Monday, July 27, 2009

25 July 2009 Khabarovsk, Eastern Russia

I got up about 10:30 a.m., checked my e-mails and then went downstairs for breakfast. The rest of the day I worked on my blog. About 9:00 p.m. the hotel administrator knocked on my door and said the hotel driver and she were going to show me how to get to Highway M60 to Vladivostock. I asked her to give me a couple of minutes to tie up some loose ends on my computer and then I’d be right down. I grabbed my camera and went to join them. We left the hotel and basically it was a straight shot out of town. The signs pretty much showed you the way. They also showed me a police checkpoint where I will most likely be stopped. From there it’s a straight road all the way to Vladivostok. On our return trip we dropped off Inna by her friends and came back to the hotel. I went to bed. Tomorrow will be an early morning. I’m planning on leaving by 7:00 a.m.

24 July 2009 Khabarovsk, Eastern Russia

While I was eating breakfast, a well dressed lady showed up who would represent my case to Immigration. She talked to the hotel administrator on how the letter had to be written. Then she and I sat down with my blog, Russian Road Atlas and receipts, and wrote down all the dates. They typed up two letters and gave them to Olga the well dressed lady, and off she went to Immigration to present my case. Within a couple of hours I got a copy of the letter for my records in case I get asked about it again like when I'm leaving Russia. I can show it to Immigration if a problem arises. I was warned not to bring this up when leaving the country. Say nothing. I was told if Immigration wanted to pursue this issue I could be fined $15,000. Anyway, I tipped all the waiters and hotel staff generously so as not to leave any enemies behind. Everybody was so just can't believe it. I can’t believe it and I’m the one who’s living it. I also got my clothes and my motorcycle washed. I was so glad to have that mud spray washed off. I asked the guy spray washing if I could do some spray washing. He said ok and I sprayed into my radiator to flush out any dust or mud built up from the last couple of days. I also washed under the fenders and the speedometer and tachometer area. It’s not perfect but it’s not covered in mud and I’m happy with it. The rest of the day I pretty much worked on getting my motorcycle shipped out of Russia and into Korea. This is quite time consuming. I worked on this most of the day and into the night.

23 July 2009 Khabarovsk, Eastern Russia

It’s now 9:30 in the morning and the fog hasn’t burned off yet and my tent fly is all wet. I need to get going if I plan on making it to Khabarobsk today. I started packing up the dry gear and got it ready to go into the motorcycle. By the time I had everything mostly packed up and on the motorcycle, the fly on the tent was 95% dried out. I folded up the tent and finished loading the motorcycle. Off I go to Khabarobsk. As I used up my gas I poured in one more jug of my spare gas off the tour box into my motorcycle. By the time I reached Khabarobsk my spare gas was used up and I could fill up with 92 octane gasoline. On the way into the city it was pretty obvious it must have been raining for days because all the low lying areas were flooded. There were trees that were standing in water that would never get their feet wet other than when it rains. I stopped one more time to make sure Matilda was up to speed and offloaded my three empty 4 liter jugs. In the 15 minutes I spent checking over Matilda I found a dead sheep rotting only four yards/four meters away. Every time the wind blew in my direction, oh the smell! I had to wear my bug face net over my face just to keep the black flies out of my eyes and nose. They were bad too. Once everything was squared away I continued on into Khabarobsk. I stopped and took some pictures by some signs and then drove into the city. If Matilda does her job, finding the Parus Hotel should be pretty easy. I missed the first turn right off. I turned around and let Matilda re-calculate. From that point to the Parus Hotel I never missed a corner. Once I got in the area I asked someone to show me where the hotel was. I found it on the second try. First I asked a guy standing on the street and second a taxi cab driver parked on the street. Matilda was right on the money. I parked my motorcycle on a real hilly street. I really feared that thing was going to fall over on its side. I went inside and remember, I haven’t bathed or shaved in eight days and might have smelled some. I asked for a room, which was available. I then presented my passport and assorted documents. They came back and said your passport hasn’t been registered for eight days; we cannot let you stay at this hotel. I told them I couldn’t register my passport in a hotel because there were no hotels on Highway M55 from Ulan Ude to Khabarovsk which is 1240 miles/2000 kilometers long. They told me its a Russian rule to register your passport every three days. No questions asked. I asked if they could help me out and they referred me to Hotel Molly a short distance away. I asked her to ask the hotel if they have anyone who can speak English and do they have secure motorcycle parking. She said yes to both questions. It took me two hours to find Hotel Molly. It’s not written that way but it’s kind of pronounced that way. I finally had to ask the police how to find the hotel, and when they found out I couldn't speak Russian and was an American, they promptly helped me out. It took the policeman walking about 15 minutes to find the place. We walked about a quarter mile. The hotel was set back 100 yards/100 meters off the street. I would have never found it by myself. I actually stopped in the parking lot of the Moscow Bank when looking for Hotel Molly. I was 100 yards/100 meters away and didn’t even know it. After the police officer left on police business the hotel administrator walked me nearly all the way to my motorcycle and then walked back to the hotel entrance and waited to make sure I made it to the hotel ok. I was looking pretty rough when I arrived at the hotel and the women instantly took pity on me starting with the boss lady, receptionist and hotel staff. They told me not to worry about my passport and they would get it straightened out. I went to give them my passport and couldn’t find it. I thought I lost it. I dug through all the usual places I put it but no passport. I checked one more pocket that I would never put it and there it was. Thank God. They realized I was in deep trouble and promptly set in motion the gears to bail me out of it. They were on their mobile phones talking to Immigration etc. etc. They told me I had to provide receipts from all the hotels I stayed in and the days I stayed in them from the time I entered Russia. They then had to write a letter to Immigration with a copy of my passport, visa, and all my receipts with dates when I stayed at them. They said they'd do that in the morning. I unloaded my motorcycle and one of the security people helped me carry my bags to my room. The hotel administrator let us into the room and showed me how everything worked with the keys. I then took a shower, ordered some food and checked my e-mails. It was about two in the morning before I went to bed.

22 July 2009 180 miles west of Khabarovsk, Eastern Russia

It rained all night and is raining now. It is totally overcast and foggy. It’s going to be a miserable day and my hope is to find a hotel before I get to Khabarovsk. Packing up will be tough today because everything is all wet. Also I have nowhere to put my gear while I’m packing so it’s sitting out in the rain. There is trash strewn all around my campsite, and last night I listened to the raindrops making music by dropping on tin cans, plastic bottles, my tent fly and the leaves of the trees. The tree frogs were singing away. It was a musical night of strange noises. I hope I can ride out this rain. To me it’s a slow rain that will last all day. I’d love it if I were a farmer. It’s a good soaker rain. Time to put this day in motion. Oh boy. I’ll have to run in between the raindrops, as my mother use to say. First, everything in the tent that can be packed or bagged must done inside the tent before going outside, such as sleeping bag, air mattress, laptop and charging system. Next I must get my riding pants, shoes, rainsuit, and rubber boots on. Now I can work outside in the rain. As quickly as possible I load the saddle bags/panniers so as not to get water in them. I also took pictures of my bush campsite and the road into the site. I loaded the top box equally as fast. I didn’t do a SPOT location because I don’t think SPOT could find a satellite if the world depended on it. It’s very cloudy and foggy. I loaded my bike with everything except my tires and 12 liters of gasoline. I will load the tires and gas when I get my motorcycle out on the highway. I walked out of my campsite and planned how I was going to ride out. My egress route out is muddy, with a large water hole filled with tadpoles and a small hill full of ruts. I must get up that hill without dumping my motorcycle.

I made it up the hill ok and back on the highway. Whew, thank God for that. I then carried and loaded my tires and gasoline. Today I dumped the first four liters of my spare gas into my gas tank. It’s time to get rid of that dead weight. The last thing I went back for was my red Aerostitch jacket. Several cars passed my motorcycle sitting on the side of the road and beeped their horns at me. They must have thought I had to go to the bathroom in the woods when they saw me carrying my jacket out to the road. I was driving along and came upon this roadside restaurant. I drove in to eat breakfast as usual. I walked in the door, set my helmet on the table, and got hollered at. I went to order my breakfast and waitress totally couldn’t understand what I wanted. She kept telling me to order from the menu. I told her I didn’t understand Russian. She kept telling me to order from the menu. Finally I just picked up my helmet and walked out the door and left. I was starving and this person totally couldn’t read or understand what I wanted. I drove another hour down the road and another cafĂ© came up and I drove in. I pulled out my paper and asked if they could prepare the items I asked for and in 10 minutes I had my food. Great service and great people.

I hit another pothole in the blacktop again today. It wasn’t as deep as the one that bent the rims. I stopped and checked the rims again to see they had any new bends in them. I took a couple pictures of potholes in the road as I drove today. So today I drove blacktop in the rain, gravel with potholes in the rain, muddy potholes in the rain, and two inch/5 cm deep mud in the rain. I personally thought I was out of the road construction yesterday but I guess not. I got within 180 miles/300 kms of Khabarovsk and found a campsite relatively easily. I’m camped alongside the road, again out of sight. It was kind of another old gravel pit of sorts. This possibly is the last night I will camp in Russia because tomorrow I will be Khabarovsk. The sun came out later this afternoon and now I’m able to dry out most of my camping gear. I thought I had a good site and here comes a Russian guy driving by on his motorcycle. I have to keep in mind that tomorrow may be the same as today, and the 180 miles I have to drive may take a lot longer than I think. Hopefully my tent will dry faster tomorrow because it’s out in the open where the sun can burn off the dew. I checked the map of Khabarovsk for the location of the hotel I want to stay at. I programmed this into Matilda so when I get to the city I can drive into it without a hassle. Tomorrow should be an easy day if finding the hotel goes ok.

21 July 2009 400 miles west of Khabarovsk, Eastern Russia

When I got up it was raining. I went back to bed for an hour and the rain stopped. I quickly tore everything down and packed it away wet. I got my bike loaded and left. I was camping near a rest stop and you should have seen the faces of the people in the rest area when I drove out the drive way. Pure shock, never knowing I was there. I started driving on gravel and within 6 miles/10 kilometers it was blacktop again. From there it was mostly blacktop with an occasional area where it was one lane blacktop. It was the best day as far as good roads go in days. Finding gas was great. Every 100 miles I found gas without having to drive back into the villages. Toward the end of the day it started raining and kept getting progressively worse. I had to drive a bypass because Highway M55 hasn’t been constructed through this area yet. Thank God Matilda knew where she was going because I would have never found my way even if it wasn’t raining. At first the road was ok but it went progressively downhill from there. It was a miserable road with potholes every foot, and full of water. This probably went on for 20/30 miles/32/48 kms. Toward the end of the bypass there was wet loose gravel and sand before it rejoined Highway M55. Even the Russian travelers were having problems finding their way. I finally came to the end of the bypass and was back on new blacktop, so off I went. The rain was getting lighter and I stopped for gas exactly where my road atlas said it would be. It was getting late and I had to find a campsite. This is flat land with very few trees. It was difficult finding a secluded campsite. I finally found one that didn’t meet my criteria but set up camp anyway. The mosquitoes were horrific and it was raining while I set up camp. I couldn’t hide myself from the road. I set myself back into woods as far as possible and called it good. I covered the front of my bike with wet cardboard that was lying around to hide it so it wouldn’t be so visible from the road. I got inside my tent and killed mosquitoes for the next 15 minutes. There have been some large battles inside my tent and so far I’ve won all of them. The mosquito and fly death rate has been high and the carnage is scattered about. Every day I sweep the bug parts out of my tent. The dirty little buggers. I got as far as planned for the day and was happy about that. I’m about 400 miles/657 Kilometers from Khabarovsk. I’ll try to make it over half tomorrow, maybe farther if it’s a sunny day. I worked on my Blog and went to bed.

20 July 2009 East of Tygda, Eastern Russia

I did trip planning this morning and will get a late start. Happy Birthday, Marlene. I’m charging my laptop as I type. I am planning on getting out of this horrible road construction. I’m working my way toward the town of Shimanovsk. The map shows plenty of gas available on the way there. I was loading my motorcycle and kind of looking to see if anything was rattling loose. I found that a crossbar between the saddle bags is broken. The weld failed and I know why. It was a cold weld and with all the vibration and shaking it broke off from its mating piece. I made a mental note to inform the people I bought the saddle bags from that they need better quality control. It’s something I think I can live with till I can get somewhere where it can be repaired. It’s a pretty simple fix if you have a welder and a grinder. My welding instructor from Vocational School, Gary, warned us students that MIG welding can give you a beautiful weld with lack of fusion with the base metal and that is exactly what happened here. It’s very obvious.

Well I’m back. I had great plans today of riding out of the road construction and starting full time on broken or good blacktop. Well that was not the case. I only rode 100 miles/161 kilometers today at 20 mph/40 kph all day. I have 155 miles/220 kilometers yet to ride to get out of the road construction area. I’m finding out more and more as I travel this road that just because the map says its blacktop doesn’t mean its blacktop. Also a gas pump on the map does not mean the gas station is on the highway. More than likely the gas station can be up to 10 miles/16 kilometers off the highway. That was the case again today. I bought gas when I left Never (pronounced KneeVer) and I’m glad I did. I filled my tank, let go of the lever to stop the gas and it kept feeding. I finally whistled at the lady that the pump wouldn’t shut off and out of the office comes running another woman who shut the pump off. I pumped out about 1 quart/1 liter of gas on the ground. I paid for the gas on the ground and left. I came into Never on blacktop and left on gravel. All day was 10 miles/16 kilometers of blacktop 30 miles/48 kilometers of gravel or worse. I drove 100 miles/161 kilometers to Magdagach and it was time for gas again. The gas sign shows up 4 miles/6 kilometers into the city of Tygda. No big deal and off I go. It had rained today so the road was soft mud to muddy, with potholes full of water: big potholes full of water, and deep. The mud was kind of greasy and treacherous. So I was driving along avoiding all the potholes as best I could and I arrived at this large pothole the width of the road so I had to drive thru it. I looked at it and saw car tracks driving thru it so took off holding to the right shoulder and entered the pothole. The next thing I know, my front wheel goes whoosh, drops in about 2 feet/66 cms of water and I went “Oh my God!” When the front wheel started coming up out of the pothole my elbow went down giving it more gas and I shot out of the pothole with the rear wheel just barely in it. I gave her some more gas and was able to get completely out of the pothole. Talk about the rectal pucker factor. You couldn’t have driven a stick pin into it with a sledge hammer. One leg was wet from the knee down and my boot was full of water. The other leg was dry. The water was almost up to the exhaust pipe coming out of the head. That bloody scared the poop out me. Once I settled down I continued on fording more potholes full of water and mud. When you leave Highway M55 the roads deteriorate immensely. I made it into town ok. I had to ask for some directions from a woman and she told me where the gas station was. The gas station lady was very friendly. She didn’t holler at me like most of the people working behind the mirrored glass. You can’t see thru the glass to see who is taking your money but they can see you. The person behind the glass is just a voice thru a speaker. I asked some young guys as I was leaving if there was a shorter way out of town and they said take the air strip. It was a shorter way with a lot less mud. The air strip looked like something from the cold war days that could land propeller driven aircraft similar to a C-130. It looks like there may have been a radar site near the town. I don’t know, just an observation. I’m back on the muddy road again and have to ford the large pothole again. I haven’t forgotten my prior experience with it. I pulled up to the pothole again and looked into it. How am I going to get across it without dumping my motorcycle? Then I had an idea. I got out the spare stick I have been carrying for months and checked the water depth on the other side of the pothole and it was about 4 inches/10 cms deep. I jumped on my bike, held my breath and drove thru it without a problem. Of course I asked for some Divine help. When I got on the other side I took some pictures and was about to leave when this small truck shows up. The guys wanted to know more about my motorcycle, what my plans are and where I am going. They asked me if I wanted to go drink vodka with them and I said no. One of the girls gave me some wildflowers. She also spoke some English and told me I was the first American she ever met. Everyone wished me luck. I shook hands with everybody and departed. If only I could speak more Russian I would have had a few more laughs with them. It was back to the blacktop which in a few short miles/kilometers turned back to gravel. It was after seven p.m. so I started looking for a place to camp. I found an excellent place with an easy driveway about 400 yards/400 meters off the highway. It was, or maybe still is, an old gravel pit used in building the road. I found a spot I could drive in a stake, and set up my tent. It also has this makeshift table that is just the thing for me to type and work on my blog entries. The mosquitoes are absolutely driving me nuts so it’s time to head indoors away from my blood thirsty friends.

You’re probably wondering what the terrain is like as I drive this highway. I’m usually driving over low forest-covered mountains similar to the Appalachian Mountains in Tennessee and Kentucky, or flat land like the plain states of North and South Dakota. The mountains predominantly have pine trees similar to the pine trees that are found in the Black Hills of South Dakota. Some of the other pine trees look a lot like tamarack trees, like the ones down in the swamp on Gorrichs, Pillars, and Hessefortes road, one mile north of the Reinhold farm in Medford. Most of these pine trees are planted or growing very near to the next tree or trees. The tree trunks are 4 or 5 inches/10 or 13 cms in diameter and 22 feet/7 meters tall. Just bean poles. This is true of the pine and white birch trees. The flat land is as flat as a pancake with white birch trees growing around streams or low-lying areas because of the availability of water. You will see them occasionally in some of the pictures in my blog. Another thing I’ve noticed as I drive Highway M55 is the huge acreage of burned-off pine forests. I will walk out on a limb and say about a ¼ to 1/3 of the pine forest I have driven by are burned off. Judging from the growth of the vegetation and new tree growth in these areas, I would say it happened within the last ten years. I can’t say whether they were started by careless smokers or by lightning. Another thing, I don’t think Russia has any formalized forest fire fighting equipment in place. At least nothing that’s visible. So forest fires may burn till they go out themselves or until a village or town is threatened and then everyone jumps in with whatever they have to fight the fires.