Diary & Travel Reports by Simon Milward
Mon, 6 Aug 2001 09:24:56 +0100
From: simon @ millennium-ride.com
To: sponsors @ millennium-ride.com
LATE ADDITION - Photos from Road of Bones
I bet you thought I had sunk into Russian a swamp never to be seen again.
But only the first part is true! Due to the recent Millennium ride list changes, you didn't these last two Russian updates so here they are.
I'm now in Terrace BC with a blown engine, so I'm going slowly. North America update to come real soon.
We've raised about 3,5000US$ here in North America so far. That's three and a half Yamahas for Flores, motorcycles for flowers.
Sorry for the lack of updates recently.
Terrace BC, 4.8.01
Simon Milward is riding through the remote Russian North East and has pulled in at the small settlement of Tyoply Klyuch to email sponsors a poem he wrote on a river ferry. He is 1,500km West of Magadan, his destination.
The track is known as the 'road of bones', built by prisoners 60 years ago, who slept in camps along the route the ruins of which can be seen. He aims to take a flight sponsored by Magadan Air to Anchorage in Alaska on 22 July, an earlier flight having been cancelled.
Just pulled in at as small village in the middle of nowhere to send you this poem. It's amazing where you can find internet facilities. I'm off in a minute, there is a 250km stretch of nothingness, save for gravel track, trees and probably a few grizzly bears.
The most amazing thing to happen in the last week was riding onto the parong (ferry) at a very remote place where there is no Summer road. The usual happened, going too fast I spectacularly fell off, and plop went my spectacles into the strong current of the Aldan River, never to be seen again. Not being able to see is a great fear, and my spare pair were not in the usual place - I thought I had lost them. Contemplating this new twist of fate, and wondering exactly how I would get out of this one, a fellow passenger miraculously produced a new pair of exactly the right prescription. Ira was sailing back to her shop in Handiga from a re-stocking trip two thousand km away! As you can see it was a relaxing 36 hour boat ride, hence the poem, but we covered just 150km.
My rear Metzeler Karoo is bald and yesterday I fitted a Russian motocross tyre to the rear. This morning it decided to depart from the wheel as I merrily rode along. So back to the baldy for 1200km of track.
For the Sahas
The mysterious resonance that is you Yakutia
The world does hardly know you exist
Let's keep your secret for another millennia
And tell not one of the magical mist
Oh forest of life and joyful birdsong
The cuckoo calling out that all is real
Skimming the water does hunt the heron
Whilst the eagle flies high for a much better view
On the world's great Yakutian riverway
By parong in Summer or ice road in Winter
Uneasy images in the ship graveyard of Zhatay
And the smell of wild honey as we sail up the Tatta
On graceful and practicle you Saha nation
Your people are surely your crowning glory
All help I need is bestowed with devotion
Survival being the common story
The ground is frozen two metres below
But the Saha warmth touches the sky
An invite home and a party they will throw
But all too soon you say a sad goodbye
I motorcycle through on the dustry trail
And when problems come I simple smile
I know it will mean good things without fail
For solutions abound and always with style
On wondrous land of poetry and romance
Of gulag music that I surely will miss
I'm leaving now but in a sure trance
Until the day when I come back for a kiss
My summer trip is in a moment of joy
Before Winter brings its loved redundance
The light will fade, I'll be on my way
But will never forget this bewitching brilliance.
Simon Milward 2001
Aldan River, Yakutsk, sunset 4.7.01
Milward has made it to Magadan in Russia's North East where he is waiting for a flight, sponsored by Magadan Airlines, to Anchorage in Alaska on 22 July. In this update to sponsors he recounts his eventful journey on the flooded Road of Bones.
21 July 2001
The Road of Bones
Last time I emailed you from the office for repair and maintenance of the Road of Bones, the near 2000km track linking Yakutsk and Magadan in the Russian North East. The road was built by Stalin's political prisoners, and when they died of cold or overwork, their bones were used in the construction.
I named it three bread day, since I was given 3 loaves of bread as gifts from 3 separate groups of people. It was a perfect example of Russia, if I hadn't asked the first group where I could buy a loaf, I would no doubt have received just one, which was all I needed. (As it happened two loaves ended up as a soggy mess.)
Anyway that email was a poem about Yakutia, the land of the Sahas, and a tale about my spectacles. I'm not sure if you received it. If not you will. I was full of poetry at the time, with most of my thoughts arriving in poetry, for example, "Looking for wood with which to build my fire, I spy bear dung and hope it won't be dire". But it wasn't long before the poet in me was washed away.
The first severe washing comes at a river crossing where 30 year old bridge has been broken for the last 5 years. I mindlessly try to ride through a raging torrent without thinking safety (removing my heavy bag and walking the crossing first). Under I go with the engine running. Water in the combustion chamber can blow your engine, and my digital camera is in the pannier box which is filling quickly with water. With these thoughts I struggle to upright the bike, eventually having to remove much of the weight before I can push it to a pebble island in the middle of the river.
This is bad, very bad. River levels can rise metres in a matter minutes.
Worriedly I scan the sky for rain clouds as I lay everything out to dry and the sun dips below the nearby hills. A massive truck ('machine') goes by, it is the second time my pleas for help are ignored. Bastard. The camera is ruined.
I eat mosquitos because I need to breathe. I hide my bag in bushes and walk 5km to the nearby settlement, next to one of Stalin's camps (gulag) in ruins. It is about midnight, but quite light. I am overjoyed to see people (I'm sure they think I am completely mad) who introduce me to Slava, a fifty year old Ukrainian biker running a workshop and telephone line repair office. He feeds and reassures me of rescue in the morning. I sing merrily as I saunter back to my bike, sure that the engine was OK, it was, and that life was great, it is. But I lose a day looking for a crucial carburettor part, eventually finding it on my river island. I take a hot banya with some Russians and Ukranians, and we smoke a cigarette outside standing naked in zero degrees - it isn't cold.
My next severe washing came during a 150km stretch shown on the map as bad quality. I knew this would be the hardest stretch, it was. Waist and thigh deep puddles straddle the track every 50 meters and the verges are swamps.
I stop and walk the puddles first - I am now wet for about three days.
The bike slips into a deep rut and under I go, engine running. That night I get no sleep as I hang things out to dry and dismantled the bike to empty it of water again. This is a low point in more ways than one, what am I doing all this for? But there are many successful swamp and river crossings, including a broken bridge that I manage to jump in preference to risking another soaking. I vow to get a new speedometer sometime in North America, to know when to take turnings. I sit around for an hour at a junction, a shy dog and loving cat for company, waiting for a sign to show me which road to take. Nothing shows, I prepare to leave when a big truck thunders down the track, the first humans for two days, they feed and tea me then show me the right way. When at last I link with the main road in the Magadan region, unsurfaced but fantastic compared to what I'd come through, I was in high spirits again. The poetry never returned but the 750km left to go to Magadan was a breeze, punctuated by several flat tyres.
The last of these was fortuitious since the Extreme Club of Magadan was on their way home after a weekend off-roading. Six 4WDs and a Yamaha Tenere (I could hardly believe it!) pull up to assist. I end up staying with Jan, who is the best mechanic in Russia and one of the very few people I would be confident to trust with my bike, and Irena and their two daughters. Jan spends three days working on my bike, sorting out many small things, as I wait a week for the Anchorage flight.
I feel a certain sense of achievement.
But the flooding in this part of the world isn't all adventure and excitement. Homes and hospitals were recently washed away and I was asked if I could do anything to help the situation. The UN recently sent a delegation to survey the situation but I don't know the status of this.
I wish there is something I could do but i must not over-commit myself.
The bike is now in excellent condition, with only aluminium welding of the boxes left to do in Alaska. I hope Metzeler sorts out a new rear tyre for me. I am very impressed with several of the bike parts:
The poet returns:
Not in one and not in two,
A whole mouthful is common to view.
Better to replace them all like they do,
And leave the Colgate in the tube.
Tomorrow is the Magadan Airways flight to Anchorage in Alaska. They are sending the bike for free and I pay half the passnger price at $400. It is an expensive route because the one airline has a monopoly. But I am very grateful.
It is with some sadness that I leave Asia - It's been absolutely amazing. I am particularly impressed with the Russian people, what a great way to finish Asia, and Magadan and its people have been so good to me. When I first considered Russia on my itinerary, I thought it would be dangerous. But it is one of my favourite countries, because of the genuine friendliness of the people and their down-to-earth way.
Victory in the Philippines - the court has ruled in favour of bikes using expressways. Judge Teofilo L. Guadiz, Jr. said that respondent Toll Regulatory Board(TRB) has no power or authority to ban motorcycles on expressways and "therefore, the ban in the expressways on motorcycles is void and illegal". A big congratulations to the Freedom Riders and all those who helped in this battle. But they tell me that bikes are still prevented from going on them. Now doesn't that sound like the perfect reason for a demo ride? Come on James, give the bikers what they want and end this campaign in real style! Wish I could be there.
I am very excited about going to North America. I shall not be able to stop talking, the language freedom will be great. So too will be the opportunity to raise the cash for 12 x $1000 Yamahas for Flores.
In fact the Alaskans are already hard at work organising things. News on that next time. Onward and upward I say.
[Diary 01/06/21 Ulan Ude]
[Diary 01/05/30 Greetings from Valdivostock]
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