The next few days were blissful, sunny, beautiful riding. The Kolyma highway around Kyubeme is incredibly beautiful; sunlit forests, windy mountain roads descending to epic rivers. The road surface is generally great, a comfortable 80km/hour with some switchbacks and only occasional mud; with good weather you can’t get much better for fun riding.
About 100km after meeting up with Francis, we were presented with our first river crossing of the trip! I’d never done a water crossing on a bike before. Or for that matter, in a car. As such I generously let Francis go first.
After we unstuck his KTM from the enormous hole it got jammed in, I had a go. Either because my Suzuki is vastly superior to Francis’ KTM (or perhaps because I went second…) I made it through without any issues. Here’s a video! Yeah boii
With boots filled with icy mountain water, we cruised through stunning scenery. Really, it’s amazing and I didn’t take enough photos, and my bug-splattered GoPro doesn’t do it much justice. The road from Khandyga to Ust-Nera has to be one of the most beautiful motorcycling roads anywhere, and it’s a shame (or perhaps a good thing) that you have to battle through so much rubbish road to get there. The road surface starts off very rubbish just out of Khandyga, with lots of mud, roadworks and really terrible loose surface. Then you get pretty single-track windy mountain road, which is fantastic if you can time it so there’s no other traffic (ie. morning).
After that, you hit the mother of all road construction projects: wonderful wide gravel (90-100km/h) with fancy bridges on the completed sections, followed by the ongoing roadworks and a slightly terrifying descent on switchbacks down through a stunning river valley. They’re building a huge bridge, so the road you drive on is temporary – one vehicle wide with precipitous drops off the side. And oncoming construction traffic.
At one point, a bulldozer dumped several tonnes of soft sand in front of me, which was nice. Evidently I looked like I needed more of a challenge. And so it is with roadworks in Russia: there’s no sense of continuity of service of the road. The construction workers are fixing things, you should be grateful, and you’re expected to make your way around them however you can.
In any case, in 2015 this will be a beautiful, beautiful stretch of road (probably to the detriment of the river valley, but this is Russia). The stretch of road is the most remote part of the highway, and so the scenery is stunning, untouched wilderness.
We made it to Kyubeme around 5pm, our target for the night. It’s really just a truckstop with three or four demountable buildings and some fuel pumps in the middle of absolute nowhere. There was a young kid, perhaps six or seven helping out with the cafe, and I couldn’t imagine growing up in a place like that. There is nothing at all for 300km in one direction and 250 in the other. Your life is a few tin sheds. And (apparently) One Direction DVDs on the TV.
A cat manned the fuel station as we filled up.
We found a fairly nice campsite nearby, and enjoyed a beer with about six million mosquitoes. I’d read about this and had brought some serious 80% DEET repellent from Australia which held them off for about 10 minutes, but also dissolves some plastics. So, you got to choose: toxic chemicals or malaria. It’s got some sunscreen in it so you won’t get sunburnt, which is nice to know as your skin slowly dissolves.
The next day was more of the same: great roads, great weather, great scenery. The roads were hard packed gravel and dry clay, with only occasional trucks to overtake with their dust plumes, and we made good time at 80km/h.
Grabbed some Chinese for lunch in Ust-Nera, a bit of a one-horse-plus-a-chinese-restaurant sort of town, and then it was back to the wilderness after filling up for the 410km stretch ahead. I’m not entirely sure if the restaurant didn’t make us both quite sick, so I’m not going to give it my recommendation (whatever that’s worth ;)
Having hit the northernmost point at Ust-Nera, the road turned southeast and changed from the rocky hills to epic marshland, as far as the eye could see: Siberia. This did make it a little tricky to find a campsite on account of everywhere being a pretty, mosquito-filled, bear-filled swamp. We stopped briefly in a middle-of-nowhere town called Artik to ask for a place to stay – nothing – so we persevered and ended up camped next to a small lake. Lake is probably generous, it was a swamp, and a polluted one at that; someone had dumped an old oil drum in there which was doing its bit to slowly destroy the unspoiled environment. Francis dived into the tent to hide from the mosquitoes; I tried to spend a few minutes enjoying the scenery with the DEET but ended up following soon after.