Russia-Scandinavia - solo riding for beginners
I've been dreaming of northern europe for quite a while. It's probably the closest place for me, where the population density isn't as crazy as in central Europe.
After returning from a 10 days trip with friends to southern France in 2010, I knew, the next trip has to be longer. And farther. I started planning a trip through Scandinavia. The beautiful Norwegian coast and the Nordkapp would be part of the route. Catch the ferry in Germany and head north to the Nordkapp and take your time to ride along the Norwegian coast. That was my initial idea.
Upon finding ADV in Winter 2010 I changed my mind a bit and wanted to include a different aspect to my trip. A friend of mine was in St. Petersburg and Murmansk a year earlier and I was amazed by his stories about the people and the landscapes. Oh, and the roads of course.
So the northbound route should be through Russia:
As my riding buddies were unavailable, I went on this trip alone, on my trusty Suzuki SV650S. Naturally, there's not a lot of pictures with me in it, so this is what I look like.
Having shot a lot of clips on my trip, I put this video together to show some impressions of the trip:
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Still not convinced? Let's try again.
It's June 30, 4 PM and I'm done at work. I have to show up for work again on August 2, 2011. That's a lot of days of riding! I have tickets for the car train to get me through Germany. It's a night train, so I head to the train station and my trip begins with a short night in a loud and uncomfortable bed. This saves me roughly 800km of Autobahn.
I share my room with a young couple with kids and listen to the bedtime story - Pippi Langstrumpf geht in die Schule (Pippi Longstocking goes to school).
Disembarking the train in Hamburg is pretty cool. You ride through the public train station and the crowd has to make room for you.
It's early in the morning and I've got some time on my hands. The ferry leaves at 3AM that night and the port is only 70km north. I ride around town, eat a Currywurst at the Reeperbahn and look for a camping stove. After a little visit to the Alster (big-ish lake inside Hamburg) I get bored of the city and head north.
Does that looks like a DRZ400?
Do you see my ADV sticker? I just put it on the day I started my ride. I was a bit late ordering them and the Canada Post workers are on strike right now. So Rick sent them from Niagara Falls USA so I receive my stickers before I go on my trip. Great!!
Arriving in Travemünde way to early. The ferry can be boarded at 9PM, so I head off for a ride again. There's no twisties around, so I look for the small and interesting roads. I find the coolest road I've ever seen in Germany.
It takes me to some kind of manor house next to a farm. Both abandoned.
Later, I eat something at the Baltic Sea. On a bench that says, you can only sit here on your own responsibility.
Sitting there and contemplating about the starting trip, I still don't realize, how long or how far it's going to be. I'm further away from home than I've ever been alone, but still everything is familiar. I try to savour the moment. This is always the best moment for me, the start of a trip. What will the next four weeks be like? Where am I going to sleep and who am I going to meet? I like to set some mental savepoints, so I can go back to that point whenever I want. Savour the moment. The strange, unknown, but exciting moment before your trip. Yes!
The next day on the ferry, I realize it's the first time, I'm actually out on the sea. It feels great. The wind is crazy, so is the sun. On the deck, I meet the same riders from yesterday evening and I join in. We have a few Karhus (finnish beer) and talk about motorcycles and life. I end up talking the whole day with Jari (the guy in the grey shirt in the front), who's coming home from a trip around Sweden-Norway-Denmark-Germany.
Some interesting stories about his past, where he used to go to the Soviet Union sometimes for business. One story sticks to me, where he takes an inland flight in an Antonov in the USSR and some other guys transport live sheep. The sheep had ropes around their necks so tight, they could barely breath. A turbulenced flight didn't help these poor creatures.
He's not that excited about Russia and the dangers involved when a greenhorn goes to Russia without any languange knowledge. He gives me some final advice for Russia and his number for emergencies. He made me think about this even more, but I didn't think about turning around any second. But in the end, I'm really glad about his help.
The next day arrives fast, and as soon as I get off the ferry, I make my way to the russian border, preferrably on smaller roads.
About 20km before the border, the cue for all the lorries starts. I really don't want to know how long a border crossing in a lorry takes.
At the last station before the border I get some small snack and fill up on gas. I start to get a little nervous. So many bad stories about Russia. I head similar stories the french. When I went to Nice last year, my grandmother (bless her) was worried, because they are all criminals who will steal my stuff and hurt me. Well, I made it back. And I will make it back from Russia, or so I guess. I try to strike up a conversation with other riders at the gas station, but they don't seem to be interested with that sportbike rider.
No more procrastinating, let's get it over with. Standing in line I realize what fool I am. Make a guess who forgot the paper with all the important russian phrases, the kyrillic alphabet and stuff? That will be interesting.
After the first checkpoint, my mood suddenly changes and I'm looking forward to what's ahead. I don't know, but maybe it's because all the decisions are made and from now on I have to make the best of it.
The border is kind of fun. The second stop is where the real inspection takes place. I park my bike behind some other car and this big Olga comes yelling at me. 150cm (5 feet) high and probably the same hip size. I have no idea what I did wrong and just stand there smiling like an idiot. She points to my bike and then to some area beetween the cars. I move my bike there and go to the booths. She yells again and points to my kick stand. Seems that I have parked 10 cm too much to the left, let's park again.
Next is filling out forms. I heard a lot about that procedure. Be merciless with the other people in the queue or you won't get anywhere. When one person is through, whoever shouts the loudest and annoys the clerk the most, will be next. With that in mind I get my form and fill it out. The clerk doesn't like it and rips it apart. Oh, thanks for not pointing out what's wrong, sucker! To my luck, there's two swedish guys on shiny KTM adventure bikes. They help me fill out the form. A short chat later I know they're heading east through Siberia.
With my documents arranged, I move forward with the bike. The mean looking army guy inspects every corner of the car in front of me. I'm already mentally preparing to dismount all my luggague for him. That would easily take half an hour. Lucky, he only looks at my documents and waves me through.
Three hours of sweating in full gear at 30°C (86°F) and I'm in Russia! Hell yes.
The road is still pretty good, the cars overtake with only inches in between but I'm feeling great. At the next gas station, I change 300 € to 11'700 Rubles. A few kilometers later, I am in the formerly finnish town of Vyborg. This is where I first try to fill up on gas.
Here's how you properly buy gas in Russia without any russian:
1. Park your bike at the desired pump
2. Get inside to the clerk
3. Point to your bike
4. Show how much fuel you want with your fingers (more than 10 liter is expert level only!)
5. Get a puzzled face and don't know why
6. Repeatedly point at your fingers and nod
7. Realise your pump has Diesel and Unleaded
8. Find a piece of paper to write down 95 and point at it repeatedly
9. Hand over some money and hope the clerk is willing to sell you gas
Oh, and it doesn't help if you only want 3 litres (0.8 gallons) of fuel. The clerk will be even more confused. They don't seem to get a lot of tourists here.
Filling up on gas was so much hassle, I completely forgot to buy food. Ok then, let's go to a Restaurant. Good thing I still remember that Salad sounds the same in Russian. That and a bit of pity by an old woman (probably a mother) gives me a fine meal.
After Vyborg, I take a right in direction of Primorsk. The road sign is in kyrillic and latin, guess I'm lucky. The road is a lot of fun at first with some twisties and good asphalt. But it soon turns into a patchwork of potholes and gravel. The train crossing doesn't have any barriers or light signals, so be careful when crossing.
After a while I start looking for a place to pitch my tent. I choose a place deep in the forest and enjoy the evening.
This long day ends with a bottle of german beer in the middle of the russian forest. Being alone, I have plenty of time to think about my life and what is up ahead. I wonder what would have been different, if I wouldn't be alone out here. Not that I miss company, I already met a lot of people on the road.
This is sweet! Subscribed!
Your trip is giving me some ideas.... I always wanted to do a ride in Altai or Siberia, but I do not have enough vacation time for a long trip like that. Your route is possible in much shorter time - apparently, while still providing the adventure.
I am looking forward to your Ride Report.
And a request
Hey, a request:
any chance you could post the pictures in lower size, let's say 800 pixels wide? 1280 pixels wide does not display well unless you run the browser full-screen on a wide-screen monitor. The image size pushes the message field wide apart and one has to slide the window sideways to be able to read full line of text.
Thanks in advance.
Thanks for share.
Great pics and enjoying your thoughts and how you are seeing this trip throught your eyes. Keep up the good effort, it is working.
Below is a link to my 1991 loop through some of the same counry as your trip, things have changed for the good I hope.
looking forward to more of your ride
I'm in... :lurk
Starting the day with ramen at the Baltic Sea. A fisher is coming back from the sea and pushes his boat on the trailer, while a family enjoys a breakfast on the beach. It's fun to watch people going about their daily lifes. My father once told me, that "gaffen" (to rubberneck) is an age old tradition for the dutch. I guess that's where my dutch roots kick in. :rofl
It's about noon on a monday, traffic is crazy. I ride into the heart of the city with my inner compass, where I ask some cops where we are. I only have a rough map of St. Petersburg in my tankbag, but it's pretty easy to find Nevski Prospekt, the main road. From there, I just have to find the right turnoff to get to the hotel. Who wants to pay for a city tour if you can have it for free?
I park my bike in the garage of the insanely overpriced Ibis hotel. I booked it through the visa agency and got a discount. Most important: they have a secure underground parking.
With only a few rubles and the cheap point and shoot camera in my pockets, I head out in the city.
The sign probably means: "You better run for your life if you want to cross the road here!"
The river Neva after a 4km walk on Nevski Prospekt!
The sport bikes zoom by at insane speeds, pulling wheelies and other crazy stuff.
The youngsters are already catching up on their scooters. At least they are not too fast for my camera.
Having printed out a fair amount of maps I got on yandex.ru (the russian version of Google), I still wanted to get some real maps. I find detail maps of Karelia and Murmansk region in a book store. The Karelia map is one of the most beautifully made maps I've ever seen. Sorry, I'm a map nerd. :deal
My stomach is angry. I take a random road and enter a restaurant that looks neat. One of the waiters speaks english and I enjoy an amazing meal. But wow is it expensive. Seems like I'm in a restaurant catered to tourist. About 1000 Rubels for the meal and one beer.
After finishing up, the waiter hits me up for a conversation and is interested in my trip. His name is Lenny, a kind and open minded guy. We talk about a lot of stuff, differences between Switzerland and Russia, living in the city vs. living in the countryside, vacation, etc. We end up drinking vodka together - of course. I expected it to take longer, until I get my first vodka, but hey.:rofl
After two hours of drinking and talking (there are only a handfull of other people), the restaurant closes. We go outside and get some beer. His buddy (forgot the name, sorry) joins in and we drink in the backyard of the restaurant.
An interesting border, russian roads, difficult refueling, meeting a lot of nice people - this has been a great start! A little bit drunk and full of enthusiasm I go to bed.
He Got Soul
Love what you've done. Congratulations on a great ride report. Love a sport-biker who's not afraid to pitch his tent in the wilds and cook camp food. Also love that you have a forest colored tent, perfect for stealth camping. There is some real soul here, no doubt.
Great start to possibly epic adventure. :clap
nice report, especially from a beginners viewpoint, and a ride i have a fancy to do (almost same route)
BTW, i also like Basel, i am usually there a few times every year, (have friends in Bruderholz area)
totally agree - i do a lot of hillwalking - never wear bright colours on the hill out of respect for others - they dont want to see me from miles away, and i dont want to see them - i dont set tent till just before dusk, and get it down first thing - while first brew is boiling!:clap
I did a long Karelia tour about a week after you, but i went around on the north side of lake Ladoga because a friend has a summer house there.
I saw that you chose to go south around lake Ladoga.
With your street bike, be glad that you did ..
A long part of that northern stretch is a gravel road that can rattle any bike to pieces in no time!
I am amazed that my V-strom survived without falling apart.
A very beutiful part of Karelia, but clearly has the worst gravel "wash board" roads i have experienced, ever.
Too bad that the time of our tours didn´t match up, maybe next time? :D
The next day arrives soon. This is the moment, I looked for a long time. Heading into the deep unknown of Karelia.
I wanted to eat at Lenny's place again, so after checking out of my room, I put my motorcycle gear on the bike and went away in normal clothes.
Coming back, I find my gear dripping wet. It looks like they flooded the underground parking lot with water to "clean" it. The water was all dirty and smelly. Ok now I'm dirty and smelly, too. :D
Nice advertisement on the bus.
Heading on the ring road is easy, only about two junctions to take. Pretty interesting idea of a highway, though. About 6 lanes wide, but no markings or anything on the roads.
(not the highway in the picture)
At a gas station, a trucker approaches me, he knows a bit of german from when he used to drive to East German and back. He seemingly has fun using his german skills again and tells me about going to Germany with his family one day. He takes a picture of me with his cell phone and wishes me Godspeed, so do I. What a nice encounter, something like that would never happen back home.
The shop has neat dried fish.
And very nice american hot dogs for only a few rubels.
Back on the highway, I have to look for the correct junction. When I was planning the route, I guessed the sign should either say Petrozavodsk or Murmansk.
So these are the words I had memorized how they look like:
The first sign only says Petrozavodsk, but after the turnoff, the next big sign has both cities on it, seems like I'm on my way. I even decipher a sign pointing towards Moscow.
I have to smile thinking about the sign to Moscow. Nobody could or would have stopped me just taking the road to Moscow, except myself. And in the same manner it's just upon me if I want to ride to Murmansk. This is freedom I could have never imagined before I rode my first bike. The world is all yours.:p3rry
The road just outside St. Petersburg is wide, in good shape and easy to ride. Every now and then, there are huge roadworks. Half the road is full of deep sand (no tarmac under it) or other debris, good thing it doesn't rain.
Only 1200 km to Murmansk. That's more than three times across Switzerland. :lol3
Water appears. Lots of water. I love water, and I love riding next to in or even over it. That is a pretty cool iron bridge, with a road and train tracks on it.
The weather is hot, so I go down to the water to stick my feet in it. It seems tinted brown-ish and smells of iron. Later on, somebody would tell me, that's natural iron resources around here that make it that way.
On the bridge - a traffic jam. It's too narrow to ride inbetween. About 20 minutes later, traffic moves again.
Apparently, there is road work ahead. And if they do road work here, they do it the right way:
Tear open 30km of road and make it a gravel road, block one lane for traffic and start working on the first 150m meters. Of course you have to follow a pace car going about 30km/h - max! Trapped between the cars and trucks, the dust, heat and stench is horrible. But somehow I have to laugh. While I ride around in places like this in my vacation, others are on the beach having a beer. I wouldn't exchange for a second, though.
The old road is a bit bumpy, but still pretty good. Why rebuild it?
It's evident that gas stations are built for truckers.
Coffee stops seem improvised. Yes, the little hut on the right is a coffee stop. I am invited to a tea and I show him my route on the map. He didn't know what "Schweiz" or "Switzerland" meant, so I gave him some chocolate out of the tank bag and showed him my swiss army knife. He seemed to understand. :evil
It's pretty difficult to order food at restaurants. I remember that "salad" is the same in russian. So I order a salad. But apparently there are multiple salad menus. So I point to one on the menu card. The waitress is not satisfied with my order and asks something. "Da" (yes) is not the right answer. I have no idea what she wants to know. I smile and try to show her that I'm hungry. After a while she gives in and just brings me a salad. Success!
When people approach me, it's always a lot easier to understand each other without language, but as soon as they are at work, most aren't willing to put a bit of effort into communicating.
Somewhere between Olonets and Petrozavodsk I take a random road into the woods. The small singletrack leads me to a lake. Wow this is a jackpot place.
After getting clothed again, I hear engine sounds heading towards me. A Honda Transalp and an Africa Twin appear and wave at me. I invite them next to my tent and meet Aleksandr, Tatjana and Sergei from Moscow. Communication is difficult, but Aleksandr knows a bit of german. I'm invited to join in on their feast - I don't know where Tatjana stores all these fresh and delicious foods.
With a lot of Vodka and toasts they tell me about the motorcycle meeting they're coming from. 150km further north than Murmansk, they were in Teriberka at the Barents sea. Hmm, maybe I should go there...
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