Baltics to Hong Kong: Andre Lacy's Transcontinental Expedition

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Follow Andre Lacy (chairman of the board for Motorcycle Superstore's parent company) traverse virtually all of Asia on his motorcycle. Andre will be documenting his journey and sending us daily updates from the road (or trail), moving from one village or city to the next. Starting in the Baltics, Lacy will embark on a trek that will ultimately lead him to Hong Kong. Read more about his passion for motorcycles and each days journal entries below...

Andre Lacy
Andre next to one of his two BMW GS's

A Deeper Look at Andre Lacy

Like many my age, my parents would not tolerate my interest in motorcycles even a Cushman scooter at age 13. When I was 50, we bought Tucker Rocky from Bob Nickell, one of the best entrepreneurial business leaders I've known, and I was liberated to immediately buy by my first motorcycle. Rick Dorfmeyer helped buy my first bike as well as telling me about the training classes to take to become good – always a life goal. I took a number of A.B.A.T.E safe rider courses. The rest is history with my becoming an avid motorcyclists with a group of close friends that took rides every year east of the Mississippi. There is not an iconic destination east of the Mississippi that I have not experienced. I learned to off road and always wished I were better at doing that, most specifically when on a Malcolm Smith ride in Vancouver. I own two BMWs (a 650 GS that I took round-trip to north of the Alaskan Arctic Circle and a R 1200 GS Adventurer that I'm riding on the Epic Journey) and soon an R nine T that Roland Sands is customizing. I also own a 1980 Harley Softail and a 1946 Indian Chief. Julia, my bride of 52 years, "bought on to biking" also taking the A.B.A.T.E. course riding her own bike for years and ultimately on the back of my bike. We enjoyed many trips with the good friends we've made in motorcycle. I have ridden in Morocco, the Pyrenees Mountains, South America, Scandinavia and Eastern Europe, New Zealand, and now the Moscow to Hong Kong Epic Journey. I enjoy high adventure and thus have been a long standing pilot, a snowmobiler, mountain climber (Mt. Kilimanjaro), scuba diver, bareboat charter sailor to list a few. My fellow business associates in Indianapolis and throughout the nation are not intimately aware of my exploits.

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Day 30: Ulan Ude to Darkhan City, Mongolia (220.4 Miles)

Andre Lacy Mongolia

We got started at 8:42 AM well in advance of our 9 o’clock target. It
was 62° and cloudy. We incur another loss of an hour due to time change in Mongolia. We are now 13 hours different from Indianapolis. After the fuel stop it did not take long to get to the border.

It took 2hrs 45min to get through the border. I've never seen greater incompetence, especially entering Mongolia. We had to show passport and bike documents to no less than four stations and have a paper stamped each time. Just prior to our last checkpoint we were required to ride through a water pit and charged 100 rubles for doing so. Next we were required to purchase “insurance” for 500 rubles which I am sure will prove worthless in any incident.

Immediately you see a difference between Russia, Siberia and Kazakhstan. I have yet to decide how best to describe Mongolia other than it is Mongolia. There is even less presence of people and civilization. It is a vast open land that you can see to the horizon unobstructed in any direction. Gers (white round nomad dwellings) appeared often with a gathering of livestock nearby. The two-lane roads are absolutely wonderful for riding. For miles and miles they are straight interrupted with sweeping curves around hills. The landscape is an open range. As we increased elevation trees, forests, would appear and then disappear when we got lower.

Our first rest stop was near a small Buddhist temple well off of the road. We had to ride through some sand and I got a little squirly. Tom Loftus was riding behind me and congratulated me on my “save”. I felt complimented since he rides over 70,000 miles a year on a bike.

On the way to our Comfort Hotel in Darkhan City I was impressed with the newly constructed apartments. They are actually some of the more attractive apartment buildings I’ve seen. We parked our bikes in a dilapidated shed well off of the street across from the hotel. I was one of the last to park in this building and was interested that a stretch Lincoln limousine was also parked in the building. The Comfort Hotel turned out to be better than predicted and described above. I was fortunate to be assigned to what could be called a suite. I also was on the shady side of the building compared to across the hall which was an advantage since the air-conditioning wasn’t very good.

We met for dinner at 7 o’clock in the hotel. I appreciated being offered pizza in addition to a regular menu of soup, spaghetti with meat sauce, and vegetables. I chose not to work on my Journal and get a longer night’s sleep.

We got started at 8:42 AM well in advance of our 9 o’clock target. It
was 62° and cloudy. We incur another loss of an hour due to time change in Mongolia. We are now 13 hours different from Indianapolis. After the fuel stop it did not take long to get to the border.

It took 2hrs 45min to get through the border. I've never seen greater incompetence, especially entering Mongolia. We had to show passport and bike documents to no less than four stations and have a paper stamped each time. Just prior to our last checkpoint we were required to ride through a water pit and charged 100 rubles for doing so. Next we were required to purchase “insurance” for 500 rubles which I am sure will prove worthless in any incident.

Immediately you see a difference between Russia, Siberia and Kazakhstan. I have yet to decide how best to describe Mongolia other than it is Mongolia. There is even less presence of people and civilization. It is a vast open land that you can see to the horizon unobstructed in any direction. Gers (white round nomad dwellings) appeared often with a gathering of livestock nearby. The two-lane roads are absolutely wonderful for riding. For miles and miles they are straight interrupted with sweeping curves around hills. The landscape is an open range. As we increased elevation trees, forests, would appear and then disappear when we got lower.

Our first rest stop was near a small Buddhist temple well off of the road. We had to ride through some sand and I got a little squirly. Tom Loftus was riding behind me and congratulated me on my “save”. I felt complimented since he rides over 70,000 miles a year on a bike.

On the way to our Comfort Hotel in Darkhan City I was impressed with the newly constructed apartments. They are actually some of the more attractive apartment buildings I’ve seen. We parked our bikes in a dilapidated shed well off of the street across from the hotel. I was one of the last to park in this building and was interested that a stretch Lincoln limousine was also parked in the building. The Comfort Hotel turned out to be better than predicted and described above. I was fortunate to be assigned to what could be called a suite. I also was on the shady side of the building compared to across the hall which was an advantage since the air-conditioning wasn’t very good.

We met for dinner at 7 o’clock in the hotel. I appreciated being offered pizza in addition to a regular menu of soup, spaghetti with meat sauce, and vegetables. I chose not to work on my Journal and get a longer night’s sleep.

Day 28: Listvyanka to Arshan (173.4 Miles)

We get started at 7:54 AM and the temperature was 54°. We left our attractive Lake Baikal Lodge and backtracked as the above description cited. The ride to Irkutsk reminded me of riding through northern Michigan with the birch trees, the evergreens, and the smell of the Lake environment. This is a good road with some nice twisties. Traveling through Irkutsk wasn’t any more fun than the first time. The road improved as we left the city and I really had a lot of fun as we headed toward the mountains. Very smooth and long sweeping turns is one of my favorite motorcycle experiences. Unfortunately fog developed requiring us to substantially slow down. As we left the mountains the road became “weave and ululating” – at the speed I was traveling this became a problem in that I became airborne during one of the dips. I course slowed down but still had to endure the oop-de-do’s. We were pulled over by the police at a toll stop in order to pay to enter the park area where our bed-and-breakfast lodging is located.

The bed and breakfast is absolutely charming. It comprises a number of log cabin buildings; in addition to the main Lodge, there is an eating building with indoor seating and outside cubicles and a sauna building that we did not use. My bedroom was spacious although had a number of quirks e.g. no appliances in the room were connected to the wall plugs so I had to plug in the refrigerator to make ice (the B&B does not have any ice on the premise for my scotch and my medicine); it has an individual hot water tank – heater hanging from the ceiling above its the bathtub that had to be plugged in in order to have hot water for both the sink and a shower. In addition to a window that I opened because the room was hot, I had a door to a balcony which I also opened.

We had a free afternoon and were offered an opportunity to go on a hike to see a waterfall. Most of us did so taking cabs into town where you began the trek to the falls. The people we saw in the souvenir market area needing up to the falls was noticeably Mongolia. Heretofore in Russia the appearance of all of the people were the same, knee-deep Russians. This is the first time we saw a racial mixture. It was a difficult trek for me because it was mostly uphill (I thought all the way up to much I was going to enjoy walking downhill). It turns out that we did not see a waterfall only a rapid water going through a gorge.

Returning to the B&B, we were asked to gather for dinner at the normal 7 o’clock hour and I enjoyed an interesting dinner conversation with Alien about his career, two sons, and why he left France for Switzerland four years ago. During dinner John Jesson, our lead guide called a meeting of the group after we had finished dinner. Before this Moscow to Hong Kong Epic Journey, John was pointed President and CEO of Ayers Adventures by Ron Ayres the owner of Ayres adventures. The message John shared was that Ron Ayres had passed away. All of us on the trip knew that Ron was suffering with cancer. I think I am the only person on this trip that doesn’t know Ron personally and hasn’t ridden with him. I did have a number of candid telephone conversations with him about the Viking Run ride I did in 2013 as well as what bike I would use on the Epic Journey. We also had good conversations about his cancer and my admiration for his courage. Ron had put his sole in the Epic Journey. He was a good man. This is a heartfelt loss by all on the trip, especially John Jesson.

Day 27: Free day in Listvyanka

I set my alarm for 7:30 AM and went to a typical Siberian breakfast. We were given an opportunity to take a boat ride from 1050 o’clock to 5 PM. The temperature was 61° and it was foggy with little prospect of improving. I chose not to take this opportunity, work on my Journal, and just enjoy another leisurely day. Those that did attend reported that it was a nice outing that included a hike to an area where they cooked the local fish on a grill and had a wonderful lunch. At lunch I had the local fish, Omul, and a salad along with shrimp. The Omul is quite tasty, I like it. I also ordered french fries. The french fries in Russia are as good as any available in the US. While at lunch I took the time to take a better look at the hotel. It has a good atmosphere. Two of the waitresses speak English very well. Also at lunch I saw 24 patrons from Moscow who were attending a conference at the hotel.

After finishing my day 25 and day 26 journal entries and taking a nap, I joined our group for cocktails on the terrace. It was at this time that those attending the boat outing shared their experience. They pointed out that it was not fog that I was seeing but smoke from a number of forests fires in the area. They related that many of the fires are started by individuals because logging permits are cheaper in fire ravaged forests – amazing!

I had a pleasant dinner with Jeff and Tom. We touched on the launch of our presidential campaigns and that there really is not a lot of difference between Democrat and Republican in Washington these days. With that and tidbits on motorcycling, I retired for the evening. Tomorrow is a short day that has a late, 9 o’clock, starting time.

Day 26: Nizhneudinsk – Listvyanka (362.5 Miles)

Again an early start for another long day; our breakfast was to be available at 7:30 AM but was late and not remarkable. We were wheels up on a cloudy but promising day with the temperature 64°.

The roads were for the most part very good. They were smooth and straight over the same topography as I described Siberia yesterday. We encountered some rough roads and construction. The weather remained cloudy with the sun peeking out briefly and the temperature warming up a bit. Leaving Irkutsk offered an interesting challenge in that the construction we were riding on came to a dead-end. Mike, who is a skilled Baja competitor, explored our options which turned out to be crossing a 5 foot abrupt gully only to go up the other side. I, and all others other than Alain, chose to have Mike traverse the gully which we walked across.

Below I will give you insight on Listvyanka, where are Legend of Baikal Hotel is as well is the large city, Irkutsk, we passed. Our hotel is very attractive in appearance located right on the lake. The circular staircase from the lobby reminds me of what would be typical in a lighthouse. My room on the second floor at the end of the hall is barely wide enough for the bed (foot and half passage between the bed and wall). It is comfortable but the Wi-Fi does not work in the room; it works well in the lobby and restaurant.

Our tour guides continued their effort to make our dinner experience not take so long; appetizer and entrée orders were taken by Svethlana at one of our fuel stops. Unfortunately this time it did not work out very well. After two long riding days I enjoyed a good night’s sleep.

Day 25: Krasnoyarsk – Nizhneudinsk (337 Miles)

Anticipating the long day we tried to leave early. We were not far off rolling at 8:42 AM. The temperature was 58° and we were experiencing a light rain. For those of you who are reading this Journal that are not motorcycle riders, ask any rider and he/she will tell you that new tires and wet pavement are a bad combination. During the free day my bike was serviced with lubricants and a new set of tires. I was appropriately cautious because it takes at least 100 miles on dry pavement for new tires to be “broken in”. I did not get any drive payment because it rained all day, sometimes very heavy.

Siberia is much more attractive than I had expected. It is heavily forested and has significant wheat fields. The contrast of the rolling terrain, golden wheat fields and the green forests is striking and fun to ride past. I saw many logging trucks and one large sawmill operation – warmed my heart. This part of Siberia is possibly less populated than what we have seen before.

It took us a little while to cover the 12 miles to get out of town. The rain picked up. At our first rest stop, I learned that Marilyn Makepeace had had an accident. Fortunately she was not hurt other than a bruise on her wrist. After she fell the bike tumbled rendering it un-ridable. With a damaged ego she hopped on the back of Mike’s bike. She was not willing to talk about the accident. Speculation is that she is known to be a tentative rider at best and tensed up more so losing control as the rain became heavier and we increased speed leaving Krasnoyarsk. You do have to ride relaxed.

Being the long day it was and with the rain and low temperature, I was grateful for my heated liner. I tried to look up Nizhneudinsk on the Internet and could not find anything. The above write-up on the Istoki Health Resort, our very basic hotel, is accurate. My room had four “narrow” beds lined up with two each on opposing walls and a bathroom that is hardly big enough to turn around in. There is not a restaurant in the hotel nor one within walking distance. We were fed in a large room with a number of tables. The temperature in the hotel was uncomfortably hot. Dinner was actually pretty good. We were served tomatoes with cheese on top, rice, and baked chicken. I am not sure what kind of a health resort this facility is or ever was but it is certainly past its prime. It gave me more of an impression of being an “Asylum” rather than a health resort.

I chose to take a walk to what Alain Gabriel loosely described as a department store to buy a skull cap that I wanted to wear under my helmet. I was successful but am still looking for a souvenir “Russia” baseball cap. Returning to the “hotel” I retired early opening as many windows available, including those on the porch that my room let out upon.

I judge my experience at the Istoke Health Resort to be AOK and certainly comfortable between two long riding days.

Day 24 Free Day in Krasnoyarsk

My alarm went off a 7:30 A.M. I took a good long shower and repacked my OGIO duffle bag so it would be more functional in future mornings. I went to breakfast dropping off my medicine ice pack to be re-frozen. I had a good breakfast.

I took the day as a “total rest day”. I caught up on my Journal, did some reading (good article in the Economist on the economic downturn in Russia and how resilient the people are dealing with unpleasantness – recession, inflation, etc.) and slept. I did make a massage appointment in the spa then rested more before dinner. I treated the Loftus’, Jeff Smith, and Mary Jane Sheldon to a drink. Marilyn Makepease declined. Dinner was in the hotel and I enjoyed a (good) hamburger and french fries. I got a kick out of the waiter when I ask for vanilla ice cream and he ask “…did I want one ‘bubble’ or two”.

Our bikes were returned to the garage. I went down to look at my new tires and think the BMW shop tried to straighten the slight bend in my front wheel rim – I will check with John tomorrow. While with my bike, I put destination stickers on my storage boxes

We were told that they found a company to fabricate two new springs for the “chase van” but the van would not be fixed until around 3 o’clock so we would not have access to our baggage at our next hotel in Nizhneudinsk – …that we should take what we need in our room with us in our bike.

I returned to my hotel room and retired for the night. This being the last day of the GREAT INDIANA STATE FAIR, I look forward to reports from Cindy, Stan, and Bruce. I’m glad that the weather has been as good as Julia has reported. We have another long day Monday.

Day 23 Tomsk to Krasnoyarsk (361.8 Miles)

Before I get into Day 23’s Journal I wish to record an incident of gross violation of the cardinal tenants of a tour leader. On Day 21, Janis Crimins was the leader for the day’s ride. He had shared during the briefing that we would see a number of good picture sites after we entered Novosibirsk. The first stop was at a large plaza where a Lennon statue with his coat waving in the wind. It was a worthwhile stop. The Plaza was on a large 10 Lane Blvd. Janis asked us to cross all of the traffic into a left-hand turn immediately in front of the Plaza. The traffic had come to a stop filling all lanes in front of the Plaza so I had to wait while everybody else maneuvered to the turn lane and then made the left hand turn. By the time I was able to cross the lanes to the left-hand turn and make the turn myself the whole group was gone. The cardinal rule is to wait for everybody to make a turn; the last rider shares the responsibility to wait for the last person. Not a good situation since I lost my GPS a number of days ago. I went past the first intersection stopping to pull out my iPhone GPS and enter the Nord Castle Boutique Hotel. That worked well for me. I entered “route direction” and said GO. I actually arrived at the hotel at the same time as the group because Janis had stopped for other pictures. We rode into the hotel compound next to each other and I shared with him I thought he had broken a cardinal rule. Later at dinner he sincerely apologized. I said Okay particularly if it became an important lesson. He graciously offered to pay for my drinks at dinner.

Today we have traveled over 4000 miles. Because this was expected to be a long day we were actually rolling at 8:02 o’clock; it was 59° vary cloudy with a strong threat of rain.
Shortly after we left Tomsk we hit the gravel section described in the above write-up. It really was not bad. There were a number of chuckholes so I backed off from the person in front of me so I could see and avoid the bumps. The countryside is fairly nondescript. It’s wooded with much smaller sized wheat fields and no population between communities. The weather turned south on us getting colder and starting to rain. I appreciated having my heated vest. It heavily rained for the next 100 miles and with the lower temperature my face shield fogged making visibility difficult. The addition of strong winds increased the “unpleasantness”. My R 1200 Adventurer handled very well attributable to my Michelin tires. A number of the riders reported at our lunch stop that the rear of their bike would slip in a turn – thank God I didn’t have any experience like that. The lack of visibility was my biggest problem and concern. At one of our refueling stops I learned that the left rear spring on our chase vehicle broke. At dinner Mike said he would get it fixed – money talks even though the next day was Sunday.
The traffic in Krasnoyarsk was a zoo. Other drivers have little regard for anything else beside themselves. I saw three accidents during the day. We rode directly to the BMW dealership for servicing our bikes (I sent a picture of the dealership to Ryan Polk). Our hotel for the next two nights, because of our bikes been serviced, was a very American Hilton Garden Inn. It is equal or better than any of the Hiltons in Indianapolis. All of the service people speak adequate English.

Day 22 Novosibirsk to Tomsk (192.6 Miles)

Hotel

Breakfast at the same restaurant we had dinner the night before turned out to be AOK. We were served fried eggs and there were ample orange slices plus cheese, tomatoes, lunch meat, cucumbers, and red peppers. They did a pretty good job in refilling the instant coffee. During breakfast I confirmed with John that I wanted a new set of tires at Krasnoyarsk (our next two-day layover and approximately 800 miles from Novosibirsk – this would put me at approximately 8000 miles on my tires).
We were rolling at 9:02 AM on another bright sunny day of 64°. It was relatively easy exiting Novosibirsk and interesting to me that the oncoming traffic apparently going to work in the city was heavy. We were soon on a superhighway enabling an even quicker departure from the city. We crossed a bridge and then turned on to a 2 Lane Side Rd. We were on two Lane roads for the rest of the day. The terrain has changed from very flat to gently rolling. We passed Pine forests and Birch forests. The large wheat fields had a new twist; scattered throughout the field were islands of trees. The fields and forests between the small communities show little habitation; you don’t see people nor do you see buildings or farm production equipment.
We stopped for refueling and later for lunch. Outside of the lunch establishment was a row of six or seven relic Soviet manufactured automobiles. I took pictures. One looks like a 1950’s Plymouth. Another observation I have noticed is that there is an uncanning number of right – hand steering wheel automobiles. Janis told me that the reason is that they are so much cheaper. He further shared that we will see more in Mongolia which has and is a safety hazard traveling through that country. I also ask Janis what the lined up long agricultural buildings were that I saw on the outskirts of many of the communities – he did not have an answer. Janis also shared with me that Tomsk was the site of one of the notorious Siberian labor/prison camps.
The day’s ride was really pleasant. It became cloudy which held down the temperature. I saw it even larger herd of cows with a man on horseback directing their return to the barn. I enjoyed riding past attractive landscape that was unsettled almost in the Alaskan frontier model. I observed that Fall was in the air.
Tomak turned out to be a larger city then I expected from reading the description above. We rode through a number of miles of city before getting to the Magistrat Hotel, our lodging for tonight. We parked on the street in front of the hotel. There should be a picture of the hotel posted on Motorcycle Superstores’ site.
The hotel has a nice bar where I joined colleagues for a drink before meeting at 6:30 PM to walk to dinner. It was a nice restaurant on the Tom River – I left after eating my Bosch soup and before my entrée because I got tired of waiting. I retired to my room to finish this edition of my Epic Journal.

Day 21 Yarovoe to Novosibirsk (256.2)

We got rolling at 830 o’clock. The ride was not particularly long and was very pleasant. The cloudy sky started out at 66° and for most of the day was pleasant in the mid-70s. The high for the day was 84°.
The road out of town was full of potholes and not pleasant. Fortunately the road smoothed out giving us a very comfortable day on the bike. This is very, very, very flat land that is vast. There were no trees in the fields for as far as you can see – I wonder how a farmer planting maintains a straight row without having any “target” to site upon. Welcome to Siberia! We have been experiencing nothing but “straight as an arrow” roads so the occasional curves we had today were welcome. Trees began to appear on either side of the road giving reference to an otherwise stark vista. A pine forest cropped up almost before I could blink and then petered out. The standing timber was as straight and tall as I have seen anywhere in the United States. I saw for the first time sheep and the largest herd of cattle so far. We were enjoying another bright sunny day.
The Nord Castle Boutique Hotel is an attractive and wonderful hotel. It does not appear to have many rooms. I took a picture that should be posted on the Motorcycle Superstore site reporting my Epic Journey. I had time before meeting for dinner at the hotel to catch up on my Journal. Dinner was OK but in my opinion did not equal the ambience of the hotel.

Day 20 Paviodar to Yarovoe (128.1 Miles)

I got up at 6 A.M. and enjoyed the room service coffee I had ordered the night before when I gave the desk my ice pack for my diabetes medicine to put in the freezer and freeze. I got dressed and went down to the desk to get the ice pack and then proceeded to pack my gear back in my room. I was one of the first to get to breakfast at 7 o’clock which was served in a huge banquet room with the tables and buffet clustered at one end of the room. It was the strangest breakfast we have been served to date. There were no eggs, no cereal or toast. The offering was mostly vegetables that included corn, tomatoes, green beans, and spaghetti with meat sauce. The only fruit offered were prunes. They did have yogurt, a thin pancake, and coffee. The coffee offering, even in restaurants, has been instant which for me is preferable to how they go about brewing coffee otherwise.

We had our briefing at 7:45 AM and were rolling at 8:03 AM. It turned out to be a hot day starting at 81° when we left the hotel and got to a high of 103°. This was to be a border crossing day and the border is not very far from Paviodar. The countryside is flat and sparsely populated with more wheat fields. I did see wheat being harvested; also saw sun flowers growing.
It took two hours and 12 minutes to cross both the Kazakhstan and Russian border (thanks to my Breitling watch second hand). The young Russian lady that processed my passport and bike papers had the longest and most attractive eyelashes I have ever seen. She was sitting at her desk looking down at her computer while I was standing in front of her. They were stunning.

Our hotel is, as described above, basic. Compared to some other accommodations, I think it is just fine. It has hot water so I took a refreshing shower after the hot ride. It has two drawbacks. It does not have any restaurant facilities and its Internet access exceeds my ability to cause it to connect. In the description above, a salt lake is described. It is only a short walk from our hotel. I walked to the lake before we were to meet at 6:30 PM to walk a few blocks to dinner (we are scheduled to go there for a set breakfast tomorrow morning – will see if they do better that than yesterday at the Epic Hotel). Those of you that will see my camera pictures will see how large this lake is. Because it was so hot I am sure that half of the town was enjoying a day on the beach – lots and lots of people. The lake has a reputation for being as salty as the Dead Sea.
Dinner was an experience reflective of this not being in any way a tourist town. Ordering without any “English” menu was a challenge. I sat next to Randy McClanahan and both of us wanted cooked vegetables. The only way we could get what we wanted was to order a roasted chicken entrée with broccoli in addition to our perch with rice as a way to have an order of cooked broccoli-they would not agree to add broccoli to our meal. Everybody got served with the exception of yours truly. John asked me after most people had finished their meal, if I had been served and I said no, so through our Russian speaking guide, Janis, pressure was put on to fill my order promptly. When it was finally served I told the waiter “CONGRATULATIONS”; my sarcasm was lost on the waiter but captured by all within hearing distance. As I said above, we will see how breakfast goes tomorrow morning.

All of us walked back to the hotel. Unlike being in the Western part of Russia, it gets dark here earlier, around 8:30 PM in the evening… Ending another adventurous day on the Epic Journey.

Day 19: Astana to Pavlodar (277.9 Miles)

We met at the bikes at 7:45 AM for our briefing and were rolling at 8:07 AM. It was warmer than usual at 75° and cloudy. It turned out to be a hot day with the high temperature of 96°.

It was easy getting out of Astana and riding on the very straight road to Pavlodar. The countryside is totally barren with hardly any visible humanity for the whole distance. I did see some wild horses and also cows. This ride was essentially 275 miles of construction, gravel bypasses, and an endlessly bumpy road. Marilyn’s license plate fell off her bike and Tom Loftus had a part vibrate loose. I have not seen so much earth being moved as I saw on the road to Pavlodar. When it is completed it should be a magnificent four-lane highway. Why it is being built is a good question; I guess the best answer is the president wants it to be, and what he wants he gets as witness in Astana.

Yes, another police encounter. Steve and Mary Jane Sheldon got pulled over for not stopping at a stop sign that was so small and inconspicuous that it is understandable he did not see it. I stopped and watched the “negotiations” only to see frivolity and banners unrolled for picture taking with the policeman. I then saw Svetiana, our Russian guide, walking toward me with two policemen shouting ahead that the policeman wanted to meet me; apparently the policeman in the “negotiations” spoke of mostly seeing young people riding motorcycles. Svetiana said no, we have a 75-year-old riding with our group to which the policeman said I have to meet him! I had a hearty handshake and conversation in Russia which I did not understand before we were on our way again. There isn’t anything more that I can add to today’s ride.

We arrived at the Epic Hotel in due course. The appearance, lobby, and hotel rooms are quite nice and their Internet service is a vast improvement from Astana. On the other side of the coin they have no hot water! I was told that they have a sauna which I thought would be good to take before a cold shower; it also does not work.

I caught up on my Journal and took a nap before the appointed lobby meeting time of 7 o’clock to walk to dinner. On the way to dinner Janis shared with me that Pavlodar is not a tourist destination. Dinner was OKAY but so noisy from the music entertainment that a number of our group got up and left. Alex Lunardi-Tedjowinoo from Jakarta ordered “pig noses” for his entrée; sitting next to him I had to of course take a picture. Those of us stayed for dinner walked back to the hotel to retire. We have a boarding crossing again tomorrow going back to Russia – Siberia.

Day 17 Free Day In Borove

I took advantage of this being a rest day. I was tired when I went to bed so I slept late. I scheduled a 90 minute Swedish massage for 9 o’clock in the morning thinking that it was a good start for the day allowing time to complete my Journal entries and enjoy the Rixos Hotel amenities.

I ate breakfast in plenty of time to make my massage appointment. The therapist was excellent. She soon realized that I had a sore muscle near my right shoulder blade so she worked on that. I hope it helps relieve my discomfort while riding (Tough to be an old man).

I am glad I scheduled today as I did. I felt good about finishing day 15 and 16 Journals. Since I had lost my State Fair hat, I wanted to buy a hat to wear in the sun. As great as I have described this place, it is interesting they have no gift shop. Wow! I had lunch near the edge of the lake. I took pictures to remember and share with family and friends the majesty of the hotel, casino, and other building. Wearing my swimming suit, I walked over to the man-made beach which had nice lounge chairs. I didn’t care for the rocky shore as I walked into the water so I decided to look into the pool area. The pool is disappointedly in a building and is uncomfortably hot and humid so I decided to go back to my room and read. I am able to download the current issue of the Economist and WSJ. I brought along Tommie Walker’s autobiography “Tommy – From Tomboy to Executive” making a bigger dent in the book. I took a good nap awaking for the cocktail gathering of my associates before dinner. I retired early. We have a short day tomorrow so I can sleep again a little later in the morning.

Day 16: Kostanay City to Borove (324.8 Miles)

Our target was to hit the road after our 8 o’clock briefing. Breakfast continued the “basic” experience at the HOTEL; they offered a set menu of two fried eggs and two crêpes. Cereal, fruit, and yogurt were not offered.
We departed basically on time at 8:17 AM. The temperature was 66°; it was clear and sunny – the high for the day was 86°.

As the description above shares, this is very remote countryside with wheat in the fields as far as you can see in every direction. It became quite windy. I saw a medium size bird flapping its wings heading into the wind and not moving an inch. Also in the description it says the road is badly potholed – this is an understatement with many being gigantic. We probably covered 100 miles of potholes. I watched on my R 1200 GS Adventurer instrument panel my tire pressure closely and saw no pressure loss due to the slightly bent rim that occurred a couple of days ago. YEA!

Approaching the small town of Miuntka, I noticed that our group had been pulled over to the side of the road by a policeman as was I when I got to where they were parked. I was prepared to gather my bike documents only to learn that the policeman was only interested in who we are and what we are about. He insisted on providing us a police escort with sirens and lights flashing to the place selected for lunch. I have forwarded to Ryan Polk a video that Lee Ann Fick shared with all of us. Lunch was a set menu and although more than I like to eat at lunch was pleasant.

Leaving Miuntka, we did not have far to go to Borovoe. This area of lakes in northern Kazakhstan is being actively promoted by the president Kazakhstan. The roads leading to the city reflect his interest. They are as smooth as silk with sweeping turns. The Rixos Hotel is indeed a stunning 5 –Star hotel. They are part of a multiple chain, at least 10, in the Eurasian area. Rixos Premium Bodrum covers an area of 180,000 sqm, offering high quality, excellence, luxury and comfort. With its private beach, swimming pools, superbly comfortable rooms, suites and villas, restaurants and bars, and SPA, the resort promises a visitor a holiday experience beyond dreams and expectations. My hotel room is quite spacious, a contrast to last night.

We were asked to meet in the lobby at 7 o’clock for dinner in the hotel. The dinner was good. The dining room was quite large with picture windows overlooking the lake next to the hotel complex. The Turkish meatballs I had for my entrée were quite good. We all look forward to the rest day tomorrow.

Day 15: Mafnitogorsk to Kostanay City, Kazakhstan (254 Miles)

We started this morning again early, this time because we wanted to beat the truck traffic at the border crossing. After a mediocre breakfast and our traditional briefing, wheels were rolling at 7:58 AM. We had another sunny clear day; the temperature at 58° was a little on the cool side. We were told at the briefing that fuel availability in Kazakhstan was sparser than Russia. We topped off our tanks before reaching the border.

The two-lane road was for the most part smooth. Following Randy up a knoll I hit a gap in the road that was a “hard hit”. When we arrived at the border I asked John, Mike, and Janis, our guides to look at my bent rim. They said it was OK. This was confirmed by David Fick, who completed recently 11,000 miles in 11 days on and Iron Butt Rally, that the 1200 GS is a tough bike and I should not worry.

Janis shared with us at the border a caution that the police in Kazakhstan are stricter than in Russia and that we should be careful about exceeding the speed limit. John and those in front of me either did not get the message or chose not to pay attention because I found myself on these absolutely straight roads that go forever exceeding 115 mph.
This time it took “only” 2 ½ hours to cross the border divided roughly equally between Russia and Kazakhstan. Similarly to entering Russia, we had to purchase bike insurance. There were two buildings selling the insurance; one building charged 300 rubles and the other 100 rubles – try to figure that out!

We gathered about 20 miles from the border at a statue that appeared to look like Genghis Khan for a group photograph. Since Ryan Polk had asked that I accept Motorcycle Superstore’s invitation to post my Journal, I took a picture with my iPhone. Fortunately my limited knowledge in electronics technology was good enough to send the picture. While taking the picture we were told that the time had changed again and we lost another hour – this now puts us 10 hours different than Indianapolis.

The terrain both before and after the border is flat with wheat fields as far as the eye can see. Occasionally I would see well-maintained grain storage facilities along the side of the road. The two-lane road was for the most part smooth – more so in Kazakhstan than Russia.

As we entered Kostany City, we stopped at an ATM to get local currency. The exchange rate between the dollar and the Tenge is… 1 Tenge for $.00053. We were told that there will be times we would be staying at facilities that are “basic”. Hotel Ostrov fits that description. It only has the word HOTEL on the building. I mistakenly went to a room that had an open door entering a sitting area separate from the sleeping room and thought this is not really bad. Sitting on the couch reviewing received emails on my iPhone, the proprietor came in and told me where my room was. The room is not much larger than the bed and the bathroom is so small you can’t easily turn around in it. I was interested that both the sink and the shower share the same faucet. We met in the lobby at 6:30 PM to go by taxicab to a restaurant by the name of Metropol in town. It is a facility very much set up for lively entertainment and we were the only people dining. Janis commented it likely is because a festival was taking place in the community.

Day 14: Ufa to Mafnitogorsk (214 Miles)

My morning routine is increasingly easier to execute. We were asked to be at the bikes at 8:15 for an 8:30 AM departure – there was more than a little grousing because the itinerary for the day was so short. We got off at 8:40 AM. I marvel on how fortunate we are to have the great weather we’re having. The temperature was 69° and the sky clear and sunny.
As we left Ufa, I noticed a freight train that was being pulled by an electric engine; I don’t recall ever seeing that in the US. We encountered a lot of trucks as we left the city. Today we are scheduled to ride over the Ural Mountains which divide Europe and Asia (see brief discussion above). They are not particularly high with the peak along the 2500 km span only 2000 meters. They do afford some interesting “Twisties”. We were told that we entered Siberia after crossing the mountains. The ride approaching the Urals was great and riding in the mountain better. Again I found myself enjoying negotiating the curves at speeds that tested my comfort zone. A fellow rider, Randy McClanahan, commented to me at lunch after the day’s ride “…you left me in your dust – you really enjoy that don’t you”.
We decided at our fuel stop not to stop for lunch and go directly to our Hotel Europa. By this time we were through the mountains and on more level terrain. I noticed that a police car did a U-turn in front of me and I said “shucks”, I don’t want to follow him. I also was not keen on passing him. I finally mustered the courage to pass him, legally, and proceeded along my way. Somewhere between 15 and 20 minutes later I hear his siren and he pulls me over. I don’t speak Russian, he doesn’t speak English; I understood he wanted to see my bike papers. I produced them and my passport. He said in very clear English “good luck” and allowed me to continue.
Magnitogorsk is an industrial city in Cgektabusk Oblast, Russia, located on the eastern side of the extreme southern extent of the Ural Mountains by the Ural River. Population: 407,775. It was named after the Magnitnaya Mountains that was almost pure iron, a geological and not the anomaly. The largest iron and steel works in the country, Magnitogorsk Iron and Steel Works, is located here. In 1928 a Russian delegation worked with Arthur G. McKee Consulting in Cleveland Ohio to set a plan to copy the US steel mill in Gary Indiana. The contract was four times increased and eventually the new plan adding capacity of over 4,000,000 tons annually. It was always included in Stalin’s five – year plans in the 1930s. With the depletion of the substantial local iron – ore reserves, Magnitogorsk has to import raw materials from deposits in northern Kazakhstan.
The Hotel Europa is a nice hotel but at least one star less than the President Hotel in Kazan. Having the free afternoon allowed me to catch up on my Journal and rest before dinner. We met for dinner at 7 o’clock and had dinner in a private dining room in the hotel. David and Lee- Ann Fick announced they were first-time grandparents and ordered bottles of wine to celebrate. Randy McClanahan challenged everyone to share their most interesting experience of the day which made for lively conversation. John announced that we should leave tomorrow at 8 o’clock to allow for delays that may occur in the boarding crossing to Kazakhstan. Depending on the number of trucks the forecast is our crossing will take between 2 and 5 hours. We were warned that our hotel tomorrow night in Kostanay City will be “humble”. With that good news my day 14 came to a close.

Day 13: Kazan Ufa (340.1 miles)

Ande Lacy Epic Ride

We were asked to meet at the bikes at 8 o’clock for an 8:15 AM departure after the briefings because this is expected to be a long day. Indeed, it was. We did not arrive at the President Hotel until 5:15 PM. We were blessed with another wonderful sunny weather day with the temperature 70.5° when we departed (it did get down to 64° during the day).
The terrain is flat to gently rolling. We passed a lot of oil wells. They do a better job of maintaining the appearance of the oil pumps with fresh paint and no oil stains compared to what I see in southern Illinois and Indiana. At first I did not think the pumps were operating; it turns out they pump so slowly that looking at them while paying attention to the road, I didn’t think they were operating. I actually don’t think all of the wells were pumping. Speaking of that, I also saw four electricity generating windmills on top of a hill and only two operating. Other observations: there are no fences in the fields; a lot of sunflowers are grown; the corn in the field was no more than 3 feet high and, in my opinion, puny; trucks and cars in Russia don’t look like they gone to a Crew’s Car Wash in their life; we passed many goats and cows along the berm of the road and in one case two dozen or so cows stood on the road and we had to “pick” our way through them.
We stopped for lunch in a small town called Bugulma. Janis had prearranged a set menu which was very good. What was fun about this stop is that the local TV station put us on their local news. Also, 5 or 6 local bikers joined us in the parking lot and escorted us with “bon voyage” out of town.

Ufa is the capital of the Republic of Bashkortostanand the industrial, economic, scientific and cultural center of the republic. Population: 1,062,319. ?The city began as a fortress built on the orders of Ivan the Terrible in 1574 Industry-Many urban enterprises engaged in oil refining, chemistry, mechanical engineering reside in Ufa. Additionally, the economy of Ufa is composed of many fuel, energy and engineering complexes

As we approached Ufa with the late afternoon sun behind us the illumination of the city elevated on the horizon was breathtaking

The President Hotel is a very nice place. Because of the shape of the time zones, we lost two hours. This meant we did not have much time before dinner. The hotel is located in a wooded area on the outskirts of the city so we took cabs to the chosen restaurant. Ayers Adventures has been outstanding in hotel selection and restaurant selection. This restaurant has cabana type structures varying in size to accommodate the number of place settings at the table in the cabana; the cabanas surround a small lake. We had good food, good drinks, and good conversation. The cab driver returning us to the hotel was not clear on directions making an already late night a bit later. Thus ends another day on my Epic Journey.

DAY 12: Free day in Kazan

Finishing up on day 11, we walked to dinner at a restaurant occupying a large building. We were escorted to a banquet room that could serve for a state dinner. Unfortunately the service was mediocre as was the meal. The only item of interest is they have “horse meat” on the menu – raised on a farm not a stable.

Our schedule started Tuesday morning at 9:25a.m. with a tour conducted by Yonna – another competent guide and a local. The temperature was a cool 70° and warmed up through the sunny clear blue sky morning.

She told us that the city dates back more than 1000 years ago. There is a long standing dispute as to whether Kazan was founded by the Volga Bulgars in the early Middle Ages or by the Tatars of the Golden Horde in the middle 15th century. The Mongols are said to have devastated the area in the 13th century. Russian influence came about as a result of a siege under Ivan the Terrible conquering the city and massacring the majority of the population. Peter the Great and Catherine the Great had an influence, especially Catherine in her tolerance for recognizing the Muslim religion and allowing mosques to be built. The Soviets in the 1920s and 1930s destroyed most of the cities mosques and churches. During World War II, many industrial plants and factories were relocated in Kazan, to the west, making the city a center of the military industry producing tanks and planes. After the war Kazan consolidated as an industrial and scientific center. In 1979, the city’s population reached 1 million.
As we walked on our foot tour along the pedestrian street leading to the Kremlin my impression that this is a progressive, clean, and very attractive city was confirmed - it has more than one large stadium that regularly hold world sporting events; an international diving meet was being held the week of our stay. While at the Kremlin we visited the Annunciation Cathedral of Kazan and the Qolsarif Mosque. After leaving the Kremlin we took a Metro back to our hotel area saying goodbye to Yonna. I should mention that Oil plays an important part in the economy of this city and Republic. I should also mention that I don’t think Russians smiled very much.

Being a free day, I took advantage to rest and catch up on my Journal.

DAY 11: Nizhniy Novgorad to Kazan (255 Miles)

I arose at my normal 6:00 AM time. My routine in the morning is getting more efficient with practice. My duffel bag was fully packed and I was dressed for the ride when I went to breakfast. Unlike yesterday, I was pleasantly surprised with the wide array on the buffet plus an opportunity to special order eggs. I had two sunnyside up that were perfectly cooked (no vinegar however).
The temperature was 67° and there was a very light sprinkle when we met at the bikes at 8:15 AM. John explained today’s ride. Reading the description above, you rightly conclude that there is not a lot to see along the way. The route is essentially a straight shot east to Kazan on M7, a dual lane highway. The surface of the road varies from quite smooth allowing us to travel for a considerable time at 90 miles an hour to rough roads. There was intermittent construction and lots and lots of trucks. We also saw lots of police. John was driving the van and stopped by the police; he was motioned on essentially because he couldn’t speak Russian - Oncoming traffic warned us of police’ presence by flashing their lights. Alain (from Switzerland) was also stopped and then told to proceed. One of our fellow riders shared that the farms in this area had the potential to be the breadbasket for Russia. The sizes of the fields are immense. I did not see any production activity. I would have liked to see the equipment they use. Forests, as I have reported, continue to be important all through the Russia I have seen so far.
We ate lunch at a gasoline station that had a wonderful cafeteria. My lamb soup with lots of fresh vegetables was one of the best soups I’ve enjoyed on the trip. I also had a good Greek salad. By this time the sky had cleared to another bright blue sunny day with only scattered clouds. The temperature had gotten up to 83°.
Kazan is a very attractive city to the eye as we entered. You see at the top of a hill another Kremlin, only this one is white brick rather than the other two I described being red. It is the capital of the largest city of the Republic of Tatarstan, Russia. With a population of 1,143,535, it is the eight most populous city in Russia. Kazan lies at the confluence of the Volga and Kazanka Rivers in European Russia. The Tatarstan Republic is said to be the land of the Volga Tatars, a tunic people commonly associated with Chinggis Khaan’s hordes. The Encyclopedia states that Kazan (meaning a cooking pot in Tatar) is the Istanbul of the Volga, a place where Europe and Asia curiously inspect each other from the tops church belfries and minarets. It is about 150 years older than Moscow. Tatar autonomy is strong and is not just about bilingual street signs. Moscow has pumped vast sums into the Republic to persuade to remain a loyal part of Russia. It also ensures that Tatarstan benefits greatly from the vast oil reserves in this booming Republic.
I will close this addition of my Journal because we are about to meet for dinner and tomorrow I am scheduled to do a walking tour at 9 o’clock.

DAY 10: Suzdal to Nizhniy Novgorad (192.2 Miles)

I woke up at 6 AM allotting time to prepare and eat breakfast before a scheduled 8:15 AM “at the bikes”; I was efficient this morning and walked to the reception building where breakfast was being served only to find out that they don’t open until 7:30 AM. I went back to my room and finished packing and taking my luggage down to the van to fill the time. I can’t say that there was a lot on the buffet that appealed to me including a “mystery omelet” that looked anything but mom omelet, no cereal, and no milk.
We had our briefing at 8:15 AM which included forecast dirt – gravel roads and gridlock traffic as we approached Novgorod, and were off rolling by 8:45 AM. It was another wonderful 77° absolutely clear blue sky morning that we have been blessed to enjoy so far the trip. The high for the day was 83°
About 32 miles out of Suzdal we turned off the nice 2 Lane Hwy. to a secondary road that turned into the predicted dirt and gravel. We covered about 10 miles over the rutty road. The road was often times very rough and this group isn’t shy about maintaining speed. A casualty of this segment is that my GPS broke loose and fell off my bike. I did not realize until we had gotten back on a paved road that it was gone. I have no idea when it dropped off and chose not to look for it. For the balance of the “9 weeks to go” I now will rely on following those in front or the GPS on my cell phone.
It was a nice ride from the dirt – gravel to the Gorodets Reservoir. The Gorodets Reservoir is huge. We crossed the dam where they were producing power and then an earthen dam for the remainder of the immense width of the reservoir. There were also locks that supported the barge traffic on the river
As we entered Nizhniy Novgorad we encountered the forecast stalled traffic. I can’t imagine riding in this country without a motor cycle; although I am not easily persuaded by my “type A” personality that the chase Van was only 20 minutes behind us.
Nizhniy Novgorad is the largest city that we have been in since Moscow. It has a very pleasant and attractive appearance and appears prosperous. As the description above states, Nizhniy Novgorad is situated in the confluence of the Oka and Volga rivers.
Our hotel, Nikota House, is in the heart of the high tourist attraction area. A three block long pedestrian street, Bolshaya Pokrovskaya St., is only a block away. This pedestrian street ends at the Kremlin, which you read above was built in the 16th century.
We arrived at the hotel around 3:30 PM which allowed me plenty of time to take a shower (the water pressure was terrific) and walk on the pedestrian street as well as through the Kremlin. I did so with Marilyn and of course ran into other Epic Journey adventurers. The inside of the Kremlin is dedicated to Russia’s participation in World War II; they have numerous military equipment, tanks, antiaircraft, trucks, and planes on display. There is an eternal flame in a Park that overlooks the River.
We met at 7:15 PM in the lobby and walked together to dinner at a restaurant on Bolshaya Pokrovskaya St., ending another great day on the Epic Journey.

Day 9: Moscow to Suzdal (140.1 Miles)

We started at 10 o’clock; it was 79° and another wonderful partly cloudy day. The high for the day was 84°. The traffic for the first 25 minutes leaving Moscow was light. Reaching the outskirts we encountered essentially standstill traffic. I am not certain the cause of the traffic jam other than construction. We were traveling on M7 which is one of the modern six lane roads leading to and from Moscow. I saw along the way apartment buildings yielding to housing. I also saw the return of forests and some farming. We traveled in this congested condition for easily 20 km. We reverted to “lane splitting” and I would guess that we easily passed a 100 cars using this procedure. It is nerve-racking. I was told it was good practice for riding in China. We tried to become creative riding off of the road and what essentially became “off road” riding. We had to turn around and backtrack when we encountered a bog with deep water.
Upon arriving at Suzdal we road through the town before riding to our hotel. The town was very festive because it is celebrating its 991 old founding. We arrived at the Heliopark Suzdal hotel around 3:30 PM. The hotel turned out to be another interesting lodging. It is all log cabin. There is a reception building which also has the restaurant and then a number of log cabin buildings throughout the complex. I chose to nap before the 7:15 o’clock meeting time for a van to take us back into town for dinner.
I am sorry I did not write down the name of the restaurant – another interesting experience. Suzdal is famous for originating horseradish vodka and we were served some upon arrival. It is horrible! We were told they have another specialty drink “Honey Liquor” which although sweeter than my taste, it’s not bad. I thought it took forever to order our meal. A karaoke style band began to play too loudly for this old man adding to my irritation that we had sat in this restaurant for almost 2 hours already. I was totally appeased by the Russian folk lore entertainers who followed. There were eight of them, all in costume. They were terrific. As a part of their performance they selected members of our group to dance with them. Needless to say, this livened up the evening. We returned to the hotel around 11 o’clock advised that we were to meet at our bikes at 8:15 AM tomorrow morning.

DAY 8: Free day in Moscow

This was an absolutely wonderful day for me. As mentioned earlier in this journal, Julia and I visited Moscow during and around the USSR’s Mayday celebration in 1973. Our reason for attending was adding another “interesting place to go” to our going to the YPO University in Paris. To be back in Moscow after such a long time was exciting.
Our group met in the lobby for a 9:00 AM city tour. Our guide was outstanding sharing with us his knowledge and passion for Russia. Earlier in his career, he was a translator. He did so for the likes of Henry Kissinger. This was during the period referred to as “Détente”. I recall a young Russian university student that we encountered and spent a content considerable time with in Leningrad call Henry Kissinger “King Henry”.
From the hotel we rode past Red Square, St. Basil’s Cathedral, the Kremlin, and the GUM store. I was excited to see all of this after so many years. The only thing that I saw that had changed was the commercialization of the GUM store windows.
We got off of the bus to walk through the Novodevichy Cemetery where important people are buried: Yeltsin, Khrushchev, Gagarin (astronaut), Anton Chekhov (Russian physician, playwright, and author). We also walked down to a Metro station and wrote the train stopping at three stops. The splendor of Moscow’s Metro train stations is as interesting as I had remembered. It was great to see it again.
We got off of the bus again at one of the “Seven Sisters” apartment buildings spread out around the perimeter of Moscow. A group picture was taken at a pool in front of the building. This reminded me the time, with Julia, when we walking up the inside staircase of an apartment complex to see how Russians live.
I learned from our guide that Putin is popular, at least in part, because of annexing the Crimea - reflecting that Russia’s interest in a warm water port is not dissimilar from what the US will do pursuing its national interest; sites that Russia has moved from a free market society to a monopoly – now a third point of view!; is critical that the government does not support teachers, doctors, science, and art.
We returned to Red Square and walked to lunch in a high class restaurant on the square that was in GUMs. I chose to rest and have a massage before going to dinner – a suitable reward for my travels. Being a free night, we were on our own for dinner. Most of us gathered and had a lovely dinner recounting the excitement of being in Moscow.
Thus ended a special day on the Epic Journey.

DAY 7: Yaroslavi Region Moscow (191.0 miles)

Off we go on the road again leaving at 9:10 AM; the temperature was 68° the road surface was rough as we left but then got better. As we followed the reservoir we would come upon groups of housing that might be two or three houses or as many as a dozen with a sign posting the name of the community; there were no commercial establishments or posted speed signs The terrain that we passed yielded from forest and timber back to farming.

As you read in the description above approaching Moscow, we reached the tourist route running through a series of cities and towns in central Russia known as the “Golden Ring”. The area they occupy became the center of Russia in the 12th century, after Kiev, “the mother of Russian cities”, had lost its leading role in political and cultural life. The cities of the “Golden Ring” grew to become the capitals of the principalities where religious life and art were thriving. They were also important points on the trade routes between the North and the South, Europe and Asia. Many churches and fortified structures, dwelling houses and trade buildings have survived to this day in the area. We stopped at Seriev Posad, a typical monastery in the towns of the Golden Ring. My camera had lost its charge so I was not able to take pictures at Seriev Posad; so possibly a better option was buying a book which shows pictures an explanation; which I did. The book is worth looking through. I would be happy to share it with anybody that has interest. We were allotted an hour and a half and then walked to lunch.

Approaching Moscow, it was easy to see and experience the traffic becoming heavier. We had pretty well met our 2:30 PM departure target from the monastery in order to “beat” the rush-hour traffic. I don’t know what rush-hour traffic is like but our being early didn’t appear to me to be very successful. The traffic was horrible. I will say, for the most part, Russians are courteous. The exception is a speed demon that emerges out of what seems nowhere and nearly blows you off the road as he passes. I give Kudos to the group for essentially staying together. We got to the hotel, Peter I, at about 4:30 PM and were asked to meet in the lobby at 7:15 for dinner.

The restaurant was absolutely first-class and we had an enjoyable meal. Everyone is looking forward to the city tour and the Kremlin tour of Moscow tomorrow.

DAY 6: Simolenskiy Shlyuz – Yaroslavi Region (337.8 miles)

We got off at 8:15 AM. It was 64° and another sunny day. We had a wonderful breakfast of four fried eggs and pancakes with blueberry jelly.
We enjoyed the good two-lane roads as in previous days. The countryside is mostly pine trees that are destined for logging. There was some farming. It is very sparsely populated. There were a number of log cabin log manufacturing operations along the way. I found it interesting to see the stages of lumber becoming very long log cabin logs.
The good start, good breakfast, and good roads turned into not a very good day for me. While stopping at a filling station I came to a stop on a fairly acute slant and had trouble setting the kickstand. I proceeded to tip over my bike – breaking the end off of my brake lever. Unfortunately this was not the first tip over, much later while going through a town I had to maneuver between cars stopped at the intersection and the curb, I did it again. I was separated from our group at the time and called upon a burly Russian to help me pick up my bike. He did so with a very good attitude, grinning and in broken English said he was also a motorcyclist, riding a Honda. With a hearty handshake with this Russian I was off again.
We stopped for lunch at a small-town and continued the day of good meals. My wonderful meal this time was pepperoni pizza, Greek salad, and Coke. The “goods” and the “bad’s” of the day e.g. good meals and tipping over continued. As we came from lunch our guide, Janis, told me that my luggage had been left at the Verizhitsa Cottage Complex, our last hotel. This is unfortunate. I attribute the mishap to poor communication, something that our guides are going to need to improve upon. I left my duffel bag on the porch outside my cabin believing that it would be picked up; it turns out they wanted the luggage taken to the van.
The good roads abruptly yielded to likely the roughest roads that I’ve ever traveled not off road. There were not potholes but many asphalt repairs and undulating. I ended up riding as if I were “off road” in a partially standing position to absorb the bumps in my legs. Alex Lunardi-Tedjowinoto and his wife Ida Purwaningsih (Jakarta, Indonesia owner of a scooter dealership that does not sell apparel) bent his front tire rim. He told me at dinner that he hit a rock. Two of the guides, John Jesson and Mike Meyer repaired the tire with a new inner tube while the rest of us went on to the resort hotel. A second rider, Steve Sheldon (Olympia, WA) and his wife Mary Jane hit a hard bump jarring his handlebar handgrips so much that the handlebar hit the tank bag when he turned. This issue was repaired at roadside as well.
The Mercure Koprino Bay Hotel-Resort is absolutely a spectacular place built on a large reservoir (description above in the write-up). It has a reception building and a number of hotel buildings. Riding from the reception building to our hotel building, we saw many young attractive families that reminded me of our children’s families. Despite our guide Svetlana not caring for all of the changes the free market has accorded Russia, I am sure the young families that I saw here appreciate the opportunity. My luggage arrived shortly after we did so the day ended on the plus side.
Before our barbecue dinner held in a separate Lodge next to a beach area, Jeff Smith and I went to a ship- like structure that is a bar and restaurant, similar to the gambling casinos in Indiana, for a well-deserved drink at the end of this day. We kept up our average with dinner being another fine meal. The dinner conversation reflects very much my fellow riders are avid motorcyclists.

Day 5: St.Petersburg-Smilenskiy Shlyuz (145 Miles)

Since the Hermitage was closed on Monday it was decided that we would take in as much as we could of the museum before continuing our trip. The museum does not open until 10 o’clock so wearing our riding gear we left the hotel at 9:15 AM parking on the Winter Palace Plaza. We stored our helmets and gear in the van and proceeded to the Hermitage. There were already long lines. Svetiana arranged for us to go to the head of the line reminding me of the experience we had on our last visit to Russia. Without a guide in the museum it was difficult to navigate where to go to see the recognizable paintings and art. We saw what we could. I am glad to have had the opportunity.
Jeff Smith did not go to the Hermitage and while walking around the Winter Palace area got shaken down by a policeman along with Mike Meyer, one of our guides who’s huge at 6’7”. The policeman allowed Mike to go on his way but proceeded to put Jeff into the police car accusing him of being drunk. Janis came to the rescue bribing the cop by slipping $100 bill amongst Jeff’s bike papers that were then reviewed by the cop.
We were scheduled to have lunch at a small restaurant just off of the Plaza; because of the significant growth in the crowd at the Hermitage, getting out of the building was a task. We had a little problem knowing which restaurant had our reservation. That was eventually solved and we completed lunch.
The ride to Smolenskiy Shlyuz was pretty much as describe above. We stopped briefly to see the Tikhvinka River Monastery (see description above)

The description of our lodging, Verizhitsa Cottage Complex, does not do justice to this unique place. I hope the pictures I took will capture the charm of the setting. My camera’s battery quit after a few pictures. I trust that our guides plus fellow riders will share their pictures. The complex is a very rustic log cabin group of buildings centered around the main building. Each of us stayed in individual cabins. Mine was two-story with almost vertical steps.

We ate dinner in the Lodge and retired for the evening.

Day 4: Free Day in St.Pertersburg

This was absolutely a delightful day. The schedule for the day starting at 9 AM was a bus tour of St. Petersburg, lunch just off Presidential square, followed by a half day excursion to Peterhof.

Fortunately I slept well and felt refreshed for this exciting opportunity to revisit St. Petersburg; Julia and I were here 41 years ago in 1974. The morning routine was normal. The Grand Hotel Emerald is a very nice hotel. My room is spacious. I was prompt meeting the group in the lobby to begin our bus tour.

Riding around St. Petersburg was wonderful déjà vu. The city is even more beautiful than I remembered. Many of the buildings are painted with lovely pastel colors. Our guide, Arthur, was very professional and one of the best I have ever witnessed. His English is crisp and easy to understand. Some years ago when he was in his 20s he served as a translator for people such as Henry Kissinger.

We were told that St. Petersburg is the fourth largest European city. I saw again “the big house” which a young Russian whom we met and traveled throughout the city with years ago, told us that the building is bigger below ground than what we see above ground – the home of the KGB. I saw the Gum Department Store; it seemed smaller than I remember. We saw many gold domed Russian Orthodox churches – the “Onion at the top of the church spires are actually depictions of a flame. Nesky Avenue is one of the main streets with lots of shopping. Most of the streets converge on a monument or a church. We did not see the Aurora because it has been moved for repairs. We of course saw the many bridges of St. Petersburg, the place where the Tsars and Emperors are buried, and of course Heritage from across the river as well as where we were left off for lunch. Everyone lives in “Flats”, there are no houses in St. Petersburg. The population is 5 million people.

We ate lunch in a gift shop type setting. After lunch, we walked to the boat that took us to Peterhof. Peterhof is a summer retreat built by Peter the Great. We spent more than four hours in this 120 Hector estate fashioned after Versailles. It has multiple houses and gardens with bright gold leaf statues that glistened in the bright sunny day we enjoyed. Peterhof is so spectacular that it would take a book to describe it. I took many pictures as well as bought postcards that I will send to our grandchildren that provide a flavor for this splendor. We left Peterhof at 6 o’clock to return to St. Petersburg by boat. This got us back to the hotel by around 7:30 PM and were told that we would leave for dinner at 8 o’clock.
Geoffrey Smith and I chose not to go out to eat at another late ending dinner so we met at the bar for drinks and enjoyed a leisurely but ending early dinner at the hotel. Geoffrey’s career was finding and establishing movie set locations around the world. Needless to say he has many interesting stories about studios, actor celebrities, and Hollywood.

I took the early evening as an opportunity to send my dirty clothes to the laundry and complete yesterday’s Journal. Tomorrow we are off to Smotenskiy Shlyuz but will first stop by for an hour at the Hermitage.

Day 3: Tallinn-St.Petersburg, Russia (233.4 Miles)

Andre Lacy
"To say I was annoyed, frustrated, and maybe a lot more would be another GROSS understatement but I was proud of myself by not showing anything thing but my gentile self!!!

We were blessed with a bright sunny morning. The temperature was 57°. The bikes began to roll at 8:30 AM after a reminder briefing that we will need patients going through the border to Russia. It was suggested we buy a snack because it was uncertain if, and when we, would be in an area where we can have lunch. It was also suggested that we exchange money at the border in order to purchase the required insurance once we were in Russia.

The distance to the Russian border was approximately 120 km and was indeed, as stated above, …nice riding along the southern coast of the Gulf of Finland. It is very sparsely populated farmland mostly growing wheat.

The descriptions, warnings, and need for patients was grossly understated. We arrived at the Tallinn, Estonia exit gate and noticed the line was not too long. Svetlana, our Russian guide, took $100 to the “exchange” for Rubles [One Ruble is $0.016> while we waited. Janis went to the head of the line to find that Estonia has changed their procedure. We were instructed to go 2 kms to a staging area that will process our bike papers for export. The omens of a bad experience had raised its ugly head and it was EIGHT HOURS AND THRTY MINUES before we were through the Estonia gages, Russian boarder, and purchased the insurance.

The staging area is quite new and likely was a truck parking lot before. There was NO signage. The people in the first building which had to review registration, title, and bike import papers were inefficient and knew less about the process than we did. This being a new procedure that Janice was not aware of at the time we reached the first gate was equally new to the Estonians. 2.5 hours were consumed at this stage followed by another 3.0 hours to get the release permission and go back to the export gate.

We were “expedited” through the export gate fairly quickly only to spend another hour going through the Russian border. The balance of the time was consumed obtaining the insurance. Two small offices were just outside the Russian border selling insurance. They had what could be 1950 computer technology. Yes, I did eat my snack during this trying experience. Wey, we were finally free to travel in the “Motherland”. To say I was annoyed, frustrated, and maybe a lot more would be another GROSS understatement but I was proud of myself by not showing anything thing but my gentile self !!!

The actual boarding crossing is a modern infrastructure. As the description above shares the Hermann Fortress looking across at the Narva River to the Russian Castle on the other side is very impressive. On one side of the river is the Estonian flag on the Castle and the other Castle across the river has the Russian flag.

We are finally off to St. Petersburg and it is already 6:30 PM. We have in the area of 160 km until we are at St. Petersburg. The traffic at 8:30 PM in St. St. Petersburg is horrendous. I had been warned that St. Petersburg, Moscow, and Beijing would be challenging traffic. Again the predictions, at least as it relates to St. Petersburg, were underestimated. I found myself tired and stressed. I was keenly aware to keep the distance in front of me short enough that cars would be uncomfortable darting in front of me. We got to the Grand Hotel Emerald a little after 9 o’clock and were told that dinner at the hotel would be at 10 o’clock. I was more interested in sleeping than eating however went to the dinner anyway. Toasts of congratulations upon arriving in Russia were shared. Sevtiana gave us all a “wooden egg” that I am sure our grandchildren will enjoy. The service for the dinner took too long for me, e.g. midnight, so shortly after I was served my entrée; I excuse myself to go to bed.

Thus ended a very long day!

Day 2: Latvia-Tallinn, Estonia (194 miles)

I set my alarm for 6:00 AM because I wanted extra time to load my bike. Unfortunately I had a bit of a problem with the hotel this morning. Before I retired I gave the desk ice packs with instructions I wanted them frozen in the freezer. My diabetes medicine requires it to stay chilled. It was put in the refrigerator and not the freezer, so it was not frozen (needless to say I was not happy). I asked that it be put in the freezer while I ate breakfast and completed packing my bike.
We were rolling at 8:15 AM. The temperature was 55° and cloudy. Our first stop was a park next to the river that has a large “Riga” lettering; we took group shots. I hope that they come out.
You can read the description of today’s ride above. We soon left the city proper and were in the countryside. The terrain is flat. There were a few Holstein dairy cows and lots of pine forest growing timber. At every house along the way I saw large quantities of cut firewood.
At the briefing by our bikes in the morning we were told that we would have two stops before lunch. The first was a quaint “farm” that was more tourist than production where we had coffee and honey cakes. This was a good opportunity to learn more about my riding companions. The second stop was what Janice described as the last chance to see the Baltic Sea. His Latvian pride exaggerated the effect even to the point of comparing it to Hong Kong Bay with the boats and wide vista.
The road to Tallinn was along the shore; the shoreline was amply populated with tent camp grounds and what appeared to be summer camps.
We stopped for lunch at a restaurant housed in a very modern building next to the seashore. This was in Parnu. We did not spend much time at lunch. I enjoyed a cucumber and Apple soup plus a salad.
Shortly after we were back on the road it began to rain. It wasn’t a heavy rain but it clearly made the pavement wet. The road yielded to a broad two lane highway and the pace quickened. Passing got a little crazy with the combination of the car being passed pulling over to the edge of the road plus the oncoming traffic likewise pulling to the edge of the road creating a pathway between the oncoming traffic and the car you are passing. I did not participate in this to the extent that most of the riders did so I ended up near the end of the pack.
We arrived at the hotel around 5:45 PM and were scheduled to walk to dinner at 7 PM. Before meeting the group, I unpacked and began dictating my Journal.
Dinner was at a mid-evil theme restaurant in the heart of old town. Its name is Maikrahv. It was a set menu with most items served not on my daily diet in Indiana. During dinner a group of us sat with Janice and talked about some do’s and don’ts once we leave the EU, to wit, only drink bottled water; don’t consume ice cubes; all gasoline purchases must be in cash; and the biggest discussion being the trials of going through Russia’s customs tomorrow morning. It is going to be anything but easy. The prediction is that it will take at least four hours to get through customs. I will share more tomorrow when I can do so with my first-hand report.
The service was so slow that Alain Gabriel (a Swiss citizen born in France) left to walk back to the hotel skipping dessert. I set about finishing my Journal, got my ice packs sent to the freezer (I think), and retired for an 8 o’clock briefing at the bikes tomorrow morning.

Day 1

Andre Lacy

Excited that I have finally arrived at the first day of the Epic Journey, I awoke at my normal 6 AM, had a light breakfast; joined rider Marilyn Makepeace. She is a tough size 4 that has taken 10 (listed) Ayres Adventures rides over the last 10 years. I met the “group” for the first time at 9 o’clock for a walking tour of Riga. I enjoyed very much meeting my fellow companions. They all seem easy to get along with and I look forward to getting to know them as I believe I will the next 69 days. The guide was particularly good.
After the tour, I checked on my bike and continued reading the background material before a light lunch.
Our orientation meeting was held at 5 o’clock. It was fairly well done however this being the inaugural Epic Journey it had some rough spots. We were told that we would have another intense briefing at Beijing, which is our halfway point (6000 miles). This briefing covered contact information for the guides, daily schedules for breakfast – departure – and lunch. A number of “warnings” were mentioned regarding road conditions, expected behavior of car traffic and that we have to be especially alert when riding in China. The morning routine was described. Maintenance of our bikes and tire changing was also covered.

We walked together to a restaurant near the hotel and had a delightful evening together. I sat with Boz Bozarth who lives in the California/Nevada area. He mentioned knowing Malcolm Smith. When I told him Malcolm works for Tucker Rocky he proceeded to tell the people around our end of the table the iconic nature of Malcolm Smith and the movie “On any Sunday”. There was good conversation through the evening enhanced by Janice sitting amongst us.
I returned to the hotel and prepared for the first riding day tomorrow.