Baikal region. He is riding one of his left over tour bikes, a TTR 250. It’s proved a little underpowered for the more open sections of road, and he said he was full throttle for the whole road to Lensk.
As the boat sailed into the first night, we began talking about some of the expressions of interest I have had in the Sibirsky Extreme Project. Arnaud, with his years of running tours and logistics in Siberia felt there was be a good opportunity to put together a one-off organised motorcycle trip from Magadan to Lake Baikal next year, led by the two of us.
The following days were spent refining the concept. The more we thought and talked about it, the more the idea made sense. So few people ever make it to Magadan on a bike, or get to do the Road of Bones, yet many dream of it. The logistical and language barriers are the primary reasons. Its a hell of a long way away, its very hard to get to, and nobody there speaks English. As for the Vilyuisky Trakt into the attractive heart of Yakutia, its virgin territory for foreigners, let alone motorcyclists. Lake Baikal is a logical, beautiful place to finish and really is Arnaud’s speciality … he knows that region like the back of his hand.
Look for a link on the website in the weeks ahead. It could only ever be a small group, 5-8 people, over 4 weeks. If anyone is interested, drop me a line thru the blog and we will send out more detailed information as we put it together. If we get enough expressions of interest, we will have a serious ride on next summer, Magadan – Baikal.
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Arnaud and I had arrived back in Ust Kut around 10pm last night and arranged to stay on board the boat for one more night. The plan was to leave first thing in the morning. We pushed the bikes off the boat and locked them together next to the boat, set the alarm for 05:30 ! and tried to sleep. Sleeping was near impossible onthe boat, without the drone of the engine in the background and it was an evening of tossing and turning and restlessness.
5:30 came and despite both wanting to sleep in, we headed down to the galley, where the cook from the boat had also woken up early to cook breakfast for us. With full stomachs, we loaded up the bikes and were ready to go by 6:30, only it was still pitch black. I consulted my phone … daylight comes to Ust Kut at 7:20 am on this day of the year. And so we went back to our cabin and had 45 minutes snooze before finally hitting the road about 7:15.
It was cold and foggy and I had dressed in my heated vest. Arnaud on his little 250 had no such luxury. He just had to endure the cold. Bratsk was 350km away, mostly over dirt roads, but the roads were decent and we made it to the sprawling spread out city of Bratsk around lunchtime. The Hydroelectric dam at Bratsk is supposed to be one of the largest in the world, and it certainly was huge. I have never seen one bigger.
I noticed my front end didnt feel right. Tony P has a credo that if something doesnt feel or sound right, its because something isnt right, and you need to stop and sort it out. I knew something wasnt right but just felt like I wanted to get to Krasnoyarsk where the bike would get a full going over by Zhenya and his team of bike mechanics.
Bratsk is spread out over about 50 km and while riding through Bratsk the unease in the front end of the bike felt progressively worse. We stopped and chatted to some Police guys about the road to Taishet, the last 300km of the BAM road. They said if we want to go to Krasnoyarsk from Bratsk, we needed to go on the asphalt road to Tulun and then the Trans Siberian Highway to Krasnoyarsk. With my front end clearly sick, I decided not to argue. It was a longer route, but a safer one with a sick bike.
80 km outside of Bratsk and I was kicking myself for not listening to Tony’s credo. I had seen grease oozing past the right front wheel bearing seal when we had stopped in Bratsk and strongly suspected that bearing was on the way out. I had been obsessed with getting to Krasnoyarsk and should have stopped in Bratsk to see what could be done about the bearing. Now I was out on the empty road and the bearing was dead. It was cold but at least it had temporarily stopped raining. There was nothing for it but to get sore and greasy and sort the problem.
Arnaud rode 500 yards ahead where a truck was parked on the side of the road and borrowed a hammer. I jacked up the bike with a stick and removed the front wheel. I started whacking out the old bearing with the hammer and a screwdriver. Predictably it crumbled and I was left with the problem of trying to remove the outer housing of the old bearing. After 20 minutes and a lot of sore thumbs, I had removed the old bearing completely and searched around in my spare pars bag for new bearings.
5½ months on the road and a lot of water in the side bags had left my spare bearings in poor shape. All my spare parts were covered in sand and rust. I had no option by to clean up one of the bearings as best I could and use it. The truck drivers up the road began to move off and Arnaud went to offer them the hammer back. They said we needed it more th