21st May 2012

Tough Miles Blog 2: Slovakia to Moscow

Jon here:

Its 3.30am and I can’t sleep. All I can think about is the worlds most dangerous bridge, the Russia Siberia Vitim River crossing we will later face on the BAM road.
It’s the 15th May and we are currently chilling in Godzilla Hostel, Moscow. Since our last blog we have travelled from Slovakia to Russia, passing through Austria, Hungary, Romania and Ukraine. So far, in total we have visited 9 countries and covered approximately 3000miles. It barely feels like we’ve made a dent in the journey when we look at the scale of Russia on a map!
Despite terrential rain and some punishing road surfaces the bikes are holding up great, and the Garmin Sateliite Navigation equipment is working wonders. We are also really grateful for the new Scala G9 Intercom system, courtesy of Pama & Co. The headsets are working great, and being able to keep in touch during the ride has really helped in many respects.
After receiving the new Intercom system we left Bratislava and headed for Romania. We passed through Hungary, Budapest, where we picked up our first on the spot speeding fine. The copper had a cracking picture of me with my head down, shame I couldnt get a copy of it. After a long day riding we reached a lively student town in Romania called Cluj-Napoca. On route the scenery was fantastic, and we had our first taste of the mountain roads, passing through areas of thick fog and even snow at one point. Seeing the locals with horse and cart gave us the feeling we were entering real Eastern Europe, the change in culture and the thought of visting more remote areas was exciting.
After a night on the juice in Cluj-Napoca we continued onto Brasov, where we met up with Mike, a local DRZ rider that found Tough Miles on the internet. He was kind enough to take us to the infamous Transfagarasan Road, which at this point was still closed to the public. But that didn’t stop us, we followed Mike around the concrete road block, at which point he popped a big wheelie and led us up the winding mountain road without any risk of oncoming traffic. We went up as far as we could before reaching thick snow blocking our way. It was an excellent day, and to finish it off Mike even bought us lunch, thanks Mike! The following day we packed up and headed north towards the Ukraine border.
On the 9th May we crossed into Ukraine and rode to the captial, Kiev. Immediately after crossing the border we were waved down by the fed, a big stern looking and very determined copper. He waived his arms and shouted at us for a while, but without speaking any English we had no idea what he was saying, I’m guessing we were going too fast, standard. He began filling out a form, and I chuckled as he noted down the details from an old India visa in my passport. When I pointed out he was using the wrong page he screwed up the form, gave me back my passport and sent us on our way. A lucky escape considering we didnt have any currency at that point!
We decided to give ourselves a day off in Kiev, and I was able to convince Pete to give any site-seeing a miss and to head straight for the boozer. It had been a long few days and we desereved a Kiev pub crawl! Spitting feathers the following morning made the pack up harder than normal, and the ride was equally as bad along the E101 to Russia, as straight as an arrow! I haver never seen such a long straight road with no changes in scenery. It may sound silly but it is only just starting to dawn on me that my life for the next 8 months is sat on a motorcycle, often without music and attempting to sing to myself.
As we approached the Russian border we were hassled to buy motorcycle insurance before entering. This appeared to be a 3 man job as they ushered us into a small hot cabin to convince us this was legit. At first they wanted €100 each for 3 months cover. We only had €100 between us so we offered them €50 each, which they quickly accepted. Inevitabely we feel like we have been mugged off and that we should have bartered harder!
The rest of the border crossing was fairly straight forward. None of the officials spoke any English, so we just noded and said yes to all of their questions, then if they started shaking their heads we would switch to saying no, this seemed to work. Even the decleration form was all in Russian with no English translation, so we gave it our best shot by copying an example form. We have no idea what we declared, but it seemed to be ok and we entered Russia on our business visas, happy days! They had a good look at our bikes, prodded a view parts, but we didnt have to open any of our luggage. With almost a smile, and a small snigger the guard spoke one line of English to me, “Welcome to beautiful Russia”
Our first night in Russia was spent in Bryansk, 200km from the border and 400km from Moscow. The town felt like a rough council estate, and we struggled to find a hotel. We finally managed to find one by 10.30pm, and Pete drew the short straw for the check-in process whilst i waited outside with the bikes. With a complete language barrier the check in process took 45minutes, we were very tired and it was a stressful process with the grumpy lady scanning 6 pages of each passport. To top it off I had to entertain a complete waster who would not leave me alone, banging on at me in Russian and trying to wear my crash helmet.
On Saturday 12th May we rode 400km from Bryansk to Moscow. Reaching Moscow felt like a real milestone. We had a great day yesterday sinking a few of the good ones with Tony P, a legendary motorcycle adventurer with vast experience riding the notorious roads of Russia along side Walter Colebatch with Sibirsky Extreme. Tony’s stories and enthusiasm have really encouraged us, and he has helped us plan an ambitous adventure route through Mongolia and Siberia, including a section of the infamous BAM road. It was a real honour to spend the day with Big TP, and time flew by listening to his adventure horror stories! Today he is taking us shopping in order to equip us and the bikes for the wilderness. He has also put us in touch with an English speaking friend, who will ship us knobbly tyres to Novosibirsk (New Siberia), where the road runs out!
Feelings of apprehension are building, as we both know the real tough miles are about to commence.
Please remember to keep those donations coming. We still have a long way to go before we reach our target. You can donate by clicking this link: