What I didn’t tell Sherri Jo was how far we still had to go … 320 km on dirt mountain roads. Not only was it now raining, but it was cold. Barely above 10C (50F) … when you are wet and cold, it’s a bad combination.
First stop was some triumphant fotos on the other side of the Kyubeme Bridge:
We stopped at a film set my French friend Arnaud had built for French film back in early 2009. There was some shelter from the rain so I pulled out my fleece, and Sherri her heated jacket. That was the best we were going to get. There was no choice now but to hit the road and get to Khandyga.
As usual, when the going was easy, I rode on ahead and left Sherri to deal with the road alone, I stopped for photos every now and again, and made sure I saw her at least every 15 km.
There is a particularly steep section near the tiny village of Razvilka:
The rain meant a few sections had water over the road. I waited ahead at any obstacles. One section of road had been washed away and trucks were waiting for lower water levels, or a repair crew. I thought we had a chance to cheat. A new bridge was being built and I saw we could sneak up and use the under construction bridge, since the construction crew had closed shop for the day.
New bridges are common on this stretch as the older bridges get pensioned off. Being a designated “Federal Road” it receives healthy Federal Russian funding and maintenance and construction is evident along the way.
By 10pm and with daylight fading, we had made it to the village of Tyoply Klyuch, still 70 km from Khandyga and the end of the “Road of Bones”. Sherri Jo could go no further. She was shivering with the cold, despite having a heated jacket on. The constant light rain and our big river crossing meant that hands and feet were soaking wet. The temperature was only 10-12C. On top of that, it had been a long day. We had been on the road since 10am with the only breaks from riding being the fuel stop and river crossing at Kyubeme. I found a house with lights on and spoke to the inhabitants. It was a woman in her late 30s with a few boys around 18-19. She agreed to take in a cold, wet Sherri-Jo and even offered a garage for the bike.
I left Sherri-Jo in the company of the family and headed off for Khandyga. Four days ago I had told Arnaud, the French biker out exploring gulags this year that I would meet him in Khandyga in 4 days time. 45 minutes later I was in Khandyga and called Arnaud. It was the first mobile phone coverage I had in 3 days. Arnaud was staying in the Gulag and Road of Bones Museum in Khandyga – I should have guessed.
The following morning, Arnaud prepared to leave Khandyga, heading towards Ust Nera to explore some Gulags on his DRZ400 and I was preparing to move to a nice guesthouse in town.
I needed a nice warm shower, and the town’s hot water was off for its summer cleaning. The Guesthouse had its own electric hot water system – a real luxury in these parts! Sherri Jo would also need a long hot shower when she arrived. As we were both preparing to leave the guesthouse, I got a call from Sherri Jo … she had made it into Khandyga and was already waiting for me at the guesthouse. I drove around with Arnaud and after a brief foto-session, Arnaud hit the rainy road. Yuri the proprietor of the guesthouse came out and greeted me… he remembered me. He grabbed his camera, flicked through it and bingo, even found a foto of me and Tony with our bikes from July last year.
SJ pulled into the guesthouse just as Arnaud was leaving. We relaxed for the rest of the day and SJ checked out the Gulag and RoB museum. They had a guestbook there. SJ hit on the bright idea that this should be the guestbook that bikers sign in when doing the RoB. Tradition had it that the Chinese Restaurant in Magadan had the guestbook that everyone signed in, on completing the Road of Bones, but when we were in Magadan, we noted that the restaurant was clearly under different management now. They dont have a guestbook anymore, and all the clientelle appeared to be the towns gay community. We felt like the odd couple sitting in there. So unless anyone else has a better idea, we reckon the Gulag museum in Khandyga becomes the Road of Bones guestbook !
Sherri Jo cooked up a tasty stew of whatever we could find in the shops of Khandyga, supplemented with fresh garlic bread and red wine. Life wasnt so bad … even if it was cold and raining outside.
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After another day or rain and rest, we finally pulled out of Khandyga early in the morning of the 6th of August. There is a 9am ferry across the Aldan river 40 km away from town and we were advised to be there at 8am. The road between the ferry and Khandyga is notoriously deep gravel and I decided we needed to set off at 6:30am. I didn’t want to miss the ferry, as the next one would be at 9pm. If Sherri Jo struggled with the deep gravel, we could be quite a while. The gravel was not only tricky for bikes:
I need not have worried. SJ did very well and we made it to the loading point at 7:30am, and waited an hour and a half for the boat to load up. The ferry travelling away from Khandyga is a relatively quick one – only 30 minutes, as it goes downstream and across. I know from experience, that the ferry going the other way, towards Khandyga, takes 90 minutes.
Sherri struck up a conversation with a Yakut geologist on the boat – unlike the Aussie one she spoke to back in Atka, this one didn’t have a beard, as most geologists seem to.
Once across, we had 400 km to do to Yakutsk. The road was wet and in worse shape than the previous time I did it. I had told SJ the road from here to Yakutsk would be a breeze, but it was anything but. I was grateful we had waited an extra day in Khandyga, as one semi dry day had seen enough trucks use the muddy road to dry out some wheel tracks through the mud.
Despite the mud, I pressed the importance of making it to Yakutsk that evening to SJ. We stopped a couple of times, once for food and once for fuel, and by 5pm we were within 30 km of Yakutsk. Only the final 30km was a loose sand and gravel mix. At this end of the day SJ was getting tired, concentration levels falling and hands were ready to drop off. I waited for her near the ferry turn off for over half an hour. On this better road I had ridden ahead and let Sherri Jo ride her own road. I stopped to check on her every 20 km and then rode ahead. The last 20 km took her about 40 minutes. When she finally met me, waiting on the asphalt at Nizhny Bestyakh, just across the Lena River from Yakutsk, she was clearly knackered. Fortunately from here it was asphalt to the ferry and then an hour rest on the ferry while it crosses the massive Lena River to Yakutsk.
We were met in the centre of Yakutsk by old friends Artyom and Katya, who I had stayed with previously, and Bolot the imformation master of Yakutia. Also with them was an energetic Italian chap, Daniele, who had just cycled from Yakutsk to Magadan via the new road.
After garaging the bikes, we all headed back to Artyom and Katya’s for beer and dinner.