As most people embarking on a trip of this nature would, we spent hours upon hours trawling through the various blogs and posts here on ADV Rider and other on-line forums. There was one thread that really caught my attention which I revisited over and over again. It was this one here
by Walter Colbatch about his ride over the infamous BAM road. I was in awe of the achievement of that 3 strong team and envied every day they spent out there in the field.
After contacting them through the forum, Tony P, Colbatch's riding partner for that trip, promptly responded to the long list of questions I put forward to him regarding riding Russia and in particular Siberia. When we realised that Tony is actually based in Moscow we jumped at the opportunity to buy him a beer and here his tales. And what an honour that was.
I can't describe Tony as anything other than a legendary motorcycle adventurer with vast experience riding the notorious roads of Siberia. Sinking a few of the good ones with Tony was a real pleasure and hearing his stories of his experience on the BAM road was sufficient to send the shivers up me. Despite this, we have decided to take on the western part of the BAM after we dip down in to Mongolia. To say I'm nervous at this point would be a huge understatement. For those of you familiar with the region, with Tony's assistance we have planned a route which will take us from the top of lake Baikal over to Tynda before dropping down to join the main highway over to Vladivostock. I have no idea what it is that I have actually agreed to here but we're going for it nevertheless. More of that to follow when we make it that far.
The amount of mosquitoes on the Trans-Siberian highway is unreal, We were eaten alive eaten alive and it was time to camp along the side the highway.
We left Moscow Thursday 17th May, to begin our 6 day journey towards Novosibersk, Russia’s 3rd largest city in Western Siberia. After a full day of easy riding we decided to venture off the road and find a suitable spot for our first night camping in the wild, the moment I was slightly in fear of. After an hour spent riding around fields, mud tracks and gravel roads we still didn’t feel comfortable pitching up. Not wanting to admit defeat we headed down yet another country road and found a small village 2km from the main road. It was very quiet, almost desolate except an old lady doing some gardening. We stopped, removed our crash helmets and approached the lady with our book to show her a picture of a tent. Without being able to speak any English she just smiled and pointed at a patch of grass in front of her house. As we stood there laughing at the prospect of setting up camp millions of mosquitoes surrounded us, and some of the neighbours wandered out to see what was going on. A group of immigrants from Uzbekistan emerged from the shack opposite and told us to come in and sleep inside to avoid the mosquitoes. This situation felt pretty crazy but we accepted their kind offer and rode our bikes through a narrow gate into the backyard, almost pulling down the fence as we squeezed by with the luggage.
We followed them into the run down farm house, where they invited us into a small kitchen for a cup of tea. It was very quiet, and due to the langauge barrier we often sat in silence, but it never felt awkward, just peaceful. The silence was soon broken by another two residents arriving home, this time it was two loud Russians, a tough looking builder and a very drunk fisherman dressed in full camo. They didn’t seem surprised by our presence and were both very welcoming, with the fisherman insisting we got up at 5am for a morning fishing session the following day. Before long we found some common ground knocking back straight vodka and tequila, proper Russian stylee. Dinner was fish in a can, and we brought some Heinz baked beans to the table, which we all shared out of the tin and they seemed to go down a treat. They also gave us some weird potion made with various herbs to stop the police smelling alcohol on your breath the next day.
As the sun was setting they said “let’s go” and we all walked down a gravel path to see where they are building a huge house over-looking a beautiful lake. The drunk fisherman seemed like a bit of crazy Nutter, he stuffed a handful of dried fish into my pocket and then stood at the edge of the lake screaming out something in Russian, trying to make us do the same! I thought to myself, if I was camping nearby and saw him I would have been petrified! After watching the sunset and having a look around the building site we ventured back to the farm-house to prepare for bed. We shared the floor space in their large bedroom, where they provided us with an inflatable mattress and an old sofa. It was a hot sweaty night, and due to the mosquitoes we decided to sleep in our motorbike trousers and hoodies. I found it hard to sleep using my dirty motorbike jacket as a pillow, and hearing the mosquitoes doing laps of the room. I also needed the toilet in the middle of the night, but I didn’t want to disturb the rest of the room, and the toilet was a hole in the ground at the end of the garden.
The following morning we were grateful not to have had a 5am wake up call by the fisherman, and as we packed up I got covered in dust folding up the inflatable mattress. Despite the incredible hospitality and unique experience we had been given they wouldn’t accept any money for our stay, so we just tucked a 500rubs (£10) note under an old tin in the bedroom as we left. We didn’t bother putting on all our gear, and decided to it would be easier to ride out of the garden in just a t-shirt and stop down the road to re-group.
Home is on the bike.