Putting Hitch on the Tran-Siberian Express to Moscow

After my little ‘fall’ in Irkutsk I limped to my hostel, chain clanking, lucky to have only picked up a few bumps and bruises, and a slight dent to my ego. It was fortunate that I knew where I was going, having stayed in the hostel in the adjacent building a week or so before. I slowly made my way up the 4 flights of stairs, with every step I felt like my toe was going to explode. I was greeted by Yana, the sweet Ukrainian hostess who made me instantly feel welcome. I sat down and told her what had happened and what my intentions for the next few days entailed.  The plan was to find the Irkutsk bike club and recruit a fixer, someone who would help me to unofficially bribe me and Hitch onto the next available train to Moscow. I knew this was possible having heard of people doing it in the past, RTWDoug in particular. But for the time being all I wanted was get out of my wet clothes, take a hot shower, neck a handful of painkillers and tend my wounds with some rest.

The following day I got up and hobbled down to the bike to have full inspection, surprised by the considerable lack of any serious damage. I mounted up and headed out to find the Irkutsk Bike Club. I had zero luck finding any reference to it using Google so I was relying on Walter Colebatch to have included it in his GPS waypoints. I booted up the Garmin and voila, there it was, only two miles away. I started to make my way when I was confronted with a narrow foot bridge across a river. Mmm, I can go around or I can just ride across it. I chose the latter and proceeded across to my destination. But when I reached the other side I wasn’t really sure which building it was, and then I saw it, a slightly faded, sun bleached Sibirsky Extreme Sticker, the very sticker that inspired me to do my own little sticker, by the very man that inspired me to do this very trip. The gate was open so I rode on in when this dinosaur of an Alsatian came bounding toward me, its teeth dripping with ‘I’m going to eat you alive’ mouth batter.

Now, if you know me, you probably also know that I have bit of a dog phobia, after being scared shitless by, not one, but two of the meanest, most territorial Alsations I’d ever come across. It’s also worth mentioning that I was also a meek and mild 12year old paper boy at the time. So it was a bit of a surprise, to put it mildy, when I was confronted with this Siberian beast. But I was on Hitch and she has a bark of her own. As I had on a number of occasions, usually at TranSiberian Highway Cafes, I gave the bike a  6000 RPM rev to warn the dogs off. So I gave this menace a taste of Hitch’s bark and the dog scuttled off with it’s tail between it’s legs, just like all the others had done. “Who’s your daddy now bitch!” I parked up, careful to keep the bike between me and the dog and I hoped I hadn’t made the wrong choice in skipping my Rabies vaccinations. I walked up the stairs, knocked on the door and was greeted by a little old Russian lady that told me the Bike Club was long gone, by at least 3 years!

Oh well, Que Sera, Sera. Time to initiate ‘Plan B’, find someone else that might help me, someone at a motorbike shop or even a motorcycle mechanic perhaps. ‘Plan C’ was to proceed to the train station on my own and try to communicate my intentions directly to the dock workers. I had some translations on my phone for this eventuality, but it was a last resort. I found another guy, at the non-existent bike club, I’ll call him Beaker, who said he would take me to the bike club.He drove off with me following closely behind, but instead of a bike club we turned off the road into a mechanics garage behind a cluster of high rise flats. Okay, just go with it, let’s see what happens. After twenty minutes I knew this was going absolutely nowhere. Beaker was doing his best to help me, but the root of the problem seemed to be ‘a failure to communicate’, and not just in terms of the language difference. I had made my aims and objectives with regard to getting my bike on the train abundantly clear, thanks to my Google Translations, as well as the hierarchy of alternative options that I had. However, this group of mechanical misfits were talking about trucking my bike to Moscow. “No, No, No… the train”, I kept saying to them. This is becoming a big bloody waste of time, I wanted to make my exit and proceed to Plan B but I didn’t want to burn my bridges just yet so I communicated that I was going to take my man Beaker to the hostel where I hoped Yana would be able to translate for us and maybe even have a contact of her own who might prove to be a more competent fixer. Before I knew it I was being whisked off again to a bike shop, okay this might go somewhere, I thought, but as soon as we arrived he started talking about a crate for shipping the bike.

“Whoa, whoa, whoa, hold your horses mate, we need to sort the train out first before we start talking about crating the bike, we might not even need to crate it”. This, I communicated as clearly and as assertively as I could using my pigeon Russian, my version of pictionary and a host of random hand signals. But I kept being told to “wait a minute”, while Beaker ran around like a headless chicken, trying to find his bikeshop friend. “Right, you have two minutes, then I’m off and you’re coming with me”, I told Beaker, and remarkably he understood. I was going to take control of this situation, having taken a back seat and let others Beaker do his thing. When two minutes had elapsed I mounted up and pointed at my compadre to follow me, surprisingly  he obliged. I was glad to be back in control, it often works out well when you surrender yourself to the situation and trust in your help, it becomes much less stressful and even enjoyable. Who knows where you’ll end up? You could, of course, end up chopped up into little pieces and stored in the boot of a Russian Lada or, more likely, you’ll be invited into the home of complete strangers where you become overwhelmed by their hospitality and generosity resulting in new friendships. It’s a gamble for sure, but the odds are stacked so heavily in my favor that I can’t lose.

RTWDoug (far right) and some burly Russian blokes heave his busted up stead onto the train

We arrive at my hostel and I make the introductions to Yana and begin to explain exactly what I want, even bringing up RTWDoug’s website where he describes his experience of loading the bike onto a post train, unofficially of course, and without a crate. It’s simply heaved into the carriage old school, with just some straps and bunch of burly Russian rail workers. “See, it is possible, anything is possible in Russia”, I tell Beaker, amazed that I have to make such a remonstration to a Russian, and seemingly a biker too. Granted, RTWDoug’s tale of woe was a few years old by now but there was a good chance that this was still possible. Yana and my unnamed fixer (he’s only unnamed because I’m too dumb to remember his real name), chat away and it becomes clear to me that Yana has an ace up her sleeve and is about to get in on the game. I shake Beakers hand and he leaves, with Yana telling me she will call her friend Alexei, the monster, a biker friend of  hers who will assist me.

I wait a couple of hours, just chilling out, updating my blog and writing hostel reviews, when Alexei arrives. I can see why Yana calls him monster, he’s a big fecker and looks exactly like what a Siberian Biker should look like: he’s dressed in a Rock Tee, a bikers leather waist coat, camo jeans and black working boots. I could tell instantly I would be in good hands, he was exactly the sort geezer I hoped I would find to help me. Monster, is a no bullshit, do anything for you, salt of the earth type of person and he immediately put me at ease and inspired me with confidence. We chatted, he spoke excellent English, and it turned out after showing him RTWDoug’s blog that he knew him from when he was in Siberia, he even mentioned the ADVRider site where most of the Adventure Motorcycle Community’s Ride Reports can be found. That was it, I had complete confidence in Alexei, he talked the talk and walked the walk. He promised to make some calls the following day and to come over about at about eleven o’clock to discuss my options.  I would have to wait 24hrs to find out what these options would be, but I knew, one way or another, either officially or not, that I would soon be on my way to Moscow on the TranSiberian Railway, the worlds longest. I relaxed and began to think about what I wanted to see in Moscow and about the journey ahead.

Me and my new good friend Alexei (aka The Monster)

If you’re in Irkutsk and need to call on the help of Alexei, drop me an email or have a look around on the Horizons Unlimited website where you’ll find my post with his contact details.

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