Millennium Motorcycle Ride

Photos from Road of Bones


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.

The first severe washing comes at a river crossing where a 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.


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.

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 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 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 in Magadan City for the Anchorage flight.

Monument to Stalin's 200,000 prisoners, many skeletons of them are used in the road's construction.
All cleaned up in Lenin St, Magadan