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Friday, July 17, 2009

From Russia, with love. Or the where the fcukarewe tour. No 9.

Russia 1.
Top Speed:137kph
Moving average: 72.3kph
Moving time: 52.54hours

Top speed:128kph
Moving average:78.4kph
Moving time: 42.39hours

Distance from home: 43,817kms.

Norway's roads were a motorcyclists paradise. Beautifully smooth surfaces, magnificent grip in the dry and still plenty in the wet.(Did I mention it sometimes rained there?) Unlike the Greeks, who don't know what a constant radius corner is, the Norwegians have perfected them. The scenery was sensational. Speed limits of 80 and 90kph were rigidly enforced. Still plenty of fun. Finland's roads had a 100kph limit, long straights and nice flowing sweepers. The smooth surfaces were very wide.

We crossed into Russia at a little used border crossing that was not even on the map. Nor was the road to Murmansk! Fcuk me. The Russian roads didn't even have a surface on them! We could not believe it! They seem to be, as in India, in a state on constant work in progress. The lumps of blue metal were the biggest I have ever seen. If I had fallen off it would have hurt. After a while the road improved to become only bloody terrible. We met a Russian Motorcyclist, returning from Finland in his car. It turns out Mikhail Kraplya is a former Ship Master. now CEO of a Murmansk based shipping company and is the head honcho of the Murmansk Riders MC. A top bloke too. He escorted us the two hour ride into Murmansk, a good thing as it turned out as the road we had chosen was not even on the map and the GPS Euro map finished at the border. The road improved immeasurably to become only dammed lousy. Michael found us a hotel, sent us for showers and said to ring him when we were ready and we would go for a meal. Neva suggested we go somewhere close by. No problems.

We rang, Michael said he was 5 minutes away, told us to wait out the front. Ten or twenty bikes turned up. They passed around helmets, Gloria was lucky and got to travel in a sports car, Ron was on a cruiser, Neva on ZZR and I was on Michaels FJR1300. Fcuk me. They all took off like cats shot in the arse!!! We were doing 160kph through the city, lane splitting, the lot. I was scared the front was going to go into orbit when he took off from the lights. Neva's knees were up around her pilots ears. A girl, Lada, rides a Yamaha 600 and mixed it with the best of them. My knees were knocking like an old Russian single cylinder diesel and Neva's olive complexion had turned white. The harder she punched her rider in the back the faster he went. Ron just kept shaking his head and scratching his balls. More bikes turned up, well over 20 all together. After a top feed and a few beers we caught a taxi back. Next day Lada took us for a tour of the city and the surrounds. She drives her car a little like she rides her bike! She and her partner, Igor, are fantastic. We went to their clubhouse to change a tyre for Ron. What a setup. It was a long day. I found a bar and was drinking with my new best mate Kosta until 4am. Neva woke me at 7.30, and we had a long ride ahead. No sympathy either! A bit weird leaving a bar at 4am and it is still daylight.

We spent a couple of days riding down to St Petersburg. At first the roads were incredibly bad, but gradually improved to range from excellent to a little shitty. We were only stopped by the cops once, it would have been easier for him to tell us what we were doing right than go through the long list of things we were doing wrong. A laugh, an apology, a shake of the hands and we were on our way without a fine or a bribe. Even the highway patrol are friendly in Russia. They have a big problem in this part of the world. The roads are built on perma frost and fall apart every summer. The maintenance costs must be horrific. Finland and Norway seem to have their act together in regards to road building, Russia has a long way to go. We left the Artic Circle, not having seen darkness for about two weeks. We shared a meal with another Master, Alex, he introduced us to drinking Vodka, Russian style. Straight out of a shot glass, maybe an apple juice or a little water as a chaser if it is a particularly rough Vodka. We have all adopted this Vodka drinking technique with gusto.

St Petesburg is a marvellous city. The buildings are stunning. It even gets dark for a while at night.They really loved Neva and have named everthing after her. The city is built on the Neva River, there is a Neva Bridge, a Neva Hotel, a Neva Road, a Niva car, even the bloody toilet paper brand is called Neva! A lot of good lines there and I wasn't game to use any. I think Australian women are the most beautiful in the world. Russian girls come a very close second. Russian girls subscribe to the theory of "If you've got it, flaunt it" I like this theory. The girls in Murmansk seem to have invented this theory and definately mastered it. The scenary was amazing!!

Further south from St Petersburg to Novgarod, Charlie had recommended it and what a city, has its own Kremlin, probably better then Moscow's. Next a few days in Moscow, also incredible, Red Square, The Kremlin, Lennin's Tomb, the lot. Teamed up with three Irish Harley riding boys, Dave, Sean and Frank. To many beers, to much food and to many laughs. I did not make it back to our hotel until midday the next day, shared Daves room. Great blokes, even if they rode Harley's!! Unfortunately Gloria's time with us was over, she flew to her and Ron's daughters in Hong Kong for R&R on the way home. Gloria was excellent to travel with. St Petersburg and Moscow are like any other big western city, many shops and a good variety of bike and car shops. There is plenty of money in Russia.

South east from Moscow to Kazakhstan via Samara and we are in the Steppes. Rabi told me the Steppes are in Mongolia. They start in south east russia. We spent about a week riding through Kazakhstan entering at Oral. The Steppes are vast, some parts reminding me on the Nullabor or Hay Plains. Ron recons if they ever get their act together they could flood the world with wheat.In a joint called Aqtobe we met a couple of British bikers, Scott Mitchell and Kim Moss on Yamaha XT600's. In spite of them being on Yamaha's, and being Poms, they are really, really top blokes and good fun. Are on the road for two years, hopefully we will ride together for a while. The Kazakhstani people surprised me by their openness and friendlyness, much like the Pakistani and Iranians. The Russians are a little reserved at first, their initial shyness gives way to them being very warm and open. Kazakhastan, like Russia, suffers from bad press. Both countries are a lot more advanced and with a better standard of living than I had thought. Although far from the city they are a both primitive. We see very few motorcycles, most we do see are Japanese, next to no Russian cycles.We got lost one day, ended up many hundreds of kms out of our way on extremely shitty roads ar tracks. Fantastic days ride though. Neva and Kim up ended their bikes in the mud. My mud riding experience has increased by 400%, still fcuk all though.Qostanay, Arqalyo, Esil and Astana (the newly built capital) Had the most fantastic pizza in Astana. Next day we had 13 shits and 8 showers/baths between us. Pavlodar, then to the border with Russia at Semey. The border formalities took 4 hours to get in to Kaxakhstan and 4.5 hours to get out. No hassles, just go with the flow. Finally, we are into Siberia.

We have adopted a bit of a routine, awake at 6am, on the road by 7.30, a meal around midday, find a river for a swim/bath in the late afternoon, buy a bottle of vodka and look for a campsite about 6 or 7 pm. All wild camping. Just find a field or forest out of view of the road. All beautiful in their own right. If there is some where to buy a meal we do, otherwise we cook up a storm. Fantastic.

Met 4 Aussies on bikes coming the other way, 3 DR650's and a KLR. The Kate MacMuun Gang. They had ridden from Vladivistoc, Neva was rapt to see another Aussie girl on a bike. She wanted her photo taken, I don't think she wanted to leave her. Something wrong with Ron, Scott, Kim and my company? Our first large Russian city this time around was Barnaul, we took a day off to give the bikes a bit of TLC. The hotel was great, did our laundry, ate good food, drank good beer and good vodka. The girls in Barnaul have the same philosphy as those in Murmansk. The locals very friendly and helpful. I liked it there.

We had been told of a Motorcycle Festival near a joint called Gorno Altaisk, about 250km from Barnaul on our route through the Altai Mountains to Mongolia. We would call it a bike rally. About 600 Russian motorcyclists camping in a magnificient forrest, beside a magnificient river. A brilliant band, events we don't see, like motorcycle engine throwing (5.5 mtres!!) Good food and beer. Vodka, bloody vodka. We cannot walk the lenght of the campsite without drinking many, many shots of vodka. Most lovely and smooth, some like cats piss. A lot of Russian made Ural motorcycles, heaps of Jawa and HHH 2 strokes, but mostly Japanese bikes of every description, like any rally at home. Only two other BMW's, both F650's, a GSPD and a Scarver. We are treated like minor celebrities. This is an exceptionaly beautiful area.

Tomorrow we head towards the border, Monday into Mongolia. I have been thinking. It definately does not get any better than this!!!

Take care,

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