Category Archives: Magadan

Ultimate Luggage

The Ultimate Adventure Luggage: As many of you know, I have basically been changing soft bags every trip I have made over the last 20 years. That’s because I could never find the right features in the bags. Some sat too high, most were not waterproof, many weren’t truly abrasion resistant and absolutely none had any security. So I decided to make my own.

The Magadan bags I designed and commissioned last year to meet my own needs, have recently received a couple of great endorsements. Firstly, Adventure Bike Rider Magazine (issue 16) recently did a comparative test of almost a dozen of all the big names in soft luggage … And their analysis came to the wise conclusion that the Magadan bags are indeed, the finest Adventure motorcycling soft luggage in the world.














In my view, an even greater endorsement has recently come from the godfather of Adventure Motorcycling … the man who invented the term “Adventure Motorcycling”, Chris Scott.  Having used and tested almost all brands and types over the years, Chris too has come to the conclusion that the Magadan bags are the real deal, and the best adventure luggage, hard of soft, on the planet. … And you know what?  With my experience, and having used about 10 different types of soft luggage over my 20 years of Adventure riding, I agree !

My good friends at Adventure-Spec manage the production and distribution of the bags worldwide.


The Gulag

My birthday began in the tiny cabin in Myakit … Sherri presented me with a card and present.  I had taken a tub of red caviar (salmon roe) with me from Magadan.  So on the communal bench at Myakit my birthday breakfast was caviar on bread.  I piled it on thick and ploughed in, while the locals opened the first beers of the day!

The main mission for my birthday was getting to a Gulag.  Gulags were set up under Stalin’s regime to use political prisoners to mine the abundant gold and uranium deposits that had been discovered in the Kolyma region.  The prisoners were treated appalingly, had to labour through winters of -50 C, slept in the most primitive of conditions, and not surprisingly, many died.  When the needs of the state required more labour for the Gulags, the rate of political arrests was stepped up.  A huge department was set up to administer the Kolyma Gulag system – Dalstroi.  Magadan itself was built only in 1939 to serve as the port and logistics centre for the Dalstroi project.  Into Magadan’s harbour went captive prisoners, and out came the valuable gold and uranium that was bought with prisoners lives.

The whole Dalstroi project was incredibly inhumane and estimates are that of the 3 million who went in, an incredible 700,000 people died – in the Kolyma Gulags alone (In the Soviet Union as a whole, up to 12 million people when though Stalin’s Gulags).  When Stalin himself died in 1953, his successors, most of whom were appalled at Stalin’s barbarity, began closing down the Gulags.  Most were closed in the 1950s, a few lingered on till the early 60s.  Ultimately, any surviving mine sites were converted to towns, with paid labour doing the mining, under normal Soviet working conditions (actually they were paid up to 3 times what people made in Moscow, to encourage reluctant miners to move to such a remote region).

Our friends in Magadan had given us the GPS co-ordinates of a Gulag not too far from the main road.  Generally information about Gulags in the region only comes by word of mouth.  The local government in Magadan Region wants to move on from Dalstroi and the Gulag histories.  A few locals who had set up tour businesses specialising in trips to Gulags have been shut down by local authorities.  It’s a bit of a taboo subject.  The handful of westerners who do make it to Magadan are usually either mad motorcyclists or geologists.  Almost none take the time to seek out a Gulag.  It was something that I had wanted to do last year, but had no location information.  I didn’t know where to find a Gulag.  They don’t have signs pointing to them.  Most are down tracks that have hardly been used in 50 years.  And now we had information about a Gulag and the condition of the track leading to it.  The track was challenging in bits, but do-able by a loaded bike.

Sherri Jo knew the track to the Gulag would be tough for her, but for her as well as for me, a visit to a Gulag, the very reason everything exists in the Kolyma, was too much of a rarity – too much of a highlight to pass up.

Two hours down the Gulag track and we got there.  Dneprovski.  An abandoned tin mining Gulag, that had shut down in 1955.

Wild blueberries grew everywhere and made for a nice lunch.

The ride back was quicker.  Sherri Jo was picking up the art of riding a loaded bike over this kind of terrain, and she listened to advice.  She was handling most of the water crossing completely unaided now.


We arrived in Magadan … at last:

Checked into a hotel and made our way down to the bay:

That evening we had dinner with Ilya (our main contact in Magadan) and Prokhor in the Green Crocodile pub. Tony and I had drank with Ilya and Prokhor in the same place last year.

Ilya showed me some of his photos of 4WD expeditions around the Road of Bones and its side roads. One of his expeditions had some fotos of Rayil … our friend and the head of the 4WD club in Yakutsk.

The bikes still hadnt arrived by the morning of the 28th July, so Ilya took me out to an ocean fishing beach near Ola, 40km East of Magadan.
It was like shooting fish in a barrel. Nets were full of huge salmon, and apparently this isnt even a good year.

You need a licence to fish in the sea in Russia, and the licences cost 100 rubles per day, plus 46 roubles per fish. A pretty small sum when you saw how mush Salmon was on hand. This guy had 2 huge bags filled with salmon in the back of his 4WD … probably 10 salmon per bag. I asked him how long he had fished to get this huge haul. “About 30 minutes” he replied.

As the salmon flayed in the nets, seals began appearing … to try and steal some:

And where there are seals, there are those that hunt the seals. About 50 yards offshore, the Killer Whales were feasting!

The next morning (July 29) we were down on the dock … the bikes had been on desk, and so were going to have a bit of rust on them. But for 4000 rubles, we weren’t complaining. The bikes were offloaded, and Sherri watched on nervously.

So now we had the bikes free in Magadan. It was time to begin the ride. And about time too!

. . .

29.07.10 … 4pm

We pulled out of Magadan, but not before a return run to the fishing beach. I had told Sherri Jo about the seals and killer whales, and she wanted a piece of that action. Sadly while the day before there had been hundreds of seals poaching away, today there were barely a few, and no killer whales. All I could see was fishermen hauling in their nets.

We stopped to pay our respects at the Mask of Sorrows, the monument to the estimated 700,000+ who died in Stalin’s Kolyma Gulags.

We saw a Trekol, a very cool, hard core Russian recreational vehicle. One of these 6WD babies will set you back over USD 40,000.

Before long we were out of Magadan and on the open road. The start of the Road of Bones. The first 180 km heading north is paved and we made good time. About 50km short of Atka the asphalt stops and this was the first chance I had to see what my riding companion for the next 3 weeks or so is like in the dirt. First impressions were that Sherri Jo will be fine. She listens to advice, has good basic technique and her initial speed of 50 km/h (30 mph) on dirt roads is mainly due to inexperience on this kind of road. I told her she will be comfortable at 100 km/h (62 mph) on dirt by the time we reach Irkutsk.

We reached Atka, our first refuelling stop and filled up. A landcruiser pulled up and an Aussie geologist and his entourage stepped out. He warned us about bears. Apparently it’s a big year for bears this year. We took that on board and went down the road to the café for some dinner.

We had left Magadan at 4 in the afternoon. Daylight would last till 11pm. It was 9:15pm by the time we finished dinner and hit the road north. 11pm should take us to an abandoned town called Myakit. There was nothing before Myakit, nothing after it for another 150km and there were no hotels where we were in Atka … camping was dodgy, considering we had just been warned about bears. One thing was in our favour … there were a lot of wild bushfires in the area and the air was thick with smoke. Bears dont like smoke.

So why were we heading for Myakit, Sherri Jo wondered … Well it wasn’t completely abandoned. About 10 people still lived there. And I had a contact in Magadan who knew them all.

We rode through the diminishing light and just before 10:30 pm we arrived. The town must have been something once. Apparently 5000 people once lived there. It was hard to see any signs of life, but eventually we spotted them and rode over. After introducing them and bringing personal greetings from our contact in Magadan, we were welcomed with open arms. Everyone was sitting around a table eating their evening meal, having a few vodkas and chatting. We were immediately made some fish soup, tea and made to feel at home. One guy gave us his home for the night and said he would sleep in one of the other homes. It was a nice welcome to rural Russian hospitality. We eventually went to sleep about 1am.

Magadan – Vladivostok


Magadan was a turning point in the trip.  From here we were heading back home.  Mentally it felt like the hard work was done.  I know there are a lot of interesting roads and challenges ahead, I made sure of that in the route planning, but they come up on the way home and that means there is a different feeling about those challenges.

Being such a strategic turning point, we felt obliged to drink quite a bit of beer in Magadan, and ultimately I think its fair to say we fulfilled that obligation admirably.

Leaving Magadan however was a lot tougher than I had expected.  We called our contacts in the airfreight business there and the first flight that could take two motorcycles to Khabarovsk would be in 11 days !  There are daily flights, but everything is full.  No spare seats.  We tried other alternatives … visiting sea freight agents.  Similar story.  We  could possibly get on a ship to Vanino in 5 days (the 25th) time, and it would take 5 days at sea.  But only the captain of the ship could confirm whether or not he would take the motorcycles, and he wouldnt be in town until a day before he departed.

Dinner was spent in the standard venue for motorcycle expeditions, the “China Town” restaurant just round the corner from the hotel.  The guest book there was signed by the two Polish expeditions that passed thru Magadan 2 weeks ago, Motosyberia 2.0 and Motogryf.  We added Sibirsky Extreme to the guestbook.

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On the 21st, we caught a break and it came from the Moscow boys we had met in the wazzik back at the road works on the Road of Bones.  We had seen their van again when we woke at Ust Nera.  We had got into town there at 2am, they apparenly had arrived at 5am and were in no danger of waking up by the time we departed ust Nera.  Tony had met them yet again in Magadan at the fruit and veg market.  They had found a sea agent who they planned to take the wazzik to Vanino on the 25th (same as our best plan) but this agent knew another agent who had other ships leaving earlier.

We went into see them and there was a ship leaving for Vladivostok (Vladik) tomorrow (22nd).  It would take 5 days, and the captain would take the bikes, but no passengers.  The cost was small (total of 7500 rubles each) and we jumped at it.  About the same time, we got wind that we might be able to get the bikes flown to Khabarovsk on the 25th, but faced with a sure deal on the ship and no pulling the bikes apart, and a maybe on a plane (10 times the price and would need to take apart much of the ike so we can ship it as bike parts) we stuck with the ship.  There are no cargo airlines flying to Magadan so bike air freight can only be as parts, with no acid batteries, no fuel, no oil etc.

Wheels, and all the head assembly has to be taken off the bikes etc etc etc.  In the end the ship option was the logical one for us.

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The 22nd was spent with Vitaly, another friend of Ilya, our main man in Magadan, down at the docks while the ship was loaded.  Eventually they got around to the  bikes and fully loaded they were lifted into the ships hold.  By the time we left the docks and  all the paperwork it entailed it was after 4am.  We had been there at 9:30am to start the process.  It was the hottest day of the year in Magadan, about 27 degrees.

First stop that afternoon having dispatched the bikes was to visit the air ticket office and see what we could do for ourselves.  Initially nothing … no way to get Tony to Vladik or me to Moscow.  All flights full.  Magadan in summer season !!

Half an hour later and a seat became available to Moscow on the 24th.  I jumped at it.

Ilya, came round to visit, and we spent a well lubricated evening with Ilya, Prokhor and Vitaly, the guys who had helped us get to this point, at the Zelyony Krokodil (Green Crocodile) pub.  The ship (Kapitan Krems) had sailed and was on its way to ‘Vladik’.  Tomorrow would be spent trying to sort out Tony’s flight to Vladivostok to meet both our bikes and Terry, who was on his way on a ferry from South Korea to Vladik.

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As we headed down for our morning run to the airticket office, we met a guy in the reception who had a real need to say hello.  Gregor was a Polish motorcyclist, part of the MotoSyberia 2.0 expedition which had got to Merenga on bikes.

Gregor bailed out and returned to Magadan, leaving Mac and Mirek at the fishing camp by the coast where they had been holed up for two weeks.  Gregor’s return was a 5 day journey by boat and plane and was extremely happy to meet a few other europeans, let alone european motorcyclists.  He had heard a lot about us and we had heard a lot about him.  He was just checking into our hotel when we met and we swapped numbers and agreed to meet later in the day for a few beers.

No breaks for Tony in the air ticket office. Still nothing to Vladik until the 31st.  I returned to the room to sleep off last nights beers while Tony had a wander round Magadan.  5pm and Gregor knocks on the door.  Was it beer o’clock already?  As I got up Tony walked down the corridor of the hotel with a grin on his face.  A seat had become available to Vladivostok tomorrow.  So Tony and I were both flying out on the afternoon of the 24th.  Gregor’s face fell.  It meant he had no company while he waited in Magadan for news from Mac and Mirek out at the coastal fishing camp with the bikes.

We went out for beers at the little cafe next to the hotel, but it wouldnt be a late one tonight.

While we were in the cafe / bar, news began to filter thru of the MotoSyberia expedition.  Command HQ in Gdansk reported the ‘find me spot’ GPS tracker that Mac carried and regularly activated was moving backwards.  Mac and Mirek were returning?

Gregor ran outside where the reception was better and anticipated a call from Mac’s satellite phone.

The call came.  Gregor came in and said Mac wanted to speak to me … I went outside and 5 mins later Mac called my Russian mobile number.  He has another plan for the extreme north east and wanted to know if I was in.

I broke the news to him that I had cut short my plans in the region because he had beaten me to Merenga … and so we had shipped the bikes out yesterday.  I wished him good luck and we returned to the Hotel.  Tony and I had to pack up our camp in the Magadan Hotel, making sure we packed a few ‘Magadan Hotel’ bars of soap in the process as souvenirs.

If anyone can find a way to Chukhotka it will be Swinarski!  There is a healthy degree of respect between adventure motorcyclists. Every successful trip ratchets up both the adventure and the reporting standards for subsequent trips.  Its very healthy.

I have been speaking with Mac a lot since he and the Motosyberia crew stayed with me in London last year.  Between the two of us, an insane amount of research had been done in trying to find a way forward beyond Omsukchan, the previous benchmark set by Mac in 2007.  Research from my perspective that went on until I departed the UK in March.  Sadly, the conclusion I came to was that it was not going to be possible (at this time) to ride beyond Merenga … about 70km south-east of Omsukchan.

While part of me will be jealous if he does find a way thru this year (proving my research wrong) the rest of me is excited at the prospects of pushing the knowledge boundaries of what is possible.  I will be following the news from Magadan / Gdansk as keenly as anyone over the coming weeks.

– – –


I flew into Vladivostok airport and took the bus into the centre of town where I would be met by Tony. Terry, our new boy, was in the hotel car park, showing some other european adventure bikers how to repair tubes without even taking the wheel off.

Terry had flown out to Seoul, and taken a boat up to Vladik, Arriving a day or two before Tony.  Terry is not just a lot more handy than Tony and I am at tyre changing, but in fact anything mechanical to do with the bikes, Terry seems to know what to do with it.  He’s going to be a handy guy to have around for the next few weeks.  As for his riding, he used to race enduros for a mere 20 odd years … sounds like he is going to give Tony and me a real whipping out there on the next stage of Sibirsky Extreme – doing the BAM road.  Terry’s steed?  An XT660R.

So how has the new boy been fitting into the rhythm of Sibirsky Extreme life?  Judging from the fotos, he is doing it tough.  He found a biker’s club (the Iron Angels) and spent the weekend going to several bikers birthday parties.

My time in Moscow had allowed me to buy some new shades.  Sadly the official Sibirsky Extreme RayBans that have served me so well until now, and have been a regular feature of the foto gallery have had to be pensioned off.  The broken hinge that had been fixed in Yakutsk re-broke in Ust Nera.  I considered riding the remainder of the trip with just one side arm to the shades but that idea too came to naught when Tony accidentally trod on the shades during one of the many tyre changes near Kadykchan.  So the Road of Bones did indeed claim a victim from the Sibirsky Extreme Project … quite apart from Tony’s tubes (both front and rear) … my beloved RayBans … rest in peace my dear friend.

After checking into the same hotel as the boys, Tony reported that we have been told by the agents to assemble at the shipping company’s office tomorrow morning … Sounds like the bikes are coming to town!

There were a couple of other guys who had spotted Tony as he had doubled on the back of Terry’s bike a few days earlier in Vladik.  A Frenchman, a Swiss guy and a German had pulled up next to them on the street and yelled out to him “hey you’re that guy from Sibirsky Extreme”.  We had dinner and beers with those guys.  the Frenchman, Arnaud is waiting for our boat to come in as he is shipping his bike to Magadan, to do the reverse of what we just did, between Magadan and Irkutsk.

Tony also bumped into Leon from Manchester, who we had met in Irkutsk … he is now off to South Korea.

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Hot off the press … bikes are down at the port.

So its a quick post from me and away we go.  The show is back on the road !  And on my birthday too

… how bout that.

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