Rolling in Russia
Before starting about Russia, I must mention how lucky we were in Canada - while working on the process of getting the motorcycles to Russia, we had to get Russian visas for ourselves. Unfortunately, we couldn't apply for visas in Russian consulate or embassy in Canada nor in USA as we were only visiting these countries as tourists... Rules are rules, we thought, and urgently sent our passports to Lithuania, our home country, and got an agent to apply for visas on our behalf. Just as we sealed the passports in an envelope and gave them away to the parcel company, we realized that our new MotoZ tyres and RK chain will not reach Canada on time to be loaded into the crates together with our motorcycles as the time was very limited and they were being sent from US, so the customs could possibly delay the shipment a few days. We came up with a brilliant idea to ship them to the North of Washington state in US, since Vancouver is on the border and it wouldn't be far to ride there and pick everything up. But then we realized that it was impossible since we had no passports! I called out for help on Instagram and next thing we know - Andy and his wife Janis from Bellingham, WA agreed to get our shipments delivered to them and then drove all the way over the US/Canada border to Vancouver to bring our chain and tyres to us! I never doubted that the world is full of wonderful people, but Andy and Janis proved it once again!
So after spending almost a month in Vancouver (I could definitely live there - it's such a nice place!) we finally got our bikes dispatched to Russia and shortly followed them. The cheapest option for us was to catch a flight to Seoul in South Korea and then hop on a ferry to Vladivostok together with our bikes.
In Korea we had only two short days to explore and no motorcycles, so we only saw a little bit of Seoul and a little of Donghae. And then spent 24 hours on a ferry from Donghae to Vladivostok with a rather interesting company of Korean tourists (who drink from early morning) and Russian workers (who drink till early morning).
After finally reaching Vladivostok, we got off the ferry and were picked up by our customs broker Yuri. He made sure we exit the ferry without waiting in the queue and drove us to the biker club "Russian Samurais". Linas had agreed with these local bikers that we will stay in their club-house for a few days.
A french couple traveling on two motorcycles around Europe and Asia Natalie and Philippe (Du Phare Ouest To Far East) were already there, but they left next day on their long ride back to Europe.
Next day for us was a big day: together with Yuri we went to the customs office to initiate the process of getting our motorcycles off the ferry and onto the Russian roads. There we met two German brothers Thies and Momme (yes, this is his real name) who rode all the way from Germany to Vladivostok on new KTM bikes (check out their blog: Torque to Strangers) and were about to get on the same ferry we came on to go to Japan to continue their adventure there before going back home to Europe.
Half a day, many signatures and 280 US dollars later, we successfully got our motorcycles out of the crates and onto the Russian roads.
While staying with "Russian Samurais", we were invited to visit one of the club members Nikita and his wife for traditional Russian lunch. This was our first local experience :) Thanks, guys!
Next thing we had to do was motorcycle maintenance. Since our F800GSA is still on warranty, we are obliged to do the regular service in authorized dealerships. Luckily BMW dealership in Vladivostok was opened two years ago and they have an awesome Motorrad corner with not only the right people working there, but also right people visiting it daily :)
We went there together with another French rider Petit Luc, who is a cartoonist in his regular life, but also owns a very well traveled BMW R100GS motorcycle and keeps it in Russia to be able to ride here few times a year. In the showroom we met a local BMW enthusiast Igor, who invited us to go for a sightseeing ride around the city with him.
Igor told us a lot about history of Vladivostok, a truly beautiful city, which reminded us a bit of San Francisko in California (well, a Russian version of it...) and since we were so close to North Korea and China, offered to take us for a ride to the tri-country border which is just a couple of hundred kilometers ride away from the city. We gladly agreed.
Riding behind Igor gave us an understanding of driving Russian-style :) Everyone is breaking the rules a bit, everyone is speeding a bit (if the age and condition of their vehicle allow that) and everyone is fighting for their right of way. The fact that Russians import crazy amounts of used Japanese cars which have steering wheel on the right side, and never bother to change it to make these cars properly fitted to the right sided traffic, made us a bit worried in the begining - you never know on which side of the car the driving is sitting, but soon we got used to it and it doesn't bother us any more, just like it never bother locals... Meanwhile the steering wheel on the right side is somewhat a sign of quality here as Japanese cars are considered to be much better than those which may as well be of Japanese brands, but assembled in Russia for the local market.
Finally, on the 2nd of September we left Vladivostok, since our Russian visa is only valid until the 21st of September and we had about 7000 kilometers ahead of us to the border of Kazakhstan.
Russian riders in remote wilderness of Eastern Russia have a tradition to take good care of the travelers. We got a list of phone numbers and strange nicknames which we had to call as we get to certain towns and villages. These were either members of some biker clubs of simply motorcycle enthusiasts who welcomed us everywhere with incredible warmth.
First important stop was in Khabarovsk. Grisha, head of sales in BMW Motorrad Vladivostok, gave us a phone number of his client Maksim who supposedly had just opened a motorcycle-styled hotel in the city. We called Maksim, but were explained that unfortunately the hotel is still under construction, however his son Mikhail, who is running a motorcycle workshop project is having a pre-opening photoshoot tonight and we are welcome to visit it and will be able to stay in the house that is just build, but still has no furniture (which shouldn't be a problem for us since we have our camping equipment). The photoshoot was a real fun and the Russian afterparty with lots of drinks, food and singing songs with a guitar music was even more fun :)
After Khabarovsk, we rode to a town called Birobidzhan in Jewish Autonomous Region. The place we stayed in had little to do with Jews, but a lot to do with Russian hospitality. Two local bikers from the club called "Prizraki" (Ghosts in Russian) Dima and Dima, met us on the entrance to the town and took us to their club-house. As soon as we arrived, they turned on the stove and started cutting meat, potatoes and onions. Next thing we know - two tattooed Russian bikers were preparing a hot home-made meal for dinner for us! They also had some local moonshine for us to try and a lot of stories to share. We were amazed again by the warmth of local people here...
Next morning we took off early as we had to cover 1400 kilometers in two days. Bikers explained to us that there is not much to see on the road and nowhere to stop for the night except in so-called bike-posts. We could stop in one of the club-houses in Ekaterinoslavka, but then there would be a 1000 kilometers left for the next day to get to the famous bike-post in Mogocha, so we opted to ride another 100 kilometers further from Ekaterinoslavka to a town called Svobodny (Free in Russian) if the local rider Sergey would accept to host us. We called Sergey and he said sure, come over - he didn't ask us where we are from of where we are going - motorcycle travelers are motorcycle travelers and they will be taken care of in Russia.
We arrived to Sergey's house and met his wife Ola, who explained to us that they are leaving to Vladivostok by car on vacation early morning tomorrow. Nevertheless, we were welcome to stay with them and before we even realized, they had dug some fresh potatoes in their garden and got some other fresh vegetables to make us dinner. Ola didn't go to sleep all through the night as she had a lot of preparations to do before leaving the house for a few weeks, but in spite of her sleepless night, she again made our hearts melt by preparing us warm breakfast before we all left their home - us going west and them going east.
After leaving Svobodny, we had our longest riding day of this whole trip since we started it over 320 days ago! We covered almost 900 kilometers to Mogocha and were greeted there by the local rider who came to meet us on the highway and went into a sliding turn the moment he saw us coming. He nearly crashed his Suzuki Intruder, but the whole stunt was truly impressive :) He took us to their club-house where we could boil some pelmeni (dumplings in Russian) for dinner and quickly fall asleep since a long day's ride with a chilly part in the evening really got us exhausted...
Next morning everything outside had a layer of frost over it. Autumn has come... We waited till the air temperature reached "pleasant" 7 degrees, got on the bikes and rode away, enjoying the magestic nature views along the way...
600 kilometers later we reached Chita. It wasn't the most beautiful city we have ever seen and after few days of riding unusually long distances for us, we were dreaming about a cosy (but cheap) hotel room with warm shower... Yet again we had a phone number of a local rider in town and he kindly met us on the road and escorted to a hotel nearby with a secure parking for motorcycles and a very decent price. He could have easily send us a message with a name or address of that hotel or any hotel in town, but he opted to personally meet and take us to a hotel to make sure we will be comfortable and safe for the night. Once again we were amazed by the culture of local riders here...
From Chita usually next stop is Ulan-Ude. The distance between these two towns in about 700 kilometers. For Russian riders it's almost a short ride :) One rider in Vladivostok was telling me about their trips - they go riding from Vladi to lake Baikal and back (it's about 4000 kilometers one way...) in two weeks and easily cover a 1000 kilometers a day... He was complaining that the ferry and all the documents to get from Vladivostok to Japan is so expensive, that it is really not woth the hassle, since there are ONLY 4000 kilometers of roads that could be ridden in Japan if you would visit every village there. For the riders here, distance is what matters when going for a ride - they are so used to their wide open roads which lay straight for thousands of kilometers, they don't see any other way to ride. And indeed, we could definitely feel the magic of riding a wide straight road in between the gigantic fields and hills around us under a neverending blue sky of Far East Russia.