Tuesday, 26 June 2012

More shocks (or not as the case may be)

Day 17 in Zlatoust, Iain and Debz are still there instead of crossing the border into Mongolia. Well, it’s all gone a bit wrong! The shocks arrived in Moscow on the Saturday and Motorrad Moscow did the required on the Monday – brilliant service – and gave them back to the courier (Pony Express) on Monday afternoon. When by Thursday there was still no info on the tracking system we contacted Irina at Motorrad and asked her if she had any info. The news she came back with was not good – the courier had lost the shocks!! Our hearts sank, this was terrible. We phoned John again at Revs Racing to find out how quickly Wilburs Germany could make us a new set and the response was ‘the next day’. In the meantime I was chasing Pony Express ( thank you Google translate) and they then said they’d found them at the airport. To cut a long story short, the result was that the courier refused to put them on the plane back to us as they were a hazardous item (which I accept but they flew into Moscow without anyone caring!) and would have to be returned by road. Road........we were told to expect them at the end of the next week. So, as I type this, the shocks are in Chelyabinsk, approx 100km away and we will hopefully get them tomorrow.  If we get them early enough, we will be back on the road tomorrow afternoon, if not, the following day.
We would like to say that the service we’ve had from John at Revs Racing (the official UK importer for Wilburs), Wilburs Germany and Motorrad Moscow (the official Russian importer for Wilburs) has been absolutely first class.
In between all this kafuffle, we had our tea at Natasha’s (one of the hotel cleaners) house. She first gave us a tour of the city’s highlights and then laid on a lovely spread for us. Again, with very little understandable language between us, we had a lovely time.

We will be glad to now head for Mongolia. This will take approx 10 days with no other mishaps. It will be tight for us to make it before our Mongolian visa expires but hopefully we will.

Friday, 15 June 2012

Shocked in Zlatoust!

On my last post, when I said we’d be on the road in a day or 2, what I actually should have written was a week or 2 L. The shock has been sent to the Moscow branch of Wilburs for them to sort it under warranty. We arrived here on Saturday night, Russia was on holiday on Monday and Tuesday (their National Day) so after speaking to The Midlands (UK – thanks to John at Revs Racing for his help) and Moscow on Wednesday, shock was removed and sent away on Thursday. It takes 3 days to get to Moscow, they’ll turn it around same day if possible and then 3 days back!  We in the UK are so used to things ‘next day’ because the island is so very small. So, realistically, it’ll be end of next week until we’re on the road again.
It was Iain’s (40th...shhh) birthday yesterday and when Denis came to get him in the morning, he presented him with a parcel, all wrapped up in nice blue paper and bows. They gave him a lovely knife in its own leather sheath and documentation. It was made in Zlatoust so Iain was very pleased with it and he does like a good knife! The handle is made out of bark as far as we can understand and it’s a special local ‘recipe’ for the blade.

Monday, 11 June 2012

Mozzies, shocks and police
As we continue our journey north we have our first ‘meeting’ with the police. Iain had overtaken a lorry but was back on his own side of the road before the solid white line. You must not cross a solid white line in Russia, not even if you want to go into a petrol station on the other side of the road – it is a fineable offence. The officer who stopped us was trying to say we went over the white line. Iain put it that he had not. A lorry driver going the other way stopped – he is a biker as well (KTM Supermoto) and although he spoke no English either, between them all they agreed that we could go with no fine. Sweets were shared and we were on our way. Later we were given more help by a local biker who took us to a welder after the steering dampener snapped.  The steering dampener was tig welded and again, no payment was accepted. Riding a sidecar can be dangerous for others as well. We were parked on a street and a sports bike went past and he and his pillion were so busy tooting and waving to us that he didn't notice the traffic in front had stopped - he came to a stop shortly afterwards - up against the car in front! The bikers sorted themselves out and shot off before the car driver had even got out to assess the damage. A small dent I think. As no one was injured I can say it was quite funny to watch!
We stop to have lunch in a small town off the main road and whilst I am in the shop a local guy talks to Iain. He is gone by the time I come out but as we finish eating he comes back with a postcard of the area and invites us back to his house for a cuppa. As before, never refuse a cuppa so we enjoy Vladimir’s company whilst listening to early Abba and drinking tea.

It's black, it's in Russia - can you guess what it is? That's right, it's Guinness!
At the moment we are in Novozlatoust where we have met Dennis and Nadia who are local bikers. They have helped us out and we’ve spent a bit of time with them which has been great. We need to get a few things sorted out on the bike as the front shock is now leaking (Jake – we blame you for this as it was fine until you asked about it!) but should be on the road again in a day or 2. I don’t think I could get my helmet on anyway as I have a mozzie (I presume) bite on my forehead and it is quite swollen and sore.
So far, we have been overwhelmed by the friendliness of the people we are encountering. They are really making this trip special for us.
Shrapnel in Saratov
In Saratov, we need to sort out a few things on the bike and get insurance. We should have got this before now but better late than never! We look for a bike shop on the internet – there only seems to be one so we head there. It turns out to be a goth/rock shop (with a lot of lovely things but I’m not there to shop!) called Bike Style run by Oleysa and Sirius Drake but once I ask about brake fluid they lead me to another part of the shop, where they have the spares, leathers and helmets. They don’t have all of what we need but with a phone call Alexei arrives to help us out. In the meantime Oleysa has taken Iain to sort out the insurance on the bike. Before leaving the girls gift us each with a Russia bandana! We follow Alexei to his workshop. He sells bikes from there too so has a very good collection ranging from Suzuki DR250 Djebel (which is what I have at home) to a Dnepr sidecar with an amazing paint job. We return to Alexei’s the next morning as yesterday Iain only managed to bleed the sidecar brake and change the wheel bearing. Today he has to make a bracket for the lights, balance the carbs and other routine jobs and as he is working inside I am outside checking out the route for later that day. As I walk back into the garage I feel a sharp pain just below my chest and I assume I’ve been stung or bitten. On closer inspection I see a small piece of metal embedded in me! Iain was making a bracket for the bike using a cold chisel and as he hit it a piece of steel flew off and hit me – thankfully it didn’t go in anyone’s eye! Iain had to extract it carefully and then I cleaned up the blood - I played on this by the way, getting a shrapnel wound, bleeding and having a hole in my merino t-shirt!

1st June – Really into Russia!
After entering Russia we travelled on smaller roads rather than ‘main’ roads and ended up in a bit of a quandary in one village. It had 5 roads leading away from it and the GPS was not behaving so we were unsure which road to take. So after trying each one and then deciding that was wrong and making our way back to the village we went up the road that had a military checkpoint on it. We didn’t think we’d get through but thought we ask for the correct road. As we approached they raised the barrier and we rode through. We were asked to stop but no documents were needed, they just wanted to find out about the trip. We were invited in for a cup of tea (one should never refuse a cup of tea!) and they offered to cook us sausage and egg but we declined the food as we had already eaten. We chatted as best we could with the use of our phrasebook and then after having tea, sweets and pictures taken we were on our way.   
They told us the road was in a bad state of repair so to be careful. They weren’t wrong but we made it to our next stop, a town called Mozdok.
On route to Mozdok we had another military checkpoint and several police checkpoints – never any issues just documents and a chat about the journey.  At the last police checkpoint, they kindly pointed us in the direction of a hotel. When we arrived I went inside to try and get a room. Tanya, the lady in charge was delighted to see me and grabbed my arm and took me to see everyone in the place to tell them I was from the UK and going to Magadan. One guy had seen us in the petrol station in Vladikavkaz and had already told them about us! Once sorted with a room, another guy said he’d show us the auto park where we could leave the bike. Auto parks in Russia are a safe compound where you pay a small amount to leave your vehicle but it has 24 hour security. He’d give us a lift back to the hotel in his Lada – well, not before he’d taken us on a whistle stop tour of the town, showing us statues and memorials whilst all the time playing his favourite Russian folk tune at full blast. Our ears were ringing!
 The next morning we stopped at a local garage to see if he had something to sort out the shock on the sidecar wheel, which he did and took no payment for. We offered us tea and as we tried to communicate I pulled out my Russian phrasebook to which he pointed out that he was Ossetian, not Russian. Book away and sign language did the job. We took pictures of him and his colleague on the outfit before saying goodbye. If all of Russia is as friendly as this, we thought, we’ll be ok!
As we’ve headed north we’ve stayed in various places ranging from a knocking shop to a very nice hotel and have caught bits of Lord of The Rings 1, 2 + 3 (on consecutive nights) dubbed in Russian. It doesn’t matter that we can’t understand it though because the visuals of these films are fabulous. Also, no matter what time of the day you are on the road, it’s busy. We stop to help a guy on a broken down scooter in the middle of no-where but can’t do anything at the roadside so tow him 20km to a garage so he can get help.

30-31st May - BMW’s Galore – Georgia
It’s hard work riding the sidecar and trying not to slow the other riders down and this was taking its toll on Iain’s shoulder so we decided in Georgia that we would catch up with the other guys later on. We were heading for the Kazbegi border crossing with Russia and hoped to stay just short of it that night.  On the road, we came across Klaus from Germany riding a BMW R100GS, he had been in Russia and entered Georgia that day. A bit further on we met 3 guys from Brno in Czech on BMW GS’s. They had been to the border but as they didn’t have visas, couldn’t enter.
Further up the Military Highway there is a viewpoint with a colourful mural so we stopped for a look and met a couple, Eric and Gabi, who were also on a BMW GS.  We’d seen more folk touring on bikes on that one day than we had for the rest of the trip put together – that says a lot for Georgia I think.
It was getting late by then and the thunder and lightning was starting so we decided we would try for a hotel in the village we had just passed through and that hopefully we’d get a better deal if we both went to the same place. We set off first and as we got back into the village the hailstones started to pound down on us. We took refuge in a cafe – we couldn’t believe it, it was white!
Eric and Gabi found a nice hotel and indeed they would give us a better price if we all stayed there. We got our wet stuff off and spent a lovely evening together and found out it was Eric’s birthday that day too. They opened a bottle on homemade wine given to them by a Georgian farmer and we enjoyed a glass!
Eric and Gabi waved us off in the morning as they were heading south. The Military Highway in Georgia has lovely views and we were soon arriving at the border crossing. It all went smoothly enough, on both sides, with the Russian side wanting to look in our luggage but this was not a problem and after Iain had filled a few forms in for the bike we were on our way – in Russia!! We couldn’t actually believe we were riding along a road in Russia.