Late at night, I had reserved a charming ryokan in Hida in the Japanese Alps. 570 km away on the shortest route. That sounds a lot less than the days in Russia, however riding in Russia is much faster. I was in the middle of the beautiful Iya Valley and needed to get to the motorway first. I had a very typical and good Japanese breakfast at 7:30 a.m. Of course the bike was already prepared, but I didn’t dare to go to breakfast with my dirty biking gear; the smell is climbing on the ‘nastiness’ scale. I was wandering if I should return to the Koboke Canyon and head north to central Shikoku and heading east, deeper into the Iya valley. I would have to ride on very small roads again and cross the mountains. The problem was that I needed to arrive at 6 p.m. latest in the ryokan. In the end I asked myself why I came to Shikoku. Right, because I wanted to ride on the mountain roads! So eastwards I went. The landscape was very scenic and indeed the road turned into a single-track road that climbed up the mountain. I was passing a lot of roadworks and I was impressed how much work the Japanese invest even in these small roads. I got closer and closer to the clouds, but at an altitude of 1500 m I reached a pass.
The next hour meant endless bends and corners, mostly on a single track. Finally I got to the central valley. Here, the basic problem of my Sat Nav showed up again. As Garmin does not provide a maps, I had some opensource maps installed. The map itself is brilliant. However, the information linked to the roads is not available. That means the device does not know what is fast and what is a slow road. So it sent me on the slow national road when there was a quick expressway running next to it. I have to take the clever decisions. Finally I managed to get on the expressway, but the Garmin did not know a bridge and wanted to send me on a 200 km detour. But there are a number of huge bridges that connect Shikoku with Honshu. The largest looked like the Golden Gate Bridge and was really impressive. I can’t stop to take pictures on the bridges. The wind gusts from the side were hefty, one almost blew me off the bike! The large bridges are very expensive, but the next toll booth took me by surprise…for 90 km of toll road, I paid…60 Euros! I think that I paid something like 150 Euros in tolls today. Wow. Expensive. But the national roads are unbearable. In Kobe, I encountered some traffic jam and was surprised to find a service area right in the city centre, under all the elevated highways. A bizarre place. I managed to order some sweet-sour dish ( always looking for new dishes) which was quite good. Although the information was given in Japanese only, I understood that from tomorrow on, there will be road closures in Osaka due to the G20 summit. I was lucky, being one day too early. I made good progress andiIn the vicinity of Gifu, the sat nav sent me on the national road. What a pain! At a certain moment, I noticed that changing gears had changed. Normally, after having shifted gears, you feel a resistance in the lever. This was gone now…what does this mean? Is the gearbox starting to fail??? I remembered the Iron Butt Rally 2013 when I had to pull out because of a clunky gearbox. I could still change gears, but it felt different. The gearbox did not like city traffic since Russia. The basic problem is that I did not know how old this motor/gearbox is. You simply assume that it coincides with the odometer reading, but this needs not to be true. The fact that the timing chain starts to rattle a bit at cold motor temperature, indicates more a mileage of 70.000 – 90.000 km instead 40.000 km. XBR gearboxes are normally rock solid, but you don’t know what previous owner(s) have done to it. So I was shifting gears very carefully. I managed to guide the XBR back to a highway up to the mountains. Good! I had already feared that I would have to ride 150 km on this crowded road. After a while, I stopped at a rest area and checked the oil level. Well, I could top up half a litre. When I left the area, gears shifted very hard. Hmmmm…..not good. Luckily I had only 45 min to my destination. Hida is situated in the Japanese Alps and luckily I saw them still in a bit of sunshine – tomorrow the rain season will catch up and one week of rain starts. It will be heavy rain here tomorrow, so my plan to do a little bit of sightseeing will be washed away.
I arrived at the beautiful ryokan and was welcomed very warmly. It is a very elegant house with very friendly staff. The man who had shown me around does not work here anymore, but he spoke good English, so maybe they asked him to come. When I told him my problem, he called some mecanics and gave me some suggestions. I had thought of an oil change – until I heard a strange noise from the sprocket when I pushed the bike. I had no time to investigate – this will be a job for tomorrow, it will be a true rest day, as an excursion would be too wet.
I had a quick visit to the bath with its beautiful rotemburo (outdoor pool). Just in time ready for the excellent kaiseki dinner (Japanese gourmet food). I had many delicious dishes, but the highlight was the Hida beef. It is derived from Kobe beef and equally exclusive. I was sitting at a Western table (thank you) in my own compartment. Later I tried the massage chair in the lounge. A very elegant and welcoming place.
So what’s the plan? Well, in the worst case, I’m only 200 km away from my final destination in Nagoya. If no miracle happens, I’d just have to ride down to the coast on the highway. I’d park the bike at the Nagoya airport and rent a car there. In a week, I’d ride the bike to the harbour and drop it off there. Two days later, I’d return the car and fly back home from Nagoya airport. So this could happen. Let’s see tomorrow. If it would still be nice weather, I’d maybe risk it and ride on. But it makes no sense to ride around in the mountains in pouring rain with a sick gearbox. The XBR has performed outstandingly well in the last 14.000 km. She met the objective of getting to Kumamoto. The rest is only an extra.
Last night, I was checking my options of the ferries from Kyushu to Shikoku. All options led to the same conclusion: I needed to skip breakfast for it was only served at 8 a.m. The best connection was the ferry at 9:45 in Beppu. It was a 1:20 min ride to the harbour. And I still needed to buy tickets. At 7 a.m., I packed the bike and paid my bill. I explained the problem and was offered an early breakfast at 7:30. Hmmmm, ok. I ate very quickly, but I still needed 15 minutes for it. But at least I could still make it to get t the ferry.
It was a lovely morning again, I rode through the mountainous landscape, passing rice fields and forests. There was little traffic and I made good progress. At 9 a.m., I reached the coast and Beppu came in sight. I entered the town, but there was no sign to the ferry. I decided to follow the sign to the port. Here, there was also a total lack of information, at least in latin letters. I used Google Maps on my phone and found the right ship. I entered the terminal and had a ticket in 15 minutes. The bike’s front wheel was fixed with a clamp, I haven’t seen this on a ship before. I went to the passenger lobby and had a relaxing crossing, watching the great scenery, checking internet, reserving a ryokan for the night, drinking, eating. I discovered a massage chair and cleverly invested some 200 Yen (1.5 Euro) for a 15 min massage. Brilliantly invested money.
I introduced the accommodation in the sat nav and followed it almost blindly. 12:30 and only 200 km to go. The next hours were very scenic, they reminded me very much of the Southern Alps, like the Trentino, for example. These are the XBR’s favourite roads, from normal mountain roads to very winding single tracks in the forests. It was very slow at times, but these were the roads why I had come to the island of Shikoku. A perfect afternoon. Roads were perfect.
I made a rest break and forced me to sit down and drink something. Ryokans expect their guests to arrive early, but there was plenty of time left. I changed the route and did an extra detour through the Oboke and Koboke Canyon in order to enter the Iya Canyon from the north. A fantastic ride, like back home in the Alps. Though the mountains are different, more lush and green.
I arrived in Nishiiyayamamura Kanjo at a quarter past five, in a small valley between high mountains. The check-in went quick and soon I put on my Yukata and walked to the bath. This one had a bubble bath and a very nice little outdoor pool with mountain views. As nobody was around, I took some pictures.
In my room, I needed to come up with a plan. Tomorrow would be the last day without rain. Forecast predicts rain for a week now. I even checked the options taking a long-distance ferry to Hokkaido because there, less rain is expected. But it will rain as well, only much colder. So I decided to ride to the Japanese Alps, I found a nice ryokan there and would have booked for three nights, however only two were available. Well, unless you take the royal suite and pay five times the price. With two nights, I can make some excursion in the next morning, hoping that the rain will only pour down in the afternoon. Then I could enjoy the onsen in the ryokan. After that, we’ll see from there. Maybe some city visit. Tokyo, Osaka, anything is possible.
This morning, something unusual happened: I overslept. That means, I woke up after seven o’clock. But why rush it. Now I’m in vacation mode. During breakfast (again a large buffet selection), I got some news with problems of my airbnb guest back at my home place. That needed immediate response and kept me busy for a while. And the keys of the mobile phone keyboard seem to get smaller and smaller. In the end I left the hotel only at 9 a.m. I opted for the (expensive) urban expressway, but it would take me out of the city quickly. I was heading south, in beautiful sunshine. The trip’s highlight was only 100 km away – the Kumamoto Honda factory where the XBR was built in 1985.
This was one objective of this trip, seeing the place where the XBR came from. In the past weeks and months I had tried to establish contact – but I couldn’t. The respective websites are in Japanese. There is a ‘homecoming” event in October and I wrote a message to the e-mail address – no response. I wrote a message to Honda Germany – no response. I called Honda Germany with two questions: where was the XBR built and how to establish contact. I received a message back: we are sorry, this information is not known to us. “Are you really telling me’ I wrote back, ‘that Honda does not know where its motorbikes were produced?’. A while later, I got another message: ‘the motorbike was built in Kumamoto’. ‘Yes, thank you very much, and is there a way to establish contact the factory? I’d like to visit it.’ Silence. Roaring silence.
Some two weeks ago when I was in Russia, I discovered that a lady offered tours through the factory via airbnb. I contacted her. She explained to me that the information was only available in Japanese and reservations had to be made at least one month in advance in Japanese via fax or letter. Impossible for foreigners, that’s why she offered this tour. She contacted the factory, but no free places were available anymore. I nevertheless wanted to give it a try, maybe there is a way….
I stopped at a rest area and wanted to buy something to drink. I stopped next to three Caterham Super Seven and an old Mini Cooper. The owners were curious and started a chat….you know…from where, how, when…I revealed the facts bit by bit (the itinerary, the bike’s mileage, the concept) and they were more and more impressed. When I told them I did Hiroshima to Fukuoka yesterday (300 km), they were impressed as well. So you can imagine how a 13.000 km long trip must sound to them. They were really nice people and we had a good laugh. I had a look at their British cars as well, that’s not something you would expect here. Finally we said good bye and I started the final approach to Kumamoto.
I had no trouble getting to the factory, and there it was, THE sign to be photographed. I approached the entrance, parked the bike and walked to the security booth.
The security guy did not speak English, but another man in a Honda suit asked ‘reservation?’ I denied. I explained that I’d come a long way from Europe. ‘Yes, I know’ he said. No chance. The last hope vanished with a puff. Ok, I had at least tried it.
What’s next? It was later than expected, but at least I had more time for the second highlight of the day: the Mount Aso volcano. I introduced a GPS waypoint and set off.
This was disappointing, of course. It would have been great to enter the site, at least out of curiosity. But it was not the guard’s fault. Kumamoto is one of many production sites and the guards have clear instructions – entry only with a reservation. They are just doing their job. But I felt I was mad at Honda Germany – their customer relation management is despicable! When I bought my XBR, Honda was market leader for many years. Now it’s rank three to five with only half the market share than BMW. Coincidence? BMW has the less reliable products, but excellent after market management. I think I’ll have to write a “nice” letter to them when I’m back home.
I rode on back roads through a green landscape – rice fields, grass land, fields, trees – and soon I spotted large mountains on the horizon. I got closer and closer to Mount Aso, the mighty, largest active volcano in Japan. The views got more and more scenic and suddenly I realised I was going downhill again – this was the ridge of the large caldera. As I learned later, the caldera of this ancient super volcano is 25 km long and 18 km wide! And this is only the part that collapsed. My next destination was the mountain road to the active crater. But what was this? A German flag?? “Holahoo”? A German looking house with a German flag? Hm, I was behind my plan, but this looks interesting….Let’s check this out! I entered the frame house in German style – so this was a Café…
I greeted the lady in German, but she didn’t speak it. English went quite well. The next hour was making a very nice and lovely acquaintance with a family that dedicated their life to German products. The couple told me that they are travelling every year to Germany for 15 years already, mainly to Seiffen in the Erzgebirge. It is known for its wooden figurines, mainly produced by turning. In Germany, the objects are mainly sold in Christmas markets.
They sell a lot of these products plus served German coffee and….Baumkuchen! An old German speciality that you can rarely find for it is very time-consuming to make. They make it on their own and of course I had to try it. Delicious! Everything in this place was carefully selected, this was no tourist trap, only good quality items. Of course I told them where I was from and in the end we were watching promotional videos from my beautiful home area on the large TV. This was almost surreal. We had great fun in sharing stories.
When I told them about my trip, they were more and more amazed. Really very nice people!
I had to say farewell and when I left the parking, waiting at the road for the cars to pass by….I saw the three Super Sevens plus the Mini pass by into the other direction! What a funny coincidence! It took a while until I could stop laughing.
I got closer and closer to the volcano. The routing of the GPS in Japan is not brilliant, the sat nav always wants to take the direct route. I ignored it and had to find out that it had shown me the right way. It paid my foolishness with 5 km extra single track roads in the forest. Finally I was on the ascent to the crater. The XBR felt mountain air – that’s what she likes! The views were more and more scenic – often you can’t really put it in a picture – even in panoramic mode you can’t reproduce the ‘depth’ of the visual impression….wherever you look, there’s the caldera ridge. Finally I was at the junction to the top – but soon I had to stop. The toll road to the crater was closed! I had seen some smoke before and there was this helicopter in the air. Apparently, the volcano is waking up and it is too dangerous at the moment to get closer than 1 km.
Ok, when life gives you lemons, make lemonade!!!
Well, then let’s be a good tourist and go souvenir hunting! I purchased a small Kumamon, the happy bear from Kumamoto!
I walked outside and had another nice talk with a biking couple, she was riding a very pink bike! I mean, pinky-pinkish pink. Or just PINK!!! I see that the information about my trip sinks in when I show the GPS track, the eyes go wide.
A few km down the road, I visited the Mount Aso Volcanic Museum. Not hyper modern, but sufficiently informative to be appropriately amazed about the formation of this huge volcano. This must have been a really big BANG then! The pyroclastic streams covered a large part of the island of Kyushu!
I still had less pressure to arrive at my ryokan before five o’clock. The views down to the bottom of the caldera were spectacular again. Fantastic.
And from the bottom of the caldera, up to the ridge again. I followed some bikers on a nice, winding roads. But…they could go …a bit faster. I noticed that changing the spark plug was the right thing to do, but the bike still felt like running too rich. What could this be? Classic diagnosis procedure: what needs a combustion engine? Fuel, spark and – air. Maybe I should check the air filter.
I passed the ridge with a beautiful look back and sooner than expected, I arrived at my ryokan, a traditional guest houst with its own onsen (spa). I checked in and was first shown around, when I came back to my room, my luggage was already there. I went back to the bike and had a look at the air filter….indeed, it’s very dirty. Normally, I would have carried a spare one, but I left it at home when I reduced my luggage. As the filter is symmetrical, I turned it around, this should help a bit. I guess it is possible in this country to find a new filter for this bike. I mean, where else, if not here?
So I jumped in my Yukata and went to the bath (my bathroom has only a toilet). I tried first the small bath (after a thorough cleasing, of course), then I changed to the outdoor stone pool, next to the river. Ahhhh….relaxing…After that, I put on the jacket, changed slippers and toddled through the village, like many other visitors in town. It was a nice walk before dinner, very orexigenic.
Dinner was served in my room. As I was alone, I could stretch my legs under my table. I don’t know how I could do this, kneeling all the time. Then the food was served by very nice guy….dish by dish…and everything was excellent! I never had raw horse meat before, but it was fantastic. Classic top Japanese cuisine.
Tomorrow will be the last sunny day – everybody, including the forecast, tells me that the rainy season will hit later. I have a plan for tomorrow, but to escape the rain – almost impossible. I’ll need a good plan.
The breakfast this morning was smaller than the day before and more Western style. And you had a spectacular view over the Hiroshima peace park. I went relatively early, as I could see from the long queue when I left. Of course my bike was in good shape as I left it in the street the day before. It was Sunday morning and the traffic was noticeably reduced. It was a sunny morning, only a few more will come, then the rainy season will hit me after all. But today was a really nice day with highs at 25 degrees.
I only had to ride about half an hour until I reached my highlight for today, the historic shinto shrine on the island of Miyajima. I entered the ferry parking and had a chat with the elderly parking attendant. He was very pleased to hear my story. I had a brilliant idea that I would appreciate afterwards:
I left my helmet and jacket attached to the bike and could walk more freely. The crossing took less than ten minutes and I was glad that I arrived so early, I guess during the day many more (domestic) tourists can be expected.
I strolled along the promenade until I reached the iconic highlight og this world heritage site: the Torii (gate) located in the water. It is one of the most famous views of Japan. I passed several shines, among them the Itsukushima Shrine.
I entered many tourist shops, not that I was particularly attracted by them (although their products were not too bad), but I was in search for stickers for my panniers. Finally I found what I was looking for. As usual, shopping is very pleasant, the elegant kindness of the staff makes you feel very welcome. I continued strolling through the small alleys of the village and detected their main product: filled cookies/waffles called momiji manju. There were produced on the spot by big machines and sold in boxes. I purchased a single one to try them. Very good. On the way back to the ferry, I spotted some deers on the main street. I took pictures and was surrounded by them. They were of course in search for food ( no wonder, with all the cookie smell in the air). I started to talk to them telling them that I had nothing for them. This must have caused attention, because I was approached by a gentleman with a young camera team. He asked me where I was from and if we (in Europe would eat deer or rabbit). I affirmed this, they are quite tasty. He asked me what I thought about the deer in the streets in Miyajima. I told him that this was amusing, but they didn’t show normal behaviour in the village, for they never would get so close to humans. He explained me that the film team were his students and he was interviewing people about the deer situation in the village. I deduced from this that he wasn’t entirely happy about it. He thanked me exuberantly and I continued my walk to the ferry. 20 minutes later I was on the bike again. Today’s itinerary was very simple: get to Fukuoka, the capital of the southern island of Kyushu. It was another 250 km of motorway in front of me. I rolled at a 100 km/h and found time to stop at a service area again. I ordered some noodles with meat and omelette at a machine, paid and got a numbered ticket. As I couldn’t understand the numbers that were called, I informed the ladies at the counter and was served when it was my term. Good, simple food.
I still needed to fill up, but the attendants explained that there was no more petrol, I should try 30 km further down the road. I still had enough juice in the tank so this wasn’t a problem. Actually, it was a 40 km to the next station, but this wasn’t Russia anymore. My consumption was surprisingly low. After another hour, I enjoyed the luxury to stop for a coffee and another cookie. I wasn’t in a hurry. I thought about making a detour….checking the map….there was an island north of Fukuoka that looked interesting, let’s go there!. Of course I got stuck in the traffic when I left the motorway…I noticed that the XBR wasn’t riding as smooth as she should be….like before I nursed her for the first time in Russia. Maybe I had to do a bit of care-taking this evening.
At the tip of the island, I noticed a parking full of motorbikes and stopped there. With interest, I examined all the classic Japanese bikes. Café-Racer SRs or VT250Fs and all the lot. I was also a centre of interest and was the focus of questions and pictures as well. I guess they don’t see foreign riders so often. The Eastern side of the island was more rocky. I entered the interior and discovered a motocross track and a tower with great views on the coast.
But finally I wanted to get to the hotel. It took a while. Studying the habit of some bikers, I decided that I had to ride a bit more ‚normal‘ and did even a bit of filtering. Finally I arrived at the five star hotel. I had forgotten what a posh hotel I had booked, but the rate came with a large discount, so it was not so different from the previous days.
When you enter a luxurious lobby in your filthy and stinky gear, sweating and looking tired and noticed all the looks on you – priceless, haha!
I was shown my room and went back to the bike to park it in a large parking garage. Although I felt lazy, I forced myself to take care of the XBR – tighten the chain (first time since Moscow), fill up oil and scottoiler and exchange the spark plug. I was right – it was not brown but totally black. No wonder after all the dodgy Russian fuel and the overflowing carb. Tomorrow, the XBR should be running much better, just in time for her big her day.
I had a shower and cancelled my initial plan to go to the city centre for some local food. The hotel does not provide two or three restaurants, nor four or six…..No, eight different restaurants were located in this huge building! And then I had a (crazy?) idea….There was also a Teppanyaki restaurant..wasn’t this the moment to try it? With excellent Japanese beef…One thing was clear….this would be terribly expensive….but why wait? If I want to try many things in Japan, isn’t this one of the things you should have tried in your life? So I went to the Teppan. The menu was indeed…hmmmm….not exactly a bargain. I went for the less breathtaking menu, but ordered the premium meat. I was later told it was from Miyazaki (at the same level of Kobe beef). And then what to drink? No beer, of course. I asked for the wine list….excellent wines for sale…I saw La Tâche and Richebourg from Romanée-Conti and had a hard time counting all the digits….Well, luckily they also had half bottles and less aristocratic wines, a humble Gevtry-Chambertin was pricy, but without heart attack risk.
I was apparently the only guest today. With three teppans, this might look odd, but I am not in a big group anyway. So I sat at the hot plate, waiting for the spectacle to come…the cook was very friendly, showed me the meat and started the preparations. I was served appetisers and a salad (jellyfish!). The way the chef grilled the vegetables and later the meat on the hot steel plate was not a big show, rather more a cautious piece of art. It was a pleasure to watch. And then the steak and the vegetables were ready. Grilled to perfection. The meat ‘melts’ in your mouth. Exquisite. After this dish, he prepared a fried garlic rice and at the end was the Miso soup.
I was led to another room and was served the lemon curd dessert and a cup of good tea. And then it was time to pay the bill. I had basically dynamited a large part of my weekly food budget, but it was worth it. Would I repeat it? Well, not very soon. An interesting experience, but limited for special occasions. Such as a motorbike trip to Japan.
I had another Japanese whisky in the bar and started to write this report. Today is the big day for the XBR! She will finally meet her birthplace….
I woke up early, but I took it easy. So I arrived at 7:15 in the restaurant. By that time, it was already full and I (and more people) had to wait to be seated in a separate compartment. The breakfast buffet was outstanding, I had my phone charging in the room so I couldn’t take any pictures. An immense selection of Japanese dishes and snacks…plus a small Western section that was the exotic part for the Japanese. Impressive.
I applied finally a SmartPacking™ technique…One bag was prepared with stuff that I wouldn’t need for a while, which would reduce the luggage to be carried to a hotel room to only two pieces. The tank bag is then left in the empty pannier. I packed the bike and watched the armada of personnel (in suits and kimonos) wishing the guests farewell. A long bow until the guests are out of sight. As it was very cloudy, I went in full gear. I had decided to visit the Izumo shrine after all. The distance to Hiroshima was short, so I could “afford it”. However, I need 70 minutes for the 36 km to the shrine, the traffic is painfully slow. I remembered the information that Seven Eleven has ATMs for foreign cards and I filled up my cash reserves. The ATM had a menu in German and after each step, a pleasant jingle sounds. In the end, a voice said (in German!): ‘thank you very much for your visit, we are looking forward to seeing you again’.
Finally I made it to Izumo and parked the bike. A man in a suit asked me where I was from. He was also a biker and wanted to take a picture with me. The Izumo Taisha shinto shrine is the oldest in Japan, the largest, 24 m high building cannot be visited. There are smaller shrines for dedicated gods around it, it is said that once a year in autumn they get together here and have a party together.
I went back to the bike and decided that I would not cross the mountains on small roads, but on the ‘expressway’. There was some occasional light drizzle and it was already 11:30, later than planned. First I had to get to the expressway. It turned out that this was not a dual carriageway, but a normal road with separated lanes with a speed limit of 70 km/h. But at least it was not 50 km/h. I climbed up the hills with a very lush forest consisting of picturesque Japanese pines. At a toll booth I asked the clerk if there was a petrol station on the road, but he sent me down the exit where I was served at a station. First fuel stop managed without accident. I went further up and stopped at a service area. I was curious how they would look like, I read some good things about them. Indeed it was a nice area, with lots of sweets shops. I found a small restaurant and after some waiting time, I was admitted. We could not find a common language, but we managed. I ordered a delicious selection for about 10 Euro value. It was very good…if only German Autobahn service areas could provide meals that are half as good!
Up on the mountains I crossed a long tunnel and on the other side it was sunny with clouds. The landscape looked very nice and I was tempted to ride on these rural roads….however, I wanted to arrive quickly in Hiroshima and this would have slowed me down a lot. This was also the reason why I skipped to the sake town Saijo. I wanted to do the Hiroshima visit today, otherwise my plan for tomorrow might not work. I reached another motorway with four lanes. The indicated speed limit of 80 km/h was ignored by everyone and I followed Ryo’s advice to do what everybody else was doing. So I ‘pushed’ the XBR to a breathtaking 100 km/h – and she liked it! Finally breathing freely again.
I arrived in Hiroshima at 3:30 p.m. and passed by the iconic peace memorial, the so-called A bomb dome. I took a picture and rode 500 m down the road where my hotel was conveniently located. A small single room, but that’s all I need. The hotel has no parking, but I found a motorbike parking space close to the hotel. I had a quick shower and walked 100 m to the Hiroshima peace park. This is the area where on August 6th 1945, the first atomic bomb detonated over Hiroshima. I visited first the peace museum where many objects and photos were exposed in a black tunnel. A large crowd of visitors moved from artefact to artefact, in depressed silence. The whole museum gave a very accurate background with a focus on the suffering of the people of Hiroshima. The pure facts are painful, but feeling the pain of so many people that died on this very spot is difficult to swallow. It is one thing reading about it and totally another being at one of the biggest mass graves in human history (besides the Nazi extermination camps or the Cambodian Killing Fields). What I found the most touching part in the museum were the drawings of the survivors. Where no camera was present, they recorded the horror after the explosion and tried to deal with it for the rest of their lives.
In the adjacent peace park, many memorials commemorate the event. It is a beautiful, solemn park. But at the same time a very sad place. It is hard to understand that 74 years ago, a 2000 degree hot plasma turned this place into an inferno. I walked to the river opposite of the peace memorial and sat on a stone, watching the building that was not blown apart when the bomb exploded over it. I sat there a long time, letting the impressions sink in.
I continued my walk and visited more memorial, for example the children’s peace memorial. It was a sunny evening and I watched the local people enjoying it. They have learned to live with the past and have turned Hiroshima into a vibrant city. Ok, let’s follow their example. I checked Tripadvisor, checking for good local food. Actually there was a very famous place nearby, Okonomiyaki Nagaya. Indeed there was a long queue in front of the restaurant. But they are known for Hiroshimas’ speciality, okonomiyaki.
After 25 minutes, it was finally my turn. As I was alone, I got the best place, directly at the teppan plate where the food is prepared. And soon mine was ready, of course with the local speciality: oysters! You add some sauce and mayonnaise à volonté, and cut the big thing with a metal spatula. Delicious! And the entertainment for free! I was eating quickly, the queue was still impressive. I walked down a shopping gallery and back to the hotel. Lots of interesting food places. I think this will be some interesting two weeks.
I went to the hotel bar and tasted two Japanese whiskys, Taketsuru 17 years and Yamazaki 12 years.
Excellent drams. Part of the cultural programme, of course. I think I slowly get into the desired ‘relaxing mode’. This was my plan.
Wednesday: in the morning, I had a preventive shower in the hotel. Who knows when I would have the next opportunity for it. I put on my motorbike gear and grabbed my two bags. When I paid the horrendous hotel bill, I was hesitating if I should take a taxi to the port. But, I wasn’t that far and I was walking downhill. So why?
After 200 m, I recognised that my preference for walking was a bad idea. Yes, I was walking downhilll, but it was moderately warm. But the humidity felt close to saturation. In motorbike gear. When I finally reached the passenger terminal in the port, I was already drenched in my own sweat. Pacific climate.
After some investigations where to start the procedure, I entered the security check and passed customs and passport control. And there was the gangway! I entered the ship and got the key for the cabin. As I had feared, it was a room with four mats and sheets. SO this was my „first class’ cabin. Luckily no-one else showed up so I had it for my own. Later I learned that the difference to second and economy class is the fact that i) it’s only for four people and ii) it has its own bathroom. Very basic, but at least you don’t need to share it with everyone. Until the 4G network would fall away, I made use of it and had a noodle soup in the bar.
The promotion video of the Korean DBS company is in sharp contrast with reality. This is no luxury sea cruise, but a very basic and pretty run-down ship for budget travel. You can buy basic things, but compared to any European ferry, it’s only about getting to your destination. The Koreans who travel in families or large groups seem to enjoy it. At 6 p.m., there was an announcement about dinner that would start now. I bought my ticket for it and went to the „restaurant“. Well, feeding place would be the more appropriate term. Take your soup, a bowl with vegetables, rice and some chilli sauce, accompanied by a cup of water. In 20 minutes, everything was over, everybody gone (except me) and the place was cleaned again. Wow. Restaurant, yeah.
The whole day I was reading my large Lonely Planet travel guide, almost 1000 pages. I tried to get an overview on possible places to visit and itineraries to go. However, in the end it will depend on the weather where I will go. It looks that my plan to go south first will make sense, the weather seems to be all right for the first days. This means visiting Hiroshima and the island of Kyushu where the Honda production site of the XBR is located in Kumamoto.
In the evening, I had a beer in the bar (more reading) and walked around the ship again (not that there’s so much to see). There was music coming from the night club. There was music coming from there so I had a look. I watched the end of a live rock concert played by staff from the ship. Immediately, disco music was started and all the ladies and gentlemen (age 60+) rejoiced and jumped onto the dance floor. Amazing.
In my room, I tried to get some information out of the 10 Korean TV channels (impossible), read a bit more and switched off the light.
I had put three mats over each other, but after some hours, I woke up with a terrible pain. What was this? My back? No. It was coming from the left side. I don’t know what had happened, but somehow a nerve must have been pressed. For the rest of the night, I tried all positions to reduce the pain. In the end, I managed to get a little bit more sleep.
Thursday: after the announcement, I trotted again with the herd to the feeding place. No rice and Kimchi for me, please. Some corn flakes and a bead roll will do. And a cup of complementary water.
I realised that my mobile phone must have caught (a South Korean) signal again and loaded some messages. One of them was a message from my telephone provider that I had passed my data volume and extra costs were charged. But this was impossible as I had a package large enough for the whole trip. Despite the coverage, I could not check my data usage. Bloody Proximus!
I had received a message from a DHL coworker in Japan who are supposed to ship back the back. Giving the details about the drop off, he also mentioned that the bike would be transported a non-DG (dangerous good) only. WHAT???
This would mean that I have to drain petrol AND oil completely??? How am I supposed to do that? I seems that my experience with transport providers will be enriched by another tale. Aaaaargh!
While almost all the other passengers left the ship for a visit of Donghae in South Korea, I stayed on the ship as I had to change my cabin from first to second class. Actually, despite sharing it with other seven people, I had a proper bunk bed. The day was not very exiting, reading, a nap, eating, looking. Informed via SMS texting, MJ found out that South Korea does not enter my phone plan, so this was the reason of my connectivity and billing problem. I made acquaintance with a Swiss family and we chatted a lot. A wave of a lot of middle aged, very excited and loud Koreans embarked in the afternoon. For them this is apparently a sea cruise for fun. I overheard a Korean talking in English, saying that this ship was very old, it reminded him of the nineties. So this was not only my impression. I did not go for the Korean dinner at 6 p.m., but had some fried chicken later in the bar. I checked quickly the night club again – yes, the Philippines were doing their group dance and all Koreans were watching – and I hit the sack. I slept quite well until I woke up because of the heat. They must have stopped the airco!
Friday: I got up already at half past six and had a shower in the common shower room. Excellent. We were close to the Japanese coast and internet worked again. This was a relief, but it showed how dependent we have become on this little device. I had breakfast with the herd and packed my luggage. It was sunny, warm and very humid.
We disembarked at 9 a.m. and the Japanese passport control was very quick. The customs officer wanted to see everything, but he helped me to put the stuff back again. After the exit, Tatiana from DBS Ferries was already waiting. I had contact with her for many months and took care of all the paperwork that was now in front of me. She welcomed me and explained me again the procedure. First, I had to get the XBR out of the ship and into the customs zone. I noticed that the people who had ridden it into the boat had not closed the fuel tap again – luckily the carb did not leak!!! In the customs zone, the bike was inspected and luggage was checked. I was glad that I had changed my motorbike pants to some trekking trousers – the air was getting sticky now. In the waiting time, I had a chat with Tatiana, her service in preparation of this day had been really outstanding. The drug swipe test was also negative, so now the next step could begin. In principle, I needed to get a taxi and drive to the town of Matsue (30 km), where I needed to pick up a translation of my carnet de passage and a translation of my driving licence from the local branch of the Japanese Automobile Federation (JAF). However, Tatiana had arranged that a colleague would bring me there for much less money than a taxi (everybody’s happy!). My driver was a very nice guy (I think his name was Ryu, if I get the spelling right). The drive was quite long, so I got my first lessons about Japanese traffic rules. First of all, respect the rules. Speed limits are extremely low. 50 km/h in cities, 60 km/h outside cities, but often it is limited to 40/50 km/h. Japanese make Norwegians look like reckless drivers! After 40 minutes, we arrived at the JAF where all the papers were prepared, I just needed to sign everything. And we drove back. Ryo invited me for a coffee and gave me a lot of good (survival) tips. We had really a nice conversation. Back at the harbour, I needed to present the paper at customs again and got my Carnet finally stamped. Then I needed to pay all the fees and the motorbike insurance with Tatiana. I went outside to prepare the bike. A few minutes later, I got the green light. Tatiana and Ryo passed by to say good bye and I was free to go. What a fantastic service by both of them! If all imports would be that easy!
So I set off…driving on the left. I noticed indeed that riding in Japan is riding in slow motion. Slow. Sloooooooow. I will not cover great distances, but it will take time, that’s for sure. My first stop was the famous black castle of Matsue. It was on the way to the hotel. I had decided to ride in the trekking trousers, but as it started to rain, I put on the rain suit. I had troubles to find the parking so I found a place that I defined as a ‘parking’ and left the bike there. I walked up to the mighty castle. Built in the early 17th century, it is (apart from the foundations) made entirely from wood. There are several floors that one can climb and the view is great from the top. I was drenched in sweat again. Below the castle, there is a shrine and an old historic guesthouse for official visitors.
I only had 9 km to go to the hotel Katsuien Minami that is located in the Tamatsukuri Onsen (i.e. Spa). I finally found the entrance and was already awaited. I got a shaded place for the XBR and I was led into the lobby. There I made first contact with Japanese hospitality: under a lot of greetings and bows I was led to a table where I was served tea.
A young man in suit kneeled down in front of me and arranged the check-in. I booked already dinner as I read that these traditional ryokans (‘guesthouses’) serve good food. The place is run like a ryokan, but has the size of a large hotel. There is a large shop with local products, a beautiful garden with ponds, three different baths, a restaurant, (karaoke) bars…I was now welcomed by a young woman in a traditional Kimono who spoke good English and she showed me the room. She explained me everything and with great respect. My room is in traditional style, but with modern amenities, i.e. real beds and an own bathroom. I had a quick shower and dressed for my first visit to a Japanese onsen (bath). I put on the Yakuta (garment) and tied it with the obi (belt). Using the (much too small slippers), I toddled to the bath. I left my stuff in a basket in the changing room and entered the bath with my little towel. You wash yourself on a little stool. Then you enter the hot water in the pool. It is so hot that you only stay for a some minutes, but it’s quite nice, similar to a sauna. I washed myself again and went to the outer pool in the garden where dragon-flies flew on the water. There was some water from a fountain dripping into the pool – and it was very hot! Yes, you’re directly sitting on the Ring of Fire! A great experience – to be repeated.
At 7 p.m., I went to the restaurant and was attended by the same lady (probably her English is the best). She explained me the menu and gave me some tips how to eat what. What to do with the cook-your-own-soup-at-your-table, for instance. I had some interesting new dishes I did not know yet. The raw fish dish was served on ice and was super fresh, a delicacy!
Tomorrow will be a short ride to Hiroshima. I got the suggenstions from Tatianan and Ryo to visit the Izumu shrine at the coast. If it’s not raining, I will do that. I booked two more hotels. It seems that the weather will be good for the next days, but then rain will catch up. I’ll have to be flexible then.
Well, the last days were meant to be resting days – and that included blogging as well 🙂 This doesn’t mean that nothing has happened, quite the contrary.
Saturday: it was my plan to stay in the hotel, relaxing. And actually this was a very good idea. I was glad that I had gained one day on my plan as it was raining the whole day. I woke up early, like usual, but forced myself to stay in bed. I was woken up by a phone call by the reception at five to nine. If I still would come to the breakfast. Yes, of course. I only understood the next day why this happened. There are only few guests in the hotel and all had had their breakfast already. The buffet was put away and when I showed up in the breakfast room, I was served ALL the contents of this buffet in sequential order. That was a lot! But I got used skipping my lunch the last weeks so this should last until dinner. I returned to my room and forced me to be lazy. I used the laundry service. I studied possible destinations in Japan and watched Japanese television to get prepared for the next weeks. In the afternoon, it was time
to get working. As it was continuously raining, I parked the bike under a pavilion of a children’s playground where I found the perfect cover from the rain. I swapped both wheels and could even work seated, LOL.
Although I was wearing gloves, the work was very dirty as the bike was covered in a mixture of mud and oil. I took my time and in the end the bike had new tyres. I replaced the missing nut of the pannier rack and adjusted the wind shield. That was it. Not a very big service after 12.000 km.
Sunday: this time I got up earlier and all the mystery of the breakfast buffet was revealed to me. I had an appointment with Yuri, the fixer for the transport to Japan. At 10 a.m. I arrived at his office in the centre. With the help of the translation app I could get to his office. I did not know how much money I needed to bring so I carried all my remaining Rubles.
I had forgotten my Euros in the hotel and in the end after having calculated the sum of all the individual costs (passenger ticket in 4-8 person bedroom, custom charges, handling charges, and and and…), I was 300 Rubles or 4 Euros short. I would give it to him another day. We had a long chat and he told me some stories of other travellers he has dealt with. Apparently he organised the transport of a Swiss biker to Canada who got to Vlad in ten days and is attacking the world record for a fastest round-the-world trip (19 days, 4 hours, Nick Sanders). Other people will join me in the customs procedure on Tuesday.
I went to the south tip of the city where there is a small causeway to a little lighthouse. The path is so small that the waves wash over it. A funny place. The wind was very strong and many surfers enjoyed it. I wanted to go to the southern tip of the big island called Russky. To do this, I had to cross the big Zolotoy brindge and the even mightier Russky bridge. After some kilometres, the dual carriageway ended and a muddy, bumpy track continued. Now this was too annoying. But the real reason why I came to this island was a more sinister one. I spotted a small road into the woods and followed it. I stopped at a little clearing. This was it. This was the perfect place.
An illegal waste dump. I removed my wheels from the back and removed the special tyre rack as well. I noticed that the lower rack that is carried to carry the big aluminium box was broken on both sides, like once before. I had actually expected that. However the rigid set-up had avoided that this had turned into a problem. It would have been a miracle if nothing of the pannier/rack system would have come out of this unharmed……all these bumps….thousands and thousands of bumps, under the heavy load of the two wheels. I used some of massive cable ties to keep the broken rack together. There won’t be a large weight on it anymore, so this is not critical. I placed the stuff next to the other dumped waste and really felt sorry about it.
They had served me well, and I would abandon them just like that? Well, another fact is that I want to ride much more lighter in Japan, enjoying mountain roads and stuff. And the (expensive) transport back is calculated by volume weight, i.e. the dimensions of the bike do count. So, it does make sense….apart from the fact that I still have 10 rims lying around at home. Was it really necessary to carry the wheels? No, in retrospect no. But I was playing it as safe as possible. In the end, the result counts.
While I was still feeling sorry, the XBR appreciated the new freedom, breathing freely now. A few kilometres down the road was the large Oceanarium of Vladivostok. Why not spending the afternoon there. But first some exercise. It was a 1 km walk from the parking to the entrance. What? Using my own legs? Let’s see, I can do this….left….right…left….right….right….aaaaargh!
Slowly I realised the dimensions of this place, and I even had skipped the dolphinarium. It’s not only a large aquarium, but also a kind of science museum that explains in great detail the evolution of sea life and the respective habitats. Really impressive. I let the pictures speak for themselves.
What was left? Well, dinner in the log restaurant.
I needed to change hotel and move to the Lotte Hotel in the centre. It was booked for a long time and a cancellation was not possible anymore. John and I had booked it as a reward after the long trip through Russia. So I packed and left this kitsch palace. As I had a lot of free time, I decided to purchase some motor oil, I had used all of the oil bought in Novosibirsk. I located a shop near the centre and rode there. It was a small shop, but had a good selection of oils. I bought one litre of oil and went outside to the bike. The guy from the shop came outside, saw my bike and we started a conversation. It all took a funny turn when he mentioned that he was also speaking Spanish.
From there on, this turned to one of the funniest conversations I ever had on my travels. We talked in Spanish from this point on and probably the most funny thing in this situation was his Argentinean accent; he had spent part of his childhood in Argentina. His name is Timoteo and he had lived in many places, Spain, Montenegro and others, and now works in this motorbike accessories shop in Vladivostok! You can’t make this up. What a bizarre, but entertaining talk. He offered me his help should I need any.
I continued my ride to my new hotel. It is run by a Korean company and has all the facilities you would expect. Rather a sober interior, but elegant.
It was time for my planned shopping tour. I had deliberately not carried a lot of clothes, only some light trekking trousers and some t-shirts. I was clear that this was enough for this roadmovie-style trip through Russia. But in Japan, I want to dress up a bit. My plan is to visit nice restaurants as well. Showing up in biker gear is probably counter-productive. So I strolled through a shopping mall where I had some trouble finding clothes in my size. But at least I found something, quite impossible in Japan I guess (unless it’s a shop for sumo ringers). Three shirts, some trousers and a pair of shoes will have to be stuffed onto the bike. However, I come prepared. As this was all a planned move, I carry a light bag that can be filled with light stuff and will be attached on the rack where the wheels had been.
I walked down to the harbour and around the central square. I spotted a souvenir shop and went inside. I finally got what I wanted: two stickers for my motorbike panniers. But before I had to endure all kind of grades of horrors for tourists. The way to hell is paved with souvenirs.
I returned to the hotel and prepared my luggage that had to go into the bike’s panniers the next day. I will only keep some hand luggage on the ferry. Later in the evening, I visited the Korean restaurant in the hotel. For lunch, I had some Korean Udon fast food in the shopping mall which was so-so. Now I ordered a full menu and was expecting a lot from the cook. I received some kind of starters…pickled stuff, Kimchi, raddish….and then a meat dish with some rice…hmmmm….no progress….was that all? I was still hungry! After a while, I asked the waitress….it turned out that her colleague had made a mistake and noted down one dish instead the menu. I light of my complaining stomach, I ordered another dish. All in all, I was not very convinced of the Korean cuisine so far. The Kimchi stuff keeps my guts very busy (although it is claimed that lactic acid fermentation is very healthy), a little bit too busy.
Tuesday: I was surprised by the large breakfast buffet this morning – the hotel tries to accommodate Russians, Asians and Europeans, an enormous selection! I handed over a laundry bag to the room service, I will only have clean clothes this evening, this should be enough for the next two weeks. At a quarter past nine, I was picked up by Yuri who carried more customers in his van. We went to the harbour and into the customs area. I met some of his other clients: a New Zealander who ships his Cross bike to Magadan and wants to ride the road of Bones, Mongolia, the Stans and finish in Bulgaria. Another German couple went many months with their bike through Georgia, Azerbaidshan, Kasachstan etc and wants to cross to Canada now. Talking with these genuine globetrotters, I always realise how much my trips resemble a trip through the park.
The workflow was very quick and after 90 minutes, Yuri drove us back to our hotels. I though it was a good time to consider lunch. I discovered that there was a wine bar in a close-by yard: this was a nice discovery! A fantastic wine selection (for far eastern Russia) and some excellent dishes. I enjoyed the crab lasagna a lot. Never had this before. A good Sauvignon Blanc and a good espresso made the imaginary trip to Europe complete.
I strolled around, downwards towards the harbour. I visited the exposed submarine S-56, the „unsinkable“. It is a museum now containing a lot of memorabilia of the Soviet era.
When I was walking back to the hotel, I had a surprising idea….I had seen a barber shop yesterday….are there any around? Yes! Only 8 minutes away. My beard was growing for some weeks now and quite wild. Should I, for the first time in my life, enter a barber shop? Hmmmm….why not? What could possibly go wrong?
I entered and tried to explain my wishes to the guys in there. Interestingly, all three barbers showed no facial hair. No, no hair cut, no shave, only some trimming, please, look, very wild. Equipped with a series of electrical trimmers and razors, the lad started his work. And it was clear that he knew what he was doing. After 15 minutes, I looked a tiny bit more ‘hipster’ than before, but definitely more “decent”, LOL.
In the evening, I wanted to visit the “European” restaurant in the hotel. However, the menu was not very appealing (I could eat most of the dishes at home), I decided to give the Korean restaurant another chance. So I ordered the menu I had not been served yesterday. Lots of dishes were served, always in pairs. Was this Noah’s ark? I asked if this menu was for two persons and I got a positive reply. What?? Yesterday, I had asked if the menu was for one person and the answer was “yes!”. Fantastic. The table must have been bent under the weight of the served plates….I tried my best, but I left deliberately a bit less than half…why passing a sleepless night? Apparently, the chef is from Seoul and provides a real Korean taste. Well, I am underwhelmed. If this true Korean cuisine, then I direct my hopes towards Japan. Tomorrow, I will embark on the ferry to Japan. It will stop in South Korea on Thursday and arrive on Friday morning in Sakaiminato, Japan.
At five to seven I was ready for breakfast. The bike was already prepared. I started the ride at a quarter to eight. “Only” 750 km to go. It drizzled. Not unexpected, but according to the forecast, it should soon be dry. That’s why I didn’t put on the rain gear. The roads were wet and very slippery. I forced myself to slow down and to avoid any calamity. I went at 30 km/h in the city and ignored all the traffic behind me. Outside Khabarovsk, I increased the speed to 60-70 km/h, it was incredibly dangerous. The drizzle got stronger and stronger and turned into proper rain. This was nerve-wrecking, any slip and fall could mean the end of the trip, so close to Vlad. After 45 km, the road got better. I had seen a sign in Khabarovsk: Road construcction project for 232 km (!). Later I saw another one: 430 km (!!). This meant that basically all the road between Khabarovsk and Vladivostok was scheduled for a make-up. There were a few good parts, but mostly it was difficult. Not as long as it was dry, but in the wet, all the liquid tar that was used to fill the cracks turned the surface into a skating track. About half the day I had to ride extremely careful.
Then it stopped to rain and there was even same sun rays sometimes. People are definitively more friendly down here. I saw more and more signs of “civilisation”, even a lot of writing in latin letters. More international flair. Finally I entered the larger Vladivostok area. I could not get to the sightseeing point over the Zolotoy Bridge, it was closed off. So I had to improvise, I found a good spot along a main road.
It was done, After 12040 km from home, I had reached my first destination: Vladivostok. Without any major problem. The XBR performed spectacularly. Again. (Later at the hotel, I detected one missing nut. One. Nut. That’s all). Incredible. In a bit more than two weeks. Nothing broken, nothing bent. Honda XBR500.
Sorry, I thought I was at the Rossky bridge, but actually I was at the Zolotoy Bridge 🙂
It returned north to the hotel, but not via the direct route. An accident in the north had collapsed the traffic out of the city. I went south over the bridge and did a huge, but quick detour and arrived at the hotel 30 min later. The hotel is a Kitsch palace like I I have never seen before. Tomorrow will be a total rest day, I’ll write more about the hotel, hehe.
I had some excellent dinner in a huge hall made of logs, accompanied by Russian live music.
Of course I woke up at 6 a.m. And at 7 a.m. Difficult to change a habit when you’ve been preparing your bike during
14 days. Finally I got up at eight and had breakfast. The rain front was moving slower than predicted, it was still dry! I decided to leave already and at a quarter to ten I was on the road.
Another big river crossed. I stopped for petrol before arriving at the hotel Paros at noon, right before the drizzle started. It is très chic, the right place to relax half a day. I went to the restaurant and had some very delicious seafood. I checked the touristic possibilities in Vladivostok, because I will spend some time there.
Tomorrow is the final day (750 km) to Vladivostok!
In the morning, I had my bike ready at 7 a.m. The cleaning lady asked for the keys, but I insisted that I first needed to bring down the luggage. As the restaurant was not open, I asked for the breakfast. With the help of the translator app, the receptionist asked: „did you order it yesterday?“ Er, no! „There is no cook“.
Excellent. No breakfast. A fantastic establishment. I left with the plan to get something on the highway. At the first „Café“: opens at eight….the mini market had the cashier behind the typical bullet-proof glass…OK, let’s try later down the road. After an hour, I gave up and ordered a heated coffee can and some biscuits from a cashier in some other bullet-proof petrol station. OK, now let’s see….I had a booking only 430 km away, a dull hotel in probably a dull forest. I would arrive far too early at lunchtime. What to do the whole day? Wasn’t there an alternative?
When I arrived at the junction at 12:20, I made a decision. I filled up and reserved a hotel in Birobidzhan, some 590 km away. Sat Nav said arrival time 19:30, including the jump to the next time zone, so in principle six hours. This should be possible, the road was very good and I made good progress. I had the wind from the front now, but still I kept the speed at 110 – 120 km/h. Btw, I get passed by cars at 140 – 160 km/h, so I’m not going particularly fast. It was sunny with clouds now, the initial cool temperatures had risen to some nice 21 degrees.
I moved very quick, only very few road works slowed me down now. I was even considering to move even further to Khabarowsk, 170 km more, where I had my booking for the next night. In the end, I decided against this 1200 km monster trip, my 1030 km today were already a lot. When everything looked so rosy, I passed a sign….construction works for the next 320 km…..WHAT? And immediately, the road got bad, longitudinal groves that are not a problem for cars, but for bikes! And heaps of sand! Potholes, 15 cm deep! Huge missing parts of the surface, liquid asphalt all over the place….what was going on here?? This was dangerous! I needed to slow down. Focus! Luckily, it was dry….But I would have to do the rest of this road tomorrow in the rain! Ouch…I filled up again, Mars bar, Red Bull, juice. The magic mix to push for the last 130 km. I arrived at the hotel in Birobidzhan at 19:45 and was immediately involved in a chat about the bike. I had already noticed that people got gradually friendlier again, the grumpiness had disappeared. The climate? I checked in, parked the bike, filled up oil and was surprised how nice my room was. After a shower, I entered the restaurant and with the help of a friendly waitress I ordered dinner, some very good 97-98 degree celcius hot soup covered with yeast bread and some kind of very good Cordon Bleu variation. And a Bavarian Wheat beer! During dinner, I read about the history of this town. It is the capital of the Jewish Autonomous Region here. Started as a project some 100 years ago, it was a safe haven for Jews before the founding of the state of Israel. First the settling was voluntary, later forced under Stalin. Due to emigration, the share of Jewish population decreased from 25 % in the 1950’s to about 1 % today.
Seeing the weather forecast for tomorrow, I considered leaving early tomorrow, banging towards Vladivostik, hopefully avoiding the rain front that will come in from the west. But on second thoughts, why the stress. I am on minus 1 days anyway, I don’t need to arrive at minus 2 days. And this would mean four days too early! So, I have ridden 11000 km in the last 14 days, have done some 1030 km against the wind today….why the hurry. Ok, I’ll have to ride two hours on this dangerous road tomorrow to Chabarowsk….take it easy. And a couple hours of rain during Friday, so what! I’ll arrive more relaxed on Friday in Vladivostok. So tomorrow it will definitely be a late departure, a short ride in the rain to a plush hotel where I can relax more. I’m glad I did these 600 km extra today so I don’t have to do them tomorrow in the rain.
When I woke up, everything seemed normal – but then I had a strange feeling….and two seconds later, I rushed to the bathroom. I made it in time. Only just. What was that??? Had I eaten something bad? I follow strictly the “Cook it, peel it or leave it” motto. And I take daily my Saccharomyces capsules to fortify my guts against any attack. So what went wrong? Hard to say. I went in counterattack mode and swallowed another capsule plus one Imodium pill, just to be on the safe side. I packed my stuff, got the XBR out of the parking and went for breakfast. This time, I was incorrectly on the ground floor while breakfast was served on the 11th floor…I listened to my guts….everything seemed to be under control…let’s go! At a quarter to eight I left the place. My GPS guided me to the right road, the Amur highway. The road was very good again, leading through green hills and valleys. It was a scenic ride today, lots of forest. There were some occasional road works, but I made good progress. I filled up every 225 km, 100 km and 170 km. Petrol stations were rare, but available. I noticed today, that east of Krasnoyarsk, people seem to be more grumpy (with exceptions). It was hot and I tried to drink plenty of water. After 400 km, the good road seemed to have more and more ‘dips’, deepenings in the surface. In contrast to low speed bumps, these were dangerous at high speeds – the bike’s shocks are compressed to the max. One technique is to ride slower…..or to stand up and dampen the hit with your own body like a cross rider. This was tedious at times, but often these dips were marked by truck skidmarks before them.
At a quarter to there, I was already in Mogotcha. Much too early! I reserved a room in Skovorodino, some 320 km down the road. The bike rode fine again, I made good progress, the weather was fine and I could go further tomorrow, During the last 10 km, the sat nav sent me on a shortcut, which meant 5 km on a very bumpy piste. Thank you, Garmin! I filled up and arrived at the hotel. It had the worst ranking I ever have booked, but at least I had a room. As I didn’t want to have a shared bathroom, I had booked a suite. I paid half price as I need it only for 12 hours, not 24 h (?). It’s quite shabby, but reasonably clean and I have enough space. In the restaurant, I managed to order a Gösser beer from Austria (!), Borshtch and Shashlik. It’s quite hot in room, the airco doesn’t work and choosing between heat or mosquitos, I chose heat. I realised that going 200 km further tomorrow than planned doesn’t make much sense, as I can’t find a better accommodation than the already booked one. This means I will have a short day (450 km) tomorrow. Then there will be two full riding days to Khabarowsk and….Vladivostok!
I got up at six in the morning, took the bike out of the parking and parked it in front of the hotel. I was waiting when the breakfast room opened at seven. At 7:25 a.m., I was on the road. I expected it to be a long day, only 665 km, but the tales of the road from Ulan-Ude to Chita are numerous. „The worst road I’ve ever seen“, „horror road“ and other globetrotter statements shock the curious traveller. I rode south, into a dry country. Was this a Mongolian climate already? After a while I turned east. The road was quite all right, maybe the first part was already renovated. I wondered when the bumpy part would start. As I had heard about few petrol stations along the way, I filled up after 130 km. I wanted to order 8 litres and showed eight fingers to the lady at the desk. However, she apparently understood „5.3 litres“. Actually, that was the right volume that fitted into the tank. The landscape was hilly and dry, with small mountain tops. Basically no traffic and a smooth ride. There were green valleys with rivers and floodings. This was quite nice actually. When would the bad part start?
After 270 km, the road got very bumpy. This must be it! Still 380 km to go! There were no holes, but one bump after the other. I slowed down to 70 km/h to make the ride bearable. After 5 km, this bad part stopped and a perfect new tarmac welcomed me back. I hoped this would last as long as possible….Suddenly I entered a very long construction site…the road turned into an off-road piste! 5 km later it was all rosy again.
After 210 km since the last fuel stop, I stopped at a dodgy petrol station. I ordered more petrol than I needed, just in case…this pump worked accurately, I filled up the tank to the max. This should bring me to Chita. Only 5 minutes later, I was hopping through a 7 km road works section. Bumpy bumpy bumpy….But the XBR has seen worse. The road ascended up to 1000 m and I was thankful for the coolness up there.
I was rewarded with an excellent road afterwards…the wind was blowing strongly from the back and I had to slow down the XBR, it wanted to go fast, fast, fast! Brrrrrr, hold your horses! 120 km/h is enough! I was hot now and this was more than enough. But the XBR seemed to like the ride, it purred like a cat.
It took several attempts to find a „Mini-Market“ in a petrol station where I could buy some water and a snack. Only two hours to go. The road was fantastic and slowly it occurred to me the notorious horror road has been turned in a quick high speed road between the to cities.
At 5 p.m., I filled up again in Chita and after a short ride through the city’s rush hour, I arrived at the hotel. Communication at the reception was difficult (no English). I parked the bike underground and walked the incredibly long way to my room. 210 steps, I counted them. That’s about 70 m. Including a ride in an elevator. The restaurant was a bit strange…first, I ended up in the wrong one (closed), it is situated next to the strip club „Roxy“ on the 11th floor. Actually, the Café is downstairs.This is a weird hotel indeed. According to booking.com, it’s the best in town, but I have seen better ones during this trip…
I have booked accommodation for the whole stay in Russia now; in Vladivostok, I could not stay earlier in the booked hotel, apparently a lot of places are booked now and prices (compared to the rest of the country) are very high. If I stick to the new plan, I will even accelerate to plan A -1 day, arriving on Friday night instead Saturday. It is slowly time to have a rest day, so the earlier I get to Vlad, the better. The only night where it was impossible to book something is tomorrow. There is very little touristic infrastructure in the Amur region. I will try to find a hotel somewhere, maybe in Mogocha, 600 km from here. 9150 km lie behind me, only 2850 km to go!
During the night, my right lower arm was aching which kept me a bit worrying. I got up early and left the hotel as soon as possible. The receptionist was as grumpy as yesterday. When I was about to take off, I read a message from Johannes about the carburettor spring, it can be changed to a softer position. I remembered this vaguely, but it was too late now, I was about to start. At a quarter to seven I left the parking. It was sunny and quite mild, probably another nice day was in front of me. At first, the road to Irkutsk was quite good, but then the unavoidable road works started. At least it was dry. Today, there would be to time zone change and the sat nav indicated an arrival time of 14:15! Well, I knew this would not be true, there would be road works, fuel stops and and and and….I estimated 5 p.m. But even this would be fantastic, the earliest arrival on the whole trip so far. My hand started to ache again. A cruise control would be nice now….But then then I had a fantastic idea, the best idea of the whole day: some days ago, I had spotted in one of the side bags of the tank bag a tool that was lying there since….the Ironbutt Rally 2013? It is called a “cramp buster” aka “throttle rocker” and helps to relieve the force on the throttle hand. You’re basically pulling the cable by the weight of your hand. No more pain the whole day, fantastic!
So I took the time and stopped for the first time at a works section. This picture shows and average construction site with the typical groves and some gravel. Real bad ones would consist only of coarse gravel.I made good progress and soon I had to fill up near Irkutsk. I had a little second breakfast and even the possibility to check the tyre pressure: everything still ok! I took the road to the west and slowly the road ascended towards some mountains. I realised that I had switched from plan B to plan A now! In my initial plan, John and I would have started in the morning from Listvyanka at the Lake Baikal shore and passed here at the same time. After one week, I had caught up the lost day resulting from the disastrous border crossing one week ago. Excellent. The road went over a pass of 999 m altitude before it descended again. Finally I spotted the great landmark of this trip: the Baikal Lake.
I descended to the lake and was surprised by the temperature drop of 10 degrees! I was fresh down here, only about 12 degrees. I rode along the southern shore now and I expected to find a certain touristic infrastructure, with some cheesy souvenir shops where I could purchase a sticker for my panniers. Nothing could be farther from reality. Along the whole shore, I couldn’t spot anything that could be related with trapping tourists….any tourist. I crossed the town of Baikalsk, where I found at least some nice motives:
It was difficult to get a clear shot on the lake and apparently the lake shore was not as important to the locals as in Europe. I took a decision to make a turn and enter a town where there was access to the lake. Finally I got to the shore and asked a Russian to take a picture of me. I learned a new Russian word today: “откуда (atkuda)?” meaning “from where?” My response is “Бельгия! (Belgium)”
Soon it was time to fill up again. It was a rather dodgy station with only two pumps and no tarmac. But stations got more and more rare at the south side of the lake. I ordered 13 litres (which was in principle too much)….and the tank was not full at all! Did I make a calculation error? I ordered another four litres….and the tank was not full! I started to worry….yes, the carb was leaking again, but had I really lost so much petrol during riding??? During the next hours, I was concerned about the leaking carb….I was still in a safe zone, but in the next days, petrol pumps will be rare. I stopped 130 km later again and filled 9 litres again…still not full! But then I started calculating….the only explanation was that both stations (Rosneft) had non-calibrated pumps that delivered less petrol than indicated. The 17 litres at the first station should have clearly overfilled by tank….but they didn’t. Cheaters!
The roads were sometimes excellent, sometimes horrible, and everything in between. Roads works came back. Suddenly I was stopped by the police. For the first time in Russia, I saw a cop with a speed gun! Uh-oh! He showed me that I had been riding at 97 km/h….so? He told me many things and then showed me “5”. “500?” I replied. He called his colleague and both of them tried to explain me the penalty. In the end I understood “5000”.
I laughed humbly. You’re joking, right? Ok, here we go….I took out my fake wallet with many bills of little value. Look, I only have….1500 Rubles….They gave in and typed “1000” on their phone. Deal! And off I went.
When I left the shore of the Baikal, the temperature rose immediately from 16 degrees to 26 degrees. Wow! So the lake acts a an enormous fridge in summer. At the second petrol stop I saw a young girl asking the clerk what braking fluid she should take. I indicated: “it’s either DOT 3 OR DOT4, don’t mix!” Outside, the girl was talking on the phone, otherwise I would have tried to explain that topping up braking fluid will not revolve her problem, whatever the problem was.
I was getting hot now and the vegetation changed as well. At the entrance of the big town Ulan-Ude I filled up again. Now I could see that everything was all right with the XBR, the two petrol stations were simply cheaters.
I activated my mobile phone navigagtion to the hotel and at 5 minutes to five, I arrived at the Mergen Hotel. A plush five star bunker with all amenities for the price of a modest single room in Europe. The next days will be shorter and the accommodation will be very simple. I had a shower and washed my riding gear. For the first time in the whole trip, I could relax for an hour on the bed. What a luxury. 8400 km. Eleven days. Like the Ironbutt Rally that will start in a few days. At least the distances will be shorter now.
Tomorrow will be a hard time, the road is notoriously bad and I expect a long day.
I visited the restaurant and chose some local specialities. Ulan-Ude is the capital of the Burjatian Republic and there is quite some Mongolian influence here. I ordered a fish soup with delicious fish from the Baikal, and, English ladies and gentlemen, please grab your chairs, Mongolian horse stew. Excellent.
I have some time to plan the next days. The most tricky thing will be to find accommodation after Chita where I will be staying tomorrow. But something will show up.
When I was writing the last post yesterday, I sat close to the reception for best internet coverage. I got to chat with the receptionist and told her a bit about the trip. Apparently, the hotel is frequented by Russian celebrities and rock stars. Unfortunately, none of them was known to me. I learned some new words in Russian and my plans for the next days were received with a certain smirky disbelief. It was a nice conversation but I had to hit the sack. In the morning I had breakfast at seven and got a cooked one: a massive omelette and some pancakes. Everything delicious, so I didn’t want to leave any. This took a while, so I left only at 8 a.m. Not without thanking the nice and friendly people from the Hotel Kupecheskij, their friendliness is outstanding.
The sky was blue but the huge flooding in Krasnoyarsk indicated that there must have been massive rainfall during the night. Luckily it was Saturday morning, so the traffic was bearable. Nevertheless it took quite some time before I hit the Transsib highway again. It was a lovely morning and with a bit of luck, I would finally escape the rain today (spoiler alert: I didn’t see a single drop today). The road was good and the views were relaxing. Nothing to report until I hit Kansk. The sat nav and the road signs were diverging again and this time I followed the GPS. Supposedly the shorter route, but I hadn’t counted on the road in the city. Very bumpy. And flooding. And a bit of mud as well. But at least the sun was shining. After 220 km, I had my first petrol stop. The distances between them gets shorter as there are less and less of stations.
Two hours later I noticed that my speedometer wasn’t working anymore. I stopped at a petrol station and investigated the problem. Yes, the cable was broken. Of course I carried a spare one. Fixed after 10 min. I decided to fill up already. A friendly old man tried to talk with me – from where, where to….petrol talk. I managed quite well the get the message across.
The highway was excellent now. Mostly in perfect condition. The bike was running fine at 110 – 120 km/h. Of course I was still passed by many cars. The bike seemed to like the new spark plug.
Trains were one reason to lose time; they are enormous! Road works are another. More and more stops were
necessary; every thing you lose about 5 min. I am riding a tight schedule, I knew I would do the 800 km in 11 hours and so it was. Clock went one hour forward again; this also costs one hour per day. I filled up in Nishneudinsk and had a „Danish“ hot dog. Not too bad actually.
Although the bike rides fine and the views are realaxing, there is a certain tension building up. I’m getting closer to the tricky part – the road between Ulan-Ude and Chita and the five days between Chita and Vladivostok where accommodation is very rare. If I’d have a technical problem there, I’d be in trouble. But let’s enjoy the nice ride now! In Tulun I changed the batteries of my spot, but as I found out later, I had pressed the wrong button the whole time, instead switching on the tracking, I sent OK messages all the time. Hmmm, is my attention going down? I don’t think so, but I have been riding 7700 km so far in ten days without a break, a certain tiredness wouldn’t be strange.
Another 140 km to go….the leaking carb was mostly under control, the (mostly) good roads avoided my back aching, but in the last two hours, my right hand and lower arm started to ache. The carb has a strong spring and you need quite some force to open the throttle. Do this 10000? 20000? 30000? times in ten days….
The road work got annoying. I was tired and had to stop many times. Once the guy was missing so I entered the passing and found some oncoming trucks who weren’t very happy about me.
Finally I took the turn to Sayansk and hopped a bumpy road for 10 km. I filled up at a dodgy station and arrived at a quarter to eight. The personnel at the Hotel Ermak is in sharp contrast to the previous night – they have a quite „robust“ attitude when it comes to pleasing the customer. Actually I felt more like an intruder spoiling their evening. I turned out that I had canceled not John’s, but my room which caused a bit of confusion, especially as there was no English spoken.
There was a big party in a hall, the people were not the greatest singers, but compensated this with devotion and volume. When I passed by the room, I was exposed to a toxic atmosphere of ethanol. But that kind of ethanol that had already passed the body once and was exhaled again. Impressive!
I had a quick shower and presented myself in the restaurant 20:20 as it was announced that it would close at nine. My request was received with some annoyance and the proposal „fish?“ was readily accepted by me. No beer though! Water then. A carrot salad as entrée, salmon with mashed potato and a pastry. For the tenth of the money like yesterday. But apparently not every hotel can be like Kupecheskij’s, eh?
Later I changed the setting of the throttle cable on the carb, hoping this will give less pain in the hand. Normally, without the delay at the Russian border, I had planned a short ride to the Baikal from here, with a relaxing afternoon for John and me as a reward for the last days. Also the next day would have been short. Now I will do the trip to Ulan-Ude in one go tomorrow, without stopping at the Baikal. A pity, but it means I will be finally back on track of the PLAN!
I will be another 800 km tomorrow, without a time zone change, but I don’t know how many road works await me. I better leave early. 7700 km done so far. 4100 km still to go.
You know what? This country is big…..really big. I mean BIG!
This morning breakfast was served only at 8 a.m. – too late for me. I had ordered a pastry in the restaurant the night before and made some tea in the kitchen. At 7:30 a.m., Alexander was waiting outside the hotel and we took off. Not without leaving a puddle of petrol before the entrance, ahem. We left Novosibirsk behind and rode in the sunshine, for a change. The road was not too bad and we made good progress. After a while we stopped and Alexander had his breakfast. My carburettor was overflowing like hell, uh-oh….what to do? It had done this before the trip once. As the behaviour is not constant, I don’t suspect the floater valve, but the floater itself. I continued, playing with the fuel tap, finding the right position to avoid overflowing during riding. After a while, I managed. At the next petrol stop in Kemerovo, the situation was ok again. During the rest of the day, the carb would work more or less, but only very little with the barely opened tap.
After Kemerovo, the roads changed from excellent to „mmmh, ok“. I could slowly feel my back aching. All these bumps and the saggy seat, not a good combination. Dark clouds surrounded us, but it wouldn’t rain yet. The road was wet, though. During hours! No problem with a good surface, but when the tarmac was in a lousy state….when entering Mariinsk, the city greeted us with a slipping back wheel! Oooooaaaaaahhhhh…
The bypass around the didn’t really seem like a good idea, but careful riding is the top priority. The road was rather slow, with mixed wet surfaces. Road works and railway crossings slow you down:
Alexander said that he had an appointment in Achansk for the tyre change, I would continue another two hours to Krasnoyarsk. The drizzle started and finally we got soaked a little bit. In Achansk, Alexander must have stopped and I lost him. And then I got lost, as the road signs and the sat nav were contradicting. It took a while to find my way out the city again.
Still 170 km to go, pfffff. It is the ninth day of the trip, and I’m constantly under pressure. Catch up with the plan. On day 9 in the Iron Butt Rally, many people have their low point. Well, it would be nice to have a rest day, but….actually, after three more „relaxing days of around 650 km, this is the first of four hard days of 800 km each, and the forth is the notorious Ulan Use to Chita piste (650 km). At least, the rain had stopped now…four days with rain, where is the promised weather change? Along the road, many dealers sold furs and had stuffed, entire bears in front of their tents. With about 30 km to go to Krasnoyarsk, the landscape and the temperature changed. The green grass land turned yellow and the air was suddenly warm….
I stopped at a petrol station and after a difficult communication, I filled the tank. However, the safety valve did not work and with a huge gush I distributed one litre of petrol over the tank and the hot motor! Aaaaargh! In panic, I pushed the bike away from the large puddle under it. I filled up the oil and 10 min later I arrived at the hotel. Not situated in a chic environment, but it is very charming with friendly personnel. To celebrate the first 6900 km, I changed the spark plug!
The restaurant is fascinating! It is equipped in Siberian style and appears like a museum. I am the only guest. The menu was very delicious, in the end I ordered Siberian dumplings and fried white salmon, a speciality and very expensive for local standards. But at least I have tried it once, it was very delicious. I washed it down with German beer…
Alexander will only get his tyre changed by noon tomorrow, but I have to leave early. I have informed him about my plans the next days, maybe he can catch up. It will be another 800 km trip tomorrow!
In the morning, I had breakfast at seven and started the day with sunshine. I could not leave before it was checked that everything was ok with my room. This was the case so I entered the Omskii morning rush hour. I had to cross the whole city and slowly, very slowly it occurred to me that I had made a mistake. As usual in the morning, the sat nav did not indicate the exact routing, but only the general direction. The road leading out of the city was very bumby. This should be the road to Novosibirsk? Probably I was doing a “shortcut”? And so it was. The roads was very bumpy, with lots of cracks and potholes, but in contrast to one day earlier, there were no huge bumps and it was sunny! So I went hopping for about 50 km, crossing a small town before I finally reached the Transsiberian Highway again.
What a relief! I rode again through the Siberian grasslands with lots of birch trees. After two hours, as predicted, the sunny weather ended and for the rest of the day, Banana Man was back. I noticed that the cover of the sprocket (where I had lost a bolt some days ago) was very l loose – the second bolt was almost gone. I tightened it, making this the first “repair” on this trip. Soon the rain welcomed me. For the rest of the day, short sunny periods alternated with light rain or even heavy rain. No reason to remove the rain suit.
After I while, I passed a Russian rider at the side of the road, exchanging friendly waves. Some time later, when I was (as usual) singing anything that comes to my mind (they had a 80’s Greatest Hits tape in the breakfast room this morning, soooo…), I saw the Russian biker with his ST1300 behind me. He made no sign to pass me, so we rode together for a while.
After half an hour, I needed to fill up and stopped at a rather shady station. The cashier was hidden behind a blackened, secured window, spooky. I had a chat with the friendly biker who spoke English. This makes communication so much easier than usual. His name is Alexander from Moscow and he said he was going to Vladivostok as well! We chatted a bit about our plans and continued our ride. It was strongly raining again and this time he was in the lead. When I followed him overtaking a truck, I noticed that the surface in front of me was cut away, leaving a myriad of little groves! There was no chance to stop the overtaking due to oncoming traffic, so I had to move back to the right lane! WOOOOOOAAAAAAHHHHH!!!!!
The XBR turned into a Rodeo horse, kicking out with its back wheel. The front wheel was more of my concern, because this definitely mean touchdown. With adrenalin up to the eyeballs, I managed to keep everything under control. I had to reduce speed considerably and was soon overtaken by the truck again. Rule number one during all trips: keep the shiny side up! Don’t fall down!
A while later, we decided to stop for lunch and so I had my first typical road restaurant in Russia.
A pork chop with mashed potato and cabbage. Very good. Alexander told me that he has two months for his trip and that he spends the nights in ‘Biker Posts”, some hostels for bikers. He told me that the road would be fine, except between Ulan Ude and Chita. This I also read in other places, and Google Maps confirms this. We might ride together these days, although I have a series of pre-booked hotel rooms that I do not want to cancel. We’ll see how it goes. In any case, it is an advantage to have someone speaking the language and riding in front with a big bike.
We continued after filling up and the weather was the same mix as before. However, close to Novosibirsk, we got into heavy rain! Shortly after, our ways parted, but we’ll stay in contact. I headed to the local Honda dealer, Johannes had sent me the address yesterday. Much to my surprise, it was a combined Honda/Triumph dealer! Very shiny and modern!
I asked for a bolt to fix the sprocket cover, and please use some Locktite as well. Done! I chatted with the manager and bought two litres of oil. Yes, like the ones I left at home. They only had the modern stuff, like synthetic and 10W50. But ok, this will do; I’m using tractor oil now: mineral 20W50, haha!
I was disappointed with my new BMW rain suit. !49 Euros and I have wet pants??? Really? Grrrrrr……It was very warm now and I got cooked in my Banana suit. And I still had to survive the Novosibirskii rush hour as well! Lots of filtering through the traffic, one more petrol stop and then I was at the Ramada, where I left a little puddle of petrol in front of the entrance….it seems the carburettor float valve is not closing well, hmmmm. Closing the tap helps. One bolt of the pannier rack is a bit loose, I can’t tighten it…but with some of my monster zip ties, at least the tyre rack does not move anymore. Another oil check in the big parking garage…and finally I could strip my clothes in the room, I felt like a boiled egg! I have a whole appartment suite, not that I need it, but it is spacious. And for the price of a shabby pension in Western Europe.
In the restaurant, I wanted to order a beer from Andechs in my home area (haha), but there was nothing left. So finally it’s a local beer.
Today, I have ridden 6100 km since I left. Half time! Only 5800 km left to Vladivostok. And these will be the tougher part. But I have 11 days left, so this should be feasible if no technical problems occur.
This morning, the sky was grey and rainy. I had the luxury of a proper breakfast again. I advised that I wanted to remove the bike and that they should take care of the “Sabaka” (dog), I wanted to come out of the parking alive. The guy walked with me to the yard, but then walked away. So it was me against the dog. What can I say, I outpaced him. But it was a close shave.
I hit the road at 7:45 a.m., in full gear, including long johns this time. The weather was dull, occasional rain kept the road surface wet. After an hour, I was passed by the three Russian riders while waiting at some long roadworks! I catched up with them when they were having a break. I may ride slow, but constant. In Makuschino, I had to leave the main road, as it would lead into Kasachstan. The shortest way to Omsk cuts through there. As I have only a single-entry visa, this was not an option. So I had to go around and do some extra 150 km. When I turned, a nightmare started to evolve. It seemed to me that this was the worst road I ever rode on and that can still claim to be a “tarmac” road! Cracks, potholes, bumps and above, in wet conditions! It was so bad that I only could go at 70 km/h, or even 60 km/h. And then the temperature was 6 degrees with strong, icy gusts from the side.
What a ride! I spotted a petrol station and decided to fill up after only 185 km! I needed a break. Then I was at the pump, the other three Russian riders showed up as well. I “chatted” a while with the Gold Wing rider. Lots of petrol talk with little common words..
And on I went. How long would this road take? All the missing 350 km? This can’t be. I tried to ride as careful as possible, but I couldn’t avoid all the bumps the bike had to take. Morale was at a low. Why, why why am I doing this in spring? In the icy rain? Why????? Why Siberia in June?
Then, in Berdjuschje, I had to turn and the road got slightly better, but I still had to be very careful. Only when I finally reached the main road from Tjumen, the things changed. I rarely welcomed a proper road so much! But a doubt started to haunt me….could it be that my shocks were starting to fail me??? On the good road, nothing was noticeable, but with bumps I could feel the hard bump. My lower back started to ache….What if I was losing the shocks? I needed to act. I would stop at the next station and contacted Johannes by Whatsapp. This took a while….50 km and no petrol station in sight! Finally, one turned up. It was pretty old school, mainly for locals who needed Diesel. There was even no 95 octane petrol. I filled up with 92 (actually I was served) and was returned the surplus as I had erroneously asked for 16 instead 13 Liters at the pre-pay.
The vehicles that left the station seemed to like blue smoke, this was incredible! A tractor and a two-stroke motorbike left the station in a blue haze. In the meantime Johannes had provided some options: No chance to send new shocks, no much time, too risky with customs. But apparently some Harley models have the same shocks! There are HD dealers in Novosibirsk and Krasnoyarsk! I decided to look at this option later in the hotel. This problem troubled me the whole afternoon.
Slowly the temperature went up. Sunny with heavy rainfall in between. No reason to get out of the rain gear. I passed a strange landscape – grassland and trees, but whole birch forests standing in water with no leaves. A bizarre sight. I had to empty my bladder at a certain point and stopped next to the road. Only a small part of my body (ok, not THAT small) was exposed to the air in this process, but immediately many blood-thirsty monster mosquitos tried to have a picnic! What a mess! I tried to flush away some of them, but rather opted for retreat and fled this place!
I got closer and closer to Omsk. It was still early and I congratulated myself for changing the plan yesterday. These distances were feasible and give me enough time to rest. Some 20 km before Omsk, I was stopped by the police again. But….did I do something wrong? I wasn’t aware of…Ok, documents….I reached for my licence….and could not find it! Panic!!! Where was it? Then I remembered I showed it yesterday to the policeman….maybe in the fake wallet? Yes, there it was! Oufffffffff!!!! The policeman looked at it, showed it to his colleague and gave it back to me. Go!
In Omsk, it was sunny and warm now and i got slowly cooked in my “Banana Man” gear. I could still feel the strange effect when the shocks had to work. I had changed the setting to the max and this seemed to improve things a bit, but this was strange…I had the feeling that I was sitting on a board….and then I had an epiphany! What if the saddle was worn out? It’s a Russell Day-Long saddle, but…..what if? I had to stop for petrol again and checked the saddle….this was a possibility! I had noticed earlier that the shape had changed….I had bought the saddle in 2013 when I was a lot lighter…in a non-heavy duty version…I was sitting very much in front, due to the wheels in my back. When pressing the saddle, I could feel the hard plastic below. Can it really be? I called Johannes and told him the good news. He suggested to put something on the saddle if the feeling would change. So I rode the last 3 km to the hotel on my gloves and my fleece….and it felt great! Really? Well, this is definitely the smaller problem! Thanks Johannes anyway for the great help I hope I don’t need it and it’s only the saddle.
I arrived at the Hotel 41 with its iconic helicopter in front. At 6 p.m., although the clock had turned forward one hour. A relaxed evening? It was about time! And tomorrow the same distance like today! I really like my cunning plan.
My soup of the day was a classic Borshtsh, followed by some mixed meat platter. I’m sufficiently far from home to apply the “no fresh vegetables” rule now. No risks taken. Tomorrow I head for Novosibirsk!
Before going to bed last night, I had a brilliant idea….what if…I would consider the idea I had the first morning after our border disaster? Instead of desperately catching up the lost half day – what about falling back a half day and be in accordance with the initial plan, only one day late. It would make things so much easier – no monster rides, no desperate search for accommodation in the middle of nowhere, staying in nice hotels in the bigger cities….Instead riding like a berserk in three days to Krasnoyarsk, I could do it in four… But would I really be behind one day? I had had planned a short day between Kemerovo and Krasnoyarsk, and a very short day when getting to the Lake Baikal where I had planned us to pass a quiet day after 10 days of hard riding. If….I would skip the stay at the shore in Listvyanka (that includes going there and back from Irkutsk) and ride directly via Irkutsk to Ulan Ude??? This could work! I would be back on plan! What a cunning plan! It also leaves me one option: I could stay at the Eastern shore of Lake Baikal instead ot going to Ulan Ude, falling only 200 km behind the plan. With 3600 km to go and 8 days left, this should be no problem at all!
This meant that I could have proper breakfast this morning. No rushing in the early morning. It does not mean that the daily rides will be a piece of cake, but there is no need for monster rides of 1000 km or more per day. Not very appealing nor safe under these road conditions.
Finally I hit the road at 9 a.m. and first got lost, riding north instead east. Lost 20 km. But no need to worry, my daily plan was to get to Kurgan, only 720 km away. It was cool and cloudy. After half an hour, I got stopped by the police again! I was sure not to have crossed the white line…but maybe I overtook a car within the lane. Same game game again…do not understand…showed my licence…but the policeman also wanted to see the bike papers. I opened the left pannier and sighed loudly…the registration paper was buried somewhere in there….the policeman showed some mercy and said it was ok. But, I had to pay a “Straf”. Oh, this was different! He typed something on his phone…70? Oh, that’s cheap! Oh wait….Euro???? Ok, if he tries to play foul, I play foul. How much in Rubel? 5000! I grabbed for my fake “hold-up purse”…..look, I only have 4000 Rubel left…..He accepted and sent me away. Without a receipt, of course….Mental note: next time, put only 2000 Rubel in the fake purse…
This time I was wearing all my proper gear. But on the way to Chelyabinsk, I noticed that it got colder and
colder….chilling! I checked the altitude…oh! 440 m! I was riding up the Ural mountains. And then it started to rain lightly. This was the weather for most of the day. Dry, but with patches of rain that made the riding….interesting. I crossed the border between Europe and Asia without knowing where it was; unlike the route further north between Perm and Jekaterinenburg, there was no monument. This was touch, mountain roads, drizzle, and a gusty, icy wind from the west. Luckily, for the whole day it was blowing from the back, but when I had it from the side, the bike shook like a leave in the wind. I crossed several passes, the highest at 823 m altitude. This does not seem much, but the temperature was already low in the lowlands. Up there it was 7-8 degrees, but the strong icy wind made it feels 5 degrees less. And the XBR is not a spoiling bike, no fairing, no heated grips, no heated seat….I started to shiver….this was f*cking cold! When I had to fill up (Lukoil), I spent some time in the interior to warm up. I had another “Grill Dog” (LOL) and decided to put on the rain suit, not because of the rain, no! It keeps the wind out. Slowly it got warmer when I decended from the mountains…I saw some “working” ladies next to the road…in hot pants! And I was freezing inside my gear…two shirts, fleece, jacket, rain suit….brrrrr.
Down in the plain, it was less icy, but the wind still blew strongly from the back. The road turned into a dual carriageway and I took the long ring road around Chelyabinsk. When I got the wind from the side, I noticed how strong it was. I had to remove one ear plug, as the wind pressed so hard against the helmet that the ear plug got pressed into the ear…that did hurt! Without the ear plug, it was ok again.
The long road to Kurgan was filled with trucks that had to be overtaken…endlessly! I stopped for petrol again….warming up again. It was less cold, but still chilly. I got into a conversation with a guy from the station…without understanding all the words, we managed to get the message across….bike talk! From where, to where, he had a Honda as well, very good, etc etc. A nice guy!
The landscape had changed.Less forest, more grass land. But also some swamps. And mostly birch trees. Slowly the clouds vanished and the last hour I rode in sunshine. Interrupted by enormous road works. But at least I could pass to the front easily.
Just before Kurgan, I filled up again. When I returned to the bike, I was shocked: I found a puddle of liquid right under the bike! It took a while until I realised that it did not come from my bike and was probably water. I checked the oil level….a lot was missing! I filled up 0.6 L, quite a lot! On the other hand, I was riding hard yesterday, and in 1200 km, this is possible. I left most of my oil at home. But, in the worst case I buy some car oil, there’s plenty of it. No worries.
I arrived at my hotel, the “Cosmos Business Hotel” on Gagarin Street, next to the “enormous” airport. Four stars, haha. But clean and with everything you need. I parked my bike behind the hotel, guarded by a barking dog, gulp!
I had dinner with another soup, Solyanka this time. Not very local, but delicious. And some sizzling lamb meat, with some Russian red wine. Tomorrow will be a relaxing 650 km ride to Omsk, around the Kasachstan border. I did a check today, I have ridden a 4800 km so far. I only have 7000 km left to Vladivostok!
In the morning, we decided to change the plan of the following days. The cunning plan so far had fallen into pieces. Instead of Kazan, I booked a hotel in Nizhni Nowgorod. Still a 900 km to do today. In the evening, we would decide on the next days.
We started at a quarter to eight and rode through the green landscape. Sunny weather, a relaxing ride. After an hour, I spooted a petrol station and we stopped there. I wanted to pre-pay the petrol in the little house, but nobody was there…finally I found two woman: “no petrol!”. John used his jerry can to be on the safe side. Soon we discovered a shiny, new station where we finally could fill up. The next three hours saw more and more traffic the closer we came to Moscow. I spotted a car on the hard shoulder with a lost wheel. While I was still wondering how this happened, I saw two guys after one kilometre rolling back the wheel! Unbelievable! I was glad not to be the victim of this exemplary driver.
With a hundred km to go to Moscow, we had to fill up again and found even a working air pump. I told John that we could visit the Red Square for a picture, despite the massive loss of time. John then told me that he would quit in Moscow.
Well, this didn’t come as a surprise. As much as John is an experienced IBA veteran and one of the few people capable of doing this ride under these circumstances, this is not the perfect time for him. He had a loss in his family that kept him focussed on that matter for quite a while. I understand perfectly well how this affects your mindset when you should focus on something else. All his preparations were delayed. I guess he felt under pressure the last four days. And this can drain the energy from your body. I think he couldn’t manage to really enjoy the ride, and then he realised that he probably had bitten off more than he could probably chew. His old bike and he himself are perfectly able to do this trip, but this would need more time. My concept of the trip was always “get through Russia as quickly as possible” and then enjoy the riding in Japan. But this requires a tough ride. With our modern bikes, this would be a walk in the park (not really, but…), but on these old bikes, this is a totally different story. I fully understand his decision and under these circumstances, it’s the best he can do.
We rode to the centre of Moscow and took THE picture so far.
John asked me to guide him to the hotel we had booked the day before, he wanted to stay there. He checked in and then it was time for goodbye. I am sure John will design a new Plan that will make this a memorable ride (Murmansk? Nordkapp?). Good luck, John!
It was already 3 p.m. and I still had to ride 420 km! The traffic in the inner ring of Moscow and getting past the outer of the three rings around Moscow took quite a while, lots of traffic, lots of filtering. Argh. I noticed that my chain needed some tightening. I stopped, had a drink and fixed this. Aaaah, this is different! The next four hours were a wild ride, mostly dual carriageways, but many red lights, lots of traffic and crazy drivers who thought they were race drivers (real race drivers don’t drive so aggressively, though). I pushed the XBR to a new speed window of 110 – 120 km/h (70 – 75 mph). In the rays of the setting sun, I filled up just before Nizhni Nowgorod. I had booked a plush hotel in the centre to relax and to have good facilities. I crossed the Volga in the dusk, but had no possibility to stop for a picture. It felt like crossing the Mississippi….I checked in at the hotel (the receptionist spoke English!), had a shower, washed my riding underwear under the shower and went to the restaurant.
They had Belgian Affligem beer (!), and I ordered Schtschi soup and a Beef Stroganoff. All very good. I tried to figure out a plan for the next days, but the only certain thing was the next day and the ride to Ufa. Nice hotel in Ufa booked. Went to bed after midnight. It was a tough day (900 km plus the centre of Moscow).