After nearly 4 weeks of floating the Kolyma it feels good to have solid ground under our feet. Our engines can’t wait to speed up and catch a bit of land wind. All Urals are in grim state: The transmissions, engines, clutches and crankshafts had all gone into a bloody battle and came out missing some teeth. Switching the gears on water without the rolling movement of the motorcycle was a real pain. (On the other hand our brakes, suspensions, tires and final drives had enjoyed their time at the beach.) So our adventure here begins with setting ourselves up with the worst riding conditions for beating through the swampy solitude of Chukotka.
At the port of Aniusk – a small settlement just above Chersky – the Urals land and we start collecting emergency supplies before returning back to the tracks completely overloaded. The entire construction, the pontoons, our spare parts and of course food has to be stored. With the kind help of locals we hunt for a trailer which will predominantly transport our gasoline.
The spare wheels and the rods of the the rigid appendage do not make up the most confident movements on the bumpy streets. Even at low tire pressure and low speed the trailer constantly sways against itself and jumps, making it nearly impossible to hold on to the road…
The old drum brakes fail when it comes down to carrying all the extra weight so the motorcycle and trailer come to a halt! It is just 30 km after departing Aniusk and already we’ve landed downhill in the blueberry bushes!
350 km from Anuisk to Bilibino: The road is well preserved for Russian conditions. A tank passes by us with rattling chains. We conclude that the good road conditions will eventually end. After 3 days of sliding we reach the gates of Bilibino. 3 off-road vehicles roll up the mountain while we repair a broken ignition coil. A small group of men in uniform prepare for us a warm welcome with vodka straight out of a red bell pepper cup!
The weather conditions are rough. While the wind slashes our faces the men decide to order a towing truck to take us down to the city. Fixing the coil is quick so the Ural manages to leave before the towing truck comes back. Midway a small crane honks at us and rushes into our convoy. Dusty and filthy, we follow the crane to a heated garage: Maxim’s workplace and social point. Maxim with his crane is the man for all mishaps, stuck cars and all that is not within the power of man and his big hammer!
With overwhelming enthusiasm we forge together plans for the next stage:1200 km of off-road slopes which excludes bridges and petrol stations all the way up to Egvekinot. Bilibino is the last tip of civilization before it enters the completely uninhabited tundra of Chukotka. We’ve been told of approx. 130 rivers which will have to be crossed in complete seclusion with our overloaded sidecars.
It quickly becomes clear that it’s impossible to carry all the luggage plus gasoline on our small trailer so we came up with a new construction. Visa regulations and extreme weather conditions sit heavy on our shoulders. We want to reach the Bering Strait so we really have to hurry. Tasks are split: While one part of the group welds the trailer the other part goes to organize gasoline stockpiles and collects information and contacts for crossing Bering Strait!
With our experience from the pontoons on the Kolyma river we realize that the river crossings will not really be a problem apart from the fact that they take really long to setup. It is completely illogical to go into the process of equipping every single motorcycle with the floats and propeller constructions every time a river shows up – all the equipment is much to heavy to carry on these “roads”. The idea at this point is to build a trailer which we can open like a bridge and attach it to the pontoons in order to create a sort of ferry.
Bilibino, the last city in the far north-east of Russia is a place which is connected by road with the outside world only in winter, while in summer, when the climate is more mild, there is minimal access to the city. Weather conditions are always changing which even makes air traffic unpredictable. When the North Polar icebergs melt during the summer they are driven towards the coast of the Bering Sea – this makes it impossible for cargo ships to travel between ports. The traffic on the Kolyma is limited since the water levels can be unpredictable. The only way to get goods to Bilibino is the way between Egvekinot and Bilibino.
An adventure ride through the tundra. Huge trucks move in small convoys and need between 5 to 15 days to cover the route depending on weather conditions. In just a few hours, the numerous rivers can swell up and make the way impassable. The drivers will then have no other possibility than to wait for the water levels to drop. Anyone who risks crossing the river runs the risk of being swept away by masses of water and will usually end up being rescued by our friend Maxim.
Despite all the objections of the locals we want to try it. Even if time is against us we want to tackle the challenge. Our organization is successful our new trucker friend takes off with our gasoline deposits: We loaded 500 liters in barrels on a Kamaz truck and made points on our common route where he could store the barrels for us!
The transformer trailer slowly takes shape and the first trial is in order. After collecting and welding together parts which are leftovers from old Soviet bases, we pack the pontoons and head for the nearest lake. Continuous rains delay our departure like a curse. Every departure we attempt is faced by some supernatural force. It rains for 2 days and this causes the water to flood the whole landscape. Due to the floods the local authorities impose an order: Nobody is to leave the city. The dangers of either being washed away while crossing the rivers or getting stuck between two rivers is big. When the water begins to drop again after 2 days of rain, the magnitude of the flood is obvious. The route which connects Bilibino to the east has been cut off. The water washes the street away and a lot of trucks get stuck in the tundra. They stay in place, waiting for the bulldozer which will make a new path for them to cross. The swampland makes it impossible for the truckers to move an inch!
We cannot wait any longer. The risk of not making it in our remaining visa frame rises every day. As a precaution we decide to book a flight which will take us out of the country in time.
Fully packed and despite all warnings we set off. We want to try it. Only 30 kilometers later the roads break into wild water – this is the end of the road which makes it impossible to go further. We are not the only ones wanting to move on. Several hunters are waiting at the river for water levels to drop (or the ground to rise). You see, reindeer hunting takes place in summer and the locals fill their storage cellars for the winter.
In response to this heavy terrain we are able to create a flimsy path through the swamp. With our aluminum ladders we manage to get all Urals about 200 meters through the mud and back on to the road. And so we are able to continue on our way. The next obstacle is not far away. Slowly our small convoy moves eastwards. At smaller rivers we use the trailer as a bridge.
When the water becomes deeper we put our ferry together. Positioning the Ural on the construction is no walk in the park. After loading the vehicle the rope has to be crossed to the other side of the river. There it needs to be fixed in the right line so that it is possible to let the raft float with the current to the opposite shore.
The clutch gives up its last breath. The screeching of the slipping clutch under the heavy load of the bike is not a good sign. The steep hills and the uncooperative mud along with the heavy trailer is too much for the Ural. 100 km later is the end. The whole plates are ground to powder – What is left is only metal sliding on metal.
That’s it. In the middle of the tundra we have to face the fact that there is no way of moving further. With our remaining visa time it is pointless to take the road to the east. After 2 days of waiting, we are evacuated by Maxim with his tract military vehicle.