The ride out of Chara meant a “slight” (17km) deviation to get fuel in “Old Chara”. Another late start with progress further interrupted by a out-of-the-way fuel depot. The day was warm and sunny and we “raced” a train for a while on fast, round stone “gravel”. There was some construction that was intriguing to ride around/through as the way wound through valleys with snow and over large passes.
Big empty landscapes with potential snow on the mountain tops and large alpine lakes. Some time before Khani we rode through a narrow track just wide enough for a smaller truck in forested mountains. Beautiful and fun. Certainly BamBam and I had increased levels of confidence. Not sure what was the origin of his but after riding off nearly two years of rust . . . the Duckling felt ready, willing and able and I was eager to serve.
We were riding across bridges with significantly less hesitation. But near the river crossing before Khani I met Kim who was in a dark mood. Eventually BamBam appeared after picking up some food at a magazin. Kim’s mood did not lighten. “What did you say to him ?” “Kim’s confidence is low and I told him he just needed to ride through it.” Nice. And sensitive.
Well, with two of us at least with sky-high confidence we approached the river. It didn’t look high nor necessarily that fast. BamBam was eager to “go for it”. I had a funny feeling and suggested that perhaps our confidence was blinding us a bit and we should inspect things, first.
Yep – it would have been a potential disaster. The current was deeper than it looked, well above the knee, moving VERY fast and there were large, loose rocks underneath. It was a considerable for the three of us to move the bikes across one-at-a-time.
Just as we’d cleared all the bikes with BamBam’s last . . . he mounted it in the dry riverbed but chose to do so along the spine of a small rock pile. Kim and I stood frozen as we watched BamBam move left, then right, then left on his saddle finding his balance. “What the hell are you doing ?”, I said. “I dunno,” was the reply. “Well stop it.” The 690 finally caught and moved forward and another potentially messy fall was avoided. Kim looked at me with a face that had become already very familiar. If I’d had said anything it would have been, “what exactly do you think I could do or should do ?”
As we neared Khani there was another railway bridge crossing . . . we met a Russian on a Minsk who “showed us the way”.
We camped under the bridge that nite . . . it wasn’t nearly as bad as it sounded. The trains were not that common and inspite of the ground shaking . . . we all slept well.
The next day was another warm, sunny one with more riding along the river, along the railway tracks and into the forested mountain tracks. I REALLY liked the forested mountain tracks, going up or down. At one point, well ahead of BamBam and Kim I stopped to put up a piece of wood that would warn of the large hole that was nearly impossible to see until you were on it. At a stop, Kim said “Thanks for the warning.” BamBam claimed he hadn’t seen anything. Sure.
Given the water levels we were re-directed by either broken bridges, flooded crossings and at least once, a Kamaz driver who assured us the way forward was impassable, possibly even for him.
There were a few instances of fixing Kim’s bent shifter or foot brake lever. BamBam was nearly expert at servicing the endless sores and scabs on Kim’s “Dakar”. One incident caused BamBam and I to wait for some time for sign of Kim. As we walked down a narrow forested track we saw, finally, some sign of large mammals – two small piles of bear scat, one relatively fresh.
We continued to ride in what I felt was good fun. A great enduro track approaching the final, large challenge – Olykema Bridge. We could see it on our GPSs but . . . the meandering paths we were forced to ride were indirect, slow, if fun.
Olykema Bridge meant our crossing to Yuktali. We had to approach the bridge on the south side of the tracks and pass under it to get to the north side where access to the bridge was possible. The water levels were so high the bog beneath the bridge was both challenging and a little anxiety inducing.
As we climbed up to the north side we saw the family we’d met at Kuanda a few days previously. Their SUV had been flooded and they were in the process of drying out clothes, cameras, computers, etc. They were VERY generous serving us really tasty food (BamBam ate more than Kim and I together and with the gusto of a man returning from the wilderness).
We spoke to the railway bridgeman and he agreed to let us cross. First we had to clear the approach. From our current spot it was a short, steep approach toward a locked, vertically swinging gate.
Kim went first, carrying Barbie. He tried to go under the gate but his windscreen was too tall. Suddenly we were trying to hold the bike from going forward or backward to avoid damaging his windscreen. Then, it happened, Barbie was broken off her scooter. I did not like this sign.
BamBam went next and decided to go to the right of the gate where there was an opening for a pedestrian. It was a tough turn after mounting a steep, loose rock pile. He made it to the opening and dismounted without too much drama. (For all the short-legged readers, BamBam rode and is riding a bike where he can BARELY touch the ground with one extended leg and foot on one side by sliding over on the saddle. If nothing else, he’s a committed rider !)
I had already decided to try to make it to the pedestrian opening. My bike is much taller than Kim’s. Somewhat incredibly I made the opening and just drove through. BamBam claimed it was because he’d tilted the barrier pole. BamBam’s geometry skills are every bit as impressive as his cooking, equal parts enthusiasm and pure imagination.
Then I proceeded on past the metal spikes meant to dissuade, apparently, motorbikes. There was a 4″ gap between them and it was threaded without any drama. Kim suggested I was crazy for riding a 4″ gap.
The bridgeman told us he’d come to Yuktali in 1968 expecting it to be just two years. He never left. He also told us that this year he’d seen less traffic than ever before. In Russian – “Normally, there are 10-15 (four-wheel) vehicles a year. This year, just two.”
An inspection of the bridge revealed an interesting problem. It was too narrow to put the bike, even without luggage, in the walkway between the guardrails and the tracks. Nope. We’d have to ride on something that was less than 30cm (12″) wide for . . . 530 meters (nearly 600 yards). If you fell to the left, it was a good fall into the guardrail, where there was some broken, sharp metal. To the right, you went into the track. It would be possible to avoid getting run over by a train but lifting the bike up would probably be beyond any single rider.
It was without any difficulty that I voiced, “I have a bad feeling about this.”
BamBam went first. Going next, I watched him clear the far side and then so did I. As I pulled up BamBam said, “What the hell is Kim doing ?” He hadn’t seem to have made much progress and his bike appeared to be leaning.
BamBam started for toward Kim. Then he broke into a run. Eventually, he got to Kim and then I watched him ride, without a helmet, Kim’s bike across.
Kim had fallen in the first 6′ (2 meters) and pinched/smashed his hand against the guardrail, initially fearing that he’d broken his hand. He’d nearly severed his fingers. The other near injury was BamBam riding without a helmet. The first rule of rescue – don’t add to the victim list. IGNORED !
Kim started to lament his effort . . . BamBam and I were having none of it.
We rode in to Yuktali late, as usual, searching for a magazine to pick up some food. We were surrounded by kids which was unsusual enough in Siberia. As I watched the bikes while Kim and BamBam shopped the kids starting writing on BamBam’s bike.
As twilight faded we went looking for a campsite. Eventually, nearly 12km outside of town, which we had to return to for fuel . . . I protested. The track was not fast, not terribly smart to ride in the dark. Kim and BamBam remained fearful of camping anywhere “in sight”. Finally, we capitulated on a construction turnaround near a river crossing. I don’t think a single vehicle passed us in the nite . . .
In the morning we rode back to Yuktali in search of fuel. It can be surprising, with a GPS coordinate in a small village, how little help that is locating something. Kim waited, with low fuel, while BamBam and I searched. The “gas station” was in a yard with an indirect entry. The cost was far beyond the normal 25% BAM surcharge but it was written down and we didn’t hesitate.
Our largest riding challenges behind us the goal was to avoid “post summit” letdown. (In mountaineering it’s a truism that most serious issues occur AFTER summiting – folks are tired, they’re less focussed, and frankly, it’s harder walking down.) The terrain continued much as the previous days – runs through swamp (balota) punctuated by narrow tracks into forested highlands.
We did seem to find ourselves next to the railway more, either riding on the gravel bed or immediately alongside on a “service road” that was often partially or wholly inundated. One large puddle was notable for swallowing front tires, easily.
At a very robust and modern bridge we stopped for lunch. BamBam had been complaining about his fork’s lack of travel. In Irkutsk he’d replaced the fork oil but hadn’t really gone through the steps to make sure all the old oil was emptied. And he’d “guesstimated” how much oil was necessary. The forks were moving no more than 6″ and were harsh. He’d considerably overfilled the forks and with the high(er) speed ruts now more commonly appearing had grown weary of the beating.
Incredibly (for anyone else) he removed the top cap on the fork and tried inserting an 8″ length of hose to remove excess oil. I tried pointing out that the oil was closer to the level of the dust seal . . . perhaps 20-24″ below. He was wasting his time. Eventually he gave up . . . but his OCD was unsatisfied.
Lopcha was our goal for food and then a campsite somewhere in the balota. We just made it to Lopcha in time. Several drunks offered “help”. Another waved me away . . . it was typical of our Siberian village greetings.
Lopcha was also typical in many or all other ways. It’s raison d’etre was far from clear. Housing ranged from abandoned to derelict to ramshackle. There was a single magazine, it was the size of a small walk-in closet. What commerce or transfer payments supported life there was unclear. It had the look of a welfare village, as many others in Siberia did, too.
We set camp a few kilometers from the road and hastily made a fire. The evening was cool, relatively mosquito free, and the sense of relief of Tynda’s proximity was palpable. By now, my Thermarest sleeping pad had developed a pregnant bulge. Initially it was a small annoyance but the cancerous air pocket seemed to view me as the invader. Sleep was getting more difficult to achieve without sublime exhaustion.
The 120 miles into Tynda were pretty anti-climatic, “post-summit” letdown, notwithstanding. The road was relatively fast, punctuated by very loose corners, the odd abrupt drainage ravine, and on several occasions a drifting Kamaz truck coming the other way. My helmet shield was now quite scratched up and with the large amount of dust I tried to stay well behind Kim & BamBam as it was very difficult to see.
Of course, this was unacceptable for BamBam . . . ironically, if you’ve just joined, or unsurprisingly if you’ve been following . . . I noticed BamBam’s rear rack oscillating rather wildly. What do you know . . . he’d broken it again. This time at the subframe mounts and across the top on one of the wrapping rails. Amazing what happens when you ride an aggressive line at high-speed . . . you break stuff . . . and cause delays . . . which is the fault of the bike (KTM) and rack manufacturer (Rally Raid), OBVIOUSLY !
A bit later . . . we came upon BamBam after he’d put the 690 sideways and just managed not to send himself into a drainage rut. Huh ? Why would that be there . . . we know the biggest rains in centuries have been around us . . . what a “surprise”. K-reist !
Then, just 55km from Tynda . . . another stop. BamBam’s low-voltage coil connection has come undone. “Too fast, can’t last . . . ” This is allegedly the fifth time he’s encountered this issue. It re-precipitates our VOM discussion – bring or leave. A minor disassembly of the 690 is required to SEE the offending connection. BamBam offers some nonsensical analysis/verdict – “this wire might be good enough for digital signals but it’s too thin for analog ones”. That makes no sense except on Planet BamBam. But that’s the beauty of Planet BamBam – that’s where BamBam lives and where he likes to think the rest of us “walk”. “Can we just get into Tynda without any more ‘incidents’ ?”
Just a few KM before Tynda a Lada overtakes us . . . we were going no faster than 70kmph (indicated). The Lada was drifting about, sometimes with 3-wheels in the air. Stopped on tarmac BamBam exclaimed – “we got passed by a Lada !”. And I should care, why ? BamBam is a guy who really believes in the importance of achievements that are rightfully un-noticed by the whole of humanity.
We found a decent place in Tynda and settled into re-grouping and preparing for tomorrow’s departure. BamBam was off toward Vladivostok to see Sveta. He confided that it could be a VERY big re-union. Kim was interested in possibly pursuing his trip a bit further. BamBam did not encourage him to follow – “Oh well, now that I’m alone I’ll be driving really fast. So you can come, if you can keep up. And I’ll be leaving REALLY early in the morning, before 7AM.”
For the record – BamBam and Kim departed approximately 9:30AM.
We exchanged media from our ride and made small reviews of particular photos or video. Kim’s “hellrider” explosion and dump drew lots of laughs although at the time, he cried in pain and BamBam just sat laughing while I ran toward Kim.
We had dinner at an Uzbek restaurant that wasn’t bad. Two Russian men, one with a cat-scratch haircut decided to “converse” with us. Actually, he’d laugh at us, mock our choices of drink (beer ! not vodka), offer us drink and . . . mention Obama . . . “chornee – nigger”.
A great way to end the final nite on the BAM . . .