The morning after the 3 days before didnt really stand a chance. In fact we didnt wake up till 3pm. We just made it down to Andrei’s workshop in downtown Mirny before dinner time to check out the state of the bikes after our 3 days of struggle.
It was immediately apparent that the mud had taken a severe toll. The texture of the mud was such that it wasnt a slimy clay like mud, but it was a sandy gritty mud. The road wasnt as slippery as it could have been but the grit had eaten away at anything that moved on the bike, over the 1300 km I had covered in the past 3 days.
My back brake pads, which were brand new in Irkutsk and still 75% when I left Mirny to head North, were quite literally down to Zero. In total 4 long muddy days, one on the Zhigalovo Road and three on the Anabar Road, had each chewed away a quarter of the pads each day. It wasnt me, nor the bike, nor the compound, as Tony, riding a different bike, and different brake compound found his back pads whittled away to nothing by the time we had reached Udachny, and rode back to Mirny without even touching his rear brake.
The sprockets were looking beat. I had no discernable wear at all on my steel rear sprocket for the entire trip, save the last 3 days, now wear was most definately discernable. The front sprocket, as you would expect, was worse.
The centreline of the underside of the bike had been thoroughly sandblasted and Tony’s rear tyre, fitted in Novosibirsk was now toast. It was a knobbly, with tread down to a few millimetres – and sure you could get another 3-4 thousand kilometres out of it – if you were riding on dry asphalt roads, but in wet mud, you need traction. And a knobbly worn to the point of approaching a road tyre is dangerous on the endless dirt and mud roads we were riding. Fortunately, Tony had scored Leon’s rear tyre in Irkutsk, and now was as good a time as any to stop carrying it, and fit it. Tony’s dodgy tube repairs were fixed, with Andrei removing every single patch and refixing them to him far more exacting standards.
Two electricians were called to examine my flat battery problem. They compounded the problem by opening the engine housing that stored the generator, ignorant of the fact that the generator spins in oil – losing half my engine oil over Andrei’s floor. Obviously there was no Motul fully synthetic motorcycle oil in Mirny (there are only 5 western / japanese bikes), so I had to go with fully mineral oil and do a full oil and filter change while we were at it. After making a hell of a lot of mess and doing a dodgy repair on my gasket that they broke, they decided that my battery was rogered and went home.
Unsurprisingly, I couldnt find a battery to fit the space on the BMW, so I bought the only other 12V motorcyle battery for sale in Mirny. Andrei made a temporary tray for it and we mounted it at the back of the bike, with cables running to the old battery box.
While this was happening, the most urgent task, new brake pads, was being undertaken by a contact of Andrei’s. The new pads were being fabricated from some car brake pads, being cut to shape and then the metal and the pads being ground down to match the thickness of the originals. This was the most time consuming task as the guy doing the pads was very busy with other jobs. Tony and I set us ourselves up to wait a while in Mirny and relax for a few days.
Late on Wednesday, 8th July, we saw the weather begin to change, the sun came out and it warmed up. We celebrated by having a big night of shashlik and banya (sauna) at Andrei’s dacha, just outside Mirny. This was no small banya session of 10 minutes or so but was a constant rotating process of barbequed food, beer and banya for about 4 hours with Ilya, Andrei and a few other folks who dropped in from time to time.
We had hoped the pads would be ready on Thursday and we could hit the road, but it was not to be. But that did give me the chance to upload a whole bunch of photos and update the blog with pics going back 4 posts … all the way to Krasnoyarsk. The weather had now completely changed from the earlier 8-9 degrees and rain, to +25 and totally sunny. We yearned to be back on the road. In the evening we met up with some of Ilya’s biking friends … there are 5-6 bikers now in Mirny.
Just after 4pm on Friday, 10th July, the pads were ready and I fitted a set to my bike. Tony refitted a pair he had changed earlier and kept as a spare. As long as the roads were dry, they would get us to Magadan. By 6pm we were packed and ready to roll. Ilya and his girlfriend Masha rode with us for 20km to the village of Novy, near Almazny and the first river crossing. On the way we stopped for fuel. My bike wouldnt restart. Flat battery. The brand new battery. Maybe it hadnt recharged enough yet, since it had only been installed 3 kilometres ago. We jump started the bike (we now have starter cables, home made, to speed up the process) and continued on.
The Vilyuisky Trakt (the Vilyui Track) runs from Mirny, 1200 km east to Yakutsk, approximately following the Vilyui River and the towns and villages along it for much of the way. Four times the track crosses the Vilyui itself, each crossing served by ferries. Andrei had driven the full road last year and had briefed us pretty thoroughly on the road conditions. In general the road would be no problem, if the weather was dry. There were however, two question marks, and both were in the first 150 km from Mirny. Two river crossings of tributaries of the Vilyui, not served by ferries (obviously no bridges), and the first was at Novy, just south of the town of Almazny.
We pulled up to the river bank and saw the answer to our problems, at least for this river crossing. A couple of local heavy vehicle operators ferried cars across on the back of heavy duty russian trucks for 1000 rubles (25 eur) each. Nothing is cheap in Yakutia, especially around the Mirny diamond region. Our accomodation was about EUR 80 a night for the whole time we were in the region, the ‘manufactured’ brake pads came out at 40 EUR a set and now river crossings would hit the budget hard. One of the drivers, Alyosha, decided to take us over for free and we saddled up.
But not so fast. My bike wouldnt start again. I was in favour of jump starting it and continuing on, but Tony’s calmer head was concerned about a less than fully operational bike if we break down in the middle of nowhere on the Vilyuisky Trakt. One guy (another Andrei) who had been hanging around spoke pretty good english and told us to take the bike up to the village, 100 yards away and he would look at it. I was sceptical as this was the middle of nowhere and the village was maybe 10 houses, but went along with it.
Andrei produced a multimeter and diagnosed a faulty cable … the positive cable carrying charge to/from the battery to the old terminals was wrapped in steel and this was removed to Andrei and his multimeters satisfaction. But he continued testing and found more resistance that shouldnt be there in the starter relay. This guy was doing the work the professional auto electricians should have done after they diagnosed the dead battery 3 days earlier … they should have bothered to find out why it was dead. After more testing it was deemed to be the electricals inside the starter itself that was the problem. There would be nothing for it but to remove the starter and look inside.
Open heart motorcycle surgery took place out in the open, in front of an old shed in the 10 person village of MUAD, near Novy, near Almazny, near Mirny. It was, as far as I could tell, not a BMW-Motorrad approved service centre. We caught the oil that came out of the engine to re-use and Andrei didnt like the broken reused gasket used by the electricians earlier. He decided to make a new one from gasket material. The starter came out, eventually and was opened. It was full of metal particles. Andrei felt this was from the starter running while the engine was running.
The starter hadnt worked as it should for some time. And thinking back it was Ridder (Leninogorsk) in northern Kazakhstan that had been the start of it. I had lent the bike to my host, Sasha, for a ride and remember hearing the starter running while he rode off. The starter had felt weak ever since then.
The starter was cleaned and the bike re-assembled, saved oil poured back into the engine. It was 10pm by the time all this was finished and Andrei, who tuned out to be an engineer with the local oil firm in Mirny, just visiting friends in Novy for the day, offered to take us back to Mirny for the evening. We parked the bikes in his friend Alyosha’s garage and went back to Mirny for the night, but not before Alyosha and his wife gave us all dinner … and samogon! (home brewed ultra strong booze).
- – -
Andrei cooked us breakfast before we all drove the 15 minutes back to the bikes and the river crossing. My bike fired up first time, which inspired confidence and the Yakut driver of the Ural truck ferried us across the river after we had said farewell to Andrei and Alyosha.
After he turned back across the river I tried to start the bike and nothing. The battery had died again. Maybe it hadnt charged enough since fixing the electrical leaks since yesterday. We jump started it and I took it for a ten minute ride. The bike started by itself soon after the engine had been switched off, but leave it 5 minutes and it wouldnt. Either that battery wasnt holding the charge or there was still a source of electrical leakage.
We waited for the 6WD ferry truck to return to our side of the river and got on to take my bike back to Alyosha and Andrei on the other side. More electrical diagnostic gear came out, and the verdict was the new battery was dead. Killed by the strain of all yesterdays drainage. The only realistic solution was to continue down the road, jump starting when necessary. We had the cables and my battery was now externally mounted.
Alyosha drove us back across the river and we rigged up Tony’s bike so it too had quick access to his positive terminal – under his seat. As long as my engine was running, it would be ok. When it stopped, it would be a 2 minute job to jump start it. It would do till we got to Khabarovsk.
Finally we were back underway on the Viluisky Trakt. The next 70km would be the stretch between the river crossings. This stretch was messy, the road bed having been churned up into a mudbed in the recent rains and now much of it had set in the shape of awkward deep tyre tracks. It was dry, and mostly fine, but sometimes there were deep tyre grooves that had set like concrete. I was glad we werent doing this stretch in the wet.
After an hour or so we reached the second river crossing, the Vilyuchanka, a tributary of the Vilyui. The Russians have built a bridge here, but have not got around to building the approaches. Here too there was a large green Ural truck and an earthen loading dock. We approached the driver, in his hut 100 yards away, but he said the river was shallow enough to ford if we took the right path.
I went back to the river and walked it. Sure enough, I found the best route across the river and indeed it was shallow enough. We plunged in and across, and continued on our way towards Krestyakh and Suntar. At Krestyakh we hit the Vilyui itself, for the first time since Chernyshevsky 220 km back. This crossing had thhe potential to be time consuming I had been told that the ferry runs only when the ferryman has a full load. The ferry was based on the other side of the river and I had heard its not rare to wait 5 hours for a ferry, even overnight is entirely possible.
We set up for a long wait when a young local Yakut lad driving a small chinese tractor pulled up next to us. He was drunk, stank of Vodka and wanted to chat. We needed to replace a missing nut on Tony’s bike.
We had not seen many Yakuts so far in Yakutia. The mining towns of Udachny, Aikhal, Mirny and the service town of Lensk had been mostly Russian, but the Vilyuisky Trakt towns would be mostly Yakutian. I had also been warned about alcoholism among the Yakuts. The warnings had not been as strong as they had prior to visiting Tuva, but they were there none the less.
The next Yakut we met was the driver of the ferry, about 45 minutes later. In pleasant contrast he was sober, and refused payment; a foto in lieu. So two different views of Yakuts in the first ferry crossing of the Vilyui. We were the centre of attraction on the ferry, which had taken on a bus load of 10 people packed into a small Ural 4WD van (staple vehicle of these parts – tough reliable and inexpensive). At one point we had half a dozen camera phones pointed at us.
By 6pm we had reached Suntar, where we refuelled the bikes and ourselves and sorted Tony’s nut problem. We pushed on towards Nyurba, where we would spend the night. Apart from the first 120 km, to Krestyakh, the Vilyuisky Trakt was much much easier going than the wet Anabar Road. It was more lush, broken by villages evey 30 km or so, populated, and really pretty scenery that reminded me of Finland and reminded Tony of Estonia. Lakes, pine forest, grass, cattle. It felt a lot more familiar than the remote Anabar Road.
The roads were increasingly gravelly and our back ends were wobbling around more than Oprah Winfrey having a jog along the beach. Speed was reduced to 80 km/h.
One of the river crossings featured a floating bridge halfway across the river. I hadnt seen that before … you drive half way across the river , the shallow part, and then up onto the floating bridge to cross the deep part. I went first and reported back to Tony that the steel ramp up to the bridge mid river is very steep and when combined with wet rubber is very very slippery. He would need to hit the ramp much faster than me to make it comfortably. My back wheel had been spinning like a top trying to get up there but made it safely in the end.
Tony, exercising caution, crossed the unbridged section and approached the ramp slowly. I was concerned. He hadnt left himself enough room to get any speed or momentum for the ramp. Sure enough, when he pulled the trigger and tried to tackle the ramp, he went down … falling into the river. Locals were on hand to help right the bike and get it up onto the floating bridge.
We stopped in Nyurba, now having crossed the Vilyui twice more by ferry, refuelled the bikes and pulled into a cafe on the northern edge of town. It was run by a Buryat lady and her daughter who had moved up here some years ago from the Baikal region. Not happy with feeding us what we ordered, she added a couple of extra piroshki as well, saying we looked hungry.
As we prepared to leave (by now around 11pm), she asked where we will stay the night. I said we didnt know, probably pitch our tent somewhere down the road. She offered us a place in her yard to pitch the tent. We accepted. While about to pitch, she had another idea. An extra room in the building that was about to become a shop when the renovation is finished in a few weeks, was swept and we had a place to roll out the sleeping bags and charge phones indoors.
- – -
Sunday began around 9:30 when we woke up at the cafe in Nyurba. The day began naturally enough with breakfast. We didnt have far to go … the next room was the cafe.
We took our time getting ready. Tony had a lot of gear to try to dry out after his little swim yesterday, and I needed to deal with my non working battery, which apart from not working was also spewing battery acid over my luggage, fuel tank and rear tyre.
By the time we had done all that needed to be done, spoke to several dozen guests of the cafe and done some filming with the family that ran it, it was midday. Our final act was to present them with the highest award possible … the Sibirsky Extreme Star of Lenin sticker (actually its only award we have to give). Ira, the lady who ran the cafe, accepted it with glee, waving wildly as we rode off.
Reasonably good progress was made after our 12:30pm departure. The only pause in our charge towards Yakutsk being for the ferry across the Markha river. The second ferry of the day came up at 2.45pm, the final crossing of the Vilyui River at VerkhneVilyuisk. It had grown … by now it was about a kilometre across. The only problem for us (and about 9 other vehicles) was that the barge had closed up shop for lunch. We waited and waited and finally at 16:00 they fired up the barge engine, took down the chain across the bow and began loading.
Having beached the boat hard for their lunch break, and then loading up to the max with 9 vehicles, the barge was now stuck fast on the sand and wouldnt budge. A few vehicles had to go off, before the barge could free itself, before reloading the vehicles.
Most of the vehicles in these parts (as in other remote parts of Russia) are the cool UAZ 4WD vans (sometimes referred to as a UAZik (‘wazzik’ or ‘khleboboulka’ – loaf of bread). They look like a jacked up, slightly oversized VW combi van, and they seem to seat 10 people, acting as local buses in the remote regions. They come in one colour only – light grey matt that looks like undercoat – tho some owners have painted thir vans blue or dark green. When you see them, they appear goofy and ungainly, but the more you see of them on the remote difficult roads, the more you respect them. I have grown to love the UAZiks. They have been my main companions on this trip through the dirt roads in Tajikistan, Tuva, and now far north Siberia as well.
Finally, after a 2 hour wait and crossing of the Vilyui, we were underway again. Betweek VerkhneVilyuisk and Vilyuisk itself the road became increasingly sandy. By the time we got to 40 km from Vilyuisk, the sand layer had grown from 1-2 cm to 10-15 cm, and the closer we got to Vilyuisk the deeper it got. By 10km from Vilyuisk it was all sand, 20cm deep and pure sand technique riding. Tony didnt like standing up and I had to leave him to struggle through the last 8 km by himself. It was too deep to stop, and slowing down in deep sand only make starting near impossible. As long as I kept my bike in second or third gear and my hand on the throttle, I would be OK.
I got to the edge of Vilyuisk and waited for Tony. We were both in mobile phone coverage now and if there was any problems he could call. Many vehicles were heading the other way and again, if he went down there would be UAZik drivers aplenty to pick him up. Going back on my non starting motorcycle was something I was reluctant to do when there were so many other options available. I helped pass the time by checking emails, and stickering up the Vilyuisk town sign.
After a good 45 minutes I gave Tony a call. He had been down in the sand twice but picked up straight away by passing motorists. He was now about 4km from town. I decided to zoom out there to check progress and to try and show him the best line. I found him chatting to a passing motorist. I turned the bike around and we headed in for the final few kilometres into Vilyuisk. Tony had gone into ‘just get it out of the way’ mode and was intent on crawling along with both feet down.
Finally we were both in Vilyuisk and pulled over into the first petrol station. The decision was unanimous. It was hot, we were tired and needed a cold drink. The thought of an airconditioned pub made me drool, but there would be no such luxury here. Tony set off before me to stop at the first shop, and I didnt set off at all. After a day in which the bike started every time by itself, it was ironic that the first time today Tony set off first, my bike didnt start. He would soon be back I figured.
Half an hour passed and he wasnt back. I called, but he didnt pick up. I texted to say I was stuck at the fuel station (Tony had our jumper leads so I couldnt ask any other passing motorists for a jump start). Finally I got a text back from Tony. He had fallen again, found a shop, bought a cold drink and was heading back to jump start my bike. Meanwhile, I had been inspecting todays damage from the battery acid. Assorted plastic bits were sticky and distorted, some of the webbing straps holding my side bags had been eaten away. I had to get rid of this cursed battery. It barely worked and was eating away my bike. I decided that as soon as I can get to Yakutsk I will get a sealed bike battery – any sealed bike battery. If its a bad size, I will definately be able to get a better one in Khabarovsk, first stop after Magadan – but I needed something new ASAP.
Tony arrived and we drank the cool refreshing Fanta, before firing up my bike. Tony’s report was that the shop was full of drunks, with the sober ladies that ran it yelling at the drunk male customers. Hmmmm … that sounded a bit Tuva-esque. We headed thru town, looking for somewhere where we could stop and relax. Including the flat battery at the fuel station, and the 2 hour ferry crossing, the last 85 km had taken us 5 hours. It was now 8pm. Sadly we found no open cafe’s in Vilyuisk. All the cafe’s were closed. We decided to power onwards.
To Tony’s considerable relief, the sandy conditions appeared to end with Vilyuisk. The other side of town was instead the worst corrugations of the road so far. This went on for the first 30 km or so on the eastern side of Vilyuisk. There were sandy patches, but only 5-10 cm deep, and these were no problem.
Around 10pm we stopped to refuel at the town of Khampa, and I noticed a cafe that was open (and popular) 100 yards away. I went down to investigate, and while Tony filled up with fuel, I placed our dinner order. We were soon the toast of the cafe, with all the customers rushing outside to take fotos by the bikes. The staff followed and again the lady of the house suggested we stay for the evening by pitching a tent behind the 24 hr petrol station and cafe. She added that the meal would be free. We were being spoiled. I had hoped to rack up another 100km before dark, but it was impossible to turn down hospitality like this. We decided to stay the night in Khampa. We had done less than 300 km today, but it had been a long, long, hot day
Once dinner was done (which took quite some time – there were many photo-calls), the tents came out and a barrel of water was placed at our disposal for washing. By midnight we were both in our respective tents, Tony snoozing away and me editing fotos before drifting off to sleep.
- – -
With over 500 km to Yakutsk, I woke Tony early, at 8am. We ate breakfast in the cafe and again they said there was no charge, but we insisted on paying. I did some writing before we packed up the gear and hit the road around 10am. We were full of fuel, full of food and I was determined to make Yakutsk today. But the guy who ran the fuel station said no. ‘The roads are very bad. It will be tomorrow, or at best after midnight tonight.’
‘Lets see these very bad roads and then decide’ I thought to myself as we headed off down the road. We made good progress on the dusty roads, stopping at Ilbenge for a bite to eat and a drink after the first 2 hours, and the same again at Asima a couple of hours later again. At Asima we tightened Tony’s chain a touch. It had slipped forward. We had made good progress, having about 300 km of the 500+ we had to do. I was now confident of making Yakutsk tonight, but had no way of texting our contact in Yakutsk, as since Viluisk (6pm yesterday), there had been no mobile phone reception.
We stopped for fuel in Berdigestyakh, now just 180 km from Yakutsk. We saw the first asphalt since leaving Mirny 1000 km ago, but it was just in the streets of the town. As we left town it was back to the dusty track. Its been over 3000 km since we last saw asphalt highway, the road between Irkutsk and Kachug.
Traffic was now much heavier between Berdigestyakh and Yakutsk and our faces got increasingly dusty with all the overtaking and passing. I notched up the 25,000th km of the trip so far. In this stretch it was clear Tony’s and my riding speeds were considerably different. Tony was not comfortable in the loose gravel and sand, and while the road bed was good, most of the way from Berdigestyakh to Yakutsk also had a layer of gravel and sand several inches deep over it.
In the more challenging road conditions, such as sand or gravel, its important for everyone to ride at their natural speed. For me riding more slowly was not an option. I feel more stable at speed. Going slow in sand or gravel feels dangerous and unstable. Tony was the opposite. We had to ride at different speeds and we would be riding alone for long parts of the afternoon.
It was hot (over 30 degrees today), and the large biting horse flies swarmed as soon as I stopped, so I really didnt want to stop. Every 50 km or so, I would find a shady tree and wait to see Tony. I was waiting 15-20 minutes each time. I could not turn the bike off for fear it wouldnt start again and so the poor bike had its fan running continuously when stopped. It took around 3.5 hours to get the 185 km from Berdigestyakh to Yakutsk and over an hour of that for me was waiting time.
By the time I reached asphalt on the edge of Yakutsk I was hot and frustrated. I stopped to wait for Tony and finally get to send off some SMSs to Bolot, a local journalist who had been following our adventure since reading of it on the web some months ago. Bolot was all ready to receive us and had arranged accomodation in a friends house, bike storage, etc etc. My frustration eased as the thought of relaxing with a cold beer became more and more real.
Tony arrived and we cruised into Yakutsk, headed for the central square, our meeting point for Bolot, Artyom (who would host us) and Rayil (who would host our bikes). Yakutsk was a feast for the eyes. Modern glass buildings, good sealed roads, well dressed people … it was like we had ridden into a different world from the one we had become familiar with since leaving Irkutsk two and a half weeks ago.
We reached Ploschad Ordzhonokidze, the centre of Yakutsk and the starting point of all Yakutian road distances. In doing that we had indeed become the first riders to ride the Vilyuisky Trakt, from Mirny to Yakutsk … 1200 km and 3 long days of riding. Everywhere we had stopped en route, the cafes, the fuel stations everyone we met had never seen anything like us before.
We found our guys and immediately took the bikes round to Rayil’s garage, just a few hundred yards from the main square. Rayil was the head of the local 4WD club, and also had a Yamaha 250 enduro bike. As soon as we dismounted, cold beers were offered, and as we slapped the dust off ourselves with one hand, we grabbed the beers with the other. That first sip of cold beer after 3 hot dusty days was an instant slice of paradise.
Rayil and Artyom took us back to Artyom’s apartment, also very centrally located, where the priority was the shower. Once clean we sat up talking about the Vilyuisky Trakt that we had done and the road ahead, the Kolyma Highway (Road of Bones) to Magadan with Artyom (also a 4WDer) and Rayil.
I had known Rayil had been involved in the Long Way Round project 5 years ago, but what I didnt know was how much. As we chatted, it became apparent that he was absolutely crucial to the Road of Bones stage. Rayil had not just helped tham plan the route, he had actually accompanied them all the way to Magadan. The big Ural trucks that ferried the LWR guys across the rivers didnt just come along when required, they were all arranged and contracted by Rayil. It was all staged. And yet there was no mention of Rayil or thanks for making it all happen.
- – -
This is hardly the first time I have met someone first hand with a similar story helping out the LWR project. My good friends Austin and Gerald Vince dont really like to talk about too much, but they were consulted extensively prior to the LWR trip, on everything from what route is possible (so they knew every step of the way there was a route – all of the staring into the camera lens and saying ‘we dont even know if there IS a road’ stuff is disingenuous to say the least), to riding, eating, filming etc. When in trouble in Mongolia, extensive after-midnight phone calls were made back to the Brothers Vince along the lines of ‘what do we do now?’. Despite all of this, not a single mention was made of Terra Circa (the template for LWR – London to New York via Magadan) or Mondo Enduro, or the Brothers Vince.
I have always been extremely grateful for the fantastic publicity LWR has brought to adventure biking. People get the idea now, whereas 5 years ago, even long-time bikers didnt get the idea of riding round the world. It had been a very small circle of enthusiasts who liked adventure, travel and motorcycles all at the same time, but has since grown exponentially, thanks to LWR. But its important to bear in mind that the total image in the film and the book was in many parts fictional and was certainly not an accurate portrayal of reality.
But most of all … it saddens me that people who put a lot of time and effort along the way to help were not even mentioned, let alone thanked … just so that the boys could more look like conquering heroes. Thats a bit cheap.
- – -
So what of the Vilyuisky Trakt? – you certainly dont need to be a hero to ride it. Bearing in mind there is a sandy stretch for 40 km or so to the west of Vilyuisk, the rest is, in good weather, just a regular garden variety dirt road. Any bike will do this road, including the larger GSs and Africa Twins. Some sand and gravel experience would help, but as Tony showed, is certainly not necessary.
Fuel is no problem, tho some of the stations occasionally run out of fuel and others have only 80 or 76 octane. From west to east 92 octane is available at Mirny, Suntar, Nyurba, VerkhneVilyuisk, Vilyuisk, Khampa, Orto-Surt, Berdigestyakh, Magaras and Yakutsk. The only lonely stretch with some distance between settlements is about 110 km from Novy (near Almazny) to Krestyakh. Thats the same stretch with the two water crossings, that should be served by ferry trucks.
I can recommend the Buryat run cafe opposite the petrol station at the eastern end of Nyurba, the cafe next to the petrol station in Khampa and for the best ‘Sosisky v Toste’ (Sausage in batter) in Siberia, Asima is your spot.
All in all, I think its a great alternative route for anyone heading up to Yakutsk and Magadan and offers a much more thorough view of Yakutia. The villages from Suntar to Yakutsk are pretty much 100% Yakutian, and the few people who have met foreigners have not met them here.
You can either branch off the normal Trans Siberian highway at Taishet and take the BAM road thru Bratsk to Ust Kut and the barge to Lensk from there or do what we did and cut up to Ust Kut from Irkutsk, via Zhigalovo.
Certainly the Vilyuisky Trakt is a more interesting route to the standard, as the long stretch from Ulan Ude to Yakutsk via Chita, Skovorodino and Tynda is known for being mind numbingly boring and heavily trafficked with lots of heavy Russian trucks.
- – -