It’s a small world. The further we get, this feeling gets more present. Our relation to distances has changed a bit. “It’s only 5.000 kilometers more to Magadan“ is something we would not have said before the trip. This “small world” feeling is also fuelled by travellers we meet along the way. Thomas and David are a good example. We first met them in Kyrgyzstan where we saw their bikes parked in front of a hotel. Now, weeks later, they turned up by the side of the road here in Siberia.
It was great to catch up again with the boys. Unfortunately we couldn’t ride with them for a while because they were heading in the opposite direction. They were going to Irkutsk, we carried on to Ulan-Ude.
We only stayed the night in Ulan-Ude and continued to go eastwards. “If in doubt, always take the back road” is a rule we’ve travelled well by so we decided to take the less frequented northern route towards Chita.
We passed through no city the whole day. Only a few villages lay on our way. They were all made up of a few of the typical Siberian wooden houses. They all have blue windows and the fences are usually turquoise.
Shamanism is a big thing in the Siberia countryside. Along the road were some places of worship that seem to be connected to the local mixture of Buddhism and spirits, but we cannot say for sure. There were no signs to be translated and there was no-one around we could have asked.
The road was beautiful to ride. There was hardly any traffic and the landscape was far from boring.
Trees to both sides and a dusty lane in the middle - of the 584 kilometers we rode that day, more than 200 were on gravel.
We’re slower on gravel than on asphalt, so we did not reach our destination before sunset.
We reached Chita at 10 pm. When we filled up our tanks at a gas station we were approached by a fellow biker. He told us a “bike point” is nearby and we could sleep there instead of searching for a hostel. Within minutes a friend of his came by with his motorcycle. He escorted us to the “Ost Rog”, Chita's version of a Quentin Tarantino movie (without booze and girls).
We stayed at the bike point for a day and finally fixed the tube that got punctured in Mongolia.
Also staying at the Ost Rog was Pawel, a biker from Irkutsk. He also had a tire to fix. Afterwards we had a closer look at Chita’s city center, that Pawel did not know either
Chita has more than 320.000 inhabitants and is a railway city. In Pawel’s words: “There nothing to see here.” A bit harsh. But compared to Irkutsk, where Pawel is one of three Black Bears (and the first we saw in Siberia!), Tchita really doesn’t stand a chance.
Pawel was great company, but the next day we got on our bikes again.
This time there was no back road to take. The M58 was our only option. The road is in perfect condition so we made 948 kilometers that day, by far the longest ride on our trip. The road is lined with trees as far as you can look. Every once in a while you can spot the railroad track nearby.
We stayed the night in Skovorodino. The next morning, we reached Never after a short curvy ride.
Never is a little village that draws its significance completely from its location. It’s at the junction of the M56 and M58. The M58 leads eastwards to Vladivostok, while the M56 goes north to Yakutsk. Since our plans changed and our new destination is Magadan, we took the M56.
The M56 is in good shape. It is partly made of brandnew asphalt, partly made of gravel. Easy to ride. Still, strange situations might occur.
There are a lot of construction sites on the way. It looks as if the whole road will be asphalted in a few years time.
We stayed a night in Neryungri. With more than 60.000 inhabitants it is the second biggest city in the region of Yakutia. It was founded in 1975 due to the development of a nearby coal basin. A very young city indeed, it is completely made of Plattenbauten. It’s hard to imagine what the Siberian winter looks like in this town.
Neryungri is about 800 km south of Yakutsk. Our only overnight stay between the two cities was in Aldan. Billions of trees were along the way. There’s forest everywhere you look. Torn tires are also a familiar sight. Truckers seem to drive until a tire bursts and then just leave it where they changed it. One truck stop made a big effort in showcasing what an exotic place Siberia is.
People are particularly friendly in this region. Especially when they hear, where we come from – or where we’re going to. With only two directions to go, it was a bit of a surprise for us that even in this region the word “Magadan” evokes astonishment. We never thought we’d impress Siberian truckers one day. One guy walked into a truck stop and came back with two energy drinks and two packs of cigarettes to support us on our journey.
Later that day we met Fjodor and his mate on their way to a bike festival in Vladivostok. They are from Magadan and Jagodnoje and had just been on the Road of Bones. They said the road is horrible. But that they did it with an old Africa Twin and a Ténéré gives us hope. Let’s see how our KTM adventure bikes will do.
Fjodor gaves us some valuable contact information of bike points along the way and then we parted. By the side of the road were many Gazprom construction sites. The Power of Siberia pipeline is currently under construction.
A lot of trucks are on the road transporting stuff to the construction sites. For us that primarily means: dust. The trucks throw so much dirt into the air that sometime you cannot see for seconds. It makes it impossible to spot potholes or sandy patches here. But the most dangerous part of riding this road is when you’re trying to overtake a truck. The dust trails virtually hide oncoming traffic. The pictures do not capture how dusty this really road is.
After seven days and over 3.000 kilometers we had completed the chapter Irkutsk to Yakutsk. Nearly. Yakutsk is only reachable by ferry. It lies on the eastern side of the Lena river, the M56 is on the western side. We got to the dock when the ferry was about to leave and had just enough space to squeeze in our two bikes.
It took the ferry one hour to cross the Lena and then we were there. Less trees, less dust; Yakutsk is asphalt only. It’s called the world’s coldest city. But that goes for winter only. Yakutsk welcomed us with 20 degrees Celsius. Above zero. We'll stay here for a day or two to get a feel of this very special city before we take on the last chapter on our way to Magadan: The Road of Bones.