Monthly Archives: August 2009

Day 90 Seoul

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OK, so this blog is going to go on holiday while I do. A couple of days in Seoul, a few days in Tokyo, 5 days in Vancouver. It will resume when I (hopefully) pick up the bike in Vancouver and get back on the road.

But I couldn’t resist posting this picture of a bike courier, Seoul-style. And I thought I was carrying a lot of stuff!

Notice how, even with a load like that, he’s still filtering past the traffic. Spectacular!

Day 89 Korea!

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Public transport sucks. That’s the only way to see it. I’d rather be fixing a puncture in a thunderstorm than hanging around a ferry port. It’s all been quite easy, but there’s so much waiting and carrying luggage. Will have more of this with flights soon, not looking forward to that. Let me stick all my gear on the back of the bike and ride, it’s so much more enjoyable. Still, I’m in Korea. Have only seen the inside of the ferry terminal, but I’m here. Mobile phone doesn’t work over here, cash machine won’t accept my card, but I’m in Korea!

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The truck arrives, and there’s a nerve wracking moment where I have to ride onto a pallet and sit there on the bike while it’s raised up to the truck bed by a fork lift. The bike is strapped down and I ride along to the crating company.

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Wendy rings and drops the bombshell that she doesn’t take cards, so I’m going to have a panic job getting hold of enough cash. Arriving at the crating company I’m a bit disappointed to see that another Kudu expeditions tour is here in front of me. I’m at the back of a queue of 7 bikes, so there’s no chance I’ll be done in time to get to a hotel early and organise cash.

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It’s amazing watching the crating guys hand build made to measure crates for each bike, but I wish they’d do it faster. The Kudu boys must have money to burn. They’re all on BMWs with all the gear and have paid a fortune to the organiser. And, they haven’t had the full experience. If you let someone else do all the organising, route planning, and you just follow along, then I think you’re really missing out on the experience. Even worse, they’re in a group of 15 so they have very little interaction with the locals. Even with one other I had less interaction than I do on my own. I wouldn’t do it their way, not even if I had their money. Usually when I arrive somewhere I stand out, it’s unusual, a rarity. Kind of spoils the impact when everyone’s already just seen 15 bikes go through….

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I didn’t expect to be at the back of a queue for crating but I also didn’t expect to be here so early. The crating guys get on a roll, helped by having 5 identical bmws to do in one go, and suddenly my bike is on a pallet. The Kudu boys help lift the bike while I remove the wheels. I’ve already dropped the bars, removed the mudguard, mirrors, number plate and hand guards, and it packs down pretty small, which is important for the shipping cost. Packing in my panniers and other gear turns out to be easier than expected too.

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I feared I’d either be here all night or have to come back tomorrow but by 10 it’s done, and as another unexpected bonus of having the Kudu guys around, I share their taxi into town. Thanks Ian and co, you made things a lot easier for me!

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Then I’m at the hotel, and any worries about getting cash evaporate when I get in the luxurious 18th floor room with a stunning view over Seoul with huge video advertising screens and neon lights. It really is a totally different world and a very new experience for me. I just hope I can sort out paying for the shipping and still have time to go to Tokyo because I think that really will be an amazing experience.

Day 88 The Dong Chun Ferry

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Very early start. Bike stops before even leaving the hotel car park, till I remember I turned the fuel taps off while it was parked. Then I nearly run out of petrol, forgetting I only put in 10 litres last time, not the usual 20, due to a translation cock up. And then I get lost trying to find the right road in the dark, and start to worry that I’ll miss the ferry.

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No need to have worried at all, as I end up 3 hours early and have to sit and wait for the office to open. While I hang around, I notice the front wheel is quite buckled and has loose spokes. Then I see that the rear is even worse, and though it gives me a problem to solve in Canada before I can ride anywhere, I’m really quite relieved to have made it to the ferry port.

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This is really the end of the outward part of the journey, I’ve done all the riding I need to do until Canada, so I’ve made it, just. I’ve been so close to disaster with the frame breaking and now the wheels on the verge of collapse, but I’ve made it. All the preparation has paid off, and I can surely get the wheels sorted out in Canada. They won’t last long if I don’t.

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Getting on the ferry is slow, but easy, interrupted by an inquisitive young korean who seems utterly astonished when she finds out what I’m doing, and fetches more people to talk to me. By 5 I’m in my cabin, and glad I bought first class as economy means sleeping on the floor sharing with about 20 koreans in 2 square yards.

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The ferry is much better than the caspian sea ferry. They exchange currency, have a shop and a restaurant. There’s a TV in the cabin but it’s entirely undecipherable. I get the impression Kim Jong Il has died, but it’s not clear, then there’s a rocket launch that they seem quite excited about. Dinner is 5000 won. I have no idea what that is, which coincidentally is all I can say about the dinner. It smelled fishy, but to be fair I don’t smell great in biking gear that’s been damp for weeks.

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It feels very odd to be leaving Russia. It’s the end of the big challenge, the rest won’t be anything like what I’ve just done and where I’ve just come from. I’m looking forward to the next stage, but what I’d really like to do right now is go back to Tajikistan and begin again from there. I wonder if I’ll have an opportunity to ride in scenery like that, on roads like that, ever again. Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia. They were very, very special places to ride a motorbike and the memory of those experiences will stay with me for a long time. It’s hard to imagine anywhere else ever matching it.
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Day 87 Still in Vlad

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This is supposed to be a blog about riding a motorbike round the world, so I’m always a little unsure whether I should post something on days where I haven’t really done very much to do with that. It’s been more like a day off. OK, I’ve spent the day doing practical things like sending postcards and trying in vain to get foreign currency so I can pay for all the various charges at Zarubino and Sokcho. All the bank staff have just said “Nyet” with typical Russian bank staff brusqueness, and every “Bankomat” just said something obtuse like “Device not supported” or “System not operation” (sic). Bought some socks though!

It’s hard to keep up with current affairs on a trip like this, so this is probably old news but I turned on Russian TV and saw Usain Bolt run the 100 metres in 9.58 seconds, which is by far the most interesting thing today.

I had planned to ride down to Zarubino and camp there overnight to be close to the ferry port, but it was back to the usual rain this morning so I decided to stay and will be off very early in the morning instead, hoping that nothing too serious goes wrong on the way.

That’s all. Pretty dull. I’m hoping tomorrow is equally uneventful and that there are no dramas with customs or ferry procedures etc. Fingers crossed. Hope it’s a bit drier, too. Slightly sad to be leaving Russia, I’ve really enjoyed it here, but also looking forward to completing the next major milestone of the trip.

This is a shot of the Golden Horn bay. Pretty dismal today.
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Day 86 Vladivostok

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Nothing very exciting, just practicalities. Found the ferry ticket office thanks to the very generous assistance of Kennichi, another HUBBer. Had a wander around Vlad and got various bad photos taken of me by helpful Japanese tourists (see, for example, the spike coming out of the top of my head in the above picture), then spent the rest of the day on the internet making plans for the next stages. Booked my flight to Vancouver where I’ll be meeting my family. Spent ages investigating my options for USA. Still have to decide if I’m going south down the Pan-American or east to New York and then home. 50-50 at the moment. I have the budget if I’m careful, just need to decide what I want to do.

As usual, the decisions will probably make themselves. For now I’m concentrating on getting to Korea, getting the bike shipped, and looking forward to a bit of a holiday.

In the hotel bar I met two other brit bikers who just arrived. They’re part of a group tour with Kudu Expeditions, but arrived ahead of the rest of the group having been attacked by mosquitos and given up on the whole camping in Siberia idea. Glad I’m not the only one!

Day 85 Vladivostok!

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Vladivostok! Yes! I made it to Vlad!

I’m absolutely elated! I’ve reached the finishing line in Vlad, I’ve gone as far east as I can realistically go over land, I’ve ridden my bike 15,000 miles across 20 countries in 85 days to the right hand side of the map.

I’ve done it and I couldn’t be more pleased. I haven’t felt elation like this since finishing the great north run. Brilliant!

Thank you so much to everyone who has helped me get here.


Especially my family.

Day 84 My Bike Is Fixed!

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I spend the day lazing around the hotel room waiting for the bike to be ready, hoping it will be. Eventually the taxi driver arrives and takes me to the workshop, where I discover my bike still largely in bits but with a perfectly welded rear sub frame and pannier rails. Nice!

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I spend the evening hanging around the workshop as 4 people work on my bike till 7:30 at night on a Saturday, fixing everything they can find and taking enormous care over it. It’s brilliant.

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Genie the boss gives me some stickers for the bike as a present. Igor the welder gives me a keyring made from an AK47 round. It’e very cool, and for as long as I have bikes it will be my on my keyring, but I wonder what airport security will make of it when I fly to Vancouver!

Igor is a fanatical coin collector. Unfortunately I’ve binned most of my coins from the numerous countries we’ve been too, so I cn only offer him a Euro, but he seems delighted with it.

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The guys have welded the frame and pannier rails, replaced the split fork gaiters, changed the oil, adjusted the chain and a dozen other little things. The bike feels perfect.

Genie is into motocross on quad bikes and invites e to a race meet tomorrow but I’m anxious to get going, with the prize of Vladivostok being so close, on a dry day, after spending 2 days not riding, so I decline, jump on the bike and head south for Vlad, feeling hugely relieved and delighted to have my bike back feeling stronger than ever.

I don’t think these guys, and all the others that helped me find them, will ever know how grateful I am.
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Day 83 Khabarovsk

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Just as I decide to try Vlad instead, I get word via the HUBB that the road south is actually pretty bad, the road to the ferry port in Zarubino even worse. I’m simply going to have to get repairs here. I arrange for another night in the hotel, and head into town to a couple of biker bars but everywhere is empty, I assume because of the rain. I don’t see a single biker riding around town either. This sort of thing is so much down to luck. Sometimes you ride into town and immediately meet someone like Farid or Igor and you’re all set. Other times there’s no-one around.

Back at the hotel I tire of fruitless web searching and read the Sibirsky Extreme blog instead. Those guys make me look like a wuss out for a Sunday jaunt! As I read, I realise that even stuck in a rainy town with a broken bike and a visa countdown clock ticking, I’m still having the time of my life, and that one day, hopefully sooner not later, I will be off on another big trip. Bigger. Bolder, longer, further.

In the morning there’s another ray of hope from a HUBBer. Contact details for Marina, the English speaking administrator of the local bike club. I make a call, and I’m told that the man who can help doesn’t get out of bed till about 12, maybe 1pm.

While I wait I go for petrol and another quick ride around on the look out for bike shops etc, but don’t see anything. I try a couple of car places and get nothing but shrugs and “nyet”s. The back of the bike is now really sagging, so I return to the hotel to wait for the phone call from Marina. Fingers crossed. I really hope she calls back and can help.

She does. A guy called Alexander will come to the hotel to help me. I wait by the bike, and a guy appears and seems to be trying to help, but I don’t think it’s Alexander, I think this one works in the hotel. Then Alexander turns up. There is much talk in Russian, some phone calls, a lot of standing around, and I don’t really understand what’s happening. It does look like they’re trying to help, and it seems patience is required. Eventually they indicate that a taxi driver is coming and I should follow. It will take me to Genie, who they seem to be describing as “The Maestro”.

A few minutes later I’m racing through the traffic trying to keep up, and before long we arrive in a industrial estate. There’s a big sign with a picture of a bike on it, and just around the corner there is a workshop full of bikes, parts of bikes, and a man with a welding torch. This is Genie, and he seems to know what he is doing.
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There is then a very anxious few minutes as he takes a look at the bike, talks in Russian to the taxi driver, and there is much folding of arms and shaking of heads. I’m fearing they’re going to say it can’t be done, when the taxi driver hands me his phone. On the other end of the line is the receptionist at the hotel, who translates.

“Your motorcycle will be ready tomorrow.”

Relief! What brilliant news! I suddenly feel calm and happy again. I can tell from the way Genie conducts himself that he is the right man for the job. Remains to be seen what it will cost, but I don’t care about that.

They’re even going to replace my split fork gaiters and do an oil change. Brilliant!

I return to the hotel, and the rain begins again, but I don’t mind it now.

I don’t mind it at all!
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Day 82 Khabarovsk

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What a surprise, it’s raining hard again. Very hard. Looking out of the hotel room window I can see dark clouds, lightning, and rivers of rain water flowing down the streets. Standard for Siberia! It is wet season, but I didn’t think it would be so heavy or so persistent. I try to get clean in the wierd little Japanese style capsule bathroom, but as usual after a few days in the wild, despite best efforts to wash clean, the fresh white towel is quickly black. I don’t understand why a towel can remove dirt more effectively than soap and water? Perhaps it only works if the towel is a pristine white one! It’s amazing to think I’m so close to Japan. All the stuff in the minibar is Japanese, the breakfast menu is in Russian, English, and Japanese. The hotel is even called Sapporo. Actually I’m even closer to China, it’s only 30km west of here.

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The hotel is wierd. Breakfast is fried eggs and hotdog sausages with sliced tomatoes, peas and sweetcorn. Odd. The hotel staff also seem to be having a problem registering my visa with the authorities because they can’t understand that I have been camping. I really hope they don’t cause problems for me by misunderstanding something. I don’t really know where I am in the city, I couldn’t see any of it when I arrived. I need to figure things out today, but before sightseeing I need to see if I can get the bike sorted.

I try the reception desk. Unfortunately Maria from the Baikal Plaza isn’t here. They try their best, make several phone calls, but no joy. They have sorted out my registration though. No response from the Vlad community on the HUBB, either. I’m starting to think I might just have to go to Vlad. The hotels here are expensive. I wander around and ask a few, check online too. It’s cheaper in Vlad. The weather forecast is better there, too. Can’t really ride around in this downpour, and there are no other bikers out that I might be able to ask for help. The only thing I manage to achieve is to buy a phone charger which I’ve been without since day one. Didn’t think I’d need one as I can charge from the bike, but when you’re in a hotel for days it’s awkward.

I ride around in the rain for a while, looking for likely workshops, trying to ask people, looking out for other bikes, all to no avail. I don’t know where anything is, and the only car places I see are for tyres and not much else. And it’s really tricky in the rain, I can’t see very well, it’s slippery and the traffic moves very fast here. I quickly decide it’s safer to return to the hotel.

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I have a quick wander around to take a few photos, but the weather’s so bad it’s pretty pointless. I give up, retreat to the familiar surroundings of a German-themed pub/restaurant, and consider my options. Stick or twist? A dilemma I’ve had in various forms so many times on this trip. Going to Vlad is risking catastrophic collapse, but staying here will be expensive and with the weather forecast it’s not going to be easy finding help. Twist. I think I have to go to Vlad. I’ll lash the bike together again, and hope that by the time I get there someone on the HUBB will have a contact for me. At least then I’ll be at the target destination, not just some small town en route. But will I get there?

I return to the hotel. The bike sits forlornly outside, very soggy, and clearly sagging badly at the back. Maybe the HUBB will come through with some info, maybe the weather will improve and I can try another ride around tomorrow, but I think I’ve decided I may as well go to Vlad and take it from there.

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