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September 16, 2021 Location ==> Ride Reports - Russia: The Early Years

Russia: The Early Years

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© 2001, Iron Butt Association, Chicago, Illinois  Please respect our intellectual property rights. Do not distribute this document, or portions therein, without the written permission of the Iron Butt Association.

Washington, D.C.

Mike Kneebone and I will be flying out of Los Angeles just after midnight next Wednesday for Sakhalin Island, Russia. It is due north of Japan. The bikes we shipped over there a couple of months ago have made it out of customs and are waiting for us. We intend over the course of the next few weeks to cross Siberia, Russia, and Europe, eventually sticking the front wheels of the bikes in the Atlantic ocean on the coast of Portugal.

We're meeting with two other riders in Sakhalin: John Sartorius, an American who lives on the island and is fluent in Russian, and Steve Attwood, an Englishman who in the last few weeks has ridden from his home north of London all the way across Russia just to hook up with us for the trip back. If you think the ride that we will be taking is an adventurous one, consider what Attwood has already done. These guys are world-class riders. I am honored to be in their company, at least for as long as they'll have me.

I will try to send e-mail reports of our progress as often as I can, but it won't be easy. In Russia, for example, I imagine the first thing I'll have to find is an internet cafe that has an English, as opposed to Cyrillic, keyboard.

In the meantime, wish us luck. We might need it. 8-)

Bob Higdon


Incheon International Airport, Korea

It is going to take some work to do this ride, I fear. I didn't make it out of Baltimore's airport security without having to take my boots off twice. Some of the things I had hoped to carry on were bounced (motorcycle chain, two spark plugs, and a few other things). Then it was a 5.5 hour flight to LAX.

I managed to find Mike Kneebone and Lisa Landry there. She was the rallymaster of the last Iron Butt. We hauled seven bags weighing 4,100 pounds into her SUV and spent half an hour trying to maneuver through laughably dense traffic over to the international terminal for the flight to Korea. More security. More boots coming off. More lines. The check-in guy at Asiana Airlines said it was a 13-hour flight across the Pacific.

It wasn't quite that long, but it was endless nonetheless. There was an Adam Sandler movie --- can anyone tell me one good film he's ever been in? --- followed by some Scooby-Do crap. I finished off six bike mags and slept for a few hours.

We hit this airport at 0440 local time, both of us utter strangers in an even stranger land. More security. More boots off. I expected to begin hemorrhagic bleeding from the eyes and ears at any moment.

We shoved our luggage carts through these empty, cavernous halls, weary from time zones and wearier still anticipating what lies before us. When we decided upon Honda Nighthawk street bikes for this ride, there was no road between Khabarovsk and Chita, a distance of perhaps 1,200 miles through an otherwise impassable Siberian swamp. But a couple of months ago Putin, seeking to buff up his re-election campaign, managed to have the road completed.

"Completed," however, may be too strong a word. Steve Attwood (and before him some Finns) came through on a bike in the past couple of weeks. He (as did the Finns before him) pronounced the road to be in "very bad" shape. It is gravel, not well compacted, varying in size from marbles to golf balls. He's on a KTM 640 dual-sport bike, the one that has won the Paris-Dakar rally in the past two years. Our Nighthawks have street tires. It is one thing when an American rider tells me a road is crap; it is quite something else when European riders say it.

What we should do is stick these poor machines on the train at Khabarovsk and begin drinking vodka sours for three days until we dock at Chita. But since Attwood has gotten through, I am confident that the consensus will be that we at least have to try to slog down that nightmare road until the blood starts pouring out of my ears for real.

The airport was empty at 0500. Mike idly said as we staggered along, "You know, this is the good part of the trip."

Lordy, lordy.

Bob Higdon

Yuzhno, Sakhalin
Saturday, July 3, 0900

Russia grabbed this island, which lies directly north of Japan, during the reign of Catherine the Great. In the Sino-Soviet war in 1905, Japan conquered the bottom half of it and held on for dear life until the end of World War II when the Russians reclaimed it for keeps.

Oil --- lots of oil --- has drawn Exxon/Mobil, Shell, and others here like flies recently. Half the people on the plane from Korea to Yuzhno were American engineers. Prices have escalated as well to accommodate Western standards. You can find hotel rooms that cost about the same as the Hilton in Beverly Hills.

It took 35 hours to make it from Washington, D.C. to the airport here. The weather has been cold and foggy with only occasional appearances of the sun. That should change when we hit the mainland, where it will turn hot and muggy. There will also be 1.2 million mosquitos per cubic meter.

We have the bikes packed, more or less, and will be leaving here for the ferry to the mainland later this afternoon. It sails at 2000 tonight and should dock in Vanino twelve hours later on Sunday. It's an all-day ride from there to Khabarovsk over roads that Steve Attwood says will be a preview of the sorts of stuff we'll be facing in the 1,300-mile section between Khabarovsk and Chita. There the pavement resumes for the remainder of the trip.

There aren't a lot of road choices on a journey like this. The highway essentially parallels the Trans-Siberian railway all the way to Moscow. I'll be interested to see if that city treats me any better than it did the last time I was there in 2002. Then I had a bike that had broken down to the point that Mike Kneebone and I had to retreat to Europe. Moscow can be a tough place to visit. Ask Napoleon and Hitler.

It is a long, long way from here.

Bob Higdon

 
 
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