Samara, Russia to Moscow, Russia – Day 38

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Monday, 3 September, 2012  Samara, Russia to Moscow, Russia (750 miles) Total Trip Miles – 11,010. 14.5 hrs hours riding

Weather Temperature mostly sunny in the mid 60’s with a mix of sun & clouds with some brief rain showers.

After loading up my bike, the Europa Hotel in Samara served up a nice breakfast included in the rate, which is typical for most hotels in Russia – a ham & cheese omelet, coffee, orange juice along with a an assorted meat tray & yogurt.  They were running a bit behind so I ended up getting a later started than anticipated, but starting my day with a good meal has become more & more essential given the long hours on the bike.

Getting out of Samara at 8:30 am took about 45 minutes due to morning traffic and the fact that I had to cross town to get back on the highway.

I only wish the photo above was of a Moscow street!…It’s actually one I took from my apartment window in Novosibirsk.  I had often imagined getting my photo taken on the bike at Red Square; however, this would need to postponed for a later time.  Since having the mechanical delays, I could only get to the outskirts of the city on this day – I talked with several folks that said weekday traffic in downtown Moscow was a problem.

To assure I could make the border crossing the following day at Latvia, I decided to get on Moscow’s outer highway loop around the city to end up on the west side of the city and better poised to make a run for the border the following morning.  Keep in mind it was dark and the highway was nothing more than a 2-lane state road in the US with heavy truck traffic.

With time approaching 11 pm, I decided to look for a hotel to stay the night in the Obinsk area and was unable to find one that I didn’t have to drive a distance.  Well, since I am fully self-contained and decided to pull out the sleeping bag and camp next to the bike at a 24 hours fueling station – sounded like a logical choice.  Ended up sleeping between the bike and curb and with all the trucks, lights and the like I suspect my sleep was something less than optimal, but hey, I as tired from the days ride and it felt quite refreshing to me.  After about 5 hours of sleep, i was awakened by the light taps of rain – that was my wake up call and before daylight I was up and on the road towards the Latvian border.

If you would like to make a donation to give all kids diagnosed with cancer a better chance at living the full life they deserve, please visit Rally Foundation & Rally Around the World or Text “RALLY” to 85944 to give $10 to WIN the fight against childhood cancer. Send this message to 10 of your friends…Be a RALLY 10 to WIN!

Chelyabinsk, Russia to Samara, Russia – Day 37

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Sunday, 2 September, 2012  Chelyabinsk, Russia to Samara, Russia (566 miles) Total Trip Miles – 10,260. 14.5 hrs hours riding

Weather Temperature mostly sunny in the upper 40’s with rain & high winds the entire day…by far the worst weather day on the trip so far!!

Like yesterday was one of the better riding days relating to weather…today turned out to be the worst to date on this trip…As I left the hotel in Chelyabinsk, that was absolutely fabulous, it started to rain with temps in upper 40’s…no big deal except the rain and temps continued for the entire day including heavy winds that blew constantly out of the north often making it a challenge to maintain control of the bike.  I truly believe I shivered the entire day and the tension in my back and neck muscles was terribly uncomfortable.  I found myself stopping along the roadside to warm my hands & gloves with the bike exhaust.

The weather also made the roads treacherous for travels and speeds were reduced significantly making progress slow…I continue to be amazed at the number of huge trucks that run these small, two lane roads day to day given these conditions…I suspect the winter months bring even more difficult challenges.

This next section may be too much information but it is one of the realities of cycling across Siberian considering I’m spending something north of 12 hrs a day on the bike.  For the entire trip I have been using Gold Bond powder, but after today, I reached into my bag of tricks and went for the heavy artillery – Baby Anti Monkey Butt Powder…a secret Dave Rose and others has commented about prior to me leaving.  Being wet yesterday for about 14 hrs, it was just time – a fella can’t afford to have issues in those areas!!

If you would like to make a donation to give all kids diagnosed with cancer a better chance at living the full life they deserve, please visit Rally Foundation & Rally Around the World or Text “RALLY” to 85944 to give $10 to WIN the fight against childhood cancer. Send this message to 10 of your friends…Be a RALLY 10 to WIN!

Omsk, Russia to Chelyabinsk, Russia – Day 36

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Saturday, 1 September, 2012  Omsk, Russia to Chelyabinsk, Russia (628 miles) Total Trip Miles – 9694. 11.5 hrs hours riding

Weather Temperature mostly sunny in the upper 60′s for the period with little or no rain fall…a beautiful day for riding

Unfortunately I inadvertently deleted the copy of this blog…oh well.  The following will be an abbreviated version allowing me some time to update yesterday’s events.

As you are aware, I was fortunate enough to spend the night with Vitaliy and his family…he is a member of the Siberian Bears Bike club and was an excellent host – started our day early with some local bakery pastries and hot tea…that right hot tea.  Russian’s commonly drink hot tea with any meal and/or event.

Vitaliy drove me out to the bike clubhouse to get my bike – it was in a secure location surrounded by a wall and gate…I guess secure enough for my tastes since Vitaliy and most of the members leave their bikes on the grounds.  To get a better sense the place, it reminds me of what folks in my family would call a hide out – nothing fancy, but with all the necessary ammenities – refrigerator, sink, grill, seating, porch and the like… basically a great get away spot for these guys.

After packing up the bike, Vitalily lead me through town to get me on the right main road up to Chelyabinsk.  The ride was a bit long; however the weather made it for one of the nicest riding days on the trip.

Most Russian cities have churches similar to the one posted above often ornately decorated in this traditional style and architecture.  Like the churches, most cemeteries are have fenced plots with are colorfully painted often with many flowers and other arrangements…they can be spotted on virtually every horizon.

As he sun started to settle in the afternoon sky and I rolled into Chelyabinsk, I was amazed at the hotel Melissa Smith, one of my co-workers at NDC, booked for me…it was a magnificant spot probably 20 stories high and would rival any hotel around the world…staff spoke good English and the breakfast buffet was terrific the next morning.  I had planned on grabbing some dinner at the bar; however, I ended up falling asleep in a chair in my room…

If you would like to make a donation to give all kids diagnosed with cancer a better chance at living the full life they deserve, please visit Rally Foundation & Rally Around the World or Text “RALLY” to 85944 to give $10 to WIN the fight against childhood cancer. Send this message to 10 of your friends…Be a RALLY 10 to WIN!

Novosibirsk, Russia to Omsk, Russia – Day 33, 34 & 35

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Wednesday – Friday, 29 – 31 August 2012  Novosibirsk, Russia to Omsk, Russia (440 miles) Total Trip Miles – 9066. 8.5 hrs hours riding

Weather Temperature mostly sunny in the upper 60′s for the period with little or no rain fall.

Been a crazy last couple of days but I finally made it to Omsk this evening from Novosibirsk.  Wednesday started out like most of my Rally mornings except this day changed the entire flow with such a seemingly minor event.

While at my fuel stop just outside of Novosibirsk, I rolled my bike up on the center kick stand only to have it turn over in the parking lot breaking both the clutch lever and adjustment ferrule making it impossible to ride.

After some thought and not having a clue as to where I might get parts, I turned to my contact list provided by Max Karnarsky, president & CEO of Multi-Radiance – the list included biker club contacts across Russia. Max works in the healthcare business like me and was born in Belarus and after coming to the US many years ago, has remained in contact with many folks in that part of the world.

I reached to Kirill in Novosibirsk with the Siberian Bears and he and a friend, Andre, drove out 40 miles within the hour with a trailer to load the bike and return to their body shop…Let the hunt for parts begin!

Before I go there, Kirill also provided me with the keys to a 7th floor apartment in downtown Novosibirsk as my place to stay…newly renovated it was the perfect spot and belonged to his friend, Vitaliy, a member if the Siberian Bears in Omsk. I was wondering to myself why Kirill provided me with the apartment so early and it wasn’t long after I realized why…

As an aside, the reason for no blog updates is I had no web access….

There are no Suzuki dealers in Novosibirsk and very few dealers of motorcycles for that matter…we spent one and a half days visiting bike shop after bike shop trying to come up with a replacement parts solution and as as luck would have it, the last place came up with a used part match that would work.

Both Kirill and bis wife Mikasha were wonderful hosts treating me to breakfast, lunch & dinners and hauling me around town in my parts quest.

Friday morning I was up early, loaded the bike and was off for Omsk at about 10:30 after saying our goodbyes….Kirill even lead me our of the city on his pearl white Honda Gold Wing.

Before leaving, Kirill also gave me the contact information of his fellow club member, Vitaliy, who I was to call as I entered Omsk. After making my call to him, Vitaliy asked me to wait along the roadside and he’d come out to escort me back to town and their clubhouse. Imagine for yourself a black, late model Honda Gold Wing with Russian rock blasting from the sound system with a small-framed man wearing black and a Harley, German-style helmet on this massive machine. While riding through town I could even hear his music from several hundred yards back…believe me – every person we passed turned their grassy to see what just went by!…an incredible sight.

As I mentioned, this has been a crazy week and my luck was going to continue when my bike finally dropped the main drive chain as we worked our way through the streets of Omsk…are you really kidding me! I was able to get the chain back into place and we continued over to the Bears clubhouse where Vitaliy and his friends immediately jumped into action to find a replacement….within the hour I had a new replacement part in hand and with their help and the help of Roland at Cool Springs Motorsports over the phone back in Nashville for some technical advice, and some technical help, I was back in business.

We left our bikes at the clubhouse and took a taxi to Vitaliy’s house to also celebrate his birthday with is family and friends…a very nice ending to such a crazy week.

Over the last couple of days I must also recognize the overwhelming acts of selflessness of the Russian biker community that was extended to me…without them, my situation would have been dismal at best….there is such a huge comfort knowing that in a spot far, far from home there are folks like these you can count on!

If you would like to make a donation to give all kids diagnosed with cancer a better chance at living the full life they deserve, please visit Rally Foundation & Rally Around the World or Text “RALLY” to 85944 to give $10 to WIN the fight against childhood cancer. Send this message to 10 of your friends…Be a RALLY 10 to WIN!

Krasnoyarsk, Russia to Novosibirsk, Russia – Day 32

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Tuesday, 28 August 2012  Krasnoyarsk, Russia to Novosibirsk, Russia (525 miles) Total Trip Miles – 8626. 11 hours riding

Weather Temperature for the first part of day in the upper 40′s changing to mostly sunny in the upper 60′s later with several periods of light rain

Today was a welcomed surprise with a significant change in the road conditions – for the first time since leaving Vladivostok, there were no gravel, dirt or muddy roads – only roads that would rival any two-lane highways anywhere in the world…it made for quite an enjoyable day for riding and a needed rest from the grind of the last several days.

Finally was able to get my GPS dialed in to find the hotels that I book…the issue I had were the English translations from Russian; since sometimes that would vary between what the GPS would recognize.  Anyhow, I have been able to locate the last two hotels, but did have some issues today with finding the Tikhaya Plosad Hotel – while the GPS got me to within a couple of blocks, the hotel was hidden behind the main building.  As Brad, American cyclist on the streets of Novosibirsk, I was asking if anyone knew English and did find a guy who worked with me for about 30 minutes…his wife and young daughter even lent a hand.  I called the hotel and passed the phone over to him and even then, he had difficulty trying to determine its location.

If a Russian to a Russian can’t figure it out, what do the think the odds of me remotely coming up with the spot.  Finally, one of the girls from the hotel met us on the street – she still wasn’t quite sure how to get he bike over to the hotel – they did advertise free parking.  In the end.  I can only imagine what the hundreds of people walking down the streets of Novosibirsk this afternoon thought about this big guy wearing a helmet & filthy riding suit.  A funny thing…a young couple did approach us thinking that the man trying to lend me some assistance was somehow up to something less than admirable intentions – she asked me if I needed any help and was I OK since she probably saw me flayling my arms and being a bit dramatic…you know what I mean!

The boutique hotel is very nice; however the surroundings send some red flags…graffiti, unkept streets, folks hanging out of windows from large apartment buildings…kind of a large city alley feel.  I did remove all my gear, but all I could think was some green spray paint on my bike in the morning or even worse.  Late tonight I did go outside to check my ending mileage and the manager in broken English kept saying something about my motorcycle and “the box”.  I though he meant the side pannier boxes mounted on the bike should be brought in, but he grabbed a flash light and huge key and pointed for me to follow.  We walked down the dark streets to huge entrance under the building that had this wide aisle of nothing but plated steel doors down both sides – probably a hundred about the size of a one-car garage door.  I was sold on idea and moved the bike – thanks Alexander!

Regarding the images posted imagine the motorcycle with three older men riding, no helmets and horrible blue smoke streaming from the tailpipe – I have seen that same scenario countless times over the last several days.  The second is typical of most city entrances and the last is to say TEXAS even exists in Siberia!  What’s funny is that is actually spelled using the Russian alphabet…they use the letter “C” and their “S”.  Oh…I did start to notice that the out houses are starting to look a bit more modern as I go farther west.

A note regarding fuel stops…now keep in mind this took some trial and error given the language barriers, but you pull up, insert the knozzle into the tank with your desired gas type, walk over to the small pay window that has a primitive slide tray that you give them the estimated dollar amount (they all have them and most times you can’t see the person behind the glass and if you can it’s throught the small window opening) and pump your gas.  If you gave them 500 rubles and the total was 424 for example, you walk back over to the window and change is provided in the sliding tray…if you hit the 500 ruble mark the pump stops…your decision is to just go with that or give them more money.  Culturally I find Russians expect payment in hand first, then the service – for the most part without exception.

If you would like to make a donation to give all kids diagnosed with cancer a better chance at living the full life they deserve, please visit Rally Foundation & Rally Around the World or Text “RALLY” to 85944 to give $10 to WIN the fight against childhood cancer. Send this message to 10 of your friends…Be a RALLY 10 to WIN!

Irkutsk, Russia to Krasnoyarsk, Russia – Day 31

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Sunday, 27 August 2012 Irkutsk, Russia to Krasnoyarsk, Russia (708 miles) Total Trip Miles – 8103. 15 hours riding

Weather Temperature for the first part of day in the upper 40’s changing to mostly sunny in the upper 60’s later changing to cold rain & wind with temps in the 50’s approaching Krasnoyarsk

Wow…what a long and challenging day on this journey around the world…the day started off as usual with an alarm at 5 am allowing me time to prepare for the days ride – book a hotel in Krasnoyarsk, write my blog and prepare my gear for the day.  Most recently the days have been long and grueling with 4-5 hours sleep…arriving in each city late in the evening and up early to do it all over again in a city near you.

This day started out like all others and for the most of the day, the weather was sunny & warm – perfect riding conditions.  Around 6 pm as I was just outside of Kansk, I pulled over to tighten up my gear for the weather clouds I saw ahead in the northwestern skies – additionally, my brother Tye had updated the weather forecast on Facebook and I was prepared for a wet last few hours on the road.

The highways are oftern confusing and the M 53 through Kansk didn’t let me down – typically as this main road passes through a city, it winds right through the town seemingly on every little backstreet, back yards and you name it making very little sense given the volume of traffic including huge over-the-road trucks.  Today’s trip though Kansk weaved me along a 4.5 mile road of mud, pot holes & rocks that seemed like an eternity to navigate.  But I made it and continued towards Krasnoyarsk in a drving rain & wind for the next 5 hours with temps in the mid 50’s.

Folks, there is no such thing as weather-proof gear under these types of conditions and slowly rain begain to creep into every corner of my gear – first my sleeves, riding boots and eventually a bit of dampness in just about every spot.  As darkness fell, visibility became difficutl with the rain, fog and glare from oncoming traffic.  Found myself a rabbit, in this case a large dump truck, and just focused in on his talilights  I also was reminded by my clock I keep from my home time zone that during these final hours of my rided I reminded myself that most of my family and friends were having coffee & breakfast and starting their days…it can certainly be tuuuuuf out here in Siberia for this poor fella from North Carolina!

Anyhow, fortunately I have a GPS and I made my way through the streets of Krasnoyarsk eventually arriving at the hotel – I absolutely must have looked like one of those fishermen on the seas around Alaska after long day onboard ship working the crab boxes.   The Dom Hotel is extremely nice with secure parking in their courtyard and I had a 12:15 am dinner at their restaurant – meatballs, mash potatoes and a Coke – a perfect ending to my day!

Earlier in the day, I passed several, what I beleive to be, canola fields that expanded well off to the horizon and I snapped a picture for you of the typical bathroom accomodations at my gas stops.  That’s right, every fuel stop I’ve made comes complete with an outhouse that has a carefully constructed hole in the wooden floor with two blocks to postion you feet…ladies – welcome to Siberia!

If you would like to make a donation to give all kids diagnosed with cancer a better chance at living the full life they deserve, please visit Rally Foundation & Rally Around the World or Text “RALLY” to 85944 to give $10 to WIN the fight against childhood cancer. Send this message to 10 of your friends…Be a RALLY 10 to WIN!

Chita, Russia to Irkutsk, Russia – Day 30

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Sunday, 26 August 2012 Chita, Russia to Irkutsk (771 miles) Total Trip Miles – 7395. 15 hours riding

Weather Temperature in the first part of day in the upper 40’s changing to mostly sunny in the upper 60’s later changing to cold rain in the 50’s approaching Irkutsk

Up at 6am and prepared trip maps and gear for the trip to Irkutsk departing Chita at 8am only to get turned around trying to get out of the city onto the M55…Chita was extremely difficult to navigate within, but I finally got on the right track heading again on my westward journey.  While the first part of the day started off a bit cool, it quickly warmed as the sun rose in the sky.  Couldn’t help but notice the grand expanse of the region with small towns/villages scattering the landscape.  All the house looked similar of wood with colorful window treatments (teals, blues and the like) and fenced – gardens – women were often seen along the roadside dressed in very colorful dresses.

Today was was to bring a few roadside stops to make minor repairs…while bouncing along one of the gravel roads, I noticed the dash on the bike start to shake as if a mounting bracket was loose or broken.  After a brief inspection, I notice 2 mounting bolts had loosened – it took 2 attempts today to finally remedy the problem.  To add to my anxiety, the drive chain continues to be an issue getting loose and it went a step further as it began making a grinding noise.  If you recall, TSA took my canned chain lube and I was foreced to search for a replacement in Dong Hae – the only product even close was WD-40…I know, I know what was I thinking!  Hey, while standing in the aisle, I looked up the WD-40 website and found one of the 2000+ uses was as a motorcycle chain lube. Being an aircraft mechanic for many years, something kept telling me this made no sense, but hey, they published it.  I decided to use some 10-40 motor oil instead (recommended in the Suzuki shop manual as a chain lube) and it took care of the noise problem.

Tye, my brother, had just called me as I got back on the road to listen to my crazyiness as I described what had taken place…Tye keep up the weather forecast posts on FB – very helpful to me in my day planning.

I did notice one thing while moving more and more into the heart of Siberia – the heart and soul of the area was starting to come out – these rural villages and especially Ulan Ude which looks like one of the smaller villages on a much, much larger scale.  Just at the gas stop there, the young lady assisting with the fill up was very pleasant – I was just noticing a change in the people…something I started to embrace and get more comfortable.  Even during my last fuel stop outside of Irkutsk, an entire family hopped out of their van to pose for a picture with me…spoke no English, but we were able to communicate.

The day was littered with many road construction projects…gravel and dirt roads that often became very difficult to manage given the load and street tires on the bike.  That quickly turned to rain and mud the last 5 hours or so of my day with conditions getting even more treacherous – probably the closest I have come on the entire trip to losing control and the bike going down.

To help increase my speeds I did learn quickly to find a local that was running at a speed I was comfortable with and follow…it served a couple of purposes:  First, I ccan watch the movements of their vehicle for to help avoid pot holes and road dips or rollers.  Rollers have become my biggest challenge since they have caused my bike to bottom out a few times adding to my chain issue.  Secondly, I probably wouldn’t run at the speeds if I was alone to avoid any issues with local law enforcement…we call them rabbits in Tennessee and you probably do as well.

As I passed Lake Baikal, which incidently is the largest & deepest, fresh-water lake in the world making up 20% of the world’s unfrozen fresh water, I saw two cyclists on dual sport bikes like mine pass me as I was getting fuel only later to pass them farther up the road and waving.  As I was climbing the mountain about 75 miles outside of Irkutsk, they came up from behind to pass and for the next 75 miles I ran third the entire time – I wouldn’t have driven as agressively solo, but hey, to local rabbits and I’m gonna go.  Just outside Irkutsk, they pulled over and I decided to do the same and introduce myself.  Both were from Irkutsk speaking no English and had just completed the Irkutsk to Vladivostok round trip.  Asking them where my hotel was in my best Russian, the younger biker pointed to himself to follow…keep in mind, they had been on a 7-10 day trip and just returning home and he takes me directly to the hotel at 11pm at night!  We exchanged no names although we did pose for a picture together – these are the moments that make this trip so very special to me!

I was absolutely exhausted when I finally got to my hotel room – took a quick shower and crashed for the night.  Hotel staff there spoke English and I ordered soom room service – I has hongry!…a great ending to this long day.

If you would like to make a donation to give all kids diagnosed with cancer a better chance at living the full life they deserve, please visit Rally Foundation & Rally Around the World or Text “RALLY” to 85944 to give $10 to WIN the fight against childhood cancer. Send this message to 10 of your friends…Be a RALLY 10 to WIN!