We left Lena’s place, having been fed breakfast, and Lena and her family followed us to the ferry across the Vilyui River. Lena spoke to the captain and told him he won’t be charging us for the ride, if he wants to stay in her good books. It was only then I realised she was ‘kind of a big deal around here’ – a big wig in the local city administration.
Underway on the other side and Sherri Jo was riding well. It was like all the previous days experiences really clicked together. Suddenly she was cruising along at 85 km/h (53 mph) on the sandy gravely roads of Yakutia. I rode next to her for a while and she was taking the bumps, the bridges, the sand, the hazards, exactly as she was supposed to.
With SJ in the groove, we made Nyurba in less than 2 hours and stopped for lunch. I had the chance to say hi to the café folks there who had looked after Tony and myself so well last year. Then we pressed on – through Yakutian fields.
I had been telling SJ about this challenging half bridge across a small river for some days now. It was a spot for great video last year, with the bikes needing to ford half a river in half metre deep water and then ride up out of the water up a steep narrow steel ramp to the bridge, which spanned the deeper part of the river. But when we reached the bridge, it was a real anticlimax. Water levels were very low this year. I noted this morning on the ferry across the Vilyui River that the water seemed 3-4 metres lower than last year. Even this tributary was a good 2 metres lower than last year. The half bridge was accordingly a full bridge and we just rode straight over it.
By 3pm the days planned 300 km ride to Suntar was almost over. It was a day in which we would take 4 ferries, 3 across the Vilyui and 1 across the Markha River.
It was also the day in which we rode completely in the Yakut heartland along the Vilyui River. Most of the day villages were only 15 km (10 miles) apart. The scenery was divine, and the people friendly and generous.
And then with just 30 km to go to Suntar, we hit wet roads. Instantly we went from cruising at top speed to struggling along at 45-50 km/h. It was a slippery stressful end to the day. By the time we took the ferry across the river to Suntar, SJ was the walking dead. That stressful last 30 wet kilometres had taken a lot of energy out of both of us.
I stopped at an autoparts shop and asked around for a hotel. For the second day running, the lady chatted to us for 3 minutes and then stepped into her van and said follow me. We were led thru the muddy, swampy, back streets of Suntar to a big new house and were told we would be staying here tonight. It was her house and Lida (our host) ensured we were extremely well looked after. We had lucked out again!. A fantastic big banya, home cooked meat and potatoes, great company, a huge widescreen TV … we keep landing in the lap of the gods somehow.
This Vilyuisky Trakt ride has been incredible from a hospitality and scenery viewpoint. It’s been challenging riding for Sherri Jo in parts but I can see the fruits of the challenging riding paying off … every day on the bike she looks more and more comfortable and accomplished. She is off riding around the world alone once we part ways in Irkutsk, and after this Siberian experience she will be able to tackle any dirt roads with confidence and speed.
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We left Lida and her family around 10am for the final day on the Vilyuisky Trakt. It was 240 km from Suntar to Mirny. The roads were still wet but there had been no more rain overnight. That meant they were dryer than yesterday. Best of all, was that it hadn’t rained at all in Mirny. That meant the roads had to get better somewhere between Suntar and Mirny. But that didn’t mean there weren’t plenty of greasy patches in the first 50 km.
By the time we reached Krestyakh, the last primarily Yakut town on our route, the roads were dry. Krestyakh has the last of the 4 ferries across the Vilyui River, and it’s a ferry service that sometimes runs as little as once every 6 hours. Last time I was here I felt lucky that I only waited 90 minutes for the ferry. This time we took the ferry across the river almost immediately. It was our lucky day.
The next highlight on the track was the crossing of the Vilyuchanka, a small tributary of the Vilyui and the scene of a few cars not making it across last year. Again we had been lucky. The low water levels this year, meant the crossing was a breeze.
Again Sherri Jo was flying along the roads. It was another day when yet again her riding was better, faster, more relaxed and more comfortable than I had seen before. I had the feeling that things had really clicked now.
I passed a GAZ71 full of hunters out on a hunting trip.
The final obstacle was the river at Muad. I saw a Wazzik take the truck over the river, so I lined up and waited for Sherri … I rode the bikes onto the back of the truck and it began to buck and roll its way across the river. Half way across I was kicking myself. We could have forded that river. We had done worse. It was a waste of 1000 rubles.
From there it was a quick 25km ride into Mirny on fast dirt roads. I was going to head into Mirny, get some lunch and then call my friend Ilya to tell him we had arrived. But I didn’t have the chance. A car pulled me over on the edge of town and said he was a friend of Ilya and we should follow him. He took us to his business base, ordered a huge amount of shashlik, and told us to relax. Yet again we had been taken in by people and looked after. Igor, the guy looking after us now, had a jet washer and we cleaned off the bikes, before starting to do maintenance work.