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Old 09-01-2014, 07:26 AM   #1
The Rolling Hobo OP
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Eastern Dirt 14 - Russia, Mongolia, Ural, Altai, Winter Road 110.

INTRODUCTION


After returning from Arctic Dirt 13 I started toying with the idea of doing a longer ride the next summer. I had of course read all of Walter Colebatch's adventures and watched Oisin Hughes' fantastic video series among other things, which both added fuel to the fire. The BAM road seemed to me the crown jewel of adventure riding at the time, so that was the logical heading to go to. I was pretty sure that the BAM road was not the only bad section of road in Russia and started mapping out other smaller roads and tracks too. I wanted to ride from Helsinki to Baikal, around it and back. Since I was there I thought I'd have a look at Altai and Mongolia too, not forgetting the Ural mountains.

A vague route started to form and I figured I could do it in two months and twenty thousand kilometers. I planned to do normal bike maintenance and service every five thousand kilometers. I split the ride into four sections with service breaks in Omsk, Ulan Ude and Novosibirsk. I originally planned the second service break into Ulan Bataar, but changed it to Ulan Ude so that I wouldn't have to ship tyres to Mongolia.

 


The original rough plan. It changed a lot on the way.

I'm used to riding solo but for this trip I thought I'd try to hook up with another rider if possible. If it didn't work out, I'd ride solo but would have to opt for a safer route. On some of the local rides I had gotten to know a guy with a BMW 650 XChallenge. He had already been on a ride to western Russia and was big on finding new routes. I pitched the idea to him and after some soul searching he was in.

During the Moroccan Black Hole Turkey Tour 13 in November 2013, I mentioned my plans to the other riders in the group. In the last day Juha aka. The Walrus asked a lot of questions concerning the ride. I had met him previously through work and we had ridden in the same enduro camp in Estonia earlier in 2013. I couldn't say that I knew him well, but what I did know was that he was a very good rider, a good mechanic and generally a relaxed and nice guy to be around. So I was very happy when he asked whether there would be any chance to join the team. Come December he was the owner of a brand new KTM 690 Enduro R K13. In my not so humble opinion the best year, but that's another story entirely.

 


Juha on the left. I have no idea who the orange monster on the right is.

Our team of three was not to be as my friend on the XChallenge pulled out in January 2014 due to injury. So Juha and I would be a two man team. Both KTM 690 Enduro R K13's, which somewhat simplified things. We spent the best part of winter planning and building the bikes, sorting out logistics of spare parts and planning travel gear. The bikes were more or less finished by May so we went on a four day test run to Northern Finland. The legendary Mongolian Cosmonaut, Mishutka, had organized all tyres and oil to the three service break cities. On June 28th we were ready to ride.

During the ride I kept a ride journal on my laptop. It became a habit to write in my tent before going to sleep every night. I cherished the moments with my earphones on, going through the events of the day. Completely oblivious to the world around me. I used to do the pen and notebook routine, but it just became too tedious to rewrite everything on the laptop from scribbled notes. Besides my shorthand is so bad, even I can't read it. So here is my story of the ride. It will be published daily, as it happened (yeah, right).

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The Rolling Hobo screwed with this post 09-15-2014 at 03:26 AM Reason: Added realism to publishing schedule....
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Old 09-01-2014, 07:32 AM   #2
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Old 09-01-2014, 07:39 AM   #3
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MANDATORY TEASER PHOTOS












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Old 09-01-2014, 07:49 AM   #4
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DAY 1 / the sweet sorrow of departure.


29.6.2014 / Helsinki - Iitti - Taipalsaari / 295 km.

Today was tough. Not because of the riding, but the departure. Until now I had been pretty preoccupied with all the preparations; planning and building the bikes, testing, route planning, logistics, spare parts, travel gear etc. It had felt like another project at work, and that's the way I went about it. The fact that I had to say goodbye to my wife for two months, hit home only 48 hours before stepping out of the door. Our departure was delayed by a day, which gave me an unexpected extra 24 hours with my lovely, and much better half. In terms of the preparations everything was in ship shape, so we just had a day to kill. It was bitter sweet. I relished every second of it, with the dread of leaving building as time ticked away.

I woke up around 0545 and killed some time going through the first days of our route and checking and rechecking my equipment lists. Everything was on order and technically I was ready to go. Actually leaving home was a different case entirely. I was not prepared at all and in the end my wife, true to her style, told me to get up and get on with it. After a few sweet tear eyed words and kisses, I was out of the door. On my way to the garage I thought that the worst of this ride was now over. Everything else would be easier and every passing day would be one day closer to the return.

At the garage I went through all my check lists one more time. I had packed the bike the previous day and, a few minor details aside, I was ready to go. Juha sent an SMS telling he was 200 km away form our rendezvous. I had only 150 km, mostly on tarmac, to get there. I was in no rush, but the waiting was getting on my nerves so I decided to just take off.

The year of preparation turned into reality. I rolled my bike out of the garage in pouring rain and locked up the garage. No turning back, this was it. Once I left, there would be no second chances. Everything had to be in order and the only way would be forward. The ride had begun.

Due to the rain, I was in full rain gear when I rolled out. Why do these trips always start wet? Riding out of the city, I was still mentally going through everything and at the same time expecting for water to penetrate my riding gear. Funnily enough it never happened. It was pouring and I was dry. No trickle down the back or in the front and doen to the crotch. This was a whole new sensation for me and I was stoked. The only thing that didn't hold water were my goggles. Water was getting through the vents of my clear Scott Enduro double lenses and building a mini aquarium between them.

The ride itself to the rendezvous was uneventful, but my thoughts were still at home and I was feeling pretty miserable. I guess it was expected and that with the coming days the feeling would pass. I was also hoping that I would get used to the weight of the bike. It felt heavy, and the gearing felt short.

Arriving in our rendezvous in Iitti, I was expecting Juha to already be there. There was no sign of him so I went in to the gas station and had lunch. In the end he turned up and we both agreed that it was good to get the team together as he had not enjoyed the ride either. I guess we're both big softies when it comes to our better halves.
 





Rolling out of Iitti we pushed on to my brother's place in Taipalsaari. The ride as uneventful, which was not how I remembered it from last year. It was the same route I had taken in Arctic Dirt 13. I remembered it being nice dirt roads with excellent scenery. I guess the novelty of the area had worn off and it was just another dirt road through forests. I was happy to stumble upon a wrecked building I had seen the previous year but where I hadn't stop for a photo. It rained the whole day and I didn't bother taking many photos.

Arriving at my brothers house and seeing his family was great. It really lifted the gloomy mood and we were warmed up by hearty food, sauna, a few beers and the good company. A fantastic ending for the first day.

 







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Old 09-01-2014, 08:09 AM   #5
DesertRatliff
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Awesome! The day is here. I've been waiting for September 1st to hear about your trip. Does this mean this report with take 3 months to finish too?
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Old 09-01-2014, 12:05 PM   #6
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Thanks! It'll be 51 days.
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Old 09-02-2014, 06:35 AM   #7
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DAY 2 / CROSSINGS AND DEAD ENDS.


30.6.2014 / Taipalsaari - Nuijamaa - Lumivaara / 262 km.

Waking up to the first morning on the road was very civilized as we were still indoors. After breakfast I spent the morning tinkering with my bike. My rear shock had felt a little soft on the ride in. I added some preload to the Rallye Shock due to the extra weight and did some minor adjustments on the luggage. Also, my original seat had cracked and Juha had brought me a new one from Motokeidas. I secured the rubber bungs on the new seat with Liquisol before mounting it on the bike. Packing the bike was kind of tiresome as there was no routine in it yet. I hadn't really thought the final location of equipment through yet.

 






Photo shot by The Walrus




We took off at around 1100 in pouring rain. Visibility was bad, but the wiper edge on the left hand index finger on the Klim Element gloves is really clever and works very well. It was a short ride to the nearby city of Lappeenranta, where we needed to do some last minute shopping before heading for the border.

The support on my GoPro had fractured during the ride in so I bought a new housing for it as well as some emergency rations and a dry bag for my tent. The inevitable border crossing to Russia was getting closer mentally. Once we crossed, we would be leaving all familiar things behind. Leaving home behind. It would be the start of the adventure.

The ride to the border from Lappeenranta was quiet, in next to no traffic. There were very little queues at the border and we got through immigration and customs in around an hour. The Russian customs officers didn't even want to look at our luggage and just waved us through once our paperwork was done. After a final passport check we were allowed to enter the Russian Federation.

It felt great to be in Russia. For some reason I felt some kind of a strange feeling of accomplishment already. I guess it was due to the fact that our paperwork and visas were in order and we were now in business definitely. Just after the border we stopped to buy some chocolate and exchange Euros into Rubles.

Our route would take us east 10 km after the border. I found the turn off but, after maybe 2 km on the dirt road we hit a serious looking gate. It was padlocked and covered with barbed wire and warning signs. It had a pretty menacing military look about it and we decided not to risk it. Getting into trouble for trespassing so close to the border didn't feel like a wise plan of action. Instead we had to do a detour on tarmac before connecting with our original route further east.

It was still raining and I was a little worried as we had several river crossings ahead of us. On the Finnish side water was high and I was pretty sure it would give us trouble. Connecting with our original track, we rode into the forest on a small overgrown dual track. The grassy track turned muddy and gradually very wet as we descended towards the first stream. We didn't even make it to the bank before turning back. Russia had welcomed us with open arms and was now showing us who was in charge. No big deal, that's what these trips are about. Nothing is certain and dead ends must be shrugged off with a reroute. Just keep moving.

We continued to another detour in the rain and finally connected with the original dirt track. It was nice and flowing and the riding felt great, despite the wet and slippery conditions. Suddenly the track disappeared under a perpendicular road construction. It was the foundation for a new, wide road. It was heading in a generally right direction so we continued on it.

The road foundation soon spat us into a large construction depot and we were stopped by a guard. He was keeping watch in a small shack, armed with plenty of vodka and a bad tempered dog. The guard was very friendly though and told me that the small track was under the construction site but would appear on the other side. He gave me some directions where to find it and we continued through the depot with the workers looking at us in surprise.

I found the beginning of the road and we picked up the pace and rode back into the forest. The road was really nice and looked like it didn't see much use. We were going up and down small hills, surrounded by pine forests. The road got smaller and smaller and seriously overgrown. I knew there would be a river a head, so I started to feel the familiar doubt about the bridge being gone, creeping into my mind. Unfortunately I was right and we found the river impassable. The bridge was long gone and there was no way over the river. The banks were several meters deep and there was a lot of water due to the rains. I had marked a detour on my trail notes in case the bridge was out and we doubled back maybe 2 km and hit the smaller trail. A couple of hundred meters down the trail there was a huge fallen tree over it and we had go around it through the forest. I managed to take a fall in the process, going over a smaller trunk. No harm done. A much bigger issue was that the trail completely vanished. The forest was dense and criss-crossed with fallen trees. The distance to the connecting road was only 2 km, but we had no other option but to double back and find another route.

 





After doubling back we decided to stay off the narrow trails as there was a lot of water, debris and fallen trees on them and progress was very slow. Instead we devised another route and made our way to the small village of Melnikovo. We needed to buy some provisions for the night. While I was doing the shopping Juha was approached by two young girls having a night out. They were very friendly and we ended up chatting with them about the bikes and the fact that this village used to Finnish. We left the village and were back on dirt roads.

It was very nice riding, but I guess I was a little distracted by everything that had happened on that day. It had been raining the whole day and we were now in Russia. Everything had changed after the border and I was still trying to get it all in. Savoring every strange little piece of what I was seeing, hearing or smelling. I couldn't really shoot any photos. I wanted to experience it first myself, before trying to find an angle on how to portray it all. It was wonderful and overwhelming at the same time.

There was little traffic on the dirt road and we were a lot quicker than the cars on the bikes. The advantages of having only one axis of motion and better power to weight ratio. We cruised through the countryside and it was starting to get late in the day. We needed to start looking for a place to camp, which was easier said than done. The forests were impassable or unsuitable for camping if there was no road and most roads lead somewhere. I prefer to be out of sight while camping and we finally found a perfect spot on a trail branching off small agricultural road. That would be our home for the night.

The place was infested with mosquitoes and it rained sporadically. So instead of making a proper campfire, we quickly made some pasta with tomato sauce and sausages with my trusty stove. After wolfing the dinner we both withdrew into our tents for some peace from the insects and shelter form the rain. Before not long I could hear Juha snoring in his tent while I wrote my journal.











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Old 09-02-2014, 02:27 PM   #8
Miikka
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Looking at teaser pictures I can taste the eastern dirt!

Mukana. Respect.

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Old 09-03-2014, 06:04 AM   #9
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DAY 3 / DETOURS


1.7.2014 / Lumivaara - Medvezhegorsk / 479 km / 1036 km total.

I woke up at 0720 after a good night's sleep. I heard Juha rustling about in his tent, so I kitted up. Crawling out of my tent the world welcomed me with an overcast sky but no rain. We went about our morning rituals and were ready to hit the road at 0900. We had lost some time trying to get our Thuraya sat phone to work, but to no avail. Apparently it wasn't charging from the mini-USB port.





To my disappointment I also noticed that I had forgotten my 12V dual USB plug. It's something that's always on my bike, connected to the 12 V cigarette lighter socket in my tank bag. For some reason it wasn't there. I must have taken it off in the garage while testing other electrical equipment and left it on the work bench. Well, those are easy to come by, but the Thuraya sat phone was another game altogether.

We continued east on the dirt road. Riding through Russian Karelia was kind of strange as this used to be Finland seventy years ago. All villages had Finnish names, written in Cyrillic letters. We passed the village of Лумиваара or Lumivaara, which is Finnish for snow fell. Most of my family is from Karelia and my grandfather was from Kivijärvi, 300 km further north on the Russian side. He left Kivijärvi in the thirties to start a bakery in Imatra. I was hoping to visit the village, but gave up on that dream after reading the history of the area. After the war, parts of Finnish Karelia were annexed by The Soviet Union. Collectivization was the name of the game in the Soviet era and small villages emptied. To make sure people did not return to their homes, a plan called "liquidation of villages without perspective" was put into action in the fifties. Kivijärvi among other villages was razed to the ground.

Riding through the small dirt road, we connected with the A-121 and reached Sortavala without drama. After refueling we ventured into town to shop for the USB socket and a charger for the sat phone. Being Finns we were looking into maybe even getting a cup of coffee while we were at it.

I spotted a mobile phone dealer and parked in front of it. I was just about to venture in, when Juha decided to give the sat phone one more try. Miraculously it sprung to life, immediately receiving a couple of messages from people back home. Sorted. I still needed the USB plug, so I popped into the shop. The girl behind the counter burst out laughing when I walked in. I must have been a pretty ragged sight, but in good humor. I got the USB socket but had no luck with coffee. Instead we adjusted chain tension, before taking off to the road again.





The weather around Lake Ladoga was bitterly cold. We stopped at a road side kiosk for some lunch in Pitkäranta and were amazed of how chilly the place was in July.

Checking our route, I was starting to get the feeling that we should not venture into completely uninhabited areas on small trails. Thus far all small trails had proven to be impassable or extremely slow. We were on day three and I didn't want to have to sacrifice time on the good stuff further east due to being slow in the west. Our original route went SE, but would result in a huge detour even further south in case it was impassable. I wanted to stay north to get to the Urals higher up, so we would have to take a whole new direction and scrap at least four or five days of our current track. I was devastated and felt that the whole idea of riding dirt was in jeopardy. We had already been on more tarmac than I liked, and I was dreading that this would turn into Eastern Tarmac 14. Well, there was no two ways about it and we headed back north to go around Lake Onega.

Fortunately the road soon turned into dirt and we were happy to cruise on it. We pushed on to Suojärvi and continued NE. It's amazing how much faster the bike is on bad roads compared to cars, which were bouncing along, dodging potholes. I had planned to refuel in Porosozero, but the gas station was dry. I was not worried as there was bound to be fuel in Medvezhegorsk. However, it was getting a little late so I bought some food. Packing the food, Juha found out the hard way not to pack liquids into dry bags. He had packed a can of beer into the dry bag containing his down sleeping bag. The can had probably hit the luggage rack and punctured, emptying it's contents. The beer had had several hours to soak into the down sleeping bag. I'm pretty sure he'll never repeat that mistake again.









Photo shot by The Walrus





We bought food for the night and continued on the track, stopping at a river for some laundry. Connecting with a bigger road we were on tarmac again. It was eerie, as there was not a single car on the road in 80 km. The road itself was in variable shape, mostly pretty poor, so it was nice riding despite the tarmac.

The absence of cars made made me uneasy and the empty villages didn't help. A fear of the road being cut due to flooding or some other catastrophe was growing in my mind as we pushed on. We would not have enough fuel to make it back to civilization if we hit another dead end. It was a huge relief to see inhabited houses close to the intersection with R-21. We had done 500 km and it was time to call it a day. After refueling in Medvezhegorsk we ventured a little further down the road and turned on to a small dirt road, snaking into a pine forest. We found a perfect spot and set up camp.

We were stoked about the nice airy camp site, after the rainy and muddy mozziefest we had woken up in this morning. Unfortunately it started raining again and we hastily had some pasta before crawling in our tents. Juha was bound to have a cold night though as he now had a very soggy down sleeping bag. I drifted off to sleep wondering whether there were bears in this area. Especially because the name of the nearby village started with "bear" in Russian.

 
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Old 09-04-2014, 03:03 AM   #10
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DAY 4 / END OF DARKNESS


 
2.7.2014 / Medvezhegorsk - Vokhtomitsa river / 495 km / 1531 km total.

I woke up to my alarm at 0700, after a badly slept night. The name of the nearby town had resulted in nightmares of bears stealing my bike. Popping my head out of my tent I was happy to see my KTM still parked outside, on the low grass at the edge of the pine forest. It bore no evidence of being joyridden by bears. Equally delighting was the fact that it was dry for a change. Overcast, but dry and warmer. The flying vermin were back with a vengeance.

I was packing up my bike while Juha was doing his daily pre ride-checks. I heard him comment, to himself, about something not being good. I asked him what was up and he told me his radiator looked dry. That really cast a shadow on the otherwise fine morning. Juha's first analysis was that the cylinder head gasket wasn't sealing properly. His bike had had the engine taken apart and the casings changed prior to us leaving. Juha is a great mechanic and I'm sure he would have preferred to put the engine back together himself, but it was under warranty so it was done at a shop. It must have been murder for him.

This was a serious problem. There was about 300 ml of coolant missing and it had clearly come out of the expansion tank. We were prepared for many things, including a leaking radiator, but taking an engine apart and replacing the head gasket wasn't one of them. The tools were not an issue as they could be found in any roadside workshop. The issue was of course the head gasket, which we could probably only get in St. Petersburg, Moscow or Novosibirsk. Then again the problem being the head gasket was just a guess. We really didn't know what had happened to the coolant.

I think a million thoughts ran through both our heads. None of them were verbalized before Juha refilled the radiator and asked me whether there was any point in us pushing further east. I don't think I ever answered the question and in the end we decided to push on. We would see what happened soon enough. It wouldn't have made much difference whether we were 1000km or 1100km east of the border if the bike was unrideable. I didn't tell Juha, but had he bailed, there would have been no "we" in turning back. I would have put Juha and his bike on a truck to the border and pushed on solo. His companionship would have been missed and some sections of the route would have been too risky to ride solo, but I was determined to go as far as I could.



As it was a little warmer I risked riding in my MTB gloves instead of the Klim Elements. We took off and headed east on tarmac, what else. This trip had thrown a lot of obstacles in our faces in the last three days. We only rode a couple of kilometers before being stopped at a raised bridge over a canal. Once the boat had passed under the bridge and into the lock, we were allowed to pass. That's when I saw the the first AK47 in Russia, slung over the shoulder of a female guard. The Russians obviously take their canals very seriously. At 0930 exactly, the sun showed itself for the first time during the trip. It was a brief peek through a small gap in the clouds, behind a thin layer of mist, but it was there. That small glimpse was all it took to evaporate all my worries. Twenty minutes later we were out from under the cloud cover, in sunshine. Stopping to take off our Klim over-pants, we basked in the sun. The mood had changed. I felt as if we were now getting out of the miserable wet weather of the Baltic Sea and the Karelian lakes. Instead we were now headed for the warm and sunny continental summer of Central Russia. Adding to the good mood was the fact that Juha's bike showed no signs of coolant overflow yet.





Riding in just the Klim Dakar In Boot pants without the restriction of the over-pants was incredibly liberating. After another 180 km we stopped to refuel in Pudozh. We had left the frigid shores of Lake Onega behind us 60 km ago. The cold and rainy weather had turned into a hot summer in under an hour. It was extremely hot and we changed from the Klim Traverse jackets to the Dakar Jerseys. Life just doesn't get much better than that. Sunshine, good company and riding in just MX gear. Also, Juha's radiator was still holding.



We pushed further east in the beautiful scenery of eastern Karelia. The road was quiet and had a feeling of remoteness and tranquility to it. Outside of the villages forests were mostly unmanaged and wild. Rolling over hills and through wide valleys displayed nature as it ever was, untouched and unchanged. Trees remained where they fell at the end of their days, gathering moss over the years. Drying in the clutches of the long cold winter. Inevitably decomposing in the end to become earth for the generations to come. Playing their part in the ever rotating cycle of life and death. It felt like time travel and I loved every second of it, despite the fact we were on tarmac.

After a long straight through wild scenery we hit the border of Arkhangel'skaya Oblast and everything changed. It was the end of tarmac, replaced by a winding dirt road into a national park. There was a little traffic on it, but nothing significant and the ride was exactly what we needed. Dirt, finally. The road was in pretty bad shape and very sloppy in the bottoms of the valleys. No doubt the heavy rains had been here too, and the heavy trucks had churned up the wet road. Our bikes were caked with mud, but the riding was good.





Inevitably the road turned into tarmac and we took a small break. More bad news were to come as Juha's radiator's expansion tank had spewed coolant out. Funnily enough the radiator was full though. Juha thought that it was probably due to the fact that he had filled up the radiator cold. When hot, it would have pushed the coolant into the expansion tank. As it was already almost full, it would have pushed out the excess. Juha siphoned out some coolant to hit the hi mark and we continued east.



We stopped briefly in Nyandoma to refuel and buy food for the night. We pushed on south another 80 km before finding a suitable camp site on a trail branching off the dirt road. Finally, a nice camping spot next to a clearing on a hillside. There was a little breeze which would keep the insects somewhat at bay. We had arrived at around 18, which essentially gave us the evening off. It was still sunny and most of our gear was wet so the camp quickly started looking like a yard sale with gear strewn around to dry. This was also a perfect moment to tinker with the bikes. Unfortunately Juha discovered that he was missing 100 ml of coolant. Somehow the coolant would end up into the expansion tank but wouldn't go back into the radiator when it cooled. The head gasket was probably fine, and Juha cleaned up the valve on the rad cap in case it was not flowing properly in both directions.







As we were chilling out with our victory beers, we heard the tell tale sound of a bike, and it was getting closer. To our surprise it turned the bend about 150 m down the trail where we came from. It was a local two stroke side car with two guys on board. There was a ditch on the road with plenty of water, which we had eyed before crossing it. The guy on the sticks didn't even blink, just shifted down and revved over the obstacle. Russians are another breed when it comes to off-road and bikes. We waved to them as they passed by without stopping. They waved back and looked at our bikes and camp as they went on their merry way.

Dinner was a bit of a laugh. We had some pasta, corn and tuna. Or at least I though it was tuna when I bought it, but it ended up being some form of herring. It was canned whole and looked pretty sad, curled up in the can. I felt sorry for it. The stench was exquisite and Juha buried the poor herring a hundred meters away from our camp. As the evening cooled down we lazed on our mattresses and discussed previous events and the route to come. A burning issue was of course Juha's vanishing coolant. We could only hope the problem was something minor, but plan for the worst.


Photo shot by The Walrus

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Old 09-04-2014, 09:38 AM   #11
yokesman
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Great report,being a hose bleed will get all the air out and fluid in?
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Old 09-04-2014, 10:53 AM   #12
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yikes .. a wet down sleeping bag
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Old 09-04-2014, 11:22 AM   #13
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Location: Saranac,MI
Oddometer: 50
3rd post only visible pics? pics are "page not found" on your website?

What I see though is beautiful and excellent photography, thanks.

Edit: They just now came up, thanks.

Bt10 screwed with this post 09-04-2014 at 11:28 AM
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Old 09-04-2014, 11:40 AM   #14
Hotmamaandme
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Joined: Jan 2006
Location: Gardnerville NV
Oddometer: 2,697
Looks like another over the top wet and muddy russia ride
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Old 09-04-2014, 12:16 PM   #15
KTM 950S
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Joined: Aug 2012
Location: Greece....
Oddometer: 108
Μan!!!!!
i just saw the photos and i am totaly hooked...just waiting to find some time and read your report..looks great!!!!!!!
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