Category Archives: Tuva



We celebrated our Tuvan wilderness survival by sleeping in till after 9 in Kyzyls finest hotel.  We had breakfast at 10, and were on the road by 11:30.  An hour north of Kyzyl we pulled in to get some food and drink at the town of Turan.  It was raining by now and it was a good excuse to get out of the rain for a while.  We were soon surrounded by local Tuvan men, all middle aged, all wanting to touch the bike.  Normally I dont mind a bit of that, but these guys were all drunk and I made it clear they can look at it, fotograph it, but were not to touch it or lean on it / play with it while I was in the shop.

When I emerged from the shop 5 minutes later, with one drunk local begging me to buy him a beer, another local 40 odd year old was sitting on the bike.  Tony yelled at him to get off but I was already charging.  It was one of the guys I clearly told not to touch the bike.  I shoved him off the bike violently and the crowd of drunk men fell backwards, and didnt come within 15 yards of us again.  Sometimes you just have to put the foot down or people will abuse the fact that you are a foreigner.

It saddened me to think of what has become of Tuvan people.  I knew before I got there that the over-riding general impression of the very few people I either knew who had been to Tuva or comments I had read regarding Tuvan people, was one of alcoholism.  In the time I was there, apart from the yurt dwellers, I would say over 50% of the males I met in Tuva were drunk when I met them.  The crowd of guys who had been hanging around the bikes that morning in Turan were all 35-50, all drunk and clueless at lunchtime.  Every single guy in the crowd, every male I saw in Turan, was drunk and clearly alcoholic.

I wondered what the great General Subeedei would think of the state of the average Tuvan male today.

All the businesses were run by women. Perhaps they were the only ones sober enough to be able to handle money.  I pitied the females of Tuva, and realised why the girl in the store yesterday was so keen to chat.  It was just because I was sober.

We sped out of Turan, the back wheel spitting gravel on the pitiful drunkards of the town.  Before long we crossed a pass and were in Krasnoyarsk Krai – part of Russia proper (as I like to call it).  Incredibly, as soon as we crossed the ‘border’, the whole picture changed.  The countryside looked like stereotypical Siberia.  It was suddenly all pine and birch forest … the Taiga … while in Tuva it had been largely grasslands. And while there were no Russians in the villages on the Tuvan side of the border, suddenly the villages were full of Russians.

We made good progress towards Abakan, the rain stopped and the sun came out.  Just as we felt the going was good, my rear tyre was flat, just 6 km from the town of Ermakovskoe.

It was an amazing coincidence because I had been thinking of Ermak (Yermak) since we hit the dense pine and birch Taiga.  Ermak the Cossack was the conquistador in chief of Siberia.  As I rode thru this dense forest on the nice asphalt highway, I considered how difficult it would be to walk thru it, and yet Ermak and co went by foot, horse and boat all the way from Europe to the Pacific.

Russia was a small state hemmed in by the Kazan Tatars back in 1550, with no access at all beyond the Volga, just 200 kilometres or so east of Moscow, but the defeat of the Tatars in the 1550s opened the door east for the Russians, and they wasted no time.  By 1600 the Cossacks had reached the Pacific, started settlements all the way and claimed the lot for Russia (well for the Tsar anyway) and this huge chunk of land, Siberia, has remained Russian to this day.  To have explored and secured so much land in just 50 years is worthy of serious respect.  To explore Siberia by foot you have to be walking thru hundreds of miles of swamps, deal with the worlds most savage mosquitoes and cross the worlds largest forest.  And thats just summer.  They also had to survive winter with just whatever they could find.  Ermak was one tough son of a gun.  Respect.

Being so close to a town, I just removed my back wheel, jumped on Tony’s bike and headed in to Ermakovskoe.  Tony had gone ahead to scout for a Shino-montazh while I removed the wheel and so I knew exactly where it was.  It was also a chance to sort out my spare tube.  The tube that had just died was Tony’s 17 inch spare.  The young tyre repair lad, Pasha, at the Shinomontazh took the tyre off and found it was a valve that had de-vulcanised from the tube.  Pasha repaired Tony’s valve and sorted out my spare, before fitting my spare expertly to the rim.  By the time we were back on the road it was 8pm.  The sun was up till 11pm these days, being almost the longest day of the year.

We both stopped for some phone calls back to better halves at home base in sunny London, then rode into Minusinsk.  It was near here that Lenin was exiled for political crimes back in the days of the Tsar, and apparently there is quite the museum here.  Locals told me this after spotting my Sibirsky extreme logos on the bike.  Tony and I just wanted a hotel.  It was near impossible to find any and when we did find one, it was full.  So we thought ‘fu@k it’ and rode on.  We figured we would find one on the highway.

It was about 10pm when we crossed into Abakan and the Khakass Republic.  Khakassia on the brief look at it we saw seemed very russified and developed, compared to Tuva for example.  We even passed a “carvery” and pub called The Fox’s Tail in Abakan.  By midnight we were out in the middle of nowhere and no hotel to be seen.  We stopped for dinner at a roadside diner type place and while eating I asked the truck drivers.  ‘None for almost 200km’ was the reply.  Damn.  We hit the road, but after an hour I was feeling very drowsy and pulled into another roadside cafe (plenty of petrol stations and cafes, just no hotels).  I asked there if there were any hotels nearby and voila, there was one in a village just off the main road 5km away.  In the dark, at 1:30am we fould the hotel and got lectured to by the lady running it.  But she did give us a room!

I bought my 500th Euro worth of fuel today, and passed 20,000 km all up for the trip.  Apart from my flat tyre, it was a mechanically problem free day.

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Having got to bed after 2 am, it was hardly surprising that we didnt wake up until after 10.  Breakfast was at midday and we didnt really get moving till after 1pm.  We were in no rush.  Krasnoyarsk, the biggest city we will see for months, was only 260 km away.

Over breakfast we had texted the contacts we had in Krasnoyarsk.  Tony had the number of a guy called Dima, who was a friend of bikers he had met in Barnaul a week or so back, and I had the number of Lena, the mother of another banking contact in Moscow.  Lena had received an emergency shipment of spares from Adventure-Spec, required after some unfortunate incidents in Kazakhstan … namely the new chain breaking and the wrong front brake disc arriving.

We made good time and Dima texted back to say he will meet us on the outskirts of the city at 5:30pm.  We had time to spare, so we stopped off for some lunch and tea, and sat out some of the drizzle we had been riding thru most of the day.

We arrived a little bit early to our rendezvous point with Dima, and set about re-creating a fotograph of the big dam at Krasnoyarsk that I had taken 15 years ago, now with Tony in place of James Mudie.  Due to bridge security (there was none 15 years ago), we were a little rushed and I didnt get to replicate it exactly … but  close enough.

We told Dima, a lawyer and off-road rider, what we needed to get done in Krasnoyarsk in terms of repairs and he led us thru the bustling city towards his off-road club mechanic.  On the way, he took us past the massive BMW centre, complete with BMW Motorrad dealer and service station.  Tony needed a new visor for his BMW helmet, and incredibly he got one there.  We decided to pop back in tomorrow morning for an electronic diagnostic check.  We would still get all the mechanical repairs done at Dima’s off-road specialist guy, but both our BMW bikes have a diagnostic plug that can tell of any electrical faults or engine management problems, and it would be handy just to have a run thru the diagnostic computer before we really end up in the middle of no-where.  If there were any problems with those components, we could get the BMW Motorrad guys to fix them.

We met Lena, who gave me my box of emergency spares, and had teed up a rental apartment for us.  It was a nice big modern place right on the very central street of town, Prospekt Mira, and most importantly, it had a washing machine.

As soon as we had said goodbye to Dima and Lena, we stripped off and the washing machine began running continuously for several hours.  Everything had to be washed.  The bathtub became a boot and luggage scrubbing station while the machine ran.

Dinner time was 11pm and we headed out to walk Krasnoyarsk’s prosperous clean streets.  It was like being back in the real world again after the challenges of Tuva.  We found a steak house (for me) that had beer on tap (for Tony) and indulged ourselves.  The corner of the steak house had a small stage and pole, but it must have been just for decoration … there was no dancing that night.

– – –


7:30am and Lena was already on the case, picking us up to take us to the secure car park where the bikes were stored.  I had the location of the BMW guys in my GPS so we made our own way there.  By 8:30 we were at the BMW dealer, earlier than expected – it opened at 9, so we popped down the road to wash the bikes.  BMW could have done it, but Tony was charged 300 rubles for it in Moscow BMW and we could wash them ourselves with a high pressure hose for 100 each.

The BMW showroom and service centre was immaculate.  I was stunned.  The tiled floor of the workshop was of course spotlessly clean.  The toilets luxurious.  The coffee was perfect.  The ‘technician’ plugged my bike in to the diagnostic computer first and it seemed I had a few minor bad contacts.  Some wiring dismantling followed, a few squirts of contact spray, and the bike was electrically spot on.  No issues with the Engine Management System.  Tony was next, and same deal … a few contacts needed cleaning and then all was perfect.

Dima arrived to take us to Zhenya, the off-road club mechanic, who was barely a kilometre from the BMW centre.  Zhenya’s workshop was a hive of activity, with a dozen off road bikes in for various work.

Dima and I gave Zhenya the list of projects for my bike … fit new front disc, fit new chain, replace three bolts (two luggage rack ones – luggage systems are the bane of our travels so far … but I got my new ortlieb bags from Tony and need to fit them now) and finally I wanted to check some more of the ‘work’ done by Boris in Almaty.  Last week when we were rained out in Aktash, I checked my air-filter … Boris said he had cleaned it.  He hadnt.  It was filthy, much more than the ride from Almaty to Aktash should have done.  It was Tajik dirt in there I suspect.  I washed it myself there in Aktash.

So Boris probably didnt do things he was supposed to do as well as all the things he had done badly.  That means I needed to have his work replacing my headset bearings checked as well.  He was also supposed to check / replace spark plugs … but as I am skeptical of that too, I asked Zhenya to re-do it. As it was a proper off road workshop, it was a good chance to get my forks serviced.  That hadnt been done since Valera in Yalta.

Next up was Tony’s chunkier list of projects for Zhenya and his team.  Tony needed some welding and new mounting system for his luggage rack, a handcrafted front mudguard extender, fork gaitors, oil and filter change, new mirrors, clutch checked, and front rim beaten back  into shape.

Zhenya just nodded his head.  It was clear that like Valera, this wasnt just a job, he was an enthusiast.  He understood it all and discussed solutions with his team, and then said ‘OK, call you when its done.’

Dima took us to a massive new shopping mall on the way home, as clean, stylish and modern as anything anywhere in the world.  As we ate lunch in the food court there, the contrast between Krasnoyarsk, and its immaculate, modern shopping malls and BMW motorrad service centres, and the primitive simple life we had seen in the Tuvan yurts just 3 days ago, caused both of us to wonder at the incredible variety in Russia, in peoples, in cultures, in almost everything.  Its an amazingly diverse place, and you do have to remind yourself its one country.

– – –


This was a day to check progress on the bike, do a lot of internet catch up, buy some bike supplies like chain lube, luggage straps, assorted nuts, bolts, washers, organise minor clothing repairs and in the evening we got to take our fantastic host, Dima, out for beers at an English pub with its own brewery.

The bikes are coming along well and the repairs are more thorough that we even hoped.  A fantastic pair of metal parts has been crafted by the metalworker at Zhenya’s bike workshop for Tony’s luggage system.

I have made an odd decision to use two soft luggage systems on the back of my bike … the new Ortlieb motorcycle bags are too small to use on their own.  Zhenya can fix my old luggage system so I will have a near empty back bag and double side bags.  Cool or what?

– – –


A lazy day in Krasnoyarsk waiting for our bikes to be finished off.  Tony and I spent it mostly at the pub … the James Shark Pub, an english pub just round the corner from our apartment on main st – Prospekt Mira.  Dima came round after his work at 5pm and we trotted off to collect by riding pants (they needed a repair done, a boot (which had a seam re-stitched) and to check out the bikes, which after 2 days in Zhenya’s workshop were now finished.

On the way we stopped off at the workshop of another extraordinary motorcycle enthusiast in Krasnoyarsk, a guy called Misha Shestakov, who is a world war 2 motorcycle restorer.  Among his 22 bikes were a collection of amazingly restored German (BMW and Zundapp), American (Harley) and British BSA bikes form the war.  Evey detail, down to the manufacturers stamp on the head of the bolts had been restored or replicated.  A couple of the BMWs were ex Afrika Korps, a couple were European theatre.  It was a stunning collection.

Back to Zhenya’s garage – not surprisingly, the bikes were sorted to an impressive standard.  A look at every item of work showed the commitment to do the job properly first time that you need in bike prepping for this kind of project.  Time will be the ultimate judge of the quality of the work done, but it looks to me like I just found my second master mechanic of the trip, and he was another KTM rider.  I half think its because KTM guys tend to be enthusiasts, and half think its because if you have a KTM, you better be a good mechanic cause you will need one a hell of a lot.!!

In any case, Zhenya in Krasnoyarsk joins Valera in Yalta in being awarded the Sibirsky Extreme Order of Lenin for services to motorcycle maintenance.  His reward was a rare (and getting rarer) Sibirsky Extreme Lenin sticker.

Dima then gave us a little tour of the city before leaving us at the James Shark pub and promising to collect us at 10am for our departure from Zhenya’s garage.

Tony and I really have grown to like the James Shark … good food (we had a spanking lamb shank and steak tonight), good in house beer (they have their own micro brewery), complimentary wi-fi internet and good service.  It too gets the official Sibirsky Extreme stamp of approval (big red stamp obviously).  For anyone passing thru, Krasnoyarsk is our recommended stop.  Take a couple of days off, get the bike serviced by a master, and enjoy the James Shark.

– – –


The sun was shining for the first time in days when we woke up in our main street apartment, and we packed up the bags optimistically.  After 3 days off the bikes, we were both missing them and were looking forward to putting some miles in.  Its about 1100 km to Irkutsk, and I reckon its 3 days to get there.

Dima came round and picked us and our luggage up at 10am and we headed off to Zhenya’s workshop, where the bikes were.   My headset bearings and spark plugs had been checked and were ok.  My forks services, My new front disc and chain were on the bike … I was ready to go.  I got the guys to install a fuel filter into the line the connects the two fuel tanks.  It wont catch everything, but I reckon over 80% of the fuel I use passes thru that line so it will catch most of the crap, and it will give me an idea about how much other fuel crap has gone thru the engine.  I loaded up my double barrelled side bag luggage system for the first time, and it worked.  That means my small side bags are now the only luggage I need to remmove from the bike at the end of each day.  Thats light and easy.

Tony had been admiring his new luggage mounts.  The guys had not only made two new solid mounting points for the front of his luggage system, but had reinforced the entire rack.  The Metal Mule racks use the strength of tubular steel and then render that strength meaningless by flattening it at every mounting point, so that the mounting points are weak flat squashed ex-tube.  Whats the point making something strong if its full of weak points?  A couple of the mounting points not only have the steel flattened, but then make it even weaker by bending the flattened bits.  Not surprisingly, those bent flattened bits had cracks all thru them and in one case sheared off completely.  I am certainly no metal wizard, but I learnt enough after a few days with Erik Bok to know the basics.  Flattening tube to make a convenient mounting point was something I never saw Erik do.  Tube is tube .. its round precisely because that shape makes it strong.  Take away the shape and you take away the integrity of the frame.  The tube should be welded directly onto strong separate mounting plates, not squashed to create a two ply thin steel mounting plate.

Back in Zhenya’s workshop, those squashed and bent tubular mounting sections were reinforced with several mm of flat steel, bent to shape and should now be as strong as the tubular sections.  All the metal work was touched up in black paint to match the original and refitted.  I looked at the work and thought even the Dutch metal master himself would approve.

Tony also had a new front mudguard extender crafted from thick rubber and riveted to his beak.  It was in the right spot, but it looked small.  Would it do that job?  We had to trust Zhenya and his boys on that one.  Tony’s bike  also had an oil change, new mirrors attached and a few other minor bits n pieces.

We packed up the bikes, said goodbye to the team who had done such a solid job fixing what needed fixing and set off for Irkutsk, with Dima leading the way our of town.  It was good to be rolling again.  The bikes felt happy and refreshed, and we certainly were happy and refreshed from our 3 day stay in Krasnoyarsk.  On the outskirts of town we said farewell to Dima, who had looked after us so well in Kras.  He will be taking his Yamaha to lake Baikal and across the border to Hovsgul in Mongolia in July.  Lucky chap … as a Russian he can cross Russian borders we westerners can only drool at.  (most obscure border crossings are locals only crossings).

After an hour on the road the sunshine ended and it clouded over.  After another hour it begain to rain.  Yet again.  I have been with Tony 10 days now and every single day it has rained.  An hour or so in the rain and  I stopped at a roadside cafe.  I wanted to get warm again.  By now it was cold.  I needed to plug in the Exo heated vest and gloves.  Tony also needed to go for his heated vest.  The temperature had dropped to 6 degrees.  Throw in the rain as well and it was full on winter riding.  Average temperature round here this time of year is 20 – 25 … what it was doing at 6 degrees is anyones guess.

Fortunately we just called up the support trucks who were waiting 2 miles back (just out of shot), one of which has been hauling a trailer complete with fireside bar, staffed with the swedish bikini cocktail team of bar girls.  Tony and I had a little argument about this, as I felt the trailer with the heated jacuzzi and sauna would be more appropriate at the current time, but in the interests of friendship I folded and we crawled into the fireside bar trailer.

When I woke up from my daydreaming it was time to put on the cold wet jacket and notch up a few more miles.  the two hour tea break had helped – a bit.  Between Krasnoyarsk and Irkutsk we are on the main road.  No interesting diversions.  Much of the interest for me of this section is remembering how the road was 15 years ago vs now.  We soldiered on and passed the big Army base at Kansk where James and I had been led into the basement 15 years ago.  (see for what happened in the basement)

Soon after Kansk, we crossed into Irkutsk Region, where the time changed again.  We are now 8 hours ahead of London.  I believe its also Beijing time, thats how far east we have come.  The road around the Kansk – Taishet area is being worked on and there were plenty of dirty muddy sections.  Unlike 15 years ago, these dirty muddy sections go on for a few hundred yards rather than a few hundred kilometres.

At Taishet, where the BAM road emerges onto the main Trans-Siberian highway, we stopped to refuel the bikes and found a cafe to try and warm ouselves up as well.  I checked weather in other cities ahead.  6 degrees in Irkutsk.  25 and sunny in Yakutsk way up north.  Amazing.  I noted a few days ago that Magadan and Yakutsk were both 30 and sunny.  I hope the warm sunny weather up North will hold until we get there.  It will mean roads are drier and easier.  The only thing that will stop progress will be rain and mud.  To a large degree the success of the northern objectives depends on how lucky we are with the weather.  Down south here we have had 2 weeks of constant rain.  The dirt side tracks off the main highway are just mudbaths.  Thats fine here and I hope we use up our quota of crappy weather here.  Its easier to deal with when the roads are mainly asphalt and cafe’s exist every few dozen kilometres.

Again we put on the wet gear.  We had been told both by Dima and by the guy we sat next to in the cafe, that there were good modern motels by the roadside at Alzamai, 60 km down the road from here, and so at 11pm (still a little light outside) we soldiered on thru the freezing drizzle.

At midnight we saw the bright lights of a pair of new motels, one of each side of the highway.  As we approached we also saw over 100 trucks parked in the various parking lots.  This was quite a popular stop.  I feared for room availability.  I approached the first motel and asked gingerly if they have any rooms left.  The woman shook her head.  We crossed the highway and tried the other one.  Also no…but the lady said shold be some freeing up in about an hour.  The rooms are paid for by the hour here.  About 35 EUR cents an hour, per person. Patiently we waited in the cafe, in our cold wet clothes, for the lady of the motel to summon us.  That hour seemed a hell of a long time when shivering and cold and wet, but sure enough at 1am, we were summoned and told ’10 minutes’… and 10 mins later were were led to our room and raced each other to see who could strip out of the cold wet clothes the fastest.

One positive note from today, the rubber beak extender added to Tony’s Dakar works …  100%

– – –


Didnt wake before midday.  Still cold and wet outside.  This was the 11th day in a row of rain.  The only rain free day since meeting Tony 12 days ago was the ride from Mugur Aksy to Kyzyl. Weather forecast for tomorrow for warmer drier conditions.  Decided to stay put in motel for another day.  Incredibly while its wet and rainy and 5 degrees in Irkutsk today, its +25 and sunny AGAIN in Yakutsk today.

Did minor maintenance on the bike.  If there is something I forgot to get done in Krasnoyarsk it was to get Zhenya to look at the wheel spacers on the X-C, as they form part of the dirt / water / mud sealing system for the wheel bearings. They are made of aluminium alloy and the dirt grinds away easily the surface – exposing the bearings to greater risk of failure.  Simple to make some steel or stainless steel units on a lathe … or just some sleeves for the alloy units.

Then we took an afternoon nap.

When we awoke there were 4 more motorcycles outside our window; 2 Poles, a Lithuanian and Greek … all on road tyres, heading for Mongolia – 3 big 1200 GSs and an Africa Twin (even bigger).  They too had pulled over for the day to avoid the rain, mud and cold. I guess you get that when you are on the main road across Siberia – other bikers.  Havent seen any other foreigners since the Germans at Sary Tash.

One of the Polish guys said they werent very experienced off road and feared their bikes were too heavy for Mongolia, as they had struggled in the muddy sections on the main Trans-Siberian highway.  He asked me my opinion since I had ridden across Mongolia before … I said I think they should be fine.  It was half the truth.  I think the 1200 is no problem in Mongolia … These guys might be inexperienced, but they wont be after Mongolia.  Its meant to be a learning experience after all.

A comment from Tony today reminded me that there is more than just the bike in need of maintenance.  Hair is getting a bit long.  It hasnt been cut since the disasterous mullet attempt on my head in Feodosiya Crimea, that I barely salvaged at the last minute.  Since then its just been a case of trying to grow it out.  Apparently now its beginning to look a little “Jonathon Ross”.  Oh dear.  Another mission for Irkutsk.

The Tuva Track


We left Aktash excited at the prospect of tackling the ‘Tuva Track’, and just getting into Tuva.

Tuva is one of those mysterious exotic places that fires the imagination. Tuva IS adventure. Thoughout its history its been part of Mongolia, then China, then independent, and now part of Russia. Taiwan still considers Tuva to be part of China, and doesn’t recognise the independence it gained soon after the last Chinese emperors fell in the early 20th century.

The staging post for our ‘Tuva Track’ was the Altai town of Kosh Agach. The ride to Kosh Agach was typically dramatic thru rugged mountain valleys lined with pine trees, down the Chuisky Trakt, the M52 – main road to Mongolia.  We passed a convoy of French 4wds heading the other way – obviously having recently left Mongolia. After the first 70-80 km the landscape gradually began to change and we morphed over the next 50 km into treeless dusty plains, broken by softer rolling hills.

In Kosh Agach we stopped to fill up tanks and to get some food. I grabbed a couple of extra pirozhki to eat on the road as I had no idea how the going would be on the track.

Very few travelers get to Tuva.  Officially there is really only one way in – Via Krasnoyarsk, and then south thru Abakan. Our plan was to turn left about 7-8 km south east of Kosh Agach, and get to the village of Korkorya. This would the be the last settlement before Mugur Aksy in Tuva, and Mugur Aksy is a place where no-one could tell me whether they had food or fuel or a place to stay. The one report I had heard about Mugur Aksy was that it was full of semi-hostile alcoholics.  Hardly encouraging.

Two years ago, when I first came up with the idea of crossing into Tuva the hard way, an Australian mate, Simon, had been preparing to 4WD across Russia and asked me if I could recommend me some interesting roads. I had sketched a track on a map from Kosh Agach to Mugur Aksy and beyond, and Simon had taken it on. He went a different way to what I had planned, going further south via the Tuvan village of Kyzyl Khaya before skirting the Mongolian border and getting to Mugur Aksy that way. Simon had taken a few wrong turns and ended up getting fined by Russian border police for straying too close to the Mongolian border (or was that illegally entering Mongolia – Simon isnt sure).   Russia operates a different border system to most countries, in that there are many “border zones” that extend up to 50km into Russia, and you cant enter those without a permit – unless you are on a federal highway or railway.

I was unsure of the status of the Tuva Track under this rule. The route I had planned took us north-east from Korkorya, over the Buguzun Pass, past Ak-Khol (white lake) then Khindiktig-Khol, approaching Mugur Aksy from the west. This left plenty of room between us and the border and I hoped this would be OK. I had checked the route on Google Earth thoroughly, and apart from a vague 10 miles of so, looked feasible.

The asphalt, and indeed even graded road ended at Korkorya, and only wheel ruts from 4WDs indicated the track onwards. Within 5km from Korkorya the track became a kind of motorcycling paradise traveling on a smooth ‘path’ though wide grassy valleys. The only cloud on the horizon was dark clouds on the horizon … over the mountains ahead of us were heavy dark clouds and flashes of lightning. That would make the upcoming pass interesting.

We stopped when we reached a section of river that still was covered in ice. It was incredibly beautiful. Soon afterwards we realised the track had faded out. I checked the map, we were due for a river crossing. Sure enough, on the other bank was the continuing track. I found a path to the river and stopped. It was fast flowing but looked only a foot deep. I committed the cardinal sin of not walking thru when unsure of depth and flow.  I didnt waant to walk thru it because of all the ice around – I might get cold and wet – and I paid the price. Where I was crossing was twice as deep as I thought – I was up to my thighs. The flow was intense. The bike went down for the third time in the trip, this time underwater. The flow was so fast the bags were being ripped off the mountings. Tony jumped in to help me right the bike and it was soon on two wheels again. We pushed it to an island in the middle of the stream, from where I restarted the bike (no water ingestion) and rode across the second (shallower) part of the river. It was the first proper river crossing of the trip and I was kicking myself for being lazy and not checking the river by walking it first.

We decided Tony had to find a better route. By now we were both soaking from the crotch down in icy water, so more exposure to it was no problem. We were already cold and wet.  By chance a rare 4wd van coming the other way indicated a shallower route (it was the first vehicle we had seen since leaving Korkorya) and Tony took that, with me walking along side his bike. It was a tough initiation to water crossings for Tony, but he had made it across successfully.

I didnt want to tell Tony there were two more crossings of the same river before we reached the pass. As it happens the two later crossings were easier. Less water, less flow, shallower. It would have been nice to warm up on the easier river crossings first.

As we began to climb, the track deteriorated and became very rocky. A couple of times we had to skirt ice and snow across the track, but by 4:30pm we had made the pass (we left Kosh Agach at 12:30). It was windy and bitterly cold. We stopped to eat some of the pirozhki we had packed. Tony wanted to stop and fix some of his malfunctioning luggage system. It was hardly an ideal place to do repairs and I suggested we bodge it with cable ties until we reach a more suitable location.

Now we were in Tuva. A sign at the pass indicated that we had been but were no longer in a border zone. Oops.

The track on the Tuvan side was a different animal. Boggy. We continued on an successfully found my first Tuvan checkpoint, Ak-Khol. This was a marker on my map to confirm I was on the track I planned to be on.  The track at this point was still ok, but we were approaching the point where even max zoom on Google Earth could not verify the track. We passed a pair of Russian 4wd van / buses and I stopped to ask them where they were from. They did a regular shuttle service daily between Kyzyl Khaya and Kosh Agach but couldnt really tell me where the turnoff was for the direct track to Khindiktig Khol and Mugur Aksy was. They did indicate there was an old bridge somewhere near here. I couldnt see it and continued on. If I couldnt find my track, I would have to continue on this decent track to Kyzyl Khaya and take the graded border road from there to Mugur Aksy.

10 minutes later we passed a couple of Tuvan lads on a Russian Planeta 5 motorcycle. They offered to show me the track to the bridge and we turned around and backtracked most of the way to where we had met the 4wd vans. Then the boys pointed to a vary rarely used track heading east. I was sceptical this was the track i wanted as on my map it was marked as a well used track.  Never-the-less, I took the boys advice and went down the faded track.
Sure enough, 5 mins later we got to the bridge. It was the first piece of ‘infrastructure’ of any kind we had seen since the border zone signs at the pass. But the approach to the bridge was not much more than a bed of boulders. Tony went down just before the bridge. He fell to his left. Had he fallen the other way, he and his bike may have been swimming.

By now it was 7pm. We had only a few hours of daylight left and I now realised we would not make it to Mugur Aksy tonight. I turned round and advised Tony to mentally prepare to be camping rough tonight. The vague trail led to a farm of sorts up on a hill. It looked pretty grim but I thought we might as well confirm directions there. A young rough looking lad was working on his own motorcycle when we arrived. The farm was a dirty collection of yurts for the people and wooden building for the animals in winter. I had harboured thoughts of fishing for accommodation for the night from them but now that was there I soon decided against it. The farm folks confirmed the track we were on as the right one.

Constant cross referencing between my GPS and maps confirmed this. The GPS had no roads or tracks anywhere near here, but it did have the lakes and rivers marked and that made approximating whether or not we were in roughly the right location not too difficult. The track at this point was very faint. We were really just freestyling cross country most of the time, picking up the track every now and again when it was more prominent. We crossed three large extended hills and then as darkness was falling we saw it – the stunning Khindiktig Khol. It was the most beautiful lake I had ever seen. Surrounded by snow capped mountains and covered in ice.

Tony and I found a place to set up tent overlooking the lake and made camp. The ground had been wet and mushy the whole Tuvan side and here was no different. The tent pegs went into the ground with the lightest push. As soon as the tent was up, it began to rain. We were at 2500 metres here and it was not warm. We were both wet from the assorted river crossings. There were no trees in sight and there would be no fire tonight. Apart from the view, we were cold and wet and miserable. At least the Khyam tent was a 20 second job. Just what you want when its cold, dark and wet.

Tony started cooking packet soup on his mini stove as I realised my sleeping bag was soaking wet from my river fall. There was nothing else to do but wring it out and use it. I couldn’t sleep in this cold without a sleeping bag … I would freeze. I wrung it out as best I could and prepared for a night from hell. Tony’s soup cheered me a little and I pointed out on the map how far (or un-far) we had come. The good news was that we only had to go around the lake, maybe 15 km, and we should be on a more major track for the last 40km into Mugur Aksy.

After dinner I gritted my teeth and crawled into my cold wet sleeping bag for the night.

As I lay there trying to go to sleep, I thought of the great Tuvans of history, and how they would have shrugged off the ordeal of sleeping in a cold, wet sleeping bag at 2500 metres, above an icy lake. Tuvans (Also called Uriankhai) were prominent in the army of Genghis Khan and the greatest general the Mongol empire produced (some say the greatest military commander in history – and I struggle to disagree) was a Tuvan. Subeedei (Subotai / Subedei) was the man behind some of the most brilliantly planned and executed military victories in history. Were it not for the unexpected death of Ogedei Khan in 1241, Subeedei (then at the gates of Vienna and having just destroyed the Poles and Germans at Leignitz, and the Hungarians at Mohi) would surely have conquered the whole of Europe.

Unlike other great Generals like Alexander or more more modern equivalents, Subeedei didnt campaign for a 5 year war, or a dozen year period.  He was a general of the Khan from his late teens till he was over 70.  Over 50 years of almost constant warfare, and the guy didnt lose a single campaign.  There is simply no peer, strategically, or in terms of track record.

– – –


I only slept about 3 hours, on and off. I was constantly waking and shivering from the cold. I was amazed that I was managing to slowly dry my sleeping bag with body heat. By the morning it was only 50% as wet as it had been when I first crawled into it.  Looking ahead, my only source of heat this morning would, apart from a cup of soup, come from the heated vest and gloves on the bike, so I was keep to get going so I could plug in and feel warmth. Tony was snug and warm in his bag and it was cold outside so he was the opposite. Eventually we rose, had our soup and got on the move.

The road around the lake can be described in three words. Bog, bog and bog. I reckon that morning we did 10 km around the lake, 80% of it bog. The clutches both got a hell of a workout but eventually we made it to the pass, over which was the valley in which the more major track to Mugur Aksy ran.

From the pass down was much drier (and easier) though the trick would be crossing the river in the valley below. This time I planned and plotted my route across, going upstream from gravel bank to gravel bank. The river bed (like all the others) was just football sized boulders, anything smaller just got swept away in the current. After a good 30 minutes of pondering and manoeuvrings we were both thru and on the track to Mugur Aksy.

It was also two wheel ruts across the ground, but was wll used, and dry.  I was tempted to re-enacted the Long way round scene where the boys kiss the alphalt after riding a while on dirt.  I was tempted to kiss the dirt after riding too long in mud and bog!  I dont even want to think what I would have wanted to do to the road had it been asphalt !

In the next 15 minutes on the more trafficed track, we covered 15 km, the same as we had done in the 4 hours before that.   Around that time we also crossed 90 degrees east – a quarter of the way round the world.

I thought alot on the road today of Chris Colling, back in the north of England. Chris really wanted to join us for the Tuvan section of this trip but had to look after the Adventure Spec motorcycling business. In his younger days Chris had managed a Tuvan folk band and had wanted to visit Tuva ever since. Doing some hard core off road motorcycling in Tuva would take the biscuit. So thinking of you over here in Tuva mate, if you are reading.

By 2:30 in the afternoon we had reached Mugur Aksy. It had taken us about 14 hours of riding from Kosh Agach. Tony needed fuel. his reserve light had been on for the last hour or so. I stopped and asked a few locals where we might find fuel but the answers were all incoherent. This was the alcoholism I had heard about and feared in Mugur Aksy. We continued on thru town eventually spotting a UAZ jeep. They must know. I stopped to ask them and horror of horrors, I had stopped to ask border police. Their opening gambit was ‘documents please’ … I persevered asking for petrol and eventually they led us to the petrol station. Incredibly it was closed. Out of fuel. no idea when the next load comes in.

The border guards by now were taking fotos of us and the bikes and we got a lot of freindly banter going.  They had forgotten about the request for documents.  In the spirit of goodwill (very useful in these situations) I let them sit on my bike. The senior guy went back to his jeep and produced a canister with 20 litres of fuel. Wow !  What a guy !

I cut a funnel from an old water bottle and began to load up Tony’s and my fuel tanks. The guys said we needed to go to the Border Guards office and get a permit if we wanted to continue on the road to Sagli and Solchur. It was 25km out of town, but on the route anyway. Tony paid them 500 rubles for the fuel and we were on the way.  I kicked myself for not filming or photographing it.  All thru Tajikistan and places like Tuva, Fuel was just poured into the tank, yet I had failed to score a single foto or piece of video so far on the trip.

Mugur Aksy had looked grim. I didn’t see any cafe’s or stolovayas or anything. The road out of town (south east) however was a proper graded road, complete with corrugations. In some sections it was 110km/h, while in others the corrugations were all enccompasing any anything over 35km/h was impossible. Sure enough after 25km we reached the border guards complex and hooted and yelled to gain entrance. The commandant there apologised for not being able to give us tea as their power was down, and was unable to give us a written permission to use the road but after some sweet talking banter he gave us verbal permission to use the road. Woo-hoo!! I also noticed we had changed timezones when we entered Tuva and I needed to move all my clocks an hour forward. It was not 5:30pm

We rode off with glee in our hearts at getting this permission, but the glee was short lived. 300 yards from the guards base I realised my rear tyre was flat. A rusty old nail was sticking out of it. Damn. How were we going to make civilisation tonight? it was still 160 km of dirt road away.

I pulled the wheel off, and realised the valve on my spare tube that had been expertly repaired in Ust Kamenogorsk was too large for the hole in the rim. The new puncture was too large to patch. Fortunately Tony had a spare tube. It was for a 17 inch tyre and mine were 18, but that could be made to fit. I changed tubes and we began to pump it up with Tony’s portable compressor but no joy, no pressure. I must have nicked the tube in getting the tyre back on. We went thru the process again. Still no joy. The small tube was sticking very close to the edge that I was levering against and this made it very tough.  I was feeling faint and had to sit down and take a break several times.

We were only 25 km from a town and I suggested to Tony to take my back wheel into town and get a tyre repair place too do it properly. We needed food and water anyway, so kill a few birds with one stone. At 6:45pm Tony headed off with my wheel. The sun was out and a warm dry breeze made my skin feel a bit dry. Ah … perfeect chance to dry out my sleeping bag and anything else that was wet. Over the next few hours I discovered everything had gotten wet. UK passport, drivers licence, passport fotos, insurance docs, carnet … clothes, everything. I dried it all out in the sun and breeze, along with my soaking boots and socks.

Tony returned at about 10pm. It was getting dark. There had been no shino-montazh (tyre repair) place in Mugur Aksy. Very odd as these are in every little village across Russia and the CIS. Tony had found a local mechanic of sorts, drunk of course, and with his sober friend had eventually managed to repair the tube (also after nicking it a few times). There had been no food for sale anywhere in Mugur Aksy but Tony had found a general store and got some pot noodles, water and beer. I refitted the back wheel and was ready to roll.

We set up the tents and boiled up some water where we were, but the roadside, 300 yards from the regional border guards HQ, had our pot noodles and beer. It was a lot better than the previous night. Warmer, drier and our first solid food for 36 hours – if you can call noodles solid food.

– – –


The warm sun woke me at 8am, and we had a lazy morning, not getting underway till 11. We had 160km of dirt roads to cover before we found asphalt, and then we hoped to do 300km more to make it into Kyzyl for the night.

Within 5km, we knew it would be a long day. The dirt road that led from Mugur Aksy to Sagli and on to Solchur, following the border, was a heavily corrugated, rocky road. Yes it was graded gravel, but it was very difficult to travel much above 50km/h. The countryside was remote and stunning. It was all mountains and we spent our time between 1600 and 2500 metres the whole time on the dirt road.

10 km before Sagli and for the third day in a row (I have only ridden with him 3 days) Tony has problem with the Metal Mule mounting system for his F650. To me the system is a flawed, compromised design. The front mounting attachment is way to weak and Tony had lost both by the end of our first day on the rough stuff back in Altai. An hour was lost as we figured out a way to repair it in the Tuvan highlands. Amazingly we worked something out that was superior to the original, but only temporary. Tony will have to get that sorted properly in Krasnoyarsk or Irkutsk – basically get a metal worker to craft a proper mounting system for the front mounts of his rack.

I have never been a fan of hard luggage and the time lost to us on every day we have been riding together has only hardened my opinion. Riding on dirt roads when the occasional fall is inevitable with hard luggage is just asking for bent metal, broken bits and wasted time.

We got underway and despite us both hungry and thirsty, we didn’t stop at Sagli, or Solchur near the end of the dirt road, but instead relished being back on asphalt for the run north to Chadan. We reached Chadan about 5pm and refuelled the bikes then went looking for a cafe or stolovaya. The only one we found was closed so we went to the shop across the road for some energy drinks. The two young Tuvan girls in the shop took and shine to us and one summoned up the courage to ask if I was free that evening. Sorry lady, but I have to be in Kyzyl, 220 km away tonight.

By the time we finished chatting, eating and drinking, Tony and I were well on the way to internally feeling normal again. Tony had mentioned a couple of times of feeling giddy and I had fainted for the first time in my life and fell to the rocky ground while working to fix my punctured tyre yesterday (another reason to get someone else to fix it). We were both dehydrated (despite the weather being cold and us taking 4 litres of water with us onto the track) and lacking food and sleep. On top of that I had the thermally challenging evening in the cold wet sleeping bag behind me. The food and drink break got us feeling a little closer to normal.  A shower and a shave would complete the job.

It was 3 hours ride to Kyzyl and while the scenery was still impressive, the biggest challenge was dodging other cars and cattle on the road. The only stop was to fix Tony’s clutch. He had a new clutch fitted in Moscow and it was down to that he had no adjustment left at the lever end of the cable, so we had to adjust it the hard way, at the clutch housing end.

After almost 60 hours in the wilderness, we found one of the nicer hotels in Kyzyl and splashed out 25 EUR each for a room … first shower in 3 days. Then we went out for beer and shashlik – and got hassled by drunk locals. Ah the joys of life on the road. Its Tony’s better half’s birthday today, so I left him in his room to have the long birthday phone call.