Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Day 54 Thursday August 21st 62 miles east of Kuamda

The next morning sure enough Elana came along at about 9:30 and insisted we all went to her house for breakfast. This was a sumptuous meal of pancakes (as many as we wanted) with options of cream, honey or blackberry jam. Also available were tomatoes, and cucumber salad, bread, salami and tea. They rummaged about in the fridge and came out with a Tupperware box full of smoked fish however we politely refused as we were already full to the brim!
Whilst we were having breakfast they got out their family photo album and showed us photos of them in winter having picnics in the snow, and taking vacations to Severobaikalsk by the lake. The temperature in winter drops to -50 C, and there can still be snow around in July !! We mad sure we got the address and name of these folks ( the Vulfert family) so we could write and thank them when we returned home.

After breakfast Elana told us she would make enquiries about how we could get across the river, and that we should just go back to our tents and wait to hear from her.
So we sauntered back to the tents thinking we would probably be at this place for some time. Paul and Dave went to the local shop and bought chocolates and other goodies for the women as a way of us saying thank you.
At 12 noon Elana's mam came around to say we could cross at the railway bridge and we had to pack up and be there for 2 pm. We all started to pack at a leisurely pace, and then Elana came round and said we had to be at the bridge in 40 mins. The leisurely packing turned into a frantic rush to get everything packed and back onto the bikes, and then there was a mad dash following Elana her sister, and her mother in their Ladacar for about four miles to the railway bridge. We arrived all sweating and very hot.

We wondered whether we would have to pay to cross, but when we got there the bridge guard (a different man to the guard yesterday) just insisted we didn't take photos and then waved us across. Thus was our first railway bridge crossing, and the technique is to pass along the concrete walkway adjacent to the rails. At one side you have the track on sleepers at a height of about 15 inches above floor level, and at the other side you have steel handrails. At every girder supporting the bridge there is a strengthening fillet of steel that sticks out and Paul's bike that has very low panniers could not clear this fillet. The guard lifted the back of Paul's bike over every single one of the fillets (there were probably 40 fillets). There is a technique to riding along this concrete walkway. One foot paddles along the railway sleepers and the other has to be lifted over the strengthening fillets when you get to them. A first it is fairly easy, but by the time you are getting to the end of the bridge it seems very awkward and you get very tired.
No money was asked for and non exchanged. The guard just waved us on our way. When we looked back the whole of the Vulfert family were watching and waving from the far river bank. We were all just blown away by the tremendous kindness and generosity of this family!

We set off in high spirits winding our way between potholes and making good time. Unfortunately this did not last long. Geoff hit a dip in the road too fast, and his left pannier came off the bike, unfortunately straight after the dip came deep gravel ruts and he lost control of the bike which proceeded to fishtail a few times and then headed straight for the trees and bushes at the side of the road. He missed one tree on his left, then another on his right and went straight through a copse of young trees. The bike slid down an embankment and landed on top of Geoff. He struggled to free himself, trying to kick the bike over somehow, and very conscious that when the bike gets horizontal it starts to leak petrol from the carburettor breather. Somehow he managed to wriggle himself out and walked away completely unhurt.

Paul who had been following a little way back to keep out of the dust was unaware that Geoff had had an accident and was stopped at the pannier thinking Geoff's lost his pannier and has not even noticed it has come off. He could not carry the pannier on his bike and so was waiting for everyone to return when Geoff staggered out of the bushes at the side of the road.
Geoff and Paul lifted the bike back upright and checked that it had not been seriously damaged and started ok but decided to wait for the other two to return before attempting to get the bike back up the embankment and onto the road.
When Dave and Frank returned Dave with help from Frank and Paul rode the bike back onto the roadway!!!

The day didn't get any easier we must have done about 30 tough river crossings with lots of boulders in the bed of the river. Sometimes we managed these unaided, but lots required people at the sides of your bike to stabilise it when you hit a large boulder.

If it wasn't river crossings in water it was dilapidated bridges, and again some we did unaided, and some with people available at the sides for support. At one such bridge Paul who had gone first dropped his back wheel into a large hole as a section of bridge fell away underneath the bike. We had to physically lift the bike out of the hole to recover the situation.

For a long period we rode along the side of the railway tracks where there is often a support track for railway vehicles. These tracks are made from the same gravel ballast that supports the sleepers, and have been worn into two ruts by the traffic. This gravel is not easy to ride. The front tyre grips the sides of the ruts and wants to try and climb out, and this can easily lead to a fishtailing waggle. Here "speed is your friend" as it allows you to recover easier from a back end waggle, however if the waggle is too big "speed is not your friend"!! Also the constant pounding you receive through the handlebars maks this very tough riding.
Whilst following the railway we came across a section where new lines were being lifted into place from a train with a built in crane and storage for sections of track.

All in all we were having a very tough day, and the tiredness and dehydration were starting to lead to more errors.

We wanted to stop but finding suitable campsites on the BAM is not easy as usually the trees are right up against the track with little space for camping.

We eventually found a spot next to a lake and set up camp. This in itself can be tiring as you are doing everything wearing your motorcycle gear, in boots laden with water, and wearing mosquito netted hats. This campsite had more mosquitos than any previous camp, and after a while the constant buzzing around your face irritates you even though you are protected.

Every time you stop on your bike there are mosquitos buzzing around. This means that as you lift your visor they can bite you around your eyes. Paul has been particularly badly affected by this and looks like he has gone ten rounds with Mike Tyson.

More later

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