Tuesday, June 30, 2009

28 June 2009 Omsk, Russia

I took the day off to do some thinking. I’ve been banging my head against the wall ever since I lost my satellite connection and the internet. It’s really difficult to look forward and navigate your way without any help. I have also been getting really hungry not being able to stay in hotels that serve breakfast every couple of days were you can get a good meal. So that’s what I’ve been sorting out today. First, I need to be able to check into small town and roadside hotels without the usual ruckus over paperwork and room keys. Second, I need to solve the issue of being able to get some food out of these endless restaurants along the highways without pointing and I’ll have what he’s eating. It kind of makes you look a little dumb. I brought along this electronic Lingo Translator. I’ve never really had much success with it and was about to drop kick it into the ditch several times but always put it back into my pocket. So I sat down with a book I had with some useful translations and tried to get the electronic translator to agree with the book. It took a couple of hours and the translations started getting better and better. Then I started checking out useful phrases that I could use at hotels to answer questions the receptionist has. I wrote them down in English and Cryllic. Things like…….Do you have a room available?…………...I would like single room for a one night!………………Can you show me the room?..................May I have the key for the room!............Do you have secure parking at the hotel? The money question has never been an issue so I didn’t bother with a phrase. Now I’m going to tackle the food issue. I went through all the vegetables, meat, eggs and bread and wrote up a list. Then I started a second page labeling it breakfast. I asked for three eggs, bacon or ham or beef, potato, bread and cheese. This all took me the better part of the afternoon. Hunger was the driving interest in getting this done. I took my breakfast list downstairs to the restaurant to try it out. I thought for sure the lady behind the counter was going to have a fit. Nope she read everything I had written down and ordered it. For the first time in about two or three days I ate a hot meal of good food. My day definitely brightened up. I asked the receptionist if she could read my hotel phrases but she couldn’t grasp that I was talking about the future, and not wanting to purchase another day at this hotel. So what I wrote I’m pretty sure she understood. I will find out at the next hotel I check into. I also planned out my route for tomorrow. I will be traveling 300 miles/650 kms on Highway M51 to Kuybyshev, Chulym, Kochenevo and Novosibirsk. It’s already past midnight and I still need to take a shower. All and all it was a pretty productive day. It’s time for bed.

27 June 2009 Omsk, Russia

Good morning Dave, have a Happy Birthday ………….oh happy days it’s raining. Today is my birthday and I’m going to drive into Omsk on Highway 1P402 and find a hotel. I wasn’t in a very big hurry to get moving. Consequently I got caught in the rain. I may stay two days if I can find a hotel with internet so I can contact people and tell them I’m still alive. The more I think about this the less I think I’ll find a hotel with internet. My satellite connection/air card is no longer receiving a signal because I’m in Siberia and AT&T doesn’t have an agreement with the Russian satellite people. So finding a high end hotel with directions is pretty difficult unless I find someone who volunteers to take me to a hotel. I should have gotten myself a Lonely Planet book on all the hotels in Siberia before I left the states and I wouldn’t have this problem. I may also see if I can fix my telephone so that it works. I don’t know if it is the SIM card or I left it on and all the time is used up. It was pretty much a light rain all day today, more annoying than anything else. I was about half way to Omsk and this motorcycle rider pulls up alongside me riding a white African Twin Honda. I waved at him and he sped on by. About 5 miles/8 kms down the road he pulled over and stopped. I pulled in after him and we started talking. His name was Mark and he was from Poland. Get this, he rode from Poland and was riding up the Road of Bones to Magadan, Russia in the Kolymer Region in Siberia. I was kind of envious of him because that was one of the things on this round the world trip I really wanted to do. He wasn’t dressed very well to be riding in the rain. His rain gear leaked everywhere, no rain gloves to cover his riding gloves or boots to keep his feet dry. One thing he had was heated hand grips. That’s a nice feature because my hands freeze in the rain and go numb. It might be something I would consider in the future should I consider another adventure like this. He was packing two rear and two front tires. Everything he owned was in the top box on his bike and tires on the side. He was driving 300miles/484 kms to 400 miles/645 kms a day and camping most of the time. I asked him how he was going to cross the rivers and he said he could ford water about four inches above his tires. He asked me if I heard of the movie/series The Long Way Around. I said yes and he kind of said that’s where he got his ideas from or the inspiration. I told him I would have driven up the Road of Bones had I been able to fly out of Magadan to Anchorage, Alaska. I asked him how he was leaving Magadan. He said he would ride down the Road of Bones again and then put his motorcycle on the Trans Siberian Railroad and ship it home because of the time element. Apparently he has timeframe in which he has to complete his adventure. We took pictures and parted company, wishing each other a safe journey. He sped into traffic and the last I saw of him is the mud spray mist off his rear tire. I continued on to Omsk and past a newer roadside hotel and made a mental note of it. If all else falls I can come back to it. I stopped about 12 miles/20 kms outside of Omsk and filled up with gas. I never enter a large city low on gas. I asked a guy if he knew where a hotel was and he said no. So I went back nine miles to the hotel I saw when I was coming into the city. I checked in and went to the room. It was very nice for $32 dollars. No internet here. They did look up an internet café for me. God knows how I’m going to find it. This is a large city and I’m slightly handicapped verbally and can’t read signs. It’s two in the morning. I probably should go to bed and decide what I should do tomorrow.

26 June 2009 near Omsk, Russia

I got up this morning and the mosquitoes weren’t half as bad as the night before. I could be outside with my long sleeved shirt on and work bare handed without being eaten alive. I shook the raindrops off the fly of the tent and crawled back in to work on this blog and plan my route for the day. I took down my tent and thought to myself how again it saved me from the mosquitoes. You go, Eureka! I was going to take some pictures of my bush camping but forgot. I was little ticked off at myself for forgetting. I will be continuing on to Omsk on Highway M51 but must detour near the Kazakhstan border north Ismk/NuNM. I hope the detour is not a killer. I found the detour to be only broken pavement. It was no worse than most of the roads I’ve already driven. I no more than turned north and it rained off and on all day. I was running low on rubles so I drove into the city and what did I spot but an ATM Machine. What luck…………no asking questions or staggering around looking for one. I asked some businessmen who were sitting in an office in the building where the ATM was if they could tell me where to find a hotel. They drew a map and found a driver from somewhere to show me where the hotel was. We arrived there, I shook his hand, and he went on his way. I checked in, and of course the communication barrier checked in along with me. The hotel was right downtown so naturally I asked if they had secure parking and the receptionist said no. I thought for a second, thanked the lady for her trouble and left. I was thinking I will probably be camping again tonight unless I find a hotel along the road. I’ve been watching and the roadside hotels are getting to be fewer. I also notice truck traffic is declining and that’s probably why roadside hotels are getting more sparse. I continued on down the highway 1P402 to OMSK looking for a campsite or a hotel. Good campsites are difficult to find because you want to be out of sight of the highway for security reasons. You never know who might visit you if your tent is visible to the highway. Just when hopes of finding a hotel looks nil, a sign pops up showing a hotel 15 km down the highway. It’s sometimes called the Jesus factor. I drove thru town and missed the hotel. I turned around went back into town and looked around. Sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference between hotels and apartment houses/flats. This town wasn’t much larger than Abbotsford, Wisconsin so finding the hotel shouldn’t be that hard. Well, I drove by it and never saw it. I realized again it’s time to turn around and start another look. I hooked a u-turn and waited for an opening in traffic. While I was waiting a newer black car with all blacked out windows saw me and immediately pulled over and stopped. OK, not a big deal so I pulled into the traffic and he immediately pulled out after me. I didn’t like that so I drove down the road about a quarter mile again and pulled over and stopped. He then knew I didn’t like him. He drove another quarter mile and stopped again. I continued on down the road to a truckstop and café and pulled in. Lots of people around and a bus full of football or soccer kids from Omsk. A lady from the restaurant showed me where the hotel was and I thanked her. I got on my bike and drove over to the hotel and by this time the black car was gone. I checked into the hotel and they had secure parking for the night. The secure parking was in a large garage with roll up doors with huge padlocks 120 yards away from the hotel. Bloody Fort Knox, I tell ya. I unloaded my bike and put all the stuff I wanted into two bags that weighed 60 or 70 pounds and lugged them to the hotel. When I was carrying my bags in from the secure parking building I passed five BMW riders from somewhere. They didn’t acknowledge me so I walked on by and that was the last I saw of them. By the time I had everything in my room my tongue was hanging out, to say nothing about the sweat I worked up. I bought a couple of apples, bananas and a cup of ice cream in a small grocery store they had in the hotel. That was a nice treat. The ladies said I should eat at the restaurant and I declined because of the limited amount of Russian I spoke. I really should have; they probably would have put up with me just to make a few more ruble and of course they don’t see that many Americans. I went to the room and turned on the TV. It took me about a half hour to figure out the remote before I found one station. I flipped thru all 100 stations and found 4 working stations. They had a documentary on about all the deformities of children as a result of the Chernobyl nuclear power plant that went critical and melted down, the effects of radiation from all the nuclear tests in Kazakhstan on pregnant mothers, and the effects of agent orange on the people of Vietnam and all the deformities as a result of that, and of course Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan. The picture they painted was pretty sad. Before that was over I fell asleep and then awoke about 1:00 a.m. when a soft porn movie was playing. Yep folks, right on TV. I watched some of it and fell back asleep.

25 June 2009, 100 miles east of Kurgan, Russia

I got up, loaded my motorcycle and departed to Kurgan on Highway M51. Another uneventful day of driving from point A to point B. The roads were actually pretty good considering the last few days. I drove by a roadside hotel just before Kurgan and said to myself that I bet I don’t see another one. That was the last one I saw for the rest of the day. I drove probably another 60 miles/100 km east of Kurgan and stopped for the night. I was hoping for a hotel, but no luck. The countryside is flat with wheat fields and forests, usually one or the other. In the open areas the north wind would be blowing across the road at about 40 mph/65 kms. Then here comes four semi trucks about 100 feet/30 meters apart. First you’re being pushed sideways by the north wind to the right side of the road, then you meet a semi truck and it stops the wind and you’re sucked into the semi truck, then the truck passes and you’re hit by the north wind and it blows you to the right side of the road again. The next three semi trucks do the same thing. If you were following me you would think I’m a bobble head doll. First you’re in a high pressure area and your head is tilted to the right, then a low pressure area and your head is tilted to the left and back and forth and back and forth. This goes on in all the open areas and wheat fields. This tidbit is for the North Dakota people if they read this blog. You have not cornered the world on black soil i.e. the Red River Valley. I don’t know whether the soil is depleted or fertile but I say it’s black. This is for Alverne R. who has to look out her kitchen window and be able to see a ¼ of a mile. Some of the wheat fields I drove by you could look all the way to the horizon or vanishing point. Huge, huge acreage. The last gas station I stopped at had the Shell oil I was looking for. My motorcycle needs an oil change so I was quite happy to find it. I got back on the highway again and saw this dumpy looking parking lot or wayside. I wanted to find an empty four litre plastic jug. I got off my bike and checked it to see if it would stand alone or need its right side wooden leg to keep it from falling over. It seemed stable. I turned my back to pick up a plastic pail and the next thing I hear is crash. There laid my bike on its side, running. I shut it off and swore a blue streak. I was pissed. A gust of wind hit it from the kickstand-side and over she went. Now how do I get this thing on two wheels? I emptied the saddle bag on the ground and took off the tire. Then tried to lift it. No luck. All it wants to do is spin/turn on the saddle bag on the ground. I unloaded the top box and tried to lift again. It still just wants to spin on the saddle bag. I then got a brilliant idea/brain fart to shift the bike into 1st gear and then the rear wheel won’t turn when I lift and maybe it won’t turn on the saddle bag. I gave it another max effort lift, and up she went back on two wheels. I’m just steaming about this. The saddle bag is scarred up and I thought maybe I bent the handlebars. The right plastic hand protector is also scarred up. Things could be worse so I blew it all off. Ha Ha……..I had my bike all unloaded so I changed my oil there. I forgot to get a picture of my bike lying on its side. I guess my mind was elsewhere. It would have been a memorable moment. It was around 7:00 p.m., time to call it a day so I drove across the road on to a farm road and followed it back into his fields. I found a spot out of sight of the highway and no visible farm houses or farmsteads and set up camp. Wow, the mosquitoes. I had to wear my helmet with the visor down till I found my mosquito net that I could put over my head. I was in full riding gear setting up my tent and it was hot. By the time I was done I was sweating profusely. Everything inside was soaking wet from perspiration. I got everything staged by the front door, opened the tent and threw it in. I undressed inside the tent and never left it the rest of the night. If you opened the door 15 mosquitoes were inside in a second. I never mentioned it before but it doesn’t get dark here till after 10:00 p.m. Kind of like driving up to Alaska. Tired of fighting mosquitoes and still hot under collar about my bike tipping over, I went to bed. As I was laying there thinking about how far I had to travel in relation to tire wear it began to rain. I feel if the road doesn’t prematurely kill my tire by a puncture or breaking or cracking the casing, I should have enough tread to make it to Valdivostock, Russia on the Pacific Ocean. I hold my breath every time I look at the rear tire hoping not to see any lugs missing. I’m seeing more and more stress cracks around the lugs and the already the existing cracks are getting larger. I really don’t have that far to go………..somewhere around 3000 miles. The Michelin tire has held up much better than the Bridgestone, which was the first rear tire I had. I have a spare rear tire but it’s another Bridgestone. This tire business is kind of a guessing game.

24 June 2009 east of Chelyabinsk, Russia

I drove to Chelyabinsk today and attempted to get through this large city by myself. I entered the city around 5:00 p.m. Yep, you guessed it; rush hour traffic. So I tried something Vasilisa from Samara told me to do. I got into traffic and started pushing my way around. People expect that out of you or they start pushing you around. I wasn’t real aggressive, but less cautious than in other cities I have driven through. Today I was going to rely only on Matilda to get me into the city and out. As I drove, she showed me the roads as I encountered them. That’s it. As I drive into this city I’m driving Highway M5. I’m looking for Highway M51. I get downtown and my GPS screen goes blank. Thanks for your help again, Matilda. I changed the screen to another that has arrows pointing in the direction of the different cities. I picked OMSK (OMCK in Russian) which is a future destination of mine and started following the direction of the arrow. If I went in the correct direction the distance in Kilometers would get smaller and vice a versa if went in wrong the direction, the distance in Kilometers would increase. I snaked through Chelyabinsk till I found a major highway out of the city that said I was on M51 driving toward OMSK. I passed thru some major road construction on the way out of the city. I believe they’re building an interchange for several major highways. The bypass was a work of art. One or two signs and the rest follow your nose. If I wouldn’t have had someone to follow I’m not sure I would have gotten back on the main highway. Unbelievable………….. I followed this road about 20/30 kilometers out of city until I found a roadside hotel and stayed the night. Today wasn’t real eventful just driving from point A to point B. I’m coming up on an oil change and I’m hoping my tires, front and back, will make it another 3000 miles. My concern is that they don’t lose the lugs on the tires. I think the lugs work themselves loose from climbing in and out of these six and eight inch ruts in the black top or pavement. Only one or two lugs hold the weight of the motorcycle at a time and after thousands of revolutions they start working themselves loose from the tire cords and eventually fly or tear off. It is now an obsession of mine to keep an eye on this. That’s my theory. I went to bed.

23 June 2009 Ofa, Russia

I got up and went to the garage and loaded my motorcycle. I sent a Spot to Mary. It’s raining again. I get my bike loaded and the rain is ending. Sergei left to go work and Oleg (melon head) guided me out of Samara. I drove to OFA, then thru OFA about 75/100 Kms and purchased a room in a truck stop for the night. The drive was uneventful, just hang’n and a bang’n all day long. I tried to call Vasilisa but got no signal on the mobile phone. I worked on my blog till after midnight and went to bed.

22 June 2009 Samara, Russia

I worked on my blog, sent some e-mails, and waited for Oleg and Vasilisa to take me to the customs office. We had no luck fixing my motorcycle passport because I wasn’t registered at a hotel in Samara. It was very disappointing, a waste of time for everyone involved, and a day of travel lost for me. We drove to Sergei’s flat, and on the recommendation of Oleg and Vasilisa I decided to buy a mobile phone for communication in Russia. I bought a bottle of Jim Beam and a bottle of wine for Natasha for being great hosts. Sergei and Natasha had another small party again that night. I not sure but it might have been a going away party. Alex and Olga, who I had never met before, attended. Alex gave me a list of telephone numbers that I could call if I encountered problems along my route to Valdivostock. I didn’t get to bed until after midnight.

21 June 2009 Samara, Russia

I was hoping we’d get up early. Sergi and Natasha slept in till after 10:00 a.m. They then provided breakfast and we set out to do some sightseeing. First we viewed a monument dedicated to the Russian space program, which included a rocket. I had to see how that thing was put together. I took some pictures of it and the nozzles that directed the thrust of the rocket engines. It was all pretty interesting. Then we were off to look at Volga River. We stopped at a scenic overlook which gave the best view of the river. Then we stopped at a café along the river and had a small snack and tea. At this time we met two motorcycle riders from Norske/Norway. They were riding two 1934 motorcycles with side cars. These motorcycles are old. Unbelievable…….Their plans are to ride around the world like this and they are carrying enough spare parts to rebuild an entire motorcycle, except for the engine block. I believe they have a stash of parts somewhere in the state of Massachusetts and their intention is to rebuild their motorcycles when they arrive. They are true Norsemen who like to wander and sail the seas. They have no time frame that they are locked into and they just keep moving or stop when they want. What a life! I believe their plans are to come thru Europe like I did: Ukraine, Russia, Kazakstan, Mongolia, back into Russia, then drive up the Road of Bones to Magadan, Russia. Then they will ship their motorcycles to America somewhere and drive down thru Central and South America. Then they will ship their bikes to South Africa and work their way North to Europe and Back to Norway. They plan to be on the road for the next two years. Believe it or not………………Their tales just leave your mouth hanging open.

After meeting them, we departed for the Samara city center and walked around on the waterfront and looked at several different war memorials. From there we drove into the old part of the city and looked at the buildings. This city has history that goes back to 1584 and most of its commerce came from the Volga River. Most of its merchants are skilled traders and they have very little experience in tourism. From there we went to Joseph Stalin’s Bunker that he used during WW II. It was closed. That sure would have been a great tour. I kind of hated to miss that. I took a picture at the door. The whole neighborhood was downplayed so as to look like a normal neighborhood and not the Headquarters of the Russian Army and Government.

We came back to Sergi and Natasha’s flat to rest and eat supper/dinner. By way, the did I mention Natasha is a great driver? Then to another party with the Norwegian guys Klaus and Tora. Earlier they told me they didn’t have maps for Kazakhstan and Mongolia. I thought about it for a while and said that maybe I had maps they could have. Then I asked them if they had a computer and they said yes. So before going to the party we stopped at the garage and I checked through my maps and sure enough I had maps for Kazakhstan and Mongolia. I also took along my CD with the world maps on it, just in case they can load it. I rode with Natasha, Sergi took his 1989 H-D and Andrey and his sweetie took their Honda. We locked up the garage and off we went. It was quite a long ride, probably close to 40 Km/24 miles. I took pictures of Sergi and Andrey on their motorcycles while they were riding them. When we got to the party, Klaus and Tora had washed their motorcycles and they looked really great. We spoke some and I gave them the Kazakhstan and Mongolian maps, and showed them the Russian atlas I bought at the bookstore in Kursk. They really liked that with all the information it provided. They took a picture of the atlas so when they go to the book store they can show the people the picture and hopefully purchase the book. They were very happy about that. I also showed them the World Maps CD and asked if they’d like to load it on their laptop computers. Klaus loaded his first and it had Vista Windows in it. It didn’t like the CD. So with some trial and error we finally got it loaded. Then Tora loaded it on his computer with no problem. I showed Klaus how it worked and he said “this is great. We sure will be able to use it all over the world in our travels.” We talked about more traveling and then joined the party. One of thing I noticed at these parties is that anyone who attends the party and drinks whiskey/beer does not ride their motorcycle home. I wonder what the fine is if you get caught drinking and driving? Another quote I heard from the Norwegian guys that is worth remembering is, “how good the food tastes is determined by the level of the hunger.” In my case that sure is the truth. We all shook hands, took pictures and then departed for home as Monday is a work day in Russia.

20 June 2009 Samara, Russia

I’m riding today through Penza, Kuznetsk, Syzran and Samara. I will be watching the rear tire closely. I plan to stay in a Holiday Inn and stay an extra day in Samara to do some sightseeing and work on my blog. The ride to Samara was uneventful, good road all the way except for road construction. This is a large city and again the map on the internet looks easy but it never works out that way. The traffic was heavy in Samara and I was driving too slow for most drivers and they didn’t like it. Along the Highway M5 I met Sergei and his partner Natasha. They invited me to their house to stay and I also met many of their motorcycle friends. I was provided with a secure place to park my motorcycle and then the party started. A lot of motorcycle riders, riding a variety of years of Honda and Harley-Davidson motorcycles, showed up. I showed them a picture of my 1941 H-D chopper. They were impressed. I met Andrey and his English-speaking girlfriend, Vasilisa, who spent the night interpreting for me. Andrey is a professional artist. Most of the guys were pretty impressed that I was riding motorcycle to Valdivostock, Russia. Some thought I was a little nuts. The hospitality was great. Pretty soon I was collected up and we went to Sergei and Natasha’s flat. Natasha and Sergei cooked up a traditional Russian dinner of dumplings, cheese, ham and vegetables. I drank almost a litre of water. They thought that was a bit odd. I was dehydrated from a hot day in my red riding suit. The plan for tomorrow is some sightseeing in the town. This city dates back to the cold war days and was the home of the Russian Space Program; a super secret city and it wasn’t even on the map! It was time to retire for the evening.

19 June 2009 Penza, Russia

Woke up to a beautiful sunny day. Some kids messed with my bike cover so the bike alarm went off. I washed the bike, as it was covered with brown mud spray. I forgot the chain oil so had to go back and get it. I rode North to Shatsk, zuboua Polyana, Nizhniy and spent the night in Penza. Dan showed me a hotel that I stayed the night in. I met him at a gas station. The highway riding was great except for small patches of road construction. The name of the hotel is “For You” of course in Russian. Dan was very helpful. I’ve had no food for two days except for Snickers candy bars. Damn hungry. I’m worried the tire lugs may blow off the rear tire again.

18 June 2009 Morshansk, Russia

I woke up to that all too familiar sound of rain drops tapping on the window pane. I let out a groan: not another day of this! Even by the time I was ready to leave the rain hadn’t lessened; it was actually raining harder. So I headed out the door in my rainsuit and the housekeeping staff knew I was going to steal the hotel key because I walked out the door with the key. I wanted to remove my front disk rotor lock so my bike would be ready when I began to carry my bags out. A ruckus ensued, and they finally let me walk out of the hotel and walk back in with the key. I made my four usual trips up and down from my room to my bike. The housekeeping staff just glared at me knowing I was carrying off all the linens and towels from the room in my bags. With all my belongings out I contacted one of the housekeeping staff and asked her to check the room out. All the linen was counted, all the contents of the small refrigerator were counted and all the glassware was counted. Everything was in order and I was given a big smile. She called the front desk and informed them of her findings and that I returned the key. I went downstairs and everyone was all smiles and wished me a safe journey. Today I will be traveling from Borisoglebsk, to Tambov and on to Morshansk. The road was extremely rough and full of potholes. All too frequently you get caught behind a semi-truck and it throws up mud spray which turns my visor brown. I have to use my thumb like a windshield wiper to clean my visor so I can see. This went on all day. It became extremely annoying. I pulled into Morshansk and I saw a Russian BMW with a sidecar sitting along the side the road and I asked the rider if he knew of a hotel. The place is a dump for 350 rubles. I parked my bike in a car wash for the night.

17 June 2009 Borisoglebsk, Russia

I can’t believe it! The last two days were beautiful sunny days and today it’s raining. I do a lot of grumbling about having to load my bike in the rain. I actually made a discovery. I can open my boxes under my motorcycle cover that I use when my bike is sitting outside at a hotel. It is almost 100% waterproof. That made me a lot happier. I made my usual four trips upstairs and of course the cleaning lady knows I’m stealing something with all the bags that I’m taking downstairs. So I go to the room for the last time, put on my clothes and call the cleaning lady to check the room over, which she does. She counted all the towels, the bed sheets, the mattress cover, glasses, and counts all the items in the small refrigerator. Then gives me a big smile that everything is in order. She gives the front desk a call saying I can check out. I put my directions tape on the gas tank etc. etc. I wanted to leave at 7:00 a.m. but didn’t make it out of there until 8:00. I made it out of town with only having to ask for directions once. I drove from Kursk, to Voronez, to Borisoglebsk and stayed the night. Sometime during the afternoon I was traveling down the road, which was backed up behind a semi-truck. I stuck my head out to see if I had clearance to pass. Yes I did, but I’d have to give it a max effort. Just about the time I’m putting the pedal to metal the car alongside me decides to pull out and pass. By now I’m at the back end of the semi-truck under full power. Just then the semi-truck decides he wants to move into the passing lane and realized he was cutting me off. With all this going on the oncoming car is about to meet the semi-truck. So the semi jams on his brakes hard and stops. I’m hard on my brakes alongside the rear wheels of the semi-truck and I stopped. The car behind the semi is hard on his breaks so he doesn’t rear-end the semi-truck. The oncoming car passes me with half his car on the pavement and half on the shoulder of the road. So when the smoke finally settled, all the vehicles behind the semi-truck were stopped as was the semi-truck. So what happened? The whole ruckus was caused by another semi-truck sitting with more than half of it out on the black top and the driver was standing in the middle of the road. The semi-truck driver in front of me moved to the center of the lane to miss the guy standing in the middle of the road and nearly hit me. Then saw me and jammed on his breaks to stop. So everybody jammed on their brakes to stop except the oncoming car which drove on by. It probably took 30 plus seconds before everybody who stopped got rolling again. Everyone’s vehicle was in high gear when we came to a screeching halt and we had to downshift to get going. Once the semi got back up to speed he pitched an empty pack of cigarettes out the window. I kind of think he thought he was going to hit the truck driver standing in the road and almost pooped in his pants. It was around 7:00 p.m. when I arrived in Borisoglebsk with no idea where to stay. I saw this middle-aged couple sawing this 20 inch diameter tree trunk in half by hand. I believe they were using a carpenter's hand saw to do it. You’ve got to be a glutton for punishment to saw wood like that. I stopped 30 feet away so they didn’t think I was going to rob them when I got off the bike. I told them I was an American and was looking for a hotel. The husband said there’s one about a kilometer from the house and told me how to find it. I understood about two words but got the jist of the conversation. The lady said she didn’t think I understood, and took off for the house on the run. She comes back in a couple of minutes dragging her son or grandson and pencil and paper. She introduces her son or grandson to me while she’s wiping the food crumbs off his face. I shook his hand. She then proceeds to draw a sketch on how to find the hotel. I asked her how far I have to go before I make the first right turn. She and I walked down to the street corner and she said, turn here, less than 200 hundred feet. After that finding the hotel was pretty easy. I drove up to the hotel and into the secure parking lot. I was met by the parking lot guard who was very suspicious of me. He directed me into my parking spot and I came in and paid him for parking. After we got the paperwork done he actually was a pretty nice guy. I found out a new name for receptionist: Administrator. Well the woman working as the administrator was having a difficult time because we can’t communicate. For some reason she was having difficulties with my visa and didn’t know why and couldn’t get answers from me. Also there were five different rooms to pick from. I picked the cheapest one. She started fussing about something. Finally I figured out the cheap rooms were dumps. I said, show me the rooms and then I’ll decide. I went and looked with the cleaning lady. Yep, I was right the cheap room was a dump. A pretty slimy shower and bad toilet situation. I picked the next higher priced room, paid for it, unloaded my bike and started planning my next day. Alex in the gas station showed me how to get thru town. Taxi map.

16 June 2009 Kursk, Russia

I got up just before 9:00 a.m. because the insurance person was supposed to be here by nine. She was tardy. So I went and ate breakfast and she still wasn’t here. I came back to the room and worked on my blog and she arrived at 12:00 noon. It is a beautiful sunny day. Within an hour I had my motorcycle insurance and a green card on my motorcycle for $42. Now I’m safe from the Police. Then I found out my visa departure date is 31 August 2009 and my motorcycle departure date is 14 August 2009. This is not good. The girls at the reception desk checked into this and said this can be fixed in any town at the customs office. This still worries me. I may have to look into this a little farther. I’m going to plan to leave tomorrow morning early so as not to get caught up in traffic. So I need to get out and get some maps now. I asked at the desk about a location to purchase maps. They said there is a shopping center with a large ball on top of it where you can buy maps. So I asked them to write down that I wanted to purchase Russian maps. I walked down to the store and handed a lady the card and she promptly marched off to the book store. When we got there she asked the girls working there to show me where the maps were. Oh, they were so put out and made it well known. She mentioned to them I didn’t know a lick of Russian. They begrudgingly showed me. It took me 30 seconds to see they didn’t have squat for maps. Every map or atlas was pure cryllic, but I knew that was going to be. I kind of was told you could find all the maps you need in the gas stations. Ha, ha, chuckle, chuckle, laugh, laugh. Remember what I told you a day or two ago. Sometimes gas stations don’t have any amenities. I screened all the maps and atlas’s on the shelf and found one I could decipher. It kind of caught my eye because it showed all the towns with gas stations, hotels and restaurants, handy information. All the time I sitting there looking thru the maps about every ten minutes one of the girls went cruising by checking to see that I wasn’t carrying off the store. This country is very theft conscious. Anyway, I bought the trucker atlas and stopped in the grocery store to look for some masking tape. They didn’t have any and neither did the tool store upstairs. So I bought several boxes of chocolates to kill my appetite when I’m starving, and that’s frequently. I was now able to plan my routes using three maps: the world map I have on my computer, a Russian map in English and the Russian Truckers Atlas. With all of that I have a pretty good idea what’s coming down the pike. I completed my blog up to 15 June 2009. I was able to buy WiFi time at the hotel and sent all the e-mails that had attachments which I can’t send through my satellite connection. AT&T has already complained of over-usage and warned me that it costs $19 a megabyte when I exceed my 100 megabyte usage per month. I finished up my e-mails, planned my route for the next day and went to bed.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

15 June 2009 Kursk, Russia

I got up early about 5:00 a.m. and started loading my motorcycle. The receptionist asked me for the key and I told her I will give it to her when I leave and she said ok. The usual four trips up and down the stairs and my bike is loaded. I give the receptionist the key and she gives me a new and updated map of the route out of town. Again she points out the key landmarks to watch for. I said I want to get out of this town with one try and not go in circles. She said “you should be out of town in ten minutes.” I left the hotel at 7:00 a.m. and started to follow the route. I got a little goofed up on one of the curves and ended up meeting the police for the first time. I was driving down a one way street the wrong way and was caught red handed. They pulled me over, found out I didn’t speak any Ukraine and then found out I was an American. He went and got a drivers manual and showed me the road sign for a one way street. We couldn’t communicate so he just let me go. I think it was a public relations maneuver i.e. don’t create bad PR with an American and then he goes back to the U.S. and talks bad of Ukraine. He sure could have pushed the issued if he wanted to. Then God sent me a sign, praise the Lord. A little black car with a Russian license plate and white Russian sticker on the trunk lid. He was going in my direction so I followed him and the route he took. It was exactly the route the receptionist planned out for me. I was on the road to Kursk, Russia. Yeah. One hour later I was at the Ukraine border. I was expecting a more invasive inspection of my motorcycle than I got. They stamped all my paperwork and checked my title to the motorcycle. Everything was in order and they sent me on to the Russian checkpoint. Today I knocked on the Big Bear’s Door. The first guard waved me to come forward and I drove past the red barrier gate. He then told me to move my bike back to behind the red barrier. I almost tipped the bike on top of myself. Smooth move, slick. From the get go I was at the mercy of the Russian border personnel. Once they heard there was an American coming into Russia you could see the conversation spread thru the entire border complex by how far you could hear “American.” Anyway, I made it through three checkpoints ok and then one of the border personnel came over and asked me to sit down. He pushed back the hair behind my ear and with a blue gun, like we use to check temperature on the spindles of our high velocity machines……he either checked my body temperature or put some kind of a invisible mark on me to identify me in case of death or arrest. I don’t know. But they were laughing about it as he walked away. The next checkpoint was where I ran into problems. I didn’t bring any Russian rubles with me so I couldn’t pay for the insurance I needed and the green card on the motorcycle. I told them I had US dollars and Ukraine money. I thought I could change money on the border but I couldn’t. That was bad. After some ups and downs I was finally allowed to pass on into Russia. I would say for the most part everyone was very helpful despite the communication problems we were having. So the road and signs are good and I was motoring right along when I ran into this road construction. I go from black top to crushed rock to deep truck tire ruts in the sand and then I say “nope this is not the way.” I turn around and ride out of the sand almost dumping my bike. I get back to the sign that says to Kursk, Russia, and here comes an old lady and her granddaughter on a bicycle. I asked her about the sign and she says no, go that way. So I follow her directions and decided to ask some guys about the directions to Kursk. They said it’s a perfect road to Kursk. I drew pictures of a dump truck and a bulldozer to indicate road construction. They still didn’t get it. Finally somebody called up someone that could speak English. Somehow the road construction issue was resolved and a designated driver jumped on his scooter and showed me the way to Kursk highway. When he stopped he pointed to the sign that said "Kursk". I thanked him and shook his hand. All the time he was leading me to this sign, I was thinking of something I could give him. I have nothing. For those kind gestures of help I wish I had something from America I could give people but I have nothing and no place to carry anything. So I’m thinking about not having any Russian rubles and if I had a problem or needed gas etc. I’d be in big trouble with no money. I rolled into Kursk with no problems and decided I better stop and see if I can find a bank ATM. I stop at an auto parts store and gas station which says BankoMat and ask about a ATM. Actually I showed them my 3 x 5 card Mary made up for me before I left home in cryllic asking about an ATM. I’m telling you in less than thirty seconds five people were in the conversation talking. Finally a short little lady surfaced and said an ATM is about a quarter mile up the road in a shopping center. I think she was the cleaning lady. I believe her boss said to walk on up there and show the American where the ATM is. As we walked out the door the lady said not to worry about my motorcycle, but I was a little concerned being that far away from it with it unlocked and my helmet hanging on it. By the time we get there I’ve work up a sweat with all my riding clothes on. That little lady hoofed it right along. Anyway, I was able to purchase 2000 rubles in 50 ruble denominations. That was forty paper bills about a ½ inch thick in my wallet. God, how I hate having people see me taking that much money out of an ATM machine and watching me put my wallet away. I can only think someone is going to club me over the head someday when I do that. So we walked back to the gas station at the same pace. Now I was really steaming inside my riding suit. I visually checked my bike from a distance and nothing had moved; that made me happy. I had rubles in my pocket and wanted to show some appreciation to the business and to the little lady. A lady walked out of a back room and spoke to me in good English. I wanted to purchase a map of Kursk to prevent ever getting lost like when I was in Kiev. So I picked up two of the Kursk maps and she says to come back in the room and we talk. I told her about my trip and she told me she was a professional painter and had her paintings exhibited in New York City. She said she travelled and lived in the U.S. for six months and that's why she can speak pretty good English. This lady also showed me where my hotel was on the map and how to get there. I was so happy about that. I gave her one of my cards and bought one of the city maps for future use. Before departing I also bought the little lady a liter of Pepsi for her help in finding the ATM machine. I said goodbye to everybody before I left, shook the owner/manager’s hand, and departed a little happier with some money in my pocket.

I noticed since I entered Russia there are some different driving techniques. Not bad, just different. I found the hotel without problems. I purchased a room, got my passport registered and unloaded my motorcycle. I immediately started thinking about what has to be done while I’m here. I need to change my Ukraine money to Russian rubles, purchase motorcycle insurance and green card and purchase Russian maps and continue updating my blog. I quickly exchanged my Ukraine money and made arrangements to purchase insurance tomorrow. The map question is still open and blog is progressing. I did something I never did. I ordered room service and ate a spaghetti and ham dinner at about 10:00 p.m. I went to bed.

14 June 2009 Sumy, Ukraine

I stayed an extra day in Sumy because I needed to catch up on blog entries and find out how to get out of the city, always a challenge. I also needed to get my documents in order to leave Ukraine and enter Russia. I will be crossing the border between Sumy, Ukraine and Kursk, Russia. It’s only about 31miles/50 Km to the Ukraine/Russian border and then another 120 miles/183 Km to Kursk. I worked most of the day updating my blog and also tried a few other things to get Matilda working. No luck again. I went downstairs to reception and asked her to help me plan a route out of the city. We were talking probably 15 minutes when this guy comes up and she asks him about a route out of the city. He goes on about how simple it is to get out of the city and scribbles something on a piece of paper and leaves. So we continue looking at the map on the internet and came up with kind of a plan. She wrote it down on a piece of paper for me with bridges and streets written in cryllic. The guy comes back and starts telling her how to get out of town and this time she won the argument. She then drew me another more correct map. She then told me the guy really didn’t know for sure how to find the road to Kursk, Russia. He just drove around till he found it. I then told her that people say it’s easy to find the road because they live in the city all their lives, speak and read the language. Then I said, I drive into the city for one day, don’t really understand the language nor do I read cryllic. Finding roads just became much more difficult. I think it just sunk in why I’m asking for directions. Anyway, I had a small sketch which I could follow to get me to the Kursk road. I went to bed early so I could get up early and leave with no/very little traffic.

13 June 2009 Sumy, Ukraine

I woke up about 7:00 a.m. and heard rain on the tent fly, oh boy. I stayed in bed for another hour and guess what? It stopped raining. I eventually got up, shook all the rain drops off the tent fly and dug my motorcycle out of its super secret hiding spot so I could load it up. I noticed the motor on my bike was a little noisier than usual so I looked at the odometer to check the miles. I had about 5,300 miles on it. I checked the service manual when I should release the timing chain to take up the slack in it. They said every 5000 miles so I did that quick while I was thinking about it. The motor did get a little quieter after that. I loaded up all my gear and left my super secret hideaway and headed back to the main road. I backtracked on the road I was on last night to a sign that told me exactly where I was on the map. From there I had to find the connecting roads to Sumy, Ukraine. While I was at the sign deciphering the cryllic names a vehicle pulls up and looks at the sign too. I may as well ask this guy if he knows where the road to Sumy is. I wave to him and he gets out of the car to see what I want to ask. He told me the same thing as the last guy because I recognized a lot of the same words. Just because I recognized them doesn’t mean I understood them. He got frustrated trying to explain how to find the road and just said “follow me I’ll show you where it is.” That works for me. So off we go and ten minutes later I can see the road Evan told me about last night with the cryllic name of Sumy. I believe where I goofed up was I was looking for a roundabout like you see in England and many of the European community countries. In reality the circle road Evan was talking about actually was more like a clover leaf like you find in the United States. So I shook hands with the gentleman and his wife and off I go to Sumy. After driving in the rain all day yesterday my rear drive chain needed some chain lubrication. I didn’t want to put any chain oil on it till it was warmed up so I drove for about 20 more miles until I saw a rest area. I whipped in there quick and started to oil the chain when a car pulled in. The car looked a lot like the Honda, Toyota, Mazda, etc. you see in the United States. It had fancy chrome wheels on and the brake calipers were painted red. The windows were all blacked out: Blacked out enough you couldn’t see thru them. I just kept minding my own business when out steps this kid about 22/24 years old. Now I’m out in the country where the hottest thing going for young guys is a new scooter or a new 90cc Honda motorcycle. This kid had on new black clothes, new shoes and creases in everything. I thinking: where does a guy like this get the money for all of this? He gets out of the car and comes over to speak to me. I really didn’t want to talk to him. He starts telling me he knows a shop that can adjust and oil my rear chain. I told him no thanks and that I can do that myself. He leaves and goes back to his car. I wanted to wait 15 minutes for my chain oil to set up but with him around I left early before he called in for backup support. Probably more criminals. I think the kid was involved in crime. I didn’t trust him. He made the hair on the back of my neck stand on end. As I drove on to Sumy I drove through wheat fields. The wheat didn’t look that thick and it didn’t look like it would have that high of a yield, but there sure was a lot of it: square miles of flat land. The trip to Sumy was uneventful. The road was sometimes rough and sometimes very nice. I saw on these rough, bumpy, potholed roads Mercedes, BMW and Toyota cars driving 70 and 80 mph. I usually drive 50 and 60, and many of these cars would buzz me less than 2 feet off my handlebars. I found that the Mercedes, BMW, the high end cars were the rudest people on the road. It’s like I’m the privileged few, get out of my way. I drive into Sumy looking for a hotel on the outskirts of the city trying not to create the same problem I had in Kiev/KYJIV. No hotels to be found that I can see. I stop for gas and ask a man at the gas station about a hotel. He can’t believe he’s talking to an American. He’s just so happy that he shakes my hand. He tells me to go to Hotel Ukraine and also told me how to find it. He says it’s next to McDonalds and I said “oh good I can get something to eat.” I stop first at McDonalds for supper and this guy walks up to me speaking broken English and wants to talk about my motorcycle. We didn’t go into that much depth and I asked him where Hotel Ukraine is at. He showed me and then he said it’s not a good hotel. They have problems with guns and mafia. He recommended another hotel 500 meters away which was a much nicer place with secure parking. I’m glad I took the time to find it. I went there after eating and was approached by younger guys wanting to know about my trip and motorcycle. They wanted me to drink vodka with them and I declined. I think they were somewhat offended that I didn’t want to party with them. I had plenty of things to keep me busy all night. I checked in and sure enough I get a room on the 3rd floor and have to lug all my baggage up there. The room was really nice for the price. After putting my motorcycle to bed I went to sleep in a nice soft bed.

12 June 2009 Farmers Field Between Kyjiv and Sumy, Ukraine

I woke up to the sound of rain, oh boy. I stayed in bed a little longer hoping the rain would stop. Nope, not if my life depended on it. I had to come up with a plan on how to load up my bike in the rain and not get rain inside my saddle bags or tour box. I carried everything in my jacket down to the garage that had to put in the saddle bags and tour box. When I arrived all the guys were standing around staring at it. If I had the magnetic personality that motorcycle has, I’d be a chick magnet. It hasn’t happened yet. They looked real curious so I told the whole story with the security guard confirming it. They were impressed and wished me good luck in my travels. When I walked out of the hotel the housekeeping lady chased me down to get the key back for the room. I kept walking and then the security guard chased me down and said, hey, we want the key back. Somehow I got the message across that I still had more of my bags in the room and that I’d give the key back. So I drove my bike to front door of the hotel and loaded it. Then I went back to the hotel room, showed the cleaning lady I cleaned everything out and gave her the key. She was all smiles. I went outside to their patio to cool off. I hiked up and down the stairs four times with my rainsuit on and worked up quite a sweat carrying my bags out. Rainsuits are like a double edged sword. They keep you mostly dry in the rain but if the sun comes out and you perspire in them you have your own personal sauna going on inside. If you drive back into the rain which happens quite frequently you freeze because of the wind and rain cooling you down when you’re damp and sweaty. I finally cooled down enough, put my coat on, zipped up my rainsuit, put my helmet and rain gloves on. I left heading toward Zytomyr and Kyjiv. The first thing I started to notice is the names of these cities are changing from English letters to Cryllic. Navigating is becoming more difficult when you can’t read the name of the cities. This is downright unhandy. I had to make a lot of stops just to decipher the Cryllic or get lost. Some of the problems today included not getting maps wet in the rain, the directions I write on the masking tape on my arm are not useful under my rainsuit and the tape won’t stick to damp outer clothing. I didn’t think the tape would stick to my plastic gas tank but it did. Thank God, now I can watch and read road signs a lot easier with the information in front of me. The road from Zytomyr to Kyjiv was supposed to be a four-lane highway. It is, but it’s under construction so all the way there its two lanes. Keep in mind it hasn’t stopped raining all day. The road is like a bad gravel road full of potholes etc…………full of water. The semi-trucks/lories would bounce in and out of the potholes, kicking up a rooster tail of water 10 or 12 feet high. I was kind of like a small geyser and this went on probably for four or five hours. I was going along about 70 Km/50 mph and met one of these trucks and at the precise moment, he dropped into one of these potholes and covered me with dirty muddy water. I kept my visor on my helmet cracked open about 1/8 of an inch to keep it from fogging up. When the truck splashed me with the muddy water it not only covered me but covered my visor inside and out. I couldn’t see. I quickly lifted my visor and stopped in the next gas station to clean it. Gas stations around the world are not all alike. Some just pump gas/petro and that’s it; no toilets, no toilet paper, no water to wash windows, no towels, no oil, etc. etc. The owner of the gas station saw my situation and finally found a clean rag I could use. Another thing about today is a lot of new blacktop has been put down. With all the road spray my visor also had an oil film on it which wouldn’t clean off with water. As the day wore on it became more difficult to see. 30 miles out of Kiev/Kyjiv the sun came out and I had a whole new perspective on the day. After a steady rain all day I’m wet and clammy inside my rain suit and very tired of being bounced from pothole to pothole. I began looking for another truck stop hotel and never found one. I was ready to get off the highway. I didn’t stop to look at the map before I entered the city and totally got myself lost. I stopped to buy gas and ask for directions out of the city. I get this forlorn look knowing they can’t help because we can’t communicate. This was a very busy gas station and they have service station attendants to pump gas with little time to chitchat. I pushed my bike off to the side out of the way of gas station traffic and went to the toilet. When I came out, here was a guy looking at my motorcycle. He told me he liked my motorcycle and wondered whether I was really was from the state of Minnesota. I told him yes and most of the story about my trip. He said it would be a dream of his to do this same trip. Evan could speak English very well and had spent six months or a year living in the New York City area. I asked him for directions out of Kiev/Kyjiv and said that I wanted to continue on to Sumy, Ukraine. He tried giving me directions but changed his mind and said follow me. That was music to my ears. It’s 5:00/5:30 p.m. on a Friday night and we’re sitting in the middle of rush hour traffic. Evan drives a scooter which can easily get in between cars which is handy for this kind of traffic. I asked him to drive more slowly so he doesn’t lose me. He did, which was great. He led me out the city to where I could find my own way and stopped. He asked if he could take a picture and I agreed and I gave him one of my round the world cards. We parted ways. I followed Evan’s directions but may have misinterpreted what he called a circle road and end up lost again. It was getting late and I was very tired. I needed to get to bed. I drove by a farm road going back into the fields of Ukraine. I hooked a u-turn drove down it till I could hide in a shelter belt. I found the best spot available, put up my tent, and crawled in exhausted. I made sure my motorcycle was out of sight so if someone drove by at late night, the reflectors would not light up. I no more than got my tent set up and it started raining again. It woke up several times during the night and it was still raining.

11 June 2009 Rivne, Ukraine

I got up, showered, and packed my bike. I was putting the finishing touches on it when Yuri and his entourage arrived. I got my clothes on and we headed out. I showed Natalie, her boyfriend, and Edita what was in the refrigerator under my desk. I don’t know who opened it and said there’s vadka in there. I said, oh I didn’t know. I think the younger people where pretty surprised by that. We left the room; Yuri and his entourage by the front door and I out the back door. When I showed up with my bike we left for the main highway out of town heading toward L’viv, Ukraine. Yuri pulls over, we say our goodbyes and take a few pictures. Yuri warns me to be careful and use the eyes in the back of my head. I get on my bike and leave. This is another traveling day. The highway is good all the way to L’viv and getting thru L’viv was fairly easy. It was mostly mountainous on the way with good scenery and small villages. I continued up E40 M06 to Brody and on to Rivne and stopped for night. I purchased a hotel room in Rivne where a lot of truckers hang out or rest. I had to go upstairs to get to the reception desk. It seems that the stairs in Europe and surrounding countries do not concern themselves about first step and last step height. I stepped on the first step and went to step on the second step, tripped and did a face plant right into the stairs. I slammed my helmet into the stairs putting a nice beauty mark into it. The guard asked if I was all right and said yes. I tried to recover with grace but it didn’t quite work. Not a bad hotel but a lot of door banging all night. I asked security if my motorcycle could be kept safely somewhere. They said yes, and locked it in a garage. I never worried about it. I was beat up from the ride and went to bed. One of the guards asked what my final destination is going to be. I said, Vladivostock, Russia and he slapped himself in the face saying, oh my god, oh my god.

10 June 2009 Ukraine

I got up with intentions of leaving by noon. I needed to load Matilda with the Ukraine and Russian maps which Peter helped me with. No luck. Many tries later and still no success. It was about 10:30 a.m. and still having no success. It wasn’t long before Yuri, his daughters and Natalie were standing at my door. I’m very unhappy with my situation. Yuri called up a friend who thought he could help. I wasn’t long before Mycola shows up. He checks out Matilda and decided he can work better on his computer at home. So off we go, the whole entourage. Yuri and Renata split off and Edita, Natalie and I continued on to Mycola’s home. Mycola worked very hard with Matilda but she wouldn’t budge. We needed the image files and can’t seem to load them. I know the answer to this is to simply accept I don’t what the missing link is. Mycola and his wife’s mother put on a traditional Ukraine dinner for all of us. It was very good and all home grown in the garden. The cheese was from their cow. During dinner Natalie interpreted between Mycola’s family, who wanted to know more about the U.S. Mycola had to drive back to the city to get his wife so we all left. On the way back Mycola gave me a CD of Ukraine folk music. When we got to the hotel we exchanged e-mail address etc. We shook hands and I’m telling you Mycola has some really large hands. I bet they are at least 1 inch-plus wider than mine. Anyway, he left all smiles. On the way back Yuri pulled a wheelie right in front of the police. He was pulled over and whether he got a fined or not, I don’t know. He was caught in the act and couldn’t deny it. He was in the right place at the wrong time. I told him he drives his motorcycle like a young man. He kind of smiled. Anyway, my plans are to leave tomorrow and again Yuri and his entourage will arrive at 11:00 a.m. to guide me out of town. They all left. I went back upstairs and attempted to reload the maps with no luck. I then e-mailed Peter requesting assistance.

9 June 2009 Ukraine

Wake up, clean up and set about the day’s tasks. First I purchased another day at the hotel and second I needed to purchase some motorcycle insurance. I asked the people at the reception desk who spoke immaculate English and they told me of a bank 300 meters away that sold vehicle insurance. I also asked them to write in Ukraine that I would like to purchase motorcycle insurance for one month in the Ukraine. They did that which later proved to be very useful. I changed some Euros into Ukraine money. While I was doing that a guy looked over my shoulder and watched everything I did. He looked to see how much money I purchased, he listened to the teller count the money and watched me put it in my wallet. I hate people like that, like they can’t keep their nose out of other people’s business. As I walked to the bank I noticed almost all the women sixteen years old and older wore high heels. I had to wait some time in the bank to be waited on and watched the customers come and go. The height of the heels ranged from about 4 inch spikes to the average 3 inch spikes for women 28 to 40 and the over 40 group tended to have heels with about 1 inch square bottom. Just an observation. I eventually was waited on and purchased the insurance for one month for $27USD just in case I had an accident or to show the police that I’m a responsible person. Which might reduce my fine in case I was caught speeding. So back to the hotel and I begin to update this blog. I just sat down on the computer and there was a knock on the door. I thought it was a housekeeper but it was Yuri. I was a bit surprised because I hadn’t been able to contact him. I was going to try later. So there he stood, with his two daughters Edita and Renata. I invited them in. The room was a mess with motorcycle clothes laying everywhere. Yuri said “let’s go. I have some motorcycle friends I’d like you to meet.” I asked him if we were taking the motorcycles. He said, “yes you can ride with me.” So I grabbed my coat and helmet and out the door we go. We get outside and guess what Yuri is riding? A 750 Honda RS sport bike. An older model but very fast for Ukraine. So I’m about to get on the thing and the girls give explicit instruction on how to ride on it. Hands on the gas tank to brace yourself for hard braking but nothing to hang onto for fast acceleration. The two girls were riding a Honda sport bike 90 to 120cc. I never saw one in the U.S. so I assume it’s a European bike. Renata was driving that bike and off we go to visit Victor and his friends. Victor owns a small repair shop for motorcycles and does some custom building of motorcycles. We talked about motorcycles in the Ukraine and the United States. I showed him and his friends my 1941 Harley-Davidson chopper which I built. He was impressed. All the time we were talking, Victor’s wife and Yuri’s daughter would sneak off and bring back food and drinks. I think Renata and Edita got a little tired of listening to motorcycle talk. Yuri left and brought back another motorcycle which he left to have some work done on it. After some conversation about the motorcycle and tinkering we all said our goodbyes. I took some pictures of Victor’s motorcycle creations and thanked him for his t-shirts, and Yuri, his daughters and I left for his house. We wove in and out of traffic with my knees almost rubbing on car doors. Renata was riding her Honda and Edita kept up with Yuri. I was impressed. I think Renata is sixteen year old and can ride a motorcycle in the bumper to bumper traffic without any problems. She should teach motorcycle safety classes to American women. I think she could teach them a thing or two. We arrived at Yuri’s home. He showed me some pictures of his motorcycle friends out riding motorcycle and having fun. Also Renata singing/performing on stage. I’m sure its a video her father will keep for a long time. It wasn’t long after we arrived when Natasha, Yuri’s wife, cooked and had supper ready to eat. I was well fed while I was in Yuri’s company. We then continued surfing on the internet. We were looking at motorcycles on e-bay and we were having some difficulty communicating. Somehow Natalie showed up in the nick of time and acted as our interpreter the rest of the night. We spent a lot of time on the internet which Natalie interpreted between Yuri and me. One of the last things we did was listen to Renata sing and play piano and then sing a folk song from Ukraine. A great voice and I’m sure she will go far. I finally got home about 12:00 a.m. A great day with good people.

8 June 2009 Ukraine

I got up and got on the computer to do some research on border crossings from the Slovak Republic to the Ukraine. It sounded like Monday was a good day to cross between 1:00 and 6:00p.m.: less traffic for some reason. So as I was driving toward the border I drove by a transmission repair shop. I said to myself “I wonder if they will let me change my oil?” The red beauty was coming up on three thousand miles and needed an oil change. I stopped in and tried to communicate with the owner. Nope, not one soul could speak a word of English. The Czech Republic and the Slovak Republic have been the most difficult to travel thru in regards to language. I couldn’t say hello, thank you, no numbers, goodbye or anything. Just a smile and numbers with my fingers. The owner or manager came out to the bike and I tried to use sign language or gestures to indicate I’d like to change oil. He thought I wanted to add a quart of oil. With a lot of head shaking yes and no he began to understand I wanted to change oil. Once inside the mechanics thought I wanted them to change oil and after a little more head shaking they got the idea I wanted to change my oil which was ok with them. They even provided the tools and anticipated I would need an oil rag and funnel. As my oil change progressed, I explained to them that I was an American riding my motorcycle around the world which caught their attention right off. They were amazed anyone would come to the Slovak Republic for any reason. The lady working in the office graciously brought me some sparkling water to drink while I repacked my motorcycle. I then gave the owner/manager my blog card and showed him how to find it on the internet. Within minutes he was online looking at my blog. One of the mechanics showed him how to convert English to the Slovak language. Then the blog made more sense to him. So off I went heading toward the border. I actually bumped into the border before I realized it and turned around and left so I could get my paperwork in order before I entered. I drove back to a wayside rest for truckers and was in the process digging my documents out of the top box when a white Mercedes van/truck pulled up and out jumped a gentleman and his two daughters. They were Yuri, Edita and Renata who were motorcycle riders from the Ukraine. We talked about my Kawasaki and they told me they had Honda sport bikes etc. etc. Between the four of us we could communicate some because both of his daughters speak some English. Before leaving Yuri told me Customs and Immigration would be no problem and gave me his telephone number. He said “give me a call when you get to the Hotel Uzhgorod so we can get together.” He departed in a cloud of dust like he arrived. I completed arranging my paperwork and headed to the border.

At the border I was given a form to fill out the usual information. Name, address, country, what the purpose of your visit, where you are staying and telephone number etc. The lines of traffic were moving pretty slow so I was trying to fill out this form while I was waiting. Well the car ahead of me moved one car length and before I could get moving the guy in the lane alongside me pulled in front of me. I thought that was damn rude. So after that a guard motioned to me to come to the head of the line. I filled out my paperwork, showed him all the documentation on my bike and waited for him to give me back my passport etc. Then one of the guards checked the vehicle identification number and told me to push my bike up to customs. So I waited some more and then I was issued another form to fill out declaring all my electronic equipment etc. etc. After I turned the form in, the customs officials turned up the heat a notch or two wanting to know if I was carrying drugs, excessive amounts of money, firearms, any kind of medications etc. etc. Well then, why don’t you show me what you have in those saddlebags? So I pulled my bags off the bike to let the customs people do their job. When they were finished I got to put everything back in my saddlebags and top box. They gave me all the paperwork and I checked that my passport was stamped and they let me go. Of course I had one guard left to go. He needed a slip of paper that was stamped and guess where it was. In my top box buried under my spare tire. So I had to take everything off again and give it to him. I said goodbye in Russian and left. From there I drove to the Hotel Uzhgorod and purchased a room. It was another day that I had to carry all my gear up to the 2nd floor and it was hot with all my clothes on. I was doing a meltdown and it was a nice hotel. I oiled the chain, put the front disk lock on, locked all the boxes and put my bike cover on and went to bed.

7 June 2009 Kosice, Czech Republic

Today I got up early but it was showing signs of raining again so I wasn’t in a big hurry to put everything away wet. I went to take a shower at 7:00 a.m. You guessed it, the doors were locked and I needed to use the facilities. I saw a lady mopping up the office and reception area so I asked her for a key which she gladly provided. I was in the latrine for over 30 minutes and she came looking for the key. She hollered at me for not returning the key fast enough. I didn’t do any of my trip planning last night because of the thunderstorm so I’m doing it this morning. I’m nearing the Ukraine border where I need to have all my vehicle and my own documents in order. They should be, but there is always the unexpected. I won’t reach the border but I will be near it by tonight. Well look at the sun, it is coming out to dry my tent off. My route today will Prievidza, Czech Republic to Handlova, to Zlar, to Vel Krtis, to Lucenec, to Rimavska Sobota, to Tornala, to Roznava, to Moldova and then Kosice. I stayed in Kosice in a Bed and breakfast because I needed to charge up my laptop and get on the internet. I needed to check out the requirements of crossing into the Ukraine. It sounds like about a four hour ordeal if I’m lucky because I’m always the special person who needs more scrutiny. Mainly I wanted to see what the paperwork requirements are. Needless to say I’m a little nervous about this. I stopped for gas and to purchase three quarts of oil at a Shell gas station today. I need to change oil because I’m coming up on three thousand miles driven and want it available so on a moments notice I can change it. While at the gas station, a man and a woman approached my motorcycle and were taking a picture of my license plate. They asked if they could and I said yes. I put them at 35 to 40 for the guy and the woman at late 20’s early 30’s. You can’t or I can’t believe it but they spoke perfect English. Just ordinary local people. They wanted to know the details of my trip etc. etc. which I filled them in on. But then the guy asked me politely what religion I was. I told him that’s kind of a dangerous question and I normally don’t answer it along with not getting into political discussions. People get mad real fast on those subjects, and sometimes nasty. So that’s why I like to stay away from those two questions. He told me he understood and we didn’t talk about it any further. The woman wanted her picture taken with me and the motorcycle just in case I became famous. I told her I didn’t think that would happen and they went on their way.

Just as I enter Kosice, Czech Republic it’s raining again. When I get the hotel I unload my bike in the rain and then carry everything up to the third floor. After three times up and down the staircase my tongue was hanging out. Oh boy, I get to repeat this in the morning. I did some research on the border to find a hotel I can stay after I get in Ukraine and went to bed.

Monday, June 8, 2009

6 June 2009 Prievidza, Slovak Republic

Today is another straight riding day. A cold one, I might say. When I left the campground, Matilda took me straight into Prague, the last place I wanted to be. I wanted to be on the Autoway/Interstate heading to Brno/Bruno instead of being downtown Prague. I had to trick her to get her back on the Autoway/Interstate. Then we were good. So I rode from Prague, to Brno, to St. Mesto, to Trencin, to Banovce, and to Prievidza. At a gas stop I talked with a couple of Harley-Davidson riders. They were from Prague heading toward Greece, looking for sunshine. They said the weather was two weeks behind normal and they still had some snow on the mountains. It was about 50 degrees and cloudy. I was freezing my butt off. I got off the Autoway/interstate onto a two-lane highway to Trencin, Slovakia and passed through a small village that had road construction all the way thru it. I followed the bypass and dead ended into a barrier. I was stopped dead in my tracks. A Good Samaritan, seeing my problem, offered to lead me out of my lost condition back to the highway. I showed him where I was going and in ten minutes I was back on the road driving to Trencin. I also crossed into the Slovak Republic today and changed the Czech money back into Euro. At the border it’s hard to believe that the buildings used for customs and immigration just stand empty like a ghost town. The incredible power the people had in those buildings, and now they are vacant. All one person had to say is no and that’s where you stopped. You could not leave or get into the country. I took some pictures at the border which caused a motorist to stop. He was very upset about it and squealed his tires to show me his displeasure. I never looked up when I heard him do it. I think he waited thirty seconds. People. I got to Prievidza, Slovak Republic about 7:00 p.m. found a campground, set up my tent, adjusted my chain on my motorcycle and oiled it. I had just finished when a thunderstorm broke loose and poured rain for the next two hours. The tent was flapping in the wind and the rain was pounding on the fly like it was going to tear it off. It was noisy and there was a green and white light show going on inside my tent from the lightening. I normally don’t endorse products but I have slept in Eureka Timberline two- and four- person tents for 25 plus years and they have never let me down. I have been in them in high winds 50 plus miles per hour, and woke up in the morning with the tent standing in a one inch deep puddle of water with no leakage. I must mention I always seal the seams on the tent. Last night again proved this is a good tent. I have to get going. I want to be on the Ukraine border tomorrow.

5 June 2009 Prague, Czech Republic

I believe today is my parent's 63rd wedding anniversary. I got up, took a shower and discovered I had been bitten in the back of my calf and whatever bit me left about a ½ inch diameter welt. I ate my breakfast, loaded my bike and then Ron guided me back to the Autobahn. Once I got there I oiled my chain and planned my route into the Czech Republic. I hit the Autobahn on the run and stayed on it all day. The temperature to was mostly 55 to 60 degrees and my nose was running all day in a full face helmet where you can’t wipe it. I stopped in a way stop and bought some gas and a tour bus pulled up. The driver opened the door and the retired people came flying out both doors like a herd of cattle. The women took off running to the bathroom and the guys ducked behind the nearest shrubbery to relieve themselves. Later when the serious business was done they came over and talked to me. One guy could speak some English and the rest didn’t so he acted as interpreter. The rest listened very carefully. When the English speaking guy’s wife came back from the toilet she took over as interpreter and filled in the cracks that her husband didn’t understand. They left a little happier because they met an American motorcyclist riding around the world. Later they told me they were from Stuttgart, Germany. One guy said he had worked 50 years in his job. Everybody smoked. I bet 90 percent of the people smoked on that bus. I’m sure they were kids during WWII. One guy kind of acted like he didn’t like me. He still shook my hand. The semi-truck/lorry traffic was very heavy today. I mean heavy, and the fast lane was running probably 120 mph. You had to check the fast lane before you passed anybody because the fast movers were on top of you in a second. I mean fast. Once I turned east, 75 percent of the car and truck traffic went away. I was about twenty miles outside of Prague, Czech Republic and stopped in to have a bite to eat at McDonalds. Yep, the very same. After eating I walked outside to my motorcycle and the guy in the RV next to me started talking to me in fairly good English. He also had a funny little Eddie Dog a (Jack Russell). You just never know when someone will walk up and just start talking to you. Anyway, he told me he was a Harley-Davidson owner and I showed him my 1941 H-D chopper. He liked it. He told me he belonged to a motorcycle club called the Vipers Czech MC. We talked a bit more and he gave me his name and address and said if I need any help in the Slovak Republic give him a call. I almost bet if I showed up on his doorstep I could sleep over. So we parted ways and I started looking for a campground for the night. I actually found one quite easily. Ever since Peter fixed Matilda she has been very helpful especially if you miss an exit off the Autobahn or finding lodging for the night. I’m camping somewhere near Prague. The route I took today started at Nurnberg, Germany Autobahn A3, then I picked up A6 to the Czech Republic. The road then turned into D5 to Plzen and I stopped for the night in Prague. I had been checking along the way for a Czech Republic map and only then did I find out they don’t use the Euro but still use their national currency the Korun Ceskych. I don’t even know how to pronounce it. Maybe tomorrow I’ll be in the Slovak Republic. It’s going to be cold one tonight with a heavy dripping dew. There’s band playing probably 300 meters away. The music is not that bad. At first I thought they only knew one song and one beat. It improved as the night progressed.

4 June 2009 30 miles west of Nurnberg Germany

4 June 2009

I found why the campground, the latrines and showers are so clean. People wipe the sinks dry after they use them and mop the floor if the spill any water on the floor. In all my years in and out of campgrounds I have never seen that. Today will be spent getting from point A to point B. I left the campground near Munster, Germany and drove to the nearest Autobahn and started driving east and south. I drove south to Unna, east to Kassel, south to Fulda and Wurzburg, and south and east to Nurnberg. I’m about 30 miles west of Nurnberg tonight in a family home where a husband and wife rented me a room with breakfast. It might be a bed and breakfast but the husband never called it that. I was at the gas station filling up with gas and paid for it. I pushed my bike away from the gas pump and was just about to take a bite out of my candy bar when this red car pulls up alongside me. The guy starts talking to me in German and I told him I only speak English. I thought for sure I was being hit on by a gay guy. He then switched to English talking a mile a minute. He basically said, he had a room to rent for 40 Euro in a new home, with a patio, shower and garage to put my motorcycle for the night. He also mentioned he had a wife and children otherwise I may have passed and took my chances finding a campground. I drove right in the garage and shut my bike off. He asked if I was from Sweden or Norway and I told him I was an American. He couldn’t believe he snared an American with a motorcycle in his house. I met his wife and kids and everybody seemed pretty nice. I haven’t seen him or his wife since. This house is very nice. I don’t think it’s over two years old. The garage has a tiled floor. The tiles are gray and about 12 inch square. The walls are finished off and painted white as is the ceiling. The stairways have granite steps and everything seems energy efficient. All lights automatically shut off when you leave the room etc. etc. I called Mary at work today just to see if I could reach her with my cell phone. It’s about the second time I’ve ever been successful in reaching her since I’ve been on this trip. We had a nice talk. My plans for tomorrow are to be in the Czech Republic. Where, I’m not sure.

3 June 2009 Munster Germany

I read my sister’s e-mail about her son being the salutatorian of his senior class and receiving a four year scholarship to the college of his choice. How absolutely wonderful. He’s my godchild, you know. I sure wish I could have made it to his graduation. Today my plan was to leave Netersel, Toos and her family. I got up, took a shower, ate breakfast and started packing my motorcycle. That usually takes a while when you dig thru all your bags. I’m starting the fouth leg of my journey. The first was Saint Paul, Minnesota to Toronto, Canada, second; Tronto, Canada to London, England, third; London to France, Belguim, and Holland and the fourth; Holland to the Russian Federation. So today required me pulling out new maps and putting away old maps. Another thing that happens when you stay too long in one spot is you become entrenched and your belongings get scattered and spread about and it’s easy to leave things behind when you decide to leave. So I checked twice after I had my motorcycle loaded that I didn’t leave anything behind. Toos took a few pictures of me while I was working away. She was amazed that everything I carry fits on my bike. So before I left I took a few pictures of Toos’ sculptures, garden and house. I put Matilda back in her mount on the handlebars for her test run. I rode into Bladel, Holland to visit Toos’ youngest son’s, Chip's, Cafeteria. She found him in the city center or center of town. You can eat in or carry out from his cafeteria. It’s kind of like a Tasty Freeze but European style. Different meats, submarine sandwiches, chips/french fries, cold drinks and ice cream goodies. He fixed a submarine sandwich for me with fries, a drink and some special Dutch meats. Everything tasted great to a guy who is handicapped when it comes to preparing food. Just when I was finishing off my last morsel, in walks Toos on her way to her class. Today is her last day and when she graduates she will be called Dr. Toos, the name I gave her. She heals people thru the energy of her stones and meditation. A moment or two after Toos arrives so does her son’s wife and two children. So I was able to say goodbye to everyone at once. Tonn walked me out to my motorcycle, told me how to get out of town and shook my hand and said goodbye. I thanked him for his lunch and hospitality and left. I stopped down the road a bit and typed a new town into Matilda before I left: Bladel. So she successfully guided me from Netersel to Bladel past Eindhoven, Holland to the German cities of Venlo, Geldern, Wesel, Haltern, and to my campsite. Traveling was a lot less stressful today with Matilda up and operating. The campground I’m in tonight is a nice clean one. I still have to find out if it has a toilet paper in the bathroom... Just back from the latrine and toilet paper is provided, at least in this campground.