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Old 12-24-2009, 03:32 PM   #301
Colebatch OP
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Isa

The road today was better than yesterday. There were no major bogs, but the steep, rocky, eroded inclines were a constant threat to the bikes. By 2pm we were just 10km from Isa and Terry and I were keen to get there as soon as possible. Tony however was having a particularly tough day, and after countless walks back to collect him and right his bike, Terry and I insisted he ride upfront. That would avoid us hiking back up difficult roads time after time. It was the only way for us to ride as a threesome without Terry and I burning out our clutches or starter motors, or riding twice as far as we needed to.

The funny thing about Tony, is that while he will sometimes get himself into trouble while riding at the back, stick him in front to lead, and to choose a path through the assorted hazards (and there were many) and he responds to the pressure by riding much better. Terry and I usually caught him up at the more difficult swamps and water crossing while he was pondering a way through. This was something Terry was the best at. His years of enduro experience meant he usually picked the best line though swamps and bogs ... apart from his one incident yesterday.

We now had two problems. Terry's oil was still looking more like milk than oil after yesterday's innundation, and there seemed no way Tony could ride on after Isa. The track was still very difficult, Tony was physically exhausted and his bike was by far the heaviest of the three.

My bike was 155kgs with about 30kgs of luggage (about 185kg all up). Terry's was 175kg with about 15kg of luggage (about 190kg all up). Tony's was 179kgs with about 40 kgs of luggage, racks and boxes (220 kg all up). The difference in picking up the 185 - 190 kgs of my or Terry's bike with the near 220 kgs of Tony's rig was very, very noticeable. This is why packing light (including light luggage) is critical. Not only is the bike easier to control and much less likely to go down, but when it does go down it is much easier to pick up. Terry and I were also both physically exhausted by picking up Tony's bike. As Tony became more physically and mentally exhausted, his bike became regularly seen in the sleeping position. This day was the worst of the trip with Terry and I chipping in no fewer than 8 times to pick up Tony's bike.

Our fate would be decided in Isa. We could take stock of our situation there and see what solutions were available.

By 4pm we had reached Isa, the first village in 3 days. The 65 km from Etyrken had taken us 3 whole days. We went straight to a general store and consumed everything we could buy; Fruit juice, soft drink, chocolate bars, crisps. But there was no oil - nor was there oil anywhere else in Isa. Terry would be unable to get oil before Fevralsk, 90km down the road. We had no idea how long that might take, nor any idea how much longer Terry's engine will last, without proper oil.

Tony - exhausted in Isa:


A guy came up to us and chatted about road conditions. He seemed to imply the road ahead is like the road behind. If that were true if would be another 4 days to Fevralsk. I asked about the Poles, and he said "yes, the two Poles, they came here last year and took the train to Fevralsk." Well that explained why there were no more GPS notes after Isa. I would dearly love to have gone that little bit further than the Poles, to Fevralsk, but with one bike without proper engine oil, one exhausted rider, and a road that no mortal 4WD could even contemplate, it was looking like a bridge too far. It was increasingly apparent, now that we were in Isa with all the problems mentioned above, AND a new problem - we were almost out of fuel, that the only sensible thing to do was to take the train from here, as the Poles had done before us, to Fevralsk.

The people we spoke to in Isa had only ever seen 5 foreigners come thru here; The two Poles last year and now the three of us. No-one here mentioned the Australian cyclist. Maybe this incredibly tough 65 km stretch had seen the end of him and he managed to score a lift out of one of the mini-stations, by train.
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Old 12-24-2009, 04:01 PM   #302
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Well, let's get on that train then... and a much deserved break..
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Old 12-24-2009, 05:08 PM   #303
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let me know when there is a book, a DVD, a slideshow with narration, a Hallmark greeting card, whatever.




you'd think for this adventure a Ural or Kamaz support vehicle would be a better choice simply for the possibility of getting replacement parts, and even more importantly, since there are Urals all over the place, people who can repair them and troubleshoot them.

i had no idea their fuel consumption was so high. i can forsee most of the payload being fuel and, from what i just read, motorcycle oil.

i'm dying to hear how that bike managed with shit oil for so long!
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Old 12-24-2009, 06:19 PM   #304
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I don't know if i should be envious that i'm not with you or thanking god that i'm not with you
Either way brilliant as usual . You gentleman are LIVING LIFE.
Bravo. 5 star vote.
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Old 12-24-2009, 06:39 PM   #305
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Awesome ride report. I'm thinking you need to bum a gallon of diesel lube oil off of a passing train or from one of the non-public depots. The engines in diesel locomotives contain several hundred gallons each so they could spare a few quarts without a problem.

Can't wait to see how this turns out!
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Old 12-24-2009, 08:25 PM   #306
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I'm in line for the DVD of this adventure, for sure.
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Old 12-24-2009, 09:36 PM   #307
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Quote:
Originally Posted by BlackBeast
I'm in line for the DVD of this adventure, for sure.
No doubt. Me too!
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Old 12-24-2009, 10:20 PM   #308
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We had arrived in the tiny BAM forestry town of Isa late on Friday afternoon. within an hour of arriving we had satiated our thirsts and hungers and met the senior chaps who ran the town's main private business, a logging company. It seemed to me that in Isa you either worked for the railway or the logging company. There were only 300 people there in the town, and it was a pretty grim looking place.

But the logging guys took us in, and housed us in a cabin. We found out from the loggers that we would be able to take a train to Fevralsk on Monday. That gave us the weekend to consider any alternatives. Fevralsk was only 90 km away ... but we had no reliable information on the road and the previous 65 km had taken us 3 days !!!.

The day was rounded off with an intensely hot banya/sauna and wash. Nice to wash our reeking bodies after three days of sweating in the rain.



Normally a Russian banya (like a sauna only the Russians like it much wetter), is pretty similar to the Finnish / Scandinavian style sauna. A big wooden room with wooden benches and usually featuring a steel water container near the wood fed steel fireplace. This is often the only source of hot water and therefore the main washing place. You go to the banya with towel and soap, mix the scalding hot fire heated water with ice cold water in a bucket until you get a temperature you are happy with, and then with half a dozen other naked men, begin washing yourself in the steaming conditions.

Often there are twine bound bunches of birch branches, hand holdable, and the purpose of these is to whip you with. One naked man will volunteer to whip you, in return for you doing the same to him later. The branches whipping against the hot tender skin stimulates the blood flow. Everywhere is whippable, from your face and back of head, to your toes and ankles.

Then, to further stimulate blood flow / prove how manly you are, you go outside and roll in the snow / plunge into a hole in a freezing lake / dip into a cold plunge pool for an extremely rapid cooldown.

Normally they are quite bearable and pleasant, but the last two, here in Isa and the one with the Nikolais back in Etyrken were insanely hot. These extreme siberians really like everything extreme.
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Old 12-24-2009, 10:23 PM   #309
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Saturday started with the realisation that in the night someone had taken Terry's and Tony's GPS units off their bikes. This was ridiculous in a town of 300 people, that effectively had no roads in or out. Someone must have been drunk or completely stupid. Within a few hours Valera, the boss of the logging company (so probably one of the two most powerful men in town), had tracked down and returned the GPS units.

Terry needed to look at his oil. We had ridden a full day since his bike swallowed all that swamp water. We were still entertaining thoughts of riding to Fevralsk as Tony's spirits and energy levels had recovered rapidly with a few beers and a the prospect of a day or two of rest and maybe even dry, riding gear by the end of the day.



Sadly, Terry's water-oil emulsion had not separated. It was still milk both in his sump and his oil tank. There was no oil in Isa. (there was diesel oil in the logging camp trucks but of such a thick grade, for cold conditions and low RPM vehicles, that it was completely unfeasible for use in Terry's bike) There were barely any general stores. With his oil in such bad shape, the prospect of a ride to Fevralsk was now shelved completely.

We got the train schedule and now knowing that we would be in Isa for all of tomorrow as well, we decided to do laundry at the camp's very basic self serve laundromat. We would have 2 nights and a day to dry the clothes out in the cabin.

In the evening we cooked up a Sibirsky Extreme Stew, from a few ingredients the kitchen had thrown our way and a few bits and pieces we had collected from the towns tiny shops. We had a tin of peas, a tin of corn, a few potatoes, a few cucumbers, some chicken stock and some pelmeni. We boiled up the potatoes then threw the rest in for one of the finest stews any of us can remember. It was a recipe that just worked!
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Old 12-24-2009, 10:25 PM   #310
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The logging camp's number 2 man, Vadim, came around early in the morning. He had arranged a full train schedule all the way to Tynda, if we wanted it. It would be no less than 5 freight trains, and each train involved us unloading the bikes from one train and loading them onto another. Hmmm... something else to think about. Pushing a bike up an 20cm (8 inch) wide plank to a plattorm 1.2 metres (4 feet) off the ground was seriously hard work - with lots of scope for things to go wrong.

The day was just spent in recovery mode and drying clothes.

Here's Tony with Gera, the number 3 man at the logging camp. This guy was a particularly hardy soul. He has spent 20 years of his life earlier living in solitude, just a dog for company, in a hunting cabin about 80 km (50 miles) away from anywhere. The nearest village was 3 days hike though the forest. There was no track ... just forest. Winters are down to -50 degrees C (-60F). No phone, no electricity, no plumbing ... just a log cabin and a dog.
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Old 12-24-2009, 10:47 PM   #311
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Leaving Isa

Well after waiting two days, our train to Fevralsk was due today. We packed up the gear and were ready to go by 11am ... but had to sit around till 2:30 to head down to the train station with Valera the logging boss. I spoke with Valera and the guys down at the station and it seems the Poles had stayed at the fire station here ... a different lodging from us for a change. They too had to wait 3 days for a train according to the locals.

Here we are saying farewell and thank you to Valera, the logging camp head honcho - in the traditional Russian way - with a bottle of vodka!



Waiting at Isa for our train:


By 3pm the local utility train appeared, consisting of one flat bed car and one passenger car. We pushed the bikes up a couple of wooden planks and on to the flat bed and realised we were the only people getting on the train. Surely they hadnt put on this train especially for us?



As the train pulled out of Isa we got a good view of the road to Fevralsk, as it ran alongside the track, no more than 50 yards from the train track.



The train hadn't been exclusively for us, as it stopped to pick up railway maintenance workers a number of times on the way to Fevralsk, some from the middle of no-where and some from mini stations. By the time we got to Fevralsk the sole train carriage was reasonably full. Our fare for the two hour ride, including bikes, was 80 rubles each ... less than 2 EUR.

As for the road from Isa to Fevralsk, for anyone mad enough to get to Isa in the future ... the road onwards to Fevralsk is rideable. Its many times better than the road between Isa and Etyrken. All rivers have serviceable bridges. I could see no holes in the road. There were large waterholes covering the whole road, but all looked either navigable or able to be ridden around. As with every road in Siberia, how difficult the road is depends entirely on weather conditions over the past few days. A week of fine weather and that road could be done 2 hours. A week of rain and its a 2 day slog. As it was when we saw it, I would have estimated it as a reasonable one days ride.

I had found out a bit more about this stretch of the BAM road from the old hands around Isa while we had waited there. The road is selectively maintained by some regional councils (like the good stretch between Suluk, though Novy Urgal, to Alonka), but many sections such as Etyrken to Isa had seen absolutely no maintenance in 20 years. Stretches like that have deteriorated to the point that no 4WD would be able to drive them. Even my beloved Wazziks / Buhankas cannot drive these roads. They are now exclusively the preserve of the huge 6WD Ural, ZiL, KaMAZ and KrAZ trucks - and the odd eccentrics on motorcycles.

We arrived in Fevralsk, where a contact of Vadim, the number 2 man in Isa, had met us at the station and helped us get the bikes down onto the platform. We were led into the office of the main man at the station who listened to us and tried to organise the succession of 4 freight trains to take us on to Tynda. In the end I just decided it was too hard, checked with the boys to see if they were up for riding to Tynda via the Trans Siberian and then left to find the petrol station, and hotel / cafe type place.

The decision was made. We would find Terry some oil and ride to Tynda via the Trans-Siberian highway, then resume on the BAM road after Tynda. There is a graded gravel road linking Fevralsk with the Trans Siberian, 330km (200 miles) to the South West. It was impossible to go past the information we had been given by the Nikolais in Etyrken ... the road between Fevralsk and Tynda is not even possible in Urals! We would get to Tynda a more conventional way and continue our BAM Road challenge from there. We had matched the achievement of the Poles by riding from Vanino to Isa, and we were still dancing ... so now we would go beyond Tynda.

At the 'hotel', there was an outdoor shower, but it did feature hot water. It was the first shower we had enjoyed since Vanino! mmmm
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Old 12-24-2009, 10:49 PM   #312
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Here at Fevralsk, we were about a third of the way along the BAM. We knew by the time we got to Tynda (ex BAM) we would be about half way along the road ... which meant half the road was still to come!


Here is a map ...

BAM Road is in Pink / Purple
Trans-Siberian is in Blue
And our route, including our planned detour to Tynda is in Green
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Old 12-24-2009, 11:10 PM   #313
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good stuff! No one can fault you for getting on that train. I wouldn't even try what you have accomplished.
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Old 12-25-2009, 12:33 AM   #314
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Quote:
Originally Posted by BobbySands
you'd think for this adventure a Ural or Kamaz support vehicle would be a better choice simply for the possibility of getting replacement parts, and even more importantly, since there are Urals all over the place, people who can repair them and troubleshoot them.

i had no idea their fuel consumption was so high. i
Yes everyone in these parts will be able to repair a Ural, and every village has a number of old ones sitting around being used as spare parts!

They use a lot of fuel, but then the Ural is a 15 ton unit. A more modern KaMAZ will use less, but spares will be harder to find, as will people who can fix them.
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Old 12-25-2009, 02:34 AM   #315
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FANTASTIC report as usual ...............

Merry Christmas to the 3 of you and to the rest of the readers.

Glad you decided to ride on, but even catching 4 trains would of made for quite an adventure

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