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Old 01-25-2010, 05:45 PM   #1
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Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan by Ural

In August-September 2001 I rode a Ural 650 sidecar combination from the Caspian Sea to the Mediterranean along the planned Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil and gas pipeline route.

The pipeline has since been built; it's the green line.

The trip was the brainchild of my great good friend Tom Goltz, who dubbed it the 'Oil Odyssey.'

Tom spent much of the '90s based in Baku as a foreign correspondent for the likes of the New York Times and the Washington Post, covering the wars in Chechnya and Georgia and between Armenia and Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Kharabakh.

But in 2001 the story was oil and I think Tom wanted to be part of the story, not just report it. In 2000, he and a group of fellow Ural riders delivered the first barrel of Caspian crude down the planned pipeline route, carried in a sidecar. He conceived it as a charitable ride and publicity stunt; he arm-twisted the oil and pipeline companies and other benefactors to pay to sponsor bikes and riders, then contributed a big part of that money to NGOs helping the internally displaced Azeri refugees from the Nagorno-Kharabakh conflict, who lived in camps along parts of the pipeline route in Azerbaijan. He also held press conferences along the way to draw attention to the refugees' plight and espouse his position was that oil companies and governments that stood to profit from the pipeline should pass some prosperity to the refugees and villagers who lived along the route.

This is really his story -- I just rode along.

Tom's brother Vince from Oregon was his right-hand man:

Carl, originally from the U.K. but living in Baku, owned an occupational health and safety company catering to the oil industry; he rode his own Ural on the trip and also contributed use on of his company's SUVs as a support vehicle.

Sasha was a motorcycle stunt performer and raced Urals professionally in the former Soviet Union -- also a master motorcycle mechanic -- he was basically the head motorcycle wrangler on the trip and also effectively the Azeri diplomat when in Turkey and Georgia.

Here driving his daughter around our test track:

Sasha demonstrating his (not infallible) riding skills:

Roma was an Azeri mechanic who came on the trip and kept the Urals running:

Some of the bikes lined up in their livery:

Suqsuda screwed with this post 01-25-2010 at 09:37 PM
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Old 01-25-2010, 07:32 PM   #2
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you ARE going to continue this ---I hope -- looks to be very enlightening
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Old 01-25-2010, 07:35 PM   #3
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WOW !!! This is going to be GOOD !! More...more.....

I'd only waste my money if I didn`t spend it on all my bikes......
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Old 01-25-2010, 07:42 PM   #4
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More of Sasha and his daughter:

Other riders: that's me riding the robin's egg blue bike with Roma in the sidecar. Turkish gas stations usually gave us tea when we gassed up.

Our staging point was a semi-deserted taxi terminus on the outskirts of Baku where we had a couple of garage bays where the mechanics got the bikes in shape, and we could practice riding:

Some local press photographers stopped by:

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Old 01-25-2010, 09:31 PM   #5
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In 2000, Oil Odyssey had carried the first barrel of crude down the BTC line -- so in OO 2001, we brought the first natural gas down the line; the State Oil Company of Azerbaijan -- SOCAR -- prepared the canister for us. Here Vince takes delivery:

We mounted the canister in a sidecar -- we had real some concern that it would explode in a crash. It had a working valve that could be ignited. Here Tom breathes fire -- I just have a thumbnail of this pic:

Also new for 00 in 2001: Tom brought along an Azeri TV crew and, in a last-minute addition, a bus load of Azeri musicians and dancing girls.

Tom's adopted daughter Milena dances in Baku for the renowned Rashid Bedudov dance troupe and they agreed to accompany us:

Dancers Aytan (left) and Aynura (right) also came along:

Dancer Zalika sits astride a Ural to demonstrate rideability. When these girls got tired of riding in the bus they could be enticed into a sidecar.

And the we had Azeri singer Bilal Aliyev, a star in Azerbaijan and the Turkic world. So we put on shown of music, dance and song in the small villages along the way:

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Old 01-25-2010, 10:29 PM   #6
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Old 01-26-2010, 04:56 AM   #7
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I'd rather die living than live dying.

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Old 01-26-2010, 08:02 AM   #8
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I`m liking this.

Wow..those girls are BEAUTIFUL !!

I'd only waste my money if I didn`t spend it on all my bikes......
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Old 02-17-2010, 05:39 PM   #9
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Great RR, thanks that we can have many different cultural experiences here.
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Old 02-21-2010, 05:04 PM   #10
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I have very few photos of this day after what we took to calling the 'night of the shepherds.'

Satellite image showing the terrain from Tsalke to Bakuriani:

View Larger Map

We descended from the pass, led by one of the shepherds on horseback leading us on meandering paths that at first were merely flattened grass in meadows, but which as we descended turned into rutted, stony tracks. It was the opposite of the progression the previous evening, with the road taking shape instead of disappearing. At the higher altitude were meadows of mountain flowers and tufts of grass but at lower elevation, there was high, golden hay or grass growing in long, wide valleys. The road, such as it was, gave access to villagers' tractors; they harvested the hay for silage and some valleys had been cut to stubble and the grass put into haystacks. But some valleys were unharvested and it was easier to cut a path straight though the uncut hay, than to ride on the rutted tractor path. It was an ecstatic feeling top race at top speed for miles through the golden, chest or shoulder-height grass. You couldn't see the ground in front of you and if there had been a culvert or boulder, you would crash. But it was impossible to resist. Hawks circled overhead to catch whatever small game we flushed out.

All I have here is a bad scan:

We came to a small, ethnically Armenian village called Tabatskuri on the shores of a vast lake -- then started another long, steep ascent on rugged dirt roads.

Pause at the top of the pass -- our destination, Bakuriani lies at the foot of this mountain:

We consulted a map:

View of switchbacks from the pass:

On the descent into Bakuriani:

Matt riding and Steve in sidecar nearing Bakuriani with our support vehicle behind:

Beers upon arrival in Bakuriani:

Bakuriani is a dilapidated ski resort; we spent the night in a alpine-style lodge. We were way behind schedule -- we were supposed to be in eastern Turkey where hundreds of people were awaiting our arrival at an event but that destination was a border crossing and another another six hours away -- and we'd already been on the bikes for ten hours.

Next morning from Bakuriamni to the Turkish border -- at first on a winding, paved road through alpine forests, then along through Borjomi and along the banks of the Mtkvari (Kura) River.

On the way to Turkey:

Tom crossing the Kura River on a suspension bridge:

The paved road turned to gravel and we were slowed down by flat tires on two bikes; amazingly the main road from Turkey to Georgia was dirt and gravel on the Georgian side; I think ByleNaKaukaz who wrote recently in ADV on his trip to Georgia said that, almost ten years later, it remains a dirt road on the Georgian side.

It was Ian's and Ann's wedding anniversary -- somehow Thomas found out and surprise them with champagne at the border.

We were greeted by dancers on the Turkish side of the border:

Turkish border:

We were met by two Turkish oil ministry representatives at the border who accompanied us the rest of the trip, riding in the support vehicle or sometimes in the sidecars, and who helped with everything we needed in terms of logistics. We also picked up a security detail in Turkey. The Turks were very well organized and serious about helping our event to succeed:

It took us a while to cross the border and we still had a long way to go -- we had to get to Erzerum where we were expected to ride in a Turkish Victory Day parade the next morning (August 30). My Shell bike broke down and I hopped on pillion behind Sasha for a while. That gave Vagif, the mechanic, the opportunity to ride it to catch up with us and give it back to me after he fixed it, which he very much wanted to do after being cooped up in the support vehicle all day. Sasha and Roma, the main mechanics, didn't have their own designated bikes to ride but ended up doing a whole lot of riding anyway, spelling tired riders or 'testing' bikes they had just repaired.

We rode through a rain storm and some spectacular thunder and lightning:

Vince in the rain:

Suqsuda screwed with this post 03-04-2010 at 08:09 PM
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Old 03-03-2010, 09:00 PM   #11
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We had 350 km from the Turkish border to Erzurum. But the bikes started to break down at the higher speeds brought on by the good roads and some long, labored ascents to the high plains of eastern Turkey. We'd ditched our trailer in the mountains of Georgia after its wheel bearings froze, which now required us to repair each bike where it stopped to move forward. But riders with working bikes were told to press on so at least some of us would arrive in Erzurum on time for the parade. So we ended up with three or four incapacitated bikes at different points along the road from the border to Kars and our convoy stretched several hundred kilometers. I found myself on the outskirts of Kars as night fell with my bike running well -- no sidecar passenger, which meant I was fast -- and with Ian and Anne in another bike. We were in the lead -- I followed Ian into pitch darkness toward Erzurum -- his taillights were a comfort. Then he pulled over for some reason and waved me on -- and I was out front. It was an amazing feeling riding on alone in the Turkish night. I have the greatest respect for ADV riders who go it alone -- and I had an illusion of that feeling on this leg of the ride. It was so dark it was disorienting -- like floating in space -- and the road was mesmerizing. After a couple hours I pulled over to gas up and drink some tea and after a while Thierry, our Swiss rider, pulled up on the green bike. At the outskirts of Erzurum we were waved over by a police car who had been waiting for us and he escorted us to a luxury hotel, where we arrived about midnight. The hotel staff had thoughtfully kept the dining room open for us.

All the others got to Erzurum eventually, some stragglers and the tireless mechanics at around at 3:00 a.m.

We rode in the Victory Day parade in Erzerum:

Every child's dream, to be in a parade. After the parade was a press conference and cake-cutting ceremony and Carl & Natasha and I cut out early and got a jump on everyone and rode toward our next stop, a village called Chayerli. The Turks were well organized and after a couple - three hours a policeman with a radio flagged us over and made us wait for the others to catch up. We were seething with impatience but it was for the best because we regrouped and were led by our escorts to a beautiful country road leading to the village of Chayerli, which was to host us for the night.

Approaching Chayerli we were met by young dancing girls at a bridge who quite captivated me. Music was by two guys, one with a horn pipe and the other with a drum, with a nice hook:

Carl and Natasha watched the dancing:

Nice for once to arrive with daylight to spare. I don't know who was the mayor of Chayerli but he was extraordinarily hospitable -- had us brought to a soccer field on the edge of town -- a beautiful camp with some tents already set up -- a big fire and coals to roast kebabs which they provided -- this little village went all out to host us. Our camp in Chayerli:

They were very considerate in parking a firetruck to supply water:

Eytan dancing in Chayerli:

That evening myself and a few other bikers joined in a torchlight evening Victory Day parade -- riding in two parades in a day -- and our musicians and dancers put on a show to repay Chayerli's hospitality.

Next morning departing Chayerli:

Outside Chayerli -- we had a police escort in a shiny new Land Rover -- they were dismayed at our pace on gravel roads and had tried unsuccessfully to divert us to paved. They soon gave up and let us go our own way without them.



View from the overlook; we were to descend into this valley and through Erzinjan -- the city below -- and then through the mountains beyond:

As sun set after all day on dirt roads we rejoined tarmac. But we were dismayed to see signs telling us we were hours away from our destination at Kangal. To be brief -- I took point -- it was bitterly cold and pitch black -- my arms were numb to the elbow. I was riding as fast as I could to get it over with -- way outrunning my headlight but trusting the signs -- fluorescent arrows marking curves. Some animal ran right in front of me but I didn't hit it -- did it go between my sidecar and the bike? Arrived around midnight at a spa outside Kangal called Balaj Kpliji. These are hot springs where fish and minnows have adapted and evolved to live -- they nibble the dead skin off your body.

So I stayed up for all hours in the steaming hot springs, recovering from the cold ride, and being nibbled by fish. And drinking. Now this was a conservative Muslim part of eastern Turkey but our hosts were considerate enough to offer us bikers "white tea" -- the licorice arak that will give you a buzz.

In the morning at Balaj Kpliji:

Suqsuda screwed with this post 03-04-2010 at 07:27 PM
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Old 03-04-2010, 01:14 AM   #12
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Old 03-04-2010, 01:34 AM   #13
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A totally awesome,refreshing and invigorating Ride Report.

Inspirational too....with fantastic photos.

The only downside is how much wanderlust I`ve now got.

Thank you...thank you.

Any more to come ?

I'd only waste my money if I didn`t spend it on all my bikes......
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Old 04-29-2012, 10:43 AM   #14
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Wicked I was there too and it's as awesome as it looks here!

I am the Craig mentioned in here and I am so glad to have stumbled on this. So many thanks for posting, and your pics are better than the crap ones I took (though that might have been due to the Raki and Vodka, etc...)!

We did alternate between staying in nice hotels and sleeping literally in sheep droppings freezing in the mountains (nibbling on sheep nuts cooked over a burning tire) as the pics show. This was incredibly hard work, dirty, but the most fun ever. I remember actually riding into Ceyhan on your bike with the whole drive train slipping, soaked in leaking oil, but got there anyhow. Unbelievable trip!

I'm still involved working out in the Caucasus, having just returned from a week out there (my 13th time to Armenia, 14th to Georgia, and 23rd to Azerbaijan I think). Even have a flat in Baku now. Never get tired of that region. Met Thomas out there in Baku in summer 2010 (at an Irish pub of course) when he was planning a 10th anniv trip. That fell thru, but still hoping for another shot at this if he plans something again (as you know, "plan" is a relative thing with Tommy). And my lovely wife (nicked from BP in Azerbaijan!) will be riding along this time.
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Old 04-29-2012, 02:12 PM   #15
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Another great story Suqsuda
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"All human beings by nature desire to know" Aristotle
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