London, England – Day 43

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Saturday, 8 September, 2012  London, England (0 miles) Total Trip Miles – 13,092. 0 hrs hours riding

Weather Temperature mostly sunny in the lower 70’s…a perfect day to visit London

A non-riding day for me and a chance to recharge after a few weeks on the road. One of the servers at the hotel restaurant recommended that I take the 30 minute express train ride to London & tour the city especially since the weather was so unusually terrific…just couldn’t pass up the opportunity.

From the hotel I took a short bus ride to the airport to board the train…the ride was comfortable and pulled into the London Victoria Station where I scouted the tour bus companies. Settled on the Big Bus Tour Company which visited all the well-known spots and you could get on/get off anywhere along the route…a double decker bus that was open air on top. My bus had a live tour guide which made the tour much more enjoyable. Made stops at Big Ben, Tower Bridge, Buckingham Palace, Westminster Abbey, London Tower and many others.

The cleanliness of the city was striking and the city’s history remarkable…ended up having a pint of Stella at a local pub and have found most servers are from other countries with a specific desire to learn English – they are from India, Germany, Spain, Italy, Latvia and other countries from around the world.

Since returning to civilization, I felt it was about time to get a haircut and my server recommended a spot nearby…the shop was owned by a Korean who had been in London for 20 years…just had to clean up a bit before rolling back into Nashville next week!

Decided to catch the train home before dark and get some more rest before making the final leg ride next week home.

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!

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Calais, France to London, England – Day 42

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Friday, 7 September, 2012  Calais, France to London, England (86 miles) Total Trip Miles – 13,092. 2.5 hrs hours riding

Weather Temperature mostly sunny in the upper 60’s…a perfect riding day back to a more civilized world

By the way, I am now just 6 hours ahead of the central time zone which means since leaving Vladivostok a couple of weeks ago, I crossed 10 time zones as I made my way west.

Yesterday evening I met several folks on bikes from the UK doing a fundraising ride for fallen soldiers and I asked about crossing the channel on a ferry and they all emphatically suggested the Eurotunnel.  During some of my trip planning, I had looked into making the crossing on the train, but since it required a reservation I opted to pass on scheduling at that time.  They mentioned to Google the world “chunnel” and that would get to the Eurotunnel website.

To avoid traffic delays, it was also recommended that I schedule my crossing at about 10 am which I did…As I approached the area to catch the Eurotunnel train, I quickly realized this was a highly sophisticated operation that not only moved people, cars and buses, but large trucks with freight going to the UK from all parts of Europe.  I ended up being slotted with other bikers and we were all guided onboard the train…it’s a ride on – ride off system that’s quite efficient.  The trip under the Channel takes just 35 minutes and this gave me time to chat with some of the bikers from the area…most were in my age group and had been touring on their bikes in all parts of Europe.

Almost forgot to mention, that when I was clearing UK customs at the port prior to boarding, the customs official asked about what I was doing and he was genuinely interested in my trip and many of the details…he even wrote down for me all the highways I needed to get to Gatwick Airport.  At that moment I realized that every person I have come in contact during these last several weeks has been very pleasant and helpful…I have not had one bad experience which I find utterly amazing.  Also, there is something so civilized about the British and their accent.  I remember years ago after being in Zimbabwe and other parts of southern Africa for a few weeks, I was returning home to the US on board a British Airways flight to London when the flight attendant asked how I would like my afternoon tea…”with milk & sugar?”  It was at that very moment I realized I was back and just how good I felt to once again return to the more civilized world!!

After departing the train, I immediately got on the M20 heading towards London’s Gatwick Airport and my hotel.  There I unloaded my gear and began preparing my bike to take over to the airport for shipping back to Montreal on Monday…the hostess at the hotel, Alicia, mentioned the rental car agency attached to the hotel might be willing to wash my bike…she also accepted my offer for some free gas or petrol since I had to drain for the flight shipment.

A young man at the rental car agency used a high pressure sprayer to remove the weeks of Siberian dirt and grime from the bike and I gave him 10 pounds for his efforts…

Off to the airport I located the Serviceair air cargo facility and after a brief inspection and a little work on the bike removing the windshield, mirrors and disconnecting the battery, it was ready for x-ray and shipment.

Mike at Serviceair gave me lift back to the terminal so I could catch a bus back to the hotel and after a late lunch and a Jack Daniels on the rocks to help celebrate and commemorate the moment, I found myself dozing off at the table.  After a hot bubble bath…that’s right a bubble bath, I crashed in the bed and slept like never before for about 8 hours – by far the best sleep I’ve had in well over a month…ohhh, how I missed you civilized world!

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!

Moscow, Russia to Kaunas, Lithuania – Day 39

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Tuesday, 4 September, 2012  Moscow, Russia to Kaunas, Lithuania (752 miles) Total Trip Miles – 11,762. 15 hrs hours riding

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

Well the big day had arrived!…on this day I was going to be riding towards the Latvian border and after a couple of long, tough weeks in Russia finally closing this chapter of the ride.  Quite honestly, the Siberian leg had always been the keystone of the entire trip – to me, the success or failure hinged on this 7000 mile ride across some of the most inhospital terrain and land on the planet…this was going to be a big day for me.

The first 4 hours of the ride was hampered by moderate rainfall making the roads a bit treacherous in spots, so I was forced to keep my speeds down.  As time approached late morning, I could see small breaks in the clouds finally ending up with mostly sunny skies as I approached the border.  As I rounded a corner, I could first see nothing but huge trucks, probably 150 or more stopped and lined up with many of the drivers standing outside…I thought to myself this just can’t be good.  As I worked my way to the front of the line, the line of cars was only about a dozen deep and I actually got to the Russian customs side in less than 30 minutes.  My excitment was quickly dashed when I was asked to move to another line and an older, more distinquished agent – he reminded me of George C. Scott, the actor that played Patton took over the process.

There appeared to be quite the confusion with my documents and I ended up with him for over an hour.  I finally got my stamp, stamp and stamp on some paperwork and was motioned to move to the Latvian side.  The experience was very similar with me being motioned to see this person and that – one said my International Driver’s License was invalid and that my Tennesse license did not allow for me to ride a motorcycle in Lativa – anyhow, I felt they were only hassling me a bit and decided to just go along with them – thought it was quite humorous frankly.  I truly believe they finally just got tired of me and finally after some more stamps, stamps and stamps I was on my way into Latvia.

Immediately I noticed a change in the landscape and road conditions…enough that it quickly became very apparent – the roads were much better maintained and the lushness of the farms was stark.  For the first time in several weeks I began to feel a calmness in the air that helped me to relax as I rolled through the countryside.

Earlier in the day I had been in contact with Piotr Mlodecki, business development with HTL-Strefa, and one of NDC’s vendors out of Poland…I had actually met Piotr in Nashville at a brief meeting and we discussed the possibility of riding together during my trip.  That moment had arrived and just having the opportunty for the first time in 40 days to ride with someone I knew was exciting.  Piotr made reservations at a hotel in city center of Kaunas and we planned to meet around 10 pm for drinks and dinner.  As luck would have it, Piotr met and guy on a bike looking for a place to stay for the night and he ended up joining us for dinner – his name is Martin from Germany and we had great converation about riding experiences and all the spots to see in the region…a very nice closure to an already wonderful day!  I was truly able to finally put a check in the box…Siberian Leg – 7000 miles!!

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!

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!