Yuri is on the right. It's all about looking cool! Chelyabinsk, Russia.
     What can I say? RUSSIA ROCKS! I rode from St Petersburg to Moscow with Oli and Mason Kidd. At first I didn't think much of the country. St Petersburg was really just another tourist town. If I were blind-folded and dropped off in the heart of the last 10 major towns I have visited, I wouldn't know which town I was in. They are all similar- and swarming with tourists. The tourists jack up the prices and certainly don't add to any sense of adventure. To be honest, I spent much of my time in northern Europe wanting to head south to Africa. After riding through the Americas and Africa, northern Europe is about as much fun as sitting (alone) in a room and watching paint dry. Don't get me wrong, there are loads of great people, it's simply too settled for my taste. I still dream of riding through Ireland, Scotland and England before catching the ferry to Iceland for a couple weeks. And then there is southern Europe, I would love to spend 6 months riding through Spain, Portugal, France, Italy, Turkey and Eastern Europe. Another day perhaps! Now, on with the story:

     Last week Mason Kidd returned to the US to start High School (Mason, you do good and I'll show you an Africa far from the ivory colored tourists). Oli Fischer decided to turn back to the comforts of hearth and home, and his girlfriend. This left me in a comfortable place: alone with my bike- and with the largest country in the world to cross.

     When I reached Russia, I received an email from a German fellow who spent 5 years riding his bike through much of the world. He heard about me from Karl Heinz, another German I met in Buenos Aires. It took 3 days in Moscow to finally meet him, but was worth the effort. Benito Lotz and his girlfriend, Tatiana, live just south of Moscow. I spent time with them in Moscow learning about Russia. After a day or 2 they took me to Tatiana's summer home where I spent 3 days relaxing under the warm (for now!) Russian sun. Each day I bathed/swam in a lake near the Datcha. I wanted to spend a few more days with Benito and Tatiana, but Vladivostok is more than 10,000kms away- and winter is coming!

     I departed Moscow with no particular destination in mind, I was only heading east. Towards the end of a long day I arrived in the city of Kazan. I liked the city right off the bat. I managed to find a nice hotel with a friendly staff. Turns out the city was celebrating its birthday and I spent 2 nights there enjoying the festivities. Kazan is the Capital of Tatarstan, the people here are called Tatars. I am learning that Russia is really dozens of countries cobbled together. Benito told me I would enjoy the ride east, he was right! After a pleasant stay in Kazan I began the ride to Chelyabinsk. I'm traveling across this vast country without a guidebook, so I never know what to expect when I arrive in a city. It took 2 days for me to reach Chelyabinsk. The ride there was a long one and strong winds gave me quite a beating. The countryside was fantasic. The air was clear and cool and the land was dotted with thousands of beautiful lakes and seemingly endless fields of wheat.

    When I arrived in Chelyabinsk I began the search for a hotel. Hotels are difficult to find. First, they are few and far between. Second, they often have no sign indicating they are hotels! All part of the fun of riding in a country I like more each day. The people here have won me over. It would be fantastic to learn Russian and do this ride again. Oops, I digress.
    After an hour of looking for a hotel, a man on a scooter rode past me in the opposite direction. As he passed, he and his girlfiend looked amazed when they saw the bike and I. He slammed on the brakes and waved for me to turn around. When I pulled up next to them, they were smiling and we all shook hands. He didn't speak English but urged me to follow him. After 10 minutes we arrived at a  large statue of a man. Turns out he was the Father of the atom in Russia, ie, he developed the nuclear bomb here. In front of the statue were a dozen bikers sporting an eclectic collection of bikes. The looks on their faces as Anatoli and I arrived on the scene was priceless. I was immediately surrounded by some astonished Russian bikers. Some of them spoke English and translated dozens of questions back and forth. After an hour or so a man named Mikhail led me to a terrific hotel in his Cadillac (yes, a Caddy!). He dropped me off at the hotel and told me he'd return in 30 minutes. I showered and caught my breath. Mikhail picked me up and showed me some of the city. We then stopped by his small collection of cars and 2 motorcycles and swapped into a Mercedes. I asked him why we swapped cars and he pointed at the back seat, unable to explain in English. When we arrived back at the group of riders I learned why we swapped when he opened the trunk- which was filled with alcohol. Mikhail passed out plastic cups and began pouring a bevy of drinks. Even the bikers were drinking heavily. EVERYONE smoked. Later we went to a nice restaurant and enjoyed some great food and drinks. I was surprised when the waiter brought an entire bottle of vodka to the table. I was more surprised when he brought the second! Saturday night in Chelyabinsk. I was lucky enough to meet a man named Yuri, he spoke good English and is a First Officer on an Antonov jet. We sat together and talked about planes and motorcycles. It was a great night. I was sad to leave Chelyabinsk, but with winter on the way, I had to keep heading east.     


     One night in Chelyabinsk! The man on the left is translating my story.