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Week Five Chapter: 06 Jun ~ 12 Jun 2006 - Russia

"The creative is the place where no one else has ever been. You have to leave the city of your comfort and go into the wilderness of your intuition. What you'll discover will be wonderful. What you'll discover will be yourself. " - Alan Alda (1936 - )

"The traveler was active; he went strenuously in search of people, of adventure, of experience. The tourist is passive; he expects interesting things to happen to him. He goes "sight-seeing.“ - Daniel J. Boorstin (American social historian and educator, 1914)

"Tourists don't know where they've been, travelers don't know where they're going." - Paul Theroux (American travel Writer and Novelist, b.1941)

Forbidden City, Beijing, China

Viewed from a simulated attitude of 28 kilometers, a satellite view of Novosibirsk, the largest city in Siberia, and the first 3-night layover for the riders of the World Tour 2006.
(Image courtesy of  Google Earth)

Starting location for this week: Krasnoyarsk, Russia
Ending location for this week: Irbit, Russia, Home of Ural Motorcycles (Sidecars)
Planned mileage for this week: 2,447 kilometers (1,530 miles)

Zdravstvuite ("hello" in Russian)
Zdravstvui ("hello" in Russian - informal)
Zdorovo ("hello" in Russian - informal)
Privet ("hello" in Russian - informal, amongst friends)

Lake Baikal behind us, the Ural Mountains (and end of Siberia) ahead. If Siberia were an independant country, it would be the largest on Earth; it encompasses roughly 60% of Russia's landmass. Rich in natural resources, being covered in ice and snow for half the year has limited its development.  Temperatures can plunge to -68°C (-90°F) during the winter. As I write this introduction, it's a humid 31°C ( roughly 90°F) outside.

Truly, it's a land of extremes.

As we ride along the "National Highway" (at times, a series of pot-holes and frost-heaves interconnected with patches of broken pavement and asphalt), we pass small communities of Russian-style log cabins.  Outside, stacks of firewood are already drying in anticipation of the bitterly cold winter to come. Crops are in the ground.  The people are stoic, rugged, and look worn and weary.  We're far enough north that it's light at 4:30AM, and the skies are light until 10:30PM - it makes for a long working day for the farmers, forestry and construction workers.  Life is hard and severe, and it shows in the faces of the people who live here.

In contrast, Novosibirsk has the appearance of a thriving city.  For the first time, Wi-Fi is available in the hotel lobby, and evenings are a "geekfest" of riders studiously replying to email and surfing the web. ATM's abound, and expensively-priced Levi's, Cuban cigars, and almost any other luxury item are available anywhere. Toilet paper actually tears on the perforations! Hot water is available and miraculously runs clear, no longer the scale and rust-laden tepid dribble that, until now, has greeted riders every morning in many of our "best available" Siberian accommodations.

We've been told that National Geographic Magazine did an article several years ago - an attempt to explain the extraordinarily high numbers of truly beautiful women in Novosibirsk, which ranked #1 of all the world's cities in this regard. Whatever the reasons, it is manifestly true.  Sitting outside at any sidewalk cafe or beer garden is like a front row seat on the runway at a fashion show. I've heard it said that women dress for each other - the competition here is severe, the results have to be seen to be believed, but, I digress. . . .

Oh yes, there's lots of history and culture and stuff too <g>.

Welcome to Week Five of the World Tour 2006, we're not yet half-way, there are many stories to come!

Mike, Your Webmeister

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Unless otherwise noted, all photographic images on this page were taken by Helge Pedersen.

The many forms of "Hello" in over 800 languages and other useful words and phrases are courtesy of Jennifer's Language Page.

To find out what time it is there (or anywhere!), visit The World Clock.

To see where they are now, visit the Navigation Technology Chapter.

For more information about Russia, please visit the resources listed below:

- The World Factbook, maintained by the Central Intelligence Agency of the United States:

- The Consular Information Sheets, provided by the Department of State of the United States:

- The web-based, free-content encyclopedia entries at Wikipedia, maintained by "GlobeWriters" everywhere":

Day 29 - 06 Jun 2006 - Krasnoyarsk, Russia

A break from the bike ride.

On my way back to help to fix a flat tire on our last day in China I met Dan with his bike stuck in the middle of a gravel road. He had lost a turn and instead of doing a detour, he had been fooled by the bad visibility from a sandstorm and headed down the deep gravel where the new road eventually will be.

This mistake were to haunt Dan in the days to come and it was first after a visit to a doctor in Irkutsk, Siberia, that he found out that the fall he had in the gravel had injured his neck.

With doctor prescriptions and treatment we decided that Dan and his bike would enjoy the Siberian Taiga from the comfort of the Trans-Siberian railroad for a few days. With a break from the bumpy ride the doctor claimed that Dan will be ready to ride with us when we once again meet in Yekaterinburg.

We miss you Dan and look forward to have you join us again.

I would also like to use the opportunity to thank MIR Corporation’s local representative in Irkutsk, Vladimir and his wife Oxana, for their great help during our stay and for all the support that was given to Dan.

Helge Pedersen

Day 29 - 06 Jun 2006 - Krasnoyarsk, Russia

Our two days at Listvyanka on Lake Baikal hit a new "low" in several ways.

At times, it seems like drinking is a Russian pastime.  Beer, vodka and other forms of brewed and distilled beverages are sold everywhere, at gas stations, sidewalk kiosks, any place that sells food in any form. At a roadside cafe that we stopped at for breakfast, the table next to us has two bottles of vodka that are being judiciously consumed by four men, at 7:00AM in the morning!

What new low had we reached then by being kicked out of a Russian waterfront bar?  No fist fights, cat calls, or groping, but we were ushered out with a firm hand, and the door locked behind us. Apparently, we were simply "too noisy".  Perhaps drinking is such a serious activity that laughter and joking around are not tolerated.

The current life expectancy for a Russia male is 60.5 years of age. Alcoholism is a major contributor to this disturbing statistic.  Perhaps a little more laughter and a lot less drinking is in order.

The next morning, a pleasant boat cruise on Lake Baikal eased us into a new day.  Given the festivities of the previous night, imagine the horror of seeing bottles of vodka and cases of beer being loaded onto the tour boat first thing!

Our boat had been recently refitted.  Freshly painted, equipped with a large flat screen display, new fixtures and bathrooms, a full kitchen, lounge and sauna, the ship, the crew, and the calm waters and crystal clear lake did not disappoint.

Shortly after departure, two cooks were dropped off along the shoreline to prepare a regional delicacy, smoked Ohmul (a freshwater fish indigenous to Lake Baikal) - next to ice cream and chocolate in any form, smoked Ohmul is perhaps "Norwegetarian" Helge Pedersen's favorite culinary delight on the World Tour. Idling serenely above one-fifth of the world's fresh water supply, life was good!

Four hardy members went into the sauna, three clothed, one "au natural", then took the heart-stopping plunge into the lake. All made it safely back on board, discovering that even breathing is impossible in the icy waters of Lake Baikal.  Another low, the coldest waters of the tour.


Day 31 - 08 Jun 2006 - Novosibirsk, Russia

You realize why you travel with a group when things happen out of your control. I was riding with my compatriot, Eev, and with Elliot the "Super Speedy Doc", when a large cloud of smoke and a stunning silence replaced the steady pulses from my engine

The bike was toast on the road to Kemerovo! Martin (our country guide) and Victor (our chase vehicle driver), with Mike Paull stepping in and making command decisions (which proved to be based on sound experience and good judgment) got the bike and I loaded into the chase van and onto our destination

I talked it over with Helge and decided to wait until we got to Novosibirsk to make any moves. It turns out that having Helge to talk with and offer advice and encouragement is just what the doctor ordered. We found a good Honda Varadero 1000 V-twin, imported used from Japan, which will become my new ride across Russia

We are about a third of the way across this immense place and it's still about 4,000 miles to the border. The plane ride to Munich from here is 7 hours. I'll be able to continue on. The support of the team, all of them, is really heart-warming.

I want to make a few observations here about the trip so far. The contrast between China (the most populace country) and Russia (the largest) is startling. In China, you rarely saw children. As soon as we crossed the border into Russia, we saw children everywhere.

You hear about population control but to see it in action is riveting and it makes you really think about what the consequences will be. Russia is losing population at a rate of 700,000 a year and offering bounties to couples to encourage children.

Another observation - the rate of construction in China is unbelievable. Everywhere you look, new buildings are going up. In Russia, the rate of decay, and the abandoned and collapsing buildings, is just as amazing. Russia seems to be a country which is struggling to survive and China is setting itself up for growth.

Enough of this stuff, I do want to tell you all that this group of riders is very impressive and I have been having a ball traveling with Eev, my new friend from the Netherlands. I am including some of my images of the trip with this report.

Joe Hutt - happy in Russia

[Note: All images in this story courtesy of Joe Hutt]

Day 31 - 08 Jun 2006 - Novosibirsk, Russia

It is not cold; it is freezing!

Four nations, one sauna and one-fifth of the world’s coldest fresh water, welcome to a dip in Lake Baikal. It is said that you will be 25 years younger if you take a swim in Lake Baikal. If that is the case, four members of our group, Matthew, Elliot, Viktor and myself are looking mighty good right now.

However had it not been for the sauna on the boat we were sightseeing with, I do not think we could have survived the icy waters of Baikal. It has become a tradition on our GlobeRiders World Tour that some of us take a dip in the lake. We combine this with our day-long boat trip. This year the cook on the boat was let ashore in a remote bay to smoke some freshly caught Omul, a local fish. A few hours later we returned to a incredible meal.

It was still on the cold side that Friday, June 2nd, even though we did have a little sun and warmth that afternoon as we returned from the boat trip. Being a Friday we met several wedding parties having their reception on the shores of Lake Baikal. Most likely they had driven down from Irkutsk to enjoy the magic of Lake Baikal.

This is an incredible lake in so many ways. First of all it contains one fifth (20%), of all fresh water in the world. There is only one river that drains the lake, the Angara River, while thousands of streams and rivers add water to the lake every day. Fifty-thousand seals calls Baikal their home and this is the only place on earth that seals live in a fresh water lake.

To continue our journey across Siberia we once again have to fight our way through traffic in Irkutsk. But with good help from Vladimir (our local guide) we were through the city in no time and could enjoy the quiet open road towards Tulun, the destination for that day.

This was the day that summer came to Siberia. An unbelievable clear and warm day greets us as we ride our bikes across wide-open land with rolling hills and farms littering the terrain. Everywhere we look people are busy preparing the fields. Women dressed in no more than underwear and bra work side by side with their neighbor friends enjoying the sun as they turn the soil to plant vegetables to feed their family. It is a unfamiliar sight for most of us, but in Siberia this is nothing unusual.

Kind of hard to avoid all the portholes that are everywhere when these kinds of vistas appear. Friendly smiles and a wave make for a great day in the saddle. If I had any other choice I would have done nothing else that day than ride my BMW R1200GS Adventure across Siberia.

Until next time.

Helge Pedersen

Day 33 - 10 Jun 2006 - Novosibirsk, Russia

16 km……10 mi….our shortest travel day yet. Manzhouli, China to Zabaikalsk, Russia. Shortest day in distance….longest day in tedium…. greatest day in differences.

From dynamic to lethargic.

From progressive to regressive.

From burgeoning capitalism to collectivist bog-down.

The people of Russia, are very friendly, yet seem weighed down with a heaviness, a dour, non-trusting, “lock and key” mentality. There are security guards at every door to almost every business. It doesn’t seem that the lock and key and security guards are necessary…just a carry over from the old hard-line thinking of “Don’t trust anybody.” A careful study of Putin somewhat typifies their demeanor.

But observed were a couple of bright spots as Russia tries to break out of its downtrodden history:

  1. The merchant in Tulun with his newly renovated hotel. He also owns several other businesses in the same block, including an appliance store and market. His affluence is attested to by his entire anterior (and probably posterior!) dentition being crowned with gold. Ugh!! [Editor’s Note” Frank is the resident dentist in the group!]

  2. The Novosibirsk restaurateur who teamed up with a Canadian consultant and now owns 26 restaurants throughout Siberia’s largest city

Siberia….what a place!

Immense and vast is an understatement.

Siberia’s size swallows up the US and Western Europe combined, with oodles of land left over.

Siberia is both stark and beautiful beyond mere words.

Its rivers are many and huge.

Its forests are varied and go on mile after mile.

Siberia’s grain fields roll over the hills to beyond the horizon.

We’ve been in Siberia for two weeks, yet have many more days to go.

It’s immense!

I cannot grasp the tremendous impact such an adventure as this will have. Travel through countries and cultures by motorcycle is truly the ultimate in experiencing geography.

The cure for the myopic view of one’s self and country is an excursion such as this.

Such a trip as this helps to open one’s close-mindedness. It makes one more generous, tolerant, and…. open.

Thanks AGAIN, Helge and Mike…..(and Shirlee too!!)

Frank Baughman

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Day 33 - 10 Jun 2006 - Novosibirsk, Russia

[Image 01] On our way to Irkutsk we stop at a road side stand where women are selling fresh smoked Omul, a salmon/trout like fish found only in Lake Baikal. This will be our lunch when we reach the hotel today, what a treat.

[Image 02] Along the roads in Russia we see people sitting beside a pile of potatoes or other produce that they have gathered and are offering for sale. Some times it looks like these people are out in the middle of no-where miles from any town waiting for some trucker of other customer to stop and purchase their wares.

[Images 03 & 04] The roads out of Tulun have not changed in six years, except for the worse. This time we made sure that we were on the right track from the beginning. What a road. The first 75 km were dirt rock gravel, then some decent paved road for about 100 km then 25 km of packed sand and gravel with frost heaves in the middle for fun, then a few km of pavement, then 100 km of frost heaves, packed dirt and rocks, then a little more pavement, a few more km of gravel, a little rain and then finally good roads the rest of the way to Krasnoyarsk. Bill, Curtis, and Bard were with us most of the day. Good traveling companions.

[Image 05] Buying gas in Russia is still a challenge. First you must determine how many liters you need, then come up with the exact change, as they all give a disgusted sigh when you give them more money than you purchase and they have to give you change back. After you have paid them for the gas, they turn on a switch that starts the pump. When this happens, you had better have the nozzle in the tank or you may have the gas you purchased pumped all over your bike and all over the ground. Their pumps work fast and before you know it your 7, 10 or 15 liters are in your tank. If you purchased too much gas and nobody else is there to put it in their tank you are just out of luck. They do not give refunds and if there is a local there to take the extra gas, they sure are not going to pay you for it. The gas varies from 80 to 98 octane and cost a little over two and a half US dollars a gallon. One station gave one of the group a plastic bottle with the gas he couldn’t use.

[Image 06] Hopefully, the worse of the roads are behind us, it is time once again to check over the bikes. Here you see what appears to be the fix it school.

[Image 07] In Krasnoyarsk we go to see the Stolby rocks and climb to a lookout point above the city. We are smiling so I guess we are still having fun. The bike is running well and there have been no major problems, just the usual little stuff.

[Image 08] I remember this building from the first trip in 2000. We met Helge at a gas station here and he said we would be staying there the next time. It seems that there is still a lot of construction that was begun during the breakup of the Soviet Union that has never been completed. Some buildings they say have construction flaws like cracked or inadequate foundations. Most they just call “frozen construction”. It is too bad as some, like this one, look like they could be very beautiful if finished.

[Image 09] Farm and construction equipment seems to be varied from horse and cart to modern four wheel vehicles. The three wheeled Ural are also prevalent, but we will get into those more later. This certainly is a land of contrasts.

[Images 10, 11 & 12] In Novosibirsk we visit the Opera & Ballet Theatre, the largest opera and ballet theatre in Russia. When we visited in 2000 we saw it in the dark as they could not afford to turn on the power. Today they had the lights on and were happy to give us a tour of the whole building, top to bottom. They have refinished the inside of the building and added a few new features. The ballet and opera groups have once again been established and they give performances regularly. This seamstress has been here since 1945 and is still making alterations to the thousands of costumes they have in stock. It is nice to see this beautiful facility brought back to life.

Jeff and Ann Roberg

Day 33 - 10 Jun 2006 - Novosibirsk, Russia

Top Ten Things I Have Learned on the World Tour 2006

1. The road is a tempting mistress, she will seduce you into going faster and faster with her perfect conditions and then break your heart (or more) with an unforgiving hazard.

2. Warm beer is okay.

3. I can go more than one day without a shower if I have to.

4. Laughing sounds the same no matter what country you are in.

5. The chop stick diet – eat with chop sticks for one month and you will lose weight.

6. Being poor in China and Russia is a lot different than being poor at home.

7. I’m overwhelmed at the response we get from children. Alex, a ten year old boy in Zabaikalsk, Russia, was asking me in English about our trip and where I was from. After I had answered his questions he gave me his pocket watch and asked me to take it with him on the tour and bring it to America with me. He said he would never be able to go to America but he could think about his watch and where it was. I’m carrying his watch very carefully.

8. A bottle of vodka should have a warning label on it.

9. The Western world doesn’t have a lock on beautiful women.

10. Never trust a cow.


Day 31 - 08 Jun 2006 - Novosibirsk, Russia

Howdy to you all from SIBERIA.

Wow! Never thought I would be saying that to anyone. It must be 90 something degrees right now. This hotel is not air conditioned, nor the restaurants, no surprises there, huh? Why buy air conditioners for only two months of the year?

China was amazing, so many people on the streets walking without bumping into each other. The food was outstanding. I guess you could say China is wide awake in this world of ours.

Now Russia, so far, seems to be just starting to stir. The vast distances and smaller populations in the areas we have traveled so far I’m sure will take longer to change. Most of the “country people” are still living in the log cabins built maybe over a hundred years ago. No mortgages to pay, but no plumbing either.

I got off the main highway M53 the other day and rode into some of the villages visible from the paved road. Some were good gravel roads with proper drainages and grades and some were just regular pasture dirt with no surface material and no evidence of maintenance of any kind. I guess it is “who you know” over here just as it is at home.

Being from Texas, I have noticed the cattle breeds seem to be the good Continental breeds crossed into the local animals and it looks a hardy result even though most of them probably have names, since they are walked on a leash or tied out by the highway. Some of the larger herds have mounted cowboys in charge as fence materials must be hard to come by out here in SIBERIA.

The riding has been great so far, with enough challenges to keep it interesting and the riders alert. I’ll never complain about potholes again, or even public toilets for that matter. A different way to buy gas now, you have to decide how much you want and pre-pay the money and then they will turn on the pump. If you are wrong, well, we are all getting a lot better now.

But enough of that stuff. I’m sure everyone has written about that.

I am now officially a TV star. Helge let me do one of the local TV interviews last week; I think they asked for the most famous rider for their subject. (Could it be I told them that I was, what do they know between a Norway accent and a Texas accent?) I’m sure I was great, how could I not be? I am a natural, in my opinion of course.

The accommodations have been interesting, but do seem to be the “best available”. The food, well, the old stories of a week of nothing but cucumber sandwiches are a thing of the past. Everything seems plentiful and of very good quality, I’m impressed.

The old bike seems to like it fine here and other than I will need new shocks when this is over, all seems well, nothing unusual at all. Of course I am not in a hurry and I ride to save the bike so I can ride it again tomorrow and the next day. If you need parts here, well, your trip is over.

The people are not very friendly but they seem to be interested and helpful when needed. The local bikers in everyplace are great and the local bike clubs will gather wherever we are, wanting to party with new friends. They are great people and very friendly; smile all the time just wanting to be friends. How great is that???

One last thing, Vodka will make a hole in your memory. I think so anyway, I can’t really remember.

Curtis—current local TV star, and loving it.

Images from Siberia by Helge Pedersen

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