Only four days after the guys had left Irkutsk for the BAM road, things took a wrong turn for Dave. With everything we’d put our bikes through to get this far, it was inevitable they’d break down along the way. But nothing could have been more inconvenient or disappointing for Dave than breaking his rear shock just before things were about to get fun. (And for what ‘fun’ looks like on the BAM, see this link.)
I got a Skype call from Dave on Aug. 12 from a small town called Severobaikalsk and he told me what had happened.
Although the bike-breaking sections of the BAM didn’t officially start until after Severobaikalsk and east to Tynda, the roads leading to Severobaikalsk were dirt and gravel with large, embedded rocks—rough. Especially when you’re travelling at speeds of 80-100 kmph (50-60 mph).
Somewhere along the way, Dave felt his bike behaving erratically. He stopped to see if it was a flat tire but it wasn’t. As he rode on his bike started to feel like a pogo stick. It was obvious something was wrong with his suspension.
In Severobaikalsk, Dave and the Latvians found a mechanic to fix the shock or at least get it working well enough for Dave to continue. When he called me in Chita, where Brian and I were now, there was a lot of metal-clanking noise in the background. Throughout our conversation, Dave was disgruntled but still hopeful his bike would be ridable soon.
Dave was in good hands with the Russian-speaking Latvians. They could help him immensely in a situation like this. The question was, how long was Adventure Team Latvia going to stick around and wait for an outcome. They all had a flight out of Magadan on Aug. 31, which was only two weeks and over 5,000 km (3,100 mi) away. There wasn’t much time to spare. Although these guys were as helpful as possible, waiting around for a friend, who wasn’t actually part of their sponsored team, wasn’t their first priority.
During my conversation with Dave, Oskars could be heard in the background asking Dave various questions about what he wanted to do. During the day, it was discovered the malfunction was coming from internally. Inside the shock are two pistons, one for compression and one for rebound. The O-rings on both pistons, which keep the lubricating oil inside, had deteriorated to the point they could no longer do their job.
Unfortunately for Dave, his shock problem was a lack-of-maintenance issue. When we were in Germany a few months earlier, we went to a Touratech (TT) event in Neidereschen, where TT has its headquarters. Dave could have had his shock serviced there but because of the event, it wasn’t possible for them to find the time that weekend. As we travelled onward, we knew of no other TT stores or servicing and certainly not once we’d gotten into Russia. Sadly, it was now a significant problem at the worst time.
Dave had options, none of which were good: the Latvians could help him find a truck going back to Irkutsk, about 800 km (500 mi) south, or Dave could try and get on a train going east to Tynda with his bike. Either city was a place where he could have parts shipped. The thought of bumping along the fairly rough road back to Irkutsk in a truck with his bike bouncing around in the back not only didn’t appeal to Dave but could damage his bike even worse. Getting on a train crossing alongside the very terrain he’d come here to ride was also unthinkable. And what if he could get parts sent? How long would he have to wait for something arriving from Germany?
Dave asked Oskars what he thought if he continued to ride his bike in this state. Oskars at first thought it might be OK and that Dave would just have to ride carefully. I thought about Dave saying his bike was riding like a pogo stick and imagined him trying to get across waist-deep rivers like this. How do you ride ‘carefully’ on the BAM road?
The mechanic’s advice was to definitely not ride it but Dave didn’t take him seriously. He’d beaten the shit out of Dave’s shock and although he’d helped to diagnose the issue, he not only wasn’t able to fix it, he damaged the shock far worse in the process and then charged Dave $180 for his time. In Russia, that’s a little steep. The Latvians eventually urged Dave to take the mechanic’s advice and not ride. I felt this was good advice but Dave stewed over the decision for 24 hours. Finally, he reluctantly agreed to put his bike on a train to Tynda. He still regrets his decision to this day and thinks he could have ridden on but that’s a hard sell; even if he could grit through the sheer discomfort of no rear shock on such a brutal road, he would likely have damaged other bike and body parts in the process.
There wasn’t much that could be done from Severobaikalsk. In a larger city, Dave could spend a few days looking for a replacement stock shock off used bikes in Moscow or Vladivostok, and have it shipped to him. Then we could at least ride on to Magadan together. But what to do next? If Dave couldn’t find a replacement shock, what would the end of our trip look like? Would we have to ride into Vladivostok, ending two years of moto travel on the pavement of a main highway? Would I be putting my bike, also in need of repairs, on a train as well? Although I’d heard the road to Magadan was tough, especially if one includes a 400 km (250 mi) section called the Old Summer Road (the last remaining section of the original Road of Bones), there was something about the word Magadan that sounded totally bad-ass and foreign and, therefore, was a more exciting place for our trips’ finale.
On Aug. 13, the day after hearing about his shock, I got a message from Dave that said, “On train but I think it doesn’t go through. No idea what I’m doing.” Followed several hours later with, “On [another] train with bike on my way to Tynda. Will arrive tomorrow afternoon.”
Looks like Brian and I would have to pick up the pace. Chita, where we were, was over 1,000 km (620 mi) west of Tynda. We hadn’t expected to meet up with Dave and the Latvians for another five days or so, but in lieu of the rear shock event, things had fast forwarded.
To be honest, the relaxation of the past week was needed and nice, but Brian and I were both getting a little bored toddling along and spending so much time in hotels together. We left the next morning and made it to Mogocha, 592 km (376 mi) east. Along the way, we’d found Roland again at a café along the road, eating lunch.
The three of us rode on together to Mogocha, finding a place for the night. We spent the evening in town drinking beer beside our bikes, watching cats and kids roam the playground beside us. There was a great discovery that night when I noticed my Staubwolke rear wheel grips were not only handy as tie downs spots but served as beer bottle openers as well.
Having Roland in the mix was a fun addition to the evening’s chit chat and we had a lot of laughs over dinner. I wondered what Dave’s mood would be like when I saw him again, knowing he’d been so excited about the BAM and now his dreams were dashed.
On Aug. 15, Brian and I arrived in Tynda around 6:00 p.m. The last 160 km (100 mi) had taken three grueling hours. For the last seven days Brian and I had been riding together over approximately 2,000 km (1,200 mi). I didn’t have to worry much about my forks, which were still looking to be repaired in Tynda. At the quirkily-named town called Never, Brian and I would take a junction leading north to Tynda, while Roland would continue east to Vladivostok. The road from the junction was new and perfectly paved. For about 10 km. Shortly after we turned off at a sign directing us to Tynda, the road became choppy pavement, then complete dirt. To top it off, it’d started pouring rain harder than I’d seen in a long time. The dirt road became incredibly slick. I had a Shinko rear tire that proved itself useless in mud and tension replaced my relaxation as I stood on the pegs, trying to keep control of the bike. It was a tricky dance between going slow enough not to pound my broken suspension into a pothole, yet fast enough to stay afloat in the mud.
Brian and I found a small town where we could buy fuel and stay under shelter for a bit to see if the rain would stop. After 20 mins or so we got going again. It was still raining but dissipating and it looked like the skies were brightening up. At the gas station, I’d sent Dave a message on my InReach saying we were about 150 km away but that the going was slow. Brian had kindly stayed behind me the whole way in case I had problems with my bike. By the time we arrived in Tynda, we were both exhausted, not expecting such a sporty end to an otherwise uneventful day.
I checked my InReach to see if there was a message from Dave. Surprisingly there was nothing. Using Brian’s phone as a hot spot, I logged in online to our InReach site and saw Dave’s location was 300 km west of where we were. Just then, a message came in on my InReach device saying. “Come Back. I’ve been trying to message you.” The time of the message said 3 p.m. Oh no, I thought, he didn’t make it to Tynda and was telling us to come back, but to where? I sent Dave an e-mail saying we were in Tynda and needed to find a hotel before I could figure out what to do next. In the message, I’d sent Brian’s cell number. Brian and I were on the side of the road and attracting a lot of unwanted attention from a drunk guy who came over to chat. I wanted to find a bed, shower and food immediately.
While searching for a hotel in Tynda, a guy pulled up beside us in a pimped-out sedan, asking if we needed help. Brian said, “Hotel?” and the guy motioned for us to follow. He took us to a place a little out of the city centre, up a hill. I went inside and asked the lady with my translation app, if there were two single beds available. She said no. As I was leaving I had a flash that Dave was in that hotel but it wasn’t something I paid close attention to. Besides, there was no bike parked in the lot. Brian and I followed this guy around the city for a while longer, all while wondering why Dave hadn’t replied or called yet. We turned down an alley and although the apartments and cars looked sketchy, there was a playground with kids giggling freely, so how bad could it be?
Our voluntary hotel guide stopped by a darkened doorway. We were all used to staying in sketchy looking places in Russia that turned out to be pleasant, so I thought nothing of it. Brian pulled into a parking stall while I stayed behind the guy in the car. I saw him wave his hand at the doorway and figured he was asking someone if there was a room to rent. A woman in heels and jeans started walking toward the car but our guy waved his hand and pointed again. Another woman came forth, bent to the driver’s side window and then walked around the car. Before she got into the passenger’s seat, she looked back at me and smiled a little too eerily, more like a sneer. Our guy yelled out his car window back at me, “Come! Let’s go to hotel!”
He’d just stopped to pick up a prostitute and was now perhaps thinking we’d all go find a hotel together. I wasn’t that adventurous so pulled up beside Brian. He was talking into his helmet and I realized he had Dave on the phone. The guy and the prostitute had given up on us and driven off with squealing tires. I was happy we had word from Dave as I was starting to think I’d misunderstood that he’d even arrived in Tynda. But I was also annoyed at the lack of communication.
Brian programmed Dave’s whereabouts into his GPS and we set off, only to end up back at the first hotel—the one I’d had a premonition that Dave was already at. Weird! We didn’t see his bike because it was in a shop down the street. Dave had replied to some of our messages but they didn’t come through until several hours later. When he’d messaged for us to come back, he’d meant to the hotel.
Frustrated and tired, we just wanted a bed. Earlier in the day, Dave had thought he’d reserved two more beds for that night (which was why there was no room when I asked earlier) but now the lady was telling us there wasn’t any room. After a lot of translation app messages back and forth, Dave called Max, a guy who’d hooked him up with a shop to work on his bike and who spoke English. Max talked to the front desk and found out the reason there was ‘no room’ was it was a male dormitory, and they were concerned I’d be in there with three guys. We assured her this wasn’t a problem for us if it wasn’t for the Russian, and finally all was sorted.
Over dinner, Dave told the exciting story of how he’d gotten himself and his bike on the train. Apparently, it was not a cargo train, so popping a large motorcycle on board was not an easy task. Dave was able to bribe some train guys to lift it on (sadly there are no photos as Dave was busy helping to lift his bike aboard). After the bike was securely tied down, Dave left to go buy a ticket but as he was trying to do this, the train started to leave the station.
Panicked at seeing his bike ride off without him, Dave enlisted the help of some policemen, who escorted him to a taxi driver. The cops told the driver to get Dave to the next town and fast. Dave hopped in and braced himself for a harrowing ride 25 km east to beat the train. It was the only time he was grateful for crazy Russian driving.
The taxi got there before the train pulled into the station. Dave bought a ticket and got onboard. He spent much of the next 36 hours in a state of mild dehydration and starvation (what did I say in the last post???) as he’d had no time to get anything except a litre of apple juice. He also had a Snickers bar, which was one of a few things I’d added to his luggage when he left Irkutsk a week before. There was nothing available to by onboard the train. When the train finally arrived in Tynda late the next day, the platform was somehow higher than the train, so the doors wouldn’t open all the way. Now, Dave and some train guys had to lower his bike down to the ground from the train car 4 feet above. 6 guys to lower a 500+ lbs bike out of a train. You gotta love the ingenuity of Russians.
While Dave was telling this story, Oskars called. Team Latvia was only 300 km (180 mi) away and expected to be in Tynda the next day. Could we reserve them three beds? Dave’s face told it all for the rest of the night. He was even more pissed to have missed out on the BAM now that it was clear the going was much easier than anyone had thought. That the Latvians had completed the entire 1,300 km (800 mi) track in a mere three days was not helping. None of us wanted the Latvians to have been injured on the BAM but perhaps if hadn’t appeared to be so do-able, Dave would have seen Fate had stopped him for a reason. During his train ride, Dave could see the BAM road easily in spots. All but two river crossings were crossable by bike and when they weren’t, that was the place riders used the train bridge to cross. The road had been dry and flat. He also said it was very beautiful.
Now Dave was even more amped up about missing out.
(The photos below were supplied by Adventure Team Latvia. This is what parts of the BAM road was like during their travels.)
Next post: Dave finds a spare rear shock but will have to ride over 1,000 km (600 mi) on his pogo-stick before he can get it.
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