When Dave and I pulled into Yakutsk late the night of Aug. 18, as the decrepit souls we were after my crash and Dave’s broken rear shock, we found Brian, who’d raced off ahead after helping us with my bike, and the Latvians already a few beers deep into their evening and surrounded by a couple of tough looking members from Russian’s largest motorcycle club, the Night Wolves.
Despite their leather jackets, cut with the clubs’ patch and faded in such a way to epitomize a bad-ass from a motorcycle gang, the guys were disarming with their friendly smiles and handshakes. They were there to kindly help us find a room for the next five days, while we waited for Dave’s parts to arrive and fixed my bike.
It wasn’t as easy as you might think to just rock up to a city in eastern Russia and find accommodation. In fact, it was almost impossible. Not very many people come to these places as tourists, and affordable hotels—utilitarian and randomly placed—are mainly reserved for truckers and other people travelling through for work.
The Latvian’s and Brian were going to stay at the clubhouse, but Dave and I wanted something a little less… debaucherous. Oskars had been talking for several days about ‘festival,’ which was apparently going to mean multi-day binge drinking with the club, so we thought we’d leave them to it.
One of the members, a stout, muscly guy wearing camo-pants and his club jacket, told us to follow him. We rode away on three bikes, travelling a few miles up the main street in Yakutsk to a hotel where we could get a Night Wolves discount. As we rode, I enjoyed a scene when we stopped at a light and another rider rolled up beside the member’s bike. The young, skinny rider was covered in multi-coloured leathers, leaning over his race bike in what I’ve always thought must be the worst position for your neck and shoulders. The NW rider looked cool and relaxed with his grip hanging loosely off the handlebars. He slowly looked over at the racer beside him. There was never more of a clash in one commonality and I was sure the NW member would ignore this kid or give him the finger, but just before the light changed, the two of them fist-bumped.
I wasn’t sure what kind of a hotel we might end up with where the NW’s had a discount, but when we walked into the lobby off a sketchy-looking dirt street, I was pleasantly surprised by the interior—bright, white décor with splashes of red for colour. We signed ourselves in and thanked the member for showing us the place then went to our room and promptly fell asleep.
The next morning, we set about finding a brake reservoir for my bike, which seemed slightly important and not something I could put off repairing until my bike returned home to North America.
Whenever we’ve needed something in Russia, the Russian’s were there. If they didn’t have what we needed, they’d set about finding it with an enthusiasm and resourcefulness that is a lost art in the world we know back home.
Without even setting it up, another member of the NW, Victor—a guy in his 30s who had unexpectedly sweet eyes and a kind face—came by our hotel in the morning. He said he’d heard we needed some parts and was going to do everything he could to help. Dave and I were blown away. We didn’t even have to go find someone to help us, they just showed up!
Outside by my bike, Victor took down some info and asked Dave to remove the bolt that sits between the reservoir cup and the hose that brings the fluid to the brakes. He needed this to reference some parts but it now meant there would be air in my brake line and there would be nothing clamping the brake pads to the rotors. We were committed to finding these brake parts before we left town.
Victor left with a promise to contact us when he found anything. Dave and I then spent hours walking around the spread-out city trying to find a bolt that had fallen out of Dave’s forks. We went to several hardware stores but didn’t find what he needed until the fifth one.
After so much walking, I was content to sit in the cheery hotel lobby and tuck into a blog post but Dave and I had been invited to a party that night at the Night Wolves clubhouse and felt we should go.
I didn’t feel like a party. I didn’t even want to drink. We took a cab there and said to each other we’d only stay an hour or so.
And then vodka happened.
Have you ever experienced homemade Russian vodka? What about homemade Russian vodka at a Night Wolves clubhouse? Uh huh…it is unlike anything out there. Simply standing near a shot glass filled with Russian vodka is bad news. Its vapours release, come and find you then wrap around you like a cobra. Maybe you think it’s a warm, friendly hug. It’s not. It now has its power over you and that, along with the very ‘encouraging’ shot distributor, who will bequeath you with said vodka, means you’re screwed.
I tried, I really tired not to take two (double) shots (in a row) of this fume-filled liquid, which is like 10 shots when you factor in the crazy proof percentage, but minutes after I did, well, I can’t tell you what happened because there was just a bunch of white noise and flashes of light for the rest of the evening. Dave can’t tell you either because he was also under the spell and I’m pretty sure we kept going back for more, like dogs sniffing out a delicious-smelling discarded chicken wing in the trash.
It wasn’t even a large party, but I know we were on the stage at some point, god help us. The Night Wolves might have nearly killed us with their vodka-venom but they were very polite in doing so, as they welcomed Dave and I along with Brain and the Latvians to their city and there was a lot of cheering. For a moment I wondered if we’d just been patched-in but so far, we haven’t received our leathers…
There was also a hauntingly beautiful throat singer. He does all the sound himself, no added instruments. Google “throat singing russia” to read some cool info.
I’ll let some of these photos do the rest of the talking for that evening, which I do remember ended up with me removing the vodka steadily from my system a few times during the evening and after our cab ride home. Dave was in fine shape for the night but the venom would surface for him the next morning, after he finally woke up at around noon. (I’ll have you know I was feeling just a hair over this side of fine in the morning and had already written a blog post by the time he got up).
When I went upstairs to our room the next afternoon to see if Dave had died in the night, I heard the unmistakable sounds of him removing his vodka as well in the bathroom. I called through the door and was asked if I could find him some bread. Walking across the street to a small café we’d eaten at the day before, I bought a freshly made loaf.
When I returned, Victor was on his way to us. Dave had to rally.
Victor had miraculously been able to find a reservoir for my brake fluid, so later that afternoon, Dave rode my bike to Victor’s shop, while Victor and I rode in his truck, and they put it all together. The hose Victor had found was too short so we had to use a connector part, which made it comically long. It looked absolutely stupid, along with my cheap Honda silver screw-on mirrors, (I was hoping we’d find ones with flames on them), my replacement Chinese clutch and brake lever and my license plate held on with bailing wire off the back. It was starting to feel like an episode of Top Gear where they start out with fully-functioning, nice vehicles and by the end of it, they’ve completely trashed them, all while trying to keep things together with duct-tape and bailing wire and finding hilarious replacement parts. My poor bike was only 10 months old and it had thus far suffered so much in its young life. But it was getting the job done!
We thanked Victor for his help and then talked a bit about the NW party the night before. I hadn’t even seen him there.
A few days later, on Aug. 21, Dave’s used rear shock arrived.
Again, out of nowhere, another gruff-looking guy showed up on a bike outside our hotel, telling us to follow him to his shop. Everyone seemed to have access to these ‘shops,’ which are more like storage units that Russians use to work out of and tinker. They are quite convenient.
Anatoli was scarier-looking than the other motorcycle guys we’d been hanging out with, but as soon as we were at his shop, he put me at ease by bestowing me with gifts: first it was a muffin, which he unwrapped and handed to me like a flower, then, while Dave worked away unbeknownst to all the fun stuff I was getting, Anatoli produced an ice cream treat for me from his little fridge in the corner. He spoke no English and we, no Russian, of course, but somehow, we all had a conversation with gestures and laughs. I liked him very much. He showed me photos of his young daughter and then told me in charades how he took her for rides. Later, when Dave was wrapping up, Anatoli gave me the coolest souvenir of my trip—a heavy belt buckle made from very solid steel with a skeleton etched on it.
When we left later on, after Anatoli made us tea, and he hugged us both goodbye.
Now that our bikes were good to go, we were ready to keep heading east to the holy grail—Magadan!
Before leaving, Victor came back to our hotel simply to say goodbye and wish us well. He offered these parting remarks:
“The road to Magadan is scary. The road to here was, mmm, well, okay, but to there…it’s more like, holy shit.”
Next post: our trip will officially finish on Aug. 26, 2017, and there’s plenty of excitement during that last four days.
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