Yakutsk – The local biker’s club was incredibly supportive the past couple of weeks. Apart from lending us their bureaucratic assistance – namely because of the special permits for Sakha and Chukotka they have been our mechanical crutch. The Yakutsk bikers pop in and out of the domesticated garage to check out the Ural camp. The Urals are grateful for the many presents they’ve received: pistons, cylinder heads, shock absorbers – even entire engine blocks have been laid out our temporary garage home. Restocking is necessary as the next few days will find us in remote wilderness. We will repeat our trials in order to finally construct an “unbreakable” Ural. Alongside the bikers of Yakutsk – some of which were born and raised to be bikers via the Ural – we try to resurrect our “old soviet jewels”. The Yakutsk-ian handling of the motorcycle is extremely entertaining: As the exhaust shoots flames, the garage fills with blue smoke. This orchestrated reaction of misfires is something that only a trained motorcycle composer can interpret correctly.
The first days on the Kolyma Trassa – As the rain starts to pour the “street” transforms into a huge clay pit. The sticky goo gathers up under our fenders, blocks the wheels and our machines start to pirouette. It is impossible to keep our boats straight. In addition to this mess, the shock absorber on Schwepchess’s sidecar breaks (Lucky we were not on real asphalt ) It’s a hell of a delight to dig the bolts out of the mud and replace the shock absorber.
Some small villages are scattered at the outskirts of the mud track. Unimaginable how isolated people must be living here. Many of those who live in these villages belong to the generations which are perhaps, by now, accustomed to the long hard Siberian winters we hear of. This road is for the locals often the only connection to the rest of the world. It is like a wedge through infinite coniferous forests digs. I keep asking myself, what drives people to reside in a place of such hard conditions. Piotr, a man from the village responds to this question: “I love the freedom!”. I don’t know if I fully can understand what he means by that, but it is clear that the enormous space, of this is available to life, is very remarkable. We are far away from the conditions of Central Europe. In the Far East it seems to be that nature determines other rules and forces. Our world which is dubbed as “capitalism” is here only served through the dish of satellite television. The availability of product markets here are few – just the small village shop which only hosts the most necessary objects on its shelves. Well necessary is also depending on what you, or I or they see as necessary…Hunters attire are definitely a fashionable statement here! People here are self-sufficient – they can even grow melons in their greenhouses! As we are the only strangers entering the area we become a curiosity which is showered with questions, and above all else, hospitality!
The poem starts as usual:
Куда – Куда – Откуда ? Kuda – Kuda – Otkuda?
Moving in to the gas station of Kyubeme – We need to quickly put a plan together since we need another sidecar for Kaupo. We decide that 2 of us will hitch a ride with the truck drivers to Усть-Нера (Ust-Nera), which is the largest settlement around 300 kilometers away from here. The rest of us will camp here at the gas station and repair the bikes while waiting for the others to return. The next few days are beyond bizarre. We make ourselves at home and make funny acquaintances at the gas station. To our surprise even post arrives at our camp. Ha! We never even managed to get mail delivered to our wintercamp house in Georgia! And here we are…dozing off under our tarp as car headlights shine into our bedroom accompanied by a voice calling: “Elisabeth! Elisabeth! “. We stand up with surprise to meet a man named Vassili who is wagging a letter back and forth in front of our noses. Finally! A sign of life from team Ust-Nera! This absurdity is topped off the next day. A taxi stops in front of our tent and the driver hands us a package with the inscription: “To the Germans – behind the gas station – with the Ural motorcycles”. The taxi drove all the way from Yakutsk to deliver us a package which disclosed our new shock absorbers. Unbelievable that we received a package here…Unfortunately still no trace of team Ust Nera. So let’s wait a bit longer…
THE OLD ROAD OF BONES – We have to pay a lot of attention here – We are driving past collapsed bridges, swamps and ice fields. The road was built by Gulag prisoners in the 1930s under the most severe conditions. The name “Road of Bones” is directly connected with the tragic fate of the people who built them. So here we located more on a huge cemetery rather than on a road.We move further through some puddles and along smaller cliffs and then…our jaws drop: We are staring at the first major river which is flowing before in all it’s smashing pride. The current is definitely to high for us to drive through. After a long discussion we decide to empty the oil from the engine and transfer the bikes across the river with ropes. It isn’t easy to step into the cold water and to pull the bikes via THE SYSTEM* to the other side. Efy keeps the fire going at the camp – which is pure happiness for our frozen hands and feet. Over the following days the obstacles become greater… Sometimes we only manage a distance of 2 km in a day because of the non-existent road, deep swamps or the larger rivers, whose water level rises steadily with the rain-falls.
Meeting 3 big rivers means reassembling the motorcycles 3 times. Each river crossing via THE SYSTEM and its accompanying “maintenance” costs us a good 24 hours. Take down the cylinders, let out the water, dry the air filter and carburetor, adjust the valves, fill up the oil and keep your fingers crossed that the bike starts again. Our petrol and food supplies need to be considered much more efficiently at this point as they are growing scarce.
THE SYSTEM…A despising of swamps develops in all of us over the next days – What we are going through today is no walk through a puddle. These are ponds which house water lilies. Johannes passes through the waters in thigh-high gummy boots and sinks deep. Clearly this is too deep to cross by driving straight through. We have to drive around the pond, and this statement does not make clear the kind of hardship I am talking about here. The surroundings of these ponds are meadows with 40 cm deep ruts, swamps or bogs – whatever you may call it. How many times we had to lift the motorcycles just move them an inch forward I do not know…Dragging…Pushing…Over and over and over again.
By the end our nerves are on edge. The horrible road conditions and the rising number of motorcycle breakdowns pile up. 30 kilometers before the intersection to civilization we decide to leave 3 of the machines behind. It is not possible to continue with all 5 as gasoline is running out. 30 kilometers really doesn’t sound like much, but it can under the circumstances mean several days with these old timers which have seen quite a bit of the world. Stomach’s are growling since our last meal is already behind us! Everyone’s hopes are unspoken for a good meal tonight in civilization – or any kind of meal, banja and a restful sleep (preferably dry). These things work as motivational forces and so we drive with the 6 of us on 2 machines. As we pass huge rivers we go numb – there is the fear that we may end up having to cross something like this. In the distance we see houses.
He points excitedly towards the city Kadykchan ( which later turns out to be a ghost town). The privation ride ends in front of a huge, collapsed bridge. The water is deep, only five kilometers separate us from the main road. The decision is quick. We leave the last 2 motorcycles before the collapsed bridge and our canisters and rely on our feet. Hard to seriously believe that after 5 kilometers a bus will stop and take us to the next town Myaundzha. There we spend the night at the hotel. But first we go to the local supermarket and eat sausages, chocolate, bread, mayonnaise – all together until we get stomach pain. This Village is amazing – We look like suicide bomber jokes with 5 petrol canisters in our hands but no questions are asked when we enter the hotel. The woman just says there is no space here tonight. Disappointment. We go outside. Anne gets into a car and is gone for half an hour. When she comes back we have reservations. What?!
Next day we are back on the old road. After picking up the other 3 bikes we head back for the broken bridge and camp there for the night. With our energy reserves refilled we mentally prepare to use THE SYSTEM to get all 5 urals across the following morning. With the break of day we empty the motorcycles and all our luggage once more and start pulling Schwepchess against the current and over the river. A few seconds after pulling the 1st motorcycle over we were greeted by the honk of a ural truck. Tolik and Alexei have come with their ΥΡΑΛ truck to pack our machines over the river.
The people here are incredibly friendly. The communication along the Kolyma entire route is unique. For example, we are making a stop at a petrol station. A trucker comes up to us and hands Anne the phone by saying, “It’s for you”. Making it to Magadan would not have been possible without the support of all the local people and motorcycle clubs. Everywhere we went we were more than welcome..
Having arrived in Magadan Alexei helps us to ship our motorcycles. We take a plane to Vladivostok – A shock to be in an airport and to be flying. The distance from your immediate surroundings is even further away than in a car. the snow around us comes to welcome or to expel us. Our visas expire and we leave Russia with heavy hearts.