20th June 2012

Tough Miles Blog 5: The Anatoly Experience

Jon here:

Anatoly is an ex Russian speedway champion living in Novosibirsk, Western Siberia. At the age of 20 he had a severe accident and broke his back, leaving him in a coma for over 6 months. Whilst in hospital his friends gave him some radio equipment to follow the teams progress. During this time he developed a love for radio communication, which in turn led to a very successful career in telecommunications. However, owning a collection of companies in Siberia, and becoming a figure-head in this sector of industry had many downsides. The corrupt political situation in Russia during this time led to his daughter being kid-knapped by the KGB, at which point Anatoly decided enough was enough, and he sold his empire to concentrate on family life.

As mentioned in our last blog, during the ride into Novosibirsk Pete had been complaining of a strange steering sensation, which felt as if he had a problem with his front tyre. This issue continued to get worse, and upon arriving at Zokol hostel he said the bike was becoming difficult to ride. We spent a few minutes investigating the problem, and the steering felt notchy with load on the front end. With the front wheel in the air the notchy feeling was almost negligible, but still present, so we concluded it must be a damaged lower headset bearing. Whilst discussing what to do next, a friendly Russian chap named Anatoly, who fortunately could speak fluent English, began looking at our bikes. Like many others he was amazed we had ridden this far on these motorbikes, and found it hard to believe the rest of our plan for the next 7 months. He enquired about our problem, and immediately started to form a plan to help us. Without hesitating he began telling us he had a large empty garage with lots of tools at his holiday home 30km outside of the city in Berdsk, which we could use as we liked! His wife, Olgar, then arrived on the scene and said we couldn’t possibly leave our bikes outside the hostel overnight as they wouldn’t be safe, so the couple led us to a guarded compound 100m down the road where we could park for 100rubs per day. The following morning we met Olgar outside the hostel and followed her to their holiday home. She said she hadn’t slept the previous night thinking about how she could drive fast enough with bikers following her, and that she had phoned her staff to explain the situation, instructing them to learn English overnight! She also expressed her concern, that due to guests arriving at the weekend we could only use the staff accommodation, and they felt terrible we couldn’t have more luxury during our time there! Olgar is so friendly and lovely, what a legend!

As we arrived at their holiday home the guards opened the gates, and we rode down a gravel path surrounded by large houses with a beautiful view of a huge lake. Olgar introduced us to the various staff and showed us to our room. She explained that we could stay as long as we needed, and that we would be given breakfast, lunch and dinner at the cafe each day, all free of charge! After the introductions and a tour of the site we were left to it. We gathered various pieces of wood from the surrounding land to use as a centre stand, and set about stripping the front end down on Petes bike. We feared the worst, and as we expected the lower bearing race was badly damaged. Removing this from the frame is a tricky job, as there is barely any lip exposed to locate a drift. After various failed attempts and many frustrating hours researching proven methods on the internet, I stumbled across an old piece of metal tube with a flange on the end. By grinding a small flat on the flange to provide clearance to the steering lock, I was able to manoeuver the pole down the stem and get a reasonable location on the minimal lip. With a couple of firm whacks we were celebrating our success in removing both the upper and lower race. The next job was to remove the lower bearing from the forks, which is a press fit onto the steerer tube. The only dremmel we had available was a huge power tool, and it was a nerve-racking experience as I began very carefully cutting through the bearing whilst keeping a steady hand so to not damage the forks. Pete could barely watch. Without cutting all the way through, I was able to make a large enough groove to chisel the bearing off, and we breathed a sigh of relief that the hard work was done. The following day we carried out a straight forward service on my bike, oil change and spark plugs etc.

Our time in Berdsk was a very interesting experience which we will never forget. One evening Anatoly invited us to a large wooden building, with huge windows covered in blue fairy lights. Little did we know we would encounter our first experience of a traditional Russian Sauna. Our thoughts of a relaxing detox steam session soon turned to fear as Anatoly stripped but-naked, donned an authentic cowboy style hat and picked up a bamboo broom stick! Pete and I decided to keep our private areas covered, and sheepishly entered the sauna. Much to our surprise, this ‘event’ would consist of 4 stages. In turn we were made to lie down, first on our fronts, and then on our backs, whilst Anatoly beat us profusely with his broom! The air was suffocatingly hot, and with each stage the beating became increasingly aggressive, to the point where we could barely take the pain! In between stages we drank beer and prayed the experience was almost over. Watching Pete squirm during the process was hilarious, but knowing I was up next made it less of a joke. By the end we had been beaten to a pulp, our skin was red raw and we both felt dizzy. Later that evening Anatoly and Olgar laid on a delicious BBQ, where we all drank straight Altai Vodka and laughed about the Russian tradition we had just been through. Much to their surprise we both passed on the offer of repeating the experience during our stay.

Anatoly has an unusual hobby; he is extremely interested in Ham Radio, which he uses to communicate with people around the world. Ham Radio users have a very strong community spirit, and they are always willing to help one another wherever possible. We spent many nights on the airwaves, reaching people in various places around the world, gathering useful contacts and information for the next steps of our adventure. In order to transmit from Siberia (the middle of nowhere), Anatoly has a huge Radio-ranch, with a vast collection of ex-military masts and power generators. The largest is 80m high, towering above the tallest tree on the horizon. He has entered many competitions, and one day hopes to be part of the Russian team in the World Radiosport Team Championship. You can find him on RC9O.

After fixing the bikes, Anatoly had one more surprise for us before we departed. He had been contacted by the local and regional news channels in Siberia, who were interested in using our adventure for a feature. It was funny to have film crews interviewing us and asking questions about the bikes. We look forward to seeing what they make of us and our trip! After this we packed up and once again hit the road.

The help and hospitality from Anatoly, his wife Olgar, and their staff was exceptional. We will always be grateful, and we won’t forget them.

Please keep the donations coming guys: