Aug. 26, 2017 was a momentous day.
Not only was it the day Dave and I completed riding 16,660 km (10,352 mi) across the world’s largest country on the world’s longest highway over a period of 55 days through seven time zones, but we also reached our final point of the entire trip after riding 93,741 km (58,248 mi) through 40 countries around the world!
Think of how you would want a journey like this to end.
Maybe the last few miles rolling under your wheels would stir up tears of joy, or your energy would be so amped up, you’d cheer at the top of your lungs. Maybe you’d want it to happen slowly so you could take it all in, or fast so you could head to the nearest pub for a well-deserved adult beverage or six.
Either way, it’s probably something you’d like to finish well. Not in some sort of blurry chaos, for example.
Well, however Dave and I hoped the trip would finish up in the last few miles, it was decided for us.
Two days before we arrived in Magadan, the rear tire on Dave’s bike sprung a leak. He fixed it with a patch and carried on to where we were staying that night. As the tire was still at the same PSI in the morning before setting off, the issue had been sorted and Dave felt sure he could easily get to Magadan on that patch.
We set off the morning of the day we would finish the trip with conflicted feelings. In one sense, we wanted it to be over; we were ready to go home and cling to surroundings that didn’t change every day. On the other hand, we didn’t want it to be over; it had gone too fast in some ways.
By the afternoon of the final day of our trip, we were over 200 km (185 mi) from Magadan, when Dave ran into more serious problems with the tire. I had been out ahead after he had stopped to do up the vents on his jacket, and was pulled over waiting as he hadn’t caught up yet. While stopped on the side of the road after a paved bridge, an SUV pulled up. I thought maybe they were going to tell me something about Dave but the 40-something couple inside gave me big smiles and four thumbs up. The man got out and came over to shake my hand, while the woman poured me a cup of tea from a thermos and handed me a big bag of unopened peanut M&M’s.
“Wow, thank you!” I laughed, hoping Dave wouldn’t arrive before I could eat them all and pretend it never happened.
While we all stood together trying to communicate, another car pulled up. Figuring we were about to have a road-side party, I removed my helmet. But this guy said something about my friend being stopped 40 kms back. Forty! I wondered if the guy was taking a bad guess at how far back Dave was to ensure I’d go far enough. I thanked the man, who drove off, and the couple, who also left, and strapped on my helmet. Just as I was checking my mirrors for a U-turn, Dave pulled in behind me. I don’t know how the math worked on that and the guy’s 40-km estimate, but he was here now, so I got off my bike and went over to him. He didn’t look happy. I showed him the M&M’s against my better judgement. It helped.
He’d been stopping every few kms to add air to the tire as it kept going flat. Now that he’d caught up to me, he wanted to perform some more in-depth road-side surgery.
He pulled the tire off and let out the air, popping the bead and removing the rubber. Inside he pulled out the tube, which looked sketchy. The hole had grown into a gash over an inch long. The tubing was poor quality and just kept splitting.
I mentioned he was lucky he hadn’t had a blow-out. While Dave removed the old patch and rubbed the surface smooth to apply another one, I flagged down vehicles asking if they had any gash-patches. Of course, now, when we needed a haul truck for what they would surely have in their patch kits, there wasn’t one in sight.
After about 30 mins, we had a range of patch sizes from passing vehicles Dave could use. It couldn’t be too small, obviously, but a patch that was too large could also be a problem if it didn’t fit well over the tube once it was inflated again. Dave chose one, glued it on and put everything together. As we got ready to continue riding, I suggested to Dave he ride ahead and stay under 90 kmph. We didn’t need to get to Magadan quickly, we just needed to get there.
When we were about 100 km (60 mi) from Magadan, Dave pulled off for a leak and told me to keep riding. The patch seemed to be holding fine. I slowed my speed to let him catch up quicker. I don’t like not being able to see someone I’m travelling with in my mirrors or ahead of me. On gravel, we had to have distances between us for dust-control, but the road was now paved, although terribly. It had huge frost heaves with obscured potholes. Sometimes you’d hit a heave just right and it gave you a fun little bounce. Other times you’d come crashing back down onto your seat, helmet askew.
We didn’t have far to go; at least not kilometer-wise.
About 5 mins after passing Dave, I got stopped at a construction line-up for almost 10 mins. Dave didn’t appear.
A vision flashed through my head of him sliding across the pavement. I pushed the thought away. I worry too much. Wondering if he was at the end of the line, I pulled over and let the cars pass me. No Dave.
I turned around and headed back where I’d come. As the time increased, so did my speed. I’d ridden for over 5 mins when I saw a flat-bed truck ahead, pulled over with his flashers on. The driver looked to be checking his tires so I almost blew right past until I saw Dave standing up in the back and his bike on board. I slid to a stop, my back end fishtailing at the suddenness, then turned back and came up behind the truck.
Dave looked like he was either about to shout fuck as loud as he could or just break into tears. I jumped off my bike, and walked over quickly.
“Are you OK?” I yelled through my helmet. He nodded.
The tube had blown inside the tire while Dave was riding about 110 kmph (70 mph). The bead had popped on both sides but luckily the tire itself stayed on. Dave had been able to coast it to a stop without going down or wrecking the rim. He said it was the most scared he’s ever been on his bike.
I couldn’t believe he hadn’t crashed with that blow-out and was very relieved this wasn’t the case, but I also wanted to ask, why were you going so fast? The patch was likely stressed beyond its job. Now wasn’t the time, though and I busied myself helping them secure the bike, which had been lifted very conveniently by a small crane attached to the truck.
With the bike lashed down, Dave got into the passenger seat and I followed them into the city, which was 85 bouncy kilometres ahead. It took us over two hours to get there as the truck had to go slow because of the terrible pavement and concern for Dave’s bike tied up in the back.
Coasting along at around 40 kmph (25 mph), I wondered what arriving in Magadan in a truck would mean for Dave. There was already no small amount of tension due to some trip issues during the past few weeks, and it seemed this would top it off.
I hoped he could see the good fortune he’d had not to crash and then how lucky it was to be able to flag down a truck with a crane just when we needed it most. He’d been riding fast, but not faster than his guardian angles could fly.
I wondered if Dave would resent swapping out the rear tires on our bikes several days ago. If I’d still had that tire and this happened, I’m not sure I could have controlled the bike to an upright stop as he did. Then again, I might not have been riding that fast on a patch anyway. (The difference between men’s and women’s survival instincts was often apparent on this trip.)
We rolled the last few miles down the highway into Magadan at dusk. It was anti-climactic. It didn’t feel right for me to be elated at this time. Dave was very somber when we stopped at a scrapyard, which was where we were going to keep the bikes. It, apparently, was the safest place in town due to an attack dog that would bite off your leg if it could get loose from its chain. The trucker wouldn’t take any money when Dave offered (shown at the end of the video below).
(Sorry for the blurry vid.)
Oskars, whom Dave had been talking to on his cell on the way in, had lined up a member of the Night Wolves chapter in Magadan, called the Polar Owls, to come and take us to where we were staying, which the Latvians also kindly set up for us. We loaded our luggage into the back of his car and left the yard.
For some reason, we didn’t end up where Brian and the Latvians were, which seemed odd at first but after thinking about it, I figured they thought we’d want privacy. For weeks now, we’d all been camping out in rooms together. I liked that we were travelling with them to such a significant point of the trip. We’d spent more time travelling with Oskars, Didzis and Sandijis, than any other travellers or riders we’d met along our whole trip. Dave, however, wondered if the guys were getting tired of his issues. First the rear shock on the BAM and now this, not to mention all the translating help they’d been forced to do for us.
We settled into our rented apartment in a cell-block housing department, common in Russia. We ate two boil-in-a-bag meals we’d been carrying since we left North America in February, had showers and went to bed, hoping things would feel better in the morning.
And that was our final day of riding on the trip!
Are you as depressed as we were?
Well, wait until you hear what happened next. A few days later, Dave and I got crabs from a rusty bathtub…
Oh, those kind of crabs!
Things were starting to look up when we went back to the scrapyard to fix Dave’s tire. Oskars had given Dave a spare tube that was too big but would at least get him the few miles to where we would load the bikes into a shipping container destined for Vladivostok by sea. This had all been arranged hastily on our own after we were able to call a guy in Vlad, Yuri, who helps riders like us get out of Magadan with bikes.
While Dave was messing with the tire, an old sailor-type guy came wandering over. He was the watchman for the scrapyard and he and I were having a fun conversation through gestures and phone apps. He was grizzled but sweet as could be and after we were sorted and ready to ride off to the shipping yard, he stopped us and said, come, come, pointing to some tin sheds. Although we wanted to get going, we were curious so walked over with him. To our amazement, there were hundreds of huge crabs in crates getting dunked in a tub then lifted by pitch-fork into a giant cauldron of boiling water.
The old sailor gestured to us that we stay and eat some. We couldn’t pass this up. Dave and I smiled and looked at each other. This was what it was all about!
After a free feast of some of the best crab either of us have ever eaten, Dave and I thanked the men profusely and left, feeling our moods lifted and excited for the evening when we would meet up with Brian and the Latvians for a celebratory night out. Our bikes were sorted. They had been cleaned, packed with everything we owned except a few items we could carry onto our flights, and would leave Magadan in the next day or two by boat in a container to Vladivostok. Once there, Yuri would put them into another shipping container that would leave Vlad for Vancouver a week or two later. It was insanely easy, the best shipping experience we’ve had in five shipments and from a place we thought would be the most difficult. We didn’t have to crate them or anything and they would be travelling with seven other adventure bikes.
We joked the bikes had worked so hard for us we’d decided to give them a six-week cruise across the Pacific.
Later that evening, when we met up with everyone at a very cool restaurant called Alaska Bar, or something, Dave rolled up one of the placemats for a souvenir. It said: Make Alaska Russia again. (Unfortunately, he left it in the Helsinki airport on his way home). The Latvians ordered crab. Dave and I said we had some earlier in the day. When their crabs arrived, they exclaimed about how good it was and offered us some. Dave and I pretended it was amazing and kept it to ourselves that it didn’t taste anywhere near as good and fresh as the crabs we’d had out of a rusty bathtub. From a scrapyard. Where a crusty, old sailor stuffed his burning cigarette between his lips and helped us break the legs and arms of our crustaceans.
There’s a lot more to say about our five days in Magadan and how we felt at the end of the trip. Then about what we did afterward and adjusting to life once home again. But this is the end of our blog posts, for now.
For those continual stories, I truly hope you’ll be encouraged to wait for a book I’ll be writing about our trip. This will not be our blog stories re-printed and pasted together into one binding. It will tell the story of the journey, of course, but through a delayed perspective that can only come once we have had considerable time to digest everything we saw, felt and did. It will speak more of what life is like on the road with someone you barely knew at the start; the challenges of personality types, finding the determination to push past barriers, the adjustment back into daily life and whatever else happens after all that.
We took two years away from our lives and lived a lifetime of memories. We saw amazing scenes and had wonderful experiences. We also took that time to challenge ourselves more than either of us could ever have known or have expected (and we’ve done stuff!).
It wasn’t always rainbows and unicorns out there but if I’m not mistaken, I believe you, as the readers of our adventure, will appreciate these reflections once we can take a step back and compile the good and the bad into a heartfelt and entertaining trip memoir.
If you are interested in reserving a book ahead of time for a small deposit, please contact me for more information.
Thank you to everyone who read this blog from Day 1 and to those of you who jumped on somewhere in between Day 1 and Day 708. We will never forget this adventure and how lucky we were to make it our reality and bring you a piece of it to experience as well.
I hope somewhere along the line we were able to inspire you to challenge yourself, also.
And if we didn’t, please don’t ask us to go out there and do it all again 🙂