We had had more storms and rain overnight, which was not ideal for the sort of roads we were going to ride.
Vladimir had us up before 6am, as he wanted to leave the Yurt camp very early.
By 7am, after a quick coffee, we were packed and ready to go. It started easy on the M52 riding north for about 60 km until Aktash.
There, we stopped for fuel and then took a side road to Ust-Ulagan. The road started as decent gravel but soon turned into a narrow bumpy ride. At Ust-Ulagan we stopped again for more fuel, as we would not find any until crossing Lake Teleskoye.
We then took a road that got worse and worse up and up the mountains.
We stopped at the Red Gates for pictures and also because Andrey’s bike was having some problems. The weather was rather bad, grey, cold and occasionally wet.
After some investigation on the electrics, we continued, keeping up with Vladimir at a reasonable speed. I was glad we did the excursion in the mountains the day before, so I was quite comfortable with my bike and I knew it could fly and skip over big lose stones and rocks and was easy to control. I felt my position standing on the foot pegs was improving, giving more balance and control.
After a while we stopped again by a mountain pass. We had a snack and tea in a little café and, after more investigations; Vladimir decided to swap the battery from Andrey’s bike to Alistair’s bike. Alistair’s bike was the only one with a kick-start and the battery was presumed dead.
So we continued, up and down the mountains until we got to the top of the Katu-Yarik pass.
The views were superb over the valley and the river Chulyshman, despite the bad weather, but the descent was quite scary. Well, there was no choice; we had to go down, so down we would go!
I removed some layers as it was going to be hot, and we set off, Vladimir first, and the rest of us in our usual formation.
The descent was very steep, narrow, the track was covered with big lose stones and sand, and I had a big cliff on one side. There was no margin for errors!
I am not comfortable with big cliffs, so I started sitting on my bike but it was very unstable over the big lose stones running under my wheels. I was not feeling the foot (rear) brake when standing up, so it was scary. With such a descent I had to use the foot brake or the bike would go faster and faster. Such little engines are not powerful enough to brake using only the engine brake.
So in the end I adopted the position described by Vladimir, standing up on the foot pegs, putting as much weight as possible at the back by leaning back so the front wheel would be light and skip easily over stones, keeping my shoulders and arms relaxed, looking far ahead and memorizing the obstacles.
I slowly found the foot brake and went down, avoiding incoming traffic (tractors and 4×4!) by millimeters on my left and with only centimeters to spare on my right between the side of my front wheel and the big precipice. The bike, as usual, was superb and I finally got down into the valley.
I pulled next to Vladimir, waiting for me, down in the valley. For him it was easy!
He had been watching me. He gave me a thumb up, flashing his usual big smile, saying, with his thick Russian accent “ Very good!”.
His constant advice had finally got through in my little head, and I had overcome, or at least managed, my fears!
After a long while, the rest of the gang arrived. Alistair’s back brake had overheated and was not working during the descent. They had stopped and decided to continue the descent, slowly.
We then got back on the trail. It looked more like a dry river bed to me, covered in big lose stones and with big potholes full of water. It was tough going and very tiring! By mid afternoon we stopped at a campsite by the river.
As we got changed and had some very late lunch, it started pouring down with rain and more storms.
We had planned to take a small boat across the river and hike for about a mile up the mountain to see the Stone mushrooms. They look like the fairy chimneys in Cappadocia.
However, because of the storm, we decided give it a miss. Andrey, always keen to ride, decided to take off on his bike, to explore the valley.
After a light dinner, we opened a small bottle of vodka but it was not that tasty so we left it and went to get warm by a fire camp. We then went to the Banya for a wash, Alistair and me first, then the rest of the gang.
The next day was, again, an early start. Vladimir wanted us on the road by 6am, as we had to get to the boat at 8am. We would have breakfast by the lake. So we had an early night.
The next morning, we left at 6 and rode again that terrible river bed/ mud/ pools as fast as we could, well, as I could! I was tired and instead of avoiding every single pothole full of water I was just going through, carelessly, like riding a tank!
As we stopped for a small rest, Vladimir turned to me laughing, mimicking swimming, asking if I wanted to transform my bike into a submarine!
Damn, how does he do that?
He is standing on his foot pegs, sometimes far away ahead; he can’t possibly see me … surely?!
He really must have an eye on his back! Or else he is some sort of Russian style James Bond and has super gadgets to see everywhere?
To be fair, some of those water potholes were huge and deep enough! Luckily, my boots kept waterproof!
Eventually we made it to the south shore of the lake Teleskoye, the biggest and deepest in the Altai, and we stopped for a well-deserved breakfast: the usual pancakes, fried eggs, porridge, black Russian bread, all washed down with plenty of tea.
After that, we waited for the boat. Andrey, as usual, took off in his bike to explore the village while Anton and Vladimir were trying to trace our boat. I kept inside, with Alistair, having more tea.
The boat was finally found, about a mile down a very sandy track.
We managed somehow to get all the bikes next to the boat and loaded them in, basically by lifting them into the boat!
Once all were secure, we set off.
Anton disappeared in the second cabin under the bridge, for a snooze while we were on the first cabin, fitted with 2 long sofas. Andrey, joining us under the bridge, declared, with his dry sense of humour: “Vladimir is shitting in the ears of the Captain!” before lying down for a quick nap.
The crossing took about 5h30.
After a snooze and some tea, Andrey decided to give some more business advice to Vladimir, as there was nothing to explore in the tiny boat, while we watched the bikes getting more and more unstable with the bad weather and very rough water.
Eventually Vladimir leapt into action and tightened the ropes. I really thought for a while that we would lose some bikes to the lake!
The other side had beautiful pastel houses and seemed very touristic. That side of the lake has asphalt roads and is easy to access, unlike the south side that is accessible by the Katu-Yarik pass or the lake.
Once we got the bikes off the boat, we rode to a little café for a late lunch. The weather was cold and grey and I put all my layers and waterproofs. As we set off, it started raining. We had 180km to ride, on tarmac, to Manzherok.
We arrived rather late at the Altai-Moto’s club house. We had a quick change of clothes, then went for some dinner in town.
We piled into Vladimir’s truck and we stopped to buy beer and some dry fish and dry meat. After dinner, we went straight to the Banya. The guys had included me by keeping their underwear, while I wore my bikini!
Andrey kept pouring water over the hot stones, clearly trying to bake us, and we got out into the ‘lounge’ area occasionally, to drink the beer, eat the tasty dried fish and meat, and cool down.
We talked, laughed and had a great time. I felt sad too, as we would be saying goodbye too soon. I had been riding with great guys; they felt like best friends, like family, we got on all so well.
Soon, we left the banya, moved to our chalet and got ready to say goodbye to Vladimir and Andrey. Anton would stay with us in the chalet and would come with us to the airport in the morning, to help us for the check in.
This trip has been so intense, terrifying sometimes, feeling on top of the world next, it has been a roller coaster of emotions and pure joy. The background, the Altai Mountains, has been spectacular, the company, exceptional…
I am going to miss the guys: wonderful “Action Man” Vladimir, Andrey the Fearless and Thoughtful Sweet Anton.
I am going to miss the mountains too. This trip has been so much more than what I expected. We will be back some day; there is still so much to explore …
I thought my heart was set on the stunning Andes of south America, but, somehow, the glorious mountains of the Altai have managed to steal a little bit of my heart too and will keep calling.
For now, our plans are still to go back to the Andes at the end of next year, to ride again across the mountains for few months, but it will be very hard to ignore for long the call of the Altai.
There is also a facebook account:
Don’t hesitate! You will have the best time of your life! I know I did!
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