Russia and back home

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We left Rene battling a windstorm in Mongolia, just before the border with Russia. For this, our last update of Rene’s momentous trek around the world, his plan was to ride through Russia to the east coast port of Vladivostok from where he could ship the bike over to Seattle and ride his final border crossing back to Canada.

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Words and pictures: Rene Cormier. Editing: ‘arris. ‘ay and ‘hornton

We left Rene battling a windstorm in Mongolia, just before the border with Russia. For this, our last update of Rene’s momentous trek around the world, his plan was to ride through Russia to the east coast port of Vladivostok from where he could ship the bike over to Seattle and ride his final border crossing back to Canada.

That was the plan anyway …

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Wet weather means taking time to dry out gear.

Driving to the Russian border the morning after the Mongolian storm allowed me to see the damage caused by the previous night’s wind. Hundreds of meters of fencing were down, billboards snapped in half, and several roofs were missing off the houses. What a day to leave Mongolia!

At the border crossing I met two Italians in a Land-cruiser and we decided to team up and tackle the impending bureaucracy together.

After three hours in a slow entry line, we asked the insurance agent at the border for the price of insurance: twice as much as I paid the first time I was in Russia! So we took another officer’s advice and went to an adjacent town to buy it there.

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Russian street markets could be quite colourful.

After completing all remaining paperwork we entered Russia and headed straight into town to get our insurance, but nothing was open. The officer apparently didn’t know that the entire town shut down on Sunday. So we drove back to the border again, to buy our insurance there. Trouble was, they wouldn’t let us back into the border compound unless we were continuing on to Mongolia.

We were told that the next city was about an hour away, but there was ‘definitely’ an insurance agent open today. It meant that both the Italians and I were driving without insurance, but we had little other choice. Going conspicuously under the speed limit we arrived in the city and were none too surprised to find the whole place closed for the day as well.

With that we opted to call it a day and headed a little out of town where we made camp in the forest. I listened to the rainfall on my tent, pulled out my maps and wondered about the road ahead.

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The last leg.

It was 3,900 kilometers from where I was to Vladivostok. I knew some of the road was under construction, and the rest was probably gravel. But what about river crossings? And what about that big chunk of land where my map didn’t show a road … What was going to be there?

On Monday at 9 a.m. we promptly got our insurance and after all the previous day’s runaround, for the same price as what they would have charged us at the border …Bureaucracies dispensed with, I said good bye to the Italians and headed north to Lake Baikal – the world’s deepest and largest lake – for that evening’s camp.

TRANS SIBERIAN SLOG

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Khabarovsk (1856 km) – Straight ahead for one week!

The Lake Baikal campsite was about 54 degrees north of the equator; the same latitude as Edmonton (in Canada) and this was as far north as I would make it in Russia.

I was itching to make ‘the last road’ to begin the final stage of the trip. Many details started to be viewed through the filter of arriving home. Last oil change, second to last border crossing, last time heading east, 100 days until Canada …

The road that links the big central city of Ulan Ude to Vladivostok is a relatively new one and is still in the paving process. Over the last 10 years this massive construction project has plodded along following roughly the same course as the Trans Siberian Railway.

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The road to Khabarovsk was not the most inspiring.

Since the road was built for fast moving modern traffic, it was situated where it made the most sense from the construction point of view, and so rarely does it pass near the small towns that dot the railways tracks. As a result, there are hours of driving without seeing much more than the endless forests.

Most days I seemed alone on my long slog eastward, but I didn’t have the road to myself. Russian entrepreneurs and car brokers had discovered that there was plenty of money to be made importing used cars from Japan and so every day 300 used, right-hand-drive cars arrive in Vladivostok on the ferry from Japan.

They also discovered that it was cheaper for them to fly people out to Vladivostok to drive the cars west on their week-long trip to central Russia than to send the cars on by train. I saw young couples, old men, and convoys of three to ten cars, cars towing other cars, trucks carrying cars while towing other cars …

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Japanese cars kick up dust as they make their way west.

For a 3,900-km journey, I have few photographs or notes in my journal to substantiate it. I rode 10 to 12 hours a day not because I was in a crazy rush, but because there was very little else to do.

To top it all, my Russian language skills were awful, so talking to locals was more work than I cared for most of the time. Unlike Mongolia, eastern Russia was just an exercise to get from point A to point B.

Towards the end of this haul I ran into a pair of Polish KTM riders. These guys were riding old railroads and back roads that were normally only possible in 6×6 trucks! As is so often the case, during our quick chat they gave me the name of a motorcycle friend of theirs in Khabarovsk, the next city, who would likely help me out.

THE KINDNESS OF STRANGERS

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Evgeny and Katja.

In the fading light I rolled into a gas station in Khabarovsk to meet Evgeny and his daughter, Katja. They were apologetic that they could not host me, as there was a new baby in the house, so he offered to pay for my hotel room. I refused but he insisted and it was done.

Katja met me the next day to give me a walking tour of the city and we finished the day with a great dinner. Despite having seen and benefited from it countless times in my 30-month journey, it still makes my mind spin that hospitality like this exists in the world.

Khabarovsk was as far east as I would go in Russia – and 800 kilometers to the south was Vladivostok, and the end of Russia for me. Two days later I arrived.

Evgeny (continuing the domino effect of Russian hospitality) gave me the name of a motorcycle friend of his called Shustrik in Vladivostok. I called him and he invited me without hesitation to crash there for a few days.

He and his wife Kristi shared a tiny 400 square foot apartment and I slept on the floor at the foot of their bed, along with three other Russian backpackers that had also been invited to stay, and one cat of permanent residence status.

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A very muddy exit from Rene’s last Russian bush camp had him worried for a moment.

Shustrik and Kristi were trying to emigrate to Canada. Their paperwork was done and they were on the waiting list; however, it would be another 12-24 months before they would know if they were successful or not.

It was inspirational to talk to these young Russians about how they were going to better their lives by moving to where there is opportunity. The work ethic and desire are there, and I know better now how the first century of Canada’s fortune was shaped by immigrants arriving with little more than ambition and desire.

My plan of shipping the bike to Seattle was not working out so I opted to take it with me to South Korea from where I could more easily ship it to the U.S. Since my ferry didn’t leave for another week and a half I sheepishly asked Shustik and Kristi if I could sleep on the floor for a while longer and busied myself with the details of getting the GS from Korea to the U.S.

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Beer Vendor. When not planning the sea journey, Rene was buying beer on the street

Then I discovered that the annual bicycle industry show was being held in Las Vegas the weekend after I arrived. I used to work with RockShox in the U.S. and had many good friends still in the bike biz.

What a chance to see them all in one place … even if it was in Las Vegas – my all-time most detested city. Okay, Korea to Los Angeles to Las Vegas to Vancouver it is then.

A few weeks after I left Vladivostok, Shustrik was rewarded for his years of hospitality to the motorcycling community with a sponsored tour of the USA organized by the riders of the Adventure Rider website.

His story is on the thread “The Russians are coming” at www.advrider.com.

COMING INTO LOS ANGELES

 

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A quick trip to South Korea.

After a few weeks in South Korea, I finally arrived in Los Angeles in September. I was speaking English for the first time in two years and was struck at how easy everything was as a result.

But it was also one of the biggest culture shocks of the journey – bums on the street and angry pedestrians yelling at buses. I felt overwhelmed by the constant barrage of advertising and how everybody seemed to be lying, or at least not telling the whole truth.

It was like every statement needed to have that little asterisk after it, telling you to look in the fine print for details as to what was really being told/sold/offered/advertised.

It seemed that in North American society nobody wanted to take accountability or responsibility, and the worst part was that nobody seemed to want to change anything. It made me mad, but to everyone else it was normality.

My few days in Vegas were made tolerable by endless meetings with old friends, but inevitably the last run north was ahead of me. My final bush camp of the trip was in the National Forest of Oregon, then a few soggy days brought me to the border for one last set of stamp – stamp – stamp.

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Inevitably arriving at Kits Beach was a bit of an anticlimax.

How I am going to miss that sound!

The short distance from the Canadian border to Vancouver was strangely anticlimactic as I waited for tears of joy or sadness or melancholy … or something … but I felt nothing.

I pulled into Kits beach in Vancouver at 6 p.m., on Sunday, October 5.

My old roommate Drew met me for the final photograph, and as we chatted night fell and the rain that had been following me all day finally caught up. We retired to a bar to drink beer and watch the rainfall from under a patio umbrella.

Drew got up to fetch us a few more beers and I looked over at the bike.

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The F650GS had served Rene well.

It had taken me a total of four and a half years to cover 156,000 kilometers. One of the side panniers leaked and my drybag repair in Iran no longer worked.

The rubber handgrips had almost worn through and every bag on the bike had zipper issues. The bullet hole repair in the tank had held fast though and the GS had made the journey without any major malfunctions.

The effects of this trip on me as a person are less visible from the outside – a few scars and a bit less hair perhaps. The real changes are on the inside; changes in value, changes in opinion, changes in beliefs, and changes in my world view. Some changes are concrete and others still just settling in.

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Time to reflect on an adventure completed and new ones to come.

I’m not sure what my future holds, but for the next while I will be wintering in my hometown of Edmonton. I have been offered – and accepted – a booth in the upcoming Calgary, Edmonton and Vancouver motorcycle shows where I’ll be on hand to chat about my journey, show off the F650GS and sell some 2009 calendars, so be sure to drop by and say hello.

I have committed to myself to put this journey into a book form that will allow me to go into more detail about what I have seen and more importantly how those sights have changed me as a person.

And for future trips? Absolutely. Where? No idea. When? As soon as possible. And on that trip I will take all the opinions and thoughts that solidified during this last trip and throw them all to the wind again.

Will they change again? Will they stay entrenched?  I am looking forward to finding that out. And as soon as I do I’ll let you know.

Thanks for being a part of this trip, see you on the road.


Rene Cormier

1 COMMENT

  1. Hi Rene
    Desde Bolivia, donde estuvimos en la ruta del CHE, me contabas de tus planes de viaje por el mundo.
    Ya de vuelta en casa, canada, saludarte y felicitarte por los articulos del viaje, excelentes!!!
    saludos

  2. Hi Rene
    It is fantastic to see that you have completed your adventure. As you said to me on the plane from Nairobi to Cape Town, many people dream of doing adventure and never do it. You have come full circle my friend, you dreamt and you lived! Well done and I hope to maybe see you again one day, who knows..

    Ronald (South Africa)

  3. Rene, I’ve just finished reading the email account of your whole travel
    adventure. Totally amazing! Good luck and take care. Ron ( Lisa’s neighbor)

  4. Hi Rene, nice to read that. We’ve recieved your calendar, thank you very much!

    Alexey aka Shustrik, Vladivostok
    [url=http://www.shustr.com]www.shustr.com[/url]

  5. Glad you made it. What a trip. Met you briefly at the border post between Namibia and Zambia in April 07. Two 1200 BM road bikes and two elderly Yanks on a KTM. Must admit you did not look like you would even make it to Livinston. Once again awesome acheivement. If ever on the road again in South Africa be sure to look us up.
    Ricky

  6. Superb series! Thanks Rene, thanks CMG. Rene, the account of your adventures kept me fascinated from beginning to end. I especially appreciated the political, social and historical context in which you set your journey. Your photos were excellent and your observations on the people you met were filled with humour and humanity.

  7. I have rarely looked forward to anything as much as I did your updates from the road, Rene. Thank you for sharing your adventure and allowing guys like me, currently without a motorcycle, to live vicariously through you. I’m glad you enjoyed your magnificent adventure – I did, too, from my computer in Texas. I hope that you will post future adventures in a similar manner so that others like myself can share them. Keep the rubber side down.

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