31st August – On the BAM, 1,700km from Khabarovsk
(above: The BAM in its bad parts. But overall it was among the best streets in Russia.)
It is our first night on the BAM – the Baikal-Amur-Magistrale, which connects Chita and Khabarovsk. It is a famous stretch of road, a project that has taken decades (and some of which built by prisoners) and which was finally finished last year.
We have found a hut along the street that will accommodate us for the night, and it is a pretty funky experience. The wallpaper is peeling, the roof is partly made of pieces of cardboard, and the toilet is outside in the forest… to imagine the smell, think Dante Aligheri. The only room besides us contains a slightly hysterical lady with four kids, all of whom are sharing the same bed. In the dark basement, decorates with pink walls and a photo wallpaper depicting a tropical garden, beer is sold to a stranded trucker, a slightly dodgy car mechanic who works out here in the big nothing, and an older local. He has no teeth, is one and half metres max, and keeps talking to me in Russian, bravely ignoring my “Russki Njet”. By the length of his monologue he must be quoting War and Peace in its entirety… it feels like a scene out of a Tarantino movie.
2nd September – Sovorodino, 1,200km from Khabarovsk
(above: The petrol stations are a highlight)
It took the gods of motorcycling twelve thousand kilometres, but now they have decided to punish us badly. We woke yesterday in our little BAM Hilton to realise there were thin layers of ice on our seats and a grey sky that appeared to be hanging just above our heads. We left in temperatures of two degrees, and the day that followed was one of the worst I have ever had on a bike.
There was uninterrupted rain that soon turned into ice rain, a sharp cold side wind, and temperatures hanging out around zero. My gear held up pretty well (besides the gloves), but Pierre is suffering heavily. Soaked to the bone, he hit a low point, and since the hut last night had no heating he had to get up this morning and into his icy cold and wet gear. He’s pretty down. For my side, three pairs of socks, four layers on my legs and five on my upper body make me look like a clown, and I bow deeply down in respect to everyone who made this trip before the street was built.
Here is a video from the BAM:
4th September – Khabarovsk
(above: East on Amur and turn left after 816km… I think I’ll be ready)
Riding into Khabarovsk last night and crossing the mighty Amur with the city laid out ahead was a very, very special moment. After spending the last night on the BAM in a kid’s bed (1.6m long) in the garage of a truckers stop we had one more hellish ride before reaching the end of this notorious stretch of road a whopping ten days early. There are only 800km now between us and the end of the land mass that starts somewhere in Portugal, and I am beginning to get sentimental already.
So we need to plan what to do with our free week, and since we might not be able to get a re-entry visa with such short notice, we will probably have to focus our attentions on Russia. Maybe the Trans-Siberian is an option, if only for the chance it would give me to digest my experiences and get the endorphin levels down. Vladivostok is not an option, as the ongoing APEC summit makes the whole place inaccessible.
It feels slightly unreal to be here. The city has an airier, lighter feel than its inland brothers, and I am sure it is because we are near to the Sea of Japan. After looking west for technical expertise, luxury goods and generally “how to do things” (and often to Germany), Russia has now turned her head to the east, in the direction of Japan. There are sushi restaurants and cars made for left-side traffic, Japanese bathrooms… it makes me smile and realise how much I miss the country that was my home for a good while in the early nineties.
Have you ever accelerated a vehicle to a high speed and then suddenly taken your foot off the gas? With the body and the mind getting light at that very moment? That’s how it feels being here. For months, including the preparations, the concentration was fully set on the days that ended, actually, yesterday. It will all be pretty light now, as if we have reached the peak and suddenly the view has opened out before us.
Andreas from the Circus and Pierre from the Eastseven are on their way to Japan… by motorbike. Andreas is sending us regular updates and you can find the whole archive of the trip here.