GlobeRiders World Tour 2006 Live!Journal Chapters Menu
Week Six Chapter: 13 Jun ~ 19 Jun 2006 - Russia
“Travel makes a wise man better, and a fool worse.”
- Thomas Fuller (British Clergyman and Writer, 1608-1661)
“Down to Gehenna, or up to the Throne, He travels the fastest who travels alone.”
- Rudyard Kipling (English short-story writer, poet, and novelist, 1865-1936)
“I see my path, but I don't know where it leads. Not knowing where I'm going is what inspires me to travel it.”
- Rosalia de Castro (1837-1885)
Viewed from a simulated altitude of 2,400 kilometers, a view of the EurAsian continent. The Lat/Lon coordinates in the center of the image mark the location of World Tour riders at the time this chapter was authored, the Black Sea resort of Yalta, Ukraine.
(Image courtesy of Google Earth
Starting location for this week: Irbit., Russia (home of Ural Motorcycles)
Ending location for this week: Volgograd (formerly Stalingrad) Russia, (location of Russia's most decisive battle in WWII)
Planned mileage for this week: 1,787 kilometers (1,117 miles)
Zdravstvuite ("hello" in Russian)
Zdravstvui ("hello" in Russian - informal)
Zdorovo ("hello" in Russian - informal)
Privet ("hello" in Russian - informal, amongst friends)
This Week Six Chapter of the Live!Journal is late - my apologies. The World Tour has just entered Ukraine, and I'm reaching back to cover our last week in Russia. With so much going on, free time has been scarce - I'm playing catch-up. Every 2nd or 3rd day, we've crossed yet another time zone. The vastness of Russia continues to astound. Geographically, we're out of Siberia, past the Ural Mountains. Mentally, we've been on the road so long that when asked, many riders don't know what day of the week it is. China seems like another time, another ride. And, for a few us, the last week has been one of profound emotional impact, release, and closure.
This Chapter's stories will flit around in time and location. We'll begin with one rider's journey on the Trans-Siberian Railroad. We'll highlight a visit to Ural Motorcycles, builder of the increasingly popular Ural "retro" line-up of sidecars. We'll re-visit the tragedy of a horrific accident on the World Tour 2004, and recount the solidarity of this year's group in honoring a fallen rider.
We're well past the half-way mark, six weeks behind us, less than four to go. Join in as we continue our long journey in the midst of World Cup fever....
Mike, Your Webmeister
* * * * * * * * * *
Unless otherwise noted, all photographic images on this page were taken by Helge Pedersen.
The many forms of "Hello" in over 800 languages and other useful words and phrases are courtesy of Jennifer's Language Page.
To find out what time it is there (or anywhere!), visit The World Clock.
For more information about Russia, please visit the resources listed below:
- The World Factbook, maintained by the Central Intelligence Agency of the United States:
- The Consular Information Sheets, provided by the Department of State of the United States:
- The web-based, free-content encyclopedia entries at Wikipedia, maintained by "GlobeWriters" everywhere":
Day 35 - 12 Jun 2006 - Irbit, Russia
Though not what I signed on for, after coming out on the short end of an encounter with some loose, deep gravel, my bike and I took a little trip on the Trans-Siberian Railroad from Irkutsk to Yekaterinburg.
My initial concern, getting the bike (all 600 lbs.) loaded into the freight car, worked out well. It was harder getting the bike to the freight car than loading it. Had to ride it across a dozen rail yard track crossings. Each crossing had about 8 rails, very uneven, some rails sticking up 4” out of the loose gravel, onto the concourse crowded with people and baggage. I then had to weave my way down to where the freight car was parked. The floor of the freight car is almost 6’ above the concourse! No fork lifts or any lifting devices in sight. The train station porters jury-rigged a couple of ramps, each about 6’ long, connected in the middle by a dolly cart about 3’ wide and 2’ above the concourse, at about a 45-degree angle. Then about 6 of them just pushed it up into the car. No-tie down rings, eyebolts, or any protrusion to strap to in the car, so we just laid the bike on its side.
The train ride turned out to be an enjoyable experience. Felt claustrophobic at first, no room for my feet. Then I got organized and stowed my stuff under the bunks and over the center aisle so I could ride in a sitting position.
I ended up buying a first-class ticket. A first class compartment, 8’ wide x 7’ long, is for two people, with two lower bunks and about a 2’ space between the bunks. There are nine compartments per first-class train car. In each car, two heads (toilets), and three “provodnitsa”, who are the female porters, cleaning ladies (watch dogs) that rotate duty for the car. They spend most of their time scowling and saying “no”, “no”, “no”. They don’t give you a key to the compartment so you have to track one of them down to let you back in whenever you leave your compartment. A couple of times at first, I didn’t close and lock my door when I left the compartment and the “provo” shook her finger in my face and babbled something, showing me how to lock the door. I got the message. I lucked out in that I had the compartment to myself the whole trip. The first day, to Novosibirsk every compartment was occupied. The rest of the way, I was the only person in the car.
The second-class car has the same size compartments with 4 people in upper and lower berths. Pretty close company, men thrown in with women. The third-class car is not unlike a cattle car. Wooden benches and berths, people sitting around in their underwear, drinking beer and vodka, food scattered all over the place, kids laughing & screaming. A real circus.
I would read a while, sleep a while, look out the window, take pictures, eat, go find someone to talk to, then repeat the routine. The time went by pretty fast.
One thing that is hard to get in sync with is when the head is open. No holding tanks in Russia, just like the old days, the toilet flushes onto the tracks. The train makes an stop probably about every 2 hours, sometimes for just a couple of minutes, some stops are 30 minutes. The toilets are locked for all stops. Plus the train slows down for every little town. Every town has a train station of some sort. We probably passed a couple hundred. As a courtesy to the citizens, the “provos” come through and lock the toilets for every town we slow down for. Sometimes they re-open in a timely way, sometimes they don’t. Sometimes you have to track them down to open the toilet and then open your room. They really give you a dirty look for that one. What it adds up to is that the toilets were locked as much as they were open.
A few hours into the trip, a guy stopped outside my room and said “how’s it going?” I guess I look like an American. First English I had heard up to that point. He was from Maine, his son had been in New Zealand working as a civil engineer, he had joined his son there, they flew to Beijing, spent a couple of weeks there, then boarded the train to Moscow. They were 4 or 5 cars away, the two of them in a second-class compartment. They had a “Lonely Planet” guidebook for the Trans-Siberian Railroad that had everything you need to know about the railroad. The guide had the whole train schedule laid out, the leg times, the stop times, time zones, etc. Russian trains run on time and are very predictable.
Met a gutsy young girl from Virginia, 21, traveling alone, going to St. Petersburg via Moscow from Beijing. She had been traveling around the world with her mother, but mother got fed up in Beijing and flew home. Talked a few times with a Polish guy who had been in Australia for 5 years. There were also two guys from Australia on the train. That was it for English-speaking people.
I was confused by the time on the clocks scattered throughout the train, but as I learned, the train operates on Moscow time regardless of where along the route from Moscow to Vladivostok the train is. All ticket and train schedule arrival and departure times are local times. To get local time, as you change time zones, you first must calculate the difference between the local time zone and Moscow’s time zone, and then adjust in accordance with the actual Moscow time. Makes sense now, was a brain-teaser at first.
I also learned that right outside my window, along the south side of the tracks, there are little white concrete posts numbered 1 thru 9 every hundred meters. The 10th post was a marker in kilometers, e.g. 3,110, which is the kilometers from Moscow. By looking for the marker for each town & stop, in conjunction with the Russian road atlas I bought in Irkutsk, I could now keep track of where we were.
The dining car had about a dozen tables and a small bar. As far as I could tell it was open 24 hours a day, no set meal times, anything on the menu at any time of day. No one really hung out in there, and meals weren’t any kind of social event. The food they served was good. More people ate in their compartments than ate in the dining car. At most of the stops along the way there are old ladies selling fresh bread, fruit, ice cream, vodka, beer, and just about any kind of snack. At one of the stops I bought a fresh loaf of bread, some cheese, salami, instant coffee and chocolate. That served well for a lunch and dinner. There is an outlet of hot water in each car and they had coffee cups in each compartment.
The scenery didn’t change much. We didn’t cross any mountains. It is one big plain the entire way. Lots of birch tree forests, lots of villages & small towns, lots of empty farmland. Surprisingly, very little of it plowed up in preparation for planting. Every now and then, a river. Lots of abandoned, crumbling buildings. It appears to me that people are abandoning the small towns in Siberia in droves. The people left behind don’t have much. The houses are incredibly small, every one of them has an outhouse, you can see well hand pumps outside most houses, every now and then a bucket, rope and hand crank type well. Very few of the homes have electricity strung to the house. One thing - almost every house had was a plowed up garden ready for planting or recently planted.
Every train engine in Siberia, probably all of Russia, is run by overhead electric power. No locomotives as we have in the U.S. Untold thousands of miles of overhead wire. Electric sub-stations every few miles, all manned 24 hours a day. Can’t imagine the difficulty it must be to maintain all that electric equipment in the winter. The whole route has a minimum of 2 sets of tracks. Even the smallest towns have a minimum of 4 sets of tracks and some of them up to 10 sets of tracks. Every small town has a large switching yard with several dozen empty railroad cars and all kinds of railroad maintenance machinery and equipment. The railroad must be the largest industry in Siberia. It is hard to comprehend the complexity and enormity of the support equipment and facilities all along the way. Every piece of moving equipment fed by an overhead electric power source! A lot of traffic, a couple times an hour we passed a train going the opposite direction. Incredible system.
About an hour before getting to Yekaterinburg, the freight car guy came by my compartment for me to fill out & sign a form. He couldn’t tell me what the form was asking for, so after a few minutes of sign language and him shrugging his shoulders, I just filled out the blanks with my home address and phone number. He didn’t seem to mind or know the difference. I was concerned about how to get the bike out of the freight car, so I drew a picture of the freight car and a ramp. He drew an arrow to the ramp and said “no”, “no”, “no”. His only English for the day, was “you, friends”. Took that to mean, no ramp, and probably no porters. There wasn’t either when we got there. I rounded up my new English-speaking friends plus a couple of Russian passengers, and they just muscled the bike out the door, down to the concourse. No one got hurt. Bike didn’t get hurt either. Worked out OK.
In Yekaterinburg, at the foot of the stairs to my train car was a young girl holding a “MIR” sign, I stepped down and she said, ”Daniel?”. So the communications from Irkutsk worked and I had a greeting party. Can’t thank the MIR people enough.
Nice hotel, good food, hot water!!
Siberia is Great!!!
[All images courtesy of Dan Carr]
Day 37 - 14 Jun 2006 - Yekaterinburg, Russia
Today started out very cold, the ever-changing Siberian weather had turned cold and rainy again. At 12:00 noon a few of us boarded a bus for a city tour. For me, the highlight was to be the war museum of WWII and the Cold War eras.
After riding around the city and seeing some of the sights we went to a food court style restaurant for lunch that works in a very different way. When entering you are given a magnetic key card that tracks your buying while in the complex. You can buy pizza at one counter, a Coke at another and ice cream at another, all with the tap of your card. Buy a friend a drink or entrée and that portion is on your account. When you leave another touch of the card and your total is presented and the bill paid.
After lunch we visited the war museum that turned out to be quite simple. There were many pieces of artillery, a few tanks and a lot of guns and equipment. The museum's main attraction was some pieces of Francis Gary Power's U-2 spy plane that was shot down near Yekaterinburg in 1960. Gary was captured, tried and found guilty. He was later released when he was traded for a captured Russian spy.
After the museum we visited the cathedral that is built on the spot where Czar Nicholas Romanov and his family were assassinated. There is a room in the Russian Orthodox "Church of the blood" at the exact place where the basement killings took place nearly 90 years ago.
The highlight of the tour turned out to be the Church and surrounding buildings.
And the weather? It turned out to be a nice afternoon after all.
Tomorrow we cross into Europe. The trip is now about 1/2 over.
Goodbye Asia, Hello Europe.
[All images courtesy of Jim Russell]
Pieces of American U-2 piloted by Gary Powers.
Room built at exact location of basement assassination room.
Russian Orthodox "Church of the Blood".
Day 34 - 11 Jun - Tyumen, Russia
A PERFECT DAY
How did Wim and I get into this predicament?
Only 100 km into the day’s 700 km journey and already we are trailing the chase vehicle, and of greater concern, we are without our panniers the bike’s storage containers. Ordinarily we are quite self sufficient and, short of a catastrophic breakdown, we have the tools, spares, knowledge and imagination to fix almost anything.
It started with a flat tire, and although the process took us over an hour, it was manageable and educational. A lesson learned. Perfect!
We were aware that the day ahead would prove to be a challenge , with no less than 200 km of unpaved, potholed, sand and gravel surface. Factoring in that this road is a major trucking route , mix in huge dust clouds and … well, you get the picture.
Now, in a perverse way , all this is challenging, mentally demanding and uncomfortable. And that is why we do this, it’s what memories are made of it’s perfect!
Upon completing the flat tire we elected to leave our panniers in the van to gain a little time. Mistake one. Second mistake we managed to get lost for about 10 minutes, and so the story starts -- we are trailing the van. Wim wishes to go faster in the hope of catching up, I prefer to slow down to minimize the chance of a breakdown. In the end we do meet up with the van, quickly reinstall our panniers and move on with a sense of security. A perfect feeling.
Road signage in Russia varies from excellent to non-existing, with the majority confusing or impossible to locate. And so, we manage once again to misread another sign, this time creating a 50 km gravel road detour. With a little luck or might I say skill , we kept everything upright. Perfectly!
So in the end, we might have arrived last. Never the less, a not so promising start turned into an exciting day - one that will linger in our memory.
This day truly turned out to be .. well, absolutely marvellous.
[Image courtesy of Matthew Daalderop]
Day 35 - 12 Jun 2006 - Irbit, Russia
“FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE”
I doubt that any of the others will write about this, but it needs to be told. Seeing as I have paid close attention to this subject for many years, I guess I could be classified as some sort of an authority on the subject.
We have seen many different and interesting things during our travels through Siberia, and there is much one could talk about, but for this journal entry there is a particularly interesting “phenomenon” I will try to describe. . . .
It’s the way the Ladies look, dress and walk, regardless if it’s a small country town or a larger city [1 million population]. I first noticed this “phenomenon” while crossing the border from China to Russia [Manzhouli Zabaikalsk]. It was the Russian customs agents, the female custom agents all wearing tight skirts 4-6 inches above the knee with four inch black high heels. No kidding, all of the female customs agents dressed like this, it looked like something out of a James Bond flick. Some of us hoped we would get arrested and interrogated but unfortunately entering Russia was relatively uneventful.
Another time I observed this “phenomena” was while riding through Siberia in the middle of nowhere, along a dirt road through a small farming community. There was this young lady [20’s] pushing a wheel barrow full of something down the dirt road while dressed to the nines; short skirt and high heels. This interesting aspect of Russia has also been witnessed when we have stayed in small towns- one restaurant and one hotel, unpaved streets, old worn-out houses and apartment buildings, the whole place looks run down and broke. Then as you look around [beer garden, Tulun] you start to notice that many of the ladies are well-dressed in either skirts or tight-fitting jeans, but always with high heels. When we hit Krasnoyarsk and Novosibirsk (two larger cities) the “phenomena” I am trying to describe was unbelievable. Not only are the ladies dressed up but they also walk like a fashion model working the runway.
By the never-ending sound of high heels clicking on the sidewalk, it soon became obvious that there were a significantly more females than males in these cities, another interesting Russian situation. Statistically there are significantly more women than men. I was told by one of our tour guides that this is due to the number of men lost in all the various wars plus the fact that the average life expectance for a Russian male is 55!
A story we heard from a restaurant manager in Novosibirsk, a fellow North American, was that a couple years ago there was a photographer from National Geographic doing an assignment on beautiful women of the world [tough job!]. The photographer, upon completion of his assignment, concluded that Novosibirsk had the most beautiful women in the world. Apparently, because of various historical events and the geographic proximity to other countries (Uzbekistan, Slavic, Kazakhstan, Ukraine, Asia, China Germany), Novosibirsk has had the perfect gene pool to create a population of beautiful women. The ladies are beautiful, dolled-up and walk like super models. Trust me; we have all taken photographs to try and digitally capture this “phenomenon.”
As I said at the beginning of this journal, there is much that one could talk about regarding Russia and, this particular “phenomenon” is only one of the many interesting topics. Russia needs to be seen, and to really start to understand this huge country and the great changes that the people are going through requires that it be visited several times. I look forward to coming back soon and hopefully I can speak a little Russian next time.
Day 36 - 13 Jun 2006 - Irbit, Russia
In the early days of World War II, the Russian military, like its European counterparts, was horrified at the rapid advance of the German troops. The Blitzkreig (German word for "lightning war"), as defined by Wikipedia, was "... an operational-level military doctrine which employed mobile forces attacking with speed and surprise to prevent an enemy from organizing a coherent defense. Originally conceived in the years after World War I, it was a new tactic developing from existing techniques of maneuver warfare and combined arms warfare. It was used by the German Wehrmacht in World War II."
A key component of the Germany Army's ground offense were highly mobile BMW R71 motorcycles outfitted with a sidecar, which in turn carried a machine-gunner. So effective were these 2WD rigs (two-wheel drive, the sidecar also had an engagable driveshaft for the its wheel) that the Russian's decided to build their own. Five BMW sidecars were smuggled out of Europe, reverse-engineered, and the Russian-built Ural was born (for a complete history of the Ural sidecar, please click here.)
One of the many highlights of any World Tour is an over-night stay Irbit, home of the Ural sidecar. A massive war production facility, with its own smelter, casting facility, power plant, and production line was created here from an old brewery. At one time, the factory could produce 800 sidecars a day. Today, at less than 10% of its original size, it produces about 3,000 sidecars a year. Only 3% of the production is sold domestically, the remaining units are exported to Europe, Australia, South Africa and the United States, the USA being the major market by far.
Our arrival coincided with Russia's Independence Day, and also the 375th anniversary of Irbit's founding. A two-day fair was in progress, and our entire group was invited to attend. Of course, being in a motorcycle town, we drove our bikes to the parade grounds, and were waved through the parking lot of vehicles and allowed to display our bikes in the middle of the festivities. As always, we created quite a sensation, especially in a town where the motorcycle is an integral part of the area's coat of arms. The mayor invited us to give a speech, which Helge deftly handed off to me. We were interviewed by the local TV station and newspaper. Now local celebrities, we were offered food and drink by everyone we met, and were plied with questions about life in America. In a very real sort of way, it was a Homecoming, the latest-generation BMW motorcycles mixing it up with a design 60 years old, still in continuous production.
Needless to say, my sidecar fit right in.
In addition to the BMW R1200GS/EZS "UberHack" that I'm piloting on the World Tour, I also own an Ural Gear-Up, the military version and top-selling model in their product line-up. The American importer for Ural motorcycles is in Redmond, Washington, just a short 30 minute drive from where I live in Seattle. After our factory tour the following morning, I was asked if I would mind staying an extra day, as the president and owner of Ural Motorcycles was flying in from Redmond, and had asked if I could meet with him and his engineering and production staff to discuss design modifications and improvements for the 2007 and '08 model years. How many vehicle manufacturers take such an interest in their customers?
For more information on Ural Motorcycles, please click here.
[Final two images courtesy of Vince Cummings]
Day 35 - 12 Jun 2006 - Irbit, Russia
Just a Few Reflections on Russia
We’ve been crossing Russia for nearly a month, and yet there is so much more to see and experience. To some it may seem that we’ve been here ‘toolonga’, yet there’s more people to meet and more beautiful landscapes to feast on. A great advantage of traveling by motorcycle is that you just sit there….. letting the landscape roll by with an unlimited 180 degree vista…..never tiring of the variety. What a wonderful way to see such a big country!!
Experiential geography is the ultimate form of absorbing the various landforms, rivers, forests, mountains, villages and peoples. One actually metabolizes the overall experience so that upon recall, you relive the trigger.
With the USSR’s abolishment of religion for some 70 years, the result was a loss of any moral compass. Control by the State was wielded with force. Stalin ordered amusement parks and other structures to be build over cemeteries without the bodies being removed….just cover them over without regard for family or memories or the hereafter. His way of saying the STATE was the ultimate power. Religion is coming back slowly, though more slowly for the non-Orthodox persuasions. The youth seem less inclined toward worship.
There still pervades the “lock and key” mentality…lock it up with BIG locks. Authority is big and swaggering…the one with the authority in any given situation surely lets you know they’re the boss. Once they realize that you accept their role, they’ve accomplished their purpose and cool their jets. While having been stopped 7 or 8 times by the police, any payments any fines have avoided….(so far). Helge has proven to be an excellent mentor in more ways than one!
We’ll be following the great Volga River from here (Samara) on to the Black Sea and the Crimea.
What a privilege!!!
Day 40 - 17 Jun 2006 - Samara, Russia
Greetings from Western Russia
As we get closer to Irbit, we see more Ural motorcycles on the road. We learn that of the 44,000 inhabitants of Irbit, 14,000 of them own Ural motorcycles. From the looks of the ones we saw, this motorcycle is like the family car, farm truck, and construction truck, all rolled into one. The factory tour was most interesting, like a walk back in time. The machinery used to build the Ural motorcycle is from an era long since past, but it seems to work for them and they are able to put together a product that they can sell. The fact that they can mass-produce a marketable product, derive an income from it and support a community is impressive. We felt honored that they would let us into their factory.
While in Irbit we were invited to be a part of the city’s national celebration and put our bikes on display at the local fair grounds. With in moments of our arrival we were surrounded with onlookers. Children wanted to climb on the bikes and many wanted to have their pictures taken with the big motorcycle. One lady even insisted that we take some radishes from her garden and fish cakes that she had made. What a friendly, giving people!
To date, in Russia we had noted the absence of soldiers at the check points leading into and out of cities. Well, that sure has changed. It seems that the boys in blue are now present everywhere and not timid about pulling us over to check us out or charge us with some violation (speeding or crossing over the solid line).
On our ride from Yekaterinburg to Ufa, the countryside is beautiful, green and lush. We pass over the Ural mountains and down to the highway into Ufa. We joined potential jailbirds Wim, Matt, Pierre and Bill at a crime scene on the highway just 25 km from Ufa. We arrived on the scene where two road cops were parked on the side of the road at the bottom of a gradual decline, one was looking through binoculars to spot future criminals who might cross the white line. Our “get out of jail” card from MIR didn’t work with these police. They wanted money, and lots of it. We gave them a bunch of phony paperwork, but that still didn’t work, they wanted 100 US dollars per person!
This amount could easily match their monthly salary. We could see that there was room for negotiation. Actually Jeff said, “No way! They aren’t getting any 100 dollars from us”. After an apparent stalemate all parties were growing tired of one another, so they said that they would settle for 20 US dollars each. Jeff still thought that this was way too high, even though the others were leaning toward paying it, but we stood united and agreed that $3 US dollars per bike was about right. Matt handed the road cop rubles equivalent to $3 US dollars each for the five bikes, and although he shook his head and laughed, he took it. The group wasted no time heading down the highway.
Meanwhile, we thought we were off the hook. About 10 km further down the road we were pulled over again for doing the same thing. Apparently one of the road cops had called ahead. This time, knowing that we were perfectly innocent, although Bill may have fudged a little bit, we were in a more argumentative mode. This section of road had no visible lines on it. Ann started asking for directions to Ufa and when the road cop started to respond Jeff decided he had had enough of this guy, who had been poked him with his wand, and took off. We said a prayer for Bill, but hoped he would be on his bike and coming after us soon. As Bill tells the story, the wand waver yelled at his partner, who was sitting in his car across the road, to go get us. The partner threw up his hands and said he wouldn’t go, so the wand waver, in great exasperation and probably a few Russian cuss words, waved Bill on his way.
In Samara our two night stay is at a hotel in the train station with our bikes parked in a garage about a mile away. We couldn’t find much worthwhile to do today so we wandered down to the beach on the Volga river. Here we find Curtis, Vince, Yasu and Enoki sipping beers in the shade of a large umbrella participating in their favorite pastime - people watching.
We have enjoyed Siberia and after crossing the Asia/Europe continental divide we are looking forward to the rest of the ride.
Jeff and Ann Roberg
[All images courtesy of Ann and Jeff Roberg]
Day 44 - 21 Jun 2006 - Rostov na Donu, Russia
In Memory of Dennis Bishop
Two years ago, the 3rd iteration of the World Tour was underway. On the morning of 13 June, 2004, three of us, Pawel Chrobok, Dennis Bishop, and I set out on a clear morning from Volgograd, on our way to that day's destination, Rostov na Donu.
Dennis has just celebrated his birthday the day before. The 2004 World Tour group shared his magnificent birthday cake, created by the master pastry chef at the Hotel Volgograd.
We were just a few days from exiting Russia, the trials and road tribulations of China and Russia's Siberia behind us, the open roads of Europe ahead. As always, we rode in staggered formation, taking it all in, living the moment. Riding our own bikes from China to Germany, it simply couldn't get any better.
20 kilometers past the town of Belaya Kalitva, on National Highway M21, we entered a chicane which turned left, straightened for a short bridge span over a railroad, then turned to the right. Of the thousands of kilometers of road we had traveled since leaving Shanghai, this was one of the few stretches which narrowed down with guardrails on both sides. Fully in control, slowing for the approach, we entered the first turn. Unknown to us, an driver in his Lada sedan, made the unthinkable decision to make a blind pass as he made his turn into the chicane from the opposite direction. We couldn't see him, he didn't see us until far too late.
Our ride ended that day. . . .
I have no memory of the accident, but Kirill, our local guide at the time, told us the following, a compilation of police reports and eye-witness accounts. I was the lead bike, Pawel behind me, Dennis last. We made it through the first set of turns, onto the bridge section. As we were about the enter the final turn, the Lada's driver, now in our lane, struck me as he attempted to complete his passing maneuver, still turning onto the bridge. With guardrails on both sides and no emergency lanes for escape, he hit me head-on. I apparently went as far to the right as I could - the car hit and spun sideways, crushing my left leg. The force of the impact threw me over the guardrail, and an explosion ensued from the 30-plus-liters of fuel I was carrying. The spinning car, now on fire, hit Pawel, throwing him onto the pavement in the expanding pool of burning fuel. Still moving, the car finally hit Dennis, with sufficient momentum to also throw him from his bike.
All four vehicles were completely destroyed in the resulting fire. There's no need to recount the injuries. The three of us spent three days in a Russian hospital. We were awaiting medical evacuation back to the United States. The driver, after being treated for his injuries, escaped out the window from his hospital room, never to be found.
Medivac Lear jets flew us home. Pawel and I made it, to face hours of surgery and months of recovery and rehabilitation. My left leg had to be amputated below the knee. Dennis died shortly after touch-down in his home state of Alabama. Compounding the horrible tragedy that had already befallen the Bishop family, Dennis's mother died from an aneurysm as he was being air-lifted home. She never knew he didn't make it. Already in a coma, Dennis never knew she wouldn't be there to meet him.
Two years later, once again, I find myself on the road to Rostov na Donu. Several days earlier, Dennis's father-in-law, Gary , and brother-in-law, Darrell, had flown in to Moscow from Alabama, then were driven with Kirill to Volgograd to meet with Helge and I. We came together to erect a memorial to Dennis at the accident site, and pay tribute to as fine a son as any father could ever wish for, as good a friend as anyone could hope to have.
This year's group took them in, and everyone joined in on our included tour of Volgograd, itself a city of sorrow - over 1.5 million Russian and Axis soldiers and untold civilians died here in Russia's most decisive battle of WWII. Stressing that no one should feel in any way obligated to do so, Gary and Darrell invited everyone to participate in the memorial ceremony the following morning.
The following day, Helge scouted out a site for the memorial, right on the highway, just before the accident site; a location that was safe for the group to park and complete this final tribute to a fallen rider. A week previous, we had picked-up a memorial stone, a 180 pound slab of green marble-like stone from the Ural mountains. The inscription engraved on it reads:
In Memory of
Dennis Bishop - USA
12 June 1960 - 15 June 2004
Wherever we ride, you will be with us.
Pawel, Mike, Helge
From our chase vehicle, the plaque was unloaded along with sacks of sand and cement, and water to mix it all. Riders pitched in to dig a foundation, mix the cement, and scavenge rocks to form an aggregate. Everyone helped. Within a few hours, the memorial was erected, set in a solid base of concrete. Helge read letters from Dennis' family. Flowers were placed. A Russian couple on motorcycle that we had met thousands of kilometers earlier just happened to pass by at that moment, and joined in to honor a fellow rider.
Afterwards, the group rode on. Gary, Darrell, Kirill, Helge and I back-tracked to the hospital where the three of us had been taken two years earlier. In place of the run-down and ill-equipped facility that stood there then, a brand-new five-story trauma-capable hospital had been built. We were able to meet with the doctor and nurses that had cared for us. We presented a signed plaque, in both English and Russian, thanking them for the best effort that they did for us while in their care.
I hope to lay flowers here again in the years to come. I hope that Pawel will be able to join Helge and I in doing so one of these days and in doing so, find the same release and sense of closure that we all experienced this day. For as along as we remember, Dennis lives on in each of us.
When our time comes, may our final ride also come while living life at its fullest. . . .
Day 42 - 19 Jun 2006 - Volgograd, Russia
Het is al weer een tijdje geleden sinds mijn laatste Live Journal update uit Irkutsk. Er is de afgelopen weken een hoop gebeurd. Hieronder in het kort enkele dagen uit mijn Globeriders leven van de afgelopen weken.
Vrijdag 2 juni:
Na Irkutsk hebben we 2 dagen aan het Bajkal meer gezeten. Het weer was fris en de omgeving is lang niet zo mooi als vele zeggen. Ik was dan ook blij om weer op de motor te stappen en kilometers te maken. Deze regio is echt bijzonder mooi, heuvelachtig en groen en dat voor honderden kilometers.
Zaterdag 3 juni:
De volgende stop was in Tulun, gelegen an de Angara rivier is een echt Siberisch stadje voor verbannen Russen. Echt niets te beleven en de armoede straalt van de mensen en de huizen af. Toch nog met Joe een fantastische wandeling gemaakt langs de rivier.
Zondag 4 en maandag 5 juni:
Krasnoyarks was de volgende bestemming. Ik had met Joe een fantastische rijdag, lekker sportief en flink aan het jakkeren. Schitterende off-road weggetjes en zware stukken van asfalt wegen met gigantische ‘pot holes’. De motor moest behoorlijke klappen opvangen en zoals Helge al zei: Ohlings zijn daar niet voor gemaakt. In het geweld verloor Joe zijn GPS.Een keer moesten we stoppen bij een Politie controle post, die we te laat zagen. We keken elkaar aan en schudden onze hoofden Nee, we zagen de 4 agenten nog in hun Lada springen, maar die hadden geen kans. We hebben ze dan ook niet meer gezien. Krasnoyarks was een gemoedig stadje met leuke restaurantjes aan de rivier. Hier was het goed vertoeven.
Donderdag 8 Juni
Novosibirsk. Weer met Joe op pad. We kregen mooie gravel wegen en pushte onze bikes tot de limiet. Misschien onverstandig met nog zo veel kilometers te gaan en de staat van mijn gehavende GS. Dit keer was Joe de ongelukkige en blies zijn 1200 GS op. Novosibirsk is een stad met ongekend veel mooie mensen. Maar na een paar uur was ik het verblijf in weer een stad als andere zat. Joe zat in een depressie omdat hij niet wist hoe en of hij verder kon, uiteindelijk heeft hij een Varadero gekocht. Bij mij speelde een hoop door mijn hoofd; had geen zin om in het groepsgebeuren mee te gaan en langere periodes in een stad rond te slenteren. Ik overwoog zelfs in een directe lijn via Moskou naar huis te rijden. Met enkele telefoontjes en gesprekken met Helge en Martin (onze gids) besloot ik vooruit te gaan rijden. De volgende dag liet ik de groep achter voor 2 dagen.
Zaterdag 10 juni
Tyumen, de afgelopen dagen alleen hebben me bijzonder goed gedaan. Heb meer genoten van de omgeving en lekker rustig aan gereden. In Tyumen besloot ik om op de groep te wachten, alhoewel ik het liefst door was gereden naar de andere plekken.
Donderdag 15 juni.
Andy, Mike en ik hadden geen zin om via de snelste weg van Irbit (waar we de Ural motorfietsfabriek hadden bezocht) naar Ufa te rijden. We namen op gevoel een zijweg en dit bleek uiteindelijk een van de mooiste, zoniet de mooiste route tot dusver. Ik schat ruim 150 km of gravel, door het Ural gebergte slingerend door de bossen. We waren euforisch en toen we aan het einde van dit traject het pittoresk dorpje Karaidel, gelegen aan een rivier, binnen reden viel alles even op zijn plek. Hiervoor zijn we gekomen. In een klein staatscafeetje nuttigde we onze lunch en werden we geholpen door veel vriendelijke mensen. We besloten hier te blijven en niet naar het gereserveerde hotel in Ufa te gaan. Het hotel in dorpje had geen douche en WC !! Het was armoediger dan armoedig maar dit was genieten. ’s Avonds bij de rivier wachtten we tot de zon onder ging, wat een rust, wat een schoonheid.
Zaterdag 17 juni,
Andy en ik bleven geen extra nacht en gingen weer vooruit. Eigenlijk nu al om de groep voor te blijven voor de rest van de trip. We wilden ook een andere route volgen, via Georgie, Turkije, Bulgarije en Roemenie. Echter we moesten dan wel door of Tjetenie of een gevaarlijk gebied in Georgie. We zouden daar ons later in verdiepen en Andy’s vriendin Claire bestookte ons met emails met waar wel en waar niet heen te gaan.
We zouden het rustig aan doen vandaag en de kleinere routes nemen. Dit pakte ongelooflijk goed uit. We reden langs de rivier de Wolga in erg heuvelachtige gedeeltes over gravel en modderpaadjes, gemaakt door tractors. Het leek wel de alpenweide van de “sound of music”. Dit is wat we zochten en we staken dan ook on\e armen in de lucht op een van de toppen: Dit is avontuur!
Zondag 18 juni
Na zo’n geweldige dag van gisteren wilde we naar Volgograd over de normale weg om op tijd te zijn en misschien al de geplande bandenwissel te doen. Maar we genoten zo dat we niet hard reden en zowat elk uur in een van de kleine cafeetjes een frisdrankje namen. Toen we Vogagrad (het voormalige Stalingrad) binnen reden zagen we het grote beeld Moeder Russia. Het was indrukwekkend om daar voor te staan met onze GSen (alhoewel het een voetgangersgebied was en uiteindelijk vriendelijk gesommeerd werden de motoren weg te halen). Vandaag was het Carmen’s verjaardag en ik zat op een terrasje in Volgograd met Andy te proosten. Uiteindelijk konden we de banden nog niet krijgen en moesten op de groep wachten.
Dinsdag 20 juni
Nieuwe banden en de motor gewassen. We kregen gezelschap van Elliot die zich ook los wilde maken van de groep en vertokken naar Stochi om daar indien mogelijk een veerboot naar Turkije of midden Georgie te pakken. Wat een rit, we kwamen aan bij de zwarte zee in de uitlopers van de Kaukasus. Mooie bochtige wegen met haarspelden en lange doordraaiers. Het leek wel een beetje op de Alpen. Voldaan maar toch enigszins vermoeid kwamen in het havenstadje aan en we konden geen veerboot krijgen de komende dagen. Dus we moesten terug naar de oorspronkelijke route.
Woensdag 21 juni
Na een lange en mooie rit kwamen we wij bij de ferry Rusland Oekraine aan om de oversteek te maken naar de Krim. Het ging redelijk vlot totdat een jong douane broekkie een foutje (?) in mijn verzekeringspapieren vond. Dat het 1500 roebels (40 euro) kosten a la, maar hij had 2 uur nodig om een tiental formulieren te typen! Uiteindelijk zaten we op de laatste veerboot naar de Krim. Het was ondertussen al gaan stormen en onweren, dus we sjorde onze GSen goed vast voor deze oversteek. Direct aan land hebben we een leuk hotelletje gevonden waar we onze bikes in de lobby konden zetten.
Donderdag 22 juni
Op naar Odessa, om daar even lekker bij te tanken. Het werd een lange dag. ’s Ochtends regen en ‘s middags bloedheet. We arriveerde dan ook erg laat. Het uiteindelijke doel is dan ook om via Roemenie, Hongarije naar de dolomieten en de Alpen te gaan. We zien er naar uit om in Garmisch of Munchen de groep weer te ontmoeten.
[All images courtesy of Eev Peerdeman]
Day 42 - 19 Jun 2006 - Volgograd, Russia
The 2006 World Tour Stats
It takes two years of preparation on GlobeRiders' part.
$USD700,00.00 - Combined cost of the tour, air fares, bike transportation, bike preparation, food, fuel, accommodations and entertainment (?).
We will have used 38 sets of tires, a stack 32 feet tall (equal in height to a three-story building).
5,000 gallons of fuel, half a tanker truck, at a cost of USD$15,000.00.
160 quarts of motor oil.
We will cross twelve time zones.
We have had 12 flat tires (so far, 70% of the way there).
We have lost one (loaded) pannier, one GPS receiver, one digital camera, one bike cover, countless article of clothing.
As a group, those of us who drink have consumed two times our own body weight in beer.
[Editor's Note: A Few Stats of My Own]
As a group we will be served 1,400 meals, at least 60% of those including cucumbers and tomatoes.
The group has over USD$10,500.00 worth of Garmin GPS receivers.
Bill's comment about beer consumption failed to mention the countless "holes in our memory" from vodka.
The 19 bikes will drive a combined mileage of 304,000 kilometers.
One of the BMW R1200GS motorcycles blew its engine, and is still awaiting shipment out of Yekaterinburg, Russia. A used Honda Varadero was purchased to continue the ride.
Bill Kamps' Kawasaki KLR 650 is the first KLR we've had on any World Tour that has made it this far without any significant problems - a great credit to the thoroughness of his preparations, and his careful selection of accessory gear.
There's a saying that a swim in the frigid waters of Lake Baikal makes one 25 years younger. If true, Helge Pedersen won't be born until the year 2030.
Day 42 - 19 Jun. 2006 - Volgograd, Russia
Several days ago, I received the following email from a businessman who shot the accompanying photo through the window of his taxi cab in Novosibirsk:
From: Serdar PAKER
Date: Mon, 12 Jun 2006 16:58:16 +0400
Subject: Two riders in Novosibirsk
Hello Mr. Helge,
I was in Novosibirsk city of Russia last week for a business trip. When I was travelling by a taxi, I take some random pictures around me.
When I return back to Moscow, I observed the attached rider photo carefully and I caught your web address written on the motorcycle.
I watched surprisingly, two riders in Novosibirsk city of Russia, on 07th of June. Both of the riders were very well concentrated to the city traffic and both of the riders were very healthy.
I wish good luck to riders along the trip.
[Editor's Note: The photo Serdar sent was of GlobeRider Matthew Daalderop, riding with his brother Wim.]
Images from Russia on the World Tour 2006
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