What are the odds ? Three electrical engineers meet and ride together. Kim, a Frenchman living in Switzerland of mixed Vietnamese origin who speaks French, Russian, German, English (with virtually no accent and similar amounts of idiomatic American english) . . . if ever a guy should have been a spy ! Noah, who went to the same university as Kim in the US (Kim was a transfer student for a year from France) and is also, like a Kim, a fisherman. For reasons that will become obvious I’ll refer to him as ‘BamBam’ (apologies to the Flintstones).
We finally departed UB for the Russian border late on 27 July . . . and ended up camping about 75km from the border so the boys could fish. Kim caught two perch and a trout which they cleaned, cooked and shared with me generously. On the first day out I dumped the KTM unceremoniously at about 1 kph, clearly more excited about riding than wisely acknowledging my still dubious sense of Dengue balance.
The following day we crossed the border at Altanburg and were quickly showered in a long, cold rain. Streets were completely inundated, some to over a foot (30cm) hiding lovely potholes. A decision to NOT ride on was made easily. The boys passed the time talking to a pair of female teenagers.
. . . The following morning I packed my pair of spare tires in a ‘pyramid’ much to the annoyance of BamBam. It was ridiculous looking. (Voile straps are pretty amazing.) Larger bumps caused the tires to slap the back of my helmet. The price of “fashion”.
The next day we rode north with the intention of using one of Walter Colebatch’s tracks to do an off-run shortcut (in distance, not in time) that was both a good warmup for me (having not ridden much for 2 years) and great fun with mud holes as deep as 30″ (75cm) and meandering single and doubletrack through fields, valleys and hilly forests before stopping at a truly disgusting campsite on Lake Baikal.
“Shit hole” is overused. In this case, it was a description of the defecation chamber all too close to our tents.
Next it was Irkutsk where we would stay for 7 days while Noah sorted out his “like a clock” KTM 690. The rub was a small piece that supported the automatic decompression actuator on one of the exhaust cams. While we waited . . . and waited . . . and waited . . . Michelle found us a great place to stay from Thailand, via the internet.
The weather, or rather the sky, changed while we were in Irkutsk from brilliant blue to supremely turbid. It was, we came to know, caused by a huge forest fire in far northern Siberia due to drought, there. Views would be obscured until we had entered the BAM almost 1000km (620 miles) north.
Irkustsk had some pleasant surprises – a great outdoors store where we bought climbing webbing for tow rope, bear line (to make a perimeter around our campsites), picturesque timber houses, a place to supplement BamBam’s homeless wardrobe, and a restaurant we frequented for the decent food and excellent beer and no shortage of the eye candy that Walter Colebatch has often commented about in EVERY Russian city.
We also managed to spend 2 nites, the first and the last, at Nina’s a guesthouse which is essentially shared rooms in a Russian home. The hosts were incredibly gracious and provided us with a place to leave our bikes (including the scattered remains of BamBam’s 690 over the yard) and various refreshments and snacks. On departure the lady of the house gave us a bottle of confit of local cranberries that we from then on referred to as ‘Bam Jam’.
From Irkutsk we rode to Olkhon Island in Lake Baikal. A lovely campsite provided fishing but no fish and a great view of the Lake. In the morning we saw the head of a Lake Baikal seal, the only fresh water seal in the world.
Riding on Olkhon Island was a bit like a mini-Mongolia with singletrack wandering between big hills, forests, bogs and rock and sand gardens. Earlier in the day BamBam decided to ride his 690 into the only man made structure within kilometers and succeeded in crashing, putting a pinhole in his exhaust header and generally lowering doubt about his lack of stability (or balance) AND maintaining an early hold on ‘La Barbie’. The good news is that he managed not to seriously hurt himself.
It was here that I realized that the pin on my steering damper was not making contact with the damper. I left it unconnected until well across the Northern Route in Mongolia for no particular reason.
We exited Olkon late after Kim discovered he had a flat on the ferry. The local shino-montazh was a clown and my recommendation to use him was a complete bust. He couldn’t break the tire bead, then put a patch on the tube that failed several days later. Bam Bam was not impressed.
We camped off the road in a field along a small forest before, for us, a relatively early departure. Getting the pilot of the “like a clock 690″ up and on the move reminded me it was not an alarm clock – at least not in the local time zone.