On Aug. 2, 2017, Dave and I left Ulaanbaatar (UB), Mongolia’s capital. My forks were still shot and we had over 1,000 km (600 mi) to go before we could find the replacement parts needed in Irkutsk, Russia.
Our morning started out with this exciting near miss:
As you can see, it’s everyone for themselves in Mongolia. Our righteous first-world ideas that the cops might do something, especially after I showed them the video, was actually kind of dumb thinking. Even a few minutes later, after we cleared out of the intersection, there was another accident. The road signs say don’t enter for those looking to turn left but there’re no signs stopping people from cutting across four lanes of traffic from the other side. Not even a yield sign. In the video you can see the guy didn’t even look to his right, he was just following the car in front. He would have been hurt pretty bad if Dave hadn’t been going slow enough to stop. Luckily, no one was hurt and there was no damage to the bike or SUV.
We eventually rode off, wanting nothing more than to just get out of UB. We were also hoping that by entering back into Russia, 300 km (215 mi) away, we might remove the wee jinx that seemed to be following us around Mongolia, starting with Dave’s problems at the border, my blown forks and clutch problems and now this near T-bone incident.
We were looking forward to riding along Lake Baikal on the way to Irkutsk. Baikal is the world’s deepest, clearest, oldest and largest (by volume) lake, accounting for 23 per cent of earth’s surface fresh water. This sacred body of water is 3,615.39 km3 (5,670 cu mi) and has a maximum depth of 1,642 m (5,387 ft). It is located in southern Siberia and what’s amazing is, although it was super hot while we were there, this region of Siberia can drop to -60°C (-76°F) in the winter and the mammoth lake will actually freeze over.
Dave had a place in mind for where we could sleep near its shores that night. As we rode, I noticed the temperature gauge on my instrument panel read 35°C (95°F), so I was hoping for a swim for sure.
Unfortunately, when we arrived at the cabins Dave had in mind, they were not only run-down and over-priced but also full. They did offer that we could set up a tent across the road, which looked like an even better plan at first as it was on the lakeshore. There was a beautiful sunset happening and I was still overly warm and looking forward to plunging into such an iconic body of water, but as soon as we’d ridden our bikes through an old chain-link gate and begun positioning the bikes in their resting place for the night, a guy sauntered over carrying a super-sized can of pre-mixed bourbon and coke. He slobbered all over us wanting to make fast friends. We didn’t think we’d enjoy a night here, so rode off begrudgingly, the sun now set.
Back on the main highway, it was dark. I thought I’d noticed places where we could ride into the forest and set up a tent but it was getting increasingly hard to see those dirt roads. Dave found one and started riding up but his rear tire was spinning out right off the bat in the ditch. Although he powered through and rode to the top of the roughly cut-in road, I certainly didn’t want my bike with its busted forks to have anything to do with that. We ‘discussed’ back and forth for a bit but finally Dave couldn’t argue with, “It’s my bike,” so he came down and we set off trying to find another road.
It was a precarious mission as we had to ride slowly enough along the highway not to miss any roads off into the trees but fast enough not to get rear-ended by a semi. Somewhere along the line, Dave had turned off on another road to check it out. I stayed parked on the side of the road with my flashers going, hoping I was over enough on the shoulder not to get run over. This created an impatience that only your impending doom can instill.
I missed something Dave said or didn’t say on our headsets and thought I was supposed to turn around and head back to a nearby town. Meanwhile, Dave went off exploring another road he’d seen. When I didn’t see his lights in my mirrors, I again pulled over hoping I was far enough off the road not to get smoked by passing cars. When it was safe to pull a U-turn I went back looking for Dave. By some twist of fate, I saw him walking down a dirt track toward the highway in the dark. Only his white helmet was visible. I circled back. He’d found a place for our tent and after parking his bike, he came back to get mine as he thought I might have trouble accessing the site with my forks. We were a little exasperated by each other:
“I thought you meant go back to town!”
“I thought you heard me say I was turning off the road!”
A lot of people advocate travelling without digital stuff, but I don’t see how that’s possible unless you’re a true lone wolf. Our Sena headsets gave us a lot of trouble throughout our trip and some days I cursed them for the relationship troubles they caused. The fact that I almost missed Dave completely and would have kept riding up and down the highway in the dark wondering where the eff he was was beside the point now. All I cared about was pitching the tent and going to sleep.
On Aug. 4, Dave and I arrived in Irkutsk. I’d ridden over 2,000 km (1,200 mi) since blowing my forks over a week ago and was getting tired of having to ride so delicately. I wanted to be able to ride over speed bumps and dips in the road without hearing the terrible metal thunking sounds from my bike’s shot suspension.
On the road, we’d picked up Roland, a German man in his late 50s. We’d met him previously at The Oasis hostel in Ulaanbaatar. He rode up to a roadside café where Dave and I were having lunch before continuing to Irkutsk, and we all decided to ride on together.
Now in Irkutsk, we were on a mission to find the hostel we’d heard about where we could safely park our bikes off the street in the yard next door.
We got settled into rooms then the three of us went out for dinner, starving. We found a nice Mongolian restaurant and ordered. None of us could understand the language, of course, so we ended up pointing to photos in the menu. I’d thought I ordered a stir-fried beef number but it turned out to be liver sautéed in onions. I hate liver but my stomach dictated and I ended up eating as much as I could. At least it was a good source of iron.
The next day, Dave and I walked around Irkutsk’s market while Roland went off to find a dentist. He’d popped a cap off his front tooth eating hard bread that morning. I was looking for a seamstress who could fix the zipper on my riding jacket, that I’d broken over a week ago.
We couldn’t find a sewing place so instead walked into a hair salon where a couple of older ladies sat gossiping. I figured these lovely Russians would know someone who sewed. I showed them my phone, which had my question about a seamstress pre-loaded and translated into Russian. One of the ladies took Dave and I outside and walked us seven blocks down, then into a back alley, then in through a back door of a building, down a flight of stairs, into a basement and through another door that opened into a room piled high with fabric and sewing machines. I said thank you in Russian to the lady and she left, smiling and waving. It never failed in Russia that we found a friendly stranger with all the time in the world to help us get what we needed. This would prove itself over and over again for the following month of our travels. I loved Russia.
My jacket would be ready in a few days, the seamstress told us, so Dave and I walked back to our hostel. We were eager to get in touch with a man named Pavel, who had the parts we pre-ordered for our bikes back in Barnaul several weeks ago, before entering Mongolia. I was very excited to get my seals. Pavel met us at our hostel and asked Dave to make sure everything was there. Dave checked inside: brake pads, chain and fork oil, seals, wipers and a few other odds and ends. He agreed with Pavel the order was good to go. Pavel left and Dave and I went back to our room. I had a shower and when I came out, Dave looked pissed.
“What?” I asked.
“The fork seals are the wrong size,” he growled.
“Oh for shit’s sake, you’re kidding.”
The only reason we’d pre-ordered this stuff to be delivered so far was because everyone we talked to said we wouldn’t find any parts or maintenance items for our bikes in eastern Russia.
Dave called Pavel to see if he could help us locate seals anywhere in Irkutsk. We also e-mailed Denis, the guy who’d been helping us immensely since Moscow, shipping parts into the wilds of Siberia for us. The farther east we got, the more valuable Denis became. He was always true to his word and never overcharged us.
Today, however, we had to explain there’d been a mistake. Dave thought he’d asked for 43 mm fork seals but Denis had looked up the product number for F800s and sent 45 mm, not realizing BMW made different sized forks on the newer bikes. Either way, neither Denis nor Dave had discussed the year of my bike so the only thing to do was try and get a new set sent. Denis located some 43 mm seals in Moscow and e-mailed to tell us he’d send them express delivery. There was a difference of cost but he agreed to absorb most of it.
The problem was it would still take over five days for the seals to be delivered to Irkutsk and Dave was set to leave for the BAM road with the Latvians in two. He was starting to get anxious he might miss his much-anticipated guy’s trip. If he couldn’t fix my bike before he left, I’d be riding alone for over 2,000 km (1,200 mi) on the Trans-Siberian Highway with a malfunctioning bike until we’d meet again a week later in Tynda.
We discussed what to do the next day. I figured I’d already ridden over 2,000 km on the blown forks, so what was another 2,000? It was all pavement (or so we were told) to Tynda so I would just take it easy. There was another recent development making this decision easier: Roland was riding east to Vladivostok and Brian, a 52-year-old Australian we’d also met in Ulaanbaatar, had shown up in Irkutsk with his friend Cathrin. She was leaving on a train to head back west but Brian wanted to ride to Tynda then continue on to Magadan. He was keen to join us riding east.
Although I was looking forward to some solo-time, it would be safer to have a couple of handy guys with me.
It was decided we’d ask Denis if he could have the correct seals delivered to Tynda instead. We wouldn’t be there for at least a week, so they had time to arrive. Dave was now free to leave for the BAM road with the Latvians, due to arrive in Irkutsk that day, and I’d carry on east with Brian and Roland after Dave left.
It was all coming together and Dave was extremely excited to ride a road he’d been dreaming about for over two years.
Next post… Roland changes his plan but Brian and I venture east.
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