It was with great anticipation that we left Ulaan Baatar bound for Russia one last time, Mongolia was once again an absolute highlight for all riders but we were looking forward to something special, our last border crossing for the entire expedition, we had all grown to hate border crossings!
Arriving at the remote Mongol / Russia border I was stunned to meet a relation of mine from Australia crossing into Mongolia, it made our last border less painful, in fact the border was staffed by friendly and efficient guards that had us entering Russia within 3 hours.
We stopped off at Ulan Ude to visit the largest statue of Lenin in the world but also, sadly, to say goodbye to Geoff who had broken his leg and was going home and to Scott who had broken his ribs but would see us again in Yakutsk.
We rejoined the Trans Siberian Highway and rode onto Chita and caught up with Ron and Dean, a couple of Aussies who had camped with us for a few nights. Departing Chita we were amongst the first few people to arrive at a horrific road accident. The scene was horrendous with 7 people involved and a little girl dying at the scene and another older male near death. The screams of a mother wailing for her dead child will remain with us forever, we rendered what assistance we possibly could and rode off in stunned silence, “stuff the Road of Bones” I thought I just wanted to go home to be with the ones I love, life is simply to short!
We continued east on the Trans Siberian Highway before finally reaching the legendary M56 or Lena Highway where we turned north with the sign saying Magadan 3177 kilometers to go and nearly all of it on dirt.
The Lena Highway immediately proved a challenge as we broke another set of springs on the trailer, the group rode onto Tynda while Justin flagged down a truck driver who proceeded to spend an hour helping to fit a new set of springs, and wouldn’t take a ruble for his efforts.
The ride continued due north through the never- ending forests of the Taiga that were turning the colors of autumn, passing many villages that seemed to be in a permanent state of decline. Tiny wooden shacks slowly sunk into the permafrost while old ladies tendered their small gardens and vegetable patches before the onset of another long cold winter. It is difficult to image the hardships these people face in this extremely remote region of Yakutia.
We continued on riding in stunning weather under and endless blue sky on what had become surprisingly good dirt roads, so good in fact that we found ourselves a day ahead of itinerary. We decided to camp on the banks of the mighty Lena River, one of Russia’s largest rivers before crossing, via ferry, the following morning to the western bank where Yakutsk is located. Most of the group wanted to visit the UNESCO listed Lena Pillars, a one-hour bike ride and two- hour boat ride south along the Lena River. Once again the weather cleared and we were treated to a spectacular sight of towering basalt cliffs that rose from the banks of the Lena, it was an awesome sight and worth the considerable effort to get there and back. We eventually arrived at Yakutsk at 9pm!
The president of the local chapter of Russia’s biggest biker club, the Night Wolves, met us in the hotel and invited us all out for dinner and a few drinks. The word was put out and many bikers riding every type of bike imaginable turned up for a great night out. It was with some surprise that we discovered that our imminent arrival into Yakutsk had made it in the local newspaper before we arrived!
Not to be outdone by the newspapers the local TV station were awaiting Justin in the foyer of the hotel but they couldn’t care less in our “epic ride” they only wanted to interview Justin the Hollywood stuntman in his previous life before working for Compass.
We had organized a city guide whom had somehow managed to arrange for the wonderful Permafrost Museum to open exclusively for us on a Sunday.
With the epic Road of Bones looming a day was spent preparing bikes, changing tyres and generally coming to terms that in seven days the expedition is over!!!
The day had arrived; we were about to ride the infamous Road of Bones from Yakutsk to Magadan, actually the Road of Bones starts after we cross the Aldan River at a place called Khandyga.
Riding out of Yakutsk we were yet again greeted by superb sunny weather, the Lena River ferry took one and a half hours before we reached the eastern bank of the river 14ks down stream from where we started and so began the final push for Magadan.
Our first day on the Road of Bones was of course eventful, we broke the 5th set of trailer springs and with no more spares it was decided to hire a Russian version of the Kombi Van, commonly called a “Buhonka”, which literally means “square loaf of bread” as this is what this vehicle looks like. We had to reduce the weight on the trailer or it was not going to make Magadan.
We camped at an outdoor museum surrounded by lakes and forests and again we were treated to a spectacular sunset; we were also joined by Alex and Mila who had ridden from the Ukraine and were to camp with us nearly all the way to Magadan. Their fluency in Russian proved invaluable over and over again.
Dmitry, our Bohonka driver arrived early next morning and we loaded him up leaving our trailer virtually empty and me vowing to push the heap of %^&!! over a cliff if it gave us anymore trouble. We made the Aldan River Ferry by lunchtime but had to “Hurry up and wait” for a number of hours until the ferry filled with vehicles. The Road of Bones had been reasonable condition thus far however some sections had a lot of gravel on it which some riders hated.
We sailed downstream for 2 hours as the endless Taiga silently slipped by under an endless blue sky, it was magical and we all agreed the riding could wait this was great!
Back on Terra Firma we rode through more deep gravel to the God forsaken village of Khandyga, winding our way through potholed muddy back streets we found the one and only fuel station and quickly left town. We found a wonderful camp beside the mighty Aldan River; a great camp meal was cooked up, a campfire enjoyed as were a display of the Northern Lights early the following morning.
We had heard of a great little museum on the Road of Bones at the tiny village of Teply Klyuch and after some searching we found it located inside the local kindergarten whose teachers happily gave up their teaching duties to give us a private tour of this amazing museum that gave a accurate picture of the tragic history of the Road of Bones. We must have looked an amazing sight to the kids as a group of filthy bikers paraded through there rooms, I am not sure who was more excited the kids or the teachers!!
We climbed into the mountains as we rode amongst larch and fir tree covered valleys and ascended and descended pass after pass dissected by wild rivers, it was absolutely stunning riding and not what you would expect of a place with such a tragic history. Our progress was bought to a halt at Kyubume as the only fuel stop, an above ground tank and tiny attendant hut, was unable to pump fuel as their solitary generator had broken down, it was a camp on the old summer road made famous in the Long Way Round series with Charley Boorman and Ewan McGregor that evening.
Fuelled up next morning we rode through to the legendary Road of Bones town of Ust Nera, a more forlorn desperate looking place would be hard to imagine! Our desperation to escape this place was only exasperated after Walt hit a pedestrian in town bring both Walt and pedestrian crashing to the ground, the pedestrian quickly ran away and Walt limped to the fuel station to repair his bike.
The Road of Bones had now become a wonderful track that allowed us to maintain 100kph in sections. The riding continued north east through more epic scenery however another issue continually kept the pace down, flat tyres, we had more flat tyres in 1 day than what we had experienced on the entire expedition thus far.
The superb sunny weather continued which meant no mud nothing to wash away the razor sharp rocks and also meant higher speeds were able to be maintained. We reached the incredible abandoned city of Kadychan by lunchtime and 4 flat tyres during the morning. Kadychan is one on many completely abandoned cities that dot this region. These cities housed 1000s of workers during Soviet times and were quickly abandoned post Communism and the cities were deemed “unsustainable” and the power was cut off. Walking amongst these cities is completely surreal not to mention eerie.
A flurry of flat tyres during the afternoon meant we stayed at a very basic hotel in Sussaman another town that defies description; it is however home to some of the most generous friendly people we had encountered. As in 2010 we were helped by the locals this time to fix a flat tyre on the support vehicle. The owner of the local school bus company spent 2 hours fitting a tube into our tubeless tyre and refused to accept any money despite having supplied a new tube, valve and 2 staff to help us, all at 6pm on a Saturday night!
We had lost so much time it had become obvious that we would be a day late into Magadan. We rode all day again under stunning blue skies and in choking dust, passing semi trailers was a complete leap of faith. Our final nights camp was beside a fast flowing river where we celebrated Scotts birthday, as Scott put it he couldn’t think of a better place to celebrate his birthday than deep in the wilderness of the Kolyma region, Eastern Russia with great friends.
Early the following afternoon we hit pavement for the first time in 3000ks, we only had 160ks to Magadan, after a staggering 18 flat tyres in 4 days we rode into Magadan 2.30pm after 105 days since leaving the Ace Café in London.
As a lead rider it is a moment I long for each expedition I do, it is a moment of intense relief but also of immense achievement, I am proud of all the riders and I think back of all that has passed in the previous 105 days and I am immediately overwhelmed, it is a surprisingly emotional moment and with that I will say no more, WE MADE IT.
Mongolia to Magadan