Dave, Brian and I spent another day in Tynda, this time with Adventure Team Latvia fresh (well, not so fresh, actually) off the BAM road, feeling their aches and pains from the effort. Their bikes seemed to have fared pretty well, for the most part, aside from Sandijis’ front tire, which looked super sketchy.
Nevertheless, everyone was now in a good place to get busy fixing bikes and that’s what we did. At long last, after riding so carefully for three weeks and nearly 4,000 km (2,400 mi) with the busted forks on my bike, Dave had finally been able to put the new seals and wipers in after the correct parts were sent from Moscow, over 7,000 km (4,300 mi) and six times zones away. I was excited and relieved to be riding a bike with normal-functioning suspension again.
But now Dave’s bike was not up to par, with its broken rear shock. Our increasingly valuable resource, Denis, in Moscow, was able to source out a used one, but of course that meant it also had to come from Moscow. We didn’t want to wait for the rear shock to arrive in Tynda so asked for it to be sent to Yakutsk, 1,000 km (620 mi) away, where we were told it would be more pleasant to hang out and where the Latvians were planning to spend a few days celebrating what they called, “festival” with Yakutsk members of the Night Wolves, Russia’s notorious motorcycle club. This would give Dave time to receive and install his rear shock and I’m never one to turn down a few days off, so off to Yakutsk we rode.
Riding east of Tynda to Yakutsk meant we were committed to riding to Magadan. Without question Dave wanted to ride to Magadan, including a 400 km (240 mi) detour section of the Road of Bones, along the Old Summer Road that is even more tricky than the BAM road and carries a sad history of gulag prisoners, who died while building the road and are buried just under its surface. I wanted to ride to Magadan because it was a more appealing place to end our two-year trip around the world than just some big city, but there was some temptation by this point to just ride to Vladivostok, for how easy it would be. We were both exhausted. I’d decided against the BAM so there was even less chance for me wanting to ride the ROB. The Latvians had planned on going, however, and this was another chance for Dave to tag along if he could fix his shock.
We left Tynda the morning of Aug. 17. I couldn’t figure out whether to laugh hysterically at how Dave looked riding his “pogo-stick” motorcycle down the highway, or if I should be concerned. The road had dips and potholes—it’s a Russian roadway, so that hardly needs clarification. When Dave rode over even a slight depression in the road he’d still be bouncing half an hour later, as though a large hand from the sky was dribbling him like a basketball down the court. It was comical but disconcerting at the same time, especially once I pulled up behind him and could see the amount of pressure his rear wheel bearings and axel were absorbing in response to his busted rear shock. As we were coming to realize, having spent the better part of two years riding around the world on bikes, you sometimes just had to make do. And ‘make do’ meant forgoing riding a perfectly functioning bike at times. When I saw the pressure on the rear of Dave’s bike, it seemed his ultimate decision not to ride the BAM was a good call, although he was still angry about missing out.
On Aug. 18, Dave and I left a town called Alden, along with Brian and the Latvians, where we’d spent the previous night after leaving Tynda. Everyone was pretty spread out right at the start, but after a few hours of riding, we all convened at a gas station and made a plan to meet up in Yakutsk that night.
The road was not of the best quality but I was getting more comfortable keeping a much quicker pace on the loose gravel, now that my forks were fixed and my bike felt right again. I’d only begun riding two summer seasons before our trip started and as recently as a year ago, I would ride gravel roads at a maximum of 60 kmph (35 mph), desperately hating the way loose rocks would roll around under my tires like marbles. Now, I could average 80-90 kmph (50-55 mph) and even over 100 (60) if the roadway was hard packed with no surprises.
This was nothing compared to what the off-road racer Latvians were comfortable with while riding these types of roads, which was speeds in access of 110 kmph (65 mph), even up to 130 (80) at times. I didn’t aspire to ride that fast. I wasn’t afraid of pushing myself to become a better rider but never has the difference between men’s and women’s survival instinct been so clear to me than on this trip, where I was often the only female.
Dave was happy riding 100 kmph (60 mph) or more. Trying to ride close enough together in case someone had an issue, was a constant challenge for us, especially now that we were often riding with people much faster than I. The dynamic between us was tricky as a couple travelling together—we had a responsibility to each other. It was hard for Dave when he had the opportunity to ride with people who could challenge him but had to keep waiting for me to catch up. On the other hand, I had an almost daily feeling of being pressured to keep up. Dave wasn’t disguising his annoyance and I was hurt by his nuances that I was keeping him from having more fun with better riders.
On this day travelling to Yakutsk, I was riding pretty confident. Some days just flow well and it seems like nothing could go wrong. My newly-repaired bike felt great and I was riding a little faster than normal. Still, there was a subtle tension in the air for the need to be efficient. We had over 600 km (370 mi) to ride and a ferry crossing at the end. The roads had long since been unpaved and we had no idea what to expect for quality.
We had been leap-frogging Brian and the Latvian’s all morning and now they were ahead by a few miles. Dave and I were travelling close together at about 90 kmph and were just about to crest a hill. The road was hard-packed with a few patches of loose gravel. I couldn’t see well because of the dust from Dave’s bike so I moved over wide to the left to get a better sight-line. Suddenly, my bike started to lose control. This wasn’t as terrifying for me as it has been in the past. I’d hit lots of lose gravel piles on roads and knew to add steady throttle in order to straighten out the bike. I did so, calmly, knowing the bike would correct itself soon.
But for some reason it didn’t work this time. My bike wouldn’t gain speed and started to fling from side to side like a fish tail. I started drifting sideways and very carefully tried to correct the steering to the other side but nothing was working. I had no idea what to do next or what was happening. Did I have a flat? Why couldn’t I get the rubber to grip the road? Then I had a thought—was it because of my rear tire? The Shinko pattern has no recess down the middle, even though it’s categorized as a 50/50 tire. On the pavement, it’s as good as a 50/50 tire can be but I’d ridden it on a muddy road a few days ago with Brian, coming out of a campground, and was sliding all over the place. I think it was playing a big part in why I couldn’t get traction now.
The swerving carried on for what seemed like ages, with the bike jerking violently from side to side about a dozen times. I was now in the oncoming lane, heading for a steep embankment to my left and down about 10 ft to the forest. If I forced the bike down on the road, it was going to hurt. But if I didn’t correct the bike soon, I was going off the edge.
The decision was made for me when I was suddenly flung from the bike, landing harshly on the right side of my body with a resounding crack through my helmet. I was immediately flipped over onto my stomach and slid for what seemed like a long time. Knowing I was about to slide off the embankment behind me, I dug my gloved fingers into the hard-packed road and raked myself to a stop. My upper thighs were burning from the friction. Luckily my riding jacket had been zipped into my riding pants or it would have been clear up over my ribs.
I’d heard somewhere that if you ever come off your bike and are sliding, not to try and stand until you’re sure you’ve come to a complete stop. I lay there briefly, spread-eagled on my stomach and listening to my heart beating then slowly stood. Nothing hurt! I was elated and a let out a good yell, like someone who just summited a mountain. I hadn’t slid off the edge, my riding suit was only covered in dirt and had no rips, except a small one on the thigh, and my gloves were also rip-free, even after clawing myself to a stop.
Then my stomach flipped. Where was my bike?
I looked up the road and let out another happy yell. It was laying on its side about 50 ft ahead and only a few feet from going off the road. Even my panniers were still on board! I could practically see it taking heaving breathes after the ordeal. It was in the shoulder of the oncoming lane but there was enough road ahead for people to see me over the crest of the hill. Luckily the road was very wide and had hardly any traffic.
I walked toward my poor bike. Dave, having crested the hill ahead of me, hadn’t seen me go down. Even if he was right in front of me, we were standing on the pegs riding this road so mirrors were of no use. As I got closer, I started to see bits of plastic and glass. Uh oh. I ran the rest of the way and approached my steed from the side. Nothing looked out of the ordinary until I came around to the front. Amazingly, the windscreen was in one piece, as was the headlight, thanks to the mesh guard protector, but my entire instrument panel (odometer, fuel gauge, etc.) was smashed and falling off due to the cracked head mount. There was a pile of gravel and dirt plowed up into the underside of the bike and also some fluid spilled around the bike. It wasn’t the radiator, thanks to another protector add-on, and I couldn’t smell gas.
While looking over my bike, a car came up from the direction I had originally been travelling. They stopped quickly and came running over but I walked toward them, putting up my hands to show I was fine. They wanted to help me lift my bike but I didn’t want anyone who didn’t know about bikes lifting it. I wasn’t sure what the damage was, and, having spent a few months now knowing how hard it is to get parts in Russia, I didn’t want to damage anything further. I convinced them to leave it where it was and to drive ahead and tell Dave to come back if they saw him. This was all explained on my Russian-to-English phone app.
While waiting for Dave to return, I sussed the rest of the damage. The adrenaline rubbed off and I started to feel pretty worried. With the instrument panel broken, there was a few thousand dollars’ worth of repairs needed along with the other damages, like whatever the fluid leak was. The plastic on the top, left side by the BMW logo had a big crack through it with some foot-long scratches and my left indicator light was smashed. My helmet also had a crack in it on the right side, which was disconcerting and the crash bars were bent on both sides of the bike.
When I was flung from the bike, it first smoked sideways into the ground on the right side, breaking the brake fluid reservoir, which is questionably positioned on top of the handlebars on BMW bikes, (this was the cause of the fluid leak).
The impact of that first hit on the right crash bar was enough to project it back up and over to the left, where, again the crash bars took the hit, significantly bending them. This is where I have to say the bars definitely saved my bike from sustaining worse damage.
I was truly glad I’d been flung clear from the bike. The panniers could have run over my legs, or, if I’d held on when the bike first touched down on the right, I would have had a high-side crash on the left. It wasn’t lost on me how much worse it could have been. I wasn’t hurt and didn’t find my bike off a cliff wrapped around a tree.
I collected the parts of my bike off the road in case they were of any use in the repairs and while I was doing this, Dave came back over the crest. I made a point of showing him I was OK so he could get his bike turned around and park it before coming over to me. He was visibly spooked seeing my bike crashed on the side of the road and kept asking if I was OK. We picked up the bike and pushed it over to the other side of the road onto the shoulder. Dave got out his tool kit and removed my crushed panel and windscreen. We lashed it onto my luggage and I put any other bits and pieces inside my pannier while Dave got the bike fixed up as well as possible. Amazingly, it started when he turned the key. He asked again if I was sure I was OK, looking at the bent crash bars.
Brian had now returned and was helping us. He and Dave had been waiting about 5 km (3 mi) down the road at a gas station and when I didn’t show up after the amount of time it would normally take me to pee or grab a photo, Dave got worried and rode back, telling Brian if he didn’t return soon, to come looking for us.
After a 15-minute repair job, my bike was as rideable as it was going to be for the rest of the trip. There was nothing left to do but hop back on and ride. Looks like I’d have to get used to riding a malfunctioning bike again, damnit. Just as I was getting used to riding a fully-functioning bike!
Dave warned me I’d have no front breaks (again), due to the brake reservoir being smashed, and I was still forced to start my bike in neutral all the time, because of my clutch problem from a few weeks ago. Now I had no way to know what gear I was in without my instrument panel up front.
I’m not going to make myself sound bad-ass and say getting back on my bike didn’t mess with my head. I was pretty shaky for the rest of the day and couldn’t bring myself to ride more than 60-70 kmph for the next 200 km (120 mi) into Yakustk, which we reached at about 9:00 p.m., me with a missing dash and Dave still bouncing like a ball.
Next post: a night out destressing with the Night Wolves and a little vodka almost never killed anyone.
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