3 years ago, as I was planning this expedition and going through the itinerary, I looked at the Siberia crossing and wondered how will I react when I reached this part of the world? The expedition was in its infancy at that time, quite a few things changed, but one thing remained clear: Siberia would be a milestone!
Soon after leaving Ufa, I was heading SE towards Chelyabinsk. The Ural Mountains were looming up ahead and I sensed a change of scenery. Pine forests were appearing and undulating hills were breaking the flat horizon. I crossed the Ural mountains without a hitch (except for the roads, of course, which are always a challenge here). The bike kept purring nicely and I actually enjoyed the climb of the mountains where the air was fresher and the smells of the forest filled my lungs.
I arrived in Chelyabinsk, which is on the Asian side of the mountain. In front of me, Siberia was stretching its immense body for the next 6000 and then some, kilometers. I checked into the hotel (most Gostinitsas in the smaller towns are renovated blocks so you feel you are in a boarding school) and took off my dirty, dusty gear.
In the morning I walked in town for a little bit, but I was still tired (my hip continues to swell up and from vibration, my elbow is constantly painful) so I went back to the hotel. As I came to the hotel door, I spotted a note on my bike. I thought: "the police wants me to move the bike from the walkway". I opened the note and, in perfect English, it said: "Hello, My name is Andrey Fedoseev, I am a biker too, if you need any help or information, please contact me..."
I called Andrey immediately, just to thank him for his offer, but we ended up walking to town again, this time under his skillful guidance and historical background of the city. Andrey is a special friend, an IT man, again, like Alex from Moscow, working for a San Francisco based company. He was quiet, polite, very knowledgeable and a great man to know. As we came back from town, I spotted another note on my bike: "We glad meet you" it said, "motorbaik klub" and then the address. Andrey and I jumped on our bike (he has a splendid Honda Shadow) and rode to the club where we met a lot of local bikers that ended helping us with route information for Tyumen, my destination the next day.
In the morning, Andrey was at my hotel at 7:00 am (it turns out he lives just behind the hotel where I was staying) and he rode with me for about 30 km to show me the exact road to Ekateringburg.
As I rode out, I kept thinking how amazing these people are, and how lucky I am that in every city so far, to meet them and to see they went so far out of their way to help a complete stranger. I understand that not all bikers are my friends, but in Russia, I have to tell you that most bikers I met became actually my friends. Maybe because I am a foreigner or maybe because these bikers are friendlier than others I met in my life and during this expedition. In any case, I am grateful for the biking community in Russia, that truly is a life saver for most of us that dare to tackle this challenging country.
The road to Tyumen, turned out to be better (thanks again to my biker friends in Chelyabinsk) and I reached the town without issues. I rested one night and headed out to Omsk, Siberia. The road now becomes more and more desolate, larger distances between gas stations and civilization.
Omsk is a huge city, very well designed and easy to discover. The hotel I booked was a dump, completely broken up by renovations so I went in the city searching for another. As I was crossing the bridge I ran out of gas; first time since Livingstone! I knew I was low but I always banked on going about 85 km on my reserve, which is always true. But I forgot about it, as I was looking for hotels and I got stuck. I sat there in the middle of the bridge and a van stopped, husband and wife and offered to help. They took my jerry can, went to a gas station, filled it up, came back, then lead me to a hotel, paid for my first night there and then they left... Just like that! I tried to argue, I tried to offer to pay for the gas and hotel, but nothing; they disappeared into the city as fast as they appeared to me on the bridge. I am grateful for your help, my friends, and I wish we had a chance to spend some time to know each other. But your anonymous help is well noted and gratefully received!
In the morning I took the bike for her service: the poor thing was abused for the past 10.000 km and it needed new juices. I went to Omsk Yamaha, where I met Max and the rest of the crew, very nice people, again. They gave me a major discount on the service, cleaned the bike and she was so beautiful the next morning, I wanted to hug her. We have both been through so many things together, it was hard not to be happy for her. They found no problems with it, all the fluids checked and changed, no loose bolts or screws (it's a wonder), just the balancing lead weights of the back wheel came off during all the bad roads we endured so far. Otherwise, she was ready for the next challenge.
I left Omsk early morning and without a guide this time, so it took me 30 minutes to figure out the road to Novosibirsk. The GPS is blind, as you know by now, so all I was looking on its screen was the general direction. This is the great things about Siberia: it has virtually one road stretching Eastwards, so in any city I am, if I follow the general East direction, I will eventually find my way to the Trans Siberian.
As I was riding on the lonely road to NSK, I kept feeling sad for myself... I thought of the loneliness I endured the past 7 weeks and the remote places ahead of me and the long, loooooonnnng freaking road that was still lying ahead. As I was quite happy victimizing myself, I see ahead on the road two cyclists; I thought: "Russian cyclists! Very nice!". I came closer and I spotted a German flag! I pulled over immediately and I waved for them to stop. They were husband and wife, from Bavaria, Klaus and Doris Hohle (www.hoehles-challenge.de). Fully equipped, they were riding their bicycles from Germany to Vladivostok!!!! Here I was complaining of the long road, riding a machine that easily does 1000 km a day, and these people are riding their bicycles, doing 100 km at the most and camping in the bush. But this is not all: to get an even bigger slap on my victimizing face, they told me their age: Klaus is 75 years old (are you kidding me?) and Doris is 62 years old!!! I wanted to hug them! Who, in their right mind, does this at 75 years old? And this is not all: they are the oldest couple in the world who have ridden their cycles around the planet and it was already finished! This trip they were on now, was just 10.000 km, "to just stay in shape", as Klaus very unassuming put it... We took few photos together, exchanged emails and we said good bye. What incredible people! I cannot but love their spirit and their passion; my Russian friends, if you see these two German people, wherever you meet them, please take care of them and help them on their way. I hope with all my heart that nothing bad will happen in their journey East.
I climbed on my bike and promised never to complain again...
I reached Novosibirsk late afternoon, and the size of the city and its industrial feel, kind of scared me at first. I couldn't find the hotel, but I stopped at a Lukoil gas station and Alex's friend, Alexander, came to show me to the hotel, which turned out to be just 200 m from where I was.
He was in hurry, so as soon as we reached the hotel, he left. While I was checking in, Ivan showed up; Ivan is the Heidenau dealer in Novosibirsk and I contacted him through Alex to find a back tire for me, as the one I had was eaten up by the broken roads. Ivan told me he will come pick me up in the morning to get the tire.
At 11:00 the next day, he came and said: "Let's go, concert in town", "Concert", I said, " I thought we go to get the tire", "Later", he replied.
We went downtown, where I met his family, Lena, his wife, Katia and Slava, his children. It turned out that, exactly that day was the 121 birthday of Novosibirsk, so the whole city was out in celebration mood, with music, dancing, balloons and the whole package. It was a lot of fun, especially since I thought that I would just stay in the hotel for 2 days. It was also special for me and my bike, because Novosibirsk became the half way point of my Round the World Expedition and half way across Russia as well.
Here are some statistics (for those of you that are not interested, just skip this part and go straight to the photos):
in Novosibirsk, Siberia:
Bike Odometer: 62500 km (I bought the bike with 0 km, in October 2012)
From Namibia (where I bought the bike): 34.000 km
From Livingstone, Zambia (where our project is): 32.500 km
From Narva, Estonia (border with Russia): 4100 km
Accidents: 1 (between Tver and Moscow, see Moscow Post)
Damage: Crash bars bent, back left case scratched, cracked elbow, swollen hip, bruised rib, mad ego :)
2 sets of tires from the beginning to now
No mechanical problems with the bike, no spare parts used, just oil and lube
Countries crossed: 23
Duration: 7 months and 2 weeks
TO GO :
3500 km to Vanino, for the ferry to Sakhalin Island
5300 to Iwata, Japan (Yamaha Factory)
22500 km to Ushuaia, Argentina
34.000 km to Namibia
35.500 km to Livingstone, Zambia
From now on, it is the countdown back to my Africa, where the sunsets are dark red and where my heart is happy!
From Novosibirsk it was the lonely, very long road to Krasnoyarsk, 917 km, where I reached late at night, desperate to find a hotel before dark. Riding around town, I spotted this couple riding on a Yamaha cruiser and I followed them. They stopped soon and I asked them for help. They immediately (of course) started to make phone calls to all the hotels in town and rode with me to several of them until I found a good one. Ivan and Vasilitsa are two young people that immediately became friends with me. Thank you again, bikers, for your hospitality and friendliness.
Andrey, my new Chelyanbinsk friend. Him and his friend, Andrey as well (professional photographer), took me out to see the town.
The guys at Omsk Yamaha (the owner, on the left side, Max, and the two mechanics), thank you guys for a great job!
Doris and Klaus Hoehle from Bavaria, cycling across Siberia...
Ivan's collection of bikes in his garage; this is just a part of his collection...
Krasnoyarsk (The Red Ravine)
They were riding a Yamaha Drag star, just like the one I used when I did Cape Town -Zanzibar-Cape Town, back in 2010.