6 weeks to departure

Only 6 weeks before departure.

What is left in the “to do” pile? The bikes still need few bits but they should be ready by end of next week.

The Bikes:

After a lot of research done by Alistair, they are now fitted with new tyres (Heidenau K 60). We expect those will last the entire trip. They have a reputation for that. They also have heavy duty inner tubes. That includes my back wheel that came “tubeless”. We could not find an adequate tubeless tyre that could fit. Remember, my XT250 is grey import from Japan. Very rare in the UK.

The bikes should be ready by end of next week.

The House and Dog:

The house and dog are pretty much sorted. After some research, few months ago, I joined a website called www.trustedhousesitters.com. You have to pay for joining but it matches home and pet owners with people willing to do the house and pet sitting, usually for free! It seems lots of semi-retired couples are very happy to just go from home to home and country to country, looking after pets and enjoying a free stay in someone else house. So there, something for us to do when we retire maybe!

After discussing with few, very good applicants, we picked a nice retired English couple and they will stay in the house with the dog. It was amazing how quickly I got applications from people all over the world, within an hour of putting my house/dog in the site. With all that sorted, we just need to tidy the house, finish the bikes and pack. Vaccinations are all still valid, including the Tick Borne encephalitis, so no need for any jabs this year.

The border permits:

I contacted a travel agency in the Altai to get our border permits sorted. In Russia, if you are a foreigner, you need  a special permit to wander near the borders (unless main roads to a specific border crossing). That includes between 30 to 50km from any border! The permit is free but not speaking much Russian and not being able to phone the FSB in Russia (ex-KGB!) I am hoping the travel agency can put the request for us. It takes 60 days to process it. With our intention to follow a track across the Altai and Tuva, along the border with Mongolia, we need that permit. If we got caught without a permit we could get in big trouble.

Itinerary:

I have been spending time investigating our itinerary. My route is fairly set in large lines, depending on weather and road conditions.

However, there are some serious inconsistencies from map to map (Russian vs German maps!) and paper maps versus Google Map and Google Earth! This is mainly to cross from the Ural region (Syktyvkar / Ukhta) to Khanty-Mansiysk and Surgut (Siberia)! That big area is very vague and each map shows different roads existing, not existing etc….  I guess we will need to find out once we get there. I suspect that some roads in Google may only be winter roads (i.e. Ice roads) and only a swamp in the summer time. However, the Russian maps say some are all season roads! Time will tell.

One of the main difficulty is the scale of such maps. Russia covers half the planet! Russia is 17m square kilometres (Canada 9.9m, USA 9.8m) Europe is 3.9m!

If we compare with France, the biggest country in Europe, vs Russia, France is…. 249,000 kms…..  70 time smaller…. Imagine crossing France 70 times…. Ok we won’t cross ALL of Russia, but still a big chunk. So, road maps are rather unreliable! No worries, we will get somewhere eventually, even if not where originally intended 😀

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Maps and planning

I finally bought all the road maps required for my trip. That includes several on Russia, Central Asia, Kazakhstan, Northern Poland, Baltic states…. And I have been amazed at the surprised reaction of people to this. “Why not use only your mobile phone” I was asked?

Maybe people these day only rely on their GPS or mobile phone to navigate? But really?

How do you start planning a road trip? For me it starts with maps… ok I would start with Google map first, of an entire continent, but soon a real map is necessary.

And it  tells me so much more… the elevation lines showing tall mountains passes take me into thin air, blue skin, sharp crisp cold; those flats deserts where you can almost feel the intense hit as you follow that straight road, with your finger, through the map, for hundreds of miles; that intense green tropical forest at altitude, I can almost picture the cloud forest and thick fog, smell the humidity, hear the exotic birds… those large deep lakes and big rivers that will challenge us for a crossing; those dense forests… my whole trip starts there, reading the maps, looking at the geography, the details, potential roads, towns and villages…. It also tells me of mediaeval villages, Teutonic castles, fortified cathedrals or archaeological point…. All is there if you know to look. I can write on them, circle things, put some notes…. Nothing compare to a real printed map.

Now we do use GPS, but I always start with paper maps. The GPS won’t be able to take me to that little border crossing and into that interesting canyon that has no name,  it won’t take me through those short cuts, across farm tracks and tiny roads, unless I programmed it to do so by planning with my maps!

Some people seem to think that relying on my mobile phone navigation system is enough. Considering that in many places in the UK we can’t get any mobile phone signal, it’s actually quite amusing!

So my answer to everyone wondering is, yes, GPS (and phone) can be useful, if backed up with reasonable assumptions. So proper paper maps are absolutely necessary.

Think that in Russia many villages and places, may have the same name. Whoops. We could end up doing a 1000 miles before we realise we are not on the right track, if we relied only on GPS! And as I said, planning to take the most scenic or interesting trail or road, visit that national park or stop at a specific point of interest would not be possible with only GPS or mobile phone!

And to top up everything? I like to have a small compass…. Because the state and existence of roads, once there, compared with what both maps and GPS describe, can be… slightly mismatched! At least the compass will confirm we are roughly going in the right direction!

 

2 months before departure

Two months before departure. It is now time to put an update. Our itinerary is slightly different. I put a map below. Instead of crossing Scandinavia, we will ride through Poland instead.

 

 

I have now my Business multi entry Visa for Russia, and Alistair should get his in the next two weeks. We are pretty much sorted on what we are taking, keeping in line with our “minimalist” packing.
Now about the bikes. Some people spend a fortune preparing  and kitting up their bikes. We don’t. However, we prepare  the bikes with the best quality parts that we can find. So here is a list of what needs to be done on both bikes. We replaced about the same parts with the Hondas, 2 years ago, and doing the same with the XT and TTR. So this is for both bikes:
  1. New durable chain;
  2. New Sprockets;
  3. Heavy duty inner tubes;
  4. New “dual“ tyres;
  5. New  wheel bearings;
  6. Check other bearings/replace if necessary;
  7. New oil filter;
  8. New Air filter;
  9. Fit power sockets;
  10. Replace batteries for sealed (gel) batteries;
  11. Fit VERY LOUD horns;
  12. Bigger fuel tank on the TTR;
  13. Fit luggage rack on the TTR;
  14. Check valve clearances;
  15. Replace oil.
And our trusted mechanic will give an all-over sanity check on both bikes, just in case. Both bikes are very tough so we do not expect any mechanic problem this time, as long as we keep them oiled :D.
Departure date is set to Sunday 12th of June. Our “home and pet sitters” will arrive on the 9th, so that give them and the dog time to know each other before we leave.

 

We have not booked the ferry yet, but we will ride up to Harwich and take the ferry to the Hook of Holland.
From there, we will cross quickly Germany and get into Poland and the Baltic states. Then we will have plenty of time to explore Russia high and low before we cross Kazakhstan.

 

Now, 2 years ago, we had to cross Kazakhstan very quickly on the 1st leg of our journey,  and we had to take a detour to Almaty on the second leg, because of  the registration rules. This time, things will be easier. Visa can now be obtained at the border, and that includes 15 days registration. So we may have time to check out further eastern Kazakhstan, avoiding crazy Almaty,  before we get to Kyrgyzstan. From there, depending on time left, we will try to get into Tajikistan.