Vanino is a compact town, built next to a natural deep water harbour. Last night we had found a decent restaurant next to the hotel and had a surprisingly good meal too.
Two tasks this morning: First to find out why Tony’s right trouser leg was covered in oil and second to get my trousers sewn up, finally. The first was quick and easy … Tony had a leaky fork seal on the RHS and was losing fork oil. As for my trousers, I went for a wander around town and found a general shoe / leather fix-it man and got my trousers restiched together for 60 rubles.
After our lazy morning and team consultation re Tony’s leaky fork, we decided to continue, and address his fork in Komsomolsk.
Tecnically the BAM road from Komsomolsk to Vanino includes the stretch we did from Lidoga to Vanino, in reverse, but with the impressive speed of roadbuilding in Russia, we needed to check out if there was any way through following the BAM Railway more closely between Vanino and Komsomolsk. Road atlases were out of date quickly here. Most maps still dont have the road from Lidoga to Vanino in there. The fact that I had no map indicating a road along the BAM certainly didnt mean there was not one.
I asked about the existance of a road in Vanino. No-one knew. The advice I had was to get closer, probably to Orochi, and see what the locals there had to say.
We went up the coast, towards Datta and turned inland a bit to Mongokhto. That was a dead end. Mongokhto was a closed military town. As the pic below suggests, its a Naval missile and aviation base.
(Mongokhto) (Russian: Монгохто, Каменный Ручей) is an air base in Russia located 29 km north of Sovetskaya Gavan. Located just north of Vanino, this is a major military airfield that has 63 hardened areas. The airfield is designated by CAICA as Kamenny Ruchey, but the nearby settlement northeast of the airfield is Mongokhto, which is also synonymous with the military base. The airfield was a joint Soviet Navy and PVO Air Defense base, home to 308th Interceptor Aircraft Regiment flying MiG-23MLD, the 183rd Naval Missile-carrying Aviation Regiment flying Tupolev Tu-22M, and 310th Independent Long Range Anti-Submarine Aviation Regiment flying Tupolev Tu-142 aircraft. The 89th Naval Aviation Division was also probably located here.
The airbase was completed in 1953. During the 1970s it was one of the largest bases in the Soviet Far East, with 8000 residents in Mongokhto. The Navy nuclear weapons storage is either at this airfield or at Maygatka.
A high-res Google image from around 2000 showed 19 Tupolev Tu-22M and 14 Tupolev Tu-142 aircraft.
I did however, find out that the road to Orochi was back towards Vanino, and was a turnoff inland. We found the turnoff and headed on down a very dusty track, that for the first mile or two led to a quarry and all the heavy traffic that entailed. The track continued round the edge of the quarry and down a hill, so we followed it. There was no traffic at all here. It was a very rough track indeed and the bikes were feeling it. We got to Orochi after an hour on the dirt track and stopped at the town shop to refresh ourselves. I asked around about a road forward and was told no. There was an even rougher track to the next town, and then nothing.
Reluctantly, at about 4pm, we decided to head back towards Vanino. As usual, I led the way. But halfway back down the road I noticed I was alone. I found some shade and waited for 10 minutes before I realised I was waiting on a stretch of track that was duplicated. There were countless splits in the road, some times for a few hundred yards, and sometimes for a few kilometres. I was waiting on one track of a split section. The guys had probably gone a different track. I jumped back on the bike and sped ahead, trying to catch them up, while looking for any possible clues to confirm they had been this way in the track.
35km down the track and I saw a 4WD coming the opposite way. I stopped him to ask if he had seen my 2 colleagues ahead, but he hadnt. I was wrong. They must be behind me. I pulled over at a bridge and waited by a river. For 10 minutes, 20 minutes, half an hour, 3/4 of an hour … when I reached the hour mark, I decided to turn around and find out whats going on back there.
Naturally enough. within 500 metres of turning around I saw Terry … he had had a flat tyre and was now charging back towards Vanino. I turned to follow him and we made it back to the asphalt about 6pm. Only there was no Tony.
‘Terry, when was the last time you saw Tony?’
‘Just before I met you’ he replied.
Bugger … that was 15 km back, maybe more. Neither of us wanted to go back, having made it back to asphalt. We decided to give him 15 minutes. That too came and went.
We turned the bikes around and headed back into the dustbowl. Only a mile down the road Tony was marooned on the side of the road, with quarry trucks buzzing past regularly. He had hit a big bump and the bike had died. Ignition cut out. Electrics still worked but ignition wasnt firing.
This had to be the side stand switch.
Manufacturers are obliged to sell motorcycles with a cut out so that the engine can't run when the side stand is down, unless the bike is in neutral. That's all good and well for road bikes, but if you do a bit of dirt roads or off road, then you really have to short the switch. I had mentioned this to Tony over a month ago but he hadn't gotten around to it yet. Tony got down in the dust and traced the switch wire. It had been severed by an impact where it was attached to the frame. Tony trimmed the wire ends back and we began the trial and error process of identifying which 2 of the 3 wires needed to be shorted.
I spoke to the guys, and amended the plan. When we turned around at Orochi, we had planned to make the cafe and hotel at the halfway mark of the Vanino Road. Now, with Terry’s flat and Tony’s side stand switch having eaten two hours out of our day, we would be better off just going back to Vanino.
And so we returned to the Vanino Hotel, checked in for another night and while we still had some daylight, Terry, who had had a look at Tony’s F650 manual and decided we/he could have a go at changing Tony’s leaking fork seal, started stripping Tony’s front end. While the lads did the fork seal change, I went out and got the team some beers to work with.
A middle aged woman speaking very bad english tried to talk to us from a window in the hotel while we worked in the yard. None of us could understand a word she was saying. Eventually I worked out she was Flemish and spoke to her in Dutch. She had just taken the BAM train to Vanino and was about to take a more local train down to Vladivostok.
I took a run around town in search of hydraulic oil that we could use in the forks. I didn't find any but I did find a local biker. He then turned up at the hotel with a couple of biker colleagues. We had 3 of the 5 bikers in Vanino visiting us now. One of the bikers quizzed us about what we needed and then made some calls to contacts, in search of 10W or 15w hydraulic fluid.
He promised to return in the morning with the stuff.
After the boys had fitted the seal and refitted the fork we showered and went out for a late night pizza and beer session. All we had to do in the morning was top up the fork with fluid and go. The pizza, I should add, was surprisingly good!