I woke at 7am, Sherri was moving about and told me to go back to sleep as she had plenty of repacking to do. I woke again at 9:15am. Sherri Jo had rejigged her luggage and was all loaded up ready to go. But by the time I was ready to ride, it was almost 10pm.
True to form, the road continued as it left off last night. Every 100 yards, another tree had crashed across the road courtesy of the bushfires. But we were luckier … there were no trees that we could not find a relatively quick solution for. Most could be broken, moved or ridden over. When we had done 5km in our first hour, I told Sherri Jo things were looking up. I told her about the day I had on the BAM Road last year when Tony, Terry and I managed a mere 9km in a day, and 65km in three whole days.
By 11:30, with an hour and a half of struggle under our belt, I announced to Sherri that we had exceeded the 9km day from the BAM Road, and we had done it in 90 minutes. To be even more positive I noted that we were now riding in an area not touched by the fires … and there were no trees across the road.
While the tree situation now appeared to be no longer an issue, water crossings were. There were small sections of BAM Road-esque bogs and deep murky puddles that spanned the entire road. While Sherri Jo was quickly becoming adept at the simpler water crossings and muddy puddles, I still helped out for the more challenging ones. The unspoken deal was I would obviously help out less and less as time went on, and increasing I stood and simply told her what line to take and how to handle the obstacle. The girl listens, and as a result was rapidly gaining the ability to do most of the water hazards and other obstacles herself.
We stopped for lunch at 1pm. We had done 50km in three hours. Our pace was picking up, not because the road was getting better, but because there were now no more trees over it. The road was still in very bad condition. The impression I got was it was not generally as bad as the BAM Road, many section of which hadn’t seen maintenance in 25 years, but I guessed it was at least 15 years since this section had seen maintenance. By now we were riding with Mosquito hats on. The bugs and mosquitoes could be avoided when moving in 2nd gear or more, but anything less than that saw then feasting on us. Safer just to spend the day riding with the nets on.
The Old Summer Road was until 2008 still the only way to get from Yakutsk to Magadan, despite the lack of maintenance. In fact much of the maintenance was done by passing traffic. If trees were across the road, the first guy with a chainsaw (almost every off road vehicle in these parts has a chainsaw for this very purpose) would chop it up in small bits and clear the road. Every hole in the road would be filled again by trucks using the road and every unpassable section of road would see a detour made around it by the regular traffic. But since 2008, with the new Summer Road completed via Ust Nera to the North, there is no reason for any traffic what-so-ever between the hunters camp at the southerly tip of the road and Tomtor. Everything for the hunters camp goes via the road to Kadychan, and every thing in and out of Tomtor goes via Kyubeme. Nothing goes between Tomtor and Adygalakh any more and so even the maintenance of passing drivers is no more. It’s 200 km of deserted, abandoned road.
Soon after lunch, we crossed in Yakutia. We were greeted by bear tracks – but they were not that large, and not that fresh. We shrugged them off and rode on:
I was optimistic that Yakutia, with its wealthier, growing population would have better infrastructure investment that the declining population of Magadan Oblast. And so it was. Immediately on crossing the ‘state line’ the road improved considerably. I was thrilled. Clearly the road was no longer maintained. But I reckoned it had seen a grader at some stage, perhaps about 5 years ago. I was overjoyed at our good fortune and several times took the bike up to 100 km/h to celebrate. While I had been doing 40 km/h in the Magadan section after Adygalakh, with odd bursts up to 55 km/h, now that we were on the Yakutsk section I was comfy at 70-80 km.h with bursts up to 100. Sherri Jo seemed to be picking up the pace accordingly too. While she had been doing about 25 km/h on the Magadan side of the line, she was doing 40-45 on the Yakutsk side. I began to think we can make Tomtor today. Tomtor is 2/3 of the way down the road from the direction we were coming from. It’s effectively the only town on the Old Summer Road. It was 190km from our overnight camping spot.
60km from Tomtor we bumped into the first people we had seen in 23 hours. A van full of Yakuts … our hunting I assume, tho they denied it.
They were able to re-assure me that there is fuel at the moment in Tomtor. From this point on, there were increasing numbers of vehicle tracks on the road. Obviously Tomtor locals come out this far, but don’t go beyond the abandoned village of Kuranakh Sala.
We made Tomtor by 5pm. It was progress beyond my wildest dreams. From here to Kyubeme is well trafficked. It’s the only way stuff get into or out of Tomtor. I told Sherri Jo the hardest part of her world tour was over. From now on it will be a cruise. She needed to hear it. The last 25km into Tomtor had clearly been a struggle for her, driven only by the thought of a shop, some food and a warm bed for the night – civilisation.
I stopped a cheerful looking man in the street and asked directions to a shop. He not only took us to a shop but then when I asked where we might stay for the night, he got two young lads on bicycles to lead us to a specific house, where we were greeted by Tatyana, the lady of the house, with “you are the bikers?” in Russian. I shrugged and looked at Sherri Jo and said “yes, that would be us”.
“I heard you might be coming from Bolot”.
“Bolot?” I asked … “Which Bolot?” I have a friend in Yakutsk called Bolot who had been following our travels … surely no …
But yes, my friend Bolot had obviously been watching the spot tracker on Sherri’s website and called contacts in Tomtor to say we might be coming. Accordingly an apartment had been prepared for us … a room each, and bathtub (much needed), a kitchen where we could prepare some food. It was overwhelming.