The Kolyma Highway

Friday, June 27, 2014

The rain fell hard that night. In the morning, large puddles everywhere. You look at the weather that appears quite favorable. So you can go without great concern. You say that the rain has had the advantage of pasting down the dust. Andrei wants to accompany you to the ferry. You also meet Ruslan there. He wants to do an interview for the Yakut television chain and you accept.

You really start the road to Magadan at 2pm. Quickly a hailstorm. An impressive amount of water. You had not put your rain jacket and you’re soaked before taking it out. You realize quickly that this dirt road is going to be complicated. You remember the Carretera Austral. The rain was continuous but not really annoying for driving. Here, the water drainage is not so efficient. The soil quickly turns into mud. You experience big difficulties. You know you mustn’t fall, and if you can prevent falls, it is often by chance or great effort. You become exhausted both nervously and physically. You start thinking that you won’t do it. While other vehicles do not raise dust, they do send spurts of mud or muddy water. Your visor is too dirty. Soon, you have to open it and then you get everything in your face. You have mud in your eyes. It reminds you of playing rugby. You learn quickly to turn your head at each crossing of vehicles. But the mud comes in anyway … Most of the time, you advance very slowly. Your average must be 20 km. The mud has never been your strength. What if the remaining 2000km were all in these conditions? No, you must remain optimistic.

After 50 painful kilometers, you stop in the first village to take a hot coffee. Right after leaving, the mud makes you swerve several times, you really have a bad control. It is only 4PM, but you choose to stay there. Half turn after two kilometers. You look for a place to sleep. Many people confirm that there is nothing in the village. You have to go 200 km further… You are leaving knowing that you will not do 200 km like this. You don’t care about where you will sleep. You just want to leave this mud.

Gradually, you get used a little bit to the road conditions. Even though there are sections where you still really don’t feel confident. There are sometimes fields full of slippery clay bumps, probably carved by the herds. Sometimes corrugation that you are forced to drive very slowly. Everyone overpass you. In the dust, you drove faster than cars, but in the mud 4 wheels seem to be much better than 2. At least with your load. However you see several vehicles, including two trucks that are in the ravine. After 160 km, you arrive in a small town. You ask for a gotsinitsa (hotel) at a gas station You go there with difficulties because of the mud.

The hotel is occupied by a group of young girls who speak English. A pleasant surprise. Except that the hotel is full … There is another and it is proposed to guide you there. A new field of mud. Your guide stops above a hole. It shows you a roof … It is 10 meters down against the rest of the village. You’re grateful for their having guided you, but you remain thoughtful about the position of the hotel. Tired, you decide to go. Going down is easy. Fortunately, the bike sinks into the mud, and you can accompany the descent with your feet on each side. Downstairs, you need to turn in the middle of ruts filled with water to reach the hotel. You’ll get there by heating your clutch and stalling a few times. You do not like the mud. You’ve already said … You stop, or rather mud immobilizes you few meters from the entrance.

You know you can not go back, and you decide to drop the bag, boat and bags. Your only chance would be to go up without your stuff, if by chance the sun dries a little the street. A gotsinitsa is not a hotel but a place to stay. All gotsinitsas are different. You share a room with two young men who build towers for GSM antennas. Alexander takes care to explain to you how the place works. Russian toilets and shower outside. It also offers you dining. The quiet kindness. You’re worried for the ascent. You will have to remain at the bottom of this hole as the bad weather continue. You saw two 4×4 succeeding the ascent. They launch the engine into the slope with maximum speed. For now, you do not see yourself doing the same.

You discuss with your roommates. You understand that they are like you, stuck … It rained for three days and two days ago they could not go up, so they stay in their beds. Their vehicle has four-wheel drive but is not powerful enough. They are philosophers and enjoy rest … As you fall asleep, you tell yourself that you could ask for some help to exit the bike if you can not do it alone. Once everything unloaded, and your bike is rather light. Too bad that you have had your fill of petrol just before the descent … But they’re right: you will leave when you can. Good night. DSC00766DSC00769DSC00772


Saturday, June 28, 2014

A miracle : a great sun. Everything dries quickly. By late morning, you decide to go. The owner of the hotel stops a 4×4 to ask to get your bags. You’re not comfortable, but you climb without much difficulty. The sun has already done its work. Above, everything has dried … Once your bags and panniers ready, you walk back down to say goodbye to everyone, and you start.

Finally good condition. Not too much dust nor mud You take a heavy rain in the early afternoon, but in a rather easy area. You’re in luck today. The only difficulties are a few areas of sand and gravel. A small bridge partly collapsed. Truck drivers stopped to put pieces of wood, fill with sand. The cars start to pass and you do the same.

You arrive a little before 5pm to a river where you have to take a ferry. The platform is empty. You expect a car arrives to go on. You go around the bike. You see a big oil leakage on the right fork tube. It was not there 30km ago and saw everything that was projected onto the skid plate, it should not be a lot of oil in the tube. You had leaked fork in 2010, but not as important. You’ll see. Yet you did not feel anything abnormal during these last kilometers, driving seemed normal.

The ferry fills. But slowly. The departure time is scheduled for 8pm. You discuss with Uzbeks working for an electricity company. They also install pylons. You show them on your phone your photos of Uzbekistan. They come from a small town in the Samarkand region. Nice place… The ferry leaves. During the crossing, you discuss with other people. You ask them if there will be a hotel on the other side. There is one at 30km and they offer you to guide you there.

They drive very fast, but they will wait for you at the entrance of the city. On these 30km, you will not have again felt no discomfort in driving. The left tube must compensate for the lack of damping of the right tube. Good news. The hotel occupies the ground floor of an old building. But everything is clean, spotless. There is a real hot shower, and a kitchen. Only a couple occupies another room. They invite you to share their meal. You did some shopping, but you accept. A pleasant evening.


Sunday, June 29, 2014

You lose an hour to find the petrol station. You wanted to start earlier than the day before, but it is already 11am. Weather is nice, the road is good. Everything is nice today. A cyclist. You stop. A Russian who goes from Moscow to Kamchatka. From Magadan, he will continue on a winter road and go canoeing through the rivers. He carries an inflatable canoe… You are kidding have had the same idea and you congratulate each other. But you find him braver than you. He says you also having seen a motorcycle 30 minutes earlier. Maybe you’ll find it later.

Distant mountains. They approach. You leave the plain to the mountains. Great happiness. Beautiful scenery, a blue sky and an easy trail. What fun. You do see almost anyone, so almost no dust. After an hour or two in the mountains, a biker stopped on the low side. Probably one that told you the cyclist. Patrick is Australian. 26 years. Now you remember seeing him on a Yakutsk avenue when Valera was giving you your Visa card. You had told Valera “an Australian plate.” And girls of Gotsinitsia before yesterday … they had hosted the previous night an Australian. Each time the same person.

You ride together. You are both glad to have some company. Patrick is a kind boy, calm. A huge road construction. Parking with hundreds of vehicles, dump truck, … You’ve never seen so many. Work on a road here is pharaonic. Several bridges are being built in this area, and it makes you surprising deviations with a high slope, narrow and the state of the track. You stop to take a picture. While you are ready to go, you see … your bike falling. First time since the day of departure. Not too bad. Fortunately, Patrick is there to give you a hand. You will not know if you are able to stand it up by yourself, but it is better not to know.

You and Patrick drive first alternatively for sharing the inconvenience of dust. A small river, Patrick awaits you. The first river. Not very deep, but your rear wheel is blocked in a hole. Your bike is too heavy to go out. Patrick comes to help you. He has now water in his boots. Yours are waterproof, but one of them is also filled with water. You made a mistake. You would have been more concentrated and nothing would have happened.

The road is still beautiful. It is 6pm when you get to the next petrol station. A rather dismal place and for the first time, the waitress will not seem particularly friendly. This is a real road station. A family lives here, away from everything. At 200km from the nearest town, in a place infested with mosquitoes, where the temperature drops to -50 ° in the winter. You understand the waitress to not being particularly welcoming.

You leave for about ten kilometers to the first place where you could plant your tent. The soil is stony. You need to get off your boat to get the tarp. Patrick offers you to share his tent. A big Russian model for three people. This will save you much time.

You are also attacked from all sides by mosquitoes. You spray yourself with your repellant, but you are still surrounded by a cloud of mosquitoes. Stressful. You fill you are attractive for mosquitoes. A good skin for them, or are you dirtier, or may be cleaner … You do not understand why! On the other hand, it would be useless to share the hundreds of mosquitoes with Patrick. Better to keep them all for you. Once in the tent, happiness … You can write these lines safely. You hear the sound of mosquitoes on the other side of the tent, but you stay calm.


Monday, June 30, 2014

The road is still as beautiful and good. A kind of highway … Nothing to do with the first part in the vicinity of Yakutsk. Driving in these conditions is a great pleasure. You can drive fast on the straights, and you just beware of turns. Few vehicles, but still sometimes a few surprises. Cities are rare. You’re on a new section of the Magadan road without any inhabited area.

You arrive in the first city in the middle of the afternoon. A good meal in an unexpected Chinese restaurant.

You ride quietly. Patrick drove faster before your meeting, but he had two bad falls. One of these falls at 80km/h when passing a vehicle in the road works close to Yakutsk. The same area where you were afraid to know the same fate. And a second crash yesterday before you meet him, arriving on a bridge. He was twice lucky to get away with minimal damage.

You arrive in an area where cities succeed almost every 50 or 100 km. These are often ghost towns. Abandoned cities. Time of the USSR, planning had considered it necessary to connect the eastern Russia to the west by a link of settlement areas. It was thus built complete cities with school, police station,… All were supposed to look like any other Soviet city. There were factories for people to work, everything… After the fall of the Berlin wall, factories closed as too remote to be profitable. The majority of people then left, if not all. The road is not generally through these ghost towns but it pass near them. A strange landscape. All cities have not been abandoned. Sometimes there is a small part of the people still living there. You would expect to find old people who do not want to leave the place where they lived, but you see mostly young people in these half-ghosts cities. Young elegant women with strollers, kids on bikes .. You do not understand why these young people are there. A challenge?

In the evening, you reach Artik. The town has less than 10% of its population of before. Patrick asked two teenage girls, 15 years, if there is a gotsinitsa. Girls like all teenagers in Europe. But you remain confused about their living conditions. Artik was the house a few hundred people, but there remain a few dozen today. Lack of accommodation, you still ride fifty miles before camping.

The camp is infested with mosquitoes again. You would have expected a dry place, but it would be for another time.


Tuesday, 1 July 2014

You meet two Polish bikers on BMW. A GS 800 and 1200. The guy with the GS 1200 fell several times. He seems to have broken ribs. His bike is heavy, but yours is also much too heavy. You have nothing to say about that. Road Magadan is famous for bikers. You are on a new section, but some bikers take the old part : old destroyed bridges, river crossings… a kind of challenge for unwary bikers. You prefer to have a good comfortable road. And you found a way to stuck your wheel in the only river that you met! As for Patrick, he initially wanted to do the loop, but its falls made ​​him change his mind. He thinks now returning by the same safe “highway”. Noon lunch in Ost Nera, one of the largest cities along the route. Again a half-ghost town. A building on two abandoned. The restaurant is chic. Proof: you pay after eating, what do not happen for a long time. The lady who takes orders is smiling and considerate. You have only 100km to Yagodnoye. Patrick spotted it on his GPS a gotsinitsa. You reach it on mid afternoon. The building of the Gotsinitsa is a bit away from the road. A creepy building, half the windows are bricked up. Patrick goes in and comes back with two policemen. The building is no longer a hotel, but a federal office. The police are friendly. They spend making phone calls to find a solution. You do not understand everything, but you follow. They lead you to a building that seems half lived. A furnished apartment on the fourth floor. You leave your luggage, then go to the police station. Where the boss gets you in his big office. TV evokes the events in Ukraine. As always, you feel that the sensitivity of the subject is great. The boss speaks pretty good English and gives you information about your roads for tomorrow. Patrick wants to reach Magadan and you Seymchan, a port on the Kolyma River. You will then park the bikes in a garage. While chatting with the owner of the garage, he notes that you attract clouds of mosquitoes. He offers you a mosquito repellant thinking that you do not have one. You spray on your clothes, your head and …. and then … the mosquitoes are gone. Patrick had told you: it’s your French repellant which attracts Siberians mosquitoes. New horizons open before you. You understand now why the inhabitants of these cities do not have your little swirling cloud above their heads. Finally, officers left you at the apartment. You did not understand what was happening, but you’re lucky, and it should not be asking too many questions. Shopping at the grocery store. You see a Visa terminal. Can you use it? Of course! So you pay 4 chicken thighs, two oranges, a hunk of bread, two glasses, a liter of beer and a few trifles with your beautiful brand new Visa card. All for 15 euros. A shower, a good meal and quite good internet. Life is nice.

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