Bilibino to Egvekinot

Friday, July 18, 2014

You went to leave your luggage in the truck last night. You also wanted to make a try for loading the bike on the truck with a hoist. You want to be able to load and unload as quickly as possible so as not to waste too much the time of the drivers.

This morning you have an appointment with Pavel at 10am for the departure. They all take a taxi and go to the gas station for you to fill and then bring your jerrycans. You carried a total of 70 liters of gasoline.

You do not understand all the discussions, but Costa and Jeima will stay in Bilibino. They will take later a truck to Pevek. Danila goes into a truck driven by Sacha. Nadia and Mikhail, the elderly couple who accompanied Costa, climb into the Pavel’s truck that is also carrying your luggage. And you follow on your motorcycle without any luggage. Or rather you open the road as you would have trouble keeping behind the cloud of dust raised by trucks.

During the first hundred kilometers, the road is good, even very good. Trucks are not moving quickly due to the relief. You stop to wait them approximately every 30km. The fords you’re going through are shallow. Streams rather than rivers. But you know it can not last.

90km. You expect the first big river at 200km, but here’s one that already gives you pause. Instead of taking the path of the trucks, that you think is too deep, you walk away downstream where there is a less deep pass. You cross with apprehension. The current pushes the water on your boots, and you quickly have your right boot filled with water. You should have put your rain pants, but it’s too late. You waiting trucks. Sacha comes first tells you that you must cross back because it’s lunch time… You take off your boots and pant and barefoot cross. You’re happy to make your first crossing without a fall, but do not abuse.

Rivers succeed. An hour later you’re looking again at a more reassuring than the official ford crossing when Pavel tells you that the bike will be loaded over the truck because others deepest rivers will follow at 10, then 30 km.

Danila does the hoist while you prepare the bike. It takes ten minutes to lift the bike at 1 meter from the ground. At the next crossing, it will be wet to the engine, a height of about 1.30m.

After this first series of rivers, you get the bike. All loading and unloading takes a little more than half an hour, and you’re ashamed to lose this time to your fellow travelers. In Siberia, the time has not the same value as in Western Europe … We take it, but we do not count. You’re still not a true Siberian.

River after river, your two boots were repeatedly flooded. While you have put again the bike on the side of the truck, Pavel cares. He thinks you’ll catch cold. It offers you a new pair of socks, pants and lend you a pair of shoes. You also got a problem with your camera: it is wet, and the “shutdown” button does not work anymore. You find a workaround: wait for a timeout to have the lens in, then remove the battery… But takes 2 or 3 minutes, so you limit the number of pictures.

The day lasts. It could never stop as the sun never sets. But Pavel and Sacha, the drivers, stop around 11pm. Always near a river to get water for tea. In Chukotka, the river water is clear and pure. Just bend down to fill the kettle.

You’re looking for a little sand area to plant your tent. You dresses it quickly, get the dinner with your companions, and you lie down to sleep. Pavel kept your pants and your boots soaked. He assured you that everything will be dry tomorrow. You find it hard to believe.

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Saturday, July 19, 2014

You’re waking up to the sound of a herd of reindeer. You stopped near a Chukchi camp, and you observe them from afar. Alone, you could have gone to meet them.

Pavel gives you back your boots and your pants. Everything is dry. Heating system in Kamaz is awesome … you are recovering the bike mid-morning after a new series of deep rivers. This time you wear your rain pants to limit the entry of water into the boots. You know it will not be totally effective, but with a little luck, you will remain your feet dry longer.

Late morning you stop in a base camp. Probably the people who work for the road, or the remote base for mines. The wealth of the region remains the gold mines, but they are far from the road. Sometimes hundreds of kilometers. The trailer that Pavel had on his truck is lowered by crane. And you leave, Pavel is now pulling two trailers.

Shortly after, a river that seem deeper. Pavel tells you that you will put now the bike on the trailer because you are going to find several deep rivers. The hoist can not be used since the two trailers were popped, and you have to lift the bike arm strength. At four, it is actually not that difficult but it should not do it too often.

In the early afternoon, you arrive at the bridge of the Palawan River. The only bridge of this road, you will not take it because it leads to Pevek. You wait at the junction for one of Pavel’s friend who should pick the second trailer to Pevek. The appointment is set up in the middle of the day, but you wait until 6 pm. A little late for Siberia. Pevek is only 200km, but it takes 7 hours to drive for a truck.

Danila makes fire because the temperature has dropped since Bilibino. There is now less than 10°C. You discuss with Danila who will leave for Pevek where he will be joined later by Costa and Jeima. Danila parents were born in Ukraine, and the subject is burning to Danila. You’re surprised by his anger, by his criticisms aimed at Westerners. But you understand. Part of his family lives in the bombed areas. You did not think that so many Russians had relatives in Ukraine.

Danila has traveled extensively. He spent several months in Australia, Papua New Guinea, in many parts of the world. He is critical towards many things in Russia, but he sees clearly that the eastern part of Ukraine should remain linked to Russia. The boundaries were drawn up under the authority of Stalin without considering people’s identity. At this time, everyone was primarily Soviet, and membership in the Ukrainian or Russian Republics was anecdotal. Today, families are separated by a border that became real, and the bombs fall. Danila is angry like many Russians.

Danila has not thirty, but he regrets the Soviet Union. At the time, the borders were irrelevant. At the time, the population of Bilibino was twice as large. At the time, ghost towns did not exist. The country working. The Communist Party was to Danila an anomaly, but the Soviet Union wealth. For Danila Gorbachev destroyed a country.

You’re as surprised by the support that the Russians bring to Putin. Rare are those who criticize. For you, western, Putin is the archetypal politician attracted by power. You imagined hated by his countrymen. A man of the system, cunning, without human value. For the Russians you meet, Putin is instead a man appreciated. He restored the government authority. It also greatly reduces insecurity and started work on the reconstruction of both economic and political of the former Soviet Union. Or the new Great Russia. Jokes to Putin are many, but they are rather benign.

When the Pavel’s friend arrives to get the trailer, no rancor for the delay, but the fun reunion. The road was just opened, and since the closure of the winter road, friends had not seen. A new tea, coffee, discussions, jokes …

It is almost 8 pm when you leave. You have taken the place of the Danila in the Sacha’s truck. You follow the Palawan river to the south. Many river crossings.

The scenery is very beautiful. You realize that it is one of the most beautiful roads that you know. You remember, when young, you have traveled with the same emotion the road between Tamanrasset and Djanet. During your RTW, you had admired the northern route in Mongolia, and also the route in the Bolivian Altiplano between San Pedro de Atacama and Uyuni. But it is even more beautiful. The valleys are green and bare mountains. The variety of rocks is such that the colors change constantly. You’re very happy to be on this road.

Relations with Sacha, are strange. Danila warned you that Sacha was angry against your helmet which had made a scratch on his dashboard while you were in the Pavel’struck. Sacha is very attached to his truck, his habits, and you have to deal with. You’re sitting on the empty seat near the window. At your feet the food crate. But your feet are together at the central seat where Sacha leaves his cigarettes and his bag of sweets. Your position is not the most comfortable especially when the truck makes rodeo on the stones.

While you enjoy discussing with Nadia and Micha, the elderly couple traveling with pavel, you feel a certain distance between them and the drivers. Perhaps because they strive to take their meals apart, while drivers put everything in common. You regret this cold and you try to creater a link. Again, your level of Russian does not help. But you try to help them to get their bags in the truck when it is needed. Climbing the trailer for Micha who is 75 years old is not that easy, and you saw him falling back during a break. Fortunately fall inconsequential.

Nadia and Micha are Muscovites. They look like any pair of French pensioners. You could have imagined former owners of a haberdasher, or maybe a drugstore in a small Provencal village. But Micha is still working, and Nadia just retire. What work? Both are weapons experts … Nadia worked for the navigation systems of the long range ballistic missiles, and Micha is always an expert for spying satellites. Again the army … You reliving the same events.

Pavel is now driving ahead, and Sacha follows with you on board. Regularly Pavel announces a bear at right, then another at left … You had come to believe that the bears were part of a myth, but you can testify they exist, and they are indeed numerous. Sometimes an elk. Bears need food.

When the trucks arrived, the bears fled. Even if they are huge, they easily understand that they do not match for a Kamaz. They then begin to run at a speed that you would not have suspected. They also run fast, whatever the terrain. Once you see one going up on a way with 45 ° slope. It was as fast as going down… You’re impressed by their power. And the energy they display as the race lasts several minutes, until you lose sight of the animal. If a bear was chasing after you, he would catch you in a very short time. You wonder if the sound of your bike would have the same effect as a Kamaz. Would flee it? You hope so. Anyway, you are for the first time happy to have a very noisy exhaust.

Sacha tells you that a few years ago, some bikers from Poland had passed. You had read their blog, and found a lot of information on this route. A Seymchan a docker had told you the same. It seems that apart from them, no rider has passed by.

In the evening, you camp again near a river. On the other side of the river, a convoy of trucks that come from living quarters to a gold mine. Little exchange between drivers. The world of the mines seems to be apart. Pavel shows you on the hill surrounding a bear watching you. It does not seem impressed by the stationary vehicles, and it is in no hurry to escape. It will eventually depart quietly. Near the Kamaz, you fall asleep without concern.

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Sunday, July 20, 2014

As you go up in his truck, Sacha proposes you to sit next to him. Smiling, he speaks to you about the rapprochement between Russia and France. A little later, he will grant you with a “My friend.” Glad you’re on the evolution of your relationship because you were embarrassed to feel that your presence was imposed without real Sacha approval. You’re also happy to be sitting more comfortably. But discussions are still quite limited. Sacha speaks to you as if you understand everything he said, when you’re really hard to follow the thread of his words. With Pavel, things are easier because he repeats things in different ways, seeking the vocabulary you know. Pavel do not hesitate to get one or two words of English sometimes.

In the early afternoon, you experience snow during the passage of a pass. A bulldozer is drawing the track in the snow. Two men live there in a trailer and one of them is a friend of Pavel. You are invited for a tea, and each brings its cakes, its smoked fish and other delicacies.

In late afternoon, another pause beside a river. Pavel and Sacha take out their fishing rods. In three quarters of an hour, they have caught a dozen kilos of fish. Pavel tells you that it is not much, he is disappointed. Maybe this is the beginning of the season, the fish have not yet taken their normal size.

The majority of fishes are cut and placed in a bucket with salt. Others are reserved for the evening meal. You notice Pavel’ knife: an Opinel … Pavel is proud of his knife that is excellent. He knew it was a product of the French high technology, but you did not know that these so sophisticated products were exported. Since your arrival in Russia, you often see French products: Tefal kettle, a Bonduelle tin, a bottle of “Petit Marseillais’… and now the ultimate tool: the Opinel!

You back on the road in the evening, and, as before, Sacha and Pavel drive until midnight. You’re impressed by their resistance. The evening camp is located at the last deep river …. You looked forward to the pleasure of riding your bike. It will be tomorrow morning, after passing this river. This day as a passenger has been very long.

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Monday, July 21, 2014

Here you are happy again on the bike. Pavel told you that you still get 8 rivers to cross, but it must be 8 rivers for a Kamaz because you cross many. You do not accounts. You take a lot of fun on this “road”. When you were 23, you had spent 18 months in the Aures, Algeria, with a motorcycle, the very first XT600. You officially was cooperating teacher in a university, but your schedule was such that you spent most of your time browsing the slopes of mountains and desert near. So you like the stony slopes, and you gradually find yourself some reflexes of yesteryear. There is always the rivers that you care. There were not so many in the Aures and they were often dried. But gradually you get used to and you even take pleasure in the cross. Basically, there are only stones in the bottom. Except that these stones are slippery, and you do not always see that you may end up stumbling over a larger than other stone. You are not scared about falling, but you don’t know how the electronic of your bike would behave.

Could you have come all this way only with your luggage and your boat? Probably not. In any case, you would have known repeated very complicated situations. You do not know if you’d be past, but the risk of dropping the bike in a river was great. Discharged, you drive the bike as a toy. Loaded, it is often the bike who decides and you become the toy that is shaken.

You have mainly benefited the truck to relieve you of your load. Crossing a river without luggage has nothing to do with the same crossing loaded with more than 100kg of luggage. The bottom of rivers varies greatly: some large stones on which you bounce and sometimes pebbles or gravel in which one sinks quickly. Often your used tire over-inflated, has tended to dig into the gravel. It sinks, but a minimum speed and engine power are enough to continue the crossing. With the load, you’d be stuck, stuck in the sand, in the gravel… To avoid this, it would have taken you twenty times unload and reload after crossing. It would also be necessary to deflate and take the risk of multiple puncture… A couple of things that could have been different you with some fellow bikers.

By late morning, the intersection with the 180th meridian. The complement of Greenwich. It should be the date change line if there were political boundaries. You observe your GPS: E179 ° 59.99. then ‘W179 ° 59.99… . While you wait for the trucks, you realize that they stopped a few hundred meters earlier. You join them. A panel “E180W” was placed a bit too early, but you take a break near the panel. Pavel took the opportunity to fix some mechanical problems. There are some even on these rustic Kamaz. But they are generally simple to fix.

The road is nice and wide for ten kilometers: you are close to a huge open-pit mine, and accesses to camps and to the mine are all extremely well maintained. There is even an airfield along the road. Until Egvekinot the road takes a normal form, without particularly difficult area, if not rivers.

The arrival in Egvekinot is in the fog and cold. You thought the weather would be warmer, tempered by the sea. You found Bilibino, which is located above the Arctic Circle, with a temperature greater than 30 °C. And now Egvekinot which is a few hundred kilometers to the south with a temperature of about 5 ° C. The weather does not always follow the logical geography.

You look at your odometer: 502km. A total of 1050km you will not have done half the journey by motorcycle. But you’re happy and a little surprised to be there. Leaving Grenoble, you thought the bike would not hold with all its load. Maybe it would have dropped in this last section, but you are there at the end of the road.

Pavel leaves Micha, Nadia and you downtown, near a church under construction. Sacha did not follow you. You’re surprised to leave them so quickly. You replaces your stuff on the bike. Micha and Nadia asked someone where you could find a gotsinitsa. The answer is “Niet.” You are surprised. But man has advised you to go to the city hall. Micha and Nadia are housed by friends of friends, but they want to help you to find housing.

Micha will therefore accompanied you. He explains your case to a secretary, and then you are welcomed by the Deputy Mayor and the Mayor. You are ashamed when Mayor tends your hand. Yours is dirt with earth. Micha leaves you and the secretary who had welcomed you comes back with you: she speaks English! She explains you that the gotsinitsa is full tonight, but some places will be released tomorrow. The phone calls continue. After a moment, a room is found in another gotsinitsa. Before leaving the City Hall, you need to wait for the border guards who want to check your documents.

You explain your trip to the border guards, your boat … They are worried about you. You told them you would like to find a fisherman who can accompany you on a part of the journey to Provideniya. But small vessels not yet able to leave the Egvekinot bay because of the ice. The debacle was late, and navigation remains dangerous. You were not expecting that. How long this blockage will it continue? They do not know. Last year at the same time, the debacle was over. However, the bay is open in Provideniya. What to do? You’ll have time to think about that.

Maria, the secretary, accompany you with the Deputy Mayor to the gotsinitsa. You can also take your meals there. You are then guided to a garage where you can leave the bike and its load. All your immediate issues have been resolved. Maria leaves you his phone number if necessary.

The lady who manages the gotsinitsa appears authoritarian, rigid. But once everyone left, she is caring. She takes your boots full of water, and offers you to use the washing machine. She also provides you with shampoo and soap … She guessed that you really needed.

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Tuesday, July 22, 2014

If the trip from Egvekinot to Provideniya is too complicated, you should focus on the second part: the crossing of the Bering Strait. You’re now determined to take a ship who take along, then you will do the tests in the Bay of Provideniya rather than here. The last 350km offshore to Alaska will be already complicated enough.

You go to the City Hall to ask Maria for information about vessels from Egvekinot to Provideniya. You also proposed her to make a presentation of your journey to school, as you have already done in Bilibino. For school, a meeting is arranged for the next day. However, boats … they are not one every day, or even every week. Above all to Provideniya. You quickly understand that it would be better to take a boat to Anadyr, and there, to find another one to Provideniya. Anadyr is the capital of Chukotka, a sort of hub for navigation. You thought all the boats followed the coast and stopped at every port, but it is not.

The Deputy Mayor calls the port for you. There are currently two boats in the harbor. This is quite exceptional. They both leave tomorrow morning for Anadyr. The first, carrying containers can not take you because it is full. You think that there is no cab for you, because your bike is really small compare to this ship. So you go with Maria and the Deputy Mayor meet the Captain of the second boat: a small cruise ship that transports fifty tourists. Indeed, Maria announced you that there was at this time some Canadian tourists in town, which was just as unique as your passage.

On the way to the ship, you hear someone shouting your name. You recognize that voice: Pavel! You’re happy to see him even quickly. He told you to call him if you have a problem, and you leave him to join the ship.

The Deputy gets into the ship. While you are waiting on the dock with Maria, a school bus-truck arrives. It brings tourists. You recognize their guide: Mille, an American who lives in Alaska who was your way with the authorities of Chukotka. You saw her photo on the website of the association for which she works in Alaska. You think you remember that the purpose of this association is to provide help in eskimos schools. Mille had recently announced you that she was 10 days in Chukotka, but you did not think to meet her on a dock. She did not recognize you. You’re not dressed as a biker, and next to the elegant Maria, she probably thinks you are a Russian official.

Then down the Captain of the boat, a New Zealander, and the Deputy Mayor. Captain agrees to take you for a fee. You agree with his offer: you will bring the bike tonight at 7pm, and you’re getting tomorrow morning at 7am. Everything is decided in a few minutes.

You just have time to get your bike, to say goodbye to Maria, redo your load and take your dinner. The bike is hoisted using the ship’s crane. You start to get used to see it raised in the air. Captain shows you your cabin, and then you leave again to the gotsinitsa.

Last time you discuss with the manager of the gotsinitsa. Chukotka is not it too difficult to live? Cold, isolation, lack of winter sun? On the contrary! She is a native of Omsk, but the Chukotka is so beautiful. So, so beautiful. Before living in Egvekinot, she spent a few years in a village on the Arctic coast. She shows you pictures. Walruses, polar bears, flowers, everything is so beautiful in Chukotka … The fishing parties with Chuchi friends. She makes you think of French expatriates living in Africa and for nothing in the world would return to France.

You regret leaving Egvekinot so soon. You would have liked to spend more time. You have enjoyed the hospitality of the staff of the City Council, that of the gotsinitsa. You wanted to make this presentation to school. You walk further into the streets. Explore the road to Amguema and redo some river crossings for fun. There you kidding?

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