|Miles Driven Today
|Total Trip Mileage
|Countries visited Today
|Countries visited on trip
|US, Canada, UK, The Netherlands, Germany, Austria, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Italy, Switzerland, Belgium, Luxembourg, Finland, Estonia, Russia
Today’s ride started by a process to extract all of the bikes from the secret base in the basement of the Parc Inn Hotel in St. Petersburg. From there, we rode 281 miles, over all manner of road, but in the end, and after 12 hours of riding, we arrived at the next hotel, which is a gem, on lake, in somewhere, Russia.
At 8:00 AM, we left St. Petersburg in the rear-view mirror, but as we were exiting the city, we hit several long traffic jams, which were related to road construction, the great many buses, and big trucks. These three things seem to conspire to create a never-ending sea of cars, all of whom think that motorcycles are piloted by expendable humans. And so, it went, the 12 bikes, riding in and out of lanes, taking territory, blocking intervention by cars, and ever-so-slowly, making progress.
We finally reached the edge of town and pulled into a convenience store to gas up the bikes. We had all contributed several thousand roubles to a fund, which is supposed to pay for tolls, gas, and sometimes, even beer. Our thinking was that if we treat the process of filling the bikes with gas, as a single transaction, we will have streamlined the process at the gas station. In our minds, this would allow all bikes, to fill their tanks at any one of 4 different pumps, quickly, in sequence. Marc conveyed this to the clerk, but it seemed that she saw it as somewhat unorthodox, and more importantly, very confusing. So, by the end of the “filling process”, we determined that it took longer to fill the bikes this way, than to have each of us gas our own vehicles, with our own credit cards. Go figure. But, we’ll get better, and things will change as we enter different parts of Russia.
The roads and the journey
The first 30 miles after the gas station, we traveled along on pavement, which sounds good, right? Unfortunately, these stretches of pavement had their top layer scraped away, as the first step in a re-paving process. After seeing this, and having heard the reports from other Russians, we thought the roads might be like this, all the way to Vyshny Volocheck. Fortunately, that was not the case. In fact, within a short distance, we found areas where the road building team had finished their work, and we were treated to perfectly smooth tar, but as we would discover, nothing in Russia lasts forever. And so, over the course of this 281 mile journey, we rode on some great pavement, some horrible pavement, some dirt, a little sand, and so on.
Reports from the road
I’ve been seeing my fellow travelers taking lots of pictures and videos, and sharing them on WhatsApp. So, it got me thinking… Wouldn’t it be better if I included the whole group’s perspective and thoughts into my Blog? So, I’ve started a daily segment, called, Reports from the road. I’ll compile a combined video each day, which will include reports from the group, laid out in chronological order, showing our progress over the course of the day. I think it will be fun, and everyone has been really good about it so far.
The tea ladies
Numerous times over the course of the day, in order for us to be prepared for a difficult parking area, Marc had mentioned that we’ll be stopping at the Tea Lady’s shop, and if we wish, we would be able to purchase a cup of hot tea, in order to address whatever it is that is ailing us, or if we simply like tea. He would also mention that parking here is kind of crazy, so please, park safely, and stay out of the road.
And so, we pulled over into this bizarre little parking lot, full of about a dozen little buildings, each occupied by a woman, who is making tea. I asked Mike if all of the tea was the same, or if each “Tea Lady” had her own special kind of tea, and Mike said, “Hmmm, don’t know”.
I purchased a cup of tea with Lemon for about 50 cents, and although I’m not a staunch tea drinker, I would say that this was great tea. I tried to take a short video of the tea-making process, but to be honest, it goes like this.
- Take some hot water
- Add a tea bag
- Steep the tea bag
- Remove the tea bag and toss in trash
- Enjoy the tea
Once again, I’m not a tea drinker, but this sure does sound like how tea is made in America, so the process was not innovative, or historically based, but it produced some delicious tea nevertheless. That said, I found it hard to take a video of the process, while I was paying, and negotiating. So, without a tripod, I had to move on to my next video. Which, as it turns out, was not far off indeed.
The little girl and the bike
While I was standing in front of my Tea Lady’s station, a Russian gentleman, came up, and started talking to me. He was pointing at his car, trying to get me to understand that this car, is simply awesome. So, he shared that it is a Lada, and the model is the Sputnik. Looking at the car, I can see the resemblance to the actual sputnik. Sorry I didn’t get a picture, but with the magic of the Internet, here’s the car he was talking about.
That said, and what is more important is that he had his little daughter, who was maybe 9 years old, and his son, who was maybe 5 years old, with him. I figured that they might like to sit on the bike, so after a very brief conversation, I pointed to the two kids, and said… Follow me, and I walked to my bike.
Now, my bike also has a full music delivery system embedded, so I turned the bike on, turned the helmet on, and got the music running. I then put the helmet on the little girl, and lifted her up onto the seat. She absolutely loved it. Before long, she was giving the thumbs up, and smiling. Then, her dad was taking videos of her, saying things like “Say hi to your mommy” and other such things (To be honest, this is I think he was saying, but as my Russian has not improved any, I’m only guessing what was said.). She had a big smile, but it was time to let her brother onto the bike. He sat on the bike, listening to music, in a state of awe. He just looked at me, and had a sense of overwhelm in his eyes, but he was having a ball.
As I was taking him off of the bike, I hoisted this little guy way up into the air, and then set him on the ground. Considering my height, and the length of my arms, his head was likely about 9 feet up in the air. When I put him back down, he gave me a high-five, and a big smile. As the little girl and her dad were walking back to the car, clear as a bell, in plain English, she said “thank you”, to which I replied “Spasibo”, which also means Thank you in Russian. And so, single-handedly, while 12 other riders and a driver watched, we broke down a few barriers, and made a few new friends.
I don’t want to get too sappy here, but you cannot imagine how much fun it was to fill these two little kids lives with the experience of sitting on a big bike, with a helmet on, while making a video for their Mom. Surreal.
Arrival in Vyshny Volocheck
We had been told that the last 400 yards, or 1200 feet, or ¼ of a mile of our journey, would be sand. So, after riding about ½ mile of packed dirt, filled with holes, which were themselves filled with water, we arrived at the start of the Sand. I had put the bike into Enduro mode, which alters how the brakes work, and more importantly, it allows me to apply as much throttle as I wish, spinning the back tire as I see fit. You see, when you’re riding on dirt or sand, you expect the wheel to spin as it loses traction. On the tar, when your wheel spins, you want to control it. But, on the dirt, we use the spinning rear wheel to coax the bike forward, when its showing signs of reluctance, and if it happens, you apply more throttle, and rip a path forward by shredding the sand beneath you.
As it turns out, I did not need to do any shredding, as the sand was pretty tame. I’ve been fortunate enough to have done quite a bit of off-road training in recent years, so I’ll say thanks to Rawhyde Adventures, to the BMW Riding academy in SC, to Bruce and Jim, who I sometimes rode with when in CA, and to Doc Wang, another friend whom regularly organized off-road and on-road rides each month. So, I have all these folks to thank, for helping me develop some off-road riding skills, and to also find a way to enjoy something, that many people file quite stressful. Which brings me to my next topic. Riding in sand…
The final ¾ mile to the hotel
I really enjoyed the ride, and I’m hopeful that I’ve captured some video, but we’ll see.
But, more importantly, while I did not get a chance to watch or follow each rider, it seemed that those that I did watch, did a great job. Now, not everyone reported having fun, but that’s not the point. We are a team, and we need to arrive together, and we need to arrive safe. Everyone, even those that said they were stressed, did a great job, and arrived without one bike being dropped. Well done
As this place is somewhat remote, and our group made up the entirety of the guest list, we were offered 3 choices for dinner. We could have smoked trout (caught in the lake), Chicken with mashed potatoes, or borscht. I’ve really been trying to experience local food, so I’ll bet that you can guess what I ordered…
That’s right, I went for the borscht. The final judgement was… Not bad, but not something that I’ll search the world over, for my final days on Earth. Borscht aside, I stayed true to my desire to avoid alcohol tonight, in order to get a good night’s sleep, and avoid getting tired on the road. I needed to address what had happened earlier in the day.
I’m so tired
Given all of the late nights, too much beer, and emergencies that needed to be sorted out in the AM, I’ve not really gotten very much sleep for the past 4 nights. As such, with 130 miles to go before we reach the hotel, I found myself getting really tired. I needed to stop. So, I made the decision to pull over, at the entrance to a rest area, convenience store. I would wait for the van, to let them know that I’d get some coffee, or an energy drink, and I’d catch up with everyone after a drink, and a good face washing. But, that’s not what happened.
After I pulled over, 4 of my fellow riders also pulled over, showing concern, and looking to take care of my condition, no matter what it was. Given that I had had problems with the bike, I’m sure they were thinking, the bike might have a problem. So, when I realized they had stopped to help me, I pulled the bike forward, and explained to Martin that was tired, and needed to quickly rejuvenate, in order to stay safe. So, they stayed with me until the van showed up, and I said the same thigs to Mike, who was piloting the van. We waved the bikes on, and Mike and I visited the café, grabbed a Energy drink, I washed my face, ate a pastry, and felt like a million bucks again.
We finished up, left the rest area, and I hit the gas. I was at 85 mph for a while, with Mike passing every tithing in sight, trying to keep up. But, a Ford Sprinter van is no match for a BMW GSA, that can accelerate from 0-60 in about 4 seconds. So, after a short period of time, I lost Mike, and headed South along the M10. In about 15 minutes, I found the rest of the gang waiting for me on the side of the road. Marc, ever-concerned, and ever-professional, took the time to ask me a few questions, trying to assess my state. I assured him that I had in fact, just received some wings (Via the Red Bull Marketing department), and was fine to ride.
And so, ride we did. We headed South for another 25 miles, and that’s when we entered the parking lot, with the Tea ladies.
But, what was extraordinary about all of this, is that just about every other rider, took the time to ask if I was OK, and what was going on. So, I told the same sorted story, about 7 times or so. I have to say, I felt bad for having gotten tired, and slowed down the group, but it was heartwarming to have all of these people, looking out for me. In fact, one rider said something like “Cliff, it’s to early to lose you, if it was a week from now, maybe things would be different, but for today, we stick together”. Obviously, this was black humor, to raise my spirits and make me chuckle. It worked, although my spirits were already very high. You see, I was riding along with the Atlanta Rhythm Section playing in my helmet, and we was a rockin’.
I wouldn’t call this place a hotel, but maybe that’s just my American sensibilities setting unrealistic expectations. But, this little “hotel” is really fantastic. It’s located on a lake, about 3.5 miles from town. My room has a double-bed, which is not big enough for me, but it’s the biggest bed that they have available, so I’ll enjoy it, and will wake up tomorrow, nice-n-refreshed.
What will tomorrow bring?
Tomorrow, we’ll travel about 200 miles, ending our riding in Moscow. I’ve been told ty Mike and Marc that the traffic in Moscow is something to behold. So, we can expect more crazy traffic, in a city that is much bigger than St. Petersburg. So, there’s that…
I’m writing this post at 10:00 PM, but now, I need to get some rest, so that I can be fresh for tomorrow.