From Zyrianka to Bilibino

Tuesday, July 10, 2014

You make your farewells to the crew and Captain accompany you to your new host boat. It is a long barge with 350 tons of coal pushed by a compact tug. The barge is almost full, but it will take several hours to complete loading.

At your arrival, you feel that the atmosphere is not the same it was in the previous boat. You could even feel that passengers are not necessarily welcome. Perhaps you’re too many? You try to start a conversation, but the answers are fast. You do not insist.

In early afternoon, the captain arrives. You know him: this is the man who had visited Anatole on the platform of dredging. Good news! This captain seemed debonair to you.

Once the coal loaded, you mention the bike. You do well because they would forget. The barge and tug then move to an accessible dock for motorcycle. You go to get it, and the bike is loaded with a crane onto the barge in the presence of Nicolaï, the former motorcycle champion.

The barge is then anchored in the middle of the river, and the tug joined the bank after going to refuel.

In the evening, while you’re in the cockpit with the captain, a former second on the ship which has since become captain on another boat comes to visit his former colleagues. You ask him what the sentence written on his shirt, with a big CCCP, means. You understand “Child of the USSR.” You throw the word “nostalgia”, and the man agrees. He will also talk about Ukraine, the fascist, war against Germany, Dachau … Captain reacts to his speech: “Propaganda, propaganda! “. The captain is Tatar. He seems more distrusting of official messages.

Gradually, you understand a little better Russia. Zyrianka is not the modern Russia. Rather a Soviet island remained despite changes. Here, boats, all built during the Soviet period sail in the same way that 30 years ago. The docks, the cranes, the organization, the sports club of the company, everything date of the Soviet period. Unlike the rest of Russia the system could be here sustained by mines. Remote towns, boats, cranes … everything remains in operation to serve the gold mines. If this were the ubiquitous cell phones, you would think be back in time.

While some people fleeing this remote place, others come to find jobs. You discuss with 4 or 5 dockers who are Armenians. The captain of the previous barge and his wife are Ukrainians, … one can work Zyrianka if seeking employment. Despite its difficulties, Zyrianka remains a rather small rich city in Russia.


Wednesday, July 11, 2014

The captain had told you that you’d go around 4 am, then 7-8 am;, but it is rather late morning. And again, a long break for refueling and you’re not actually start before 2 pm. You take advantage of the proximity of the city to try desperately to update your website in English, but internet is too capricious. You don’t succeed, despite hours of fruitless perseverance.

In the cockpit you find Nicolaï you met in Seymchan. You thought he would be on board because he was also going to Aniusk. And you understand that the crew think you’re a bit too many passengers because the captain also invited an old man, a Yakut fisherman.

The first hour of operation is complicated. The barge is long and heavy, and therefore not always controllable. It would be impossible to go further up Zyrianka, where the river is narrower. The upper half of the river is given over to smaller barges. For now, a break was made to strengthen the connection between the tug and barge. There was a gap, and all banged hard at every turn.

You move much more slowly than the previous barge. Between 10 and 15 km/h with the flow, while the previous barge sailed around 25 km/h. It will take a long time to reach Aniusk … At least 4 or 5 days if not more.

You spend your time between the cabin and the cockpit. Costa, the second, is often at the helm. But the Captain easily gives the helm to all members of the crew except Nelly, the cook. On the barge,there were few times when it was not the captain barred. And yet, he could leave Constantin only at a straight section. Here, even the young Dima is left alone at the helm, in the cockpit.

The organization of the boat is more anarchic, but everything works fine. The crew involved as soon as possible when a problem arises. And as for the barge, the problems are there.

The river is wider and wider, but the paths are not necessarily easier. Sometimes you have to zigzag from one bank to another, always following signs or routes marked on the map. Small outboard boats are not concerned and generally draw a straight line down the middle of the river. However, you still recorded GPS traces of the ship to keep a reference.

You discuss with Nicolai. You understand that he works in winter as a driver for a mining company in the Pevek region. He informs you about the state of the roads. Contrary to what Alek told you, road between Bilibino and Pevek does not exist. It is therefore a track that cross many rivers, often deep. Only big Kamaz go there, and often with difficulty. Bad news. You hoping to have three hundred kilometers quiet, but it will not be the case. He also told you that there are only few trucks that commute Bilibino to Egvekinot. Maybe one every 10 days .. So if something goes wrong, you need to be able to hold at least this time.

You do not know what to do. You will see in Bilibino. Nicolai tells you he will make some phone calls for you. Perhaps to other truck drivers … You do not understand what he wants to offer you, but you will see. A solution that would suit you well would make you wear, or at least carry your essence during the first joint portion with the road to Pevek. The famous three hundred kilometers for which you Nicolai confirmed that there were many rivers to cross . About 8 large rivers with depth and current.

End of the day, while you are in the cabin, Nicolai comes looking for you: there is a bear on the shore! Russians talk a lot about bears, but you didn’t see any until now. You’ll see it from very far with binoculars.

Again, Nicolaï calls you an hour later to see an elk. The preparation of battle: they put the outboard boat in the water, and two sailors armed with rifles swoop down on prey. Their engine is so loud, that the elk will flee before their arrival. You’re pretty satisfied with this conclusion.

Half an hour later, the boat stops. You go up to the cockpit. Nicolai says you they returned to kill the elk. Indeed, they will come back a little later with the body of a young elk. The animal is hoisted on deck and dismembered. You will not stay to attend the show. You’re too sensitive. You understand now why there is so much meat in the dishes cooked by Nelly.



Thursday, July 10, 2014

At 8am, everyone is asleep except Nelly and no trace of slaughter on the bridge. They had to work late into the night to cut the elk. Around 8:30, Costa and Dima recovering the boat running. Others arrive gradually, sometimes rubbing the skull. Captain will not be visible before noon.

You do not do much, but time passes. You feel a lack of sporting activity. Even walking is impossible on the boat. You eat, take a nap, a moment passes in the cockpit, go back and eat again.

Since Zyrianka, cabins hunters and fishermen are more numerous. We now see at least one every hour. It must be another story that the life of these fishermen. If isolation is weighing in cities along the river, it must be again worse for these people.

The river is wider, but there are still pitfalls. The map shows the islands that we can not see with the current level of the river water. It must then navigate between them by carefully following the route indicated to avoid grounding. During one of these maneuvers, boat rub and it is the current that pushes the barge that will take off the sandbar. The captain tells you that the depth of the barge is only 1m60, 1m70 for the tug. The river is not really deep in places. And these vessels are quite unstable.

You know better the crew. They don’t speak too much with you because your level of Russian is insufficient. You show your travel book to Nelly and you are again entitled with another “Romantik”. You show it also to Dima and Captain. You did well to take this book.

As you write your address, your e-mail and web on a paper for the captain and for the motorcycle champion who made the request, the captain down to his cabin. He goes with a passport, torn the page with his identity and gives it to you … The passport is no longer valid, but you remain surprised and touched by the act. You say that romantic must be rare here and you are entitled to special considerations.

In late afternoon, the ship is anchored in front of the small town of Srednekolinsk. You will spend the night there. The outboard boat is launching, and everyone will take a walk in town. You walk with Dima who guides you. Walking is good for you. You buy bottles of French wine for the crew, a bottle of Cognac for the Captain and a box of chocolates for Nelly. It took you a while to find the French Cognac … You did not know that so many countries were producing Cognac.

The town is small, dusty. You see girls, all with a mobile phone in hand. A new museum, hospital, office building … Many small shops. You also wanted to buy some fruits but every time Dima discourages you: these fruits are there for too long! And you come back without any fruit.

Back to the boat, you spend hours again to attempt a connection to the internet. You manage somehow to read once your emails, but it stops there. Only the phone works, and you can take news through SMS.

Nicolai is one of the last to come on board. He brings back some smoked fish for the crew. He leaves one fish for you in the cabin. The smell does not take long to invade the cabin and you will quickly lock the fish in a plastic bag. Alek did exactly the same time last week. Siberians are big fans of smoked fish. You’re not yet a Real Siberian.



Friday, July 11, 2014

Because a thick layer of fog immobilizes you, you leave in the early afternoon. You take each day as it comes.

You also discussed with Nikolai about the rest of your journey. The road between Bilibino is very complicated, and he thinks it is not possible by motorcycle. Polish riders have yet passed, but they were three. This changes things in deep rivers. You know that your only chance is to use your boat and your dry suit to pass these rivers. It will not be very simple, but you think it is feasible. However, there is still the problem of the fuel. You need to carry at least 60 liters. You would have 50 liters if you fill your tanks and your 3 bladers. Then you can easily insert in the boat 4 plastic bottles of 2-liter each. Thus carry 60 liters is feasible but you do not have any real margin. Finally, a third of the road is actually common with Pevek, and you should try to find a truck that could help you on that part of the road.

You left France knowing that you were not ready, but you had to take advantage of this summer window or wait for another year. Your target is primarily recognition. If you find one or two companions tempted by the project, you’ll travel again in the summer of 2016. For now, you are trying to going forward, not taking too many risks.

To follow the Kolyma on your boat, you know now that you absolutely must protect the belt. You also should be at least two boats because of the risk of punctures on the river. A second boat could help and tow the other if things go wrong. One boat alone with a flat airtight compartment in the river would be in big trouble. You hope to come back again, but for now, you just try to continue to learn. And if anyone among your readers are tempted by the adventure, he will let you know.

The boat will stop at night for a quick party of elk hunting. This time, Costa and Micha return empty-handed. You mean “night”, but it’s a long time since you have not seen the dark. The sun revolves around the boat, but never sets. You are now at 68 ° North latitude, which corresponds to the extreme north of Norway. Approaching the mouth of the Kolyma, in the Arctic Ocean. As for the longitude, you stand halfway between Australia and New Zealand. And the Bering strait is still far.



Saturday, July 12, 2014

You should arrive tomorrow in Aniusk. You take advantage of your last day to do some maintenance on the bike. You finally remove the fork tubes. You know the right tube is now empty, and it should remain half of what it should be in the left. The left had begun to leak the day after the right.

While you are about to simply clean, Nicolai tells you that you need oil in the right tube. You knew, but you had to give it up because you prefer to keep your engine oil for the engine. You try to explain … “No, no engine oil, diesel oil! “. He asks Micha for some oil of the tug engine. Micha goes down to the machine room and returned with a bucket full of oil. Then, they take the tubes, open them to add oil. They look both to know what they are doing. In any case better than you. You would have added randomly, so that they have specific benchmarks to determine the volume required. They will resume twice after circulating oil, and closing everything. As if they did that every day. In five minutes everything is over.

You would not think specifically add oil for diesel engine, but it is probably smoother than oil for gasoline engine, closest to the fork oil. Probably a local recipe. And oils used in Siberia should be also more fluid to adapt to the cold. Your friends Michel and Loïc both recommended to add engine oil in the absence of special fork oil.

Once the mechanical part is complete, you fix with Dima a sticker “*** I am Siberian ***”. He gave it to you yesterday. You are proud of the gift.

In the early afternoon, you go front of Kolinskoe, a very small town that you had marked on the map. You ask the Captain if there is a petrol station there … He laughs at the question, but yes, there is a petrol station. However, your phone provider has no antenna on site.

Every day the Kolyma becomes wider. There is always delicate passages in which you must follow precisely the route on the map. These difficulties do not apply to small boats. They can go on long straights without worry.

Stop for buying fish. The huts of the fishermen are numerous. Finally, there is one every 20 km approximately. Each fish weighs two or three pounds. The “Tchirr”.

You discuss again with your neighbor Nicolai. You now understand that he offers you to make phone calls son to find a truck that would go to Egvekinot or Pevek, and if not found, he could accompany you himself. He is probably not just the driver but the owner of his truck. You still have progress to make in Russian. Still, he offers you a well secure solution.

Another good news that comes from Nicolai: in Bilibino, Internet works! If you can put your webs update site, it would be really good.



Sunday, July 13, 2014

Micha informs you that there is already an oil spill under your fork. It was to be expected. Maybe you should try the disassembly foremost, but you are afraid of being stopped by the lack of a special tool. In any case, this should not bother you when driving.

You left the Kolyma for a smaller river that leads to Aniusk. The river is deep, and navigation do not make any particular problem. The current is also a bit weaker than the Kolyma and you go at 8 km/h average when you were 15 on the Kolyma (but pushed by the stream). The current is lower on the river.

A new Nicolai you talking about difficulty getting Bilibino to Egvekinot. Today, he thinks it is impossible. No way! It seeks to achieve moral tone. The current heat must melt the snow mountains and raise the water level. Of course, the rain would not be better. In any case, you realize to Bilibino, and you will see well for the future. It may be that you are actually passes longer than expected, but you’d be very happy to be able to walk. You need space.

The last hours are long. You see Aniusk close, a few kilometers, but you move slowly, and the river is a series of switchbacks before arriving.

Nicolai has offered you to go with him to Bilibino. He will host you. You discover he lives in Bilibino. He tries to find a vehicle for Bilibino but there is not today. It’s probably too late. However, he confirms you that the roads to Egvekinot and Pevek are closed. This is not really a surprise.

Quickly, Dima asks “how to put the motorcycle down from the barge? “. While we finally approach the port, you realize that three barges, all full of coal, are waiting to be unloaded. With more than one day to unload each barge, your turn will not be before the end of the week. But quickly Costa and Captain find a solution: “No problem.” They put the barge close to the dock that consists of an old barge filled with sand. Barges are exactly at the same level. You are lucky. All the crew arrives then to lower the bike. And here you are on the dock!

As the barge has to leave the dock, the captain and crew will make their farewells. Nikolai quickly take your phone number and goes back on the barge. You have not had time to take his number. He did not find a vehicle for him to Bilibino.

Before leaving, the captain tells you that they will stay in Aniusk 7 days, so if you decide to return to Zyrianka, they will be here. But hopefully, you will find a solution to go further.

You left everyone. When you asked the captain of the barge in Seymchan to take you, you thought they will charge you for the transport, the accomodation… You quickly realize that you were invited and you do not dare talk about compensation. It was the same with Lidar, the captain of the tug. You have been housed, fed and transported for a week at the expense of these ships. Besides the loading and unloading. You have sought the assistance of many people. And you remain impressed by their generosity.

You had not really thought about what you would do once ashore. You thought Nicolai would be with you, and that you would follow. So what to do? It is past 5 pm. Now you are on a dock with all your stuff. Riding tonight to Bilibino? No real risk of getting caught by the night as it will not happen for several weeks. You know that there is a Gotsinitsia in Bilibino, and you want to ride. You need to move. So you start.

The road is beautiful. At the beginning a forest, but different from the ones you crossed until then: the trees are much further apart, you could pass through them on a motorcycle. And then, gradually, areas without trees. An early tundra. And finally, the mountain. A beautiful mountain, majestic, beautiful scenery. You enjoy the ride.

In the mountains, you see the shadow and hear the cries of a hawk that flies over you from behind, then picnic on you several times, taking care not to touch you. Fortunately, the sound of your exhaust should not particularly reassuring for it. You think it is a little aggressive and you accelerate to make even more noise and away you.

Siberians say it is a “normal” road. It is especially important to pay attention to holes. The addition of oil in the fork makes you feel more the bumps in the arms. No big difficulty but some very short sections with sand or gravel. You meet a total of ten vehicles. You rode quietly: 3 hours and half for 250 km.

Arrived in Bilibino, a cyclist guide you to a Gotsinitsa. A room at 100 euros is suggested first. It must be the luxury. Finally, the receptionist find you a room at half price. It is still very expensive, but with your luggage volume, you avoid shared rooms that would be cheaper. And you know that the towns close to gold mines are always very expensive. You remember Australia.

Bilibino and Aniusk know a great evil: mosquitoes. If the repellant disturb them, they do not give up and approach. Each person has a small cloud around him. At least you do not feel alone anymore: everybody attract mosquitoes. Now, you are neither more nor less embarrassed than others. You have learned to coexist with them.

The hotel is on the second floor of a residential building. The area has been rehabilitated. It is a popular area with a playground, a school… Buildings painted with many vivid colors. The ground floor of these buildings, often stores or government offices. Neighborhood youth approach with the usual questions. The majority drank too much vodka. The smell of vodka makes you more uncomfortable. The most drunk wants to take your hand to keep it. Complicated. A young punk who has a little less drunk gives you a helping hand by carrying a pannier. You know you are a distraction in a world that don’t have so many. The young punk then hit several times at your door but you also need a bit of peace.


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